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Gulp: The math says the 4-4 Cardinals have over-performed

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton (5) scrambles from San Francisco 49ers defensive end DeForest Buckner (99) during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

While he got his Pythagoreans confused, ESPN New York radio host Don Le Greca would likely wince at ESPN writer Bill Barnwell’s piece about what Pythagorean expectation statistics say about NFL teams midway through the season.

Arizona Cardinals fans might as well.

The Pythagorean expectation — not the basic geometric formula called the Pythagorean theorem that Le Greca cites — says Arizona’s 4-4 record is the second-highest above the projections in the NFL, trailing the Miami Dolphins.

Miami’s four wins are 1.9 more than the Pythagorean-projected 2.1 wins, while the Cardinals’ four are 1.6 wins more than the 2.4 predicted by the formula.

Eight or nine games don’t sound like much, but when you consider that we’ve seen more than 1,000 total snaps from most NFL teams, the sample is bigger than it seems on the surface. Stats aren’t going to tell the whole story, but by using the right stats, we can gain some meaningful insight into what has happened this season. More important, we might even be able to muster up an idea of what’s going to happen next.

Biggest takeaway: The Dolphins and Cardinals aren’t as good as their .500 records …

Looking at other statistics might explain why the Cardinals overachieved relative to the analytics.

Despite continued special teams woes, Bruce Arians’ crew is tied with the Washington Redskins for a league-best 3-0 record in games decided by a touchdown or less.

Going further down Barnwell’s list of key statistics at the mid-point of 2017, Arizona ranks second-worst with 3.83 points scored per red zone trip. That’s a bit better than the league-worst Cleveland Browns (3.58) and far from the league-best Green Bay Packers (5.77).

… since 2001, no team has averaged fewer than four points per red zone trip, which leaves the Cardinals in danger of becoming part of the historical record with Drew Stanton taking over at quarterback.

Can the Cardinals buck the gulp-worthy projections moving forward?

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