# 2009 NFL Season Detailed Analysis – Best Case / Worst Case Projections

Donna CavanaghCorrespondent ISeptember 4, 2009

As we did in 2008, we published our PossessionPoints.com “Preseason Preview” a couple of weeks ago before the first preseason game was even played. In this preview, we go through the full 256-game NFL schedule and look at how we think each team will do.

We wanted to give our Bleacher Report readers a synopsis of the preview, so here it is. Keep in mind that even though we call this a synopsis, this is a detailed, and we mean detailed, analysis. Going through 32 teams takes time and space. So, get yourself a cold drink or a cup of coffee, perhaps a pizza and sit down and enjoy!

One nice thing about the PossessionPoints stat is that it lends itself well to mathematical manipulation. So, we look at how teams did by our stat both offensively and defensively in the prior year, apply adjustments we feel account for off-season changes, then run their new stat against their 2009 schedule and see how they do.

Sound pointless? Well, we used the same methodology last year and our picks went 153-103. That was good enough for a top 10-finish in a contest with 300+ people picking games each week. They had the benefit of up-to-the-minute injury data and other variables, while our picks were made in July. So needless to say, we saw no reason to change this methodology.

We aren’t going to go into all the detail in this article that we did on each team in our preseason preview. We will provide readers who want to read the full 35-page preview a link at the end of the article. You can read it for free.

With each team, we accept the possibility that our expected case adjustments may be wrong. We intentionally try to be conservative so as to get a “middle” expectation. We then go to extremes, both positive and negative, and rerun the season. This gives us an idea of who the “surprise” good, and “surprise” bad teams might be.

Most teams in the NFL have a pretty wide range. If they stumble, they could be very bad, but if things fall right, they could have a season to remember. We find it a fun exercise to see where a team’s extremes could fall. Some teams surprised us, and our findings may cause you to raise an eyebrow also.

The other thing we love to look at is which conference do we think will be stronger in the coming season, and this year we think the balance of power is swinging to the NFC. In 2007, the NFC and AFC split their inter-league games 32-32, last season the AFC had a slight edge, 34-29-1 (Bengals and Eagles tied). The numbers we settled on this season, have the NFC winning 36 of the 64 inter-league games and the AFC winning just 28..

When it comes to the overall division records, we hope, for football fans in the west, we are wrong. But in both conferences, the western divisions are the only ones who fall below .500 (in the NFC the west is 29-35 while in the AFC total to just 23-41).

In each of the team write-ups, you will see a “projected record”. That will be followed with what their rank in the league was by our PossessionPoints stat for both offense and defense in 2008.

After that we show you the adjustment factors we settled on to for their offense and defensive numbers. All teams’ final adjusted numbers were played against the 2009 schedule to get their “projected record”. Next, you will see best and worst case scenarios, which we talked about earlier, followed by some quick observations.

Enough of the preliminaries, we promised you a team-by-team analysis and by gosh you are going to get it. We’ll start with the AFC.

AFC East:
Patriots:
Projected Record 13-3
2008 Offense Rank: 4th                Defense Rank: 11th
Best Case Record: 16-0                Worst Case Record: 6-10

Quick Observations: The return of Tom Brady could easily mean the Patriots have a bigger offensive adjustment than the 5% we put in. Could the Patriots go 16-0 again? Probably not, but being a stats-based manipulation, you can’t fault the computer for putting it out there.

The 6-10 downside is what surprised us a little. It indicates to us that the 2008 Patriots really did come “back to the pack” some, compared with where they were in 2007, plus the fact that the other teams in their division have improved since then.

Bills:
Projected Record 8-8
2008 Offense Rank: 23rd               Defense Rank: 18th
Best Case Record: 10-6                Worst Case Record: 2-14

Quick Observations: Perhaps, the addition of T.O. won’t make a difference to the Bills but that wouldn’t follow the pattern of T.O. which is that things go well the first year he plays on a new team. In reality, the teams finishing 2-4 in this division could end up in just about any order.

While we have the expected records of the Jets and Dolphins below the Bills, both of them have a better best case than the Bills. That is mostly due to the fact that we settled on a pretty aggressive upward adjustment for the Bills, while we were both conservative and pessimistic with the Jets and Dolphins. Time will tell.

Jets:
Projected Record 7-9
2008 Offense Rank: 10th               Defense Rank: 9th
Best Case Record: 13-3                Worst Case Record: 2-14

Quick Observations: The Jets made substantial improvements in 2008 with Brett Favre at quarterback. Their offense improved 43% from their 2007 level, so we are going with a small fall of in the offense due to another quarterback change.

These numbers and projections remember, were done before the first preseason game, and well before Mark Sanchez was named as the starter. If Sanchez is the real deal, then perhaps the Jets’ offense will not fall off at all, and they head toward their best case of a 13-3 record. Their best case is high because they were a top 10 offense and defense in the PossessionPoints stat last year.

