Quarterly Report: Quit Clinching Your Playoff Spots So Early, NFL Brethren!

Usually at this time of year we, the collective NFL fan, are gearing up for a mad-cap scramble to the finish, as seemingly 31 of the 32 teams somehow still usually have a mathematical shot at the playoffs. Here in 2012, the Browns still have no chance, but they’re joined in their Sea of Hopelessness this time by eight other teams in their conference. Four teams in the AFC have playoff spots either locked up or virtually locked up and the Colts have a stranglehold on one of the two wild-card spots, leaving only one playoff spot truly up for grabs with four games to play. Things are a tad murkier in the NFC, but even there it’s a pretty decent bet that the six teams that would qualify if the season ended today will end up being the six that qualify come Dec. 30. To which I say: WHERE IS THE CHAOS AND CONFUSION, MY FRIENDS? It’s December 5th and I already can’t pretend in the ESPN Playoff Machine that the Jaguars have a chance at making the playoffs? Ugh. Nonetheless, we press on with our final Quarterly Report of the season, summarizing what happened in the third quarter of the season and attempting to foretell what will occur in the fourth. If you like unexpected contenders and playoff teams coming out of NOWHERE to snag a spot at the end of the season…you won’t like these projections. ESTABLISHMENT, ESTABLISHMENT, YOU ALWAYS KNOW WHAT’S BEST…

AFC East

The Patriots probably played their best football of the season over the past four weeks, winning all four games with an average point total of 42 and leading Bill Belichick to unexpectedly open up and show candid admiration for Boston media members during his weekly press conferences. Just kidding! He still doesn’t give a crap about them. The Jets went 2-2 in November, but those two losses were such unmitigated disasters that no one could be bothered to cheer for the victories. The Bills also went .500 and completely turned things around defensively after their utterly horrid start. This development comes just in time for Chan Gailey to save his job and lead the Bills to another 6 or 7 win year in 2013. Huzzah! And with the exception of a spirited performance against the Seahawks, the Dolphins generally looked terrible and destroyed their once-decent chance of making the playoffs – but the sprinklers at their home field DID go off during a game, so that’s something to hold your head up high about. If the Patriots earn at least a split out of their next two home games against Houston and San Francisco, look for them to earn the second bye for the first round of the playoffs. And just as an FYI, the Jets DO have the easiest remaining schedule in the league. Unfortunately, they also have Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, and Greg McElroy as their quarterbacks, so…

Revised Win Projections

New England: 11.8 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.013318. 3 home, 1 away.)

NY Jets: 7.1 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .612476. 1 home, 3 away.)

Buffalo: 7.1 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.031492. 3 home, 1 away.)

Miami: 6.5 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.120318. 2 home, 2 away.)

AFC North

Baltimore kicked off the third quarter of the season with a 35-point blowout win over the Raiders, then played three-point games the rest of the way and relied on Ray Rice converting 4th-and-29s a bit too much for this reporter’s liking. Ben Roethlisberger got hurt in the Steelers’ Monday night win over the Chiefs and Pittsburgh’s offense struggled mightily as a result, turning what could have been a 4-0 stretch into 2-2. The Jekyll-and-Hyde Bengals, meanwhile, COMPLETELY turned things around from their awful October, winning four in a row and looking relatively dominant while doing so. And Cleveland proved that if they force eight turnovers in a game, they can possibly win by one score. BREAK UP THE BROWNS. The Dec. 23 Bengals-Steelers game will almost certainly decide who gets the last wild-card slot in the AFC; the Ravens, meanwhile, have the second-hardest remaining schedule in the league and will have no chance at a bye if they lose to Denver on Dec. 16.

Revised Win Projections

Baltimore: 10.6 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.361765. 2 home, 2 away.)

Pittsburgh: 9.2 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .8620415. 3 home, 1 away.)

Cincinnati: 9.0 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .944512. 2 home, 2 away.)

Cleveland: 5.4 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.012018. 2 home, 2 away.)

AFC South

The Texans had a few hiccups defensively in November but kept on rolling anyway, running their win streak to six and making them the de facto #1 seed in the conference. The Colts have probably been the best story in the NFL, however; they continue to improbably pull out close games and render every opponent powerless against the force that is #Chuckstrong – well, every opponent except Bill Belichick, that is. And the Titans and Jaguars both won a game in November but are otherwise really bad and not really worth talking about, so if you came to this place expecting hard-hitting Jaguars analysis…NO DICE. Not much changed overall in the AFC South in the third quarter: Houston remains the heavy favorite for the #1 seed and Indianapolis remains a heavy favorite to win a wild-card. Berth, that is. If they actually win a game in the playoffs, then we’ll have to investigate whether #Chuckstrong has endowed them with wizard-like powers…

Revised Win Projections

Houston: 13.5 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .841303. 2 home, 2 away.)

