Thursday, September 25, 2014

NFL Week 3 Playoff Picture


Week 4 in the NFL is when the first bye week occurs, so the standings will be a little uneven for the next couple of months. Before that happens, I want to list the records of the teams after three games to see just how much these first three weeks will be reflected in the final standings. Obviously with 13 games left, there's a lot that's gonna change, but it is interesting to see just how much. I'll update this when the bye weeks end after week 12. Still, I think it is likely that both Super Bowl teams will come from those in the playoffs so far. (Update: they did not, with New England winning over Seattle).

AFC

Cin 3-0
Den 2-1
Hou 2-1
Buf 2-1
SD  2-1
Bal 2-1
--------
Pit 2-1
NE  2-1
Ind 1-2 
Ten 1-2
KC  1-2
Mia 1-2
NYJ 1-2
Cle 1-2
Oak 0-3
Jax 0-3

NFC

Ari 3-0
Phi 3-0
Car 2-1
Det 2-1
Sea 2-1
Chi 2-1
--------
Atl 2-1
Dal 2-1
NO  1-2
Min 1-2
SF  1-2
Stl 1-2
NYG 1-2
GB  1-2
Was 1-2
TB  0-3


There is so much parity in the league this season, only three teams are 3-0, three are 0-3, while 13 are 2-1 and 13 are 1-2.

I realize this is a pretty stupid thing to do, but it is not the stupidest thing in terms of using NFL records to predict the future. After Indianapolis started 0-2, many media outlets brought forth the fact that only 12% of teams that start 0-2 make the playoffs, implying that Indianapolis has the same chance. This is terrible statistical reasoning. What has happened in the past is not a reflection of what the Colts (or any other 0-2 team) face in getting to the playoffs this season, since they have a unique set of personnel and a unique schedule. By the specious logic put forth, the Colts and Jaguars had the same 12% chance of making the playoffs since both started 0-2.

Over the past few years, as numerical studies have taken over the sporting scene, more and more media without the simplest understanding of statistics are publishing these stupid statements as if they are meaningful. Comparing what happened in the past to a completely different entity (or collection of related entities) is mostly useless in forecasting the future. Five Thirty Eight runs weekly studies on playoff chances that are much more informed. Both Buffalo and New England are 2-1 (and the Bills hold the tiebreaker with a 1-0 division record right now) but the Patriots are more than twice as likely to make the playoffs. Generating such detailed studies takes a bit of time, so expect more simpleminded and meaningless reports from the rest of the media who can't be bothered to be accurate.

Best,

Sean

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