2016 NFL Playoff Contenders and Pretenders Explained in One Graph

 Earlier the season we analyzed trends in points allowed and scored per game by NFL teams and what that meant for their playoff odds. Our conclusion was that if a team scores more than 25 points per game and allows less than 22 going to the playoffs is almost a certainty. However, there are other ways to make the playoffs.

You can categorize each playoff team into one of four categories:

  • Bad Offense-Great Defense
  • Great Offense-Bad Defense
  • Great Offense-Great Defense
  • Lucky to be there at all

Based on points scored and points allowed, the 2016 field of playoff teams featured teams representing each category. To visualize the concept you can check out this graph where we plotted the points scored and allowed for each NFL team from each season between 2011 and 2016. The non-playoff teams are in blue, the playoff teams from previous years are in green, and the 2016 playoff teams are in red.


This graph shows what pundits and Vegas have been saying for months, the Patriots and Cowboys (in that order) are the most complete teams in football. Both have above average offense and defense. By this measure, the 2016 Patriots are one of the best teams we have seen in recent years (teams farther to the bottom right are more dominant on both offense and defense).

The teams that should consider themselves lucky to have made the playoffs at all are the Lions and Dolphins. Both teams come out slightly below the typical marks for both points allowed and points scored by playoff teams. Not surprisingly, both made quick exits from the playoffs.

That leaves the teams that are better at one phase of the game than the other. The Falcons, Packers and Raiders all got to the playoffs more on the strength of their offense than their defense. The Falcons in particular are one of the strongest offensive teams in recent seasons (though they still trail the 2013 Broncos and their insane points per game mark).

The Texans, Chiefs, and Giants all got the playoffs more on the backs of their defense. The Texans are interesting in that they are one of the lowest scoring teams to make the playoffs in recent history.

The worst team to have made the playoffs in the last few seasons was the 2011 Broncos who were below average on both sides of the ball and finished 8-8. The best team to have missed out on the playoffs were the 9-7 Giants in 2012. Their points scored and points against both suggested they should have been in, and likely would have been, under different circumstances.

But all these stats simply predict who should get into the playoffs, they have considerably less bearing on individual matchups. From here on out, anything can happen.

Buuuuut the Pats and Cowboys are still the favorites.

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