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2012 NFL Season Preview

AFC: East | North | South | West         NFC: East | North | South | West

The 2012 NFL season arrives with some interesting scenarios. The Super Bowl champion New York Giants were clearly not the best team in 2011, and our highest rated team, the New Orleans Saints, will be without their head coach and others in the organization due to bounty suspensions. So it would appear that the road to the Super Bowl is wide open for many teams to strike. However, despite the underdog Giants winning it all, 2011 saw our 3 highest team ratings since 2009. The Saints, Packers, and Patriots all rated as better than any team from the 2009 or 2010 seasons. In fact, our simulations retroactively show the Super Bowl had a 70% chance of being won by 1 of those 3 teams, an extraordinarily high number for a list including just 3 teams considering the volatility of the short NFL season and playoffs. Looking ahead to the 2012 season, those 3 teams should still be considered the strongest contenders to win the Super Bowl.

At ProFootballLogic, we don't offer official preseason ratings, but reliable conclusions can be made by looking at last season's ratings and combining them with what we know about roster changes since. A good place to start is a projection of 2012 wins based on every team's 2011 rating and 2012 schedule, which can be found for each team in our division previews. The change in schedules has some impact, but most teams' projected wins remain within 1 win of our estimations for 2011 "deserved wins", which are an expectation of average team records were the 2011 season to be generically repeated under the same conditions.

How reliable are our ratings from the previous season? The past 2 seasons, they have predicted the following season win totals for teams much more accurately than the team's win total from the previous season. Our 2009 ratings correlated to a team's 2010 wins with a correlation coefficient of 0.35, while 2009 wins correlated at just 0.22. The 2010 ratings again showed a stronger correlation to 2011 wins than did 2010 wins, by a coefficient of 0.50 compared to 0.38. Because correlation is unaffected by linear scaling, the stronger coefficients for the ratings persist even if the previous season win totals are adjusted to account for regression to the mean from one season to the next.

From there, we can make some adjustments to those numbers based on important roster changes, usually at the quarterback position, based on how such changes have affected the ratings in the past. Our division previews delve into how this can be accurately estimated for each team. What follows below are some general groupings estimated from those conclusions on reasonable team rating projections. The NFC should be wide open in the playoff race, while the AFC has 6 teams clearly better than the rest and could easily see as many as 5 of the 6 playoff teams from 2011 reach the postseason again.

Teams are listed in the general order of expected quality in 2012, with their 2011 record. See the separate articles for each division for more details.

AFC

Most likely to advance to playoffs:
New England Patriots (13-3)
Houston Texans (10-6)
Denver Broncos (8-8)
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
San Diego Chargers (8-8)
Baltimore Ravens (12-4)

A bit of good fortune could make competitive:
Buffalo Bills (6-10)
Tennessee Titans (9-7)
Miami Dolphins (6-10)
Oakland Raiders (8-8)
New York Jets (8-8)
Kansas City Chiefs (7-9)

A lot of luck or breakthrough by young QB needed:
Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)
Indianapolis Colts (2-14)
Cleveland Browns (4-12)

NFC

Only safe bets to make playoffs:
Green Bay Packers (15-1)
New Orleans Saints (13-3)

Good teams but in a very crowded playoff race:
Detroit Lions (10-6)
Philadelphia Eagles (8-8)
Dallas Cowboys (8-8)
Atlanta Falcons (10-6)
New York Giants (9-7)
San Francisco 49ers (13-3)
Chicago Bears (8-8)
Carolina Panthers (6-10)
Seattle Seahawks (7-9)

A lot of luck or breakthrough by young QB needed:
Minnesota Vikings (3-13)
Arizona Cardinals (8-8)
Washington Redskins (5-11)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)
St. Louis Rams (2-14)

AFC: East | North | South | West         NFC: East | North | South | West

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