Dolphins:
Projected Record 5-11
2008 Offense Rank: 13th               Defense Rank: 10th
Best Case Record: 12-4                Worst Case Record: 2-14

Quick Observations: We can hear Dolphins’ fans screaming. “How can you
take a playoff team from last year and project a 5-11 record?” Well, by our calculation, based on last year’s performances, the Dolphins’ 2009 schedule is the second toughest in the league.

Although the “wildcat offense” will not take anyone by surprise this season, Miami did add one of the best running quarterbacks in College football history, Pat White, to their roster. This could produce significant new wrinkles that opposing defensive coordinators must plan for. So, even though the Dolphins will have a difficult schedule, we left their offensive PossessionPoints unchanged from 2008. Not every team can improve, so we did cave into the hard schedule and drop their defensive numbers by a small 5%.

Like the Jets in this division, there is a wide range in the Dolphins’ possible results, again this is because they were in the high-middle in both offense and defense last year, and small changes could change their rank and performance dramatically.

Overall for the AFC East we have them just over .500 at 33-31.

AFC North:
Steelers:
Projected Record 14-2
2008 Offense Rank: 15th                Defense Rank: 2nd
Best Case Record: 15-1                Worst Case Record: 6-10

Quick Observations: The Steelers were a very good PossessionPoints team in 2006, 2007, and 2008. Their offense actually went back by 19% in 2008 while their defensive PossessionPoints performance improved by 16%. In last year’s Preseason Preview, we reduced their offense by 10% and left their defense unchanged and projected a 12-4 record. This year could be another great year for the Steelers.

We continue to bring their PossessionPoints projections back with the rest of the pack of the league. We reduced their offensive and defensive numbers by 5%. This does not matter much in our eyes, because unlike 2008, when we viewed their schedule as the toughest in the league, this year they have the fifth-easiest schedule based on teams’ 2008 PossessionPoints numbers. Even with the negative adjustments, the computer spit out a forecast of a 14-2 record and a return trip to the Super Bowl.

Ravens:
Projected Record 12-4
2008 Offense Rank: 19th                Defense Rank: 1st
Best Case Record: 15-1                Worst Case Record: 9-7

Quick Observations: The Ravens reversed their fortunes in a big way in 2008. After a horrible 2007, the Ravens got their defense back on track and led the league by our PossessionPoints measure. This got them a wild card playoff berth and carried them to a game short of the Super Bowl.

We do not see a repeat of the 2007 let down, and we expect the Ravens will continue to improve as Joe Flacco, their surprising rookie QB from last year, enters his second full season. So, we improved their offense by 5% and left their league-leading defense unchanged. Hopefully, the loss of Coach Rex Ryan doesn’t detract from their defense. Their worst case number shocked us in that they were the only team with a better than .500 worst case.

This, we can attribute to the fact that the first-place rank on defense doesn’t tell the story. By the PossessionPoints measure they were 19% better than the second-place Steelers defense, so even when we aggressively turned down the Ravens, their defense kept them winning more games than they lost.

Browns:
Projected Record 5-11
2008 Offense Rank: 30th                Defense Rank: 13th
Best Case Record: 11-5                Worst Case Record: 1-15

Quick Observations: The Browns stumbled big time in 2008 in terms of offensive PossessionPoints and wins, and it cost coach Romeo Crennel his job. The Browns’ offensive PossessionPoints numbers fell by 34% from their 2007 level. Injuries and ineffective performance plagued the quarterback position in particular. Will Coach Mangini have more success?

We think he could help, and we adjusted the Browns offensive PossessionPoints number up 20% and their defensive number up 10%. Those are pretty significant upward revisions, but coaching changes seem to be able to rapidly re-establish performance when there was a rapid falloff the year before.

Witness the 2006 to 2007 to 2008 Ravens: good, bad and back to good after a coaching change. That’s the good news. The bad news is even with the aggressive adjustments, the Browns were still projected sub .500. It takes even more radical adjustments to get to their best case of 11-5. Browns’ fans, you don’t want to think about the downside.

Bengals:
Projected Record 2-14
2008 Offense Rank: 32nd               Defense Rank: 21st
Best Case Record: 6-10                Worst Case Record: 0-16

Quick Observations: The Bengals were a bad PossessionPoints team in 2008 with a poor road record of 4-11. Their offense was dead last in the league at 32nd which was a 42% fall off from their 2007 offense that was seventh best in the league. Their defense last season was no glimmer of light either as they were 21st in the league.

Hopefully for the Bengals, 2009 will finally find a 100% healthy Carson Palmer. We have built that in and improved their offensive numbers by 25%. However, we did not bring them all the way back to 2007 levels because we think the loss of TJ Houshmandzadeh will be felt. The 2008 defensive performance was within one percent of 2007’s performance, so we think this year, Marvin Lewis will get his defense going a bit more. In anticipation of this defensive bump, we adjusted the defensive number up 10%.

