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Projecting NFL season win totals

By Steve Makinen  () 

Strange as it may sound in the face of the NHL and NBA playoffs and the opening of the MLB season, NFL fans eagerly await April each year — not only for the draft but for the release of the upcoming season’s schedule. Because of the format the league uses to determine the schedule, we know teams’ opponents and, for the most part, game locations the day after the previous season ends. This gives bettors not only a lot of great talking points but also a chance to analyze and bet season win totals.

Though as of last week some books had not released their win totals for 2020, others had. DraftKings, FanDuel and Fox Bet were among those that had. Those three differed up to two wins for a couple of teams and about one win for most teams. This variance gives the bettor a chance at great value. I have to speculate in looking at the numbers closely that these offerings were based primarily on power ratings and didn’t take into account the degree of difficulty of home and road locations or potential neutral-site games. That just adds to the opportunity for the astute bettor to take these numbers on.

I have projected the 2020 schedules using teams’ expected opponents and my latest power ratings, including the team-specific home and road field ratings. I gave each game an expected point spread, from which I extracted the chances for each team to win. I then totaled them into a projected season standings. Use these numbers to bet season win totals or numbers for the games of the year when the books release them.

I updated my power ratings last week after the most prominent phase of free agency. You will see that most of the biggest adjustments were made to the teams at opposite ends of the spectrum. These would be considered normalcy adjustments, as from what I’ve learned from my oddsmaking experience, there is no greater reset button in the NFL than an offseason that wipes the slate clean from the previous year, positively and negatively. Still, obvious talent differences must be accounted for. I considered the signings of Tom Brady by the Buccaneers and Philip Rivers by the Colts, in addition to the Texans-Cardinals trade, the most noteworthy offseason moves affecting ratings. I will adjust the ratings again in midsummer as teams approach training camp to reflect draft-period activity and late signings or trades. 

While the London and Mexico City games have not been officially announced, the teams giving up home games for those contests have been. I took into account some expert predictions and my own beliefs on what those games might be to come up with the final schedules. Here are the games I projected as neutral-field games. These are subject to change and would affect the projections.

London games (official home team listed second):

Denver vs. Atlanta

New England vs. Miami

Indianapolis vs Jacksonville

Detroit vs. Jacksonville

Mexico City game:

LA Rams vs. Arizona

Here are a few highlights of the study and some of my observations based on the season win totals offered by FanDuel Sportsbook as of March 23. Next week I’ll focus on teams expected to improve or decline in 2020 based on some of their statistical characteristics last year. We’ll revisit season win totals again at that point. All of it should be used together to formulate your wagers.

Steve’s top three teams expected to win more games than prop:

1. Tennessee: FanDuel: 8.5 ov+ 100, Steve’s projection: 9.5, Difference: + 1

2. Carolina: FanDuel: 5.5 ov-120, Steve’s projection: 6.1, Difference: + 0.6

3. Cincinnati: FanDuel: 5.5 ov-110, Steve’s projection: 6, Difference: + 0.5

Steve’s top four teams expected to win fewer games than prop:

1. L.A. Rams: FanDuel: 8.5 ov-120, Steve’s projection: 7.6, Difference: -0.9

2. Cleveland: FanDuel: 8.5 ov+ 116, Steve’s projection: 7.6, Difference: -0.9

3. Atlanta: FanDuel: 7.5 ov+ 100, Steve’s projection: 6.9, Difference: -0.6

4. Baltimore: FanDuel: 11.5 ov+ 105, Steve’s projection: 10.9, Difference: -0.6

— According to my figures, Atlanta plays the league’s toughest schedule, at least as it stands now based on opponents and home-road breakdown. The Falcons are ranked just ahead of the Giants and Washington in that regard. Not only will they have to face the tough NFC South in divisional play, but their NFC non-divisional matchup is the North and their AFC matchup is the West, featuring the defending champion Chiefs.

