Which NFL teams overachieve and underachieve in the playoffs since 2000? (actual vs projected playoff wins)

Jason Pauley
3 min readJan 19, 2024

Jason Pauley

The Dallas Cowboys have famously been a very good regular season team but a poor post season team, and they experienced it again this year. Over the last three seasons they went 12–5, 12–5, and 12–5. At 36–15, only one team, the Chiefs (37–14) have a better regular season record than the Cowboys in the last three years, yet the Cowboys are 1–3 in the playoffs with a Divisional round loss being the furthest they have reached.

Since 2000, the Cowboys have the 10th best regular season record in the NFL with a 210–177 record but are tied for the 25th most playoff wins. Only the Bears (3 wins), Dolphins (1), Commanders (1), Lions (1), and Browns (1) have fewer playoff wins than the Cowboys.

All this chatter about the Cowboys made me wonder…how many wins should they have in the post-season given their regular season success? Are they the worst in the post-season relative to how they have done in the regular season? Which other teams have underperformed and by how much? Which teams have overperformed? And of course, what about my team (Giants)?

So, I created a straight-forward, typical scatter plot with to look at the correlation between regular -season wins and post-season wins. The correlation seemed strong enough (R-squared of .661) for me to move forward with calculated expected playoff wins based on their regular season record. I then compared their actual post-season wins vs projected to get an over/under for each team.

Here are the results (see caveats at the end of the analysis)

The three worst underachievers are:

The top worst overachievers are:

Chart (all teams since 2000)

All the detail

Caveats / Warnings:

  • I’m not a data scientist or statistician, I know enough to plot things on an X and Y axis and get a trend line. There are likely some flaws, but I think directionally this should be good enough to make some claims with a decent amount of confidence. (one problem I see immediately is the flat trend line will predict negative playoff wins at a certain point, obviously this is problematic). If any stat folks want to chime in with advice in Layman’s terms feel free.
  • Teams that are really good, may be at a slight disadvantage in this analysis because they are often getting a first round bye, reducing their chances to accumulate playoff wins.
  • Houston was an expansion team in 2002, they have two fewer years of data. It shouldn’t matter in terms of their actual playoff wins relative to projection, but I just want to call that out.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the post!



Jason Pauley

Passionate about Analytics (Football, Sports, Marketing, Sales, Demographics)