Even with all these positive adjustments, the effects of having the 10th hardest schedule in the league by our calculation, causes the computer to spit out a very disappointing 2-14 record. It only likes home wins against the Lions and Chiefs.

Overall for the AFC North we also have them just over .500 at 33-31.

AFC South:
Texans:
Projected Record 10-6
2008 Offense Rank: 6th                Defense Rank: 17th
Best Case Record: 13-3                Worst Case Record: 8-8

Quick Observations: Coach Gary Kubiak is entering his fourth season at Houston, and we think conditions may just be right for his team to be the “surprise” team of 2009. If we are right in that the Colts experience some adjustment struggles with their coaching changes, and the Titans do not enjoy the kind of success they had in 2008, then the door opens for this young and talented team.

The Texans had the surprise rookie running back last year in Steve Slaton, and he is quite the complement to their all-world wide receiver Andre Johnson. If Slaton can avoid a sophomore slump, we feel quite confident that the Texans can equal their offensive PossessionPoints performance which was a quite good sixth in the league. So, we left their offense unchanged and upped their defensive performance, which was 17th in the league last season, by a conservative 5%. Based on last year’s team performances, the Texans have the fourth easiest schedule
in the league this season. All of these factors came together, and our computer spit out a 10-6 projection and a win of the AFC South.

Do not get too carried away Texans’ fans, as the South is a very good division and in reality, we wouldn’t be surprised if any of the four teams in the division were to win it.

Titans:
Projected Record 9-7
2008 Offense Rank: 22nd              Defense Rank: 5th
Best Case Record: 11-5                Worst Case Record: 7-9

Quick Observations: Last season, the Titans made Kerry Collins the starter and moved a troubled Vince Young to backup. Given the success the Titans had last season, Tennessee signed Collins to a two-year, \$15 million contract. There is no QB controversy as the starting job is Collins’. The Titans’ offense wasn’t what propelled them to success last season based on our PossessionPoints numbers. They were 22nd in the league while their defense was an astounding fifth. So, for this season, we like the stability at QB as well as the running back tandem of Chris Johnson and LenDale White. We decided to give the Titans a 5% positive adjustment. While there isn’t much room for defensive improvement, we also moved that unit up, but by only 2%. The computer ran through the schedule, which based on last year’s opponent performances, is the 13th toughest in the league, and it produced a 9-7 record. The Titans are one of the few teams with a pretty tight range as we have them with a worst case of just 7-9. Like the Ravens, they can thank their good defense for that.

Colts:
Projected Record 8-8
2008 Offense Rank: 14th               Defense Rank: 27th
Best Case Record: 12-4                Worst Case Record: 3-13

Quick Observations: The Colts had a very good 12-4 record last season, but based on their PossessionPoints numbers, we would view them as overachievers. While in past seasons, they were typically a top-five PossessionPoints offensive team, in 2008 they ranked just 14th. This represented a 17% fall from their 2007 performance. However, let’s remember that their season was basically split. In the beginning, Peyton Manning was struggling to get back from off-season knee surgery and an infection which caused Manning to miss the entire 2008 preseason. The Colts’ numbers were markedly different in the last nine games as opposed to the first seven.

We decided to adjust the Colts up to the performance levels of the last nine games of last year. So, we upped their overall offense 20% and their defense 5%. The defensive adjustment may be doubtful if oft-injured star safety, Bob Sanders, doesn’t come back 100% from his current knee injury. The Colts have the 12th most difficult schedule in the league based on our stats, so even with the positive adjustments, the computer only yielded an 8-8 result.

The Colts have one of the widest possible ranges, and this is due to their 27th ranked defense. If their performance falls off instead of improving then the Colts could find themselves on the short side of a lot of high scoring games.

Jaguars:
Projected Record 8-8
2008 Offense Rank: 18th               Defense Rank: 22nd
Best Case Record: 12-4                Worst Case Record: 4-12

Quick Observations: PossessionPoints has the Jaguars listed last in the AFC South, but as we have said in other team write-ups, this division could be won by any of the four teams. The Jaguars had an off year in 2008. Their offensive numbers were off 23% while there defensive numbers broke down and tumbled over 31%.

Many people blame a rash of injuries, and we won’t argue with that. We do not think Jack Del Rio has lost his touch with the team. The offensive line had considerable injuries last year, so the Jaguars addressed that with their first-round pick of Eugene Monroe. Monroe missed the first few weeks of camp while his contract was being worked out, but he finally signed on August 14th. Time will tell if the missed practice time has an effect on the highly touted rookie.

We adjusted the Jaguars offense and defense up five percent, not bringing them back to their 2007 level, but certainly an improvement over last season. By our numbers, the Jaguars have the 11th easiest schedule, so even with the modest improvements we made, the computer yielded an 8-8 result for the Jags.