— The league’s easiest schedules belong to two teams in the AFC South, Indianapolis and Tennessee, and then none other than Kansas City. This is strangely the second straight season in which the defending champ has one of the easiest slates. The AFC South has the lowest combined power rating of any division at 91.5, accounting for the low schedule-strength ratings for teams in that division. The Titans were runners-up to the Chiefs in the AFC in 2019, leading to the thought that a conference title game rematch could be on the horizon.

— Kansas City (11.4) is projected to win the most games of any team in the NFL, followed by Baltimore (10.9), San Francisco (10.5) and New Orleans (10.3). The other projected division winners are New England (9.0), Tennessee (9.5), Dallas or Philadelphia (9.6) and Green Bay (9.3).

— Last year only two teams were projected to win fewer than six games, Miami (4.8) and Arizona (5.9). For 2020, the group comprises the Giants (5.8), Washington (5.3) and Jacksonville (5.0). How these teams handle their draft-day activities could affect these projections, as each is in position to add a lot of talent. The Redskins’ quarterback situation in particular will be interesting to watch.

— Assuming the projections play out accurately, the AFC’s top-seeded playoff teams would be Kansas City and Baltimore, in reverse order of last year. In the wild-card round, the No. 4 Patriots would host No.5 Indianapolis and No. 3 Tennessee would welcome No. 6 Pittsburgh. In the NFC, the top seeds would be San Francisco and New Orleans, and the wild-card matchups would be Green Bay-Philadelphia and Dallas-Tampa Bay, with both wild cards projected to have better won-lost records than their divisional counterparts.

— The largest point spread at the outset of the season is expected to feature Jacksonville at Baltimore, with the Ravens shown as 15-point favorites. Two games show 14-point lines: Carolina at Kansas City and Washington at San Francisco.

— Of the 251 matchups played at host stadiums, 74 are showing point spreads designating road favorites, with the largest line featuring the Ravens making a very short trip to Washington. The Ravens, Saints and Buccaneers are projected as road favorites the most often at seven times each. The Bucs, of course, are surprise additions to this list, adding Tom Brady after a 7-9 season. Their only road game against a team that had a winning record last year is at division rival New Orleans. On the opposite side of the spectrum are the most frequent home underdogs, with the Giants and Cincinnati each expected to play that role six times.

— Using this exercise before last season, I correctly picked four of the six NFC playoff teams, missing on Minnesota and San Francisco. In the AFC, I got only two of six, New England and Kansas City. You’ll see next week that many of the improve/decline trends will predict surprise teams better than a power rating will.

Here are the NFL’s 32 teams with their 2020 opponents and power rating lines, according to my numbers:

 

