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Statistics Behind NFL Wins and Losses From 2002-2011

What goes into a win in the NFL? 

Obviously, the simple answer is the team that scores the most points wins, but what about at a deeper statistical level like number of sacks, field goal percentage, passing attempts, etc.

We decided to take a look at every regular season and playoff game in the NFL since 2002 and compare the stats from the winners and losers to see if we could gain some insights into what it takes to win and to a further extent, lose.

After breaking down over 2,500 games or 5,000 winners and losers since 2002 we found some very interesting comparisons.

Comparing Game Winners and Losers in the NFL

As noted, score is really the only thing that matters once the final whistle blows. In analyzing every game we saw the following in terms of points scored by the winner and losers:

  • 27.48 - the average score of the winning team
  • 15.58 - the average score of the losing team
  • 11.90 - the average point differential between teams

On Offense

On the offensive side of the ball, as one would imagine, the winning consistently outperformed their opponents from Total Yards to Field Goal Percentage. But there were a few suprises in terms of what statistics really didn't differ that much between winners and losers.

Below is a table of offensive statistics broken down by winners and losers and differential:

OFFENSIVE STATISTICS Winners Losers Differential % Difference
Total Yards 366.02 319.63 46.40 14.52%
Offensive Touchdowns 2.81 1.58 1.24 78.22%
Passing Attempts 30.18 35.66 -5.48 -15.36%
Passing Completion % 63.17 57.10 6.07 10.62%
Passing Yards 230.25 224.84 5.40 2.40%
Average Passing Yards/Comp. 7.68 6.28 1.40 22.35%
Passing Touchdowns 1.67 1.06 0.60 56.87%
Quarterback Rating 96.23 69.51 26.72 38.44%
Rushing Attempts 32.21 23.18 9.03 38.96%
Rushing Yards 135.78 94.78 40.99 43.25%
Rushing Yards Per Attempt 4.17 4.03 0.14 3.51%
Rushing Touchdowns 1.15 0.52 0.63 122.01%
Interceptions 0.61 1.41 -0.81 -57.13%
Sacked 1.69 2.74 -1.05 -38.32%
Field Goal Percentage 76.95 62.20 14.74 23.70%

Offensive Takeaways:

  • Passing Attempts vs. Rushing Attempts
    • Between winners and losers, we saw that winners had nearly 6 fewer passing attempts per game on the other hand they had 9 more rushing attempts per game than losers.
  • Passing Yards
    • Winning teams threw the ball fewer times, however, they were far more effective in their passing as illustrated by the over 6% greater passing completions percentage. This led to winning teams throwing for 5.40 more yards per game even with the fewer attempts.
  • Touchdowns
    • Winning teams on average rack up over 11 points more per game than losing teams - this is clearly illustrated when looking at the difference in rushing and passing touchdowns scored per game. Winning teams score 1.24 more touchdowns on offense per game than losing teams, which is split evenly between rushing and passing scores (0.63 vs. 0.60).
  • Quarterback Rating
    • Not surprising that the usual leader of the offense, the Quarterback, standout when comparing winning teams to losing teams. On average, the Quarterback Rating of winning teams is 26.72 points higher than the losing team - 96.23 vs. 69.51.
  • Field Goals
    • Another big way winning teams differentiate thmeselves is with their kicking unit to the tune of nearly 15% greater field goal percentage.

On Defense

Defense wins championships is an oft quoted statement in the world of football with great examples like Pittsburgh Steelers of the 70's, the 1985 Chicago Bears and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens who shutout four opponents during the regular season.

And while this article is looking at every game played since 2002 there is clear dominance on the defensive end of the ball by winning teams:

DEFENSIVE STATISTICS Winners Losers Differential % Difference
Sacks 2.74 1.69 1.05 62.14%
Interceptions 1.41 0.61 0.81 133.27%
Tackles 40.74 43.91 -3.18 -7.24%
Passes Defensed  5.91 3.86 2.05 53.14%
Forced Fumbles 1.05 0.72 0.33 46.35%

Defensive Takeaways:

  • Interceptions and Forced Fumbles
    • Clearly, the defense of winning teams create turnovers to the tune of 1.41 interceptions per game and 1.05 forced fumbles per game. On the flipside, those same winning teams also limit their turnovers allowing almost one less interception per game and 46.35 less forced fumbles.
  • Passes Defensed
    • As we saw in the offensive section, losing teams have more passing attempts per game and a lower pass completion percentage, which is a symptom of the winning teams ability to defend against the pass. On average, winning teams defend nearly 6 passes per game while losing teams average over 2 less per game.
  • Sacks
    • One would think that winning teams have far greater tackles per game but as the table above illustrates this isn't the case as losing teams average over 4 more tackles per game. However, in the form of sacks, winning teams clearly dominate with over 1 more sack per game or 62% more than losing teams.

Both Sides Of Winning

In breaking down over 2,500 games since 2002, there isn't anything overly groundbreaking when it comes to looking at the average statistics on offense and defense between winners and losers.

But we do have some concrete numbers behind the magnitude of the difference between the statistics of each.

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