Finding the Winning Factors - Average Starting Position

This week in the Finding the Winning Factors series, let's take a look at something that is easy to calculate, but often overlooked:  Average Starting Position.  There are a myriad of factors that play into this, most importantly Turnovers and Special Teams.  Here's the (easy) formula:

Sum of Starting Positions / Total Drives

I went back to 2001 to see how teams do.  That means I'll be looking at 4,080 games over the past 8 years.  I did this calculation for every game, then found the overall average for a game.  I then went back and compared every game to this average, and found wins/losses based on being above or below average.

Let's get to the numbers:

  • The Overall Average Starting Position over the past 8 years is their Own 31.2 Yard Line.  This number makes sense, as I was expecting around the 30 yard line.
  • The Colts didn't fare too well in this stat, as they finished 22nd, starting on average at the 30.9 Yard Line.  Just below average, which is also about where I expected it to be, with our killer return game and all. So who was #1 in the NFL? The Bears, starting on average at the 33.2 Yard Line.  I guess Devin Hester does play a big role on their team, even when not returning the ball.
  • Defensively, the Patriots are #1, forcing their opponents to start at the 29.6 Yard Line.  How about the Colts?  14th, starting on average at the 31.0 Yard Line.  That's better than expected, which is a pleasant surprise.  Still room for improvement as well, which hopefully comes this year.
  • Now the important stuff:  How often do teams win when they are Above Average on Offense?  1214-652-3, which is 65.0%.  That's pretty good.  Having an Above Average defense produces a record of 1387-823-1, which is 62.8%, which is a little worse than the offense. That's the biggest gap between offense and defense we've seen so far.  Still, a pretty good Win %.
  • When both the Offense and Defense are Above Average, their record is 898-334-1, or 72.9%.  This is middle of the pack for what we've looked at so far, so it is tough to tell whether it's that impressive.  It's also not a big jump from the one-side Win %.  I hope we get to a point where a stat that wins 75% of the time just isn't good enough.  The Colts were the best team in the league when this happens, winning 93.8% of the time (30-2).
  • The best game since 2001?  Week 16 in 2001, where the Buccaneers, on average, started at their Opp. 48.8 Yard Line against the Ravens.  There have been only 5 games where the average starting position was in Opponents territory.  I thought there would be more.  Also, of the top 64 games (~45 Yard Line or better), there have only been 2 losses.  That's excellent.  Best game for the Colts offense?  Week 6 in 2005 against the Rams, where they started, on average, at the 49.4 Yard Line.
  • The worst game since 2001? Week 9 in 2005, where the Falcons started, on average, at the  15.2 Yard Line against the Dolphins.  Interestingly enough, the Falcons won that game 17-10.  Everyone remember the beat down of the Ravens from last season by the Colts?  The Ravens started, on average, at the 17.6 Yard Line.  This was the best game by the Colt's defense over the past 8 years.
  • When you look at the tables below, you'll notice that in all 6 Win% categories, the Colts and Patriots are either #1 or #2.  They are also the only 2 teams to be above .500 when being Below Average on both sides of the ball.  Surprise, surprise, I know.  It's just good to see it on paper.
  • The difference between the best team in the leage and the worst is only 3-4 yards, which is much smaller than I was expecting.  Pretty much everyone tends to start in about the same position, on average.  Along with this information, we shouldn't expect big jumps from year to year in terms of better field position.  Just 1 or 2 yards is a very good improvement.

So what did we learn today?  Predicting game based on Average Starting Position is pretty safe, and gets much safer the better the Starting Position.  I'm certainly not going to dismiss it as a solid predictor.

After the jump you'll see the offensive and defensive numbers for each team, as well as Win/Loss records when going above/below the league average.  Click on the headers to sort.  Here's a link to the last 5 years worth of data.  There's not much of a difference, especially since it only took out 3 years worth of data.

Here are the Offensive and Defensive Numbers...

