Forecasting the Worst

Elia McCalla checks in with another study about who is likely to finish with the #1 overall pick (data through week 7)

As a follow up to the question of how many (or few) wins it takes to get the top pick in the draft, it seemed worthwhile to determine which teams might “earn” an early draft slot this year. So far in 2011, there are 15 teams that have won half or fewer than half of their games, with between 0 and 3 wins. While most of these teams are legitimately subpar, only 6 or 7 games into the season, a handful of them might be more the victims of bad luck than bad play and can still turn things around. In other cases, they really are that bad and may have a shot at drafting first overall.

To close in on which teams are which, I started by looking at 3 ratings for all 15 teams: win percentage, point differential per game, and total DVOA.

Team

Record

Win%

Pt diff/G

DVOA

IND

0-7

0%

-16.3

-37.3

MIA

0-6

0%

-19.2

-21.4

STL

0-6

0%

-9.3

-47

ARI

1-6

17%

-6.2

-30.6

MIN

1-5

14%

-4.3

-4.3

SEA

2-4

33%

-5.2

-19.8

DEN

2-4

33%

-5.3

-13.1

CAR

2-4

33%

-2.8

-7.6

JAX

2-4

33%

-9.2

-20.7

PHI

2-4

33%

0.0

0.3

KC

3-3

50%

-7.5

-8.8

WAS

3-3

50%

0.0

-4.5

CLE

3-3

50%

-3.8

-11.9

TEN

3-3

50%

-3.8

0

DAL

3-3

50%

3.5

17.2

As you can see, most of these teams are bad. The greatest outlier appears to be Dallas, which DVOA rates as 17% better than the average NFL team. The Colts, meanwhile, are second worst both in terms of point differential per game and DVOA. Oh, and they haven’t won any games either. Moving on.

Next, I took each team’s average opponent rating in win percentage, point differential, and total DVOA and ranked them from the hardest schedule to the easiest, relative to all 15 teams. I then added up the rankings from each variable for each team. For instance, a team with the hardest schedule in all three categories would get a total value of 3. This was done for both past opponents and those in future weeks as well as the difference between the two, to show whose schedule gets easier or harder from here out.

Composite rankings of

win%, pt diff/g, and DVOA

Past opponents:

Wks 1-7

Future opponents:

Wks 8-17

Difference between

wks 1-7 and  8-17

STL

3

Harder

MIA

6

Harder

JAX

35

Schedule

getting

easier

JAX

8

MIN

6

DAL

30

DAL

12

DEN

14

STL

17

MIA

13

CLE

14

SEA

12

IND

14

KC

18

IND

10

PHI

21

WAS

18

PHI

7

SEA

22

STL

20

CAR

6

MIN

24

IND

24

TEN

6

CAR

24

ARI

27

MIA

-7

DEN

29

PHI

28

ARI

-9

TEN

30

CAR

30

DEN

-15

ARI

36

SEA

34

MIN

-18

KC

37

TEN

36

KC

-19

WAS

43

DAL

42

WAS

-25

CLE

44

Easier

schedule

JAX

43

Easier

schedule

CLE

-30

Schedule

getting

harder

Clearly, some teams, like St. Louis, have struggled in part due to difficult early season schedules while others, take Washington, are probably worse than their record indicates. For some, like Jacksonville and Dallas, the road is about to get a lot easier, while others, like Cleveland, may have trouble maintaining their win percentage from here on out. As for the Colts, their schedule does look to get a bit easier for the remainder of the season, but is still about middle of the pack.

Because averages don’t tell the whole story, I also looked at each team’s schedule game by game in hopes of determining how many winnable or favored games are left. To do this, I tracked our three key variables for each matchup, first counting up the number of instances in which a scheduled opponent is at or below the league average in at least two of them. These games I termed “winnable.” Next, I compared the team in question’s ratings in those categories to each of their opponents. If our selected team had a rating at least as high as their opponent in two of the three, I generously called them “favored” in that game—though this doesn’t consider whether a game is at home or away. From this, hopefully we can get a sense of which games each team is best positioned to win.

Winnable games

remaining

Favored games remaining

DAL

7

DAL

6

IND

5

TEN

5

STL

5

PHI

4

ARI

5

WAS

4

SEA

5

SEA

3

CAR

5

KC

3

JAX

5

CLE

3

TEN

5

ARI

2

MIA

4

CAR

2

MIN

4

JAX

2

DEN

4

MIN

1

PHI

4

IND

0

KC

4

MIA

0

WAS

4

STL

0

CLE

3

DEN

0

In terms of winnable games, teams are pretty tightly bunched, though Dallas and Cleveland stand out as those with the easiest and most difficult, respectively, set of remaining opponents. Favored games shows a little more spread, however, with a handful of teams, including the Colts, rated as worse by our model than every remaining opponent.

As noted above, the “favored” variable doesn’t consider home field advantage—it assumes a neutral site. Where a game is played, however, does matter. Below is a table showing how many homes games each team has left

Home games left

SEA

6

PHI

6

KC

6

IND

5

MIA

5

STL

5

ARI

5

DEN

5

WAS

5

TEN

5

DAL

5

MIN

4

CAR

4

JAX

4

CLE

4

Again, no huge disparity exists, but teams with 6 home games left certainly have an advantage over those with 4. The Colts, meanwhile, are in the middle of the pack with 5.

Of significance to tie-breakers in the draft, below is the current ranking of strength of schedule for the entire season amongst our 15 teams:

Season-long strength of schedule

MIN

59%

MIA

58%

DEN

57%

STL

56%

IND

56%

KC

52%

CAR

51%

JAX

51%

PHI

49%

DAL

48%

SEA

48%

TEN

47%

CLE

46%

ARI

46%

WAS

43%

In other words, in a tie record-wise with Minnesota, Miami, Denver, or St. Louis, the Colts would get the better draft pick.

Overall, a handful of teams seem to be headed on clear trajectories. At one extreme, given its high DVOA and point differential, its weak overall remaining schedule, and its weak remaining individual matchups, expect for Dallas to finish the year above .500. Another team with a chance to grab some wins is Jacksonville, which goes from the second most difficult starting schedule of the group to the easiest. On the other hand, Miami, Minnesota, Denver, and Cleveland stand out as teams that could do poorly for the remainder of the season, being lowly rated teams facing difficult schedules, with few winnable matchups, and with relatively few than average remaining home games in a couple of cases.

In the hunt for the overall top pick of the draft, Miami has to be the frontrunner, though several teams, the Colts included, could end up at that spot.

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