NFL Pythag Model: Power Rankings and Win Projections for the 2015 Season

After what seemed like an eternity, football is back. Tailgates and flat-screens will now make Sundays the best day of the week.

During the seven month NFL offseason, armed with far too much free time and nothing good to watch on TV, a good chunk of my time went toward predicting how good each NFL team would be in 2015. One thing led to another, and the end result was a pretty cool statistical model built using a combination of Google Spreadsheets and R.

It is called the Pythag Model because the foundation of the model is a formula derived by one of the pioneers of sports analytics, Bill James, called the pythagorean expectation. It uses margin of victory in previous performances to analyze the true strength of a team and how often they will win in the future.

The model has a few holes that will leave the final results vulnerable to significant error. The holes are:

Projecting a rookie QB is quite difficult, and for that reason there is considerable margin for error in the ranking of the Bills, Buccaneers, and Titans.

Jason Pierre-Paul and Aldon Smith are both dynamite edge rushers and are invaluable assets when on the field. How much either will play this season is not yet clear.

Attempting to evaluate rookie coaches is even more difficult than doing so for rookie QBs, so teams with first year head coaches also will have a large margin for error.

Now to the good stuff. Listed below are power rankings and win projections based on the Pythag Score (PS) generated from the model. The higher the PS, the greater the chance a team wins in a theoretical matchup with a neutral opponent.

Pay more attention to the PS than to the team ranking, as two teams may be far apart in ranking but close in PS, particularly in the 12-20 range. The win projections are calculated by adding up the percent chance to win each game for the entire season so they are in decimal form. The Vegas O/U are courtesy of bovada.lv. Don't consider any projection within two games of the Vegas line significant enough to act upon. 

Power Rankings:

1. Denver Broncos - Pythag Score (PS): 0.806

Vegas O/U (Vegas): 10 Wins

Pythag Win Projection (Pythag): 10.4 Wins

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Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

With a healthy Peyton Manning under center, the Broncos are the most complete team in the NFL. The defense is elite, maybe the best in the league. CB Chris Harris Jr. CB Aqib Talib, LB Brandon Marshall, EDGE Von Miller, EDGE DeMarcus Ware, and DE Malik Jackson are all above average at their position.

The addition of G Evan Mathis will help shore up the interior of the offensive line and help in the running game, but the key on offense will be rookie LT Ty Sambrailo. If he can protect Peyton's blindside well enough to keep him healthy, the Broncos are the 2015 Super Bowl favorites. 

2. Seattle Seahawks - PS: 0.781

Vegas: 11 Wins

Pythag: 10.7 Wins

Kam Chancellor holdout aside, this team is still as stacked as ever. Adding TE Jimmy Graham is a big plus, but losing C Max Unger in the trade to get him will further weaken an interior offensive line that was already among the league's worst. If the offensive line can hold up and they get Chancellor signed, a third Super Bowl trip in a row could be in store for Seattle.

3. New England Patriots - PS: 0.746

Vegas: Not available due to game on Thursday night (odds to beat PIT were 64%)

Pythag: 11.4

It wouldn't be the NFL if the Patriots weren't in Super Bowl contention. The offense will be exceptional once again and while the defense will be good, New England will miss Darrelle RevisTom Brady, Bill Belichick and company should have no trouble making the playoffs against a relatively easy schedule. 

4. Baltimore Ravens - PS: 0.708

Vegas: 9 Wins

Pythag: 10.6 Wins

The Ravens are good year-in and year-out primarily due to the magnificent work done by GM Ozzie Newsome in the draft and free agency. The roster is always stocked with young talent and 2015 is no exception. 

Joe Flacco will lead a serviceable offense driven by a strong line. The defense will be a classic Ravens defense and wreak havoc on opposing backfields. With a few good breaks they could find themselves in the Super Bowl.

5. Green Bay Packers - PS: 0.646

Vegas O/U: 11 Wins

PWP: 10.2 Wins

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Rodgers is the best QB in football. The Green Bay offense will be top-notch as long as he is under center. Jordy Nelson's season ending injury hurts, but what is equally concerning is that four different starting offensive lineman have been injured at one point or another in training camp. That being said, the defense is decent and you can never count out Aaron Rodgers.

6. Indianapolis Colts - PS: 0.640

Vegas O/U: 11 wins

PWP: 11 wins

Andrew Luck is still improving and is already one of the better QBs in the NFL. Locked and loaded with a full arsenal of pass catching weapons, Luck is the early favorite to lead the league in passing. The interior offensive line is poor, but LT Anthony Castonzo is a stud and RT Jack Mewhort showed some positive signs last season. 

The defense, led by All-World CB Vontae Davis, is still not quite good enough for the Colts to be considered a top five team. The regular season schedule is incredibly easy and should allow for a monster season from Luck and the Indianapolis offense. 

