A few charts to wrap up the NFL regular season
After 18 weeks of regular season football the playoffs are finally here
If you remember all the way back to the beginning of the the 2022 NFL season the Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were supposed to be the strongest teams coming out of the AFC and NFC, respectively.
Vegas bookmakers and expert modelers in large part got the AFC right, but the NFC proved tougher to prognosticate. The top four teams in the AFC according to pre-season expectations — Buffalo Bills (13-3), Kansas City Chiefs (14-3), Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) and Los Angeles Chargers (10-7) — are all in the playoffs, while only one of the top four expected teams in the NFC are in the postseason in the San Francisco 49ers (13-4).
The Niners and Bills led the way in point differential this regular season, which was the league’s first since expanding to a 17-game schedule. San Francisco finished the year outscoring opponents by a +173 margin while Buffalo concluded regular season play with +169 in point differential.
The Philadelphia Eagles had a banner year as well; along with the Chiefs they were crowned with the NFL’s best regular season record at 14-3. As a result the Eagles and Chiefs captured the lone bye in each conference and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Oddsmakers had Philadelphia winning a respectable nine or 10 games this season meaning its 13 victories resulted in the largest win percentage above expectation (>.250 points) in the NFL in 2023.
The Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings also surprised by having winning records and making it to the playoffs at all. The Vikings, for their part, are one of the few teams in NFL history to make it to the postseason with a negative point differential, though, so not much is expected of them in the playoffs.
Meanwhile the Seahawks were expected to be in a rebuilding year after trading away franchise quarterback Russell Wilson to Denver in the offseason, but new starter Geno Smith will get the last laugh as he leads the Hawks into Levi’s Stadium Saturday to face division rival San Francisco. Wilson and the Broncos on the other hand will be home reflecting on the worst performance of the year relative to preseason expectations (as will 2021 Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams).
The Niners, Eagles, Bills, Chiefs, Bengals, Cowboys, and Jaguars(!) were the most efficient teams in the NFL this season, according to expected points added per play (EPA). SF garnered 0.20 EPA/play thanks in large part to having the best defense in the NFL. The Chiefs were second with 0.18 EPA/play, but unlike San Francisco, gathered most of that via their lethal pass game on offense.
And if you’re a Bears fan, the final day of the regular season could not have gone any better considering how the rest of the year went. The Texans beat Indianapolis in the dying seconds of their game, and coupled with the Bears loss, Chicago received the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Now that the regular season is over it’s on to the best time of year: the NFL playoffs.
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EPA is Expected Points Added, which is a measure of the change in Expected Points (EP) from play to play. It yields a single measure for the value of every play. EP was created by the nflfastR team using a statistical model trained on historical data, and takes into account features like down, distance, time remaining, whether the game is being played indoors, etc. It helps answer the question “How good of a position is my team in to score as of now?”