NFL Statistics: Lies, Damned Lies, and The Defensive Hogs

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NFL Statistics: Lies, Damned Lies, and The Defensive Hogs
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I would never say statistics are useless. By the same token I'm the first to say the only stat that matters is the 'W'.

However, sometimes a statistic jumps out that is far to compelling to ignore. In the past two years one such statistic among all playoff games jumps out from the stat sheet so much that it's almost as sure as death and taxes. It's a measure of the defensive line called the Defensive Hog Index (DHI).

What is it? It's really simple. As described by its creators , it's the accumulated average of the following three criteria:

- 3rd down percentage - Opposition success rate on third down
- YPA – Yards Per Attempt
- NPP% Negative Pass Plays , expressed as a percentage

It's not rocket science. All three are major areas of play for a defensive line, and success in any of these areas are greatly attributed to successful defensive line play. But pulling back the curtain on this stat reveals a very interesting story when the second season starts.

Especially in this football era, great passers win games. Look at the caliber of passers in the NFC playoff tree alone: Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Tony Romo, Kurt Warner, Aaron Rodgers, and Donovan McNabb.

It's not coincidence that in most of these cases the passers have been carrying their respective teams for most of the season. It then goes without saying that stopping the opposing passing game should be the primary concern of any playoff defense. The key to doing this is by suffocating the pass game at the point of attack.

Look no further than the 2007 Giants. Up against the most explosive offense of the Super Bowl era, they prevented Tom Brady from ever setting his feet. It should come as no surprise then that the 2007 Giants fielded the number one Defensive Hogs in 2007 according to the DHI.

An average offense triumphed over one of the greatest offenses in football history, thanks primarily from their stout defensive line play. This index was a huge factor in their win. But it's not isolated to the Super Bowl game.

Looking at the bigger picture, teams with the better DHI ranking went 10-1 in the 2007 playoffs. This is an astonishing rate of success.

The one loss? When the record-setting Pats squeaked by the Chargers in the AFC title game. The Chargers fielded the better D-hogs by a slim margin directly causing it to go down to the wire. Brady was intercepted and pressured all game, before finally putting together a 9 minute scoring drive in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.

10-1 plus a Super Bowl is an extremely good record using one metric of success, and unlikely to repeat itself. But the DHI showed up in the 2008 playoffs again, sporting another 10-1 record.

Again the number one DHI ranked team won the Super Bowl, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The one loss this postseason? The Philadelphia Eagles losing to the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC title game.

The Cardinals had a rather unspectacular defense during the regular season that year. But I don't think any one would argue that it wasn't one of the better defenses throughout the playoffs. And again it was a thriller, with the Cardinals putting together the winning drive in the final minutes, leaving nothing more for the Eagles than a heave and prayer.

Truth be told, their performance this year is more telling of their defensive line than last season was.

So what does all this mean? A 20-2 record, and two Super Bowls is what it means. The DHI is either highly uncanny, or highly accurate. But in either case, I like the odds for the team holding the number one rank in the DHI this year.

The Green Bay Packers.

If the DHI holds true again, the championships games would see Green Bay hosting Philadelphia, and the Jets hosting the Ravens. The Packers would then knock off the Jets for their 4th Super Bowl.

If I had to make a case for the one loss by the better DHI ranked team this year, I'd pick the Chargers over the Jets in the Divisionals. San Diego is on fire.

But I'll leave the speculation to the pundits. I'm picking based on history. History that has only been proven wrong 2 times out of 22 attempts.

Of course this couldn't happen. Packers winning the Super Bowl? No way. Strange things like this never happen in the playoffs.

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