The league opens play this Thursday with an excellent Minnesota @ New Orleans match-up in the Superdome. We'll be treated to Brett Favre's glorious choke on a replay loop pre-game, mid-game, and, perhaps, post-game. I am pleased. MinnesotaHorn is not. That also means it's time for me to tackle the ambitious project of projecting how this season will play out.
I decided to take on predicting the season records and playoff chances for every team in the NFL. Instead of casually eyeballing some rosters and throwing out an approximation, as most sane people would, I decided to play out the season - all 512 games. Then I looked back at total divisional strength over the last three years, the last three drafts, and assessed the free agent moves to detect any momentum trends, looked at infrastructure (DL, OL, CBs), and then looked at each team's skill position triangles (QB, RB, WR).
Seven hours later....
And here's what I came up with:
Some macro observations:
1. Last year the AFC was considerably better than the NFC, despite the NFC champion New Orleans winning the Super Bowl. I predict a lessening of that gap in 2010, though the AFC will still narrowly win the head-to-head total.
2. The NFC East, AFC North, AFC East are the most competitive divisions in football. The divisional title will be settled in each by a handful of plays in head-to-head match-ups. One play could be the difference between divisional champion and no playoff bid. Should make for fun races. The NFC East is the only division where my projected last place team - Washington - has a very legitimate shot at the Wild Card if they can catch a break here or there.
3. The reduction of the Roethlisberger suspension made me change my projected division winner in the AFC North from Baltimore to Pittsburgh. And bump the Bengals from the playoffs. These teams will bemoan Roethlisberger's lack of committed rapiness.
4. The sorriness of the NFL's five worst teams: the Rams, the Bucs, the Bills, the Browns, the Seahawks - cannot be overstated. Even in a league that strives with all of its heart through the draft and scheduling to make everyone at least 6-10, it shows that bad habits will always squander charity.
5. Neither the Lions, Raiders, or the Chiefs made my Bottom 5 franchises. There is hope in these cities. Little, tiny, eentsy slivers of hope that will be stomped out cruelly the minute they have an injury to their QBs. The Lions improved themselves considerably on the DL, QB, RB, and WR in the last three drafts. They will be fun to watch.
6. The Cowboys and Texans both have brutal schedules. Check out more on the Cowboys here on our fine blog, Ring of Honor.
7. The highest beta team in the league is the Tennessee Titans. Any result between 6-10 and 12-4 would not surprise me at all. Most other teams in the league have a 2 game variability. The Titan defense and offense are both highly volatile. Arizona is my second most volatile team and a 10-6 division champion or a 6-10 slog are equally reasonable propositions.
8. I bolded the divisional winners and wild card in my predictions on Fantake.
NFC Playoff teams - Saints, Cowboys, 49ers, Packers, Vikings, Giants
AFC Playoff teams - Colts, Patriots, Steelers, Chargers, Jets, Ravens
Go on over to the Fantake.com mothership and comment away. Or we can chat here.