Indianapolis: 9.6 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .799873. 2 home, 2 away.)

Tennessee: 5.9 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .694912. 2 home, 2 away.)

Jacksonville: 3.2 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .898281. 2 home, 2 away.)

AFC West

As expected, Denver pulled away from the pack in November and actually clinched the division last week with their win over Tampa Bay. YEAH, BUT IT WOULD HAVE BEEN MORE EXCITING IF TEBOW WAS STILL QUARTERBACK. The rest of the AFC West was…uhhhhhhh….well, San Diego was the only other team in the division that won a game in November and that was over the Chiefs, so let’s just put it that way and try to reserve any further snarky comment. Denver’s schedule remains soft as a baby’s bottom over the last four games; it would behoove them, however, to win out if they want to beat out New England for a bye.

Revised Win Projections

Denver: 12.2 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .625293. 2 home, 2 away.)

San Diego: 5.7 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .866415. 2 home, 2 away.)

Oakland: 4.6 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .951818. 2 home, 2 away.)

Kansas City: 3.3 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .818917. 1 home, 3 away.)

NFC East

The Giants looked like world-beaters against the Packers but otherwise had their usual November swoon, as mandated by the NFL to keep NFC East ratings up in December. The Redskins, on the other hand…they’ve had a pretty good two, three weeks here. They’ve won three in a row to get themselves back in the playoff discussion and RGIII chose Washington’s two nationally televised games of the season to play out of his mind – good timing, kid! Dallas has also won three out of four but I mean, let’s be real here, they’re Dallas, they’re going to find a way to screw things up in the end. And Philadelphia! My goodness, I’m going to miss having Andy Reid around next year. Godspeed, big fella. Now I’ve got as much of a man-crush on RGIII as the next football-loving male but the fact of the matter is the Giants still have a one-game lead on the Redskins and a not-particularly hard schedule the rest of the way. Doesn’t mean I won’t be rooting for them to choke so we get some hot RGIII action in the playoffs, though…

Revised Win Projections

NY Giants: 9.5 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .958095. 2 home, 2 away.)

Washington: 8.5 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .900609. 2 home, 2 away.)

Dallas: 8.2 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.070404. 2 home, 2 away.)

Philadelphia: 4.5 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.234324. 2 home, 2 away.)

NFC North

The Packers’ most worthy opponent so far has been the expectations created by last year’s team; if you take that out of the equation, you’ve got an 8-4 team that’s won six out of their last seven and now holds pole position in the race for the NFC North. That’s because the Bears stumbled in their toughest stretch of the season, going 1-3 and getting decimated by injuries in the process. Minnesota should probably just hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson every play; if they did that, maybe they would have done better than 1-3 in the third quarter and wouldn’t be a playoff longshot right now. And let’s give Detroit a round of applause for arguably outplaying their last three opponents – all at home, by the way – and still managing to find excruciating ways to lose to all three. Now that’s a REAL kick to the groin, Ndamukong. The Packers-Bears game on Dec.16 will still be the deciding factor in who wins the North. Of course, since the Packers are the better team, it’s reasonable to assume they’ll win that game and, by extension, the division. The Bears are probably thanking their lucky stars they still get to play Arizona; otherwise, their playoff hopes could be in serious jeopardy.

Revised Win Projections

Green Bay: 10.4 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .989175. 2 home, 2 away.)

Chicago: 9.8 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.055927. 1 home, 3 away.)

Minnesota: 7.6 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.186633. 2 home, 2 away.)

Detroit: 6.4 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .984395. 2 home, 2 away.)

NFC South

The Falcons managed to accomplish the thinkable and lose to the Saints to ruin their perfect season. After that, though, they went right back to winning close games regardless of whether Matt Ryan threw five interceptions or not. Tampa Bay rode a scorching hot offense to a 6-4 record but then lost close games to the Falcons and Broncos and are now playoff longshots as a result. New Orleans appears to have succumbed to a crazy tough schedule and the Curse of the Super Bowl Host City once again appears alive and well. And Carolina remains excellent at looking tough and annoying the crap out of me but poor at actually winning games. San Francisco’s trouble with the Rams has essentially gift-wrapped the #1 seed for the Falcons, despite their tough remaining schedule. And while Tampa Bay can’t be excluded from the playoff conversation yet, their horrendous pass defense seems to be making that an inevitability.

