You can win without analytics - see: Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers - and lose with them. Just ask the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars. At the same time, analytics help good teams get a little better (Baltimore Ravens), and ignoring them may just make bad teams (Washington Redskins) stay bad.
ESPN.com recently released a mega-feature diving into each Big Four professional franchise's belief (or lack thereof) in advanced metrics. The Worldwide Leader ranked each club's devotion to analytics, and it's worth noting that the No. 1 and No. 122-ranked franchises are both last-place teams and both hail from the same city - Philadelphia - though the top-rated Sixers seem to be headed in an opposite direction as the last-ranked Phillies.
Perhaps it's a comment on the infancy of football analytics compared to other sports, but ESPN rates zero NFL clubs as "all-in" with analytics versus nine MLB franchises and four NBA teams.
Here' s how they break it down:
- Zero "All-In" franchises
- Nine "Believers" franchises
- Seven "One Foot In" franchises
- Twelve "Skeptics" franchises
- Four "Nonbelievers" franchises
As to how each club uses analytics? Take the Ravens for example. The club hired two Ivy League numbers gurus to dictate draft strategy (Baltimore chases compensatory draft picks harder than anyone else in the NFL) and game-day decisions. Here's John Harbaugh explaining a decision to go for it on a 4th-and-1 at the goal line last season:
"Part of that strategy," Harbaugh said, "is you have them backed up, so worst-case scenario if you have some confidence in your defense, you're going to get the ball back with a real good chance to recoup that field goal, and that's what we did. So it doesn't matter if you kick it from the 9-yard line or the 39-yard line -- it's still three points. We didn't come out of that any worse for the wear. We didn't lose any points on that. We would've rather had the four points for the touchdown, absolutely. That's why I went for it."
Compare that to San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy, among a group a four clubs ESPN classifies as "Nonbelievers." "I'm going to go with my gut decision on those things," McCoy said last year. "No one on a piece of paper can tell me this is the right thing or the wrong thing to do. ... It's all about what you think is best, and what you think is best for your team at that time."
No matter how many straw-man arguments Charles Barkely invents, good stats will never beat better players. No one has ever argued otherwise. But perhaps there is a lesson in the fact that seven of the nine "Believers" reached the playoffs in either of the past two seasons, while only one of the four "Nonbelievers" can say the same.