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Mike Lombardi Cracks the Code to Winning in the NFL

by Chase Stuart on June 19, 2013

in History, Statistics, Totally Useless

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.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Kibbles June 19, 2013 at 12:29 am

According to my research, teams that score more points than the other team are undefeated in NFL history. I’m not so sure about ties- I think there were a lot of them back in the 20s and 30s, and I don’t know if any of them happened to teams that had scored more points than the opposition.

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Chase Stuart June 19, 2013 at 12:38 am

Our records are spotty from the ’20s and ’30s — well, all football records are, not just ours — but I only see a couple of ties from that era where one team scored more than the other.

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Kibbles June 19, 2013 at 12:51 am

Also, I created a new super-advanced and totally proprietary statistic. You take {Points scored + [(Sacks + Takeaways + Punts forced + Touchdowns - failed Third Down Conversions + number of successful replay challenges - number of opponent's timeouts that went unused) * total number of safeties * (time of possession / 60)] ^ (Total flags / opponent flags)} / [(YPC * comp%) / YPA], and then you subtract the absolute value of (1 / [points allowed ^ -1]). If the end result is positive, the team has a winning percentage of about 98%. If the result is negative, their winning percentage hovers around 2%. If you don’t believe me, pull up any box score and calculate it for yourself.

I still haven’t come up with a catchy name for my new statistic. Any suggestions? If it’s catchy enough, I bet I can get the ESPN analysts to start using it during live broadcasts.

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Kibbles June 19, 2013 at 12:58 am

I think I’m leaning towards calling it the “Nominally Optimized Sequence of Hastily Integrated Totals”, or “NOSHIT” for short.

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Ben June 19, 2013 at 1:32 am

Yeah from what I hear on the BS Report he says a lot of nothing. But hey, he’s the one that’s GM of an NFL team, can’t say it hasn’t worked so far.

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Tim June 19, 2013 at 4:07 pm

He had this whole theme on there about “blue chip” players, and if you had 3+ you were in good shape or something like that. Was pretty suspect and totally anecdotal. Also ignored the fact that in the secondary or on the OL, your unit’s strength is about your weakest player, not your 1 or 2 strong ones. Not sure how much of that was speaking down to Simmons’ level, though.

I do like what he’s done with Cleveland’s front 7 this offseason. So we’ll see.

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Richie June 21, 2013 at 2:53 pm

No, they were “blue players”.

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sn0mm1s June 19, 2013 at 5:57 am

So… what you are saying is there are multiple keys to winning?

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Ed June 19, 2013 at 10:43 am

no you missed the point, Lombardi owns the only skeleton key, so stats don’t even matter.

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sn0mm1s June 19, 2013 at 11:13 am

Except for running plays. It doesn’t matter the results – he just has to run them.

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Nick June 19, 2013 at 8:48 am

Can we get a winning percentage on teams that use all 3 timeouts vs teams that don’t? I think this might be the key.

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Chris June 19, 2013 at 12:12 pm

I’d be interested in the 2% of 2nd half kneelers that lost

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kipholly June 19, 2013 at 5:19 pm

See John Fox and Peyton Manning in the 2013 Playoffs.

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James June 21, 2013 at 10:40 am

Also the Rivers’ fumble against the Chiefs before the potential go-ahead field goal.

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Richie June 21, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Yes, I was going to ask the same question.

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Randy Kroger June 19, 2013 at 12:40 pm

If you are ahead, you are infinitely more likely to run the ball and run the clock. Makes sense

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Tim June 19, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Parody seems to be lost on Randy.

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Jason Lisk June 19, 2013 at 4:25 pm
Chase Stuart June 19, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Where is the Lisk snark??

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Chase Stuart June 19, 2013 at 6:05 pm
Wraith June 19, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Best article ive read in a while. I laughed my butt off.

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matt tag June 20, 2013 at 10:00 am

Lombardi should go back and read “The Hidden Game of Football”. Teams don’t win because they have lots of rushing attempts, they have lots of rushing attempts because they’re winning the game. Lots of rushing attempts is an effect of winning, not a cause.

Good to hear our GM has it 100% backwards. Egads.

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Kay Nuck June 20, 2013 at 11:38 am

What about teams that gave up 30 rushing attempts but forced 15+ incompletions? Or is that the combined record of the Tebow Broncos and the Sanchez Jets?

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Jason June 20, 2013 at 1:25 pm

You, sir, are awesome.

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Scott February 11, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Great job, Jake! It appears you have cracked the key to winning at life, and now are on equal footing with Lombardi: unemployed.

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