Like the Colts, the Jaguars have a pretty wide range in our best and worst case numbers. They are in the low middle with their 2007 offensive and defensive numbers, so again they are prime candidates for large movements.

Overall for the AFC South we have this division with the best overall record in the AFC at 35-29. No matter which teams wins this division, we would not count that as a surprise.

AFC West:
Chargers:
Projected Record 12-4
2008 Offense Rank: 1st                 Defense Rank: 15th
Best Case Record: 13-3                Worst Case Record: 6-10

Quick Observations: Norv Turner has flirted with disaster his first two seasons as Chargers coach. Last year, they won the division with an 8-8 record basically because of a monumental collapse by the Denver Broncos.

However, from a PossessionPoints standpoint, 2008 was not so bad and unlike the Colts who overachieved relative to their PossessionPoints stats, the Chargers underperformed. The Chargers were first in offense but 15th in defense. This left them seventh overall in our performance rankings.

Given where they were, we decided to leave both their offensive and defensive numbers unchanged, as we didn’t see any significant events in the off-season that would push us to make adjustments.

We did consider the return of Shawne Merriman, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, but in the end we went with the conservative approach and left it unchanged. The result is that once again that the Chargers will win the AFC West with a projected record of 12-4.

The best case is pretty close to what we see as the “best case” of 13-3 so it would seem like there is a lot more downside in the Chargers’ prediction than there is upside.

Raiders:
Projected Record 6-10
2008 Offense Rank: 31st                 Defense Rank: 26th
Best Case Record: 8-8                  Worst Case Record: 4-12

Quick Observations: In 2008, the Raiders backslid on their PossessionPoints offensive and defensive performances. They went backwards 22% on offense and 19% on defense. It is not surprising that Lane Kiffin lost his job although the circumstances surrounding the dismissal were a bit on the bizarre side even for Al Davis.

Then, there was the 2009 draft where the Raiders shocked the “experts” by selecting Darrius Heyward-Bey with their first round selection. It was very hard to gauge what kind of adjustments we should make to the Tom Cable-led Raiders. The Raiders played spoiler in the final game of the season and knocked the Bucs out of the playoffs (allowing the Eagles to sneak in). That takes some doing to get a team with a bad record to beat a team with a potential playoff future.

So, we went with very optimistic adjustments of 30% on offense and 20% on defense. Even with these incredibly large adjustments, the projection for the 2009 Raiders came out to be only be 6-10.

We can probably chalk that up to the Raiders having the eighth toughest schedule based again on the 2008 PossessionPoints performances of their 2009 opponents. The Raiders have one of the tightest ranges between best and worst case, only four games separate the best case of 8-8 and worst case of 4-12.

Chiefs:
Projected Record 3-13
2008 Offense Rank: 24th                Defense Rank: 29th
Best Case Record: 11-5                Worst Case Record: 1-15

Quick Observations: Last year, our preseason preview for the Chiefs started out “Dear Herm (Edwards): You have your work cut out for you this year.” Unfortunately, our projections proved optimistic as the Chiefs only won two instead of the projected three games.

The 2008 Chiefs were not a very good PossessionPoints team as they were 24th in offense and 29th in defense. The Chiefs tried to address their defensive inequities in the draft by selecting defensive end Tyson Jackson, defensive tackle Alex Magee and corner back Donald Washington with their first three picks. They also addressed the offense by getting quarterback Matt Cassel.

Given these changes, we adjusted the Chiefs’ offense and defense up by 15% each. It didn’t have much of an effect as the computer still only saw fit to favor them in three home games against the Raiders, Broncos and Browns. However, there is a wide spread with the Chiefs so if things do manage to click, they could be a surprise team this year pushing the Chargers.

Broncos:
Projected Record 2-14
2008 Offense Rank: 11th                 Defense Rank: 30th
Best Case Record: 7-9                  Worst Case Record: 1-15

Quick Observations: The Broncos had the playoffs made last season, and it looked like the Chargers were done. All the Broncos needed to do was win one of their last three games, but Denver seemed to fall apart, and they lost all them all. The Broncos of 2009 will be very different than the Broncos of 2008.

Gone are quarterback Jay Cutler and coach Mike Shanahan. The 2009 Broncos will be led by quarterback Kyle Orton and coach Josh McDaniels. McDaniels is off to a rocky start in Colorado. He will need to quickly get the focus off the off-season loss of Cutler at quarterback and onto football.

We think the production of Cutler will be difficult to replace even with the addition of rookie running back Knowshon Moreno. If they still had Cutler and added Moreno, we would be making a positive adjustment, but the loss of Cutler causes us to take 5% off their offensive numbers from 2008.