7. San Diego Chargers - PS: 0.603

Vegas O/U: 8 Wins

PWP: 10 Wins

The first real surprise on the list is the San Diego Chargers. Phillip Rivers is getting old, but is still a top 10 QB. The Chargers have depth at RB (not a huge Melvin Gordon fan but Branden Oliver and Danny Woodhead are both quality players), a solid O-Line and a quietly impressive group of pass catchers (Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson, Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates, Ladarius Green). If CB Jason Verrett, CB Brandon Flowers and S Eric Weddle can stay healthy, the defense will be good enough for the Chargers to steal a wild card spot.

8. Minnesota Vikings - PS: 0.600

Vegas: 7.5 Wins

Pythag: 10.1 Wins

Add Adrian Peterson< /a> to a Vikings team with a promising young QB (Teddy Bridgewater) and an up-and-coming defense and you get a top-10 NFL team. If Teddy can build upon a strong finish to his rookie season and the wheels don't fall off the injury wagon, the Vikings are a playoff team in 2015. Their schedule isn't easy, but the Vegas Over/Under of 7.5 wins is far too low.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers - PS: 0.589

Vegas: Not available due to Thursday night game (odds to beat NE were 36%)

Pythag: 9 Wins

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Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ben is surrounded by arguably the most explosive group of skill position players in the league in Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. The offensive line is a quality group but will miss C Maurkice Pouncey for at least half the season.

The Pittsburgh defense is a work in progress and will keep the Steelers from being elite in 2015. They won't be the worst unit in the NFL, but they will be lucky if they finish as league average.

10. Dallas Cowboys - PS: 0.573

Vegas: 9.5 Wins

Pythag: 10 Wins

Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and the league's co-top offensive line (Cleveland Browns have the other top OL) should have no trouble scoring points in 2015. The defense won't be quite as imposing. 

Losing CB Orlando Scandrick for the year to a torn ACL was a huge blow to an already porous secondary. The Cowboys could outplay this ranking if DE Greg Hardy returns to his 2013 form and EDGE Randy Gregory and EDGE Demarcus Lawrence can generate a pass rush.

11. Philadelphia Eagles - PS: 0.562

Vegas: 9.5 Wins

Pythag: 10.1 Wins

One team out of the Eagles and Cowboys will win the NFC East while the other will likely claim a wild card spot. The Eagles have one of the lightest schedules in the league and their easy schedule is why they are projected to win slightly more games than the Cowboys despite a lower PS. 

Sam Bradford is still somewhat of an unknown. Chip Kelly offenses can succeed with almost anyone at QB so the Eagles can survive if Bradford gets injured again and Mark Sanchez has to take over. 

The front seven is loaded while the secondary is still not where it needs to be despite adding CB Byron Maxwell in free agency. The front office must be regretting trading CB Brandon Boykin to the Steelers after seeing their would-be slot corner, rookie 6th round pick JaCorey Shepherd, tear his ACL later in training camp. Ultimately, if Sam Bradford can showcase the talent that got him selected 1st overall the Eagles will win the division.

12. Kansas City Chiefs - PS: 0.539

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 9 wins

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The health of NT Dontari Poe is the key to the Chiefs season. The offense will be a classic Alex Smith-led offense. The defense must carry the load and Poe holds the Kansas City defense together. 

He had back surgery roughly two months ago and has recovered much faster than was expected. Poe is considered probable to play in the Chiefs Week 1 matchup with the Houston Texans. A full 16 games from Poe will likely mean a season above .500 for the Chiefs.

13. New Orleans Saints - PS: 0.529

Vegas: 8.5 Wins

Pythag: 10.2 Wins

If it weren't for Drew Brees, the Saints would be among the worst teams in the league. Luckily for Saints fans Drew Brees is still a top 5 QB. The Saints face the leagues easiest schedule according to opponents average Pythag Score. The most highly ranked team they face all season is the Colts, and they play the Jaguars, Redskins and Titans once and the Falcons and Buccaneers twice.

The defense isn't going to be good, but as long as Brees, OT Zach Strief, and OT Terron Armstead stay healthy the offense will put up points. DE Cameron Jordan was recently involved in an off-field incident that could potentially result in legal ramifications, though he will likely not be suspended. The Saints need him rushing the passer to win the NFC South.

14. Carolina Panthers - PS: 0.520

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 9.9 wins

The season-ending injury to Kelvin Benjamin is less of an issue than the injuries to defensive lineman Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short and Charles Johnson. None appear to be overly serious, but if one or two miss extended time this ranking will be too high. If the Panthers utilize Cam Newton's running ability more in 2015 it could help offset their deficiencies at WR and OT and lead them to another NFC South title.

