Welcome back! In the third installment of the division-by-division projection of 2019 Season Win Total numbers, we stay in the AFC but move to the North. To understand the methodology and logic of the power ratings that feed the season win total projections, please read Part One. You can take a look back at the AFC East here, and the AFC South here.
In a stark contrast to the lowly AFC East (28.8 aggregate wins), the AFC North projects to be the most competitive division overall, with an aggregate win projection of 35.7 wins.
The North division of the American Conference gets the AFC East and NFC West as rotational opponents this year, as well as one team each from the AFC South and AFC West.
Pittsburgh: 11.1 wins
You all might be surprised at how high my numbers rate and project (remember, these are two separate functions) the Pittsburgh Steelers, but I wasn’t. The Steelers 11.1 wins come in fourth in the entire league, only 0.6 games behind the league-leading Patriots. My 2018 power ratings have Mike Tomlin’s non-playoff team also rated fourth in the NFL, only a tenth of a point behind the New Orleans Saints. The fact is the Steelers’ efficiency against a very strong schedule in 2018 created the high rating. The math is agnostic as to when and where their losses came, or the stunning nature of their annual road losses as big favorites, they were just incredibly strong on both sides of the ball in 2018. Especially with and against the pass, as that’s weighted much higher in my algorithm.
Pittsburgh projects to have the most dominant home slate in the NFL in 2019. The Steelers win probabilities range from a low of 66.3% (as 4.2 point favorites at home vs. the Rams) to projected favorites of 83.6%, 88.2%, 89.2%, and 93.8%. Those four homes games against the Seahawks (10.0 point faves), the Bills (11.5 pts), the Bengals (12.9 pts), and the Dolphins (14.3 pts), help push Pittsburgh to a home wins projection of 6.40, only second (tied KC) in the league to the Saints at 6.53.
On the road, it’s a little bit of a different story, as the Steelers have a pretty difficult slate of road games. They will be underdogs at Baltimore (+2.0 points, 46.5% win projection), New England (+3.6, 35.3%) and Los Angeles (Chargers – +3.3, 37.5%). 97-yard Juju and crew will be little more than a coin-flip favorite at Cleveland (-1.1, 51.2%) and San Francisco (-1.8, 53.2%), but will be comfortable favorites at Arizona (-9.9, 83.3%), at the Jets (-7.4, 77%), and at Cincinnati (-6.6, 73.1%)…which means they’re likely to lose one or two of those games, if Mike Tomlin’s pattern of inexcusable losses every year is to continue.
Baltimore: 10.1 wins
Next, we have the Ravens at second in the AFC North and seventh in the league overall (yet fifth in the AFC). The Ravens home slate will be defined by two games that might play a huge factor in determining home-field advantage in the AFC Playoffs: as 2.0 point favorites (53.5%) vs. Pittsburgh, and 1.9 point favorites (53.3%) vs. New England. The Ravens are comfortable 69.5% to 95% favorites in their other six home games. As is the case with their division rivals from Pittsburgh, the Ravens drew a tough three-game stretch on the road (we don’t yet know the actual order of these games, however). They will be 4.3 pt. dogs (33.3%) at the Steelers, 5.9 pt. dogs (30.0% ) at the Chiefs, and will be getting 2.9 points (40.5%) at the Super Bowl runner-up, Los Angeles Rams. Additionally, the Ravens project to be Pick’em at the upstart Browns. Baltimore’s schedule is completed by being slight road favorites (-2.25, 54.0%) in Seattle, and being comfortable road faves at Cincinnati and Miami, -5.83, 70.2% and -7.22, 75.5% respectively.
Cleveland: 8.9 wins
Cleveland — yes, Cleveland! — forecasts to win 5.2 games at home, and are no more than a 1.1 point underdog across all of their home schedule. What a difference the equation of “add: Baker, subtract: Hue” has made on this franchise. As noted above, Cleveland will be Pick’em at home vs. Baltimore (50%). The Browns will be the slightest of dogs at home to the Steelers (+1.1, 48.7%) and the Rams (+0.4, 49.5%). The Browns will be in some unfamiliar territory this year as clear favorites at home against the Bengals, Bills, Dolphins, Titans and even the Seahawks. Cleveland projects to have win probabilities (ATS line in parenthesis) in those games of 79.7% (-8.3), 75.2% (a nice -6.9), 82.3% (-9.7), 67.6% (-4.6) and 69% (also nice) (- 5.5) respectively.
My numbers support a common narrative about young teams, in that it’s said the win-curve is; a team learns how to win games at home. Then they learn how to win on the road. Then they learn how to win in the playoffs. Well, Cleveland’s road game forecasts project the Browns to have some struggles. They will be sub-30% underdogs at Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and New England while being short dogs at Denver (+1.6, 47.2%) and San Francisco (2.1, 46.3%). As the Browns learn to handle success, they will also face the new circumstances of being road favorites at the Bengals (-2.7, 57%), the Jets (-3.5, 64.3%) and the Cardinals (-6, 70.7%).
Cincinnati: 5.7 wins
Former LA Rams Quarterback Coach, and knower-of-Sean-McVay, Zak Taylor certainly has his work cut out for him. Or he would if the Bengals organization actually wanted to compete for championships — which I’ve never been convinced that they do. But I digress…
The Bengals are actually favored three times at home, as they draw the Jets, Jaguars, and Cardinals, against whom they’ll have win probabilities of 64.3%, 51.2% and 70.5%. As a refresher, those probabilities are converted from the game lines that I derived, using this table. My numbers make the Bengals 3.5, 0.9 and 6.1 point favorites vs. those three teams. In the remaining five home games, the Bengals are expected to be underdogs of 2.1 points (S.F.) up to 6.6 and 6.7 point dogs vs Pittsburgh and New England respectively. Division rivals Baltimore (5.8 pt. faves) and Cleveland (2.7 pt faves) complete Cincinnati’s home schedule for 2019, projecting to a lowly 3.6 wins.
On the road — as you would rightly expect — it looks to be much uglier for the Bengals. They forecast to be 11.4, 11.6 and 12.9 point dogs at the Ravens, Rams, and Steelers. The Bengals only have a 34.9% win probability combined in those three road games. It doesn’t get much easier at the Browns (+8.3, 20.5%) or Seahawks (+6.4, 28.3%) either. The Bengals project to keep the games much closer and more competitive in the final three of their eight road games. They will be getting 4.2 points at Buffalo (33.1%), and only 2.2 points (46.0%) and 1.4 points (47.3%) at the Raiders and Dolphins, respectfully.
Thank you for checking out these first three divisions! Next we’ll head to the AFC West for a look at the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos, and the Somewhere, USA Raiders.