2015 Season Overview

Well, it’s time for my overall predictions. This, by the way, is the TL:DR page. You can find my detailed discussions at my divisional breakdowns.

Here are my divisional breakdowns
NFC East: 2015 Prediction
NFC North: 2015 Prediction
NFC South: 2015 Prediction
NFC West: 2015 Prediction
AFC East: 2015 Prediction
AFC North: 2015 Prediction
AFC South: 2015 Prediction
AFC West: 2015 Prediction

NFC by seed
1: Seattle (NFC West Champion)
2: Dallas (NFC East Champion)
3: Green Bay (NFC North Champion)
4: Tampa Bay (NFC South Champion)
5: Philadelphia (Wildcard 1)
6: Minnesota (Wildcard 2)

Wildcard Round
Green Bay beats Minnesota
Philadelphia beats Tampa Bay

Divisional Round
Seattle beats Philadelphia
Dallas beats Green Bay

NFC Championship
Dallas beats Seattle

AFC by seed
1: New England (AFC East Champion)
2: Denver (AFC West Champion)
3: Baltimore (AFC North Champion)
4: Houston (AFC South Champion)
5: Kansas City (Wildcard 1)
6: Miami (Wildcard 2)

Wildcard Round
Miami beats Baltimore
Kansas City beats Houston

Divisional Round
Kansas City beats Denver (you’re welcome, Snorri)
New England beats Miami (sorry, Marty)

AFC Championship
New England beats Kansas City

Super Bowl
Dallas beats New England

Yeah, I think this Cowboys team is that good. I may be too close to the team, but it’s the deepest I’ve seen it since the early 90s.

It’s clear to me that the NFC is the deeper of the two conferences, at least in terms of great teams. The NFC South is wretched at the moment, but all the other divisions have potentially great teams.

As a side note, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Detroit, Carolina, and Arizona are all 2014 playoff teams that I think will miss the 2015 playoffs. This is about right, given that around 5.7 teams don’t go back the following year after making the playoffs.

As for last year, I did pretty good. I picked 3 of the 8 divisions exactly right. I picked the division winners in 2 others, and in another case I flip-flopped the division winner and wildcard. My only really bad prediction was Tennessee. The other division I struggled with was the NFC North, and I was not the only one.

In terms of playoffs, I predicted Seattle to win, and I was damn close to being right.

As I said last year, there are 255 games remaining in the season. Let’s get this going.

2015 NFC East

NFC East (2014 Finish: Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, Redskins)

Overall: Another division where I predicted the eventual winner correctly. This despite no one thinking the Cowboys would win more than 6 games.

My only mistakes were thinking that the Redskins would see some improvement and that the Giants would regress. Neither happened.

Dallas Cowboys
2014 Record: 12-4 (Pythagorean Wins: 10.8)
2014 Division Rank: 1st (My prediction: 1st)
2014 Injury Rank: 19th
2015 Age Rank: 14th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 6th (4th / 22nd / 13th)

I said last year that this team only needed their defense to be in the 20th range to be a 10-6 team. I was exactly correct, especially if you look at their Pythagorean record. They were lucky to win 12 games, but still were the best team in the division.

Their biggest loss in the offseason was DeMarco Murray. Make no mistake, he’s a very good RB. However, he was not a great RB despite leading the NFL in yards gained rushing. How can this be? Because he was used a ton. If you rush way more often than anyone else behind a great OLine you’re going to lead the NFL in yardage.

He can be replaced and he will.

This offense is loaded. They have a great QB, a bunch of targets, and a deep and good OLine. They’ll end up around the same spot in offensive DVOA.

There are major changes to this defense and it’s all on the DLine. Their best pass rusher was hurt most of last year, and he’s back. Randy Gregory has looked really good, as has Greg Hardy who’ll be there for 12 games. Add in Tyrone Crawford who is being tabbed for the Pro Bowl and a variety of talented backups tells me this will be a much better line.

Yes, they lost their best CB, but they got their best LB back who they lost all last year. I see major improvements in this defense, up to something like 10th in the NFL.

That being said, I think this team will only win 11 games because their schedule is tougher this year.

They were lucky in their Pythagorean record and that will regress to the norm, but they weren’t lucky in terms of injuries and this is not an old team. Yes, I’m a Dallas homer, but in my opinion, this is still the best team in the division.

Philadelphia Eagles
2014 Record: 10-6 (Pythagorean Wins: 9.7)
2014 Division Rank: 2nd (My prediction: 2nd)
2014 Injury Rank: 5th
2015 Age Rank: 28th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 7th (13th / 10th / 1st)

People are predicting the Eagles could go to the Super Bowl. They think that the additions of Sam Bradford, DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, and Nelson Aglohor to an offense with a damn good OLine, Darren Sproles, and Jordan Matthews will be amazing.

I don’t see it.

Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez weren’t bad last year. Sam Bradford has never been great, certainly not major upgrades to either of those two. Could he be? Yes. This could be a perfect fit, and he could massively exceed his previous production, but he’s in his 5th year and that is unlikely.

I see the the same thing for RB and WR. LeSean McCoy is a fantastic RB. Will Murray be that much better? I doubt it. Same for Jeremy Maclin. Aglohor will be good, but significantly better?

