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FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

by Aaron Schatz

(Note: This article originally appeared on FOXSports.com during the 2005 season. Since it has disappeared from the FOX archives, we've reproduced it here on Football Outsiders. The appendix and tables appeared on FO only.)

I've received a lot of e-mail since Football Outsiders took over the FOXSports.com power rankings this year. Many of the e-mails I get read a little something like this:

"Team X blows out a losing team and you move them up your power rankings. But when Team Y pulls off a clutch victory against a winning team, you don't move them up. A close win against a good team is a lot more important."

There's only one problem with this statement. It isn't true.

People want to believe that the teams that can win the close ones are championship teams. But as counter-intuitive as it sounds, championship teams are generally defined by their ability to easily win games over inferior teams.

Football games are often decided by just one or two plays -- a missed field goal, a fumble that bounces one way instead of the other, a fourth down where officials spot the ball two inches from the first down marker. One dropped pass short-circuits a last-minute comeback. A cornerback smothers his receiver all day, only to get beat once and give up the winning touchdown.

The team that comes out with the victory in a tight game is one step closer to the postseason. But has that team really proven that it is better than its opponent? There are many times where two teams are evenly matched, and if they played again the next week the result might just as well go the other way.

When a team blows out its opponent, however, one unlucky bounce or missed kick isn't going to change the result. A lopsided win provides pretty good proof that the winner is a better team than the loser. That's why the teams that meet on Super Bowl Sunday are usually the teams that won a lot of games by big margins during the regular season.

Don't believe me? Let's take a look at how Super Bowl teams have built their resumes over the past decade.

Guts and Stomps

I went through every regular season game from 1995-2004 to see whether teams that built their records on close wins over good teams did better in the postseason than teams that padded their records with big wins over bad teams. I created the following two categories:

STOMP: A win by at least 14 points over a team that will finish the year below .500.
GUT: A win by 1-8 points over a team that will finish the year above .500.

If the mark of a great team is the ability to gut out close wins over quality opponents, the teams with more GUTS should make the Super Bowl while teams with more STOMPS should get knocked off by superior competition in the playoffs. But that's not the case:

  • Only one team won the Super Bowl in the past decade after winning more GUTS than STOMPS: the 2003 Patriots.
  • Only one other team even made the Super Bowl in the past decade after winning more GUTS than STOMPS: the 1999 Titans.
  • The 2003 Patriots are the only team to lead the league in GUT wins and make the Super Bowl.
  • The 2001 Rams and 2002 Titans are the only other teams in the last decade to lead the league in GUT wins and even make it as far as the conference championship game.
  • In the last ten years of Super Bowls and conference championship games, the team with more STOMPS is 21-7. (The teams were equal in two games.)
  • In the last ten years of Super Bowls and conference championship games, the team with more GUTS is 9-12. (The teams were equal in six games.)

Skate and Dominate

Some of you at this point are probably thinking, "Well, isn't the best win a big victory over another good team?" Others are thinking, "Well, some great teams don't whip up on bad teams because they do just enough to win."

To test these ideas, I created two additional categories:

DOMINATION: A win by at least 14 points over a team that will finish the year above .500.
SKATE: A win by 1-8 points over a team that will finish the year below .500.

(I should note that we are still leaving out all wins over .500 teams and all wins of 9-13 points.)

Look at all four categories, and it turns out that teams that go far in the playoffs don't generally have a habit of narrowly beating their bad opponents. In fact, many times a team with more big wins over bad teams will win the championship over a team with more big wins over good teams.

  • Only two of the last ten Super Bowl winners had more DOMINATION wins than STOMP wins: the 2004 Patriots and 1995 Cowboys.
  • Only one of the last ten Super Bowl winners has had more SKATE wins than STOMP wins: the 2003 Patriots.
  • In the last decade, no team with more than 4 SKATE wins has won the Super Bowl. Only two teams with at least 3 SKATE wins have won the Super Bowl: the 2003 Patriots and 2000 Ravens.

