A key to any NFL season lies in a franchise being able to avoid costly injuries. Sometimes just one key injury can derail a season, while a slew of others to role players can decimate roster depth.
Would you believe that the Bengals rank as one of the healthiest teams over the past two seasons? Scott Kacsmar at Football Outsiders compiled the data showing that to be the case. A combination of metrics Kacsmar used created a piece of information known as “Adjusted Games Lost” by players on every NFL roster.
Here’s a little excerpt on how Kacsmar came up with his AGL formula:
For those unfamiliar with AGL, we do not simply add up the number of games missed. We are able to quantify how much teams were affected by injuries based on two principles: (1) Injuries to starters, injury replacements and important situational reserves (No. 3 wide receiver, nickel corner, etc.) matter more than injuries to benchwarmers; and (2) Injured players who do take the field are usually playing with reduced ability, which is why AGL is based not strictly on whether the player was active for the game or not, but instead is based on the player's game status that week (IR/PUP, out, doubtful, questionable, or probable).
Based on Kacsmar’s findings, the Bengals ranked third-best in the NFL in 2016 with a 35.1 AGL number. This was a follow-up to the outstanding 2015 season the team had, where they were ranked as the team with the lowest AGL number of 28.2. As it is in the sport of golf, the lower the number in the AGL data, the better. Only the 2007-2008 Tennessee Titans these high of rankings over two seasons since this metric has been calculated.
The league average of AGL was the highest Kacsmar has seen since compiling the data at a 76.1 number for 2016, making the Bengals’ 35.1 number pretty impressive. Another interesting tidbit of information provided by Football Outsiders was in the fact that none of the top-four teams in 2016 AGL made the postseason (Rams, Titans, Bengals, Eagles).
When looking at things on the surface, one could be a bit surprised by the findings for Cincinnati. Obviously, in 2015, Andy Dalton’s thumb injury was a major NFL headline, as the Bengals had a franchise-tying 12 wins and appeared to be headed for a deep march into the postseason. Tyler Eifert also missed three games at the end of the year, George Iloka missed four, while Darqueze Dennard also landed on Injured Reserve (shoulder).
Last year, the team had the injury bug bite rookies Andrew Billings and William Jackson III, as both were on I.R. for the year. Cedric Peerman was also on I.R., but was then designated to return, while A.J. Green sat out the final six games with a hamstring injury. Vontaze Burfict also missed three other games with an injury on top of the two he was suspended for at the beginning of the year. And, Giovani Bernard missed Weeks 12-17 with a torn ACL. Tyler Eifert also missed half the season with ankle and back injuries.
There are some interesting facets to the Bengals’ third-best ranking in AGL for 2016. Seeing as how they had such a low number of games missed by players, what else can be the major contributing factors to a six-win season? Was it just too much attrition in free agency to overcome in an effort to get back to the playoffs for what would have been the sixth straight year?
Then again, if none of the top-four AGL teams made the postseason last year, what exactly does that point to? Rosters that aren’t deep enough? A few unlucky bounces? After all, seven of the Bengals’ non-wins (losses and the tie) were decided by just one possession last year.
The Bengals changed their practice routine in 2015, which has been said to contribute positively to the lack of injuries sustained. For the last two years, the Bengals have practiced on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday with Thursday being the most intensive practice of the week and Friday being a light walkthrough with weight room work. Saturday, which isn’t an official NFL practice day (during Sunday game weeks) is more up-tempo and gets players ready for gameday.
Whatever the case, if the Bengals use their 11 picks in this year’s NFL Draft, start to finally gain dividends from other recent disappointing classes and stick to the top of the AGL list again in 2017, that should be a formula for the club to get back to the playoffs this season.