NFL 2013 Season Predictions

Filed in NFL by on September 5, 2013

Are you ready for some NFL footballll?!?!?!?! Nick Tedeschi and Cliff Bingham are. With the season opener less than 24 hours away, Nick lays down his predictions for the season ahead and Cliff does likewise while ranting in a seemingly endless fashion about stats. Hey, it’s what he does. We don’t ask questions about it.


For people who have less of a statistical nerd bent than I do, I’ve parked all of the number-crunching behind my key thoughts this season at the bottom of this article (below the season predictions). If you’re a stats nerd, you know where to look.

The turbo-charged summary: by virtue of the frequency with which stronger teams will play each and weaker teams will play each other, expect parity to rule the NFL in 2013.


AFC East

I don’t care if Nick and I almost make in onto the Patriots’ depth chart at wide receiver – Brady and Belichick (and for one injury-afflicted year, Cassel and Belichick) have won 10 or more games every year since 2002. Now’s not the time to start putting forward an alternative prognostication.

My remaining hopes for the mediocrity that is the remainder of the AFC East: (1) that Ryan Tannehill develops into a top-tier QB over time; (2) that the Bills play E.J. Manuel all season (to give my team an E.J. and C.J. duo at QB/ RB); and (3) that the Jets’ 2013 soap opera turns out to be as entertaining as the preseason ‘trailers’ would have you believe.

CB Predicted finish: New England 11-5, Miami 8-8, Buffalo 8-8, NY Jets 5-11
NT Predicted finish: New England 12-4, Buffalo 7-9, Miami 7-9, NY Jets 5-11

AFC North

It’s true that the Ravens have lost Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Anquan Boldin among others in the offseason (which may hurt them come the playoffs). But the Harbaugh/ Flacco/ Rice triumvirate is still there, and they’ve got a 54-26 regular season record over the past five years. I’d put them into the playoffs well before I’d rolled the dice on the Bengals going there for a third straight year (we’ll come to that in a moment).

Fun Pittsburgh Fact – They haven’t posted consecutive single-digit win seasons since 1999-00.

Fun Pittsburgh Fact #2 – Their 8.5 Pythagorean expected wins last year was their worst result since 2003.

Fun Cincinnati Fact – Last year represented their first back-to-back playoff years’ scenario since 1981-82 (1982 was a season shortened to nine regular season games plus a revamped playoff schedule). They went .500 or worse in the three seasons from 1983 to 1985.

Fun Cleveland Fact – The Browns have record six wins or less in nine of the last 10 seasons, with five wins or less on eight of those occasions.

CB Predicted finish: Baltimore 10-6, Pittsburgh 10-6 (wild card), Cincinnati 8-8, Cleveland 5-11
NT Predicted finish: Pittsburgh 10-6, Cincinnati 10-6 (wild card), Baltimore 9-7 (wild card), Cleveland 6-10

AFC South

Last year, the Texans went 12-4 against a schedule which included the NFC North and AFC East. With the AFC West now on their schedule, they get a total of 9 games against the Titans, Jags, Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders, Rams and Cardinals. Despite being a bit bland and probably outmatched by the big guns in the playoffs, they tend to beat (often convincingly) the sides that they should, which will be enough to lock down another double-digit win season.

My concerns with the Colts are numerous – an unsustainably good 2012 record in close matches (a 9-1 record in games decided by a touchdown or less), the fact that they won’t be able to call on the “Chuckstrong” emotions in the same way, an off-season of opponents scouting Andrew Luck, the fact that they’ve conceded 24 PPG in each of the last 3 seasons. Only the combination of their creampuff schedule and the fact that Luck might be very good prevent me from assigning them a free fall to 6-10 or thereabouts.

Tennessee would be a tempting sleeper if not for the fact that they did little to improve a defence which leaked over 29 PPG last year – tough to win regularly against those kinds of numbers.

Jacksonville hasn’t had a season where they reached 7 Pythagorean wins since 2007. And they still have the mediocre Blaine Gabbert at QB, encouraging defences to protect against the run and dare Gabbert to beat them deep. Both of these facts seem relevant.