When we compare all four categories, it becomes clear that winning blowouts is a far better indicator of championship quality than winning close games. I looked at all 30 Super Bowls and conference championship games over the past decade to see which team had the higher total in each of these four categories. Here are the records, which don't necessarily add to 30 games because of matchups where the teams were equal in a certain type of win:

Category Super Bowl Super Bowl and Conf. Champs
More STOMPS (big wins vs. bad teams) 7-2 21-7
More DOMINATIONS (big wins vs. good teams) 5-4 19-6
More GUTS (close wins vs. good teams) 4-6 9-15
More SKATES (close wins vs. bad teams) 2-6 7-18

What about "Quality Winning Percentage"

So far I've been looking at total wins, but of course to stomp on a bad team you have to play some bad teams, and to dominate a good team you have to play some good teams. How about looking at both wins and losses against good teams?

Many fans believe that the best way to judge a team is its record against the other good teams on the schedule, and that the team with the best record against quality opponents is the team most likely to win the Super Bowl. This is a particular obsession of the New England-based website Cold Hard Football Facts, which keeps track of what it calls quality standings. As the site points out, the New England Patriots had the NFL's best record against winning teams in both 2003 and 2004, and won the Super Bowl both years.

But two seasons are not really enough to judge the accuracy of any statistic, so I went back a decade to test if Quality Winning Percentage truly is the best indicator of how teams will fare in the postseason. Unlike the measures of GUTS and DOMINATIONS above, this time I counted every game against a team above .500 no matter the margin, and counted ties as half a win just like the official NFL standings.

It turns out that in the past ten years, only three teams that led the league in Quality Winning Percentage have emerged as Super Bowl champions. It just so happens that two of those teams were the 2003 and 2004 New England Patriots. (The other was the 1995 Dallas Cowboys.)

Look at the record when two teams have met in a Super Bowl or conference championship game over the past decade, and one has a better Quality Winning Percentage than the other. It's actually slightly worse than the record when one team has a better record than the other against teams .500 or worse:

Category Super Bowl Super Bowl and
Conf. Champs
Better record vs. winning teams 5-4 14-10
Better record vs. 8-8 or losing teams 6-3 18-9

It is important to look at strength of schedule in order to recognize that the best teams don't win a lot of close games against the worst teams, but you can't make strength of schedule so important that you ignore what it means for a team to blow out its opponent. It's good to be able to win a closely-fought contest, but the best teams clobber their opponents so the outcome is never in doubt.

Postscript

This article was written during the 2005 season. A slightly updated version was published in Pro Football Prospectus 2006. Here are the numbers for the four teams to make the conference championships in 2005.

Pittsburgh: 1 Gut, 5 Stomps, 1 Dominate, 1 Skate
Denver: 4 Guts, 4 Stomps, 1 Dominate, 1 Skate
Seattle: 2 Guts, 6 Stomps, 1 Dominate, 3 Skates
Carolina: 0 Guts, 2 Stomps, 2 Dominates, 4 Skates

Appendix

Here's a table of all the teams to make the conference championships over the past decade, along with their totals in each of the win categories. OTHER WINS represents wins over .500 teams or wins of 9-13 points. QUAL WINS and QUAL GAMES are wins against opponents with winning records, and total games against opponents with winning records (to show that teams like the 1999 Rams didn't beat good opponents because they never played them in the first place). OTHER WIN% is the winning percentage against teams .500 or below.

