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This time of year, everyone has a theory—about the players who’ll matter the most, the games that’ll go to the wire and the team that’ll exit New Jersey with the Lombardi trophy. You can have your hunches; we’ll take analytics every time. So we turned to some of the NFL’s smartest statheads. Football Outsiders mined its 22 seasons of data to forecast each team’s offensive and defensive performance. Pro-Football Reference used its Approximate Value metric to highlight a non-QB MVP, while our resident Football Scientist, KC Joyner, studied the bad decisions of each signal-caller. Finally, Pro Football Focus performed its algorithmic gymnastics to predict the scores of all 256 regular-season games and our playoff bracket. The only theory left to test: Does champagne taste sweeter at Mile High or the Meadowlands?

THE MAG ’S PLAYOFF PICKS

+

GLOSSARY WIN LOSS

DVOA (DEFENSE-ADJUSTED VALUE OVER AVERAGE)

Breaks down the season play-by-play, comparing success to the league average based on variables including down, distance, location on the field, current score gap, quarter and opponent quality.

AV (APPROXIMATE VALUE)

34-31

The approximate measure of a player’s value, calculated by using metrics like games started, Pro Bowls, All-Pros and other stats when applicable.

BDR (BAD DECISION RATE)

24-14

The rate at which a QB makes a mental error that leads to a turnover opportunity for the D.

28-24

INT CONVERSION RATE

The rate at which a quarterback’s INT opportunities—passes that reach the catching frame of a defender—are actually picked off.

37-20

41-28

BENGALS

31-24

BRONCOS

ADJUSTED LINE YARDS

23-21

Measures runs at specific distances to calculate blocking rather than what the RB does in the open field. Adjusted for situation and opponent.

SEAHAWKS

PACKERS

ADJUSTED GAMES LOST

20-13

24-3

45-10

Measures the cost of injuries, of missed games and of games in which players were unable to play to their full potential.

19-13

POWER SUCCESS RATE

The percentage of runs on third or fourth down, with two yards or less to go, that achieve a first down/TD.

TEXANS

RAVENS

DOLPHINS

CHIEFS

FALCONS

BUCS

FR OM LEFT: TO M D IPACE/AP IMAGES; RIC TAPIA/AP IMAGES; JOHN FR OSCHAUER/AP IMAGES; ROWAN STASZKI EWI C Z/PA PHOTOS/ LANDOV; GREG TR OTT/AP IMAGES; ROB TRIN GALI; HELMET ILLUSTRATIO N S BY HY PERAKT

49ERS

REDSKINS

09/02/2013 ESPN The Magazine

77


PREVIEW

A NEW YEAR Entering his first full season as Miami’s starting LT, Jonathan Martin will get an early test vs. the Browns’ big-money pass rusher, Paul 9/8 Kruger (NFL-high 12 sacks after Week 9 in 2012).

12/29

12

MIAMI

2 15 12/

23VS. 2 0

NE

VS.

NY

J

9/1

3

@ PIT

VS. BAL

33-20

F

. BU

10

/20

VS

-14

29 17-6

10/

13-10

11/11

10/31

PATRIOTS

IA

@

@ CIN

24-17

@ HOU

30-12

12/1

VEGAS VIBE

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

7-1 11.5

. NO

VS. PIT

34-14 11/3

ESPN The Magazine 09/02/2013

VS. MIA

26-16 10/27

NY

J

1 13-

0

10/

20

10/

2

@

13

VS

-16

EN

11/

29

S. D

V 15 27- 4

CAR

9/29

27-AT2L0

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

10/6

15 12/

23@ 20 M

16 26- 2 7

VS. CIN

NEW ENGLAND

2

9–7 45.1%

VS. CLE

17

@ TB

NE

AFC EAST

9/2

28-13

WIN LOSS

11/

@

WIN LOSS

2

-17 25VS. TB

12/8

AR

45-

OVER/UNDER WINS

78

S. C

@ BUF

VS

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

18

2

27-24

38-. B2U1F

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

11/

VS

4 2 . SD -32

9/8

12/29

@

34

40-1 7.5

OVER/UNDER WINS

11/

Cameron Wake has easily been Miami’s best player since 2010. His 15-sack, 18-AV performance a season ago ranked among the most productive in football, and only J.J. Watt recorded more QB hits.

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

V 19 27- 4

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

Tannehill (2.1% BDR in 2012) is one of the NFL’s most risk-averse deep passers; he threw only one stretch vertical INT. That should continue with a capable No. 1 WR (Wallace) alongside Brian Hartline.

20

VEGAS VIBE

@ NYJ

0

2.1

% RYAN TANNEHILL

12/1

14.4

7.2

WR Mike Wallace must recover from a poor 2012 (78th in DVOA; first and eighth in 2010 and 2011, respectively), but the offense’s big question is whether the line, minus All-Pro Jake Long, can keep Ryan Tannehill upright. Dion Jordan joins a D-line that must be stellar again (42 sacks, seventh in NFL) to ease in CBs Brent Grimes (free agent signee) and Richard Marshall (returning from injury).

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

10–6 57.9%

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

31-18

27 6

CAMERON WAKE

24-22

STARTING DL AVG.

DEFENSE

12/8

OFFENSE

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

9/30

by KC Joyner

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

@

BAD DECISION RATE

by Pro-Football Reference

@

-17

IND

24-N1O7

NON-QB MVP

by Football Outsiders

41 -

5

2

UNIT PROJECTIONS

6 1 6 - BAL

@

B

9/1

14 16V-S. ATL

SURPRISE! THE PATRIOTS GET CAUGHT IN MIAMI’S WAKE.

A NEW YEAR This is a different offense with a healthy Rob Gronkowski. Since 2010, Tom Brady has thrown an NFL-high 58 TDs targeting TEs (23 more than /22 12 the next QB).

23

9/2

DOLPHINS

@ CLE

VS. N

2 3-2UF @

24-15

30-7YJ

/22

10/6

AFC EAST

SUPER BOWL? WORRY ABOUT MAKING THE PLAYOFFS FIRST.

UNIT PROJECTIONS

NON-QB MVP

by Football Outsiders

by Pro-Football Reference

OFFENSE

STARTING DL AVG.

DEFENSE

2 20 Tom Brady can overcome the loss of 75% of his pass-catching production from 2012, but his numbers will surely take a hit if TE Rob Gronkowski misses serious time. According to DVOA, Gronkowski’s three seasons all rank among the 10 best for tight ends since 1991. Further development by DE Chandler Jones (6 sacks as a rookie) will go a long way toward improving the D’s consistency.

7.2 0

BAD DECISION RATE by KC Joyner

VINCE WILFORK

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

14.6

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

20

Wilfork is the biggest reason NE’s D-line allowed the league’s fourth-lowest rate of adjusted line yards on runs up the middle. Runs ended by Wilfork himself in 2012 averaged a scant 1.3 ypc.

0.9%

TOM BRADY

With four sub-1% BDR seasons since 2005 (0.9% in 2012), Brady is the NFL’s most pristine passer. But last season he was also the luckiest: No other QB threw 400-plus passes without a bad decision INT.

FROM TOP: TOM DIPACE; JIM DAVIS/THE BOSTON GLOBE/GETTY IMAGES


PREVIEW

9/8

12/29 12

VS. TB

@M

NE

-3

AR

37 @ -13 C

VS. OAK

@ ATL

34-7

12/8

31-20

VEGAS VIBE

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

60-1 6.5

9/29

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

VS. MIA

12/1

21 13

4–12 18%

@

DEFENSE

31-T1E3N

by Football Outsiders

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

31-18

A new coach, a talented rookie QB and an explosive run game (138.6 ypg in 2012, sixth in NFL) spell—maybe, just maybe— the beginning of a competent offense in Buffalo. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine brings schematic diversity, but he needs $100 million DE Mario Williams and the rest of the well-paid, much-hyped defensive line to hold up their end of the “bargain” after a lackluster 2012 (24th in adjusted line yards).

UNIT PROJECTIONS

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

2

THE PLAYOFFS ARE STILL A YEAR AWAY FOR THE NEW-LOOK BILLS.

-18 28VS. BUF

12/

15

9/2

BILLS

45

@

2 VS. C

BUFFALO

OFFENSE

4 3-1 LE

38-33

30-IA7

10/7

AFC EAST

/22

A NEW YEAR Darrelle Revis, now a Buc, makes a return trip to N.J. Over 2011 and ’12, the Jets D had a minus-8 TD-to-INT differential with Revis on the 9/1 2 field, a plus-13 without him.

2.1%

KEVIN KOLB

27-24

38-21

17

VS. NO

20-14

48-3

11/3

VS. NE

@ NE

34-

VS.

CA

9/1

5

31

3

31-28

10/3

@ CLE

DEFENSE

25 5 NON-QB MVP

J

VS

11/

28

NY

-21

. CI

N

by Pro-Football Reference

1

@ NO

20-13 10/27

MIA

14 29- 2 0

@

ESPN The Magazine 09/02/2013

OFFENSE

13

@

VS.

19 31- 7

PIT

11/3

by Football Outsiders

10/

JA

C

14-

@ TB

)

100-1 6.5

24-18

9/29

VS

ONTO

24-23

VS. ATL (TOR

12/1

VEGAS VIBE

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

VS. KC

20-. B1A9L

34-7

10/

JETS

IT CAN’T GET ANY WORSE THAN LAST YEAR ... RIGHT?

2

5–11 22.4%

3

WIN LOSS

20

NEW YORK

UNIT PROJECTIONS

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

10-

10/

10/27

R

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

A NEW YEAR 11/ 10 Doug Marrone called running plays 42.7 times per game at Syracuse (most in Big East). That power O won’t fly vs. Pittsburgh, which allowed 3.7 ypc in 2012 (fourth in NFL).

