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Analysis | Early Commanders win total paints pessimistic view for 2024

Analysis | Early Commanders win total paints pessimistic view for 2024

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

The NFL offseason is a time for recalibrating expectations — especially this time of year, when we are past the opening of free agency but still a few weeks away from the draft. It’s also a time when sportsbooks weigh in with their expectations in the form of Super Bowl futures and win total markets.

DraftKings and FanDuel recently released predicted win totals for 2024, and the short-term outlook for the Washington Commanders — despite optimism felt by fans about the team’s new leadership — isn’t pretty. The Commanders rank near the bottom of the NFL with a win total of 7½, meaning the oddsmakers expect them to finish under .500. Only eight teams were given a lower win total.

Since we know the upcoming opponents for each NFL team (the order of each team’s schedule will be released in May), there is a lot we can do with these opening lines, including reverse-engineer them to figure out how many points each team is worth in the point spread and estimate the chances a team finishes with a specific record.

I won’t bore you with the spreadsheet gymnastics needed to transform win totals into power ratings (it involves using a solver tool to go through each game and minimize the error between the estimated margin of victory for each game, using the win percentage from the win totals and what we might estimate it to be based on the teams involved … I’m boring you, aren’t I?), but the takeaway is this: The early win totals allow us to measure the strength of each team, according to the oddsmakers.

The top teams in the NFL, by this analysis, are the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers — each expected to be five points per game better than an average team on a neutral field. The bottom two teams are the Carolina Panthers and the New England Patriots, each expected to be 6½ points per game worse than an average team on a neutral field. The Commanders are expected to be 1½ points per game worse than an average team on a neutral field, tying them with the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks as the 23rd-best teams in the NFL.

These power ratings also can be used to determine how likely a team is to finish with a specific record. For example, when Washington plays the Dallas Cowboys at home, the Commanders should be two-point underdogs. Underdogs of this magnitude typically win 40 percent of the time. On the road against the New York Giants, the Commanders should be slight favorites, giving them a 45 percent chance to win. We can do this exercise for every game and then simulate the season 1,000 times to establish probabilities that the Commanders will finish with zero wins, one win, two wins, etc.

The most probable scenario for Washington in 2024? A seven- or eight-win season. There is an 18 percent chance the Commanders finish with 10 or more wins and a 13 percent chance they finish with five or fewer.

If you think this is a pessimistic view after all the changes new general manager Adam Peters and Co. made, I agree — although it is a three-win improvement over the Commanders’ 4-13 record in 2023. But a lot of it comes down to uncertainty at quarterback.

The Commanders are expected to use the No. 2 draft pick on a passer, but while that may set them up for long-term success, it might not pay immediate dividends. Since 2002, when the NFL expanded to 32 teams, quarterbacks selected among the first five picks have cost their team about one point per game, on average, during their rookie season, per expected points data from TruMedia. Some have performed far better, such as Robert Griffin III in 2012 (added nine points per game), and some have been much worse, such as Jared Goff in 2016 (cost his team 14 points per game). Houston’s C.J. Stroud, the No. 2 pick in the 2023 draft who was the offensive rookie of the year and led the Texans to the divisional round of the playoffs, added four points per game. But it’s fair to assume that a rookie passer will take at least some time to figure out the pro game and not make a huge impact in his first year.

And that depends on whether he even begins the season as the starter. One of the many players Washington added in free agency was 30-year-old quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was Jalen Hurts’s backup last season with the Philadelphia Eagles. Mariota started 13 games for the Atlanta Falcons in 2022, with solid results — his performance was good enough to win 58 percent of games per ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating, which translates to a 10-7 season. Pro Football Focus, however, rated him as the 19th-best passer of 29 qualified quarterbacks during that stretch, casting some doubt on how long he could hold down the starting job at an above-average level.

Of course, a lot could change between now and Week 1. More moves could be made, and the draft will play a role in shaping the Commanders’ outlook for 2024. But this early drop of win totals serves as a reminder: This franchise will probably take a little longer to return to playoff contention.

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