Staff Predictions 2014
compiled by Vincent Verhei
This is one of our favorite features to write every year. It is also one of our most hated pieces to write every year.
Every group of football fans -- be they fantasy leaguers, officemates, drinking buddies, television crews, or in our case, a loose-knit collection of laptop warriors enslaved to our Internet connections -- loves to debate and discuss which teams will excel in the ensuing season, and which will suck. For our crew, it's an especially sweet time. After months of squinting at spreadsheets preparing our annual book (still available!), we get to put the data aside and put our knowledge to the test. It's a chance to find out if we're as smart as we think we are. The downside, though, is that our picks our on record. Here's what we thought would happen in each of the past five years.
So here's your standard warning: Predictions are probably wrong. It is the intrinsic nature of the NFL -- there are so many variables and so much luck involved in a 16-game season that teams will make the playoffs or bomb for totally unexpected and sometimes baffling reasons. We can only guess.
Let's say we think the Green Bay Packers have the best chance of any team in the NFC to make it to the Super Bowl -- 16.5 percent, perhaps, by some odds. We'll also say that Seattle, New Orleans, Chicago, and Philadelphia each have a better than 10 percent chance to make the Super Bowl, and everyone else is bringing up the rear.
OK, so we pick Green Bay to win the NFC. Even based solely on this opinion, there is a four-in-five chance the pick will be incorrect. So all preseason predictions are going to be mostly wrong. It is unavoidable.
As we note every year, we're going to make picks anyway, because that's part of running a football site: you make picks.
For the sixth year, instead of each picking 12 playoff teams, we're showing our individuality by each arguing our point in categories such as "team likely to beat its projection" and "who will go first in the 2014 draft." Our college writers make similar comments about the FEI projections that ran in Football Outsiders Almanac 2014. However, the official FO predictions are based on the statistical projection system, even when the output looks a little strange. You can find those projections here, and as a reminder, the playoff forecast is:
AFC divisions: Denver, New England, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis
AFC wild cards: San Diego, Cincinnati
NFC divisions: Seattle, Green Bay, New Orleans, Philadelphia
NFC wild cards: San Francisco, Chicago
Super Bowl: Denver over Green Bay
First Pick in the Draft: Oakland (Due to a programming error, this has not been officially calculated yet, but all simulations so far have the Raiders far behind any other team.)
And yes, "officially," we are projecting only one new playoff team in each conference, with the Steelers replacing the Chiefs in the AFC and the Bears replacing the Panthers in the NFC. Ten of 12 playoff teams repeating is extremely unlikely as a single event, but when we forecast each individual team on its own, that's what we end up with.
We often say -- even though some people don't seem to ever hear it -- that we do not believe that our statistical methods are perfect. Our subjective views are informed by our objective numbers, but not dictated by them. However, we want to make this clear: EACH OF THE OPINIONS LISTED BELOW IS THE OPINION OF THAT WRITER AND THAT WRITER ONLY. These are not "Football Outsiders predicts."
(Ed. Note: You also may notice fewer names below than in past years... we'll be working on changing that in the near future. -- Aaron Schatz)
All right, let's rock.
NFL Team Most Likely to Beat FOA 2014 Projection
Cian Fahey: Chicago Bears. The Bears could easily win the NFC North and be a contender for the NFC Championship. After establishing their quality on the offensive side, GM Phil Emery spent his offseason rebuilding the defense. The defense still has plenty of soft spots, but the roster is set up to mimic the type of team that the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl with a few seasons ago.
Tom Gower: This is always a section that's more interesting from people who have not written a series of columns going through every team and making projections on their upcoming season. I suppose I could say the Packers or the Broncos, teams whose projected win total is tamped down by the compressed nature of the projection system. The more interesting answer is a team I like that projections don't, and that's the Ravens. As discussed in Scramble, I think a conceptual offense like Gary Kubiak's could do a lot for this team and that they, rather than the Steelers, are the team whose more favorable schedule could put them ahead of the Bengals atop the AFC North.
Scott Kacsmar: Seattle Seahawks. I was burned by the NFC's defending No. 1 seed in this category last year, but I think there's an easy argument for Seattle being the best team in the NFL over the last two years. They actually have balance. Pencil this team in for double-digit wins.
Mike Kurtz: New York Football Giants. As I said in the NFC East Scramble, we collectively need to stop wringing our hands over the Giants' defense, and realize that the four aces are never coming back. In its place is a less flashy but extremely competent front seven that stops the run and a secondary that has serious upside. Throw in an easy schedule and a lot of regression for Eli Manning, and the Giants should once again be a force to be reckoned with.
Rivers McCown: St. Louis Rams. I'm somewhat down on the 49ers without Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman for most of the season, and with a cornerback corps I see as shaky. The St. Louis defensive line is going to devastate teams -- and it matches up well with Seattle and Arizona's weaknesses. Yeah, Shaun Hill isn't optimal ... but I was really down on Sam Bradford anyway. I can see a vintage 8-8, 9-7 Jeff Fisher season sucked straight out of 2009 here.