10 13-

WIN LOSS

15

.M

13

. PI

@ CIN

NE

AFC EAST

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

@

-17

VS

20 11/

20

VS.

9/2

12/

3 1 - BUF 19

9/8

-18 28@ NYJ

12/8

@

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

OVER/UNDER WINS

80

L

VS

BA

2

2 3-2 IA

@

22

9.4

If Kolb (2.1% BDR in 2012) wins the job over EJ Manuel, it’ll be because coach Doug Marrone trusts his decisionmaking. Before he got hurt, Kolb was on pace for a career-low 1.6% INT rate.

12/29

12/

0

24

by KC Joyner

6.2

-7

BAD DECISION RATE

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

C.J. SPILLER

11/

by Pro-Football Reference

STARTING RB AVG.

35

Even with the NFL’s ninth-worst passing game, Buffalo’s offense was only slightly below average in 2012 (minus-4.3% DVOA), which is a credit to C.J. Spiller, who led all qualified RBs in yards per touch (6.8) in 2012.

NON-QB MVP

T

OVER/UNDER WINS

10/

BAD DECISION RATE by KC Joyner

How will the return of a Rex Ryan–quality defense help the offense? Well, from 2009 to ’11, when the Jets defense never ranked outside of our top five, a Sanchez-led attack finished 22nd, 16th and 21st in DVOA. It won’t quite rise to that level of mediocrity, but RB Chris Ivory, 5.1 ypc in three seasons with the Saints, should help the offense rebound ever so slightly from its putrid No. 30 DVOA rank in 2012.

Since 2011, the 23-year-old Muhammad Wilkerson has racked up 8 sacks, 73 tackles and 18 AV points—numbers that compare with those of Mario Williams and Dwight Freeney at that age.

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

MARK SANCHEZ %

3.1

STARTING MUHAMMAD DL AVG. WILKERSON 7.2 0

9.0

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

20

Sanchez’s 3.1% BDR was awful, but his luck was even worse—54.5% of his potential INTs resulted in picks, third worst in the NFL. Sanchez is unlucky again: He faces my toughest collection of pass D’s in 2013.

FROM TOP: DO UG BENZ/RE UTERS; RICH K ANE/ICON SMI


PREVIEW A NEW YEAR Cincy averaged only 3.1 yards per play with multiple TEs vs. Pittsburgh in 2012, its worst vs. an AFC North foe. First-round TE Tyler Eifert (13.7 ypc 12/29 at Notre Dame in 2012) should help with that. /22 VS. BAL 12

9/8 AFC NORTH

CINCINNATI

12/

IT

VS. NE

24-17

@ SD

37-31

12/1

VEGAS VIBE

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

20-1 8.5

F

10

/13

-21 10

17 11/

WIN LOSS

BA

-13

L

@ MIA

VS. NYJ

13-10

T

10/

48-3

10/31

DE

21 24 - 2 0

@

by Pro-Football Reference

OFFENSE

STARTING DL AVG.

DEFENSE

10/27

BAD DECISION RATE

0

12

BALTIMORE

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

With an AV of 18, Atkins’ 2012 campaign was among the 25 greatest seasons ever by a DT. His 12.5 sacks helped the Bengals D-line rack up an 8.7% adjusted sack rate, tied for the league lead.

@ DEN

@

28

VS.

-0

E

ET

16@ 13 D

VS. MIN

. GB

-20

VS

NY J

-7

24

FROM TOP: MICHAEL KEATING/AP IMAGES; TOM DIPACE

11/

A 335-pound run-stuffing monstrosity, Haloti Ngata led all Ravens defenders in AV each of the past three seasons. In fact, no DT has racked up more tackles (186) or AV points (76) than Ngata since 2008.

30-1 8.5

OVER/UNDER WINS VS.

20

A Super Bowl MVP will do nothing to quell Flacco’s reputation as an unnecessary risk taker. His BDR has ranked in the top 15 only twice in five NFL seasons, and in 2012 Flacco was one of only eight QBs with a BDR of 3% or above.

VEGAS VIBE

35

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

3.0%

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

23

14.9

JOE FLACCO

9–7 48.8%

VS. PIT

0

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

11/28

7.2

HALOTI NGATA

30-12

STARTING DL AVG.

12/8

OFFENSE

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

9/29

by KC Joyner

@

BAD DECISION RATE

by Pro-Football Reference

20-B1U9F

NON-QB MVP

by Football Outsiders

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

2

12/

9/2

16

CL

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

28-0

UNIT PROJECTIONS

Ray Rice is the only player to have 250 rushes and 50 catches every year since ’09. But don’t worry about his stamina. Research shows that only carries wear down a back, not receptions, and Rice’s 257 rushes ranked 14th in 2012. Massive personnel turnover on defense—departed players made 59% of plays in 2012— needed to happen after a rare mediocre season (19th in DVOA).

23-10

34-CI1N3

A NEW YEAR Joe Flacco, the NFL’s highest-volume deep passer (218 20-plus-yard attempts since 2010), faces ex-teammate Ed Reed, who has 7 INTs on such throws in the 9/1 5 same span.

17 19V-S. HOU

PRIMED FOR A REPEAT? ONLY IF FLACCO SHELVES HIS RISKY THROWS.

6 16

6 1 6 - . NE

9/5

2.5%

ANDY DALTON

An unusual amount of tipped passes and receiver mistakes led to Dalton’s 38 INTs/ near INTs in 2012 (tied for third most in AFC). All Dalton (2.5% BDR in 2012) needs is better luck for his pick total (16 in 2012) to decrease significantly.

20

VS

RAVENS DEFENSE

/22

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

15.2

12/29 AFC NORTH

by KC Joyner

GENO ATKINS

7.2

The Bengals defense can beat you straight up—its 37 sacks when rushing four or fewer led the NFL. Or the D can beat you with the blitz, allowing just 4.4 yards per pass (sixth in NFL) when bringing six or more. Giving Andy Dalton a solid second target across from WR A.J. Green—maybe Mohamed Sanu (4 TDs in 2012)—would be the biggest help in surpassing our offensive projection.

BU

11/

28

E

@

. CL

VS -7 42

28

NON-QB MVP

by Football Outsiders

14 12

OVER/UNDER WINS

@

UNIT PROJECTIONS

@ MIA

19@ 13 P

VS. IND

11–5 55.9%

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

9/29

@

31-21

NFL’S BEST FRONT FOUR COULD MAKE THESE CATS KINGS OF THE NORTH.

38-C2LE6

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

2

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

10/6

15

9/2

-13 26VS. GB

12/8

BENGALS

IT

V

10/6

2 S. M

6

33-20

7-7IN

9/1

38 VS. -17 P

@

2 7 CHI -24

11/

17

VS. CIN

28-13 11/10

@ CLE

23-20

PIT

20 30- 0

@

13

@ CHI

10/

23-17

34-13

10/

2

WIN LOSS

11/3

09/02/2013 ESPN The Magazine

83


PREVIEW 12/29

VS. TEN

9/1

38

6

WIN LOSS

@ -17 CI

AFC NORTH

N

BROWNS

@ NYJ

20-17

18-1 9

L

27

PITTSBURGH

STEELERS

CENTER-QB EXCHANGE IS IN GOOD HANDS. NOW, ABOUT THE RECEIVERS …

DEFENSE

BA

9/1

5

WIN LOSS

-0

L

5–11 21.2%

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

VEGAS VIBE

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

60-1 6

OVER/UNDER WINS

20

PIT

-24

11/

ELITE

by KC Joyner

GOOD AVERAGE BAD

<1.5% 2% 2.5% 3%

TERRIBLE >3.5%

84

2.4

%

BEN ROETHLISBERGER

ESPN The Magazine 09/02/2013

O-coordinator Todd Haley is back, and so is the more accurate and nimble Big Ben: In 2012 Roethlisberger (2.4% BDR) tied for eighth-lowest INT/near INT rate (5%), and his 5 TDs on scrambles tied for the NFL lead.

10

24

BAD DECISION RATE

9/29

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

34

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

28

@

VS.

0

MAURKICE POUNCEY

11.8

VS. MIA

@

VS

7.4

24-15

31-P6IT

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

VS. JAC

STARTING OL AVG.

12/1

by Pro-Football Reference

With three Pro Bowls and 37 AV points in his first three seasons, Maurkice Pouncey is the undisputed best center in football. The only concern: a leg injury that left him hobbled in the second half of 2012.

9/8

23@ NYJ

26-16

NON-QB MVP

12/29

38.-C2IN6

19 2

-14

3.7

2

OFFENSE

A NEW YEAR Ray Horton’s Arizona D sacked Tom Brady four times with four or fewer pass rushers in 2012, the most by any team last season. The Browns will have the horses off the edge to /22 12 best that.

BRANDON WEEDEN %

9/2

by Football Outsiders

The NFL’s oldest defense finally gets younger with first-round OLB Jarvis Jones (14.5 sacks at Georgia in 2012) and third-year CB Cortez Allen (12th in adjusted yards per pass). A youthful O-line will need time to jell, which puts the onus on Ben Roethlisberger to stay healthy (eight missed games since 2010) and find a big-play target to replace Mike Wallace. No returning receiver had more than 800 yards last season.

by KC Joyner

Weeden’s 3.7% BDR (second to last in NFL), 7.5% vertical INT rate (37th) and 11.8% stretch vertical INT rate (second to last) will be problematic in Norv Turner’s system, which puts an emphasis on the deep-passing game.

-10 30@ MIN

UNIT PROJECTIONS

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

20

10/3

AFC NORTH

BAD DECISION RATE

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

VS. BUF

11/10

0

31-28

A NEW YEAR From 2009 to 2012, 11/3 former Steelers (and current Dolphins) WR Mike Wallace led Pittsburgh with 36 catches of 30-plus yards. The next-highest total from a Steelers WR in that span was nine.

