You probably weren’t paying too much attention in that Geometry class way back in tenth grade where we learned all about those different math formulas. For myself, growing up in high school, I was more concerned with partying (drinking age was only 18 which meant we started around age 16) and chasing girls throughout high school. Learning about some math formulas was furthest from my mind.
But, there is one formula that was drilled into our heads and is hard to forget. The Pythagorean Theorem. A2 + B2 = C2. I’ll spare you the details of how it works but feel free to google it if you would like.
Bill James brought the Pythagorean Theorem to light many years ago as a way to indicate a baseball team’s future performance based on runs scored and allowed as it correlates to its winning percentage. From there a formula was created to apply it to the NFL as well. While I am not sure who created the NFL formula I do know Football Outsiders has given it some research as a way to predict a team’s performance the following season based on their prior year performance. I have used this over the last 12 years or so to help gauge NFL season win totals for the upcoming season. While it’s only one piece of the puzzle, there are some definite lessons we can take from it to set us up in the right direction when it comes to NFL season win totals. So, let’s take a look at what we can learn from this Geometry class formula from the tenth grade.
Let’s start by applying the Pythagorean Theorem to the 2018 NFL season. The LA Rams went 13-3 during the regular season and scored 527 points while allowing 384 points. While the Rams went 13-3 the Pythagorean Theorem suggests the Rams should have only won 10.9 games and lost 5.1 games. In other words the Rams won 2.1 more games than they should have based on this formula.
When looking at all teams going back to 2007 that won two or more games than they should have and how that correlated to the next season in terms of meeting that seasons NFL win totals we get the following. If a team over achieved their prior year regular season wins by two or more games we look to go under their season win total the following season. Since 2007 there have been 21 such teams or just less than two teams a year. And by fading those 21 teams to the under season win total the following season you would have gone 17-3-1 by betting the under the following season. Of those 21 teams 17 of them won three or fewer games the following season vs what they won the previous season, including all seven teams who won 13 or more games the previous season. This would suggest the Rams will win 10 or fewer games this season despite being tasked with a 10.5 season win number.
But, let’s take this one step further. Teams that typically win more games than their numbers suggest they likely also had very good fortune in close games. The more close games you win the greater likelihood for many teams that fortune will regress to the mean the following season. The 2018 LA Rams not only won 2.1 games more than their numbers suggest they should have but they also went 6-1 SU in games decided by seven or fewer points during the regular season. They had an extreme amount of good luck in those close games. By my count and memory at least four of those six wins could have gone the other way.
When we go back and look at those 21 teams who over achieved by a minimum of two games and look at only those teams who won four or more close games than they lost we find those teams went under their season win total the following season to the tune of 13-1-1.
Before we move on let’s look at a 2018 team based on their 2017 numbers that qualified for this situation. The Pittsburgh Steelers went 13-3 in 2017 while their Pythagorean numbers suggested they should only have won 10.5 games or 2.5 fewer games. The Steelers were also a very fortunate 8-2 in games decided by seven or fewer points in 2017. In 2018 they slipped back to 9-6-1 (four less wins) while going a more normal 6-5 in close games. And, true to form, they went under their season win total of 10 wins.
What about the other side of the coin? What about teams who under achieved the previous season? Since 2007 there have been 25 teams that won two or less games than their Pythagorean numbers suggest they should have won. We would look to go over their season win total the following season. Those 25 teams went 16-8-1 the following season versus their season win total.
Let’s look at a 2018 number that fit that mold last year. In 2017 the Cleveland Browns went 0-16 but their Pythagorean numbers suggests they should have won 3.3 games in 2017. Despite being marked with a six win total for 2018 (six more games than they won the prior season) the Browns still managed to win seven games and go over their season win total number.
Last year the NY Giants went 5-11 but their Pythagorean numbers suggested they should have won seven games. The Giants were also a very unfortunate 4-8 in close games. They’ve been asked to win six games this year. That six win total is heavily juiced to the under meaning you can either get plus money on the over six wins or line shop and/or wait and hope for a 5.5 wins to pop at one of your books. If that happens it will be juiced to the over but a 5.5 over -150 is fairly equal to six wins flat.
One other side note to this is teams that won 8 or more games and still under achieved by at least two wins the previous season have gone over their season win total the following year all five times since 2007. Unfortunately we don’t have any of those teams this year.
