In the national media, the fact that the Raiders are significantly improved is as ubiquitously believed as the "fact" that the Chargers are a lock for the division championship. On the surface this seems almost obvious. It is universally acknowledged that they are a talented team overall that has failed to put it together. Much of this blame is put on Russell. But with one of the biggest busts in NFL history out of the way and the competent Campbell in at Quarterback, a 4-win improvement seems almost certain, which will put them at 9 wins and in the playoff hunt. As Chiefs fans these stats are troubling. A lot of hope for our own massive turnaround depends on having one of the easiest schedules in the NFL, and two games against a good Raiders team hurts our chances.
But do we really have anything to worry about, or is this improvement just a figment of our imagination? I will argue, seemingly against all the evidence, that the Raiders will struggle to outperform their 5 wins last year.In one of my earlier posts, I introduced a graph I made which plots the point differential in each of our games against how many wins that opponent ended up having at the end of the year.
Not surprisingly, the better our opponent was, the worse we did against them. After I made this graph, I started to think about it a little. I realized that it was actually a pretty useful little thing. In particular, the x-intercept, which is where the line crosses the x-axis, will tell you where, given this data, at how many wins (for your opponent) you would expect no point differential, a.k.a. a tie. For the Chiefs, that number is 5.63. So, for opponents with five or less wins (at the end of the season), we'd expect a win, while an opponent with 6 or more wins would expect to beat us.
As I thought further, I realized this only worked because NFL teams are relatively even. This wouldn't work, for example, in college, where it's much easier for Boise State to go undefeated than it is for Mizzou to. This also means that this type of analysis breaks down when an NFL team is too good or too bad. In these cases, the difference between a 4-win team and a 14-win team is much less than the difference between the 14-win team and the really good team (or the 4-win team and the really bad team). Don't believe me? Check out the graph for the 2007 Patriots.
That's right, they were so dominant that you would only expect them to lose against a 392-win team, which is somewhat impossible in a 16-game season.
What does this have to do with the Raiders? Well, like I said, you would only expect very bad or very good teams to have abnormal graphs. And, after I did one for the 2009 Raiders, I was surprised to see they fell into one of those categories.
The Raiders, amazingly, have a positive correlation between how good an opponent is and how good they did. In other words, the Raiders did better against good opponents than they did against bad ones. In fact, if you took the 2007 Patriots one and flipped it, it looks a lot like the one for the 2009 Raiders. That is not good news for Raiders fans.
When I was playing around with this with various teams, I only found one that had a graph that looked anything like the Raiders. And, fortunately, this is the last team you'd want to have anything in common with.
The one team that also has a positive slope happens to be one of the worst teams in NFL history. But, if the Raiders were really this bad, how'd they manage to win five games? The answer is that they fluked it. In their win against the Chiefs, they were outgained 409-166, which means that the needed a huge amount of luck to win that game. Cincinnati outgained them 348-275 and still managed to lose. In fact, the only games where they had more yards than the opponent in a win, against the Eagles and Broncos, their advantage in yards was small. But in those games they had a turnover ratio of -2 for each, which would normally negate their marginal advantage in yards. (For example, in their win against the Chiefs, when they overcame a 243 yard deficit, their turnover ratio was only +2).
It is highly unusual for a team to win 5 games in such an unusual fashion. If you take the Chiefs last year, for example, only in one of our wins (against the Steelers) were we outgained, and in that one we had a +2 turnover ratio. In other words, we had exactly one fluke win.
In the NFL, wins are what count, so I'm not taking away the fact that they won five games, luck or not. However, when looking forward to this year, saying that the Raiders are better than last year, while true, may not necessarily imply that they'll actually win more games.
Of course, I could be wrong, but we won't have to wait long to see. When the Raiders get crushed by the Titans on Sunday you will know it's time to jump off the "Raiders are going to be good this year!" bandwagon.