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Using Sabermetrics to Project 2016 NFL Records

In this piece I’m going to find NFL teams that have potential to regress or improve in 2016. To do so, I’ll be using a Sabermetric measure called the Pythagenpat Formula, introduced by David Smyth, to better estimate the true strength of a team rather than using win-loss record.

NFL Sabermetrics

The Pythagenpat formula looks at the points scored for and against each team. Teams that were involved in a lot of close games, but that got “unlucky,” will have a worse win-loss record than their Pythagenpat win percentage. They were a couple bounces of the football away from another win or two. The opposite is true for teams that were “lucky”; they’ll have more wins than the Pythagenpat win percentage. The Pythagenpat Formula1 tends to be more predictive of following season results than win-loss record.

The table at the bottom lists each NFL team’s 2015 Pythagenpat win percentage (PY_2015), its 2016 strength of schedule according to the Pythagenpat Formula (PY_SOS), and its expected wins in 2016 (EX_W_2016) by using another Sabermetric measure called Log5 to determine the probability one team beats another given their relative strengths. From there, we can compare to their 2015 records to find the teams that were the “luckiest” in 2015 (2015_LUCK) as well as ones expected to improve or regress the most in the win column (CHNG).

Improvement Candidates

New York Giants: The Giants are poised to improve in 2015. Part of that is due to the poor luck they had in 2015 finishing 1.36 wins below what one could expect from their points for and against. The other half is due to the third most favorable schedule in 2016 according to Pythagenpat. The Giants have games against Baltimore, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and six games against the remaining NFC East foes, all of whom had defensive pass DVOA ratings no better than 14th according to Football Outsiders. This bodes well for Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, Jr. in  2016.

Tennessee Titans: According to Pythagenpat, the Titans were a 4.2 win quality team despite winning only three games. Combine that with a cushy schedule thanks to facing the other last place teams in the AFC and the Titans are favored to win at least five games.

San Diego Chargers: Who knows where they’ll be in 2016. But the more important question (for fantasy purposes) is how good will they be? The Chargers were the second most unfortunate team in the win-loss column in 2015. In addition, several injuries made a statistically unlucky season a physically unlucky season as well. With the health, luck, and schedule improvements for 2016 the Chargers should contend for a .500 record. Like Ben GretchKeenan Allen is a guy I’m high on for next year.

Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks were 2015’s unluckiest team by a long shot. They finished with nearly 2.5 wins fewer than expected. Despite a middle of the road schedule, improvement should come simply from an improvement in luck. They are an 11 to 12 win team for 2016 so count me all-in on the Thomas Rawls hype.

Regression Candidates

Denver Broncos: The Broncos are only expected to be a 9.7 win team next year, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they don’t hit double digit wins. Despite winning 12 games, they were only a 10 win team according to the numbers, benefiting from multiple close wins. With another year of Peyton Manning or the potential for a full season of Brock Osweiler, it’s very hard to imagine this team securing a first round bye next year.

Carolina Panthers: Carolina is an obvious regression candidate because, well, it’s really hard to improve on 15 wins! That said, they are still expected to be the best team in 2016 with 12.7 projected wins. Don’t lower the valuation of your Panthers players, they’ll be fine.

Indianapolis Colts: This is the regression candidate I believe won’t regress. I really can’t buy that an Andrew Luck led team, facing a better than average schedule, finishes with only six wins, as the projections show. The reason for this misclassification is simple – Matt HasselbeckCharlie WhitehurstJason Campbell, and Ryan Lindley all played quarterback for the Colts this year, severely dampening their points scored total. Yuck. That said, they’re only a borderline playoff team for next year, at best.

San Francisco 49ers: I made this point earlier in the week when I ranted against Carlos Hyde, but the San Francisco 49ers were actually lucky to finish with five wins in 2015. I used the Pythagorean Expectation formula with the standard 2.37 power for NFL in that article to show the 49ers were 1.2 wins above expected. However, using the Pythagenpat formula which actually reduces the root-mean-square-error (meaning a stronger fit), the 49ers were actually 1.8 wins above expectation…even luckier! They face the league’s toughest schedule next year,  with six games against the tough NFC West as well as games against New England and Carolina. It’s going to be a tough year for Chip Kelly – the 49ers are projected for a paltry three win season. Ouch!


  1. and other Pythagorean Expectation methods  (back)

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