/13

10/

34-14

10.7

7.4

VS

6

JOE THOMAS

3 1 - . DET 29

13-

by Pro-Football Reference

STARTING OL AVG.

I

10-3

K

CH

@ NE

OA

The NFL’s most reliable left tackle in 2012, Thomas went 73.6 snaps for every missed block and was the biggest reason a young Browns O-line posted the league’s 12th-best pass-protection numbers.

NON-QB MVP

15

17

@

VS. BUF

28 11

12/

11/

DEFENSE

. BA

2

30

11/

VS

2 7 . DET -13

OFFENSE

-20

E

VS

CL

@ 24 34- 4

OVER/UNDER WINS

OLBs Paul Kruger (9 sacks, 21 hurries in 2012) and first-rounder Barkevious Mingo (28 QB pressures at LSU last year, tied for second most in the SEC) give new D-coordinator Ray Horton the speed off the edge he had last season at Arizona, which was seventh in adjusted sack rate. The main issue in Cleveland: The WR corps lacks experience, and Brandon Weeden (35th in Total QBR) remains a project at best.

by Football Outsiders

20

VS. MIA @ BAL

28-0

11/28

VEGAS VIBE

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

SPEEDY SACKERS GIVE D HOPE, BUT WEEDEN DRAGS DOWN OFFENSE.

UNIT PROJECTIONS

10/

24-22

N(

9–7 33.2%

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

9/29

20L-O3NDON)

@ MI

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

10/13

CIN

19VS. 1 3

12/

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

2

24 31V-S. CHI

12/8

CLEVELAND

9/2

15

@

28VS. 2 7

VS.

@ NE

-37 5 2 GB

41 - 3 4

31-C6LE

28-13

/22

12/8

12

9/8

@

4 2 CIN -7

11/

17

VS. BAL

23-20 11/3

@ KC

24-14

GB

0 27-

@

10/

20

10/27

FROM TOP: TOM DIPACE; GEORGE GOJKOVICH/GETTY IMAGES


A NEW YEAR It’s time for a new plan vs. Tom Brady. Houston was the only D to send extra rushers at Brady more than half the time in 2012, and 9/9 he threw for 640 yards and 7 TDs in two wins.

TENNESSEE

15 I

34-18 11/10

@ STL

30-9 11/3

10/6

VS. KC

27-21

@ STL

20-9

10/6

3

10/

31 30 NON-QB MVP by Pro-Football Reference

13

AR

14

DON)

24-10

10 24 10/

20

10/27

SF

24 31-

10/

20

The fate of the offense depends on RB Maurice Jones-Drew’s health (only 414 yards in six games in 2012) and WR Cecil Shorts’ early development (17.8 ypc, second in NFL), especially with fellow WR Justin Blackmon (DUI) suspended for four weeks. Head coach Gus Bradley likely will need another year to fully develop his defense, which had the worst adjusted sack rate in 2012 and replaces three starting DBs.

A wide-necked tackling machine stuck in football purgatory, Paul Posluszny has recorded 452 solo tackles since 2008. The only NFLers with more? Pro Bowlers Chad Greenway and Patrick Willis.

10/

/14

10

12/

11/

VS.

VS. JAC

DEFENSE

A

VS. SEA

24-23

SD

@

-20

10/6

U

HO

37VS. 2 0

15 12/

27 VS. -23

31-21

12/8

@ CIN

23

100-1 OVER/UNDER WINS 6.5

9/29

VS.

THIS PAGE, FROM TO P: GEOR GE BRIDGES/MCT/GETTY IM AGES; TOM DIPACE ; O PPOSITE PAGE, FROM TO P: TOM DIPAC E; MICHAEL HICKEY/GETTY IM AGES

OFFENSE

VEGAS VIBE

VS

UNIT PROJECTIONS by Football Outsiders

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

2 7 . IND -20

34-18

VS. SF (LON

300-1? TO WIN THE SUPER BOWL? OUR ADVICE: STAY FAR, FAR AWAY.

U

31-N1Y3J

Following up a stellar decade as Peyton Manning’s most productive WR, all Wayne has done the past two seasons is collect 29.3% of the Colts’ adjusted catch yards, the ninth-best rate in football.

The high-percentage passing that Luck used at Stanford hasn’t yet translated to the NFL. His 57 INTs/near INTs (last in NFL) and 3% BDR reveal a rookie forcing things. A familiar face at OC will help Luck assess risk vs. reward.

@ TEN

SD

JAGUARS

5

2

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

20

3.0

VS.

I

11/10

9/2

ESPN The Magazine 09/02/2013

0

9.4

ANDREW LUCK %

K

86

11/3

10

/20

Can new O-linemen RT Gosder Cherilus and LG Donald Thomas help keep Andrew Luck upright? The QB was knocked down after a pass 83 times as a rookie, 20 more than any other QB last season. The defense will need more than its nice offseason signings—S LaRon Landry and first-round DE Bjoern Werner—to improve much on our No. 27 pass D and No. 32 run unit from 2012.

7.2

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

OA

11/10

33-14

7

17 26

REGGIE WAYNE

9/1

33 @ -17 HO

2

38-14

@ HOU

1 29-

STARTING WR AVG.

DEFENSE

@ PIT

6–10 26.6%

11/

VS. STL

N

OFFENSE

VS. HOU

41 - 3 4

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

@ 21 30- 4

2

14

DE

by KC Joyner

35-32

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

@ IND

I

11/

11/

VS.

BAD DECISION RATE

by Pro-Football Reference

12/1

AR

@ 14 21- 4

30-1 OVER/UNDER WINS 8.5

NON-QB MVP

by Football Outsiders

17

. AR

-23

JACKSONVILLE

9/8

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

49-24

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

UNIT PROJECTIONS

11/

VS

AFC SOUTH

12/29

19 31V-S. SD

@

VS. TEN

12/1

49-24

VEGAS VIBE

THE COLTS DON’T HAVE THE HORSES TO HANG WITH HOUSTON. 9/29

30-J2AC8

8–8 37.4%

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

2 7 TEN -20

2

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

@

WIN LOSS

COLTS

9/2

-13 3 4@ SF

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

-17

23@ JAC

INDIANAPOLIS

IA

@

12

WIN LOSS

SE

AFC SOUTH

20

-3

5

JAKE LOCKER

@

23 VS. -17 M

55-7

VS. OAK

VS. J

@ DEN

-17 2 7 KC

12/8

/2

A NEW YEAR The Titans’ biggest additions—guards Andy Levitre and Warmack—face the NFL’s No. 2 betweenthe-tackles D in 2012 (3.6 ypc). /22

26

Locker had the NFL’s best BDR in 2012 (0.6%). That is not a misprint; he made only two miscues on 314 attempts. Don’t expect a huge regression: The Titans face the easiest collection of pass D’s, according to my metrics.

0.6%

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

24

/13

10 11/3

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

13

@ SF

19-13

L

. ST

-7

VS

34

11/10

0

@

@ JAC

BU

IND

16-10

12/5

VS.

15

27@ 23

12/

33-14

0

9/29

16-10

2 10/

WIN LOSS

3

VS. IND

9.4

6.2

U

@ @ ARI

KC

14 24 -

K

HO

12

9/1

300-1 5

OVER/UNDER WINS

24

-10

CHRIS JOHNSON

11/

3

by Pro-Football Reference

STARTING RB AVG.

24 -

C

17

. OA

9/8

31-17

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

@

JA

11/

NON-QB MVP

by KC Joyner

27-1A7C

VEGAS VIBE

26-16

VS.

24

38

VS

Though he’s no longer CJ2K, Johnson is more than serviceable. His 2,290 rushing yards since 2011 ranks sixth; only three others broke more runs of 15-plus yards during that span.

BAD DECISION RATE

A NEW YEAR Pep Hamilton, Andrew Luck’s Stanford OC, takes over Indy’s offense. With Luck in 2011, the Cardinal ran 40 times per game, compared with Indy’s 27.5 in 12/29 2012. That’s a good strategy vs. the Jags (No. 30 run D). 2

4–12 18.7%

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

@ CLE

26 28

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

VS

DEFENSE

12/1

12-1 10

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

OVER/UNDER WINS

11/

Forget Adrian Peterson: Watt’s 20 AV points made him MVP material in 2012. His season—20.5 sacks (sixth highest ever), 18 batted-down balls (tops in NFL)—was the best ever by a DE so young (23).

UNIT PROJECTIONS OFFENSE

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

24 -

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

In 2012 Schaub (1.8% BDR) threw only 9.2% of his passes 20-plus yards (32nd in NFL). That should change with the rookie Hopkins (22.6 stretch vertical ypa at Clemson in 2012) lining up opposite Andre Johnson.

20

Good news for RB Chris Johnson: His offensive line, which ranked as our second-worst run-blocking unit, should only improve with better health, depth and the addition of first-round G Chance Warmack (6'2", 317). But any run-based offense also requires a good defense, and the Titans return nine starters from a bad one (32nd in ppg; 29th vs. the run, according to DVOA). New SS Bernard Pollard can help only so much.

by Football Outsiders

VEGAS VIBE

VS. NE

0

1.8%

MATT SCHAUB

12/1

16.7

7.2

J.J. Watt understandably stole the headlines in 2012 with one of the best seasons we’ve tracked by a D-lineman. But don’t sleep on the Texans secondary (our No. 4 pass D in 2012), especially after the team signed S Ed Reed. On offense, improving the right side of the line and getting results from rookie WR DeAndre Hopkins (1,405 yards, 18 TDs for Clemson in 2012) are critical.

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

30-12

13 10

J.J. WATT

K

30-. I2ND8

STARTING DL AVG.

