The NFL season is finally here which means we're off in full force projecting win totals and the weekly spreads for you from now until Super Bowl Sunday.
Our readers from last year will remember our estimated win metric (EW) that we used a season ago and throughout the season for the Week 1 lines. EW is a powerful tool in projecting teams regressing and progressing this season using last years numbers, which all stems from the Pythagorean expectation formula invented by Bill James, the godfather of advanced statistics.
We'll still use those EW numbers even for this week's lines as they remain the most accurate predictor of the weekly Vegas spreads, but we also have another way to project a team's win-loss totals that was even more accurate in projecting last year's regular season numbers.
We'll call this estimated regression or ER. A method that all stems from using the same regression and progression numbers - taking our EW totals from 2016 and seeing how they differ (this is our Change value in the chart below) from that team's actual record, allowing us to see who underperformed and who outperformed their numbers - and applying it to Vegas’ regular season win totals (we used MyBookie and Oddshark here).
By projecting wins this way the results were quite impressive with an astonishing amount of accurate totals from a year ago. 14 teams had win totals projected within 1.5 wins of their actual final tally and only six teams with projections that were off by more than 3.5 games. The two greatest outliers being the Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears who under performed by six and five wins respectively. All in all these projections are quite accurate and they’re a perfect way to use EW and the Vegas lines to our advantage.
With that we applied ER and here's what we came up with. Below you'll find our most likely regression and progression teams for the upcoming NFL season and the entire chart below with our estimated wins for the year.
The Raiders are coming off a nice 12 win season that’ll be hard to replicate, particularly given their close game success. In games decided by 3 points or less the Raiders were a perfect 5-and-0 and they weren’t too bad in games decided by a touchdown or less, going 9-2. That also goes to show how many of the games they won could have gone either way.
With a defense that ranked dead last in yards per play allowed (or YPP another big metric for us here at BSN ATS) and few real improvements coming in the offseason, the offense will have to carry the load again and it won’t be easy. That’s especially true in an AFC West that has a real tough schedule and the Raiders have the fourth toughest schedule in the NFL per last year's win percentage.
All that could spell doom if the Raiders face a few injuries as they’re not a very deep team and rely on some key contributors. Vegas sees them regressing giving them a 9.5 win projection, our metrics go further projecting a true plummet to 6.5.
The Fins made the playoffs with a surprise 10-win season despite having allowed more points than they scored a year ago. It’s worth noting we projected them to regress even before Ryan Tannehill’s injury - an injury that hasn’t changed their Vegas number. With Miami expected to regress, as a 10-win season with a negative point differential is unsustainable, there’s really little room to see growth in this team from a year ago as the defense remains questionable and the offenses’ progression is much harder to see without Tannehill in the mix.
Regression is assumed at this point, it’s really more of a matter of how far they’ll fall. Vegas has them at 7.5 the same number our estimated win metric has, but when we apply the new variation we have them all the way down to 5 wins. With the sixth toughest schedule in the league per 2016 opponents wins percentage it'll be that much harder to prove our number wrong.
While Miami and Oakland might seem like pretty logical choices given the tentative sustainability of their past seasons, Houston is more of a surprise as they come into the year with a bit of hype.
Most of the excitement surrounding the Texans stems from the fact that they return a large part of their NFL leading scoring defense and add a healthy J.J. Watt to the mix. That sounds like a scary proposition.
Despite all that, Houston really wasn’t very good a year ago, winning the lowly AFC South with 9 wins while their vaunted ‘D’ allowed 49 more points than their offense scored a season ago.
The big x-factor here could be rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson who won't be starting Week 1, but rookie quarterbacks are a complete roll of the dice and head coach Bill O’Brien hasn’t had much success with first-time quarterbacks in his offense.
We’re projecting them at 6 wins this season.
The Cowboys were a big surprise a year ago and now everyone will be ready for them. Rookie sensation Dak Prescott will have much more pressure having to carry the load with Ezekiel Elliott’s looming six game suspension. They’ve also lost lots of snaps from a year ago in their secondary and the defense remains a question mark after a really nice season in 2016, especially defending the run.
After a dream season winning 13 a year ago Vegas has set their number at 9.5 and we have them even lower at 7.5.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are essentially in the opposite situation the Raiders find themselves in as they lost far too many close games in 2016, going 4-and-9 in one touchdown games and virtually playing every opponent they faced close. Make no mistake, this team is much better than the 5 wins they put together a season ago. The bigger issue will be their schedule which isn’t easy.
But they are loaded with young talent on defense that seems poised to break out and the offense can hurt you on the ground or in the air. How they handle the location and coaching changes could throw a wrench in these projections, but talent wise they seem poised for a big year.
Be warned by the Jaguars as it’s hard to have confidence in them especially considering they don’t have much confidence in their quarterback.
Things have mildly changed in the Jags front office and coaching staff but they're still probably too many familiar faces. However, this is a young team with some talent especially on defense where they took a big jump in 2016 and were the league’s fourth best team per YPP. That unit should only be better after some big additions in free agency.
There are still too many questions offensively, but this is a better team than the 3 wins they put up last year. They’ll also face the second easiest schedule in the league which should really help.
The Cards had a down year, where things just didn’t go according to plan. Despite all that, their stats on the season don’t look all that bad. They had the second best defense in the NFL per YPP and their offense was league average. They also had the league’s seventh best scoring margin last season with a +3.5 per game average.
This isn’t a bad team even though they do choke in most of their big games, they're still a winning squad with lots of solid pros on it. They won 7 a season ago, now Vegas has their number at 8.5 and we have them back to their winning ways with 11. They also have the 23rd hardest schedule in the league which will help.
Here’s the rest of the chart and other teams who are projected to regress or progress. The teams are listed in order of who we’re predicting to win the most on down. The second chart you’ll see here below are our Week 1 lines compared to the Vegas spreads by applying our same ER projections that we just detailed for you. Stay tuned for our EW Week 1 lines.