If you're like me, you screamed at the television set every time the Buffalo Bills drew a penalty last season. It seemed like Jerry Hughes was always jumping offside, or a special teams player was committing a holding penalty. It grew to be rather frustrating, and I often asked myself if the referees were on the take.
Since I'm probably one of the biggest conspiracy theorists that you'll ever meet, I decided to do a little digging into the Bills' penalty stats from a year ago. To my surprise, the Bills were penalized 110 times, and their opponents were penalized 108 times. My theory was proven wrong; the referees weren't favoring opponents, after all. However, I did notice something rather interesting that I wanted to share.
What do four of the last five Super Bowl winners have in common? They all ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in total penalties.
The last two Super Bowl champions, Baltimore and Seattle, both led the league in total penalties (152 and 145, respectively, in 2012 and 2013). Who did Seattle play in the Super Bowl? Denver, who finished second with 132 penalties. The team that Seattle played in the NFC championship game? San Francisco, who finished fifth with 117 penalties. In 2012, that same San Francisco outfit finished third in the league with 126 yellow flags; they were the runners-up to Baltimore in the big game.
Weren't we always taught that bad teams commit penalties, and good teams find ways to minimize the mistakes? Over the past five years, at least, that has hardly been the case; nearly half of the league's playoff teams in that time frame ranked in the top 10 in penalties.
|Year||# playoff teams||%|
It's 45 percent of playoff teams (27 of 60) over the last five years, actually, that were ranked in the top 10 in penalties. Only three in eight NFL teams make the playoffs each year, but of those three, there's a 45 percent chance that they rank among the most penalized teams in the league.
What does all this really mean?
I think great offenses and defenses are a lot more aggressive, which means they draw more penalties. Referees won't call holding or pass interference on every play, so more times than not, the team gets away with a lot of would-be penalties. This allows them to be a lot more dominant than a team who isn't committing those same penalties. For example, if Denver runs 20 rushing plays to the right, and the right tackle is instructed to worry less about holding calls, the referee might call holding three times out of 20. Those three penalties cost the Broncos 30 yards. However, that leaves the Broncos with 17 great opportunities of executing a big rushing play, making those lost 30 yards inconsequential. On the other hand, if the coach tells the tackle to be cognizant of avoiding penalties, that player may only effectively block half (10) of that number, thus limiting the amount chances of executing a big play.
What do you think, Bills fans? Is there a correlation between winning and penalties? Do you think that I'm on to something here, or do you think I'm just fishing? Take a look at this link; here is where I got my penalty data from. Maybe you can look at it and do your own analysis, and come up with arguments that either support or challenge my claim. I'm looking forward to the conversation.