In a 16 game season win-loss record is not necessarily the best indicator of who the best teams are. Strength of schedule is a very close second to talent in determining how a team will do in any given season. For example, Baltimore is AccuScore's solid favorite to win the AFC North while Cincinnati is 3rd in the division, but in their head-to-head match-ups the Bengals actually win slightly over 50% of the simulations of the two games. The teams may be equal on the simulated playing field, but Cincinnati has a tougher schedule thanks to winning the division last year. Unlike Baltimore, Cincinnati has to face the Colts (in Indianapolis) and San Diego, the two leading teams in our AFC Season forecast.
The San Diego Chargers are not necessarily the best team in the AFC but the lack of competition in the division helps them cruise to an 11 win season and an 82.6 percent chance of winning the division. Ryan Matthews looks more than capable of replacing LaDainian Tomlinson. Even without Vincent Jackson the offense should still be dynamic enough to take the AFC West. AccuScore gives a slight second place edge in the AFC West to Oakland, who no longer have to worry about JaMarcus Russell single-handedly losing games this year. Like the Raiders, the Chiefs are pegged to be improved this season after some solid upgrades in the off-season. The Broncos are picked last in the division, but they are averaging less than 1 fewer win than 2nd placed Oakland.
The Indianapolis Colts are picked to once again win the AFC South. The Titans, Texans and Jaguars are all finishing with just under .500 records on average. The Colts have the worst running game in the division, but they showed last year that this is not a big deal when you can pass like the Colts can. The Colts are 77% favorites to win the division, which is nearly as high as the Chargers' chances in the AFC West.
Besides having an easier schedule than Cincinnati, the Ravens did a great job of addressing some pressing needs in the off-season. Baltimore is averaging 10 wins per simulation. If Joe Flacco can complete 65%+ of his passes (projected for 61% in simulations) then they could be an 11+ win team. While the Ravens are the pick in the division they only have a 14 percentage point edge (41 to 27) vs the 3rd placed Bengals. The Ravens have struggled in head-to-head match-ups vs the Steelers and Bengals so even though they are AccuScore's favorite they still will need to at least split with these teams to win the division.
The New York Jets may be favored by many to win the AFC East, but people need to remember that while they were 1 game away from the Super Bowl, there were also 1 half of the Colts resting their starters away from being 8-8 and a non-playoff team. Mark Sanchez is expected to be better this year, but even if he improves his completion percentage by +5%, his TD rate by 25% and cuts his INTs by 25% he is still a statistically below-average starting QB. The Jets have a very tough schedule and when your QB has a rating under 80 it is hard to win more than 9 games. The Patriots have a lot of question marks on defense and an aging offense but they are the favorite in the AFC East.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
NEW YORK JETS
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
The New Orleans Saints cannot expect to force as many turnovers this year as they did last season, but they can expect to average around 30 points per game with their offensive talent. Even if the defense regressed and allowed 24 points (up from 21 last year) they would still be at an average margin of victory of +6 and headed for an 11 or 12 win season. Atlanta is excited about the healthy return of Michael Turner, but that is not enough to close the gap with the Saints. The Panthers could be a surprisingly good 8-8 team even without Julius Peppers because they do not have Jake Delhomme blowing games with turnovers anymore.
Many are picking the Packers to take the NFC North and they are averaging the 3rd most wins in the conference, but the Vikings are still AccuScore's pick at 57% vs the Packers 39%. Minnesota cannot expect Brett Favre to be as good as he was last year, statistically, but even if he regresses with 14 to 16 INTs as AccuScore expects, they are still in position to win the division. The Bears and Lions may have taken steps to improve their teams, but in simulations it's not enough to close the gap on the Packers and Vikings.
The AFC West has no team averaging more than 9 wins per simulation, but at 9 exactly, the San Francisco 49ers are AccuScore's pick at 70% to win the division. The Cardinals will take a major step backward with the turnover prone, inaccurate Derek Anderson at QB. The Seahawks have improved their talent, but AccuScore simulations do not 'think' there is any reason why Pete Carroll should provide any special boost to the team just because he had great success at USC. The Rams have also substantially improved but even with a 400% improvement they are still a 4 win team.
The NFC East is once again going to the Cowboys in a majority of simulations (52.7%). The Giants are picked second with a 25.7 percent chance of winning the division. The reason why Philadelphia is not faring well is Kevin Kolb, in a limited sample, has been interception prone. The Redskins are improved this year, but even with a +3 win improvement, they are still just a 7 win team.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
GREEN BAY PACKERS
NEW YORK GIANTS
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
ST. LOUIS RAMS