The 5 NFL Teams That Improved Most in 2014
I don't know about you, but my high school gym class was all about improvement. It didn't matter how pathetic you looked during your beginning-of-the-year push-up test -- if you were better in the spring, you were bound to get a good letter grade in the class.
There's no "A" for effort in the NFL, but showing improvement is clearly a sign in the right direction. After all, teams usually don't just come out of nowhere and win a Super Bowl. There are usually some growing pains.
So with that being said, which teams from 2014 showed the most improvement after their 2013 campaigns ended? Which teams would be getting an "A" in gym class thanks to being much better in the second semester than the first?
To find the answer, I looked at our signature nERD metric, which describes the number of points a team would be expected to win by against a league-average opponent on a neutral field. By comparing team nERDs (the metric, not a team's analytics department) from 2013 to 2014, I found the five teams who showed the biggest jump in nERD score -- the biggest improvement.
Let's take a look at those teams, slowly revealing which one was the most improved in 2014.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars
2013 nERD: -14.20
2014 nERD: -8.87
In 2013, the Jaguars' nERD of -14.20 was the fifth worst score our numbers have seen since 2000. The passing offense, according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, was the worst in the NFL, while the rushing offense and secondary both ranked 30th. Really, it was tough to be worse.
The team's ground game increased by a solid 35 expected points from 2013 to 2014, but the biggest improvement was on defense, where the Jaguars went from the 31st-ranked one in 2013 all the way to the 18th-ranked unit in 2014 according to NEP.
Overall though, the Jags have a young core, what seems to be a good head coach and a much-improved defense. Keep your heads up, Jags' fans.
4. Dallas Cowboys
2013 nERD: -1.84
2014 nERD: +4.71
After three straight 8-8 seasons, the Cowboys finally broke free as one of the best teams in the NFL in 2014. And they can thank an improved offense for that.
Dallas' defense from 2013 to 2014 was only seven expected points better -- a touchdown over the course of a season really isn't earth-shattering. But the offense? Oh, boy. The offense went from an Adjusted NEP of 46.18 in 2013 to a 156.16 Adjusted NEP in 2014.
Tony Romo had the best season of his career, and was second in the NFL in Passing NEP on a per drop back basis. The offensive line opened huge holes for DeMarco Murray, who led the Cowboys' rushing attack to a top-10 finish in efficiency. It was a beautiful thing.
3. Baltimore Ravens
2013 nERD: -2.90
2014 nERD: +5.53
The Ravens had a little Super Bowl hangover in 2013, especially on offense. After beasting through the playoffs, Joe Flacco's arm brought the Ravens a -31.90 Adjusted NEP in 2013, the eighth-worst passing offense in the NFL. And that running game -- do you remember how bad it was? Well, as a refresher, it was worse than any other rushing attack in the NFL, as Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce finished the season with the two worst Rushing NEP totals in the NFL.
Enter Gary Kubiak.
There's a reason Kubiak is now head coach of the Denver Broncos. In 2014 as Baltimore's offensive coordinator, he made the Ravens into a near top-10 rushing attack, while Joe Flacco finished with a career high 89.35 Passing Net Expected Points. In total, the Ravens improved their offense by 167.58 Adjusted Net Expected Points, which equates to a swing of over 10 points per game (!).
Is Gary Kubiak a genius?
2. Green Bay Packers
2013 nERD: -1.70
2014 nERD: +8.41
The Packers improvement in 2014 has a lot to do with one person: Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers missed seven (or eight considering he threw two passes in one of them) games in 2013, and the Packers' passing offense suffered as a result. Through Week 7 of 2013 -- this is when Rodgers was healthy -- the Packers had a Passing NEP total of 59.64, which was the fifth best score in the league. After Week 16, the team had dropped over eight expected points in the category, going from one of the most efficient passing attacks in football to one of the least during the time Rodgers was sidelined.
Things were all gravy in 2014 though, as Rodgers finished with one of the best seasons our database has ever seen from a quarterback. He deserved to win MVP, and the Packers' spike in production this season had a lot to do with his return to dominance.
1. Houston Texans
2013 nERD: -9.87
2014 nERD: +3.76
More people need to talk about and recognize what the Houston Texans did in 2014. After finishing with just two wins last year, the Texans improved to nine in 2014 under the direction of head coach Bill O'Brien. Though Bruce Arians certainly deserved the Coach of the Year award, O'Brien really made a strong case to win the award as well.
Pretty much everything was better for Houston in 2014. The offense, despite having no true franchise quarterback, finished with a 10.86 Adjusted NEP, which was 24th best in the league. That's nothing to write home about, but it was certainly an improvement over the dumpster fire we all watched in 2013, which finished with a -82.16 Adjusted NEP. Thanks for nothing, Matt Schaub.
The biggest reason Houston was so much better this year, however, was because of their defense. When adjusted for strength of opponent, no defense was better than the Texans during the 2014 season. Not Seattle. Not Buffalo.
Not a single team.
The future is bright in Houston, as long as they can find a reliable signal-caller.