Best Offensive & Defensive NFL Teams On 3rd Down From 2015

Ross Benjamin

Tuesday, August 23, 2016 4:38 PM UTC

Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016 4:38 PM UTC

Our NFL analyst breaks down the best teams in both offensive and defensive third down situations from a season ago. Go inside to read this intriguing article that will certainly be beneficial when making your NFL picks.

Third Down Efficiency
We live in a day and age where NFL teams are using complex analytics as a way of determining their strengths or weaknesses. Statistics have become more specialized, enabling an accurate assessment of each NFL team’s overall performance with pinpoint precision. There’s no doubt in my mind, these complex methods have impacted NFL betting odds in recent years, even if on a smaller scale.

Call me square, but I continue to be old school regarding the statistics pertinent to successfully handicapping a NFL game. Categories such as turnover differential, penalties, and third down efficiency are a few of those that still remain high on my priority list. The latter of which (third down efficiency) I’ll be discussing in this article.

My goal in this article is to illustrate, and articulate, why offensive third down percentage can be misleading, and why I deem it as an overrated statistic. Conversely, third down defensive efficiency is most correlated with a team’s success. If you thought differently, don’t feel alone, I guarantee most NFL observers would assume the same.


2015-2016 Top 10 Offensive Teams on 3rd Down
1. Saints
2. Falcons
3. Cardinals
4. Seahawks
5. Redskins
6. Bears
7. Panthers
8. Chargers
9. Browns
1. Buccaneers


Offensive Observations
It’s certainly worth noting, six of the ten teams that were most successful converting on their offensive 3rd down situations, failed to reach the playoffs, and five ended with a losing record. As a matter of fact, those aforementioned six teams had a cumulative record of 34-62 (.354). Even with the four playoff teams included, their combined ten records were a mediocre 81-79 (.507).


Turnovers Kill Drives
Five of the six non-playoff teams on that top ten offensive list had a negative turnover differential. The Browns (-9), Falcons (-7), Buccaneers (-5), Chargers (-4), and Bears (-4) had a combined turnover differential of -29. The lone exception was the Saints who were +2. However, New Orleans was one of if not the worst defensive team in the NFL.

An antithesis to those negative turnover differential teams are the Panthers (+20), Cardinals (+9), Seahawks (+6), and Redskins (+4). Those four playoff clubs combined for a turnover differential of +39, and their records added up to an outstanding 49-17 (.742). The moral to the story, when you are able to convert on third down, and do a good job of protecting the football, teams win. It also helps to not have a porous defense like the Saints possessed last season.


2015-2016 Top 10 Defensive Teams on 3rd Down
1. Texans
2. Chiefs
3. Jets
4. Seahawks
5. Vikings
6. Rams
7. Broncos
8. Cardinals
9. Packers
10. Patriots


Defensive Observations
Contrary to what we discovered on the offensive side of things, eight of the top ten teams on defense qualified for playoff action. Furthermore, one of the two teams who didn’t participate in postseason play was the Jets, and they were a rare case of a 10-6 team which failed to do so. Especially since the NFL expanded its playoffs to twelve teams. Then there’s the Rams who finished 7-9. Their anemic offense usually squandered any momentum the defense created, evidenced by ranking dead last with an average of 297.6 yards gained per game. The top ten teams in the offensive category sported a combined 105-55 (.656) record. That’s a sizable 24.0 games better than the top ten rated offensive teams.


Final Take
Seattle was the only team last season which ranked top ten in both offensive and defensive 3rd down efficiency. Optimally all teams would love to have that balance, but even then it doesn’t assure them of a Super Bowl ring. There’s a reason why I pay closer attention to how teams fare defensively on third down, opposed to the alternative. A majority of talking heads on national television networks focus more on offensive third down conversions, and seldom emphasize those specific defensive situations. There’s truth to the old sports adage, “defense wins championships”, or in our case, produces stellar winning percentage regarding NFL picks.

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