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NFL Pythagorean Theory thru Week 13

To add a little more flavor, and change it up some from the weekly NFL articles I post that show statistics, power rankings, and projected standings, let's do a team by team breakdown using the Pythagorean Theory on points margin thru Week 13.

As a reminder to all, the Pythagorean Theorem as applied to NFL statistics measures team performance/record using their points margin (points scored minus points against) as the indicator. The process involves using this metric to slide teams into a corresponding projected record. The projected record that correlates with a team's points margin has been researched and been public information for quite some time, so it is not a formula I have derived myself.

Here is a matrix that shows points margin, actual record, and projected record for all 32 NFL teams, sorted in descending order commencing with the best points margin thru Week 13:

Week 13 Rewind

Team Pts Margin Rank Projected Record Actual Record
NEW ENGLAND 14.17 1 14-2 9-3
HOUSTON 10.83 2 13-3 11-1
SAN FRANCISCO 9.83 3 12-4/13-3 8-3-1
DENVER 8.75 4 12-4 9-3
CHICAGO 8.00 5 12-4 8-4
ATLANTA 7.33 6 11-5/12-4 11-1
NY GIANTS 6.50 7 11-5 7-5
BALTIMORE 5.08 8 11-5 9-3
TAMPA BAY 4.00 9 10-6 6-6
SEATTLE 3.33 10 10-6 7-5
GREEN BAY 3.08 11 10-6 8-4
PITTSBURGH 2.00 12 9-7 7-5
WASHINGTON 0.92 13 8-8 6-6
SAN DIEGO 0.08 14 8-8 4-8
CINCINNATI (0.17) 15 8-8 7-5
NEW ORLEANS (0.33) 16 8-8 5-7
MINNESOTA (0.83) 17 8-8/7-9 6-6
DETROIT (1.25) 18 8-8/7-9 4-8
DALLAS (1.25) 18 8-8/7-9 6-6
MIAMI (1.83) 20 7-9 5-7
CLEVELAND (3.00) 21 6-10 4-8
INDIANAPOLIS (3.42) 22 6-10 8-4
ST LOUIS (3.83) 23 6-10 5-6-1
ARIZONA (4.00) 24 6-10 4-8
CAROLINA (4.75) 25 6-10/5-11 3-9
BUFFALO (5.00) 26 6-10/5-11 5-7
NY JETS (5.67) 27 5-11 5-7
PHILADELPHIA (8.58) 28 4-12 3-9
TENNESSEE (9.25) 29 4-12 4-8
KANSAS CITY (11.17) 30 3-13 2-10
JACKSONVILLE (11.33) 31 3-13 2-10
OAKLAND (11.75) 32 3-13 3-9

One item of note, in the projected record column, some teams are shown with a pair of records - that is because their current points margin is between the cut-off points of each record. For example, Minnesota currently has a (0.83) points margin - 0.00, or an average margin of points scored and points against to be even, obviously equals that of an 8-8 team; the next level is (1.50), which is that of a 7-9 team - and since Minnesota is almost directly in the middle of those two marks, they would currently be projected to win between 7-8 games, hence I show both records. I believe many other analysts use those cut-off points as clearly defined, meaning a team must reach that next level to be projected to win or lose that extra game - I feel it's better to show those teams as a "tweener".

Now that all the information above is clearly defined we can take a closer look at all these teams, and identify which have a record better or worse than their points margin suggests. Why is that a valuable exercise? It can certainly add value because if a team has, for example, already won more games than their margin indicates, they may be overdue for a correction in these closing weeks, and perhaps the breaks they have been enjoying to this point in the season will revert towards their opponent, impacting their record.

Biggest overachievers record wise thru Week 13:

-- Atlanta: Once again the Falcons show up as an overachiever in one of my analyses - if you examine my week to week performance ratings, my power rankings, or basically any information I post related to the 2012 NFL season, you will find me touting the Falcons as a team that has posted an 11-1 record with mostly smoke and mirrors….and this analysis shows no different. Atlanta currently enjoys a 7.33 points margin, typically seen with 11-5/12-4 teams. Well, the Falcons already have 11 wins, sporting a plush 11-1 mark - which basically means they would have to lose out, or perhaps win one of their final four games to post a record that matches what their points margin suggests. With a remaining schedule that I have rated 28th according to opponent's record and 17th as measured using my performance ratings that seems highly unlikely. What has been the driver of this "lower than usual for an 11-1 team" points margin? We all already know the answer as it's discussed via the media a lot - narrow wins. Seven of the Falcons eleven wins have come by 7pts or less - with an average points margin in those games of +4.1. What also has a big impact is the fact they have only lost one game - and that one game was by just 4 points - limiting the downward impact the loss column has on many teams. I feel two solid focal points for playing on or against the Falcons moving forward are: never take Atlanta if they are -7 or more (currently 0-3 ATS in those spots) and try and find opponents who are either strong at pass defense or rush offense, the two areas that will match up well with the Falcons.

-- Indianapolis: The Colts are being outscored by (3.42) points per game on the season which should equal a 6-10 team. However, the Colts have already blown by the projected 6 wins, as they sit 8-4 and have been holding down the 6th and final seed in the AFC according to my projections for the last 5 consecutive weeks. What gives here? There are many scenarios where a team's points margin is impacted by outliers. For the Colts, their negative points margin is driven by a trio of losses where they were taken behind the woodshed: Wk1 41-21 loss @ Chicago, Wk6 35-9 loss @ New York Jets, and Wk11 59-24 loss @ New England (take note, when playing Indy games, the three huge losses they suffered this season were all on the road). Those three games have a points margin of (27.0); the nine other Indy games had a points margin of +4.0 which typically equals a 10-6 type team, close to the current Colts pace. For playing Colts games in the final four weeks of the season I would look to fade them if they are on the road (although they are currently 3-3 ATS on the road two wins were against Tennessee and Jacksonville, and the other was last week's huge 4th quarter comeback in Detroit), and also fade them if they are playing an opponent with a strong offense as Indy's defense is rated 25th in the NFL, BUT that has come vs. the weakest opponent's offense schedule in the entire league. We could also see Indianapolis get tight down the stretch with the playoffs in reach, hence fading them in road games and any spots they are laying more than a FG may prove to be a profitable endeavor.

