There’s many different methods of measuring matchups in the National Football League.
The typical spread and moneyline rankings for sports gambling or picks has existed for years and years.
In recent times, Average Net Yards per Attempt, or ANY/Y, DVOA and EPA as statistics have been used by analytics nerds along with PFF Graded matchups, or projected points by plays per minute (helpful for fantasy nerds:
The Chicago Bears pic.twitter.com/Nnu0IIWSpT— Hayden Winks (@HaydenWinks) November 9, 2022
So here’s a metric that I’ve used in the past when comparing matchup ratings for teams based on their previous offensive and defensive production for the season.
Points Per Game Matchup.
Unlike other statistics, this one is actually very simple.
In short, you look at how many points per game the offense averages and multiply that by the points per game that a defense.
You then do the reverse for the opposing team’s offense versus the home team’s defensive points per game allowed to get a second number.
The bigger the number, the bigger the likelihood of having a high scoring game, which makes sense. An offense that averages 30 points a game going up against a defense that gives up on average only 14 points a game is going to likely struggle more than if that same offense went up against a leaky defense that gives up an average of 30 points per game.
Hopefully that’s logical enough!
Then at the end, you take those two matchup numbers and divide your team (In this case, the Cards’ matchup numbers) and divide it by the opponent’s number.
For example let’s take a look at Arizona’s matchup this week against the Los Angeles Rams:
Cards PPG: 22.6
Cards PAPG: 26.8
So Arizona averages around 22, 23 points a game total. This includes all scoring, so that’s worth noting that it isn’t individual games (like the Saints game) but is across the board and would include the 9-point loss to the Seahawks. Now let’s look at this week’s opponent:
The Rams are actually averaging a LOT less points than Arizona, but are giving up less points on average as well. When you multiply these against each other you get:
So, if we divide Arizona’s score by the Rams, we get close to 1.11 as a total.
I would consider that as 11% favorites.
Now, let’s pretend that we are looking at a football game as a probability or a “chance” outcome. There’s no surefire way to predict ANYTHING in the NFL, but this might help demonstrate the weight of teams against each other.
If it were perfectly even odds, like a coin flip, you could provide a percentage out of that by looking at a coin flip, or a 50/50 and apply it to a 100-sided dice.
If you roll 1-50, Arizona wins. Roll 51-100, Rams would win.
But in this scenario, the AZ and LAR point totals aren’t 450 vs. 450, but rather there’s an 11.0% advantage to Arizona from them scoring more points than LAR and the Rams giving up more points.
This means that the Cardinals would be: 11% favorites
So if we apply that, it would mean that you’d roll a 100-sided dice and 1-61 would be the Cardinals and 62-100 would be the Rams. That’s good news for the Cardinals!
Does it mean they’ll win? Not necessarily. You could roll a 100-sided dice with a 98% chance to one team and while they’d be steep, there’s still a crazy chance that you’d roll a 99 or a 100. So it doesn’t mean you’ll lose either! That’s how probability works.
With that in mind, however, let’s look at the probability based on Points Per Game /Points Allowed Per Game Matchup (or PPGM) the rest of the way for this season...I’ll just put O and D for offense and defense to keep it easier to read below.
Remember that the Cardinals’ current points per game numbers that we’ll multiply are:
Cards PPG Offense: 22.6
Cards PAPG Defense: 26.8
So let’s take a look at who’s favorited and who’s the underdog on the schedule...
Niners O 22.0
Chargers O: 23.0
Chargers D : 25.8
Patriots O: 22.6
Buccaneers O: 18
Falcons O 24.1
Falcons D 25.0
So after all of that, in looking at the Rams being a worse producing team than Arizona who also has a relatively weak defense going up against Arizona’s average offense with an overall worse defense...that’s not the case the rest of the way.
Arizona actually has one of the most difficult matchups against defenses for the rest of 2022 and there’s a few games that REALLY stand out in this regard.
The Patriots have about as many points per game as the Cardinals but are giving up a LOT less points defensively (Bill Belichick for ya) and they are actually significant underdogs against a Broncos team as well whose offense is atrocious but has given up some of the least points per game in the entire NFL.
In short, Cardinals as favorites vs. underdogs is a 1-7 the rest of the way.
Now for some good news? Well according to probability this doesn’t equal a 4-13 season but rather just weights the odds.
Those who like probability or dice or tabletop games at least will understand that there are odds for success/failure but improbable odds still can occur...something we’ve seen a lot of in the NFL this season with more parity in the league.
When I rolled out a 100-sided dice (technically two 10 sided dice) to check the probability for each game, here’s the Win-Loss results that I rolled:
@ LAR: 40 (Win)
If I rolled it 3x, I got 40, 19, and 18. But the 4th time with those odds, I rolled 71 which would be a Rams victory from this metric. So as you see, odds don’t = wins but they do have an impact on probability.
Here’s the rest of the rolls for “simulating” the season—
vs. SF: 98 (Loss)
vs. LAC: 42 (Win)
vs. NE 99 (Loss)
@ DEN 97 (Loss)
vs. TB 71 (Loss)
@ ATL 54 (Loss)
@ SF 67 (Loss)
I could push the probability further, and you never know cause hey I might be up against odds of needing to roll under 34 as AZ being 16% underdogs and you happen to hit 15, 23 and 31, but I think that’s a biiiit much.
So, in this scenario, based on random probability weighted for points and points allowed, Arizona would have 2 more wins on the season, but then lose 5 straight to finish the year and end with a 5-12 record.
Which, honestly...is that really that far unexpected? Arizona had a rough opening schedule and went 1-2 with their sole win being almost as improbable as it gets, and have struggled for most of the year to point points on the board.
A 5-12 record wouldn’t shock most fans, and even I decided to roll it again to see if I would do better or worse.
vs. LAR: 39 vs. SF: 55 vs. LAC: 62 Bye vs. NE 83 @ DEN 33 vs. TB 90 @ ATL 66 @ SF 25
In short, the Rams being a worse offense than AZ and also being poor defensively shows how much of an advantage this week could be.
Now, would I bet on Arizona to win with Aaron Donald against missing interior offensive linemen?
And as a result, Arizona and LAR’s points would change if they did lose and get blown out where the Rams would rise in points per game a bit and Arizona might drop, just like how the Seahawks’ defense improved after playing Arizona in Week 6.
Then you’d have to readjust those odds based on the week, but you’d have a bigger sample to work with, obviously. And there’s a human factor as well, a la making plays, a clean game.
Still, it’s more just to put out a picture of what’s MOST PROBABLE to happen given the information we already have.
This scenario also came out to 2 wins (one vs. the Rams again) but the other was actually the Niners in the final game of the season, needing to roll under 34 and getting a 25 after losing 6 straight.
In any case, there’s times the ball bounces the other way as well, in which we see the 2011 Cardinals starting out 2-6, only to see their defense lock down and their PAPG improve each and every week as they ended up finishing 6-2 behind John Skelton, that defense, and Jay Feely vs. the Denver Broncos.
Thoughts, Cardinals fans? Think that the team’s turnaround is probable? Or improbable?