NFL Preseason Predictions 2020: Win Totals, Projected Standings, Super Bowl Odds

2020 NFL Predictions

Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs are the Super Bowl favorites again (Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire)

Below are the TeamRankings 2020 NFL preseason predictions, including projected win/loss records and standings, playoff odds and Super Bowl win odds for all 32 teams.

We’ve also included a few highlights that stick out from the numbers, plus some tips on how to interpret these predictions.

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NFL Preseason Predictions Performance

Before we get to the 2020 predictions, a quick note on their historical accuracy. Significant year to year accuracy fluctuations are always possible, but so far our preseason NFL predictions have proven to be been quite solid.

Michael Lopez, the NFL’s current Director of Data and Analytics, found our preseason projections to be the most accurate system he studied in both 2013 and 2014. TeamRankings was also the only system he tracked that was more accurate than Vegas preseason win totals in both years.

Michael stopped his study after 2014, but we’ve continued to track our win/loss results against win totals lines from leading sportsbooks. From 2015-2019, when our projected win distribution indicated there was value on betting either the Over or the Under on an NFL team win total, our system’s implied “picks” have gone 61-54 (ignoring pushes).

2020 NFL Preseason Predictions & Highlights

Remember that during the regular season and playoffs, we update these predictions every day on our NFL projected standings page.

Quick Links To Predictions By Conference:

Additional Info:
How do we come up with these predictions?
Exactly what do these numbers mean?
Why does our approach make sense?

AFC Preseason Predictions 2020

AFC EastWLPlayoffsWin DivTop SeedWin SB
New England8.97.162.0%46.1%6.3%3.4%
NY Jets5.810.216.5%8.8%0.4%0.2%
AFC NorthWLPlayoffsWin DivTop SeedWin SB
AFC SouthWLPlayoffsWin DivTop SeedWin SB
AFC WestWLPlayoffsWin DivTop SeedWin SB
Kansas City11.44.688.8%71.8%28.5%17.1%
LA Chargers7.78.338.2%11.8%2.4%1.1%
Las Vegas6.79.324.6%7.1%1.2%0.6%

Kansas City is just ahead of Baltimore in our 2020 predictive power ratings, and both have roughly the same amount of predicted wins. Baltimore, though, is the slight favorite to finish as the No. 1 seed. The difference there is likely that Baltimore hosts Kansas City on Monday Night Football on September 28, making them the slight favorite to hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The rest of the conference is fairly bunched up, and with the addition of the seventh playoff spot, that gives a number of teams an even greater chance of getting into the postseason in 2020.

No. 1 Seed Odds:
Baltimore (30.0%) and Kansas City (28.5%) are the only two above 10%, with New England at 6.3% as the third most likely.

Biggest Expected Increase In Wins:
Cincinnati (from 2 to 5.9) followed by the Los Angeles Chargers (5 to 7.7)

Biggest Expected Decline in Wins:
Baltimore (14 to 11.4) followed by Houston (from 10 to 7.7)

Most Expected Wins:
Baltimore and Kansas City (11.4)

Fewest Expected Wins:
Jacksonville (5.1)

NFC Preseason Predictions 2020

NFC EastWLPlayoffsWin DivTop SeedWin SB
NY Giants6.19.918.0%9.7%0.8%0.3%
NFC NorthWLPlayoffsWin DivTop SeedWin SB
Green Bay8.47.647.6%30.4%5.0%2.4%
NFC SouthWLPlayoffsWin DivTop SeedWin SB
New Orleans10.55.577.5%52.9%21.1%11.1%
Tampa Bay9.36.760.9%30.1%9.6%4.8%
NFC WestWLPlayoffsWin DivTop SeedWin SB
San Francisco10.25.873.6%46.4%17.3%8.1%
LA Rams8.37.744.8%18.5%5.4%2.1%

Just like last season, the NFC is more balanced and less top-heavy than the AFC in our preseason predictions. Last season, San Francisco emerged as a surprise team that surged to the No. 1 seed and the Super Bowl. With no dominant team ahead of the pack, something similar could happen in 2020.

This year, the Saints and 49ers lead the way, while Dallas also is lurking. The Cowboys have a good offense, and had a much better point differential than won-loss record in 2019. They bring in a new coach in Mike McCarthy.

The NFC North looks like the most wide open division, with Green Bay expected to regress from a 13-3 season. Detroit, which finished in last place a year ago at 3-13 after Matthew Stafford’s injury, is also poised to at least be respectable in 2020.

No. 1 Seed Odds:
New Orleans (21.1%), San Francisco (17.3%), Dallas and Tampa Bay (9.6% chance each)

Biggest Expected Increase In Wins:
Detroit (from 3.5 to 7.1) and Tampa Bay (from 7 to 9.3)

Biggest Expected Decline in Wins:
Green Bay (from 13 to 8.4) and San Francisco (from 13 to 10.2)

Most Expected Wins:
New Orleans (10.5)

Fewest Expected Wins:
Washington (5.1)

2020 Prediction Highlights

Worst to First?

Based on our 2020 preseason projections, which teams are most likely to go from worst in their division in 2018 to first in their divisions in 2020?

Last year, no team went from last to first (though the San Francisco 49ers went from 4-12 to 13-3, they had finished above Arizona the year before in the NFC West). Since 2002, a last-place division finisher has jumped to first place the next season no less than 20 different times. That’s slightly more than 1 last-to-first jump per season, on average. Our projections give Detroit and the Los Angeles Chargers (though admittedly still a long shot in the AFC West with Kansas City) the best odds of making it happen this year.

