Unmasking NFL’s pretenders as playoffs near: One metric shows who’s for real amid jumbled landscape

In football, you want seven and not three (or zero). Touchdowns are the goal. Field goals are the consolation prize. And, yeah, this old adage should probably be updated to wanting eight and not three, since two-point conversions are more en vogue than ever before.

But you get the idea.

One would assume that the teams that score the most touchdowns and give up the fewest touchdowns would have the best shot of winning it all, or at least merit strong consideration. Certainly, there are other metrics – like turnover ratio, or differential between passer ratings or number of starters out for the season – that one could turn to as a predictor of success. But net touchdowns seems like a pretty good place to start.

We are always looking for ways to quantify teams or assess how much luck or good fortune or defying the odds has gone into a team’s overall record. Are there some teams that probably deserve a better or worse record? I’m not smart enough or mathematically inclined enough to pretend I have an answer to that question, but I did find spending time studying the touchdown differentials to make for interesting fodder, as one ponders the stretch run of the season in trying to sort out a jumbled pile of teams in each conference at a time when results seem more unpredictable than ever.

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For instance, if the playoffs started right now, the Ravens would be the top seed in the AFC. However, they rank just 10th in that conference in net touchdowns. Baltimore (8-3) has actually yielded two more touchdowns than it has scored, while Miami (5-7), which seemed left for dead during a seven-game losing streak, is actually only just behind the Ravens at -3. Oh, and the Dolphins did beat the Ravens just a few…

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