Understanding advanced NFL stats
If you watch football regularly, you’re familiar with statistics like completion percentage and yards per game. But what about the more advanced metrics that have come into play over the past decade?
Let's outline some of the more intricate statistical categories to help you develop a more informed betting strategy ahead of the 2020 NFL season.
1. Total QBR
Created in 2011 by ESPN, total QBR (or total quarterback rating) provides a more comprehensive view of a quarterback’s impact on a matchup, compared to passer rating (measured on a scale from 0 to 158.3).
QBR calculates a quarterback’s impact on a matchup through his passes, rushes, turnovers, and penalties. It allocates proper credit to the quarterback and his teammates on each play in order to produce a clearer measure of quarterback efficiency.
Based on a scale of 0 to 100, an average NFL quarterback would generate a QBR around 50, and a Pro Bowl-level quarterback would average a QBR around 75 for the season.
In 2007, Tom Brady set the record for highest single-season QBR (88.5), the same year the Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season.
In 2019, unanimous league MVP Lamar Jackson ranked first in total QBR (81.8). Last year’s Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes ranked second (76.3).
2. Yards after contact (YAC)
This statistic measures how many yards a runner produces after the defense makes contact with him. By comparison, yards before contact (YBC) indicates the number of yards a runner tallies before contact and is affected far more by the quality of the offensive line.
In 2019, the Baltimore Ravens amassed 1,936 YBC and 1,360 YAC. The team ranked first in rushing yards per game and had one of the best offensive lines in the league. The Titans ranked 17th in yards before contact, but second in yards after contact. They ranked third in rushing yards per game.
Rushing leader Derrick Henry (968 YAC), who ranked second in broken tackles (29), is largely to thank for Tennessee’s success in the run game.
3. Yards after catch (YAC)
This stat measures the number of yards gained after a pass is caught.
In 2019, Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey led the league in yards after catch (1,019). He ended the season with 2,392 yards from scrimmage, which led the league and was the third most for a single season in NFL history.
Receiving leader Michael Thomas (1,725 receiving yards) ranked fifth in yards after catch (583) and first in yards before catch (1,142), or total yards the pass traveled in the air before caught.
4. Drop percentage
A dropped pass is any incomplete pass in which the receiver should have caught the pass with ordinary effort.
Despite ranking second in scoring defense (16.2 points surrendered per game) in 2019, the Buffalo Bills struggled on offense because of dropped passes. The Bills tied for first in passes dropped but ranked first in drop percentage (7.4%).
In the 4 NFL Wild-Card playoff games over the weekend, there were 11 dropped passes combined. Five of those were by the Buffalo Bills.— Matt Parrino (@MattParrino) January 7, 2020
Quarterback Josh Allen mainly targeted John Brown (62.6% catch rate) and Cole Beasley (63.2% catch rate) throughout the season. The next most targeted player (Dawson Knox) caught 56% of his passes and was targeted only 50 times.
The Bills ranked in the bottom 10 in passing yards per game.
5. Third-down conversion percentage
Third-down conversion percentage measures how frequently a team converts a third down into a first down. This stat is important for determining which offenses can extend drives.
Last season, Baltimore ranked first in third-down conversion percentage (48.29%), while Dallas and Kansas City ranked second and third, respectively.
Washington, which averaged 274.7 yards per game (31st in the league), ranked dead last in third-down conversion percentage (29.05%).
6. Drive success rate (DSR)
The teams that converted on third down also ranked highly in drive success rate, which measures the percentage of down series that result in a first down or touchdown.
According to Football Outsiders, Baltimore — owner of the league’s best regular-season record — ranked first in drive success rate (79.4%). Super Bowl champion Kansas City ranked second (76.1%).
The New York Jets, who averaged the fewest yards per game, had the lowest drive success rate (62%).
TOP/Dr is time of possession per drive. You can find this statistic for both offense and defense.
The Philadelphia Eagles ranked first in defensive TOP/Dr (2:24), while New England came in second (2:25). However, both offenses ranked near the middle in time of possession per drive.
Baltimore, Dallas, and Kansas City all ranked in the top three of offensive time of possession per drive.
8. Turnover differential
A team’s turnover differential is calculated by subtracting the total number of giveaways (interceptions and fumbles lost) from the total number of takeaways (interceptions and fumble recoveries).
In 2019, the New England Patriots ranked first in turnover differential (+21), while the New York Giants and Los Angeles Chargers tied for the worst turnover differential (-17).
The Pats finished with a 12-4 record, and neither the Chargers nor Giants won more than five games.
LOS/Dr measures the average starting field position per drive. The Patriots ranked first, with an average LOS/Dr of 32.64, while San Francisco ranked second (31.94) and New Orleans landed in third (31.22).
The better the field position, the more likely a team will score. San Francisco ranked second in points per game (29.9), followed by New Orleans in third (28.6) and New England in seventh (27.1).
10. Inside 20 percentage
One more statistic related to field position is percentage of punts inside the 20-yard line. Ideally, a team would have a kicker who can place the ball inside the 20-yard line on every punt, to make it as difficult as possible for his opponent to score.
Bryan Anger of the Houston Texans led the league by kicking 54.7% of his punts inside the 20, which set up excellent field position for Houston's defense. Unfortunately for Houston, its secondary was such a liability that the team still gave up 24.1 points per game (19th in the league).
Baltimore’s kicker, Sam Koch, ranked second in inside 20 percentage (51.2%). His accuracy, mixed with the Ravens’ defense (300.6 yards per game), combined for a winning recipe. The Ravens surrendered just 17.6 points per game.