Ben Muth: Baltimore Ravens. I think John Harbaugh is a good head coach and I like what I think Gary Kubiak will bring to the offense. I think the AFC North will be down as a whole and I think Baltimore takes it from a Bengals team that slides a little this year.
Aaron Schatz: At first, I was going to say Detroit, because there just seems to be way too much talent here to finish 18th in offensive DVOA like we have projected. Then I looked. Last year, do you know where Detroit finished in offensive DVOA? 19th! So instead, I'll go with the New York Giants. Screw the preseason. Eli Manning knows what he's doing and he's not ready to go all Matt Schaub-y yet. Their defense is good and their defensive coordinator is good. (Remind me sometime to start the "Perry Fewell deserves a head coaching shot" bandwagon.) I also think Baltimore will be more of a wild-card contender than we have projected.
Vince Verhei: Detroit Lions. The latest DVOA projections give them a bit of a boost, but they're still scraping the bottom of the NFC. I see a team that was pretty average last year, with a passing attack that should be much better with the addition of Golden Tate. No, I'm not thrilled in the secondary, but this looks like an 8-8 team to me, not 6-10 or worse.
NFL Team Most Likely to Fall Short of FOA 2014 Projection
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Cian Fahey: San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers' offensive line has had a number of issues to overcome in the offseason, while the defensive front seven will be missing two key starters for half of the season. Justin Smith's decline is well underway and Frank Gore has staved his off for a long time. Colin Kaepernick needs to take a step forward as a passer for the 49ers to maintain their success.
Tom Gower: I suppose I could say the Steelers, because that's what I did last year and because of my Ravens affection, but I really think the answer has to be the Cardinals. I expected their defense to decline hard last year, and it didn't. With John Abraham providing the pass rush and sans Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby at inside linebacker, this could be the year defensive regression strikes with a vengeance. Even with San Francisco's defensive losses and Sam Bradford's injury, the schedule isn't easy and I don't trust the offense to score enough to keep them respectable.
Scott Kacsmar: Buffalo Bills. When we ran our piece on the teams most likely to be picking first in the 2015 draft based on FOA projections, I wondered where Buffalo was. I don't trust EJ Manuel and the defense has every reason to regress after losing the defensive coordinator and arguably its two best players (Jairus Byrd and Kiko Alonso). That pick traded to Cleveland to get Sammy Watkins could be very valuable, because I certainly don't see an 8-8 team here.
Mike Kurtz: This is kind of cheating, but the St. Louis Rams are particularly well situated to underperform this year; Sam Bradford has been no great shakes, but he is at least a legitimate NFL quarterback. The Rams are playing in the toughest division in the league, are relying on a hope and a prayer on offense, and have some significant chance of the non-linemen portions of the defense regressing.
Rivers McCown: I understand the system is giving the Bills a lot of credit for their young core, and I think there's a chance the defense can hold up well enough to contend in a weak AFC, but until I see EJ Manuel develop into something, I'm reluctant to forecast eight wins here.
Ben Muth: Buffalo Bills: I wouldn't be surprised if the Bills sweep this category. Signing Kyle Orton a week before the 2014 season inspires as much confidence as "From the mind of M. Night Shyamalan" does.
Aaron Schatz: I would have said Buffalo, but the updated projection dropped them a little bit, and I still think the Bills are the second best team in the AFC East. So instead, I'll say Tennessee. It seems weird to say a team projected 23rd in DVOA is projected too high, but because of the easy schedule we end up projecting them to go an average of 8-8. I think the average will be more like 6-10. This team just seems very, very blah and beige, with apologies to Jurrell Casey who is great. And like Tom Gower keeps pointing out, even if Jake Locker can improve his accuracy, he has a hard time staying healthy AND OH MY GOD CHARLIE WHITEHURST.
Apropos of nothing, I want to say something about the New York Jets. I don't necessarily think they'll be worse than the projection, but what a fascinating season it will be for that defense. Which will be stronger: the game-planning of one of the greatest defense-oriented head coaches in recent history and the power of an awesome front three, or an impotent pass rush and the total mess of a secondary?
Vince Verhei: San Diego Chargers. I feel bad about this, because I really like Philip Rivers and I'd like to see him and his team do well. But I don't see the defense being any better than it was last year, and I don't like their odds against the NFC West.
Player Most Likely to Best KUBIAK Projection
Cian Fahey: Russell Wilson. Before the fourth quarter of games last year, the Seahawks essentially ran a balanced offense. With a healthy Percy Harvin and an offense that looks set to spread the field more, Wilson's potential to put up huge numbers is evident.
Tom Gower: My default answer is "pass catcher who plays a bigger role on his team than we expect." I'm historically bad at guessing that, but Cody Latimer has a chance to be that guy.
Scott Kacsmar: Marshawn Lynch. Until we see the wheels come off or he goes to another team, I'm expecting 1,200 rushing yards and 12-plus touchdowns from him in this offense, which still shouldn't have to try passing more this year. He still wants to get paid big money, but that's not coming from Seattle or another team without first showing he's still all about that action.
