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Toughest postseason slates

Posted by Doug on June 29, 2007

On Monday I posted the easiest and toughest schedules of all time according to the Simple Rating System. In the comments, some people asked which teams had the toughest postseason schedules. I'll answer that in this post.

Meanwhile, Wednesday's post about the strongest and weakest divisions sparked a little discussion about how to measure the strength of a group of teams. In that discussion, James G had this to say:

One thing could possibly make Brian happier is if division’s were rated by what the average (some record) team in the NFL’s record would have been in that division. I think you might find the toughest division for a 14-2 team isn’t necessarily the same as the toughest division for a 10-6 team.

He's right. Strength of schedule is relative. If you're a +10 team according to the SRS, you'd rather play two zeros than play a +10 and a -10. Well, if you want to maximize your expected wins, you'd rather. Conversely, a -10 team would rather play the +10 and the -10 than play two zeros.

So I've decided to rate the postseason slates on three different scales:

(1) what is the probability than a league average team would go undefeated against that group of teams?

(2) what is the probability that a typical playoff team (SRS = +6) would go undefeated against that group of teams?

(3) what is the probability that a legitimate candidate for best team in the league in a given year (SRS = +10) would go undefeated against that group of teams.

For example, look at the Patriots' 2006 postseason:

Game #1: at home against the Jets (+2.0)
An average team would have roughly a 55% chance of beating the Jets at home.
A typical playoff team would have roughly a 66% chance of beating the Jets at home.
A great team would have roughly a 73% chance of beating the Jets at home.

Game #2: on the road against the Chargers (+10.2)
An average team would have roughly a 24% chance of beating the Chargers in San Diego.
A typical playoff team would have roughly a 33% chance of beating the Chargers in San Diego.
A great team would have roughly a 41% chance of beating the Chargers in San Diego.

Game #3: on the road against the Colts (+5.9)
An average team would have roughly a 31% chance of beating the Colts in Indy.
A typical playoff team would have roughly a 42% chance of beating the Colts in Indy.
A great team would have roughly a 49% chance of beating the Colts in Indy.

Putting it altogether (and sweeping some rounding discrepancies under the rug), we might estimate that an average team, a typical playoff team, and a great team would have a 4.0%, 9.2%, and 14.8% chance, respectively, of winning all three of those games. In the table that follows, I will summarize that thusly:

nwe 2006   0.040  0.092  0.148   nyj  +2.0, *sdg +10.2, *ind  +5.9

The asterisks denote road games.

As it turns out, it matters very little which of those three numbers we use to sort the list. I chose the last one for no particular reason. Here is a list of all teams since 1970 that played exactly three postseason games, sorted from toughest slate of opponents to easiest.

NOTE: I'm lazy and a bad programmer, so the "visiting team" in the Super Bowl will have an asterisk that you'll have to mentally remove. In the calculations, however, the game was correctly treated as a neutral-site game.

