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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.
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.
NFC Final Projected Standings (*division winner, + wild card)
Wild Card tiebreakers based on projected win percentage.
The AFC, thanks to the likes of New England, New York, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, may harbor some of the preseason favorites to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in Indianapolis, but the NFC has facilitated the Super Bowl winner in three of the past four seasons.
With their revamped roster, Philadelphia looks to continue this trend. Adding playmakers in Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Ronnie Brown and Steve Smith, the Eagles have become the prohibitive pick to take the conference crown. Yet Philly's hopes ultimately lie on the performance and health of newly anointed franchise savior Michael Vick. While his comeback served as a scintillating storyline, the former No. 1 overall pick wore down at the end of the season. If the Eagles hope to do damage in the playoffs, Vick's endurance and well-being must remain intact.
There's also hope in the Big Easy, where Drew Brees and company look to avenge their shocking first-round playoff exit in Seattle. The Saints strengthen their backfield by exiling the overrated Reggie Bush in favor of rookie Mark Ingram and versatile veteran Darren Sproles. This, along with the continued growth of Jimmy Graham, has NOLA pinning for their most explosive offense yet in the Sean Payton Era.
But if the Saints have title aspirations, they will need to navigate through one of the toughest divisions in football, with Atlanta and Tampa Bay both on the rise. The Falcons, who are coming off a 13-3 campaign, have added Julio Jones to bolster their receiving corps, while the Buccaneers are ignited by their youthful core led by Josh Freeman and LeGarrette Blount.
And we would be remiss if we failed to mentioned the defending-champion Green Bay Packers. Although they lacked a marquee free-agent signing, the Packers received a better gift: a bill of good health. With injured stars Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant back in action, the Lambeau Leap will be a common occurrence in 2011.
|New York Giants*||10||6|
The Eagles may be the media darling, but the Giants are the simulation engine's pick to take the NFC East crown. Despite a depleted secondary, a powerhouse running game featuring Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs will serve as a catalyst for the G-Men this fall. Secondary injury-issues aside, the x-factor for New York will be Eli Manning's ability to reduce his turnover ratio, as the Giants QB led the league with 25 picks last season.
For Philadelphia to come to fruition in 2011, their offensive line will need to strength in a hurry. In three preseason games, Vick never appeared to be comfortable in the pocket, continually being flushed out thanks to a porous front five. If this continues to be an issue, the Eagles title hopes will quickly vanish.
The Cowboys, especially their offense, has received a fair amount of preseason praise. Yet the uncertainty surrounding their o-line makes Dallas a risky gamble against the Giants and Eagles. The return of Tony Romo will be something to watch in Big D this season, as well as the possible breakout of Felix Jones.
As for the Redskins, all you need to know is the participants in their QB "competition" are John Beck and Rex Grossman. Perhaps the 5-11 record from the simulation engine was too generous.
|Green Bay Packers*||10||6|
The Packers and Bears met in the NFC Championship Game last season, and the simulation engine has the rivals battling it out for Black-and-Blue supremacy in 2011. The additions of Roy Williams and Marion Barber, two moves that received little fanfare, could produce unexpected dividends for Chicago. Another development to keep an eye is the offensive line, as stalwart center Olin Kreutz now resides in New Orleans.
It may be surprising to see the Lions and Vikings on the same plane, but Donovan McNabb, as unlikely as it sounds, is a more stable presence than the hodgepodge behind center in Minnesota last season. And while Detroit is garnering dark horse love, Matthew Stafford is still an unproven entity in the NFL.
|St. Louis Rams*||8||8|
|San Francisco 49ers||7||9|
Out in the NFC West (or should I say "NFC Worst," hey-oh!), Sam Bradford, aided by the presence of pass-happy offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, is projected to lead the Rams to a playoff berth. While Bradford and the offense may grab the headlines, head coach Steve Spagnuolo has transformed St. Louis from one of the worst units in the league to an underestimated squad. The defense should be supported by the arrival of rookie Robert Quinn up front.
Although Alex Smith is still the team's signal caller, the 49ers are the sleeper team in the division, with Jim Harbaugh bringing back the West Coast offense. If Smith can at least mold into a game manager, San Fran has a chance to be playing in January.
With the addition of Kevin Kolb, Arizona appears to finally have a franchise quarterback after the failure of Matt Leinart. However, a season-ending injury to rookie running back Ryan Williams certainly puts a damper on an already-feeble offensive attack. For the Cardinals to implement some fright into opponents, third-year man Beanie Wells will need to prove his worth.
Seattle may be intriguing as a deep sleeper, but not with Tarvaris Jackson at the helm. If Charlie Whitehurst takes over for Jackson, the Seahawks have a chance to repeat as division champs.
|New Orleans Saints*||10||6|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||8||8|
The Falcons and Saints are two of the more complete teams in the NFL, so it's no surprise both are projected to finish with 10 wins. Tampa's eight victories may provide a minor shock, but the Buccaneers escaped many games in 2010 by the slimmest of margins. It appears they may be on the business end of the luck this year.
An interesting dynamic in this division will be the strengthening of the perceived weaknesses of Atlanta and New Orleans. The Saints, who have employed an aerial attack for the last five seasons, will have a stronger focus on their running attack, while the Falcons, who with Michael Turner were mainly a running squad, will look to air it out with the drafting of Julio Jones.
Throughout the 2011 NFL season, WhatIfSports.com will provide FOXSports.com its game predictions and fantasy projections on a weekly basis.
Joel Beall is the Assistant Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.