NFL Pythagorean projections, Vol. 2

The most chaotic season in NFL history has, somehow, made it to its halfway point without any major disruptions. A rash of COVID outbreaks among NFL teams, and surging cases across the country, look certain to affect the 2020 season in some meaningful way, but so far, only a few games have been rescheduled due to the pandemic.

Volume Two of the NFL Pythagorean projections assumes the season will finish with all 32 teams playing 16 games as scheduled. As teams get more games under their proverbial belts, pictures of a team’s performance in comparison to Pythagorean expectation become clearer.

Few teams will finish a season directly in line with their Pythagorean expectation. For example, eight NFL teams finished within 0.5 wins of expectation last year, four of which were within 0.2 wins.

(So why go through this exercise, you ask? Well, because it’s a great indicator of which teams may be better, or worse, than their records indicate. And it’s fun.)

Seven teams outperformed their Pythagorean expectation by more than one full victory last year. Green Bay led the way, outperforming their expectation by 3.3 wins. Seattle (+2.8) and New Orleans (+2.4) were among the league leaders behind the Packers.

Buffalo looks to be the leader in 2020. The 7–2 Bills currently have a Pythagorean expectation of just 8.35 wins. While possible, Buffalo is unlikely to finish the season 1–6 and, even with a challenging second-half schedule, will finish with double-digit victories for the second year in a row.

Keep an eye on Cleveland, Las Vegas and Chicago, all of whom are above .500 but have negative point differentials and are projected to win between 7.1 and 7.55 games.

No team in the league regularly underperforms its Pythagorean expectation like the Los Angeles Chargers. Among the quartet of team to miss their expectation by at least a victory last season, no team’s performance was worse than Los Angeles’ minus-2.8 mark.

And, lo, Anthony Lynn’s squad is once again our leader in 2020. The 2–6 Bolts have thus far played like a team expected to win 7.52 games over the course of a full season, a mark the team is unlikely to hit in the second half of the campaign.

Despite a rash of injuries, the 49ers are still projecting as an 8.77-win team. San Francisco likely won’t win more than a couple contests, however, with a difficult schedule and both Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle likely to miss most, if not all, of the team’s remaining games.

As we get into the projections, keep in mind that tiebreakers are not decided by real-life results but solely by Pythagorean expectation totals. For example: Were Kansas City and Baltimore to finish at 12–4, as currently projected, the Chiefs would win the tiebreaker due to their Week 3 victory over the Ravens. Baltimore, however, edges Kansas City by 0.16 projected wins, therefore winning the tiebreaker for our purposes here.

To see the full Pythagorean expectation standings, click here.

Let’s get to the picks.

AFC playoff field
1. Baltimore (12–4); 2. Kansas City (12–4); 3. Miami (11–5); 4. Indianapolis (10–6); 5. Pittsburgh (11–5); 6. Tennessee (9–7); 7. Buffalo (8–8)

NFC playoff field
1. Arizona (10–6); 2. Green Bay (10–6); 3. Tampa Bay (10–6); 4. Philadelphia (7–9); 5. LA Rams (10–6); 6. New Orleans (10–6); 7. Seattle (9–7)

Wildcard playoffs
Buffalo at Kansas City
Tennessee at Miami
Pittsburgh at Indianapolis
Seattle at Green Bay
New Orleans at Tampa Bay
LA Rams at Philadelphia

Get ready for Rematch Weekend. Kansas City and Buffalo would square off for the second time following a Week 6 Chiefs victory at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Pittsburgh and Indianapolis would clash for the second time in three weeks, as the two teams are scheduled to compete Week 16. Tampa Bay would have a third opportunity to solve the Saints, who swept the Bucs in the regular season. Los Angeles and Philadelphia would renew hostilities following a Week 2 Rams victory (as well as a recent history of playoff meetings) while the Seahawks and Packers would continue their historic postseason rivalry.

Baltimore, owners of the AFC’s best record, would likely be rewarded with a third game against Pittsburgh or a rematch of last year’s divisional playoff upset loss to the Titans. Arizona would be equally punished, drawing a brutal match-up in the divisional round barring a sweep by the home teams on Wildcard Weekend.

2021 NFL Draft top five picks
1. NY Jets
2. Dallas
3. Jacksonville
4. NY Giants
5. Houston

Calling the Jets a dumpster fire would be an insult to garbage receptacles everywhere. After blowing a 10-point lead Monday night against New England, New York remains winless on the season and is projected to finish with just 2.2 wins, the worst mark in the league by nearly three full games.

New York would almost certainly draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but things would get very interesting from there. Barring any unforeseen setbacks in Dak Prescott’s rehab, the Cowboys would not need to draft Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields at no. 2. Dallas could benefit from the ensuing bidding war, as quarterback-needy teams would likely need to trade into the second position to select Fields before Jacksonville goes on the clock. The ‘Boys could also stand pat and draft Oregon tackle Penei Sewell to help anchor a suddenly barren offensive line.

Look for volume three of these projections in early December.

Footy junkie. Advanced statistics nerd. Kind of a big deal in Canada.