The NFL According to Drive Points

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

NFL RANKINGS ON POINTS SCORED,
ALLOWED ON LONG DRIVES

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

We've devoted a lot of space to Drive Point coverage this year in our weekly previews that run on Thursdays. But, we haven't had a chance yet to just show you the whole league from top to bottom. This seemed like the perfect time to do that so we can outline the playoff chase and set the tone for the post season.

Besides...we generally preview the Sunday Night game in this spot on Sunday mornings. There's nothing left to say about Minnesota. And, we just talked about the Eagles a short time ago when they played Dallas in the prime time game. Who wants a thousand words on THAT game?!

For you newcomers, Drive Points are those scored and allowed on drives of 60 yards or more. We keep these by hand through the season based on drive summaries at the NFL's home website. We've done this for YEARS though, even before the web existed. The USA Today was the first major publication to itemize scoring drives. We invented this stat the day after they went to expanded boxscores.

We think that history has shown this to be the single best 'indicator' stat for quality...not just for football...but in any of the legal wagering sports. If you can drive the field, you're going to score points. If you can't drive the field, you're unlikely to get enough cheap points over time from special teams or turnovers to counteract that. The best defenses don't allow many long scoring drives. The worst defenses do.

We'll run through all 32 teams on both offense and defense today. Data is through last week's games to keep everyone on an even playing field. So, these are the averages before Thursday's Carolina-Pittsburgh game, and Saturday's Dallas-Arizona affair.

Let's start with the most explosive offenses. You'll see some Super Bowl contenders on the list immediately.

BEST OFFENSES
San Diego 18.6
New England 18.5
Indianapolis 16.5
Philadelphia 16.4
Houston 16.0
New Orleans 15.4
Atlanta 14.9
Oakland 14.1
Green Bay 13.8
Dallas 13.4
NY Giants 12.8
Kansas City 12.5
Tennessee 12.3
Baltimore 12.0
NY Jets 11.9
Denver 11.7
Cleveland 11.1

We're just splitting everything into halves today to make sure we get everything in. We used 11.0 as a cut-off. Obviously everyone around 14.0 and more are the elite teams. There's a good chance your next Super Bowl winner will come from that hunk give the importance we've seen on offenses in recent seasons. New England, Philadelphia, and Atlanta all show well. Philadelphia would rate even better if Michael Vick had started every game.

Notable by their absence is Pittsburgh, who we'll get to in a second.

We have to say we're pleased to see Oakland, Kansas City, and Denver on this first list. The first two are making strides toward respectability. Kansas City just might put a scare into a team or two if they survive the AFC West race. With all the talk about New England's great offense this year, San Diego currently ranks a shade ahead of them in our most important indicator stat. Oh, New Orleans clocked in at 19.4 last year, which is a point better that San Diego and New England.

Let's look at the strugglers...

WORST OFFENSES
Tampa Bay 10.7
Washington 10.5
Seattle 10.5
Detroit 9.6
Miami 9.6
Buffalo 9.6
Cincinnati 9.5
Jacksonville 9.4
St. Louis 9.4
Chicago 9.1
Minnesota 8.9
San Francisco 8.4
Pittsburgh 8.1
Arizona 8.0
Carolina 6.4

Note that Pittsburgh is third from the bottom. Some of that is missing Ben Roethlisberger for a month. And, some of that is using him when he's been banged up. But...it's clear that Pittsburgh is well behind the other contenders offensively this year. And, it's not like Big Ben is about to get healthy. He's going to be banged up until he gets to rest up in the offseason.

Note that Chicago's been pretty bad too, as the Mike Martz era is now more about making an occasional big play rather than ALWAYS going for the big play. On a normal team, that won't be enough. With Chicago's defense, and some friendly weather, they just might be a force in the NFC brackets.

For the most part, these are teams with quarterback issues. The split between have's and have not's these days can be directly tied to that one position. And, as a result, we may have to put our dictum about defense winning championships on hold right now. You're about to see that many top contenders are just kind of hanging around on defense while the offense is winning games.

BEST DEFENSES
Pittsburgh 7.6
Green Bay 8.4
NY Giants 8.6
San Diego 9.0
New Orleans 9.4
Miami 9.5
Atlanta 9.6
Chicago 9.7
Minnesota 9.7
Tampa Bay 9.9
Carolina 10.4
Washington 10.5
Tennessee 10.6
St. Louis 10.9
San Francisco 11.3
Oakland 11.5
NY Jets 11.8
Cleveland 11.9

Well, the elite defenses are playoff contenders except for Miami. Maybe the dictum will hold up. We'll see how far Pittsburgh, and the ultimate Wildcard representative among Green Bay and the NY Giants fares in January. Atlanta shows up prominently, which is a nice hidden indicator for postseason success. Everyone's talking about 'Matty Ice.' If it comes down to the COMBINATION of quarterback and defense, rested Atlanta looks to be very dangerous indeed.

Let's note that the Jets have dropped to league average, after posting a terrific 7.1 last season. That was best in the AFC by about two points, and second best in the league to Carolina. They still talk the talk. When trying to walk the walk, they're just another team on the defensive side of the ball.

WORST DEFENSES
Indianapolis 12.4
Arizona 12.6
Baltimore 12.8
Buffalo 12.8
Cincinnati 12.9
Detroit 13.0
Kansas City 13.3
Philadelphia 13.6
Denver 14.9
Dallas 15.4
New England 15.8
Jacksonville 15.9
Seattle 16.6
Houston 18.6

Obviously it's not horrible news to have a shaky defense. New England is fourth worst, but a popular pick to win the Super Bowl. Philadelphia is 7th worst, but is obviously on the short list of strongest NFC contenders. Jacksonville still might win the AFC South with the third worst Drive Point defense. Kansas City might win the AFC West with the 8th worst. And, when did Baltimore drop into the lower half of the league?

We wouldn't say it's a topsy turvy world in 2010. The best teams are still winning. It's just that:

*The difference between have's and have not's is at QB

*If you have a great quarterback, you can allow some yards/points by running out the clock with your defense in a way that hurts your stats.

*If you have a great quarterback, you can win regular season games even with a mediocre (or worse) defense.

Can you win playoff games? That's something we'll no doubt be discussing a lot in the immediate future.

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We hope you had a great Christmas celebration. The schedule Friday and Saturday were very light. It's back to business now with one of the most vulnerable NFL cards we've seen in quite some time. Then, the bowls pick back up again tonight and tomorrow before completely taking over the schedule later in the week.

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