Plus, they had two of the best guards in the NFL last year in Todd Herremanns and Evan Mathis. Their OTs and their center are very good, but these two will not be replaced easily.

This was a slightly better than average offense last year. I think they’ll improve, but will they be the best in the NFL? I don’t think so.

Their defensive front is very good. I can see some improvement here, but it depends on if their defensive backfield, which was wretched last year, can improve.

However, I see a major dropoff in their special teams. They were amazing last year and had a ton of returns. TD returns tend to be fluky. They will have some regression to the mean.

Plus this is a team that has had 2 years of really good luck with injuries. It is more likely than not that they’ll have some injury problems this year.

Overall, I think they’ll be a little better, but still in the 10-6 range. They’ll be one of the wildcard teams.

New York Giants
2014 Record: 6-10 (Pythagorean Wins: 7.5)
2014 Division Rank: 3rd (My prediction: 4th)
2014 Injury Rank: 32nd
2015 Age Rank: 25th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 21st (15th / 25th / 15th)

This is a better team than I expected, and better than their 6-10 record. Part of that is no one quite realized how good Odell Beckham, Jr. really is. Like that was one of the best rookie seasons a WR has ever had. Forget ‘The Catch,’ look at the rest of his season and you’ll be amazed. He’s gonna suck to play against year after year.

Despite him, this was an average offense. I predicted their OLine would give them trouble and it did. I predict their OLine will continue to hamper this offense. Eli Manning has proven, year after year, that he is hampered by pressure more than most QBs. He makes up for that for being more efficient than most in clean pockets. They did draft Ereck Flowers, but I’m not sold on him. We’ll see.

My expectation is that Beckham will have an even better year, and this team will hit a bunch of homers. However, they’ll not sustain many drives and end up being average again.

Last year I predicted Jason Pierre-Paul would return to glory and this defense would be much better. I was sort of right. He had a very good year, but there were still a lot of holes. Now we have no idea what he’ll be able to do after blowing off his index finger on July 4th.

This was an unlucky team in 2014. They finished 1.5 games below their Pythagorean record and were 32nd in the NFL in terms of injuries.

Normally, I’d look at that and be optimistic for the team the following year. However, they’re fairly old. JPP is a major question mark. Victor Cruz has been iffy already. Their luck does not seem to be changing.

Washington Redskins
2014 Record: 4-12 (Pythagorean Wins: 4.5)
2014 Division Rank: 4th (My prediction: 3rd)
2014 Injury Rank: 24th
2015 Age Rank: 17th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 28th (28th / 27th / 29th)

What a model of consistency. Look at those DVOAs by group. Impressive, Washington, impressive.

And it’s not going to get better.

Could they have mismanaged the RG3 situation any more than they did? Unfortunately, I think RG3’s career is essentially over, though he’ll get another shot somewhere. Concussions will force him to retire soon, and I lay some of that blame on Jay Gruden.

Is Kirk Cousins a better QB than RG3? Maybe in this offense. I can’t see him being great, though. They’ll run some, but a decent OLine and Alfred Morris. Overall, this offense might improve some, but not much.

I don’t see the defense improving. Ryan Kerrigan is a useful supporting piece but not an All-Pro type player.

They haven’t drafted well of late either. I like Brandon Scherff, but they had better picks at that point in the draft, given that a 4-12 team is guaranteed to have a lot of holes.

4-12 is a good expectation here.

2015 NFC North

NFC North (2014 Finish: Packers, Lions, Vikings, Bears)

Overall: This was probably my worst division last year, mostly because I thought the Lions weren’t as good as they ended up being. I also thought the Vikings would be better, but part of that was based upon Adrian Peterson playing, which of course did not happen.

Green Bay Packers
2014 Record: 12-4 (Pythagorean Wins: 11.2)
2014 Division Rank: 1st (My prediction: 1st)
2014 Injury Rank: 3rd
2015 Age Rank: 3rd
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 3rd (1st / 16th / 22nd)

If any team can lose a player like Jordy Nelson and march right on it’s the Packers. There are two big reasons for this. One, they draft WRs constantly, and Davante Adams will perform very well. Two, they have the best QB in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers.

With Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Randall Cobb, and Adams behind a reasonable OLine, this team will be in the top 5 on offense again.

Now, it’s true that the Packers were lucky in terms of injuries last year, ending up ranking 3rd in the NFL last year. It’s likely that they’ll regress to the norm some, and that’s already started to happen with Nelson.

However, note also that the Packers are the 3rd youngest team in the NFL going into 2015. This is a team likely to finish in the top half of the league in terms of injuries and is still generally speaking climbing their career arcs.

I don’t see any reason to think they won’t end up 11-5 or better and winning a really good division.

Minnesota Vikings
2014 Record: 7-9 (Pythagorean Wins: 7.5)
2014 Division Rank: 3rd (My prediction: 2nd)
2014 Injury Rank: 8th
2015 Age Rank: 7th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 24th (22nd / 23rd / 10th)

The Vikings have been given a lot of love by the press lately, and it’s not hard to see why. They get Adrian Peterson back, and even though I think he’ll start fading soon, having a year off might mean the tread on his tires was refreshed somewhat.

