Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Midseason records

With the NFL's Week 9 in the books, every team has hit the halfway point of the season which is where you can begin to apply some certainty as to the potential playoff possibilities of each football franchise. For more than a decade, it's been pretty easy to see who was getting in based on early success and which middle-of-the-pack teams had the best chance to compete. The 2008 season was one that provided some trend-bucking with teams like San Diego and Washington reversing their roles from mid-season form. But even with those deviations, here is the breakdown of the likeliness of your team making the playoffs based on its mid-season record.

Since 1998 (as far back as I was willing to dig last season when originally undertaking this statistical adventure), there have been 132 playoff teams (12 teams per season times 11 seasons). Of those 132 playoff teams, 68 of them (52%) reached the midway point with at least a 6-2 record. Another 62 teams (47%) were either 5-3 or 4-4 at the halfway point. And two other teams (1%) - the '02 Jets and the '08 Chargers - snuck in as Division champs after beginning the year 3-5.

That's the breakdown of the team who actually do make the playoffs, but what about the big picture, looking at every team and seeing how it can all play out.

Leaders of the pack: starting 6-2 or better
There have been 80 teams to begin an NFL season with a 6-2 record since the 1998 season, and in that time, all but 12 have reached the postseason, a success rate of 85% over the last 11 seasons. That does leave room for a 15% failure rate.

Right now in the 2009 season, there are eight teams in the NFL with records of at least 6-2. With a 15% failure rate, one of these eight teams will miss the playoffs come January.
TeamDivisionMidseason Record
Indianapolis Colts
AFC South
New Orleans Saints
NFC South
Minnesota Vikings
NFC North
Cincinnati Bengals
AFC North
Dallas Cowboys
NFC East
Denver Broncos
AFC West
New England Patriots
AFC East
Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC North

The most likely suspects to miss the playoffs of this group are the 6-2 teams as the Colts, Saints and Vikings all have three game leads in their respective divisions. The Bengals and Steelers are tied in the AFC North, so either one could fall off. The Broncos and Cowboys each suffered late-season drop offs in 2008, so it wouldn't be unheard of if it happened again, and each of them have only a one-game lead in their respective divisions. The Patriots have a two-game lead in the AFC East and have never resembled a team that would choke down the stretch of the regular season.

Middle of the pack: starting 5-3 or 4-4
Since '98, there have been 128 teams to be 5-3 or 4-4 at the midway point of their 16-game regular season schedules. Of those 128, slightly less than half of them - 62 to be exact - have missed the playoffs. This is pretty much a coin flip. It's 48% make the playoffs from this plateau while 52% miss the postseason. There are currently 16 teams in the NFL who are 5-3 or 4-4 at their midway points, and if only seven of the eight "leaders of the pack" teams don't make it, that leaves room for five of these 16 teams to make the playoffs, even less than the roughly 48% mark.

Back of the pack: starting 3-5 or worse
Finally, in the same time period, only two of the 139 teams that began the season 3-5 or worse ever rebounded to make the playoffs. Both of those teams, the '02 Jets and '08 Chargers, played in horrible divisions and were able to finish with matching records and won tiebreakers to win their divisions and get into the postseason. This year, the only teams even close to a division lead with under-.500 records are the 3-5 Seahawks and 49ers who each trail the 5-3 Cardinals in the NFC West. More than likely, however, none of the 11 teams who have these atrocious will make the 2009 playoffs. It's just too rare.

Week 10 begins tomorrow night as Thursday night football returns. Which teams will continue their hot trends of a fast start to the 2009 season? We've already seen some teams, like the quick-starting 5-0 Giants, slip off the leaders pace. The Giants have lost their last four games are now at middle-of-the-pack status at 5-4. Other teams like the Cowboys began a meek 2-2 before winning their last four games to take the lead in the NFC East with Sunday's win over Philly.

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