Brains Over Brawn: Smart Teams Dominated 2013 Season

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 08, 2014



 

You can see the final year-end Intelligence Index rankings for every NFL team right here. We put the indicator's sparkling debut season into perspective below.

We created the Cold, Hard Football Facts Intelligence Index before the start of the season with two purposes in mind:

ONE – Quantify the importance of situational football, if possible, in separating winners from losers in the NFL.

TWO – Find a new way to break the statistical containment of the Vegas point spread and outrun the betting public.

The Intelligence Index proved a rousing success on both counts: smart teams consistently won games and did so by large margin; while Colonel Comey's 39 published “Mental Mismatches” this season – those games when smart teams play dumb teams – went .622 against the spread and, on average, more than doubled the Vegas line.  

 

ONE – The importance of situational football

The Intelligence Index sizes up each team based on its efficiency scoring points and its efficiency at keeping opponents off the scoreboard. We call those Quality Stats Scoreability and Bendability.

Smart teams were good at both; dumb teams were bad at both.

At its essence the Intelligence Index separates smart, well-coached teams from dumb, poorly coached teams.

Smart, well-coached teams consistently win the turnover battle, convert third downs and in the red zone more often than their opponents, play well on special teams and minimize costly penalties. Dumb, poorly coached teams consistently get outplayed in all those areas.

In the NFL, where the margin between victory and defeat is so narrow, and in which the difference in talent between one team and the next is so thin, all those little things make a big difference on the scoreboard.

The “smart” teams in our 39 Mental Mismatches this year went an incredible 34-5 (.872). It wasn’t even close: they won by an average of 10.9 points per game.

Any seasoned “death pool” participant will tell you how hard it is to pick straight up winners in nearly 90 percent of NFL games.

Some of the highlights:

Nine of the 10 smartest teams in football reached the playoffs and the top 11 teams all went .500 or better.

The five smartest teams in the NFL went 60-20 straight up (.750); this list of five smartest teams included three of the four teams hosting divisional-round playoff games.

The six smartest teams in the NFL went 71-25 straight up (.740); this list includes five of the teams still alive in the final eight.

The five dumbest teams in the NFL went 17-53 straight up (.213); this list includes the five teams that earned the first five picks in the 2014 draft (the Rams get the pick of the 3-13 Redskins, who earned the No. 2 spot in the draft).

In other words, the five dumbest teams in football were the five worst teams in football.

Among the teams in the bottom half of the league in team intelligence, only the Green Bay Packers snuck into the playoffs. And they were a rare statistical anomaly at many levels: they won a bad division with an 8-7-1 record, while playing half the season without star quarterback Aaron Rodgers clearly impacted their efficiency and ability to win games.

 

TWO – Outflanking the pigskin public and winning games ATS

It’s great that the Intelligence Index can separate winners from losers. But it’s real value for Cold, Hard Football Insiders this year was winning games against the spread.

The “smart” teams in our 39 Mental Mismatches year went 22-13-2 (.622) ATS, a money-making number in any season.

It might have done even better had we not taken a couple late-season chances with teams like Jacksonville (+2.5 vs. Buffalo in Week 15) and Tennessee (-7 vs. Houston in Week 17), that displayed some smarts late in the season. But these brief periods of intelligence proved a mental mirage.

Lesson learned. That lesson will set us up for greater success next season.

Overall, though, smart teams consistently beat the spread and dumb teams consistently lost.

Among the 16 teams in the top half of the league in Intelligence, only one had a losing record ATS: the 7-9 ATS Rams.

The Top 5 Teams on the Intelligence Index went 47-31-2 ATS (.603); this list included the team with the best record ATS (11-5 Seahawks, No. 3 on the indicator).

The Bottom 5 Teams on the Intelligence Index went 28-51-1 (.354); this list included the team with the worst record ATS (4-12 Houston, No. 32 on the indicator).

We largely picked favorites in Colonel Comey's Mental Mismatches. After all, smart teams were usually better teams and therefore favored over dumb teams.