YEAR TEAM WIN% SB? STOMP GUT SKATE DOM OTHER
WINS
QUAL
WIN
QUAL
GAMES
QUAL
WIN%
OTHER
WIN%
1995 DAL 0.750 SBW 3 0 1 3 6 5 7 0.714 0.778
1995 PIT 0.688 SBL 6 2 1 1 1 3 5 0.600 0.727
1995 GB 0.688 CONF 2 3 1 0 5 4 6 0.667 0.700
1995 IND 0.563 CONF 1 3 4 0 1 3 6 0.500 0.600
1996 GB 0.813 SBW 5 1 1 3 3 4 7 0.571 1.000
1996 NE 0.688 SBL 2 2 3 2 2 4 8 0.500 0.875
1996 CAR 0.750 CONF 3 2 1 1 5 3 6 0.500 0.900
1996 JAC 0.563 CONF 0 0 5 1 3 2 4 0.500 0.583
1997 DEN 0.750 SBW 5 0 2 2 3 2 5 0.400 0.909
1997 GB 0.813 SBL 3 3 1 2 4 7 8 0.875 0.750
1997 SF 0.813 CONF 4 0 5 1 3 2 4 0.500 0.917
1997 PIT 0.688 CONF 3 3 3 0 2 4 6 0.667 0.700
1998 DEN 0.875 SBW 5 1 2 1 5 3 4 0.750 0.917
1998 ATL 0.875 SBL 2 0 6 2 4 3 5 0.600 1.000
1998 MIN 0.938 CONF 5 0 3 2 5 4 4 1.000 0.917
1998 NYJ 0.750 CONF 2 2 1 3 4 7 8 0.875 0.625
1999 STL 0.813 SBW 10 0 0 0 3 0 1 0.000 0.867
1999 TEN 0.813 SBL 1 2 3 1 6 3 4 0.750 0.833
1999 JAC 0.875 CONF 8 0 1 0 5 0 2 0.000 1.000
1999 TB 0.688 CONF 3 2 2 0 4 3 4 0.750 0.667
YEAR TEAM WIN% SB? STOMP GUT SKATE DOM OTHER
WINS
QUAL
WIN
QUAL
GAMES
QUAL
WIN%
OTHER
WIN%
2000 BAL 0.750 SBW 5 1 3 2 1 3 6 0.500 0.900
2000 NYG 0.750 SBL 2 0 6 3 1 3 6 0.500 0.900
2000 OAK 0.750 CONF 5 1 4 1 1 3 6 0.500 0.900
2000 MIN 0.688 CONF 2 4 2 0 3 4 9 0.444 1.000
2001 NE 0.688 SBW 5 2 2 0 2 2 5 0.400 0.818
2001 STL 0.875 SBL 5 3 2 2 2 6 7 0.857 0.889
2001 PIT 0.813 CONF 4 2 3 0 4 3 4 0.750 0.833
2001 PHI 0.688 CONF 4 1 2 1 3 2 5 0.400 0.818
2002 TB 0.750 SBW 4 0 2 4 2 4 8 0.500 1.000
2002 OAK 0.688 SBL 2 2 0 2 5 6 8 0.750 0.625
2002 PHI 0.750 CONF 5 0 3 2 2 3 6 0.500 0.900
2002 TEN 0.688 CONF 1 4 2 1 3 6 8 0.750 0.625
2003 NE 0.875 SBW 2 4 4 1 3 7 7 1.000 0.778
2003 CAR 0.688 SBL 1 1 6 0 3 1 4 0.250 0.833
2003 PHI 0.750 CONF 2 2 4 1 3 4 6 0.667 0.800
2003 IND 0.750 CONF 1 2 5 1 3 3 6 0.500 0.900
2004 NE 0.875 SBW 3 2 1 4 4 7 8 0.875 0.875
2004 PHI 0.813 SBL 6 1 3 1 2 2 3 0.667 0.846
2004 PIT 0.938 CONF 1 2 3 2 7 6 7 0.857 1.000
2004 ATL 0.688 CONF 2 1 4 0 4 2 3 0.667 0.692

Here's a look at the top teams in "quality win percentage" each year for the past decade, along with total record and postseason results. If there are not four teams listed for a year, that means there were not four teams that year with a quality win percentage above .500.


