Team Efficiency Rankings: Week 8

If you've read this column before, you know these rankings are all about cancelling out the noise of past perception and evaluating every team's performance based solely on their data from this season.  That does have some limitations, such as not being able to account for injuries, but once the sample size of games gets large enough, it's a fairly accurate predictor of future success.

Halfway through the season, there are no more huge swings waiting to happen.  That does not mean teams cannot rise or fall—last year, the 3-5 Bengals and Redskins made the playoffs while the 7-1 Bears and 6-2 Giants missed the dance—but the teams near the top are quite likely to stay there.

If we accept that, then perhaps we should start taking our new number team a bit more seriously.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dalton

No need to adjust your screen resolution, the Cincinnati Bengals really are the new top dog this week.  Coming off arguably the year's most lopsided win in a 49-9 decision over the Jets, the Bengals surged to the top after an unspiring performance from the Seahawks and a shaky three quarters from the Broncos.

Cincinnati's reign likely won't last long, as a 40-point win against a competitive team is such a massive outlier that there is nowhere to go but down.  However, the Bengals were the fourth-ranked team last week, so this week merely reaffirmed their status among the elite.  Everyone knows about Cincy's stingy Atkins-anchored defense, but the key to their fourth-ranked offense lies behind one of their most (unfairly) maligned players.

In today's instant-gratification society, the mainstream media deems quarterbacks who are not instant sensations like Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson total failures, or middling options at best.  Andy Dalton has suffered that fate, with people questioning his viability despite two playoff appearances in two years.

However, Dalton has exhibited a huge jump in his third year, leading Cincy to the sixth-most efficient passing offense.  It's not solely because of A.J. Green's otherworldly skills either; as Grantland's Bill Barnwell points out, Dalton's numbers to non-Green receivers have steadily gotten better each season.  A quick look at this year's WPA vs. EPA visualization shows Dalton in some pretty lofty non-Manning company:

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned how Dalton looked destined to become Matt Schaub 2.0.  Well, with Dalton on pace to put up a 123.0 EPA season, let's look at some of Schaub's best years before the pick-six plague ruined him:

Subtracting an injury-shortened 2011, Schaub's average EPA from 2009-2012 was...114.2, almost exactly the area Dalton is headed for.  If the Red Rifle replicates Schaub's prime, that's really not a bad thing.  Remember, Schaub was firmly in the second tier of quarterbacks for years.  All the noise that he couldn't lead the Texans to a championship is really just retrospective analysis.

The Bengals are part of a trio of 6-2 AFC teams (along with the Patriots and Colts) that will likely challenge for the number two seed behind whoever wins the AFC West.  Avoiding the fourth seed is paramount for all those teams, since that would likely draw both Denver and Kansas City in some order.  If Cincinnati can work itself into one of the two prime positions, don't be surprised if this team is still playing in late January.

A Giant Comeback?

Despite their consistently solid ranking, I've desperately been trying to avoid any mention of the Giants so far, what with their 0-6 start and their near-historic turnover rate.  But after a modest two-game winning streak, New York is somehow just two games behind Dallas for the NFC East lead.  Believe it or not, this team is still in legitimate playoff contention.

The Giants' two wins do come with a heaping pile of salt, as they came against the Josh Freeman-led Vikings and (mostly) Matt Barkley-led Eagles.  The biggest difference from New York was really the regression in their turnover rate.  A team can win with two turnovers in two games, but not when they average nearly four per game, as the Giants did in their first six losses.

Perhaps the biggest driving force to their respectable 13th-ranked position is their third-ranked defense, which is nothing short of mind-numbing given the injuries and underachievement throughout the unit.  Moreover, their defensive EPA suggests something like a league-average unit rather than an elite one.

However, there are some peripheral stats that suggest a solid unit.  The Giants rank ninth in opponent's yards per play, and as a result of the offense's plethora of turnovers, New York has suffered the worst opposing starting field position, per Football Outsiders.

Still, unless the turnovers somehow completely disappear, it's hard to imagine the Giants completely making up the deficit.  New York still has games remaining against Seattle, Detroit, San Diego and Green Bay.  If the Giants can sweep their three remaining division games (two vs. Washington, home vs. Dallas), there's a chance they could squeak in with tiebreakers.  But don't hold your breath for the postseason, let alone another surprising Super Bowl run.

