In November 2014, the Rams blew out the visiting Oakland Raiders in what was the least-conforming game of 2014 (although for my money, the runner-up game between the Titans and Chiefs was probably still the strangest result of the year). The Rams finished the season with a -0.8 SRS rating, eight points better than the 2014 Raiders SRS rating of -8.8. Given that the game was in St. Louis, we would have expected the Rams to win by around 11 points.
In reality, the Rams shut out the Raiders, 52-0. That gave St. Louis a single-game SRS score of 40.2, meaning the Rams were 40.2 points better than average that day.1 Since St. Louis won by 52 when the Rams were expected to win by 11, they exceeded expectations by a whopping 41 points.
That 41-point total — the amount by which St. Louis exceeded expectations — was the highest of any game in 2014. The table below lists all relevant information from every regular season game this year, with the “diff” column showing the difference between the expected and actual margins of victory. I have also included a link to the boxscore of each game embedded in the “Wk” cell. Note that the table, by default, lists only the top 10 games, but you can view more using either the dropdown box, the search bar, or the previous/next buttons at the bottom of the table.
- The second least-conforming game of the year was Titans/Chiefs. Given that the Titans were expected to lose by 20.5 points, and won by 16, that gets my vote, even though I understand why the simple math was more impressed by the Rams blowout. Other games topping the list where the winning team pulled an SRS upset: the Panthers two blowouts of their NFC South rivals in December, the Vikings opening day upset win in St. Louis, the Chiefs 41-14 thrashing of the Patriots, and the Saints 19-point upset win over Green Bay.
- Since the table is fully sortable, it’s fun to play around with some of the columns. For example, if you sort by win/loss, you will see that the least-conforming game in a positive way by a losing team was… the Jets near-upset of the Patriots in Foxboro. And New York’s near-upset at home also cracks the top five. Oakland, meanwhile, takes two of the top three slots with near road victories in Foxboro and Seattle, an impressive feat given that those two teams are in the Super Bowl and Oakland is, well, Oakland. The Raiders also beat the 49ers and Chiefs, presumably making Oakland one of the best giant-fighters among 3-win teams in NFL history.
Of course, by definition, every team must have the sum of their “diff” column equal zero, so having a lot of non-conforming games in one direction generally means several in the other direction, too. One way to measure how inconsistent a team was is to take the standard deviation of the “diff” rating for each team in every game; the larger the variance, the more inconsistent the team. And there was no more inconsistent team this year than St. Louis.
Here’s how to read the table below. St. Louis had an average margin of victory2 of -1.9, but faced a schedule that was 1.0 points tougher than average. As a result, St. Louis had an SRS rating of -0.8 (difference due to rounding), 18th best in the NFL. But the standard deviation of the St. Louis’ “diff” ratings in the table above was a whopping 17.1, the highest in the NFL.
|1||St. Louis Rams||-1.9||1||-0.8||18||17.1|
|4||New England Patriots||9.7||1.2||10.9||1||15.5|
|5||New Orleans Saints||-1.4||-1.5||-2.9||22||15.3|
|10||Kansas City Chiefs||4.5||1.2||5.7||5||14.7|
|12||Green Bay Packers||8.6||-0.4||8.2||4||14.3|
|16||New York Giants||-1.3||-0.5||-1.7||20||12.8|
|17||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||-8.3||-1.5||-9.8||30||12.7|
|19||New York Jets||-7.4||2.3||-5.1||26||12.4|
|21||San Diego Chargers||0||1.9||1.9||14||12.1|
|27||San Francisco 49ers||-2.1||1.2||-1||19||10.5|
- St. Louis beat the Raiders by 52, the Broncos by 15, won in Washington 24-0, and beat the Seahawks. Those four games would make you think St. Louis was perhaps the top team in the NFL. But the Rams also lost by 28 at home to the Vikings, by 27 to the Chiefs, by 14 at home to the 49ers, and by 10 at home to the Giants. Those four games would have you think St. Louis was challenging for the number one pick. And the randomness doesn’t have as much to do with the quarterback as you might think: Shaun Hill and Austin Davis each started two of the stinkers, while Davis also started the Seahawks game (Hill started the other three least-conforming games that went the Rams’ way).
- It’s not surprising seeing the Panthers as the second most variable team this year. Carolina beat the Saints on the road by 31 but lost at home to New Orleans by 18. Carolina obliterated the Falcons and beat the Lions by 17, but were blown out by the Ravens, Steelers, Eagles, and Vikings. It was a weird year for the Panthers, but one that trended towards bad (as evidenced by the team’s 23rd slot in the SRS).
- Does it feel weird seeing New England as a super-high variance team? That’s probably because the Patriots weren’t really a team that was all over the map in 2014. What happened here is New England started slow, with the team’s two worst games coming in weeks 1 and 4. New England’s third worst game probably didn’t even register for you, since it was the meaningless week 17 home loss to Buffalo. From the team’s 5th through 15th games, the Patriots “diff” ratings had a standard deviation of 11.7.
- Your most consistent team of the year was the… Houston Texans! Houston faced seven teams in the bottom eight of the SRS, and went 7-0 in those games. But against the rest of the NFL, the Texans went just 2-7, although those two wins did come against two of the best teams the Texans faced in Baltimore and Buffalo. No team is perfectly consistent, but Houston was the league’s most consistent team this year.
- Technically, this bit of information is superfluous for the main point of this post, but I always err on the side of including interesting data. [↩]
- Technically, this is home-field adjusted margin of victory. For 26 teams, this will be identical to the team’s MOV, since they each play 8 games at 8 and 8 on the road. For the six teams that played in London, however, this will yield a slightly different result. [↩]