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NFL Stats: Read Between the Lines
by Jim Feist - 09/07/2009
The best time of the sports calendar is here, the opening week of the pro football campaign! There are mountains of stats and angles available for sports bettors to digest from this season and years past. Information certainly is a huge key when analyzing games and point spreads. Sometimes it can seem that there is too much info, but it's essential to understand that stats are only a starting point. They don't always tell the whole story. In fact, stats can sometimes lie, something to keep in mind when searching for football picks. (Follow Jim on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JimFeistSports).
Sure, it's important to ask such questions as, “How many yards passing per game does his team get? How big is this offensive line compared to the opponent? Is a great quarterback going up against a team with slow defensive backs? What's their home record the last five years, straight up and against the spread?” However, it's important to learn when to look beyond stats. For example, here are some stats from the 2008 NFL season:
*The Texans were 3rd in total offense.
*The Titans were 21st in total offense.
*The Cardinals were 32nd in rushing offense.
*The Raiders were No. 10 in pass defense.
*The Steelers ranked 22 in total offense.
*The 49ers were No. 13 in pass offense.
*The Cowboys had the No. 8 total defense.
*The Raiders were No. 10 in rushing offense.
Now, all of those 2008 stats are true. However, they don't tell the real story about a football team's strengths, either. For instance, the Titans were 21st in total offense, which gives the impression they were a weak offensive team. However, they ended up 13-3 with the top seed in the AFC playoffs with the No. 7 rushing offense in the game. It was a ball control offense that played to its strengths, with a veteran QB (Kerry Collins) who was a game manager. Even in the 13-10 playoff loss to the great Baltimore defense, the Titans rolled up 391 yards (275 passing). In short, they were better offensively than the overall ranking might suggest.
That is just as true for the champion Steelers, who ranked 22nd in total offense in 2008. Like Tennessee, the Steelers were ball control offense with a sensational defense. But the offense was no liability, with a talented passing game of QB Ben Roethlisberger, TE Heath Miller and WRs Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. We saw how good that passing offense could be when they needed a quick score – in the final seconds of the Super Bowl.
Back in 2004 and 2005 the Steelers ranked 28th and 24th in passing offense, yet those “poor” stats were deceptive. The Steelers are primarily a power-running team, and highly successful at it, getting out in front early and then chewing up the clock. It worked often during a 15-1 regular season in 2004 and winning the Super Bowl in 2005. They didn’t need to pass a lot, although when forced to pass, they were able to move the ball through the air with Roethlisberger and terrific wide receivers. The stats may suggest a poor passing team, but the reality was quite different.
How about the 49ers on that list? Yes, they ranked 13th in passing offense with 211 yards in the air per game. But that was because Mad Mike Martz was the offensive coordinator, relying more on the air attack. But let’s face it: The 49ers of 2008 were not a scary passing offense, with team totals of 21 TDs and 19 interceptions behind Shaun Hill and J.T. O'Sullivan.
The Arizona Cardinals ranked dead last in rushing offense, but we certainly wouldn't classify them as a weak offensive team. Arizona ranked fourth in the NFL in total yards and third in points. It was reminiscent of two years ago, when the Saints were ranked 28th overall in rushing offense, but that was deceptive. They had plenty of offensive talent and balance with RBs Deuce McAllister and rookie Reggie Bush. No one wanted to face them as the Saints ranked No. 1 in total offense because of a devastating passing game and spread attack.
Two years ago Cleveland was No. 13 against the pass, but anyone watching the Browns saw a very poor defense. They were 25th against the run, so teams could wear them down on the ground, making the passing game just as effective. The Browns allowed 238 points, one of the poorest marks in the league. Successful handicappers dig deep and weigh all the strengths and weaknesses before heading to the betting window. All of which is needed when searching for football picks.