Bills top conference; Ravens win AFC North

The 2022 NFL regular-season schedule is set! We now know that the season starts at SoFi Stadium, with the Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams taking on the Buffalo Bills. Tom Brady and the Bucs will host Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Week 3, and then Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in Week 4. In Week 6, we get a rematch of the game that fueled a change to the OT rules, when Buffalo visits Kansas City. AJ Brown and his new team, the Eagles, host his old team, the Titans, in Week 13. And I personally am very, very excited for the Lions to welcome the Bills to Detroit on Thanksgiving.

In our second season with 272 games on the schedule, and with the NFL heading into its third campaign with a 14-team playoff field, we’ve started to experience more contests with postseason consequences. While we’ve long known the identity of each team’s opponents, the actual sequencing of the schedules has an impact on projected win totals. Having to make multiple cross-country trips (or adding an international one), for example, could influence a team’s win probability in a given week. Facing elite QBs in back-to-back weeks has had a substantial impact over the past five seasons, as defenses have seen a statistically relevant dip in first-quarter production. In fact, in that same time span, the order of games played has shifted season win totals by as many as 0.72 wins. This season, the free-agent movement made the AFC West the most difficult division in football, with razor-thin margins – and the order of the schedule, specifically, changed the whole division’s win totals by 1.6 games.

Here’s how to read these win projections: Using the projected 53-man rosters as of today, I ran 75,000 simulations for all 272 regular-season games. (A quick note: Barring injuries, which are typically the biggest source of uncertainty, I have made roster projections using the best information available. I do not feel extremely confident in the QB forecasts for Cleveland, Seattle or San Francisco, which means you should check back for the updated versions of these in August.However, because trying to account for multiple scenarios is impossibly complex, these projections presume Deshaun Watson, Drew Lock and Trey Lance will be starters this season.) These simulations yielded a projected win total for each team, which, thanks to the multitude of factors involved, is not always a round number. The top seven teams in each conference are my projected playoff participants.

Remember, these simulations account for many contextualized data points that have been proven to correlate to wins and losses based on historical, actually played football games; personnel is the most important, but other key factors include play-caller tendencies and in-game situations. I re-run these simulations should any player change teams, suffer an injury or otherwise be made unavailable, thus changing the complexion of his team. The more important the player involved, the more the win totals shift – including opponents’ probabilities. Should a high-impact player (or two) change status, we can track how those moves shift everything. Again, this all suggests that you check back in August – and that it’s kind of fun to track everything from May until Super Bowl LVII!

Below, you’ll see win projections for the AFC, with projected division winners and wild-card teams noted. Click here to see win projections for the NFC.

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