Rich Hribar

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Scoring, Drives and Plays

Thursday, June 21, 2018

For those unfamiliar with this summer series, we’re taking a look back at the 2017 season, adding data points and notes with an application in the form of regression analysis that can serve as bullet points to diagnose 2018 player and team expectations. To start our downhill journey into August drafts, let's look at scoring, drives and plays largely on a team level while peppering in some individual player notes.


In 2017, we were left to play in the kiddie pool because scoring was one thing the NFL severely lacked. Teams averaged 21.7 points per game a year ago, their lowest scoring rate since 2009. We had 108 fewer rushing and receiving TDs than there were in the 2016 season, and the overall total of those scores (1,121) was the lowest since 2007.



Touchdowns are the lifeblood for creating a high-scoring fantasy football environment, so 2017's ineptitude caused us to have our lowest-scoring offensive fantasy season in eight years. 42.8 percent of drives ended in punts, the league's highest rate since 1999. We can pick out our favorite ingredients that are baked into that scoring decline. From the litany of quarterback injuries to universal offensive line incompetence, defensive play rising, and impact of rule changes, but betting on offensive scoring rebounding is a probable wager. This was just a quick scratch of the surface. As we delve deeper into position levels, let's highlight a few spots we can exploit with an anticipated touchdown-scoring rise.


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Ram It with Efficiency

A few teams still delivered stat-stuffing seasons, and no team out-kicked expectations more than the Rams in their first year under Sean McVay. The Rams led the league in offensive scoring at 29.9 points per game and did so in a manner of increased efficiency that had not been seen in a decade.


The 2017 Rams scored on 22.7 percent more of their drives than they did to end the Jeff Fisher Age of 2016. No team made as significant a jump in scoring rate over the past decade than the 2017 Rams compared to a previous season. Of the other top-10 teams in the last decade to make similar spikes in scoring rate and overall output, nearly all regressed the following season.


NFL Teams with the highest scoring increase per drive since 2007

TeamYearScoring %Prev Yr.+/-N+ Scoring%N+ oTDN+ PPG
LAR 2017 45.3% 22.6% 22.7% TBD TBD TBD
CAR 2011 40.5% 20.8% 19.7% -7.8% -11 -3.1
ATL 2016 55.8% 36.4% 19.4% -14.6% -24 -11.7
DEN 2012 42.5% 25.3% 17.2% 8.6% 22 7.8
GB 2011 51.8% 36.4% 15.4% -12.5% -15 -7.9
ATL 2008 42.1% 27.1% 14.9% -5.7% 1 -1.7
TB 2010 35.8% 20.9% 14.8% -6.3% -10 -3.4
SF 2011 42.1% 27.3% 14.8% -1.4% 8 1.0
SD 2013 46.0% 31.5% 14.6% -12.1% -4 -3.0
ARI 2015 46.5% 32.4% 14.1% -10.4% -4 -4.5
DAL 2016 46.3% 32.5% 13.8% -10.0% -9 -4.2


Of the teams listed, not one scored more efficiently in their post-breakout year. All but two teams scored fewer points the following season with the one clear exception being the 2013 Broncos, the best offense in NFL history.


The obvious card yet to be played is that the Rams' defense has loaded up on talent. While that defensive upgrade can theoretically create more scoring opportunities with shorter fields, it will be hard for the Rams to still run into all of the short-scoring opportunities last year's team experienced. Los Angeles ranked first in the league in amount of drives (27) and subsequent touchdowns scored (15) while starting on the opposition’s side of the field. Those scores accounted for 33.3 percent of Los Angeles' total touchdowns. Over the past decade, only two teams (the 2009 and 2010 Bears) have led the league in drives started on the opposition’s side of the field. And of those two Bears teams, neither scored more touchdowns on drives started across the 50 than the year prior.


Philly, Philly

Although the Eagles’ offensive spike wasn’t quite as pronounced as the Rams’ worst-to-first run, it seems that you don’t go on a Super Bowl run out of the NFC lately without a major offensive leap.


Philadelphia Per Drive Output 2016-2017

2017 2.08 5 42.8% 7 26.7% 3 48 2
2016 1.79 16 39.9% 11 19.7% 20 34 21


With a mostly-healthy roster, added pieces, and Carson Wentz making a significant sophomore stride, the Eagles became one the premier scoring offenses in the league, and that spike could’ve been higher as Wentz missed the final three games of the season, the final two of which saw the Eagles total just 19 points.


While their efficiency rose across the board, the Eagles were already above league average in per-drive scoring in 2016. The main area where they elevated into the league's elite was converting a much higher rate of drives into touchdowns over field goals. That’s also the area of scoring efficiency that is hardest to maintain elite efficiency.


