Our good friends at Football Outsiders released their latest Almanac this week, and as usual, it is likely to incur the wrath of plenty of fans. This year's Almanac had a mean projection of 9.7 wins for the San Francisco 49ers. This will likely get some people annoyed. Even more so will be that their mean projection for the Seattle Seahawks is 10.3 wins and the division title.
Here is a rundown of the division with mean projection, playoff odds and Super Bowl appearance odds.
SEA = 10.3 wins, 72.9% playoff odds, 15.0% SB appearance odds
SF = 9.7 wins, 59.6% playoff odds, 11.1% SB appearance odds
ARI = 6.5 wins, 11.8% playoff odds, 0.6% SB odds
STL = 5.8 wins, 6.1% playoff odds, 0.2% SB odds
A year ago, plenty of people were left perplexed by FOA's mean projection of 7.2 wins for the 49ers. This came after a season in which the team went 13-3 and earned a spot in the NFC Championship Game. Naturally people were displeased, and the 49ers did significantly better than Football Outsiders' projections.
However, what people are quick to forget with these projections is that they are not meant to be a prediction of the number of wins the team will finish with, but rather, a projection of a most likely win total based on running the season 1,000 times through their DVOA ratings. They are considering the probabilities, which also means there are always going to be outliers.
And the FO probabilities reflect that. Football Outsiders provides probabilities of various potential outcomes. Last year, although the mean projection was 7.2 wins, they also gave the 49ers a 6% chance of hitting 11+ wins. Football Outsiders acknowledged then that the mean projection seemed off. Looking back, the switch from Singletary & Co. to Harbaugh & Co. was one very specific reason they could be expected to be an outlier. The team had a talented roster before Harbaugh and his coaching staff came on board, but the addition of Harbaugh, Roman, Fangio, etc was a huge addition for which statistical projections cannot necessarily account.
And we cannot discount the arrival of Colin Kaepernick. While it was not a shock that the 49ers made the switch to Kaepernick, I don't think many of us could have expected the kind of performances we saw through the second half of the season and the playoffs. Plenty of people were optimistic, but Kaepernick's performances went beyond what most of us could have reasonably expected with a mid-season switch.
It is interesting to note, as FO points out in their chapter on the 49ers (written by our man Danny Tuccitto), several of the reasons for the potential regression actually did come to fruition. Alex Smith had a worse interception rate, they were not quite as good in games decided by eight points or less (7-2 to 2-1-1) and they faced a tougher schedule.
That being said, as Danny basically put it in his chapter on the 49ers, statistics cannot entirely handle just how great Jim Harbaugh & Co. really are. We all know the 49ers have a great coaching staff, but this actually does a better job proving just how good the staff really is. It is so good, and Mike Singletary's staff was so bad that their projections cannot necessarily recognize it.
We'll be back with plenty more on the Football Outsiders Almanac, including some discussion with Danny on our podcast. Speaking of the podcast, I did a practice one a week and a half ago, and we'll get going on a regular basis next week with the start of training camp.