Phil Steele's Daily Blog - Wednesday July 1st

The NFL magazine deadline is quickly approaching. This year the Pro Preview is expanding to SIX FULL PAGES on each NFL team jampacked with the "Phil Steele" quality information you're used to seeing in my College Preview. Today I wanted to give you an article that I will be including in this year's Preview.

If you've been reading my college magazine, you know that every year I look at teams that are much better than their final record would indicate or those that are much weaker than the final would indicate based on the yards per game earned in league play. I only base statistics on league play in the NCAA because teams play a varying difficulty in non-conference slates which effects their overall ypg (yards per game) for the season.

A prime example from 2006 was the Illinois Fighting Illini. I said they were a much stronger team than the final record indicated. The team was just 1-7 in Big 10 play, but actually outgained foes by 24 ypg in conference play which was more indicative of a 5-3 team. Illinois was indeed underrated coming into 2006 and did not disappoint finishing their 2007 season with a Rose Bowl appearance. In the NFL I will look at the entire season as there is less of a difference from the top and bottom teams and the strength of schedule is fairly even. Last year I devised a formula which takes into account the net wins of a team recorded from the previous season comparing it to the net yards per game (ypg) of the previous year. As an example, in 2001 the Chicago Bears were a 13-3 team but were actually outgained by 284 yards during the year showing they were nowhere near as strong as their record indicated. The next year the Bears plummeted to 4-12. I needed some way to translate the ypg into net wins so I determined that every 10 net ypg a team had (+ or -) would translate into one net win or loss. As an example: if a team outgained their foes by 320 yards on the year they would have outgained foes by 20 ypg during the 16 game season. Let me show you how that translates. Previously a team with 7 wins and 7 losses would have equal yards to their opponent as they had an equal record. In the other 2 games (2 solid victories) they would have outgained their foes by 160 ypg. Naturally, since this is a statistical formula based on yards, the numbers do not always transfer out to a true NFL type record. A team could have +.5 net wins which cannot happen on field or even +1 net win which could not happen as there are no longer ties in the NFL but the ypg net wins is hypothetical so the numbers can vary.

I went back in the NFL to 2001 and compared what the ypg record would have been vs what the net win total actually was. Let's first look at the overrated teams from the previous year and how they fared the following season. From 2001-2007 there were 36 teams who graded out -4.7 net wins in the ypg factor from their actual net wins. The Bears in the previous example, graded out at -11.8 net wins with the ypg saying they should have been -1.8 wins (-17.75 ypg) and their actual record was +10 net wins. A couple other teams of note in this section were the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004 which were +10 net wins with a 13-3 record. They were only +31.5 ypg (+3.2 wins). That was a 6.8 net win difference and the Eagles the next year had a losing record. Another notable team was the 2003 Kansas City Chiefs who finished 13-3 (+10 net wins) but only outgained foes by 12.68 ypg (+1.3). They dropped by 6 net wins the next year to 7-9. There have been 36 teams in the NFL whose net win difference between the ypg net wins and the actual net wins was -4.7 or more and only 8 of the 36 (22.2%) improved their record. Three times they had the same record the next year and 25 times (69.4%) the team had a weaker record. That means that teams that were -4.7 or more in the ypg vs net wins the previous year had the same or weaker record 77.8% of the time.

In last years article 4 teams made this list. Two teams had their record fall (SD & Cleveland), one had the same record (Buffalo) and only San Francisco improved.

This year's teams that fall into the -4.7 or more wins are marked in the box to the Below.


Here is an example of how I computed last year's minus net wins. In 2006 the Titans were 8-8 for zero net wins but were outgained by 1,105 yards for a -69.06 ypg average. The ypg would have had Tennessee at -6.9 net wins and subtracting their zero net wins they finished -6.9 for the season.

In the span of 2001 to 2007 many teams in the NFL were much stronger than their final record. The team that had the most glaring difference was the Cincinnati Bengals of 2002 who finished just 2-14 but were only outgained by 60 yards on the season or 3.75 ypg. Using the ypg to determine their net wins for the season, the Bengals would have been -0.4. When subtracted from their -12 net wins (actual record) they were 11.6 net wins better than their actual record. The next year the Bengals actually showed that improvement on the field gaining +6 net wins. Last season the top team on this list was the Miami Dolphins. Miami was 1-15 but outgained by only 54.7 ypg (-5.5 wins) but finished -14 net wins. In 2008 they finished +10 net wins from the year prior winning the NFC East. Another example was the 2005 New Orleans Saints. The Saints finished just 3-13 on the year or -10 net wins. The 2005 Saints actually outgained foes by 37 yards or 2.31 ypg. Using the ypg, the Saints should basically have been an 8-8 team or +0.2 net wins. The difference between their actual net wins and the ypg net wins was 10.2. In 2006 the Saints were the most improved team in the NFL improving by 7 wins! In 2003 the San Diego Chargers finished 4-12 (-8 net wins) but were only outgained by 26.6 ypg (-2.7 net wins). The Chargers were 5.3 net wins better in the ypg than their actual record and the next season they improved on the field by 8 wins overall to 12-4! Going back to that magical 4.7 figure, we see that 35 teams in the NFL were 4.7 net wins better in the ypg factor than they were in the actual record. Of those 35 teams, two had the same record the next year and only 5 had a weaker record. That means 28 of the 36 teams improved their record the next year and overall 31 of the 36 teams have the same or better record the next year which comes out to 86.1% Here are this year's teams who were much better than last year's final record would indicate and fall into the +4.7 net wins in the ypg factor.

New Orleans
Green Bay

Last season 3 of the 4 teams on this list improved with Miami (+10 wins), Baltimore (+6 wins), and Philadelphia (+1.5 wins) improving and only St Louis (-1 win) having a worse record. With an 86% success mark this chart bears watching.