Every cloud has a silver lining, and every NFL team does some things well. Even the worst team has certain plays and tendencies in which the players are productive.
We’ve gone through Football Outsiders’ extensive statistical databases to point out specific strengths of each team in 2016: one for offense, one for defense. Some of these splits are significant for illuminating the strengths and weaknesses of each team’s personnel. Other splits tend to oscillate wildly from year to year, and a great performance in 2016 may not indicate that a team will be equally strong in the same ways in 2017. Either way, the numbers provide an interesting window into what each team did right last season.
Football Outsiders’ advanced metrics are explained here. The most important is Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, which measures success on each play compared to the league average, adjusted for situation and opponent. Because DVOA is measured on a per-play basis, it can easily be separated to measure specific splits; you’ll see a lot of those ratings below.
Charting stats such as frequency of blitzes, pass pressure and play-action come from ESPN Stats & Information research. Other charting metrics, including player personnel and broken tackles, come from Sports Information Solutions. You’ll be able to find many more of these stats in our Football Outsiders Almanac 2017, which will be released online on July 24.
AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West
Offense: Running from two-back sets
The Bills were much better when they had a fullback or tight end in the backfield: 5.7 yards per carry and 24.4 percent DVOA from multi-back sets, compared to 4.6 yards and 7.4 percent DVOA from single-back sets. Fifty-seven percent of the Bills’ runs come out of multi-back sets last year, the highest rate in the league. Buffalo and New England were the only teams over 50 percent. Just five years ago, more than half the teams in the league were over 50 percent.
Defense: Play when trailing
One reason the Bills really weren’t blown out until the last week of the season: The defense never let opponents run away with a game. Although the Bills had one of the league’s worst defenses overall (27th in DVOA), they ranked third in defense when they were losing by more than a touchdown.
Offense: Empty sets
The Dolphins were fabulous from empty-backfield sets: 8.9 yards per play and a league-leading 95.0 percent DVOA.
Defense: First-down pass defense
Overall, the Dolphins had an average pass defense, 16th-ranked DVOA in the NFL. But on first down, the Dolphins ranked third in pass-defense DVOA; only Denver and Pittsburgh were better.