More importantly though, is that Teddy Bridgewater is already a pretty good QB on the way up. Pro Football Focus picked him as one of the players on the rise because of his improvement over the latter part of the year. In his last 5 games, his QB Rating was 120.7, 117.7, 84.9, 114.1, and 90.2. That’s really good.

This is a team that’s not old, that has my 2nd favorite QB in the division, that has one of the best RBs in history aching to prove himself. They’ve got a few targets for him as well. This team will score, and will end up being around the 10th best offense in the league.

They also threw a bunch of draft picks at this defense. I think it will improve a little. Then you add one of the most explosive returners in Cordarrelle Patterson and their special teams will be at least in the top half again.

That’s the recipe for a 9-7, 10-6 team. They’ll be fighting with Arizona for a wildcard.

Detroit Lions
2014 Record: 11-5 (Pythagorean Wins: 9.2)
2014 Division Rank: 2nd (My prediction: 4th)
2014 Injury Rank: 15th
2015 Age Rank: 24th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 14th (19th / 3rd / 31st)

There are a lot of people on the Detroit bandwagon. Since I picked them last in the division last year, I’m clearly not sold on them and I’m still not on this bandwagon.

First of all, this team benefited from some luck, and was more of a 9-7 team than an 11-5 one. Second, this is not a young team. Third, I’m not a fan of Matthew Stafford. He puts up big numbers because they throw a lot and because Calvin Johnson is one of the best receivers in history (not quite as good as either Jerry Rice or Don Hutson in my opinion… yet).

In any case, the 19th ranking in offensive DVOA suggests that this offense was at best average, despite the presence of Stafford, Johnson, and Golden Tate. I really like Ameer Abdullah, and I see in him an RB with a few top notch seasons to come, but I can’t see this offense improving that much, if at all.

Unfortunately, the defense will not be as good, basically because Ndamukong Suh has left. They have some other good players on the DLine but you just can’t lose a player like Suh without having some dropoff.

This was a 9-win team that got lucky last year. This is a 8-9 win team this year. Sorry, Detroit fans.

Chicago Bears
2014 Record: 5-11 (Pythagorean Wins: 4.9)
2014 Division Rank: 4th (My prediction: 3rd)
2014 Injury Rank: 27th
2015 Age Rank: 19th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 26th (14th / 28th / 25th)

This is a bit of a train wreck. Their offense was average last year, but it will be much worse this year. Kevin White is hurt, so he can’t replace the production of Brandon Marshall. Worse, Matt Forte, who has been a fantastic player, is declining, as RBs do as they get to around 30.

Their defense might be a little better, as regression to the mean suggests they should be, but I see no reason to see a major improvement.

This team won 5 games last year. I’m hard pressed to think they’ll do any better and I could absolutely see this team winning 2 or 3 games and picking first.

2015 NFC South

NFC South (2014 Finish: Carolina, New Orleans, Atlanta, Tampa Bay)

Overall: I did pretty good here, and was exactly correct when you look at Pythagorean record. Of course, when 0.4 separates the top 3 in a division, you know it’s a dogfight.

Unfortunately for NFL fans, the dogs in the fight are old and generally toothless. None of the teams finished in the top half of the NFL in DVOA and the top 3 teams are 3 of the oldest 4 teams in the NFL.

Last year’s train wreck is likely to happen again. The worst thing from my perspective is that I have no idea how this division will fall out. I think they’ll all be around 6-10 to 8-8, just like last year, except the Buccaneers will be markedly better.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2014 Record: 2-14 (Pythagorean Wins: 4.4)
2014 Division Rank: 4th (My prediction: 4th)
2014 Injury Rank: 23rd
2015 Age Rank: 11th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 30th (32nd / 18th / 17th)

Yeah, that’s right. I’m picking the Buccaneers to win this division. I said last year that this team was a QB away from being a good team. Then they went and drafted Winston and 2 OLinemen to protect him.

Their defense and special teams were average, and I think this team will be average on offense. That’s an 8-8 team. That will win this division.

And frankly there are other reasons to like this team. People are saying Doug Martin looks full speed again. If this is true, and if Mike Evans can come back to health, then Winston will have targets.

Plus, this is the only team on the rising side of the age curve in this division. None of the other teams will run away with this division and I think the other 3 will fade as the season goes on.

Atlanta Falcons
2014 Record: 6-10 (Pythagorean Wins: 7.1)
2014 Division Rank: 3rd (My prediction: 2nd)
2014 Injury Rank: 25th
2015 Age Rank: 30th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 20th (11th / 32nd / 9th)

I guess I’ll pick the Falcons next. They addressed their defense in the draft and it will be better. Probably something like 24th or so. Probably be a 7-9 team again, which is what they were last year in terms of Pythagorean wins.

They’ll score some with Matt Ryan at QB and Julio Jones at WR. Tevin Coleman will fit in nicely.

However, this is not a team to hang your hat on.

New Orleans Saints
2014 Record: 7-9 (Pythagorean Wins: 7.4)
2014 Division Rank: 2nd (My prediction: 1st)
2014 Injury Rank: 9th
2015 Age Rank: 29th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 17th (8th / 31st / 11th)

The Saints traded Jimmy Graham for Max Unger and drafted an OT to help the OLine. They needed to. This line, once one of the best, has gotten old but these two will help.

