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Winning in the NFL is a matter of brains over brawn. It’s one of the eternal lessons we find every year when we look at the Cold, Hard Football Facts Intelligence Index.

Smart, well-coached teams win games and dumb, poorly coached teams lose games. The 2016 season was no exception.

The AFC champion and Super Bowl favorite New England Patriots finished No. 1 on the Cold, Hard Football Facts Intelligence Index (complete list and rankings below). The NFC champion and Super Bowl underdog Atlanta Falcons finished No. 4 on the Cold, Hard Football Facts Intelligence Index.

In fact, the top two seeds in each conference dominated the Intelligence Index in 2016 with almost clockwork precision.

  • AFC No. 1 seed New England finished No. 1 on the indicator and AFC No. 2 seed Kansas City finished No. 2 on the indicator.
  • NFC No. 1 seed Dallas finished No. 3 on the indicator and NFC No. 2 seed Atlanta finished No. 4 on the indicator.

The Intelligence Index is based upon proficiency in two Cold, Hard Football Facts Quality Stats: Bendability, our measure of defensive efficiency, and Scoreability, our measure of scoring efficiency. Smart, well coached teams are proficient in all phases of the game, as reflected by these two indicators. The Intelligence Index is simply determined by the difference between the two stats, Bendability (which should be a high number) and Scoreability (which should be a low number). 

Bendability - Scoreability = Intelligence

Defensively, smart, efficient teams make opponents work hard to score points. The Patriots finished No 1 in 2016 in Bendability, the league's most efficient "bend-but-don't" break defense; the one which made opponents work the hardest to score points. Atlanta finished No. 22 in Bendability, another sign that its defense is the statistical weak link in Super Bowl LI.

Offensively, smart, efficient teams translate yards into points with minimum waste. The Falcons finished No. 1 in 2016 in Scoreabilty; not only the league's No. 1 scoring offense but also the one which scored points most efficiently. The Patriots finished No. 4 in Scoreability. 

Many, many factors go into the ranking of each indicator: special teams proficiency, field position, third- and fourth-down success, red zone success, penalties, turnover differential and execution in all phases of the game. 

Bendability and Scorebility are team-wide indicators. Each unit, offense, defense and special teams, has an impact on every other unit and on proficiency in these numbers.  

At the end of the day, smart teams are well-coached teams that play well in situational football and take advantage of opportunities presented to them; dumb teams are poorly coached teams that struggle in situational football and blow opportunities presented to them. 

Smart teams not only win –- they consistently win money for those smart enough to bet on them.

The top four teams on the Intelligence Index combined to go 50-14 (.781) overall and an incredible 42-21-1 (.667) against the spread. That incredible performance ATS by this intellectual heavyweights was powered by New England’s historic 13-3 record ATS (15-3 including the playoffs). 

The four dumbest teams in football were the Browns, Rams, Jets and Bears. These mental midgets combined to go 13-51 (.203) overall and a dismal 21-39-4 (.350) ATS. 

2016 Cold, Hard Football Facts Intelligence Index

RANK

TEAM

BEND

SCORE

INTELLIGENCE

1

New England

20.9

14.02

+6.88

2

Kansas City

18.96

14.11

+4.85

3

Dallas

17.98

14.32

+3.66

4

Atlanta

14.63

12.32

+2.31

5

N.Y. Giants

19.14

17.07

+2.07

6

Philadelphia

16.57

14.71

+1.86

7

Pittsburgh

16.76

14.94

+1.82

8

Denver

17.03

15.52

+1.51

9

Miami

16.12

14.67

+1.45

10

Indianapolis

15.63

14.19

+1.44

11

Green Bay

15.01

13.66

+1.35

12

Seattle

17.46

16.14

+1.32

13

Oakland

15.59

14.35

+1.24

14

Minnesota

16.41

15.42

+0.99

15

Buffalo

15.11

14.2

+0.91

16

Tampa Bay

15.95

15.66

+0.29

17

Cincinnati

17.82

17.57

+0.25

18

Detroit

15.87

15.67

+0.2

19

Tennessee

15.13

15.03

+0.1

20

Baltimore

16.06

16.22

-0.16

21

Washington

15.78

16.31

-0.53

22

Arizona

13.49

14.04

-0.55

23

Carolina

14.32

14.9

-0.58

24

San Diego

13.13

13.93

-0.8

25

New Orleans

13.23

14.53

-1.3

26

San Francisco

13.54

15.95

-2.41

27

Houston

14.7

18.05

-3.35

28

Jacksonville

12.87

16.85

-3.98

29

Cleveland

13.89

18.85

-4.96

30

Los Angeles

13.69

18.76

-5.07

31

N.Y. Jets

13.4

19.16

-5.76

32

Chicago

13.9

20.44

-6.54