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Pythagorean Wins: Who Got Lucky in 2018?

Although NFL sabermetrics aren’t on the same level as MLB sabermetrics, we can utilize Pythagorean wins to establish baseline expectations for 2019. 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,1 let’s take a look at which teams under- or over-performed their win expectations. I’ll try to identify regression candidates and evaluate the potential fantasy impact for the 2019 season.

2018 Pythagorean Wins

Here’s a table with every NFL team’s 2018 Pythagorean expectation (PythW%), Pythagorean wins (PythW), and wins over expectation (WOE).2


Here are some quick takeaways for 2018:

Fall Back Candidates

  • Under Adam Gase, the Dolphins outperformed their Pythagorean win expectation three seasons in a row. Incredibly, 18 of 23 Dolphins victories (78.3 percent) under Gase have come by one score. More impressively, the Dolphins have gone 18-6 in one-score games over the last three seasons. Fittingly, the Dolphins won all but two games by one score this season,3 and had a 5.4 average margin in their wins. Most of the Dolphins’ losses were blowouts, with five games decided by 19 or more points. Frankly, it’s a bit of a miracle that the Dolphins managed to stumble their way to seven wins this season. First-time head coach Brian Flores will have his work cut out for him in 2019, and it’s quite likely that the Dolphins will underachieve in the wins department next year.
  • Washington is a no-brainer regression candidate. Prior to losing Alex Smith to a horrific leg injury in Week 11, Washington was 6-4 with a -1.0 point differential. The team had a 10.2 average margin in their wins, but their average margin for losses was 15.5 points. Once Smith was out for the season, Washington only managed to win one more game. Doctor Jeff Budoff notes that it’s quite likely that Smith should be under center for Washington in 2019. was_smithUnfortunately the team is more pessimistic about Smith’s chances and expects that he will miss the 2019 season. If Washington is incapable of finding a capable replacement as their starting QB, I’d expect that they’d fail to improve upon their 7-9 season.
  • Last year I hypothesized that the Bills were a regression candidate, given that they won three more games than their PythW suggested. In a twist that should shock absolutely no one, the Bills failed to improve on their 2017 campaign (9-7) and finished 6-10. Although the Bills once again exceeded their PythW, I think they’re poised to build upon this season’s success. In the 12 games that Josh Allen played, the Bills were on pace for 6.7 PythWbuf_allenUnfortunately Allen missed time with injury and in his absence the Bills used a rotating cast of QB for four games. Hopefully Allen is able to stay healthy for a full season and Buffalo can improve upon their 2018 success.
  • In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes, and the Titans going 9-7. For three straight seasons the Titans have finished 9-7, but could’ve easily ended the season at or below 8-8 as evidenced by their PythW. Four of their wins and three of their losses were decided by less than a touchdown. Unfortunately, Marcus Mariota suffered from a myriad of injuries which ostensibly capped the Titans’ upside. ten_mariotaWhen healthy, Mariota powered the Titans to wins over playoff-bound teams including the Eagles, Cowboys, and Patriots.4 Expectations for the Titans should be tempered, given that Mariota will be playing under a fourth new offensive coordinator in 2019. Hopefully the Titans are able to take a step forward in 2019, but it’s quite likely that they post another 9-7 season.

Improvement Candidates

  • Prior to trading for Amari Cooper, the Dallas Cowboys were 3-4 and their season was circling the drain. Cooper’s arrival in Dallas revived his and Dak Prescott’s seasons, and provided a lift to the rest of the Dallas offense.dal_cooperAlthough Cooper’s final impact on the Cowboys’ PythW is marginal, I’m optimistic that the Cowboys are able to replicate their 10-6 season.
  • Despite posting a 10-6 record and winning the AFC North, the Ravens under-performed their Pythagorean win expectation. The Ravens lost four of their six games by one score.5 Although it’s difficult to state with confidence that the Ravens should win 11 or more games, there’s plenty of reason for optimism. Notably, when the Ravens made Lamar Jackson their full-time starting QB following their Week 10 bye, the team saw a noticeable bump in their PythW.bal_jacksonHopefully the Ravens upgrade their receiver corps and Jackson is able to take a step forward next season.
  • The Cleveland Browns finished with a 7-8-1 record and finished 0.5 wins over expectation. Baker Mayfield had a noticeable impact on the Browns’ offense, and had he started all 16 games it’s quite likely that the team would’ve tacked on another 0.5 wins over expectation.cle_mayfieldThe Browns promoted Freddie Kitchens to head coach and hired Todd Monken as their offensive coordinator. I’m optimistic that Monken and Kitchen are able to supercharge the Browns’ offense, which should provide plenty of red-zone equity for both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Hopefully the Browns are able to improve upon their 2018 finish!

  1. Subscribe to our incredible NASCAR package!  (back)
  2. EXP is an exponent and is calculated as follows: EXP =  (Points for + Points against/games played)^0.287.  (back)
  3. Miami beat the Jets and the Raiders by eight points  (back)
  4. The Titans also lost to the Chargers by one point.  (back)
  5. The Ravens lost three of their one-score games by three or fewer points.  (back)

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