Home > 2011 Lockout, Game Picks, NFL, Schedule > The LiveBall Sports 2011 NFL Season Mega-Preview: Part II

The LiveBall Sports 2011 NFL Season Mega-Preview: Part II

Part 1 of the NFL preview can be seen here.

NFC East

LiveBall Sports QDS Projections:

Eagles 10.0 wins
Giants 9.5 wins
Cowboys 8.1 wins
Redskins 7.1 wins

As stated in part one, the win projections on this entire division feel inflated because I’m using an equation instead of a simulation based projection.  And so, yes, saying the Giants are going to challenge for 10 wins seems foolish given the premises.  But they’re one of the favorites for this division.  The half win projection difference between the Giants and Eagles is almost entirely a strength of schedule thing.  I’d bet a one-win under on each of these teams for the year: 6 for the Redskins, 7 for the Cowboys, 9 for the Giants, and 9 for the Eagles, which would put the NFC East a game under .500 this year.

The preseason struggles of the Eagles and Giants might not mean a lot, but its a nice development for the Redskins and Cowboys, two teams who wouldn’t have much of a chance to win a strong division in a standard year, but with the NFC East a bit down this year, the Redskins and the Cowboys have hope this year that they might not otherwise have.  In particular, the Redskins projection is up a bit over the pre-free agency projection thanks to improvements made on the defensive line.

NFC West

Cardinals 7.8 wins
49ers 6.8 wins
Rams 6.2 wins
Seahawks 5.5 wins

The Cardinals expectation for 8-8 is not based off of an offseason acquisition, but off of recent history: above .500 in both 2008 and 2009, making them by far the class of this division.  The Rams should be better on defense this year, but 6.2 wins may be pushing the limits of an offense where Sam Bradford is working with C+ players.

I like the Seahawks a lot more than 5.5 wins suggests, and I think they’ll be back atop this division before long.  For the Cardinals, it’s nice that they made an aggressive trade to strike while the division is there for the taking.  I don’t think the 49ers will be quite as good as 7 wins this year, but if you throw last season out of the results (6 wins, mind you), they’ve been the most consistent team in the division over the last few years.  Predicting 4-12 or worse for the 49ers just wouldn’t follow from the premises.

The only team that figures to decline from last season is St. Louis, the team which most observers expect to improve.  The Seahawks are the easy money pick for last because they have very little upside at the QB position or on defense.  And as usual, this division will struggle yet again.

AFC South

Texans 10.1 wins
Titans 8.2 wins
Colts 8.0 wins
Jaguars 5.3 wins

Observers are far too down on the Colts this season.  This is not going to be “their year,” quite clearly, but this is an offensive unit that could make Kerry Collins look similar to Brett Favre at the end of his career.  And with Mathis and Freeney healthy and rushing the passer, the Colts are going to be in every game they play this year.  The Texans won’t be able to cakewalk them in Week 1.

Now, I don’t think anyone is particularly shocked by that Jags projection, which is even not penalizing the Jags for dumping David Garrard (there is no mechanism by which they would be preemptively punished for Luke McCown being a below replacement QB, something we just don’t know he is), but doesn’t see a bounceback year for the defense, and mostly sees the Jags much as the same team they were last season, but without the luck, and with a tough second place schedule.

The Titans on the other hand are really highly projected, not independent of the fact that this was a 13-3 team just three years ago, and could rebound to just below that level.  With that said, this roster does not project to rebound.  Chris Johnson is maybe the best in the league at what he does, and a last place schedule will fit the Titans well, but I don’t see 8 wins (or even a competitive year).  Of course, the reason for running the numbers in the first place is to get a couple results that make you go, “huh?” and rethink my position on a team.  Even after reflection, I’m not a buyer on the Titans.

AFC North

Steelers 13.1 wins
Ravens 9.7 wins
Browns 6.6 wins
Bengals 5.0 wins

My impression from the preseason was that the Ravens just aren’t going to be in it at all this year.  Their offensive line is a sieve.  I expect regression from their quarterback position this year.  The receiving corps may be new, but it’s just not very good.  Ray Rice has one good season in three as a pro.   Todd Heap is out at TE, and who knows how Ed Dickson will fit into that offense?  With the offense looking like that and the defense in full on age decline, this has the potential to be a disaster season for the Ravens.

A horrible year for Baltimore would open a door for Cleveland.  These projections are not high on Cleveland, particularly looking at their defense as a major work in progress and not seeing the impact from the rookie class typically expected in a surprise team.  But Cleveland can throw it around on offense, and they have the balance to run the ball and close out the clock in close games, something they struggled with at the beginning of last season.  With strong special teams, this offense will be the best friend of that defense.

And I don’t think I would write off Dick Jauron’s defense either.  It’s clearly understaffed at two of the three levels (the secondary is the lone exception), but Jauron’s simple execution schemes can lead to quick turnarounds, and DT Phil Taylor has looked better than I expected on the interior.  The Browns have a really good shot to be a winning team this year for only the third time since coming in as an expansion team in 1999.

But the Steelers will run away with the AFC North, if not the entire conference.  13 wins isn’t a misprint, it’s a baseline expectation for how much winning the Steelers should do against one of the weakest schedules in memory.  The Steelers have won more against harder schedules, and with a full year of Ben Roethlisberger and enough time to sort through considerable OL issues, the Steelers should be right back in the mix to win the AFC this season.


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