Last year, our model correctly predicted a dramatic rise for the Eagles. There are some surprises in the 2023 NFL predictor’s rankings as well, and we break them down by division.
Last year saw some teams surge up the standings (like the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles) while some usual powerhouses retained their places among the NFL’s elite (like the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs).
To determine which teams have a shot at glory this year, we have used 2023 NFL predictor to give its projections ahead of Thursday’s opener. The model projects every matchup of the regular season and gives each team a predicted win percentage across its games.
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Rather than being a simulator of future games, the projections are calculated by looking at each team’s quarterback and EVE (efficiency vs. expected) performance in terms of yards added in expected passing situations as well as team values for pass protection/pass rush, skill position players/coverage defenders and run blocking/run defense.
Last year, the model correctly predicted a dramatic rise for the Eagles and a terrible season for the Chicago Bears. There are some surprises in this year’s rankings as well, and we’ll break them down by division.
NFC East: Can the Eagles Hold Off the Cowboys?
The Eagles were a team many projected to take a step forward last year, but the team going all the way to the Super Bowl was a surprise for those making prognostications in the preseason (although our model guessed they would have the second-most wins in the league).
Now, with a first-place schedule on the horizon, can they hold off the Dallas Cowboys, a team our model likes more than consensus?
The model sees it as likely and gives the Eagles the best chance of winning the division (57.6%) and making the playoffs (94.5%). It’s easy to see why. Although the Eagles lost talented players, they are still as deep with talent as any team in the league, nabbed a potential difference-maker in Jalen Carter with the ninth pick in the draft and feature an ascending quarterback in Jalen Hurts. The team showed its high ceiling last year and should have a high floor as well with the depth at most spots, especially on defense.
Cowboys fans shouldn’t be too deterred by the model’s love for the Eagles, though. Our projections have the Cowboys with the fifth-most wins in the NFL at 11.0 and the second-best playoff odds at 90.5%. Dallas has one of the best defensive players in the league in Micah Parsons and a playmaking star corner in Trevon Diggs. On offense, Dak Prescott is surrounded by a solid group, with Brandin Cooks fortifying the receiving room. If Tony Pollard can stay healthy with more touches, it could be a breakout year for the fifth-year running back. The Cowboys were one of five teams with a point differential of plus-100 or better last season and look poised to have double-digit wins once again.
Our model is more skeptical of the other playoff team from the division last year, as it gives the New York Giants only a 15.7% chance of a return trip to the postseason. Daniel Jones broke out last year, but there are still questions as to whether he can truly be a difference-maker. Darren Waller could be a huge boost to a lackluster receiving corps but he has to prove he can stay on the field. And the Giants finished with a minus-six point differential last year, hardly an indicator of an elite team.
The model sees even darker times for the Washington Commanders, who in large part due to the strength of the division, are projected to have the second-fewest wins in the NFL at 6.2. The Commanders lack a sure thing at quarterback and have a suspect offensive line, which is not a recipe for offensive success.
NFC North: Will the Lions Finally Get Back to the Playoffs?
While most seem to think that the Detroit Lions are the team to beat in the NFC North, our model thinks the Minnesota Vikings will take the crown again.
The Vikings, who somehow went 13-4 despite a negative point differential last season, will likely take a step backward. However, our projections have them at a division-best 9.3 wins. It helps to have one of the best players in the league in Justin Jefferson and draft pick Jordan Addison to replace Adam Thielen. Add in a full season of T.J. Hockenson, and the receiving corps should give Kirk Cousins enough weapons to keep the offense humming. The bigger questions are on defense, but the Vikings benefit from being a weaker division that is now without Aaron Rodgers.
The Lions haven’t won a playoff game since 1991, but the model thinks this could be the year. It has given Detroit a 54.7% chance of making the playoffs.
The Bears had the worst record in the league last year, but the model projects a modest step forward and 7.4 wins. The upgrades at offensive line and receiver should finally give Justin Fields some talent to work with, and investments at linebacker should give the Bears one of the best linebacking units in football. But the lack of pass-rushing talent could doom the defense.
The Green Bay Packers find themselves in an unfamiliar place, projected to finish last in Year 1 without Rodgers. The team struggled to an 8-9 record last season and could be even worse off this year if Jordan Love has some bumps along the way in his first season as quarterback. The defense has the talent to give them some upside, but it will have to perform better than last season to give the Packers a puncher’s chance in the division.
NFC South: Who Takes Advantage of Tom Brady’s Retirement?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the NFC South title almost by default last year at 8-9, but Tom Brady’s retirement has left a wide-open division with even more questions. Our model sees this as most likely a two-team race.
The New Orleans Saints signed Derek Carr in hopes of solidifying their quarterback spot and although Carr isn’t going to be winning the MVP award anytime soon, he could be good enough to give his team the division. With Carr at the helm, the Saints are projected to have the best chance of winning the division at 44.3%.
The Carolina Panthers traded up for their new quarterback, selecting Bryce Young first in the NFL Draft. Young won’t have the best-position player group around him, but he should benefit from a good offensive line. The defense also has plenty of talent, so if Young plays well out of the gate, the Panthers could threaten the Saints for the division crown. Our model projects them at 8.4 wins, almost exactly .500.
With no elite team, the Atlanta Falcons also have a 20.0% shot at winning the division, with Bijan Robinson bolstering an already strong rushing attack. The Falcons hope Desmond Ridder can take the next step, and that newly acquired Jessie Bates can help fortify a weak defense.
