Tag Archives: 2014 NFL Playoffs

Last time I checked the temperature in Vegas was December 26th, last Thursday. Five whole days ago! I remember thinking throwing some money at Green Bay and/or Carolina might not be a bad idea. Rodgers was probably coming back (week 8 of a typically 4-6 week injury), and the playoff odds report from Football Outsiders suggested that New England might have good value (which I ignored due to their injury plague), as well as Carolina (which I didn’t, with encouraging signs from Steve Smith). Here’s a little doohickey of how the early Super Bowl bets looked back then (and here’s everything I wrote last time):

Super Bowl XLVIII Odds- 12/26/2013

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
NE 1000 10 9.09% 14.2% 5.11% 1
CAR 850 8.5 10.53% 15.2% 4.67% 2
PHI 3000 30 3.23% 4% 0.77% 3
CIN 1800 18 5.26% 5.9% 0.64% 4
NO 2500 25 3.85% 4% 0.15% 5
KC 3500 35 2.78% 2.9% 0.12% 6
PIT 20000 200 0.50% 0.1% -0.40% 7
ARI 9000 90 1.10% 0.6% -0.50% 8
DAL 10000 100 0.99% 0.2% -0.79% 9
MIA 9000 90 1.10% 0.3% -0.80% 10
BAL 10000 100 0.99% 0.1% -0.89% 11
SD 10000 100 0.99% 0.1% -0.89% 11
CHI 6000 60 1.64% 0.7% -0.94% 13
IND 3500 35 2.78% 1.1% -1.68% 14
GB 4000 40 2.44% 0.2% -2.24% 15
DEN 300 3 25.00% 20.3% -4.70% 16
SF 750 7.5 11.76% 5.7% -6.06% 17
SEA 220 2.2 31.25% 24.3% -6.95% 18

As always, the odds are from Break Even informs how often the bet needs to cash for you to break even at those odds; Football Outsiders provides estimates of how often the bet will actually cash; and the long run Expected Payout is the difference. Those Football Outsiders’ numbers use their core DVOA metric, weighted towards the end of the season, and also attempt to account for home-field advantage. I don’t believe they are exactly the true probabilities of each team winning the Super Bowl, but they are (“probably”) close. Are they closer than Vegas’ probabilities? Well, here are the updated Super Bowl odds, as of this afternoon:

Super Bowl XLVIII Odds- 12/31/2013

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
CAR 1100 11 8.33% 14.5% 6.17% 1
NE 850 8.5 10.53% 14.7% 4.17% 2
PHI 2000 20 4.76% 6.5% 1.74% 3
KC 3200 32 3.03% 3.4% 0.37% 4
SD 5000 50 1.96% 1.8% -0.16% 5
CIN 1800 18 5.26% 4.7% -0.56% 6
NO 2500 25 3.85% 2.8% -1.05% 7
IND 3000 30 3.23% 0.6% -2.63% 8
SEA 260 2.6 27.78% 24.9% -2.88% 9
GB 1800 18 5.26% 2.3% -2.96% 10
DEN 300 3 25.00% 20.2% -4.80% 11
SF 750 7.5 11.76% 3.5% -8.26% 12

Six teams have been eliminated, defrosting the picture a little. Remember five days ago when Green Bay was 40-to-1? And then remember this? Green Bay’s price in the betting world has more than doubled since then, now at 18-to-1. With Rodgers’ return, Football Outsiders made their projections using only data from games in which Rodgers played the majority of snaps. Given that they’ve got the Packers as winning it all only 2.3% of the time with Rodgers, and that Clay Matthews keeps getting surgery, 18-1 is too high a price for me now. But stranger things have happened.

