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Ten Games Left: Projecting the Championship playoff race

Four points out of the last two games would have been close to ideal, even if the way Fulham did it was unexpected.

Hull City v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet Championship Play Off Final Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

How things stand

Just a week ago, we did these projections and said Fulham needed to win all their home games to have a chance at the playoffs. They didn’t start off by drawing with Leeds at home. We also said that any points they could manage from their tough road fixtures would be a bonus. Fulham then went out and got a huge boost by beating Newcastle away.

We’re going to continue looking at the the teams in third through tenth, but it is quickly becoming apparent that Fulham has separated themselves from the rest of the chasing teams. The Whites have a four point lead with a game in hand on Preston in eighth. Experimental 3-6-1 has none of Derby, Norwich, or Preston with even a 10% chance of making the top six.

Current Playoff Race

Team Position Games Played Points Points Per Game Goals For Goals Against Goal Differential Pythagorean Points Pythagorean PPG
Team Position Games Played Points Points Per Game Goals For Goals Against Goal Differential Pythagorean Points Pythagorean PPG
Huddersfield 3 36 71 1.97 57 39 18 61.41 1.71
Leeds United 4 37 66 1.78 50 36 14 61.12 1.65
Reading 5 37 64 1.73 49 49 0 50.67 1.37
Sheffield Wednesday 6 37 62 1.68 48 37 11 58.85 1.59
Fulham 7 36 60 1.67 63 42 21 62.51 1.74
Preston North End 8 37 56 1.51 51 45 6 54.72 1.48
Norwich City 9 37 54 1.46 63 56 7 55.00 1.49
Derby County 10 37 52 1.41 39 36 3 52.67 1.42
As of March 12th

Fulham have finally made up some ground. Reading and Sheffield Wednesday each only managed one point to Fulham’s four. Reading may be coming back to earth a bit as they didn’t manage to score a single goal, their goal differential now sits at zero. The teams are also starting to converge on their Pythagorean Points. Only Huddersfield and Reading are showing big variations from what we’d expect. Fulham’s recent form has allowed their results to be closer to how the numbers say they should have performed.

Again we should look at the numbers by expected goals and see if that makes a difference.

Current Playoff Race Advanced Stats

Team Position Games Played Points Points Per Game xGF xGA xGD Pythagorean Points Pythagorean PPG
Team Position Games Played Points Points Per Game xGF xGA xGD Pythagorean Points Pythagorean PPG
Huddersfield 3 36 71 1.97 49.32 38.88 10.44 56.64 1.57
Leeds United 4 37 66 1.78 43.66 43.66 0 50.43 1.36
Reading 5 37 64 1.73 44.77 55.13 -10.36 44.08 1.19
Sheffield Wednesday 6 37 62 1.68 55.5 37.37 18.13 63.54 1.72
Fulham 7 36 60 1.67 59.4 43.56 15.84 59.38 1.65
Preston North End 8 37 56 1.51 49.95 45.88 4.07 53.40 1.44
Norwich City 9 37 54 1.46 53.65 46.25 7.4 55.59 1.50
Derby County 10 37 52 1.41 50.32 40.7 9.62 57.45 1.55
As of March 12th

Once again, Fulham have almost exactly the number of points you would expect based on their xG numbers. If reality matched xG, Fulham and Wednesday would be pretty safe in third and fourth; while Norwich, Preston, Derby, and Huddersfield fought for the last two spots. Leeds and Reading are the two outliers here. Reading by far is the worst of the teams in a playoff spot, and explaining how they got to this point in nearly impossible.

Projecting the Future

The last time we did this, Fulham still looked like they would be on the outside looking in no matter how we projected things. How have these two games changed things?

Playoff Projections

Team Points Points Per Game Pythagorean PPG xG Pythagorean PPG Games Remaining Projected Points Pythagorean Points xG Pythagorean Points
Team Points Points Per Game Pythagorean PPG xG Pythagorean PPG Games Remaining Projected Points Pythagorean Points xG Pythagorean Points
Huddersfield 71 1.91 1.71 1.57 10 90 88 87
Leeds United 66 1.83 1.65 1.36 9 82 81 78
Reading 64 1.8 1.37 1.19 9 80 76 75
Sheffield Wednesday 62 1.74 1.59 1.72 9 78 76 77
Fulham 60 1.65 1.74 1.65 10 77 77 77
Norwich City 54 1.49 1.49 1.5 9 67 67 68
Preston North End 56 1.49 1.48 1.44 9 69 69 69
Derby County 52 1.46 1.42 1.55 9 65 65 66
As of March 12th

How much difference can two games make? A lot! If all the teams just finish with their results matching their current PPG, Fulham would fall just short. Last time Fulham would have been four points out of sixth and six points out of fifth. This has fallen to one point from sixth.

Using Pythagorean points or points based on xG doesn’t change Fulham’s total one bit. No matter how we look at it, they finish on 77 points. The big change from last week is that 77 points puts Fulham in a much better position. The projected table by Pythagorean points has Fulham finishing fifth. Using xG has them tied with Wednesday for fifth, with full edging by on goal differential.

What do Fulham need to do?

Fulham have 10 games left: Blackburn Rovers (H), Wolverhampton (H), Rotherham (A), Derby County (A), Ipswich Town (H), Norwich City (A), Aston Villa (H), Huddersfield Town (A), Brentford (H), and Sheffield Wednesday (A). If Fulham win all their home games, and away to Rotherham, they’d finish on 78 points. That just might be enough to get them in. Again 80 points would be much better. The next three fixtures are key. Fulham should win all three games. Being on 69 points with 7 games remaining would probably put the Cottagers in control of their own destiny. The next two fixtures before the international break could be the most important of Fulham’s season. Win both games and at worst they are one point out of fifth with a four point cushion between them and seventh place. At best, they could be in fifth place.

The dream scenario might be for Fulham to get two wins while Reading beats Sheffield Wednesday. While it only gets them into sixth place, they would be just one point behind Reading and have a four point cushion on Wednesday. If Brighton can handle Leeds, Fulham could be just one point out of fourth place. Before, we were hoping that Reading slipped up so Fulham could sneak into sixth. Now we are almost hoping that Reading stay in. By all standards Reading are the worst team left in the playoff race and having them in the playoffs makes winning the playoffs more likely. With a four team playoff between Huddersfield, Reading, Leeds, and Fulham; Fulham would actually be the favorite.

It’s still to early to start rooting for specific results. Fulham still need to take care of their own business, but this is the best I’ve felt about their playoff chances all year.