Playoffs, bye weeks and penalties: Everything you need to know

Brian BurkeThere’s a lot to address this week. Here is a statistical take on some of the big topics heading into the season’s home stretch.

Playoff Chances

Much of the talk around town centers on the Redskins’ chances of making the playoffs. Everything seemed to go Washington’s way last week. Not only did the Redskins beat the Cowboys, but the rest of their competitors lost—Detroit, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Seattle, Green Bay and Minnesota. It’s hard to imagine a better combination of outcomes. Overall, the Redskins went from about a 5% chance of making the playoffs following their loss to the Panthers three weeks ago to 29% today. They’ll likely need to go 9-7 to get in, although some plausible scenarios could qualify  them at 8-8. Winning out would guarantee a berth. If the Redskins win out, there is only an infinitessimally small chance that they would miss the playoffs.

The Bye Effect

Both the Redskins and the Giants, their upcoming opponent, played well last week following a bye. Historically, teams win about 53% of the time following a week off, likely due to the extra time to prepare and heal. This is a very real effect–about half the edge that normally comes from home team advantage.

Advanced Offensive and Defensive Rankings

It’s clear the strength of the Redskins is on the offensive, rather than defensive, side of the ball this season, but where exactly does each squad rank? In terms of Expected Points Added (EPA) per play, a measure of total productive efficiency, the offense ranks third. It’s  tied with the Saints and trails the Buccaneers and Patriots. The defense currently ranks 23rd.

Who drives the defense?

We all know who makes the offense go, and that the defense has been struggling at times, but the Redskins linebacker corps is among the best in the league. Ryan Kerrigan, Perry Riley and London Fletcher rank 15th, 26thand 36th, respectively, in terms of +EPA, a measure of total playmaking impact. In a league with more than 100 starting linebackers, that’s a significant strength.

Penalties

One of the most overlooked but more consistent and important facets of the game is penalty rate. The Redskins are dead last in the NFL with 0.55 penalty yards per play. It’s darn hard to get faster, stronger or taller in the middle of a season. It’s relatively easy to increase your focus and discipline to cut down on penalties.

Critical Game

If the Redskins beat the Giants Monday night, their playoff chances would go to 45%. If they lose, their chances drop to just 8%. Although the consensus favors the Giants in the game, my numbers say the Redskins are close enough in team strength that home field advantage makes them a very slight favorite.

Brian Burke is the creator of Advanced NFL Stats, a Web site about football, statistics and game theory.

 

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