Football isn't driven by stats like baseball.
You would never see a guy like Bill James hired by an NFL team. They hire a Bill Walsh or a Bill Parcells as consultants or top dogs because it is a coach's game and not a numbers-cruncher game. Football is spread formations not spreadsheets. If an NFL club has an extra hire, it won't create a stat man but another coach. Something like assistant-quarterbacks-coach-in-charge-of-the second-and-five package.
When it comes to team stats, that's another story because it is the ultimate team game. You can't look up stats for a guy like Bengals left end Robert Geathers and really know if he had a good year or a bad year, or appreciate his value like you can find on the back of a baseball card.
How did the coaches use him? What was he asked to do? When he had his 10.5-sack year in 2006, the stat line doesn't tell you he came off the bench and played solely on third down. Or that in 2007 he had to start four games at linebacker because of injuries. Or that in 2009 he played virtually every snap in a couple of different spots and played 10 games without right end Antwan Odom on the other side.
The numbers of the kicker, quarterback, receivers and backs are the closest you come to baseball. But football's true numbers are the team stats. So here are five. If you see the Bengals reach all of them by the end of 2010, they've got an excellent shot at repeating as AFC North champs against a much tougher schedule and have a better chance of winning the Super Bowl than they did last January.
SCORING: The Bengals have jacked up their passing game and here's why: They've got to average one more touchdown per game than they did in 2009, when they scored barely 19 points per game. Counting the Jets' 21.8, the Bengals play 11 games against teams that averaged at least 22 points per game last season. And six against teams that averaged at least 24.4.
Make it 26.0. Seven teams averaged at least that in '09 and they all made the playoffs. And the Bengals play four of them: The Saints and their league-best 31.9, Chargers (28.4), Patriots (26.7), Colts (26).
But the Bengals should be better on defense and they were already among the scoring leaders for much of last season, when they allowed 18. So if they can average somewhere between 24 and 26, they ought to be able to win it all. But when they play those big scoring clubs, they've got to be able to hit 30 a couple of times.
In the last three seasons, the Bengals have scored 30 six times. They scored 30 six times in '05.
YARDS PER ATTEMPT: There are a couple of individual football stats you can look at and get some immediate baseball-like answers. This one, yards per catch, yards per rush, and field-goal percentage are pretty good. Yards per attempt is a good place to start with the Carson Palmer bashers.
When he was healthy and had Chad Ochocinco, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry for all 16 games, not to mention two veteran tackles, Palmer had his two best YPAs with 7.5 in 2005 and career-best 7.8 in 2006. The Bengals won the division last year even though he threw for a yard less per throw at 6.6 with a much different offense and receivers. They lost the Wild Card in '05 because Palmer got hurt. They lost it in '09 because he couldn't get it downfield for a variety of reasons. He was awful early in that game, but he also had no one to throw to for all of the game and that's why the Bengals have spent the offseason stockpiling receivers.
They've got to hope that gets Palmer more than a yard better on his throws than last year.
Eight is enough. Of the seven QBs that averaged at least eight yards per throw last year, five made the playoffs, two won a playoff game, and one (Drew Brees at 8.5) won the Super Bowl.
A reasonable number that would win it all?
Somewhere between the two guys in last year's AFC title game, but closer to the Colts' Peyton Manning (7.9) than the Jets' Mark Sanchez (6.7). Tom Brady logged a 7.8, but the Ravens' Joe Flacco used his 7.2 to flog his Pats in the other Wild Card game with defense and the running game.
If Palmer can repeat somewhere near his best of 7.8, that ought to be enough.
RUSHING TDs: The Bengals did a great job in '09 behind running back Cedric Benson to get back to the NFL's rushing elite. Benson was Pro Bowl-worthy as the Bengals finished ninth in the NFL. But they scored just six rushing touchdowns last year if you take away the three scored by Carson Palmer, pointing to their red-zone problems.
Every playoff team but the Bengals scored at least 14 rushing touchdowns. Even the two worst running teams in the league, the Chargers (17) and the Colts (16) were able to bang it in from in close. That not only shows those teams had a lot more red-zone chances with their passing games, but also they were much more efficient in the red zone than the Bengals, another huge reason they lost the Wild Card game as well as some during the regular season.
The Bengals offensive line proved it could get the tough, needed yards last year. But the numbers would say they have to give the club more chances to do it on the goal line, and they have to be more efficient when they are called upon to do it in close.
If the Bengals can hammer out 15 rushing TDs, including Palmer's two or three, that will dramatically increase their red-zone efficiency. That's the number they had in '05. Throw that in with this defense, and that's big.
TURNOVERS: After coming up with 19 interceptions and six fumble recoveries for 25, the Bengals ought to be shooting for 25 picks and 10 fumble recoveries this year. That would give them 35, a number reached by four teams in 2009. Three made the playoffs and the Saints won it with 38.
There were four teams that had at least 25 interceptions, three making the postseason including the Saints.
Are there 10 more turnovers out there? Certainly with the addition of a healthy Roy Williams and veteran Gibril Wilson at safety, and a schedule of six games against 4,000-yard passers, it looks like the Bengals will have a shot and plenty of chances.
Put it between 33 and 37.
DEFENSIVE AVERGAE PER RUSH: Forget sacks.
The Bengals had 34 in 2009, a number reached by 17 teams. Nine made the playoffs. But the Jets led the league in defense and had just 32. The Steelers and Browns had more sacks than the Bengals and Ravens (32), but finished way back in the division.
Not the telling stat, like allowing yards per rush. The Bengals were very good in this stat until the last regular-season game and despite giving up their two longest runs of the season against the Jets, they still finished at 3.9, the first time they broke 4.0 in back-to-back seasons since 2000-01.
It is a hallowed number. Last year the Bengals were just one of seven teams to do it. Five made the playoffs, three won a playoff game and two (the Jets and Vikings) made their conference final. How about this? Against the teams that had the two of the top run defenses (Baltimore at 3.4 and Green Bay at 3.6), the Bengals went for 4.4 against the Packers and 3.9 against the Ravens.
Take 3.9 again. It would be the first time the Bengals did it three years in a row since '99-'01.
Put them all together.
If you look at the stat sheet heading into the playoffs and the Bengals are averaging 25.5 points per game with 7.8 yards per pass and have rushed for 15 touchdowns while forcing 35 turnovers and holding offenses to 3.9 yards per rush, they probably aren't playing that week because they are hosting.