The Chargers, despite being considered one of the best teams in the league both by myself and others, lost again this weekend and moved to 2-4 on the season. This highlights a conundrum that often comes up in sports: how and when should we adjust expectations? Many times a team with high preseason expectations will do badly and pundits will talk about how they need to ‘turn it around’, generally with little consideration for the possibility that the team really wasn’t that good to begin with. Sometimes the opposite happens and teams that get by with luck and guile will be considered top teams, only for reality to set in later (I think Kansas City may be an example of that this year, just my opinion). But sometimes a team really is doing all the right things and they just haven’t turned out yet. How can you tell the difference?
The short answer is to have some framework for knowing what the ‘right things’ are; in my case, it’s my model. The model does a decent job of predicting who will win a football game, so it ‘knows’ what winning football teams do. And as evidenced by the week 7 power rankings, it still thinks that the Chargers are doing the right things:
As it stands right now, the Chargers are number one in passing yards per attempt, 9th in interceptions per attempt, and 12th in rushing yards per attempt (just above average). Their problems on offense are that they are 28th in being sacked and 25th in fumbles. They have been unfortunate in losing 9 of their 11 fumbles; going forward, we would expect them to still fumble too often, but not lose as many. On defense the Chargers are 4th in passing yards per attempt, 9th in interceptions, and 7th in rushing yards per attempt. They also have a good number of sacks and have recovered an average number of fumbles. When you put it all together, the Chargers have the second best offense in the league (the Patriots are just barely ahead) and an above-average defense. So going forward, I would still expect the Chargers to do better as the season wears on.
There wasn’t a ton of movement in the power rankings from this week compared to last, but the Saints and Eagles made big jumps. The Saints finally got on track (see? there’s that expectation thing) against the Bucs and moved from the middle of the pack to 7th. The Eagles made a smaller but similar jump to 9th after handling Atlanta. Minnesota, despite beating the Cowboys, had the biggest drop in standing but it’s in the middle of the pack where teams aren’t too differentiated to begin with.
Going back to moving forward in the season, here are the final win predictions after this weekend.
The win projections offer perhaps a better view of how things should turn out because they take into account who the opponents are and if a team will be at home or away when they play; it doesn’t really matter too much if the Chargers are number one in the power rankings or the Steelers if the Chargers have a more difficult schedule, which appears to be true. The AFC playoff predictions are the same as last week except that the Jets may have overtaken the Ravens for a wild card spot. The Saints made a big jump in the predictions to join the Packers and Seahawks as clear division favorites; the Giants have a better expected value for the season but the Eagles are favored in more games, so it’s hard to say who’s ahead there. The NFC wild cards should be two out of Atlanta, Chicago, and the loser of the Eagles-Giants scrum.
On the whole, the Saints, Jets, and Eagles improved their standings the most, improving their EV by around a win (almost two for the Saints). They also became the favorites in three extra games compared to last week (although it’s important to note that these projections include games that were already played, so it may not be meaningful to have ‘become the favorite’ if the game already happened). On the other end of the spectrum, Detroit, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and Baltimore all cost themselves about a game in EV, with especially bad turns for Detroit and Tampa Bay who lost favored standing in 3 and 4 games respectively. The Chargers had virtually no change, still being favored in 12 games and actually increasing their EV by .03 despite another loss. Of course, to get to 12 wins for real the Chargers would have to win out, which is unlikely even if they were favored every time. But if they do start playing up to expectations, the Chargers should still get a wild card spot behind the Chiefs.