Mike Kurtz: Ben Roethlisberger. The team took steps toward giving Roethlisberger the offense he wants (and in which he is most effective) during the second half of last season, and considering the hatred he has inspired among Steelers fans, I imagine Todd Haley is willing to go along at least for job security purposes. I think Roethlisberger is still an elite quarterback, and the organization is slowly starting to remember that.
Rivers McCown: Jordan Reed, Washington. I think he'll finish as a top-five fantasy tight end.
Ben Muth: Toby Gerhart. I believe in a man with the middle name "Gunnar."
Aaron Schatz: Tom Brady. First half of last season was a fluke. He was back to full strength in the second half of the year. His arm strength is no longer what it once was, but neither is Peyton Manning's. Brady's stats might be up there with the rest of the Quarterback Big Four.
Vince Verhei: Tony Romo. The last KUBIAK rankings had Romo 14th among quarterbacks. When healthy, Romo has been a top-10 fantasy quarterback every year since 2007. The Dallas defense will probably be awful again, and Romo will probably spend most of his fourth quarters throwing pass after pass in a desperate game of catch-up.
Player Most Likely to Fall Short of KUBIAK Projection
Cian Fahey: Carson Palmer. Palmer played well early in the preseason, but the final game showed off the warning signs of what could be coming. Palmer is 34 years of age and underwhelmed in a difficult situation last year. If he loses any more of his physical ability, it won't matter that the supporting cast around him is much improved.
Tom Gower: I think there's a split between people who love Giovani Bernard's talent and those who love his role; I like the former, but am not sure he gets the carries or touchdowns KUBIAK has him projected for. I'd also put Andre Ellington in the same category.
Scott Kacsmar: Michael Crabtree. If you haven't heard by now, FO is projecting bigger passing numbers for the 49ers this season. The losses on defense certainly help make that more probable, but I still don't see a huge season from Crabtree, who has hit 900 yards once in his career (1,105 in 2012). Maybe the 2014 version of Colin Kaepernick will be the best quarterback he's ever played with, but the 49ers have several weapons this year, so it's not like Crabtree has to be force-fed the ball. I know, cue the "one-read quarterback" statements, but I think Kaepernick will get Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis involved a lot too.
Mike Kurtz: Giovani Bernard. Not because he doesn't have the talent, simply because Marvin Lewis has shown he has no idea what to do with his running backs (particularly the good ones).
Rivers McCown: Le'veon Bell, Pittsburgh. My guess is that LeGarrette Blount becomes a touchdown sponge. I think the Steelers have enough weapons to under-use Bell in the passing game, as well.
Ben Muth: Carson Palmer: I know KUBIAK doesn't even like him, but I have a feeling the wheels are going to fall off completely.
Aaron Schatz: The easy answer since I put the projections together is "any receiver on New England or Philadelphia" because I had absolutely no idea how to portion out pass targets on those teams and got stuck projecting too many receptions and hoping someone gets injured. (Note: for Patriots, this is more "waiting" than "hoping.") A harder answer would be someone where I straight out disagree with the projection system. Let's say... Roddy White. Thirty-three seems like a bit of an advanced age for a receiver who is more of a speed guy than a possession guy in an offense with an iffy offensive line and a super-talented youngster on the other side of the field for when that offensive line actually holds up.
Vince Verhei: Steven Jackson. Take a look at Jackson's player page, and specifically the ten players most similar to him over the past three years. It's a list of some awfully great players (including Jamal Lewis, Edgerrin James, Thurman Thomas, Franco Harris, Roger Craig, and Tony Dorsett) at about the precise moment they stopped being great. The next season, those ten players rushed for an average of 355 yards, and only Harris) was even able to top the 600-yard threshold. I'm thinking Jackson is completely shot, and nobody in Atlanta has quite realized it -- yet.
College Team Most Likely to Beat F/+ Projection
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Bill Connelly: Kansas State.
Scott Kacsmar: Texas A&M. Kevin Sumlin can coach with the best in the game. He might be stepping over into Jason Garrett's shoes in the near future.
Rivers McCown: I don't think any of the projections are wildly out of line near the top, but I like North Carolina to be a surprise ACC Championship game representative.
Ben Muth: Arizona. I think Rich Rod is a heck of a coach and I wouldn't be shocked if they won the Pac-12 South this year.
Chad Peltier: Right now it looks like Texas A&M. The F/+ projection is low(ish) for A&M because of that 72nd-ranked defense, but A&M can win shootout after shootout this season.
College Team Most Likely to Fall Short of F/+ Projection
Bill Connelly: Before the season started, I was thinking Texas A&M. Now I'm thinking South Carolina.
Scott Kacsmar: Florida State. Can you tell I love that we're able to answer these college questions after the first week of the season? I don't follow the NCAA enough to have a good grasp on these projections, but based on that performance against Oklahoma State, I don't see the Seminoles running the table again this year. Fortunately we have a playoff system, which is roughly the one I've been suggesting for a decade, to better decide a champion.
