Now that eight weeks of the 2019 NFL season have passed, we have enough data detailing the identity and potential of each team to really start sorting out who will be contending in January and who will be picking near the top of the 2020 NFL Draft next spring. Just as I did before the season began, I've used a model to generate projected final win totals for the 2019 campaign, providing a peek at how things could play out as we head down the final stretch toward the playoffs.
But before we get down to the business at hand -- revealing the numbers that my model spit out -- here's a quick explanation of how my model works:
My model compares this year's games with 15 previous seasons of situational production metrics that led to wins and losses (between 2004 and 2018). Tracking personnel, matchups, play-calling and results from past seasons establishes historical "profiles." The results from the games that have already been played this season are then collected and analyzed in the same way, with the model revealing similarities between the current iteration of each team and its past versions. Then each remaining game is simulated. The reason every game isn't a 50/50 coin flip is because each team has different strengths and weaknesses, and the ways in which two teams match up against each other have different historical references for what happened most often. Because there are many different ways the situational aspects of football can play out, it's necessary to run many, many simulations for each remaining game, to see how each of the involved teams' profiles stack up over a range of reasonable situations.
Just how many times do I simulate each game? Last year, I went with 20,000 simulations per game. But this season, given the number of high-profile injuries involving teams in contention (SEE: Patrick Mahomes) and landscape-shifting trades (Jalen Ramsey), I decided to up the number to 50,000 for each remaining game in the regular season.
OK, without further ado, let's get to what you came here for: projected win totals!
Below, you'll see projected win totals and projected playoff percentage listed for each NFC team, with projected playoff berths based on playoff percentages. Click here to see the AFC.
San Francisco 49ers: 12.7 wins (projected NFC West champions)
Current record: 8-0.
Projected playoff percentage: 70.3.
The Niners have the toughest remaining path to the postseason amongst any team I have projected to currently make the playoffs. Here are their most challenging tests: hosting Green Bay, at Baltimore, at New Orleans, hosting the Rams and a Seattle home-and-home. If you've heard anything I have said in the past eight weeks, you know I love this defense. And I also love that it pairs with efficient rushing (the Niners average 156.3 rush yards per game on first and second down, most in the NFL). Stout defense and a potent ground game work together in an extremely complementary way and drive the Niners to be favored in all of their remaining games except at New Orleans (47 percent).
UPDATE: With Thursday night's win over the Cardinals, the Niners' projected win total improved by 0.3 and their projected playoff percentage increased by 1.6 percent. This reflects that they increased both their chances of winning the division and securing at least a wild-card spot.
New Orleans Saints: 12.5 wins (projected NFC South champions)
Current record: 7-1.
Projected playoff percentage: 74.6.
Only the Patriots have a bigger positive disruption differential than the Saints, who sit at 7.4 percent. What does this mean? I use computer vision to measure how often defenses come within a 5-foot halo of the opposing quarterback's field of view on dropbacks to approximate influential defensive pressure. The differential measures how many times the defense achieves this compared to how often the offense lets this happen. The Saints' defense ranks third in this metric (26.7 percent) and their offense ranks eighth (19.3 percent) to net out at 7.4 percent. This -- along with Drew Brees' return to the lineup -- helps explain why the Saints are favored in at least 61 percent of simulations for each of their remaining games. Well, actually, there is one notable exception: When the 49ers come to New Orleans in Week 14, the Saints are only favored in 53 percent of simulations.
Green Bay Packers: 12.4 wins (projected NFC North champions)
Current record: 7-1.
Projected playoff percentage: 74.0.
It's entirely possible that the outcome of Week 12's matchup against the 49ers in Santa Clara could have a number of playoff implications in the NFC, including whether or not the Niners or Packers will earn a postseason bye week. Week 16 in Minnesota is the only other game where the Packers win in fewer than 58 percent of current forward-looking projections.
Seattle Seahawks: 11.3 wins (projected wild card)
Current record: 6-2.
Projected playoff percentage: 55.1.
