Early projected AFC standings
Steelers, Broncos top respective divisions in early look at 2014 season
With the NFL draft in the rearview mirror, Football Outsiders is ready to move on to projecting the 2014 season. Unfortunately, we're not yet finished building our more complicated forecast, which involves a lot of variables and a big Monte Carlo simulation. But when Todd McShay asked us for some projected 2014 records to build his 2015 mock draft, we put together some quick-and-dirty projections that started with Football Outsiders' defense-adjusted value over average ratings (DVOA), then applied the usual regression toward the mean that a good or bad team sees from each unit. We then adjusted the projections to account for last year's injury numbers, major free-agent moves and a few other indicators.
Today, I'll go through the AFC division by division and explain why we see certain teams moving up and down in 2014. (We did the NFC on Tuesday.) Each team has a forecasted record, and for those of you wanting more detail, we also have a more exact "mean projected wins" number. We also list strength of schedule based on average projected DVOA of next year's 16 opponents, ranked from the hardest (Oakland is No. 1) to the easiest (Houston).
When considering these numbers, remember that this is not the final, official Football Outsiders forecast for 2014, and some of these projections will change between now and the July publication of "Football Outsiders Almanac 2014." Also note that stat projections naturally consider a wide range of possibilities, so all teams end up grouped more toward 8-8 with very few teams listed with double-digit wins or losses. Obviously, the 2014 season won't really end up with only one team below 6-10 and no teams above 12-4.
AFC EastNew England Patriots: 10-6 (10.0 mean wins, strength of schedule: 19)
Miami Dolphins: 7-9 (7.5 mean wins; SOS: 18)
Buffalo Bills: 7-9 (6.8 mean wins; SOS: 17)
New York Jets: 6-10 (6.3 mean wins; SOS: 11)
The Patriots have won 10 or more games in 11 straight years, and it would take something really unexpected to keep them from making it a dozen in a row. This projection is extrapolated from last year's ratings, which came with only half a season of Rob Gronkowski; they should be even better if Gronk can make it back from his ACL tear by Week 1. In addition, the Pats are the rare team to show consistency in special teams. They've been in the top eight of Football Outsiders' special teams ratings in seven of the past eight years, including second last year, and they haven't had below-average special teams since 1995 -- one year before they signed a rookie kicker named Adam Vinatieri.
To see the rest of the projected AFC standings for the 2014 NFL season, you must be an ESPN Insider.