None of the last place finishers are favorites to win its division, or anywhere close to being the favorite. But when you add up of all of the probabilities, you would expect a total of about 0.6 division winners from this group. So the chances are slightly more likely than not that it happens again in 2020.

TeamDivisionOdds to Win Division
DetroitNFC North15.4%
LA ChargersAFC West11.8%
ArizonaNFC West 9.3%
MiamiAFC East8.2%
WashingtonNFC East 4.8%
JacksonvilleAFC South4.3%
CarolinaNFC South4.1%
CincinnatiAFC North3.3%

2020 NFL Playoffs Projections

Based on our preseason predictions, we can project the overall playoff picture for each conference at the close of the 2020 regular season.

AFC Playoffs Picture

SeedTeamAvg. Projected WinsPlayoff Odds
2Kansas City11.488.8%
3New England8.962.0%
Just MissedCleveland8.548.5%
Just MissedHouston7.740.3%

We have Buffalo and Cleveland in a virtual tie for the final wildcard spot, and in fact they have the same win projection. Buffalo, though, gets the nod because they have a slightly better chance of making the playoffs overall, because of their increased chances of winning the AFC East, compared to Cleveland’s chances in the AFC Central.

Less than a half-win separates the teams from the No. 3 seed to just missing out on the playoffs in the AFC in 2020, so it looks like a wide open race behind Kansas City and Baltimore.

NFC Playoffs Picture

SeedTeamAvg. Projected WinsPlayoff Odds
1New Orleans10.577.5%
2San Francisco10.273.6%
5Tampa Bay9.360.9%
Just MissedGreen Bay8.447.6%
Just MissedLos Angeles Rams8.344.8%

Our simulations show a pretty good chance that the No. 5 seed will have a better record than the No. 4 seed in the NFC, with three wildcard teams projected for a higher win total than the NFC North champion. Minnesota and Green Bay are virtually indistinguishable, with the Vikings having a slightly higher chance of winning the division.

How We Create Our 2020 NFL Preseason Predictions

As we noted in our explainer article on how we create NFL preseason rankings, we have identified a set of team-level metrics that have demonstrated utility for projecting a team’s upcoming season results.

We identified these metrics by reviewing over a decade’s worth of NFL data and applying significance tests to any interesting looking findings. We built an algorithmic model that uses the metrics with predictive power as inputs, and computes a preseason predictive rating for all 32 NFL teams.

A team’s preseason rating signifies how good we think it will be this coming season. Figuring out how many games we expect that team to win or how likely it is to make the playoffs, however, is a more complicated problem. To do that, we run thousands of computer simulations of the 2020 NFL season, using our predictive ratings to come up with implied win odds for each game.

Thanks to randomness, each season simulation plays out differently. Occasionally an unheralded team like Washington or Cincinnati gets lucky, makes a run and once in a blue moon, even wins the Super Bowl.

Over thousands of simulation runs, though, patterns in the results begin to emerge. The 2020 NFL preseason predictions presented in this post represent the averages of the thousands of season simulations we conducted.

Exactly What Do These 2020 NFL Preseason Predictions Mean?

It’s important to understand how our system generates the results it does, and precisely what they mean. Here are the key details:

  • We end up projecting a lot of fractional wins. That obviously can’t happen in real life. But we don’t want to reduce precision in the numbers just to make them look prettier. For example, a projected 9.6 win team has worse prospects than a projected 10.4 win team. If we rounded, they’d look the same (10 wins each).
  • Even if we project a team with X wins, it doesn’t mean we’re highly confident they’ll end up with that exact number. Let’s say we project a team with exactly eight wins. In our season simulations, eight wins was probably the most common outcome. But that team may have ended up with either seven or nine wins nearly as often, plus a lower chance to hit five or 11 wins. Our final projection, since it’s an average of all those numbers, ends up at 8 wins. But the odds of the team ending up with exactly 8 wins could be as low as only 15% or so.
  • NFL predictions can change slightly day-to-day, even with no new game results. Because we re-simulate the entire remaining 2020 season every day, randomness in simulation results may cause slight fluctuations in team projections from one day to the next, even if no new games have been played. So it’s wise not to read too much into tiny differences in our projections. A 0.2% difference in division winner odds between Green Bay and Chicago, for example, is not significant.

Why Is A Simulation-Driven Approach Valuable?

Despite some limitations, our data- and simulation-driven approach to making preseason NFL predictions has some clear advantages over alternative prediction methods.

Human NFL “experts” (some of them, at least) can be decent at projecting the future performance level of a team — especially one they’ve studied closely. But on the whole, humans tend to have a poor grasp of the potential impacts of probability and randomness over the course of a full NFL season.

For example, even knowledgeable “football people” tend to underestimate a great team’s odds of losing to a mediocre or bad team. To simplify the process of projecting team win totals, people often group games into broad categories like “easy win,” “likely win,” “toss-up,” etc. The implicit assumption is that easy win = definite win.

While it’s true that a team like Baltimore is unlikely to lose to a team like Jacksonville, upsets happen routinely in today’s NFL, and those small probabilities keep adding up game after game. So you can’t discount them, especially when division titles can be decided by just one win.

Running thousands of computer simulations of the 2020 NFL season, and directly observing the distribution of outcomes generated by all the various probabilities, is a much more objective and precise way to understand what is likely to happen.

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