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Which One-Win Team Could Still Make the Playoffs? Odds on the NFL’s Basement Dwellers

Sascha Paruk

by Sascha Paruk in NFL Football

Oct 15, 2019 · 1:47 PM PDT

Andy Dalton practising with the Cincinnati Bengals
Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals have been handing out wins to all comers this season. Photo by Navin75 (flickr) [CC License].
  • Five NFL teams have one win or fewer after Week 6
  • One of those teams is markedly worse than the rest, while another may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing
  • What can you expect from the NFL’s cellar-dwellers in the final 11 weeks of the season?

Six weeks into the 2019 NFL season, teams are separating themselves at both the top and bottom of the standings. While the New England Patriots (6-0) and San Francisco 49ers (5-0) remain undefeated, there are five teams that have one win or fewer: the Cincinnati Bengals (0-6) and Miami Dolphins (0-5) are winless, while the Washington Redskins (1-5), Atlanta Falcons (1-5), and New York Jets (1-4) have a single win.

And Washington’s only victory was a one-point win over the Dolphins in Week 6. League officials are still discussing whether that counts.

As illustrated by the stats and odds in the chart below, not all ineptitude is created equal. One of these five teams is arguably the worst in NFL history, three are just plain bad, and the fifth actually has a legitimate shot to turn its entire season around and make the playoffs.

The NFL’s Worst Teams by the Numbers 

Team Record Point Diff. DVOA Rank SBD’s Playoff Odds SBD’s Win Total
Miami 0-5 -138 (32nd) 32nd 50,000/1 0.5 (-130o/+130u)
Cincinnati 0-6 -62 (30th) 31st 1,500/1 2.5 (-115o/+115u)
Washington 1-5 -77 (31st) 30th 500/1 2.5 (-135o/+135u)
Atlanta 1-5 -51 (28th) 25th 95/1 4.5 (-105o/+105u)
NY Jets 1-4 -60 (29th) 29th 4/1 7.0 (+120o/-120u)

The poor performances from Miami, Cincinnati, and Washington were somewhat expected. They had 2019 win totals of 4.5, 5.5, and 6.5, respectively. All three were among the favorites to get the #1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

The Falcons and Jets, on the other hand, had considerably higher expectations, opening at 9.0 and 7.5. The Jets had reasonable +230 odds to make the playoffs prior to Week 1. Atlanta was even shorter at +140.

Just How Bad is Miami?

It should be apparent from the table above that Miami is the worst of the worst. This Dolphins team is proving to be historically awful. Earlier this year, they shipped off young stars (Minkah Fitzpatrick & Laremy Tunsil), signalling their intention to tank for a high draft pick. The results have been even worse than predicted, presumably to the elation of the front office.

Last year, the 3-13 Arizona Cardinals were the worst team in the league with a -200 point differential. The worst point difference ever was  -287 by the 1976 Buccaneers.

The 2019 Dolphins are at -138 after five games. They’re on pace for a -441 point difference, and that’s with four of their first five games being at home.

DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average) measures teams’ overall efficiency relative to the rest of the league. Since 2012, only one team (2018 Cardinals) has finished with a DVOA lower than -40% (meaning they were 40% less efficient than an average team).

The 2008 Detroit Lions, who infamously went 0-16, finished at -49.9%.

After Week 6, the 2019 Dolphins are at –59.3%. They are deadlast on both offense and defense.

In Week 6, the team benched second-year QB Josh Rosen in favor of Week 1 starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, and he almost led them to an improbable 14-point comeback against Washington. But their two-point attempt for the win failed miserably.

Their updated 2019 win total would be more heavily skewed to under 0.5 if not for the fact that they still have a home game left against the also-winless Bengals, who rank 28th in Offensive DVOA and 31st in Defensive DVOA.

The Jets Still Have Hope

The New York Jets are the one team on this list that is not like the others. Their playoff odds are still alive and, not exactly “well”, but not on life support either.

Hit hard by injuries, the Jets have been nothing short of competitive when they’ve actually had their best players on the field. In Week 1, they opened up a 16-0 lead on the now 4-1 Buffalo Bills before losing the backbone of their defense, CJ Mosley, to injury and losing by a point (17-16).

[T]he Jets have been nothing short of competitive when they’ve actually had their best players on the field

Then starting QB Sam Darnold missed the next three games with mononucleosis and the Jets lost all three, with Luke Falk providing some of the worst quarterback play this side of Ryan Leaf.

Darnold returned in Week 6 and the Jets pulled off a 24-22 upset over Dallas, even though Mosley remains sidelined.  They didn’t play great by any stretch of the imagination, but few teams in the 2019 season have.

The Jets’ playoff odds are buoyed by two major factors: first, they’ve only played five games, while most others have played six. That gives them more time to make up ground. Second, they still have two games against the Dolphins remaining, plus one each against the Redskins, Bengals, and NY Giants. They is a strong chance they go 4-1 (or even 5-0) in that quintet.

Winnable home games against the Raiders and Steelers could see this team get to eight wins before a Week 17 rematch against division rival Buffalo, potentially with a Wild Card spot on the line.

2020 NFL Draft: First-Overall Pick Odds

Team SBD’s Odds to Get #1 Pick
Miami 1/5
Cincinnati 10/1
Washington 25/1
Atlanta 49/1
NY Jets 99/1

In all likelihood, the “battle” for the first-overall pick in the 2020 draft is going to be decided by the Cincinnati vs Miami matchup in Week 16. The good news for Miami is that they get to host the game. The bad news is that Cincinnati will be healthier ten weeks from now.

The Bengals have been without All-Pro wide receiver AJ Green all season, and lost 2017 first-rounder John Ross (broken clavicle) in Week 4 after the speedster racked up 328 yards and three TDs in the first three-plus games of the year.

Barring further setbacks, both Green and Ross should be on the field in late December, meaning the Cincy offense could be verging on a league-average attack.

[The Bengals] are 0-4 straight up on the road yet 3-1 against the spread.

Cincinnati at full strength is still a bad team, on the whole. But four of their losses have been by four points or fewer. They are 0-4 straight up on the road yet 3-1 against the spread. There is a gaping chasm between Miami’s -59.3% DVOA rating and the Bengals’ -26.8% number. By that metric, the Dolphins are more than twice as bad as Cincinnati, the second-worst team in the league.

This stark reality is why the odds to get the first-overall pick in 2020 are so heavily skewed towards Miami. At 1/5, we give them an 83.3% chance to be picking first overall, even though Cincinnati is already one game “ahead” in the loss column.

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