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Home games

BUFFALO: + 0.4

DETROIT: -3.1

MIAMI: -4.4

PHILADELPHIA: + 3.4

SAN FRANCISCO: + 5.8

SEATTLE: + 3.4

WASHINGTON: -5.6

Neutral game

vs. LA Rams: + 2

Road games

at Carolina: + 0.7

at Dallas: + 8

at LA Rams: + 3.8

at New England: + 7

at NY Giants: + 0

at NY Jets: + 2.2

at San Francisco: + 10.7

at Seattle: + 8.4

ATLANTA FALCONS

Home games

CAROLINA: -5.1

CHICAGO: -2.4

DETROIT: -4.1

LAS VEGAS: -2.9

NEW ORLEANS: + 4.3

SEATTLE: + 2.4

TAMPA BAY: + 1.3

Neutral game

vs. Denver: -0.3

Road games

at Carolina: + 0.1

at Dallas: + 7.4

at Green Bay: + 7.1

at Kansas City: + 11.4

at LA Chargers: + 1.9

at Minnesota: + 4.7

at New Orleans: + 9.3

at Tampa Bay: + 6.2

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Home games

CINCINNATI: -13.2

CLEVELAND: -9.9

DALLAS: -5.5

JACKSONVILLE: -15.1

KANSAS CITY: -1.3

NY GIANTS: -12.6

PITTSBURGH: -8.2

TENNESSEE: -6.3

Road games

at Cincinnati: -8.5

at Cleveland: -5.3

at Houston: -4.6

at Indianapolis: -3.2

at New England: -1.3

at Philadelphia: + 0.4

at Pittsburgh: -3

at Washington: -9.7

BUFFALO BILLS

Home games

KANSAS CITY: + 4.3

LA CHARGERS: -4.2

LA RAMS: -3.2

MIAMI: -7.3

NEW ENGLAND: -1.2

NY JETS: -5.5

PITTSBURGH: -2.6

SEATTLE: + 0.5

Road games

at Arizona: -0.4

at Denver: + 0.4

at Las Vegas: + 0.4

at Miami: -2.4

at New England: + 4.3

at NY Jets: -0.5

at San Francisco: + 8

at Tennessee: + 4.5

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Home games

ARIZONA: -0.7

ATLANTA: -0.1

CHICAGO: + 0.2

DENVER: -0.4

DETROIT: -1.5

LAS VEGAS: -0.3

NEW ORLEANS: + 6.9

TAMPA BAY: + 3.9

Road games

at Atlanta: + 5.1

at Green Bay: + 9.5

at Kansas City: + 13.8

at LA Chargers: + 4.3

at Minnesota: + 7.1

at New Orleans: + 11.7

at Tampa Bay: + 8.6

at Washington: + 0.4

CHICAGO BEARS

Home games

DETROIT: -4.8

GREEN BAY: + 1.1

HOUSTON: -3

INDIANAPOLIS: -1.2

MINNESOTA: -1.9

NEW ORLEANS: + 3.6

NY GIANTS: -5.8

TAMPA BAY: + 0.6

Road games

at Atlanta: + 2.4

at Carolina: -0.2

at Detroit: + 0.7

at Green Bay: + 6.8

at Jacksonville: -3.2

at LA Rams: + 2.9

at Minnesota: + 4.4

at Tennessee: + 6.3

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Home games

BALTIMORE: + 8.5

CLEVELAND: + 1.1

DALLAS: + 5.5

JACKSONVILLE: -4.1

LA CHARGERS: + 1.2

NY GIANTS: -1.6

PITTSBURGH: + 2.8

TENNESSEE: + 4.7

Road games

at Baltimore: + 13.2

at Cleveland: + 5.4

at Houston: + 6.1

at Indianapolis: + 7.5

at Miami: + 2.7

at Philadelphia: + 11.1

at Pittsburgh: + 7.7

at Washington: + 1

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Home games

BALTIMORE: + 5.3

CINCINNATI: -5.4

HOUSTON: -2

INDIANAPOLIS: -0.2

LAS VEGAS: -2.6

PHILADELPHIA: + 2.7

PITTSBURGH: -0.4

WASHINGTON: -6.3

Road games

at Baltimore: + 9.9

at Cincinnati: -1.1

at Dallas: + 7.1

at Jacksonville: -3.2

at NY Giants: -0.9

at NY Jets: + 1.3

at Pittsburgh: + 4.4

at Tennessee: + 6.3

