In playoff fantasy football, predicting the correct number of games played for each team is paramount. This article, now in its fourth year, uses statistics to do just that. If you're unfamiliar with how my system works, click on any (or all) of the following links to the previous installments:
The Cliffs NotesTM version is that I use win probabilities published by Fivethirtyeight.com, Football Outsiders, Vegas, and Pro Football Reference to calculate how many games a given team can be expected to play according to math and statistics. I used to use ESPN Stats & Info's, but they're no longer giving details with respect to each team's probability of a conference championship appearance or conference championship; which is kind of important for the math. Thererfore, I've replaced them with Pro Football Focus, who is newly obliged in that regard.
EXPECTED PLAYOFF GAMES PLAYED
Below is a table showing my games played expectations for each team in this year's playoffs:
|TEAM (SEED)||P(1)||P(2)||P(3)||P(4)||Exp G||Adj Exp G|
Quickly for newcomers, 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 the Super Bowl counts double.
The clear discrepancy between seeding and expected games comes in the NFC, where the Saints and Rams both have higher projections than the higher-seeded Vikings and (especially) Eagles. One could argue that this is just a byproduct of Philadelphia and Minnesota not having the possibility of playing more games by definition due to their first-round byes. However, if that were indeed the case, we'd see the same phenomenon with respect to the AFC's Top 2 seeds; but we don't. Instead, the key factor here is that Los Angeles (24.9%) and New Orleans (29.6%) have considerably higher probabilities of reaching the NFC Championship game than Jacksonville (17.2%) and Kansas City (17.1%) have of reaching the AFC Championship game. Stated differently, the various statistical models project New England and Pittsburgh to be large favorites in the divisional round, whereas Philadelphia and Minnesota not so much.
It's worth noting, however, that the above phenomena almost completely disappears in playoff contests that award double points for the Super Bowl. As the "Adj Exp G" column shows, once you add in Philadelphia and Minnesota's higher chances of playing exactly three games (i.e., making the Super Bowl), all four teams end up within 0.17 total games of each other.
If I could sum up this entire discussion, it would be to say that the outcome of your playoff league is likely to be decided in the NFC Divisional round.
Well actually, there's one other factor that your league likely hinges on: the performance of the New England Patriots. Their 2.40 expected games and 2.97 adjusted expected games are the second-most since I debuted this article four seasons ago. Ditto their 0.32 expected games advantage over any other team. And what team are the 2017 Patriots second to in these rankings? The 2016 New England Patriots, who had expectations of 2.45 games and 3.05 adjusted games, as well as a 0.38 expected game advantage over the second-highest team.
The importance of New England, New Orleans, and Los Angeles is why, in my contribution to the Footballguys staff playoff predictions, which are a part of the input for our Playoff Excel App, I went with a Saints-Rams NFC Championship game and the Patriots defeating the Saints in Super Bowl LII.
PROJECTED PLAYOFF FANTASY POINTS
As always, 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 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 as much research as possible to use the most representative scoring averages I could to thereby produce my best approximations of their expected points. (And truth be told, this year required much more "approximation" than years past.)
As an example of unsustainability, I used Todd Gurley's full-season average of 25.8 points instead of his 36.2 points per game in Weeks 13-16. As an example of a current injury, I decided that DeMarco Murray isn't coming back from a torn MCL by the Divisional round, so I've allocated his full 9.7-point average to Derrick Henry, for a total of 18.2 points per game. This may seem too generous, but Henry scored 18.7 points with the full workload in a meaningful game against a playoff team just last week. Another injury example involved having to adjust for the uncertainty surrounding LeSean McCoy this week. Finally, there have been a ton of injury-related playing time anomalies since Week 13. Two quick examples involved 1) figuring out New England's "typical" backfield usage/production when all three heads of the monster are healthy; and 2) figuring out snap-, alignment- and target-usage in Jacksonville in the event that they have their Top 4 wide receivers healthy for the first time in months.
For your convenience, I've highlighted in bold, blue font those players I adjusted due to Week 13-16 unsustainability and highlighted in bold, red font those players I adjusted due to injuries/playing time anomalies since Week 13. (Important note: This color-coding is only to inform you who I adjusted and why; they could be either higher or lower. For example, Zay Jones' scoring in Weeks 13-16 was unsustainably low for a wide receiver that played around 80 percent of snaps (1.1 points per game), so I bumped him up slightly to his post-bye average of 4.5 points per game.) As always, feel free to move these players up or down in your rankings if you disagree with my adjustments:
|Player||Pos||Team||Exp Pts||Adj Exp Pts|
|Mark Ingram II||RB||NO||44.2||47.0|
|Ted Ginn Jr||WR||NO||18.7||19.9|
|Willie Snead IV||WR||NO||5.7||6.1|