In postseason fantasy football, predicting the correct number of games played for each team is crucial. This article, now in its seventh year, uses statistics to do just that. If you're interested in checking out past results, click any or all of the following links to previous installments:
Long story short with respect to methodology, I collect data from various sources (Football Outsiders, FiveThirtyEight, ESPN, Vegas Insider, Pro Football Reference and Pro Football Focus) and do some math to estimate each playoff team's probability of playing exactly one game, exactly two games, exactly three games, or exactly four games. For a bye team like Kansas City, here's how the calculation works:
- They have a first-round bye, so they can only play three games at most. Therefore, the Chiefs' probability of playing exactly four games is 0.0%.
- They have a 75.6% chance of reaching the AFC Championship Game, which means the Chiefs have a 24.4% probability of playing exactly one game (i.e., losing their first game in the Divisional Round).
- The Chiefs have a 47.5% probability of making it to the Super Bowl, so that's their probability of playing exactly three games.
- Knowing the above probabilities of playing exactly four games, one game, or three games, we can calculate that the Chiefs' probability of playing exactly two games is 28.2% via simple subtraction: 100% – 0% – 24.4% – 47.5% = 28.2% (with intentional rounding).
For teams without a bye, say Chicago, the calculation is only slightly different:
- The Bears have a 1.2% probability of making it to the Super Bowl, so that's their probability of playing exactly four games.
- They have a 23.6% chance of winning this weekend, which means the Bears have a 76.4% probability of playing exactly one game (i.e., losing their first game in the Wild Card Round).
- They have a 3.1% chance of making the NFC Championship Game, but only the aforementioned 1.2% probability of winning that game and making the Super Bowl, so the Bears have a 2.0% probability of playing exactly three games (i.e., 3.1% – 1.2% = 2.0% with intentional rounding).
- Knowing the above probabilities of playing exactly four games, one game, or three games, we can calculate that the Bears' probability of playing exactly two games is 20.4% via simple subtraction: 100% – 1.2% – 76.4% – 2.0% = 20.4%.
EXPECTED PLAYOFF GAMES PLAYED
Below is a table showing all probabilities for each of the 14 playoff teams, both in terms of normal postseason fantasy rules (EXP G) and "Super Bowl counts double" rules (ADJ EXP G):
|Team (Seed)||P(1)||P(2)||P(3)||P(4)||EXP G||ADJ EXP G|
|New Orleans Saints (NFC2)||23.6%||17.1%||30.5%||28.7%||2.64||2.93|
|Kansas City Chiefs (AFC1)||24.4%||28.2%||47.5%||0.0%||2.23||2.71|
|Buffalo Bills (AFC2)||31.6%||16.1%||27.8%||24.5%||2.45||2.70|
|Green Bay Packers (NFC1)||26.5%||33.1%||40.3%||0.0%||2.14||2.54|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFC5)||27.8%||44.0%||14.5%||13.7%||2.14||2.28|
|Seattle Seahawks (NFC3)||38.3%||39.2%||11.8%||10.7%||1.95||2.06|
|Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC3)||36.4%||40.6%||15.0%||8.1%||1.95||2.03|
|Baltimore Ravens (AFC5)||43.6%||32.6%||13.5%||10.2%||1.90||2.01|
|Tennessee Titans (AFC4)||56.4%||31.9%||7.5%||4.2%||1.60||1.64|
|Los Angeles Rams (NFC6)||61.7%||30.0%||4.6%||3.7%||1.50||1.54|
|Cleveland Browns (AFC6)||63.6%||29.3%||4.7%||2.4%||1.46||1.48|
|Indianapolis Colts (AFC7)||68.4%||25.4%||2.9%||3.3%||1.41||1.44|
|Washington Football Team (NFC4)||72.2%||22.4%||3.9%||1.5%||1.35||1.36|
|Chicago Bears (NFC7)||76.4%||20.4%||2.0%||1.2%||1.28||1.29|
Once bitten, twice shy. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Those adages are inadequate to describe the agita I experienced when I saw New Orleans show up in the Top 2 for the fourth straight postseason. (Incidentally, is there an English counting word after "thrice?") At least unlike last season, the Saints' probability of playing four games doesn't equal the rest of the teams combined. But hey, that's actually an important observation beyond my own psychological well-being!
Namely, with 12 teams playing on Wild Card weekend rather than 8, there are more teams than ever (in the history of this article, at least) with a reasonable chance of playing four games. That may sound like one of the most "duh" statements in the history of fantasy football analysis, but I think it's one of those game-theoretical insights we come across frequently where it isn't obvious immediately, but then it's immediately obvious once we think about it for more than a second. Point being, with five teams having a 10 percent or greater chance of playing four games, it's halcyon days for finding postseason fantasy value. For instance, if you're like me and have been burned by the Saints for three years running, then perhaps you'll be sold on the Buffalo Bills (also a No. 2 seed), who rank second in both expected games and probability of playing four games.
PROJECTED PLAYOFF FANTASY POINTS
As always, I've used each player's scoring average along with the expected game totals above to calculate the expected FFPC points for both standard (Points) and "Super Bowl counts double" (Adjusted Points) contests. They're displayed in the table below:
|Patrick Mahomes II||QB||KC||63.2||76.7|
|Ronald Jones II||RB||TB||29.1||31.0|
|Mark Ingram II||RB||BAL||9.2||9.6|
|Anthony McFarland Jr||RB||PIT||4.0||4.2|
|Michael Pittman Jr||WR||IND||10.7||11.0|
|Robert Tonyan Jr||TE||GB||27.1||32.2|
A handful of players stand out as value plays when compared to postseason fantasy rankings around the web. In particular, the Packers' offensive stars appear heavily undervalued for a team whose modal projected outcome is over two games played. Another offense seemingly flying under the radar in terms of publicly available rankings is the Seahawks, as Russell Wilson, Chris Carson, and Tyler Lockett are projected for far more points using my method.
And finally, unless you're picking in the top half of your draft, just select Travis Kelce and be done with it, as he's projected for more than double the points of my second-ranked tight end. (More hard-hitting analysis, I know.)
Good luck in all your postseason fantasy endeavors!