The Buccaneers seem very unlikely to repeat and look primed to tear down an aging roster with Brady out the door. There is talent at receiver, but questions at most other spots on the roster. That includes quarterback, where Baker Mayfield has been named the starter. Our model projects the Bucs to finish around 7-10 with just a 23.9% chance of making the playoffs.
NFC West: Are the 49ers Vulnerable?
With a star-studded roster and a 13-4 record last year, it’s a bit surprising to see our model projecting the San Francisco 49ers as only a 9.8-win team. However, San Francisco is still tied for the third-best odds to win its division of any team in the league at 64.7%.
If the team can weather some uncertainty at quarterback and keep the dynamic Christian McCaffrey healthy, it could be another excellent season in the Bay.
The model sees the Seattle Seahawks as the closest contender to the 49ers in the NFC West, though it’s only projected to finish with 8.1 wins and a 36.7% chance of making the NFL playoffs. Dre’Mont Jones was a huge signing for the defense in the offseason and is a huge upgrade at a position of need.
Our model sees the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals fighting to stay out of last place. Both teams are likely to be rebuilding heading into 2024.
AFC East: Can the Bills Keep Dominating a Tougher Division?
The Buffalo Bills appear to be on their way to a fourth straight AFC East title with a 73.6% probability of finishing first in the challenging division. The model gives Josh Allen and the Bills a 14.4% chance of winning the Super Bowl – the third highest behind the Eagles (20.8%) and Chiefs (14.8%).
That’s despite the AFC East featuring three other teams that could be good. The Miami Dolphins have a 30.1% chance to make the playoffs and the New York Jets obviously pushed a lot of chips in when they acquired Rodgers. The team should be good, but Jets fans are probably hoping for more than the 8.4 wins our model predicts.
The New England Patriots are projected to be the best fourth-place team in the league with 7.3 wins. Even if Mac Jones and the offense bounce back this year, it’ll be hard to rise up the standings in such a competitive division.
AFC North: Are the Browns This Year’s Eagles?
There have been some surprises with the projections so far, but no division’s projections are as surprising as the AFC North’s.
The model has the Pittsburgh Steelers as the top team in the division (59.3% chance to win the North) and the Cleveland Browns (15.3%) edging out the Baltimore Ravens (14.3%) for second place. T.J. Watt’s return gives the Pittsburgh defense the boost it needs to be a really strong unit. If Kenny Pickett and George Pickens continue to improve, the Steelers could head back to the playoffs after missing the postseason last year despite a 9-8 record.
The Cleveland Browns loaded up a roster last year and traded for DeShaun Watson, who was suspended 11 games for violation of the league’s personal conduct policy. The team staggered to a disappointing 7-10 record and was the only team in the division with a losing record.
The roster has stars on both sides of the ball, with an elite offensive line leading the way for star running back Nick Chubb. And Myles Garrett is one of the best defenders in the game, leading a talented and deep defensive unit. If Watson performs better than he did after returning from suspension last year, the Browns have a good chance of reaching the playoffs. Our model gives them a 44.7% chance.
The Ravens had a moment of uncertainty this offseason when it looked like Lamar Jackson might not return, but he is back in the fold and hoping his offense is healthier this year. Newly drafted Zay Flowers should help. The defense isn’t as good as some of the team’s glorious past teams, but a full season of Roquan Smith in the middle should help.
Perhaps even more stunning than the Browns’ projection is the skepticism the model has regarding the Cincinnati Bengals, who have won the division with two straight double-digit win seasons. Despite the talent at quarterback and receiver, the model is skeptical of the team’s offensive line. And Jessie Bates could be a big loss. Perhaps it’s hard to measure Joe Burrow’s coolness through advanced data.
AFC South: Can Anybody Step up and Challenge the Jaguars?
The Jacksonville Jaguars are far from a perfect team but look to be on the upswing after winning nine games and the division last season. Our model predicts they’ll increase that win total (9.7 projected victories) this season as the clear favorite to win the division (63.5%).
The Houston Texans are surprisingly projected for the second-most wins (8.1), with C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson hopefully giving the team the anchors it needs on both sides of the ball. Despite some obvious question marks, our model likes Houston enough to give the squad a 23.2% chance of winning the division and a 35.2% chance of making the playoffs.
The Indianapolis Colts are projected to finish well behind the Texans (6.8 wins) with rookie Anthony Richardson starting at quarterback. The Colts are hoping for a rebound season from Jonathan Taylor and that All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard can get healthy and help the defense improve.
The Tennessee Titans look like a team that could shift to rebuilding if they start out slow, as they have an aging roster that is projected for an NFL-worst 5.9 wins.
AFC West: Can the Chargers Knock Off the Super Bowl Champion?
It’s no surprise that Patrick Mahomes and the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs are division favorites.
And our model gives them a 66.5% chance of repeating as division champions – the second-highest probability in the league behind the Bills (73.6%).
The Los Angeles Chargers are behind them with an 14.4% probability of taking the West. The team has never quite reached elite status despite Justin Herbert and Joey Bosa being joined by a talented roster, but this could be the year the Chargers finally put it all together.
The Las Vegas Raiders sit third in the projections with a 10.4% probability of winning the division and a 35.6% chance of making the playoffs.
The Denver Broncos are an interesting case as a post-hype team, and our model sees a modest bounce back to 8.5 wins. But that’s barely behind the Raiders (8.6) and Chargers (8.9). If Sean Payton can get the most out of Russell Wilson, there’s enough talent on the Broncos to make a playoff run.
Our model gives them a 33.7% chance.
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