Predictions for the 2016 CFL season: History says…

Saturday, May 14, 2016 11:23 PM

Montreal Alouettes win the Grey Cup in 2010I have already established that it’s not easy to go from one extreme to the other in the CFL standings, first examining teams going from worst to first and then first to worst, but that just made me wonder how likely each finish was based off of where teams had placed the year before.

Before I go too far into this, note this isn’t an exact science. Since 1954, there have been two divisions in the CFL, and with the lone exception of 1995 (get used to that phrase!), these were the West and East. Every year those divisions have been in existence, both divisions have had at least four teams. The East has only had more than four once, in 1994, when I had six because of the addition of US teams to the mix.

The West has a bit more of a history with regard to having more than four teams. From 1954 to 1986, they had five, with all the teams that comprise the West today in the division at that time as well. After Montreal folded in 1987, Winnipeg took their spot in the East, and the West would have four teams until 1993, when Sacramento was added to the mix. They’d have another addition in 1994 with Las Vegas. We’ll get to 1995 in a moment, but in 1996, all the classic CFL cities had teams, giving the West five, but they wouldn’t have five again until the years of 2002-2005, and then not again until 2014 to the present.

In 1995, of course, there were the North and South divisions, where the North (all the Canadian teams in existence at the time) had eight teams and the South had five! The eastern teams, minus Montreal, thus only had two chances to finish 5th or worse, where the Western teams have had over 30 such chances, skewing the numbers some league-wide a little.

The other issue is that the following analysis is based strictly on where teams ended up in the standings in their division, *not* on wins or points. Take a look at 1981 or 1986 when you have a moment if you want to know why this method is imperfect. When you have a third-place team at 3-13 or 4-14 in the East and a fifth-place team at 6-10 or 6-11-1 in the West, it throws a wrench into the process.

On the other hand, divisional standing for years was the *only* measure by which playoff teams were determined, and aside from the possibility of the crossover, that still holds true today.

For first through fourth place, there have been 124 teams finishing in these slots since 1954. We know who finished where in 2015, but we do not yet know where they will finish in 2016; there are therefore 122 results (since there were two finishers at each position last year, East and West) for us to analyze in these positions. There have been 50 teams finishing worse than fourth, which will all be lumped together as fifth or worse, and there are 49 results for us to analyze since 1954 for these positions in the standings.

First, let’s look at first-place teams and how they fared historically the next season after finishing first.

First Place Teams
1st: 52 finishes the next year (42.62%)
: 38 (31.15%)
3rd: 17 (13.93%)
4th: 12 (9.84%)
5th or worse: 2 (1.64%)
Did Not Participate: 1 (0.82%)

We touched on the Bombers from 1972-1973 in the last article, but who is that other team that went from first to wors-than-fourth? That would be the 1995 Bombers, who fell from first in the East in 1994 to fifth in the North in 1995, a middle-of-the-pack finish in an eight-team division.

The Baltimore Stallions of 1995 also make this column as a team that Did Not Participate in 1996, even though their organization was moved to Montreal. The drastic changes to the roster due to having to comply with the Canadian/international player ratio and the fact that the league does not appear to count Baltimore's seasons as part of the Montreal franchise history in the record books led me to splitting off Baltimore's seasons as well in this study.

Dynasties such as Edmonton in the late 1970s/early 80s and Montreal in the 2000s seem to help first-place teams stay on top over 40% of the time the next season. Almost 75% of the time, they either stay in first or fall only to second, and very rarely (around 10% of the time) fall out of the normal playoff positions of first, second, or third.

Second Place Teams
1st: 40 (32.79%)
2nd: 45 (36.89%)
3rd: 22 (18.03%)
4th: 9 (7.38%)
5th or Worse: 5 (4.10%)
Did Not Participate: 1 (0.82%)

Second-place teams also show a strong tendency to stay in the first or second slots, staying up top nearly 70% of the time. They are a little less likely than first place teams to finish fourth, but have fallen to fifth or worse 5 times. The Did Not Participate was the San Antonio Texans after 1995.

Third Place Teams
1st: 18 (14.75%)
2nd: 20 (16.39%)
3rd: 35 (28.69%)
4th: 40 (32.79%)
5th or Worse: 6 (4.92%)
Did Not Participate: 3 (2.46%)

Third-place seems to be right in the middle of the spectrum, but with the East and quite a few seasons of the West being comprised of four teams, it's actually closer to the bottom than the top.

The Did Not Participates are Montreal from 1986, the one-and-done Birmingham Barracudas from 1995, and the Ottawa Renegades from 2005.

Fourth Place Teams
1st: 11 (9.02%)
2nd: 13 (10.66%)
3rd: 36 (29.51%)
4th: 42 (34.43%)
5th or Worse: 18 (14.75%)
Did Not Participate: 2 (1.64%)

Starting to see a trend here. Teams tend not to change by more than one spot in the standings each season.

The Did Not Participates are the Memphis Mad Dogs in 1995 and the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1996.

