Last year in this space we wrote an article on preseason handicapping that was based around a team’s won-lost record in the previous year and how that affected preseason results. This time out we’ll do something similar, but focus on a team’s rankings on offense and defense from the prior year and see if we can find some areas of historical value.
The first decision is what to use for ranking each team offensively and defensively. The conventional NFL thinking has focused on yards, but we are electing to use points scored and points allowed. These have some level of distortion (eg special teams and defensive points scored), but the general standings should better reflect the mindset of the team.
For instance a team that scored a lot of points while ranking only average in yards probably doesn’t think the offense needs much improvement. A team that rated high in yards but lower in points probably does think more offense is necessary.
Using the total points for and against, we rank each team to the rest of the league. A Top 10 ranking is considered "good," 11 to 20 "average" and above 21 "poor."
We were pleasantly surprised to see that of the 11 angles we posted prior to last year’s preseason games, eight continued the established trend to produce winning records. One had a .500 split, and two were losers and have been dropped from the table.
These angles seem limited and, at best, consider only half of the story. They ignore either a team’s offense or defense. Another way would be to rate a team from 1 to 3 (good is 1, average 2, poor 3) and add the offense and defense together.
This way you end up with a team ranked from 2 (Best, meaning Top 10 in both points scored and points allowed) to 6 (worst, meaning ranking 21+ in both areas). With the expectation that the two extremes (the "2" teams and "6" teams) will most likely have the unusual results, here’s what we find:
”¡ Between the two angles posted last time, they went 10-6 combined if you played "with the trend" during the 2003 season. One angle won, one lost.
”¡ The worst teams from the prior year will probably try a little harder in preseason to win.
”¡ On the road. those teams can play without the often negative home crowd experience (plus they will usually be underdogs getting a field goal or more).
”¡ The top NFL teams of the previous season have little need to excel in the exhibitions and can be fodder for other teams, particularly when the top squad is home and favored.
Here are the teams to note for 2004 that meet the above criteria:
"2" Teams: Denver, Baltimore
"6" Teams: Chicago, Arizona, NY Giants, Detroit, Oakland, Washington, Houston
We confirmed decent to good results with this approach for the most recent season. The handful of angles, in conjunction with some other handicapping tools, might plausibly give us the edge in the coming preseason.