What is the historical likelihood of your team making the playoffs?
Published 4:03 pm Wednesday, September 2, 2015
By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor
How much do the first few weeks of the football season matter, from a historical context? Do teams that start out 3-0 have any statistical advantage over teams that start 2-1 or 1-2? If a team starts the season 0-3, are they done for the season? Should they just pack it up and throw in the towel after the first weekend in September? Let’s take a look, because this sounds like a fun thing to do.
Usually the first week, sometimes two weeks, of the season in high school football have been reserved for non-regional foes, so it’s easy to infer that a team could come out of the gate hot and beat up on some smaller, less skilled teams and take an inflated 2-0 record into region play before finishing the year 3-7. The reverse is true as well; a coach could front-load on tough opponents to give his team a reality check, and take a winless record into the meat of region play before catching fire. That much is clear enough. But how much does the morale of starting the season off on a good or bad foot carry over to the rest of the year? Or does it at all? Coaches always talk about taking the season one game at a time, but at what point does the effect of the previous body of work take a hold of a team, for better or worse?
Looking at just the last 11 years of football in the county, so from the 2004 season to 2014, the results are interesting. This is just data from the 11 AHSAA schools in the county, over this time period and does include Helena, which has only had a team for one year.
As you might expect, teams that have started the year 0-3 rarely ever play past the end of the regular season. There have been 21 occasions of teams starting 0-3 since 2004, and in that time only two have ever made the playoffs, and only once made it past the first round. If your team starts out 0-3, well, better luck next year.
Teams that started the year 3-0, by comparison, have had an 87 percent probability of reaching the playoffs since 2004, with 20 out of 23 teams getting in. Also, teams that have started 3-0 are the only teams to make it to the state finals or semifinals, with no other team making it past the third round of the playoffs in this span.
There were 67 teams that started the year either 2-1 or 1-2, and this is where the results get a little muddled. Of these 67, 39 started region play with a 1-1 record, 12 started region play at 0-2 and 10 were 2-0, with six outliers either at 2-1, 1-2, 1-0 or 0-1 as well.
The 39 that started region play 1-1 were slightly more likely to make the playoffs than miss them, with a 21-18 mark in favor of playoff-bound teams. Teams that started region play 0-2 however were three times more likely to miss the playoffs, with three making it past the regular season compared to nine not. Nine out of the 10 teams to start 2-0 made it in as well.
What have we learned? Essentially nothing you probably didn’t already suspect, but now know for sure. Teams that start 0-3 or 1-2 (0-2) make the playoffs roughly 15 percent of the time, it has happened just five times in 33 seasons since 2004 in Shelby County. On the flip side, teams that start the year 3-0 or 2-1 (2-0) make the playoffs 88 percent of the time. Teams that start the season 1-1 in the region, well, its pretty much a crapshoot.
Just something to consider when looking at your teams record through the first few games of the season.