Football Outsiders, a statistical site we check out from time to time, has partnered with ESPN to give their 2016 NFL Predictions. They use their DVOA ratings for the past three years, other stats, variables, analytics, moneyball type rigmarole and probably a giant-sized super computer to project the record of every team in the NFL.
On Wednesday they revealed their AFC predictions so here are their projected playoff teams.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
3. New England Patriots (10-6)
4. Houston Texans (8-8)
5. Cincinnati Bengals* (10-6)
6. Baltimore Ravens* (10-6)
And then on Thursday it was the NFC's turn to get in on the fun.
1. Arizona Cardinals (12-4)
2. Green Bay Packers (12-4)
3. Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
4. Carolina Panthers (9-7)
5. Seattle Seahawks (11-5)*
6. Minnesota Vikings (9-7)*
This is obviously bad news for Chicago Bears' fans if you believe in this type of stat based projections. They had the Detroit Lions at 9-7 in 3rd in the NFC North and the Bears in last again, this time with a 7-9 record.
Here's what they had to say about the NFC North race.
The whole NFC North is likely to be in playoff contention for much of the year, thanks to the NFL's rotating divisional schedule pitting them against the AFC South and NFC East.
Aaron Rodgers had ranked among the top six quarterbacks in DVOA for six straight years before he dropped to 17th last season. The falloff can't all be blamed on the absence of Jordy Nelson, but it sure will help Rodgers to have his best receiver back on the field. It's also likely that Rodgers will fix some of his other issues, bringing the Packers' offense closer to being the highly efficient unit it was for most of Rodgers' career. Our defensive projection is not as optimistic, partly because of the departure of talent such as Mike Neal and B.J. Raji. But if Rodgers can be close to the Rodgers of old, a little decline on defense won't matter.
I don't think enough has been written about Rodger's less than Rodgers' level of play last year. Rodgers ranked 15th in the NFL last season with a 92.7 passer rating. Sure he was without top WR Nelson, but I seem to recall another NFC North QB that was without his top weapons all last year. Chicago's Jay Cutler ended up right behind Rodgers with a 92.3 rating and he was throwing passes to guys like Josh Bellamy and Cameron Meredith.
Our projection system sees the Vikings holding onto last year's gains rather than improving significantly, but taking the next step into Super Bowl contention is certainly a valid goal for this team. In particular, the offense could benefit from getting back two starting linemen who missed all of last year with injuries, center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt.
It's a little surprising that our system doesn't forecast more decline from the Detroit offense; the retirement of Calvin Johnson is offset by Detroit doing well in various small variables such as being a strong running team in the red zone. That still leaves Detroit as a team projected to be very close to average on both sides of the ball, but it has the advantage of an easy schedule.
I actually think the Packers and Vikings will finish 1-2 in the NFC North (I'm not sure what order yet), but I think the Bears have done enough to leapfrog the Lions for 3rd.
Chicago's defense has been consistently bad the past few years, but we're predicting improvement thanks to both natural regression toward the mean and the addition of linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman. However, that improvement is balanced by an expected drop-off on offense because of the departure of Matt Forte and offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
I may be in the minority, but I think the offense will be better than in 2015. A better o-line, Kevin White, a healthy Alshon Jeffery, and an improved defense and special teams so the offense stops starting drives in a hole all the time.
What do you guys think about FO's prediction of 7-9 for the Bears?