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2014 Season 1st Quarter Analysis

It comes as no surprise that the theme of the 2014 season so far has been increased passing efficiency. Every year, passing efficiency in the NFL increases, but it is still too early to tell if this year's increase is just following the multi-year trend, or if the rules emphasis on defensive penalties in the secondary has added to it. In the past few years, the increase in passing efficiency seemed to for the most part benefit the elite passing teams, which widened the gap between themselves and the rest of the NFL. But so far this year, and partially last year, much of the gains have instead taken place in the middle and lower rated passing offenses.

The increase in passing efficiency has been so strong this year that our customary overall team rating of 0, which used to represent a league average team, would so far rank a team only 24th. This happens because pass offense is usually a better predictor of future success than pass defense, so when offenses dominate, overall team ratings go up. This effect should diminish some as the season goes on, as passing success usually decreases later in the season due to weather or more relaxed refereeing. Regardless, the effect doesn't throw off our projections, because they are relative to the difference between team ratings rather than an absolute number.

The two major areas where passing efficiency has increased are teams that historically have been good but struggled last year, and young backup QBs coming in and having immediate success. Teams like the Falcons, Ravens, Steelers, and Giants all uncharacteristically struggled in passing last season due to injuries, offensive line problems, or other issues, but have rebounded strongly in 2014. Meanwhile, the Cardinals, Redskins, and Rams have more than survived QB injuries with strong performances from young backups. But their success seems less likely to continue.

Below we analyze each team's performance through 4 weeks with our expected points added stats and ratings, and project their season outlook and playoff chances going forward. All automated odds found below as well as a variety of others can be found on our Standings page.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills (2-2)
Rating: -1.4 (28th) / Projected Wins: 7.4 / Win Division: 29.4% / Make Playoffs: 32.1%
The Bills have managed a 2-2 record, but the stats show they were on a path for a repeat of their 2013 season with E.J. Manuel showing no signs of improvement. The switch to Kyle Orton at QB is unlikely to vault the Bills to a winning record, but could be just enough to keep them in the mix late in the season in the weak AFC East if he is able to perform at the level he has in the past. It's difficult to know what to expect from a quarterback who was just signed a month ago and hasn't played much in several years, but Orton will probably be a slight upgrade.

Miami Dolphins (2-2)
Rating: -0.9 (26th) / Projected Wins: 7.4 / Win Division: 27.3% / Make Playoffs: 31.7%
The Dolphins defense remains above average, and their re-tooled offensive line has actually led them to the best rushing attack in the NFL through 4 weeks. But their lackluster pass game is still a major concern that seems likely to keep them out of the playoffs. Like most of the teams in the division, the best case scenario for Miami seems to be a mediocre record, and hoping that's enough to win the division.

New England Patriots (2-2)
Rating: -2.1 (30th) / Projected Wins: 6.9 / Win Division: 20.2% / Make Playoffs: 22.7%
The Patriots might be the biggest mystery in the NFL right now. Their pass offense has surprisingly been one of the worst in the league through 4 games. Our above projections for New England use only 2014 stats, and represent what you would expect from a generic NFL team that performed as poorly as they have thus far. Knowing that the Patriots had the 8th best rating in 2013, their 2014 rating should still be expected to rise substantially as the season goes on. New England are realistically still solid favorties in the AFC East, but so far they have been the least impressive, and it is now difficult to still see them as contenders in a revitalized AFC.

New York Jets (1-3)
Rating: -0.5 (25th) / Projected Wins: 6.7 / Win Division: 23.1% / Make Playoffs: 28.0%
The Jets rushing has been good so far, but the pass game has only shown marginal improvement and the defense has taken a step back. The good news is that the rest of the AFC East all currently join the Jets in the bottom 9 of our ratings, meaning there remains a chance the Jets could steal the division with some luck.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens (3-1)
Rating: 2.8 (4th) / Projected Wins: 9.6 / Win Division: 36.5% / Make Playoffs: 63.0%
Following a 2013 season that saw the Ravens have their worst efficiency in recent years in both passing and rushing, the Baltimore offense has more than rebounded to even better than pre-2013 levels in both areas. The defense has also remained stout. The Ravens are on pace to make the playoffs, but it won't be easy in a resurgent AFC and AFC North specifically.

Cincinnati Bengals (3-0)
Rating: 1.2 (17th) / Projected Wins: 9.6 / Win Division: 38.4% / Make Playoffs: 60.2%
The Bengals have our top rated defense thus far. Their pass offense remains effective, though it has been more by avoiding negative plays than really piling up yardage as they started to do last season. Cincinnati may remain slight favorites in the AFC North so far, but with the Ravens and Steelers having rebounded since last season the Bengals may need to be more dominant in the pass game to retain the division title. The return from injury of under-appreciated WR Marvin Jones may help with that.