DALLAS COWBOYS

Home games

ARIZONA: -8

ATLANTA: -7.4

CLEVELAND: -7.1

NY GIANTS: -9.8

PHILADELPHIA: -2.3

PITTSBURGH: -5.4

SAN FRANCISCO: + 0.1

WASHINGTON: -11.3

Road games

at Baltimore: + 5.5

at Cincinnati: -5.5

at LA Rams: -1.5

at Minnesota: + 0

at NY Giants: -5.3

at Philadelphia: + 3.4

at Seattle: + 3.1

at Washington: -6.7

DENVER BRONCOS

Home games

BUFFALO: -0.4

KANSAS CITY: + 6.4

LA CHARGERS: -2.1

LAS VEGAS: -2.7

MIAMI: -5.2

NEW ORLEANS: + 4.5

TAMPA BAY: + 1.5

TENNESSEE: + 1.4

Neutral game

vs. Atlanta: + 0.3

Road games

at Carolina: + 0.4

at Kansas City: + 11.7

at LA Chargers: + 2.2

at Las Vegas: + 2.8

at New England: + 6.7

at NY Jets: + 1.9

at Pittsburgh: + 5

DETROIT LIONS

Home games

CHICAGO: -0.7

GREEN BAY: + 3.5

HOUSTON: -0.6

INDIANAPOLIS: + 1.2

MINNESOTA: + 0.5

NEW ORLEANS: + 6

TAMPA BAY: + 3

WASHINGTON: -4.9

Neutral game

vs. Jacksonville: -3.5

Road games

at Arizona: + 3.1

at Atlanta: + 4.1

at Carolina: + 1.5

at Chicago: + 4.8

at Green Bay: + 8.5

at Minnesota: + 6.1

at Tennessee: + 8

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Home games

ATLANTA: -7.1

CAROLINA: -9.5

CHICAGO: -6.8

DETROIT: -8.5

JACKSONVILLE: -12

MINNESOTA: -5.6

PHILADELPHIA: -2

TENNESSEE: -3.2

Road games

at Chicago: -1.1

at Detroit: -3.5

at Houston: -1.4

at Indianapolis: + 0

at Minnesota: + 0.2

at New Orleans: + 4.8

at San Francisco: + 5.6

at Tampa Bay: + 1.7

HOUSTON TEXANS

Home games

BALTIMORE: + 4.6

CINCINNATI: -6.1

GREEN BAY: + 1.4

INDIANAPOLIS: -0.9

JACKSONVILLE: -8

MINNESOTA: -1.6

NEW ENGLAND: + 0.3

TENNESSEE: + 0.8

Road games

at Chicago: + 3

at Cleveland: + 2

at Detroit: + 0.6

at Indianapolis: + 4.1

at Jacksonville: -3.3

at Kansas City: + 11

at Pittsburgh: + 4.3

at Tennessee: + 6.2

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Home games

BALTIMORE: + 3.2

CINCINNATI: -7.5

GREEN BAY: + 0

HOUSTON: -4.1

JACKSONVILLE: -9.4

MINNESOTA: -3

NY JETS: -5.4

TENNESSEE: -0.6

Neutral game

vs. Jacksonville: -7.1

Road Games

at Chicago: + 1.2

at Cleveland: + 0.2

at Detroit: -1.2

at Houston: + 0.9

at Las Vegas: + 0.3

at Pittsburgh: + 2.5

at Tennessee: + 4.4

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Home games

CHICAGO: + 3.2

CLEVELAND: + 3.2

HOUSTON: + 3.3

MIAMI: + 0.2

PITTSBURGH: + 4.9

TENNESSEE: + 6.8

Neutral games

vs. Detroit: + 3.5

vs. Indianapolis: + 7.1

Road games

at Baltimore: + 15.1

at Cincinnati: + 4.1

at Green Bay: + 12

at Houston: + 8

at Indianapolis: + 9.4

at LA Chargers: + 6.8

at Minnesota: + 9.6

at Tennessee: + 11.5

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Home games

ATLANTA: -11.4

CAROLINA: -13.8

DENVER: -11.7

HOUSTON: -11

LA CHARGERS: -11

LAS VEGAS: -11.6

NEW ENGLAND: -8

NY JETS: -12.3

Road games

at Baltimore: + 1.3

at Buffalo: -4.3

at Denver: -6.4

at LA Chargers: -7

at Las Vegas: -6.4

at Miami: -9.2

at New Orleans: + 0.4

at Tampa Bay: -2.7

LAS VEGAS RAIDERS

Home games

