When it comes to winning NFL games, what matters more than points per game?

The single most important variable is the total yards per game. This single factor is well balanced because it accounts factors such as the number of games played and the type of play.


What factors are important for predicting total yards? The top three factors are: points per game, first downs per game, total scrimmage plays, yards per game, and first downs per game. So while points per game isn't the most important factor, it is still among the top predictive factors. It turns out that all of these top factors are also highly related to winning games. In fact, each of these explains more than 70% of the variance in points per game. This doesn't make sense, how can there be so many highly predictive features? Well, all of these top factors tend to rise and fall together. So, if all of these factors are intertwined. What's a good way to show the relationships between these factors?


The chart above is a parallel coordinate plot of these top factors. Each line on this chart shows the outcome of a particular season for the Seahakws, the Broncos, and the Patriots. When you mouse over a line it will highlight the line revealing the total scores for all four variables. You can also re-arrange the order of the vertical lines by dragging and dropping them. Finally, try selecting all of the teams that had low total points per game and watch as it highlights related data. Notice how the low scoring points per game tend to also have fewer scrimmage plays, fewer first downs, and fewer yards per game.


Century Link field in Seattle, WA.

What's the best way to show the relationship between these variables as it relates to teams and to players? The answer is to use the natural hierarchy between division, teams, and players to organize these information. Back to points per game for a second. This factor often used by sports fanatics to build fantasy football teams. Given the importance of points per game to choosing the right player for a team, what does it look like by player?


The chart above shows total points per game across divisions, teams, and players. It is interactive. Blue bars indicate the presence of subcategories while grey bars indicate that a concept has no further subcategories. Click on a blue bar to zoom into a region and see a breakdown of data across related concepts. Click on the whitespace next tot he chart to to zoom out.


Points per game may be an important factor for helping to pick the best offensive players for a given team. But don't forget about all of those defensive backs. They're big guys, it's not good to upset them. And obviously a good offense is only half the game. What method can account for the importance of defense to winning a game? What is relationship between these defensive factors and the top predicting factors? I'll dig into these issues in more in the future.

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