The 12% rule is going to be a popular topic this week in the NFL even though it is extremely misleading.
That is the number that will be mentioned all week for teams like the New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, and Kansas City Chiefs, as in “the Saints now have just a 12% chance to make the playoffs.”
That’s because those teams are 0-2 and since 1990 only 12% of all teams that started 0-2 went on to make the playoffs. On the other hand, going 2-0 makes things much more likely.
In fact, this is exactly how things played out in the NFL last season. After two weeks, eight teams were 2-0 and five of those (63%) went on to make the playoffs. Meanwhile, eight teams started 0-2 and only one team (13%), the Carolina Panthers, qualified for the playoffs.
But things are more complicated than that and a team like the Saints still has a much better chance to make the playoffs than just 12%, just like the Panthers had a better chance last season.
The numbers in the chart above just show how often an 0-2 team makes the playoffs and says almost nothing about individual teams. That’s because not all 0-2 teams are created equally.
Both the Saints, a team that has lost two games on last-play field goals, and the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have been outscored by 48 points, are 0-2. But no rational football fan would say those two teams both have the same chances of making the playoffs.
Just as the Jaguars chances are probably much less than 12%, the Saints are much higher.
It is not clear how much better the Saints’ chances are of making the playoffs, as starting 0-2 certainly makes things more difficult. But their chances of winning nine or ten of their remaining games is certainly better than the Jacksonville Jaguars and certainly better than the 12% rule.
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