How Much Trouble Is Kansas City In?

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): In Week 5, we saw two teams get their first wins of the NFL season, a coach receive his pink slip and an undrafted rookie quarterback out of Samford — yes, Samford — make his NFL debut, nearly leading his team to a comeback win.

We also saw last season’s MVP limping around the field on Sunday night. Guys, how worried should we be about Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs?

Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): This was the second game in a row where a team took the deep ball away from Mahomes. Of course, Tyreek Hill could be back next week, so that could turn the tables in the Chiefs’ favor again, regardless. Mahomes’s ankle injury didn’t seem too serious, but it could affect his ability to evade the rush for a few weeks, as it did after the injury last night.

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Yeah. He’s had some ankle issues already earlier this season, but he’s expected to be fine from all the reports I’ve seen. What his performance really did was underscore just how strange it is for Mahomes to not be amazing.

Believe it or not, this was only the second start of his career in which he was below-average in our Elo QB metric.

joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): I think the same is true of QBR — but I suppose our metric and QBR are closely related.

neil: Right. Mahomes’s previous below-average start was his first career start, at the end of 2017. So that means Mahomes had a streak of 22 consecutive above-average starts end yesterday.

Salfino: Mahomes had been on an epic run of efficiency on 20-plus air-yard passes, and in the past two weeks, he was just 4 for 15 with a passer rating of 80.7. Not good.

sara.ziegler: So should we have expected that his amazing run was going to come to an end at some point, and this was just the time it happened? Or is there something else going on here?

Salfino: I think the Lions and Matt Patricia went to school on it, and the Colts followed up even with an injury-riddled secondary. Now the ball is in the Chiefs’ court. Sort of the NFL circle of life.

neil: If anybody can adapt, it’s Andy Reid. And it still helps to have a QB who can do this:

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think it’s interesting to see how reliant the team really is on its all-world QB. It’s just so clear how much he means to the Chiefs, and I would think their top priority is to keep him healthy.

Salfino: Someone posted a diagram on that play showing that pass-rushers have to coordinate rather than going for the cheese in the same direction. The deeper rusher, we were told, should have gone outside to keep Mahomes contained. Sort of like how the Raptors worked in Jurassic Park. 🙂

neil: And here I thought all the Raptor talk this week would be confined to basketball

sara.ziegler: LOL

So what do the Chiefs need to do to take care of Mahomes? The offensive line looked … not good.

Salfino: Deeper passes require more protection. Maybe they need to get into a quicker rhythm and forget about emphasizing the deep throws so often. His protection for his career to date has been top-notch.

joshua.hermsmeyer: There are schemes you can employ to buy more time and prevent him from having to hang in the pocket, but they’re probably not sustainable. It’s also tough because what makes him so special is what he does when a play breaks down — and that’s also a dangerous time to be a QB.

Salfino: But they’re still winning the battle of the passing game so decisively for the season to date that I really believe that, despite the loss, the Chiefs are right on schedule. The pass defense is decent. The run defense … not so good. But high-scoring teams naturally evolve this way, if they’re smart. It’s the old Colts/Peyton Manning model.

sara.ziegler: So if the Chiefs are going to be fine, how about the Cowboys? They looked incredibly flat on Sunday against the Packers.

neil: The Cowboys are now 3-0 against teams with pregame Elo ratings under 1500 (i.e., average) and 0-2 against teams with pregame ratings over 1500.

Salfino: If you believe the Cowboys have the kind of high-powered passing offense their per-play stats suggest, they’re golden. I’m not sure I believe that, though. I’m not quite ready to go all-in on Dak Prescott as a true franchise-level QB. He’s good, though.

Neil’s point about their win quality is spot-on.

neil: Though, to push back against my own snarky observation about opponent-quality splits, Dallas did beat six above-1500 Elo teams during that period last season when they won eight times in nine games down the stretch.

So it’s not necessarily a persistent split. But it has stood out so far this season.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Dak has been fantastic. I thought they mounted a respectable second-half comeback. If I’m a Cowboys fan, I’m not worried when my team’s QB is playing like one of the top 5 at his position.

sara.ziegler: So the game did nothing to change anyone’s priors on the Cowboys?

joshua.hermsmeyer: It was a loss, so not great! But I’m not selling on the Cowboys yet.

Salfino: Definitely not selling. They are a legit Super Bowl contender.

sara.ziegler: You guys are refusing to overreact, and it’s annoying.

neil: Maybe the past two games have settled them back into the tier below the top contenders again.