YEAR TEAM W-L QUAL
W-L
QUAL
WIN%
POSTSEASON RESULTS
1995 DAL 12-4 5-2 .714 won Super Bowl
1995 GB 11-5 4-2 0.667 lost NFC Championship
1995 BUF 10-6 4-2 0.667 won wild card, lost in second round
1995 PIT 11-5 3-2 0.600 lost Super Bowl
1996 BUF 10-6 6-3 0.667 lost wild card game
1996 DEN 13-3 3-2 0.600 bye, lost in second round
1996 GB 13-3 4-3 0.571 won Super Bowl
1996 DAL 10-6 5-4 0.556 won wild card, lost in second round
1997 GB 13-3 7-1 0.875 lost Super Bowl
1997 PIT 11-5 4-2 0.667 lost AFC Championship
1997 TB 10-6 6-5 0.545 won wild card, lost in second round
1998 MIN 15-1 4-0 1.000 lost NFC Championship
1998 NYJ 12-4 7-1 0.875 lost AFC Championship
1998 DEN 14-2 3-1 0.750 won Super Bowl
1998 ATL 14-2 3-2 0.600 lost Super Bowl
1999 TEN 13-3 3-1 0.750 lost Super Bowl
1999 TB 11-5 3-1 0.750 lost NFC Championship
1999 SEA 9-7 3-1 0.750 lost wild card game
1999 IND 13-3 4-2 0.667 bye, lost in second round
1999 BUF 11-5 4-2 0.667 lost wild card game
YEAR TEAM W-L QUAL
W-L
QUAL
WIN%
POSTSEASON RESULTS
2000 TEN 13-3 5-1 0.833 bye, lost in second round
2000 DEN 11-5 4-1 0.800 lost wild card game
2000 STL 10-6 4-2 0.667 lost wild card game
2000 GB 9-7 6-4 0.600 did not make playoffs
2001 STL 14-2 6-1 0.857 lost Super Bowl
2001 GB 12-4 4-1 0.800 won wild card, lost in second round
2001 PIT 13-3 3-1 0.750 lost AFC Championship
2002 OAK 11-5 6-2 0.750 lost Super Bowl
2002 TEN 11-5 6-2 0.750 lost AFC Championship
2002 NO 9-7 5-3 0.625 did not make playoffs
2002 MIA 9-7 5-3 0.625 did not make playoffs
2003 NE 14-2 7-0 1.000 won Super Bowl
2003 STL 12-4 4-1 0.800 bye, lost in second round
2003 PHI 12-4 4-2 0.667 lost NFC Championship
2003 MIN 9-7 4-2 0.667 did not make playoffs
2004 NE 14-2 7-1 0.875 won Super Bowl
2004 PIT 15-1 6-1 0.857 lost AFC Championship
2004 PHI 13-3 2-1 0.667 lost Super Bowl
2004 ATL 11-5 2-1 0.667 lost NFC Championship

Comments

78 comments, Last at 03 Apr 2006, 9:33pm

1 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Like you said, teams have to PLAY bad teams in order to STOMP bad teams. I'd be interested to see STOMP%, or the percent of games against under-.500 opponants that ended in a STOMP win. Likewise for the other categories.

If it turns out that STOMP wins has a higher correlation with postseason success than STOMP%, then you're drawing the wrong conclusion from the stats. It's not STOMPING bad teams that makes a team more likely to succeed in the postseason, it's FACING bad teams that makes a team more likely to succeed in a postseason (starters are fresher, fewer injuries, etc).

For instance, you mentioned the 2003 Patriots several times as a team that won the SB despite a surfeit of STOMP wins. However, if the 2003 Patriots only played 1/3rd the league average number of games against sub-.500 clubs, that might explain why they had so few STOMPs.

2 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Well this was just about the best single piece of football related writing I have seen in my entire life. It tells us something interesting, bursts some well loved myths, and its concise and to the point. More importantly it has data to back up its interesting claims (who would have thought...).

I am serious this is a great article IMO, and the best thing I have read on FO thusfar (and I really enjoy the site).

Of course, part of my love for thie artcile may stem from its agreement with my longstanding opinion that most games within 7 pts are more or less statistically speaking a tie (or at least tell us little to nothing about which team is better).

3 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

#2 -

It is, of course, something that stat-minded baseball fans know well. Neyer and Epstein wrote a book on it, in fact. "Winning the close ones" is a BS dump, like chemistry, character, "clutch", etc., that "analysts" like to use when the results don't agree with their guesses (hypotheses is much to strong a word...). Great teams have great numbers kicking the crap out of bad teams, not squeeking past anybody.

Related, and simple example: Hitter one has better numbers, in a tougher ballpark and plays a moderate defensive position brilliantly, while going through a much tougher season of media scrutiny. But you like hitter #2, who is also a very good hitter, a likable teddy-bear of a guy and a good quote and story, but who doesn't play defense at all. How to make your case for voting for him? A-ha! He's much more "clutch"! Remarkably, the "right" guy won the award this year in the AL (and I hate the Yankees, so that's tough to admit...), so maybe we are making a little bit of progress after 100 years of MVP voting. This is something that has appeared throughout the history of statistics (definitely not just sports history).

-Sean

4 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

I think there are two kinds of stomp teams. The kind where they get lucky breaks and where the luck eventually catches up to them and they lose, and the kind that are good at exploiting matchups. Obviously most stomps would be the former. But I thought the pats advantage was always their superior coaching and matchup play and preparation. I think it would be hard to tell the difference between one and the other just by analyzing win/loss and point differential.

