Friday, October 25, 2013

What's More Likely: The Chiefs at 16-0 or the Jaguars at 0-16?

The Jacksonville Jaguars are mired in another awful season, posting exactly one moral victory when they beat the +28 spread against them in their contest against the Broncos. They plan to install some swimming pools in the stadium, though. Promising!

This reaction is appropriate for all Jaguars-related news.

The Kansas City Chiefs are the NFL's last unbeaten team at 7-0 behind the strength of a terrific defense and a surprisingly effective offense. Alex Smith is enjoying the closest thing to a resurgence that Alex Smith is capable of having, and the offense is doing just enough to win close games.

How likely is it that each team is where they are? And how likely is it that they finish the season only making marks in one column?

Using 2013 winning percentage to represent the probability that a team will win a given game, we can determine the probability of Kansas City's and Jacksonville's records to date. With some prediction based on the same premise, we can approximate their likelihood of winning or losing each of the next nine games and scratching their name in the history books.

The Chiefs have played a surprisingly easy schedule to this point; of their previous opponents, only Dallas is above .500, and Dallas plays in arguably the worst division in football. The median record for Kansas City's opponents is 0.333, and the mean record is 2.2 wins and 4.8 losses. The Chiefs have played some really terrible teams so far, including the season opener at none other than the Jacksonville Jaguars.

After Kansas City helped the Jags get off to a solid start with a 28-2 loss, Jacksonville went on to play a bunch of really good teams. Of their previous opponents, only St. Louis is below .500, and even they're 3-4. The 5-2 Indiannapolis Colts represent the median Jaguars opponents to date based strictly on record. The mean record of Jacksonville oppressors is 4.7 wins against 2.3 losses. Jacksonville is really bad, but they've had one heck of a schedule so far.

The following chart details the Jaguars' and Chiefs' opponents to date. For the Jaguars, we're interested in opponent winning percentage, because we want to know the probability of 7 consecutive wins strung together by various teams. For the Chiefs, we want to look at their opponents' losing percentage (1-W%) to see the probability of 7 consecutive losses. Again, we're treating opponent winning (or losing) percentage as the likelihood that they will win (or lose), and therefore the likelihood that our subjects will lose (or win).

OpponentOpponent W%OpponentOpponent L%
Game 1KC1.000JAX1.000
Game 2OAK0.333DAL0.429
Game 3SEA0.857PHI0.571
Game 4IND0.714NYG0.857
Game 5STL0.429TEN0.571
Game 6DEN0.857OAK0.667
Game 7SD0.571HOU0.714

Not the typical Jags fan because the typical Jags fan doesn't exist
To calculate the probability that the Jaguars would find themselves at 0-7 knowing what we know now, just multiply each winning percentage together. The string of Jaguars opponents posts a 4.3% chance of winning seven consecutive games. 4.3% seems pretty low, so I'm guessing my spreadsheet hasn't seen the Jaguars play this year.

But how does that compare to the probability that the Chiefs' opponents would lose seven consecutive games? Like we said, the Chiefs' opponents are all really bad - in fact, they're just about as bad as the Jaguars' opponents have been good! The Chiefs have had a 5.7% chance of winning all of their games based on their opponents' losing probability. Shockingly, it's more likely that the Chiefs are undefeated than the Jaguars are completely (and utterly) defeated. Part of the reason that it's so surprising to see the Chiefs do as well as they have is pre-season expectations: nobody thought that the Chiefs would be relevant coming off of a 2-14 season in 2012, and nobody thought that the Giants would be terrible or that the Texans would be a mixture of bad, hurt, and unlucky.

Projecting the rest of the season, the Chiefs' schedule is expected to get much harder while the Jaguars schedule shouldn't be as difficult. Kansas City has to play what is arguably the best team in football, the Denver Broncos, twice in the remaining nine weeks, a dangerous Chargers team twice, plus the sneaky-decent Bills and Browns. The Jaguars, on the other hand, won't see another team that is currently above .500 until week 17, when they match up against the Colts a second time. The Jags do play a number of teams sitting at .429 winning percentages, so it's not exactly going to be easy.

OpponentOpponent W%OpponentOpponent L%
Game 8SF0.714CLE0.571
Game 9TEN0.429BUF0.571
Game 10ARZ0.429DEN0.143
Game 11HOU0.286SD0.429
Game 12CLE0.429DEN0.143
Game 13HOU0.286WAS0.667
Game 14BUF0.429OAK0.667
Game 15TEN0.429IND0.286
Game 16IND0.714SD0.429

If we assume that every team in the league will win a number of games consistent with their current records, the Chiefs have a 0.02% chance of winning out and ending the season as the first 16-0 team since the 2007 Patriots. The Jaguars have a 0.08% chance of winning out based solely on opponents' record at the seven-game mark. Based on opponents' winning percentage treated as opponents' winning probability at the seven-game mark, the Jaguars are more likely to lose out than the Chiefs are to win out.

But what if we go about projecting opponents' records based on their upcoming schedules?