We left their defense unchanged. The projection was for a division trailing 2-14 record. That could make things mighty uncomfortable for rookie coach McDaniels. Even our best case is a sub .500 7-9.

Overall for the AFC West we have this division with the worst overall record in the AFC at just 23-41. This division really looks like the Chargers to lose, and we think they will have a hard time losing it.

NFC East:
Giants:
Projected Record 13-3
2008 Offense Rank: 2nd               Defense Rank: 6th
Best Case Record: 13-3                Worst Case Record: 8-8

Quick Observations: The Giants were a very good PossessionPoints team last year as they were second in offense and sixth in defense. They lost in the playoffs to a likewise good PossessionPoints team, the Eagles.

It is hard to see the Giants improving on last season offensively especially with the loss of Plaxico Burress who almost certainly will not be playing in the NFL this season. The Giants’ offense did tail off late last season after they lost Burress, so in this off-season, they drafted a wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. Unfortunately, he alone can’t replace the production of Burress.

The Giants also lost Derrick Ward to free agency to the Bucs who picked up the Giants number two running back from last season. They also tried to address that loss in the draft by picking Andre Brown from NC State. Unfortunately, he tore his Achilles tendon in practice and is already out for the season. On the positive side, the Giants defense should be getting Osi Umenyiora back.

So, we adjusted the Giants’ offense down 5% and defense up 2%. Despite having the seventh hardest schedule in 2009 and basically a negative adjustment to their 2008 performance, the computer still yielded a 13-3 division winning projection. In a real strange twist, even with further offensive and defensive performances, we still got 13-3 as a best case, so we are out on a limb forecasting the Giants to achieve what we think will be the best case scenario. There is plenty of downside - down to 8-8 or so.

Eagles:
Projected Record 11-5
2008 Offense Rank: 8th                Defense Rank: 3rd
Best Case Record: 13-3                Worst Case Record: 8-8

Quick Observations: The only thing standing in the way of the 2009 Eagles appears to be division foe - the Giants. As we made our adjustments, many of the early runs had the Eagles-not the Giants - in the Super Bowl. The Eagles’ defensive coordinator from last season, Jim Johnson, lost his battle with cancer earlier this year.

Sean McDermott has replaced Johnson, but we are concerned that the McDermott defense may not be as effective as Johnson’s defense. The Eagles also have already lost last year’s starting middle linebacker, Stewart Bradley, for the season with a knee injury. Last year, the Eagles were the third best defense in the league, but we have concerns that they won’t be able to maintain that level, so we adjusted their defensive numbers down 10%.

The Eagles have worked to improve their offense by drafting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and running back LeSean McCoy. They also added Michael Vick, but we had already committed to a 2% positive adjustment to their offense before the signing of Vick, so we are sticking with that.

The Eagles have an easier schedule this year than last year. They have the 19th toughest schedule which isn’t that bad. With our adjustments, the computer figured the Eagles would come in second in the division with an 11-5 record. They have the same best case and worst case as the Giants, 13-3 and 8-8.

Cowboys:
Projected Record 8-8
2008 Offense Rank: 16th                 Defense Rank: 12th
Best Case Record: 12-4                Worst Case Record: 5-11

Quick Observations: We considered the Cowboys’ 2008 PossessionPoints performance somewhat middle-of-the-road. They were the 16th best offense and 12th best defense. In the off-season, they got rid of wide receiver Terrell Owens. Some people think this will be a positive; others are not so sure.

Terrell Owens is a top wide receiver and even if a play doesn’t go his way, he does have an impact because he will draw the attention of the defense. So, we made as minor a negative adjustment as we could with his loss- just 1%. We left their defense unchanged.

The Cowboys have the ninth hardest 2009 schedule by our calculation and that combined with their middle-of-the-road numbers yielded a mediocre 8-8 result. This year will be a good test for head coach Wade Phillips. We give him credit if he can get the team over .500, but we will be looking for him to be searching for a new gig if they fall much below .500.

Don’t panic yet, Cowboy fans, their best case is pretty close to the Giants’ and Eagles’ best case, and if they achieve that best case, you know some of those wins will come at the Giants’ and Eagles’ expense. So, we wouldn’t count the Cowboys out of winning this division.

Redskins:
Projected Record 3-13
2008 Offense Rank: 27th                 Defense Rank: 7th
Best Case Record: 10-6                Worst Case Record: 2-14

Quick Observations: The Redskins are hurt most by being in one of the toughest divisions in football. We know they added one of the best defensive linemen in Albert Haynesworth, but the Redskins have had a long history of signing big name players only to have them fall off considerably once they put on a Redskin jersey and cash that big check. We have no explanation for this, so we won’t even try to make sense of it.

The Redskins’ offense was their biggest problem last year as they were 27th in the league by our PossessionPoints stat. Their defense was actually quite good at seventh best in the league. Looking at their division and recognizing that not every team can improve, we made a modest 5% downward adjustment to their offense and defense.