I think that means I agree with this article, but I'm not sure about that. heh. But I do believe that intangibles like momentum and confidence really do exist and have effects on game outcomes. It's like willpower - you can control it in the short term even if it isn't sustainable.

5 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Is there any correlation between when the stomps and/or quality wins occur during a season, and postseason success? I remember the Ravens' wins kept getting bigger and bigger as the season went on, so that the Tony Banks-era, field-goal squeaks were mere memories by the time the playoffs arrived.

These stats do highlight just how good were those 2003-04 Patriots. Who are 2005's leading stompers at this point?

6 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Great article Aaron. One question, though: what about total wins? I'm curious how that compares to the other categories you carved out. Thanks.

7 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

#6 - I meant in terms of winning record in super bowls and conference championships.

8 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Post 3:

Well, to give credit where it's due Neyer/Epstein were merely following through on the work of Bill James.

And very interesting article.

Thank you.

9 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

the correlation coefficients are nice, but i'd like to see how those categories correlate with postseason performance, rather than regular season winning%. after all, each of those categories is actually included in regular season winning% (especially the last two). the correlation between two overlapping sets of data doesn't actually have that much to tell us about cause and effect. but correlation between regular season stomps/guts/etc vs playoff performance would be really interesting--in some sense, the postseason is a "testing ground" for theories about how a championship team performs in the regular season. most importantly, it's an independent data set.

10 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

To look at the AFC so far:

Ind: 6 Stomps; 2 Guts; 2 Doms; 1 Skate
Den: 3 Stomps; 3 Guts; 1 Dom; 1 Skate
SD: 1 Stomp; 1 Gut; 2 Doms; 2 Skate
Jax: 1 Stomp; 2 Guts; 0 Dom; 4 Skate
Pit: 2 Stomp; 1 Gut; 1 Dom; 1 Skate
Cin: 2 Stomp; 0 Gut; 2 Dom; 3 Skate
NE: 0 Stomp; 2 Gut; 0 Dom; 3 Skate
KC: 2 Stomp; 0 Gut; 0 Dom; 3 Skate

So in the AFC, Ind and Den are the clear favorites, and NE and Jax don't look so hot - nothing surprising.

11 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Aaron, this is a nice article, but you left out any analysis of SWAGGER. Clearly, all of those Super Bowl winners had a lot of swagger, and I'm sure you'll find the correlation coefficient between swagger and Super Bowl wins quite high.

(But seriously, great article.)

#2 Perhaps we've seen progress in the MVP voting, but the Cy Young voting is apparently still in the Stone Age.

12 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

I'd really be interested if DVOA was used instead of won-loss records to determine who the better team is. A team could get to +.500 by playing a lot of bad teams, then when a team DOMINATES them it looks good but in reality it wasn't the same quality. It also applies to teams with sub .500 records especially since those teams had that extra loss by the team that beat them.

Maybe use positive overall DVOA instead of +.500 and negative overall DVOA for sub .500? The piece looks like it's on the right track but it just seems that something is missing.

14 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

In response to #4 and #11, regarding intangibles such as confidence and momentum.

I know this is a bit off topic, but related none the less. I have a friend who is a professional online poak-er player (don't want my comment held up as spam). As such, he keeps a huge database of statistics on his play to help maximize his winning percentage. Over the years he's come to realize that confidence, swagger, momentum, whatever you want to call it, has the biggest outcome on whether its a winning session or a losing one.

If he sits down at a table and immediately starts winning, he stays. If not, he gets up and moves on to another table, where he is a new face and thus back on even keel. If you sit down and start losing, everyone looks at you as beatable and vulnerable. If you sit down and start winning, everyone shakes in their boots at the prospect of getting involved in a hand with you.

Interesting lesson in psychology, but I'm sure this holds true on the football field as well, at least to a certain degree.

16 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

I'm just confused - how does this correlate with respect? Because I'm pretty sure there's a very strong inverse correlation.

17 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Great article,

But here's a question: A good team that, by the vagaries of the schedule, happens to play a lot of bad teams will end up with a lot of STOMPS. Hence it will tend to end the season with very good record and will get a 1st round bye. We already know that getting a 1st round bye is one of the biggest determining factors that decides which team goes to the Superbowl, so is it any wonder that there is a high correlation between STOMP wins and SB winners?

