Coming into the 2021 NFL season, I wanted to see how the return of crowds would impact the record-setting offensive numbers we saw in the 2020 pandemic season. Offense has been trending up for years, but I thought we’d see some regression this year and a return to some better defenses.
Through five weeks and 80 games, that is basically what has happened, though I’m not sure I would call any defense great except for what the Bills have done so far.
Teams are averaging 23.8 points per game, which would rank between 2020 (24.8) and 2013 (23.4) for the second-highest season in NFL history. Points per drive are at 2.15, which would rank second behind last year’s 2.20.
The 2020 season was historic for having a third down conversion rate of 41.6%, the highest on record as these stats are known back to 1991. The only other season above 40% was 1995 (40.1%). So far in 2021, offenses are converting 40.6% of third downs, a full percentage point below last year, but it would still be good enough for the second-highest season. The Chiefs are at 58.8% on third down, which would break the 2011 Saints’ record (56.7%).
Believe it or not, but just 20 years ago offenses were stopped in the red zone from scoring a touchdown more often than not. The red zone TD% was 48.3% in 2001. It has never dipped below 50% ever since, and in 2020, offenses set a record by scoring on 61.2% of their red zone trips. This season, the numbers are basically the same so far at 61.1%.
This was something that slipped my mind when I wrote my season predictions on here. A lack of offensive holding penalties in 2020 really helped offenses finish drives for touchdowns since a holding penalty can be so disruptive to scoring. Think of it as a mini-turnover. For whatever reason, refs were shy to throw flags for this a year ago. The 2020 regular season finished with 459 offensive holding penalties, the fewest in any season since 2009. In 2019, there was a decade-high 720 offensive holding penalties, so maybe this was an overcorrection.
How are things shaping up through five weeks? In Weeks 1-5 of the 2019 season there were 274 offensive holding penalties. That went down to 135 last year and is now back up to 198 this year. So it is being called more in line with the 2009-2014 seasons than the increase in recent years.
I’ll be keeping an eye on these numbers for the rest of the season, but it looks like a safe bet that 2021 will finish behind last year’s offensive explosion, which is still good for the second-most offensive season in NFL history.
Shout out to the Kansas City defense for helping these offenses live their best lives.