Passer Rating Differential: the Mother of All Stats

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 27, 2010



Passer Rating Differential was introduced by Cold, Hard Football Facts before the 2009 season and was an instant statistical home run: the Saints dominated the indicator and went on to win the Super Bowl. Passer Rating Differential is obtained by subtracting a team's Defensive Passer Rating from its Offensive Passer Rating. Passer Rating Differential is based on the theory that passer rating, though difficult to calculate, has proven to have an extremely high correlation to success. Teams with a high Passer Rating Differential are generally successful. Teams with a low Passer Rating Differential are generally very bad.
 
Put most simply, Passer Rating Differential is the closest thing there is to a "mother stat" of football success. We wrote in great detail about its historic importance at the end of the 2010 season. A couple key points:
  • 69 of 71 NFL champions since 1940 were on the plus side of Passer Rating Differential
  • The average NFL champion since 1940 was an incredible +27.4 in Passer Rating Differential (82.3 - 54.9)
  • The Super Bowl champion 2010 Packers were just above the historic norm, at +31.7 in PRD (98.9 - 67.2)
  • 33 of 71 NFL champions led the NFL in either Offensive Passer Rating, Defensive Passer Rating, or both
We created Passer Rating Differential at the start of the 2009 season in an effort to prove a Cold, Hard Football Facts maxim that winning in the NFL is all about the passing game.
 
Well, our instinct has proven remarkably correct, as it so often is ... because our instincts are fueled by facts. Passer Rating Differential has proven an incredibly accurate indicator of team-wide success.
 
The Saints topped the indicator in 2009, its first year of existence. The Saints won the Super Bowl. The Packers topped the indicator in 2010. The Packers won the Super Bowl, too.
 
A few other teams jump off the year-end Passer Rating Differential list:
 
New England
The Patriots boasted a regular-seasaon best 14-2 record. They finished No. 2 in Passer Rating Differential. Season-long dominance in the passing game ultimately didn't help them: the top-seeded Patriots were bounced by the Jets in the divisional playoffs. But even the exception proves the rule. The Jets beat the Patriots because they dominated the passing battles that evening.
 
San Diego
The 2010 Chargers, as we noted many times during the season, were one of the great anomalies in all of NFL history: a truly dominant statistical team in so many ways that simply could not get it done in crunch time on the field. That dominance was evident in their performance in Passer Rating Differential, behind only the champion Packers and 14-2 Patriots at +25.71). Yet they ended the year 9-7 and didn't even reach the playoffs. No stat is perfect, of course. There are always anomalies. But San Diego has an across-the-board statistical anomaly for the ages. They need to learn to win soon because the window of superior talent only lasts so long in the NFL.
 
Tampa Bay
Keep your eyes on the Bucs in 2011. They had a nice 10-6 season but missed the playoffs in the top-heavy NFC South. Still, they quietly have one of the bright young quarterbacks in the game in Josh Freeman (25 TD, 6 INT, 95.6 passer rating in 2010) and they posted a very solid pass defense last year (No. 7 in Defensive Passer Rating at 77.6). Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but with a few improvements, this is a very dangerous team that could conceivably win 13 or 14 games in 2011.

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