You hang 41 points on a division rival and beat them by 20 points and people lose their mind. Such is the case with the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals.
As they head into this week’s matchup against the conference-leading Kansas City Chiefs, some are wondering who has the better collection of skill players.
ESPN’s Damien Woody says “there’s no argument” the Bengals have the better collection of skill position players.
"To me there's no argument, the Bengals' skill position [players are] better than the Kansas City Chiefs.'"
— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) December 30, 2021
Let’s get the raw counting stats out of the way.
Both teams’ quarterbacks have thrown for over 4,000 yards so far this season. Patrick Mahomes has 4,310 with 33 TDs and 13 INTs. Joe Burrow has 4,165 with 30 TDs and 10 INTs.
At running back the Bengals’ Joe Mixon has 1,159 yards and 13 TDs. The Chiefs’ Clyde Edwards-Helaire has 517 yards and four TDs. It should be noted the gap in yards is a function of the team’s’ offensive philosophies. Mixon has 160 more rush attempts this season.
Both teams’ have a pair of 1,000-yard receiving targets. The Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins combine for 2,192 receiving yards and 16 TDs. The Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce combine for 2,263 receiving yards and 16 TDs. Add in the Bengals’ Tyler Boyd, who has 792 yards and four TDs, as their third option and it looks like the Bengals have an edge.
Of course counting stats are not the ball end all. Not all yards and touchdowns are created equal.
The Chiefs at 11-4 have the better record compared to the Bengals 9-6 and their weighted offensive production also favors the Chiefs.
DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent.
On offense the Chiefs rank fifth overall. They are fourth in pass DVOA and 15th in rush DVOA. The Bengals rank 19th overall. They are 18th in pass DVOA and 20th in rush DVOA.
NFL counting stats value plays based solely on their net yardage. Two 1,400 yard receivers aren’t necessarily equal. How did they gain those yards? Did they lead to TDs or FGs? How were those yards accumulated, etc.
So while the traditional counting stats look pretty even for both teams’ skill players, why are the Chiefs ranked so much higher in DVOA? Why do the Chiefs have a better record? Why are the Chiefs the Vegas favorites to win the Super Bowl at +400, while the Bengals are a longshot at +2500?
You’re thinking it has to be the defense, right? Wrong.
The Bengals are 14th overall on defense. 22nd in pass DVOA and 7th in rush DVOA. The Chiefs are 16th overall on defense. 13th in pass DVOA and 21st in rush DVOA. Both teams are average at best on that side of the ball.
At QB, despite similar counting stats, Mahomes is top 5 or 10 in all advanced metrics, whereas Burrow is about middle of the pack. That’s a huge reason the Chiefs’ offense and team is better.
So while Woody may like the Bengals’ skill position players better, the notion that it’s “no question” is wildly overstated. Now, going forward, because of their youth you might like the Bengals’ trajectory better. But we’ll have to wait and see.
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