CB Predicted finish: Houston 12-4, Indianapolis 8-8, Tennessee 5-11, Jacksonville 5-11
NT Predicted finish: Houston 11-5, Indianapolis 7-9, Tennessee 5-11, Jacksonville 4-12

AFC West

Given the parlous state of the AFC West except for the team with Peyton Manning on their roster, I don’t feel any need to explain a prediction that Denver will romp away with the divisional title and likely grab the number-1 seed in the AFC.

At the other end of the spectrum is Oakland, who already has a mediocre QB controversy on its hands and could be openly tanking this year with a view to the 2014 draft.

That is likely to leave the improvement in overall AFC wins (remember how easy their schedule is relative to last year) to be divided between San Diego and Kansas City.

The case for San Diego grabbing a wild card: Went 1-5 last year in games decided by less than a touchdown, Norv Turner is gone, tough to see Kansas City jumping from a 2-14 record to a wild card.

The case for Kansas City grabbing a wild card: New coach (Andy Reid), new QB (Alex Smith), 6 players who went to the Pro Bowl last year, Chargers haven’t gone better than 9-7 since LaDainian Tomlinson was at his peak.

Thinking…. bugger it, we need a legit playoff sleeper here – the Chiefs it is.

CB Predicted finish: Denver 13-3, Kansas City 9-7 (wild card), San Diego 6-10, Oakland 2-14
NT Predicted finish: Denver 11-5, Kansas City 8-8, San Diego 7-9, Oakland 1-15

NFC East

Four lingering questions regarding the NFC East:

Since Eli Manning arrived at the Giants, they’ve never finished worse than 8-8 – why would they buck the trend now?

Can RG III be as damaging in his second season, having just come off an ACL reconstruction, or will his mobility (and therefore attacking potency) be hampered?

Can Dallas actually win a playoff match during the Tony Romo era, or even make the playoffs during the Romo/ Garrett era?

Can Chip Kelly bind a locker room rocked by the actions of Riley Cooper and make an offensive structure that was effective at college level translate to the NFL?

CB Predicted finish: NY Giants 10-6, Washington 8-8, Dallas 8-8, Philadelphia 6-10
NT Predicted finish: Philadelphia 9-7, NY Giants 8-8, Washington 8-8, Dallas 7-9

NFC North

The Packers are 47-17 in the regular season over the past 4 years – as long as Aaron Rodgers remains healthy, I could see him becoming a Manning/ Brady-like figure in terms of guaranteeing his team a minimum of 10 wins per year for a decade or so. It seems moronic to take them on with any great ferocity.

I’m sick of tipping the Bears to finish with 11-12 wins and watching the season start in a really promising fashion before finding a way to careen off the road into a tree. With Brian Urlacher gone and a rookie head coach in charge, I’m playing them conservatively this year.

Minnesota are unlikely to get another 2000-plus yard season from Adrian Peterson and after a 5-1 record last year in matches decided by less than a touchdown, they appear set to regress slightly this season.

On paper, Detroit appeal as a sleeper on the back of their unlucky record last year in close games, the addition of Reggie Bush to their running game and the Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson deep threat. However, the Lions’ defensive unit haven’t conceded less than 23 PPG since 2005, and haven’t conceded less than 21 PPG at any point in the last decade. In a very tough division and with a tough overall schedule this season, that defensive frailty is likely to be too much to overcome.

CB Predicted finish: Green Bay 11-5, Chicago 9-7 (wild card), Minnesota 8-8, Detroit 6-10
NT Predicted finish: Green Bay 13-3, Detroit 10-6 (wild card), Chicago 7-9, Minnesota 5-11

NFC South

We haven’t had a team successfully defend the NFC South crown for the past decade, so why start now?

The Saints get head coach Sean Payton back from suspension this season. You might remember him as the guy who, along with Drew Brees, orchestrated a 37-11 regular season record from 2009 to 2011 and a Super Bowl victory four years ago. Almost every year we see a team leap from outside the playoffs the previous year to a first round bye (Niners in 2011, Bears in 2010, Saints in 2009, etc). The Saints are my pick to fill the role in 2013.

