Six weeks into the NFL season, there are a lot of disappointed fan bases. The Eagles remain undefeated, and the Bills, Vikings, and Giants are 5-1, but the bulk of the NFL’s teams sit somewhere between 4-2 and 2-4, so while there fans might not love how things have gone, everything is still in front of them. Even among the four one-win teams, the Raiders, Texans, and Lions all spent Week 6 on the bye, and have a game in hand as they attempt to put together a miraculous post-bye rally.
In short, if your team needs a mulligan, the 2022 NFL season is offering one up.
In this week’s NFL recap, we will take a look at some of the underlying numbers in a low-scoring NFL season before diving into some of the NFL’s division races. Before we do, be sure to sign up for The Oracle’s picks – The Oracle is having another big season beating the NCAA and NFL lines, so sign up for the action today and get his picks texted directly to your phone!
How Often Are Teams Getting the Ball?
It’s an easy question to overlook, but if you go to Pro Football Reference and try to determine why scoring is down so much this season, it’s hard to find a more significant number.
The NFL’s league-wide rushing total is currently 4.5 yards per attempt, the highest average of all time. The league-wide net-yards-per-attempt is 6.2, the 9th highest total on record, and only 0.2 yards off the second-highest total of 6.4 from 2020 (the NFL’s all-time record is 6.5, set in 1962).
Further, the percentage of scoring drives is 36.0%, the fourth-highest rate on record, and the turnover rate is 11.5%, the fourth-lowest, all of which would seem to point to a top-ten scoring season. Instead, the average points-for number in 2022 is only the 28th-highest on record, right behind the 2017 season, which saw a surprising dip in scoring during a decade where numbers have steadily increased.
The 2022 season is unique from 2017, however, in that the number of drives has dropped to an all-time low of 9.5 drives per game. This is a dramatic drop-off, and it appears to be part of a trend; before 2020, there had never been a season with fewer than 11.2 drives per game for each team. In 2020, the number was 10.9, then 10.8 in 2021 before dropping to 9.5 this year. At 10.8 and 10.9, the drop didn’t matter as much, but the drop to 9.5 is showing up in a big way on the scoreboard.
This is likely the direct result of the notable increase in fourth-down attempts in recent years; fourth-down tries jumped more than 10% from 2019 to 2020, and have continued to climb since. As a result, while offense is as good as it has ever been by any measure of efficiency, teams are getting notably fewer opportunities with the ball than we have ever seen, and the changes might be here to stay, because every converted fourth down eats into the total number of drives, while a failed fourth down is unlikely to create significantly more drives than a punt, even if a punt does create extra potential yardage/time off the clock for the opponent.
At first glance, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to see scoring down in an NFL where the leagues heavily favor the offense, and the metrics back that up that surface assumption. Offenses aren’t less efficient, but they are getting the ball less than ever, and fewer opportunities means fewer points.
New York, New York
The Giants are 5-1 and the Jets 4-2, a scenario few foresaw going into the NFL season. It’s an impressive turnaround for two teams coming off difficult decades.
Oddly, both teams have done this without definitively answering the question about their respective quarterbacks. It continues to be a team effort for both units; Daniel Jones threw for 173 yards in the Giants’ win over the Ravens, and Zach Wilson threw for 110 yards in the Jets’ win over the Packers. However, while neither quarterback is shouldering the load, their teams are winning, and that means that there are two plus months for the young signal-callers to change that narrative. It could ultimately turn out to be a Baker Mayfield in Cleveland situation, where the organization decides it was the team more than the quarterback that led to playoff success, but that’s a debate that Jones and Wilson would likely welcome given where they were before the NFL season.
However, the NFL playoffs aren’t a foregone conclusion for either team, as Washington is the only team currently below .500 in either the AFC or NFC East. With Tua Tagovailoa set to return to the Dolphins and Dak Prescott on track to be back for the Cowboys, the often-mocked East divisions have become what the 2022 AFC West was supposed to be.
DraftKings has the Jets at +230 and the Giants at -225 to make the NFL playoffs; with winnable road games against the Broncos (Jets) and the Jaguars (Giants) in Week 7, those odds might be shorter a week from now, though it’s debatable whether either offers much value. The Giants are a great story, but all six of their games have been decided by one score, with their wins coming by 1, 3, 8, 5, and 4 points, which is a difficult trick to sustain.
Indianapolis Colts: Back From The Dead
For those of you who are down on your squad after Week 6, a glance at the Colts’ season results might provide some hope.
The Colts played dreadful football through the first five games of the NFL season; they had barely rallied to tie the Texans in Week One, and their wins over the Chiefs and Broncos were overshadowed by Kansas City’s mistakes in the one game and the overall offensive ineptitude of both Denver and Indianapolis in the other.
However, Indy’s worst performance in that stretch came in a 24-0 loss to the Jaguars. On Sunday, the Colts avenged that loss and turned the narrative on its head, as quarterback Matt Ryan threw for 389 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 34-27 win without star running back Jonathan Taylor.
Colts fans were calling for coach Frank Reich’s job a few weeks ago and the on-field product offered little reason for optimism, but Sunday’s performance was a reminder of how quickly things can change in the NFL. Now the Colts head to Tennessee with an opportunity to take the lead in the AFC South while avenging another early-season loss to a division rival.
What Happened to the NFC West?
It’s been a hard crash back to Earth for a division that put three teams in the NFL playoffs on Sunday. The Rams gutted out a win over the Panthers despite another pick-six from Matthew Stafford, the 49ers got walloped by the Falcons, and Seattle beat Arizona in a lackluster battle of field goals.
The West was loaded last season, but this year, it’s a group full of average teams, much like the NFC South, AFC South, AFC North, and the NFC North (save maybe the Vikings). As it stands, it appears all four divisions could mirror last year’s AFC North, where all four teams were battling for the division crown down the stretch, and the Bengals happened to catch fire and go on a run to the Super Bowl.
A Super Bowl run is far from pre-ordained, but last year’s AFC North is a reminder that the NFL is all about timing, and that as good as teams like the Bills may look right now, there’s no guarantee that Buffalo will be the same team in January.
Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.