Tm   Yr    AvTm   PlTm   GrTm      opp1        opp2        opp3
===================================================================
dal 1975   0.016  0.043  0.078  *min  +8.9, *ram  +9.1,  pit +14.2
min 1987   0.017  0.045  0.080  *nor  +9.8, *sfo +13.1, *was  +3.7
atl 1998   0.022  0.056  0.097   sfo +10.6, *min +14.9,  den  +8.9
ram 1989   0.022  0.057  0.099  *phi  +5.1, *nyg  +6.4, *sfo +10.7
hou 1979   0.023  0.058  0.099   den  +4.1, *sdg +11.8, *pit +11.9
min 1973   0.023  0.058  0.100   was  +7.4, *dal +12.8,  mia +13.2
hou 1978   0.024  0.062  0.106  *mia  +7.6, *nwe  +5.0, *pit  +8.2
phi 2001   0.027  0.066  0.111   tam  +4.0, *chi  +7.9, *stl +13.4
car 2005   0.027  0.069  0.116  *nyg  +7.5, *chi  +1.4, *sea  +9.1
gnb 1995   0.031  0.074  0.121   atl  +0.1, *sfo +11.8, *dal  +9.7
dal 1980   0.031  0.075  0.124   ram  +6.5, *atl  +7.8, *phi  +9.7
nyj 1982   0.030  0.075  0.126  *cin  +3.4, *rai  +5.1, *mia  +8.0
jax 1996   0.032  0.078  0.130  *buf  +2.9, *den  +7.6, *nwe  +5.1
ind 1995   0.035  0.084  0.139  *sdg  +1.5, *kan  +7.6, *pit  +4.6
dal 1992   0.037  0.087  0.141   phi  +8.9, *sfo +11.8, *buf  +4.3
nwe 2001   0.037  0.087  0.142   oak  +3.6, *pit  +7.4, *stl +13.4
ind 2003   0.037  0.087  0.142   den  +5.5, *kan  +8.3, *nwe  +6.9
nwe 2004   0.036  0.087  0.142   ind +11.4, *pit  +9.0, *phi  +5.6
was 1986   0.039  0.090  0.145   ram  +1.9, *chi  +7.6, *nyg  +9.0
nwe 2006   0.040  0.092  0.148   nyj  +2.0, *sdg +10.2, *ind  +5.9
mia 1971   0.038  0.091  0.149  *kan  +5.1,  bal +10.4,  dal  +9.9
oak 1976   0.039  0.093  0.151   nwe  +8.6,  pit +15.3, *min  +9.3
sfo 1988   0.042  0.098  0.158   min +10.9, *chi  +6.6, *cin  +6.1
tam 2002   0.046  0.103  0.163   sfo  +0.6, *phi  +8.3,  oak +10.6
dal 1970   0.046  0.105  0.167   det +14.0, *sfo  +6.5,  bal  +0.4
ram 1979   0.046  0.105  0.167  *dal  +3.3, *tam  -2.8,  pit +11.9
sdg 1994   0.046  0.106  0.168   mia  +4.2, *pit  +4.7, *sfo +11.6
buf 1991   0.050  0.110  0.171   kan  +6.4,  den  +3.4,  was +16.6
dal 1971   0.048  0.109  0.173  *min  +6.5,  sfo  +6.3, *mia  +7.7
sea 1983   0.051  0.112  0.175   den  -2.8, *mia  +7.7, *rai  +6.8
gnb 1997   0.051  0.114  0.178   tam  +2.7, *sfo  +5.1,  den +10.7
kan 1993   0.051  0.114  0.178   pit  +1.5, *hou  +7.2, *buf  +4.8
mia 1972   0.052  0.115  0.179   cle  +0.3, *pit +10.0, *was  +6.3
nyg 1990   0.053  0.119  0.185   chi  +3.4, *sfo  +5.8, *buf  +8.6
pit 1974   0.055  0.120  0.186   buf  +1.0, *oak  +9.0, *min  +6.1
den 1986   0.053  0.120  0.187   nwe  +5.7, *cle  +3.6, *nyg  +9.0
den 1998   0.054  0.120  0.187   mia  +5.9,  nyj +11.2, *atl +10.0
mia 1984   0.057  0.124  0.191   sea  +9.0,  pit  +3.3,  sfo +12.7
was 1972   0.061  0.133  0.203   gnb  +7.0,  dal  +6.1,  mia +11.0
den 1977   0.062  0.135  0.207   pit  +6.2,  oak +10.4,  dal  +7.8
nwe 1996   0.068  0.141  0.210   pit  +5.2,  jax  -1.5,  gnb +15.3
min 1976   0.068  0.144  0.218   was  +3.0,  ram +10.5,  oak  +8.5
dal 1982   0.074  0.154  0.228   tam  +1.0,  gnb  +6.1, *was  +7.4
rai 1983   0.081  0.162  0.237   pit  -0.1,  sea  +1.5, *was +13.9
gnb 1996   0.076  0.161  0.240   sfo  +8.0,  car  +7.1, *nwe  +5.1
dal 1978   0.081  0.164  0.241   atl  -4.6, *ram  +3.2,  pit  +8.2
mia 1973   0.079  0.164  0.243   cin  +3.1,  oak  +6.8, *min  +8.6
sfo 1989   0.080  0.165  0.244   min  +4.3,  ram  +4.6, *den  +9.3
buf 1990   0.079  0.164  0.244   mia  +4.7,  rai  +6.6,  nyg  +7.7
sea 2005   0.079  0.165  0.244   was  +6.0,  car  +5.1, *pit  +7.8
pit 1975   0.079  0.164  0.244   bal  +8.6,  oak  +6.8, *dal  +4.1
was 1983   0.081  0.167  0.247   ram  +2.9,  sfo  +8.7,  rai  +6.8
pit 1978   0.085  0.171  0.250   den  +5.0,  hou  -0.4, *dal +11.0
sfo 1984   0.084  0.171  0.250   nyg  +0.8,  chi  +4.7, *mia +10.6
stl 2001   0.082  0.169  0.250   gnb  +6.6,  phi  +7.7,  nwe  +4.3
dal 1993   0.084  0.172  0.254   gnb  +3.2,  sfo  +9.7, *buf  +4.8
nyg 1986   0.085  0.174  0.256   sfo  +7.0,  was  +5.5,  den  +5.2
was 1987   0.089  0.178  0.258  *chi  +4.0,  min  -2.5, *den  +4.4
min 1974   0.088  0.179  0.262   stl  +5.8,  ram  +3.9,  pit  +6.8
den 1987   0.089  0.180  0.263   hou  +1.7,  cle +10.6,  was  +3.7
den 1989   0.098  0.190  0.272   pit  -3.7,  cle  +4.4,  sfo +10.7
oak 2002   0.096  0.189  0.273   nyj  +3.2,  ten  +1.8, *tam  +8.8
phi 2004   0.103  0.194  0.274   min  -1.7,  atl  -2.2,  nwe +12.8
sfo 1981   0.095  0.190  0.275   nyg  +3.4,  dal  +6.1, *cin  +5.5
buf 1993   0.101  0.195  0.279   rai  -0.7,  kan  +2.9,  dal  +9.6
nyg 2000   0.100  0.196  0.281   phi  +3.1,  min  +1.9,  bal  +8.0
sfo 1994   0.104  0.202  0.288   chi  -1.9,  dal +10.1,  sdg  +3.6
chi 1985   0.105  0.205  0.293   nyg  +3.9,  ram  +2.6, *nwe  +5.8
cin 1981   0.106  0.206  0.293   buf  +1.3,  sdg  +4.4,  sfo  +6.2
phi 1980   0.106  0.206  0.293   min  -0.3,  dal  +8.0,  oak  +4.2
nwe 2003   0.107  0.208  0.297   ten  +6.5,  ind  +7.0,  car  -0.9
dal 1977   0.116  0.215  0.299   chi  -3.6,  min  -1.6, *den +11.3
cin 1988   0.112  0.215  0.304   sea  -0.7,  buf  +6.4,  sfo  +4.8
pit 1995   0.117  0.218  0.305   buf  -0.9,  ind  -1.3,  dal  +9.7
bal 1970   0.119  0.224  0.313   cin  +0.5,  oak  +1.0, *dal  +7.0
dal 1995   0.118  0.224  0.314   phi  -1.7,  gnb  +6.0, *pit  +4.6
chi 2006   0.127  0.236  0.327   sea  -3.6,  nor  +4.0,  ind  +5.9
was 1991   0.126  0.237  0.329   atl  +3.4,  det  +1.0, *buf  +3.6
stl 1999   0.128  0.240  0.334   min  +4.4,  tam  +2.6, *ten  +1.0
pit 1979   0.128  0.241  0.334   mia  +4.3,  hou  +4.4, *ram  -0.6