Hopefully, for Redskins’ fans this is not the direction they go because this produced a poor 3-13 result. The good news is this was pretty close to what we see as the worst case scenario of 2-14. The best case of 10-6 would most likely land them a wild card.

Overall for the NFC East we have this division with the same overall record as the NFC North and AFC South 35-29. These three divisions tie for the best record in our projections.

NFC North:
Packers:
Projected Record 11-5
2008 Offense Rank: 3rd                Defense Rank: 16th
Best Case Record: 15-1                Worst Case Record: 6-10

Quick Observations: We really are excited to see how the NFC North shapes up this year. Aaron Rodgers established himself quickly last season, and Packers’ fans can expect more Rodgers to Jennings and Driver touchdowns this year. We thought about adjusting the Packers’ offense up but opted to just leave it unchanged.

Their defense in 2008 was 16th in the league, and they addressed the defense with two first-round draft picks: defensive tackle B.J. Raji (who was a contract holdout early in the preseason), and linebacker Clay Matthews who was taken with the 26th overall pick. We considered improving the Packers’ defense but opted to leave it unchanged as well.

The Packers’ schedule is not much harder than the Vikings. By our calculation, they have the third easiest schedule in the league. If our projections work out and the Packers play basically as well as they did last season, they should finish 11-5 and tied with the Vikings for the division title. If they lose that tie breaker, they would earn a wild card playoff berth. The best case that we got by making modest improvements in their offense and defense was an amazing 15-1.

Vikings:
Projected Record 11-5
2008 Offense Rank: 9th                 Defense Rank: 4th
Best Case Record: 14-2                Worst Case Record: 8-8

Quick Observations: This division looks to be tight battle between three teams. Sorry, Lions’ fans, but we do not think your team is quite up to the Vikings, Packers and Bears. At the time this was done we thought Brett Favre was staying retired so we were concerned about questions at quarterback.

If we were to redo things today we would probably at least leave the Vikings offense unchanged. In the end we aren’t sure if the Vikings are getting the Favre of 2007 or 2008,.

There was a big difference between the two years, so we will live with our -5%. However, the Vikings of 2008 were a very good PossessionPoints team both offensively where they ranked ninth, but they were especially good defensively where they ranked fourth in the league.

The Vikings’ defense should be a strength again this year, but given how good they were last year we could not see a compelling case to make a positive adjustment, and we left their very good defensive number unchanged. While their offense sports perhaps the best running back in the league in Adrian Peterson, the questions at quarterback caused us to adjust their offense down 5%.

According to our stat and based on last year’s performances, the Vikings have the second easiest schedule in the league, so even with the negative adjustments, the computer generated 11 wins and a tie for the division title with the Packers.

Bears:
Projected Record 10-6
2008 Offense Rank: 26th                 Defense Rank: 19th
Best Case Record: 11-5                Worst Case Record: 3-13

Quick Observations: The Bears were not a particularly good PossessionPoints team last year as they had the 19th ranked defense and the 26th ranked offense. They addressed their offensive weakness in a big way when Jay Cutler forced the Broncos to trade him.

We think Cutler should be a major upgrade, and we adjusted the Bears’ offense 25% to account for it. With the Bears’ offense better able to sustain drives and score, we think it could actually help their defensive PossessionPoints performance also. So, we improved their defense by 20%.

Our analysis of their 2009 schedule has it ranked as the 13th easiest, not as easy as the Vikings or Packers, but still in the easy half. What was the end result of all this number crunching for the Bears? A 10-6 record that has them just missing a wild card playoff berth. But do not fear Bears’ fans, this division and the projected wild cards are so close that one game either way will make a big difference.

Lions:
Projected Record 3-13
2008 Offense Rank: 28th                 Defense Rank: 32nd
Best Case Record: 7-9                Worst Case Record: 0-16

Quick Observations: Rookie coach (Jim Schwartz) and rookie QB (Matt Stafford) should be a recipe for a playoff berth, right? Well as much as we would love to see history repeat for the Lions as it did for the Ravens and Falcons, we just do not see a playoff season just yet.

The Lions have one of the best receivers in the league in Calvin Johnson, and they have the number one overall selection in the 2009 draft in Matt Stafford to throw to him. They addressed improving the offense further in the draft by selecting tight end Brandon Pettigrew and wide receiver Derrick Williams. These weapons are an addition to a running back, Kevin Smith, who had a surprisingly good year last year. So, we went ahead and improved the Lions’ 2008, 28th ranked offense by 25%.

The only thing worse than the Lions’ offense in 2008 was their defense which was ranked 32nd  in the league by PossessionPoints figures. It is no wonder they were 0-16. If the Lions’ offense improves drastically, it will keep their defense off the field and fresh.

