Breakdowns

Playoff Trait No. 7: Inefficient Passing and Turnovers

By Robert Simpson and Peter Engler

This is the seventh cluster of teams in our study of traits associated with NFL playoff teams. For a look at how we established these clusters, click here.

This cluster was only included because of two outlying teams that actually made the playoffs. In general, the only positive of this group was their passing performance, but they struggled in virtually every other category and turned the ball over at a high rate.

Of the 45 teams in this group, only the 2012 Colts (11-5) and 2016 Lions (9-7) made the playoffs while the winless 2017 Browns and three other teams received the 1st overall pick. Five teams joined the club in 2019 in the Cardinals, Lions, Chargers, Dolphins, and Giants as rebuilding teams starting to show promise met injury-prone teams that couldn’t put it together. With the average wins for this group just below 5, it’s worth mentioning that the 2012 Colts were the only team to reach double digit wins and were three wins above the third-place team in Andrew Luck’s rookie season with the easiest schedule in the league.

Offensively, this cluster actually puts up decent passing statistics, but it’s mostly due to high volume: their 25th percentile for pass attempts ranks above 45% of all teams. With an average completion rate of 61%, this cluster’s collective passing ability is buoyed by some of the more successful teams, but still mostly comes from late-game passing to catch up as they average 19.6 points per game.

On defense, the cluster is average against the run, but does significantly struggle in the air. With a 25th percentile of points allowed better than only 9% of all teams, other 25th percentiles like completion rate allowed (better than 8% of teams) and passing touchdowns allowed (better than 7% of teams) showcase the hole these teams frequently find themselves in. However, the preeminent problem is the horrific sack and turnover margin this cluster creates for itself.

Allowing the most sacks (average of 42) while causing the least (32) of any cluster is a huge detriment to both the offense and defense but also forcing by far the fewest turnovers is a tried-and-true way to lose games. For turnovers forced, the 25th percentile of this cluster is better than a measly 3% of all teams.

The Raiders lead all teams with five appearances in this cluster, but Detroit is close behind with four of their own. Making their own cameos with three seasons each are the Bears, Colts, Dolphins, 49ers, and Buccaneers.

The 2020 Lions, Jaguars, and Bengals are projected to join this cluster, and do not have much of a path to the playoffs. The final 3 teams that did not fit in any of the clusters were the 2020 Cowboys, Eagles, and Jets.

Overall, teams in this cluster struggled. The fact that two teams from this group managed to make the playoffs is a testament to the inherent randomness of the NFL and how strength of schedule can impact a team’s chances of winning.

Read all seven clusters:

The First Cluster: Dominant Defense and Run Game

The Second Cluster: Efficient Offense with Opportunistic Defense

The Third Cluster: High-Powered Passing with Solid Defense

The Fourth Cluster: Elite Passing with Mediocre Defense

The Fifth Cluster: Pounding the Rock with Elite Pass Rush

The Sixth Cluster: All Defense

The Final Cluster: Inefficient Passing and Turnovers

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