Late last week, I posted Todd McShay's 2017 mock draft, which used a draft order that featured Football Outsiders win projections. The draft order did not list specific win total projections by FO, but gave us a handle on at least the overall order of things. On Thursday, FO released the specific NFC win projections. They will likely change between now and the release of the FO Almanac, but it is a good starting point.
The 49ers come in at 3.9 mean wins, which FO rounds up to 4 for the purposes of projecting a record. The only team with a lower mean win projection is the Cleveland Browns at 3.6. There is nothing all that surprising about the projections given the many changes underway in Santa Clara. I would think Chip Kelly might be worth a little more in the bigger picture, but I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
Here is what FO had to say about the 49ers:
The 49ers are seriously talking about using Blaine Gabbert as their starting quarterback all year. They are getting used to yet another new offensive system, Anquan Boldin is gone with no clear replacement, and the strength of the rest of the NFC West gives San Francisco the toughest projected schedule in the league. At least the defense should rebound a bit after finishing 27th in DVOA a year ago.
FO projects the Arizona Cardinals to finish at the top of the NFC West, with a mean win total of 12. They have the Seattle Seahawks at 11.2, and the Los Angeles Rams at 7.2. A year ago, they had the Seahawks at 12.4, the 49ers at 7.1, the Cardinals at 6.3, and the Rams at 5.8. Obviously their system was way off with the Cardinals. They also had the Carolina Panthers at 7.0 mean wins, third in the NFC South, and Washington at 5.0 mean wins and last in the NFC East. Plenty changed. Here is what FO had to say about the NFC West
More than the AFC East, this is the division that may be decided by Tom Brady's suspension for Deflategate. Seattle has finished No. 1 overall in DVOA for an astonishing four straight seasons, and the Seahawks are our No. 1 projected team for 2016 as well. But Arizona is our projected No. 2 team, and there are two huge schedule differences that benefit the Cardinals. The first one is only a problem if we're correct about Aaron Rodgers returning to greatness: Arizona's first-place finish last year means the Cardinals go to Minnesota while Seattle has to travel to Green Bay. The second one will require federal court intervention to help the Seahawks: Arizona opens the season at home against the Jimmy Garoppolo-led Patriots while Seattle has to go to Foxborough to play the Patriots with Brady in Week 10.
But overall, these are the two best teams in the league going into 2016. Arizona has the No. 3 projection on both offense and defense. Seattle has the No. 2 projection on defense and the No. 4 projection on offense. Arizona's defense can't expect to get quite as many turnovers -- the Cardinals were second in the league with turnovers on 17.0 percent of drives -- but Chandler Jones will improve the pass rush. Seattle still has a problematic offensive line and needs to fill holes left by Brandon Mebane and Bruce Irvin, but the Seahawks have been consistently good for years now and there's no reason to expect something different in 2016.
Our QBASE projection system really loves No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff, but rookie quarterbacks still don't have a great track record, class of 2012 aside. The Rams also have to replace two starters in the secondary, plus inside linebacker James Laurinaitis. Combined with a very difficult schedule, it seems like a recipe for another 7-9 season, albeit one with a lot of hope for the future if Goff is as efficient as we expect.