That scenario allows us to bump their defensive number also by 25%. Even with the 16th easiest schedule, these adjustments still produced just three wins. The best case still fell short of .500 and given that we do these projections based on modifying last year’s numbers, well the downside is the same as last year 0-16. However, we really don’t expect a repeat of that.

Overall for the NFC North, we spilled the beans when we did the recap of the NFC East: they tie for the best division record with the NFC East and AFC South 35-29.

NFC South:
Saints:
Projected Record 12-4
2008 Offense Rank: 5th                 Defense Rank: 25th
Best Case Record: 14-2                Worst Case Record: 6-10

Quick Observations: The Saints were a good PossessionPoints offense and a bad PossessionPoints defense last year. They were fifth in the league in offense and 25th in the league in defense. Their defense actually backslid by 10% from their 2007 level. The Saints tried to address their defensive deficiencies by drafting corner-back Malcolm Jenkins and safety Chip Vaughn.

They also signed free agents corner-back Jabari Greer and safety Darren Sharper. We look for the already very good offense to get a boost from the return of a healthy Reggie Bush and Jeremy Shockey. With these things in mind, we bumped their offense slightly by 5% and their defense a bit more by 10%. That was good enough for the computer to give the Saints a 12-4 record and win the NFC South.

Their best case would put them on top of the NFC with a 14-2 record while they do have substantial downside, down to 6-10. This downside could be attributed to the fact that this division has the toughest overall schedules and the Saints schedule we rank as the 11th hardest in the league.

Saints:
Projected Record 10-6
2008 Offense Rank: 17th                 Defense Rank: 20th
Best Case Record: 12-4                Worst Case Record: 4-12

Quick Observations: The Panthers won the division and had a first-round bye last season, but when they lost their first playoff game to the Cardinals at home, we weren’t terribly surprised. The Panthers were a 10-point favorite but PossessionPoints told our members on our match up page that: “Two Green indicators go with the Cardinals while one Yellow lines up with the Panthers.

So, our straight up pick is the Cardinals.” The reason PossessionPoints went that way, is that it appeared to us that the Panthers’ 12-4 record was a bit of an overachievement as they had the 17th ranked offense and 21st ranked defense by the PossessionPoints stat.

Coaching and confidence go a long way in the NFL, and while last season we thought the Panthers overachieved, we are sure that neither the team nor their fans agreed. Success builds on itself and a 12-4 season with a first-round playoff bye will be viewed as a solid success and a foundation to be built upon.

So, while we made adjustments to most teams based on football moves, with the Panthers we are making adjustments based on emotional factors such as confidence and determination. We adjusted their offensive and defensive numbers up by 20%, and the result was a 10-6 projection that just misses a wild card playoff berth.

If you look over our adjustments for other teams, you will agree that 20% is pretty generous and it takes further adjustments up to 25% to get to the best case 12-4 record. That would give the Panthers the division but the downside risk is substantial for the Panthers as our analysis gives them the hardest schedule in 2009.

Falcons:
Projected Record 8-8
2008 Offense Rank: 12th                 Defense Rank: 14th
Best Case Record: 11-5                Worst Case Record: 5-11

Quick Observations: Last season, Atlanta was the surprise team, but this year they will not sneak up on anybody. Teams are well aware of the key offensive weapons from last year which include running back Michael Turner, quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Roddy White. Then, in the off-season, they added perhaps one of the best tight ends to ever play in the NFL, Tony Gonzalez.

While we are sure that Matt Ryan and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey are drooling at the thought of all the options this offense now has, the defensive coordinators around the league now have a season full of film to dissect tendencies.

So, we struggled with how to adjust the Falcons’ 2008 numbers for 2009. The Falcons had the 12th best offense and 14th best defense in the league by our numbers last season. We finally decided to go with minor 5% adjustments to their offense and defense.

Like the Panthers, the Falcons have a very tough schedule in 2009 – the fifth toughest by our calculation. The adjustments resulted in a middle of the road 8-8 record, and no return to the playoffs for second-year coach Mike Smith. Like the NFC North we could see any of the three top teams in our list winning the division. The Falcons upside even with their tough schedule is 11-5.

Bucs:
Projected Record 3-13
2008 Offense Rank: 20th                 Defense Rank: 8th
Best Case Record: 10-6                Worst Case Record: 1-15

Quick Observations: “How can this be?” Buccaneers’ Fans will surely wonder how can a team that was one win away from a playoff spot be given a projection of just three wins. The Bucs were a below average PossessionPoints offense in 2008 ranking 20th while they were an above average defense ranking eighth.

Their defense was better early in the year before Monty Kiffin decided to join his son’s coaching staff at Tennessee. After missing the playoffs, the Bucs also had a change at head coach, which historically, we mark as a negative. While we will still view the coach change as a negative, we are wary of this adjustment in light of how well the Dolphins, Falcons and Ravens of 2008 performed with new head coaches.

