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Projecting NFL Playoff Teams: What The Numbers Say

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Just four games into the 2010 season, every team already had at least one loss, the first time that has happened since 1970. Not only that, but the best point differential after six weeks is held by the Titans at +64, followed by the Jets (+58) and the Steelers (+54). The NFC is lead by the Eagles with +33, which is only good enough for 6th in the league. To put that in perspective, in the eight seasons since divisional realignment in 2002, 34 NFC teams had a point differential of +33 or higher after week 6. The Titans' +64 was exceeded by 19 teams during the same timespan and is the second lowest point differential to lead the league in those 8 seasons.

After six weeks there are 21 teams with a .500 or better record, and thirteen teams currently have at least a share of first place in their respective divisions - both NFL records. Mathematically, no team has been eliminated from playoff contention yet, although some teams may find it harder to make the playoffs than others.

At the same time, it's harder than ever before to predict who the playoff contenders will be this year. There are no dominant, take-it-to-the-bank teams this year. But it's Saturday and I'm bored waiting for the NFL games. So here's where I'll take a stab at predicting who'll make the playoffs.

Projecting 2010 season wins

Today, we'll use the Pythagorean Formula (detailed explanation here) to project how many wins we can expect for each NFL team this season based on the results after the first six weeks.

The Cowboys pythagorean projection has been hovering between 7 and 8 for three games now (g1: 3.0, g2: 4.5, g3: 8.2, g4: 7.3, g5: 7.2) and it will take a bunch of wins to move that figure closer to playoff contention. Even in the unlikely scenario of a win by two TDs against the Giants, the projected wins would move to only slightly above eight. Here's how the other teams rank:

Pythagorean Projected Wins by NFL team, week 6, 2010 (click column header to sort)

Team Won
Lost Points Scored Points Allowed Projected Wins
PIT 4 1 114 60 13.1
TEN 4 2 162 98 12.2
NYJ 5 1 159 101 11.9
NE 4 1 154 116 10.5
IND 4 2 163 125 10.4
ATL 4 2 130 101 10.3
PHI 4 2 153 120 10.2
SD 2 4 157 126 10.0
GB 3 3 139 112 10.0
NO 4 2 130 108 9.7
BAL 4 2 112 95 9.5
KC 3 2 108 92 9.5
CHI 4 2 112 97 9.3
NYG 4 2 134 118 9.1
DET 1 5 146 140 8.3
SEA 3 2 98 97 8.0
MIN 2 3 87 88 7.8
CIN 2 3 100 102 7.8
WAS 3 3 113 119 7.5
DAL 1 4 102 111 7.2
HOU 4 2 153 167 7.1
STL 3 3 103 113 7.1
DEN 2 4 124 140 6.8
OAK 2 4 120 151 5.8
MIA 3 2 89 112 5.8
TB 3 2 80 111 5.0
CLE 1 5 88 125 4.8
SF 1 5 93 139 4.4
JAC 3 3 110 167 4.3
ARI 3 2 88 138 4.0
BUF 0 5 87 161 3.0
CAR 0 5 52 110 2.3

In the AFC, the division winners project to be Steelers, Titans, Jets and - quite a surprise here - the Chargers, with the wildcards going to the Patriots and the Colts.

In the NFC, the Falcons, Eagles, Packers and Seahawks are projected as the division winners, and the wildcards go to the Saints and the Bears.

Five of these teams did not make the playoffs last year, so the old maxim that about half of the teams making the playoffs in a given season didn't make them the season before still holds true in this scenario.

I'll agree right off the bat that this is a rather simplistic approach. With that out of the way, who are your favorites to make the playoffs?