Numbers Don't Lie, Or Do They?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

What were some of the common themes among the 2012 playoff teams? This is the question I set out to answer, and I did so by using statistical analysis. After completing my exhaustive study, I came away with results that were both surprising and intriguing. As always, the numbers will never perfectly predict who will and will not make the postseason, but they do help us identify some of the factors that contribute the most in determining a winning season. Let's get started.

For the sake of coming to the most accurate conclusion, I pinpointed eight of the most important statistical components associated with playoff teams. Here they are:

1. Rush Offense: Rush Yards Per Carry

Rushing Offense
Rank Team Avg
1 Minnesota Vikings 5.4
2 Washington Redskins 5.2
3 San Francisco 49ers 5.1
4 Buffalo Bills 5.0
5 Kansas City Chiefs 4.8
5 Seattle Seahawks 4.8
7 New York Giants 4.6
8 Carolina Panthers 4.5
8 Philadelphia Eagles 4.5
8 Tennessee Titans 4.5
11 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4.4
12 Baltimore Ravens 4.3
12 New Orleans Saints 4.3
14 Chicago Bears 4.2
14 Houston Texans 4.2
14 New England Patriots 4.2
14 St.Louis Rams 4.2
18 Cincinnati Bengals 4.1
18 Detroit Lions 4.1
18 Miami Dolphins 4.1
21 Cleveland Browns 4.0
22 Green Bay Packers 3.9
23 Denver Broncos 3.8
23 Indianapolis Colts 3.8
23 Jacksonville Jaguars 3.8
23 New York Jets 3.8
23 Oakland Raiders 3.8
28 Atlanta Falcons 3.7
28 Pittsburgh Steelers 3.7
30 Dallas Cowboys 3.6
30 San Diego Chargers 3.6
32 Arizona Cardinals 3.4

2. Rush Defense: Rush Yards Allowed Per Carry

Rushing Defense
Rank Team Avg
1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3.5
2 Denver Broncos 3.6
3 San Francisco 49ers 3.7
3 Pittsburgh Steelers 3.7
5 San Diego Chargers 3.8
6 New England Patriots 3.9
7 Minnesota Vikings 4.0
7 Miami Dolphins 4.0
7 Houston Texans 4.0
7 Baltimore Ravens 4.0
11 Jacksonville Jaguars 4.1
11 Cincinnati Bengals 4.1
13 Washington Redskins 4.2
13 Tennessee Titans 4.2
13 Philadelphia Eagles 4.2
13 Cleveland Browns 4.2
13 Chicago Bears 4.2
13 Carolina Panthers 4.2
19 St. Louis Rams 4.3
20 Oakland Raiders 4.3
20 New York Jets 4.3
20 Arizona Cardinals 4.3
23 Seattle Seahawks 4.5
23 Kansas City Chiefs 4.5
23 Green Bay Packers 4.5
23 Detroit Lions 4.5
23 Dallas Cowboys 4.5
28 New York Giants 4.6
29 Atlanta Falcons 4.8
30 Buffalo Bills 5.0
31 Indianapolis Colts 5.1
32 New Orleans Saints 5.2

3. Pass Offense: Pass Yards Per Attempt

Rank Passing Offense Avg
1 Washington Redskins 8.3
2 San Francisco 49ers 8.1
3 Carolina Panthers 8.0
3 Seattle Seahawks 8.0
5 Denver Broncos 7.9
6 Green Bay Packers 7.8
7 Atlanta Falcons 7.7
7 New Orleans Saints 7.7
9 Dallas Cowboys 7.6
9 New England Patriots 7.6
11 New York Giants 7.4
12 Houston Texans 7.3
12 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7.3
14 Baltimore Ravens 7.1
14 Cincinnati Bengals 7.1
16 Indianapolis Colts 7.0
16 Pittsburgh Steelers 7.0
18 Detroit Lions 6.9
19 Chicago Bears 6.8
19 Miami Dolphins 6.8
19 Oakland Raiders 6.8
19 San Diego Chargers 6.8
19 St. Louis Rams 6.8
24 Buffalo Bills 6.7
25 Philadelphia Eagles 6.6
25 Tennessee Titans 6.6
27 Cleveland Browns 6.5
28 Jacksonville Jaguars 6.4
28 New York Jets 6.4
30 Kansas City Chiefs 6.2
31 Minnesota Vikings 6.1
32 Arizona Cardinals 5.6