Revised Win Projections

Atlanta: 12.6 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.268765. 2 home, 2 away.)

Tampa Bay: 8.1 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .980276. 2 home, 2 away.)

New Orleans: 6.7 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.248121. 2 home, 2 away.)

Carolina: 5.5 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .786548. 2 home, 2 away.)

NFC West

Jim Harbaugh made a ballsy quarterback switch in San Francisco, Wally Pipp-ing a concussed Alex Smith with an impressive Colin Kaepernick. If it wasn’t for their desire to continually tie the Rams, the race for the NFC’s #1 seed would be a real discussion right now. Seattle’s ferocious defense from the first half faded in the third quarter of the season, but Russell Wilson’s development at quarterback more than picked up the slack and the Seahawks are now in the driver’s seat for a wild-card berth as a result. St. Louis continues to put up a bloody fight against a brutal schedule and Arizona has undergone a fascinating experiment in which they’ve played real NFL games with an IT guy at quarterback. Unfortunately for common men everywhere, the results haven’t been pretty. Expect San Francisco to snag the #2 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs and Seattle to ride three home games and an impressive rookie quarterback of their own to a wild-card berth.

Revised Win Projections

San Francisco: 10.9 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.038664. 2 home, 2 away.)

Seattle: 9.5 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.168364. 3 home, 1 away.)

St. Louis: 7.0 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.131218. 1 home, 3 away.)

Arizona: 5.1 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.375749. 2 home, 2 away.)

Revised Playoff Seeding Projections

AFC

  1. Houston
  2. New England*
  3. Denver*
  4. Baltimore
  5. Indianapolis
  6. Pittsburgh

NFC

  1. Atlanta
  2. San Francisco
  3. Green Bay
  4. NY Giants
  5. Seattle**
  6. Chicago**

*New England receives higher seed due to head-to-head victory over the Broncos on Oct. 7th.

**Seattle receives higher seed due to head-to-head victory over the Bears on Dec. 2nd.

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Quarterly Report: Can the Falcons FINALLY Shut Up the ’72 Dolphins?

Boy, Stephen Nicholas sure is pumped in the above picture, isn’t he? And well he should be! His Atlanta Falcons are the lone undefeated team remaining in the NFL, an achievement that has now made the team the fourth-most popular in the city (behind the University of Georgia, University of Alabama, and University of Florida). Well done, guys! But inquiring minds want to know: what are the chances these Falcons actually pull off an undefeated regular season? On a scale of 1 to wetting their pants in terror, how nervous should the ’72 Dolphins be right now? We here at SSLYAR don’t actually have any answers to these questions. But we like to pretend that we do! Below are division-by-division projections for the rest of the season, along with remaining strength of schedule analysis (as listed by Predictive Yards per Play Differential) and the remaining number of home and away games each team has left. Consider this your SPOILER ALERT for the second half of the NFL season: for the below projections are EXACTLY how the rest of the season will play out. This is an indisputable fact.

AFC East

The Patriots made a lot more noise for their one loss in October (a one-point heartbreaker in Seattle) than for their three wins; prominent Boston media members howled at the shameful performance THESE CHOKAHS put forth, conveniently forgetting that the Pats were in basically the same position last season and ended up with 13 wins. Meanwhile, Miami made good on some of the promise they showed in their first four games, going 3-1 and quietly demanding that they be one of the candidates for the incredibly lackluster race for the AFC’s last wild-card spot. The Jets performed admirably against the Texans and Patriots, but (in a bit of a shocker) have ended up kind of missing that Darrelle Revis guy. And Buffalo has given up somewhere in the neighborhood of 547,000 rushing yards in the past four games: THAT’S NOT A WINNING FORMULA. Expect New England to make a strong second-half run just like last year – they have a soft schedule and five home games remaining – but don’t count out the Dolphins for the last wild-card spot, either.

Revised Win Projections:

  1. New England – 10.2 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .904642. 5 home, 3 away.)
  2. Miami – 7.7 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.044586. 5 home, 3 away.)
  3. NY Jets – 7.0 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .807487. 3 home, 5 away.)
  4. Buffalo – 6.7 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .891358. 5 home, 3 away.)

