Podcast: New England, fumbles and the Super Bowl

Back in 2015, Deflategate hit the NFL. Did deflated footballs give New England an advantage over Indianapolis in the AFC championship game?

The number suggested yes. Warren Sharp looked at fumbles and showed that New England led the NFL over the previous 5 seasons.

In this episode of The Football Analytics Show, I look back at the real insights from the fumble data in 2015. New England wasn’t an outlier in fumbles but another turnover metric.

Now, we can look at four more years of fumble data. Did deflated footballs help New England reduce fumbles, an edge now gone? Or is there skill in fumbles, which will help New England in the Super Bowl against the Rams?

To listen, click on the right pointing triangle:

To listen on Apple Podcasts, click here.

To check out the Chase Stuart article on fumbles I discuss, click here.

The team Philadelphia resembles heading into the Super Bowl – a numbers driven preview

In the 2016 NFL playoffs, the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton were on fire. They entered the playoffs as the top seed in the NFC.

In the Divisional playoff, they beat Seattle 31-24 as Newton threw for 6.6 yards per attempt. Then Newton went really nuts against Arizona in the Conference Championship.

Arizona’s defense had excelled all season, but Newton threw for 11.2 yards per attempt in a resounding 49-15 win. Carolina looked invincible heading into the Super Bowl against Denver.

Does this sound familiar? Does it remind you of a more recent team?

Philadelphia in 2018

In the 2018 NFL playoffs, the Philadelphia Eagles were on fire. They entered the playoffs as the top seed in the NFC.

Even with back up QB Nick Foles, they beat Atlanta 15-10 in the Divisional playoff as Foles threw for 7.7 yards per attempt. The Foles went really nuts against Minnesota in the Conference Championship.

Minnesota’s defense had excelled all season, but Foles threw for 10.2 yards per attempt in a resounding 38-7 win. Philadelphia now enters the Super Bowl against New England.

Two years ago, Carolina faltered in the Super Bowl against Denver. Newton struggled as they lost 24-10. Will Philadelphia also fail to live up to expectations?

Nick Foles versus Cam Newton

But wait just a minute, you might be thinking. The comparison between Philadelphia and Carolina breaks down at the quarterback. How can you compare a back up like Foles to a career starter and Most Valuable Player like Newton?

It’s a good question. In some aspects of the game, there’s no comparison. Newton gains yards as a punishing, physical runner, a skill that Foles lacks.

However, let’s compare their career passing numbers.

  • Nick Foles, 60% completion percentage, 6.2 yards per attempt
  • Cam Newton, 59% completion percentage, 6.0 yards per attempt

The career stats for Foles can be deceiving, as he looked like a future Hall of Famer in 2013 before regressing to a back up the past two season.

However, Newton has never been an elite passer. He did throw for 7.2 yards per attempt in the 2015 season in which Carolina made the Super Bowl, but that season seems like an outlier.

The career numbers for Foles and Newton are similar. This suggests not to make too much of Foles’s performance in the last two playoff games.

Philadelphia’s pass offense with Foles

Let’s dig into Philadelphia further by isolating their passing numbers with Foles. For this analysis, I’ve consider 4 regular season games, but I only include pass attempts for Foles in two games.

  • at the Los Angeles Rams, when Carson Wentz played most of the game but then hurt his knee
  • Dallas, the week 17 game in which Philadelphia had nothing to play for, and Foles didn’t play the entire game

I’ve included the two playoff games as well. With Nick Foles, Philadelphia’s pass defense ranks 22nd in adjusted yards per attempt. They rank 9th with full season numbers.

I don’t like to make conclusions from 6 games of passing data. However, a rank of 22nd does suggest the Minnesota performance was an outlier.

New England’s pass defense

You might also object to the comparison of Philadelphia with Carolina because of the defense faced in the Super Bowl.

Carolina faced an elite Denver pass defense that ranked first in my adjusted yards per attempt. In contrast, Philadelphia goes against a New England’s pass defense ranks 19th this season by the same metric.

