This will be my last article for NZI, so I wanted to do something epic — and by “epic,” I mean “long!”
With just eight teams left in the 2020-2021 NFL Playoffs, I decided to take a statistical and semi-scientific approach to predicting what team would emerge as the Super Bowl Champion.
I broke down six categories: quarterback, running backs, wide receivers/tight ends, defense, special teams, and head coach. Then, I ranked them based on statistics and other observations. Each ranking then gets points on a 1-8 scale, with 8 being the best. Total points were then used for an overall rank, and from there, I simulated who’ll get the Lombardi Trophy.
With that in mind, here are my breakdowns and the final results.
A wide range of age and ability among the eight remaining quarterbacks.
A pair of forty-something pocket passers in Brady and Brees. A former gunslinger who has refined his game in Rodgers. Mayfield, who may have finally found his confidence; and three young dual-threat guys in Allen, Mahomes, and Jackson.
Aaron Rodgers emerges as the best of this bunch. He completed nearly 71% of his passes, had just under 4,300 yards passing, and had 48 touchdowns against just five interceptions.
Patrick Mahomes gets the runner-up, amassing over 5,000 combined passing and rushing yards with a 38:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Josh Allen finishes third in this group with just under 5,000 yards in total offense and 37 touchdowns to 10 interceptions.
Brady, Jackson, Brees, Mayfield, and Goff round it out.
Anyone who thinks the running game is as outdated as flip phones, is sadly mistaken. Half the teams in this group have had running back combinations rush for over 1,700 yards.
The best group was the Cleveland Browns. Their running backs picked up over 2,100 yards rushing on the season, led by Nick Chubb with 1,067 and Kareem Hunt with 841 yards, respectively. Hunt added over 300 receiving yards to his offensive production.
The Packers are the surprising second team on this list. Their running backs combined for 1,949 yards on the ground. Aaron Jones had another solid season with 1,104 yards and Jamaal Williams chipped in with 505 more.
The Ravens finish out the top-three, gaining 1,886 yards rushing from their running backs. J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards had 1,528 yards between them to lead the attack.
The worst of the group is the Buffalo Bills with only 1,331 yards from their running backs.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Passing rules have opened things up for receivers to shine.
No group shined brighter than the one in Tampa. Five different receivers had at least 475 receiving yards. Mike Evans went over 1,000 yards receiving for the seventh time to start his career. Chris Godwin continues to emerge as a target as he collected 840 yards receiving. Scotty Miller, Rob Gronkowski, and Antonio Brown complete this impressive group.
The Chiefs take the second spot among the group. Tyreek Hill is a freakishly fast athlete; he gained 1,276 yards this season and hauled in 15 touchdowns. As good as Hill was, he was not the team’s top receiver, as Travis Kelce recorded 1,416 yards on the year.
Rounding out the top three is the Buffalo Bills. Four different receivers had over 450 yards led by offseason addition Stefon Diggs. Diggs had 127 catches for 1,535 yards with eight touchdowns. Cole Beasley has emerged as one of the top slot receivers in the NFL. He had 967 receiving yards for the season. John Brown played just nine games but picked up 458 yards, and a surprise emerged in Gabriel Davis, who had 599 yards and seven touchdowns for the year.
The Ravens had the lowest ranking, with no receiver reaching the 800-yard mark.
Among the eight teams still playing, the Los Angeles Rams are the cream of the crop on defense. Led by the likes of Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd, John Johnson, Troy Reeder, and Darious Williams, the Rams allowed just 18.5 points per game and finished in the top-three in both passing yards and rushing yards allowed.
The Ravens take the second position on the list. They allowed only 18.9 points per game and finished 6th and 8th, respectively, in passing and rushing yards allowed. Patrick Queen, Chuck Clark, Marlon Humphrey, and DeShon Elliott all recorded at least 80 tackles, with Marcus Peters recording four interceptions to lead the team.
The last of the top-three defenses is the New Orleans Saints. The Saints were top-five in points, passing yards, and rushing yards allowed. Trey Hendrickson recorded 13.5 sacks on the season to lead the team, while Demario Davis and Malcolm Jenkins combined for 210 tackles.
The bottom team among the group is the Cleveland Browns, who allowed 26.2 points per game and finished 21st in passing yards allowed.
Special teams was the most complex unit to grade. I took into account punt and kick return yardage gained and allowed, punting average, and percentage of kicking points converted.
Kicking points conversion percentage is calculated by dividing field goals made, are multiplied by three, and are added to extra points made into number of field goals attempts times three added to extra point attempts. For example, Mason Crosby had the opportunity to convert 111 points this season (16 field goals and 63 extra points). He made all 16 field goals and 59 extra points for 107 total points. That gave him a 96.4% conversion rate, best among the remaining kickers.
The Buffalo Bills take the top spot here. They averaged 11.9 yards per punt return and 27.6 yards per kick return while allowing opponents 8.6 yards and 17.9 yards per punt and kick return, respectively. They also had the best punter in Corey Bojorquez, who averaged 50.8 yards per punt. This is all despite having the kicker with the lowest points converted ratio.
The Saints had the second-best special teams unit, with the keys being a mere 2.3 yards per punt return and only 17.2 yards per kick return, best in both categories for all remaining teams.
The final of the top-three spots went to the Ravens, with their 26.7 yards per kick return and holding opponents to 5.7 yards per punt return.
The Browns finished at the bottom in terms of special teams play, as they failed to break into the top-half of the group in any category.
This was the most difficult one for me. I looked at years coaching, win percentage in the regular season, and postseason win percentage.
Getting to the playoffs shows that the coach knows his business — okay, so Doug Pederson won a Super Bowl, but he’s an exception — so this isn’t as much a knock on a coach as it is related to experience.
In the end, Sean Payton’s 14 years experience with a 0.638 regular season and 0.563 postseason winning percentage, respectively, got him the top spot.
John Harbaugh’s 13 years and 0.620 regular season winning percentage, coupled with a 0.611 postseason winning percentage, put him second on the list.
Third in the group was Andy Reid and his 22 years as a head coach, winning at a 0.629 regular season and 0.517 postseason clip.
Kevin Stefanski comes in last on the list as a first-year head coach. I mean, his team won their first playoff game going away, and he wasn’t even there.
The Final Results
After all this painstaking work, I came up with the following results (total ranking points in parenthesis):
Packers (27) beat the Rams (26)
Saints (32) beat the Buccaneers (29)
Ravens (31) beat the Bills (26)
Chiefs (30) beat the Browns (15)
Saints (32) beat the Packers (27)
Ravens (31) beat the Chiefs (30)
Saints (32) beat the Ravens (31)
I hope you enjoyed the article. I enjoyed writing it, for sure, and look forward to your comments!