All year long fans of the Patriots have heard on a weekly, if not daily basis that the Pats had the worst defense in the history of the NFL, although that phrase had to be changed to the “31st ranked defense” after the final week of the season. One media member after another made these declarations as if they were absolute truths that no reasonable person would ever consider questioning.
But question the merits of these rankings is exactly what many began to do when it became apparent that not one, but several of the league’s very best teams ranked at the bottom of The One And Only Official Way Of Determining How Good Every Team’s Defense Is. The so called worst and next-to-worst were at the very same time the team with the best record in the NFC and the team with the best record in the AFC; how could that possibly be?
Official Team Rankings apologists blamed that not on a suspect metric, but instead on the fact teams were throwing for a record number of passing yards this year. While that fact may indeed skew the total numbers, why would that have any bearing on a shift in the rankings? The best teams should still be ranked at or near the top, and the worst ones at or near the bottom regardless of what the total numbers may be.
The reality is that yardage always has been and always will be a flawed way of measuring how well a team’s offense or defense is producing. The only way yardage would not be an inaccurate statistic of judging the performance of an offense or defense would be if every team had identical execution near the goal line, and nobody ever turned the ball over – and neither of those things are remotely close to being the case in the game of football.
In the early game Saturday many were surprised that the San Francisco 49ers defeated the New Orleans Saints, but was that outcome really that shocking? The 49ers were the best team in the league in forcing turnovers and the best in holding onto the ball. Although the Saints ranked 4th best for the fewest number of giveaways the were dead last in the NFC in their number of takeaways; advantage San Francisco.
Sure enough turnovers played a decisive factor in this game as the 49ers had five takeaways while the Saints had only one. What about the almighty yardage statistic? Surprise, surprise: the losing team out-gained the winning team by 65 yards.
Not much can be taken from Saturday’s game between the Broncos and Pats because New England so thoroughly dominated Denver in every phase of the game, but it should be noted that the Officially Ranked 31st Defense In The League (ranked number 15 in points allowed this year, by the way), just gave up only ten points yesterday and will be playing in the AFC Championship Game next week. And today the Officially Worst Defense In The History of the NFL somehow managed to give up fewer points than 13 other teams en route to the best record in the league this year.
It’s hardly the most important thing for the NFL to change, but it’s time they discard yardage as the official league statistic for ranking teams defenses and offenses. How about making something similar to the quarterback rating where points, red zone efficiency and turnovers are equally weighted? Or the same plus the addition of another efficiency metric, yards per point? All you have to do is rank every team in each of those categories, add up the numerical value of those three (or four) rankings, and there is your total score; lowest sum is best and largest is worst. If that’s too radical how about at least changing to points scored and points allowed for the official stat of ranking team offenses and defenses – because right now rankings based on yardage are very misleading.
You really want me to believe that the Jaguars have the league’s 6th best defense and the Eagles have the NFL’s 4th best offense? I call BS to the significance of yardage stats. It’s time for the NFL to dump them.
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