Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Football Contest: Playoff Predictions

I'm a nerd...most of you should know that by now.  This post is certainly no exception.

I decided that I wanted to get a better outlook for the playoffs than just figuring out who the current division/wild card leaders were.  That meant that I needed to develop a way to include all of the previous games in the schedule (through week 12), and simulate the rest of the season. 

I simulated the remaining games by assigning a random scores.  That way, the end result reflects the percentage of scenarios in which each team would make the playoffs. 

The real struggle in coding this all up was in selecting the playoff teams...specifically the tie breakers.   The NFL has a series of tiebreakers for determining division champions, playoff seeding, and wild cards.  That meant I had to have separate functions for breaking both Division and Conference ties between 2, 3, and 4 teams.  You can see the rules here.

After all that was written up, I could then sim the season to my heart's desire and sum up the probabilities for making the playoffs.

With 5 weeks remaining, there are 80 games left.  For completely random scores (a coinflip essentially) there are 2^80 possible outcomes.

That's 1,208,925,819,614,629,126,805,504 outcomes.  I don't have that kind of simulation power.  Sorry.  So, I simulated it 10,000 random times to get a decent sample.

For each team, I included the percentage of times that they won the division or made one of the wild card spots.  I then have the sum of the two which is the overall playoff chances.

Again, this is for random scoring.  A team that has an easy remaining schedule would have better odds than these numbers indicate, whereas a team with a tough schedule would have worse odds. 


The lower teams certainly have their work cut out for them in the AFC.  The Patriots are just a hair shy of clinching a playoff spot, with the Dolphins close behind with a really good shot at grabbing a wild card.  The Ravens are closing in on an AFC North championship while the Texans lead in the South.  The Jaguars currently hold a wild card spot, but it's definitely not a lock.  The Broncos have already clinched their division as I noted on this week's standings.  See Greg, I told you the Chargers still have a shot!  The funniest result was that the Raiders picked up a playoff spot just once.  There you go, Spiegel, you have a 1 in 10,000 shot. The Titans won their division 4 times in 10,000, but never grabbed a wild card slot.

It's pretty cool that we're headed to Week 13, and no team has been mathematically eliminated, yet.  In the NFC, the Rams are in a great position with a 97% playoff chance.  The Giants and Lions follow with 80+%.  The NFC South race could get ugly, as three teams still have a legitimate shot.  The really interesting this is that the South has almost no chance of picking up a wild card slot, so it's win or go home.  The Panthers picked up the NFC South win in just 13 instances, and never won a wild card slot.

I know many of you may be thinking it looks like your team is done, but remember, a roll of the dice can come up with anything.  There's always a team that makes a run.  To use the dice example further, rolling a specific number is 1 in 6, or 17% of the time.  A number of you are looking at similar odds.  It can happen.

See you in Week 13.


opoohwan said...

Gotta say, love the concept. Sounds like a lot of fun.

Josh D. said...

What program/language do you use to run your sims?

Are you going to update after every round now?

This looks similar to what "Tenets of Wilson" does for the real NFL season, or what CoolStandings.com does for baseball. Great work!