How much stronger is the correlation between overall offense and winning?
We spent last week looking at rushing yards and receiving yards and comparing it with overall team success. Today, we graduate to overall offensive yards. Obviously, we expect stronger correlations here, but that is not ultimately what we are after. We will also look at defensive numbers and compare how they correlate with winning to what we are seeing here today.
In other words, does offense win championships or are the pundits right when they say defense wins championships? Of course, the likely result is a balance between the two. We will use the same methodology we used for passing and rushing. We will look at the best team, the league MVP (de facto offensive player of the year), and then the final four teams in the playoffs from 2000 to 2021.
It should be noted that the press votes for the MVP before the playoffs. However, by definition that player will be in the playoffs. I suppose it is possible to have an MVP not make the playoffs, but we haven’t seen that yet. We will add one wrinkle at the end that should provide some interesting data.
I repeat, this will appear to be compelling, but it’s really not as compelling as we might think. The MVP is selected. The top running back and top wide receiver simply had the most yards. Whether the MVP was the best player in the league that season is open to debate so we might see bias inserted here skewed towards the more successful teams.
League MVP: 9 Super Bowls, 4 conference losers, 7 divisional losers, 3 wild cards
If you are adept at the math you will notice 23 players where there should only be 22, Steve McNair and Peyton Manning shared the MVP one season and they both made it the playoffs. It would appear as if this correlation is strong as more than half of the MVPs made it to the final four. Again, I would caution everyone to consider the source on the MVP. There is almost certainly bias there.
This correlation is obviously not as strong as the MVP correlation, but is almost certainly stronger than passing yards and rushing yards alone. That is to be expected. The question will be how much stronger it is and how strong it is compared to overall defense when we get to it later on this week.
Yards Leader: 7 Super Bowls, 4 conference losers, 1 divisional loser, 3 wild card losers
That’s a total of 15 out of 22 which is better than passing and rushing yards, but not by quite as much as we might have predicted. However, it should be noted that more of the top teams advanced further in the playoffs. Half of the 22 made it all the way to the final four after all.
I should note that the Saints were the leaders in yards six times in those 22 years compared to only three for the Patriots and four for the Chiefs. That doesn’t have anything to do with our study directly, but it is interesting when teams are looking to shop for coaches at the coaching tree. Maybe the Saints coaching tree should be given more attention.
Final Four Teams
Again, we expect a stronger correlation here than we got before. The concept of total yards is similar to that of OPS in baseball. OPS (on base plus slugging) accounts for a 90 percent of the variance in runs scored. Similarly, total yards would seem to have more predictive value than rushing or passing yards alone. However, there will always be overlap because those two are the two components of total yards.
Super Bowl Champs— 1 #1, 4 top five, 11 top ten, 17 top 16 (Composite 11.1)
Super Brown Loser— 5 #1, 12 top fives, 15 top tens, 22 top 16 (Composite 6.5)
Conference Losers— 4 #1, 14 top fives, 26 top tens, 32 top 16s (Composite 10.5)
Keep in mind that there were 44 conference losers, so the correlation is not quire as overwhelming as it might appear at first glance. The Super Bowl losing team has the strongest correlation we will see in any individual study we do. Each of the 22 participants finished in the top half of the league in total yards. You don’t get to be stronger than that. More than half of those teams finished in the top five.
For those into degenerate gambling, it should be noted that the team with the better ranking in total yards actually lost the Super Bowl a whopping 16 of 22 times. Conversely, the better ranked NFC team won the NFC championship 16 of 22 times. The AFC champions were evenly split. So, it would appear that leading in yardage might help you get to the playoffs, but it doesn’t really help you from there.
Pep Hamilton is the new guy in charge. The Texans have to be relatively better because they can’t be relatively worse. However, I can’t but look at the teams that consistently find themselves on this list. You have to wonder why the Texans didn’t try them for their coaching search. However, it would appear so far that great offenses will get you to the playoffs, but it will be the defense that makes the big difference once you are there.