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    Realistic NFL Standings (8/22/13)

    from Paul Bessire, General Manager, PredictionMachine.com
    By Paul Bessire
    Peruse our projected 2013 NFL Standings and it is incredibly clear, the NFL is filled with parity. No team wins more than 11 games or fewer than 5 games on average. In reality, the final standings are likely to have a few better teams and a few worse teams than that; it's just difficult to figure out exactly which teams are which (expressly because of the parity and randomness). 

    We use average results from 50,000 simulations to set appropriate expectations. For instance, the Pittsburgh Steelers may be favored in 12 games this year, but they play so many 50/50 games, that a reasonable expectations is that they will ultimately lose a few of those games. Hence, our official projection for the Steelers is that they will win 8.3 games (on average) and make the postseason 35.8% of the time. This is the appropriate way to handle much of what this site is about as it relates to wagering and putting things into context. However, because the Steelers are favored in more games than they win, it can be assumed (rightfully so according to the results of the actual 50,000 simulations), that Pittsburgh wins 12 games in a season far more than it wins four. There are just a lot of 7-9 and 8-8 seasons in there that bring the average down - due to the parity on the schedule. 

    We have long discussed featuring "realistic" standings as a glimpse into what the NFL could look like this season, but never had the proper framework for such an exercise until I was recently contacted by a friend from the Elias Sports Bureau who had some interesting data to set rules for what that would mean. 

    From Elias, first note that, over the last ten seasons, just less than half of the teams from one postseason have made the next year's playoffs. Also, the average change in wins from one season to the next for an NFL team since the start of the 2002 season is a full THREE wins (whether more or less). In fact, the typical distribution of year-over-year win changes for NFL teams in the last ten years tends to look like this:

    1 team - 7 more wins than the previous season
    1 team - 6 more wins
    2 teams - 5 more wins
    2 teams - 4 more wins
    3 teams - 3 more wins
    3 teams - 2 more wins
    3 teams - 1 more win
     
    1 team - 7 less wins than the previous season
    1 team - 6 less wins
    2 teams - 5 less wins
    2 teams - 4 less wins
    3 teams - 3 less wins
    3 teams - 2 less wins
    3 teams - 1 less win
     
    2 teams - same number of wins

    Using that distribution, we could force rules into our analysis and actually start to build a "most likely" realistic standings that fits this this general model. Here are those standings:

    Most Likely "Realistic" 2013 NFL Standings

    Rank Team Proj. Wins Proj. Losses Win Change
    1 San Francisco 49ers 14 2 +3
    2 Green Bay Packers 13 3 +2
    3 New England Patriots 13 3 +1
    4 Carolina Panthers 12 4 +5
    5 Pittsburgh Steelers 12 4 +4
    6 St. Louis Rams 11 5 +4
    7 Denver Broncos 11 5 -2
    8 Detroit Lions 10 6 +6
    9 New Orleans Saints 10 6 +3
    10 New York Giants 10 6 +1
    11 Cincinnati Bengals 10 6 EVEN
    12 Chicago Bears 10 6 EVEN
    13 Miami Dolphins 9 7 +2
    14 Philadelphia Eagles 9 7 +5
    15 Kansas City Chiefs 9 7 +7
    16 Houston Texans 9 7 -3
    17 Baltimore Ravens 8 8 -2
    18 Seattle Seahawks 8 8 -3
    19 Atlanta Falcons 8 8 -5
    20 Cleveland Browns 7 9 +2
    21 New York Jets 7 9 +1
    22 Dallas Cowboys 6 10 -2
    23 Jacksonville Jaguars 5 11 +3
    24 Buffalo Bills 5 11 -1
    25 Washington Redskins 5 11 -5
    26 Indianapolis Colts 5 11 -6
    27 Arizona Cardinals 4 12 -1
    28 San Diego Chargers 4 12 -3
    29 Oakland Raiders 3 13 -1
    30 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3 13 -4
    31 Minnesota Vikings 3 13 -7
    32 Tennessee Titans 2 14 -4

    Some interesting notes from this project:
    • NFC Playoff Teams: 1) 49ers 2) Packers 3) PANTHERS 4) GIANTS 5) RAMS 6) SAINTS
    • AFC Playoff Teams: 1) Patriots 2) STEELERS 3) Broncos 4) Texans 5) Bengals 6) DOLPHINS
    • Though we only used the win change distribution rules to calculate standings, we still ended up with six new (capitalized above) playoff teams for 2013 that were not in the 2012 postseason. 
    • Not too surprisingly, the teams that were the most surprisingly good in their (fluky) 2012 seasons - Minnesota and Indianapolis - take the biggest steps back.
    • Meanwhile, the most surprisingly bad teams from 2012 (also likely flukes in the opposite direction) - Detroit, Kansas City and Philadelphia - take the biggest steps forward.
    • Predictalator favorites Carolina, St. Louis and Miami all make the playoffs.
    • Otherwise, we tend to see that elite teams win a few more games than last year (and our official projection) and terrible teams regress relative to 2012 (and our official projections). 
    • This is not the more appropriate approach to making wagering decisions on team over/under season win totals because it does not account for variance or odds as our official analysis does, but it is still pretty interesting to see a version of 2013 NFL that looks different than most predictions, yet follows the same pattern we have seen in the league for a decade. 
    Thanks again to Elias with the help on this endeavor. 

    As usual, if you have any of your own comments about this article or suggestions about how to improve the site, please do not hesitate to contact us at any time. We respond to every support contact as quickly as we can (usually within a few hours) and are very amenable to suggestions. I firmly believe that open communication with our customers and user feedback is the best way for us to grow and provide the types of products that will maximize the experience for all. Thank you in advance for your suggestions, comments and questions.
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