Rivers McCown: Vanderbilt. The rest of the world is about to realize just how important James Franklin was for that program.
Ben Muth: Washington: I think they take a slight step back in Peterson's first year, but he'll eventually take them higher than Sark ever did.
Chad Peltier: Several Pac-12 teams may underperform due to a competitive conference this season, but I'll have to go with Auburn. That 39th-ranked Projected Defensive F/+ is glaring, as is their incredibly difficult schedule.
Super Bowl XLIX Winner and Loser
Cian Fahey: Seattle Seahawks over Denver Broncos. Everyone is scared of the repeat, but the best team in each conference hasn't changed. The Broncos have changed a lot of the pieces on their offense and their defense, but the team overall remains close to what it was last year. The Seahawks will likely have a less effective defense, but the offense should significantly improve.
Tom Gower: It's hard to pick anybody other than the Broncos from the AFC after last year's top seed made a bunch of major additions on defense. From the NFC, I like the No. 1 seed, which brings with it home field that could prove the decisive edge. I'll take Denver over Green Bay.
Scott Kacsmar: Seattle over Denver. I hate this pick, but I'd rather be right than different. We have precedent with Buffalo and Dallas in 1992-93. Like those games, this time it will be closer, but Seattle's still a more complete team.
Mike Kurtz: Denver Broncos over Green Bay Packers.
Rivers McCown: New Orleans over Denver.
Ben Muth: The Packers beat the Broncos.
Aaron Schatz: The probabilities are so, so, so in favor of Denver -- and of the great NFC teams, Seattle is BY FAR the worst matchup for the Broncos (or for the Patriots, for that matter). If another team from the NFC makes it, I see Peyton Manning driving off into the sunset with a second ring just like his boss John Elway. Who will the Broncos beat? Well, these are the subjective picks, so this is my chance to go away from just picking in line with the DVOA projections. Let's say... Denver over Philadelphia.
Vince Verhei: Packers over Broncos, and I picked that before the DVOA projections put those two teams on top of the pile. A full year before actually -- Packers over Broncos was my pick last year too, and I'm sticking with it.
NCAA Championship Winner and Loser
Bill Connelly: Florida State over Alabama.
Cian Fahey: Florida State over Alabama
Scott Kacsmar: Oregon over Florida State.
Rivers McCown: Florida State over Michigan State.
Ben Muth: Oregon beats Florida State.
Chad Peltier: Alabama beats Florida State in the title game. Sure, we have no idea how Jake Coker will perform, but my guess is that it won't matter too much -- the Tide will keep rolling no matter who is under center. I like their defense to outperform the sky-high expectations.
Vince Verhei: Oregon over Alabama.
Who Wins the Heisman Trophy?
Bill Connelly: I'll stick with Jameis Winston.
Cian Fahey: Todd Gurley.
Scott Kacsmar: Marcus Mariota, Oregon.
Rivers McCown: Connor Cook, Michigan State.
Ben Muth: Marcus Mariota.
Chad Peltier: I don't feel overly confident in any single player, but I'll go with Todd Gurley. He seems poised for a huge year, given that he's healthy, he has one of the best offensive lines that he has ever run behind, and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo can always turn to the ground game if Hutson Mason struggles.
Vince Verhei: Marcus Mariota.
With the No. 1 Pick in the Draft, [TEAM] selects [PLAYER].
Cian Fahey: The Oakland Raiders selects quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Raiders clearly have the least talent in the NFL and they are starting a rookie quarterback. Even though Derek Carr was taken atop the second round, the Raiders need a quarterback around whom they can build their franchise. Mariota is a special talent who plays the game like the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger, just with more athleticism.
Tom Gower: It's almost too easy to say the Raiders, at the bottom of all our projections because they're unlikely to be good and a heavy favorite to have a top-5 pick. As we saw with the parade of Jacksonville and Oakland responses last year, though, the worst team in the league going in doesn't necessarily end up with the first overall pick, even if they do in fact turn out to be pretty bad. In that case, give me the Cleveland Browns, and after taking Manziel this year I'll give them USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams.
Scott Kacsmar: Raiders select quarterback Marcus Mariota. I already picked him over Winston in the title game and for the Heisman. For it to be Oakland, I don't see Matt Schaub lasting the full year, so Derek Carr likely started and played terrible to secure the No. 1 pick. A team shouldn't let the 36th pick in the draft persuade them from drafting a potential franchise quarterback at the top.
Mike Kurtz: With the No. 1 Pick in the Draft, the Oakland Raiders select Jameis Winston.
Rivers McCown: The Oakland Raiders trade the first overall pick to the Arizona Cardinals, who select Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Oregon.
Ben Muth: With the No. 1 Pick in the Draft, the Raiders select Brett Hundley.
Chad Peltier: Jameis Winston. There might be some mechanics and throwing motion issues, but he's incredibly accurate and physically dominating. I don't think any NFL team can pass that up.
