September 6, 2018 - by David Hess
Below are our 2018 NFL preseason predictions, including win totals, win-loss records, projected standings, playoff odds and Super Bowl win odds.
We’ve included a few highlights, plus some tips on how to interpret the numbers.
As Sports Illustrated’s MMQB reported, statistics professor and sports analytics enthusiast
Greg Michael Lopez (sorry Michael!) found our NFL preseason projections to be the most accurate system in both 2013 and 2014.
Perhaps more importantly, our system was more accurate than Vegas preseason win totals in both years.
Michael, who is now the Director Of Data And Analytics for the NFL, didn’t publish rankings for the 2015 through 2017 seasons. But we tracked our own results, and we’ve so far continued to beat the Vegas win totals.
For team win totals where our projected win distributions indicated there was value on betting the Over or the Under, our picks went 43-37.
During the season, we update these NFL predictions every day on our NFL projected standings page.
|AFC East||W||L||Playoffs||Win Div||Top Seed||Win SB|
|AFC North||W||L||Playoffs||Win Div||Top Seed||Win SB|
|AFC South||W||L||Playoffs||Win Div||Top Seed||Win SB|
|AFC West||W||L||Playoffs||Win Div||Top Seed||Win SB|
#1 Seed Pick: New England Patriots (29.5%), with Pittsburgh Steelers (17.7%) the only other team over 10%.
Most Improved: Cleveland Browns (from 0 to 6.5 wins) and Houston Texans (from 4 to 8.5 wins)
Biggest Decline: Buffalo Bills (from 9 to 5.5 wins) and Pittsburgh Steelers (from 13 to 9.9 wins)
Biggest Loser: Buffalo Bills (5.5 projected wins)
|NFC East||W||L||Playoffs||Win Div||Top Seed||Win SB|
|NFC North||W||L||Playoffs||Win Div||Top Seed||Win SB|
|NFC South||W||L||Playoffs||Win Div||Top Seed||Win SB|
|NFC West||W||L||Playoffs||Win Div||Top Seed||Win SB|
#1 Seed Pick: Technically the Vikings, but there are six teams between 15% and 9% … Minnesota Vikings (14.8%), Los Angeles Rams (14.1%), New Orleans Saints (13.6%), Philadelphia Eagles (12.4%), Green Bay Packers (9.4%) and Atlanta Falcons (9.2%)
Most Improved: New York Giants (from 3 to 6.9 wins)
Biggest Decline: Philadelphia Eagles (from 13 to 9.5 wins), Minnesota Vikings (from 13 to 9.9 wins) and Carolina Panthers (from 11 to 8.2 wins)
Biggest Loser: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6.3 projected wins)
As we noted in our 2018 NFL preseason rankings blog post, we have identified a set of team-level metrics that have demonstrated predictive value for projecting a team’s upcoming season results.
We identified these metrics by reviewing about a decade’s worth of NFL data and applying significance tests to any interesting looking findings. Then, we built an algorithmic model that takes in these metrics as inputs, and computes a numerical preseason power rating for all 32 NFL teams.
A team’s preseason power rating signifies how good we think it will be this coming season. Figuring out precisely how many games we expect that team to win, however, is a much more complicated problem.
To do that, we run thousands of game-by-game computer simulations of the 2018 NFL season, using our predictive ratings to come up with implied win odds for each game.
Thanks to randomness, each season simulation plays out differently. Occasionally an unheralded team like the Redskins or Chargers gets lucky, makes a run and wins the Super Bowl.
Over thousands of simulation runs, though, trends in the results begin to emerge. The 2018 NFL preseason predictions in this post represent the averages of all the season simulation runs we conducted.
It’s important to understand how our system generates the results it does, and precisely what they mean.
Here are the key details:
Despite some of the limitations, our data- and simulation-driven approach to making preseason predictions has proven to be a lot more accurate than the alternatives.
Human NFL “experts” (some of them, at least) can be decent at projecting the future performance level of a team — especially one they’ve studied closely. But on the whole, they tend to have a very poor grasp of the potential impacts of probability and randomness over the course of a full NFL season.
For example, even skilled “football people” tend to underestimate a great team’s odds of losing to a mediocre or bad team. While it’s true that a team like Pittsburgh is unlikely to lose to a team like Cleveland, upsets happen routinely in the NFL, and those probabilities keep adding up game after game. So you can’t discount them, especially when division championships can be decided by just one win.
Running thousands of simulations to directly observe the distribution of outcomes generated by all the probabilities at play is a much more objective and precise way to do things.
When the dust settles at the end of the season, our 2018 NFL preseason predictions will almost certainly be way off for a few teams. As happens every year, some teams simply defy expectations, while other projections will be derailed by injuries, suspensions and other unexpected events that occur as the season goes on.
Our goal is the overall accuracy of the entire system, though — every prediction for every team. By that measure, our methodology has proven to be top-tier.
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