There are coaches and players that will tell you that the numbers don't lie. While not always the most accurate depiction of a team's success, team statistics go a long way to showing what it takes to be successful.
There is the belief that a strong defense is the key to team success. That may not necessarily be the case. A look around the NFL can dispute that long-held mantra. All of the top five offenses in the 2006 season made the playoffs. On the defensive side, just one of the top four and three of the top nine-rated defenses made the postseason.
On the flip side, of the 13 lowest-rated offenses (the Vikings were in that group at No. 23), just one of them made the playoffs. That team was the Jets, who, if you believe the numbers, had no business being in the playoffs. They had the league's 20th rated defense and 25th rated offense, yet finished the season 10-6. In contrast, the Jaguars have the 10th rated offense and second-rated defense and finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs.
Another myth surrounds having a 1,000-yard rusher to be successful. But in the era of the 16-game schedule, that too is something of a misnomer. A total of 23 players rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2006 and two others -- Willis McGahee with 990 and rookie Maurice Jones-Drew with 941 -- came very close. While three-fourths of the teams in the league had a 1,000-yard rusher, that's no different from the playoff field, where nine of 12 teams had a 1,000-yard rusher (the Patriots, Jets and Seahawks did not).
Perhaps one of the best gauges of whether a team is successful is in the giveaway-takeaway category. Of the 12 teams that made the playoffs, only two (the Saints at minus-4 and the Seahawks at minus-8) had a minus ratio number. Four of the top five teams and seven of the top 10 in giveaway-takeaway ratio made the postseason -- giving credence to the belief that turnovers kill. Three of the top five teams in that ratio were teams that earned first-round playoff byes (only the Saints weren't in that category).
Another factor that carries a lot of weight is red zone efficiency, but again the offense seems to be more of a predictor to success than the defense. The top five teams in the NFL in red zone efficiency on offense (the Chargers, Colts, Chiefs, Cowboys and Patriots) all made the playoffs. Just two of the top eight defenses in the red zone for not allowing touchdowns (the Ravens and Patriots) made the playoffs. The group of eight at the top of the defensive categories includes the Vikings at No. 3 and the Raiders -- who will pick first in April's draft after posting the worst record in the leauge -- at No. 5.
The NFL is a game designed around numbers that allow one team to be compared to another. But there are times when the numbers don't tell the true story. What makes a team successful isn't having the top-rated offense or defense -- although it clearly helps. What is more important is having playmakers that can make the big play at the right time. Just ask the Jets. If you went strictly by the numbers, you would say that the Jets would have finished 6-10 and been looking at the draft instead of the playoffs. Sometimes the numbers can lie -- or at least mask the truth.
By The Numbers
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