However, one number doesn’t tell the full story of New England’s pass defense. This unit came into the season with high expectations, as they cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a big free agent contract this off season.

Then the unit struggled the first half of the season. Gilmore got benched in a game, then suffered a concussion that caused him to miss a few games.

Gilmore returned against Denver in New England’s ninth game. I’ve isolated New England’s defense the second half of the season starting with this game. In addition, I removed the Jets game since they started back up QB Bryce Petty.

Since Gilmore’s return, New England’s pass defense ranks 6th by my adjusted yards per attempt. They’re not Denver from two seasons ago, but this suggests improvement the latter part of the season.

Philadelphia’s offensive line

I’ve heard multiple mentions about the strength of Philadelphia’s offensive line. This surprised me as they lost Jason Peters, one of the best left tackles in football, to injury.

To see how this might affect the game, I look at the sack rate allowed by Philadelphia’s offensive line and adjust for the pass rushes faced. This adjustment is similar to the pass numbers mentioned in this article.

For the season, Philadelphia’s offensive line ranks 14th in adjusted sack rate allowed, about NFL average. When I remove the first 7 games of the season in which Peters played, Philadelphia’s pass protection actually moves up to 6th.

So are the Eagles better without Jason Peters? Probably not.

According to Pro Football Focus, Peters allowed 7 pressures in 7 games before the injury. His replacement Halapoulivaati Vaitai has allowed 7 sacks and 30 pressures in 11 games. The pass protection without Peters has excelled due to the other four linemen.

Since Vaitai has allowed 7 of the 19 sacks in the games he has played, look for New England to attack him in pressuring Nick Foles.

Prediction

During the NFC Championship game in which Philadelphia crushed Minnesota, I thought the Eagles should be a 7 point underdog against New England. The Eagles should have been a home underdog in both playoff games with Foles, and I didn’t think two games should change that. Small sample size.

When making a prediction for this game, I rely on market data to evaluate Foles instead of Wentz. Philadelphia has played 5 games since the Wentz injury, but I don’t consider the meaningless week 17 game against Dallas.

Based on these 4 games for Philadelphia, my market rankings consider closing point spreads and adjust for schedule based on my methods. This model predicts New England to win by 6.8.

Podcast: Super Bowl Preview

In this 7 minute episode, I preview the Super Bowl by comparing Philadelphia to a recent Super Bowl team. This comparison leads to looking at my adjusted numbers for the following:

  • Philadelphia’s pass offense with only Nick Foles
  • New England’s pass defense the latter part of the season

To listen on iTunes, click here.

To listen here, click on the right pointing triangle.

NFL pass rankings by adjusted yards per attempt, 2017

Which teams have surprised early this NFL season? What can we say after 4 weeks of data?

The Power Rank looks at NFL offense and defense through their pass statistics. My research has found that passing rules the NFL while rushing hardly matters.

Here, I give the NFL rankings for pass offense and defense by yards per attempt adjusted for strength of schedule. Beware the small sample size of only 4 games, but these results do give us an early peak into the 2017 NFL season.

First, let’s look at pass offense.

NFL Pass Offense Rankings

The number gives an expected yards gained per pass attempt against an average NFL defense.

1. Los Angeles Rams, 8.82
2. Atlanta, 7.77
3. New England, 7.68
4. Washington, 7.23
5. Tampa Bay, 7.22
6. Minnesota, 7.04
7. Philadelphia, 6.95
8. Los Angeles Chargers, 6.87
9. Tennessee, 6.76
10. New Orleans, 6.69
11. Buffalo, 6.60
12. Kansas City, 6.52
13. Denver, 6.49
14. New York Giants, 6.45
15. New York Jets, 6.43
16. Dallas, 6.19
17. Green Bay, 6.14
18. Oakland, 6.08
19. Arizona, 5.94
20. Pittsburgh, 5.60
21. Carolina, 5.47
22. Detroit, 5.35
23. Indianapolis, 5.29
24. Seattle, 5.18
25. San Francisco, 5.14
26. Cincinnati, 5.14
27. Cleveland, 5.04
28. Chicago, 5.04
29. Jacksonville, 4.88
30. Baltimore, 4.77
31. Miami, 4.67
32. Houston, 4.39

The Rams as the top team immediately jumps out.