But there were five instances where we picked underdogs because they were smarter than the favorites. Those five “smart” underdogs went 4-1 both straight up and ATS – an impressive result for underdogs by any measure.

 

2013 Texans prove NFL matter of brains over brawn

We noted above that the Intelligence Index is a reflection on coaching. The 2013 Texans, the only team in football to fire its coach before the season’s end, provide plenty of proof.

It’s no coincidence that the Texans were the worst team in football with a 2-14 record and await the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft.

They were, after all, the dumbest team in football.

Gary Kubiak's firing was perfectly justified: his Texans lost because they were dumb and poorly coached, not because they lacked talent.

The 2013 Texans provide a textbook example of why the Intelligence Index works. They help prove that victory in the NFL is a matter of brains over brawn.

Houston was No. 7 in total defense (5,081 yards) and No. 11 in total offense (5,556 yards.

Houston was No. 11 in Total Team Yards (7,394), No. 16 in Total Team Yards Allowed (7,164) and No. 11 in Total Team Yards Differential (+230).

Put another way, Houston was one of the more physically impressive teams in football, consistently winning the territorial battles.

But the Texans failed where it mattered most. They failed turning all those yards into points and they surrendered way too many cheap points. Note Matt Schaub’s record for throwing pick-sixes in four consecutive games.

This physically fit team rode all those mental deficiencies to a 2-14 record.

Good-bye, Gary!

 

Mental Mismatches equal big victories

As noted above, the “smart” teams in our Mental Mismatches went 34-5 straight up and 23-14-2 ATS.

It’s not just that they won. They won big. You can see all 39 of our 2013 Mental Mismatches right here.

The smart teams were, on average, favored by 4.9 points. They won by an average of 10.9 points – easily doubling up public expectations. And, remember, that list includes five underdogs.

Twelve teams won games in 2013 by 30+ points. We identified five of those 12 biggest blowouts of the year ahead of time with our Mental Mismatches.

You can see the final year-end Intelligence Index rankings for every NFL team right here

Final 2013 Mental Mismatch Results

WeekSmart TeamScoreDumb TeamScoreDiff.FAVSpreadSUATS
2CIN20PIT10+10Smart-7WW
3CAR38NYG0+38Smart-1.5WW
3SEA45JAX17+28Smart-19.5WW
3DAL31STL7+24Smart-3.5WW
4KC31NYG7+24Smart-5WW
4IND37JAX3+34Smart-7.5WW
4SEA23HOU20+3Smart-2.5WW
5SF34HOU3+31Smart-6.5WW
6CHI27NYG21+6Smart-8WL
6PHI31TB20+11Smart-1WW
6IND9SD19-10Smart-1.5LL
7KC17HOU16+1Smart-6.5WL
7NE27NYJ30-3Smart-4LL
8CAR31TB13+18Smart-6WW
8KC23CLE17+6Smart-7WL
8SF42JAX10+32Smart-16.5WW
9IND27HOU24+3Smart-2.5WW
9SD24WAS30-6Smart-1LL
9SEA27TB24+3Smart-16.5WL
10ARI27HOU24+3Smart-3Wpush
10IND8STL38-30Smart-9.5LL
10MIN34WAS27+7Dumb2.5WW
11IND30TEN27+3Smart-3Wpush
11PHI24WAS16+8Smart-3.5WW
12BAL19NYJ3+16Smart-3.5WW
12PIT27CLE11+16Dumb2.5WW
12SF27WAS6+21Smart-5.5WW
13NE34HOU31+3Smart-7.5WL
13MIA23NYJ3+20Dumb1.5WW
14KC45WAS10+35Smart-2.5WW
14NE27CLE26+1Smart-11.5WL
14PHI34DET20+14Smart-2.5WW
15BAL18DET16+2Dumb6WW
15JAX20BUF27-7Dumb2.5LL
15CAR30NYJ20+10Smart-11WL
16DAL24WAS23+1Smart-3WL
16DEN37HOU13+24Smart-10.5WW
17TEN16HOU10+6Smart-7WL
17DEN34OAK14+20Smart-12.5WW
AVG 27.7 16.810.9 -4.932-5 23-14-1

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