Posted by Chase Stuart on October 10, 2007
On Monday Night, the Dallas Cowboys won a game despite never running a play with the lead. Believe it or not, it's not the first such game the Bills have lost this year -- in week one, the Broncos also took their first lead on a game winning field goal as time expired.
While I'm certainly no Bills apologist, an 0-2 record from those two games doesn't (in my humble opinion) accurately reflect how they played in those two games. Of course, if either field goal missed, Buffalo would have gone 2-0. But what about the fact that they ran zero plays from scrimmage when trailing the opponent?
It got me to thinking of one of my favorite stats that no one uses -- time of possession when winning, tied, or trailing. Unfortunately, I don't have TOP data easily accessible, but I do have data from the Footballguys.com Data Dominator on the number of pass attempts and rush attempts (sack data not included, unfortunately) in each of those three situations.
This led me to the idea of a different type of power rankings. I ranked each team by the number of plays run when winning, losing, or tied in the game. I then calculate their percentage the same way the NFL calculates winning percentage: (Wins + Ties * 0.5) / Total Games. Take the Patriots, for example. They've run 246 plays while in the lead, and only 19 when trailing. Another 60 came when tied, with a lot of those at the starts of games. Their winning percentage is therefore 0.849 (276/325). Here's the list for all 32 teams.
Pct W L T NE 0.849 246 19 60 PIT 0.841 221 13 71 IND 0.762 230 61 31 JAX 0.731 144 35 57 WAS 0.635 108 42 95 GB 0.629 144 64 101 TB 0.629 134 67 59 CHI 0.515 119 110 70 BAL 0.514 140 130 78 DAL 0.503 112 110 94 BUF 0.498 86 87 78 OAK 0.492 95 99 47 SEA 0.490 101 107 83 SD 0.475 120 135 47 ATL 0.462 63 85 139 DET 0.451 92 120 74 PHI 0.371 51 113 77 TEN 0.367 51 118 82 MIN 0.364 46 110 80 HOU 0.360 64 145 81 NYJ 0.356 57 141 94 CAR 0.345 58 148 85 NYG 0.344 58 153 94 STL 0.340 40 137 127 DEN 0.326 68 170 55 CIN 0.285 59 168 27 CLE 0.281 70 195 20 ARI 0.274 50 191 71 MIA 0.232 31 178 65 KC 0.213 37 195 43 SF 0.197 24 172 48 NO 0.188 28 197 46
That list bears some resemblance to most people's power rankings, although it's important to remember that there is no strength of schedule adjustment here. According to Sagarin, Dallas, Pittsburgh and Carolina have faced the easiest schedules. Meanwhile, Buffalo, New Orleans and Cincinnati have faced the toughest. Buffalo ranks higher on this list than nearly every power rankings list you'll find, despite not even factoring in that they've played the toughest schedule in the league. A couple of kicks go the other way, and Buffalo would easily be 3-2, with forgivable losses at Pittsburgh and New England (the top two teams on this list).
Margin of victory isn't factored into this analysis explicitly, but it's not ignored, either. In a blowout, you're simply not going to run many plays from scrimmage with the lead. Conversely, if you're up by 21 early and win by 31, you'll get lots of credit in this ranking system for running nearly all your plays with the lead.
Do I really think that the Giants are worse than the Vikings? No. I don't think the Cowboys are worse than the Bears or Bucs, and I'd take the Bengals over the Rams when they play each other. Ideally, these numbers would be adjusted for strength of schedule, which would knock Dallas down even further, but "feel" more accurate.
Are these useful? I don't really know. But it helps to get an idea of how the games have gone this year, and that's something that I like to know. The Titans are 3-1 with a two point loss to the Colts, so you could argue they're easily a top five team.
On the other hand, the 2 point loss to the Colts underscores the fact that Tennessee never held the lead in the game. They were down 14-3 pretty early on, and the Colts never let the Titans take over the game. The blowout win over the Saints makes it easy to forget that New Orleans held a lead for about five minutes in the third quarter. In the season opener, Jacksonville was winning for almost two full quarters. Tennessee won by three, and Jacksonville was without their field goal kicker for the day (and as a result, eschewed a 36 yard field goal attempt in the second half). That game could have easily have gone either way. Against Atlanta, the Titans were tied or trailing until one minute to go in the third quarter, and Atlanta had 1st and goal from the 1 down by a TD with two minutes to go in the game.
Yes, Tennessee deserves a load of credit for winning three games. When ranking what they've accomplished to date, they might deserve to be in your top five. But the point is they could be ever so slightly less talented (or lucky) and be 1-3 instead of 3-1 right now. For predictive purposes, I think that's something you shouldn't overlook.