AccuScore: Patriots eyeing AFC’s No. 1 seed

More AFC previews: East | North | South | West

AccuScore uses past player performance statistics to describe how players perform under different environmental, match-up, and game situation conditions. AccuScore has simulated the 2009 NFL season 10,000 times one play at a time based on the rosters and depth charts. We provide a forecasted win-loss record based on the average of these 10,000 simulations along with the probability each team has of making the playoffs as a division winner or wild-card team.

It seems like every season there is a young team that comes out of nowhere to win 10-plus games and immediately becomes everybody’s Super Bowl sleeper the next campaign. Fitting the bill were the Cleveland Browns last year, the New York Jets in 2007, and Cincinnati Bengals in 2006. While these teams had good seasons the previous seasons, they significantly benefited from having an easy schedule. The ’07 Browns for example played just four games against playoff teams.

In addition to forecasted wins, losses and the probability the team has of making the playoffs, AccuScore lists each team’s opponents’ combined winning percentage in 2008 (OPP ’08) and the ’08 winning percentage of their 2009 opponents (OPP ’09) because schedule strength is often the key determinant for predicting when a team will improve or take a step back from last season.

AFC PLAYOFF CHANCES W L Playoffs Wild card Win Div OPP '08 OPP '09
New England Patriots* 11.9 4.1 94.2% 10.2% 83.9% 48% 59%
San Diego Chargers* 10.9 5.1 94.0% 2.1% 91.9% 54% 48%
Pittsburgh Steelers* 10.4 5.7 77.7% 25.5% 52.3% 53% 43%
Baltimore Ravens 10.0 6.0 72.5% 27.7% 44.8% 56% 44%
Indianapolis Colts* 10.0 6.1 67.7% 18.3% 49.4% 50% 51%
Tennessee Titans 9.0 7.0 49.6% 21.3% 28.2% 47% 51%
Miami Dolphins 8.6 7.5 39.4% 28.6% 10.7% 47% 59%
Jacksonville Jaguars 7.9 8.1 27.4% 15.1% 12.3% 54% 52%
Houston Texans 7.7 8.3 22.4% 12.3% 10.1% 52% 50%
Buffalo Bills 7.4 8.6 18.8% 14.9% 3.8% 45% 57%
Oakland Raiders 6.5 9.5 11.1% 6.2% 4.9% 52% 48%
New York Jets 6.4 9.6 9.2% 7.6% 1.5% 47% 57%
Cincinnati Bengals 5.9 10.1 5.2% 3.5% 1.7% 55% 46%
Cleveland Browns 5.7 10.3 4.5% 3.3% 1.2% 57% 45%
Denver Broncos 5.4 10.6 3.7% 1.7% 2.0% 46% 48%
Kansas City Chiefs 5.2 10.8 2.8% 1.6% 1.2% 54% 48%
*Highest Probability of Winning Their Division

Playoff contenders

The 2009 AFC playoffs are looking a lot like the 2008 playoffs with the Chargers, Colts, Steelers, Ravens and Dolphins all finishing in the Top 7 in terms of playoff probability. The changes at the top of the conference: the Titans are averaging just 9.0 wins per season simulation and the Patriots getting to the playoffs thanks to the return of Tom Brady(notes). The Titans are taking a step back in AccuScore simulations because they have a tougher schedule in ’09, they lost Albert Haynesworth(notes) via free agency and the rest of the AFC South’s teams are expected to play better than they did in 2008.

In the AFC, there are eight teams with a legit shot at making the playoffs. This includes the Jaguars (a team most people are currently ignoring) who were a horribly disappointing 5-11 in 2008. Injuries significantly hurt the Jaguars’ ability to run the ball which had a negative domino effect (more 3rd-and-long situations for quarterback David Garrard(notes), fewer first downs, defense was on the field too much, etc.). If the Jaguars can re-establish their running game behind Maurice Jones-Drew(notes), they can return to the playoff picture.

Teams with less than a 20-percent chance

There are seven AFC teams with less than a 20-percent chance of making the playoffs. There are just three teams in the NFC with less than a 20-percent chance. Included in the AFC teams are the Bills. They are a victim of being in a highly competitive division. The Bills could be a better team in 2009 with the addition of Terrell Owens(notes), but they are expected to win fewer games because Brady is back for the Patriots and the Bills chances of winning the division are slim.

The West is clearly the weak division in the AFC as three out of four teams have less than a 20-percent chance of making the playoffs. The Chiefs, Broncos and Raiders have a combined 9.5 percent chance of making the playoffs as a wild card.

The Jets have made a lot of noise in the offseason with the arrival of former Ravens Rex Ryan, Bart Scott(notes), and the underrated Jim Leonhard(notes). The problem for the Jets is not going to be on defense though it is important to note that a lot of Ryan’s success was tied to the play-making and diverse skill set of Ed Reed(notes). The Ravens were good long before Ryan arrived. He was clearly part of the Ravens’ success, but do not expect the Jets to go from allowing more than 22 points per game down to 15 like the Ravens. AccuScore is also not expecting Mark Sanchez(notes) to have the type of impact that Matt Ryan(notes) or Joe Flacco(notes) had last season. Sanchez is not used to playing in bad weather and it does not get much worse than the Meadowlands in the winter.

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