One Telling Statistic That Defines Each NFL Team
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It's Week 17 of the 2012 NFL season, and by now teams are either preparing for the playoffs or for the offseason.
The fine line between January football and sitting on the couch comes down to more than big hits and long touchdown runs, however.
It comes down to the numbers.
Hate it or love it, statistics play a pivotal role in deciding a team's fate. By calculating strengths and weaknesses, good teams are separated from the bad. In turn, 12 teams are postseason bound while the rest are cleaning out their lockers.
With that in mind, here is one telling statistic that defines each squad in the NFL.
Arizona Cardinals: Passer Rating
When it comes to the quarterback position, the Cardinals have no answers.
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The Arizona Cardinals' forgettable 5-10 season will be over soon, but their problems at quarterback won't be.
After all, signal-callers Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley and John Skelton have combined for an NFL-worst passer rating of 62.5, per ESPN.com.
Kevin Kolb's eight touchdowns and three interceptions look presentable on the surface. Then, you realize that he held onto the ball for 27 sacks in just six games this year before landing on injured reserve.
Beyond the former second-rounder there's John Skelton, who has tossed just two touchdowns to nine picks this season in seven contests. Due to Skelton's erratic play, rookie Ryan Lindley has been thrust into a starting gig, hurling zero touchdowns and seven interceptions in six appearances.
All-Pro wideout Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals' defiant defense have fought hard without results, as the quarterback conundrum has thwarted the team's 2012 season.
Atlanta Falcons: Completion Percentage
Matt Ryan's arsenal of receivers make for a dangerous passing attack.
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The Atlanta Falcons have an aerial attack that can keep even the best secondaries on their heels.
With Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez lining up to catch Matt Ryan's passes, it's no wonder the Falcons are 13-2. That high-powered offense has no weak option, and Atlanta ranks first in completion percentage at 69 percent, per ESPN.com.
Ryan has reached a career-high with 4,481 passing yards in a season and his top three targets could end the year with 1,000-yard campaigns. In a sense, he has three favorite receivers, so defenses can't lock in on one.
Baltimore Ravens: Rushing Yards Allowed
The Ravens haven't been able to close down rushing lanes.
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
When you think of the Baltimore Ravens, you think of a loud, hard-nosed defensive front that pins ball carriers in the backfield.
Well, that's not exactly the case this year. According to ESPN.com data, the Ravens rank 24th in rushing yards allowed with 1,918. To put that in perspective, last season Baltimore ranked second-best with 1,482 yards allowed.
Injuries to linebackers Ray Lewis, Jameel McClain and even cornerback Lardarius Webb have certainly removed some of the venom from the purple and black. As a result, the 10-5 Ravens are skidding toward the playoffs with the AFC North secured.
Buffalo Bills: Points Allowed
The Seattle Seahawks hung 50 points on board against the Buffalo Bills in Week 15.
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
The Buffalo Bills haven't made the playoffs since 1999. That's the longest active playoff drought in the NFL.
They won't make the postseason again until they can keep points off the board. This season, Buffalo has allowed an average of 28.4 points per game—second worst in the league, per ESPN.com.
The 5-10 Bills have a strong ground game, but the offense can't excel without some resistance on the defensive side of the ball.
Carolina Panthers: Quarterback Leading Team in Rushing Yards
Cam Newton leads the Panthers in rushing yards.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
According to Spotrac.com, the Carolina Panthers inked halfback DeAngelo Williams to a five-year, $43 million contract in 2011. A year later, they invested six years and nearly $39 million to keep Williams' counterpart Jonathan Stewart in town.
And yet, the player leading the 6-9 Panthers in rushing yards is not Williams nor Stewart; it's quarterback Cam Newton.
The former No. 1 overall draft pick has produced 707 yards on the ground via 120 attempts. Meanwhile, the two tailbacks have been able to gain no better than 3.6 yards per carry. In total, Williams has 527 yards and Stewart has 336.