OpponentOpponent W%OpponentOpponent L%
Game 8SF0.714CLE0.571
Game 9TEN (4-4, W: STL)0.500BUF (3-5, L: NO)0.625
Game 10ARI (4-5, W: HOU; L: ATL)0.444DEN (8-1, W: WAS, SD)0.111
Game 11HOU (2-8, L: IND, ARI, OAK0.200SD (6-4, W: WAS, MIA; L: DEN)0.400
Game 12CLE (3-8, L: KC, BAL, CIN, PIT)0.273DEN (10-1, W: NE, KC)0.091
Game 13HOU (3-9, W:JAX; L:NE)0.250WAS (3-9, W: NYG; L: DEN, SD, MIN, PHI, SF)0.750
Game 14BUF (5-8, W: PIT, TB; L: NO, KC, NYJ, ATL)0.385OAK(4-9, W:NYG, HOU; L:PIT, PHI, TEN, DAL, NYJ)0.692
Game 15TEN(6-8, W: JAX, OAK; L: IND, IND, DEN, ARI)0.429IND (11-3, W: HOU, STL, TEN, ARI, TEN, HOU; L: CIN)0.214
Game 16IND (12-3, W: HOU, STL, TEN, ARI, TEN, HOU, KC; L: CIN)0.800SD (8-7, W: NYG, OAK; L: CIN, DEN, KC)0.467

Most games were predicted based on what I know about each team, and in close situations, I referred to Football Outsiders' week 7 DVOA rankings, a well-respected ranking system based on quantitative information. Very scientific. Totally unlike what we're doing here. I expect the Chiefs to lose to Denver, so Denver's record for the second Chiefs game included a win in the first game against Kansas City. I still used Denver's loss percentage as the probability that the Chiefs would win the second game, it's just considered a less likely event based on Denver's projected record.

Under these circumstances, we would calculate the probability that the Jaguars lose their nine remaining games to be 0.04%. That's less than current records indicate, which goes a long way towards saying how much easier Jacksonville's schedule gets. The teams that they play, while currently holders of respectable records, are just not that good: Houston's record will only get worse and Cleveland is going to lose all of its divisional games. Only Buffalo is projected to have a winning percentage anything resembling what it looks like after seven games. The Chiefs' probability of winning out is calculated at 0.01%, also less than current records indicate. This difference is due to the Broncos being expected to win out and Indianapolis being very close to doing so (I'm putting Indy down for a loss at Cincinnati because their record to date has not suggested that they can consistently handle teams that they should beat). So under this slightly more descriptive model, the Jaguars are still considered more likely to keep losing than the Chiefs are to keep winning.

But what about that other 0-7 team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? If you're like me, you forgot that they played football there, amidst the MRSA, the weird Josh Freeman saga, and the Coach Schiano general awfulness. Tampa Bay's circus sideshow of a football is less likely to have laid an egg to this point than Jacksonville: The Buccaneers' probability of being 0-7 is just 1.19%!

OpponentOpponent W%
Game 1NYJ0.571
Game 2NO0.833
Game 3NE0.714
Game 4ARZ0.429
Game 5PHI0.429
Game 6ATL0.333
Game 7CAR0.571

TB Opp Current RecordsTB Opp Projected Records
OpponentOpponent W%OpponentOpponent W%
Game 8SEA0.857SEA0.857
Game 9MIA0.500MIA (3-5, L: NE, CIN)0.375
Game 10ATL0.333ATL (3-6, W:ARI; L:CAR, SEA)0.333
Game 11DET0.571DET (5-5, W:PIT, ; L: DAL, CHI)0.500
Game 12CAR0.571CAR (7-4, W: ATL, NE, MIA; L: SF)0.636
Game 13BUF0.429BUF (4-8, W: PIT; L: NO, KC, NYJ, ATL)0.333
Game 14SF0.714SF (9-4; W: JAX, CAR, WAS, STL; L: NO, SEA)0.692
Game 15STL0.429STL (3-11, L: SEA, TEN, IND, CHI, SF, ARI, NO)0.214
Game 16NO0.833NO (13-2, W: BUF, NYJ, DAL, SF, ATL, CAR, STL, CAR; L: SEA)0.867

Tampa Bay's season feels the way this looks If we look at Tampa Bay's remaining opponents, we see that their remaining games are actually more difficult than Jacksonville's. By both median (.571) and mean (.582), the average game on the Tampa Bay schedule is against a team over .500. As such, probability that they lose out ends up higher than Jacksonville's chances to lose out. The Buccaneers have a 0.51% of losing every game for the rest of the season based on their opponents' winning percentages as of game 7. Based on projected records for each team, Tampa Bay's opponents are actually a little worse than their current records would suggest. The median opponent, based on my predictions, is .500 and the average opponent is .534. The biggest obstacle to Tampa Bay adding its name to the history books is St. Louis, a team I project to lose every game from here on out (except for their exciting tilt against the 0-fer Buccaneers). That they're calling Brett Favre doesn't help.

Under these adjusted circumstances, the expected probability of Tampa Bay losing out is 0.15%, still a better chance than Jacksonville. Both are truly awful teams but Tampa Bay has recently suffered an injury to star running back Doug Martin and inserted Mike Glennon at quarterback, factors that were not included in this analysis but ones that don't do anything to help their case. In fact, based on this probability and on-field factors like that, the Buccaneers might actually be worse of than the Jaguars, a conclusion that CBS's experts came to as well.

This NFL season, we're enjoying the possibility and the schadenfreude of two teams reaching historic lows and joining the ranks of the 0-16. And they're bad enough that we just might get it.

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