While NFL fans go back and forth with each other about the importance of a run game and defense, with the 2019 regular season having wrapped up it is possible to once again begin to assess what did and did not help teams make the postseason. This year, as in years past, what helped get teams into the playoffs was basically what helped teams make the postseason in years prior: throwing the football efficiently.
In short, if you want to narrow things down and figure out just one thing to look at to determine which team will win an NFL game without knowing anything else, start by looking at how efficiently the two teams throw the ball. This is nothing new, as it was all the way back in 2012 that Chase Stuart published the following table regarding the correlation of passing stats to winning on Football Perspective.
So, sticking with the question of how throwing the ball efficiently helps teams win, and sticking with the most predictive metric from that table, ANY/A, here’s a visual of where all 32 NFL teams finished the 2019 regular season.
THE WRONG TEAMS PASSED THE MOST THIS YEAR pic.twitter.com/VB8jiqGyxX— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) January 8, 2020
Breaking it down into performance groups, we find the following:
- 8 of 10 teams with ANY/A > 6.5 made the postseason
- 4 of 11 teams with 5.5 < ANY/A < 6.5 made the postseason
- 3 of 11 teams with ANY/A ≤ 5.5 made the postseason
Now, for how things played out once the teams were in the postseason, here’s what things looked like in the Wild Card round of the playoffs:
- Houston Texans (6.3 ANY/A) defeated the Buffalo Bills (5.6 ANY/A)
- Tennessee Titans (7.5 ANY/A) defeated the New England Patriots (6.3 ANY/A)
- Minnesota Vikings (7.5 ANY/A) defeated the New Orleans Saints (7.7 ANY/A)
- Seattle Seahawks (7.3 ANY/A) defeated the Philadelphia Eagles (6.2 ANY/A)
Or, if you had straight up bet on the Wild Card games based solely on which team had a higher ANY/A during the regular season, you’d have been 3-1 during the first weekend of the playoffs. Now, obviously, dozens of you are about to race to the comments section to scream, “SMALL SAMPLE SIZE!” but before you do that, I’d invite you to run the same analysis for the 256 games of the regular season in the NFL and see what the results are. Or, run the same analysis for any season in the past decade to see if this is simply small sample randomness, of if there might be something more to it.