Cleveland Browns (1-2)
Rating: 0.1 (23rd) / Projected Wins: 7.2 / Win Division: 8.6% / Make Playoffs: 19.1%
The early results for he Browns are relatively promising. They have played 3 very tight games against some tough teams. The defense has struggled, but the level of competition has played a role. The offense has been solid. Their run game has been among the best in the league so far, while Hoyer and the pass offense have been effective but unspectacular. Cleveland did well to identify under-utilized ex-Bengals WR Andrew Hawkins, and convert his incredible short area quickness into a solid weapon. In an average division, the Browns would be a threat to sneak into playoffs, but in a deep AFC North they are likely out of luck.

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2)
Rating: 1.9 (10th) / Projected Wins: 8.3 / Win Division: 16.5% / Make Playoffs: 37.1%
The Steelers offense has been a bit better than it has been in recent years in both passing and rushing, appearing to finally have returned to being a very good unit after 2 years of mediocrity. But so far the defense has been much worse than recent years. Overall the Steelers appear to be a playoff caliber team, but face an uphill battle at 2-2 in what looks like it will be a tough playoff race.

AFC South

Houston Texans (3-1)
Rating: 0.3 (22nd) / Projected Wins: 8.7 / Win Division: 29.3% / Make Playoffs: 45.7%
The Texans lead the AFC South at 3-1, but a closer look at their opponents and advanced statistics reveals some warning signs. Their defense so far has returned to being an above average unit, but the offense hasn't provided much to get excited about. Their run game has dropped to below average for the first time in years, and while their passing has been respectable so far, it has come by minimizing negative plays rather than really moving the ball well. Given Ryan Fitzpatrick's history, it is hard to expect that to continue against tougher competition. Houston still isn't all that likely to reach the playoffs, but their fast start could keep them in the mix late in the season.

Indianapolis Colts (2-2)
Rating: 5.1 (1st) / Projected Wins: 9.9 / Win Division: 64.4% / Make Playoffs: 74.7%
Andrew Luck didn't show much real improvement from year 1 to year 2, but through 4 games this season the Colts pass offense has actually performed at a level similar to the 2013 Broncos. That fact has gone a bit under the radar because of their 2-2 record, but it bodes very well for Indianapolis going forward. The Colts defense has been below average so far, but if it can be even just mediocre going forward, the Colts could finally make a deep run in the postseason.

Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4)
Rating: -2.7 (31st) / Projected Wins: 4.5 / Win Division: 1.6% / Make Playoffs: 3.6%
The Jaguars are already in a race with the Raiders for worst team in the NFL, but they at least have some hope now with the insertion of Blake Bortles at QB. Bortles hasn't been too effective overall so far due to interceptions, but has shown an ability to generate yardage. It's still early, but in general teams that move the ball and turn it over have more future success than those that do neither. One big problem that persists for Jacksonville is the defense, which has been even worse than last season so far.

Tennessee Titans (1-3)
Rating: -1.3 (27th) / Projected Wins: 6.3 / Win Division: 4.7% / Make Playoffs: 11.0%
The Titans had a very promising Week 1, but have been terrible all around since. They have the potential to be a respectable team in 2014, but it would require Jake Locker getting back to at least his 2013 form or better, and the defense turning things around some. They already appear to be in too big of a hole to make a run at the playoffs this year.

AFC West

Denver Broncos (2-1)
Rating: 1.4 (15th) / Projected Wins: 9.1 / Win Division: 29.3% / Make Playoffs: 52.2%
The Broncos have only played 3 games, but so far the pass offense hasn't been quite as dominant as last season, and the defense has struggled a bit. Denver's rating is likely to climb back into the top tier of the league as the weeks progress, but it is likely they will be in a much tougher battle with San Diego for the AFC West title. Factoring in both 2013 and 2014 ratings thus far, the Broncos are realistically probably still favorites in the AFC, but the top of the AFC is shaping up to be much stronger than last season.

Kansas City Chiefs (2-2)
Rating: 2.6 (6th) / Projected Wins: 9.0 / Win Division: 23.1% / Make Playoffs: 48.1%
The Chiefs big Week 1 loss to the Titans at home couldn't have been more misleading, as since the teams have trended in the complete opposite directions. Kansas City has actually been much better at passing than they were last year, but could see some regression as much of the success has come from new schemes, screen passes, and big plays. The defense remains solid, so the Chiefs may go as far as Alex Smith can take them. The most likely result for Kansas City is probably just barely missing the playoffs, but if the pass offense can remain anywhere near their current level of success, the Chiefs would be a solid playoff team.

