Saturday, June 14, 2008

Special Teams - Do they matter?

by: Chris Sullivan

The other day, Michael posed the question -- what are your Hawk concerns going forward for 2008? For me, the biggest question mark is our Special Teams. Last year, as we all know, our long snapper situation made both Fudge and Assclown Brown look bad, but other than that they were... alright. I decided to do a little investigation into how good or bad they actually were, how we've ranked in the league over the last 5 years, and see if I can use some of that information to project how we might look next year.

To do this, I've utilized the incredible website, one of my favorites, Football Outsiders. They analyze the NFL game by game, processing every single play and assigning value to each result on all sides of the ball. They come up with a DVOA number -- Defensive-adjusted Value Over Average. The caliber of team you're playing comes into play, the situation -- is it 3rd and 19 or 3rd and 1 -- a 2 yard run has much more value in the second situation than the first! and so on. It's a great system, a little complex, but it seems to come up with pretty good numbers...

I spent about an hour crunching all the numbers, trying to show how important the Special Teams are only to find... they're not all that important. Correlations between the seeded playoff teams and special teams DVOA range from 0.04 (virtually no correlation) to 0.80 - very high correlation. What this means is, essentially, its a crap shoot.

I wanted to know how important Special Teams really is -- it sure feels important. In reality though, of the top 5 Special Teams DVOA ranked teams, only one (San Diego) made the playoffs. Of the top 10, only 3 made it. Compare this to the top 5 Defense (Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, San Diego) and Offense (New England, Indie, Jacksonville, Dallas and Green Bay); every single team in the top 5 made the playoffs.