Sunday, September 15, 2013

NFL Playoff Odds

This is a page you will want to refer to often--it shows the chances teams will make the NFL playoffs given their record. This is the chart, with explanation to follow:

All data are from regular season games since 1978, the first year of the 16-game season. It does NOT include data from the strike-shortened 1982 and 1987 seasons. In addition, any records that included ties (i.e, a 4-2-1) was NOT included.

Game 2 data illustrates this chart:  
--Since 1978, teams started the season 2-0 262 times and made the playoffs 167 times, or 63.7%
--Another 459 teams started 1-1 of which 179 (39.0%) made the playoffs
--264 teams that started 0-2, of which only 28 made the playoffs (10.6%). 

How can losing two games at the beginning of the season have such a tremendous impact?
1. In a 16-game season, EVERY game counts toward making the post season. In the modern era of 6 playoff teams per conference, the common assumption is that 10 wins is enough to get in. This shows the 10-6 record breakdown by number of playoff teams:
5 teams (1978-1989)  26-36 (74.4%)
6 teams (1990-         )  68-76 (89.5%)
There's a gremlin in the data somewhere but doesn't change the overall data--winning 10 games is USUALLY enough (unless it's the 2012 Bears). It's hard enough to win 10 games over a 16-game span--it's even harder over a 14-game span after starting the year 0-2.
2. Sometimes, 0-2 teams are just 1-15 teams caught at the beginning of the season. This shows the breakdown of total wins for teams that began 0-2:

The 12-win teams were the 1993 Cowboys, who started the year without Emmitt Smith over a contract dispute and the 1998 Jets. Both the Cowboys and Smith were hurt tremendously by Smith's holdout--the Cowboys went on to win the Super Bowl and Smith led the NFL in rushing with 1,486 yards.

Every game counts in the NFL--this chart shows simply and persuasively why. No season is over after two games, but very informative inferences can be made.

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