Salfino: You can overreact to Captain Kirk, Sara. The Vikings are an offensive juggernaut.

sara.ziegler: I will not.

And they are not.

neil: Speaking of teams and QBs that play well only against below-average opponents…

sara.ziegler: Damn.

Tough but fair.

neil: That IS a trend dating back to last season.

Salfino: The Giants defense is … inviting.

sara.ziegler: I am on record saying that the Vikings were 100 percent going to win that game. It was a classic game of absolutely no stakes, so Kirk Cousins played well. Easiest call I’ve ever made.

neil: Can’t he just convince himself that all games have no stakes?? We said it ourselves last week: We all die in the end. Loosen up a little, Kirk.

sara.ziegler: LOLOL

joshua.hermsmeyer: I was just happy to see the Squeaky Wheel narrative pay off for Adam Thielen. Two touchdowns was a great game for him.

sara.ziegler: OK, so what about the other notable NFC North teams this week? Aaron Rodgers did nothing, but the Packers looked … great?

Salfino: The Packers pretty much ignored their wide receivers in the game. It somehow worked.

We may have to accept that the Lions are the best team in the North. Did I just type that?

sara.ziegler: The same Lions that tied Arizona? Those Lions?

neil: Let’s not go crazy here.

Salfino: Actually, the Vikings grade better in my key stat — net yards per pass play — but I don’t want Sara to have unrealistic expectations. I will say the Lions are playing better than the Bears.

sara.ziegler: My expectations are always as low as possible.

neil: BTW, all four NFC North teams still have winning records.

sara.ziegler: But what about those Bears? Is Chase Daniel not the answer???

Salfino: No less not the answer than Mitchell Trubisky.

I’ve tied myself up in double negatives.

Daniel and Trubisky are a double negative.

neil: 😂

joshua.hermsmeyer: I need more coffee to parse these Salfino Bears takes. Interestingly, if you were hanging your hat on their defense being great against the pass this season, early returns are not that good. Chicago, so far, has allowed the fifth-highest completion percentage in the league.

neil: Daniel basically played like you would expect from somebody with four career starts in 10 NFL seasons.

Salfino: Daniel is beating the system.

But Jon Gruden is still a good coach. That he’s 3-2 — with a team that is not talented and with all the Antonio Brown distractions — is impressive. The Raiders should be a losing team and probably still will be, but it won’t be because of Gruden.

neil: What about JAY Gruden? Lol.

sara.ziegler: First coaching casualty!

neil: Josh, is the Bears’ performance another example of defenses just regressing to the mean incredibly quickly in the NFL?

joshua.hermsmeyer: I don’t know what to make of NFL defenses, tbh. Some claim there was a jet-lag factor with Chicago, or they didn’t sleep well. It’s all a muddle.

Salfino: I’m shocked by how bad the Ravens pass defense has looked, even yesterday against the third-string QB.

sara.ziegler: Devlin Hodges was the best part of that game.

That story is my favorite of the season so far. Guy goes undrafted, signed to the practice squad, makes the team because some other backup is traded away … then, BAM. He’s leading a second-half comeback.

Salfino: The Browns may win the AFC North by default even with a loss tonight.

neil: We do still have Cleveland as favorites (granted, at 49 percent) to win the division.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I feel like you were bagging on Baker Mayfield just a week or two ago, Mike. How quickly the winds change.

neil: And we were pumping up Lamar Jackson!

Salfino: No, I was defending Baker. I was bagging on Baker in August. I am still bagging on Baker Mayfield the spokesperson.

neil: Lol

BTW, speaking of Jackson, he had the second-worst QB Elo game of the week yesterday. After that hot start, his rolling QB rating is basically average again.

However, the worst by a MILE belonged to poor Luke Falk of the Jets. In fact, Poor Sad Luke Falk had the worst QB game of the entire season. Meanwhile, Deshaun Watson of the Texans had the best game of the entire season!

