Pythagorean Expectation, Turnover Margin, and How They Correlate to NFL Win Totals

Written By Billy Attridge

We’re back, friends! There may not be a higher point of anticipation for a sports season than the beginning of August, as both College Football and NFL are weeks away from starting.  Each year we preview some of our findings after putting all 32 NFL teams through our Pythagorean Expectation test, looking to see which teams appeared to play at a level greater or less than expected.

As we’ve highlighted throughout the years, this is just the BEGINNING step of your process when handicapping regular season win totals.  Schedule changes, coaching changes, philosophy, player personnel, and other key metrics should be incorporated into every decision you make when contemplating tying up your money for 6+ months.

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The Pythagorean Expectation formula is quite simple (again, anything “simple” should be just a minor tool in investment decisions), and uses point differentials combined with turnover margin to arrive at a number signifying an expected win total from that year. Below, we peak at those teams whose numbers differed most from expectations to reality.

Here are the top five teams in each category who played above or below expectation.


Los Angeles Rams – Expected Wins (9.940); Actual Wins (13)

New Orleans Saints – Expected Wins (10.360); Actual Wins (13)

Kansas City Chiefs – Expected Wins (9.899); Actual Wins (12)

Los Angeles Chargers – Expected Wins (10.001); Actual Wins (12)

Houston Texans – Expected Wins (9.046); Actual Wins (11)


San Francisco 49ers – Expected Wins (7.757); Actual Wins (4)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Expected Wins (7.819); Actual Wins (5)

New York Jets – Expected Wins (6.505); Actual Wins (4)

Jacksonville Jaguars – Expected Wins (7.132); Actual Wins (5)

New York Giants – Expected Wins (6.984); Actual Wins (5)

One of the single most important aspects of sports betting, and potentially the least talked about, is market entry.  When gauging teams and their win total, factoring in the right price to invest at the best number possible is extremely difficult, but a practice that one must continue to strive to excel at in order to accrue the most financial success in this market. This brings me to the team we’re going to look at for this year’s win total, the Tennessee Titans.

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The Titans finished 9-7 last year, with their Pythag pegging them as an 8.265 win team, therefore qualifying as a slightly overachieving team. Tennessee loses offensive coordinator Matt Lafleur to Green Bay, and while this is not a crucial loss (the numbers last year were pedestrian, and Lafluer seemed to love running the ball on first down, which in 2019 is not the most optimal strategy), it seems Arthur Smith may not be the man to overhaul this scheme. Losing left tackle Taylor Lewan for the first 4 games will hurt (PED’s), and RB Derrick Henry, the supposed workhorse of the offense, is still dealing with a calf injury. On the other side of the ball, the Titans put up decent defensive numbers last year, but they should have!  They faced Josh Allen, Josh Johnson, Eli Manning, Blake Bortles, Josh McCown, Cody Kessler, Ryan Tannehill and Joe Flacco, putting up very good performances in those games.  This year Tennessee takes on Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers, Matt Ryan, a healthy Cam Newton and Baker Mayfield; that doesn’t include division signal-callers Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson and Super Bowl MVP, Nick Foles twice!!  The Titans went 4-3 in one score games, and were 8th in fumble recovery percentage (both could be due for regression).

Marcus Mariota and this coaching staff will have to prove me wrong here, as Under 8 (-135) still holds value.  Virtually any 8.5 has been gobbled up (the optimal entry point 3-4 weeks ago), and while 7.5 (+110) does exist in the market, we recommend getting the 8 as that’s the prominent number.