I should point out that the ratings shown (and used in the calculations) are regular season ratings. The 1999 Tennessee Titans were a +1.0 in the regular season, but by the time they played the Rams in the Super Bowl they had beaten three more good teams, so the +1.0 probably does shortchange them to some extent.

I'll close with the four-game teams.

Tm   Yr    AvTm   PlTm   GrTm      opp1        opp2        opp3        opp4
===============================================================================
nwe 1985   0.005  0.020  0.041  *nyj  +9.0, *rai  +4.3, *mia  +7.0,  chi +15.9
pit 2005   0.006  0.021  0.044  *cin  +3.8, *ind +10.8, *den +10.8,  sea  +9.1
ten 1999   0.011  0.036  0.071   buf  +7.1, *ind  +6.1, *jax  +6.4,  stl +11.9
bal 2000   0.014  0.044  0.082   den  +5.0, *ten  +8.3, *oak  +9.7, *nyg  +2.4
den 1997   0.014  0.044  0.083   jax  +5.5, *kan  +8.4, *pit  +5.3, *gnb  +7.7
ind 2006   0.019  0.055  0.100   kan  +1.0, *bal  +9.3,  nwe +10.2, *chi  +7.9
oak 1980   0.020  0.058  0.105   hou  +1.6, *cle  +1.8, *sdg  +6.0, *phi  +9.7
buf 1992   0.020  0.058  0.106   hou  +5.5, *pit  +3.6, *mia  +1.5,  dal  +9.9
car 2003   0.022  0.063  0.112   dal  -0.5, *stl  +5.9, *phi  +4.4, *nwe  +6.9
mia 1982   0.042  0.106  0.173   nwe  -2.7,  sdg  +5.1,  nyj +10.3,  was  +7.4
was 1982   0.046  0.112  0.182   det  +1.5,  min  +1.2,  dal  +8.4, *mia  +8.0

This entry was posted on Friday, June 29th, 2007 at 4:39 am and is filed under General, History. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.