How Predictive Are NFL Win Totals of Playoff Likelihood?

Aug 18, 2019 12:00 PM EDT
Credit:

Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz

  • The Patriots, Chiefs, Rams, Saints, Colts and Eagles have win totals of 10 or more games for the 2019 season.
  • Using historical data, we analyze how often teams with high win totals miss the NFL Playoffs.

Six teams — the Patriots, Chiefs, Rams, Saints, Colts and Eagles — have win totals of 10 or more games for the 2019 season. Based on oddsmakers expectations, fans of these franchises have to feel good about their playoff chances.

Recent history, however, tells us these teams are not a lock for the postseason. In 2018, six teams again entered the season with a win total of 10 or more games and three (Steelers, Packers, and Vikings) failed to reach the playoffs.

Naturally, that begs the question: How often do NFL teams with high win totals miss the playoffs?

To find out, we looked at the win totals for every team since 2002 (when the NFL expanded to 32 teams) to see how often teams made or missed the playoffs based on preseason win totals.

Since 2002, there have been 92 teams with a win total of 10 or more games entering a season. Of those squads, 58 (63.0%) reached the playoffs.

The Patriots, Chiefs, Rams, Saints, Colts and Eagles are the most likely teams to play past Week 17 according to the oddsmakers win totals, but history suggests at least two of them won’t participate in the postseason.

Based on The Action Network’s NFL simulations, the two most likely teams of this group to miss the playoffs are the Saints (69.1% to make the playoffs) and Eagles (58.2%).

On the other end of the spectrum, the Bengals, Giants, Raiders, Cardinals and Dolphins have the slimmest odds to make the postseason. Oddsmakers have given each of these teams a win total of six or fewer games for the upcoming season.

Since 2002, there have been 74 teams with a win total of six or fewer games. Only 10 (13.5%) managed to beat bookmakers’ expectations and reach the playoffs.

But it’s not just the teams at the bottom of the league that have little chance of making the playoffs. Nearly half the league (15 teams) has a win total of eight or fewer games this season. Since 2002, 279 teams have had a win total of eight or fewer games and just 63 (22.6%) have been postseason participants.

Using history as a guide, win totals do an adequate job of predicting which teams will make or miss the playoffs. Variance caused by injuries, player performance and regression, though, can cause teams with a high win total to disappoint and squads with a low win total to surprise.

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