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Pythagorean Wins: Who Got Lucky in 2017

With the recent release of the NFL Schedule, now is a good time to calibrate our expectations for 2018. One of the best ways to establish baseline expectations this season is by utilizing Pythagorean wins.

Pythagorean wins are used to determine the number of games a team “should have won” based on their scoring margin. Utilizing the method laid out by RotoDoc, I’m going to look at which teams won more and less than expected in an attempt to find regression candidates and evaluate what that means for fantasy purposes.


As previously mentioned, I’m utilizing RotoDoc’s preferred method for Pythagorean wins. Specifically, I’ll be using the Pythagenpat formula for Pythagorean expectation, which is as follows:

PythW% = (Points for^EXP)/(Points for^EXP + Points against^EXP)

where the exponent EXP is given by:

EXP = (Points for + Points against/Games Played)^0.287.

The chosen method reduces the mean square error, and provides a better fit across the range of point outcomes than the basic Pythagorean formula, which just uses a fixed constant for the exponent.1 To get Pythagorean wins (PythW), we just multiply PythW% by the number of games.


Here’s a table with every NFL team’s 2017 PythW%, PythW, EXP, and wins over expectation (WOE).


Here are some quick takeaways for 2018:


  • The Bills are destined to regress in 2018. They had an 8.22 average margin in their wins, but their average margin for losses was 18.7 points. Only two of the Bills’ losses were by a smaller margin than their average win. Most of the Bills’ losses were blowouts, with five games decided by 13, 37, 30, 20, and 21 points. The 30-point defeat to the Chargers can single-handedly be attributed to Nathan Peterman’s five interceptions. Now that Tyrod Taylor is a Cleveland Brown, it’s questionable whether either Peterman or A.J. McCarron represent a significant upgrade at the QB slot. Although the Bills are likely to draft a QB in the first round, it’s unlikely that they will replicate their 2017 success.
  • The Arizona Cardinals should be a no-brainer regression candidate. Aside from blowing out the New York Giants 23-0 in Week 16, the Cardinals’ average margin of victory was 4.4 points. Given that most of the Cardinals’ losses were decided by 10 or more points, they might not post another eight-win season in 2018. Although David Johnson will return this season, Sam Bradford’s health outlook is questionable. With Mike Glennon as Bradford’s backup, the floor for the Cardinals is much lower in 2018 than it has been in recent memory.
  • Although the Titans made the playoffs, it’s fair to state that they overachieved last season. As evidenced by their PythW, the Titans could’ve easily ended the season at or below 8-8. Eight of their nine wins last season were decided by less than a touchdown. However, with Mike Vrabel taking over as the new head coach, it’s likely that the Titans build upon their 2017 campaign. Assuming the offense takes a step forward under the new coaching regime, Marcus Mariota could post career-best numbers in 2018. Additionally, a fully healthy Corey Davis coupled with the addition of Dion Lewis should provide ample firepower to their anemic offense.
  • Despite losing Ryan Tannehill to start the season, the Miami Dolphins won six games this year. With Jay Cutler under center, the Dolphins won 1.64 games over expectation. Over the offseason, the Dolphins shipped off several of their star players including: Ndamukong Suh, Jarvis Landry, and Mike Pouncey. It’s highly unlikely that the WR trio consisting of Danny Amendola, Albert Wilson, and Jakeem Grant are successful in replicating Landry’s historical production. Not only are the Dolphins cursed to play two games against the New England Patriots, they’re set to face the Vikings and Jaguars who combined for 24.9 PythW. It’s likely the entire offense struggles again in 2018, and it’s fair to question whether or not DeVante Parker will ever experience a breakout season.


  • Despite the fact that they made the AFC Championship Game, the Jacksonville Jaguars underperformed their Pythagorean win expectation. Assuming the Jaguars take a step forward next season, Leonard Fournette could ostensibly outperform his current ADP.
  • The Los Angeles Chargers really had some unfortunate losses, blowing several close games. Assuming Mike Williams returns fully healthy, and the Chargers can shore up a couple of holes on their offensive line, the Chargers could be playoff contenders in 2018. Additionally, if Antonio Gates does not re-sign with the Chargers, Hunter Henry should be in line for a breakout season.
  • One of the trendier sleeper teams heading into 2017, the Buccaneers posted 1.46 wins below expectations. Part of the Buccaneers’ underperformance could be explained by Jameis Winston’s shoulder injury, which resulted in Winston missing three games. The Buccaneers recently exercised Winston’s fifth-year option, indicating that they trust he’s their franchise QB. However, since drafting Winston in 2015, the Buccaneers have only posted one winning season. Although the Buccaneers should improve on their win total next season, they play in the toughest division (by PythW). In order to improve significantly, it’s likely that the team’s offense has to take a big step forward. Not only will this be good news for Winston’s fantasy value, but will also boost the following: Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, and the RB they opt to add in the 2018 NFL Draft.
  • Hue Jackson promised that he would jump into Lake Erie if the Browns had a season as bad their 1-15 finish in 2016. The Cleveland Browns had no wins in 2017, and finished 2.64 wins below expectations. Despite drafting multiple talented players, the team continues to underperform. Jackson has yet to jump into Lake Erie, but assuming the Browns continue their losing ways, he might not last long enough to fulfill his promise to fans.


  1. In the NFL the fixed exponent is approx. 2.37.  (back)

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