4. Pass Defense: Pass Yards Allowed Per Attempt

Rank Passing Defense Avg
1 Pittsburgh Steelers 6.0
2 San Francisco 49ers 6.1
3 Seattle Seahawks 6.2
4 Chicago Bears 6.3
5 Denver Broncos 6.4
6 New York Jets 6.5
7 Houston Texans 6.7
7 Green Bay Packers 6.7
7 Cincinnati Bengals 6.7
10 Minnesota Vikings 6.8
10 Buffalo Bills 6.8
12 San Diego Chargers 6.9
12 Cleveland Browns 6.9
12 Carolina Panthers 6.9
12 Arizona Cardinals 6.9
16 Miami Dolphins 7.0
16 Detroit Lions 7.0
16 Baltimore Ravens 7.0
19 St. Louis Rams 7.2
20 Washington Redskins 7.4
20 Jacksonville Jaguars 7.4
20 Indianapolis Colts 7.4
20 Atlanta Falcons 7.4
24 Tennessee Titans 7.5
24 Oakland Raiders 7.5
26 Philadelphia Eagles 7.6
26 Dallas Cowboys 7.6
28 New England Patriots 7.7
29 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7.9
30 Kansas City Chiefs 8.0
31 New York Giants 8.1
31 New Orleans Saints 8.1

5. Total Rush Offense/Rush Defense & Pass Offense/Pass Defense Differential

This one is a bit complicated, so let me explain by using the Panthers as our example: On the ground, Carolina averaged 4.5 yards per rush and allowed 4.2 yards per rush. 4.5 - 4.2 = +0.3. Through the air, the Panthers averaged 8.0 yards per pass attempt and allowed 6.9 yards per pass attempt. 8.0 - 6.9 = +1.1. The Total Rush Offense/Rush Defense & Pass Offense/Pass Defense Differential for the Panthers is determined by adding +0.3 and +1.1, which is +1.4. This final number was the 5th best result in the NFL. As you will see in the table, if any given team gave up more rush and/or pass yards on defense than they produced on offense, then they received a negative factor. This makes perfect sense. If a team allows more overall yards on defense than they produce on offense, then a negative result is deserved.

Rank Team W-L RO/RD Diff PO/PD Diff Total Diff
1 San Francisco 49ers 11-4-1 1.4 2 3.4
2 Seattle Seahawks 11-5 0.3 1.8 2.1
3 Washington Redskins 10-6 1 0.9 1.9
4 Denver Broncos 13-3 0.2 1.5 1.7
5 Carolina Panthers 7-9 0.3 1.1 1.4
6 Pittsburgh Steelers 8-8 0 1 1
7 Houston Texans 12-4 0.2 0.6 0.8
8 Minnesota Vikings 10-6 1.4 -0.7 0.7
9 Green Bay Packers 11-5 -0.6 1.1 0.5
9 Chicago Bears 10-6 0 0.5 0.5
11 Baltimore Ravens 10-6 0.3 0.1 0.4
11 Cincinnati Bengals 10-6 0 0.4 0.4
13 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7-9 0.9 -0.6 0.3
14 New England Patriots 12-4 0.3 -0.1 0.2
15 Miami Dolphins 7-9 0.1 -0.2 -0.1
15 Buffalo Bills 6-10 0 -0.1 -0.1
17 San Diego Chargers 7-9 -0.2 -0.1 -0.3
18 Detroit Lions 4-12 -0.4 -0.1 -0.5
18 St.Louis Rams 7-8-1 -0.1 -0.4 -0.5
20 Tennessee Titans 6-10 0.3 -0.9 -0.6
20 New York Jets 6-10 -0.5 -0.1 -0.6
20 Cleveland Browns 5-11 -0.2 -0.4 -0.6
23 Philadelphia Eagles 4-12 0.3 -1 -0.7
23 New York Giants 9-7 0 -0.7 -0.7
25 Atlanta Falcons 13-3 -1.1 0.3 -0.8
26 Dallas Cowboys 8-8 -0.9 0 -0.9
27 Oakland Raiders 4-12 -0.5 -0.7 -1.2
28 Jacksonville Jaguars 2-14 -0.3 -1 -1.3
28 New Orleans Saints 7-9 -0.9 -0.4 -1.3
30 Kansas City Chiefs 2-14 0.3 -1.8 -1.5
31 Indianapolis Colts 11-5 -1.3 -0.4 -1.7
32 Arizona Cardinals 5-11 -0.9 -1.3 -2.2

