Friday, August 7, 2009

And Now You Know!: NFL Percentages

It is getting close to the NFL season as fantasy leagues are starting up and training camp is in full swing. In a week or so the first preseason games will be underway and 32 teams will embark on the road to the Super Bowl.

Last year of course provided us with a great Super Bowl between the Cardinals and Steelers and both teams looked poised to return to the playoffs as they should. Only twice in the past 20 years have the two teams faced off in the Super Bowl failed to make it to the playoffs the following year. They happened to be after SB XXXV (Ravens and Giants) and XXXVI (Patriots and Rams).

Of the past 18 Super Bowl winners, 66% of those teams find their way back to the playoffs the following year whereas the Super Bowl losers make it back to the playoffs just 50% of the time. In an era of free agency, draft, and alleged parody, it seems as if those numbers are a bit high, but it's not.

If more than 1/3 of the league makes the playoffs every year (12 of the 32 teams) then it means that some teams will get back to the playoffs more likely than not. It was also somewhat surprising to see that of the 36 teams that made it to the Super Bowl the last 18 years, 6 of them went back to the Super Bowl the following year or 1 out of every 6 years we see a team repeat as a competitor in the Super Bowl.

Sure the regular season matters, even if near 60% of the teams in the playoffs the year before make it the following year but if the same teams are making the playoffs all the time why aren't the same teams winning?

We all know the best team doesn't always win the Super Bowl (a la Giants 2007) but should the NFL consider a best of 3 to determine the Champion? Maybe I am getting carried away but without doing any research on any team this year and looking at last year's playoff teams (Cardinals, Falcons, Chargers, Colts, Dolphins, Ravens, Eagles, Vikings, Panthers, Titans, Steelers, and Giants) I can guess and say that all but the Falcons, Eagles, Titans, Dolphins, and Ravens will be back in the playoffs this year.

The odds that 2 teams that weren't in the playoffs last year compete for the Super Bowl this year are actually decent considering the numbers. 1/3 of the teams competing in the Super Bowl over the past 18 years did not make the playoffs from the year before. And three times neither team competing in the same Super Bowl made the playoffs from the year before.

The numbers may be confusing but if I were to give my Super Bowl Prediction right now, it would be the Patriots versus the Cardinals based on pure percentages of past Super Bowls. Then again, that is why they play the game and we will have to wait and see come February, but If I am right, don't think I won't come back to this post and try and better explain my math wizardry.

And Now You Know! (And Knowing is Half the Battle)

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Anonymous said...

You chose Pats Cardinals for the big game this year at the end of your article, but two paragraphs earlier you said that the Cards weren't even going to make it to the playoffs this year. What up with that?

Chris said...

I apologize for the typo there. Thanks for reading.