DEFENSE

OA

5

2

OFFENSE

7@ 6

9/2

by KC Joyner

7 3-1 EN

9/1

-0 58@ SEA

by Pro-Football Reference

TITANS 9/29

by Football Outsiders

11–5 CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS 60%

VS. KC

@

2 VS. T

ANOTHER TALL ORDER FOR THE TITANS’ WILTING D.

VS

BAD DECISION RATE

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

21-. 1SE4A

NON-QB MVP

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

2

UNIT PROJECTIONS

17 19@- BAL

WITH WATT LIGHTING UP QBS, IT’S SUPER BOWL OR BUST IN HOUSTON.

34-27

27-IN1D7

/22

F

EN

9/2

TEXANS

12

AFC SOUTH

15

3 VS. D

5

12/

33 VS. -17 T

14-

@ SD

@ TE

12/29

16-10

HOUSTON

1 5-2EN

9/1

VS. HOU

12

25-20

35-3N2

10/6

AFC SOUTH

/22

12/5

12/29

A NEW YEAR RT Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick, will get his first big test against the Rams’ Chris Long, who had 11.5 sacks when lining up vs. the offense’s right 9/8 side (fifth in NFL).

3 7 DEN -6

PREVIEW

WIN LOSS

BAD DECISION RATE by KC Joyner

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

1.7%

BLAINE GABBERT

STARTING PAUL LB AVG. POSLUSZNY 7.6 0

8.4

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

20

Give Gabbert some credit: He cut his BDR from 3.7% to 1.7% in 2012, and my metrics suggest he’ll continue the downward trend this season. The next step is to increase his 5.9 ypa; only two QBs were worse in 2012.

09/02/2013 ESPN The Magazine

87


PREVIEW 12/29

1 5-2OU H

9/1

30 @ -27 NY

5

WIN LOSS

G

@

V S . WA S

@ SD

31-17

28-16

A NEW YEAR Peyton Manning completed an 11/10 NFL-best 77% of passes to slot WRs in 2012 (minimum 50 attempts). That explains the signing of ex-Pat Wes Welker, who had an NFL-high 1,033 receiving yards from the slot.

29

STARTING WR AVG.

-17

20 10/

10/27

0

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

12

KANSAS CITY

A NEW YEAR Alex Smith, who’s taking over Andy Reid’s West Coast offense, had the No. 2 Total QBR on throws 9/8 10 yards or fewer in 2012. The Titans allowed the highest completion 9/1 percentage in 5 @ JAC the NFL on such VS. throws. DA

2317 L

15

24 @ -17 O

12/

9/1

AK

@ WA S

@ TEN

60-1 7

OVER/UNDER WINS S. S D

28 34 11/

17

@

10

2

ESPN The Magazine 09/02/2013

VEGAS VIBE

11/

The No. 15 pick in 2005, Derrick Johnson grew into his role as one of the NFL’s premier run-stuffing LBs. The eight-year vet’s three best seasons have been his last three (103 tackles per year).

This is what a game manager looks like? Top four in short pass ypa, vertical ypa, stretch vertical ypa and, oh yeah, overall ypa. Smith (1.8% BDR in 2012) was off target on only 14% of his throws last season (sixth best in NFL).

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

V 10 24 - 4

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

20

31-14

10.9

1.8%

ALEX SMITH

10–6 46.0%

VS. DEN

0

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

12/1

7.6

DERRICK JOHNSON

12/8

STARTING LB AVG.

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

9/29

OFFENSE

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

VS

by KC Joyner

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

17-. 1N6YG

BAD DECISION RATE

by Pro-Football Reference

88

@

-27 30@ PHI

NON-QB MVP

by Football Outsiders

Only Arizona made a bigger upgrade at QB, but Dwayne Bowe is the only reliable pass catcher for Alex Smith (unless, of course, you count RB Jamaal Charles, whom Andy Reid is hyping as Brian Westbrook 2.0). A wealth of talent returns on all three levels of the D, but this is still a unit that gave up the fifth-most passes of 25-plus yards despite being dead last in opponent pass attempts.

34-27

14-1SD0

24-20

UNIT PROJECTIONS

23 32

In 2012 Manning registered a career-low 1.6% BDR (fifth best in NFL), a 4.3% INT/near INT rate (second best in NFL) and a 68.6% completion rate (second best of his career). Noodle arm? What noodle arm?

20

The NFL’s most prolific pass catcher over the past eight seasons, Welker (average of 1,462 yards per season since 2011) will stand out even next to fellow 1,000-yard WRs Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.

VS

A TEAM LONG ON POTENTIAL COULD BE POTENT BEFORE LONG.

DEFENSE

-17 2 7 . IND

PEYTON MANNING

9

CHIEFS

/22

1.6%

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

15.2

12/29 AFC WEST

by KC Joyner

WES WELKER

7.2

Denver is down to its third center, but with Peyton Manning throwing to the NFL’s top WRs, the O isn’t a concern. The D (our No. 5 in 2012) should regress after fielding the best third-down unit since the ’91 Saints. Our data shows that elite third-down units tend to decline the next year. The D will miss Elvis Dumervil (37.5 sacks since 2009) and won’t likely stay as healthy (11th in adjusted games lost).

10/

2

17

-12

IND

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

BAD DECISION RATE

10/6

VS

11/

11/

. KC

by Pro-Football Reference

3 21

.

3 7 JAC -6

NE

@ 15 27- 4

34

VS

NON-QB MVP

by Football Outsiders

27-21

5-1 11.5

OVER/UNDER WINS

UNIT PROJECTIONS

/13

@ DAL

17-14

@ KC

12/1

24-20

VEGAS VIBE

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

THE SHERIFF IS BACK IN TOWN, AND SO ARE SUPER BOWL EXPECTATIONS.

13

55-7

VS. TEN

V

13–3 CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS 65.9%

BRONCOS

9/29

45S-.2PH4I

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

10/6

SD

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

K

40VS. 1 4

3

12/8

DENVER

-23 49VS. OAK

12/

12

9/2

AFC WEST

. OA

@

VS. BAL

@

VS

3

23-10

30-O2AK2

/22

-14

12

9/5

DE

-12

VS.

N @ BUF

24-18 11/3

VS. CLE

24-14

HO

U

14 24 10/

20

WIN LOSS

10/27

FROM TO P: PAU L JASIE NSKI/AP IMAGES; SPORT PICS


PREVIEW A NEW YEAR Rookie RT D.J. Fluker and newly signed LT Max Starks will have their hands full with J.J. Watt, who led the NFL with 20.5 sacks in 2012. Philip Rivers was sacked once 9/9 every 11.9 drop-backs in 2012 (32nd 9/1 in NFL).

OAKLAND

20 10/

38-14

11/10

Durable (49 straight starts) and a playmaker (311 tackles since 2010, 17th in the NFL), Burnett, the ex-Dolphins LB, is exactly what this porous Raiders defense needs (29th in DVOA in 2012).

10/

14

by Pro-Football Reference

WIN LOSS

11/3

BAD DECISION RATE

SAN DIEGO

CHARGERS

12

/22

3

@

15 KC

24 VS. -17

12/

@ NYJ

12/8

31-20

200-1 5.5

9/29

VEGAS VIBE

VS. N

Look past Rivers’ shoddy throwing motion on deep balls: It was his 1.9% INT rate on short passes (fifth worst in NFL)—and 2.3% BDR—that hurt SD in 2012. Did I mention the Bolts are switching to a short-passing attack?

TE

20

24

ESPN The Magazine 09/02/2013

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

4–12 15.8%

-21

90

2.3%

PHILIP RIVERS

C

OVER/UNDER WINS

11.4

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

5

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

11/

by KC Joyner

0

7 VS - 6

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

30

BAD DECISION RATE

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

6.3

ERIC WEDDLE

9/1

. JA

S

@ DAL

by Pro-Football Reference

STARTING DB AVG.

11/28

NON-QB MVP

Weddle makes headlines for his pass coverage (12 INTs, 31 passes defended since 2010), but he’s at his best vs. the run. His 59% stop rate on rush plays was fourth among all qualified DBs last season.

@ IND

VS

VS

20 22

31-17

30-. D2E2N

34.-W2A4S

DEFENSE

* PROJECTED BDR, DUE TO LACK OF 2012 STATS 9/8

42-24

OFFENSE

20

3

by Football Outsiders

This offensive line was a mess last season (8.9% adjusted sack rate, last in NFL). RB Ryan Mathews has missed 10 games in three seasons and didn’t give defenses much to worry about last year (3.8 ypc, 1 TD). Massive NT Cam Thomas and ILBs Donald Butler and Manti T’eo will make it tough to run on the Bolts. Of course, with a patchwork secondary, aside from All-Pro safety Eric Weddle, third and long won’t look so scary to QBs.

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

-23 49@ DEN

UNIT PROJECTIONS

0

9/2

RIVERS WILL NEED A JOLT TO GET THESE CHARGERS PLAYOFF-READY.

4 8-2 D

9.3

7.6

2.0

12/29

AFC WEST

KEVIN BURNETT

Two seasons ago, a 480-yard game— % * at home in Green Bay vs. a banged-up Detroit secondary—got Flynn a MATT multimillion-dollar deal. Two pit stops FLYNN later, his luck strikes again: He faces my third-easiest collection of pass D’s.

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

by KC Joyner

STARTING LB AVG.

