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Correlations of NFL statistics to Wins

This is part two in our investigation of the correlation between various of our unique TMW stats and the regular season wins of a team. The part one article of a year ago looked at stats in and of themselves, whereas in this part two we will for starters add in the 2003 season to give us an extra year, and look primarily at the "Net" stats for a team, subtracting offense from defense.

TOP 10 Correlations between a statistic and team wins
Stat Class
Net Stat
Correlation
 Drive  Points per drive
.92
 Drive  Touchdown %
.88
 Play-By-Play  Pass Overall Effectiveness
.84
 Play-By-Play  Pass Average Yards per Attempt
.79
 Drive  Yds/Drive
.76
 Play-By-Play  Pass Play Success Rate
.76
 Drive  Yds/Play
.74
 Down-by-Down  3rd Down Play Success Rate
.73
 Play-By-Play  Pass Big Gain %
.66
 Down-by-Down  2nd Down Play Success Rate
.62

So the most simple "net points per drive" comes out on top, no surprise given that raw net points correlates well with team wins, and indeed the basic drive chart measures such as Touchdown%, yards per drive, and yards per play are all solid.

The play-by-play findings tell you one thing pretty clearly: it's a passing game, and the way to win is to pass more effectively than your opposition, whether that is measured by overall effectiveness (our EFR number), the passing play success rate, or the passing big gain plays (defined as 20+ yards for passes, and remember we include such things as pass interference plays which often go for 20 or more yards). Now Bud Goode, among others, has of course for years been talking about the "killer stat" of net passing yards per play.

Then we find a couple of down-by-down stats rounding out the list: namely net play success rate on 3rd down and 2nd down respectively.

You might be wondering if regular season success translates reasonably well to the ultimate goal -- taking home the Super Bowl trophy. Here's a look at the past six NFL champions and how they stack up in the key correlators:

SB Winner Key Rankings
Year
Team
Pts Per
Drive
TD%
Pass
EFR
Yds Per
Pass
Yds Per
Drive
Pass
PSR
Yds Per
Play
3rd Dn
PSR
Pass
Big%
2nd Dn
PSR
1998
DEN
2
2
6
6
5
5
3
8
10
1
1999
STL
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
3
1
2000
BAL
2
4
17
20
7
11
12
8
13
1
2001
NE
7
4
6
10
16
5
16
10
20
12
2002
TB
3
3
1
1
2
1
2
13
23
1
2003
NE
8
4
5
6
15
8
11
16
8
8
98-03
Ave.
3.8
3.0
6.0
7.3
7.7
5.2
7.5
9.3
12.8
4.0

Some interesting points emerge -- Touchdown Percentage has been the greatest single predictor of the high correlators, with all of the teams in the top four on the season. On the other hand, the passing net big gain percentage has been less stellar, suggesting that while this stat may be important for accruing regular season wins, a team that depends too heavily on the big play may be sketchy come the post-season. Finally, net 2nd down play success rate has seen four of the six prior winners being top ranked -- probably about the best top rank pick success of any stat you could find anywhere -- who says third down is the key down?

Indeed, in looking into the 2nd down stats further, in the two years the winner did not come from the top ranked team (and of course there are those, us among them, who would say that the Patriots were beaten by the Raiders in that infamous 'tuck' playoff game) in 2001 the top ranked 2nd down PSR team was the runner-up St. Louis Rams, while the Denver Broncos were top rated in 2003 but fell brutally to the Colts in the opening round. Maybe it's just a quirk, but we'll give an update on the #1 2nd Down PSR team at the end of week seventeen.

Of course, one of the great things about the NFL is that the game evolves from year to year -- the strategies employed successfully in the prior season may now have been coutered, new wrinkles and rule changes may have come into the game. So as a final look we'll run the correlations for the 2003 season alone against our top ten overall stats, recognizing that with a much smaller sample size, the 95% CI ranges are much broader:

TOP 10 Correlations between a statistic and team wins
Stat Class
Net Stat
2003
Correlation
1998-2003
Correlation
 Drive  Points per drive
.90
.92
 Drive  Touchdown %
.85
.88
 Play-By-Play  Pass Overall Effectiveness
.81
.84
 Play-By-Play  Pass Average Yards per Attempt
.80
.79
 Drive  Yds/Drive
.71
.76
 Play-By-Play  Pass Play Success Rate
.68
.76
 Drive  Yds/Play
.70
.74
 Down-by-Down  3rd Down Play Success Rate
.72
.73
 Play-By-Play  Pass Big Gain %
.75
.66
 Down-by-Down  2nd Down Play Success Rate
.51
.62

And for those of you who can't get enough numbers to review, the following table shows the correlations for the six year span for all the numbers featured in our three main stat classes -- drives, play-by-play, and down-by-down:

Correlation between a statistic and team wins
Class
Stat
Correlation
Drive
Average starting field position
.55
Drive
Yds/Play
.74
Drive
Yds/Drive
.76
Drive
Time of Possession per drive
.64
Drive
Three and out %
-.51
Drive
Touchdown %
.88
Drive
Field Goal %
.59
Drive
Punt %
-.58
Drive
Turnover %
-.57
Drive
Points per drive
.92
Play-By-Play
Rush Play Success Rate
.41
Play-By-Play
Rush Big Gain %
.13
Play-By-Play
Rush Average Yards per Carry
.33
Play-By-Play
Rush Overall Effectiveness
.42
Play-By-Play
Pass Play Success Rate
.76
Play-By-Play
Pass Big Gain %
.66
Play-By-Play
Pass Average Yards per Attempt
.79
Play-By-Play
Pass Overall Effectiveness
.84
Down-by-Down
1st Down Average Yards per play
.57
Down-by-Down
1st Down Play Success Rate
.53
Down-by-Down
1st Down Big Gain %
.42
Down-by-Down
1st Down Rushing play ratio
.61
Down-by-Down
2nd Down Average Yards per play
.48
Down-by-Down
2nd Down Play Success Rate
.62
Down-by-Down
2nd Down Big Gain %
.39
Down-by-Down
2nd Down Rushing play ratio
.56
Down-by-Down
3rd Down Average Yards per play
.59
Down-by-Down
3rd Down Play Success Rate
.73
Down-by-Down
3rd Down Big Gain %
.44
Down-by-Down
3rd Down Rushing play ratio
.40


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