Archive for September, 2006

NFL Playoff Predictions 2006 Week 3

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

Here are the latest playoff odds after week 3. We are still seeing some large swings from week to week.






Doom, Gloom, and NFL Tiebreakers

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

One of the enduring traditions of the NFL is the week 2 ritual in which the media, with a tone containing some mixture of grave solemness and outright glee, pronounce dead, or at least mortally wounded, the playoff chances of various teams that start the season at 0-2. The litany of the 2006 ritual was the frequently mentioned statistic that teams that start the season at 0-2 have qualified for the playoffs only 13% of the time. My playoff forecasting software validates the historical lesson; it predicts that the average chance of making the playoffs for the eleven 0-2 teams is 15%. But not all 0-2 teams are equally doomed. Several 0-2 teams still have decent chances of making the playoffs including 2005 NFC playoff qualifiers Carolina, Washington, and Tampa Bay and AFC contenders Kansas City and Miami. You can look at the week 2 playoff forecasts in the preceeding post to get the specific odds of each team.

 I’m going to devote the rest of this column to the exciting topic of NFL tiebreaker rules. Most fans who have been in a tight playoff race in the last few years are aware of these and may even have a vague notion of the order of the tiebreakers committed to memory. However, I’ve been hanging around fan message boards long enough to see that many devoted and informed fans don’t fully understand them. They come into play more often than one would think and in some cases, you have to go up to six levels deep into the tiebreakers to resolve the tie. I’m going to focus on the aspects of the tiebreaking rules that most often cause confusion. One area that always causes confusion is 3-way ties. Let’s consider a couple hypothetical examples. Example A: The following 3 teams are tied at 10-6 and vying for two open wild card spots:

Denver 10-6 San Diego 10-6Pittsburgh 10-6 To break this 3-way tie, you must first break the tie between Denver and San Diego, since they are in the same division. Always break ties within a division before considering ties outside the division. Let’s assume San Diego wins that tiebreaker. They would then face the Steelers in a 2-way tiebreaker. Now if San Diego wins that tiebreaker, they would become the number 5 seed. Then Pittsburgh and Denver would have to go through a tiebreaking procedure to determine which one would claim the final playoff seed.

Example B: The following teams are tied at 10-6 for and vying for a single wild card spot:

Jacksonville 10-6

Miami 10-6  

 If Miami defeated Jacksonville in a head-to-head match up earlier in the season, do they have an iron-clad tiebreaker advantage over Jacksonville? Not necessarily. If another team is tied with them, say San Diego, and neither team played San Diego, then the head-to-head tie breaker is not applicable. The other tiebreaker that causes confusion is the strength of victory tiebreaker. Some fans mistakenly think that this is the point spread by which you won your games. Instead, it is the WLT percentage of the opponents that you have defeated. It is like strength of schedule, except it only considers the teams you defeated, not the teams you lost to.

My recommendation when it comes to tiebreakers is to use my software to analyze them. That’s how I do it, because it is faster and much less prone to mistakes than figuring them manually. Let’s say you were interested in who would win the Division between the Cowboys and the Redskins and there are 4 weeks left in the NFL season, including one game in which they play each other. You have a particular scenario in which both the Redskins and the Cowboys end up having the same record. Who would make the playoffs? You can analyze this scenario by selecting the winners of each of the seven games of interest by moving the sliders in the “Advanced Analysis” tab all the way toward each of the projected winners. Then click “Forecast Remainder of Season”. The software will determine the winner of the tiebreaker for that scenario. If the odds of one of the teams winning is less than 100%, that means that the tiebreaker is at the strength-of-victory or strength-of-schedule level and the final resolution depends on some unplayed games not involving these two teams. Next week, I’ll tell you a secret about the tiebreakers (they don’t work) and the surprising implications regarding the relative importance of various games on each team’s schedule.


NFL Playoff Predictions Week 2 2006

Tuesday, September 19th, 2006

These playoff predictions are still based on the preseason power ratings. We are still at least two weeks away from being able to have reliable power ratings based on games actually played. Don’t read too much into these yet.

 Column to appear later in the week.






A week 1 loss isn’t that bad, is it?

Friday, September 15th, 2006

So week 1 of the 2006 NFL season is but a distant memory. Most fans have shifted their attention to week 2. Most fans don’t include Chiefs fans (like me) who are still wondering when the NFL changed the rule to make it okay to lower your shoulder into a sliding QB and get up and celebrate afterwards. Before we leave week 1, let’s look at the playoff implications of the outcome of week 1 games. They are larger than you might think.