Aaron Schatz: Oakland selects DE/DT Leonard Williams, USC. It seems like the quarterbacks who were hyped in the preseason have fallen in the draft process in every recent year except 2012.
Vince Verhei: I've been going back and forth between Oakland and Cleveland for weeks now. Then I looked back over predictions of the past and realized that this will be the fourth year in a row I'm picking either Oakland or Cleveland to get the top pick. Sucks to be the Raiders and Browns. While I think the most intriguing scenario would be Cleveland getting the top pick (No way they give up on Manziel after one season, so would they try to trade down?), in the end I'm picking Oakland for the third time in four seasons, and I expect them to take Mariota.
52 comments, Last at 10 Sep 2015, 1:06pm
#1 by dryheat // Sep 04, 2014 - 1:40pm
I'm not a college ball fanatic anymore, but boy do I not understand the Mariota attention. When I do watch the NCAA, I tend to watch Oregon due to their style of play. But in 4-5 games I watched last year, I saw NOTHING to indicate that Mariota is a bona fide NFL quarterback, let alone the #1 pick. Is this a case where a Kiper or McShay or Mayock said it at some point and the rest of the Media is parroting? Could I see him winning the Heisman if Oregon puts together an undefeated season? Absolutely. Would I select him with the first pick in the draft? Well, I will say that he is probably worth two picks better than Joey Harrington and Akili Smith (Holy sh!t - unintentional Oregon connection -- I am aware Tedford isn't over there any more), but just the same, no thanks.
Anyway, for the sake of not wanting to come across as a total b!tch, I'll go on record with Detroit as most likely to beat their projection, and San Diego as most likely to underperform.
#6 by dank067 // Sep 04, 2014 - 2:19pm
What don't you like about Mariota? I probably haven't watched as many Oregon games as you have, but the things I've seen highlighted in scouting reports/film breakdowns that would appear to separate him from the pack are his pocket presence and his ability to keep his eyes downfield and find receivers instead of just taking off and scrambling. (Of course, casually watching them play anyone in their conference other than Stanford, it probably looks like he's doing nothing but hitting a lot of open receivers in space.) Add that to his athleticism and I can understand the hype.
#9 by Kal // Sep 04, 2014 - 3:19pm
My suspicion is that you watched him late in the season when he was playing with a torn MCL.
It's not that Kiper said it or Mayock said it. It's that Mariota has put up insane numbers even considering that he plays in the Oregon offense. He's very accurate. He doesn't throw interceptions all that often. He doesn't fumble. He makes great decisions. He's strong, fast and has a good arm. He has a very good work ethic. He is good at set plays and good at improvisation.
The big ding against him is that he did not have a lot of experience before college as a QB and he's never played in a pro style offense. Those are fairly big dings, and all of that's fair - but otherwise he looks stellar.
#2 by Raiderjoe // Sep 04, 2014 - 1:40pm
AFC division championsn- Pates, Bengals, cotls, Raiders
Wild cards- Broincos, jets
Nfc division champions- eaglss, packers, saimts, Seahawks
Wild cards- Loins, bet as
Super bowl 4o9- Raiders 28, Packers 14
#29 by Raiderjoe // Sep 04, 2014 - 7:53pm
That name and bears are tema names most often typed wrong. Have noticed. ,Lpins have seen that too in addition. To Lins. Bears Haas appeared as Bet as,beras, bears. Typing fast nd not looking is what causes this stuff. Only slow down and double check for facts and stats
#30 by commissionerleaf // Sep 04, 2014 - 8:01pm
My picks, in reply to RJ since his probably qualify as the "official" FO picks as much as Aarons.
AFC Div Champs: Patriots, Steelers, Colts, Broncos
NFC Div Champs: Seahawks, Packers, Buccaneers, Giants
AFC WC: Chargers, Bengals
NFC WC: Saints, Panthers
Super Bowl: Broncos 31 Giants 21
#3 by Will Allen // Sep 04, 2014 - 1:50pm
I think Russell Wilson has good chance to substantially improve this year, and he's already pretty decent. If he gets lucky by having Harvin have 12-14 healthy games, well, Seattle's defense is still going to be very good, I suspect, and they still have a terrific home field advantage. It would not be surprising in the least if they repeated.
Chicago and Green Bay are interesting teams to me, from the perspective of being built in a fashion that really doesn't provide a significant home field advantage in January, unlike, say the Saints, and obviously, the Seahawks.
AFC? Somehow, I just don't think the Broncos will repeat, although I don't have really good reason to think any particular AFC opponent is likely to supplant them
#15 by dank067 // Sep 04, 2014 - 4:39pm
I'm with you that Green Bay and Chicago may not benefit as much from home field advantage as other teams. But it just occurred to me, given how tough it has been to play in Seattle and New Orleans recently, that home field in the NFC might still be as valuable just from the standpoint of not having to travel there.
Since NO and SEA have harder schedules, there's definitely a window from someone in the North or East to steal the #1 seed. But both of those teams look so good to me right now that I still think one of them will grab it.
