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Re-handicapping the AFC

Posted by Chase Stuart on December 22, 2006

A couple of weeks ago, I tried to handicap the AFC playoff picture. I'll do it again today, with a little twist in the formula.

With all due respect to our Chiefs, Bills, Steelers and Titans fans, I'm going to leave them out of the equation today. Figuring out the odds with four teams (Jets, Jaguars, Broncos and Bengals) is difficult enough, without an NFL super computer. Random note: the second place teams in all four AFC divisions have the same record (8-6), and the third place teams in all four divisions also all have the same record (7-7).

Here are the remaining schedules for the AFC contenders.

Team 16 17
Cin @Den Pit
Den Cin SF
Jac NE @KC
NYJ @Mia Oak

Once again, it's time to replace those teams with their ratings from Jeff Sagarin.

Team 16 17
24.80 @21.05 22.64
21.05 24.80 9.47
29.95 29.93 @19.74
22.00 @20.69 10.54

Now we can calculate each team's chance of winning each game, using the formula:

Home team prob. of winning =~ 1 / (1 + e^(-.438 - .0826*diff)), where "diff" equals the home team's rating minus the road team's rating.

Team 16 17
Cin 0.47 0.65
Den 0.53 0.80
Jac 0.61 0.60
NYJ 0.42 0.80

From this, we could sum the weeks and get an expected number of season wins (8 + the number above):

Den 9.33
NYJ 9.22
Jac 9.21
Cin 9.12

As you can tell, that's pretty close. Things change pretty quickly around here, and Cincinnati went from being a playoff favorite to really being on the outside looking in...right?

Of course, the total number of expected wins is pretty irrelevant, because some teams have better tiebreaker scenarios than others. The four wildcard contenders play seven unique games over the last two weeks. Those games could end up in any of 128 different combinations. The most likely combination would be: Denver beats Cincinnati, Cincinnati beats Pittsburgh, Denver beats San Francisco, Jacksonville beats New England and Kansas City, the Jets lose to Miami and the Jets beat the Raiders. There's about a 9.5% chance the games go that way. If they do, the Broncos and Jaguars would be in with 10 wins, and the Jets and Bengals would miss out.

For those who took a hard look at the percentages above, you could probably guess the second most likely outgame: the same as before, except Cincinnati now topping Denver. In that case, the Bengals and Jaguars would make it.

The tiebreakers can get pretty complicated, and I can't promise you that I've done them 100% correctly. I'll give it my best. But suffice it to say, getting to 10 wins seems like a pretty safe bet (although the Jets would miss out if three teams get to 10).

Here are the odds that each team gets to X number of wins:

Wins 10 9 8
Cin 0.30 0.51 0.19
Den 0.43 0.48 0.09
Jac 0.36 0.48 0.16
NYJ 0.33 0.55 0.12

In terms of tiebreakers, the Jets look to be in the worst position because they'll lose out to the Jaguars via head-to-head, and will lose out to Bengals and Broncos because of a poor conference record. So the only way the Jets can make the playoffs is if they have a better record than two of the other teams. Of the 128 combinations, 36 of them would give the Jets a better record than two of the other three teams, and make the playoffs. The sum of the odds of any of those combinations occuring is just north of 27%, so the Jets are slightly better than average favorites to make it.

The Broncos are the opposite of the Jets; they seem very likely to make it if tied. If tied with the Jets or Jaguars, Denver would make it because of a better conference record. Even if Denver loses to Cincinnati, Denver will make it as long as they don't have a worse record than two other teams. There are 59 combinations where no one would have a better record than Denver, and another 39 where only one team would post a better record. The sum of the odds of any of those 98 combinations equals 74%.

Cincinnati would win a tiebreaker over the Jets and Jaguars, but might or might not against the Broncos. If Denver beats Cincinnati, Denver would get the tiebreaker. If Cincinnati beats Denver, Cincinnati would get the tiebreaker if neither the Jets nor the Jaguars have the same record as the Bengals and Broncos. If one of those teams do (i.e., a three-way tie), then Denver would be the first team in because of a better conference record, and would make it in over Cincinnati. (Then, depending on the record of the 4th team, Cincinnati may or may not get in.) I'll save you the grunt work, and just say there are 78 combinations that would put the Bengals in, and there's a 54% chance of that happening.

The Jaguars aren't in much better shape than the Jets; they'd beat out the Jets in a tiebreaker, but would not top Denver or Cincinnati. There are 56 combinations where they have two of the following three scenarios: the Jets don't have more wins than the Jags, the Jags have more wins than the Broncos, the Jags have more wins than the Bengals. The sum of those odds? 45%.

So for the two spots remaining, the Broncos lead the pack with a 74% chance of seeing the post-season. The Bengals and Broncos are neck and neck, with Cincinnati (54%) just a bit more likely than Jacksonville (46%) to make the playoffs. The Jets have only a 27% chance, but take solace in this, Jets fans: a win over the Fins increases the Jets' chances to 59.5%, and there's less than a 30% chance the Jets win out and don't make the playoffs. The real reason New York's penalized is that the Jets only have a 1/1000 chance of making the playoffs with 9 wins, by far the lowest of these final four.

Note: Just a reminder, these percentages all sum to 200% (two playoff spots). Of course, the assumption in all of this is that the Steelers, Bills, Titans and Chiefs all miss the playoffs.

This entry was posted on Friday, December 22nd, 2006 at 2:40 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.