The folks at Football Outsiders will be releasing their annual Almanac later this summer, and as the release approaches, they are providing updated win projections. Their projection system offered up a look at each team prior to the draft, and now is offering some post-draft updates.
The San Francisco 49ers were busy in the draft, but with a slowly developing rebuilding process, it is not surprising their mean projected wins did not change. They were at 5.2 prior to the draft, and remain their since the draft.
The 49ers and Cleveland Browns have the lowest mean wins projections, both at 5.2. It is worth noting that does not mean FO is projecting the two worst teams to go 5-11. In the article, FO founder Aaron Schatz acknowledges that extensive randomness in the NFL means any team has a wide range of potential outcomes.
There's a lot of randomness in the NFL: Player development is difficult to predict, injuries have a huge impact, and even the better team on an individual day might not win a game because of the arbitrary bounce of a fumble or a tipped pass. A team projected to go 7-9 could realistically end up anywhere between 3-13 and 11-5. Taking the average of so many possibilities, all teams end up grouped more toward 8-8 with few teams listed with double-digit wins or losses. We've tweaked the results slightly to get a more realistic spread of win-loss records, but nonetheless, the numbers published below don't mean that we expect the 2017 season to end with no team below 5-11.
In his NFC West projections, the Seattle Seahawks climbed from 11.2 to 11.4 mean wins, the Arizona Cardinals dropped from 9.7 to 8.6, and the Los Angeles Rams climbed from 8.1 to 8.2. The Rams projection caught plenty off guard. Here’s what Schatz had to say about that.
Our Rams forecast got a lot of surprised reaction when we published our projections in April. There are two big reasons for the positive prediction. First, it is almost impossible for the Rams' offense to be as bad in 2017 as it was in 2016. Last year's Rams had the fourth-worst offensive DVOA in the past 30 seasons. Improving that to just garden-variety bad, something akin to last year's Texans, would be worth a win or two. Second, Wade Phillips has a phenomenal record of improving defenses in his first year as head coach or defensive coordinator.
Phillips' scheme will likely have a similar effect in Los Angeles, where the defense was already loaded with talent in the front seven but underperformed and finished just 15th in defensive DVOA in 2016. Our current projections put them 28th on offense, second on defense (behind Seattle), and third on special teams (behind Baltimore and New England), which would be enough to make the Rams playoff contenders.
The Rams have some impressive pieces on the defensive side of the ball. The addition of Wade Phillips would seem to bode well for that group. And with a young coach in Sean McVay, Phillips can serve as a valuable mentor. I don’t think we see them making the playoffs, but if McVay can improve that offense even a little bit, they could be a dangerous team in 2017.
The New England Patriots top FO’s mean wins projection, at 13.4 They are followed by the Pittsburgh Steelers (12.9), Seattle Seahawks (11.4), and Green Bay Packers (10.7) as the teams in double digits.
The biggest turnarounds belong to the Rams, Carolina Panthers, and Jacksonville Jaguars. We discussed the Rams above. The Panthers finished last in the NFC South last season, but are projected to top the division this year. FO looks at this coming from a rebound on both sides of the ball coupled with an easier schedule.
The Jaguars finished last in the AFC South, but FO sees them potentially finishing right behind the Tennessee Titans. People have been trying to buy into the Jaguars for several years now, so we’ll see if it actually pans out for once.