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Expected Playoff Games Played

Projected playoff fantasy points based on expected number of games played.

Welcome back to the third annual installment of my article detailing my statistical approach to playoff fantasy football projections. If you're new to how this works, stop right now and check out last year's article and/or the one before that. Before presenting this year's projections, it's worthwhile to look back at last year's with respect to both expected games played and projected points for playoff teams in 2015.

Regarding the former, it turns out that the mean absolute error (MAE) for last season's 12 playoff teams was 0.5. This is both troubling and informative. A value of 0.5 here means that playoff results last season were tantamount to random chance. So, I'm troubled because my playoff fantasy football system is based on expected games played, and I'm informed because it tells me I should be focusing on underdogs. Of course, on the other hand, this is only one season's worth of data, so I also don't want to jump to conclusions.

With respect to how last year's projections for total player points fared, here's a quick summary:

  • For quarterbacks, MAE was 10.7 points.
  • For running backs, MAE was 9.7 points.
  • For wide receivers, MAE was 9.3 points.
  • For tight ends, MAE was 6.0 points.
  • For kickers, MAE was 9.7 points.
  • For defenses, MAE was 11.7 points.

EXPECTED PLAYOFF GAMES PLAYED

If you didn't click either of those links above, the method for calculating expected games played relies on matchup-related probabilities from Fivethirtyeight.com, ESPN Stats & Info, Football OutsidersVegas lines, and Pro Football Reference's Simple Rating System (SRS). And here's the result, a table showing the expected game totals for each team in this year's playoffs:

TeamP(1)P(2)P(3)P(4)Exp GAdj Exp G
NE 15.1% 24.9% 60.0% 0.0% 2.45 3.05
PIT 29.4% 42.3% 18.0% 10.4% 2.09 2.20
DAL 31.1% 30.6% 38.3% 0.0% 2.07 2.46
SEA 33.6% 42.1% 13.9% 10.5% 2.01 2.12
ATL 35.0% 29.5% 35.5% 0.0% 2.01 2.36
GB 40.2% 37.4% 12.4% 10.0% 1.92 2.02
KC 34.6% 41.6% 23.9% 0.0% 1.89 2.13
OAK 48.6% 41.7% 6.9% 2.8% 1.64 1.67
NYG 59.8% 27.4% 8.4% 4.4% 1.57 1.62
HOU 51.4% 41.9% 5.0% 1.7% 1.57 1.59
DET 66.4% 27.5% 4.5% 1.6% 1.41 1.43
MIA 70.6% 24.4% 3.4% 1.6% 1.36 1.37

In the header row, P(1), means "the probability of playing exactly one game," P(2), means "the probability of playing exactly two games," and so on. EXP G is the number of expected games, and ADJ EXP G is the number of expected games if you're playing in a contest where fantasy points accumulated in the Super Bowl counts double. So, as an example, New England is expected to play the most playoff games by far. Due to their bye, they can't play four games by definition. At the same time, given the weakness of the AFC and their guarantee of playing either Houston or Miami in the Divisional Round, the Patriots have a 60.4% probability of advancing to the Super Bowl. And if you multiply their chances of advancing through each round by the number of games those rounds represent, then you arrive at 2.45 expected games played (3.05 if the Super Bowl counts double).

From the above table, it's clear that there are two teams playing in the Wild Card round that are likely to overperform their seed, as well as two teams on bye that are likely to underperform their seed. Namely, No. 3 seeds Pittsburgh and Seattle have higher expected games played than the No. 2 seeds in their respective conferences, Kansas City and Atlanta. Even worse for Atlanta is that their standing vis-a-vis Green Bay is simply a virtue of intentional rounding.

PROJECTED PLAYOFF FANTASY POINTS

Like last year, I've used the expected game totals above to calculate expected FFPC points for both standard (EXP PTS) and "Super Bowl counts double" (ADJ EXP PTS) contests. For the vast majority of players, I've simply multiplied their scoring averages over Weeks 13-16 by the expected games total for their team. The exceptions are players for which their Week 13-16 scoring averages were either unsustainable or had been affected by injuries or playing time anomalies. In their cases, I did some sleuthing to produce better approximations of their expected points.

The "unsustainable" group included one player, LeVeon Bell, as he averaged over 30 points per game. As a result, I used his season-long average of 21.2 points. The "injury-affected" group was much larger, so it's untenable to discuss these players on a case-by-case basis. Instead, I've color-coded them in bold, red font. As always, move any of these players up or down in your own personal rankings as you wish:

PlayerTmPosExp PtsAdj Exp Pts
Tom Brady NE QB 49.4 61.6
Aaron Rodgers GB QB 47.5 50.0
Russell Wilson SEA QB 47.0 49.4
Matt Ryan ATL QB 44.6 52.5
Dak Prescott DAL QB 37.8 44.8
Ben Roethlisberger PIT QB 37.1 38.9
Alex Smith KC QB 35.1 39.5
Matt Moore MIA QB 29.3 29.7
Matthew Stafford DET QB 28.2 28.5
Eli Manning NYG QB 25.6 26.3
Connor Cook OAK QB 24.9 25.3
Brock Osweiler HOU QB 18.6 18.8
LeVeon Bell PIT RB 44.3 46.5
Ezekiel Elliott DAL RB 42.1 49.9
Devonta Freeman ATL RB 41.4 48.8
LeGarrette Blount NE RB 34.2 42.5
Tevin Coleman ATL RB 27.8 32.8
Latavius Murray OAK RB 24.2 24.6
James White NE RB 23.9 29.7
Spencer Ware KC RB 23.8 26.8
Lamar Miller HOU RB 20.4 20.6
Thomas Rawls SEA RB 20.1 21.1
Jay Ajayi MIA RB 18.7 18.9
Dion Lewis NE RB 18.2 22.7
Alex Collins SEA RB 17.4 18.3
DeAndre Washington OAK RB 15.9 16.2
Zach Zenner DET RB 15.6 15.7
Rashad Jennings NYG RB 14.9 15.3
Jalen Richard OAK RB 13.9 14.2
Alfred Blue HOU RB 13.0 13.1
Paul Perkins NYG RB 9.3 9.5
Dwayne Washington DET RB 8.5 8.6
Christine Michael GB RB 8.4 8.8
Darren McFadden DAL RB 6.9 8.2
Charcandrick West KC RB 5.5 6.2
Marcel Reece SEA RB 5.2 5.4
Jonathan Grimes HOU RB 4.9 5.0
Aaron Ripkowski GB RB 4.3 4.6
Jordy Nelson GB WR 49.8 52.4
Doug Baldwin SEA WR 37.9 39.9
Julian Edelman NE WR 36.6 45.6
Antonio Brown PIT WR 33.8 35.5
Odell Beckham Jr NYG WR 33.3 34.3
Dez Bryant DAL WR 33.2 39.4
Tyreek Hill KC WR 30.9 34.8
Ty Montgomery GB WR 30.5 32.1
Julio Jones ATL WR 28.4 33.4
Chris Hogan NE WR 26.3 32.7
Golden Tate DET WR 25.5 25.8
Michael Crabtree OAK WR 24.8 25.2
Malcolm Mitchell NE WR 23.6 29.4
Taylor Gabriel ATL WR 23.1 27.2
Sterling Shepard NYG WR 21.2 21.8
Eli Rogers PIT WR 20.6 21.6
Jarvis Landry MIA WR 20.2 20.5
Davante Adams GB WR 20.2 21.2
Terrance Williams DAL WR 19.7 23.3
DeAndre Hopkins HOU WR 17.3 17.5
Kenny Stills MIA WR 17.2 17.4
Amari Cooper OAK WR 15.1 15.3
Cole Beasley DAL WR 14.4 17.0
Danny Amendola NE WR 14.3 17.8
Mohamed Sanu ATL WR 13.8 16.2
Jermaine Kearse SEA WR 13.7 14.4
Jeremy Maclin KC WR 13.1 14.7
DeVante Parker MIA WR 12.6 12.7
Anquan Boldin DET WR 12.2 12.3
Will Fuller HOU WR 11.7 11.9
Geronimo Allison GB WR 11.4 11.4
Andre Holmes OAK WR 11.4 11.6
Marvin Jones DET WR 9.6 9.7
Paul Richardson SEA WR 9.5 10.0
Cobi Hamilton PIT WR 9.1 9.6
Victor Cruz NYG WR 8.5 8.8
Randall Cobb GB WR 7.3 8.1
Chris Conley KC WR 7.3 8.3
Sammie Coates PIT WR 6.8 7.1
Michael Floyd NE WR 4.7 5.8
Seth Roberts OAK WR 3.3 3.4
Keith Mumphery HOU WR 3.3 3.3
Travis Kelce KC TE 42.9 48.4
Ladarius Green PIT TE 31.9 33.5
Martellus Bennett NE TE 24.4 30.3
Jimmy Graham SEA TE 21.3 22.4
Jason Witten DAL TE 21.2 25.2
Eric Ebron DET TE 17.6 17.8
Jared Cook GB TE 16.9 17.7
C.J. Fiedorowicz HOU TE 15.8 16.0
Dion Sims MIA TE 14.7 14.9
Ryan Griffin HOU TE 13.0 13.2
Will Tye NYG TE 11.2 11.5
Luke Willson SEA TE 10.1 10.6
Demetrius Harris KC TE 9.8 11.1
Richard Rodgers GB TE 9.8 10.3
Clive Walford OAK TE 9.1 9.2
Jesse James PIT TE 8.7 9.2
Mychal Rivera OAK TE 8.3 8.5
Levine Toilolo ATL TE 8.1 9.5
Austin Hooper ATL TE 7.0 8.2
Stephen Gostkowski NE K 27.7 34.5
Matt Bryant ATL K 24.2 28.5
Chris Boswell PIT K 21.1 22.1
Steve Hauschka SEA K 18.1 19.0
Nick Novak HOU K 17.1 17.3
Sebastian Janikowski OAK K 16.9 17.2
Mason Crosby GB K 16.6 17.4
Dan Bailey DAL K 15.3 18.1
Matt Prater DET K 13.9 14.0
Robbie Gould NYG K 11.1 11.4
Cairo Santos KC K 10.5 11.8
Andrew Franks MIA K 7.5 7.6
New England Patriots NE D 33.1 41.2
Dallas Cowboys DAL D 20.7 24.6
Green Bay Packers GB D 20.2 21.2
Atlanta Falcons ATL D 19.1 22.4
Kansas City Chiefs KC D 17.0 19.2
New York Giants NYG D 13.4 13.8
Seattle Seahawks SEA D 13.1 13.8
Miami Dolphins MIA D 11.5 11.7
Oakland Raiders OAK D 11.5 11.7
Pittsburgh Steelers PIT D 10.5 11.0
Houston Texans HOU D 9.8 9.9
Detroit Lions DET D 3.9 3.9