Expected Points: The Best Five NFL Teams of the Last Five Years (8/2/17)
Last season, I introduced a new metric, Expected Points, based on simple boxscore metrics that predicts the outcomes of NFL games. As the NFL rules and scoring hasn't changed too much in the last few seasons, let's take a look back at the best teams, according to Expected Points, over the last five years.
The method to do so will simply be looking at expected points for and against to assemble an expected margin of victory.
The 2015 Panthers were an impressive display of throwing, rushing, and stellar defensive play. On their way to a 15-1 record after starting the season 14-0, the Panthers notched just one loss against the Falcons in Week 16. The Cam Newton lead offense average 500 yards per game while the defense only allowed 308 yards on average. With 45 total touchdowns (35 throwing, 10 rushing), Cam Newton rightfully earned the MVP.
On the backs of one of the best defensive groups we've seen in NFL history, there's no doubt the Seattle Seahawks have had an incredible five year run in the NFL. In the 2014 season, Seattle's actual margin of victory was only 8.8 points. However, they had a bit of an unlucky stretch at the beginning of the season that drove that number down a bit. After starting 3-3, the Seahawks finished 9-1 by dismantling teams along the way. In their final six games, the Seattle defense allowed just 6.5 points per game. They ended up needing every one of those wins to edge the 11-5 Cardinals in the NFC West. The Seahawks went on to lose at the goal line against the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
In 2015, the Arizona Cardinals finished 13-3 with an average margin of victory of 11.0 points by outgaining their opponents 489 to 313. The defense was opportunistic, turning over their opponents more than three times per game with 19 interceptions, forcing 30 fumbles, causing two safeties, and converting six of those turnovers into touchdowns. The Cardinals went on to face the 15-1 Panthers above in the NFC Championship game where they were dismantled 49-15.
The 2013 Seahawks had the best defense in the last five years, according to Expected Points, allowing an expected 13.0 points per game. The offense was good, not great, largely on the back of Russell Wilson's dual threat of throwing and rushing. The Seahawks finished 13-3, won the NFC West, and had an average margin of victory of 11.6 points, a bit unlucky. The average yardage for opponents was an insane 231 yards. The average drive against this Seattle defense resulted in just 23.4 yards and 1.17 points. The secondary forced 28 interceptions while the defense forced 24 fumbles in total. The 2013 Seahawks went on to win the Super Bowl in a playoffs where they allowed a total of 40 points in three games including a 43-8 dominating performance over the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
No NFL list of successes over the last two decades could omit the Patriots. Surprisingly, the Patriots only made our top five list only once, but the 2012 Patriots were by far the best team on the list. Their expected margin of victory of 14.4, more than two touchdowns, is 2.3 points better than the next best team. This isn't an outlier, either, as the actual margin of victory for the 2012 Patriots was 14.1 points. The New England offense averaged 557 yards per game, outgaining their opponents by 226 yards on average. Tom Brady's offense averaged 2.74 points per drive, nearly a field goal every time they gained possession. The Patriots scored more than 30 points ten times in 2012, more than 40 points five times, and more than 50 points twice. Interestingly, this wasn't one of the years the Patriots made a Super Bowl run. The best team in the last five years, by margin of victory, was taken down by the Ravens in the AFC Championship game 28-13. Tom Brady threw two interceptions, only completed 53.7% of his passes, and Stevan Ridley lost a fumble in an uncharacteristic Patriots game.