That means the offense will continue to be productive. They’ll still be one of the top 10.

Unfortunately, I don’t see any hope for the defense. There’s no real reason in my mind to be optimistic here.

So, yet again, we’re looking at a 7-9ish team.

Carolina Panthers
2014 Record: 7-8-1 (Pythagorean Wins: 7.0)
2014 Division Rank: 1st (My prediction: 3rd)
2014 Injury Rank: 6th
2015 Age Rank: 31st
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 25th (20th / 15th / 30th)

Could they have been better in 2015 than in 2016? Sure. In fact, I think that Cam Newton will be better this year than last. However, their best offensive player, Kelvin Benjamin, is gone for the season.

Luke Kuechly is an amazing player, possibly the best ILB in the NFL. I really like Star Lotulelei. This defense could be better. But I doubt it will be because of age. They’ll be average again.

Sorry, Tola, this is not a good team right now and needs a major overhaul. Still, they’ll win 6-7 games.


2015 NFC West

NFC West (2014 Finish: Seahawks, Cardinals, 49ers, Rams)

Overall: I nailed this division not only in my rankings but in the reasons why. Let’s see how I do this year, when this division is not nearly so clear-cut.

Seattle Seahawks
2014 Record: 12-4 (Pythagorean Wins: 11.9)
2014 Division Rank: 1st (My prediction: 1st)
2014 Injury Rank: 18th
2015 Age Rank: 12th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 1st (5th / 1st / 19th)

It’s hard to have a dynasty in this day and age, but the Seahawks are doing a great job. Nevertheless, with all the turmoil of this offseason it’s safe to say the cracks are starting to show. The have benefited from Russell Wilson’s minimal salary cap hit, which has now passed. Other players are also looking to increase their salaries, and Kam Chancellor is even holding out. They’re also older than they have been over the last 4 years.

Despite such cracks, this team is still very good and will win a division that has regressed after being the best in the NFL.

The defense will fall off some, especially if Chancellor’s holdout is a long one, but will fall from being the best in the NFL to merely a great one in the 5th or so range.

The key to their offense in 2015, to me, is not the production of Jimmy Graham but that of Drew Nowak. Who? The Seahawks acquired Graham by trading away Max Unger, one of the top 5 centers in the NFL. Nowak is Unger’s replacement. Graham is a fantastic player, possibly the 2nd best TE in the NFL right now, but if Nowak plays poorly this offense will drop off.

Overall, I see this team dropping to 5th or 6th in the NFL in DVOA. Great, but not dominant. Still more than enough to win the NFC West, but maybe not to get home field advantage throughout.

Arizona Cardinals
2014 Record: 11-5 (Pythagorean Wins: 8.3)
2014 Division Rank: 2nd (My prediction: 2nd)
2014 Injury Rank: 17th
2015 Age Rank: 22nd
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 22nd (23rd / 7th / 21st)

This is a hard team to predict. They were extremely lucky, in terms of Pythagorean wins, but the discrepancy probably stems from their injuries at QB.

With Carson Palmer back, it’s hard not to look at this team and see a team that could very well win the division. There’s talent on the offense and it’s a good defense.

However, it has a huge Achilles heel. I do not like their offensive line. If they cannot protect Palmer then this team will regress to 9-7 or so and out of the playoffs. If they’re better than I think, then the race for the division will be decided Week 17 in Phoenix in a fantastic matchup between the Seahawk and the Cardinals, with the loser one of the wildcards.

I’m not optimistic, though.

Los Ang… er… St. Louis Rams
2014 Record: 6-10 (Pythagorean Wins: 7.1)
2014 Division Rank: 4th (My prediction: 4th)
2014 Injury Rank: 13th
2015 Age Rank: 1st
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 18th (27th / 9th / 7th)

Yeah, sorry about that, fans of the Rams. I think they’re almost gone. If it’s any consolation this is a team that has been mismanaged for years and I don’t see that changing.

I really do not like their pick of Todd Gurley at 10th in the 1st round. I’m not a big fan of drafting RBs in the 1st round anyway, and I think Zac Stacy and Tre Mason are pretty good.

Now, the did do something I really like. I’m a bigger fan of Nick Foles than I am of Sam Bradford. Bradford is probably more talented, but Foles has been pretty good while Bradford has not.

The real problem, though, with that 27th ranked offense is that none of their high-round offensive line draft picks have worked out well. They clearly know how to rank defensive line players, and Aaron Donald might be the best DT in the NFL this year, but their investments in the OLine have not paid off.

I see a moderate improvement in the offense to somewhere around 20th, and this team will probably be around 8 wins. Not enough to get inthe playoffs, but some progress.

San Francisco 49ers
2014 Record: 8-8 (Pythagorean Wins: 7.0)
2014 Division Rank: 3rd (My prediction: 3rd)
2014 Injury Rank: 28th
2015 Age Rank: 8th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 11th (16th / 5th / 24th)

Wow. I’m not a big fan of saying things like “this is the worst of something ever,” because that usually suffers from recency bias. However, it’s hard to think that this offseason has to rank among the worst ever for NFL teams.

Now, I will say that despite the losses of Patrick Willis and all the rest the front 7 will be better than most people think. However, this defense is going to seriously drop off to about average. The offense may pick up a bit of the slack, but I’m really not a fan of Colin Kaepernick.

