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Will The Browns And Niners Turn It Around? (Next Year, That Is)

We’re at the unofficial halfway point of the season, and with the possible exception of the Philadelphia Eagles, no team’s season has been without turbulence. The defense of the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots has been dreadful at times. Eli Manning and the New York Giants had a decent chance of making the playoffs in preseason, but they have proven to be terrible. Even teams that are currently cruising, like the Steelers and Saints, have had to survive rough patches. But one thing has been consistent in this strange season: The San Francisco 49ers and the Cleveland Browns have been utterly hopeless.

This is nothing new. The Browns and 49ers rank No. 1 and No. 2 for fewest wins since Week 1 of 2015. And while the 49ers received some positive news Tuesday when they acquired quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots for a second-round draft pick, the Browns reportedly failed to notify the NFL about a trade for Bengals backup QB A.J. McCarron before the trade deadline. (So at least the Niners are better than the Browns when it comes to filing logistical paperwork.) Regardless, both teams are on course to finish last in their respective divisions for the third straight year.

If they keep up their incompetence, the Browns and Niners will be rewarded with the opportunity to select the best college players in next year’s draft. The NFL’s draft system is designed to prevent teams from being too bad for too long, but this duo has defied that system in recent years — and may continue to do so.

The playoffs may never come after a bad start

Years until teams made it to playoffs after starting season with 0-8 record, 2001-14

2013 Tampa Bay 4-12
2013 Jacksonville 4-12
2010 Buffalo 4-12
2007 St. Louis 3-13
2001 Detroit 2-14 10
2008 Detroit 0-16 3
2014 Oakland 3-13 2
2011 Indianapolis 2-14 1
2008 Cincinnati 4-11-1 1
2007 Miami 1-15 1

Source: ESPN

Of the 10 teams that have started a season 0-8 from 2001 to 2014, half of them made the playoffs within the next three seasons. Some of these turnarounds shouldn’t be surprising, especially in the case of the 2011 Indianapolis Colts, who lost Peyton Manning to a neck injury prior to the start of the season. They selected Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft and made the playoffs for the next three years. Likewise, the infamous 0-16 Detroit Lions parlayed their ineptitude in 2008 into Matthew Stafford and made the playoffs within three seasons.

But then when you look at the other five teams that started 0-8 — which each averaged 4.7 wins a season for the three years after their 0-8 start — the future suddenly becomes gloomier.

To test what the future holds for these two, we ran a regression to try to predict the total number of wins of all 30 teams over the next three seasons, based on statistics from the current season. We used some standard metrics: offensive and defensive expected points added and a concoction of each player’s age and number of snaps played. What our model spat out was interesting but not shocking: Cleveland and San Fran are projected to be two of the worst teams for the next three years. Perhaps the addition of Garoppolo will help the Niners outpace our projections slightly, and perhaps the Browns will finally develop that franchise quarterback, be it possible draft picks like Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold or Mason Rudolph or even current rookie starter DeShone Kizer. (Just kidding, it’s not DeShone Kizer.) But for both teams, our projections see no clear light at the end of the tunnel.

The future is bleak for the Browns and 49ers

Fewest wins projected in the NFL over the next three seasons

Detroit 3-4 27 21.9
Chicago 3-5 14 21.8
Oakland 3-5 22 20.6
N.Y. Giants 1-6 23 20.4
N.Y. Jets 3-5 19 20.1
Arizona 3-4 31 19.9
Miami 4-3 24 19.1
Cleveland 0-8 11 19.0
San Francisco 0-8 15 16.1
Indianapolis 2-6 27 16.0

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

FiveThirtyEight vs. The Readers

Halloween weekend gave some real frights to the readers in our NFL prediction game, in which we invite you to outsmart our Elo algorithm. The biggest came in the Buffalo Bills’ 34-14 win over the Oakland Raiders, where the readers were more hopeful that Derek Carr and company had turned a corner. Buffalo held serve at home and registered a net 12.8-point loss for our readers. The Miami Dolphins had their biggest nightmare of the season on Thursday, when their league-worst offense was shut out for the second time this season, this time against the Baltimore Ravens. That loss wasn’t pretty for the readers, either — they netted a 4.4-point loss.

Week 8 wasn’t all gloom and doom for the readers, though. They enjoyed a 5.1-point net win in the Carolina Panthers’ 17-3 victory on the road over the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And Dallas also came to the readers’ rescue, handing them 3.4 net points with its 33-19 win over Washington. Thanks for playing this week — be sure you make your Week 9 picks nice and early.

Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 8

Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 8 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game

TB 55% CAR 52% CAR 17, TB 3 +5.1
WSH 52 DAL 54 DAL 33, WSH 19 +3.4
PIT 52 PIT 57 PIT 20, DET 15 +2.1
ATL 60 ATL 64 ATL 25, NYJ 20 +0.7
CIN 70 CIN 71 IND 23, CIN 24 -1.2
MIN 84 MIN 86 MIN 33, CLE 16 -1.2
PHI 90 PHI 90 SF 10, PHI 33 -1.4
KC 78 KC 76 DEN 19, KC 29 -3.6
NE 84 NE 81 LAC 13, NE 21 -3.6
NO 79 NO 75 CHI 12, NO 20 -4.0
BAL 53 BAL 51 MIA 0, BAL 40 -4.4
SEA 73 SEA 65 HOU 38, SEA 41 -8.2
BUF 66 BUF 53 OAK 14, BUF 34 -12.8

The scoring system is nonlinear, so readers’ average points don’t necessarily match the number of points that would be given to the average reader prediction.

Daniel Levitt is a former sports intern with FiveThirtyEight. He now runs the journalism newsletter and job board Inside The Newsroom.