Oakland Raiders (0-4)
Rating: -2.8 (32nd) / Projected Wins: 4.3 / Win Division: 0.9% / Make Playoffs: 2.4%
It's too early to make a long-term judgement on Derek Carr, but the early results have not been very good. The Raiders defense has been terrible for years, but this year's struggles are a bit surprising after they brought in a number of solid veteran free agents. The group may very well round into a decent unit as the season progresses and they have more time together. But Oakland will remain a very bad team until they can get some production from the pass offense.

San Diego Chargers (3-1)
Rating: 2.6 (7th) / Projected Wins: 10.0 / Win Division: 46.7% / Make Playoffs: 68.4%
Through 4 games, the Chargers have had one of the league's best passing offenses and its worst rushing offense. But in today's NFL, that still averages out to a very good offense overall. The defense has been about average, which is an improvement over last season. San Diego is a legitimate threat to challenge Denver in the AFC West, and should be a solid playoff team.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys (3-1)
Rating: 2.9 (3rd) / Projected Wins: 9.7 / Win Division: 41.2% / Make Playoffs: 60.8%
The Cowboys are playing better than they did in 2013 in passing, rushing, and defense. They are worthy of making the playoffs this season, but face tough competition from the Eagles and possibly the Giants in the division, and the wild card race should be tight as well.

New York Giants (2-2)
Rating: 2.3 (9th) / Projected Wins: 8.4 / Win Division: 23.3% / Make Playoffs: 37.2%
The Giants defense remains solid, and they have completely turned around the offensive pass game since last season. If they can continue to pass anywhere near as well as they have so far, the Giants will be at very least in the playoff mix late in the season.

Philadelphia Eagles (3-1)
Rating: 1.3 (16th) / Projected Wins: 9.0 / Win Division: 30.3% / Make Playoffs: 45.1%
Offensive rushing doesn't usually play a huge role how good a team is, but the Eagles have dropped from the best rushing team in 2013 all the way down to 27th so far in 2014. That kind of difference is big enough to possibly cost a team a game or 2 and miss the playoffs. The Eagles passing has been almost as successful as last year, and the defense has shown a little improvement. The Eagles may still be as likely as any team to win the NFC East, but that race has become a lot more crowded this season, and the wild card is no sure thing either.

Washington Redskins (1-3)
Rating: 1.1 (18th) / Projected Wins: 6.9 / Win Division: 5.2% / Make Playoffs: 13.7%
Despite his ugly Week 4 outing, Kirk Cousins and the Redskins pass offense has been above average overall in 2014. It is still difficult to get a sense of how good Cousins really is because of the small sample size and the fact that he seems to play like a Pro Bowler half of the time, and the worst QB in the league the other half. But overall, the best estimation is probably that Cousins is at least good enough to keep the Redskins competitive. The bigger problem for Washington is a defense that is playing even worse than last season.

NFC North

Chicago Bears (2-2)
Rating: 1.7 (11th) / Projected Wins: 8.3 / Win Division: 19.4% / Make Playoffs: 37.5%
The Bears offense has been just about as good as last season, and the defense has improved some. But Chicago is locked in a tough division with Green Bay and Detroit, which means the defense will likely have to continue to improve to around league average for the Bears to make the playoffs.

Detroit Lions (3-1)
Rating: 2.5 (8th) / Projected Wins: 9.8 / Win Division: 43.8% / Make Playoffs: 60.8%
Detroit was unlucky to finish 7-9 last season, as seen by their 3-1 start in 2014 despite similar levels of performance. The defense has improved a bit, from a good unit to one of the league's best. The Lions are on pace to make the playoffs, but like others in the tough NFC North, they could realistically finish anywhere from a high seed in the playoffs to out of the playoffs.

Green Bay Packers (2-2)
Rating: 1.5 (12th) / Projected Wins: 8.5 / Win Division: 20.2% / Make Playoffs: 37.9%
The Packers struggled in a couple of road losses against 2 of the league's best defenses, but overall the Packers pass game is producing at about the level it has in the past with Aaron Rodgers. The trouble is since last season they have gone from a good rushing team to a bad one, and the defense hasn't shown any improvement over a poor 2013 campaign. No matter how bad the run game and defense are, Aaron Rodgers alone will keep Green Bay in the playoff hunt, but they are unlikely to be a real force in the NFC unless they improve in at least one of those areas.