Quick Hits

- Does defense still win championships?  Ok, yes it definitely does still help, but it's telling that seven of the 10 most efficient defenses are on teams outside the top 10.  On the flip side, only the Chargers and Bears possess top-10 offenses without an overall ranking in the upper-third.
- The Lions were this week's biggest movers, jumping up eight slots after one of the season's most thrilling wins.  Quarterbacks are clearly the most influential position, but Calvin Johnson deserves MVP consideration nonetheless.  The 0.57 WPA difference between Megatron and second-ranked Anquan Boldin is equivalent to the gap between Boldin and 20th-ranked Brian Hartline.
- There's a perception that Oakland may have its franchise quarterback in Terrelle Pryor, but the 32nd-ranked offense begs to differ.  On the season, the Raiders rank 25th in Pass EPA per play and 24th in pass success rate.  Pryor is still obviously a raw product, and while there have been promising glimpses, he and the Raiders still have a long ways to go.

Here are the rankings at the halfway point of the season:

1 CIN40.770.5144
2 DEN20.750.45120
3 SEA10.740.4881
4 SF30.730.5057
5 GB60.670.46223
6 NO100.670.35721
7 DET150.630.53615
8 IND50.610.461414
9 PHI70.590.511017
10 CAR120.580.381318
11 DAL110.570.541111
12 KC80.560.46256
13 NYG160.540.55213
14 ARI210.530.53195
15 SD90.520.40332
16 CLE200.520.50262
17 NE220.470.46248
18 PIT190.470.382713
19 HOU130.460.45239
20 CHI180.460.47931
21 NYJ140.450.451610
22 BUF230.410.521712
23 TEN170.400.491519
24 WAS250.390.502026
25 ATL240.360.381230
26 MIA260.360.422824
27 STL310.330.531825
28 OAK280.320.443216
29 BAL270.320.452229
30 MIN300.290.483028
31 JAC290.250.572927
32 TB320.230.453122


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10 Responses to “Team Efficiency Rankings: Week 8”

  1. Jason says:

    How is Philly still in the top 10? Their OPASS = DPASS and their OINT% > DINT%? Obviously, they have been horrible the last two weeks but even putting that to the side, their numbers would seem to suggest an average team, not a good one.

  2. Anonymous says:

    How do the Giants get a D rank of 3?

  3. Anonymous says:

    A little surprised that the Panthers rank only 18th in Defense. What's accounting for that, opponent adjustments? FBO has them ranked 5th in Defensive Efficiency.

  4. Anonymous says:

    @ Anon #1 - probably because they completely shut down a Philly team which previously had a very efficient offense. Obviously the system doesn't know that Barkley was playing most the game and that Vick was hurtI would be somewhat wary of that defensive ranking.

  5. Mitch says:

    The model has Bengals -10.5 VS Miami.
    The model would be strongly recommending the Bengals thursday night.

    I doubt the Bengals are the best team, we'll see if they can get it done thursday night or if a regression is coming their way.

  6. Chris says:

    The team efficiency scores are still swinging a great deal from week to week. For example last week the Bengals were 4 points higher than the Chiefs in team efficiency rating. This week The Bengals lead is 21 points. The effect of this is in the playoff forecast is huge. In looking at SB victory odds, the Bengals went from 11 to 26% chance and the Chiefs went from 6 to 2.5% chance. Those seem like really big swings for one week of data.

  7. James says:

    @Chris, the Bengals did annihilate a decent opponent with a good defense while the Chiefs, who are almost entirely reliant on their defense, let a team previously throwing for 5.2 NYPA to gain 8 NYPA against them.

    That had a significant impact on both teams' GWP, which had a HUGE trickle down effect on the likelihood of earning a bye in the playoffs (vs a wild card for KC) and thus the SB.

  8. Ben G says:

    Something is very wrong with a statistical ranking that presents the pathetic NFC East as a strong division with 3 above average teams. These teams are a combined 3-11, with one win each, against teams outside their division.

    The 9th ranked team in these rankings has only a win over the lowest ranked team, outside of their division slate, and were only competitive in one game outside of the win (against SD).

    The more teams are accounted for the more predictable their performance is as whole. Of course some element of randomness will remain no matter how large the sample size but to imply these teams have been unlucky with their results this year is false, with the possible exception of the Cowboys.

    These teams are being held up, in these rankings, by their performances against each other where poor defense has allowed their offenses to shine (again, with the possible exception of Dallas). Perhaps "Team Efficiency" is a poor indicator of overall team quality and past performance.

  9. Mitch says:

    The interesting game this week according to the model is Cleveland's 76% probability to beat the Ravens.

    Brown's .52 GWP is .2 better than the Ravens .32.
    The Packers GWP is .21 better than the Bears, almost the same as Clevelands, and GB is a double digit favorite while the Brownies are +2.5 dogs.

    According to the model Browns should be -9.5 not +2.5.

    The model is suggesting a game of the year type prediction on the Brownies.

    Other games with a big difference are, Eagles -6 while getting +2.5
    Seahawks -20 while laying 15

  10. Anonymous says:

    Carolina has a D RANK of 18? with the #2 defense in football

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