I’m having flashbacks to 2 years ago with the Falcons, when they also came off a 13-3 season where their Pythagorean expected wins were well below that number (10.8 in 2010, 10.6 last year), albeit that their playoff performances were much more competitive last year. And yet…. they did everything but throw away the Seattle match and then surrendered a huge lead to the Niners in the NFC Championship game. Given their playoff struggles in previous years, can they prevent the “chokers” tag from sticking? Moreover, almost every year we see a top-two team from the previous season miss the playoffs entirely (Bears in 2011, Vikings in 2010, Panthers in 2009, etc). I feel more confident about the Pats, Broncos and Niners making the playoffs this season than I do the Falcons.

The last 3 years that Payton/ Brees were together at New Orleans, the Bucs and Panthers combined for 11, 12 and 10 wins respectively. Last year sans Payton, they combined for 14 wins. I think that number regresses this year.

CB Predicted finish: New Orleans 12-4, Atlanta 9-7, Tampa Bay 6-10, Carolina 5-11
NT Predicted finish: Carolina 10-6, New Orleans 9-7, Tampa Bay 8-8, Atlanta 7-9


NFC West

I find this the most difficult division of all to talk about, primarily because I think it will run more or less to script. The Niners and Seahawks are the clear top two picks in some order (with no clear cut favourite), I can’t see Sam Bradford making the big leap required when he plays four matches against the aforementioned defensive units, and I can’t see the Cardinals doing anything of note with Carson Palmer (who is better than John Skelton and Kevin Kolb, but is no Kurt Warner in a once-putrid division). There – that was quick.

CB Predicted finish: Seattle 11-5, San Francisco 10-6 (wild card), St Louis 6-10, Arizona 5-11
NT Predicted finish: San Francisco 12-4, Seattle 10-6 (wild card), St Louise 6-10, Arizona 5-11

AFC Playoff Predictions:

Wild card: (3) New England d. (6) Kansas City; (4) Baltimore d. (5) Pittsburgh

Divisional Playoffs: (4) Baltimore d. (1) Denver; (3) New England d. (2) Houston

AFC Championship: Baltimore d. New England


Wild card: (3) Houston d. (6) Balitmore; (4) Pittsburgh d. (5) Cincinnati

Divisional Playoffs: (4) Pittsburgh d. (1) New England; (2) Denver d. (3) Houston

AFC Championship: Pittsburgh d. Denver

NFC Playoff Predictions:

Wild card: (3) Green Bay d. (6) Chicago; (5) San Francisco d.(4) NY Giants

Divisional Playoffs: (1) New Orleans d. (5) San Francisco; (2) Seattle d. (3) Green Bay

NFC Championship: New Orleans d. Seattle


Wild card: (3) Carolina d. (6) Seattle; (5) Detroit d.(4) Philadelphia

Divisional Playoffs: (1) Green Bay d. (5) Detroit; (2) San Francisco d. (3) Carolina

NFC Championship: Green Bay d. San Francisco

Super Bowl Prediction

CB: New Orleans d. Baltimore

NT: Green Bay d. Pittsburgh



Statistical Notes

As we all know, each NFL team plays 16 games per regular season – six within their own division and ten others (four against another division in their own conference, four against a division in the other conference and two against other teams within their own conference). For example, last season New England played six matches against the remainder of the AFC East, four against the AFC South, four against the NFC West and one each against members of the AFC North (Baltimore) and AFC West (Denver). You get the idea.

Anyway, four teams per division, each of them to play matches against ten opponents from outside of their division. If teams were perfectly equal, you’d be expect sides to go 5-5 in these ten matches and thus each division to go a collective 20-20 each season, right? Now, check out the actual trends in results since 2002, split into streak of strength and weakness for each division as a collective:

AFC East (current assessment: middle of range)

72-48 from 2002-04; 81-79 from 2005-08; 84-76 (with 3 years of 19 to 21 wins) from 2009-12

AFC North (current assessment: the best AFC division)

34-46 from 2002-03; 46-34 from 2004-05; 102-97-1 from 2006-10; 46-34 from 2011-12.