AFC North

Baltimore mirrored their 3-1 record from the first quarter of the season, but looked considerably less impressive doing so; close wins over Kansas City, Dallas, and Cleveland were glossed over in the wake of an ugly blowout loss at Houston. The Steelers looked like they were in trouble after losing at Tennessee on a Thursday night; they then sadly righted the ship with wins against the Bengals, Redskins, and Giants and now look like the Steelers we all know and hate. Meanwhile, Cincinnati’s gone into a tailspin after a 3-1 start, an alarming development for up-and-coming ginger quarterbacks everywhere. And let’s give little Cleveland some credit for winning a couple games and Brandon Weeden some thanks for being an endless fount of unintentional comedy. Like New England, Pittsburgh’s going to make a run in the second half – they have the second-easiest remaining schedule in the league and five of those games coming at home. As usual, however, the division will ultimately be decided by the two Ravens-Steelers games coming up Nov. 18 and Dec. 2.

Revised Win Projections:

  1. Baltimore – 10.3 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.053876. 4 home, 4 away.)
  2. Pittsburgh – 10.2 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .687355. 5 home, 3 away.)
  3. Cincinnati – 6.9 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .873974. 4 home , 4 away.)
  4. Cleveland – 4.1 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.020585. 3 home, 4 away.)

AFC South

The Texans remain in firm control of the division, but a surprising challenger has sprung up in the past month. Indianapolis, buoyed by a soft schedule and a 5-1 record in one-possession games, has become the leader for the final AFC wild-card slot and become a huge source of inspiration in the wake of coach Chuck Pagano’s battle with leukemia. Tennessee and Jacksonville have also participated. Largely, we see Indianapolis’ performance thus far as mainly smoke and mirrors; they ranked 28th in our latest Predictive Yards per Play metric and they only have three games remaining at Lucas Oil Stadium this year. However, their win over Miami provides them an incredibly important tiebreaker, one that may be enough for them to sneak into the playoffs. Houston, meanwhile, also has five road games in the second half but they’ve still got an easy schedule to fall back upon; a first-round bye remains extremely likely.

Revised Win Projections:

  1. Houston – 11.9 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .856893. 3 home, 5 away.)
  2. Indianapolis – 8.1 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .857764. 3 home, 5 away.)
  3. Tennessee – 6.2 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .780729. 3 home, 4 away.)
  4. Jacksonville – 3.4 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .884636. 4 home, 4 away.)

AFC West

At halftime of their Oct. 15 Monday night game against the Chargers, the Broncos’ season looked like it was on the brink of collapse. A formidable schedule and astoundingly bad fumble luck had left the team 2-3 and down 24-0 to the rival Chargers. Then the Broncos reeled off 35 points in the second half and now appear to have firm control of the division at 5-3. San Diego is a game back at 4-4, but is about as much of a fraud as you can be at 4-4; they’ve faced by far the easiest schedule in the league so far. Oakland has shown some spunk lately but their defense is too much of a mess to be considered a serious threat. And Kansas City…well, Kansas City has been astoundingly, incredibly, remarkably BAD and are threatening to become the biggest punch line the league has seen in years. It’s been entertaining. Watch out for the Broncos in the second half: they’re ranked second in our Predictive Yards per Play metric AND they have the easiest remaining schedule of any team in the league. Incredibly, a fifth MVP award for Peyton Manning isn’t out of the question.

Revised Win Projections:

  1. Denver – 11.7 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .617198. 4 home, 4 away.)
  2. Oakland – 6.8 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .840419. 4 home, 4 away.)
  3. San Diego – 6.0 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.144925. 4 home, 4 away.)
  4. Kansas City – 2.3 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.08185. 4 home, 4 away.)

NFC East

Pretty somber times in the highest-profile division in the league. Only the Giants had a successful October and even the locals there are complaining about Eli Manning’s subpar performances the past two games. Compared to the rest of the division, though, the Giants are model citizens. Philadelphia’s offense was the envy of the league two years ago; they now can’t enter the red zone without turning the ball over. Dallas has faced a colossus of a schedule but could still reasonably have a winning record despite that if they weren’t so prone to inopportune brain farts. And teams may be starting to figure out RGIII and Washington’s pistol attack; they’ve only scored 25 points the last two games and Mike Shanahan is now on the hottest of seats. The main story to watch here in the second half? What Dallas can do with five home games and a schedule that finally gets a bit soft. If they’re able to stay out of their own way – which is obviously a huge “if” – they may take the division race down to the wire.

