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Statistical Preview of the NFC North

Chris Berman calls it "The Norris Division", we decided to take a statistical look at the past six years for the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, and Minnesota Vikings.  I'm not a statistical junkie, players move around and teams can perform drastically different from one season to the next (ie. '11 Colts vs '12 Colts).  Nonetheless let's delve into some key statistical categories and see which team has had the edge, and which teams look to be headed in the right (or wrong) direction.

First we take a look at average Points Per Game Differential (PPG), this statistic takes a team's average PPG minus their average PPG allowed.  This isn't the most telling of statistics, but it does measure a teams ability to put up points versus their ability to stop their opponent from scoring.

Winner: Green Bay Packers
Right Direction: Chicago Bears

Obviously the success of the Packers has been well documented.  What is maybe a little overshadowed is the the Bears consistency, mainly due to a strong defense, but also that last year was their best PPG differential in the last 6 seasons.

Turnover Differential is defined as Takeaways minus Giveaways, a differential of zero means a team turns the ball over just as many times as it creates turnovers...higher the better.

Winner: Green Bay Packers
Right Direction: Chicago Bears

Every season except for the last the Packers have been tops in the division, and even more impressive is that they have maintained a positive turnover differential in each of the last 6 seasons.  The Bears have been consistent and are improving, meanwhile the Vikings have been negative for the last 3 seasons and the Lions have the two worst diff's in the division since 2007. 

As Advanced NFL Stats so eloquently puts it, Time of Possession is an "intermediate outcome statistic"..."it's a by-product of being good at something else. You can’t be good at “time of possession".  With that caveat, we still feel that Time of Possession tells us part of a story.  There are anomaly games where teams win with far less than 50% TOP, but over 16 games more is generally better.

Winner: Detroit Lions
Right Direction: Chicago Bears

Yes the Packers have been the better Time of Possession team in the NFC North 5 of the last 6 seasons, but they've been on a steady decline since 2009.  What's impressive is the Lions since 2008, they have increased 8% (which is whopping) and increased every season.  The Bears get an honorable mention for matching the Lions almost every season since Jay Cutler joined the team. The Vikings peaked with Brett Favre in 2009, but seem to have stopped the bleeding the last two seasons.

Net Yards per Pass Attempt is another advanced statistic that is widely considered to be a good all inclusive barometer of a team's ability to pass the football, it's calculated as:

(yards passing - sack yards) / (pass attempts + sacks) = Net Yards per Attempt

Winner: Green Bay Packers
Right Direction: Detroit Lions

Again history is on the side of the Packers, but honorable mention to the Lions since Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson came on the scene a few seasons ago.  What's interesting is that since Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall joined the Bears, their Net Yards per Attempt has gone no where.

Toxic Differential is a relatively unknown statistic among NFL fans.  Created by famed coach Brian Billick, 

Toxic Differential is a statistic in football used to measure a team on their ability in creating and preventing both turnovers and explosive plays. Toxic Differential is calculated by adding together a team's turnover differential (takeaways - giveaways) and its big play differential (big plays for - big plays against). A higher toxic differential is better.

Winner: Green Bay Packers
Right Direction: Detroit Lions

The Packers have stayed strong, but are coming off their worst toxic differential since 2008.  The Vikings, despite their record, have managed to stay in positive territory in all but one season...a testament to the strength of their defense.  What's most interesting about this chart is the Lions, they have had the worst differential in all but one season, and last year was abysmal despite a budding offensive game.

What I like about Yards per Play Differential is that it includes some of the important efficiency statistics on both sides of the ball.  A team's ability to move the ball on a per play basis versus their defense's ability to stop the opposition (on a per play basis).

Winner: 'It's a wash"

This might be one of the most interesting charts of them all.  It shows you how dominant the Packers were the last several years, but how quickly and how close the gap has got in the last two seasons.  It will be interesting to look at this chart after the 2013 season and see which direction NFC North teams go.  There's reason for all of them to go higher, but that's probably unlikely.

We could have gone on and on with statistical comparisons, but we invite you to check out our new team pages.  It allows you to compare multiple teams on any statistic you can think of.  For example Vikings fans I hear you asking for Yards per can find that here.  

It's no secret that the Packers have dominated the division over the last 6 seasons, but it's clear that there are some charts and trends that suggest the tide could be changing in the NFC North.


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