Tapp-ing into the Numbers: Why it’s important for NFL defenses to keep their opponents under 20 points in a game


An NFL season with 13 victories would be considered a great year for any team. It would probably mean a divisional title, probably a first-round bye and, with a little luck, home-field advantage in the playoffs.

So how can an NFL team get to 13 wins?  By keeping the opposition under 20 points each game.

You don’t have to be an NFL analyst to know defense is important to the success of any team. But how important is keeping your opponents off the scoreboard? Consider this:

Over the past three NFL seasons (2014-16), teams that held their opponents under 20 points in a game were 464-108-2. That’s a winning percentage of .810. An .810 winning percentage works out to be 13 wins in a 16-game season.

Just ask the Philadelphia Eagles how important it is to keep their foes under 20 points in a contest. In the past three seasons, the Eagles are 13-0 in games when they hold the opposition to under 20 points in a game. They are the only undefeated team of the 32 NFL teams.

Next best on this list are the Houston Texans. They were 21-1 in games from 2014-16 when their opponents scored less than 20 points. It’s interesting to note that over the past three seasons every NFL team played .500 or better in games when they held opponents under 20 points.

Here’s a look at each NFL team over the past three seasons when they hold opponents under 20 points.

Philadelphia 13-0 1.000

Houston 21-1 .955
Pittsburgh 17-1 .944
Atlanta 14-1 .933
New York Giants 14-1 .933
Indianapolis 13-1 .929
New England 24-2 .923
Seattle 25-2-1 .911
Buffalo 20-2 .909

Arizona 20-2-1 .891
Denver 21-3 .875
Miami 14-2 .875
Baltimore 16-3 .842
Cincinnati 20-4 .833
Carolina 17-4 .810
Minnesota 21-5 .808

Green Bay 15-4 .789
Kansas City 22-6 .786
Chicago 11-3 .786
New York Jets 11-3 .786
Cleveland 7-2 .778
Dallas 16-5 .762
Detroit 19-6 .760
New Orleans 5-2 .714
Tampa Bay 12-5 .706

San Francisco 10-5 .667
Los Angeles Rams 12-7 .632
San Diego 8-5 .615

Washington 7-5 .583
Tennessee 8-6 .571
Jacksonville 6-5 .545
Oakland 5-5 .500

One final point: Of the 768 games played in the regular season over the past three years, only 108 of them (14.2%) saw each of the two teams have a point total under 20. The Lions and Rams led the way each having 12 such games where both teams scored under 20 points, while the Browns and Saints had the fewest games where both teams scored under 20 points with two.

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