10/6

D

. IN

2

31-17

32 17 NON-QB MVP

-20

VS

11/

23

KC

@ 10 24 - 4

17

@ WA S

DEFENSE

C JA

10 24 -

@

VS. DEN

10/6

@ OAK

20-13

50-1 7.5

OVER/UNDER WINS

MIA

by Football Outsiders

VS. SD

EN

V S . N YG

28-27

VS. CIN

37-31

12/1

VEGAS VIBE

Carrying $49 million in dead money, GM Reggie McKenzie overhauled the Raiders roster with 12 new starters—nine on defense alone. The result: an offense devoid of any weapons— the oft-overhyped Darren McFadden was dead last in DVOA among starting RBs in 2012—and a defense that will be hard-pressed to surpass last season’s 25 sacks (31st in NFL) and 19 forced turnovers (26th).

UNIT PROJECTIONS OFFENSE

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

11/

9/29

VS

5–11 CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS 27.2%

42 -32

ANOTHER WASTED YEAR. LET THE COUNTDOWN TO CLOWNEY BEGIN …

24.-D2AL0

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

2

40 @ -1 4 D

12/

12

9/2

19 31@- TEN

12/8

RAIDERS

HI

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

@

AFC WEST

20-13

3 VS. O

5

38 WIN LOSS

11/

17

@

HO

-10

VS.

U @ N YG

34-0 11/10

VS. PHI

17-13 11/3

PIT

13-

13

27@ 21 P

10/

VS. HOU

VS.

KC

4 8-2 AK

25-20

14-1K0C

@

/22

-14

12

28

12/29

6 27

A NEW YEAR Oakland lost four of its top five D-linemen in terms of snaps played. The newbies won’t stand a chance against the Skins’ No. 1 rushing O (169 ypg in 2012).

10/

FROM TO P: KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT/USA TODAY SPORTS; RIC TAPIA/ICON SMI


PREVIEW 9/9

12/29

12/

19@ 14 G

12/

27 @ -1 0 A

TL

31-14

VS. KC

@ DAL

13-9

12/8

/20

VS

3 1 - . CHI 14

F

10

25

Alfred Morris was a total shock in 2012. The sixth-rounder became only the third rookie to rush for at least 1,600 yards and 13 TDs. Only Adrian Peterson had more 10-plus-yard runs than Morris’ 44.

@

2 7 PHI -24

11/

17

@

17-P3HI VS.

17-13

VS. NYG

3 @W

9/1

23 @ -17 K

28

VS. SD

31-27

38-14

11/7

15 GB

VS. DEN

17-14

10/

13

VS

.

1 3 - WA S 9

2

VS. MIN

38-23 11/3

ESPN The Magazine 09/02/2013

@ DET

34-29 10/27

PH

I

22 24 - 2 0

@

10/

10/6

12/

27VS. 1 9

@ CHI

19-17

G

11/

10

NO

COWBOYS

A THIRD STRAIGHT 8–8 SEASON WON’T SIT WELL IN THE OWNER’S BOX.

9/29

@

24-2SD0

NY

@ 17 24 - 4

30-1 OVER/UNDER WINS 8.5

DALLAS

2

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

A NEW YEAR DeMarcus Ware, right DE in Dallas’ new 4-3, will be tested by Washington’s option. The Redskins ran seven options for 73 yards and a TD to the right side of the Cowboys D in 2012.

/27

NFC EAST

9/2

-28 52VS. STL

VS. OAK

11/28

VEGAS VIBE

42-24

8–8 CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS 43.5%

-19

-16

A NEW YEAR RG3 was contacted on 10 71 rushes in 2012 (second most among QBs). The Eagles levied six 11/3 of those hits, holding RG3 to five option rushing yards in Week 16, when he wore a brace, as he will all season.

@ MIN

C

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

11/

N

5

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

@

DE

9/8

12/29

23

9/29

S. S

RG3 was both good and a little lucky. His overall BDR (1.2%) tied for third, and his vertical BDR (0.8%) was a league low. But he also benefited from only 22.7% of his potential INTs being picked off (lowest in NFL).

20

20-1 8

OVER/UNDER WINS

11/

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

VEGAS VIBE

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

V 12 13-

0

1.2

% ROBERT GRIFFIN III

@

13.0

6.2

RG3’s secret: He can be a pocket QB if the ACL injury hurts his mobility. In 2012 he was more efficient under center than in the pistol or shotgun. The defense returns OLB Brian Orakpo (28.5 sacks from 2009 to ’11; torn pectoral in 2012) to a strong front seven. But the re-signing of DeAngelo Hall (81st out of 87 CBs in adjusted yards per pass allowed) spells bad news for the back end.

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

34-O2AK4

4 8

10–6 48.3%

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

by KC Joyner

ALFRED MORRIS

2

STARTING RB AVG.

7 5-1 AS

V

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

BAD DECISION RATE

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

V S . N YG

by Pro-Football Reference

12/1

NON-QB MVP

by Football Outsiders

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

31-7

UNIT PROJECTIONS

/22

B

-3 30S. DET

KNEE BRACE IN TOW, RG3 IS BACK TO FINISH WHAT HE STARTED.

12

5

9/2

REDSKINS

12/9

9/1

VS. PHI

@

15

WASHINGTON

92

7 5-1 AL

41 - 0

24-N1YG4

3 VS. D

NFC EAST

WIN LOSS

22

10/13

WIN LOSS

UNIT PROJECTIONS

NON-QB MVP

BAD DECISION RATE

by Football Outsiders

by Pro-Football Reference

by KC Joyner

OFFENSE

STARTING DL AVG.

DEFENSE

16 29 Without a stable running game, QB Tony Romo will lean too heavily on WR Dez Bryant (12 TDs in 2012, third among pass catchers) and TE Jason Witten (110 catches, fifth in NFL). The real problem: Monte Kiffin’s defensive scheme— the same one that couldn’t stop the Pac-12 read-options last season—will face RG3, then Chip Kelly’s mystery Eagles offense in back-to-back weeks twice.

7.2 0

DEMARCUS WARE

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

12.2

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

20

DeMarcus Ware leads all edge rushers with 46.5 sacks since 2010. His 32 career forced fumbles are a byproduct of that pressure. It helps that he hasn’t missed a game in his eight-year career.

2.4%

TONY ROMO

The Cowboys would be wise to let Romo (2.4% BDR in 2012) take more chances downfield, based on his above-average vertical BDR and a maturing deep threat in Bryant (6 catches of 40-plus yards, second in NFL).

FROM TOP: BRAD MILLS/USA TODAY SPORTS; TOM DIPACE


PREVIEW A NEW YEAR Are you ready for Chip Kelly’s speed offense, which averaged a play every 20.9 seconds at Oregon from 2009 to 2012? The NFL’s 9/9 fastest O (Patriots) was four seconds slower 9/ than Kelly’s Ducks.

12/29 12

NFC EAST

/22

IN

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

9/8

17-13

24-14

@ DAL

S

D

30 VS. -27 D

15 12/

EA

31-23

10/6

VS. PHI I

CH @

-26

33

34-31 10/27

27-12

VS. DET

@ N YG

31-23

TB

17-13

34-31

13

10/

@

30

-23

12/8

by Football Outsiders

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

18 14 NON-QB MVP by Pro-Football Reference

10

@ SD

2

@ PHI

V S . N YG

11/3

10/

19 VS. -1 3 S

28-27

L

11/

VS.

ESPN The Magazine 09/02/2013

9/29

@

. DA

VS 17 24 - 4

20-1 OVER/UNDER WINS 9

11/10

17-1K6C

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

34-0

2

31-7

@ WA S

12/1

VEGAS VIBE

. GB

@ OAK

L

22 24 - 0 10/

2

10/27

THE BIRDS ARE ON THE FAST TRACK TO ANOTHER DISAPPOINTING YEAR.

9/2

8–8 35.7%

VS. OAK

10

UNIT PROJECTIONS

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

-28

11/

DA

EAGLES

EN

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

11/ A NEW YEAR In 17 2012 the G-Men didn’t record a sack vs. Philly when bringing four or fewer rushers. The departure of Osi Umenyiora (12 sacks since 2011 in that package) won’t help their cause here.

WIN LOSS

VS.

PHILADELPHIA

5

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

VS

5 1 - GB 20

NFC EAST

9/1

-28 30@ CAR

12/8

@

20

10/6

15

24 @ -17 M

12/ 0

9/29

2.8

@

@

AS

ELI MANNING %

V S . WA

S. W

2

7 3-1 ET

11.1

7.2

Not all mistakes are created equally. Manning, 2.8% BDR in 2012, had 35 points (worst in NFL) in my weighted bad decision metric, which measures the consequences of faulty throws.

12/29

/22

VICTOR CRUZ

1

by KC Joyner

60-1 7

OVER/UNDER WINS

11/

BAD DECISION RATE

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

VEGAS VIBE

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

V 24 27- 7

by Pro-Football Reference

STARTING WR AVG.

6–10 18.4%

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

VS. ARI

Since 2011, Cruz has racked up the fifth-most receiving yards (2,628), eighth-most receiving TDs (19) and 10th-largest share of team adjusted catch yards (28.7%). No wonder the man got paid this offseason.

NON-QB MVP

12/1

10 19

45-D2EN4

DEFENSE

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

9

by Football Outsiders

94

D

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

42-20

The defense had an adjusted sack rate ranked in the top 10 during its last two Super Bowl seasons. Last year that ranking fell to 22. Injuries and defections—among them DE Osi Umenyiora (Falcons)—make this now-average D (No. 16 in 2012) unlikely to regain its spark. Luckily Eli Manning has two talented backs in David Wilson (5.0 ypc as rookie) and Andre Brown (5.3) to help him keep the D off the field.

UNIT PROJECTIONS

34

15

-27 30VS. KC

WITH MANNING AT THE CONTROLS, NOTHING IS OUT OF THE QUESTION.

