The NFL Data Science Project
MACHINE LEARNING ALGORITHMS & BIG DATA TECHNOLOGY
Two years ago, the NFL Data Science Project was launched. The NFL Data Science Project brings the power of cutting edge machine learning algorithms and big data technology to NFL analytics. Utilizing massive computational power in conjunction with state of the art mathematical techniques, a deeper understanding of the NFL was made available to the common fan.
During the season, www.NFLproject.com, the home of the NFL Data Science Project, released week by week results and analysis from its NFL Season Simulation model. Aspects of the simulation model that represent an edge over the standard industry analysis are:
• A game by game simulation of the entire NFL schedule as it will actually play out
• Ability to map out the complexity of all interactions related to division and conference rankings
• Implementation of playoff rules in addition to home/away implications
• Inclusion of the most accurate predictive information available in forecasting the variability of future game outcomes
• Granular analysis on a team by team basis related to individual game outcomes
• Personnel changes and their specific effect on season results
THE PLAYOFF FIELD
From the NFC, the Green Bay Packers will enjoy the return of Jordy Nelson, will see a more svelte Eddie Lacy, and will have a fully healthy Aaron Rodgers. The latter was clearly not himself late in the season and required offseason surgery to bring him back to form. An easier schedule, thanks to their 2nd place finish last year, allowed the Packers to avoid the Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals and the Washington Redskins, and instead they draw the Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks, with their game against the Seahawks coming at home in the cold December air.
That game may foreshadow the 2016 NFC Championship game, as the Seahawks are projected to win the NFC West and secure the last first round bye. Seattle likewise plays a 2nd place schedule. Interestingly, Seattle has slightly better odds to win the Super Bowl, based on the fact GB likely plays Arizona.
The Panthers and the Dallas Cowboys are projected to round out the final division winners, but the NFC Wild Card teams both look to be strong, making Wild Card weekend extremely exciting. If the Panthers host the Cardinals, it will be a repeat of the 2015 NFC Championship game which saw Carolina prevail 49-15. Dallas is the least likely home team to win in the Wild Card round from the NFC, and if Carolina fends off the Vikings, it will set up a playoff rematch from last season between the Packers and the Cardinals.
In the AFC, the Pittsburgh Steelers are projected to make another deep run in the playoffs. Last season they led the Broncos in Denver before fumbling away their AFC Divisional game. If they meet again, it will be in Pittsburgh.
Earning the other bye, but missing out on the #1 seed in large part because Tom Brady will miss the first 4 games, are the Patriots. Adding Martellus Bennett in free agency will help this offense stay more diverse, as will the reintroduction of their former O-Line coach.
Rounding out the AFC are four teams with plenty of playoff experience. Each made the postseason
last year. But this time, the Broncos sneak in as opposed to holding the #1 seed. Meanwhile, the Bengals will look to win their first playoff game under Marvin Lewis, who has led the charge since 2003 but has gone 0-7 in the playoffs.
Along the road to the playoffs, some teams will be in for smooth seas while others will find the trip much less comfortable. The easiest divisions for the forecast winners appear to be the AFC East and the NFC South. The Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins still do not seem to have their act together, and that is exactly what it takes to dethrone the Patriots. And in the NFC South, the Panthers are still projected to win by a margin, despite the Super Bowl runner-up hangover potential.
The most competitive divisions from top to bottom may likely be the AFC South and West. This does not mean that all teams are solid, but there really is not a dominant team in either division, and the race to win the division and secure a playoff spot will be competitive.
The best divisions will likely be the AFC North, the NFC West and the NFC North. The Bengals, Steelers, Cardinals, Seahawks, Packers and Vikings all could find themselves in the postseason. What happens below them is more difficult to say. The Baltimore Ravens could bounce back, the Chicago Bears could take the next step, and either Chip Kelly could work his magic or the Rams and Jeff Fisher could see Jared Goff take this team to a record better than .500. Those last two teams in the NFC West are more of a stretch than the other divisions. In fact, NFLproject.com ranks the Steelers and Bengals inside the top 5 teams in the entire AFC, and with the Ravens at 9th overall, the AFC North has 3 teams inside the top 9.
In the NFC West, the Cardinals are projected as the team 4th most likely to win the Conference, which shows the power and thus uncertainty of the top 2 teams in the NFC West.
NFLproject’s data easily depicts which teams are Wild Card or bust. In the “True Odds to Make Playoffs” which lists teams and seeds, it is apparent that the Vikings most likely route is through the Wild Card based on the Packers strength. The same can be said for the Bengals and the Ravens, as well as all AFC East teams. Meanwhile, for teams like the Jaguars, Texans or Colts, they really must win their division because they are unlikely to qualify as a Wild Card team.
UP AND COMING
Looking at the “True Division Ranks”, several teams might finally turn the corner in 2016. Slated to improve their records and finish in 3rd place in their division, the Buccaneers, Raiders and Jaguars are three teams that have younger QBs, have had plenty of good draft value for
years now, and are poised to take that next step while their QBs are still on their rookie deal.
Be sure to check in at NFLproject.com throughout the 2016 season for further analysis and updates on a weekly basis to project key games and forecasted odds for the playoffs.
Based on thousands of simulations of THIS WEEKEND'S GAMES! How bad will a loss hurt a team, how much would a win help a team? How might it affect a team's ability to make the playoffs, win their division or win the Super Bowl? We predict what their playoff odds will look like based on those outcomes before the game is played.
Based on thousands of game by game simulations of the entire NFL season as it will play out.
Logo designs courtesy of Addison Foote of addisonfoote.com