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Charting The Importance Of Field Position

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Where you get the ball is very important. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.
Where you get the ball is very important. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

If you've watched any number of NFL games on TV, you've likely heard more than a few announcers mention about a team's field position. We all know that field position is important to an NFL team. But here's the question ... How important is field position to a team? And more specifically, how important is a team's starting field position to their success?

Just as a refresher, starting field position is where an offensive team takes over possession of the ball from their opponents. If your team is receiving a kickoff and it goes for a touchback, your team gets the ball at their own 20-yard-line. Starting field position ... your own 20-yard-line. If your team intercepts a pass and it is returned to the opponents' 34-yard-line, your team's starting field position is the opponents' 34-yard-line (by the way, great starting field position).

With that lesson out of the way, let's get back to the task at hand: The importance of starting field position. To put some numbers to this question, let's look at the first six weeks of the 2013 season. By tracking every starting field position in every possession in the 92 NFL games played to date, we can analyze the importance of where on the field a team starts their offensive possession ... and if they scored.

What did we discover? Here's a breakdown of where (yard-line) the 2,095 offensive possession started and if a team scored on that possession.

Starting field position possessions  Score (FG or TD) percentage
Own 1 to 10 38 scores in 158 possessions 24.1%
Own 11 to 20 92 scores in 344 possessions 26.7%
Own 20 to 29 287 scores in 968 possessions 29.6%
Own 30 to 39 86 scores in 237 possessions 36.3%
Own 40 to 49 62 scores in 157 possessions 39.5%
Midfield to opponents' 40 53 scores in 101 possessions 52.5%
Opponents' 39 or better 112 scores in 130 possessions 86.2%

Reading the above chart we see that a team that started at their own 20 to 29 scored 287 times in 968 possessions, or just under 30 percent of the time. Teams that started at their opponents' 39-yard-line or better scored in 112 of the 130 possessions (an 86.2 percent success rate).

Here's a couple more points of interest:

* Teams that started their possession at their own 19-yard-line or worse scored only 25.9 percent of the time. Teams that started their possession at their own 30-yard-line or better scored on 313 of 625 possessions, 50 percent.

* Teams this year that started every possession at their own 39-yard-line or worse in a game won only seven and lost 18, a .280 winning percentage. Teams this year that started at least two possessions in a game in their opponents' territory have won 51 games and lost only 14, a .785 winning percentage.

Does starting field position matter? You bet. But then you already knew that.