NFL training camps are beginning to open for business, and you know what that means: Finally, there’s a glimpse of the light at the end of this long, dark, football-less tunnel known as the offseason. Finally, football can dominate the news cycle for things that have nothing to do with the relative inflation of footballs (fingers crossed). And finally, predictions for the upcoming season are being rolled out with more confidence and some facsimile of precision.
Or, in the Harvard Sports Analytics Collective‘s case, you could go off the deep end and say that the Miami Dolphins will be the best team in the AFC this coming season.
Harvard’s Kurt Bullard used Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value stat, a catch-all designed to compare players across positions, for each team’s 13 most important players, as decided by Bullard — the starting quarterback, running back, the top two wide receivers, the top tight end, the top two offensive lineman, the top four of the defensive line and linebackers, and the top two defensive backs. He took the AV of those players from last season (or an approximation for presumed rookie starters — read the full article for details) and pretty much added them together. It’s a simplistic way of doing things, as Bullard admits, but it bears out mostly predictable results, except for those pesky Dolphins. Here’s the full chart (with many thanks to HSAC):
Bullard predicts the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers will be far and away the best teams in the NFL, and it’s difficult to argue there. Then the surprising Dolphins, followed by the Chiefs (bolstered by the addition of Jeremy Maclin) and the usual suspects of the Patriots and Broncos. Perhaps even more puzzling is the New York Jets’ placement above the Indianapolis Colts. A team with Geno Smith at quarterback over a team that has considerably upgraded from the squad that just made the AFC Championship? Maybe back to the drawing board on this formula.
The big losers in this model include the San Francisco 49ers, who’ve experience a full-on talent exodus and who Harvard predicts to finish near the bottom of the league. But more surprising is the Baltimore Ravens, projected to be even worse. They shouldn’t be worried, though, considering they outperform their expectations seemingly every year.
So now we can start playing the games, right? Please?