12

27 VS. -21 S

9/1

GIANTS

WIN LOSS

@ WA S

@D

23VS. CHI

NEW YORK

OFFENSE

-16

41 - 0

17-3AL

MIN

13 27-

10/

21

BAD DECISION RATE by KC Joyner

Everything with this team remains a Chip Kelly–cloaked mystery. Sure, the offense—especially the line, which ranked 28th in run blocking last season—will have to adjust to Kelly’s fast-paced, run-first scheme. But the defense (our No. 26 unit in 2012) is the biggest wild card: Four new DBs dot the secondary, while the front seven seems ill fit for new defensive coordinator Billy Davis’ 3-4 scheme.

Even during a concussionmarred 2012, LeSean McCoy had seven runs of 20-plus yards (17th in NFL). With Kelly at the helm, McCoy’s versatility (34 total TDs since 2010) will be put to full use.

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

1.8

NICK FOLES

%

STARTING RB AVG. 6.2 0

LESEAN MCCOY

8.8

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

20

Yes, Kelly wants playmakers, but he’s also a zealot about protecting the ball, which is why Foles (1.8% BDR in 2012) should ultimately win this QB battle over Michael Vick. He didn’t make one bad decision in four of his seven games as a rookie.

FROM TOP: RICHARD A. BRIGHTLY/ICON SMI; DAVID RICHARD/USA TODAY SPORTS


PREVIEW

9/8

23-13

27-C2H4I

19 VS. -1 4 W

NFC NORTH

5

GREEN BAY

15

@ BAL

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

8-1 10

.

MIN

10/

24 @

VS. PHI

VS. CHI

51-20

10/

31-13

11/10

MIN

21 27-

G

STARTING LB AVG.

DEFENSE

27

1 1 /4

CLAY MATTHEWS

7.6 0

11.4

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

12

CHICAGO

A NEW YEAR Chicago’s three offensive line additions will be put to the test early. The Bengals recorded a sack once every 12.5 drop-backs 9/8 when sending four or fewer rushers last 9/1 season, best in 5 VS. CIN the NFL.

15 12/

LE

28@ 27 C

19-17

ST L

VS. NO

10

2

ESPN The Magazine 09/02/2013

11/

By far the league’s most prolific defensive lineman over the past decade, Julius Peppers shows no signs of slowing down after posting the 10th-best sack season (11.5) in NFL history by a 32-year-old.

30-1 8.5

OVER/UNDER WINS

33

20

A bad BDR—3.2% in 2012 (third worst in NFL)—has followed Cutler through every NFL system he’s played in. Not even offensive innovator and new Bears coach Marc Trestman will change Cutler’s risk-taking mentality.

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

@ 22 30- 4

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

3.2%

VEGAS VIBE

@ MIN

16.2

JAY CUTLER

12/1

0

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

16-14

7.2

JULIUS PEPPERS

9–7 35.7%

VS. DAL

STARTING DL AVG.

12/9

OFFENSE

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

9/29

by KC Joyner

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

@

BAD DECISION RATE

by Pro-Football Reference

96

IN

31-D2ET7

NON-QB MVP

by Football Outsiders

The 2012 Bears D was one of the best we’ve ever tracked, leading our metrics against both the run and pass. Even factoring in heavy regression, it still projects as our top unit. The O, hamstrung (again) by upheaval up front, needs to find a No. 2 WR. Brandon Marshall was the target of 40.2% of Chicago’s passes in 2012; no other WR since ’91 has had more than 36% of a team’s targets.

341 M 4

VS.

9/2

UNIT PROJECTIONS

30 1

VS

24 31@- PIT

NEW COACH, SAME STORY: “BEAR DOWN” DEFENSE GOES TO WASTE.

DEFENSE

-16 23@ PHI

23-17

27-.2GB4

2

BEARS

/22

1.8

% AARON RODGERS

Volume is not what makes Aaron Rodgers (1.8% BDR in 2012) the NFL’s best; eight QBs threw more passes. But no one closed out drives better: 33 TDs on vertical/stretch vertical throws, six more than the next closest QB.

20

Matthews is one of the most versatile LBs near the line. He missed four games in 2012 but still was third among LBs in sacks (13) and had a 73% stop rate vs. the run (22nd among LBs).

12/29 NFC NORTH

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

. NY

17

NY

-28

by KC Joyner

OFFENSE

VS

11/

@

BAD DECISION RATE

by Pro-Football Reference

-26 G

34

NON-QB MVP

by Football Outsiders

The WRs likely will be healthier this season (seventh in adjusted games lost in 2012), and prized rookie RBs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin give a real boost to a ground game that ranked 20th in yardage despite an 11–5 record. Likely improvement on third down gives the defense (eighth in DVOA, 21st on third down) a good chance to beat this projection.

VS

VS.

-7

11/

28

2 7 CLE -0

OVER/UNDER WINS

UNIT PROJECTIONS

1 15

10/13

23-20

@ DET

11/28

33-27

VEGAS VIBE

20

AL

27 @ -1 9 D

VS. ATL

23-13

11–5 CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS 55.5%

THE NFL’S BEST QB PACKS A DIVISION-WINNING PUNCH.

10/6

VS.

23-D7ET

12/8

2

12/

9/2

-13 26@ CIN

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

WIN LOSS

PACKERS

AS

VS

35-27

-27 5 2 . PIT

9/1

@ SF

@

10/6

12/29

VS

2 7 . BAL -24

11/

17

/10

A NEW YEAR Did the Packers learn their lesson? They allowed 176 yards on zone-read runs vs. the 49ers in last year’s playoffs (the most by any team in 22 the last three 12/ seasons).

@

VS. DET

27-13 11/10

@ GB

31-13

WA

S

1 31-

4

10/

20

WIN LOSS

1 1 /4

FROM TOP: SCOTT BOEHM/AP IMAGES; JEFF HA N ISCH/USA TODAY SPORTS


PREVIEW A NEW YEAR Greg Jennings had 40 catches of 30-plus yards (fourth most in NFL) with the Packers from 2008 to 2012. The Vikings had seven such plays as a team last season, tied 9/8 for fewest in the NFL.

2 @ CI

9/1

34 @ -1 4 CH

5

NFC NORTH

DETROIT

I

PH

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

@ BAL

IT

7–9 CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS 27.4%

VS. CAR

27-20

VS. CHI

16-14

12/1

VEGAS VIBE

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

50-1 7.5

9/29

20(-L3ONDON)

30-12

QUESTION IS: WHY DIDN’T STAFFORD TARGET JOHNSON 522 MORE TIMES?

VS. P

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

2

24 VS. -17

12/

15

9/2

-10 30VS. CLE

12/8

LIONS

I

by Football Outsiders

OFFENSE

OVER/UNDER WINS @

GB

10

24

17

This is a pretty easy sell, huh? Fighting through constant double-teams, Megatron has posted an astonishing 19 games of 100-plus yards in the past two seasons. Next closest in the NFL: Wes Welker (13).

by Pro-Football Reference

/21

-7

11/

11/

12 27

GB VS.

SEA

3117

DEFENSE

NON-QB MVP

2 7 N YG -13

@

28

@

The secondary lacks depth, which showed on sub-packages last season, when the Lions allowed 6.2 yards per play in nickel and dime (23rd) and forced just 10 turnovers (27th). A reversal of fortune—the Lions recovered only 29% of available fumbles in 2012, second worst in the league—and a more diverse offense (Calvin Johnson had an NFL-high 205 targets in 2012) featuring RB Reggie Bush could get Detroit a few extra W’s.

UNIT PROJECTIONS

V S . WA S

@ DAL

31-27

38-23

11/7

21 27-

27 10/

11/3

BAD DECISION RATE

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

by KC Joyner

MINNESOTA

12/

VIKINGS

22

7 3-1 YG

16 BA

L

16VS. 1 3

12/

@ PHI

12/8

27-12

VEGAS VIBE

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

50-1 7.5

9/29

VS

5–11 21.7%

VS.

Ponder, with a 2.2% BDR in 2012, doesn’t always know when to cut his losses. His three INTs on scrambling plays tied for the NFL lead. Worst of all: His 3.7 ypa on such throws indicates little reward for such risky play.

TB

13

10/

20

24

ESPN The Magazine 09/02/2013

14.8

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

RI

-19

98

2.2%

CHRISTIAN PONDER

0

5

OVER/UNDER WINS

11/

by KC Joyner

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

6.2

ADRIAN PETERSON

9/1

25 @ -24 A

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

20

BAD DECISION RATE

STARTING RB AVG.

VS. MIN

@

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

VS. GB

by Pro-Football Reference

Peterson powered Minnesota’s O with an astounding 6.0 ypc on 348 carries (second most in NFL). The last time he had 340-plus carries in a season, he led the NFL in TDs the following year.

11/28

NON-QB MVP

19-14

27-M1I0N

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

33-27

24 25

20

9/8

31-.2CH7I

DEFENSE

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

2

OFFENSE

0

9/2

by Football Outsiders

As great as RB Adrian Peterson is, the stats show he’ll likely regress: The only ball carrier ever to have back-to-back 1,800-yard seasons is Eric Dickerson. This puts offensive improvement in the hands of QB Christian Ponder and new wideout Greg Jennings, who started just five games in 2012. Yikes. Losing CB Antoine Winfield (eighth in adjusted yards per pass allowed) will hurt in a division full of high-volume passers.

13.9

7.2

-3 30@ WAS

UNIT PROJECTIONS

2.3%

MATTHEW STAFFORD

2 VS. N

PETERSON IS A WONDER, BUT THE VIKES’ FATE WILL REST WITH PONDER.

CALVIN JOHNSON

Quantity far outweighed quality for Stafford in 2012 (2.3% BDR). He set the record for attempts (727) but had the second-highest INT/near INT total (48) and the most bad decision INTs on short passes (5).

12/29

NFC NORTH

STARTING WR AVG.

10/6

@ DET

VS.