The best — and worst — of 2019 QB starts were in Week 5

Best and worst quarterback games of the 2019 NFL season, according to FiveThirtyEight’s QB Elo ratings vs. league average

Best QB Games of 2019 season
Date Quarterback Team Opp QB Elo vs. Average
10/6/2019 Deshaun Watson HOU ATL +464
9/22/2019 Russell Wilson SEA NO +379
9/8/2019 Dak Prescott DAL NYG +340
9/8/2019 Patrick Mahomes KC JAX +270
9/15/2019 Dak Prescott DAL WSH +265
9/8/2019 Lamar Jackson BAL MIA +259
9/15/2019 Patrick Mahomes KC OAK +255
9/22/2019 Patrick Mahomes KC BAL +253
9/15/2019 Lamar Jackson BAL ARI +239
10/3/2019 Russell Wilson SEA LAR +224
Worst QB Games of 2019 season
Date Quarterback Team Opp QB Elo vs. Average
10/6/2019 Luke Falk NYJ PHI -478
9/15/2019 Ryan Fitzpatrick MIA NE -350
9/30/2019 Andy Dalton CIN PIT -326
9/22/2019 Luke Falk NYJ NE -263
9/8/2019 Jameis Winston TB SF -239
9/29/2019 Case Keenum WSH NYG -235
9/16/2019 Trevor Siemian NYJ CLE -202
9/29/2019 Josh Allen BUF NE -200
9/5/2019 Mitchell Trubisky CHI GB -200
9/22/2019 Joe Flacco DEN GB -185

Source: ESPN

joshua.hermsmeyer: Mike’s Jets: Out indefinitely.

neil: This was such a sad play:

Salfino: Jets fans like me have not had a season at all yet, and it’s Week 6. Can’t even kill the team for the way they’re playing. Can’t practice Falk if you think Sam Darnold can play because you have to get him ready for his health’s sake. And you can’t know how big his spleen is. But practice is not gonna save Falk, who just has no clock in his head for when to throw the ball. That’s fatal in the NFL. The Jets defense is actually … OK.

neil: When will Jets QBs not be on the receiving end of the universe’s jokes?

joshua.hermsmeyer: It’s the curse Namath put on the franchise after that embarrassingly inept attempt at hitting on Suzy Kolber on the sidelines.

sara.ziegler: I’ve never before thought about how big a quarterback’s spleen is.

Maybe never want to again.

neil: There’s Big Brain Time, and then there’s Big Spleen Time.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

What We Learned From Week 5 Of The NFL

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): In Week 5, we saw two teams get their first wins of the NFL season, a coach receive his pink slip and an undrafted rookie quarterback out of Samford — yes, Samford — make his NFL debut, nearly leading his team to a comeback win.

We also saw last season’s MVP limping around the field on Sunday night. Guys, how worried should we be about Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs?

Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): This was the second game in a row where a team took the deep ball away from Mahomes. Of course, Tyreek Hill could be back next week, so that could turn the tables in the Chiefs’ favor again, regardless. Mahomes’s ankle injury didn’t seem too serious, but it could affect his ability to evade the rush for a few weeks, as it did after the injury last night.

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Yeah. He’s had some ankle issues already earlier this season, but he’s expected to be fine from all the reports I’ve seen. What his performance really did was underscore just how strange it is for Mahomes to not be amazing.

Believe it or not, this was only the second start of his career in which he was below-average in our Elo QB metric.

joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): I think the same is true of QBR — but I suppose our metric and QBR are closely related.

neil: Right. Mahomes’s previous below-average start was his first career start, at the end of 2017. So that means Mahomes had a streak of 22 consecutive above-average starts end yesterday.

Salfino: Mahomes had been on an epic run of efficiency on 20-plus air-yard passes, and in the past two weeks, he was just 4 for 15 with a passer rating of 80.7. Not good.

sara.ziegler: So should we have expected that his amazing run was going to come to an end at some point, and this was just the time it happened? Or is there something else going on here?

Salfino: I think the Lions and Matt Patricia went to school on it, and the Colts followed up even with an injury-riddled secondary. Now the ball is in the Chiefs’ court. Sort of the NFL circle of life.

neil: If anybody can adapt, it’s Andy Reid. And it still helps to have a QB who can do this:

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think it’s interesting to see how reliant the team really is on its all-world QB. It’s just so clear how much he means to the Chiefs, and I would think their top priority is to keep him healthy.

Salfino: Someone posted a diagram on that play showing that pass-rushers have to coordinate rather than going for the cheese in the same direction. The deeper rusher, we were told, should have gone outside to keep Mahomes contained. Sort of like how the Raptors worked in Jurassic Park. 🙂

neil: And here I thought all the Raptor talk this week would be confined to basketball

sara.ziegler: LOL

So what do the Chiefs need to do to take care of Mahomes? The offensive line looked … not good.

