Of course only the performance of the ultimate 6th place team matters, but conference performance has a big effect on that. As an example, last year the East as a whole had 462 points. This year if the PPG projections hold up, it will have only 425 points. That’s a variance of more more than 30 points which averages out to 3 points per spot. Of course it’s not evenly distributed. If there were a bigger sample I expect we would see a bell curve, but with 10 teams we probably get a bell curve with a lot of random chance mixed in. But a 35-40 point increase or decrease cannot help but have an effect on 6th place, unless all of the extra or missing points cluster very specifically.And generally a sudden spurt or fall off by the sixth place team self-corrects, because it will become the 5th or 7th place team. Right now the end of year distance between 1st and last projects to be about 24 points. Last year it was 30. Either way it is roughly an average 3-point gap between each spot. So on average once a team gets 3 points better or worse than previously projected it moves to a new spot and the team it flips with sets the new standard for sixth place. Unless there is an existing large gap specifically between spots 5-6-7 then individual team performance is undone by this effect.
Last year the East did have a decently sized 5 point gap between 6th and seventh. So TFC who finished 6th could have turned 1 win and 1 tie each into a loss, dropped 4 points, and still finished ahead of Orlando. So TFC’s specific performance did matter to that extent and the playoff line could have been 45 with nothing else changing. Then OSC would be kicking themselves about every single late bad result they got last year to drop points. In the other direction, however, if TFC had won 4 more points the playoff line would only move up 1, because New England sat above them at 50. And if Toronto got one of it’s extra points at the expense of New England, effectively taking 2 from the Revs, than NER would be down 2 and the line would move 1-point to 48. That’s how individual team performance self-corrects and the total points won by the conference becomes more determinative.
In the end I would guesstimate the effect is 60/40 in favor of the conference as a whole, and maybe 50/50. But rarely can I see an individual team’s performance making a difference of more than 4-5 points, and then only likely in one direction like TFC last year.
Finally, the only trend we can even try to predict is the overall conference performance, because there is no way to forecast that Montreal will win 6 of its last 8 or we would drop 6 of the last 9 like happened last year.* So I think the thing to do is predict the line based on the conference as a whole but allow for a few point variance or so either way at the end based on a couple of key teams having a good or bad streak at the end.
* As bad as we were, that was below our season average.
TFC’s 4 game win streak was at home and next they are on the road 4 of 5. They are 7-1-3 at home so that’s a major factor. Then they finish with 5 of 6 at home, and those 5 teams have a combined 4 Away wins (2 of which we are responsible for). Their home games against Philly and Red Bulls should be sure wins despite the opponent quality because both of those teams stink on the road. If TFC doesn’t win them, it’s a gift to us. If they do not come out of the next 5 games damaged it will be an upset if they don’t go on to take the East. Their sole Away game in the last 6 is in Montreal, so we can hopefully count on that as a loss, but if they don’t win at least 4 of their last 5 Home games I will be very pleasantly shocked.
The two biggest factor in the relative strength of the and total number of points in the Eastern Conference are the number of ties and the East record against the West, as we’ve discussed before. Changes to these factors will cause the playoff red line to go up or down.
Last year the East just stopped playing to draws in the last quarter of the season. Only 16.7% of East draws came in that last 25% of the season.
Also, last year the East earned 1.14 PPG against the West in the first 85 interconference games through August. Then the East went 8-4-3 for 1.80 PPG against the West in the last 2 months.
There is no reason to think the East will do either of those again, but there was no reason to think they would do it last year either.
The East played 66 draws combined all last year. This year the total is already 76. I think the playoff line might go above where it is currently pointing at 42 or so, but not nearly as much as it did last year.
In a conference in which 7 out of 10 teams have 1 or 0 road wins,* I would also note that the H/A breakdown for each contender is NYC 5/6, TOR 7/5, NJRB 6/5, PHI 5/7, and MTL 7/6. Combine that with the opponents PPG and I think Philly has the toughest schedule, and Toronto’s H/A split pushes their schedule closer to ours in terms of ease.
Finally I did a really granular comparison of Toronto’s schedule to ours. We have 4 identical games, same opponent and same H/A. We have one (NER) where we play the same team, but at Home for Toronto and Away for us. That’s a slight advantage Toronto but we can certainly win in New England. That leaves 7 Toronto games and 6 NYCFC that don’t overlap at all. Of their 7, 5 are against current playoff teams, with 3 Home and 2 Away. Of our 6, 2 are against current playoff teams with 2 Home.
Toronto’s toughest games are Philly and Montreal Away, then Philly Montreal and Red Bulls at Home. Ours are probably SJ Away and FCD and LAG at Home. Advantage us I think.
And since people like to consider multi-game weeks. We have none. Toronto had one this week and 2 more. But the schedule makers were still kind to Toronto. This week their travel was Home-Home-Home. The next one is PHI-ORL-Home(v MTL). And the last one for Toronto is Home-Home-Home. So while their roster gets stretched they are not not getting killed with crazy travel.
Toronto’s schedule is so weird, and more imbalanced than ours. Ours evened up last week, and we never go more than +/-1 H/A the rest of the year. TFC almost but not quite gets even this week, but then 4 of their next 5 are on the road, and then they finish with 5 of their last 6 at home. And their opponents in those last 5 home games are terrible on the road. If Toronto can get through the 4 of 5 Away stretch and are close to us with 6 remaining they will be in very good shape.
While it takes 3 things to go perfect for them, Toronto can catch us this week.. They are 6 points back (I’m quite sure this time) and play two games this week. If they win both and we lose in San Jose, we’ll be tied and have the same number of wins. They would be ahead of us on Goal Differential. Both of their games are at home. Midweek they host RSL, who have done well on the road against the East, but coming off their win in Philadelphia yesterday they either will do a lot of travel in a short time or spend the half-week away from home and their regular training routine. Either hurts them. I’m worried about Toronto more than the Union so I’m really hoping RSL can pull out another result here. Toronto then plays the Revs Saturday night. New England will be rested but Toronto has no travel and the Revs are not so good. For the record, I rank our Eastern rivals in order as
Toronto, just slightly ahead of
Philadelphia, who are slipping, then a much larger gap to
Orlando, who I think will make the playoffs but has <1% chance of finishing first, and
the rest who don’t make the playoffs.
I think it pretty unlikely we finish lower than third and are at about 60% to finish First or Second and skip the first round of the playoffs.