BSN Against the Spread

Expected Wins: NFL 2016 Regression and progression candidates

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The expected wins model is one of the most common measures used by sabermetricians to calculate teams win percentage over the course of the season. The stat and formula was developed by the godfather of advanced stats, Bill James, who first used it in baseball.

The formula we used is based on the Pythagorean expectation formula by James and adapted to football, among other sports.

With less than a few days until the beginning of the 2016 NFL season, we decided to dig in and find out for ourselves what the projections say. Some of the notable regression and progression candidates might surprise you.

This formula has had an incredible amount of success, especially with outliers who have over a two-win differential in their Pythagorean win expectations and their actual record from the previous season. Candidates to improve, with a differential of over 2 wins, have averaged 2.7 more actual wins the following year. While regression candidates with at least two actual wins greater than their projection, have come back to earth winning an average of 2.1 fewer games. That's over a 35-year span.

In this year's numbers, it’s the two conference champions who have a differential greater than two wins. While the one improvement candidate who has a two win difference in the projections is San Diego with 1.97 change.

As our first piece of many, digging deep into the stats to figure out ways to beat the spread, here’s what we found.

The following are contextualizations of the data that you can find in the chart below. 

Regression candidates:

Denver Broncos

Look no further than the Broncos record in one-possession games to understand their regression candidacy, having the largest differential of all teams in our projections.

Denver was 10-3 in one-possession games last season. Regardless of any other factor, that’ll be hard to replicate.

Add in some of the changes to the roster, the historical difficulties in elite defenses maintaining high-standards, the all important changes at quarterback, and the projection seems fairly safe.

The Broncos aren’t projected to plummet at 9 wins, but there’s definitely some important factors that can explain their fall from grace.

Carolina Panthers

For starters, it’s not easy to repeat a 15 win season in the NFL. The six teams in NFL history to go 15-1, prior to Carolina, have regressed at an average of 3.84 wins the following season. Carolina is also dealing with a Super Bowl hangover and the loss of Josh Norman.

Even more importantly, repeating an almost perfect record his not an easy task. The 1986 Chicago Bears are the closest to repeat the feat by finishing 14-and-2 in the regular season.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts are a tricky one because the numbers don’t take into account the seven-game absence of Andrew Luck in 2015. Though it’s important to remember that the Colts franchise quarterback only went 2-5 in those seven starts.

Luck might be part of the Colts problem, who defied all odds by winning 8 games in 2015, as his contract extension has severely lessened Indy’s depth. It's hard to find many improvements on this roster that lost some significant defensive starters, such as Jerrell Freeman. Even with a healthy Luck, this team might not bounce back into playoff contention like many expect, in a more competitive AFC South.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles won 7 games in 2015 despite a rough season. Now in a transitional year, with a new coaching staff and behind center, the regression seems like another easy bet.

Minnesota Vikings

Like Philadelphia, the Viking's regression isn't above -1.5 wins, but with the tough loss of Teddy Bridgewater and a high-mark of 11-wins in 2015, regression seems fair.

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Progression candidates:

San Diego Chargers

Things in Chargers country did not go well last year, as they won a mere 4 games and faced several injuries throughout.

Ken Whisenhunt is back coaching up Phillip Rivers, who played some of his best football, last time under his former offensive coordinator. The Chargers are also a young team who seem poised for a bounce back season, with their total wins projecting out to 6 in 2016.

A young defensive core, with several players who’ve shown promise, should help significantly in San Diego exceeding their miserable season.

Tennessee Titans

Another young team that faced injury issues and has made significant improvements in the offseason. Again, this isn't accounted for in the numbers but helps contextualized them. A major factor for Tennesse was close losses, something that should improve with a more experienced young core.

The Titans were 2-and-6 in one possession games, with four of those losses coming by three points or less. With a healthy Marcus Mariota in year two, a promising stable of running backs, added depth, and talent across the roster, the Titans should be able to exceed their 3-win total from 2015.

Seattle Seahawks

Seattle’s projection comes as somewhat of a surprise, as they're not your typical improvement candidates, like two teams above. However, the Seahawks “only” won 10 games in 2015. They also had a very rough beginning to the season in which they went 2-4, while dealing with issues such as the Kam Chancellor holdout and a bit of a Super Bowl 49 loss hangover. Seattle’s rough first month and a half of the year was also a product of two overtime losses.

Seattle’s loss of Marshawn Lynch shouldn’t be a huge factor, as the running back only played 28-percent of snaps in Seattle. Russell Okung and even Bruce Irving are slightly more significant departures, having started over 70-percent of snaps. A veteran roster that’s used to winning should overcome the few losses and seem like a healthy bet to exceed the 10-wins from last season.

New York Giants

The Giants had a very high number of one-possession games, 11, and a 3-8 record to go with it. New York changed their head coach but maintained the rest of their staff, ensuring some sort of stability in the 2015 figures translating to this year.

They’ve also made some splashy free-agency additions and seem primed to make even greater strides in year two in Ben McAdoo’s offense. On the defensive side, the Giants have spent the aforementioned money and should at least improve from their third worst points allowed in the NFL from 2015.

Below is the entire chart with the expected win numbers and differentials from 2015 for every team.

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Team Projected Win Percentage Expected Wins 2015 Wins Change
San Diego 0.3735609063 5.976974501 4 1.976974501
Tennessee 0.3052924501 4.884679202 3 1.884679202
Seattle 0.7317168314 11.7074693 10 1.707469302
New York Giants 0.4697866656 7.516586649 6 1.516586649
Jacksonville 0.3976578467 6.362525547 5 1.362525547
Dallas 0.3254715636 5.207545017 4 1.207545017
Cleveland 0.2602428728 4.163885965 3 1.163885965
Baltimore 0.3831388904 6.130222247 5 1.130222247
Pittsburgh 0.6612274967 10.57963995 10 0.5796399472
Buffalo 0.5320775682 8.513241091 8 0.5132410908
Chicago 0.4007263352 6.411621363 6 0.4116213631
Tampa Bay 0.3846368595 6.154189752 6 0.1541897519
Kansas City 0.6934375073 11.09500012 11 0.09500011675
Oakland 0.4377337859 7.003740575 7 0.00374057499
Detroit 0.4346490417 6.954384666 7 -0.04561533359
NY Jets 0.6213789174 9.942062678 10 -0.05793732165
Miami 0.3686513965 5.898422344 6 -0.1015776559
Atlanta 0.4896064939 7.833703903 8 -0.1662960971
Houston 0.5471392588 8.754228141 9 -0.2457718589
Cincinnati 0.7238784166 11.58205467 12 -0.4179453339
New Orleans 0.4096682186 6.554691497 7 -0.445308503
Los Angeles 0.4038621726 6.461794761 7 -0.5382052385
New England 0.7156593913 11.45055026 12 -0.5494497396
Green Bay 0.5766705847 9.226729355 10 -0.7732706452
Washington 0.5139018783 8.222430052 9 -0.7775699476
Arizona 0.7421928975 11.87508636 13 -1.12491364
San Francisco 0.2400902055 3.841443288 5 -1.158556712
Minnesota 0.6104120781 9.766593249 11 -1.233406751
Philadelphia 0.359490915 5.751854641 7 -1.248145359
Indianapolis 0.3819202914 6.110724662 8 -1.889275338
Denver 0.6060568668 9.696909869 12 -2.303090131
Carolina 0.7591974723 12.14715956 15 -2.852840443

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