Thursday, September 4, 2014

2014 NFL Projections: AFC Edition

This is my 17th season projecting NFL regular season and playoff results.  As per my tradition, I select the two teams I expect to win each division and conference.  Only two times (Super Bowl 34 and Super Bowl 38) was I unable to project at least one of the teams that end up in the Super Bowl.  But on the flip side, the last eleven straight seasons has a team in gone from Worst to First to make the playoffs in the NFL; I only projected 3 of those 11.  So my formula is flawed but oh well, no one is perfect.

Quick cheat sheet to my system

*“Projections” – My resulting win/loss record after going through the full team’s schedule

*“Plus/Minus Win/Loss differential” – The “plus” is how many more wins they could get, minus being how many fewer wins they could get.  These are based on what I label as “swing” games that could go either way.

So first here are my AFC projections and notes for each AFC team, division, followed by playoff projections and conference winner.


AFC East

Buffalo Bills

Projected Record: 4-12

Plus/Minus Win/Loss differential: +2 and -2

Swing Game(s): Sept 14th at home vs Miami; Oct 19th at home vs Minnesota; Nov 9 at home vs Kansas City; Dec 21 at Oakland

Notes: Overall the Bills have a tough schedule, playing road games at Chicago, at Detroit, and at Denver.  Also expect  interdivision matchups with the Patriots, Dolphins, and Jets to be hard fought but seeing the Bills finish the season with a losing interdivision record.  A lot of young talent that still needs time to gain experience and chemistry is what the roster is filled with.


Miami Dolphins

Projected Record: 7-9

Plus/Minus Win/Loss differential:  +3 and -2

Swing Game(s): Sept 14th at Buffalo; Oct 12th at home vs Green Bay; Nov 2 at home vs San Diego; Dec 7th at home vs Baltimore

Notes: Expect Ryan Tannehill to make positive strides in his third season as the Dolphins starting Quarterback with the arrival of Knoeshawn Moreno, a major upgrade at the running back position.  Last season Miami had the 26th ranked rushing offense; with Moreno and a more cohesive offensive line unit that should improve. The biggest stumbling block for Miami is their bye week comes early in the season (Week 5) and immediately following that five of their next eight games scheduled are road games.  Not an easy task, especially at Denver, at Detroit, at Chicago and at the Jets in December.


New England Patriots

Projected Record: 12-4

Plus/Minus Win/Loss differential:  +2 and -4

Swing Game(s): Sept 29th at Kansas City; Oct 26 at home vs Chicago; Nov 2nd at home vs Denver; Dec 7th at San Diego

Notes: The Patriots have a rollercoaster schedule in 2014.  Four of their six games to start the season are on the road then after their Bye Week (Week 10) the play four straight games against teams with Pro Bowl Quarterbacks (Colts, Lions, Packers, Chargers).  Although I think the Patriots will have a good overall season they will be battle tested playing against all four NFC North teams. 


New York Jets

Projected Record: 6-10

Plus/Minus Win/Loss differential: +3 and -2

Swing Games: Sept 22nd at home vs Chicago; Sept 28th at home vs Detroit; Nov 23rd at Buffalo; Dec 7th at Minnesota; Dec 14th at Tennessee

Notes: The Jets have two major question marks coming into the 2014 season: Will they have quality Quarterback play and the health/depth at the Cornerback position.  From September 14th through October 16th they face off against six of the top ten passing offenses from 2013; a dubious task for a team with little depth at cornerback.  Furthermore, can the Jets offense keep up with these high powered offenses?  How long will Gino Smith stay the starting Quarterback if he commits too many turnovers? Can the Jets pass defense force any turnovers without any ball-hawk cornerbacks? 


Projected AFC East Winner: New England Patriots


AFC South

Houston Texans

Projected Record: 8-8

Plus/Minus Win/Loss differential:  +3 and -3

Swing Games: Sept 14th at Oakland; Sept 21st at the Giants; Oct 5th at Dallas; Nov 16th at Cleveland; Nov 23rd at home vs Cincinnati

 Notes: The Texans are a talented team but are underwhelming at the Quarterback position.  Having to play four games against the AFC North will definitely test their offense’s ability to score consistently enough to win games.  They only play four high powered offensive teams on their schedules so they are fortunate that they will not be subjected to many potential shootouts.  Expect the Texans to win half of their games thanks to the defense’s ferocity. 