Since 2000, 98 teams have scored a touchdown on 25 percent or more of drives. 78 of those 98 teams notched a lower touchdown rate the following season with an average loss of -4.5 percent. 79 of those 98 teams scored fewer offensive touchdowns the next season with an average loss of -7 rushing/receiving TDs. Of those 98, just 11 of the teams to do so in back-to-back seasons weren’t led by Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees.


As we discussed with the 2015 Panthers and the Falcons entering last season, a lot goes into creating a league-leading efficient offense. Rolling all of those factors into the following season is a lot easier said than done. Natural regression should be accounted for when projecting both teams. But don’t mistake this as something to completely turn you off to either team in 2018. Not all regression is something to run away from.  Both the Eagles and the Rams can still have strong seasons offensively that are more than usable for fantasy purposes, but projecting their league-leading efficiency marks over a small sample to be their year-over-year norm isn't a stable bet.


More Scores in the ATL

Speaking of that expected regression for the 2017 Falcons, their scoring deterioration from 2016 hit harder than expected, another example to show how fragile sustaining high-scoring efficiency truly is. New OC Steve Sarkisian has shouldered the blame, but Atlanta's offense was still good. The Falcons were eighth in the league in offensive yardage (364.8 yards per game), third in yardage gained per possession (35.3 yards), and fifth in yards per play (5.9). Yet they ranked 20th in offensive touchdowns (33).


Over the past decade, offensive yardage has a R-Squared of .7025 in relation to offensive touchdowns, meaning 70.25 percent of all those scores can be explained by yardage gained. Under that umbrella, the 2017 Falcons finished with six fewer offensive TDs than expected by yardage gained. That -6 mark ranked tied for 26th in the league, ahead of only Cleveland, San Francisco, Denver, and the Giants, four teams that combined to win just four more games than the Falcons did all of last year. In fact, the Falcons were the only team in the bottom-10 of the league in expected touchdown differential to post a winning record. 



Caution on the KC?

Led by a career season from Alex Smith, another team that was hyper-efficient a year ago was the Chiefs. In fact, they were better per drive than any team that Andy Reid has coached in his 19-year career.


TeamYds/DrivePoints/DriveScoring Rate%
2017 KC 34.9 2.05 46.2%
Prev. Reid High 33.8 1.99 41.7%
Prior Reid Averages 29.0 1.67 35.1%


The 2017 Chiefs ranked fourth in scoring rate per drive, and sixth in both yards and points per possession. The 2018 version is arguably one of the most talented offensive groups Reid has ever had on paper. But regardless of how much excitement we feel for the potential of this offense and how good of an aesthetic fit all the surrounding pieces are for Pat Mahomes, he’s going to have a high bar to hit in his first season as a starter. Warren Sharp also tagged the Chiefs' offense with the second toughest schedule in the league.


But even if you’re expecting the Chiefs to take a step back, Mahomes is the safest buy here. Mahomes isn’t being drafted as a QB1 at current ADP, while so many of his playmakers -- Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill -- are occupying costs in the opening three rounds. This leaves you room to squeeze on the potential ceiling of those players while pricing in some of the potentially unstable floor of this offense.


Kelce is the safest of the skill players by default of playing the softest fantasy position. It’s hard to fathom him being a true disappointment in the context of the weak tight end landscape, even if Kelce's output falls short of his ADP.


Hunt is a three-down back, which are in short supply, so he still should be highly regarded even if Kansas City comes back to the pack. Hunt's biggest concern comes from rushing volume. The most carries a Kansas City running back outside of Hunt logged was just 18 from Charcandrick West; Hunt handled 272-of-314 (86.6 percent) running back carries, the highest share in the league.  With Spencer Ware returning and Damien Williams and Kerwynn Williams on board to push West, that share of the workload won’t roll over. Hunt may hit a few dead spots along the way, but as the most complete back on the roster in a Reid-coached system that has continuously churned valuable fantasy production from its lead back, Hunt is still a fine RB1 pick.


Hill carries the most concern of that group due to potential volume loss, but he is undoubtedly an electric player. Hill's 7.0 targets per game ranked just 28th at the position a year ago and that was without Sammy Watkins on the field. Hill’s efficiency was incredible, becoming the first wide receiver with over 100 targets in a season to catch at least 70 percent of them while averaging over 15.0 yards per reception. Hill also caught all seven of his touchdowns from 30-yards out. Those big plays are what you’re drafting him for and still hold value in ongoing Best Ball leagues, but Hill's weekly volatility could be heightened with the quarterback change and addition of Watkins.


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Rich Hribar is a husband, father, sports meteorologist and a slave to statistics. A lifelong sports fan and fantasy gamer. You can find him on Twitter @LordReebs.
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