Chicago Bears: Passes Intercepted
The Chicago Bears have capitalized off of quarterback mistakes.
John Gress/Getty Images
Quarterbacks think twice before they throw into the Chicago Bears' coverage.
That's because the Bears' opportunistic defense has taken advantage of miscues this season. In doing so, they've captured 23 interceptions.
What's more impressive is that eight of those picks were taken back for six, which is best in the NFL, according to ESPN.com.
The Bears are 9-6 heading into the final week of the season, and their defensive playmaking has kept them afloat.
Cincinnati Bengals: Sacks
The Bengals are the best at bringing down the quarterback.
Peter Aiken/Getty Images
The 9-6 playoff-bound Cincinnati Bengals may not be an elite NFL team this year, but they can sack the quarterback like one.
According to ESPN.com statistics, the Bengals have recorded the second-most sacks this year—47. With defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Michael Johnson plowing through blockers for 13 and 9.5 sacks respectively, there's no telling what their defensive unit is capable of.
In total, 14 Bengals have been credited with sacks this year, proving that Cincinnati can bring the heat from a variety of angles and players.
Cleveland Browns: Fourth Quarter Time of Possession Percentage
The Browns hardly have the ball in the final quarter of play.
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
The 5-10 Cleveland Browns are a young team still learning the how to win ball games. Part of their struggles trace back to the possession battle.
According to TeamRankings.com, the Browns have the ball less in the fourth quarter than any other NFL team.
It's hard to finish games strong if the offense doesn't have the ball. And Cleveland has kept possession for only 41 percent of fourth quarters this year. That number pales in comparison to the Denver Broncos, who control 58 percent of the final quarter.
Dallas Cowboys: Offensive Penalties
Penalties have marred the Dallas offense.
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
The 8-7 Dallas Cowboys are fighting for their playoff lives, and part of that comes down to a lack of discipline.
The Cowboys' offense can make some miraculous plays, but also some dismal ones. The most glaring of their inconsistencies is offensive penalties.
Denver Broncos: Forced Punts
The Broncos know how to get the punt returner on the field.
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
The Denver Broncos' defense wastes little time getting the ball back to future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning.
With the likes of Wesley Woodyard, Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil tallying up the tackles and sacks, opposing offenses spend a lot of time on the sidelines. And in addition, the punters see some extended work.
Just how many failed third downs come at the hands of Denver? If it's any indication, the 12-3 Broncos have caused the second-most punts in the NFL with 85, per ESPN.com.
Detroit Lions: Passing Attempts
Matthew Stafford leads the most pass-heavy offense in the NFL.
Norm Hall/Getty Images
Opposing offenses tack 27 points per game on the Detroit Lions' defense. When the competition can score at such a clip, teams like Detroit have no choice but to air it out in return.
As a result, the 4-11 Lions throw the ball more than any other team in the NFL. If you thought the Atlanta Falcons throw the ball a lot, Detroit has chucked it over 100 times more this year.
To be exact, their magic number is 698 attempts, per ESPN.com.
Matthew Stafford should have a sore shoulder once the Lions' season reaches its conclusion, because their offense is as one-dimensional as they come.
Green Bay Packers: Red Zone Scoring Percentage
The Packers are one of the best when it comes to scoring inside the 20-yard line.
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Taking seven points in the red zone instead of three can break the morale of the defense. The Green Bay Packers are well aware of that.
This season, the 11-4 Packers and field general Aaron Rodgers have been confident inside the opponent's 20-yard line. How confident? Well, they score touchdowns in the red zone 65 percent of the time, per TeamRankings.com.
That's a percentage only bested by the New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints.
For what it's worth, Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby, who's making only 61 percent of his field goals, hasn't even attempted a kick inside 19 yards this season. When they get close, the Packers are determined to get a TD.
Houston Texans: Pass Deflections
With his hands in the air, J.J. Watt has racked up the pass breakups for the Texans.
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
They don't call him J.J. "Swatt" for nothing.
