While I look across the NFL landscape following Week Seven, there are many storylines that could catch my attention. One could focus on specific statistical categories such points scored, points allowed, passing yards per game, or rushing yards per game.
Or the many "feel good" stories taking place across the NFL: rookie quarterbacks leading their teams well, players returning from serious injuries to have great starts to the season, or any number of other things.
But I wanted to find a "trend" that in some way correlated to WINNING games. And what I found wasn't very surprising: There are some commonalities, but there is NO DEFINITIVE STATISTIC THAT POINTS TOWARDS WINNING.
There are many things that one can say, "This is important!"
When charting the 14 teams that currently have a win percentage above 50 percent (winning more than 50 percent of their games), the charts I created actually look incredibly convoluted. The only commonality I could establish is that each of these teams do SOMETHING very well, while there are MANY other things they don't do very well at all.
For instance, the Tennessee Titans are currently the only team in the NFL with a perfect win percentage of 100. Everyone knows they are strong defensively, but have little offensive fire power. Right?
The Titans are 10th in points scored per game. I also expected them to be highly ranked in categories such as time of possession (ToP), considering their high ranking in rushing yards per game (currently 4th). But alas, NO.
They are 21st in the NFL and "losing" the ToP battle on average, only holding the ball for a little over 29 minutes per game.
The Titans are the NFL's best in many defensive categories. They are in the top FIVE in each of these categories: turnover ratio, yards allowed per game, points allowed per game, yards allowed per play, and third-down percentage. Very impressive numbers indeed.
That's five of the seven defensive categories I consider critical points to playing good defense. The other two are ToP and penalties per game (Titans are 16th in the NFL in defensive penalties per game—the best is the Oakland Raiders, go figure!).
These numbers indicated I might find that many of the teams just behind them in wins would also be highly ranked in such categories. But in many cases, reality REALLY is stranger than fiction.
There is no other team in the NFL with such a ratio (five of seven) within my chosen categories. However, ALL of the teams with FIVE OR MORE wins are in the TOP 10 in points allowed per game, yards allowed per game, and yards allowed per play.
I found a defensive trend after all!
The next three teams in win percentage behind the Titans (each of these teams have already had their "bye" week) are the Buffalo Bills, the New York Giants, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. There are three teams with five wins but two losses, thereby hurting their win percentage.
Of all of the five-win teams, the New York Giants are the only team in the top in each of my chosen offensive categories: points per game, yards per game, yards per play, and third-down percentage.
Interestingly, turnover differential should make a big difference, but NOT IN ALL CASES. Only two of the seven FIVE-OR-MORE-WIN teams are in the top 10, with Washington at 11.
Of ALL 14 teams with win percentages above 50 percent, however, only the Cowboys, Broncos, and Cardinals are OUTSIDE the top 20 in turnover differential, ranked 29th, 32nd, and 21st respectively. So turnovers do seem to help one compete. Duh-huh!
Another statistic that is widely believed to be a "predictor" of just how good a team is "point differential." The points scored minus the points allowed. This can be done both per game and on the season as a total.
Of the top 14 teams (the teams with a win percentage above 50 percent), only the Broncos are in negative territory, with -3.1 points per game or a total of -22 on the season. Of the FIVE-WIN teams, the Redskins are the worst in this regard, with 1.7 per game and only 12 more points than their opposition for the season, good for only 16th and 15th in the NFL overall, respectively.
The Titans are the best team in the NFL with 13 per game and 83 total points more than their opponents. First in both categories.
The Philadelphia Eagles are the only team in the top 10 in this category without a winning record (3-3) with 7.3 per game and 44 total points more than their opponents, good for fifth and sixth, respectively, in the NFL. Rounding out the top five: Giants (2), Steelers (3), and the Buccaneers (4), each with at least five wins. The Bills and Panthers (the last two teams with at least FIVE WINS) are both in the top 10 in this category as well.
While many of these numbers DO make sense, there is no single factor that translates into wins. So then WHY THE HELL did I write this?
I wrote this because I felt a need to get the word out about one thing that stands out to me as having a significant effect on any TEAM'S ability to win.
Just one word people: CONSISTENCY.
Let's think about this. When a coach knows what he'll get from his players when he calls a given play, then he knows WHEN to call that play. Even an individual player being consistently bad can be overcome by good coaching and TEAM play.
But if a coach is unsure of what his quarterback is going to do on a given play, he's less likely to call that play, and the play is obviously less likely to succeed. For examples of consistently inconsistent play, look to quarterback play. It is BOLDLY ON DISPLAY every Sunday.
When looking closely at the game logs of many of the top teams in the league, most are very consistent in what they do. Most play consistently on defense, special teams, and on offense.
Most do NOT give up BIG plays, defensively, and most are not what one might consider "EXPLOSIVE" offensively. These things point towards teams that maintain a relatively constant level of play throughout any given game, form the first quarter through the fourth quarter.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule—there always are. But does it matter?
Last season, the Giants were amongst the most INCONSISTENT teams to ever play through the regular season. In fact, many suggest that they were actually "the worst team to ever win a Super Bowl."
I don't necessarily agree with that, but they were an "up and down" kind of team until they reached the playoffs, at which point they promptly began playing CONSISTENTLY.
And this season could be more of the same for the Giants, getting "blown out" by Cleveland showed that they are quite capable of falling completely apart.
All teams lose games now and then (unless you're the '72 Dolphins), but good teams tend to lose "odd ball" games. Games when things went "inconsistently." Many things out of character can happen when a team simply "has a bad day." Is that what happened to the Giants? Time is the only thing that can answer that for us.
The head coach of the Washington Redskins, Jim Zorn, has his own version of "be consistent," he calls it "stay medium." His point is to play every play the same, don't get TOO high when things are going well, and don't get TOO low when things are going poorly. And for the Redskins, it seems to be working.
The Redskins need to improve in many categories, but for now, Zorn has his players attempting to exactly what I am writing about. Just be consistent. His quarterback has been particularly consistent. Zorn knows what to expect from Jason Campbell in given circumstances, and therefore finds it easier to call the "right" play at the "right" time.
"Can it continue?" is the MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION!?
Most coaches use the old cliche, "One game at a time," in an effort to "maintain" their team's focus, to come back after a loss the same way one comes back from a win. Come in to work hard, and study, and get better. That sounds like "be consistent" to me.
Will the team that is most "consistent" through the regular season win the Super Bowl this season? I dunno.
But Zorn has his team getting it done for now, and I think that has been the key for their 5-2 start.