Salfino: Deeper passes require more protection. Maybe they need to get into a quicker rhythm and forget about emphasizing the deep throws so often. His protection for his career to date has been top-notch.

joshua.hermsmeyer: There are schemes you can employ to buy more time and prevent him from having to hang in the pocket, but they’re probably not sustainable. It’s also tough because what makes him so special is what he does when a play breaks down — and that’s also a dangerous time to be a QB.

Salfino: But they’re still winning the battle of the passing game so decisively for the season to date that I really believe that, despite the loss, the Chiefs are right on schedule. The pass defense is decent. The run defense … not so good. But high-scoring teams naturally evolve this way, if they’re smart. It’s the old Colts/Peyton Manning model.

sara.ziegler: So if the Chiefs are going to be fine, how about the Cowboys? They looked incredibly flat on Sunday against the Packers.

neil: The Cowboys are now 3-0 against teams with pregame Elo ratings under 1500 (i.e., average) and 0-2 against teams with pregame ratings over 1500.

Salfino: If you believe the Cowboys have the kind of high-powered passing offense their per-play stats suggest, they’re golden. I’m not sure I believe that, though. I’m not quite ready to go all-in on Dak Prescott as a true franchise-level QB. He’s good, though.

Neil’s point about their win quality is spot-on.

neil: Though, to push back against my own snarky observation about opponent-quality splits, Dallas did beat six above-1500 Elo teams during that period last season when they won eight times in nine games down the stretch.

So it’s not necessarily a persistent split. But it has stood out so far this season.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Dak has been fantastic. I thought they mounted a respectable second-half comeback. If I’m a Cowboys fan, I’m not worried when my team’s QB is playing like one of the top 5 at his position.

sara.ziegler: So the game did nothing to change anyone’s priors on the Cowboys?

joshua.hermsmeyer: It was a loss, so not great! But I’m not selling on the Cowboys yet.

Salfino: Definitely not selling. They are a legit Super Bowl contender.

sara.ziegler: You guys are refusing to overreact, and it’s annoying.

neil: Maybe the past two games have settled them back into the tier below the top contenders again.

Salfino: You can overreact to Captain Kirk, Sara. The Vikings are an offensive juggernaut.

sara.ziegler: I will not.

And they are not.

neil: Speaking of teams and QBs that play well only against below-average opponents…

sara.ziegler: Damn.

Tough but fair.

neil: That IS a trend dating back to last season.

Salfino: The Giants defense is … inviting.

sara.ziegler: I am on record saying that the Vikings were 100 percent going to win that game. It was a classic game of absolutely no stakes, so Kirk Cousins played well. Easiest call I’ve ever made.

neil: Can’t he just convince himself that all games have no stakes?? We said it ourselves last week: We all die in the end. Loosen up a little, Kirk.

sara.ziegler: LOLOL

joshua.hermsmeyer: I was just happy to see the Squeaky Wheel narrative pay off for Adam Thielen. Two touchdowns was a great game for him.

sara.ziegler: OK, so what about the other notable NFC North teams this week? Aaron Rodgers did nothing, but the Packers looked … great?

Salfino: The Packers pretty much ignored their wide receivers in the game. It somehow worked.

We may have to accept that the Lions are the best team in the North. Did I just type that?

sara.ziegler: The same Lions that tied Arizona? Those Lions?

neil: Let’s not go crazy here.

Salfino: Actually, the Vikings grade better in my key stat — net yards per pass play — but I don’t want Sara to have unrealistic expectations. I will say the Lions are playing better than the Bears.

sara.ziegler: My expectations are always as low as possible.

neil: BTW, all four NFC North teams still have winning records.

sara.ziegler: But what about those Bears? Is Chase Daniel not the answer???

Salfino: No less not the answer than Mitchell Trubisky.

I’ve tied myself up in double negatives.

Daniel and Trubisky are a double negative.

neil: 😂

joshua.hermsmeyer: I need more coffee to parse these Salfino Bears takes. Interestingly, if you were hanging your hat on their defense being great against the pass this season, early returns are not that good. Chicago, so far, has allowed the fifth-highest completion percentage in the league.

neil: Daniel basically played like you would expect from somebody with four career starts in 10 NFL seasons.

Salfino: Daniel is beating the system.