J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans' defense have mastered the art of the batted pass. Houston's defensive line rushes the passer with hands ready to strike. It's like the 12-3 Texans have another set of defensive backs on the field.
In preparation for their Week 14 tilt against Houston, the New England Patriots even practiced with tennis rackets to simulate the potent Texans' front. Taking that into consideration, it is no surprise that Houston leads the league with 103 pass deflections, according to ESPN.com.
Indianapolis Colts: Defensive Penalty Yards Allowed
The Colts' defense has made some mistakes for big yardage.
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images
The Indianapolis Colts' defense is a pedestrian 26th in total yards allowed. But what makes Indy's defense most vulnerable is their susceptibility to penalty flags.
According to ESPN.com, the Colts' mistakes have bitten them to the tune of 1,144 penalty yards this season.
Despite the excessive laundry, Indianapolis is 10-5 and in the playoffs with No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck earning his stripes.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Rushing Attempts
Maurice Jones-Drew's injury-plagued season has kept the Jaguars from running the ball.
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Without their franchise player, the Jags have lost their ground game. And in short, they've given up on it.
Jacksonville ranks 30th in rushing yards, but what's more staggering is the fact that only the Dallas Cowboys carried the ball less. This year, the Jaguars have handed the ball off a total of 335 times, per ESPN.com. To give that number some gravity, the Seattle Seahawks have run the ball 506 times.
Kansas City Chiefs: Passing Touchdowns
Matt Cassel and the Chiefs have seldom notched a passing touchdown.
Peter Aiken/Getty Images
The Kansas City Chiefs have had a trying year in every sense of the word. Their offense is proof of that.
During Kansas City's Week 16 contest against the Indianapolis Colts, the team rushed for 352 yards and still lost largely due to the inept passing game. By doing so, Will Brinson of CBSSports.com reports that the Chiefs became the first team in NFL history to lose after totaling over 350 rushing yards.
Miami Dolphins: Rushing First Downs Allowed
The Dolphins have done well against the run, preventing first downs.
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The Miami Dolphins weren't necessarily expected to make the playoffs with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill at the helm, but their 7-8 record suggests they're close.
While Tannehill has flashed his potential, the defense has been a story of strong run defense and porous pass defense.
In elaboration, no team has allowed fewer first downs on the ground than Miami. With 67 first downs given up, the Dolphins are on the same tier of run defense as the Denver Broncos, who tie them for the lead, according to ESPN.com statistics.
Unfortunately, the Dolphins' pass defense needs to do some catching up, as the unit ranks 28th in first downs allowed with 200.
Minnesota Vikings: Yards Per Carry
Adrian Peterson is far more efficient than the Vikings' passing game.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
It could be argued that Peterson is now better than ever. And by looking at 9-6 Vikings' average yards per carry, there's little doubt.
This year, Minnesota has rushed the ball more efficiently than any other team, collecting 5.4 yards per handoff, according to ESPN.com.
Still, their excellent rushing attack hasn't gotten much assistance. Ironically enough, the Vikings' passing game led by quarterback Christian Ponder nets one of the lowest per-attempt averages in the league.
New England Patriots: Total Offense
The Patriots' offense has become a well-balanced machine.
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The 11-4 New England Patriots are known for a pass-first spread offense which runs like a two-minute drill. But this year, the game plan has become far more balanced.
With a viable Stevan Ridley-led running game, plus Pro-Bowl caliber seasons from quarterback Tom Brady and the receivers, New England places fourth in passing yards and eighth in rushing yards. Crunching the numbers, the Pats have pieced together the No. 1 total offense in the NFL, cites ESPN.com.
The offensive side of the ball averages nearly 430 yards per contest and has moved the chains for the most first downs in the league.
New Orleans Saints: Total Yards Allowed
The Saints' defense has been shredded all season.
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
When it comes to slowing down offenses, the New Orleans Saints have had no answer this season.
According to ESPN.com, the Saints' defense has been run over and carved up for a total of 6,512 yards in 2012.
