With four weeks to go in the NFL season—and just one playoff spot clinched—it's time to take a fresh look at which teams have established themselves as the best (and worst) offensive and defensive units in the league.
The chart above, from Brian Burke's Advanced NFL Stats, shows each team's expected points added (EPA) on both sides of the ball (quick reminder, the dotted lines are set at the league average; for a good explanation of how EPA works check out the Times's article on the 4th Down Bot they created in collaboration with Burke). We last looked at these figures after Week 9; for comparison's sake, here's how the chart looked then:
There hasn't been a huge amount of movement, as the offensive and defensive abilities of most of these teams were well-established by the midway point of the season. Here's who's seen the biggest changes over the last four weeks:
The Patriots offense has finally moved to above league average, thanks in large part to the return of Rob Gronkowski in Week 7. Likewise, the Rams, Eagles, and Cardinals—averaging a combined 29.4 points per game over the last four weeks—have all made a major leap forward. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bengals (without Geno Atkins!) have seen a major boost in the last few weeks, while the Giants, Rams, Browns, and Cardinals have seen smaller gains. Proper credit is due to the Jaguars, who started the season with the worst offensive and defensive EPA by a mile, and have recovered nicely. They are no longer, by this metric, the worst defense in the league, and they've very nearly caught up with the Jets on offense. The Buccaneers also deserve a mention; they're gone 2-2 in their last four after starting 0-8 but their EPA stats have only budged a little, a good indication of how unlucky they were as a team at the beginning of the season.
In case you hadn't heard, it's very useful to have a top QB in today's NFL. The loss of Aaron Rodgers in Week 9 has sent the Packers offense tumbling from an EPA/game of around +13 to a more pedestrian +7. Young QBs Andrew Luck and Andy Dalton have struggled in the last four weeks (with a combined 56 percent completion percentage and 1.75 INT/game, after starting the year at 62 percent and 0.63 INT/game), putting the Colts and Bengals offenses back a step. For the 49ers the issue has been with the running game, which is averaging just 86 yards/G over the last four after starting the season with an average of 153. Defensively, the Cowboys, Colts, and Chargers have all be knocked down a peg, while the Chiefs—who've had to face the Broncos twice and the Chargers once in their last three—no longer count amount the NFL's elite units.