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Football Outsiders gives Cowboys’ 63% chance of making playoffs

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And a 46% chance of winning the NFC East.

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time when discussing NFL playoff odds after one week of a sixteen week season would have been considered silly. And they were probably right; after all we’ve played less than 7% of the season. But looking at playoff odds so early isn’t meaningless.

Our own OCC has always used historical results to predict final outcomes based on current records. In fact, he posted about it already. The key takeaway:

If you’re one of the teams that stumbled out of the gate on opening weekend, your 0-1 record means next week’s game is already something of a must-win game: Start the season 0-2 and your odds of making the playoffs drop to just 11%; three consecutive losses to start the season and for all intents and purposes your season is over.

Now, those odds only consider historical performance; there’s no evaluation of any individual team’s performance, talent, schedule, etc. Stepping in to fill that void are our friends over at FootballOutsiders.com. They do take things like roster and schedule into consideration. And then they run a bunch of simulations and use those to project how likely a team is to make the playoffs, become a number one seed, or be the number one team on the draft board next spring. Here’s how they describe the methodology:

The playoff odds report plays out the season 30,000 times. A random draw assigns each team a win or loss for each game. The probability that a team will be given a win is based on an equation which considers the current DAVE ratings of the two teams as well as home-field advantage. (DVOA ratings are explained here.) Mean Wins is the average number of wins for this team over the 30,000 simulations. Odds are given for winning each playoff seed, as well as for winning the division (DIV), earning a bye week (BYE), or winning a wild card (WC). TOT represents odds of making the playoffs in any fashion.

If you visit FO you can always find your favorite team’s current odds. You’ll find something that looks like this for the NFC East:

Most of this is probably self-explanatory to most but some of the fields may be unfamiliar to some:

  • DVOA is Football Outsider’s team measurement. The percentage represents how much “better” or “worse” any given team is compared to an average team. So, in this instance, Dallas is considered to be 11% better than the average NFL team.
  • Seeds 1-6: shows each team’s chances of being the #1 through #6 seed in the playoffs.
  • Div Win shows the team’s chance of winning the NFC East
  • Bye shows the team’s chance of receiving a first round bye (equal to their combined chances of getting the #1 or #2 seeds).
  • WC shows the team’s chance of being a wild card team (equal to their combined chances of getting the #5 or #6 seeds).
  • POs shows the team’s chance of making the playoffs in any manner (equal to their combined chances of getting any of the 1-6 seeds).

We thought it would be interesting to track these odds over time and see how they evolve. And they’ve evolved quite favorably for the Cowboys since the pre-season odds were first posted.

These are the week 1 and 2 odds for each NFC team. We see no team’s odds improved more from the week one results than your Dallas Cowboys. You’d have to ask the FO guys to explain why the Cowboys beating a bad Giants team at home led to a 14% improvement while the Eagles beating a bad Redskins team at home resulted in only a 2.9% improvement. Maybe it had to do with the manner of winning as the Eagels had to stage a furious comeback.

All of this is rather meaningless because, well, 15 games to play. But it’s also kind of fun (at least to me). Let’s check out how the other numbers have changed since FO’s posted their pre-season odds:

Projected Wins:

Three teams increased their projected wins by one full game or more: New England, Baltimore and Tennessee. Dallas comes in with the fourth biggest increase (0.8 wins). You’ll also see zero predicted wins for Jacksonville but this is a technical thing as Nick Foles’ injury has apparently dumbfounded their model and they’re still trying to figure out how to account for it. Also, the fact the model projects four wins for a Miami team that seems likely to win two or fewer games shows that statistical models don’t like outliers; this is why purely statistical models generally lump 90% of teams between six and ten wins.

Division Champion

Prior to week one Philadelphia was favored to win the division with 43% odds compared to the Cowboys’ 34% odds. Now, Dallas is the slight favorite (45.8% vs 43.0%). And while the numbers barely change for the vast majority of teams, imagine being a Steelers fan and seeing your chance of winning the division cut in half after only a single game.

Win the Super Bowl

Right now, New England and New Orleans are given a combined 30% chance of winning Super Bowl LIV with the other 30 teams left to split up the remaining 70%. The Cowboys’ odds are up to 5.5%, which seems about right.

We’ll track these throughout the season; hopefully the Cowboys’ numbers continue to improve.