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Regression in Atlanta: One Highly Coveted Asset Is About To Take the Biggest Hit

Because the human brain is so wired to give in to the recency effect, it blocks out the ability for many to understand and exploit regression to the mean. This point is extremely important to emphasize when dealing with the sport of football, which is subject to extreme variance on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis. Since the recency effect causes us to put too much weight on recent performance, the way to gain an edge in fantasy football is by understanding regression to the mean takes place over large sample sizes and making your decisions in that light.

Using this line of thinking, let’s use historical comps to explore what can be expected of the Atlanta Falcons’ offense this season.

How Did the Top 10 Scoring Teams of All Time Follow Up Their Record Breaking Seasons?

Team Year Points N + 1 Points Difference
Broncos 2013 606 484 -122
Patriots 2007 589 410 -179
Packers 2011 560 433 -127
Patriots 2012 557 444 -113
Vikings 1998 556 399 -157
Saints 2011 547 461 -86
Falcons 2016 540 ?
Rams 2000 540 503 -37
Rams 1999 526 540 14
Colts 2004 522 439 -83
Average 556 457

This table does a great job showing us exactly what regression to the mean looks like. Of course teams can get hot and have their offense clicking on all cylinders for an entire season, especially when we’re dealing with only 16 regular season games each year. However, when adding the subsequent year into the equation, we see almost every single team with a historic offensive season start regressing back to the mean. Leaving out the 2016 Falcons, the other nine top-10 scoring offenses have averaged 99 fewer points the following year. And that sample includes the greatest show on turf Rams twice, who proved elite over a three-year stretch never scoring fewer than 503 points from 1999-2001.

What About the Falcons Themselves?

Year Points
2016 540
2015 339
2014 381
2013 353
2012 419
2011 402
2010 414
2009 363
2008 391
Average 400

Zooming out and looking at the big picture rather than just focusing on 2016, the larger sample shows the Falcons have averaged 400 points per season since Matt Ryan arrived in 2008. That’s 140 fewer points than their historic 2016. Additionally, that average dips to only 383 points per season when removing 2016 from the sample and only focusing on the (still significant) eight-year sample size from 2008-2015. Regardless, the fact the Falcons scored 121 more points in 2016 than in their next highest scoring season under Ryan is extremely noteworthy.

Thus, unless we are to believe the Falcons are the newest greatest show on turf Rams, then these larger samples show it is extremely likely Atlanta’s offense is going to suffer significant regression in 2017.

Carolina Panthers Deja Vu?

Let’s go ahead and take a look at one more example to drive the point home: The 2015 and 2016 seasons of the Carolina Panthers. Over Cam Newton‘s first four years under center, the Panthers averaged 367 points per season. Then, in 2015, Carolina’s production spiked all the way up to 500 points. Giving in to the recency effect, the masses drafted Cam Newton as the overall QB1 heading into 2016, expecting similar results from the year before. However, the Panthers finished with 369 points last season, showing significant regression to the mean.

Offensive Coordinator Unrest

The data presented shows Atlanta was likely going to suffer from regression to the mean either way. But on top of that, the Falcons also lost their offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan is largely viewed as one of the best offensive minds in football. However, consider that the Falcons only scored 339 points in his first year in Atlanta in 2015. That’s 201 fewer points than Atlanta scored last season. Yet, they had the exact same play caller and extremely similar personnel.

Not only was Atlanta prone to poor play under Shanahan just as early as two years ago, but the larger point here is that it takes time for a new offensive coordinator to imprint his fingerprints on the game plan. More importantly, this will be new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian‘s first time ever calling plays in the NFL. Despite reports Atlanta is going to keep their offensive scheme largely the same,(What else would you say coming off of an historic offensive season?) it would be naive to not expect bumps in the road for this offense in 2017.

One area where noticeable change could occur is in the running back rotation. Shanahan did a phenomenal job rotating Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman within drives throughout the entire 2016 season. His deployment of Freeman and Coleman helped both backs stay very fantasy relevant. However, can Sarkisian be expected to utilize both backs in a similar fashion during his first year in the NFL?

Stop Drafting Tevin Coleman At His Ceiling

Regression can hit Atlanta this season and the Falcons can still be a good offense. Both of these statements can be true. This article was not created to talk down the studs in the offense such as Julio Jones and Freeman. Rather, it’s Tevin Coleman’s redraft ADP that could be a problem. Coleman is being drafted at the very beginning of the sixth round in both MFL10s and according to Fantasy Football Calculator. That’s a very expensive price to pay for a backup RB. Once again, the recency effect wins out. The masses are drafting the 2016 Coleman that played on the seventh highest scoring team of all time, which is an issue considering the calendar now says it’s 2017.

Regression from the historic efficiency Atlanta saw last season is likely to affect ancillary pieces the most, Coleman included. Furthermore, it is extremely likely Coleman is going to suffer his own regression to the mean this season as well. Here is Coleman’s 2016 compared to the top 12 overall PPR backs last season.

Tevin Coleman 2016 efficiency

Coleman finished with a higher rush TD rate than all of them, even more than doubling the rates of bellcow backs DeMarco Murray, Jay Ajayi, Le’Veon Bell, and Jordan Howard. Plus when factoring in Coleman’s receiving production, his TD rate becomes even more of an outlier going from 6.8 percent to 7.4 percent. In order to have a rate that high, a player needs to score a lot of touchdowns on limited opportunities. That’s exactly what Coleman did and the efficiency of the historic 2016 Falcons’ offense is what allowed it to happen. Coleman scored 12 touchdowns on only 149 total touches. His 28 percent rushing market share was by far the lowest of any of the other backs.

Conclusion

The most relevant question that drafters must ask themselves is this: Is it likely that Coleman, a backup RB, sustains his high overall efficiency, especially in the TD department, for yet another season? The odds of this happening are extremely unlikely and regression to the mean for both the Falcons offense as a whole and Coleman himself are huge reasons why.

Opportunity is king in fantasy football and until Freeman is out of the picture, significant volume just isn’t going to be there for Coleman. For example, Coleman only saw three carries inside the five-yard-line all of last season. This lack of significant opportunity wouldn’t be a huge issue if Coleman were being drafted as a high-upside handcuff and/or a potential flex start in plus matchups. Instead, he’s being drafted as an every week starter. At his current early sixth-round price tag, Coleman is one of the easiest fades of the 2017 redraft season.

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