Team Offense Defense
Drives Avg. Start Pos. Drives Avg. Start Pos.
Bears 1612 33.21 1644 31.39
Ravens 1580 32.59 1606 31.56
Patriots 1480 32.57 1479 29.63
Steelers 1498 32.26 1482 31.09
Chargers 1503 31.78 1516 30.33
Jets 1409 31.77 1422 30.61
Eagles 1583 31.75 1567 30.60
Giants 1540 31.73 1548 31.45
Titans 1535 31.73 1523 29.89
Browns 1514 31.57 1507 32.22
Bills 1473 31.51 1482 32.07
Redskins 1535 31.48 1525 31.42
Buccaneers 1516 31.41 1522 30.44
Panthers 1576 31.25 1557 30.37
Jaguars 1467 31.16 1443 30.43
Dolphins 1528 31.13 1515 30.75
Seahawks 1518 31.04 1542 30.75
Saints 1513 31.02 1508 30.93
Falcons 1512 31.02 1501 29.67
Raiders 1491 30.99 1519 31.65
Cowboys 1543 30.94 1537 31.74
Colts 1376 30.91 1385 31.03
Chiefs 1494 30.84 1496 31.37
Bengals 1504 30.83 1498 32.50
Cardinals 1516 30.66 1529 32.15
49ers 1530 30.57 1508 32.67
Texans 1270 30.48 1278 31.26
Packers 1537 30.30 1552 31.85
Lions 1520 30.24 1520 30.86
Rams 1519 30.07 1507 32.30
Vikings 1503 29.73 1495 31.87
Broncos 1486 29.53 1468 31.49
Total 48181 31.20 48181 31.20

Here are the Win/Loss records of teams when they go above/below average:

Team Offense Defense
Above Average Below Average Above Average Below Average
Win Loss Tie Pct Win Loss Tie Pct Win Loss Tie Pct Win Loss Tie Pct
Patriots 65 10 0 0.867 32 21 0 0.604 70 14 0 0.833 27 17 0 0.614
Steelers 51 10 1 0.831 34 32 0 0.515 57 14 0 0.803 28 28 1 0.500
Colts 45 7 0 0.865 46 30 0 0.605 54 12 0 0.818 37 25 0 0.597
Chargers 47 24 0 0.662 24 33 0 0.421 43 28 0 0.606 28 29 0 0.491
Packers 38 12 0 0.760 37 41 0 0.474 49 12 0 0.803 26 41 0 0.388
Cowboys 34 19 0 0.642 32 43 0 0.427 45 21 0 0.682 21 41 0 0.339
Eagles 50 12 0 0.806 31 34 1 0.477 61 19 0 0.763 20 27 1 0.427
Ravens 51 24 0 0.680 20 33 0 0.377 45 19 0 0.703 26 38 0 0.406
Seahawks 45 19 0 0.703 26 38 0 0.406 46 27 0 0.630 25 30 0 0.455
Jets 38 21 0 0.644 24 45 0 0.348 41 32 0 0.562 21 34 0 0.382
Broncos 34 16 0 0.680 40 38 0 0.513 52 19 0 0.732 22 35 0 0.386
Rams 30 17 0 0.638 30 51 0 0.370 36 28 0 0.563 24 40 0 0.375
Dolphins 37 21 0 0.638 24 46 0 0.343 42 31 0 0.575 19 36 0 0.345
Panthers 38 16 0 0.704 26 48 0 0.351 48 31 0 0.608 16 33 0 0.327
Bears 52 25 0 0.675 17 34 0 0.333 49 23 0 0.681 21 35 0 0.375
Giants 41 20 0 0.672 27 40 0 0.403 48 24 0 0.667 20 36 0 0.357
Titans 40 20 0 0.667 30 38 0 0.441 55 31 0 0.640 15 27 0 0.357
Falcons 33 20 1 0.620 29 45 0 0.392 51 30 0 0.630 11 35 1 0.245
Buccaneers 44 14 0 0.759 22 48 0 0.314 45 21 0 0.682 21 41 0 0.339
Saints 35 19 0 0.648 25 49 0 0.338 47 32 0 0.595 13 36 0 0.265
Chiefs 35 22 0 0.614 24 47 0 0.338 33 32 0 0.508 26 37 0 0.413
Vikings 30 15 0 0.667 31 52 0 0.373 40 25 0 0.615 21 42 0 0.333
Bills 32 26 0 0.552 20 50 0 0.286 37 30 0 0.552 15 46 0 0.246
Jaguars 38 26 0 0.594 24 40 0 0.375 46 27 0 0.630 16 39 0 0.291
Browns 32 34 0 0.485 17 45 0 0.274 27 27 0 0.500 22 52 0 0.297
49ers 33 20 0 0.623 20 55 0 0.267 38 24 0 0.613 16 50 0 0.242
Bengals 31 25 1 0.553 23 48 0 0.324 29 26 1 0.527 25 47 0 0.347
Redskins 36 29 0 0.554 22 41 0 0.349 37 26 0 0.587 21 44 0 0.323
Cardinals 27 25 0 0.519 22 54 0 0.289 32 28 0 0.533 17 51 0 0.250
Raiders 30 28 0 0.517 15 55 0 0.214 34 31 0 0.523 11 52 0 0.175
Texans 23 25 0 0.479 17 47 0 0.266 26 33 0 0.441 14 39 0 0.264
Lions 19 31 0 0.380 12 66 0 0.154 24 46 0 0.343 7 51 0 0.121
Total 1214 652 3 0.650 823 1387 1 0.372 1387 823 1 0.628 652 1214 3 0.350

