2017 AFC Divisional Previews

By Ryan Fowler @FreelanceFowler
AFC EAST



Tom Brady missed the first four games of 2016 and New England still finished 14-2 with a top 10 offense and defense. Prediction Machine's simulation engine projects slight regression for the Patriots (-1000 to win AFC East) in the form of 12.1 wins and 3.9 losses in 2017. The rest of the division will be reciting Hail Mary's. Jay Cutler cut his retirement and broadcasting career short to lead the Dolphins (7.1 – 8.9 | +1000) offense. Running back Jay Ajayi will need to show more consistency as 33 percent of his rush yards came against Buffalo last season. Speaking of the Bills, PM projects 6.1 wins and 9.9 losses for Buffalo (+1200). Trading Sammy Watkins to the Rams, collecting draft picks and whispers of a LeSean McCoy deal are evidence the Bills (16th tot. off. / 19th tot. def.) are positioning their chess pieces for the future. Buffalo was just 1-5 versus the AFC East a season ago. The Jets (+5,000) could be one of the worst teams of the last decade. That's the subjective point-of-view. If we let the stats tell the story, our simulation engine projects 3.8 wins and 12.2 loses for New York. Godspeed, Josh McCown.


AFC NORTH



After appearing in all 32 regular season games 2013-2014, Ben Roethlisberger has missed six over the past two seasons and played hurt in several more. With it nearly impossible to know if/when a player will be sidelined due to injury, Prediction Machine's simulation engine assumes Big Ben starts all 16 games this year, but could potentially leave injured in any of those games. We project the Steelers (-150) to win 10.9 and lose 5.1 games in 2017. It doesn't take much effort to make a convincing argument as to why the Bengals (7.9 – 8.1 | +300) or Ravens (8-8 | +350) will finish second in the AFC North. Our simulation engine projects 0.1 wins separate the two teams. Andy Dalton – who was sacked 41 times last season - lost his two best offensive linemen - Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth – to free agency. The Ravens remain a big question mark on offense with Danny Woodhead's health cloudy ahead of Week 1 and Joe Flacco out most of the preseason. So, it appears Baltimore's defense, which has ranked inside the top eight the past three seasons, will be the deciding factor again. Cleveland (+2500) isn't a serious contender, but our projected 5.3 wins for them would place the spotlight on the 4.5 O/U (-140) season win total. The Browns upgrades on the offensive line and defense with No. 1 pick Myles Garrett won't win them an AFC North, but should help keep their quarterback healthy for more than two weeks at a time.


AFC SOUTH



One win separated first and third place in the AFC South last season. The loss of J.J. Watt, and Andrew Luck playing through injury didn't prevent the Texans and Colts from competing for the division crown. Watt is set to return, while Luck's (shoulder) timetable to return is unknown as of late-August. After 50,000 simulations, Prediction Machine projects the Titans (9.5 – 6.5 | +200) as the team to beat in the division. Tennessee upgraded Marcus Mariota's offense this offseason when they added veteran Eric Decker and drafted Corey Davis – although both are currently limited due to injury. Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry will try to boost the third-ranked rush offense (136.7 RYPG) of a season ago. The Texans (+200) projected out to 8.2 - 7.8 in 2017, while only 0.5 wins separate Houston and the Colts (7.7 – 8.3 | +250). Indianapolis is a moving W/L target until Luck's health status stabilizes. Meanwhile, the Jaguars are sticking with Blake Bortles heading into Week 1. Jacksonville is the oddsmakers' longshot to win the AFC South (+550) and we agree with a 7.2 – 8.8 projection. With a league average quarterback, Jacksonville could be a playoff team, but with Bortles at the helm,


AFC WEST



The AFC West is the tightest division according to our 50,000 season simulations. Less than one expected win separates first from last place. When you consider future odds, the Chargers at +400 are a bargain. Los Angeles' projected record is 8.4 – 7.6. Even with the return of Keenan Allen to the up-tempo offense, the Chargers can't allow 26.4 points per game and Philip Rivers can't rank 24th in completion percentage (60.4% just ahead of Trevor Siemian) with a 33:21 TD:INT ratio. It appears a lot of NFL investors set the same alarm to back the Oakland Raiders and woke up the designated Super Bowl “sleeper” (+1000). Derek Carr's crew's projected 8.9 – 7.1 record ranked eighth (see: last) for fewest projected wins by a first-place team in any division. Although the Raiders defense has improved in points-allowed-per-game over the past few seasons, they've regressed in total yards allowed per game. They ranked in the bottom seven at the end of 2016. After winning 23 games over the past two seasons, we project 8.7 wins for the Chiefs. It's worth noting, Kansas City (+240) embraced a bend-don't-break defense last season. They ranked 24th in total yards allowed per game, but seventh in points allowed (19.4). The +16 in giveaway/takeaway allowed KC to escape relatively unscathed. Trevor Siemian beat Paxton Lynch for the starting gig, but leads an uninspired offense (ranked 27th in 2016) that relies too heavily on the defense (18.6 PAPG). Prediction Machine projects 8-8 for the Broncos (+350 to win West) in 2017.