BUFFALO: -0.4

DENVER: -2.8

INDIANAPOLIS: -0.3

KANSAS CITY: + 6.4

LA CHARGERS: -2.1

MIAMI: -5.2

NEW ORLEANS: + 4.5

TAMPA BAY: + 1.5

Road games

at Atlanta: + 2.9

at Carolina: + 0.3

at Cleveland: + 2.6

at Denver: + 2.7

at Kansas City: + 11.6

at LA Chargers: + 2.1

at New England: + 6.6

at NY Jets: + 1.8

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Home games

ATLANTA: -1.9

CAROLINA: -4.3

DENVER: -2.2

JACKSONVILLE: -6.8

KANSAS CITY: + 7

LAS VEGAS: -2.1

NEW ENGLAND: + 1.5

NY JETS: -2.8

Road games

at Buffalo: + 4.2

at Cincinnati: -1.2

at Denver: + 2.1

at Kansas City: + 11

at Las Vegas: + 2.1

at Miami: -0.7

at New Orleans: + 8.9

at Tampa Bay: + 5.8

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Home games

ARIZONA: -3.8

CHICAGO: -2.9

DALLAS: + 1.5

NEW ENGLAND: + 0.2

NY GIANTS: -5.6

NY JETS: -4.1

SAN FRANCISCO: + 4.3

SEATTLE: + 1.9

Neutral game

vs. Arizona: -2

Road games

at Buffalo: + 3.2

at Miami: -1.7

at Philadelphia: + 6.7

at San Francisco: + 8.7

at Seattle: + 6.4

at Tampa Bay: + 4.8

at Washington: -3.4

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Home games

BUFFALO: + 2.4

CINCINNATI: -2.7

KANSAS CITY: + 9.2

LA CHARGERS: + 0.7

LA RAMS: + 1.7

NY JETS: -0.6

SEATTLE: + 5.4

Neutral game

vs. New England: + 6.1

Road games

at Arizona: + 4.4

at Buffalo: + 7.3

at Denver: + 5.2

at Jacksonville: -0.2

at Las Vegas: + 5.2

at New England: + 9.1

at NY Jets: + 4.3

at San Francisco: + 12.8

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Home games

ATLANTA: -4.7

CAROLINA: -7.1

CHICAGO: -4.4

DALLAS: + 0

DETROIT: -6.1

GREEN BAY: -0.2

JACKSONVILLE: -9.6

TENNESSEE: -0.8

Road games

at Chicago: + 1.9

at Detroit: -0.5

at Green Bay: + 5.6

at Houston: + 1.6

at Indianapolis: + 3

at New Orleans: + 7.8

at Seattle: + 6.3

at Tampa Bay: + 4.7

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Home games

ARIZONA: -7

BALTIMORE: + 1.3

BUFFALO: -4.3

DENVER: -6.7

LAS VEGAS: -6.6

MIAMI: -9.1

NY JETS: -7.3

SAN FRANCISCO: + 1.1

Road games

at Miami: -6.1

at Buffalo: + 1.2

at Houston: -0.3

at Kansas City: + 8

at LA Chargers: -1.5

at LA Rams: -0.2

at NY Jets: -1.8

at Seattle: + 4.4

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Home games

ATLANTA: -9.3

CAROLINA: -11.7

GREEN BAY: -4.8

KANSAS CITY: -0.4

LA CHARGERS: -8.9

MINNESOTA: -7.8

SAN FRANCISCO: -1.8

TAMPA BAY: -5.3

Road games

at Atlanta: -4.3

at Carolina: -6.9

at Chicago: -3.6

at Denver: -4.5

at Detroit: -6

at Las Vegas: -4.5

at Philadelphia: + 1.1

at Tampa Bay: -0.8

NEW YORK GIANTS

Home games

ARIZONA: + 0

CLEVELAND: + 0.9

DALLAS: + 5.3

PHILADELPHIA: + 5.7

PITTSBURGH: + 2.6

SAN FRANCISCO: + 8.1

TAMPA BAY: + 4.6

WASHINGTON: -3.3

Road games

at Baltimore: + 12.6

at Chicago: + 5.8

at Cincinnati: + 1.6

at Dallas: + 9.8

at LA Rams: + 5.6

at Philadelphia: + 10.5

at Seattle: + 10.2

at Washington: + 0.4

NEW YORK JETS

Home games

ARIZONA: -2.2