First, consider that 9-7 probably leaves you sitting at home. So a week one loss means that you are one-seventh of the way to being eliminated from the playoffs. The average chance of making the playoffs for each team at the beginning of the season is 6/16 or 37.5% . If you are one-seventh of the way to driving those odds to zero, you can figure that a week one loss dropped your team’s odds of making the playoffs by 5%. That is a pretty significant drop in odds, but for most teams, the loss was even more costly than that, because in the NFL, nothing is average.

In the table below, I’ve calculated the difference in week 1 and preseason playoff odds for all 16 losing teams. In the first column, I’ve listed their drop in odds in absolute percentage points. In the second column, I’ve listed the percentage of their initial chances that have been “lost”. For example, I predicted in preseason that the Titan’s odds of making the playoffs were 6.88%; after their week 1 loss to the Jets, they have dropped to 1.98%. So in absolute percentage points, their odds have dropped by 4.9%. The have also lost (6.88-1.98)/6.88 = 71% of their initial chances of making the playoffs by virtue of their week one loss. Their season is practically over.

Carolina          -15.9    -24.2
Washington      -11.4    -23.3
Kansas City     -11.2    -22.2
Denver             -8.9      -14.3
Tampa Bay      -8.8      -26.1
Detroit             -8.4      -42.4
Miami              -8.2      -16.7
Green Bay       -7.9      -43.2
Cleveland        -7.7      -44.4
NYG                -6.9      -17.3
Buffalo            -5.8      -41.9
Tennessee        -4.9      -71.2
Dallas              -4.9      -9.5
Oakland           -4.8      -43.0
Houston           -3.2      -40.8
San Francisco  -3.1      -48.4

How could one loss cause so much carnage? Let’s look take the Titans again as an example, since it is pretty unlikely that we will get too many more chances to talk about them again this season. According to the Vegas odds makers, the “average” Titans’ season was projected at 5 wins. In order to make the playoffs, they would need a season much better than average, and even then, the best chance of making the playoffs was to sneak in at 9-7. Now also consider that the Titans were favored on Sunday. My software predicted that they had a 59% chance of beating the Jets at home. By losing, the average predicted wins of the season drops from around 5 to 4.4, and most of those 9-7 seasons in which they barely qualified are now 8-8 seasons with them sitting at home. Add in the fact that the Colts and Jags won their games, and that another wild card contender won (either the Steelers or the Bengals) and it’s not difficult to see how the Titans are on the verge of mathematical elimination after week 1.

For every loser, there is a winner. Here is the same list for the winners.

Atlanta             16.4     21.3
Minnesota        12.4     10.6
Chicago           11.2     21.3
San Diego        11.0     33.7
Cincinnati        10.3     12.3
Philadelphia    7.8       22.2
New England   6.7       9.7
Indianapolis    6.3       8.2
Seattle             6.3       7.7
Pittsburgh        6.2       9.7
Baltimore        5.9       20.6
Jacksonville    5.6       22.3
New Orleans   5.3       31.4
St. Louis          4.5       18.3
Arizona           3.3       34.7
NYJ                 2.6       44.7

Some caveats are in order. It is absolutely ridiculous to be doing playoff predictions based on the outcome of one game. This is the first year that I’ve done predictions this early; I normally wait until four to six games have been played to get a better idea of how good the teams really are. I’m also well aware that football is played on a field, not a computer, so the Titans and every other NFL team still control their own destiny. However, this little study emphasizes one of the key attractions of the NFL:  every game matters. And if every game matters, then the entire season could be hinging on any given snap of the ball. Just ask a Chiefs fan.

NFL Playoff Predictions 2006 Week 1

Tuesday, September 12th, 2006

Check this blog for the most current playoff predictions and a weekly analysis column. I’ll normally try to get the new predictions up by Tuesday. The analysis column will appear later in the week. This week’s topic “A week one loss isn’t that bad, is it?”

Feel free to leave feedback, questions, or ideas for future columns. Or if you’d like to contribute a column about the playoff race for your favorite team, let me know. Finally, if you aren’t running the software yourself, doing some detailed analysis for your own team, your missing 80% of the fun.

For the next several weeks, the predictions will be based on the pre-season power ratings. Somewhere between week 4 and week 6 I’ll switch over to power ratings caluclated from the actual outcomes of games. 

Without further ado, this week’s predictions:





Pre-Preseason 2006 NFL Playoff Predictions

Tuesday, September 12th, 2006

This article was origially posted on the main site on July 24. I’m going to keep an archive of all the predictions in this blog.

The preseason predictions are made exactly like the regular season predictions, except the power rating are calculated from published over/under betting lines for regular season wins, instead of the outcomes of actual games. I don’t consider these to be nearly as reliable as predictions made after week 6 of the NFL season, because frankly, no one knows how good the various teams will be until a few games have been played. With that said, here is how the various divisions break down:

Predicted 2006 Division Finishes


Predicted 2006 Playoff Seedings