This team will not fall off much, but they were luck to win 8 games last year, and I think 6-10 is their eventual result.

2015 AFC West

AFC West (2014 Finish: Broncos, Chargers, Chiefs, Raiders)

Overall: I nailed this division, in terms of finish. I also did a pretty good job of analyzing why they would finish as they have.

I will say the Pythagorean win totals suggests the gap between Denver and the rest of the division was not as great as their 3 game cushion would suggest. I think this is a harbinger of 2015.

In all honesty, this is the hardest division in the AFC to predict. I can come up with a scenario where a mediocre to bad Oakland is 2nd in the division with 8 wins, which to me means KC wins going away and Denver getting unlucky and finishing with 6 wins, tied with San Diego. Or, Denver could win 12 games again, and KC just misses with 11 wins, but is a damn good wildcard team that gets to the AFC championship.

I just don’t know here.

Denver Broncos
2014 Record: 12-4 (Pythagorean Wins: 11.0)
2014 Division Rank: 1st (My prediction: 1st)
2014 Injury Rank: 1st
2015 Age Rank: 18th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 2nd (3rd / 4th / 27th)

It’s a truism that no team can survive the loss of their starting QB. I think this is especially true for the Broncos. Peyton Manning is perhaps the most skilled QB I’ve ever seen. Is he the best ever? Maybe not, but he’s in the discussion because he is simply so skilled at the job. Do yourself a favor and watch his footwork. Amazing.

I do think this team will have major injury problems, even if Peyton stays healthy. In 2013 they were 25th in terms of games lost, but went to 1st in 2014. They’ll be somewhere in the middle of that in 2015, but that means a big injury hit.

Because of that I really don’t quite know what to do with this team. I can easily come up with a scenario where this team gets hit early and they end up last in this division with 4 wins. If they get lucky, though, they could win it all.

For now, I’m going to leave them here, at the top of the division, but watch the injury list for Peyton or anyone on their OLine. This could be sign that of the dominoes falling.

Kansas City Chiefs
2014 Record: 9-7 (Pythagorean Wins: 10.1)
2014 Division Rank: 2nd (My prediction: 2nd)
2014 Injury Rank: 26th
2015 Age Rank: 6th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 10th (12th / 19th / 3rd)

I actually want to pick the Chiefs first. There’s a lot to like about this team and, according to Pythagorean wins, there’s only a game separating the Chiefs from the Broncos.

It’s rare for DVOA to be all that far off, but I think that’s the case here with the Chiefs defense. With only 281 points allowed in 2014, 2nd lowest in the NFL, they are clearly pretty damn good. On the other hand, their offense is really not that good.

What’s holding me back are the injuries to Eric Fisher and, more importantly, Dontari Poe. Poe is in the discussion as one of the best in the NFL at his position, and I think the Chiefs depend upon him. The good news is that he might play this week, but I want to see if he’s full strength before relying upon him.

We’ll see. This is a young team and I can totally see them finishing strong. They’re a little unlucky with the schedule, as their 2nd game with Denver is week 10 and not, say, week 15 when the age difference would be more likely to matter.

This is the hardest race in the AFC to call, by far. I think both will be 10-11 win teams. The loser is probably the other wildcard in the AFC.

San Diego Chargers
2014 Record: 9-7 (Pythagorean Wins: 8.0)
2014 Division Rank: 3rd (My prediction: 3rd)
2014 Injury Rank: 31st
2015 Age Rank: 21st
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 16th (10th / 24th / 23rd)

I’ve been a  fan of the Chargers since the days of Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner, and James Jefferson. I want this team to win the division.

But I can’t see it. Yes, they’ll be better with injuries than last year, but they’re actually older as a team than the Broncos, so while they won’t be 31st, they won’t be healthy.

I hit the nail on the head with this team last year. I said they’d score because Rivers has weapons but that the defense would be weak. 10th on offense and 24th on defensive DVOA says I was right.

People are bullish on this offense in 2015 because of Melvin Gordon. I’m not so high on him, and I will say that trading up for an RB in today’s NFL is idiotic. Trading up in general is a bad idea, especially early in the draft, but for an RB? Awful decision.

This defense isn’t measurably better. I think this team not only regresses to its 8 Pythagorean wins of 2014 but even farther to 6 or so.

Oakland Raiders
2014 Record: 3-13 (Pythagorean Wins: 3.1)
2014 Division Rank: 4th (My prediction: 4th)
2014 Injury Rank: 29th
2015 Age Rank: 23rd
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 29th (30th / 26th / 18th)

To show how mismanaged the Oakland Raiders are, think about how high they’ve picked in the draft year after year and then note that this is the oldest team in the AFC West.

Does Derek Carr look like he’s got some skills? Yes, he does, but his was a significantly below average QB last year. Are they assembling pieces around him? Yes, including an OLine that helped keep him upright.

Is it enough? Nope. This team is still 1-2 good drafts away. I see nothing that suggests this defense will be good. I do see major improvement on the offensive side, but that means not that it’s a good offense, but rather it’s an average to mediocre offense.

Overall, this team will win 5-6 games, an improvement to be sure but there’s so far to go.

