As the NFL's 32 clubs prepare to hit the dog days of training camp, a Harvard undergraduate has entered the prognostication game with a new mathematical model that predicts some surprises in next season's race for the playoffs.
If you ask Kurt Bullard of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, the Patriots' reign in the AFC East may be coming to an end. The Dolphins, who added Ndamukong Suh this offseason, rank third in Bullard's final table --two spots ahead of the Patriots -- with a 77 percent chance to make the playoffs, to New England's 62 percent odds. (He stays out of predicting the fate of Brady, who is currently suspended for the team's first four games.)
Bullard also has an interesting prediction for Western New York. After an offseason of record season ticket sales, the Bills come in with just a 40 percent chance to make the playoffs in the Bullard model, and he writes that "the much touted Bills revamping...may not have the desired effect." Buffalo has added LeSean McCoy, as well as the bombastic, high-flying Rex Ryan.
In explaining his approach (in much more detail here), Bullard writes that he's looking for "a more quantitative method [to predicting the NFL season] than the likes of Trent Dilfer." Shade aside, though, many of Bullard's other predictions mirror the expert * zeitgeist. * Seattle and Green Bay top the rankings, and New England and Denver are comfortably in the top ten. The Raiders, predictably, are last (with a one percent shot at the playoffs), joined near the bottom by Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, and Tennessee.
Turning his gaze to California, Bullard gives the 49ers just a 10 percent shot at the playoffs and highlights an exodus of talent from Santa Clara.
The skinny on Bullard's model: he worked with Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value statistic as well as depth chart information to try and quantify team strength and depth across position groups. He then ran schedule simulations and calculated playoff odds.
We, like you, are desperate for some real football. In the meantime, data is all we have.
*The latest Around The NFL Podcast discusses the eight most intriguing training camp battles heading into the season. *