NFL (0-4 teams) vs Alabama (09/30/13)

John Ewing, Director of Research and Analytics, @johnewing
Can Alabama beat an NFL team? We simulated No. 1 Alabama vs. the 0-4 NFL teams to find out. Plus, can an expansion team actually get worse then when they came into the league? The 1995 Jaguars vs. the 2013 Jaguars.


 
Last year South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier claimed that Alabama could beat some NFL teams and would even be favored in some matchups. This of course sparked a debate that we settled by simulating the Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Alabama.

Last weekend Alabama easily dispatched another ranked opponent and the Jaguars lost by more than three touchdowns for the third time this season. With Alabama gunning for a three-peat and Jacksonville “playing dead for Ted” we thought we would run this simulation back, except we will simulate the Crimson Tide against every winless team in the NFL.
 
Alabama: Do they have enough talent to win?
Since the start of the 2011 college football season, Alabama has been at the top of our College Football Power Rankings every single week.
 
Since 2008, Alabama has had 33 players selected in the NFL Draft. Of those 33 players, 14 have been first round draft picks. In last year’s draft, nine players from Alabama were selected, the most from the school since 1945.
 
On this year’s squad, eight players rank in the top 200 of the 2014 NFL Draft Prospects (per CBS Sports). This includes three projected first round picks in Cyrus Kouandjio (OT), C.J. Mosley (OLB), and Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix (FS). Plus, two of Alabama’s most exciting prospects are true sophomores T.J. Yeldon (RB) and Amari Cooper (WR) who are not avaiable for next year's draft.

Of course the talent is there but how does it stack up against NFL teams?
 
Alabama vs. the NFL (0-4 teams)
We simulated each matchup on a neutral field, with the assumption that each team had equal time to prepare and that games were played under NFL rules. 

Winning Team Win Percentage Score
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 95.8% 37-10
Pittsburgh Steelers 95.7% 40-12
New York Giants 95.4% 39-12
Jacksonville Jaguars 91.4% 32-13

Alabama loses and it is not really close. Each of the four winless NFL teams would be more than 90% likely to win and, on average, defeat Alabama by more than three touchdowns.
 
For context, the most likely straight-up victory of the NFL season thus far came in the Jacksonville @ Seattle game, where the Seahawks were 95.0% likely to win over the Jaguars. Jacksonville @ Denver will likely top that number in two weeks. So Alabama, or any college team, against even the worst NFL teams is like watching the Jaguars play the Seahawks or Broncos. There isn’t a lot to say except that you are going to start every Seahawks/Broncos player in fantasy.


 
Can an NFL expansion team get worse than when it came into the league?
 
In 1995, the Jacksonville Jaguars (and Carolina Panthers) entered the NFL as the first expansion teams in 20 years. The Jaguars finished the inaugural season with a 4-12 record, which broke the previous record for wins by an expansion team (3) set by the Bengals in 1968 (the Panthers won 7 games that season). The 1995 team featured a number of key players that would lead the Jaguars to the playoffs in future seasons (yes, they actually use to make the postseason) including Mark Brunell (QB), Tony Boselli (OL) and Jimmy Smith (WR). This core group helped the Jaguars make the playoffs from 1996-1999, which included two AFC Central crowns. Since then, the Jaguars have only had three winning season and two playoff appearances.
 
There are a number of reasons for the Jaguars incompetence over the last decade involving bad trades, bad signings and bad ideas. Bill Barnwell does a great job chronicling the Jaguars’ long fall. All of this of course leads to the question: Can an NFL expansion team actually get worse after its first season?
 
We wanted to know, so we simulated the 1995 Jacksonville Jaguars against the current iteration.
 
The 1995 Jaguars win 64.6% of the time by an average score of 19-14.
 
Yes, the 2013 Jaguars are worse than the expansion team in 1995.
 
Some notes from our NFL Draft Expert Matt Richner:
 
The 1995 team finished the season ranked 27th in passing offense averaging 174 passing yards per game. The 2013 team is currently ranked 30th, and averaging 175 passing yards a game. For comparison, in 1995 only 16 quarterbacks threw for more than 3,000 yards, only four broke 4,000 yards. Last year, 24 quarterbacks topped 3,000 yards passing and 11 threw for more than 4,000 yards.
 
The 1995 expansion franchise had success running the football finishing 17th in the NFL with an average of 106 YPG. The current Jacksonville squad is averaging a dismal 49 rushing yards per game. They currently have more fumbles (3) than rushing touchdowns (2).
 
The current Jacksonville team has a way to go before they even become competitive in the NFL. The selection of Luke Joeckel (LT) will pay dividends in the future. He has had a rough go of it so far this season giving up three sacks, seven quarterback hits, and penalized two times. He has shown some glimpses of being a solid offensive tackle that over time should progress into a dominant left tackle. Second round selection Jonathan Cyprien, is a decent free safety that has the speed and coverage ability to make plays on the back end. He is deficient in his run support and has missed a few tackles so far this season. 
 
The back end of the draft is where the Jaguars need to improve the most. They will need to be able to find some quality, competitive starters in the later rounds if they hope to dig themselves out of this hole. A coaching staff can only do so much and the lack of talent on the current Jaguars team is evident. The first order of business in the off-season will be to find a franchise quarterback, play dead for Ted.

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