Finally!! NFL preseason rankings based on wisdom of crowds

nfl2016_preseasonYou want to know the strength of your NFL team. You’ll take any analytics that can sort through the preseason noise of the NFL.

In college football, team strength tends to persist from year to year. This makes it possible to use previous seasons to predict the current season.

However, looking at past years does not work in the NFL since team performance regresses to the mean. The salary caps levels the playing field for all 32 teams. Injuries and luck can derail teams with the highest expectations.

However, we can use a different trick from college sports to rank NFL teams in the preseason. Let me explain.

Wisdom of many sports writers

Preseason polls in college sports are remarkable predictors of success.

In the preseason AP poll, the higher ranked team has won 60.2% of bowl games that season since 2005 (174-115 with no prediction in 91 games). The preseason Coaches poll also performs well at a 60.9% rate (182-120 with no prediction in 73 games).

The combined wisdom of sports writers or coaches lead to remarkable rankings. However, the accuracy of these polls decrease once the season starts. The writers or coaches tend to react too strongly to wins and losses. By the end of the season, the higher ranked team in the AP polls wins 56.6% of bowl games.

However, the AP poll is a remarkable tool before the season starts. Let’s created the same type poll for the NFL.

Ensemble NFL preseason rankings

Every major sports media site publishes preseason power rankings. I aggregate these rankings from over 20 sites.

To make predictions, each teams also needs a rating, or an expected margin of victory against an average NFL team. I use historical results from the last 10 years of my NFL team rankings, which take margin of victory and adjust for strength of schedule.

I’ve done this calculation for the last 3 years, and the model has predicted the winner in 64.5% of games (515-284 which doesn’t count two tie games). The opening Vegas line gets 66% of games correct on average.

Preseason rankings for 2016

In these wisdom of crowds rankings for 2016, it seems like most gave the Patriots a rank with Tom Brady, who won’t play the first four games of the season.

1. Carolina, 7.6
2. Seattle, 7.2
3. Arizona, 6.7
4. New England, 6.2
5. Green Bay, 5.9
6. Pittsburgh, 5.4
7. Denver, 4.3
8. Cincinnati, 4.2
9. Kansas City, 3.3
10. Minnesota, 1.6
11. Oakland, 1.2
12. Houston, 1.0
13. New York Jets, 0.9
14. Washington, 0.7
15. Baltimore, -0.3
16. Indianapolis, -0.4
17. New York Giants, -0.6
18. Dallas, -0.6
19. Jacksonville, -1.4
20. Buffalo, -1.4
21. Tampa Bay, -1.9
22. Atlanta, -2.3
23. Detroit, -2.4
24. Miami, -3.1
25. New Orleans, -3.4
26. Los Angeles, -4.1
27. Chicago, -4.2
28. San Diego, -4.6
29. Philadelphia, -4.7
30. Tennessee, -5.5
31. San Francisco, -7.9
32. Cleveland, -8.1

The predictions for week 1 are posted on the predictions page.


  1. Tyler Roberts says

    If the Vegas line is 66%, and your model is 64.5%, why would you use your model in straight up predictions?

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