The NFC West is still up for grabs and is most likely going to be determined by the two remaining 'Hawks-Niners matchups (Week 10 in San Francisco and Week 17 in Seattle). One stat I calculate is win-share, with a value assigned to each player, position group and side of the ball, reflecting their production on each play. (Does the player, group or unit being evaluated help the team earn a first down or score a touchdown on offense or prevent opponents from earning first downs or scoring touchdowns on defense?) Russell Wilson and the offense are significantly outpacing their defense in win-shares, which will be a big factor in determining their playoff potential.
Philadelphia Eagles: 9.7 wins (projected NFC East champions)
Current record: 4-4.
Projected playoff percentage: 50.5.
The Eagles have three home games that are the key to unlocking their postseason: New England (Week 11), Seattle (Week 12) and Dallas (Week 16). It's most likely that the NFC wild-card teams will come from the West or the North (or just two from the West), which is why the Eagles' playoff projections seem so low -- it's between them and the rival Cowboys for one postseason berth.
Los Angeles Rams: 9.6 wins (projected wild card)
Current record: 5-3.
Projected playoff percentage: 52.4.
After trading away Marcus Peters and adding Jalen Ramsey, the Rams' secondary is completely different from Week 1. Their next two opponents after this week's bye are Pittsburgh and Chicago, neither of which presents premium quarterbacking play at the moment. So it's possible we won't see the real impact and potential of this refurbished defense until the Week 12 game vs. Baltimore. However, my model increased the Rams' win potential at least 3 percent per game as soon as Ramsey was added.
Minnesota Vikings: 9.5 wins
Current record: 6-2.
Projected playoff percentage: 49.8.
Dallas Cowboys: 9.0 wins
Current record: 4-3.
Projected playoff percentage: 49.5.
Why are the Cowboys' playoff projections lower than the Eagles', despite a head-to-head win over Philly? It's because of their remaining win projections primarily for games in New England (Week 12), hosting the Rams (Week 15) and in Philadelphia (Week 16). If the Cowboys' O-line is healthy, their win projections typically increase from 2 to 5 percent. Since the East is likely to only produce one playoff team, a small positive or negative move by the Eagles or Cowboys has a big impact.
Carolina Panthers: 8.4 wins
Current record: 4-3.
Projected playoff percentage: 46.5.
Luke Kuechly's two interceptions and six passes defensed are just part of the reason why he has the second-highest win-share among middle linebackers in my model so far this season.
Detroit Lions: 7.9 wins
Current record: 3-3-1.
Projected playoff percentage: 26.8.
Chicago Bears: 7.1 wins
Current record: 3-4.
Projected playoff percentage: 37.6.
In an attempt to measure chips and double-teams, I have used computer vision to track how often players are contacted for at least one second (chip) and longer by multiple opponents (double-team). Khalil Mack has been chipped and double-teamed at the third-highest rate this season (38.9 percent), yet he ranks fourth among edge rushers in win-share.
Arizona Cardinals: 5.3 wins
Current record: 3-5-1.
Projected playoff percentage: 1.4.
Circle Week 10's trip to Tampa Bay and Week 15's home game vs. the Browns as two to watch closely. The Bucs game projects to be high-scoring, include some drama (turnovers) -- and I expect Kyler Murray's highest fantasy output of the season. The Browns game features two extremely interesting quarterbacks with very different surrounding casts. Quick beware here: Kyler has two games against the Niners sandwiched around that trip to Tampa, so don't plug-and-play him any week but that one.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 5.1 wins
Current record: 2-5.
Projected playoff percentage: 3.9.
New York Giants: 4.8 wins
Current record: 2-6.
Projected playoff percentage: 5.0.
The Giants' year-over-year O-line rating has improved the most from last season. In all of the ways I rank O-lines (including rushing, passing, obvious passing and red area), the 2018 Giants' unit ranked in the mid-to-high 20s, resulting in an overall OL rating of No. 26 on the season. So far this year, the G-Men are tracking at No. 18.
Atlanta Falcons: 4.1 wins
Current record: 1-7.
Projected playoff percentage: 3.7.
Washington Redskins: 3.1 wins
Current record: 1-7.
Projected playoff percentage: 0.0.
After Week 9 of this season (when the Redskins play a stout Bills defense) and certainly at the beginning of next season, receiver Terry McLaurin projects to be a key piece on this offense (and your fantasy team). His production trajectory and historical comps could be worth an early-round pick in your 2020 fantasy draft.