What hasn’t happened is a similar shortening of the odds for the Carolina Panthers. In fact, their odds are longer! So let me get this straight: Carolina beat the 49ers in San Francisco by one point in a game in which the 49ers couldn’t score a touchdown (albeit without Michael Crabtree), secured a first-round bye (and time for Steve Smith to heal), will quite possibly host the Eagles for their first playoff game1, and the 49ers, down in the fifth seed, heading to Lambeau Field to face Aaron Rodgers, are more favored? Oh, I guess it’s because Carolina looked a little shaky last Sunday on the road against the 4-12 Atlanta Falcons, before sneaking out the win. OH WAIT the 49ers did the Exact. Same. Thing. Eight days ago. Remember this? Well I guess it’s because Carolina doesn’t have as good a defense… oh, right. Well, as good a young, mobile quarterback, then… oh, right. What the hell is going on here? This is Drew Brees’ face. And this is his face when he plays the Carolina Panthers. What else do you need?

As I’ve mentioned before, I think the reason Carolina is so low is because they haven’t been here before. Just a couple of months ago they were 1-3, and people were writing articles like this, agreeing when Rodney Harrison said in Week 5 that the Panthers should bench Cam Newton. Well, you don’t lose close games forever. The Panthers are legit. Yes, they could lose the Super Bowl, or in Seattle, or even their home divisional match-up next week. Every bet has risks. But at 11-to-1 (!!!), the Panthers are a risk worth taking.

That’s the Super Bowl odds. But you can also foolishly gamble on the conference champions! Here’s the same table for the conference champions:

2013-2014 NFL Conference Champions’ Odds- 12/31/2013

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
CAR 500 5 16.67% 27.5% 10.83% 1
NE 350 3.5 22.22% 31.9% 9.68% 2
PHI 1000 10 9.09% 12.3% 3.21% 3
KC 1600 16 5.88% 8.2% 2.32% 4
SD 2400 24 4.00% 4.4% 0.40% 5
CIN 650 6.5 13.33% 11% -2.33% 7
NO 1500 15 6.25% 5.4% -0.85% 6
IND 1200 12 7.69% 2.5% -5.19% 9
SEA 90.9 0.9 52.38% 42.1% -10.28% 10
GB 950 9.5 9.52% 5.6% -3.92% 8
DEN 66.7 0.67 60.00% 42% -18.00% 12
SF 400 4 20.00% 7% -13.00% 11

Again, I like Carolina, and while I don’t really like Philly to take the NFC, I might like them at that price. As for being overvalued, certainly my 49ers seem to be (because of the last two years I guess, or possibly all the Pro Bowlers we don’t deserve?), and I’m guessing the Broncos are because people forget the enormous impact of Von Miller? Who the hell knows.2 Anyway, that’s my gambling outlook at the moment, once again courtesy of and the insightful people at Football Outsiders. Check back after Round One for an update. Salaam.

  1. I think the Eagles are the least scary of the NFC teams playing this weekend: 49ers, Packers, Saints, Eagles. It’s just my opinion. 
  2. That was not a question. I’m telling you, who the hell knows. Nobody, that’s who. 

Yesterday I was conflicted. The 49ers-Cardinals and Packers-Bears games were simultaneously going down to the wire. I sat there, enthralled watching both games, with pretty much no idea what I was rooting for. I have both Packers’ and Bears’ fans as friends, and liked the potential Rodgers’ story line, but also enjoyed the completely unrecognizable Bears under new head coach Mark Tresman. Meanwhile I wanted the 49ers, who’d already clinched a playoff spot, to get the most favorable postseason match-up possible. At that point the 49ers would be either the 5th seed (if we won or tied) or 6th (if we lost). Losing meant playing Philadelphia/Chicago/Dallas (in event of PHI win/CHI win + DAL win/GB win + DAL win, respectively), while winning meant playing Green Bay/Chicago/Dallas (GB win/CHI win + PHI win/CHI win + DAL win). With no evidence, I felt that going to Lambeau Field offered the smallest chance of winning (albeit still a non-zero one), and that’s what would happen if both the Packers and 49ers won, and that’s exactly what did happen.1

The 49ers had just pulled off a game winning field goal with no time left, on the road against an Arizona Cardinals team that had just beaten the Seahawks in Seattle, and we’re getting rewarded by going to Lambeau next week and facing a freshly-returned-from-seven-weeks-healing-his-broken-collarbone Aaron Rodgers? Hmph. My mother, ever optimistic, offered the following consoling words:

[It’s] always better going to the playoffs off a win, right?

