Part 1 of our NFL preview, the NFL brands and fanbases analysis, looked at which teams have the best fanbases. Today we begin discussing where the NFL is going in 2022. Our NFL projections are based on a forecast of team performance and a subjective assessment of each team’s quarterback’s storylines.
The team win forecast is primarily driven by a new advanced QB metric called QB Wins. The QB Wins metric is something that I have been working on for a decent amount of time. The QB Wins metric is computed using a wide range of raw data (TD passes, interceptions, yards, etc.), expert statistics (passer rating, QBR), and non-QB data (defense stats, rushing, etc.). The algorithm leverages the correlations and differences between these data sources to separate out QB, running game, and defensive performance. A second statistical analysis estimates the relationship between quarterback performance factors (and defensive and rushing factors) and team performance (wins). The result is a QB metric that identifies how much a player contributes to his team's record in a given year.
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I forecast each team’s 2022 record using the QB Wins metric, with particular attention paid to changes in the QB position. We also consider and rank the QB-oriented storylines likely to dominate each team’s media coverage.
The preview is intentionally QB centric. These players disproportionately drive on-field success, fan interest, and salary cap issues. The NFL is the dominant sports league across just about every demographic group, and the QBs are the stars. We will publish a new division each week.
1. Buffalo Bills and Josh Allen
Josh Allen is the guy I expect to get the most push back on. The average fan came out of the 2021 playoffs loving Allen, and so did the Bills with a massive $258 million contract. But The Bills were (just) 11 and 6 last year, with a defense that led the lead in scoring and yards allowed. Allen’s performance on the NFL passer stat is pretty average (92.2), while he does well on ESPN’s QBR (ranked #6). His contract puts him in the elite category, but Allen’s average QB Wins contribution over the last two seasons is only about 1.75. This places Allen in a category below the Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes types and more in the range of Stafford, Prescott, or Cousins. My projection is for the Bills to win 10.6 games, slightly below last year’s results.
I see multiple storylines based on the QB Wins projections and the marketing realities of the AFC East. Can Allen justify the big dollars and take the Bill’s to a championship? The Bills could also be facing a divisional challenge. The Patriots are the top brand in the AFC East, so the storyline could be whether Allen can hold off a challenge from Belichick and Mac Jones.
Bills’ Forecast: 10.6 wins
Bills’ Fan Base Ranking: #27
Media Narrative: A-
2. New England Patriots & Mac Jones
Jones was the last of the 1st round QBs last year but the best performing. He was a slightly below breakeven QB at a -.2 Wins contribution in his rookie year. I’m projecting Jones to be a .75 QB Wins player in 2022. Projections for young players are a possible source of bias in this endeavor, but young QB’s tend to improve by a game or game and a half over their first three years. This leads to a forecast of 10.1 wins for the Patriots and second place in the AFC East.
Potentially, this sets up the next chapter in the Belichick-Brady story. My research suggests that coaching is an underrated aspect while surrounding talent is an overrated driver of QB success. Mac Jones may have been the true winner of the 2021 draft as he benefits from having Belichick rather than Meyer. While the main Patriots’ story the last two years has been the Brady-Belichick relationship, the success of Mac Jones versus the other 2021 QBs is a nice story. There is also the potential storyline about how an under-appreciated player like Jones may be competing with a quarter-billion-dollar star in Josh Allen.
Patriots Forecast: 10.1 wins
Patriots’ Fan Base Ranking: #2
Media Narrative Grade: A
3. Miami Dolphins & Tua Tagovailoa
A funny thing about the NFL is that winning 8 games seems like a failure, while winning nine is playoff contention. The Dolphins were 9-8 last year. So while Miami was pretty average last year, they are also on the cusp of making the playoffs. Will Tyreek Hill and a relatively friendly schedule push the Dolphins into the playoffs?
This should be the critical year for Tua in Miami. Tua was average last year with a QB Wins score of -.14. This was about a 1 game improvement in QB Wins score over 2020. For 2022 I’m going to project Tua as a breakeven player, and the Dolphins’s forecast is for 8.8 wins. The challenge in projecting Tua is that young players often improve, but coaching disruptions often lead to a step back.
The story will be whether Tua is the long-term answer in Miami. This is a tough situation for the Dolphins as they could easily find themselves in playoff contention while still having significant doubts about Tua. The Dolphins off-field issues might work in Tua’s favor as the team may wish to pursue stability.
Dolphins’ Forecast: 8.8 wins
Dolphins’ Fan Base Rankings: #22
Media Narrative Grade: B-
4. New York Jets & Zach Wilson
We have a young QB coming off of a disastrous rookie season with the Jets. Wilson was a -5.1 QB Wins last year, and the Jets won 4 games. In the offseason, the Jets have been busy adding talent at offensive line and TE positions through free agency - and at WR and defensive back in the draft. One thing to note is that the NFL is built to maintain competitive balance (the draft, salary cap, etc.) so worse-performing teams have greater influxes of talent and fewer loses.
In season 2, questions about whether Wilson is the long-term answer will arise unless the Jets have a massive turnaround. Wilson could make for a nice story if he can make the Jets winners. Or the story will be that the Jets have struck out again. I’m projecting an improvement to a -4.1 win contribution for Wilson on the QB metric. Combined with team and schedule factors, this leads to a forecast of 7.2 wins. Seven wins are probably enough to give the Jets fans hope. And if Wilson gets to breakeven status, this could get interesting.
I don’t see a lot here in terms of the media and marketing. It is the New York market, but the woes of the Jets are far from a new story. I foresee some positive press as the Jets could be close to 500, but this might be an illusion as the improvement is driven by schedule factors and free-agent additions rather than Wilson.
Jets Forecast: 7.2 wins
Jets’ Fan Base Ranking: #26
Media Narrative Grade: C
AFC East Summary:
There are several compelling QB-related storylines in the AFC East. Can Josh Allen justify the big money and take the Bills to the Super Bowl? Will Bill Belichick and Mac Jones return the Patriots to glory? Are Tua and Wilson the long-term answers for the Dolphins and Jets, respectively?
Based on the QB Wins metric, I foresee a battle for the division title between the Bills and Patriots. It’s a small-market team with a big-money star against one of the most glamorous brands with a young QB guided by a curmudgeonly coach who always makes for great media. On the other side of the standings, the Dolphins and Jets have the potential to yield fascinating stories. The AFC East will be a great source of on-field and fandom stories for 2022.
Check out our other divisional projections here:
All Divisional Projections
Stream the podcast discussion of the projections on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.