The Bucs by our calculation have the third toughest schedule in the league this year, and that coupled with the -5% adjustments to their offense and defense drove the computer to the poor 3-13 result.

They do have a surprisingly good best case for a team with 3-13 forecast: 10-6 could be wild-card playoff worthy this year.

Overall for the NFC South we have this division slightly over .500 at 33-31.

NFC West:
Cardinals:
Projected Record 10-6
2008 Offense Rank: 7th                 Defense Rank: 23rd
Best Case Record: 14-2                Worst Case Record: 6-10

Quick Observations: Well, Cardinals’ fans, last year we said: “this could be your year!” This year, we favor your team to repeat as champions of the NFC West. Confidence and continuity are the factors that cause us to adjust your offensive and defensive numbers up 5%. There is no question who the number one quarterback will be this year and that will help the offense gel better.

The Cardinals were the seventh best offense in 2008 and 23rd ranked defense by the PossessionPoints stat. They added Ohio State running back Chris Wells with their first-round selection. If Wells can draw some defensive attention away from the passing game, then the Cardinals could improve considerably over last year’s performance.

Even with the modest 5% adjustments we made, the computer gave the Cardinals a 10-6 projection and a win of the division by two games over their next closest competitor. This, we are sure has something to do with the fact that by our calculations, the Cardinals have the easiest schedule in the NFL in 2009.

With this schedule the upside is substantial if they do improve their performance by more than the minor 5% we gave them: 14-2 could be seen on the upside.

49ers:
Projected Record 8-8
2008 Offense Rank: 21st                  Defense Rank: 24th
Best Case Record: 10-6                Worst Case Record: 4-12

Quick Observations: Last year, we gave San Francisco “little chance” at the playoffs. They changed coaches in mid-season to Mike Singletary, and their team performance as measured by PossessionPoints made a significant turn up.

So, we decided, rather than make alterations to their season numbers that had them ranked as the 21st offense and 24th defense, we would instead first adjust them to the Singletary coached values. The change to Singletary was seen more in the defense than the offense, so we adjusted their defensive numbers up 25% and their offensive numbers up just 5%.

The result for the 49ers, who will be playing the seventh easiest schedule by our calculations, is an 8-8 record. This would be good for a second-place finish in the division--one game in front of the Seahawks. But it is pretty close to the best case of 10 wins given that we already made substantial upside adjustments to their performance.

Seahawks:
Projected Record 7-9
2008 Offense Rank: 25th                   Defense Rank: 31st
Best Case Record: 10-6                Worst Case Record: 1-15

Quick Observations: The Mike Holmgren era has ended and the Jim Mora era has started. This isn’t Jim Mora’s first stint as a head coach, so we won’t count him as a rookie. The former Falcons’ coach takes over a team that had become accustomed to winning the NFC West prior to last year’s poor showing which PossessionPoints.com warned about in last year’s preseason issue. By PossessionPoints measure, the Seahawks had the 25th ranked offense and the 31st ranked defense. So, Jim Mora really has his work cut out for him.

Injuries were a factor in last season’s dismal performance which was an 11% retraction on offense and an astounding 62% falloff in defensive performance from their 2007 levels. We are going to give them the benefit of the doubt that injuries won’t be as significant this season, and we upped both their offensive and defensive performances by 25%. That only got them to a mediocre 7-9 record.

Rams:
Projected Record 4-12
2008 Offense Rank: 29th                   Defense Rank: 28th
Best Case Record: 9-7                Worst Case Record: 0-16

Quick Observations: Rookie coach and seasoned pro at QB: Why does this sound like a better combination than rookie coach and rookie QB? Steve Spagnuolo, who had been the Giants defensive coordinator the last few years, will lead the Rams this year. At QB, the Rams should have Marc Bulger, the nine-year veteran, who has seen both success and failure in his time in the NFL. However, the Rams have a long way to go. In 2008, they had the 29th ranked offense and the 28th ranked PossessionPoints defense.

The Rams have a top-flight running back in Steven Jackson, and they have been building their offensive and defensive lines in the draft the last two seasons. This year, they took offensive tackle Jason Smith with the second overall pick while in 2008 they took defensive end Chris Long. The Rams keep adding top talent, and at some point you would expect things to click. Will it be this year under Spagnuolo?

Maybe, but our calculations make it doubtful. We upped their offensive and defensive numbers from 2008 by 25%. When those adjustments were played against their 2009 schedule, the result was a disappointing 4-12. While still better than last season’s 2-14 record, it is not what anyone would consider good, and the Rams would still be last in their relatively weak division.

Overall for the NFC West we have this division as one of the two divisions with a sub .500 record at 29-35.

Well that’s it, every time we look this over, we can question ourselves about one team or another. It took a long time to come up with the numbers we finalized on, and no doubt there will be teams that skew to our best or worst case rather than the expected case.