ESPN teased some Football Outsiders teased some projected win totals in their way too early 2015 NFL mock draft last week, but now FO's Aaron Schatz has released a more detailed explanation of these win projections. Schatz notes these aren't FO's final projections. Those will be revealed in the annual Football Outsiders Almanac released in July. For now, the projections are at least an interesting talking point.
Philadelphia Eagles: 10-6 (10.0 mean wins, strength of schedule: 23)
New York Giants: 9-7 (8.6 mean wins, SOS: 24)
Dallas Cowboys: 7-9 (7.1 mean wins, SOS: 15)
Washington Redskins: 6-10 (6.3 mean wins, SOS: 21)
Of all the teams with losing records in 2013, the Giants are probably the best bet to make next year's postseason. They were 7-9, so it isn't as if this is a massive turnaround, but there are a couple of strong indicators.
First, yardage is much more consistent from year to year than turnovers. It's very unlikely the Giants will put up a turnover margin of minus-15 again, especially given that Eli Manning's 27 picks almost matched his total from 2011 and 2012 combined. More importantly, the Giants were destroyed by injuries last year, with the highest "adjusted games lost" total of any team Football Outsiders has ever tracked (going back to 2000). Some teams do have a tendency to have more injuries than average year after year -- the Packers and Patriots keep making it to the postseason despite this problem -- but, for the most part, we should go into every season expecting each team to have an average number of injuries. That change alone would do wonders for the Giants.
It's also the biggest reason to believe they could top Philadelphia for the division title, as the Eagles were among the lowest teams in adjusted games lost last year. On the other hand, we know offense tends to be more consistent than defense, which in turn is more consistent than special teams. That means teams that significantly improve based on offense, such as the Eagles, are more likely to maintain their improvement the next season than teams that significantly improve based on defense, such as Carolina.
Dallas has been 17th in Football Outsiders' DVOA ratings for two years now. Despite the big names, this is a mediocre team that hasn't made big changes this offseason, and the Cowboys won't be lucky enough to recover 67 percent of fumbles again next year, either. The Redskins' projection could be too low, depending on how much difference another year of ACL recovery makes for Robert Griffin III. The Redskins also had one of the five worst special-teams ratings since 1989 last year, and that isn't going to happen again; better field position will make the offense and the defense look better.
For the strength of schedule number provided, Schatz explains those numbers are based on the "average projected DVOA of next year's 16 opponents, ranked from the hardest (Raiders are No. 1) to the easiest (Texans)." By this calculation, Dallas (15) owns the most difficult SOS in the division. The Giants (24) have the easiest SOS.
As you can see, the Eagles are on top yet again. They're actually projected as the sixth best overall team in the NFL. The teams projected to be better include include the (28) New England Patriots, (29) Green Bay Packers, (30) Seattle Seahawks, (31) New Orleans Saints, and (32) Denver Broncos.
The Eagles' stiffest competition appears to be the New York Giants. New York is expected to progress to the mean while Philadelphia may see some regression. Dallas is still expected to be mediocre as ever. Washington has the potential to surprise but it all hinges on RG3.
The note about offense being more consistent than defense is interesting. That's clearly the Eagles' strength. Despite the assertion that mantra that "defense wins championships" (see: Seahawks), it appears offense matters more.
While these projections are way too early, it does seem like New York and Philadelphia will be the main contenders for the top spot in the NFC East. It won't be a cakewalk for the Eagles to repeat as NFC East champions in 2014 but it looks very doable.