Indianapolis Colts

Projected Record: 10-6

Plus/Minus Win/Loss differential: +2 and -3

Swing Games: Sept 15th at home vs Philadelphia; Sept 21st at Jacksonville; Oct 9th at Houston; Nov 16th at home vs New England; Dec 21st at Dallas

Notes: Let’s be realistic, without Andrew Luck this team is potentially 3-13 in 2014 considering the teams they have to play.  Their first two games are against two of the top offenses in the NFL, then their two games before the bye week they are on the road to play two teams with Super Bowl winning Quarterbacks.  But wait, it gets better; after the Bye Week (Week 10) they get to play the Patriots and Week 16 they get to go to Dallas.  The only “good news” for the Colts season is that the teams they have to play on the road have a combined losing record in 2013.  So maybe they are “Lucky”.


Jacksonville Jaguars

Projected Record: 6-10

Plus/Minus Win/Loss differential:  +2 and -3

Swing Games: Sept 21 at home vs Indianapolis; Oct 12th at Tennessee; Oct 26th at home vs Miami; Nov 9th at home vs Dallas; Dec 18th at home vs Tennessee

Notes: The Jaguars are better team then last year, that’s the good news.  The bad news is they have to play many other teams that have upgraded their rosters as well.  The Jaguars will play every team tough, although they do not have the offensive firepower of their opponents, their defense is better than last season’s statistics show.  Head Coach Gus Bradley is building a competitive team that in a couple years could develop into a contender.


Tennessee Titans

Projected Record: 5-11

Plus/Minus Win/Loss differential: +2 and -2

Swing Games: Sept 14th at home vs Dallas; Oct 12th at home vs Jacksonville; Oct 26th at home vs Houston; Dec 7th at home vs the NY Giants

Notes: When you look over the Titans roster you see a good mix of young and veteran talent.  But when you look at their schedule they could potentially start the season 0-4 and then potentially lose five straight games after their Bye Week (Week 9).  I am unsure how their offense is going to keep up against teams like the Eagles, Redskins, and Cowboys or how they are going to fair against tough defenses like the Steelers, Ravens, Bengals and even the Browns defense could be a matchup problem for the Titans.


Projected AFC South Winner: Indianapolis Colts


AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Projected Record: 9-7

Plus/Minus Win/Loss differential:  +2 and -3

Swing Games:  Sept 11 at home vs Pittsburgh; Oct 5th at Indianapolis; Nov 2nd at Pittsburgh; Dec 7th at Miami; Dec 21st at Houston

Notes:  The Ravens improved their defense this past offseason but their offense’s ability to be productive and consistent is the big question.  They open the season with three straight games against division rivals followed by four of the next six games on the road.   After their Bye Week (Week 11) the Ravens have to two of the top ten offenses from 2013 (At New Orleans then home versus the Chargers).  This may be another season where Baltimore have to lean on its defense to bail them out if they want to make the playoffs.


Cincinnati Bengals

Projected Record: 8-8

Plus/Minus Win/Loss differential:  +3 and -3

Swing Games: Oct 5th at New England; Oct 19th at Indianapolis; Nov 30th at Tampa Bay; Dec 7th at home vs Pittsburgh

Notes:  The Bengals have one of the most difficult schedules of the 2014 NFL season.  Their Bye Week is early in the season (Week 4) and come out of that Bye Week playing three straight 2013 playoff teams (At the Patriots, Home versus Carolina, At the Colts).  Meanwhile, five of their last seven games are on the road but one of those home games is against the Denver Broncos.  Time will tell if the Bengals new offensive and defensive coordinators are up to the challenge or if they will come up short compared to their predecessors who are now Head Coaches in the NFL.


Cleveland Browns

Projected Record: 3-13

Plus/Minus Win/Loss differential: +3 and -1

Swing Games: Oct 5th at Tennessee; Nov 2nd at home vs Tampa; Dec 14th at home vs Cincinnati

Notes:  The Browns open the season against three potential playoff teams (Saints, Steelers, Ravens) then have an early Bye Week (Week 4) then five of their next nine games are on the road.  The only way the Browns can be competitive this season is with good defense and offensive ball control with the running game.  They will not be blown out in many games but their overall roster is lacking compared to many of their opponents in 2014.


