The Effect of Penalties in the NFL

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 7: Referees pose for a photo before the game between the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on November 7, 2011 in Phildelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

After reading a post Bruce wrote earlier analyzing how replacement referees would affect games, I analyzed the direct effect of penalties on teams in the NFL. In any statistical study in sports you need to at first determine what you are trying to find out. So what was I trying to find out, you ask? Does the amount of penalties a team commits directly affect the team's final record?

(More after "The Jump"...)

Before I jumped to any conclusions, the first thing I looked at was the average amount of penalties a team committed per game in 2011. Keep in mind this study may be a bit sloppy and developmental due to the small sample size, but I digress. The list is as follows (credit goes to and for this information) :

Ranking Team & Final Record Penalties per Game
1 Green Bay (15-1) 4.7
2 Indianapolis (2-14) 4.8

Jacksonville (5-11)

4 New England (13-3) 5.0
5 Washington (5-11) 5.0
6 Miami (6-10) 5.3
7 Buffalo (6-10) 5.4
8 Baltimore (12-4) 5.4
9 Atlanta (10-6) 5.6
10 San Diego (8-8) 5.7
11 New Orleans (12-4) 5.7
12 Cleveland (4-12) 5.9

Houston (10-6)

14 NY Giants (9-7) 5.9
15 Cincinnati (9-7) 6.0
16 Denver (8-8) 6.2
17 Pittsburgh (12-4) 6.3
18 NY Jets (8-8) 6.4
19 Tennessee (9-7) 6.5
20 Chicago (8-8) 6.5
21 St.Louis (2-14) 6.5
22 Arizona (8-8) 6.6
23 Philadelphia (8-8) 6.7
24 Minnesota (3-13) 6.8
25 San Francisco (13-3) 6.8
26 Kansas City (7-9) 6.9
27 Carolina (6-10) 7.1
28 Dallas (8-8) 7.1
Tampa Bay (4-12) 7.7
30 Detroit (10-6) 7.9
31 Seattle (7-9) 8.6
32 Oakland (8-8) 10.2


I created a bar-graph to demonstrate the amount of wins from greatest to least corresponding with the amount of penalties per game that team had committed. The average penalties per game was roughly 6.3. The amount of penalties every team committed per game generally fell within one deviation from that number, with the exception of a few outliers. However the amount of wins clearly does not correlate directly with the amount of penalties per game.

So what does this mean, you ask? Well it simply points towards the direction that (for 2011 anyways) penalties committed didn't affect the team's overall performance. So the next time your team gets flagged for a false start or pass interference, remember that it is not as big of a deal as you think at the moment. That little yellow flag we all groan when we see on the field, is but a speck of sand on the vast shoreline that is our team's final record.

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