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Porsches and Prognostications: Understanding Pace in the CFL
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If you had the choice to drive a Porsche or a Yugo, which would you take? The Porsche is obviously a lot faster than the Yugo that might struggle to break 35. GIVE ME THE SPORTS CAR! What if though, the road the Porsche has to take has a 30 MPH speed limit, but the Yugo is allowed on a freeway that will let you go 70? The fenders may well shake loose into the ditch at that speed, but we’d all rather get to our destination at 70 MPH than 30, unless our pride gets in the way. Don’t let your pride lead to poor decisions.

In the world of football “pace” is the essentially the expected speed of the game. Some Porsche-like offences may want to run fast, but their pace is governed by the defence they’re facing to some extent. Similarly, there may be some real slow and clunky Yugos in the CFL, but given the right opportunity by a defence, they can produce at a much higher than usual rate because of their matchup.

About a month ago, our own Mike Leone wrote a brilliant piece on understanding pace and its effects on projecting future production. If you haven’t got your Premium NFL subscription yet, you’re missing out on some exceptional data and information. Pace is essentially just another shorter way to say “offensive plays run per game”. Given that more plays per game means more opportunities for fantasy points to be scored, a higher pace in an offence is a good thing to look for, especially in PPR scoring systems like on DraftKings.

dr_300x250_nflTo this point, the top paced offence in the CFL is the RedBlacks at 68.8 plays per game. On the other end of the spectrum are the Alouettes at 62.8 plays per game. This may not be the difference between the tortoise and the hare at only six plays per game, but a 9% difference in offensive opportunities is statistically significant.

The tricky thing is, that an offence doesn’t just get to go out and run as many plays as they’d like. The opposing defence and their strengths and style have a lot to do with a game’s pace as well. Take for example the BC Lions defence which allows only 61.4 plays per game. That’s more than four plays fewer per game than the league average which currently sits at 65.8. In contrast to that, somewhat surprisingly, is the Calgary Stampeders defence which allows a league high 69.5 plays per game.

In Mike’s article, he promoted using an odds ratio method to project pace (multiplying the team’s plays per game by each other and then dividing by the league average plays run per game). I won’t go into the reasons why, as Mike’s article gives a fuller explanation, but suffice it to say that the odds ratio method gives significantly better projections than just averaging out a team’s average plays per game with their opposition’s defensive plays per game. With a little bit of work and a lot of Excel, I’ve put together a sheet that we’ll have available weekly for you alongside the Target Efficiency Score receiving sheet each week.

To give you an example of what this might look like, here’s the pace numbers for week 14 of the CFL schedule:

Team Offensive Pace Opposition Defence Pace Expected Pace Pace Differential League Average Plays per Game
Ottawa 68.8 63.4 66.3 -2.5 65.8
Edmonton 68.3 61.4 63.7 -4.7
Winnipeg 67.3 69.5 71.1 +3.7
B.C. 66.4 65.9 66.4 +0.1
Calgary 65.8 67.8 67.7 +1.9
Saskatchewan 65.2 65 64.3 -0.8
Toronto 64.8 66.7 65.7 +0.9
Hamilton 63.2 64.8 62.2 -1.0
Montreal 62.8 N/A N/A N/A


You can see that there are a few matchups to take note of immediately. Edmonton runs the second highest paced offence in the league but face a B.C. team this week that allows the fewest plays per game against. Given the tough matchup, and the slower expected pace, you should expect scoring from Edmonton skill positions to be down this week from where they might normally be. On the other hand you have Winnipeg that runs a fairly high paced offence, and faces a Calgary defence that gives up the most plays against per game in the league. It’s true that Calgary is a very tough matchup, but the expected pace would indicate that Winnipeg will at least get a few more cracks at scoring than they would on a usual week. With the high number of targets that Weston Dressler usually receives, you may want to bump your expectations for him up that much higher.

Pace might not be the biggest determining factor to take into account when constructing your rosters each week, but it’s certainly a helpful tool for determining opportunity. When it comes to receivers especially, opportunity is very closely correlated with scoring. Keep your eyes out in the forum every week for the Target Efficiency Score sheet, the Expected Pace sheet, and lots more discussion as we work into the final third of the CFL season.