To pour salt on the wound, New Orleans has allowed more yardage than the New England Patriots have produced on offense this year. With that taken into consideration, it's no shocker that the Saints are 7-8 and on the outside looking in.
New York Giants: Sacks Allowed
Eli Manning hasn't been brought to the ground much this year.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
At 8-7, the New York Giants haven't been able to muster much momentum this season. The one constant, however, has been the G-Men's offensive line.
Preventing sacks is a group effort. The offensive linemen must sustain blocks, the receivers must break coverage, the running game must be effective and the quarterback must get the ball out.
The Giants have gotten all four of those aspects down pat with physicality at the line of scrimmage. But the offense hasn't made the most of the extra time, and their recent performances have been horrid.
While New York still has a crack at making the playoffs, being outscored 67-14 in their last two games does not help. The O-line has been very good; the rest have yet to pick up the pace.
New York Jets: Percentage of Yards After Catch
Receivers weren't able to run up field after receiving Mark Sanchez's passes.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
The 7-8 New York Jets have had a year to forget. No matter if it was quarterback play, running back play or receiver play, Gang Green's offense has lacked spark all season.
But one stat may cast more closure than the rest: percentage of yards after catch.
No starter had a lower percentage than Sanchez, which can mean three things: The offense's pass plays were short with little space to gain yards, the quarterback failed to put his receivers in position to succeed, or that the receivers failed to break plays open.
Whatever led to the stagnancy, all of it will be reassessed during the Jets' long and arduous offseason.
Oakland Raiders: Rushing Touchdowns
The Raiders running game hasn't been able to find pay dirt.
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images
The Oakland Raiders' offensive strategy has changed significantly over the past year.
In 2011, Oakland was built on a strong foundation of running the football. As a result, the team stacked up 16 rushing touchdowns and was regarded as one of the best rushing teams in the league.
This season, Oakland has leaned more toward a Carson Palmer passing attack. The results haven't been there, and the 4-11 Raiders have scored just three touchdowns on the ground—the lowest in the NFL, per ESPN.com.
A lot of the regression can be attributed to Darren McFadden's extended absence, the loss of bruising back Michael Bush in free agency and the porous state of Oakland's defense.
Philadelphia Eagles: Fumbles
Fumbles have deflated the Philadelphia offense.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
The Philadelphia Eagles were once dubbed "The Dream Team," and now they're closer to being a nightmare. The Eagles' woes are best described through their inability to protect to the football.
Giveaways have stopped the Eagles dead in their tracks. According to ESPN.com, 22 of Philly's fumbles have been recovered by opposing teams this season—far and away the worst in the league.
Without question, Philadelphia's roster has loads of talent. However, failing to control the ball will result in a failing 4-11 season.
Pittsburgh Steelers: First Downs Allowed
First downs are hard to come by against Pittsburgh.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
The 7-8 Pittsburgh Steelers give offenses headaches, but at least they give NFL chain gangs a break.
That's because no NFL defense has conceded less first downs than the Steel Curtain, according to ESPN.com. The Steelers' 255 first downs allowed looks awfully impressive in comparison to the Jacksonville Jaguars' 352 first downs allowed this year.
When Pittsburgh's front hits the field, three-and-outs are aplenty. Solidifying themselves as one of the most disruptive run and pass defenses, the Steelers have allowed the least yards of any NFL team this season.
Despite their strong campaign on defense, Pittsburgh has hit some roadblocks offensively and lost five of their last six games. With a lack of first-down conversions on offense, as well as some untimely turnovers, the Steelers are now eliminated from playoff contention.
St. Louis Rams: Divisional Win Percentage
Sam Bradford and the Rams are moving in the right direction.
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What do the New England Patriots, Houston Texans, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers and St. Louis Rams all have in common?
They all have gone undefeated in their respective divisions.
While the accomplishment is usually a formality for the top-tier NFL franchises, it's a pleasant surprise for the Rams. At 4-0-1 in the NFC West, St. Louis is the only division winner who will miss the playoffs.
