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Toxic Differential says Bears will miss the playoffs

I feel like I watch my fair share of the NFL Network, but somehow I've managed to miss Brian Billick and Jim Mora talking about Toxic Differential. I stumbled across the following article on by Elliot Harrison, Who is playoff-bound? 'Toxic differential' tells tale, and was glued to my computer screen. I'm a fan of the 'think outside the box' type statistical analysis and found this one to be really eye opening. After the jump I'll get more into this measurement for success, but here's how Harrison described the formula;

It's the measure of how many big plays (20-plus yards) teams create minus how many they give up. It also includes turnovers forced versus those given up. Basically, it's a risk-reward stat. And it's become quite the prognosticator of what is and isn't playoff football.

Billick is known league wide as kind of geeky when it comes to his stats, if there were a football sabermetrics seminar, Billick would be front row center. He started looking at different ways to gauge his teams success and coined the phrase 'Toxic Differential' back in 1998 while on staff in Minnesota. Mora used a similar system for his teams, and asked them to get the 'double positive'.

What ever you call it, it's quite effective it determining playoff teams.

When a team is on the right side of the toxic differential, let the good times roll. Last year, eight of the top 10 teams in this quirky but damn accurate category made the playoffs. That's pretty solid. The 11th team, the Jets, made it as well. In 2008, every team in the top 10 made the playoffs. Every... last... one.

The Bears have the right philosophy offensively and defensively to have a favorable ranking. Offensively they have a stretch the field offense with speed in key places and on defense their bend but don't break style is all predicated on keeping the play in front of you and eliminating the big gainer.

The article lists the top 10 in Toxic Differential for this season (as seen at the bottom of this post), and the Bears are nowhere to be found. They are a +3 in turnover differential, which is good for 11th in the league. But it's the big play differential that dooms them.

Offensively they have 31 pass plays over 20 yards good for a 27th place tie, and in the run game they've racked up 7 plays over 20 yards. Hardly what you would call a big play offense. Compare that to the #1 Chargers and their 56 big pass plays and the Giants and their 18 big run plays.

Defensively they rank a bit better. In the passing game they rank 9th, with just 33 twenty yard plus plays against them. But vs. the the run, they've allowed 12 such plays, good for only 26th. In rushing yards allowed the Bears do rank 2nd behind the Steelers, but Pittsburgh has had only had 1 run play against them over 20 yards. That's crazy good.

So if my math is correct, offensively they have made 38 big plays and defensively they have allowed 45 big plays, for a -7. Add in the +3 for turnover differential and we're looking at a not so good -4. Now I realize the Bears have four more games to improve on this number, and with the offense seemingly improving I suppose anythings possible... but so far, so not so good.

Then consider that three of the remaining four teams the Bears play are on the list below, and even more playoff doubt creeps in. I guess there's always the Troy Aikman Efficiency Ratings to go by. Through week 12 the Bears D ranks a solid #2 behind the Steelers. But Wait... their offense is a mere 29th... Oh well, stats are stupid anyway. Bear Down and Go Bears!!!

Highest toxic differential this season


Turnover diff.

Big-play diff.

Toxic diff.


1. Steelers





2. Eagles





3. Bolts





4. Giants





5. Bucs





6. Packers





6. Patriots





8. Falcons





9. Chiefs





10. Jets