To which I replied:

I believe [that’s a] playoff myth.

Well, today I investigated that belief, my belief that winning the final game of the regular season has nothing to do with playoff success. The theoretical thinking here is that teams have pretty-well defined themselves by the of the regular season, and don’t get significantly better or worse between then and the playoffs. They’ve got a certain probability of winning their playoff games, advancing to the Super Bowl, etc, and these outcomes are independent of the final game of the regular season. I recalled that just last year, the Ravens lost their final game before winning out through the playoffs and Super Bowl.[^2] But that’s an anecdote. What does the data suggest?

I didn’t take this question too seriously, at least at first, because I don’t think the findings will reveal too much. A lot of things go into winning football games, so even if I were to find that Week 17 results had enormous predictive power of playoff results, it’s the underlying probabilities that drive them both: good teams are more likely to win in general, as well as in the playoffs. But I pulled a few basic numbers anyway. These figures go back to 2002, the first season after the NFL’s realignment into its current format. That’s 132 observations, 12 teams in the playoffs each season through 11 seasons.

Of the 132 teams, 68% had won their final game of the season. Not surprising; teams that make the playoffs usually win more than they lose, in any given week of the season. Of the 68% (90/132) of playoff teams that did win in Week 17, 58% (52/90) won their first playoff game. Of the 32% (42/132) that lost in Week 17, 52% (22/42) won their first playoff game. And playoff teams that won their final regular season game went on to win the Super Bowl 9% (8/90) of the time; playoff losers of final regular season games won the Super Bowl 7% (3/42) of the time. So there’s a difference, right? The playoff teams who win in Week 17 are a little more successful? Well, maybe.

A statistical test called the “Student’s t-test“[^3] is used to determine if the averages of two different samples are statistically different. Applied here, it answers the question:

What are the chances that playoff teams who won in Week 17 actually go on to win their first playoff game (or the Super Bowl) more than playoff teams who lost in Week 17, given that we’ve observed the above numbers?


p>I ran this test on both a team’s chances of winning its first playoff game, and ultimately winning the Super Bowl. The results? These numbers suggest there is a 63% chance that playoff winners in Week 17 actually have a better shot at winning their first playoff game than playoff losers in Week 17 do. For the Super Bowl, the odds that Week 17 winners have a better chance of winning it all are also 63%. That may sound like a lot, but it really, really isn’t. There’s a 37% chance these numbers don’t tell us anything about the true probabilities. In academic circles, the rule of thumb for statistically significant findings is when there’s a 5% chance or less that the results are due to randomness. We’re nowhere close.

Even if we were– let’s say we were 99% certain winners in Week 17 had a higher probability of playoff success– the substantive findings would still be very slight. Week 17 winners might be more successful, but probably to the tune of two or three percent, the difference of winning one or two more games more every several seasons. It may be something to hope for, but not something to pin your hopes on. In reality, Week 17 results tell us very, very little about what will happen in the playoffs. I’m just guessing, but I’d bet quite a lot that all the regular season results, and measures of play that go beyond wins and losses, such as DVOA or Pythagorean Winning Percentage, are far, far more telling than whether a playoff team won or lost its last regular season game.

So if your team is in the playoffs, great! If they won yesterday, that’s cool. And if they didn’t (actually, that’s just you, Kansas City fans), don’t fret. It’s how your team plays the next game that matters. And how they played yesterday has very little to do with that.

  1. As it turns out, my Packers’ fan friends are taking me to the freaking game (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) so I think everything worked out pretty well. Of course I also figure this means the 49ers are sure to lose. But then I also figure I can use this insider knowledge to my advantage and put some moolah on the Packers, and OH DID YOU KNOW THEY WERE GETTING THREE POINTS? It’s all falling into place. 
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