15. Buffalo Bills - PS: 0.508

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 9.6 wins

The Buffalo defense is littered with above average starters. Barring injuries to multiple key guys and the Bills could have the #1 defense. Rex Ryan will have a lot of fun calling plays on Sundays. 

Tyrod Taylor is the X-factor for the Bills. If he can play at a league average level, the Bills will make the playoffs. If he plays like a career backup, they could go 6-10. If the Bills get Tyrod out on the bootleg 5-8 times per game and he runs for a first down on third down every now and then, the Bills could be a wild card team in the AFC.

16. Detroit Lions - PS: 0.498

Vegas: 8 wins

Pythag: 8.1 wins

The Detroit defense will not be as dominant as it was in 2014 after losing both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. On the bright side, Lions DC Teryl Austin is a tremendous defensive coordinator and has suitable replacements for Suh/Fairley in Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker.

Matthew Stafford is supremely talented from a physical standpoint, but so far in his career hasn't shown the ability to consistently take care of the football. If Matthew Stafford cuts down on his interceptions the Lions could make a run at the playoffs.

17. Cincinnati Bengals - PS: 0.488

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 8.1 wins

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Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

The clock is ticking for Andy Dalton in Cincinnati. If he doesn't lead them to the playoffs both he and Marvin Lewis will likely be gone. 

The talent is abundant on offense. Top five offensive line, A.J. Green and Marvin Jones on the outside, Tyler Eifert at TE and Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard in the backfield. The offense should put up points. 

The defense has some talent but will likely be slightly below average unless Vontaze Burfict comes back healthy and returns to his 2013 form. Their schedule does them no favors, and as a result the playoffs are unlikely for the Bengals.

18. Miami Dolphins - PS: 0.481 

Vegas: 9 wins

Pythag: 8.8 wins

Ryan Tannehill has plenty of weapons to throw the ball to, but the guys protecting him up front may not be able to give him enough time. The Dolphins desperately need LT Branden Albert to stay healthy. Coming off a torn MCL and ACL, his health is a huge question mark. 

Ndamukong Suh, Cameron WakeBrent Grimes and Koa Misi should keep points off the board and be an above average defense, but this team's season hinges on its offensive line.

19. Cleveland Browns - PS: 0.452

Vegas: 6.5 wins

Pythag: 7.2 wins

Josh McCown was downright terrible last year in Tampa Bay. However, the Bucs had no semblance of an offensive line and literally did not have an offensive coordinator. In Cleveland he will be playing behind potentially the best offensive line in the league and will have plenty of time to throw. He won't revert to his incredible 2013 form, but should be better than he was in 2014. The Browns front seven is decent while the secondary is elite. They should be better than most expect in 2015.

20. Atlanta Falcons - PS: 0.437

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 8.6 wins

Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Desmond Trufant are a special trio. The issue is the talent around them. Vic Beasley is going to be very good, but he's a rookie so its not fair to expect too much right away. The Falcons' schedule is among the easiest in the league based on opposing PS and it could allow them to sneak into the playoffs.

21. New York Jets - PS: 0.426

Vegas: 7.5 wins

Pythag: 7.9 wins

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Up to this point in time Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a better QB than Geno Smith, so the locker room fiasco may have actually been a blessing in disguise. The defense will be solid with the addition of Darrelle Revis, but the offense won't move the ball efficiently enough to make a run into the playoffs. 

22. New York Giants - PS: 0.420

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 7.3 wins

Losing LT Will Beatty for at least six games is a huge loss for a team that was already weak at offensive tackle. Rookie 1st round pick Ereck Flowers will man the blind side while journeyman Marshall Newhouse will likely play RT (unless the coaches wise up and slide Geoff Schwartz out to tackle). 

Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie form as good of a CB duo as there is in the NFL, but the question marks at safety and linebacker will keep the Giants defense from being formidable in 2015.

23. Arizona Cardinals - PS: 0.418

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 6.4 wins

Out of all 32 teams, this ranking surprised me the most...at first. After investigating further it makes sense. Carson Palmer is a quality NFL QB when he's on the field but he hasn't been able to stay healthy the past few seasons. He will be playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league and staying upright will be easier said than done.

On the defensive side of the ball Calais Campbell is a stud up front. In the secondary the Cardinals have Patrick Peterson, who should improve after getting a handle on his diabetes, and Tyrann Mathieu, who is returning from injury. Outside of those three and a few others, the roster is as barren as there is in the league. Bruce Arians will have to work some serious magic to get this team to the playoffs.

24. San Francisco 49ers - PS: 0.414

Vegas: 7 wins

Pythag: 6.2 wins

The defections the 49ers suffered this offseason have been well documented. Despite all of the losses they've suffered, there are still quality players on the roster. Colin Kaepernick is solid, NaVorro Bowman is back and they still have Joe Staley at LT. The playoffs are unlikely, but things will have to go very wrong for them to end up among the league's bottom dwellers.