6. Turnover Differential

This one is quite simple. The Turnover Differential is determined by subtracting the total turnovers committed from the total turnovers forced. If a team forces 25 turnovers and commits 20 turnovers, then their Turnover Differential is +5.

Rank Team TO Diff
1 New England Patriots 25
2 Chicago Bears 20
3 Washington Redskins 17
4 New York Giants 14
5 Atlanta Falcons 13
5 Seattle Seahawks 13
7 Houston Texans 12
8 San Francisco 49ers 9
8 Baltimore Ravens 9
10 Green Bay Packers 7
11 Cincinnati Bengals 4
12 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3
12 Cleveland Browns 3
14 New Orleans Saints 2
14 San Diego Chargers 2
16 Carolina Panthers 1
17 Denver Broncos -1
17 Arizona Cardinals -1
17 St. Louis Rams -1
17 Minnesota Vikings -1
21 Jacksonville Jaguars -3
22 Tennessee Titans -4
23 Oakland Raiders -7
24 Miami Dolphins -10
24 Pittsburgh Steelers -10
26 Indianapolis Colts -12
27 Dallas Cowboys -13
27 Buffalo Bills -13
29 New York Jets -14
30 Detroit Lions -16
31 Philadelphia Eagles -24
31 Kansas City Chiefs -24

7. 3rd Down Offensive Completion Percentage

Rank Team Off 3rd Pct
1 New England Patriots 49.00%
2 Atlanta Falcons 45.00%
2 Denver Broncos 45.00%
4 Dallas Cowboys 44.00%
4 New Orleans Saints 44.00%
6 Carolina Panthers 43.00%
6 Indianapolis Colts 43.00%
8 Pittsburgh Steelers 42.00%
8 Green Bay Packers 42.00%
8 Detroit Lions 42.00%
11 New York Giants 41.00%
12 Seattle Seahawks 40.00%
13 Buffalo Bills 39.00%
14 Miami Dolphins 38.00%
14 San Diego Chargers 38.00%
14 Tennessee Titans 38.00%
14 Houston Texans 38.00%
18 Philadelphia Eagles 37.00%
18 New York Jets 37.00%
18 Baltimore Ravens 37.00%
18 Minnesota Vikings 37.00%
22 Washington Redskins 36.00%
23 Chicago Bears 36.00%
23 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 36.00%
25 Oakland Raiders 35.00%
25 San Francisco 49ers 35.00%
27 Cincinnati Bengals 34.00%
28 Kansas City Chiefs 33.00%
29 St. Louis Rams 32.00%
30 Cleveland Browns 31.00%
31 Jacksonville Jaguars 30.00%
32 Arizona Cardinals 25.00%

8. 3rd Down Defensive Completion Percentage

Rank Team Def 3rd Pct
1 Denver Broncos 31.00%
2 Arizona Cardinals 33.00%
2 San Francisco 49ers 33.00%
2 Houston Texans 33.00%
5 Pittsburgh Steelers 35.00%
6 Chicago Bears 36.00%
6 Baltimore Ravens 36.00%
6 Cincinnati Bengals 36.00%
6 Carolina Panthers 36.00%
6 Detroit Lions 36.00%
11 Miami Dolphins 37.00%
11 New York Jets 37.00%
13 St. Louis Rams 38.00%
13 Indianapolis Colts 38.00%
13 Green Bay Packers 38.00%
13 Cleveland Browns 38.00%
13 Seattle Seahawks 38.00%
13 New Orleans Saints 38.00%
19 Kansas City Chiefs 39.00%
19 Oakland Raiders 39.00%
21 Tennessee Titans 40.00%
21 New England Patriots 40.00%
21 Dallas Cowboys 40.00%
21 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 40.00%
21 Atlanta Falcons 40.00%
26 Philadelphia Eagles 41.00%
26 Minnesota Vikings 41.00%
26 Jacksonville Jaguars 41.00%
29 San Diego Chargers 42.00%
29 New York Giants 42.00%
31 Buffalo Bills 44.00%
31 Washington Redskins 44.00%