#5 by theslothook // Sep 04, 2014 - 2:10pm
I think Kyle Williams replaces Justin Smith now. I think Kyle Williams is one of the most unknown least appreciated elite defenders in this league. At least by pff going back to 2008 and in the few games I've watched him closely.
#7 by dmstorm22 // Sep 04, 2014 - 2:43pm
(1) Denver 13-3
(2) Cincinnati 12-4
(3) New England 11-5
(4) Indianapolis 10-6
(5) Pittsburgh 10-6
(6) San Diego 10-6
(1) Green Bay 12-4
(2) New Orleans 12-4
(3) Seattle 11-5
(4) New York 10-6
(5) Carolina 10-6
(6) Chicago 10-6
Team Most Likely to beat its 2014 FOA Projection: Carolina - I'm in the minority that replacing guys that were essentially street free agents a year ago with more street free agents isn't going to be a huge deal.
Team Most Likely to Fall Short of its 2014 FOA Projection: Philadelphia - I think losing DeSean Jackson is real, as is an o-line that is unlikely to play all 16 games as one unit together.
Player Most Likely to Beat his 2014 KUBIAK Projection: Emmannuel Sanders - Peyton loves throwing to guys like him, and with Welker out the first four weeks more targets to go around.
Player Most Likely to Fall Short of his 2014 KUBIAK Projection: Not sure, I'll take a wild guess and say Drew Brees, thinking New Orleans might run the ball a lot more this year.
With the 1st overall pick: The Cleveland Browns trade to TEAM X and TEAM X picks Jamies Winston
Super Bowl XLIX pick: Denver 31 New Orleans 20
#14 by Arkaein // Sep 04, 2014 - 4:22pm
I agree. Is there really much, if any, precedent for a team taking a QB with a high 1st round pick only one year after taking a QB with a high 2nd round (or better) pick?
It would only make sense if Carr crashes hard this season, with Mariota (or some other QB) having a good enough season to be as safe of a pick as Andrew Luck was. That combination seems unlikely.
EDIT: I suppose Jimmy Clausen and Cam Newton are pretty close to one example of back-to-back QBs. Clausen was a mid-2nd rounder, though Newton wasn't exactly a sure-fire lock. Curious if there are any other examples for precedent.
#17 by Perfundle // Sep 04, 2014 - 5:12pm
To the Draft Finder we go! It is indeed very rare. Since the merger, only three teams have taken a QB with a high 1st round pick only one year after taking a QB with a high 2nd round (or better) pick: Carolina in 2011, Buffalo in 1983 (Matt Kofler with the 48th pick followed by Jim Kelly with the 14th) and Baltimore in 1983 (Art Schlichter with the 4th pick followed by John Elway with the 1st). If you don't consider the 14th pick to be high then there are only two cases, and Baltimore couldn't hang on to Elway.
#18 by Duke // Sep 04, 2014 - 5:13pm
Oakland always seems to have the worst team, and yet never seems to get the #1 pick. Someone else always crashes and burns harder, and they're stuck in that 4-10 range, it seems.
Will this year be different? Am I just misremembering and am too lazy to look up if the Raiders have had a number one overall since JaMarcus? Who can tell!
#26 by herewegobrowni… // Sep 04, 2014 - 6:45pm
They have not.
Potential wins against "matching" 4th place teams are a little easier in the AFC right now than the NFC; 4th place teams in the NFC North and West were 7 and, effectively, 5.5 last year, not to mention those didn't even play 4th place schedules. This could bump poor AFC teams out of the #1 pick running right off the bat.
#20 by theslothook // Sep 04, 2014 - 5:58pm
Predicting who the worst team will be is hard. I thought last year's jags and raiders squads were easily going to be the worst and neither finished with the top 2 picks.
No one saw the redskins and texans imploding like they have, so we really need to think hard about which team will implode.
#25 by herewegobrowni… // Sep 04, 2014 - 6:45pm
Exactly, last year's Jags were basically the 2009 Browns - two subpar quarterbacks, and a worst-of-all-time caliber start that made the #1 pick make sense, only to be followed by an decent finish against less difficult competition.
#33 by chemical burn // Sep 05, 2014 - 12:47am
I don't know - they have Bryant & Witten, that o-line and a solid running game. That's a handful of serious assets beyond what real cellar-dwellers like the Raiders, Jaguars and Redskins (if Griffin doesn't return to form) have. A defense that bad is obviously capable of losing any game, but some bad teams would switch with a Weeden-led Cowboys squad in an instant.
I think last year's Texans team is a tough comparison because they easily could have gone 7-9 and almost beat the future champs - most teams with the #1 overall pick aren't semi-legit in that way...
#50 by Duke // Sep 08, 2014 - 3:57pm
It's a good point. It's almost like some teams like the Jags and Raiders have become good at being bad, so they handle disasters with a sort of awful competence, while other teams (like the Texans or Redskins) have bad things happen and aren't used to it, and it spirals out of their control.
I'm pretty sure the NFL doesn't work this way, but I like the thought that it does.
