This is my 18th 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 after I preview all teams. 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 had a team that has gone from Worst to First to make the playoffs in the NFL and I only projected 4 of those. 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.
Here is my preview of the AFC North:
2015 Projected Record: 11-5
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +1/-3
Make or Break Games: 9/13 @ Broncos; 11/1 @ Steelers; 10/26 @ Cardinals; 11/22 vs Rams; 12/6 @ Dolphins; 12/13 vs Seahawks; 1/3 @ Bengals
Synopsis: 2015 will mark another season where the Baltimore Ravens will have one of the most talented defense teams in the NFL. Headlined by Linebackers Terrell Suggs, CJ Moseley, Darryl Smith, Courtney Upshaw and Elvis Dummervill, the Ravens are filled with dynamic playmakers at many positions. The question mark is their offense where they have to replace three starters from last year’s team who were major contributors. What also does not help is that their Pro Bowl Tight End Dennis Pitta starts the season on the Physically Unable to Perform Injury List. With a talented defense, the pressure will be on the offense to produce to alleviate pressure off the defense.
2015 Projected Record: 9-7
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +1/-3
Make or Break Games: 9/13 @ Raiders; 9/27 @ Ravens; 10/11 vs Seahawks; 11/1 @ Steelers; 11/22 @ Cardinals; 11/29 vs Rams; 12/28 @ Broncos
Synopsis: The Cincinnati Bengals have been the most underachieving team in terms of lacking playoff success over the last few years. With a very good defensive unit loaded with great players and an offense with multiple dynamic players, expectations are again high for the Bengals. Yet the question still lingers if this team can maintain success and avoid inconsistent play. Will Andy Dalton progress as a Quarterback and avoid costly turnovers? Can AJ Green take that next step to have his talent match his play on the field week to week? Can the defense step up in the fourth quarter and shut down opposing offenses charging downfield?
Don’t be surprised if the Bengals get tripped up and lose away matchups in Oakland and Buffalo because they underestimate their competition. Also, playing at home versus the Chargers, Chiefs, Seahawks, and Rams doesn’t make their schedule any easier to overcome. If the Bengals make the playoffs in 2015, it is because they truly earned it surviving a tough schedule.
2015 Projected Record: 4-12
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +3/-1
Make or Break Games: 9/27 vs Raiders; 10/25 @ Rams; 12/13 vs 49ers; 12/27 @ Chiefs
Synopsis: The projections for the 2015 Cleveland Browns have less to do with their roster as it does with their tough overall schedule. Outside of the fact that all three of their divisional rivals are potential playoff contenders, the Browns have to play away against three of the top 15 defenses in the NFL (Jets, Rams, and Seahawks) along with playing three of the top offenses (at Chiefs, at Chargers, and home versus Broncos).
The Browns have talent on both sides of the ball: arguably the top Offensive Tackle in the NFL (Joe Thomas), Pro Bowl Cornerback (Joe Haden), along with a talented cast of Wide Receivers (Dwayne Bowe, Brian Hartline, and Travis Benjamin). They will surprise a couple of opponents and earn some upset victories as underdogs. I just don’t know if they can do it often enough to make 2015 a winning season.
2015 Projected Record: 8-8
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +2/-1
Make or Break Games: 9/27 @ Rams; 10/18 vs Cardinals; 10/25 @ Chiefs; 11/29 @ Seahawks; 12/6 vs Colts; 12/20 vs Broncos
Synopsis: The Pittsburgh Steelers start the 2015 season without three important offensive players. Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant are both serving NFL suspensions while Pro Bowl Center Maurkice Pouncey suffered a serious injury during a pre-season game. If the Steelers do not play well, they could start the season 2-4 which would put them behind the eight ball in their push to make it to the playoffs. Also they have to handle a brutal second half schedule after their Bye Week with five of their final six games versus potential playoff teams and three of those matchups (the Seahawks, Bengals and Ravens) are away games. Then don’t overlook tough home matchups with the Colts and Broncos, two high powered offenses. Without a good start to their season, the Steelers may have too much to overcome to make it to the 2015 playoffs.