Fifth Place Teams (or Worse)
1st: 1 (2.04%)
2nd: 5 (10.20%)
3rd: 9 (18.37%)
4th: 17 (34.69%)
5th: 15 (30.61%)
Did Not Participate: 2 (4.08%)

Bad news for the Riders: Of the 49 teams previous to them to have finished 5th or worse, only 15 got up into what would be considered a normal playoff position. That's slightly better than a 30% chance, based on history alone. The one team that made the jump was the 1996 Toronto Argonauts, who shook off a 4-14, 7th place finish in the North in 1995 to win the East and the Grey Cup the next year. I don't see Doug Flutie on the Riders roster, though.

The Did Not Participates are the 1994 Las Vegas Posse and the 1995 Shreveport Pirates.

Team-by-team breakdown>br/?What about the individual teams? How do their finishes last year say they'll do this year?

Edmonton Eskimos (1st Place)
1st: 13 (61.90%)
2nd: 6 (28.57%)
3rd: 2 (9.52%)
4th: 0
5th or Worse: 0

Good news for Edmonton fans. They have finished first or second over 90 percent of the time after finishing first in their division, and have never finished outside of normal playoff position.

Calgary Stampeders (2nd Place)
1st: 7 (43.75%)
2nd: 5 (31.25%)
3rd: 3 (1.8.75%)
4th: 0
5th or Worse: 1 (6.25%)

Unless you see anybody named Feterik around, Calgary tends to be in good shape as well after 2nd place finishes.

BC Lions (3rd Place)
1st: 2 (11.76%)
2nd: 0
3rd: 4 (23.52%)
4th: 9 (56.25%)
5th or Worse: 2 (11.76%)

History is not as kind to BC when they finish 3rd. Finishing 3rd one season is generally a harbinger for finishing 4th, or worse. A BC team the year after finishing 3rd has only finished in the normal playoff positions (1st through 3rd) a little over 35% of the time.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers (4th Place)
1st: 1 (11.11%)
2nd: 1 (11.11%)
3rd: 2 (22.22%)
4th: 1 (11.11%)
5th or Worse: 4 (44.44%)

The Bombers act a bit erratically after finishing 4th. They've only finished 4th nine times out of 62 chances, but have finished in every place conceivable after those 4th place finishes. They've equally gone up or down in the standings after a 4th place finish. As a Bombers fan myself, I won't dwell on the fact that 5th place tends to happen more than I'd like it to.

Saskatchewan Roughriders (5th Place)
1st: 0
2nd: 0
3rd: 1 (10%)
4th: 5 (50%)
5th or Worse: 4 (40%)

2015 was the 11th time the Riders have finished 5th, and history is really not kind to them when they do. They have only bounced back to 3rd once, and never better.

Ottawa RedBlacks (1st Place)
1st: 2 (28.57%)
2nd: 4 (57.14%)
3rd: 0
4th: 1 (14.28%)
5th or Worse: 0

Of course, the Ottawa RedBlacks have never finished first before last season, so I added in the full Ottawa CFL history since 1954 to give us something to peek at. Besides the first to worst that we discussed in that article, Ottawa football history has been very kind to first-place finishes, keeping the team near the top 85% of the time.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2nd Place)
1st: 5 (29.41%)
2nd: 6 (35.29%)
3rd: 4 (23.52%)
4th: 1 (5.88%)
5th or Worse: 1 (5.88%)

The 5th-or-worse finish happened during the 1994 season, when there were 6 teams in the East. I'm pretty sure we can safely rule out that  happening this year. The team is all over the map after 2nd place finishes, going up or down or steady about the same frequency.

Toronto Argonauts (3rd Place)
1st: 0
2nd: 1 (9.09%)
3rd: 3 (27.27%)
4th: 6 (54.54%)
5th or Worse: 1 (9.09%)

Again, let's rule out 5th-or-worse as an option, thank you again, American Expansion. Still doesn't look good. The Argos tend to fall when faced with a season after a 3rd place finish, and if they don't fall, they don't usually rise either.

Montreal Alouettes (4th Place)
1st: 0
2nd: 0
3rd: 4 (57.14%)
4th: 3 (42.85%)
5th or Worse: 0

Fun fact about the Alouettes: They've never had the opportunity to finish worse than 4th ever, as they weren't around when the American teams were, and have never played in the West, obviously.

Also, this is the first time this version of the Alouettes has finished 4th, so we're going into the wayback machine for all of Montreal's CFL history here. They either rise to 3rd or stay in 4th. There is no in-between.

Predictions for 2016, based on history
Based on of how the teams have fared after finishing in a specific spot the year before, here's what long-term CFL history seems to be telling me will be the most likely order of finish for the 2016 season.

West
Edmonton
Calgary
Winnipeg
BC
Saskatchewan

East
Ottawa
Hamilton
Montreal
Toronto

I don't think I've heard anyone predict anything of the sort, but if past history is correct, this is what we can expect in 2016. We will see how well history does as a predictor of future results…

– written by Joe Pritchard