18 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

I always believed that getting the first round bye doesn't make a huge difference in making it to or winning the Super Bowl. I believe that the very good teams get the first round bye, and that is why they get to or win the Super Bowl. If you put Denver and the Colts in at wildcards, wouldn't they probably meet in the AFCC?

19 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

A few years ago, I saw Dr. Z quote a stat on the '70's steelers. I cannot remember the EXACT quote, so I apologize, but the gist of it was those Steelers went like 75-1 against teams that ended up below .500. The message was that you HAVE to beat the teams you're supposed to beat. I've long believed that was a very important key to being a great team...your correlation confirmed that.

20 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Re #18: ITA. Teams with first round byes go to the Super Bowl because they are better teams, not because they had a week off.

21 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

I've decided to use this article as part of my argument for why the 1998 Tulane football team should have gone to a BCS bowl.

Thank you.

22 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Some quick research indicates that over the past 10 seasons:

16 of 20 Super Bowl teams have had a bye
8 of 10 Super Bowl winners had a bye

Clearly its important to get that bye, nobody needs to do research to know that. What isn't clear is whether they fair better because of their week off or because of their superior talent. I'm guessing a little of both.

23 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

On the other hand, only one of the four teams that get a bye win the superbowl. Look at it this way. Points differential (points scored - points allowed) coorelates better with superbowl victories than having the best record does. That would indicate that stomping opposing teams is more important than just beating them.

24 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

#19 Looking at www.profootball-reference.com, I was able to verify the statistic. Just hunting and pecking, the Steelers from 1972-1979 went 49-1 against teams with losing records (they did lose some games to .500 teams). The only loss was in 1979 to the Cincinnati Bengals. I find that stat utterly amazing.

25 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Re #22: What's important is to be the better team.

The teams with the byes also play at home. So for a non-bye team to make the Super Bowl, they (almost always) have to win two games on the road against better teams. I think the off-week is fairly irrelevant.

26 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Re: #12

This article was in part researching/defending the legitimacy of DVOA, since it automatically credits STOMPS more than GUTS. So to compare them to DVOA would wind up being kind of circular.

(That very question was asked by one of the Outsiders when Aaron first showed us the numbers.)

27 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Also, it was supposed to be very acccessible to the wider audience. to specifically counter a complaint related to wins, the idea was to present the research solely in terms of wins.

28 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Re: importance of bye weeks in the playoffs

What we need to do is to get the NFL to change the playoff format for the next decade or so, giving the byes to the wild card teams. Then we can compare that decade to the previous one, and see if it's the byes or being the better team that is important.

Aaron et al, you work for Fox Sports. I'm sure they have the connections to get this done. Let's see this happen.

29 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

TEAM: DOM-STOMP-GUT-SKATE
-------------------------
NYG: 0-5-1-1
SEA: 0-4-3-2
CAR: 2-1-1-4
CHI:   0-2-2-4
ATL:  1-1-0-5
DAL:  0-2-2-3
TB:    0-1-1-5
MIN:  0-1-1-4
-------------------------
Favorites: NYG, SEA
Contenders: CAR, CHI, ATL, DAL
Pretenders: TB, MIN

At least the pretenders have new QB's to give them a sliver of hope.

30 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

"The off week is fairly irrelevant"

I strongly disagree. It may be irrelevant with respect to how much of a benefit a week's rest gives (although I'm not sold on that). But the key is that, in a 1 and done format, you have to win one less game than teams that don't have a bye.

Even if you're a fantastic team and have a 70% chance of winning any game you play (which I think is a little high, given the caliber of teams that generally make the playoffs), and even if you neglect the advantages of having home field in at least one game and the advantage of a week's rest, then your odds of going to the SB are .7*.7 = 0.49 if you have a bye, and .7*.7*.7 = 0.343 if you don't. That's a 1 in 2 chance versus a 1 in 3 chance, which is very significant.

Some more accurate numbers, taking into account that opponents faced tend to be better later in the playoffs, would probably be:
No bye: .8*.7*.6 = 0.336
Bye: 0.7*0.6 = 0.42
which is still very significant.

31 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Re: 26/27

Would it be a lot of work to run it again with DVOA?