-- New York Jets: The Jets are currently being outscored by (5.67) PPG on the season which should equal a 5-11 team. With the Jets currently posting a 5-7 mark that would suggest the Jets should lose out to finish at that 5-11 mark - assuming they continue the same rate of play. The major reason for the Jets "over performance" to date is similar to the Colts story: of their 7 losses five have come by 17+ points, for an average of (24.6) PPG. Posting marks that low in such a high sample size has an overbearing impact on the points margin, especially considering 2 of their 5 wins were by a total of 4 points. There are too many unknown variable with the Jets moving forward to identify any ATS situations to focus on, but be very weary of an offense that has really struggled for most of the season - especially if their opponent is one of the better defensive teams in the league.

-- Tennessee and Oakland: These two squads sit at 4-8 & 3-9 respectively, and both would have to lose out to match their projected record using current points margin.

-- St Louis: with a record of 5-6-1 and a projected record of 6-10, the Rams would essentially have to lose out to match using their current points margin.

Biggest underachievers record wise thru Week 13:

-- New England: The Patriots as underachievers sitting at 9-3 you ask? Well, according to this statistic, yes, they are in fact on pace to post a record worse than their points margin would suggest. With a points margin sitting at a robust +14.17, the Patriots should compile a record of 14-2 on the season - and we know since they already have 3 losses that is not possible. What has driven the Patriots to lose three games already when their points margin suggests they should only lose two the entire season? It's VERY SIMPLE when answering that question. The three NE losses were: Week 2 vs. Arizona 20-18, Week 3 @ Baltimore 31-30, Week 6 @ Seattle 24-23. Yes, three losses by a COMBINED four points! When a team only suffers a negative points margin that small naturally the upside, or positive mark the team posts will be inflated since it is not suffering much from its losses. And we especially know that Belichick and Co. like to pour it on in the 4th quarter, even in games where they have a substantial lead - the Patriots have won 5 games this season by 21 or more points including a trio of wins by 30+. Simply put New England is a very strong team that keeps their foot on the pedal for 60 minutes, and could very easily be 12-0 again at this point. My general rule with New England is if I am not playing on them I am laying off them. I rarely (maybe I should say never?) see a spot to fade this team.

-- Chicago: The Bears are 8-4, projected to be 12-4 with a current points margin of +8.00 - which suggests they should run the table if they continued playing at the same level. I think all of us, even the biggest of Bears fans would agree it's highly unlikely Chicago closes the season 4-0 to post a 12-4 mark. But why has their points margin been higher than what would be expected with a team sporting their record? It's a similar story to New England, just not at quite the extreme level. Chicago has a pair of losses by 7pts or less, and the third of their four losses is by (13); on the flip side they have enjoyed 6 wins by more than that 13 mark previously mentioned, which of course will drive that points margin up. One thing however that stands out about the Bears performance is how well they were playing early in the season vs. their recent struggles. Through their bye in Wk6, Chicago played 5 games, won 4 and posted a points margin including a 13pt loss @ Green Bay of +15.6. Since their bye they have played 7 games and have posted a points margin in those games of just +2.6 - that mark is similar to a 9-7/10-6 team, which is where the Bears are likely to finish up. What does it all mean? The Bears points margin is very much inflated from early season success, and they clearly are not playing at that same level as we head into the final quarter of the season. In November, Chicago enjoyed the easiest schedule in the entire NFL using every possible metric I track including opponents record, and opponents performance ratings (overall, offense and defense) - and now that has caught up to them in a big way. They are coming off losing 3 of their last 4 games - and consider that the only win was over Minnesota, while their trio of losses came against likely playoff teams in Houston, San Francisco, Seattle. To close out the season, just as I felt in early November and it has played out as I projected, the Bears are prime fade material when playing a good, playoff caliber team as they are still somewhat living off their early season performance, much of which was compiled vs. subpar competition.

-- New York Giants: The defending Super Bowl champs showing up on a list of teams who have overachieved record wise vs. true performance? Interesting! But yes, the current New York points margin of +6.50 is typically tied to an 11-5 team, yet the Giants have already suffered 5 losses on the season. Could they win out playing at the same level to match their projected record? I would definitely say the answer to that question is a resounding no, considering their closing schedule. But, let's then ask, why have the Giants posted a higher points margin then their record indicates? It's a similar story to New England, well, half of New England's story - the Giants have lost 3 games by 4pts or less, 4 games by 7pts or less, with their fifth and lone outlier loss the 31-13 beat down in Cincinnati prior to their bye in Week 11. So again, we see a team whose points margin is inflated by the fact 4 of their 5 losses were very close games, lessening the downward impact losses have on this statistic.

-- San Francisco, Tampa Bay, San Diego, Detroit: All four of these teams currently sit with the number of losses they would be projected to finish with based on current points margin. In other words, all four of these teams would have to win out to match their current projected record.

That is the breakdown using the Pythagorean Theory on points margin. We can use this analysis to locate teams to play on or fade in the coming weeks of action, and also can learn a lot about each of these teams through this analysis.

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