BUFFALO: + 0.5

CLEVELAND: -1.3

DENVER: -1.9

LAS VEGAS: -1.8

MIAMI: -4.3

NEW ENGLAND: + 1.8

SAN FRANCISCO: + 5.9

Road games

at Buffalo: + 5.5

at Indianapolis: + 5.4

at Kansas City: + 12.3

at LA Chargers: + 2.8

at LA Rams: + 4.1

at Miami: + 0.6

at New England: + 7.3

at Seattle: + 8.7

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Home games

BALTIMORE: -0.4

CINCINNATI: -11.1

DALLAS: -3.4

LA RAMS: -6.7

NEW ORLEANS: -1.1

NY GIANTS: -10.5

SEATTLE: -3

WASHINGTON: -12

Road games

at Arizona: -3.4

at Cleveland: -2.7

at Dallas: + 2.3

at Green Bay: + 2

at NY Giants: -5.7

at Pittsburgh: -0.4

at San Francisco: + 5

at Washington: -7.1

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Home games

BALTIMORE: + 3

CINCINNATI: -7.7

CLEVELAND: -4.4

DENVER: -5

HOUSTON: -4.3

INDIANAPOLIS: -2.5

PHILADELPHIA: + 0.4

WASHINGTON: -8.6

Road games

at Baltimore: + 8.2

at Buffalo: + 2.6

at Cincinnati: -2.8

at Cleveland: + 0.4

at Dallas: + 5.4

at Jacksonville: -4.9

at NY Giants: -2.6

at Tennessee: + 4.6

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Home games

ARIZONA: -10.7

BUFFALO: -8

GREEN BAY: -5.6

LA RAMS: -8.7

MIAMI: -12.8

PHILADELPHIA: -5

SEATTLE: -5

WASHINGTON: -14

Road games

at Arizona: -5.8

at Dallas: -0.1

at LA Rams: -4.3

at New England: -1.1

at New Orleans: + 1.8

at NY Giants: -8.1

at NY Jets: -5.9

at Seattle: + 0.3

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Home games

ARIZONA: -8.4

DALLAS: -3.1

LA RAMS: -6.4

MINNESOTA: -6.3

NEW ENGLAND: -4.4

NY GIANTS: -10.2

NY JETS: -8.7

SAN FRANCISCO: -0.3

Road games

at Arizona: -3.4

at Atlanta: -2.4

at Buffalo: -0.5

at LA Rams: -1.9

at Miami: -5.4

at Philadelphia: + 3

at San Francisco: + 5

at Washington: -7.1

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Home games

ATLANTA: -6.2

CAROLINA: -8.6

GREEN BAY: -1.7

KANSAS CITY: + 2.7

LA CHARGERS: -5.8

LA RAMS: -4.8

MINNESOTA: -4.7

NEW ORLEANS: + 0.8

Road games

at Atlanta: -1.3

at Carolina: -3.9

at Chicago: -0.6

at Denver: -1.5

at Detroit: -3

at Las Vegas: -1.5

at New Orleans: + 5.3

at NY Giants: -4.6

TENNESSEE TITANS

Home games

BUFFALO: -4.5

CHICAGO: -6.3

CLEVELAND: -6.3

DETROIT: -8

HOUSTON: -6.2

INDIANAPOLIS: -4.4

JACKSONVILLE: -11.5

PITTSBURGH: -4.6

Road games

at Baltimore: + 6.3

at Cincinnati: -4.7

at Denver: -1.4

at Green Bay: + 3.2

at Houston: -0.8

at Indianapolis: + 0.6

at Jacksonville: -6.8

at Minnesota: + 0.8

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Home games

BALTIMORE: + 9.7

CAROLINA: -0.4

CINCINNATI: -1

DALLAS: + 6.7

LA RAMS: + 3.4

NY GIANTS: -0.4

PHILADELPHIA: + 7.1

SEATTLE: + 7.1

Road games

at Arizona: + 5.6

at Cleveland: + 6.3

at Dallas: + 11.3

at Detroit: + 4.9

at NY Giants: + 3.3

at Philadelphia: + 12

at Pittsburgh: + 8.6

at San Francisco: + 14

To view an accompanying chart, see “Point Spread Weekly” at vsin.com.

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