Tom Brady scored a four-yard touchdown run late in New England’s 43-40 win over Kansas City, but not before Chiefs rookie Breeland Speaks appeared to have him wrapped up for a sack. It looked like Speaks let Brady go for fear of a sack being a roughing the passer penalty, thus giving New England an automatic first down.
Regardless of if this was what actually happened, the gravity of this moment between two of the best teams in the NFL in front of a national audience combined with the 83 total points was the breaking point for many. The new rules against defensive players brought in to protect quarterbacks were leading to more points, and now there was one watershed moment supporting that.
But I don’t want to look at one moment. I want to look at all of them.
There have been 107 NFL games played so far this season through seven weeks, and there were 106 completed contests at this point a year ago. I broke down all of them by the number of points scored, and looked at the trends of how much teams were scoring compared to this point last season.
Some teams have only played six games this season after having seven at this point in 2017 – or vice versa – because of the fluctuating nature of bye weeks from year-to-year, so I used points per game to even things out.
If you want to look at the full spreadsheet, it’s here.
Only ten teams this season are averaging fewer points per game right now than they did last year. Even that could be squeezed down to nine soon, as the Lions are within a point of flipping their total. Detroit averaged 26.8 PPG last season at this point, and are at 26.2 right now. A good game against Seattle this Sunday could get them back on the plus side.
There are a few teams way down, such as the Jaguars, who are scoring a whopping 9.5 fewer points per game than 2017. The Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans are also both at a -7.5 right now. A sharp decline in Blake Bortles’ play and the injury to Travis Frederick are really dragging these figures down.
Just about everybody else is experiencing an offense uptick in 2018. Next time somebody doubts the value of Andrew Luck, the Colts averaging 10 more points per game with him in the lineup this season shows just how valuable he is. The Bears are the league’s most improved team, up 10.9 points.
Even teams with future Hall of Famers under center and offenses that are always near the top of the league are enjoying improvement. The Green Bay Packers are up 1.5 points, the Patriots are up 2.7, and the New Orleans Saints are 5.5 points per game better off than 12 months ago. 2008 first round draft picks Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco are both putting up more points, up 5.8 and 6.5 points respectively.
These are teams with franchise quarterbacks who were shredding defenses without outside help. Now with the rules even more on their side, there has been no stopping them.
On a game-to-game basis, the shootouts really drive this point home. At this point of the 2017 season there had only been two games with at least 80 combined points. That number is doubled this year with four. Games between the Buccaneers-Saints, Saints-Falcons, Browns-Raiders, and the aforementioned Chiefs-Patriots duel all broke the 80-point barrier. There was also a week two matchup between the Chiefs and Steelers that ended up at 79 points.
Most NFL games are squeezed between 30 and 49 total points than any other numbers. 51.4% of all NFL games are hitting this mark just below 50 this season, while last season’s clip was at 45.2%.
This isn’t a huge surprise, considering the average team is scoring 24.1 points per game this season and 21.8 points per game last year. Double those scores for two average teams playing each other, and you end up with a game in the 40s. This season 31 out of 107 games have combined for 40-49 points, good for 28.9%.
What’s interesting to note though is the games that are reaching 50+ points. These are the ones that are above league average. Last season after seven weeks, 34.9% of all NFL games hit the half-century mark.
That number has ballooned to 42% in 2018.
The even more eye-opening part of this is the flip side of the trend. Right now, there are only two offenses in the league averaging less than 50 points per game, the Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals. Everyone else is hitting at least 15 points on a consistent basis, which means the number of games with 30 or fewer points is very low. Only seven games this season have failed to hit a total of 30, just 6.5%.
Last season, the percentage was 16.9%. It averaged out to one in every 5.91 games topping out at 30. 2018 is at one out of 15.38 games.
Overall, it culminates in two unmistakable numbers. 4,638 and 5,152. The former being the total number of NFL points in the first seven weeks last season, the latter being this season.
The 2018 season has had one more game, but 514 more points. It works out to the average points per game last season of 43.8 moving all the way up to 48.1 points per game. These are not small changes. There is no market correction or regression to the mean in sight, unless the NFL adjusts its rules again in the offseason to tip the scales back towards the defense.
This is a seismic shift in how NFL games are being played, and how they will be played for years to come.
The era of two defenses playing tug of war is fading rapidly. Those Steelers-Ravens games that used to end 13-9 with every offensive player in an ice bath after the game are a thing of the past. They’re old, beat-up cars the NFL is done driving. They’ve been replaced by new, shiny Ferraris in the form of NFC South games with 1,000 yards of offense.
Defensive battles are a dying breed. The numbers prove it.