But Jon Gruden is still a good coach. That he’s 3-2 — with a team that is not talented and with all the Antonio Brown distractions — is impressive. The Raiders should be a losing team and probably still will be, but it won’t be because of Gruden.

neil: What about JAY Gruden? Lol.

sara.ziegler: First coaching casualty!

neil: Josh, is the Bears’ performance another example of defenses just regressing to the mean incredibly quickly in the NFL?

joshua.hermsmeyer: I don’t know what to make of NFL defenses, tbh. Some claim there was a jet-lag factor with Chicago, or they didn’t sleep well. It’s all a muddle.

Salfino: I’m shocked by how bad the Ravens pass defense has looked, even yesterday against the third-string QB.

sara.ziegler: Devlin Hodges was the best part of that game.

That story is my favorite of the season so far. Guy goes undrafted, signed to the practice squad, makes the team because some other backup is traded away … then, BAM. He’s leading a second-half comeback.

Salfino: The Browns may win the AFC North by default even with a loss tonight.

neil: We do still have Cleveland as favorites (granted, at 49 percent) to win the division.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I feel like you were bagging on Baker Mayfield just a week or two ago, Mike. How quickly the winds change.

neil: And we were pumping up Lamar Jackson!

Salfino: No, I was defending Baker. I was bagging on Baker in August. I am still bagging on Baker Mayfield the spokesperson.

neil: Lol

BTW, speaking of Jackson, he had the second-worst QB Elo game of the week yesterday. After that hot start, his rolling QB rating is basically average again.

However, the worst by a MILE belonged to poor Luke Falk of the Jets. In fact, Poor Sad Luke Falk had the worst QB game of the entire season. Meanwhile, Deshaun Watson of the Texans had the best game of the entire season!

The best — and worst — of 2019 QB starts were in Week 5

Best and worst quarterback games of the 2019 NFL season, according to FiveThirtyEight’s QB Elo ratings vs. league average

Best QB Games of 2019 season
Date Quarterback Team Opp QB Elo vs. Average
10/6/2019 Deshaun Watson HOU ATL +464
9/22/2019 Russell Wilson SEA NO +379
9/8/2019 Dak Prescott DAL NYG +340
9/8/2019 Patrick Mahomes KC JAX +270
9/15/2019 Dak Prescott DAL WSH +265
9/8/2019 Lamar Jackson BAL MIA +259
9/15/2019 Patrick Mahomes KC OAK +255
9/22/2019 Patrick Mahomes KC BAL +253
9/15/2019 Lamar Jackson BAL ARI +239
10/3/2019 Russell Wilson SEA LAR +224
Worst QB Games of 2019 season
Date Quarterback Team Opp QB Elo vs. Average
10/6/2019 Luke Falk NYJ PHI -478
9/15/2019 Ryan Fitzpatrick MIA NE -350
9/30/2019 Andy Dalton CIN PIT -326
9/22/2019 Luke Falk NYJ NE -263
9/8/2019 Jameis Winston TB SF -239
9/29/2019 Case Keenum WSH NYG -235
9/16/2019 Trevor Siemian NYJ CLE -202
9/29/2019 Josh Allen BUF NE -200
9/5/2019 Mitchell Trubisky CHI GB -200
9/22/2019 Joe Flacco DEN GB -185

Source: ESPN

joshua.hermsmeyer: Mike’s Jets: Out indefinitely.

neil: This was such a sad play:

Salfino: Jets fans like me have not had a season at all yet, and it’s Week 6. Can’t even kill the team for the way they’re playing. Can’t practice Falk if you think Sam Darnold can play because you have to get him ready for his health’s sake. And you can’t know how big his spleen is. But practice is not gonna save Falk, who just has no clock in his head for when to throw the ball. That’s fatal in the NFL. The Jets defense is actually … OK.

neil: When will Jets QBs not be on the receiving end of the universe’s jokes?

joshua.hermsmeyer: It’s the curse Namath put on the franchise after that embarrassingly inept attempt at hitting on Suzy Kolber on the sidelines.

sara.ziegler: I’ve never before thought about how big a quarterback’s spleen is.

