Who’s a real contender in the AFC South?

While free agency (hopefully coming very soon) will have significant impact on teams in 2011 there are some useful tools for assessing 2011 teams simply from their 2010 results. These revolve around finding which teams under and overperformed their actual talent level in 2010. The main way of assessing a team going into 2011 is to look at how they did in 2010 then adjust for what they’ve added and lost. So getting a better feel for how good they really were in 2010 is going to be a big help in predicting a team’s 2011 performance.

3 measures should give a good picture of where a team is right now, with no free agents lost or added or any draft picks signed,

2010 wins: self explanitory.

Pythag Wins: Adapted from baseball, Pythag wins are one of the earliest sabermetric tools. It was found that there is a very consistent relationship between runs/points scored and runs/points allowed to winning percentage in the form of:
(runs scored)^2/(runs scored^2 + runs allowed^2) = wining percentage
Further research showed an exponent of 2.37 to be more accurate for football, so that’s what I’ll be using. That point differential is closely related to wins is no shock. Of the two 8-8 teams in the league last year, the Jaguars were outscored by 66 points while the Raiders outscored their opponents by 39. Based just off of that it’s a fair conclusion to say the Jags overachieved to reach 8-8 while the Raiders underachieved. What is a bit surprising is that a team’s Pythag wins in the previous year are a far better predictor of their record the following year than their actual record the year before.

Record in 1 score games: Obviously there are things a team can do that will make them better at winning close games (and not just generally being good at football), the Colts addition of Delone Carter points to their recognition of this, but it’s just as clear that in a tight game one (un)lucky bounce can decide the outcome. The victor in a blowout is much more likely to simply be the better team than the winner of a close game. This holds true even to the point where steamrolling a bad team is a better predictor of future success than narrowly beating a good team.

Indianapolis Colts: 10-6 record, 9.1 Pythag wins, 5-4 record in 1 score games

These measures don’t account for injuries which were obviously a major factor in the Colts 2010 season, but given what the Colts put on the field, they did about what would be expected. Pythag wins are a bit below actual, but they were worse in close games than those decided by two or more scores. Starting from 10 wins and adjusting based off of Indy’s additions, losses and players returning from injury is fair.

Jacksonville Jaguars:  8-8 record, 6.4 Pythag wins, 5-2 record in 1 score games

As mentioned above the Jags were outscored by 66 points over the course of the season, but made it to 8-8, largely on the back of going 5-2 in one score games vs 3-6 in those decided by 9 points or more. Seeing the 2010 Jags as a below average, but still credible team rather than one who nearly won their division is likely to produce a more accurate projection for 2011.

Tennessee Titans:  6-10 record, 8.5 Pythag wins, 1-6 record in 1 score games
The Titans outscored their opponents by 17 points over the course of the season, but won just a single 1 score game. Based off of true talent, it’s the Titans, not the Jags who should have been challenging for the division. Of course subtracting the only competent QB from the roster and likely the other QB with significant pro experience as well, means it’s too early to crown them a major threat for the division title.

Houston Texans: 6-10 record, 7.1 Pythag wins, 3-5 record in 1 score games
The Texans were outscored, but not by a massive amount (37 points) and had identical records in 1 score and 2+ score games. The Texans were about what they looked like, maybe a touch better.

Indy is still the odds on favorite, but if the Titans bring in a solid veteran QB or the Texans improve significantly from the defensive shift they could threaten. The Jags are unlikely to challenge for the division like they did last year, but are far from hopeless.