#35 by mehllageman56 // Sep 05, 2014 - 3:38am
Aaron, as far as your fascination with the Jets conundrum on defense, I think it will be even more interesting if Geno Smith makes good on his LCF, and the Jets still go 6-10, losing a bunch of shootouts, with Rex on heart attack watch. Will he survive the season? Will he survive period? I think he'll live to coach another day, whether for another team, we'll see. But 6-10 I definitely see in their future.
#36 by ChicagoRaider // Sep 05, 2014 - 7:57am
The Raiders have a higher floor and a higher ceiling on QB play than they had last season. The same is true for the defense as a whole and the non-QB parts of the offense with the exception of the running game. Not that the writers of FO predicted Rashad Jennings to have the year he did. We will see if the Raiders get someone to step up this year like Jennings did last year.
Yes, units may take some time to gel with all the new faces. But I expect the last 12 games to look better than the first 4.
#39 by KK Probs // Sep 05, 2014 - 3:21pm
This is my one long post per year on this website, which I think is a great website. The last two years in this space, I predicted the Ravens in 2012 and the Bengals in 2013 as the most certain bets to exceed their win projections in Football Outsiders. The Ravens beat their 9.2 win projection by going 10-6 (and eventually being Super Bowl champions, which made me feel better), while the Bengals were picked at 8.9 and finished 11-5. This year, the team that is the surest bet to beat their win projection is the Green Bay Packers, and I am fully aware that they lost 36-16 to the Seahawks and Eddie Lacy got a concussion last night.
The Packers’ season was average last year, in actual wins (8.5), Pythagorean wins (7.8), and total DVOA (-6.0%, 20th). Football Outsiders has them pegged for 9.7 wins in 2014, an improvement of something like 1-2 wins over 2013 depending on your metric of choice. Before we go any further, let’s not overcomplicate this: if a half-season of Aaron Rodgers is worth 1-2 wins over his replacements, the Packers will beat their 9.7 projection. I watch a lot of Packer football and indulge way too much in math and gambling statistics, and I have to say that it was a revelation to me last season that a single player can be worth more than a touchdown above replacement level for his team.
This was partly because “Packer replacement level QB” was nowhere near “NFL replacement level QB” in 2013. Seneca Wallace put on a single, career-ending performance in a 7-point loss to Chicago. Scott Tolzein then delivered a pair of 14-point losses to Philadelphia and New York Giants. Tolzien might be a legitimate replacement-level NFL QB, but he was making his first NFL starts, and it’s worth noting that the 49ers did not consider him to be replacement level since they cut him prior to the 2013 season. Matt Flynn led a tie against Minnesota, a 30-point loss to Detroit, a 7-point loss to Pittsburgh, and a pair of 1-point victories over Atlanta and Dallas. Matt Flynn had been cut by three different NFL teams in the 12 months prior to starting for Green Bay. That means these guys weren’t even seen as worthy of a *roster spot* by the rest of the NFL, let alone good enough to replace an NFL starting QB. The team’s point differential was +59 with Rodgers and -70 without him, an average difference of 8.1 points per game. In games played against the same teams, their differentials were as follows: Detroit (+13 with Rodgers, -30 without him); Minnesota (+13 with Rodgers, tied without him); Chicago (+5 with Rodgers, -7 without him). It’s a small sample size, but anyone who suggests that a half-season of Rodgers is only worth 1-2 wins needs to watch some 2013 game film with Ron Jaworski.
Also, their schedule doesn't pass the eyeball test for a 9-7 finish. FO has them as the best team in a division with two new head coaches, with only the Bears being very close, so a 4-2 finish there is probably the FO default projection, and I agree with that. Tell me which of these five non-divisional games the Packers are going to be favored to lose: Sea; NYJ; at Mia; Car; at NO; Phi; NE; Atl; at Buf; at TB. The Seahawks and Saints on the road are two. Maybe, depending on how the season goes, the Eagles and Patriots, both of which are at Lambeau Field. But who else is even close? And here’s the point: even if they lose *all four* of those games, and go 4-2 in the NFC North, the Pack will still finish 10-6.
The Packers have regression going for them on all fronts. The most regressive unit in general, special teams, finished a pedestrian 19th in DVOA last season, so average would be a bit of an improvement, and my eyes tell me the special teams have looked fine so far. The second most regressive unit, defense, finished 31st in 2013 and is squarely in “can’t possibly get worse” territory. Clay Matthews missed five games last season and he played injured in a lot more. This wasn’t a big factor in actual wins, as they won four of those five games, but Pythagoras and DVOA still counted those plays as piles of inferior defensive football statistics. Although Julius Peppers can no longer can dominate every play, pairing him with Matthews in the role they are playing him in is one of the most perfect situational/role player signings I have ever seen in the NFL, right up there with the Saints nabbing Darren Sproles a few years ago. Starting the season with Morgan Burnett, Micah Hyde, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix should give the Packers a strong crew of safeties to contend with the likes of Brandon Marshall and Calvin Johnson. Offensively, the Packers finished 5th, 7th, 1st, and 3rd in DVOA from 2009-2012. As FO readers know, offense is the most consistent unit year to year, and even though they finished 9th last season, I believe a healthy Rodgers will have them “regressing” upwards a few spots. I thought the Packers had an outstanding draft this year, and I have to think the fact that so many of FO's own writers picked them as favorites to get to the Super Bowl is encouraging. In all, this is a team I consider much more likely to finish 11-5 than 9-7, even with a loss to Seattle last night.
