Now that 2014 officially is over, and before we head into the playoffs, let’s take a quick look back at the season that was and see where it stands compared to previous years.
To evaluate players and teams, we used our internal metric at numberFire.com, Net Expected Points (NEP).
A quick refresher: NEP compares every single play over a season to how a league-average team should perform on that play. Every situation on a football field has an expected point value; that is, how many points an average team would be expected to score in that situation (given down, distance-to-go and yard line). For example, the Chiefs may be playing the Steelers, facing a third-and-2 on the 50. That’s a ton of variables, but numberFire has data from the past dozen years of every single play, so most situations have come up at least once. According to our data, an average team may be “expected” to score 1.23 (estimated number) points on that drive. However, Jamaal Charles reels off a 32-yard run to bring the Chiefs into the red zone, increasing the “expected” point value of the next play to 4.23 points (still an estimated number). Jamaal Charles then gets credit for the difference, in this case 2.96 points, as his NEP. That’s Net Expected Points.
Aaron Rodgers led all passers in 2014 posting +188.4 NEP and an additional +25.9 on the ground. That ranks as the 10th best passing season since 2000 and the seventh best overall production by any single player. Rodgers should be the MVP.
2014 in Review
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Peyton Manning was the No. 2 passer and producer this season at +167.5 passing NEP and -11.8 rushing NEP, good for 27th best since 2000. Manning posted his record 12th season with over +100 passing NEP.
The Houston Texans own the top opponent-adjusting pass defense in the NFL at -42.2 NEP. They prevented (or scored) six touchdowns compared to expectation. Overall, though, this Texans defense ranks just 67th historically since 2000. It just goes to show that passing continues to dominate the NFL, and defenses are struggling to keep up.
While passing prevails, several teams succeeded with their vicious ground attack. Russell Wilson notched the No. 3 rushing NEP of all time at +60.5. Only 2004 Michael Vick (+68.3) and 2005 MVP Shaun Alexander (+66.1) performed better.
What about the best non-quarterback runner? That was Wilson’s teammate, Marshawn Lynch, who added +27.3 rushing NEP. In fact, the Seahawks, as a team, own the best opponent-adjusted rushing efficiency since 2000 at +93.5. That means their rushing attack alone added almost six points per game above how an average offense would perform.
While Seattle dominated on the ground, Pittsburgh's Le’Veon Bell was actually the most efficient running back in the league, adding +18.6 rushing NEP and +64.3 receiving NEP. His +82.9 total NEP is No. 7 since 2000, vaulting him into the same class with Marshall Faulk, Priest Holmes and LaDainian Tomlinson.
Ndamukong Suh led the Lions to the No. 3 schedule-adjusted rushing defense–on a per play basis—since 2000. Teams lost a point versus expectation for every five rushing attempts against the Lions’ front seven. Only the Super Bowl champion Ravens from 2000 and the Ravens in 2006 had superior run defenses.
Antonio Brown's huge performance in Week 17 helped the Steelers clinch the AFC North and solidified his place as the top receiver in 2014. Brown added +151.9 NEP on 129 receptions, which was good for the No. 6 season for a receiver since 2000. Ahead of him? Torry Holt, Calvin Johnson, Marvin Harrison and Randy Moss (twice).
Calvin Johnson was the most successful receiver, posting a success rate of 98.6% on receptions. In fact, only one of his 71 catches registered an NEP below zero.
The top tight end in 2014 was Rob Gronkowski, who added +112.5 NEP, the fourth best tight end season since 2000. Gronk now holds the No. 1 and No. 4 spot on that list.
Offense On The Rise
There are clear trends toward higher scoring and higher-powered offenses in the NFL, thanks mostly to the increase in pass efficiency. The 2014 season continued that trend, and now ranks as the most dominant offensive season since 2000.
The average offense added +2.3 points per game above expectation. Remember, this is expectation since 2000 (otherwise, we would expect the average offense to score 0 additional points per game).
NEP Per Game
Teams lost on average -0.3 points per game from running the ball—right in the middle of all yearly performances since 2000.
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