NFL Pythagorean Expectation 2020, Turnover Margin, Point Differential, and How it Correlates to Win Totals

Written By Billy Attridge

Every off-season since 2013 I have written this piece, and despite the current climate with regards to Covid-19 and sports in general, the NFL fully intends to safely carry on. If you’re unfamiliar with the Pythagorean Expectation test, each August we evaluate all 32 NFL teams and run them through a simple mathematical equation that peels back the curtain divulging which clubs OVER or UNDER achieved the previous season.  Throughout the years savvy bettors and readers have understood that this is just a small part in the handicapping process, and should only be used as a starting point when gauging regular season win totals. Scheduling, coaching changes, free agent acquisitions, the draft, talent, travel, and matchups should remain at the forefront of your qualitative analysis as we approach the 2020 NFL season.

Looking at each team’s point differential and turnover margin, we can use the Pythagorean Expectation formula to arrive at a win number that more accurately depicts the strength of a team. Most teams play relatively close to their Pythagorean number, while others (outlined below) greatly over or under performed the previous season.

Below are the Top 5 teams in each category that played above or below expectation.


Green Bay Packers – Expected Wins (8.604); Actual Wins (13)

Seattle Seahawks – Expected Wins (7.344); Actual Wins (11)

New Orleans Saints – Expected Wins (9.458); Actual Wins (13)

Houston Texans – Expected Wins (7.853); Actual Wins (10)

San Francisco 49ers – Expected Wins (11.094); Actual Wins (13)

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Los Angeles Chargers – Expected Wins (9.004); Actual Wins (5)

Cincinnati Bengals – Expected Wins (5.965); Actual Wins (2)

Detroit Lions – Expected Wins (6.656); Actual Wins (3)

New York Giants – Expected Wins (6.953); Actual Wins (4)

Dallas Cowboys – Expected Wins (10.396); Actual Wins (8)

This NFL offseason has been extremely unique for obvious reasons, so the best advice is to move forward cautiously. Investing money in season-long bets (win totals, division, conference, and super bowl futures, props etc.) requires a larger edge to make it worth tying up capital for 6+ months.  Adding potential coronavirus cases to the mix makes this an even dicier proposition.  However, there is a win total worth looking at in Sin City with the Las Vegas Raiders.

The Raiders finished 7-9 last season despite starting 6-4 following a Week 11 home win against Cincinnati.  Putting the Raiders through the Pythagorean Expectation test, we see they performed like a 5.9 win team; putting them 1.1 games above expectation.  Let’s talk about what went right for Oakland last season to exceed expectation.  The Raiders went 7-3 in one score games, they converted 58% of their 3rd down conversions (#1 in the NFL), and they beat quarterbacks Ryan Finley, Chase Daniel, and Jacoby Brissett, all whom will be back-up quarterbacks in 2020.  Now the bad news.  The 2019 defense ranked 32nd in early down success rate (EDSR) against the 20th toughest schedule of opposing offenses. With the additions of Cory Littleton, Nick Kwiatowski, Carl Nassib, Prince Amukamara, and a few early-round selections the last two drafts, we would hope some improvement happens. Where we could see regression this season is on the other side of the ball.  Las Vegas faces the most difficult schedule of passing defenses the first 11 weeks of the season, and may need to lean even more on Josh Jacobs and the ground game.  Looking back on 2019, however, we see that could be a problem.  The Raiders faced the 3rd easiest schedule of run defenses in 2019, yet only finished 20th in overall rushing efficiency and 28th in explosive rush rate.  Attempting to figure out the identity of the Raiders offense is challenging, but one thing we know is that they face an increasingly difficult schedule in 2020, and Derek Carr must prove he his worth to Gruden and the organization.

Last Vegas is currently priced at 12/1 to win the AFC West; odds that imply a last place finish in the division.  Outside of the Arizona Cardinals, the Raiders are the only team priced to finish last in their division, but require .500 football to exceed their win total.  Fox Bet is currently offering Las Vegas Under 7.5 (-120), which is worth a wager based on the info above and our projection of 6.6 wins.  As always, we encourage price shopping for the best number, as the are decent sized disparities in win totals and futures.

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