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2013 NFL Season Preview

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

We are taking a 3-point approach to preseason analysis for the 2013 season. We begin with our final 2012 ratings, as our final team ratings have proven to be a better predictor of following season records than the previous season records themselves. This year, we have established a system to analyze how ratings have historically changed from one season to the next, and applied that regression to each play type category of our 2012 ratings to arrive at expected 2013 ratings for all teams. A full explanation of this process can be found in our Preliminary 2013 Ratings article. Finally, we take an in-depth look at all projected changes to starting lineups, using our player ratings to analyze whether teams have improved or gotten worse.

2012 storylines were dominated by young mobile quarterbacks and read option plays. This presented itself in our ratings in the form of the Redskins and 49ers leading our offensive rushing ratings, with the Seahawks and Panthers not far behind.

The read option has also opened up the passing playbook, as read option play action has allowed for quick-hitting pass plays which allow the quarterback to keep his eyes downfield while showing the run action. Further, it has given the offense the ability to actually show run-action, where offensive lineman block as if they are executing a run play. This concept is risky during a standard play-action pass with a QB starting under center, because the QB is looking away and doesn't have the safety valve of a quick pass.

Interestingly, the passing concepts that the read option has exploited are actually largely available to standard shotgun formations as well, and smart teams even with immobil quarterbacks have begun taking advantage of them more and more.

While the new passing concepts may not have a simple defensive adjustment, defense of actual read option runs can be improved as coaches analyze more game film, and spend more time in practice concentrating on defending the option specifically. How well these changes work could define a good amount of how the 2013 NFL season plays out, determining whether they will gain popularity or if teams running the option will systematically regress.

Partially related to the read option, the other big development from the 2012 season was the shift in power from the AFC in prior years to the NFC. 10 of the 16 teams in the top half of the league in our 2012 ratings were from the NFC, while the AFC was responsible for 7 of the 8 teams in the bottom quartile. The NFC dominance isn't particularly strong at the very top of the league, but the NFC clearly has better depth and a more difficult path to making the playoffs. Heading into the 2013 season, there are probably at least 6 teams in the AFC that are worse than any NFC team.

Below is our overall estimation of how the NFL breaks down in 2013. Teams are listed in the general order of expected quality in 2013, with their 2012 record for reference. See the separate articles for each division for more details.

AFC

Only safe bets to make the playoffs:
Denver Broncos (13-3)
New England Patriots (12-4)

Likely playoff teams, but no sure thing:
Houston Texans (12-4)
Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)
Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)

Could sneak into the playoffs:
San Diego Chargers (7-9)
Miami Dolphins (7-9)
Kansas City Chiefs (2-14)

Little to no hope:
Tennessee Titans (6-10)
Buffalo Bills (6-10)
Cleveland Browns (5-11)
New York Jets (6-10)
Oakland Raiders (4-12)
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)

NFC

Likely playoff teams:
Green Bay Packers (11-5)
Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
New Orleans Saints (7-9)
Seattle Seahawks (11-5)
San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1)

In the tossup for the NFC East title:
Dallas Cowboys (8-8)
New York Giants (9-7)
Washington Redskins (10-6)

Making the playoffs possible but unlikely in very tough conference:
Chicago Bears (10-6)
Detroit Lions (4-12)
Carolina Panthers (7-9)
Arizona Cardinals (5-11)
Philadelphia Eagles (4-12)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)
Minnesota Vikings (10-6)
St. Louis Rams (7-8-1)

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

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