All year long, Football Outsiders' advanced stats have been confused by the Arizona Cardinals. Here's a team that kept winning game after game, yet since Week 4, our DVOA metric has never ranked the Cardinals higher than 15th. We kept asking ourselves, why are the numbers so down on Arizona?
Well, after two straight losses, it is becoming clear that the Cardinals are who we thought they were. And the rest of the NFC isn't going to let them off the hook.
While the Cardinals have lost two straight, Green Bay and Philadelphia have each won two straight, and now all three teams stand at 9-3. If the season ended today, Arizona would still earn the No. 1 seed by virtue of having a better conference record than the Packers or Eagles.
The poor Cardinals have to somehow fit their holiday shopping in between upcoming games against Kansas City, St. Louis, Seattle and San Francisco. That works out to the fifth-toughest remaining schedule by average DVOA of opponent. The Packers and Eagles have been playing better football and get to play easier December schedules to boot. It's highly likely that either Green Bay or Philadelphia will end up with a better final record than the Cardinals, rendering the tiebreaker moot. Therefore, our odds of Arizona earning the No. 1 seed in the NFC have dropped in two weeks from 58.2 percent to just 15.1 percent.
Of course, the Cardinals' biggest worry now isn't about the No. 1 seed; it's about the division title. Those odds are now basically 50-50, with Arizona taking the NFC West in 50.5 percent of our simulations. Seattle takes the division in 41.4 percent of simulations, and the 49ers have a Lazarus-style rebirth in 8.1 percent of simulations.
About these numbers: Each week from now until the end of the regular season, we will be taking a look at the projected playoff field based on the Football Outsiders playoff odds simulation that plays out the rest of the season 50,000 times. A random draw assigns each team a win or loss for each game. (Like Donovan McNabb, the playoff odds simulation does not believe in ties, except the one that already happened. That game counts as 0.5 wins in the projected wins total.) The probabilities are based on each team's weighted DVOA rating and home-field advantage. (DVOA is Football Outsiders' proprietary defense-adjusted value over average metric, which looks at a team's performance on every play and adjusts based on situation and opponent, explained further here. Weighted DVOA takes that rating and adjusts it to lower the strength of games that took place more than a month ago.)
You can find the full playoff odds report, including the odds of each team winning each of the six seeds, on FootballOutsiders.com.
AFC playoff projections
Current record: 9-3 | Weighted DVOA: 31.1%
Mean projected wins: 11.6
Total playoff odds: 93.1% | Weekly change: -2.3%
With the Patriots' loss to Green Bay, we now have a situation where all the numbers involved in the Football Outsiders playoff simulation favor Denver except for one. As in, the number one -- the number of wins the Patriots have over the Broncos to give them an edge to land the top seed in the AFC.