We enter week 16 of the 2008 NFL season with four teams having clinched their division including the Tennessee Titans (12-2), New York Giants (11-3), Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) and the Arizona Cardinals (at just 8-6). Another division leader, Denver is very close to clinching their division and they are also just 8-6 on the year. Meanwhile, there’s a very good likelihood that the Patriots will miss the playoffs, despite potentially finishing 11-5. Only once before has an 11-5 team missed the playoffs, and that was back when there was only one Wild-Card team.
Knowing that two 8-6 teams, with potential 8-8 finishes on the horizon, will make the playoffs, while teams with much better records will be watching from home, makes me wonder. How much is luck a factor in the NFL? What are the implications? It turns out that luck actually plays a very big role. Just ask any sports bettor who loses a big bet thanks to the bounce of a ball, or a field goal hitting an upright. Given that NFL coaches and players will lose their jobs (or lock in contract extensions), based on the results of the season, why isn’t luck talked about more?