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NFL Power Rankings for Fantasy Football -- The 'Blvd. Way
Part 1: Predicting Touchdowns
Fritz Schlottman
August 12, 2005
Part 1 | Part 2

The pros on the Blvd come from various backgrounds. Some are ex bank executives, some have advanced degrees in statistics, and some are just wise guys that have been doing this for years. However, one common thread between them is how they think about football. This article goes through the process by which some of the best in the business think about NFL scoring and may provide the reader with some useful strategies for evaluating players.

Fantasy football is scored by awarding fantasy points for real points on the football field. Most fantasy points are awarded for offensive scoring: touchdown passes, touchdown runs, and touchdown receptions. There are points scored for other plays: safeties, field goals, defense, etc. but most points are scored when the player scores a touchdown for his team in some manner. Therefore there is a direct connection between team scoring and player scoring. Teams that score many points also have players that score a lot of touchdowns. So, wouldn’t it be helpful to a fantasy owner to know which teams are going to score touchdowns? Likewise, wouldn’t it be helpful to be able to identify teams that don’t score so that you can avoid drafting or trading for those players?

To identify why teams score points, I collected statistics from the 2004 season and spread them out on an Excel spreadsheet. I then ranked each of the teams in each category with the first ranking (number one) being given to the team with the best statistics in each category and the number 32 being given to the team who was last in that category. I then divided the 32 team database into two smaller databases: the TOP 10 database had all the statistics for the teams ranked 1-10 in touchdowns scored and the BOTTOM 10 database had the 10 teams that scored the least amount of touchdowns: The teams in each database were:

Team

TD Rank

Indianapolis

1

Kansas City

2

San Diego

3

Green Bay

4

Minnesota

4

New England

6

Buffalo

7

Philadelphia

8

Seattle

9

Denver*

10

 

Team

TD Rank

Baltimore

23

Dallas

23

Detroit

25

Arizona

26

Miami

26

Cleveland

28

San Francisco

28

Jacksonville

30

Washington

30

Chicago

30

 
*Cincinnati and Carolina tied with Denver for 10th, but the Broncos were selected for this analysis because they were the strongest teams as determined by the 2004 playoff results.  

The next task was to identify “strength”. I use the ‘Vegas term “strength” as a proxy or a kind of statistical shorthand to represent the likelihood that a variable is related to touchdowns scored. A statistic was “strong” if many of the TOP 10 teams in touchdowns scored were also in the TOP 10 ranking for this variable. Also, a statistic was “strong” if many of the BOTTOM 10 ranking teams were also among the BOTTOM 10 in this statistic. A statistic (variable) was strong if there were at least six teams in the TOP 10 touchdowns scored list that were also in the TOP 10 list for this statistic and at least 6 teams in the BOTTOM 10 list were also in the BOTTOM 10 list. Each of the variables making the cut were then ranked to determine which variables were the strongest predictor of touchdowns scored. Teams were then ranked in each of these variables to determine which were the “strongest” or “weakest” teams.

STATISTICS (VARIBLES) THAT DID NOT MAKE THE CUT

Some of the statistics that are commonly associated with good or bad touchdown scoring did not make the cut. These are the “Urban Legends” of NFL statistics. The statistics eliminated were Time of Possession, the Number of Plays an offense ran, the Number of Fumbles, Wins, Penalties, Penalty Yardage, and the Number of Fumbles Lost.

We are taught all the way from youth football to adulthood that controlling the clock, running the football, not taking penalties, and not turning the football over are good things. This perception dates back to the years of Woody Hayes and three yards and a cloud of dust football. But while it may or may not relate to winning football games, it does not relate to scoring touchdowns which is what fantasy football owners are interested in.

Wins works in the TOP 10 but does not work for the BOTTOM 10. There is an old short-hand in fantasy football that you should draft players from winning teams. That holds up on winning teams, but you shouldn’t rule out players from losing teams as some losing teams score more then their fair share of touchdowns…they just give up more.

So what did make the cut?

#1 YARDS PER PLAY (8 OF 10 IN TOP 10 AND 8 OF 10 IN BOTTOM 10)

Teams that make big plays on offense score touchdowns and teams that don’t make big play don’t score.

This statistic speaks volumes about the NFL game. Very few teams are able to put together 80 yards drives consistently in the NFL. Teams that score points are teams that make big plays. That’s why there is a premium paid to the NFL’s superstars. Guys that have the speed and strength to break a tackle and take it to the house are a few and far between, but here’s where you could find them in 2004.

