I’m working on a longer piece for next week about stakeholders vs. shareholders but since the NFL kicks off tonight, I thought I’d commit to print some predictions for the season.
Every year at this time, the supposed “experts” predict which teams will make the playoffs. Most of the time they predict 75+% or more of last year’s playoff teams will make the playoffs again, even though the evidence suggest only about half will. In fact, since the current playoff system was adopted in 1991, there have never been more than 8 (or <4) repeat playoff teams.
So why do the experts keep picking the same teams to get back in the playoffs? Because they are unable to overcome their flawed human brains! These prognosticators suffer from recency bias (overweighting recent results), conformity bias (it is more embarrassing to be wrong alone than wrong together), and default bias (it is easier to make the obvious choice than spend the mental energy coming up with a more obscure one).
In many ways, picking the same teams to repeat is like momentum investing. So why do these predictions flame out when momentum investing has been successful? That’s easy. Investors have a thumb on the scale. Their bets effect the outcome of a stock’s price whereas sports analysts don’t impact the outcome of a game. This would suggest momentum investing works not because it is “right” but because it is self-fulfilling, but that is a topic for another day.
OK, enough philosophizing, let’s get to the part where I embarrass my future self! Ground rules are I will pick 6 new teams and 6 repeat teams to make the playoffs. I will also pick at least one place team to win its division as this has occurred 22 times since the NFL went to 8 divisions in 2002 (and every year but 2013).
Starting with the AFC, this is where I expect more surprise teams as the conference is pretty average after the Chiefs and Patriots. I am bouncing the Chargers, Colts, and Texans. In their place, go the last to first Jaguars, the Browns, and wait for it, the Jets. I know, crazy, but they fit the profile of a surprise playoff team = new coach, young QB, easy schedule. The Bills fit this profile too fyi.
So the NFC is much tougher. There are 10 legit contenders, that would all likely qualify in the AFC. I’m going to eliminate two right off the bat – the high profile teams = Green Bay and Dallas. Everyone wants to pick Green Bay because they have a star QB with past success but forget the rest of the team is average. Dallas is a good team, but not a great team and it will take great to make the NFC playoffs this year. Because of all the attention they get, the public only seems to see their strengths and not their flaws.
Now, it gets harder. Most people would say toss the Falcons and Panthers. However, I think that is too rash. Neither made the playoffs last year and both are in the Saints division, so they are easy to overlook. However, the Falcons are only two years removed from making the Super Bowl and the Panthers three years. Both are improved from last year. In fact, my favorite futures bet is the Panthers at 60-1 to win the Super Bowl.
Next are the Bears and Vikings. Can’t we toss them? Not so fast. Both should be improved from last year and have reasonable schedules. The same can be said for the Eagles.
That leaves the Saints, Seahawks, and Rams. They all have brutal schedules, particularly the Rams. The Rams have also gotten worse on the offensive line (which the analysts tend to ignore because it’s not as glamorous, another bias), the Pats exposed the flaws in their offense in the Super Bowl, and, well, Gurley’s knee. Yes, the Rams are out!
The Seahawks have improved, tend to play above expectations, and, while their schedule is hard, the toughest games are at home where they are very hard to beat.
So what about the Saints? They’re probably the best team in the NFC. However, the schedule is a nightmare with lots of tough road games. I have them winning 10 games but missing the playoffs on tiebreakers.
So, three new teams in the NFC as well = Panthers, Falcons, and Vikings. All of these teams made the 2017 playoffs.
I found six new teams, one worst to first, and one worst to wild card (Jets). That’s a pretty typical outcome. Sure, I won’t get all twelve right, but I have a better shot than the consensus picks which ignore the change from year to year.
Oh, and if somehow anyone in Vegas reads this, a great idea for a pool would be to pick every new team to make the playoffs and whoever gets it right wins the whole pool! You only have to pay me a small percentage of the take to acquire my intellectual property rights to the idea!
I decided to risk further embarrassment and add my views on each team’s projected win total. My highest confidence is in the Panthers and Seahawks to be better and the Chargers, Titans, Bengals, and Giants to be worse.