Revised Win Projections:

  1. NY Giants – 10.3 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.056845. 3 home, 4 away.)
  2. Dallas – 8.5 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .868823. 5 home, 3 away.)
  3. Washington – 6.6 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.074206. 4 home, 3 away.)
  4. Philadelphia – 6.1 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.227447. 4 home, 4 away.)

NFC North

The Bears’ defense has been on a historically amazing streak of scoring touchdowns that is not in the least bit sustainable but remarkably enjoyable nonetheless (if you’re a Bears fan such as myself, anyway). Green Bay’s been hammered by injuries but has righted the ship from a 2-3 start regardless; their 42-24 beatdown at then-undefeated Houston may have been the best game any team’s played all year. Detroit saved their season with nail-biting victories against the Eagles and Seahawks and now have five home games awaiting them in the second half. And Minnesota has come to the realization that basing your entire offense around bubble screens to Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson runs up the middle only take you so far. Every team in the NFC North plays a very tough slate of teams in the second half – Chicago and Minnesota, especially. The Lions’ streak of five home games in seven weeks, however, should push them back into contention and give them a shot at the last wild-card slot. Otherwise, the division will likely be decided by the Packers-Bears game Dec. 16 at Soldier Field.

Revised Win Projections:

  1. Chicago – 10.7 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.278742. 4 home, 4 away.)
  2. Green Bay – 10.1 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.141247. 3 home, 4 away.)
  3. Detroit – 8.7 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.098606. 5 home, 3 away.)
  4. Minnesota – 7.8 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.281980. 3 home, 4 away.)

NFC South

The Falcons hold a four-game lead in the division; there’s not a whole lot of doubt that they’re going to wind up winning this thing. To answer the question posed in the opening paragraph, however, it’s EXTREMELY unlikely that this is the team that joins the ’72 Dolphins and ’07 Patriots as the only ones to go undefeated in the regular season. Atlanta ranks only 15th in the latest Predictive Yards per Play ratings (a leaky defense that has been too reliant on turnovers thus far is the main culprit) and they still have games against the Giants and Lions upcoming, not to mention two games against the rapidly improving Buccaneers and a road game at the much-better-than-their-record Panthers. Atlanta remains a strong favorite to end up with a first-round bye, but will likely end up with three or four losses in doing so. New Orleans, by the way, has the toughest remaining schedule in the league based on our numbers; if you’re looking for a team to make an big second-half run in this division, it would probably be the Panthers (facing the easiest remaining schedule in the NFC) or the Buccaneers (their offense has simply been on fire the last four games).

Revised Win Projections:

  1. Atlanta – 11.9 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.122843. 4 home, 4 away.)
  2. Tampa Bay – 8.1 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.069095. 4 home, 4 away.)
  3. Carolina – 7.4 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: .837670. 4 home, 4 away.)
  4. New Orleans – 6.1 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.290591. 4 home, 4 away.)

NFC West

A flat blowout home loss to the Giants not withstanding, the 49ers have looked like the best team in the league; their offensive line has been utterly dominant in the run game and a lot of good offenses have had a devil of a time trying to throw on their defense. For Seattle, Russell Wilson is starting to come on and if the Seahawks’ offense can play at a level that doesn’t embarrass their defense, this is a very dangerous team. Much to our prognosticating relief, Arizona responded to their incredibly unsustainable 4-0 start with a five-game losing streak and have a very tough road ahead of them after their bye week. Same goes for St. Louis, which has played pretty well against a tough first-half schedule but faces an equally tough second-half slate and only has three home games remaining. Expect San Francisco to challenge Atlanta for the top seed in the NFC and Seattle to take advantage of their remaining home games to make a strong push for a wild-card. And if they end up tied with Green Bay for the last wild-card slot…Lord help us all.

Revised Win Expectations:

  1. San Francisco – 12.0 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.059215. 4 home, 4 away.)
  2. Seattle – 9.4 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.034799. 4 home, 3 away.)
  3. St. Louis – 6.5 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.215781. 3 home, 5 away.)
  4. Arizona – 6.3 wins. (Remaining strength of schedule: 1.275024. 3 home, 4 away.)

