The Value of Statistics: 2011 Edition

I decided to put together a spreadsheet based on this season's NFL statistics, in order to gauge the correlation between specific raw statistics and winning. In doing this, I inverted the current league rankings in the six statistics that most interested me, thereby giving each team a value within each of those six statistics.

For example, the Saints currently lead the league in points scored, so their scoring value is 32. The Rams are currently ranked last in this category, so their value for points scored is 1. Make sense? I then multiplied these values by the number of wins each team has accrued to this point, to arrive at an extended category value. The Packers have the most wins with 13, so a perfect extended value in any given category would be 416, i.e., 32 x 13.

Once an extended category value for each team was attained, I then added them all up to arrive at an overall value for each statistic, as it applies to Ws in the win column this particular season.

For any teams tied within a certain statistic, I ranked them according to wins, thereby giving the importance of all six statistics an equal benefit of the doubt. The Colts, who are currently winless, were obviously incapable of contributing any value to any of these categories, as zero multiplied by any value equals zero. Fortunately, the highest Indianapolis ranks in any of them is sixth from the bottom, so there's very little skewing based on that.

Here are my findings:

As expected, points scored was the grand daddy of them all, with a cumulative total of 4048 correlation points.

Coming in second was turnover ratio with 3958 correlation points. Keep in mind, this is takeways LESS giveaways, not simply cumulative takeways.

In third, total yards from scrimmage with 3863 correlation points. This is passing yards + rushing yards, less yardage lost on sacks. It does not take penalty yardage into account.

In fourth, (drumroll) time of possession with 3859 correlation points. While this is a bit lower than I expected, I'm sure it's much higher than a few others would expect. Please note how closely the 2011 value of this so-called "meaningless" statistic compares to offensive yardage, the importance of which is never questioned.

In fifth, passing yardage with 3828 correlation points. So wait, let me get this straight. Merely possessing the ball is more congruent with winning, than chunking it down the field? Things that make you go hmm. I can't imagine that has anything to do with the inherent risks of the passing game itself.

In sixth, rushing yardage with 3536 correlation points. Not only are fewer teams than ever running the ball regularly, one out of every two teams that square off in head-to-head competition is guaranteed a win, no matter how they choose to advance the ball. As such, it stands to reason that the correlation between this statistic and winning would have dropped off, as passing heads in the opposite direction almost by default.

That said, pounding the rock still holds a considerable amount of importance in terms of offensive balance, as it figures into the two statistics listed immediately above passing. It also helps offset some of that yardage lost on sacks. Lastly, it should be noted that 6 of the league's top 10 rushing teams remain in the thick of the playoff race, including our beloved Black and Gold at numero ocho.

Just to illustrate how effective this spreadsheet method truly is, I decided to grab a statistic from the other end of the spectrum: points surrendered. While I'm fully aware that an effective offense can offset virtually any amount of points given up, especially if afforded the time with which to do so, I seriously doubt this is a statistic that anyone closely associates with winning. Can we all agree on that? Wonderful.

Points surrendered carries 2992 correlation points. Now, I'm not saying this is without a doubt the most "meaningless" statistic in all of football, when it comes to winning. Mathematically speaking, if you simply rank the teams from fewest to most wins, a lower correlation point total of 2626 is possible. Still, when time of possession is being lumped in with what we all know to be near-worthless by certain individuals, when in fact it's rubbing elbows with the big boy statistics nearly a thousand points up yonder, I think it's safe to say that certain individuals are completely full of sh**.

Ranking the teams from most to fewest yields a high correlation point total of 4238, by the way. With this information, we can actually set up a scale and grade these statistics out on a curve. The difference between the highest possible score (4238) and the lowest possible score (2626) is 1612. By subtracting the lowest possible score (2626) from each correlation total, then dividing that difference by 1612, we arrive at the following percentages:

Points scored - 88.2% (B+)
Turnover ratio - 82.6% (B)
Total yards from scrimmage - 76.7% (C+)
Time of possession - 76.5% (C+)
Passing yardage - 74.6% (C)
Rushing yardage - 56.5% (F)
Points surrendered - 22.7% (F)

I don't know about you, but I sure feel sorry for Dan Kelly's children. Assuming they come home with a "meaningless" C+ on their report card, they're liable to be grounded for life.

This FanPost was written by a reader and member of Canal Street Chronicles. It does not necessarily reflect the views of CSC and its staff or editors.

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