Maybe The Raiders Really Are Getting Hosed

Compiled and analyzed by our long time friend, the Wolfman

A statistical evaluation of Oakland Raider penalties over the past nine seasons of play (2003 to 2011) reveals evidence that Raider teams are indeed over penalized. During this time period the Raiders have finished 27th or worse in the 32 team National Football League in average penalties per game a staggering eight times. In fact, the Raiders have led the league in average penalties against four times during this time period.

During this time period Oakland has had multiple coaches and personnel, each with different standards of discipline. However, despite this, the penalty numbers do not deviate from season to season. One might argue that during this time period the Raiders were a horrible team, and horrible teams make penalties. I will not dispute this fact; however, when compared with a similar horrible team over nine years, which also had multiple coaches and horrible records, one will see plenty of variation in the amount of penalties per game (see Exhibit 1). Therefore, it is hard to argue that instability alone is the cause of excessive penalties.

Exhibit 1: Avg. Oakland Raider penalties per game compared to Avg. Cleveland Brown penalties per game, 2003 to 2011

Let us also take a look at the penalty differentials, which is calculated as the number of penalties called against a team minus the number of penalties called against their opponent. For example if the Ravens were playing the Redskins and had 9 penalties called against them and 6 penalties were called against the Redskins, the Ravens would be left with a penalty differential of 3, as in 3 more penalties were called against them. (The Redskins would therefore have a differential of -3, meaning 3 less penalties were called against them – negative numbers are therefore good to have).

As you can see, the Raiders have never had a season in which they have had enjoyed an advantage in penalties. From 2003 to 2011, in fact, they have had on average 1.9 more calls against them than their opponents (see Exhibit 2). Also, they are the only team in the entire NFL that has not enjoyed an advantage in penalties at least one year during this time span. Every other team has, for at least one year, had a positive advantage in penalties (although Dallas, Tampa Bay, and Tennessee, have each only had one advantageous season during this time span).

Exhibit 2: Oakland Raiders (Avg. Penalties per Game – Avg. Penalties against Opponents per Game), 2003 to 2011

The average penalty differential for the entire league should equal out to 0, as every penalty called during a game should cancel each other out – one for a team, one against a team. Due to some rounding, the data shows the average differential to be .011 with a standard deviation of .592. Thirty of the 32 NFL teams, 93%, have average differentials that fall between -1 and 1, leaving two teams outside these parameters – the Raiders, with an average of 1.9 more penalties per game called against them, and the Falcons, with an average of 1.3 penalties per game called in their favor. However, only the Raiders fall an entire three standard deviations from the mean (see Exhibit 3). Clearly this is an egregious outlier where most of the other data seems to be fairly standard.

Exhibit 3: Normal Distribution, Average Penalties per Team – Average Penalties against Opponent, 2003 to 2011

Looking at the bottom ten teams, clearly Dallas, Tampa Bay, and Tennessee fans can have clear gripes with their teams being overpenalized, however, none stands in the shadow of the Oakland Raiders, which have more than double the disadvantage of the nearest team to them in the list (see Exhibit 4). Not surprising, NFL sweethearts during this time period, New England, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh all have favorable penalty differentials (see Exhibit 5).

Exhibit 4: Ten Teams with the most Unfavorable Penalty Differentials, 2003 to 2011, (Average Penalties per Game – Average Penalties Called Against Opponent)
Exhibit 5: Ten Teams with the most Favorable Penalty Differntials, 2003 to 2011, (Average Penalties per Game – Average Penalties Called Against Opponent)

While the numbers do suggest, that yes, the Oakland Raiders are without a doubt over penalized when compared to the rest of the league – what is not known is why? Perhaps the historical tyranny of Raiders teams of yore inspires officials to throw the flag more often when they see the silver and black. I have also heard theories that teams with black uniforms in general incur more penalties than teams with other more sympathetic colors – although that does not seem to be the case with the San Antonio Spurs.

(Side note: Another interesting study would be to compare Raiders games where they wear white, compared to games where they wear black.)

Whatever the reason, the NFL owes the Raiders some penalties back. And now that they have – another – new head coach, I fully expect the NFL to pay its dues. Look for the Raiders to have their first season with an advantage in penalties. After nine seasons, they are certainly due.

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