2011 NFL Preview - AFC Predictions and Fantasy Projections From WhatIfSports.com image

2011 AFC Preview and Projected Final Standings

Patriots predicted to win AFC East
By Ryan Fowler, WhatIfSports.com
August 31, 2011

Break out a fresh can of WD-40, the WhatIfSports.com NFL simulation engine is back for the 2011 season. Prepare for a weekly buffet of simulation predictions, fantasy projections and power rankings.

Thanks, in part, to the NFL lockout, our season long previews, simulated standings, and fantasy projections are a little late in hitting the web. We do apologize to any fantasy owners and hard core NFL fans for the inconvenience this delay may have caused.

As always, all of our simulated NFL content is based on the statistical DNA of the league's 32 teams. The simulation process takes into account: team depth charts, injuries, passing yards, rushing yards, receiving yards, turnovers, rush defense, pass defense, offensive philosophy (pass versus rush), and minutia your brain can't handle at this time.

Using our NFL simulation engine, we have "played" the entire 2011 NFL season. Each game on this year's schedule was simulated 501 times.

The rosters and depth charts used were up-to-date and accurate as of August 29th, 2011.

To hide the details, click here.

For this analysis, each regular season game is simulated 501 times, with the sum of the winning percentages of those games being our final predicted record. As can be noted, sometimes a team is "favored" (wins more than 50% of the time) in a different number of our games than the expected record shows. We list this record as the Absolute Record. The assumption of the Absolute Record is that the more likely scenario always happens. Since we know that it does not, our expected record (in parentheses next to each team) is far more accurate. Also, especially since we are rounding, it is possible for a team to win a game more often, yet score the same or fewer points on average. In those cases, for Absolute Records, we always take higher winning percentage and are not predicting a tie or a win by an underdog. This is another reason why the expected records are more accurate, as the teams are so evenly matched, the game could easily go either way.

Also, we account for players with injury histories who are considered likely to miss games despite currently being healthy by randomly taking them out of what the analysis dictates is the correct number of games throughout the season. For players who will begin the season injured or who are assumed to replace the current starter during the season, we deliberately make those roster changes in the appropriate weeks. All of these items can cause some perceived inconsistencies with the scores, especially when a team plays one opponent from its division with one set of starters and uses different personnel later.

AFC Final Projected Standings (*division winner, + wild card)

Wild Card tiebreakers based on overall simulation win percentage.

Chad Ochocinco

According to Bodog.com, six out of the top ten favorites to win the 2011 Super Bowl are teams out of the AFC. New England is the early clubhouse leader to raise Lombardi (11/2). With the addition of Chad Ochocinco to the Pats' passing attack, Tom Brady adds one more weapon that he didn't have at his disposal in 2010. The bigger question remains can the returning cast of Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead and Deion Branch pull their own weight again?

Bill Belichick has proven that he's ready and willing to run up the score on opposing teams. The Patriots outscored their opponents 518-313 in 2010. For a more current example, just check out their preseason game against Tampa Bay a few weeks back. Like John Kreese in Karate Kid, Belichick must believe the enemy deserves no mercy.

With two games against the Jets and one against the Cowboys, Steelers, Giants, Eagles and Colts, it will be difficult for the Patriots to repeat their 14-2 mark.

The WhatIfSports.com NFL simulation engine agrees.

AFC EastWinsLosses
New England Patriots* 11 5
New York Jets+ 10 6
Miami Dolphins 9 7
Buffalo Bills 4 12

With little-to-no threat coming from the Dolphins and Bills, the East will be a battle between the Jets and Patriots.

Look for Mark Sanchez to have his best season in the NFL. The re-signing of Santonio Holmes and additions of Derrick Mason and Plaxico Burress surrounds the third-year quarterback out of USC with arguably his best receiving corps to date.

Despite failing to sign Nnamdi Asomugha, the Jets defense is still in the league's top five, which impresses our simulation engine enough to grant them 10 projected wins.

AFC NorthWinsLosses
Pittsburgh Steelers* 12 4
Baltimore Ravens 10 6
Cleveland Browns 8 8
Cincinnati Bengals 3 13

The Steelers came up one win short of displaying their seventh Lombardi Trophy in Pittsburgh. That was with Ben Roethlisberger suspended the first four games of the season.

If you want to talk about consistency, the black and yellow are it. Big Ben still has Rashard Mendenhall, Mike Wallace, Hines Ward and Heath Miller to move the chains. But this year, keep an eye out for wide receiver, Antonio Brown. He was flying under-the-radar until recently and could be in for a big year.

Baltimore will challenge the Steelers for the division crown once again. The Ravens lost Mason, but brought in Lee Evans to replace him as their second wide receiver behind Anquan Boldin. Ray Lewis anchors a defense that continues to age, but one that ranks as one of the most intimidating.

AFC WestWinsLosses
San Diego Chargers* 11 5
Kansas City Chiefs+ 10 6
Denver Broncos 7 9
Oakland Raiders 6 10

It's hard to ignore the fact that our NFL simulation engine had a huge computer crush on the San Diego Chargers in 2010.

Antonio Gates

You can't blame it.

Statistically speaking, the Chargers were unstoppable. They were first in total yards (395.6/gm) and first in team defense (271.6/gm). Issues on special teams and turnovers at the worst possible time led to a playoff-less 9-7 record. It's hard to simulate those conditions.

The 11-5 simulated record is contingent on Antonio Gates playing in the majority of the 16-game schedule. His stats play a huge part in all Chargers simulated games. The same could be said of Philip Rivers (over 4700 passing yards and 30 touchdowns with 13 interceptions in 2010).

If Matt Cassel's offensive line can protect him long enough to get rid of the rock, the Chiefs could make an interesting case as playoff contender again. The offense added Steve Breaston and with fantasy heartthrob Jamaal Charles in the mix on a regular basis, KC could light up the scoreboard this season.

AFC SouthWinsLosses
Indianapolis Colts* 9 7
Houston Texans 8 8
Tennessee Titans 8 8
Jacksonville Jaguars 5 11
Peyton Manning

Chances are that if you are reading this AFC preview, you've checked on the health status of Peyton Manning in the last 24 hours. For this simulated season run, we held the Colts' quarterback out of the first two games. The good news is that even if Manning misses the first few weeks, the NFL simulation engine doesn't believe they'll have a challenge in the AFC South.

The Houston Texans signed some talent to bolster up a pass defense that ranked dead last in the NFL last year. It will be interesting to see how the upgraded defensive unit gelled in the abbreviated training camp and preseason.

The health of Arian Foster (hamstring) became an issue recently. He along with Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson are the catalysts to an offense that may need to put some points on the board if their defense fails to improve.

Throughout the 2011 NFL season, WhatIfSports.com will provide FOXSports.com its game predictions and fantasy projections on a weekly basis.

Ryan Fowler is the Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at rfowler@whatifsports.com.

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