2015 AFC South

AFC South (2014 Finish: Colts, Texans, Jaguars, Titans)

Overall: So, ummm, yeah. I was totally wrong about the Tennessee Titans. The less said about that the better. I was right about the rest of the division, in general, though.

I’m going to surprise a lot of people with my prediction for this division, so let’s get right to it.

Houston Texans
2014 Record: 9-7 (Pythagorean Wins: 9.8)
2014 Division Rank: 2nd (My prediction: 3rd)
2014 Injury Rank: 11th
2015 Age Rank: 5th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 19th (21st / 6th / 28th)

Wait, what? No Indianapolis? People are predicting the Colts will be in the Super Bowl. I’ll get to them in a bit but for now let’s look at what the Texans have to offer.

Let’s face it. Their offense will not light it up. They finished 21st last year and I can’t see a dramatic improvement. I think they’ll finish around the same place.

However, their defense is spectacular. It was 6th last year and I would not be surprised with the return of Jadaveon Clowney and the arrival of Vince Wilfork if this defense gets better. J.J. Watt is the best player in the NFL right now, hands down.

Their big possible area of improvement is in special teams, and, to be frank, I have no idea how to judge that.

However, notice their Pythagorean wins: 9.8. This was a 10-win team last year. They don’t have to get much better to be in playoff contention. Also, look at how young they are. They may have a few more injuries but this team will be winning in the trenches in December.

Indianapolis Colts
2014 Record: 11-5 (Pythagorean Wins: 10.2)
2014 Division Rank: 1st (My prediction: 2nd)
2014 Injury Rank: 30th
2015 Age Rank: 32nd
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 12th (17th / 13th / 8th)

Ah, the presumptive favorites. I actually think this team is on the hook for a major drop. Why? They are the oldest team in the NFL. They were unlucky with injuries last year, but were also 29th in age last year suggesting a reason. Regression to the mean suggests they’ll be healthier, but they’ll continue to be close to the bottom.

Take a look at their Pythagorean wins: 10.2, or only 0.4 better than Houston. That’s not much, and younger players tend to be on the upswing of their career and older ones on the downswing. I suspect we’ll see that come in to play as Indianapolis wilts towards the end.

Furthermore, the primary reason people are suggesting the Colts will go to the Super Bowl is Andrew Luck. You won’t find a bigger fan of Andrew Luck than me, but he’s not enough, especially if he leads the NFL in fumbles again.

Don’t believe me? Look at the Colts DVOA in 2014. Their offense was their worst unit, being essentially average. I see no reason that will change, certainly not because of the old legs of Frank Gore.

Even if their offense improves some, I see a dropoff on their defense and special teams. I’m totally in the minority here, but unless they get really lucky with injuries and their Pythagorean win total this is an 8-8 team.

Jacksonville Jaguars
2014 Record: 3-13 (Pythagorean Wins: 3.6)
2014 Division Rank: 3rd (My prediction: 4th)
2014 Injury Rank: 20th
2015 Age Rank: 2nd
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 32nd (31st / 20th / 26th)

With the arrival of perennial All-Pro OT Jermey Parnell, the Jaguars will be dominant on offense…

Naw, I’m kidding. I do like Parnell and think he’ll help keep Blake Bortles upright. He’ll need the help, given that the Jaguars led the league in sacks allowed. We can’t answer whether Bortles is the answer or not if he gets sacked 3-4 times a game again.

I said last year this team was 2-3 drafts away from being a good team. I will now say this team is 1-2 drafts away.

This team will surprise some teams, especially in December because they are so young. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them beat Indianapolis when the Colts come visiting on 13 December.

Still, that will only be 1 of 4-5 wins for this team.

Tennessee Titans
2014 Record: 2-14 (Pythagorean Wins: 3.3)
2014 Division Rank: 4th (My prediction: 1st)
2014 Injury Rank: 22nd
2015 Age Rank: 9th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 31st (29th / 29th / 20th)

Yeah, I thought they’d be good last year. I especially thought so after Snorri took me to watch them beat the Chiefs in the opener. They simply dominated the line of scrimmage.

However, they won only 1 other game, and as you can see above, they were wretched in all phases. In my defense, I thought they’d only win 9 games and the division would just be generally mediocre.

I’m pretty bullish on both Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. I like what both of them can do, but I don’t see Mariota having enough of a supporting cast this year.

Like the Jaguars, I see incremental improvement, but this is also a team that is 1-2 drafts away.

2015 AFC North

AFC North (2014 Finish: Steelers, Bengals, Ravens, Browns)

Overall: I did pretty well here as well. The Steelers were better than I expected and the Bengals were worse, but other than that I nailed it.

I see this division dropping off a cliff. Overall it’s old, with the Ravens the youngest team at 15th. It was also lucky when it came to injuries, as none of the teams in this division were in the bottom half of the league. Also, both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh significantly outperformed their Pythagorean win total.

Last year, this division got 3 teams in the playoffs. At least 1 of the 6 teams that were in the playoffs in 2014 that will not be in 2015 come from here. I actually expect to see 2, but it’s possible Cincinnati gets lucky.