And finally, Win/Loss records when the offense is above average, and the defense holds the other team below average

Team Above Average Below Average
Win Loss Tie Pct Win Loss Tie Pct
Patriots 52 5 0 0.912 14 12 0 0.538
Steelers 37 5 0 0.881 14 23 0 0.378
Jets 29 13 0 0.690 12 26 0 0.316
Packers 25 4 0 0.862 13 33 0 0.283
Falcons 30 7 0 0.811 8 22 0 0.267
Chargers 32 18 0 0.640 13 23 0 0.361
Giants 29 8 0 0.784 8 24 0 0.250
Ravens 36 10 0 0.783 11 24 0 0.314
Seahawks 32 11 0 0.744 12 22 0 0.353
Rams 20 9 0 0.690 14 32 0 0.304
Eagles 40 6 0 0.870 10 21 1 0.328
Jaguars 33 12 0 0.733 11 25 0 0.306
Bears 36 13 0 0.735 4 24 0 0.143
Broncos 27 11 0 0.711 15 30 0 0.333
Cowboys 28 10 0 0.737 15 32 0 0.319
Panthers 28 10 0 0.737 6 27 0 0.182
Colts 30 2 0 0.938 22 20 0 0.524
Buccaneers 29 8 0 0.784 6 35 0 0.146
Dolphins 30 17 0 0.638 12 32 0 0.273
49ers 23 7 0 0.767 5 38 0 0.116
Chiefs 21 12 0 0.636 12 27 0 0.308
Saints 29 11 0 0.725 7 28 0 0.200
Titans 38 12 0 0.760 13 19 0 0.406
Raiders 24 9 0 0.727 5 33 0 0.132
Cardinals 21 11 0 0.656 11 37 0 0.229
Vikings 19 7 0 0.731 10 34 0 0.227
Bengals 19 13 1 0.591 13 35 0 0.271
Browns 19 14 0 0.576 9 32 0 0.220
Bills 27 14 0 0.659 10 34 0 0.227
Redskins 22 15 0 0.595 7 30 0 0.189
Texans 16 15 0 0.516 7 29 0 0.194
Lions 17 15 0 0.531 5 35 0 0.125
Total 898 334 1 0.729 334 898 1 0.271
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