25. St. Louis Rams - PS: 0.409

Vegas: 8 wins

Pythag: 6.8 wins

The Rams defensive line is as good as it gets and is led by one of my personal favorite players, Aaron Donald. Adding Nick Foles at QB is a solid addition, but he is not going to carry them to the playoffs by himself. The roster is still a few years away from being deep enough to be a true contender.

26. Houston Texans - PS: 0.355

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 6.7 wins

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J.J. Watt is unquestionably the most valuable non-QB in the league. If only he had more help. DeAndre Hopkins is a player to keep an eye on, but other than him, the Texans are short on star players. Arian Foster is fantastic when he's healthy, which unfortunately isn't often. Brian Hoyer isn't the worst QB in the league, but he's too close to the bottom for the Texans to be contenders in 2015.

27. Chicago Bears - PS: 0.349

Vegas: 7 wins

Pythag: 5.8 wins

The Bears have the ability to outperform this ranking if the new coaching staff can maximize all of the talent on the roster. Lamarr Houston, Pernell McPhee and Jared Allen comprise a solid group of pass rushers and Kyle Fuller should improve in his second season. The safeties and interior defensive line appear to be problematic.

If Jay Cutler improves, Kyle Long moves to tackle and both Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal stay healthy, the offense could be quite effective. Jeffery has dealt with a calf injury for the past month and the odds that he plays 16 healthy games looks slim at this point. Eddie Royal also missed time in camp due to a hip injury. After Jeffery and Royal the depth at WR is nonexistent. Head Coach John Fox, Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase and Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio have some work to do, but the roster has potential.

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - PS: 0.320

Vegas: 6 wins

Pythag: 5.5 wins

The Bucs will go as far Jameis Winston takes them. If he plays well, they could contend in the NFC South. If he doesn't, they could have the #1 pick again in next year's draft. He will have his work cut out for him with WR Mike Evans suffering from a hamstring injury and LT Demar Dotson out for at least the first eight games. 

The defense has three bright spots: DT Gerald McCoy, LB Lavonte David, and CB Alterraun Verner. The defense, other than the impressive trio, is unimpressive. The coaches would be smart to start Bradley McDougald at safety. He has far more upside than the other options currently on the roster. The Bucs should play as many young guys as possible and build for the future.

29. Tennessee Titans - PS: 0.264

Vegas: 5.5 wins

Pythag: 3.9 wins

Like the Buccaneers, the Titans are depending heavily on Marcus Mariota right away. DT Jurrell Casey is a star in the making and is the key cog in what will be a solid front seven. Outisde of the defensive front seven there isn't a lot to get excited about. If Mariota shows promise in 2015, the season will be considered a success.

30. Oakland Raiders - PS: 0.250

Vegas: 5.5 wins

PPW: 2.8 wins

Derek Carr was not very good in 2014. Even when accounting for some potential improvement he still doesn't project to be a league average QB in 2015. Amari Cooper will help move the ball on offense and Rodney Hudson is a nice addition on the interior of the offensive line, but there's little reason to think the Raiders offense will be above average in 2015.

Khalil Mack is everything to the Raiders that the Texans wanted in Jadeveon Clowney. He's an absolute force on the edge and gives the Oakland defense a fighting chance every Sunday. Combine Mack with Justin Tuck and Aldon Smith and you have what may be the best group of edge rushers in the league. The secondary and linebackers are what will hold the Oakland defense back. 

Unfortunately for Raider Nation, Oakland faces an incredibly difficult schedule. Wins will be hard to come by in 2015.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars - PS: 0.243

Vegas: 5.5 wins

Pythag: 3 wins

As bad as Derek Carr was last year, Blake Bortles was worse. He's had a nice preseason, but had a nice preseason last year too. He can't get much worse, but he has a lot of work to do before he is a top 20 QB. Allen Robinson is a nice weapon at WR, but other than that the offense isn't scaring anyone.

There are a few promising pieces on defense (DL Sen'Derrick Marks, EDGE Ryan Davis, CB Aaron Colvin), but on the whole the defense is deficient in too many areas to keep opponents out of the end zone on a regular basis. The Jaguars did a nice job in the draft this year in rounds 2-6 so the future is looking bright in Jacksonville.

32. Washington Redskins - PS: 0.228

Vegas: 6.5 wins

Pythag: 2.1 wins

The Redskins win the Most Dysfunctional Team Award in a landslide for 2015. The RG3 saga is a complete mess as is the roster itself. New GM Scot McCloughan made some quality free agent pickups this offseason (CB Chris Culliver, DT Stephen Paea, DT Terrance Knighton) but the cupboard was bone dry when he got to Washington. 

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