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Finishing Strong

Posted by Jason Lisk on March 27, 2008

Does a team's finish have any impact on how they perform the next season? I looked at all teams that finished with between 4 and 8 wins, since 1990. I then used the following quick measurement to see how each team was performing at the end of the season. For every win in the final 4 games, the team got 2 points. For every win in games 9-12, the team got 1 point.

I then sorted the teams by win totals. The teams in each win total were then divided into three groups, the strong finishers, the average finishers, and the weak finishers, based on how many points they scored. The average finishers were those within +/- 1 pt of the average expected points for that particular win total. For example, a 6-win team would average 1.5 wins for every 4 games. That would be an average of 4.5 points in my system (3 points for final 4 weeks, 1.5 points for weeks 9-12), so the average finishers for the 6-win group were all teams that scored 4 or 5 points. The strong finishing 6-win teams scored 6 or more points (for example, 2 wins in last 4, and 4-4 in final 8). The weak finishing 6-win teams scored 3 points or less.

Here are the results sorted by win totals.

FOUR WIN TEAMS

group              no.   win%     8+wins  play     chgame
=======================================================
strong finishers    6    0.469    0.64    0.17     0.00
average finishers  23    0.471    0.43    0.26     0.09
weak finishers      8    0.367    0.25    0.00     0.00
=======================================================

FIVE WIN TEAMS

group              no.   win%     8+wins  play     chgame
=======================================================
strong finishers   12    0.526    0.67    0.50     0.17
average finishers  18    0.368    0.22    0.22     0.06
weak finishers     12    0.458    0.50    0.30     0.00
=======================================================

SIX WIN TEAMS

group              no.   win%     8+wins  play     chgame
=======================================================
strong finishers   14    0.589    0.79    0.43     0.07
average finishers  26    0.405    0.42    0.27     0.08
weak finishers     16    0.457    0.56    0.31     0.00
=======================================================

SEVEN WIN TEAMS

group              no.   win%     8+wins  play     chgame
=======================================================
strong finishers   11    0.500    0.55    0.36     0.27
average finishers  24    0.448    0.54    0.33     0.08
weak finishers     17    0.476    0.53    0.47     0.06
=======================================================

EIGHT WIN TEAMS

group              no.   win%     8+wins  play     chgame
=======================================================
strong finishers   13    0.524    0.54    0.46     0.23
average finishers  34    0.494    0.56    0.35     0.15
weak finishers     12    0.490    0.58    0.25     0.08
=======================================================

And combining them all together . . .

ALL TEAMS, FOUR TO EIGHT WINS

group              no.   win%     8+wins  play     chgame
=======================================================
strong finishers   56    0.530    0.64    0.41     0.16
average finishers 125    0.445    0.46    0.30     0.10
weak finishers     65    0.457    0.51    0.31     0.03
=======================================================

It would appear that, for those teams generally out of the playoff picture at the end of the season, the way they finished does have some bearing on the next season. The strong finishers out of the 4-win group were better than the average and weak finishers for the entire group. And starting with the 5-win group, the strong finishers have been better than teams that finished with better win totals, but did not finish strong. However, finishing poorly doesn't seem to be a worse indicator than simply playing about the same as you had all year.

Our strong finishers also outperformed the league average, even though they averaged only 6.3 wins the previous season. A league average team would have made the playoffs about 39% of the time for this period, and reached a conference championship game about 14% of the time.

So, who are the strong finishers from this group in 2007? There are two teams from each conference. In the AFC, Houston (8-8) and Cincinnati (7-9) qualify as strong finishers. In the NFC, Philadelphia (8-8) and San Fransisco (5-11) qualify. San Fransisco were last year's darlings, but their underlying statistics portended doom, will they be the surprises of 2008?