The following chart gives us a realistic idea of what regular season statistical categories were most crucial for teams hoping to earn a playoff berth. I accomplished this by averaging out the final regular season ranking of the 2012 playoff teams in each of the eight individual statistical categories. Not surprisingly, the #1 playoff berth determinate was ball security(Category 6: Turnover Differential).

2012 Most important Statistical Playoff Berth Determinants

Rank Category Average Rank
1 Turnover Differential 9.83
2 Pass Offense 10.00
3 Total RO/RD and PO/PD Differential 10.50
4 Pass Defense 12.08
5 Offense 3rd Down % 12.91
5 Defense 3rd Down % 12.91
7 Rush Defense 13.50
8 Rush Offense 13.75

This final chart reveals the average ranking for all 12 playoff teams(plus the Panthers) using these 8 components. This was accomplished by averaging out the final regular season overall ranking of these 13 teams in all eight of these categories.

ROR- Rush Offense Rank

RDR- Rush Defense Rank

POR- Pass Offense Rank

PDR- Pass Defense Rank

TDR- Total Differential Rank

TOR- TurnOver Rank

OTPR- Offensive Third-Down Percentage Rank

DTPR- Defensive Third-Down Percentage Rank

AVGR- AVeraGe Rank

Rank Team ROR RDR POR PDR TDR TOR OTPR DTPR AVGR
1 San Francisco 49ers 3 3 2 2 1 8 25 2 5.75
2 Denver Broncos 23 2 5 5 4 17 2 1 7.38
3 Seattle Seahawks 5 23 3 3 2 5 12 13 8.25
4 Carolina Panthers 8 13 3 12 5 16 6 6 8.63
5 Houston Texans 14 7 12 7 7 7 14 2 8.75
6 Baltimore Ravens 12 7 14 16 11 8 18 6 11.50
7 New England Patriots 14 6 9 28 14 1 1 21 11.75
8 Washington Redskins 2 13 1 20 3 3 22 31 11.88
9 Green Bay Packers 22 23 6 7 9 10 8 13 12.25
10 Cincinnati Bengals 18 11 14 7 11 11 27 6 13.12
11 Minnesota Vikings 1 7 31 10 8 17 18 26 14.75
12 Atlanta Falcons 28 29 7 20 25 5 2 21 17.13
13 Indianapolis Colts 23 3 16 20 31 26 6 13 20.75

In no particular order, here are some of the things that stood out to me:

1. When compared to the 2012 playoff teams, the Panthers finished 4th overall with a final average ranking of 8.63. This ranking not only tells us that the 2012 Panthers should have been in the playoffs, but they could have made some noise had they actually done so. Some of the reasons they were unable to make the postseason will not be found through statistical analysis. For starters, their strength of schedule was one of the toughest in the NFL. Additionally, one of the more glaring issues that plagued Carolina throughout the season was poor situational play calling and questionable clock management.

2. The data tells me that the Indianapolis Colts didn't belong in the playoffs, but some timely 4th quarter comebacks combined with one of the easiest schedules in the NFL allowed them to sneak in.

3. Pass offense was the second most important commonality among the 2012 playoff teams, while rush offense was the least important. For better or for worse, today's NFL is largely ruled by the teams who are most successful through the air.

4. The Panthers weakest category was Turnover Differential(16th ranked), which just so happened to be the #1 shared attribute among the 2012 playoff teams.

5. Despite the devastating affects of last season's injuries, the Panthers finished admirably. Believe me when I say that this team is closer than you may think.

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