AFC South(current assessment: thankful that the AFC West exists, because they’re a long way from challenging the sixth best division)

104-96 from 2002-06; 82-38 from 2007-09 (the best streak of any division in the last decade); 32-48 from 2010-11; 19-21 last year

AFC West (current assessment: the worst division in football…. but only just)

111-89 from 2002-06; 43-77 from 2007-09; 38-42 from 2010-11; 14-26 last year

NFC East (current assessment: the worst NFC division over the past 2 years, but still only third worst overall)

60-60 from 2002-04; 120-79-1 from 2005-09; 57-63 from 2010-12

NFC North (current assessment: the best NFC division)

84-116 from 2002-06; 77-83 from 2007-10; 102-97-1 from 2006-10; 47-33 from 2011-12.

NFC South(current assessment: above average – just gets the nod over the NFC West as the second best division to due to longevity of strong form)

26-14 in 2002; 59-61 from 2003-05; 32-48 from 2006-07; 116-84 from 2008-12

NFC West (current assessment: strong for the first time in a decade)

38-42 from 2002-03; 95-185 from 2004-10 (an amazing seven seasons of putridity); 18-22 in 2010-11; 23-17 last year

Pythagorean expectation has often been used to assess the capability of individual teams, but it can be also be used to assess the strength of each division, as per below:

Total Pythagorean expected wins (per annum) by division over 2011-12 (64 matches per division each year)

(1) NFC North 35.5; (2) AFC North 34.5; (3) NFC South 33.4; (4) AFC East 32.8; (5) NFC West 32.3; (6) NFC East 31.3; (7) AFC South 27.3; (8) AFC West 26.8

Impact of 2013 schedule

Not all NFL divisions are created equal, which becomes very important when assessing the strength of the schedule faced by each team. Now, in 2013:

  1. The two worst divisions in football (the AFC South and AFC West) play 16 matches against each other, plus the 12 intra-division matches apiece. This locks them in to a combined 40-40 record before we consider the 48 matches they play against the rest of the NFL;
  2. The AFC West also draws 16 matches against the worst NFC division over the past two years (the East);
  3. The two best divisions in the AFC (the East and North) play 16 matches against each other;
  4. The AFC North also plays 16 matches against the NFC North – the best division in the league over the past two seasons;
  5. The worst division in the NFC (the East) swaps their 16 matches against the AFC North from 2012 for 16 against the much weaker AFC West in 2013.

What does all of this mean? In all likelihood, greater parity between divisions when it comes to total wins tallies. Given that last year only one division (the AFC West) posted a combined record of worse than 31-33 and the best record of any division (shared by the NFC North and NFC West) was only 35-29, the distribution of wins within each division is likely to be more important than the distributionbetween divisions.

In considering the strength of each division’s overall schedule, we can use the Pythagorean expected wins figures above and weight them by the percentage of the schedule played against each division. For example, the AFC East will play 37.5% of its 2013 schedule against the rest of the AFC East, 25% against the AFC North, 25% against the NFC South, 6.25% against the AFC South and 6.25% against the AFC West.

Using the figures above, that gives a weighted “Pythagorean opponent” figure of 32.6. Applying that to all other divisions give the following:

Strength of schedule using “Pythagorean opponent” expected wins (per annum) by division

(1) NFC North 33.9; (2) AFC North 33.4; (3) NFC South 33.0; (4) AFC East 32.6; (5) NFC West 31.5; (6) NFC East 31.4; (7) AFC South 29.2; (8) AFC West 28.9

Differential between Total Pythagorean expected wins and “Pythagorean opponent”

(1) NFC North 1.6; (2) AFC North 1.1; (3) NFC West 0.8; (4) NFC South 0.4; (5) AFC East 0.2; (6) NFC East -0.1; (7) AFC South -1.9; (8) AFC West -2.1

Predicted total wins per division (32 wins out of 64 matches plus or minus the differential noted above)

34 – NFC North

33 – AFC North, NFC West

32 – NFC South, AFC East, NFC East

30 – AFC South, AFC West


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