When you're making your football picks for the new season, it's always good to take a look back and see which teams have had unusually good success on third-down conversions.
How about those Dallas Cowboys? They kicked a whole lot of ass against the NFL odds last year at 12-4 SU and 10-6 ATS, blessed with one of the top offenses in the entire NFL. What was the secret to their success? In part, their ability to convert on third down. Dallas was second in the league last year with a 47.1-percent conversion rate, up from 35.0 percent in 2013 (No. 26 overall).
As impressive as Dallas was at moving the chains last year, we shouldn't expect that same level of success in 2015. Teams with very high third-down conversion rates are prone to, everyone sing along, regression toward the mean. It's not as cruel a regression as fumble recoveries, for example, but we can still look at the best third-down teams from last year and red-flag them as potential fade candidates for this year's NFL picks. Maestro, the statistics please.
Top 5 Third-Down Conversion Percentages – Offense
1. New Orleans Saints (48.3 percent)
2. Dallas Cowboys (47.1 percent)
3. Green Bay Packers (46.7 percent)
4. New England Patriots (46.2 percent)
5. San Diego Chargers (45.1 percent)
Top 5 Third-Down Conversion Percentages – Defense
1. Buffalo Bills (33.2 percent)
2. Houston Texans (33.9 percent)
3. Indianapolis Colts (35.5 percent)
4. New York Giants (36.0 percent)
5. Kansas City Chiefs (36.6 percent)
Our thanks to TeamRankings for the free stats. So before we throw all these teams into the “fade” bucket, it would be prudent to look at how well they've done on third down over the past several seasons, just to make sure their high level success in 2014 wasn't completely beyond the pale. Of the five offenses in question, only San Diego (47.4 percent) and New Orleans (43.5 percent) were in the Top 5 in 2013. Keep looking back, and the Saints have consistently outperformed the league in this category during the Sean Payton-Drew Brees Era.
Dallas? Not so much. The Cowboys have had their ups and downs when it comes to converting on third down. Since Tony Romo took over as starting quarterback in 2006, they've usually finished in the top half of the league, but only two other times have they cracked the Top 5: second in 2006 (47.3 percent), and fifth in 2012 (43.9 percent).
Caninus Nervous Rex
When we perform the same scan with the defensive numbers, none of the five aforementioned teams finished in the Top 5 in 2014. This category is screaming out for regression. We're looking at you, Buffalo Bills (9-7 SU and ATS). Yes, new head coach Rex Ryan is a defensive genius, but his New York Jets were all over the map when it came to stuffing opponents on third down. If the Bills finish in the Top 5 again this year, I will eat a dog biscuit. It doesn't even have to be made of Belgian chocolate this time.