Minnesota Vikings (2-2)
Rating: 0.8 (20th) / Projected Wins: 8.0 / Win Division: 16.6% / Make Playoffs: 30.8%
Teddy Bridgewater couldn't have had a much better debut, but it remains tough to fully buy into him just 1 game in, especially considering how much of his Week 4 success came on possibly flukey big plays. That said, the Vikings were bordering on irrelevance prior to Bridgewater starting, so he at least gives them new hope of making the playoffs. The Minnesota rushing offense has carried on almost as well without Adrian Peterson. The defense is still below average, but has shown improvement since last season.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons (2-2)
Rating: 3.6 (2nd) / Projected Wins: 8.9 / Win Division: 50.3% / Make Playoffs: 58.8%
The Falcons pass offense is back to their 2012 levels of dominance, and for the first time in years they now have a capable run game to complement it. The Atlanta defense is still bad, but even that is an improvement over last season when they were the worst in the NFL. The Falcons and Saints are both good teams, but a slow start by both may mean whichever team doesn't win the division may miss out on the playoffs altogether.

Carolina Panthers (2-2)
Rating: 0.5 (21st) / Projected Wins: 7.5 / Win Division: 22.0% / Make Playoffs: 30.6%
So far the Panthers pass game is performing better than it has in any prior year under Cam Newton. However, the run game and defense are playing much worse. Those struggles are so out of character compared to the last 2 seasons, it is difficult to estimate if they will continue. Injuries at RB and the absence of Greg Hardy have played a role, but aren't enough to explain the large difference alone. The most likely scenario for Carolina is probably missing the playoffs, but they should remain in the division and playoff races until late in the season.

New Orleans Saints (1-3)
Rating: 2.7 (5th) / Projected Wins: 7.8 / Win Division: 23.5% / Make Playoffs: 34.1%
The Saints pass and run offense has actually been just as good as it has been in recent years. The problem in New Orleans has been on defense. Though the defense was terrible in 2012, it was above average in 2013. The current defense is comprised mostly of the same players as last season, so it is hard to imagine it will continue to be so far below average in 2014. The Saints have dug a big hole already, so they may need to win the division to make the playoffs. But it remains likely the defense will at least be decent going forward, and the Saints will play like one of the better teams in the NFL.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3)
Rating: -1.7 (29th) / Projected Wins: 5.5 / Win Division: 4.2% / Make Playoffs: 6.3%
The Buccaneers have been a little below average in passing offense and well below average in defense. It doesn't appear to really matter whether McCown returns or Glennon plays out the rest of the season. Either way, Tampa Bay is likely to finish last in the NFC South.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals (3-0)
Rating: 1.5 (13th) / Projected Wins: 9.6 / Win Division: 42.7% / Make Playoffs: 57.4%
The Cardinals have been a bit above average in pass offense and in defense. Drew Stanton is probably one of the better backup QBs in the league and has filled in solidly for 2 games, but it is hard to expect him to give Arizona quite what Carson Palmer would. And Palmer's injury has the look of one that could really drag on for a while. The Cardinals have an early leg up in the tough NFC West, but unless Stanton ends up severely outplaying expectations, Arizona is unlikely to be anything more than a borderline playoff team. Based on solely 2014 stats, the Cardinals project as our favorites in the NFC West, but taking into account the full body of work from past seasons, Seattle and possibly San Francisco as well are still likely to pass them in the division.

San Francisco 49ers (2-2)
Rating: 0.9 (19th) / Projected Wins: 7.9 / Win Division: 16.4% / Make Playoffs: 28.7%
The 49ers run game and defense have been marginally worse so far in 2014, but not enough to merit any real concern. And the pass game has actually moved the ball well enough to compensate for the increased interceptions thus far. San Francisco's rating should increase to closer to its 2013 level as the season progresses, but they probably won't find making the playoffs quite as easy this season.

Seattle Seahawks (2-1)
Rating: 1.5 (14th) / Projected Wins: 8.7 / Win Division: 31.4% / Make Playoffs: 45.8%
The Super Bowl champs have been even slightly better on offense in 2014. The defense has dropped to 10th in our ratings, but they probably haven't quite fully been able to account for how strong of offenses the Seahawks have faced through 3 games. Like San Francisco, Seattle hasn't been quite as dominant so far in 2014, but there is little reason to think they won't eventually get back to close to their 2013 performance. The Seahawks are realistically still favorites in the NFC, but there is no shortage of possible challengers. Seattle should have no trouble getting into the playoffs.

St. Louis Rams (1-2)
Rating: -1.4 (24th) / Projected Wins: 6.7 / Win Division: 9.5% / Make Playoffs: 14.5%
Austin Davis has been one of the several young backup QBs this season to step in and look like a starter. But like others, there is not enough data to assume that he will be able to maintain much of his success. The problem so far for the Rams has been a poor defense, which has struggled significantly despite a strong front 4. Like several other teams, the Rams are very unlikely to make the playoffs apart from the off chance it turns out they really have found a diamond in the rough at QB.

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