We can also assign a win total for each team based on projected lines for each team’s games this year. CG Technology projects lines on each game for the first 16 weeks of the season. Using historical data to project the chance of winning each game based on home/away and line we can assign a win percentage probability for each game. The Rams, based on this formula, are projected to win 9.9 games while the Giants are projected to win 6.3 games.
Between the two situations suggesting to either go over or under a teams win total, since 2007 following these Pythagorean plays you would have gone 33-11-2. This year there are two plays that apply.
Your over achieving 2018 team to fade in 2019 are the LA Rams under 10.5 wins
The Rams over achieved in 2018 and were very fortunate in close wins as well going 6-1 SU. The NFC West figures to be tough in 2019 with Seattle always a tough out and San Francisco continuing to get better and getting back QB Jimmy Garoppolo from injury. Gone from the Rams this year are G Roger Saffold, C John Sullivan, DT Ndamukong Suh and S Lamarcus Joyner. Saffold and Suh are the biggest losses. They do replace Joyner with S Eric Weddle. Under Sean McVay the Rams have traditionally bullied the weaker teams but struggled to separate themselves from the better teams. They will face nine teams projected to be above .500 in 2019. In addition to those nine games they also will play the 49ers twice and open at Carolina against a Panther team that figures to be much tougher this year with a healthy Cam Newton back. The 49ers, while only projected to win 7.6 games, are very capable of giving the Rams all they can handle. There are only three games on the schedule that are likely easy wins – two games against the Cardinals and a neutral game against the Bengals in London (Rams give up a home game). Even their one other game against a lowly projected team, which is against TB, could be tougher than expected with Bruce Arians returning to face a team he knew very well in his days in Arizona. That makes 12 games against teams who can be very competitive in 2019. Even if the Rams go 4-0 SU in those four perceived easy games, they will have to go 7-5 SU against their toughest part of the schedule, which includes 7 of those 12 games on the road. RB Todd Gurley also adds to the question marks for the Rams. My projections suggest only 9.9 wins for the Rams.
Your under achieving 2018 team to play on in 2019 are the NY Giants over 6 wins
This one won’t be easy. The Giants have not been a good team the last two years and shipped out many of their best players late last year and during the offseason. But, we stay true to the numbers above and trust the situation. Add on to that we are not being asked to win a large number of games, especially if we can find something under six wins. NY shipped out Odell Beckham Jr. to Cleveland and traded Olivier Vernon on the defensive side of the ball. They also watched S Landon Collins leave them to go with the trade last year of DT Snacks Harrison to the Lions. In addition to several good draft picks, the Giants brought in via trades and free agency WR Golden Tate, S Jabrill Peppers and G Kevin Zeitler. Unfortunately Golden Tate is suspended the first four games of the season. The Giants face only the 26th toughest schedule in the league so they have a fairly easy schedule, which includes six games against teams projected to win less than seven games. They were 3-4 SU last year against teams who finished the season under .500. My projections set the Giants at 6.3 wins for 2019.
One additional team to consider that was close to falling into the above category.
A second over achieving 2018 team to fade is the Dallas Cowboys under 9 wins
The Cowboys over achieved last year winning 10 games but their Pythagorean number suggested they should have won just 8.4 games so they won 1.6 games more than their numbers indicated they should have won. In addition to that they went a very fortunate 8-2 in close games decided by seven or less points last year. That is likely not sustainable again this year, especially when you consider it was a majority of their games, meaning if they continue to play very close games they will likely regress this year. Their win total is set at nine but my projections suggest only about 8.6 wins. The Cowboys will face the league’s 11th toughest schedule. They will face eight teams projected above .500. They will face six teams projected to win less than seven games but their games against teams projected above .500 are all very tough games. Even if they go 6-2 SU against the poorer teams on their schedule they would have to go at least 4-4 or better against the better than .500 projected teams. That could be a stretch for them, especially when you consider the fact they will be playing top tier teams above .500. Dallas will get back C Travis Frederick who missed all of last year due to injury. But, once again, the Cowboys have suspensions on the defensive side of the ball. DE Robert Quinn is suspended for two games and Randy Gregory and David Irving are suspended indefinitely. Add in the unknown status of RB Ezekiel Elliott. Add in Jason Garrett as the head coach and that only adds value to the under. My projections peg the Cowboys for only 8.6 wins in 2019. Here’s a toast to that 10th grade Geometry lesson we should have given more attention to and hoping it puts a few bucks in our pockets this year.