Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

12 Aug 2014

ESPN: Niners' Playoff Chances are 50-50

Everyone thinks of San Francisco as one of the NFL's most dominant teams, so why does FOA 2014 only give them a 51 percent chance to make the playoffs this year? In an ESPN Insider article, I explain a bit about why projections are so grouped around 8-8, and why the 49ers' defense may not be as good as we think -- at least through the end of October.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 12 Aug 2014

13 comments, Last at 22 Dec 2014, 9:38pm by dongdong31


by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 08/12/2014 - 4:17pm

I think this is pretty fair. For the sake of argument, assume that Seattle and the niners each have an approximately equal chance to win the division of about 35% and that the Cardinals and the Rams split the remaining 30%. The remaining chance to make the playoffs comes from the wildcard spots where twelve teams are chasing two spots, a 16.6% chance, for a total of 51% chance to make the playoffs.

You could tweak the numbers, they might not be at 35% for the division or might be more likely to get a wildcard after they miss out on a title but it seems a perfectly reasonable place to start with a projection.

by dank067 :: Tue, 08/12/2014 - 4:41pm

Just to add on, Vince pointed out in the SB Nation Q&A posted today that the Saints, tied for the second-best win projection in the NFC (9.4), are only given a 60% chance of making the playoffs. Division strength is obviously at play with SF and NO, but just putting the projections in terms of probabilities can make them sound a bit more harsh than most predictions you see batted around.

by Mr.Morden :: Tue, 08/12/2014 - 11:00pm

"second-best win projection in the NFC (9.4)"

Should note that in the copy of the FOA2014 that I have, New Orleans is third in the NFC in projected wins, behind Seattle (9.8) and Green Bay (9.7), so there may be a typo there.

Incidentally, the FOA gives every team in the NFL besides Denver a less than 70% chance of making the playoffs(!).

Whereas last year's pre-season DVOA projections gave five teams a greater than 70% chance at the playoffs:


by Thok :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 7:16am

It's worth noting that one of teams with a >70% playoff odds didn't make the playoffs.

(Which actually is reasonable: if you project 5 teams to make the playoffs 70% of the time, then the most likely situations are that 4 of those teams make the playoffs or three of those teams make the playoffs, assuming the playoff likelihoods are independent.)

by chuck.murray :: Tue, 08/12/2014 - 5:12pm

Why would all 12 teams be given equal odds of winning one of the two wild card spots? Wild card spots are not assigned randomly.

by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 08/12/2014 - 8:25pm

It was just a simple assumption to make the calculations easier. In reality the niners are probably a bit of a favorite to get a wildcard if they don't win the division but there's still the matter of the tough schedule, the presence of injuries, a prominent suspension etc.

by nickbradley :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 3:35pm

There was no discussion of the significant investments the 49ers made on offense, Karl.

by nickbradley :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 3:34pm

First, I think that this season is tailor-made for the Saints to grab the #1 seed. Softer schedule, modest improvements, likely decline in Carolina. Combine that with brutal schedules for SF and SEA.

Second, I don't think the article discussed SF's upgrades on offense *at all*. Crabtree, Boldin, Stevie Johnson, Vernon Davis, Brandon Lloyd (and youngsters V-Macdonald and Patton if they get a chance) will all make this passing game very very difficult to defend. Carlos Hyde looks phenomenal, along with one more ride for Gore.

That should be plenty to make up for any early season defensive shortfalls.

Third, depth on the defensive line -- certainly a weak spot last year -- gets Tank Carradine and Q Dial. Pro Football Focus graded rookie Corey Lemonier as having the most pressures per snap last year in place of Aldon smith.

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 6:37pm

It wasn't a season preview article, it was an explanation of why their numbers only predict the niners to make the playoffs 50% of the time. If you want the session preview, read the book.

Does this mean you're going to spend the whole season invoking the message board curse by claiming that FO underrate the niners?

The projection is what it is, it's tough for any team to make the playoffs in such a stacked division. Do I think the numbers are a little low? Maybe a touch but they only have the Seahawks, the reigning champions, a little bit higher.

And as for the Saints, they're looking very strong but they also look a bit thin to me. If they catch a break and stay healthy then look out but FO's projections take account of the chances that Brees or Kap tear up their knee in week four, the refs screw them out of three key games or the niners go 10-6 and miss out on a tie-breaker. That's why the numbers collect around 8 wins.

by nickbradley :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 6:55pm

I know all that Karl -- my point is that the article made no mention of any of the improvements the 49ers made in the offseason. I haven't bought the book, but I'd like to know how FO treated the addition of Stevie Johnson, Hyde, etc.

any discussion of pretty significant illegal contact rule changes?

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 7:29pm

The book is pretty cheap and it's good, give it a look.

It didn't go into the rule changes, how could they when we don't really know how much difference it will make? My $0.02, part of the reason Seattle were so effective at holding and grabbing their opponents it that they're really well coached. They're still well coached, it won't be as large a factor as folks presume.

by Rick_and_Roll :: Thu, 08/21/2014 - 1:42pm

I think this season could see a few surprise teams win a #1 seed due to an easy schedule or being in a less competitive division. I could see Denver and Seattle not being the top seed and maybe not getting a bye due to their schedules.

As for SF, 50-50 seems fair given their schedule.

by dongdong31 :: Mon, 12/22/2014 - 9:38pm