The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Actual Versus Expected Points for Cowboys, NFL

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At DallasCowboys.com, I compared actual points versus expected points for teams around the league.

Points Scored, Expectations and Randomness

When you hear Joe Buck cite the offensive ranks for each team playing on FOX on Sunday afternoon, you’re typically hearing where they stand in terms of either total points or total yards. I’ve explained in the past that those are really poor measures of offensive talent because they do little to isolate an offense from their defense and they don’t account for things like tempo or game situations.

I’ve also explained why a better metric, perhaps the best out there, is Expected Points Added. EPA is a measure of how many points an offense “should have” scored based on how they played. It factors in historic success rates and game situations to determine the most likely outcome in any particular situation. A first-and-10 at your own 20-yard line has historically been worth a net of 0.34 points, for example. Because of that, an offense holding possession in such a situation at the start of the third quarter would be a slight favorite to win the game – at about 52 percent – given that the score is tied and their EPA is positive.

In any event, EPA is awesome in that it does a really solid job of capturing performance independent of luck; it’s primarily a measure of how many points a team should score given how they perform in specific game situations. Like head coach Jason Garrett, EPA intelligently emphasizes the process over the results.

So we have a metric that is filled with noise (total points) and one that’s not (EPA). If we compare the two, we should get a decent idea of which teams got the luckiest. That is, which overachieved and which underperformed relative to how well they actually played.

Points Scored versus EPA

Below, I charted each team’s rank in total points and EPA, along with the difference between the two.

The teams listed at the top are those that ranked much higher in EPA than in total points. In essence, we’re saying that those squads should have scored more points given the quality with which they moved the football on offense.

The Panthers are a really interesting case because they were very efficient in Cam Newton’s second year, ranking in the top 10 in EPA, yet they finished just 18th in total points. The conclusion we can draw is that if the Panthers’ offense performs exactly the same in 2013 as last year, they’re far more likely to finish ninth in points than 18th. And just like that, we’ve uncovered a “sleeper” team likely to improve upon their 7-9 record, even in the competitive NFC South.

At the bottom of the list, we see the Bengals and Bears – two teams that wildly outperformed expectations in 2012 by posting a combined 20-12 record. Even if their offenses remain the same in 2013, they’re likely to both end up in the bottom half of the league in points scored.

There’s more right here.

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