#43 by mehllageman56 // Sep 06, 2014 - 1:41am
I generally agree with the idea that the Packers are more likely to be beat their projection, and I might add that they have one of the highest win projections in the league according to FO's system. But your list of their non-divisional opponents brought up an achilles heel; they may be overmatched at the line of scrimmage in many of those games, including ones you assume the Packers will win. The Jets, Bills and Panthers have very formidable defensive lines, possibly stronger than the Seahawks. All three of them run the ball a lot, and have mobile quarterbacks. Certainly, Green Bay would be favored in those games, but its possible one or two of those teams will pull off an upset because of their defensive fronts and running games.
#45 by Perfundle // Sep 06, 2014 - 2:18am
" my eyes tell me the special teams have looked fine so far"
Um... what? The special teams looked god-awful last night. Masthay opened the season with a 29-yarder and a 38-yarder with plenty of field ahead of him (although admittedly that was better than what the Badgers punter offered up); Green Bay's average field position after kickoffs that weren't downed in the end zone was the 17.75-yard line; they committed a running-into-the punter-penalty that extended a Seattle drive; and they had to waste a timeout after forcing Seattle into a field goal because they had around 13 players on the field. The only good result was the fumble that wasn't even their own doing other than recovering a ball in a scrum. If anything, it looked like their special teams would be much worse than 19th this year.
#47 by KK Probs // Sep 06, 2014 - 10:31pm
Masthay did uncharacteristically whiff on a 29-yard punt. His next punt was just under 40 yards, and his coverage team swarmed and got the turnover. They then downed the next punt inside the 20, and forced a fair catch on a 57-yard punt. I am not discouraged by that. Mostly, I was referring to Crosby and their coverage teams looking good all preseason. They did have a few mental lapses against the Seahawks that you would hope could be fixed by telling the team not to run into the punter and informing DuJuan Harris of the touchback rule.
As for the line getting pushed around... Rodgers has won with a lot worse lines than this, in my opinion. It's a fair point, and I think Rodgers will take a couple of sacks against those teams listed, but he also realistically might complete 80%+ of his passes against those secondaries.
#48 by Perfundle // Sep 07, 2014 - 3:43am
A 57-yard punt when the game was over and the Seahawks didn't need fumbles on punt returns to give Green Bay any hope; it was pretty clear Walters was instructed to fair catch anything no matter how much field was ahead of him, since Seattle just needed to kneel down three times to end the game. The fumble was caused by Thomas and him alone; Green Bay's only role was to secure a ball in a scrum where they had numbers. And they allowed Harvin to run a kickoff to the 30.
#51 by bubqr // Sep 11, 2014 - 12:37am
1 months ago, I completely agreed with your position now. However, 10 days ago I still bet on GB under 10.5 wins. To me, the key thing was the belief that the division will be really tough this year. I expect Minnesota to be much, much improved, both defensively (front 4, secondary) and offensively(better QB play, Patterson that I think will be one of the 5 best offensive players this year, and well, yeah, AP), the Lions to be solid under a new coach (regardless of how little I think of the coach, I believe in the "new coach" effect), and the "this defense can't be worse than last year" Chicago Bears being a tough team to play as well. 9-7, 10-6 is to me more realistic than 11-5.
#40 by David C // Sep 05, 2014 - 3:38pm
"Eli Manning knows what he's doing and he's not ready to go all Matt Schaub-y yet."
Note to Aaron Schatz: For pretty much every season they've been in the league, including last year, going all Matt Schaub-y would've been an improvement.
#46 by Cythammer // Sep 06, 2014 - 7:06pm
I suppose I'll post my predictions, as much for my own sake when the season is over and I wonder what I had anticipated.
It seems as if there isn't much variation in predictions this year. Most of the divisions have one obvious favorite, and the top few teams in each conference are also clear. The only thing I struggled with is identifying who exactly would be the second wild card in both conferences.
NFC playoff teams, in order of seeding:
Everything goes according to seeding except the 49ers winning their Wild Card game.
AFC playoff teams, in order of seeding:
Again all the home teams win except for the 5. seed winning on the opening weekend.
The Broncos win the Super Bowl. I would be tempted to pick the Seahawks as champions if the AFC had as much depth as the NFC, but since Denver should have less serious competition in their quest to return to the title game, I'll go with them.
I'll go with Aaron Rodgers as MVP, and as a Jets fan I sadly predict that after another losing season (though the team may actually be better than it was last year), Rex Ryan will be fired. Geno Smith's time in New York will also be over.