I was trying to compile teams' 2005 records against winning and nonwinning opponents a couple days ago, and I noticed that I kept mistakenly giving a "win over winning team" credit to teams that had beaten Washington. DVOA is taking over my brain.

32 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Oh, and excellent article. I'd seen similar stuff for baseball, but it wasn't at all obvious to me that the same would be true for football.

33 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

#14 Or, it could be that winning [the game you mentioned] is somewhat dependent on having an early lead. If only there were a statistic that gave a boost to teams that did well in first quarter offense...paging Forrest Gregg!

34 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Re 14:

The're a fundamental difference between that card game and sports in that regard. In that card game, you win by convincing your opponent to make bad choices from incomplete information; intangibles make up much of that incomplete information.

Also, quickly leaving a table you're losing at has a direct benefit: if that brief session is statistically accurate, you're avoiding future losses. Not all tables are created equal, after all. (If only a football team could call a Mulligan after the first quarter and change opponents :)

35 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Re: the bye week. This is one of TMQ's favourite topics. Teams that had a bye (ie, home teams) are 49-11 (.817) in the divisional playoff round. But home teams are only 17-13 (.567) in the next round, the championship game.

Given that the home team almost always has a better record than the visitor, you'd expect the home teams' winning percentage to be a little higher than in the regular season (about .600). The divisional round home winning percentage is significantly higher, however - which is difficult to attribute this to anything other than the bye.

36 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Great article. I haven't yet had time to dig through the tables, but I'd be interested in the correlation between average margin of victory in Nomember and December, against all teams, and post-season success. When I think of the the truly great teams, I remember them bludgeoning everybody like the proverbial rented mule, right through the playoffs. As good as the Pats have been in this most recent era, they have not absolutely crushed the competition, as some other previous champs have done.

They only won one Super Bowl, but I still think of the '85 Bears as the standard against which all others are measured. None of their playoff games was even within shouting distance of being a contest. Total and complete domination, no matter the opponent.

37 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

But home teams are only 17-13 (.567) in the next round, the championship game.

I'm sure a large part of that is Bill Cowher going 1-4 in AFC Championship games at home...

38 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Great article. I had the same question as Kibbles in #1 on %. So, I ran the percentages. Also, in regard to #17, because I was curious as to effect of home field advantage on the numbers, I separated into championship games where the home team had the higher percentage in a category, versus where the home team did not. The results are even stronger in support of Aaron's hypothesis.

I used same categories. The "Domination" percentage is total number of Dominations divided by Total number of games played against opponents over .500. Others are similarly calculated. I did not count a game where two teams were within 5% of each other in a category (2 of 9 vs 2 of 10 in "stomps", for example), so the records don't add to 20 games. Here are results:

Championship Game
Home Team w/ Higher "Domination" %: 7-2
Home Team w/ Lower "Domination" %: 1-5

Home Team w/ Higher "Guts" %: 3-3
Home Team w/ Lower "Guts" %: 6-2

Home Team w/ Higher "Stomp" %: 10-3
Home Team w/ Lower "Stomp" %: 1-4

Home Team w/ Higher "Skates" %: 1-6
Home Team w/ Lower "Skates" %: 5-3

Those are some resounding numbers. While it is true that most home teams in the Championship games are going to have a higher % of stomps and dominations than the opponent, it is not always true. And in those cases, the road team generally wins. Conversely, when the home team has the higher percentage of skate games (close wins over .500 or less teams), it was 1-6 in the title game.

39 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

As always, great and interesting article; love FO. However, several things come to mind. What are that stats of STOMP+DOM (i.e. all wins over 14 pts), wouldn't that lessen the effect of playing no bad teams? Of course, that brings up the point of #1, maybe you want to face bad teams.

40 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

RE 35, I wouldn't expect the better teams winning percentage (w%) in the playoff games to exceed their w% in the regular season. They are playing better teams than the avg team they faced in reg season. Thus, just being over .5 means something, like the better team usually wins. There are must be ways of better deciphering the stats (like they do with twin studies to tease out environ v. genetic factors). Somehow I don't see the NFL changing how it runs things merely to satisfy our statistical curiosity though. However, it looks like we've got people willing to tease out even minutae from the data available. One just has to be careful since some statistical results are counter-intuitive and your reasoning will lead you to the wrong conclusion.

