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Yesterday, Joe Fortenbaugh canonized Mike Lombardi for discovering and emphasizing one of the game’s great hidden stats: the number of rushing attempts plus completions a team has in a game. If you hit 50, you’re in great shape. Fortenbaugh reminds us that Lombardi, whose last team went 2-14, “possesses a vast range of knowledge spanning from management to game theory.” Fortenbaugh does the math for us, noting that the “top-10 teams in rushing attempts + completions combined to post a record of 101-59 (.631) in 2012, with seven of those ten organizations advancing to the postseason. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the bottom-10 teams combined for a 62-97-1 (.387) mark, with zero total playoff berths.” Then, he blows us away with the prize-winning line:

If you take only the teams that averaged 50.0 or more rushing attempts + completions per game over the last five years, you get a combined regular season record of 339-189 (.642), with 22 of 33 (66%) teams qualifying for the postseason. That winning percentage puts a team in between 10 and 11 wins per season.

The headline to the article reads: Average a combined total of 50 rushing attempts and completions per game and a winning season will likely follow. I’ll do the article one better: From 2008 to 2012, including playoffs, teams with 50+ rushes + completions have a record of 819-325-3, giving them a .715 winning percentage.

After reading that article and getting an inside look into Lombardi’s wisdom, I had considered the code to producing a winning season cracked. But I’ve got a robust database, so I thought maybe I could do even better than that .715 winning percentage Lombardi’s stat produces. The following information is based on the results from every game, regular and postseason, since 2008:

  • Upon further review, there’s no reason to concern yourself with completing passes. Teams that run 30+ times in a game won 79.9% of the time (798-201-1).
  • Here’s another to just focus on the ground game: teams with 2+ rushing touchdowns in a game win 76.5% of all games (414-127-1).
  • But perhaps focusing on offensive statistics is the wrong way to go about it. The real way to win is with defense. Teams that force 3 interceptions or more in a game win 90.0% of the time (210-23-1).
  • Think forcing interceptions is difficult? All defenses really need to do is force incompletions. When your opponent throws 20 or more incomplete passes in a game, you win 87.0% of the time (223-33-1). Even if you only force 15+ incompletions, you still win 75.8% of the time (747-238-2).
  • Instead of focusing on building your secondary, consider getting some pass rushers. Teams with 6+ sacks in a game win 78.4% of the time (81-22-1).
  • Here’s another sign that the game is won in the trenches: teams won 71.6% (290-115-0) of the time that they they finished the game with no sacks. Just say no to passing.
  • Think special teams is one-third of the game? You’re right. Teams won 88.2% of the time when they hit five or more field goals in a game (15-2-0).
  • Getting to 50+ completions + rush attempts sounds tough. Instead, teams should just focus all their energy on winning the first half. Teams that enter the locker room with a lead won 77.1% of all games (945-280-2). Better yet, just win through three quarters: that gives you an 82.6% chance of winning (1031-216-2).

Of course, the takeaway isn’t that 50 pass completions + rushes isn’t the key to victory. The real key? To take second half kneel downs. Teams that do that win 98% of the time.

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