Maybe never want to again.

neil: There’s Big Brain Time, and then there’s Big Spleen Time.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

With No Runaway Favorites, The NFL Playoffs Should Be Wild

With the NFL’s playoff bracket finally set, it’s time to survey the field and handicap the race for the Super Bowl. What’s interesting about this season is that there are plenty of very good teams but few that could be classified as truly dominant. Nine teams have an Elo rating4 of at least 1600, but none of them has cracked 1700 on the eve of the playoffs. In only one other season since 1990 — when the NFL expanded its postseason to the current format — have this many teams been squeezed into the 1600-to-1700 range on the Elo scale, and even that season (2015) had one team above 1700:

Because of this logjam of good-not-great teams, nobody heads into the playoffs with better odds than the New Orleans Saints’ 21 percent chance to win it all, according to Elo. That’s the third-lowest pre-playoff championship probability for a Super Bowl favorite since 1990, trailing only the 2015 Carolina Panthers and 2009 San Diego Chargers at 20 percent apiece. It’s also much lower than the 30 percent average for the typical pre-playoff favorite before this year.

Overall, this year’s favorites are less likely to win the Super Bowl than usual — meaning the Saints and Kansas City Chiefs have a lower probability than the typical top two going into the playoffs — while most of the lesser teams have a better chance than you’d expect to see in an average year.

This year’s playoffs are more wide-open than usual

Probability of winning the Super Bowl by rank (among playoff field) for the 2018 season and the average of the 1990-2017 seasons, according to FiveThirtyEight Elo ratings

rank 2018 Team 1990-17 Avg.
1 Saints 21%
30%
2 Chiefs 20
21
3 Patriots 14
14
4 Rams 13
10
5 Bears 7
7
6 Ravens 6
5
7 Chargers 4
4
8 Eagles 4
3
9 Seahawks 4
2
10 Cowboys 3
2
11 Texans 3
1
12 Colts 3
1

All numbers are as of the final regular-season game of a given year. 2018 probabilities may not add up exactly to 100 percent because of rounding.

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Given all of this, the wild-card round could take on more significance than usual, since it’s not a stretch to imagine one of the teams playing this weekend taking home the Lombardi Trophy when all is said and done.

If Elo had to pick a favorite from that category, it would be the Chicago Bears, who are currently tied for third in the league in Elo and will host the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles (tied for No. 7) on Sunday at 4:40 p.m. ET. Chicago finished the regular season having allowed the league’s fewest points, so this is a classic Monsters-of-the-Midway Bears team in that sense. But quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is also playing much better than the typical Chicago QB from playoffs past — he’s no Jim Miller or Rex Grossman, for instance. According to ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating,5 Trubisky was the NFL’s third most effective quarterback on a per-play basis this season. While he had some lows (such as a dreadful 29.5 QBR in an opening-week loss to the Packers) to go with the highs (like a 98.9 QBR vs. Tampa Bay in Week 4, one of the highest single-game marks on record), Trubisky’s strides as a second-year passer helped Chicago’s offense — which ranked a respectable 13th in expected points added — be more in line with its dominating defense.

In fact, according to our experimental quarterback-adjusted Elo ratings, Trubisky enters Sunday’s game with the best QB adjustment of any Bears postseason signal-caller since the 1986 Super Bowl, when Jim McMahon was worth approximately 36 more points of Elo than an average quarterback (and promptly shredded the New England Patriots defense for 256 yards and a 104.2 passer rating in a 46-10 rout). Trubisky himself is worth an estimated 18 points of Elo, which is why Chicago stands out if we map out the QB adjustment and base (QB-neutral) Elo rating for each of this year’s wild-card-round combatants:

The remainder of the wild-card field lines up roughly in inverse order between quarterback quality and that of the rest of the team. Some teams — such as Andrew Luck’s Colts and Deshaun Watson’s Texans — have gotten to where they are largely because of their standout quarterback play. Others, like the Ravens, are doing a lot better recently than we’d expect from their QBs’ performance alone. Baltimore has won six times in the seven games since Lamar Jackson replaced Joe Flacco as the starter in Week 11, though Jackson himself ranked third-worst among qualified quarterbacks in QBR this season, and that includes his stellar rushing statistics.6 (Beyond his own stats, Jackson’s effect on the team’s overall running game shows up under the team’s QB-neutral Elo rating.)

Everyone else is somewhere in between, including the resurgent Eagles with backup Nick Foles, whose QB adjustment is back roughly where it was after Philly beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl, but took many twists and turns to get there; the Chargers with 37-year-old Philip Rivers, whose own adjustment has fallen by 38 Elo points since Week 13 with a string of mediocre outings down the stretch; the Dak Prescott-led Cowboys, whose team QB adjustment has hovered around average all season; and Russell Wilson’s Seahawks, whose own run-heavy attack masked another season of highly efficient passing.

