The last two weeks have been very good for Newcastle. After one goal victories over Aston Villa and Chelsea, talk has turned from relegation battle to climbing up toward mid-table. But is this optimism premature? Just how close (or far) are the Toon to the drop zone? Let's take a look at our customized table. In case you've forgotten or didn't catch the last edition of this feature, we are not only looking at the standard table, but we are trying to account for the luck (or lack thereof) teams have experienced, based on our understanding of the impact scoring and allowing goals has on the result of a game. To be brief, we've utilized a somewhat complex mathematical formula to calculate what we think a team's point total should be (ExPts) based on their goals for (GF) and goals against (GA) stats. We've then prorated that number and added in the actual points gained so far to come up with a projection of how many points they will earn at the end of 38 games (PrPts), assuming they continue to score and concede goals at the same rate (not a given). It's an inexact science, but it's also a good discussion point.
Over the last two weeks, Newcastle were the only ones in this group to gain all six points available to them. Reading were the next best, achieving a win and a draw. None of the rest gained more than 2 points. The result is that the Magpies now sit a full 6 points and 3 places above the relegation zone, a much better place than 2 points and 2 spots above as they were last time we checked in. They appear to have things well in hand - at worst, they'll drop just one place over the weekend. But how far could they climb?
Now we bring in over half the league to the discussion. Ninth place West Bromwich Albion have 34 points, so there's a natural dividing line here.
Wait, half the league is in danger? Sort of. One of the principles of handicapping a race like this is that the number of spots a team is ahead by is just as important (if not more) than the number of points they're ahead by. Let's take the case of Stoke City, who sit in 10th place with 30 points. In order for them to be relegated, they'd not only have to stop earning points themselves, but Wigan (or Aston Villa, if you prefer) would have to grab 9 points just to pass them, a tall order for a team that averages less than one point per game. Not only that, but every other team in between them would have to go on a similar run. With just a third of the season left, 9 points is a huge lead. It's even bigger when there are so many teams between Stoke and the drop zone. So yes, it's conceivable that any of the 11 teams listed above could be relegated. Understand, however, that in most cases, the lead is safer than you realize. After all, the only team mathematically safe so far is Manchester United, but nobody is worried about places 2-9. In truth, the next 3-4 needn't sweat, either.
If leads and deficits at this point of the season are larger than they appear, it would stand to reason that Newcastle fans should feel pretty good about their 6 point advantage over the 18th place team. They're certainly better off than they were just a few weeks ago, but 15th place is still a bit nerve-racking, even if the point differential is relatively substantial. The model actually projects that Newcastle will catch Norwich City. They will have to rely on other teams to do so, as the two have already finished their season series. This week the Canaries host Fulham, while NUFC will deal with Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. The one team that could catch them this weekend, Southampton, will have their hands full with Manchester City.