Pittsburgh Steelers

Projected Record: 10-6

Plus/Minus Win/Loss differential: +1 and -3

Swing Games: Sept 21st at Carolina; Oct 26th at home vs Colts; Nov 2nd at home vs Baltimore; Nov 30th at home vs Saints

Notes:  The Steelers have they least treacherous schedule of all of the AFC North teams in 2014.  They play only two games versus 2013 playoff teams (Carolina and Indianapolis) before their Bye Week (Week 12).  After their Bye Week they do have a difficult stretch to end the season against the Saints, Bengals twice, Falcons and Chiefs.  But if they gain enough positive momentum before this five game stretch it is reasonable to say they could come out of that with a winning record and seal a division win.  Also, expect Lance Moore to put up better numbers at Wide Receiver in 2014 with the Steelers than Emmanuel Sanders did in 2013.


Projected AFC North Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers


AFC West

Denver Broncos

Projected Record: 12-4

Plus/Minus Win/Loss differential: +2 and -3

Swing Games: Oct 19th at home vs San Francisco; Oct 23rd at home vs San Diego; Nov 2nd at New England; Nov 16th at St. Louis; Dec 14th at San Diego

Notes:  The Broncos as a team maybe have a better roster than last season, especially on defense.  Time will tell if the early Bye Week (Week 4) will be a positive or negative for them.  After the Bye Week they play two of 2013’s top defenses (49ers and Cardinals) along with two of 2013’s top offense teams (Patriots and Chargers).  Don’t expect the Broncos to have an easy go of the 2014 season since they have to play the NFC West which is the home of four of the top ten NFL defenses in 2013.


Kansas City Chiefs

Projected Record: 6-10

Plus/Minus Win/Loss differential: +3 and -1

Swing Games: Sept 21 at Miami; Sept 29th at home vs New England; Oct 26th at home vs St. Louis; Nov 9th at Buffalo; Dec 21st at Pittsburgh

Notes:  The Chiefs have a much more difficult schedule ahead of them in 2014 compared to last season.  Aside from having to play the four teams from the NFC West (all are 2013 Top Ten Defenses) but they also have to play well coached defensive teams like the Rams, Jets and Steelers.  The Chiefs have an efficient offense, not a high powered offense so if they get behind it will not be easy to make a comeback.   Also considering they play three of their first five games against 2013 Playoff teams, do not expect the Chiefs to start the season on a hot streak like last season.


Oakland Raiders

Projected Record: 5-11

Plus/Minus Win/Loss differential: +3 and -2

Swing Games: Sept 14th at home vs Houston; Oct 12th at home vs San Diego; Oct 19th at home vs Arizona; Oct 26th at Cleveland; Nov 20th at home vs Kansas City

Notes:  The Raiders have more talent on their roster than many people would expect.  The problem for them is they play many teams that have well coached defenses (The Jets, Patriots, Cardinals, 49ers, Seahawks, and Rams) while the Raiders are starting a rookie Quarterback.  I think Derek Carr will be a better pro compared to his older brother, the Raiders will likely have a rollercoaster season in which they will be tested on both sides of the ball.


San Diego Chargers

Projected Record: 8-8

Plus/Minus Win/Loss differential:  +3 and -1

Swing Games: Sept 8th at Arizona; Sept 21st at Buffalo; Oct 19th at home vs Kansas City; Dec 7th at home vs New England; Dec 14th at home vs Denver

Notes:  San Diego has a good team but they face a tough lineup in 2014.  They open their season playing two of the top defenses in the NFL (Cardinals and Seahawks), play two straight road games before their Bye Week (At Denver and Miami; Bye Week is Week 10), and end their season playing four consecutive 2013 Playoff teams (Patriots, Broncos, 49ers and Chiefs).  Not an easy schedule but if they can get a few games to go their way, they could still make the playoffs with the talent they have on the roster.


AFC West Projected Winner: Denver Broncos


Projected AFC Playoff Picture

1. New England Patriots

2. Denver Broncos

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

4. Indianapolis Colts

5. Baltimore Ravens

6. Houston Texans


Projected Playoff Results:

Wild Card Round - Ravens defeat Colts; Steelers defeat Texans

Divisional Round - Patriots defeat Ravens; Broncos defeat Steelers

AFC Championship - Patriots (home team) defeat Broncos