September 3, 2013 - by Austin Link
In just a couple days the march to Super Bowl XVLIII kicks off. Although we had our nose to the grindstone this summer developing our new and improved NFL survivor pool picks and NFL office pool picks (both completely free for Week 1, so please check ’em out), we haven’t forgotten our old staples: our successful NFL projections and NFL preseason rankings.
Our preseason NFL ratings are unique because they are entirely based off custom-built mathematical algorithms. We’ve tested hundreds of statistics and data points to find which aspects of a team best predict its future performance.
Conventional wisdom, media hype and “expert” opinion matters nothing to us.
Well, we’re not gonna give away the farm, but how about a few examples. After analyzing years of historical NFL data, we’ve established that scoring highly on measurements of a team’s consistent success in the recent past, improvement at the QB position, and bad luck with turnovers in past years all augur an impending jump up in performance level.
Sound obvious? Perhaps. But it’s also figuring out how to weight each of those specific measurements in our ratings in order to produce the most accurate ratings overall that takes a lot of research and study.
Without further ado, here are our preseason predictive ratings for all 32 NFL squads, followed by some notes about teams where our system’s conclusions appear to differ from the general consensus.
Rank Team Rating
1 New England Patriots 10.09
2 Denver Broncos 6.44
3 Green Bay Packers 6.43
4 San Francisco 49ers 5.25
5 Pittsburgh Steelers 4.01
6 Seattle Seahawks 3.75
7 New Orleans Saints 3.74
8 Detroit Lions 3.37
9 Baltimore Ravens 3.21
10 New York Giants 2.01
11 Atlanta Falcons 1.49
12 Dallas Cowboys 1.28
13 Houston Texans 1.24
14 Philadelphia Eagles 0.51
15 Cincinnati Bengals 0.49
16 Kansas City Chiefs -0.24
17 San Diego Chargers -0.45
18 Chicago Bears -0.90
19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers -1.27
20 Miami Dolphins -1.43
21 New York Jets -1.86
22 Buffalo Bills -2.38
23 Minnesota Vikings -2.57
24 Arizona Cardinals -2.67
25 Cleveland Browns -2.75
26 Washington Redskins -2.77
27 St. Louis Rams -2.96
28 Indianapolis Colts -3.40
29 Carolina Panthers -3.48
30 Oakland Raiders -3.90
31 Tennessee Titans -4.53
32 Jacksonville Jaguars -10.25
The Bears made a serious playoff push last year, falling short in the last week. Despite (or possibly because of) a change in head coach, many see the Bears making another run at the postseason in 2013. Our ratings have them slightly below average, though, and there’s one main culprit: a lack of young talent. The trade for Jay Cutler improved Chicago’s QB situation, but it cost them two first round draft picks, picks which would now be filling the gaps of aging players like Brian Urlacher. We think this is likely the season it will catch up to them.
The Colts were an inspiring story last year, and things are looking up even more with young QB Andrew Luck having experience under his belt now…right? Not so fast. Last year the Colts’ margin of victory performance was worse than both the 7-9 Dolphins and 5-11 Cardinals. That means last year’s playoff performance was largely the result of good luck, and we don’t mean the Andrew type. Unfortunately for Indianapolis, good luck doesn’t tend to carry over between seasons, and like the Bears we have the Colts projecting as slightly below average.
Are we just trashing sophomore quarterbacks? Not on purpose, but RGIII’s second season doesn’t forecast well either. In this case it focuses around a different factor, turnovers. In the past we’ve found that a large turnover margin (takeaways minus giveaways) often regresses towards the mean in the next season, and Washington had the third largest margin in the NFL last year. Griffin is an extraordinary player who has a bright future, but even with good health we think it will be a stretch for the Skins to reach the playoffs in 2013.
It’s important to note here one of our not so good predictions from last year — that the 49ers were likely to disappoint also because of a large turnover margin the year before. While the Niners’ TO margin did return to more normal values, they obviously generated improvements elsewhere to use as a springboard to a Super Bowl run.
That type of stuff can happen, and while we’re happy to stick our neck out and make some calls, just remember that “overrated” doesn’t mean “no chance.” We still give the three teams listed above a combined 1.5% chance of emerging as Super Bowl champions in 2014. That’s far from impossible.
Last year the Lions disappointed despite a record season by Calvin Johnson. Their disappointment was rooted in two types of bad luck: turnover margin and close game losses. Both of those factors have a good chance of reversing course this year, and we give Megatron and the pass heavy Lions over a fifty percent chance to make the playoffs for just the second time this millennium.
The Patriots have had some off-season turmoil to say the least. None of their three biggest offensive options from last year return. That’s okay by Bill Belichick, though. Since he became coach he’s let many players loose, replacing them with many quality draft picks and counting on Tom Brady’s tremendous talent to fill in the gaps. It’s been a successful strategy, as the Pats have had unparalleled consistency at the top of the league over the last decade.
Primarily because of their long running success, New England is easily the top team in our preseason ratings — objectively, we don’t value the departures as highly as the media does. This doesn’t necessarily mean New England will win the Super Bowl, but we think they have the best odds of any team to do so.
Boy were the Eagles bad last year. Historically, one very down year often has a bounce back afterwards, though. This phenomenon applies especially to the Eagles because they had the worst turnover margin in football last season. We also see Michael Vick as still a solid quarterback, and combined this makes Philadelphia project as barely above average for 2013. Above average doesn’t seem great, but in a juggernaut-less NFC East, being average and getting a couple lucky breaks could get you a division title.
Besides being educational to look at and compare with preseason rankings from humans, our preseason ratings also serve several purposes:
Some of our 2013 preseason NFL rankings may surprise and/or shock you, but don’t forget one key point. You may know a lot more about your favorite team than our system does, but the goal of this system isn’t to come up with the most accurate preseason rating for your favorite team…or for the one or two teams on the list you may vehemently disagree with. The goal is to come up with the most accurate rating system as a whole.
Also, just because our ratings may differ from the prevailing consensus doesn’t mean we’re wrong. The generally uneventful summer months leading up to football season tend to provide the perfect conditions for snowballing media hype and hyperbolic storylines about teams and players, most of which aren’t nearly as meaningful as the media would like you to think they are. But sensationalism drives readership, so they need to make it all seem important.
The end result is that often times, several of the more unique preseason claims we make end up coming true.
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