Revised Playoff Seeding Projections

AFC

  1. Houston
  2. Denver
  3. Baltimore
  4. New England
  5. Pittsburgh
  6. Indianapolis

NFC

  1. San Francisco
  2. Atlanta
  3. Chicago
  4. NY Giants
  5. Green Bay
  6. Seattle

Quarterly Report: So About Those NFC West Predictions…

Oh, how bright-eyed and bushy-tailed SSLYAR felt about its NFL projections heading into the season. Baltimore and Atlanta are going to struggle to score points! Carolina’s going to win the NFC South! No team in the NFC West is going to win more than 7 games! It all felt so good and so right in the moment. Now that a quarter of the season has been played, however, it’s time to dust ourselves off and review what the hell happened in September: both the things we correctly predicted (believe it or not, there were some!) and the many things we incorrectly predicted. We’ll also provide revised win projections for each team in the league so that we can have something else to laugh at in the future. And who doesn’t love laughing at incorrect predictions?! Read on, it’ll be fun…

AFC East

The Patriots sandwiched blowout wins over Tennessee and Buffalo around two excruciating losses to Arizona and Baltimore; in the latter, Bill Belichick displayed he is actually capable of emotion – mainly anger – in bumping a replacement official after the game. The Jets got everybody excited by destroying the Bills in Week 1, then proceeded to defecate all over the next three weeks; Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes are both out for the season and Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow are still their top two quarterbacks, so, you know, crap. The Bills actually looked good when not playing divisional foes; what hasn’t looked good is Chan Gailey’s new beard (any time you start looking like Brad Childress, it’s a bad sign). And the Dolphins are actually playing well but remain adamant on losing games anyway. The Revis injury has killed the Jets’ season, but otherwise our preseason projections still hold pretty well at this point. We’ll have to see the Bills hold the Patriots to less than eight yards a carry, though, before we’d actually believe they could wrest the division away.

Revised Win Projections:

  1. New England: 9.5
  2. Buffalo: 8.3
  3. Miami: 7.2
  4. NY Jets: 6.5

AFC North

Joe Flacco has had the best start of his career and the Ravens’ offense is actually looking pretty high-powered for the first time since Vinny Testaverde was slinging passes around to the other Michael Jackson in 1996. Cincinnati is also moving the ball very well right now and, after shaking off an embarassing loss to Baltimore on the opening Monday night of the season, now looks like a team worth watching (whether Bengals fans will actually choose to do so is another question). Pittsburgh’s early bye probably came at a good time because it saved Troy Polamalu and James Harrison from missing another game – and without those two, the Steelers’ defense has looked pretty bad. And Cleveland’s start can be accurately summed up in this link. It’s way too early to bury the Steelers, but Baltimore and Cincinnati both appear to have strong offenses that can keep them in any game; it may be an uphill battle to the postseason for Omar Epps and Co.

Revised Win Projections:

  1. Baltimore: 11.0
  2. Cincinnati: 9.8
  3. Pittsburgh: 8.1
  4. Cleveland: 4.4

AFC South

The Texans are really good and are going to clinch the division by Thanksgiving. The end. Really, there’s not much more to say: the Titans needed three touchdowns from their defense and special teams to notch their lone win of the year, the most noteworthy thing to happen to the Colts was their coach being diagnosed with Leukemia, and Blaine Gabbert has been just boring bad this year for the Jaguars. You could make a case that this division has the best team in football and three of the five worst. Enjoy that cruise control to a bye, Houston.

Revised Win Projections:

  1. Houston: 11.7
  2. Tennessee: 6.6
  3. Indianapolis: 6.5
  4. Jacksonville: 4.6

AFC West

San Diego took advantage of three creampuffs to work their way to 3-1 but hasn’t looked terribly impressive doing so. The Broncos by comparison went 2-2 but had a lot of good news come out of that stretch: the defense appears to be solid; they hung tough with the de facto #1 and #2 teams in football (Atlanta and Houston); and, most importantly, Peyton Manning’s head didn’t fall off. Great success! The Raiders seem like they can move the ball at a pretty decent rate but haven’t scored anywhere near enough yet to make up for their putrid defense. And Kansas City has been nothing short of a punchline so far – you would expect nothing less from a Romeo Crennel-coached team. Denver looks like the clear best team in the division, but according to our projections the Chargers have the easiest remaining schedule in the league, so they may be able to hang around by virtue of that.

