I’m always amazed when I talk to other NFL fans. They are either fanatically excited/depressed and usually mention how dominant/pitiful their team is and then tell me their team’s record like this explains everything.
In a league as competitively close as the NFL, it’s amazing how many times luck can be the different between a team that appears to be good and a team that appears to be firing their coach. A strange bounce of the ball or the sheer luck of the NFL’s annual scheduling draw can change the fortunes of any team’s season.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at the stats of two actual NFL teams below and pick which team has the better record at this point in the 2010 season.
Looking at the breakdown of the two teams, most people would pick Team B. The Quarterbacks are comparable, their top WR is much better, their O-line and D-lines both have an advantage over Team A but their defense is worse overall, especially against the pass.
Now what if I told you that Team A is the defending Superbowl champion New Orleans Saints with a 3-2 record and Team B is the perennially underachieving Dallas Cowboys with a 1-3 record?
Could the Cowboys poor pass defense really be enough of a disadvantage to give them a 2 win disadvantage to the Saints despite outperforming them in nearly every other category?
This is where some luck (and poor decisions) can factor in. Take a look at the full table, and pay special attention to the last two categories.
When turnover margin and strength of schedule are considered, it’s very obvious why the Saints have the better record. They have had the advantage of a much softer schedule that included two teams that are currently 0-5 (SF & Car) and have definitely benefited from a better turnover differential. The Cowboys, on the other hand have faced 4 teams that all have winning records.
And before you jump to the conclusion that the Cowboys are more apt to turn the ball over than the Saints, consider that Dallas averages 0.175 turnovers per drive while New Orleans averages 0.158 turnovers per drive, which is only the difference between being 24th and 19th in the league at taking care of the ball. The big difference is that New Orleans defense has generated more turnovers than Dallas last-ranked defense in that category.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, their schedule doesn’t get any easier and unless their defense starts defending the pass and creating a few turnovers, they’ll be out of the play-offs before the Thanksgiving Day game.
As for the Saints, 3 of their next 5 opponents are sub-par, so they could have a nice record despite a less-than-dominant season when they meet the Cowboys on turkey day.
Either way, the luck of the draw has affected both teams.
All the statistics in the article are from the public and premium sections of FootballOutsiders.com as well as the Football Outsiders Almanac 2010.
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