41 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

My last question has to do with the correlation stats. They're against regular season wins (not independent, as pointed out in #9). What are the correlations to post season win %? Otherwise, qual wins (and even better other wins) is the best predictor (of reg season wins). However, what one really wants is correlations to post season wins (or better SB wins), since that's the goal.

42 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

confirms my long term suspision(sic) that Minnesota and Denver in 1998 would have been one of the best superbowls ever. Instead Atl earned another "skate" and promptly got demolished.

43 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Re #34: The’re a fundamental difference between that card game and sports in that regard. In that card game, you win by convincing your opponent to make bad choices from incomplete information; intangibles make up much of that incomplete information.

Oh? And in football, you don't win by convincing your opponent to make bad choices from incomplete information? What's a Draw Play, then? Theoretically, the draw play should be the easiest play on earth to defend, since it's so slow developing and the linemen aren't run blocking. In practice, the draw play is often deadly, since the defense makes a bad choice (defend the pass) based on incomplete information (linemen are pass-blocking, QB dropped back and held the ball).

I think football is very much a game of trickery, of one team trying to use incomplete information to guess what the other team is doing, and the other team trying its hardest to vary up their patterns and keep themselves unpredictable.

I also think that a lack of confidence can have a very big impact on winning and losing. If a defense is normally stout against the run, and they start giving up rushing yardage in big chunks, they're more likely to lose confidence in their run defense and start stacking the box, which opens things up against the pass, etc. I think the Denver/KC game from earlier in the season was a perfect example of a team losing confidence and getting hammered. Denver wasn't doing anything special, but they were moving the ball at will doing it, because KC (which had been decreed a "stout" defense before that matchup) just couldn't figure out what was going on. They were shell-shocked.

Another great example was the Pitt/Indy game last monday night. Cowher opens up the second half with an onsides kick. The only explanation I can think for why a normally conservative coach would do such a risky play is that he felt like he needed a lot of help to pull off the win- quite an odd position since Indy was only up by 9 points at the time. He just didn't have confidence in his team, whether it was because they were trailing or because Indy was undefeated, and as a result, he gave up an easy 7 points to Indy.

44 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Falco #38:

GREAT comment, great additional stats. The results could not be more clear. Great teams beat their opponents by a lot. Close games are a sign of weakness.

45 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Besides N.E 2003(4), the most gut wins of any superbowl winner has been 2.

46 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Now that we have this information, we can filter it for this year. For instance, we'll know better than to count against Indy if they get some guts or skates from resting starters. We would also know better than to give any doms should they lose badly. Knowing circumstances will help us a ton.

47 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

don't mean to be redundant, but great piece! its also a great piece to introduce to people who are skeptical of the type of football stats found on this site. but to reiterate what a couple people said earlier, it left me thirsting for a DVOA version. i feel as though a stomp can too easily be turned into skate with a meaningless last second touchdown, or vice versa. here is a memory: BAL vs CLE last year, CLE down by 7, drives down inside BAL 10yd line with under 2 minutes to go. Ed Reed then picks a pass off and a kneel down would end the game, but he takes it 100yds to the house! a fond memory for me, but that was no stomp.

48 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

Okay, Aaron, now that you have just proven that STOMPS are more important to determining championship caliber than GUT or SKATE wins, I believe a little rewriting of history is in order (along with massive doses of memory-erasing drugs). As a result, my Colts are better than your Pats and have been for some time. So... anyhoo, please return the Lombardi's now, and I won't have to send you to a time-out corner or send a note home to your mom. Please.... Hello? Aaron, you there? Hmmph!

Okay, so having shown that the Pats of the past few years are pretty much outliers, how the hell did they do it? Can it simply be timing (peaking at the right time)? It's too easy an answer and impossible to measure (though it probably works for the 2000 Ravens as well).

49 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

bobman -

I would guess the Pats phenomenon is a combination of a few things:

1) Being good at the things (low DVOA variance, long kicks, 4th quarter offense) that tend to be more of a factor in close games than in blowouts.

2) Pre-2004, having a great defense and a merely good offense, which tends to create low-scoring games.

3) Just dumb luck/statistical variance.

50 Re: FO on FOX: Guts and Stomps

It seems that in 2003 no team dominated. It was a skater's paradise. All 4 teams who made it to the championship round were vulnerable with at leat 4 skates a piece.