1. Indianapolis
2. Minnesota
3. Kansas City
4. Green Bay
5. Denver/Philadelphia

Teams that don’t break big plays.

32. Chicago
30. Washington (tie)
30. Miami (tie)
29. Arizona
28. Baltimore

The odd teams out in this category were Seattle 12th and Buffalo 26th in the TOP 10 and Jacksonville 19th and Dallas 15th in the BOTTOM 10. This is interesting in that the Seahawks and Bills offense must be opportunistic and scoring off of short fields and turnovers generated by their defenses (over-performing) while Jacksonville and Dallas get big plays, but didn’t convert them into touchdowns in 2004 (under-performing).

#2 YARDS PER GAME (8 of Ten in the TOP 10 and 8 of 10 in the Bottom 10)

For owners in yardage leagues, save yourself some effort. Looking at these two charts it’s clear that teams that score touchdowns also rack up the yards on offense. It’s also true that teams that can’t move the football don’t score as well.

BEST
1. Kansas City
2. Indianapolis
3. Green Bay
4. Minnesota
5. Denver

WORST
32. Chicago
31. Baltimore
30. Washington
29. Miami
28. Cleveland

The two over-performers in the TOP 10 were San Diego at number 10 and Buffalo at number 25. The Bills defense, if they did not score themselves, set up their offense while the Chargers converted touchdowns rather than settling for field goals. The two under performers in the BOTTOM 10 were once again Jacksonville and Dallas.

#3 FIRST DOWNS PER GAME (8 of 10 in TOP 10 and 7 of 10 in BOTTOM 10)

Teams that score also pick up first downs and keep the chains moving. If you can’t break the big plays, these are the teams that can grind out the 80 yard dives.

BEST
1. Kansas City
2. Indianapolis
3. Green Bay
4. Minnesota
4. Denver

WORST
32. Chicago
31. Cleveland
30. Baltimore
29. Detroit
28. Miami

The two over-performers in the TOP 10 were Buffalo (25th) and Philadelphia (14th). Both of these were big play, short field kind of teams. The under performers were Dallas (16th), Arizona (21st tie), and San Francisco (21st tie).

#4 3rd DOWN PERCENTAGE (6 OF 10 IN TOP 10 AND 6 OF 10 IN BOTTOM 10)

A better predictor of top 5 touchdown performance, teams that pick up 3 rd downs consistently score more points than teams that do not. Teams that can’t pick up a first down to save their job’s don’t score touchdowns as well.

BEST
1. Minnesota
2. Green Bay
3. Kansas City
4. San Diego
5. New England

WORST
32. Chicago
31. Cleveland
30. New York Giants
29. Detroit
28. Washington

STRONGEST/WEAKEST TEAMS

These are the teams that have the most or the least of these factors.

STRONGEST SCORING TD’s OFFENSES (4 of 4 TOP 10 lists)

1. Kansas City - (2) 1st Places and (2) 3rd Places
2. Indianapolis - (1) 1st Place, (2) 2nd Places, ( 1) 7th Place
3. Minnesota - (1) 1st Place. (1) 2nd Place, (2) 4th Places
4. Green Bay - (1) 2nd Place, (2) 3rd Places. (1) 4th Place
5. New England - 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th

WEAKEST SCORING TD’s OFFENSES

1. Chicago (4 of 4 in the BOTTOM 10)
2. Washington (4 of 4 in the BOTTOM 10)
3. Cleveland (4 of 4 in the BOTTOM 10)
4. Detroit (4 of 4 in the BOTTOM 10)

LOOK OUT/WATCH OUT! TEAMS

BIGGEST UNDER-PERFORMERS (HAS OFFENSIVE POTENTIAL BUT DOESN’T CONVERT INTO TD’S)

1. St. Louis (3 of 4 TOP 10’S)
2. New York Jets (3 of 4 TOP 10’S)
3. Tennessee
4. Dallas

BIGGEST OVER-PERFORMERS (LOOK OUT! THESE TEAMS SCORE DESPITE POOR UNDERLYING OFFENSIVE NUMBERS AND HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO REGRESS ON OFFENSE)

1. Buffalo
2. Cincinnati
3. Atlanta
4. San Diego