Last season, the Rams trotted out Jared Goff, the first pick in the 2016 NFL draft, at quarterback and watched him embarrass himself and the franchise. The Rams finished dead last in these pass offense rankings.

In the off season, the Rams got help for Goff. They traded for explosive receiver Sammy Waktins from Buffalo and signed tackle Andrew Whitworth from Cincinnati for enhanced protection.

In addition, you might have expected Goff to improve. On The Football Analytics Show, Kevin Cole explained how draft position is the primary variable for explaining NFL QB success. The Rams and other teams liked Goff for a reason before the draft.

But a move from last to first in pass offense is startling. Let’s see if the Rams can keep it up.

Now let’s check out the NFL pass defense rankings.

NFL Pass Defense Rankings

The number gives an expected yards allowed per attempt against an average NFL offense.

1. Pittsburgh, 4.25
2. Buffalo, 4.61
3. Dallas, 4.69
4. Carolina, 4.71
5. Jacksonville, 5.13
6. Kansas City, 5.20
7. Washington, 5.30
8. Denver, 5.31
9. Detroit, 5.49
10. Cincinnati, 5.53
11. Seattle, 5.60
12. New York Giants, 5.70
13. Oakland, 5.85
14. Atlanta, 5.88
15. Philadelphia, 5.88
16. Chicago, 5.92
17. Los Angeles Chargers, 6.08
18. Houston, 6.15
19. San Francisco, 6.23
20. Los Angeles Rams, 6.24
21. Arizona, 6.29
22. New York Jets, 6.29
23. Green Bay, 6.30
24. Minnesota, 6.40
25. Miami, 6.93
26. Baltimore, 7.04
27. New Orleans, 7.17
28. Tampa Bay, 7.44
29. Indianapolis, 7.55
30. Tennessee, 7.95
31. Cleveland, 8.13
32. New England, 8.63

Pittsburgh leads the NFL in pass defense, a surprise for a unit that has ranked 13th by these same numbers the past two seasons.

The Steelers picked up cornerback Joe Haden for 3 years, $27 million, a hefty contract for a player that had just been released by Cleveland. At the other corner, they’re starting Artie Burns, a rookie from Miami. So far, so good.

These pass offense and defense numbers drive my NFL predictions for totals. The Steelers look like an under team with this defense and an offense that was supposed to be elite but checks in at 20th in my pass offense rankings.

My numbers predict 38.3 points for their game with Jacksonville this weekend. This is probably low, since the Steelers defense most likely regresses to the mean while the offense improves during the remainder of the season.

However, there might be some value in the under.

Finally, in the biggest surprise early this NFL season, New England is dead last in pass defense. This unit figured to be a strength this preseason, as they signed Stephon Gilmore to a 4 year, $65 million contract to play cornerback opposite Malcolm Butler.

However, Gilmore has been awful and started the second half of the Carolina game on the bench. The Patriots have started 2-2 largely because of this pass defense.

Members of The Power Rank get access to these pass defense rankings each week as well as predictions for spreads and totals for all college and pro football games. To learn more, click here.

Podcast: Keith Goldner and the numberFire predictions for the Super Bowl

On this episode of the Football Analytics Show, I’m joined by Keith Goldner, Chief Analyst at numberFire and Director of Analytics at FanDuel. He was also one of Forbes 30 under 30 for young innovators in sports.

On the show, we discuss the following:

  • How Keith broke into the sports world by watching a lot of video
  • The basics behind expected points in evaluating football players and teams
  • The numberFire predictions for the Super Bowl between New England and Atlanta
  • How two models can differ on Atlanta’s pass defense
  • Keith’s perspective on the surprising success of his alma mater Northwestern in basketball

We also have some fun at the end with Keith’s favorite book, meal, etc.

To listen to the show on iTunes, click here.

To listen on the site, click play.