Baltimore Ravens
2014 Record: 10-6 (Pythagorean Wins: 10.9)
2014 Division Rank: 3rd (My prediction: 3rd)
2014 Injury Rank: 7th
2015 Age Rank: 15th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 5th (9th / 8th / 2nd)

I was totally wrong about Baltimore last year. I thought they’d have some holes they could not cover. Instead, they ended up as the 5th most efficient team and were good across the board, 9th on offense, 8th on defense, and 2nd on teams.

They were middle of the pack in terms of age last year, and they’ve gotten slightly younger. I don’t see much regression here. I do think they’ll have a few more injuries this year.

I see this team winning 11 games and winning this division handily.

Cincinnati Bengals
2014 Record: 10-5-1 (Pythagorean Wins: 8.6)
2014 Division Rank: 2nd (My prediction: 1st)
2014 Injury Rank: 16th
2015 Age Rank: 20th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 13th (18th / 14th / 6th)

I said last year they were stacked on offense with a lot of good players everywhere. If I was right, they didn’t show it by their average performance of 18th in the NFL. Their defense was also average at 16th. At least they had good special teams.

There are pieces here, but I don’t see them connecting well enough to matter. They were average in just about every category last year. I think they’ll be average again.

Could they get lucky again and out perform their Pythagorean win total? Sure. However, everything I see suggests an 8-8 team.

Pittsburgh Steelers
2014 Record: 11-5 (Pythagorean Wins: 9.7)
2014 Division Rank: 1st (My prediction: 2nd)
2014 Injury Rank: 4th
2015 Age Rank: 26th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 8th (2nd / 30th / 12th)

Part of the reason that I was wrong about this team is that they were lucky when it came to injuries, ending up at 4th in the NFL. Given that they’re the 26th youngest team this year that’s not going to happen again. They’ve already lost Maurice Pouncey on the o-line.

They were also lucky in general, outperforming their Pythagorean record significantly.

They were carried by the 2nd best offense in the NFL in 2014, and I was right about Antonio Brown. Their offense will be very good again, but will drop to somewhere around 8th or 9th.

Their defense, though, was 30th. Maybe we’ll see significant improvement here. Having Ryan Shazier back will help, but I still think there are just too many holes. They’ll improve some, but not much.

Injuries will hit this team hard, and Steeler fans will be crying into their Terrible Towels. The Steelers will score lots of points but watch the playoffs just like I will.

Cleveland Browns
2014 Record: 7-9 (Pythagorean Wins: 6.9)
2014 Division Rank: 4th (My prediction: 4th)
2014 Injury Rank: 14th
2015 Age Rank: 16th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 23rd (24th / 12th / 14th)

I’m actually tempted to pick them higher than the Steelers. I think overall, there’s more on this team than in Pittsburgh.

The problem, however, is that Ben Roethlisberger is a very good QB, and the Browns are wretched at QB. Johnny Manziel has shown flashes, and it’s possible he could turn into a productive NFL QB, but it’s unlikely and certainly won’t happen in 2015.

It’s too bad, because they actually have a pretty good OLine and defense. I think they’re defense may improve slightly, but this team will do about the same as last year.

If they get lucky, they’ll win 8 games and be in the playoff hunt for a while, but will eventually flop and crush the souls of the Dog Pound yet again.

If they get unlucky, hello 3rd or 4th pick in the 2016 draft.

2015 AFC East

AFC East (2014 Finish: Patriots, Bills, Jets, Dolphins.)

Overall Notes: I did a good job of picking the order last year, but I made a number of mistakes about the details along the way.

None of the teams in this division were particularly lucky or unlucky, with all of their Pythagorean win totals being within 1 of their actual win total.

I don’t see a great deal of change in the order this year, simply because of Tom Brady. None of the other teams can come close. I will say I would not be surprised if both wildcards come from this division, as I think both Buffalo and Miami can win 10 games.

New England Patriots 
2014 Record: 12-4 (Pythagorean Wins: 11.8)
2014 Division Rank: 1st (My prediction: 1st)
2014 Injury Rank: 12th
2015 Age Rank: 13th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 4th (6th / 11th / 5th)

I said last year there are cracks in the armor, and if I was right, there wasn’t much sign of it. They ended up 4th best in the NFL in overall DVOA, peaking at the end. Worse, I suggested that they would get carried by their defense. I was wrong there too. Their defense was 11th in the NFL, but their offense was 6th and their special teams was 5th. In other words a very good to great offense and special teams propelled them to the Super Bowl.

I think my biggest mistake was thinking they were older than they were. Had I done better research I would have known they’re middle of the pack, so my anticipation that they would fall off some was based on lazy information.

They remain middle of the pack in age and injury. I do think the 2015 Patriots won’t be as good as the 2014 Patriots. I see a slight dropoff in efficiency, say overall in the 5th or 6th in DVOA. Will that be enough for the Bills or Dolphins to catch them? I doubt it.

The won the AFC East by 3 games last year. I think they’ll win only by 1 game this year, with a record around 11-5, in part because I think all of the other teams in the AFC East are better.

Miami Dolphins
2014 Record: 8-8 (Pythagorean Wins: 8.4)
2014 Division Rank: 3rd (My prediction: 3rd)
2014 Injury Rank: 21st
2015 Age Rank: 4th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 15th (7th /17th / 32nd)

Last year I thought they’d be mediocre on offense. I was wrong, they were 7th. I predicted an average defense and I was correct as they ended up 17th. With awful special teams, this team ended up middle of the pack.

