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The Value of Things: Trailing Pythagoras Part III

Can we predict when teams will go first to worst?

Portrait Illustration of Pythagoras

In the last edition of the VOT we took a look at teams that went worst to first over the past several seasons. The obvious payoff is to look at the reverse situation. Can we accurately identify teams that were overly lucky last season and are destined to come back to the pack?

Naturally, the first thing we need to do is talk about why we have done this in the first place. I know a lot of people’s eyes gloss over when they see a bunch of numbers. I completely understand that. Yet, we also have people amongst us that love to gamble. Obviously identifying the teams like to show dramatic improvement is a huge deal. Imagine how much money you would have now if you put a $100 on the Bengals to make it to the Super Bowl before last season.

The reverse is also true. If you know a team is going to tumble you can make money betting against them. We certainly don’t want to overly encourage gambling around these parts. Statements here shouldn’t be taken as any kind of official recommendations. It’s just something to consider before the season gets underway.

Obviously, as we did with the other two articles, we are going to look at overall team records for teams when they were first (or playoff bound) before they tumbled into the basement. We will look at their records in one score games and their records in games decided by nine or more points. We could form some hypotheses, but we will simply look at the totals in records, records in one score games, and then records in blowout games.

The Numbers

Overall Record: 97-47 (.674)

One Score Games: 57-30 (.655)

9+ points: 40-17 (702)

All numbers need a context. There is an old adage in sports that the great teams know how to win the close ones. We discovered that the truth is not there. Most teams finish a little above or below .500 in those close games. The great teams blow their opponents away. So, it wasn’t so much that the bad teams couldn’t win the close ones as much as they were blown out more often than they got the upper hand.

Given that, these results are pretty eye opening. These teams were collectively more successful in those close games and it was not even particularly close to our other two results. Of course, they were also successful in blowout games, but the implication is that teams that won a lot of close games are due to regress the next season.

The payoff is two-fold. First, all you have to do to make a solid prediction is track the same thing for teams this past season. There will obviously be a few candidates there, The second payoff is that those teams also played in a good amount of one score games. All but two of the nine teams profiled above played in eight or more close games that season.

Localize It

The Texans appear on this list twice. The 2019 Texans and 2016 Texans were also here. They were a collective 16-7 in close games those two seasons. The 2016 Texans in particular had a 7-9 Pythagorean expected record in the season they finished 9-7. In a future article we can take a look at their season by season totals in that department. On a long enough timeline, the survival drops to zero. It should be interesting to see how close they are to zero.