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The Most Important Stat


Tmodel66
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We all have opinions about what is the most important stat.  I say it is point differential.  "You play to win the game", so winning is the ultimate stat, but point differential for the season is a pretty good indicator of how your offense and defense compares to your opponents.

Here are the teams with the best point differentials over the last 5 years:

  • 2017-2018  Philadelphia and New England, TIED at +10.125; Philadelphia beat New England in the Super Bowl.
  • 2016-2017  New England at +11.9, Atlanta was 2nd; we know how that Super Bowl ended...
  • 2015-2016  Carolina at +12, New England was 2nd; Denver beat Carolina in the Super Bowl.
  • 2014-2015  New England at +9.69, Seattle was 2nd; New England beat Seattle in the Super Bowl
  • 2013-2014  Denver at +12.9, Seattle was 2nd; Seattle beat Denver in the Super Bowl

Here's how we have done over that same period.

  • 2017-2018  Atlanta +2.38 Wild Card
  • 2016-2017  Atlanta +8.38 Super Bowl
  • 2015-2016  Atlanta -0.38
  • 2014-2015  Atlanta -2.25
  • 2013-2014  Atlanta -5.63

This year, we are at -3.08 so far.  We were 6-10 in 2013, so our point differential says we might finish better (but we have lost several games on the last possession).

Depressing is that the league leader is New Orleans at +12.5.

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8 minutes ago, falcons007 said:

Point differential is product of winning. Win more games, you will have higher point differential. There are always outliers which may boost or make it look worse.

This is true, but the correlation between PD and going to the Super Bowl is very strong.  Over the last five years, the two teams in the SB were #1 and #2 in PD 80% of the time.  The only exception was Carolina vs. Denver when Carolina was #1 in PD and Denver's incredible defense that year carried them. 

If you have a bet to place on who goes to the SB, put it on the PD leaders...I'm sure the wise guys have already figured this one out though.

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14 minutes ago, falcons007 said:

Point differential is product of winning. Win more games, you will have higher point differential. There are always outliers which may boost or make it look worse.

This isnt true. 

Good teams essentially play two types of games: close games against good opponents and relatively easy wins against weaker opponents. Over time, most teams (basically everyone not in NE) cluster around .500 in close games against other good teams. Good teams dominate bad teams though. Over the course of a season, a good team will have a higher PD but may not have a record properly capturing their overall quality. Because close games are more a product of variance than they are of skill. Lucky breaks swing those games a ton. So you can play your opponent very well and if the ball bounces a certain way or a call doesnt happen, you'll take the L. 

Winning and PD are connected but winning is more fickle than PD. 

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1 hour ago, Tmodel66 said:

This is true, but the correlation between PD and going to the Super Bowl is very strong.  Over the last five years, the two teams in the SB were #1 and #2 in PD 80% of the time.  The only exception was Carolina vs. Denver when Carolina was #1 in PD and Denver's incredible defense that year carried them. 

If you have a bet to place on who goes to the SB, put it on the PD leaders...I'm sure the wise guys have already figured this one out though.

It’s cyclical like NFL. 5 years yes, if you take 10-15 years, it shows a different pattern.

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1 hour ago, DoYouSeeWhatHappensLarry said:

This isnt true. 

Good teams essentially play two types of games: close games against good opponents and relatively easy wins against weaker opponents. Over time, most teams (basically everyone not in NE) cluster around .500 in close games against other good teams. Good teams dominate bad teams though. Over the course of a season, a good team will have a higher PD but may not have a record properly capturing their overall quality. Because close games are more a product of variance than they are of skill. Lucky breaks swing those games a ton. So you can play your opponent very well and if the ball bounces a certain way or a call doesnt happen, you'll take the L. 

Winning and PD are connected but winning is more fickle than PD. 

There are lot of factors, division games and the conference games. And injuries.  Even good teams don’t match up well with certain teams. If you look at playoffs, PD isn’t that strong indicator. Either ways NFL is too short a season to overcome outliers in point differential.

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6 minutes ago, falcons007 said:

There are lot of factors, division games and the conference games. And injuries.  Even good teams don’t match up well with certain teams. If you look at playoffs, PD isn’t that strong indicator. Either ways NFL is too short a season to overcome outliers in point differential.

Any individual game stands on its own. And yes, matchups, styles, etc., are all super relevant. But in general, year to year, point differential is the single most predictive statistic available. We see this most frequently in teams that dont seem that great but win a lot of games. They usually regress the following season. Its not fool proof because of the things you already mentioned (injuries being the biggest one). But its a strong indicator. 

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