Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) is a professional engineer and handicapper who has proprietary custom predictive NFL analytics and visualized data. He owns Sharp Football Analysis and Sharp Football Stats and work has been featured at ESPN, FOX, the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post and many other sites.
Sharp will be publishing analytics-based NFL coverage on Sports Action for the 2017 season. Below is an introduction to his Team Preview series.
Twenty-two points. Apart from being one more than twenty-one, this number may not mean much to anyone in a football context. However, in the football context, it actually has a great story. For decades, scoring over 21 points meant you were going to win a substantial number of your games. In the 1990s, you’d win 80% of your games and cover 76%. In the 2000s, you’d win 77% of your games and cover 74%. From 2010-2015, it meant you’d win 76% of your games and cover 73%.
But last year scoring more than 21 points and you won only 72% of games and covered just 69%. No year on record (as far back as I can track) saw the average of teams scoring more than 21 points win less than 74% and cover less than 74% of games. What does this mean? It means what we already know – the NFL is an offensive league. But what it means is it’s becoming harder and harder to win games. The trends were there, you can see from above the difference between the 90s, the 00s and the 10s. But 2016 put a big cherry on top of the predicament most teams find themselves in. And that is figuring out how to score enough offensively to outscore their opponent.
Historically, it was possible to do enough defensively that you wouldn’t need much from your offense. We all should remember that 2000 Ravens defense that won a Super Bowl behind Trent Dilfer. Over recent years, there are a number of teams that haven’t been close to winning despite great defenses. We’re reminded of the Texans or the Chiefs, whose offenses have been terrible or mediocre, and while they might make the playoffs, they don’t stand a chance against the true offensive powers in the league. We’ve seen teams that aren’t even close to making the playoffs with top-10 caliber defenses, like the Jaguars or Rams in recent years.
All of these teams are at a massive disadvantage in their race to the Lombardi. They’re being started late and are trying to catch-up against offensive powerhouses who continue to seek ways to improve their own offensive efficiency. The best offenses are getting better. And most of the NFL isn’t able to catch up.
Introducing the 2017 NFL Team Preview Series
For that reason, I devoted my entire life from the day after the Super Bowl ended through the heat of the summer researching and calculating what each team needs to do. I started by gaining a true understanding of what each team was in 2016. How did they win or lose games? What did they do well, and where did they struggle? Were things their own fault, or out of their control? Were there glaring efficiency holes that can be filled in 2017 or are they fundamental issues with a player or coach that are likely to repeat? Once understanding their 2016, I looked at how the team changed in the few months since 2016 ended. How were they impacted by coaching changes, coordinator changes, injuries and offseason player movement? Then I studied their schedule in great detail. How does their 2017 schedule compare to 2016? Not just based on strength of opponents using 2016 schedules (a terrible way to calculate it) but using two new methodologies that I pioneered and share at my stats website (Sharp Football Stats): Strength of Schedule based on 2017 Vegas Win Totals and Strength of Schedule based on 30 metrics. Once I factored in those elements, I was able to forecast how each team will perform in 2017.
As you can probably guess, it was a time-consuming process. But the results are here for you to see. I wrote what is now an Amazon Best Seller: Warren Sharp’s 2017 Football Preview. But from that book, I’ve adapted and condensed 32 different team previews which will be rolled out on Sports Action between now and the kickoff of the 2017 season on September 7th.
These previews are different from standard “betting” previews you may be accustomed to reading. These are analytics-based previews which will teach you more about each team than any “betting” preview would attempt to cover. That is because whether you bet on the games or play fantasy football, I believe the holistic approach to football is the best: understanding how teams win and lose games and then understanding the matchups they face in a given week will prepare you for anything you decide to do with that knowledge. Focusing only on “betting” precludes you from learning about the markers of efficiencies that propel teams to win and lose games. Focusing only on trends and “angles” is a sure-fire way to not only ensure you’re wasting your time spent researching, but will ensure that whatever you dig up won’t be applicable to your general knowledge of “football” or your ability to apply it to any other pursuits, such as fantasy football.
Why do I take such an analytical approach? The fact that I’m a licensed Professional Engineer and spent my non-football life working as an engineer after graduating from a top-10 School of Engineering is a large part of that reason. But it’s also trial and error. In my pursuit to understand football, I’ve spent years researching angles of all kinds. But the reality is, nothing will be as successful in helping you in your football pursuits as understanding football. Sounds elementary, but you’d be amazed at how often that approach is ignored.
I’ve put my money where my mouth is for years over at Sharp Football Analysis, where I’ve produced the strongest winning record in NFL totals in the industry. I’ve written for ESPN. My NFL-based research has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Slate, the Washington Post and many other papers and websites nationwide.
I’m looking forward to breaking down the teams for you in the days and weeks to come. I’ll provide you with the results of months of my own research. The information will have a heavy-analytics slant, and I’ll discuss many metrics which I’ve either invented myself or use heavily at my Stats website, such as Early Down Success Rate (EDSR), Missed Yards Per Attempt, Success Rate Over Average, explosive play rates and much, much more.
The 2017 season will likely be offensively driven, much like 2016 was. When you look at the teams most likely to win the Super Bowl, you have teams with solid offenses, like the Patriots, Packers, Cowboys, Falcons, Steelers, Seahawks and Raiders. The rest of the league is going to have to do more than just try to win games with balance. While admirable, they’ll need their offense come the postseason. If you’re looking for a dark horse this year to make some noise in the postseason, look for one whose offense is capable of developing this season into one which can compete on the scoreboard with those aforementioned teams.
I hope you’ll be able to digest these previews, take your own notes, and be better prepared for the 2017 season than you’ve ever been prepared for a season before. It’s going to be a fun 4 weeks, so let’s get started with last year’s Super Bowl runner-up, the Atlanta Falcons.