How Elo sees the wild-card round playing out

Win probabilities for Week 18 games according to two methods — standard Elo and a version that contains an adjustment for starting quarterbacks

Standard Elo QB-Adjusted Elo
Team Rating Win Prob. Base Rtg Starting QB QB Adj. Win Prob.
CHI 1640 61% 1644 Mitchell Trubisky +18 66%
PHI 1624 39 1606 Nick Foles +2 34
BAL 1627 60 1650 Lamar Jackson -42 61
LAC 1624 40 1580 Philip Rivers +12 39
DAL 1572 54 1569 Dak Prescott 0 55
SEA 1605 46 1572 Russell Wilson +26 45
HOU 1551 56 1537 Deshaun Watson +28 58
IND 1578 44 1533 Andrew Luck +38 42

Home teams are in bold.

Elo quarterback adjustments are relative to average, based on a rolling average of defense-adjusted QB stats (including rushing).

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Of those, Elo gives the best chance of advancing to the Bears, followed by the Ravens. And upset-wise, the best odds belong to the Seahawks against the Cowboys, regardless of whether we adjust for recent QB performance. Whichever teams win, they’ll have to contend with road games in the divisional round — but given the overall state of the league, they’ll still have a better chance than usual to knock somebody off and forge their own path to the Super Bowl.

FiveThirtyEight vs. the readers

To keep tabs on each team’s classic Elo as the weekend plays out, be sure to check out FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction interactive, which simulates the rest of the season 100,000 times and tracks how likely every team is to advance through the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. And even though the regular season is over, you can still pick against the Elo algorithm in our prediction game and keep climbing up our giant leaderboard.

According to data from the game last week, here are the matchups in which Elo made its best — and worst — predictions against the reader picks for Week 17:

Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 17

Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 17 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game

OUR PREDICTION (ELO) READERS’ PREDICTION
PICK WIN PROB. PICK WIN PROB. Result READERS’ NET PTS
TEN 62% IND 55% IND 33, TEN 17 +15.1
NO 87 NO 77 CAR 33, NO 14 +13.3
MIN 56 MIN 50 CHI 24, MIN 10 +3.5
LAC 64 LAC 70 LAC 23, DEN 9 +1.8
PHI 65 PHI 71 PHI 24, WSH 0 +1.6
HOU 71 HOU 74 HOU 20, JAX 3 -0.1
ATL 54 ATL 56 ATL 34, TB 32 -0.4
PIT 83 PIT 83 PIT 16, CIN 13 -1.7
SEA 88 SEA 86 SEA 27, ARI 24 -2.0
KC 88 KC 86 KC 35, OAK 3 -2.3
LAR 85 LAR 83 LAR 48, SF 32 -2.6
NE 89 NE 86 NE 38, NYJ 3 -2.6
GB 65 GB 67 DET 31, GB 0 -4.4
BUF 59 BUF 55 BUF 42, MIA 17 -5.5
DAL 62 DAL 56 DAL 36, NYG 35 -8.2
BAL 81 BAL 68 BAL 26, CLE 24 -10.5

Home teams are in bold.

The scoring system is nonlinear, so readers’ average points don’t necessarily match the number of points that would be given to the average reader prediction.

Even though the readers knew about various Week 17 roster shenanigans (such as resting starters) and Elo didn’t, the algorithm did what it’s been doing most of the season, beating the field by an average of 5 points per reader. (Elo beat the average reader 16 times in 17 weeks during the regular season.) Readers picked up points for trusting Luck and Indy against the Blaine Gabbert-led Titans in Sunday night’s do-or-die regular-season finale, and they also got credit for fading the Saints, who were resting starters against the Panthers in a meaningless contest. But at times that knowledge came back to haunt them, such as when they dropped the odds of the Ezekiel Elliott-less Cowboys against the Giants, only to see Dallas storm back and win. (And it was odd to see Elo underestimate the Browns, which it’s been doing all season, only to have that work out at season’s end.)

Either way, congrats to Jake Horowitz, who led all identified users in Week 17 with 294.2 points, and to good ol’ Greg Chili Van Hollebeke, who hung on to his No. 1 ranking for the season with 1,168.1 points. Thanks to everyone who has been playing — and the game isn’t over yet! You should keep making picks and trying your luck against Elo throughout the playoffs.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.