@ GB

7-7N

19-14

27-D1E0T

23-7

/22

@

12

10/13

WIN LOSS

3 1 - CLE 29

12/29

@

WIN LOSS

2 7 PIT -13

11/

17

@ CHI

27-13 11/10

VS. DAL

CIN

21 24 - 0

VS.

A NEW YEAR Reggie Bush arrives having led the NFL with five runs 10/27 of 20-plus yards outside the tackles last season. The Packers were the only team to allow such a run vs. the Lions in 2012.

34-29

10/

2

FROM TOP: CARLOS OSORIO/AP IMAGES; ANDY KING/GETTY IMAGES


PREVIEW

12/29

12

ATLANTA

VS.

15 12/

AS

27 VS. -1 0 W

23-13

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

@ GB

11–5 52.2%

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

ONTO

18-1 10

)

38-33

34-27

@ NYJ

30

9/1

20

10/

11/

17

VS. SEA

28-24 11/10

I

10/

31-23

WIN LOSS

27

11/3

NFC SOUTH

TAMPA BAY

O

BUCCANEERS THE SECONDARY STOCKED, THIS D IS PRIMED FOR A TURNAROUND.

VS. PHI

30-23

@ CAR

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

T

@

DE

@ 19 20- 4

50-1 OVER/UNDER WINS 7.5

27 ATL -10

12/1

26-23

VEGAS VIBE

10

2

/20

11/

C VS.

L

VS. MIA

17-6 11/11

ESPN The Magazine 09/02/2013

@ SEA

31-3 11/3

AR

3 27-

10/

24

WIN LOSS

9/29

VS

38.-A1R0I

9–7 46.5%

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

10/13

SF

2

-17 25@ NE

12/

1

9/2

26- 5 VS. 2 3

@ CAR

5

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

34-7

AR

13 27-

@

VS. -7 N

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

VS. BUF

VS

@

2 7 TB -23

9/8

2 @S

17

2 7 . TB -10

O

2

A NEW YEAR The Bucs gave up the third-most 30-yard pass plays in 2012 (25), but the arrival of Dashon Goldson and Darrelle Revis 12/29 should help. Drew Brees completed five such throws /22 vs. Tampa 12 @ NO in 2012.

11/

Since 2010, Roddy White is second in receiving yards (4,036) and tied for first in targets (502). With Matt Ryan under center, White should notch his seventh straight season of 1,100-plus yards.

OVER/UNDER WINS S. N

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

Ryan’s 14 INTs indicate a down year, but his 4.6% INT/near INT rate (fifth best in NFL) and 2% BDR tell another story. Expect a turnover turnaround from the NFL’s most accurate passer in 2012 (68.6% completion rate).

20

V 24 35- 1

0

VS. NYJ

VEGAS VIBE

34-7

2.0%

MATT RYAN

12/1

13.9

7.2

RB Steven Jackson (No. 11 RB in 2012, according to DVOA) will add pop to the Falcons offense, but only if its No. 24 run-blocking line shows improvement. Atlanta hopes that rookie CBs Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford will help boost its pass defense to an elite level (No. 11 in 2012), but that plan could fall short: Even eventually great corners tend to struggle as rookies.

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

24-23

11 24

RODDY WHITE

12/8

STARTING WR AVG.

DEFENSE

27 -23

L

9/29

OFFENSE

11/

-3

ST

VS

by KC Joyner

. AT

/15

27-. 2NE0

BAD DECISION RATE

by Pro-Football Reference

VS

26

2

NON-QB MVP

by Football Outsiders

12/8

@ NO

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

@ BUF (TOR

UNIT PROJECTIONS

100

42-34

VS

14 16@- MIA

THESE GAME BREAKERS WILL PUT UP POINTS IF THE LINE OPENS UP HOLES.

9 4-1 TL

-19 2 5 @ SF

30-. C2A0R

9/2

FALCONS

/23

10/7

NFC SOUTH

A NEW YEAR The Falcons will miss DE John Abraham. They had 27 sacks in 454 drop-backs with him on the field in 2012 but only two sacks on 141 drops without him. New DE 9/8 Osi Umenyiora has zero sacks in three games vs. the Pats. 9

UNIT PROJECTIONS

NON-QB MVP

by Football Outsiders

by Pro-Football Reference

OFFENSE

STARTING RB AVG.

DEFENSE

15 4

The additions of CB Darrelle Revis (led Jets’ top D vs. No. 1 WRs in 2011) and S Dashon Goldson (9 INTs past two seasons) change everything for the Bucs (our No. 26 pass D in 2012). WRs Vincent Jackson (19.2 ypc, No. 1 in NFL) and Mike Williams (15.8, No. 12) will continue to stretch the field if QB Josh Freeman ups his accuracy. He completed only 54.8% of his passes in 2012, 29th in the NFL.

6.2 0

BAD DECISION RATE by KC Joyner

DOUG MARTIN

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

14.0

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

20

Doug Martin’s big-play ability helped make up for Freeman’s struggles. Martin’s five runs of 40-plus yards (tied for second in NFL) helped the Bucs jump from 30th in rushing in 2011 to 15th.

2.0

% JOSH FREEMAN

Freeman’s 17 INTs in 2012 (tied for fifth most in NFL) were a little misleading. More than one-third of those picks were at least partially—and in many cases entirely—due to a route-running mistake.

FROM TOP: DAVE MARTIN/AP IMAGES; TOM DIPACE


PREVIEW A NEW YEAR Without suspended coach Sean Payton in 2012, the Saints converted only 44% on third down, their worst rate since 2006, Payton’s 9/8 first year. Arizona had the NFL’s No. 2 third-down D. 9/

12/29

12

/22

3

CAROLINA

22

-12 34VS. NO

15 AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

9/8

27-17

30-A2TL0

VS. SEA

@

34-

@

BU

F

9/1

5

31

YJ

27-20

@ MIN

VS. TB

VEGAS VIBE

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

40-1 7.5

VS. CAR

24-17

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

5 31 NON-QB MVP by Pro-Football Reference

L . ST

/20

10

2

23

11/

-16

VS

MIA

@ 19 27- 4

41 -

11/

18

. NE

34

@ @ SF

31-7 11/10

ESPN The Magazine 09/02/2013

31-23

23-19

35-27

@ CHI

NE

13

-16

@

20-14

20

-13 10/

27

11/3

With Sean Payton back, the Saints offense could return to the heights of 2011, when it had one of the 10 best offensive DVOA seasons ever. But even with big-name rookies like S Kenny Vaccaro and DT John Jenkins (6'4", 346), new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan inherits a mess from predecessor Steve Spagnuolo that won’t be easily fixed this season. The Saints D finished dead last in DVOA in 2012.

A first-team All-Pro for four straight years, RG Jahri Evans didn’t allow a sack in ’12. His 6'4", 318-pound frame helped the Saints post the NFL’s third-best power success rate (71%) on short-yardage runs.

TB

3 27-

A NEW YEAR Can Lotulelei clog the middle? Carolina allowed 1.92 yards after contact 3 11/ per inside rush in ’12 (second most in NFL), including 2.4 yards after contact vs. Bucs RB Doug Martin.

VS. ATL

29

12/8

by Football Outsiders

10/6

7–9 CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS 30.0%

@

26-23

23-A2RI0

12/1

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

VS

@ NYJ

11/10

UNIT PROJECTIONS

10/13

15 12/

37 VS. -13 N

17

VS. DAL

F

PAYTON RETURNS, BUT SO DOES THE INFAMOUS SAINTS DEFENSE.

2

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

@ NO

11/

BU

SAINTS

9/2

24-17

WIN LOSS

VS.

NEW ORLEANS

WIN LOSS

OVER/UNDER WINS

102

1 4 - . SF 10

NFC SOUTH

-28 30VS. NYG

12/8

VS

20

10/6

TL

23@ 20 S

12/ 0

9/30

3.1

12/29

12/

18-1 9

OVER/UNDER WINS

Newton (3.1% BDR in 2012) cut it loose last season, as nearly 36% of his throws were 11-plus yards downfield (third highest in NFL). The reason: He was efficient with the deep ball (3.5% vertical INT rate, 10th best).

CAM NEWTON %

VS

by KC Joyner

10.5

VEGAS VIBE

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

ATL

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

7.2

6–10 25.3%

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

11/

BAD DECISION RATE

STEVE SMITH

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

@ 24 35- 2 1

by Pro-Football Reference

STARTING WR AVG.

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

@ SEA

Smith edged out LB Luke Kuechly (165 tackles as a rookie) for this honor. Since Cam Newton was drafted in 2011, Smith has accumulated 30% of the team’s adjusted catch yards (seventh in NFL).

NON-QB MVP

12/2

9 3

-7

24.-M1IA7

DEFENSE

TB

15

9/2

OFFENSE

@

C

34-19

Seven losses by less than a TD and a 5–1 finish suggest a team ready to step forward. Unless, of course, coach Ron Rivera is the problem, which is entirely possible. If rookie D-linemen Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short can help stud DEs Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy (23.5 combined sacks in 2012) create more opportunities for an already-solid secondary (5.8 net ypa allowed, 10th in NFL), this could be a special defense.

by Football Outsiders

30

-20 30VS. ARI

A FEISTY FRONT FOUR LEADS THE WAY FOR THIS REVIVED D.

UNIT PROJECTIONS

@

VS. ATL

VS

2

PANTHERS

2 4-1 AR

42-34

34-.2TB7

10/

NFC SOUTH

10/

24

BAD DECISION RATE by KC Joyner

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

2.3%

DREW BREES

STARTING OL AVG. 7.4 0

JAHRI EVANS

17.7

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

20

It’s hard to knock a guy who threw 43 TDs (best in NFL), but Brees was one of two QBs with 10 bad decision INTs last season. And that was despite getting his historically high BDR somewhat in check (2.3%).

