AccuScore: Saints, Chargers have best playoffs odds

AccuScore uses past performance statistics to describe how players perform under different environmental, matchup, and game-situation conditions. Using projected starting lineups AccuScore simulates each game of the season one play at a time. By repeating the simulation 10,000 to 20,000 times per game AccuScore calculates the precise probability teams have of winning each game, winning their division, and making the playoffs. Here is the preseason analysis of the 2010 NFL season. Visit for weekly updates to the season forecast and all game forecasts.

In a 16-game season, win-loss record doesn’t necessarily best indicate the better teams. Strength of schedule is a very close second to talent in determining how a team will do in any given season. For example, Baltimore is AccuScore’s solid favorite to win the AFC North while Cincinnati is third in the division, but in their head-to-head matchups the Bengals actually win slightly more than 50 percent of the simulations of the two games. The teams may be equal on the simulated playing field, but Cincinnati has a tougher schedule thanks to winning the division last year. Unlike Baltimore, Cincinnati has to face the Colts (in Indianapolis) and San Diego, the two leading teams in our AFC season forecast.

The Chargers are not necessarily the best team in the AFC but the lack of competition in the division helps them cruise to an 11-win season and an 82.6 percent chance of winning the division. Ryan Mathews(notes) looks more than capable of replacing LaDainian Tomlinson(notes). Even without Vincent Jackson(notes), the offense should still be dynamic enough to take the AFC West. AccuScore gives a slight second place edge in the AFC West to Oakland, which no longer has to worry about JaMarcus Russell(notes) singlehandedly losing games this year. Like the Raiders, the Chiefs are pegged to be improved this season after some solid upgrades in the offseason. The Broncos are picked last in the division, but they are averaging less than one fewer win than second-place Oakland.

The Colts are picked to once again win the AFC South. The Titans, Texans and Jaguars are all finishing with just under .500 records on average. The Colts have the worst running game in the division, but they showed last year that this is not a big deal when you can pass like the Colts can. The Colts are 77 percent favorites to win the division, which is nearly as high as the Chargers’ chances in the AFC West.

Besides having an easier schedule than Cincinnati, the Ravens did a great job of addressing some pressing needs in the offseason. Baltimore is averaging 10 wins per simulation. If Joe Flacco(notes) can complete 65-plus percent of his passes (projected for 61 percent in simulations), then they could be an 11-plus win team. While the Ravens are the pick in the division, they only have a 14-percentage point edge (41 to 27) vs. the third-place Bengals. The Ravens have struggled in head-to-head matchups vs. the Steelers and Bengals, so even though they are AccuScore’s favorite they still will need to at least split with these teams to win the division.

The Jets may be favored by many to win the AFC East, but people need to remember that while they were one game away from the Super Bowl, there were also one half of the Colts resting their starters away from being 8-8 and a non-playoff team. Mark Sanchez(notes) is expected to be better this year, but even if he improves his completion percentage by 5 percent, his TD rate by 25 percent and cuts his INTs by 25 percent, he is still a statistically below-average starting QB. The Jets have a very tough schedule and when your QB has a rating lower than 80, it is hard to win more than nine games. The Patriots have a lot of question marks on defense and an aging offense but they are the favorite in the AFC East.

AFC Wins Losses Playoffs Win div.
San Diego Chargers 11.3 4.7 90.0% 82.6%
Indianapolis Colts 10.9 5.1 86.0% 77.3%
Baltimore Ravens 10.0 6.0 68.4% 41.0%
Pittsburgh Steelers 9.6 6.4 61.9% 31.8%
New England Patriots 9.0 7.0 55.5% 43.7%
Cincinnati Bengals 9.3 6.7 54.1% 26.8%
New York Jets 8.7 7.3 47.4% 34.4%
Tennessee Titans 7.7 8.3 25.8% 10.8%
Miami Dolphins 7.6 8.4 25.0% 16.9%
Oakland Raiders 7.6 8.4 21.4% 7.5%
Houston Texans 7.5 8.5 21.3% 9.3%
Kansas City Chiefs 7.2 8.8 15.3% 5.9%
Denver Broncos 6.9 9.1 11.4% 4.0%
Buffalo Bills 6.2 9.8 7.7% 5.0%
Jacksonville Jaguars 6.3 9.8 7.6% 2.8%
Cleveland Browns 4.8 11.2 1.3% 0.4%

The Saints cannot expect to force as many turnovers this year as they did last season, but they can expect to average around 30 points per game with their offensive talent. Even if the defense regressed and allowed 24 points (up from 21 last year), they would still be at an average margin of victory of plus-6 and headed for an 11- or 12-win season. Atlanta is excited about the healthy return of Michael Turner(notes), but that is not enough to close the gap with the Saints. The Panthers could be a surprisingly good 8-8 team even without Julius Peppers(notes) because they do not have Jake Delhomme(notes) blowing games with turnovers anymore.

Many are picking the Packers to take the NFC North and they are averaging the third most wins in the conference, but the Vikings are still AccuScore’s pick at 57 percent vs. the Packers’ 39 percent. Minnesota cannot expect Brett Favre(notes) to be as good as he was last year, statistically. However, even if he regresses with 14 to 16 INTs as AccuScore expects, the Vikings are still in position to win the division. The Bears and Lions may have taken steps to improve their teams, but in simulations it’s not enough to close the gap on the Packers and Vikings.

The NFC West has no team averaging more than nine wins per simulation, but at nine exactly, the 49ers are AccuScore’s pick at 70 percent to win the division. The Cardinals will take a major step backward with the turnover prone, inaccurate Derek Anderson(notes) at QB. The Seahawks have improved their talent, but AccuScore simulations suggest Pete Carroll won’t provide any special boost to the team just because he had great success at USC. The Rams have also substantially improved but even with a 400-percent improvement, they are still a four-win team.

The NFC East is once again going to the Cowboys in a majority of simulations (52.7 percent). The Giants are picked second with a 25.7 percent chance of winning the division. The reason why Philadelphia is not faring well is Kevin Kolb(notes), in a limited sample, has been interception prone. The Redskins are improved this year, but even with a +3 win improvement, they are still just a seven-win team.

NFC Wins Losses Playoffs Win div.
New Orleans Saints 11.5 4.5 92.6% 79.4%
Minnesota Vikings 10.6 5.4 82.2% 57.3%
San Francisco 49ers 9.0 7.0 72.8% 70.3%
Green Bay Packers 10.0 6.0 70.3% 38.6%
Dallas Cowboys 9.8 6.2 67.7% 52.7%
New York Giants 8.6 7.4 44.4% 25.7%
Atlanta Falcons 8.7 7.3 42.4% 11.8%
Carolina Panthers 8.0 8.0 29.5% 8.1%
Philadelphia Eagles 7.4 8.6 22.8% 11.2%
Washington Redskins 7.4 8.6 22.1% 10.5%
Arizona Cardinals 6.8 9.2 22.1% 19.0%
Chicago Bears 6.8 9.2 12.1% 3.6%
Seattle Seahawks 5.9 10.1 11.5% 9.3%
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5.8 10.2 4.3% 0.7%
St. Louis Rams 4.2 11.9 1.7% 1.5%
Detroit Lions 5.0 11.0 1.5% 0.4%

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Updated Wednesday, Sep 8, 2010