Revised Win Projections:

  1. Denver: 9.4
  2. San Diego: 8.4
  3. Oakland: 6.5
  4. Kansas City: 5.3

NFC East

The Eagles did everything they could to lose to the Browns, Eagles, and Giants; yet somehow they sit with a 3-1 record and appear to be the most balanced team in the division. The Giants took a giant dump on Opening Night against the Cowboys but have looked good otherwise; unfortunately, their two losses were both to division foes. The Cowboys have looked shockingly bad on offense thus far and have a potentially suicidal stretch of four road games in five weeks coming up after the bye. And Washington? Well, not to go fanboy on you here or anything, but…OH MY GOD RGIII IS SO GOOD PLEASE STAY HEALTHY FOR FIFTEEN YEARS. Going forward, though, it looks like the Eagles’ division to lose, as long as they ditch the turnovers from their first three games. And Michael Vick stays healthy. And Andy Reid doesn’t do anything colossally stupid. Oh, let’s just wrap this up before I talk myself out of this…

Revised Win Projections:

  1. Philadelphia: 10.2
  2. NY Giants: 8.9
  3. Dallas: 8.2
  4. Washington: 7.3

NFC North

By far, the most noteworthy item to come out of this division so far is the rise of the Vikings: yes, the Vikings! They’re 3-1 and, now that they no longer employ Meth addicts in the secondary, seem to have a very strong defense. The Bears’ offense has vacillated between great and horrendous with no in-between; fortunately, the defense has only vacillated between great and really good and the team is 3-1 as a result. You may have heard the Packers were literally robbed of a win in Seattle; more concerning, long-term, is the subpar start Aaron Rodgers has gotten off to and the inconsistent showings their defense has put up. And the Lions would be 3-1 if their special teams had just been, let’s say, terrible instead of OH MY WORD THIS IS LIFE-ALTERINGLY BAD KICK COVERAGE I’M SEEING. Believe it or not, the Vikings seem like they’re going to be in this thing ’til the bitter end: they’ve got by far the easiest remaining schedule of any team in the division. Considering ten out of twelve divisional games still remain, this might end up being a war of attrition.

Revised Win Projections:

  1. Chicago: 9.7
  2. Minnesota: 9.0
  3. Green Bay: 8.3
  4. Detroit: 8.0

NFC South

The Falcons have been their usual annoying selves, but are admittedly playing very well; Matt Ryan’s off to the best start of his career and the defense has been a takeaway machine. More encouragingly for the ATL: everybody else in the division has gotten off to terrible starts. The Panthers blew games they probably should have won in Tampa and Atlanta and Cam Newton may explode into tears if they lose another game. The Buccaneers have become more feared for their defensive strategies on kneeldowns than for their play during actual meaningful action. And who knew that deciding to go with an INTERIM interim coach could have such a detrimental value to a team? Certainly not the Saints. This division is Atlanta’s.

Revised Win Projections:

  1. Atlanta: 11.2
  2. Carolina: 7.6
  3. New Orleans: 5.6
  4. Tampa Bay: 5.3

NFC West

And, finally, the division we were spectacularly, SPECTACULARLY wrong about. Well, mostly anyway. The Rams are essentially playing up to our preseason expectation (and employing much dirtier tactics than we would have assumed this early in Jeff Fisher’s tenure. Well done!). Other than that…bleh. The Cardinals have rode a strong defense and INCREDIBLE LUCK IN CLOSE GAMES to an undefeated start. Man, that still feels weird to type. San Francisco has fought off the regression alert we were forecasting for them and actually looks better this year; their offense can actually move the ball and their defense is pretty close to dominant. Seattle’s defense is, too, but Russell Wilson has played kind of like you’d expect a 5’10” rookie quarterback to play, so they’re only 2-2. At the risk of antagonizing the Cards further, it’s just way too much to expect them to continue this run of good fortune; Kevin Kolb is still their quarterback, after all. Expect San Francisco to eventually pull away with this thing.

Revised Win Projections:

  1. San Francisco: 10.2
  2. Arizona: 8.4
  3. Seattle: 7.9
  4. St. Louis: 6.6

Revised Playoff Seeding Projections:

AFC

  1. Houston
  2. Baltimore
  3. New England
  4. Denver
  5. Cincinnati
  6. San Diego

NFC

  1. Atlanta
  2. Philadelphia
  3. San Francisco
  4. Chicago
  5. Minnesota
  6. NY Giants