ESPN’s Football Power Index likes the Saints to win a weak NFC South
It’s been a rough month for ESPN’s analytical arm. The worldwide leader in sports misfired on its predictions for the 2023 NFL draft, giving former Kentucky quarterback Will Levis a 92% chance of being picked in the top-10, and less than 0.1% that he wouldn’t be picked in the first round at all (he wasn’t, in fact, and was picked up in a trade in Round 2).
Things haven’t gotten much better for ESPN’s analytical models, which (so far) botched their predictions for the NBA playoffs and currently have the Boston Celtics with a 65% chance of rallying back to win a series with the Miami Heat they currently trail 2-0. They probably need to put that cake back in the oven.
So what does this mean for the New Orleans Saints? ESPN Analytics’ Seth Walder, whose Football Power Index (or FPI) likes the Saints to win a vulnerable-looking division, which feels ominous given how poorly ESPN has predicted everything else as of late:
The woebegone NFC South might not have a ton going for it in 2023 — every team ranks 22nd or worse in the FPI — but it is very much up for grabs. The New Orleans Saints, with new quarterback Derek Carr at the helm, are the projected winners but at just 42% — the shortest favorites in any division. The Atlanta Falcons (29%), Carolina Panthers (22%) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9%) follow, each with at least a feasible path to the division title. But every NFC South team has a mean projected win total under nine.
Sure, there are benefits to playing in a division with three actively-rebuilding teams and two without viable starting quarterbacks. But that weak schedule extends beyond their division; Walder observed that New Orleans “doesn’t face a single team in the FPI’s top 10 the entire season.” The 2022 campaign was tough to watch, but a third-place finish does have its perks in determining future opponents.
If there’s any consolation, it’s that every other outlet is predicting something similar. Many NFL experts have the Saints winning the NFC South with eight, nine, or ten victories and hosting a playoff game in January. If the Saints can at least meet those expectations and enjoy better health than they struggled with last year, the division is theirs for the taking.
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