Where I was wrong was my evaluation of Ryan Tannehill. For some reason, I just don’t like his game, yet the statistics show that he is both consistent and good. Is he a great QB, no, but he’s much better than I felt.

Hence, this year, I see some continued development on the offense. They’ll remain in the 7th overall range. Ndamokung Suh will help that defense. I think they’ll move up a little, say 10th in DVOA. The key to me will be if they can improve their special teams, because they were truly wretched last year.

Part of the reason I anticipate they’ll do well is that they’ve gotten younger, at 4th in the NFL. I see this team making mistakes and losing some games they shouldn’t early but peaking in December.  Overall, I think they’ll end up 10-6ish and a wildcard team.

Buffalo Bills
2014 Record: 9-7 (Pythagorean Wins: 9.6)
2014 Division Rank: 2nd (My prediction: 2nd)
2014 Injury Rank: 10th
2015 Age Rank: 10th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 9th (26th / 2nd / 4th)

Consider the Bills 2014 DVOA. 26th in the NFL in offense, 2nd in defense, and 4th in special teams. Which of these is not like the others?

Last year,  I said that if E.J. Manuel could be solid, they would surprise people. Clearly, if their offense was 26th, he was awful.

I’ll say it again, if Tyrod Taylor and the skill position players can give the Bills an average offense, something around 15th, then this team will make it to the playoffs and will have a puncher’s chance of dethroning New England. This defense is really good.

That’s a big if, of course, as Taylor is on his 2nd team and really hasn’t shown that much. There are signs he’s improved, but we have to see something in the regular season.

Until I see something from Taylor, I’m going to put the Bills in 3rd place in the AFC East, but don’t go to sleep on this defense.

New York Jets
2014 Record: 4-12 (Pythagorean Wins: 4.8)
2014 Division Rank: 4th (My prediction: 4th)
2014 Injury Rank: 2nd
2015 Age Rank: 27th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 27th (25th / 21st / 16th)

This team is better on paper. Todd Bowles is an amazing coach.  But…

I said last year they’d be inefficient on offense. I was right, they ended up 25th in the NFL. I said last year they’d be inefficient on defense. I was right there too, as they finished 21st. Average special teams didn’t help. They did all of this despite being the 2nd most lucky team when it came to injuries.

This year they’re old, being the 27th youngest team, having brought in aging veterans to paper the cracks. This won’t work. These veterans will get hurt and this team will probably be worse in 2015.

2-14 is not out of the question. This kind of a record would be a good thing if they’re willing to stay to the path with Bowles. They need talent. Sadly, Jets fans are not patient and Jets ownership hasn’t been good.

Things don’t look good here.


I Am Ready For Some Football (Introduction)

The 2015 NFL season is nigh unto here. I’m so ready. Part of the reason is because I’m bullish about my Cowboys, but I’ll get to them in a bit.

Since I did a post like this last year, I’ll be reviewing how I did as well as prognosticating this year.

I actually did two posts last year. The first one, A New Season, is a good background of my methods and theories about the challenges of predicting the NFL. This year, I’ll do ten posts. This one, which will explain my methodology, and a post about each of the divisions. Plus I’ll sum it all up for those who don’t want the details.

I want to emphasize two main points. First, luck is way more important than many sportscasters, coaches, and players want to acknowledge. There aren’t that many plays in an NFL game, and there are only 16 in a year. Small sample sizes are prevalent.

One of the tools we can use to gauge how lucky a team is in a given year is to look at their Pythagorean record. Basically, this is a statistic based upon a team’s point differential. Teams that score lots more than their opponents tend to have better records than teams that don’t. Given all of the years of the NFL, we can determine what record should, on average, ensue from a given point differential.

Secondly, on average, 6 out of 12 playoff teams are not in the playoffs the following year because of regression to mean, bad luck, harder schedule, injuries, or just the whimsy of the NFL universe.

To anticipate these changes, I’ll look at what a team’s Pythagorean record was, their age, and the number of injuries they suffered last year.

Teams who exceeded their Pythagorean will tend to regress to the mean. Teams who are older will tend to have more injuries. I wouldn’t be surprised if older teams fade at the end of the year, though I’ve not seen studies on this. Teams that had a bunch of injuries will tend to regress to the mean, depending upon their age.

The other post was the breakdown of each team at And They’re Off. This is the post I’ll be referring to constantly to determine where I was right and wrong.

One more thing. I’ll be making a lot of references to DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average), which is an advanced stat developed by Football Outsiders. Here’s an explanation how it works at DVOA. The main thing to note is that not every yard is created equal. A gain of 10 yards on 3rd and 20 is useless, while a 2 yard gain on 3rd and 1 is productive. DVOA looks at every play, figures out what the average result would be, then compares the actual result to that average.

In any case, it provides a single value to compare teams on offense, defense, and special teams. It’s an esoteric system, but for the purposes of this exercise, it means I can use one statistic consistently to help make comparisons. Last year, it suggested that going into the playoffs the Seahawks and the Patriots were the best teams in the NFL.

With that said, let’s get to it. I’ll start with the AFC East and the AFC North, because Pittsburgh and New England play tomorrow night.