FROM TOP: SCOTT A. MILLER/AP IMAGES; TIM H EITMAN/USA TODAY SPORTS


PREVIEW 9/8

16VS. 1 3

3 VS. A

5

WIN LOSS

SF

YG

@ SF

@ IND

24-23

VS. NO

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

10-1 10.5

N

. TE

10

1

10

/13

11/

11/

ATL

VS. TB

@ STL

31-3

17-10

A NEW YEAR Recently added 11/3 DE Cliff Avril had 16.5 sacks when Detroit rushed four or fewer the past two seasons. Seattle had two sacks after Week 14 (zero vs. Atlanta in playoffs) in the same set.

AR

I

16 24 - 7

@

-24

10/

NON-QB MVP

by Football Outsiders

by Pro-Football Reference

OFFENSE

STARTING DB AVG.

DEFENSE

1

10/28

BAD DECISION RATE

0

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

12

In 2012 Richard Sherman led all DBs in AV (18), tied for second in INTs (8) and had the eighth-best success rate on pass targets (61%). And yet his cap hit was $511K. Come on, Seattle, pay the man!

9/8

9/1

161 S 3

@

5

EA

1

26- 5 @ 23 T

B

12/

VS. SEA

RI .A VS

12/8

26-23

S

ESPN The Magazine 09/02/2013

WA

The best LB the past half-decade, Patrick Willis has averaged 137 tackles per season in his NFL career. He’s no pushover vs. the pass either. His 4.3 ypa allowed was fourth among LBs in 2012.

46

10

Kaepernick (2.2% BDR) threw the NFL’s fewest INTs in 2012 (3), but five defenders dropped potential picks, and WR Randy Moss broke up 3 INTs. Don’t be shocked if CK posts double-digit picks this season.

2

20

OVER/UNDER WINS

11/

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

6-1 11.5

COLIN KAEPERNICK

9/26

15.2

2.2%

VEGAS VIBE

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

@ 12 13- 5

0

by KC Joyner ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

@

7.6

13–3 58.8%

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

BAD DECISION RATE PATRICK WILLIS

24-S2TL1

OFFENSE

STARTING LB AVG.

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

VS. STL

by Pro-Football Reference

12/1

NON-QB MVP

by Football Outsiders

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

32-3

UNIT PROJECTIONS

-13 34VS. IND

WILLIS & CO. HAVE THE GOODS FOR A RETURN TRIP TO THE SUPER BOWL.

104

VS. GB

@

2

49ERS

All four starters from the NFL’s best linebacker corps return to San Francisco, but whether or not the 49ers defense will register a third straight season in our top three depends largely on the health of DE Justin Smith (triceps). Back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons—and Colin Kaepernick’s running the read-option—have revitalized RB Frank Gore (No. 4 rushing DVOA in 2012).

23-13

22-A1R7I

9/2

SAN FRANCISCO

8 7

9 5-1 TL

Wilson (1.2% BDR) didn’t make a bad decision in his last eight games. A little context: The best QBs tend to make an error once every three games. Wilson has a chance to dethrone Tom Brady as BDR king.

20

2 VS. A

NFC WEST

DEFENSE

/23

1.2

% RUSSELL WILSON

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

13.7

12/29 WIN LOSS

by KC Joyner

RICHARD SHERMAN

6.3

Percy Harvin will miss most of the year, but the Seahawks were fourth in offensive DVOA without him last season. Marshawn Lynch (1,592 yards, 11 TDs) was our second most valuable RB in 2012. The biggest question with the D: With Bruce Irvin suspended and Chris Clemons coming off an ACL tear, will the Seahawks have enough pass rush to repeat their No. 3 rank in pass defense DVOA?

-3

IN

VS

S. M

V 17 31- 7

28

@

UNIT PROJECTIONS

7 9

OVER/UNDER WINS

24

12/2

34-19

VEGAS VIBE

NO PERCY, NO PROBLEM. WILSON’S MISTAKE-FREE PLAY LIFTS HAWKS.

VS. HOU

26-23

13–3 64.3%

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

SEAHAWKS 9/29

@

21-H1OU4

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

10/6

12/

19@ 13 N

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

2

-0 58VS. JAC

12/8

SEATTLE

9/2

15

NFC WEST

19-13

0 8-1 RI

9/1

@ CAR

VS

10/6

27-17

37-. 1STL0

/22

-16

12

/13

12/29

@

11/

1 4 - NO 10

17

VS. CAR

31-7 11/10

@ JAC (LON

DON)

24-10 10/27

TEN

24 31-

@

A NEW YEAR Expect the 49ers to play Vernon Davis (19.0 ypc when lined up at WR) in the slot a lot vs. the Saints, whom he torched for 147 yards on such plays in the 2011 playoffs.

10/

20

FROM TOP: OTTO GREULE JR./GETTY IMAGES; MARK J. REBILAS/USA TODAY SPORTS


PREVIEW A NEW YEAR Falcons RB Steven Jackson faces his former team. From 2004 to 2012, Jackson accounted for 65.4% of the Rams’ total 12/29 rushes, the highest rate for one rusher /22 and team over 12 @ SEA that span.

9/8

22-17

37-10

-19

VS. ARI

24VS. TB

26-

@

ATL

9/1

5 NFC WEST

3

ARIZONA

15 12/

NO

by Football Outsiders

@ ARI

20-9

@ SF

VS. JAC

VEGAS VIBE

32-3

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

50-1 7.5

DEFENSE

22 18

VS. SEA

17-10

11/3

10/

/13

20

10/28

BAD DECISION RATE

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

by KC Joyner

ST. LOUIS

RAMS

12

3

DE

5

WIN LOSS

T

15

21-13

VS. STL

VS. CAR SF

12/8

EN

37 @ -20 T

12/ Forget Austin, the most vital signee for Bradford (1.7% BDR) is ex-Titans TE Jared Cook, who can flex wide or line up tight. Only one of Bradford’s 24 INTs/near INTs in 2012 was on a throw to an in-line TE.

46

20

26 11/

17

@

10

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

9/29

0

38@-1TB0

9.0

300-1 5.5

OVER/UNDER WINS

ND

SAM BRADFORD

7.6

VEGAS VIBE

by LVH SuperBook SUPER BOWL ODDS

S. I

1.7

%

STARTING JAMES LB AVG. LAURINAITIS

3–13 14.7%

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

2

FROM TOP: PAUL JASIENS KI/AP IMAGES; TOM DIPACE

9/1

25V S . 24

11/

by KC Joyner

A big reason the Rams’ rush D ranked 10th in DVOA: Laurinaitis hardly ever leaves the field. He hasn’t missed a game in four seasons and is by far the league’s leading solo tackler (427) since 2009.

ELITE <1.5% GOOD 2% AVERAGE 2.5% BAD 3% TERRIBLE >3.5%

@ STL

V

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

V 14 21- 4

BAD DECISION RATE

22-17

22S-.1S7F

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

@ PHI

by Pro-Football Reference

The Rams offense ranked 21st in our metrics last season, and that was before the team let Jackson and WR Danny Amendola walk. First-round WR Tavon Austin (10.4 yards per touch at West Virginia in 2012) will give QB Sam Bradford a much-needed weapon. But to get into the playoff hunt, St. Louis’ D will have to avoid a likely regression after improving from 21st to seventh and having the third-fewest adjusted games lost in 2012.

12/1

NON-QB MVP

9/8

S

42-20

29 23

@

20

2

DEFENSE

CARSON PALMER

-20 3 0 @ NO

OFFENSE

0 8-1 EA

AVG. APPROXIMATE VALUE (2010-12)

9/2

A REGRESSING D AND REBUILDING O. WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE?

by Football Outsiders

/22

0

Palmer has a risk-taking reputation, but his 2% BDR last year was nearly equal to that of Aaron Rodgers (1.8%). He won’t make many unnecessary throws in Bruce Arians’ vertical offense.

%

12/29

NFC WEST

UNIT PROJECTIONS

2.0

15.7

6.3

10/6

VS. TEN

30-9

R

-16

-14

CA

16 23-

@

23-20

IND

PATRICK PETERSON

@

10

10

2

11/

by Pro-Football Reference

STARTING DB AVG.

/13

U HO

11/

38

@

Peterson’s punt-returning skills made him an All-Pro as a rookie, but he has evolved into a shut-down corner. In 2012 he had 7 INTs and denied opponents on 59% of targets (11th in NFL).

NON-QB MVP

-7

HI

@

S. C

V 22 30- 4

OVER/UNDER WINS

34

12/1

The 2012 Cardinals featured the worst run blocking we’ve ever measured, so even if first-round G Jonathan Cooper improves the O-line, it’s still in sorry shape. The bright side: Competent QB play should revitalize WR Larry Fitzgerald, whose percentage of Cards receptions has dropped from 32% to 21% since 2011. CB Patrick Peterson, leader of last season’s No. 2 pass D, will need to adjust to three new starters and coordinator Todd Bowles.

UNIT PROJECTIONS OFFENSE

10/6

23VS. 2 0

21-13

V

7–9 22.1%

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS

UH, MR. PETERSON, YOUR THUMB IS POINTING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION.

9/26

24S-. 2SF1

12/8

2

by Pro Football Focus 2013 PROJECTED RECORD

WIN LOSS

CARDINALS

9/2

-28 52@ DAL

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

JA

-23

VS.

C

VS. HOU

16-10 11/10

VS. ATL

27-13 10/27

SE

A

16 24 - 7

A NEW YEAR Arizona drafted Cooper after giving up an NFL-high 38 sacks vs. four or fewer rushers in 2012. The 49ers had 36 sacks with a standard pass rush last season (second in NFL).

10/

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09/02/2013 ESPN The Magazine

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