Under head coach Jeff Fisher, quarterback Sam Bradford, running back Steven Jackson and a new-look defense, the Rams are on the upswing. However, their 7-7-1 record proves that they have some more work to do before they can be called a playoff team.
San Diego Chargers: Rushing Touchdown Percentage
The Chargers hardly score on the ground.
Harry How/Getty Images
At 6-9, the San Diego Chargers aren't going to the postseason. And they're probably not going to get another rushing touchdown, either.
In the grand scheme of things, the Chargers have scored 36 touchdowns this season. Only four of them have been from rushing, however. As a result, San Diego sports the lowest rushing touchdown percentage of any team at 11 percent, according to TeamRankings.com.
The San Diego defense has even produced more scores than tailbacks Ryan Matthews and Jackie Battle have on the ground.
San Francisco 49ers: Yards Allowed Per Catch
Good luck converting a long completion versus the 49ers.
David Welker/Getty Images
The San Francisco 49ers are 10-4-1 and in control of the NFC West because of their overpowering defense.
Yet beyond notable playmakers Aldon Smith, Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis, there is a pass coverage unit to be reckoned with. Not for sacks or interceptions, but for making tackles immediately after the catch.
The ability to cut completions short is a skill which flies under the radar. And the Niners' pass defense has been able to do just that, allowing a second-best 10.2 yards per reception, according to ESPN.com.
San Francisco has also not allowed a pass over 53 yards, which is tied for best in the league. Very few teams can take the top off their defense.
Seattle Seahawks: Completed Passes
Due to a power run-game, Russell Wilson doesn't need to complete a lot of passes.
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
The 10-5 Seattle Seahawks don't need to complete a lot of passes; that's just not how they win ball games.
Instead, Seattle relies on Marshawn Lynch's power-running style, rookie quarterback Russell Wilson's tendency to tuck and run, and obviously their fearsome defense.
Due to this, the Seahawks have only completed 244 passes all season, cites ESPN.com. No team has completed less throws, but not many teams have a top-two rushing attack and a top-four defense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Passing Yards Allowed
The Bucs have a tendency to get beat deep.
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
The 6-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have an impenetrable wall known as a defensive front. Lane-stoppers Gerald McCoy, Michael Bennett, Lavonte David and Co. have allowed a league-low 1,255 rushing yards this season, according to ESPN.com.
Much to the chagrin of Tampa Bay's chiseled front, the Buccaneers also boast the league's worst pass defense. About 382 completions, 4,545 yards and 29 touchdowns later, Tampa's defense is truly a tale of two halves.
In summation, the Buccaneers live by the Tampa 2 defense and die by the Tampa 2 defense.
Tennessee Titans: Rushing Yardage Distribution
The Titans can only go as far as Chris Johnson carries them.
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With the exception of perhaps Adrian Peterson, few offenses rely on one running back more than the Tennessee Titans rely on Chris Johnson.
This season, the East Carolina product has rushed the ball 255 times for 1,187 yards. The second leading rusher on the Tennessee roster is quarterback Jake Locker, who's gained 288 yards on 36 attempts.
Yet no Titan running back besides Johnson has even exceeded 32 yards on the ground.
Washington Redskins: Rushing Yards
Alfred Morris and the Redskins churn out yards on the ground.
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan knows how to find running backs. According to the NFL Network's Andrew Siciliano, the seven 1,000-yard rushers that Shanahan has coached is the most in NFL history.
It's no stunner to see that the Redskins lead the NFL in rushing yards, per ESPN.com.
For Washington's offense, it's been all about rookie sixth-round pick Alfred Morris and, of course, rookie first-rounder Robert Griffin III. This quarterback-running back duo has run wild, frustrating even the most seasoned defenses.
Behind their strong efforts, the 9-6 Redskins have accumulated 2,425 ground yards this season and are zeroing in on a playoff birth.