As noted, my favorite predictions — to read, if not to make — are those steeped in advanced analytics. Regarding football, the place to go for advanced analytics is Football Outsiders, which I’ve referenced many times. And it was, you might recall, Football Outsiders that sounded the loudest alarm ahead of the Atlanta Falcons’ 2013 crash.
(In its 2013 Almanac, Football Outsiders set the Falcons’ “mean projection” at 7.6 wins, the lowest of any team in the NFC South. The Falcons hadn’t won fewer than nine games in any of the previous five seasons and had just gone 13-3. Lo and behold, the smooth-running Falcons went 4-12 — way worse than even this most pessimistic of predictions — and tied Tampa Bay for last in the division.)
(A further aside: After I wrote about the Football Outsiders forecast last summer, my phone rang early the next morning. It was a member of the Falcons’ brass — you’d know the name if I told you, which I won’t — calling to suggest that such gloom and doom was misplaced.)
But now we move, as Lindsey Nelson used to say on those Notre Dame edited replays, to further action. Aaron Schatz, who’s the editor-in-chief of Football Outsiders, has offered what he terms “quick-and-dirty” NFC projections for ESPN Insiders, and those numbers see the 2014 Falcons being better than 4-12 but still last in their division. The Falcons are assigned a mean projection of 7.0 wins. New Orleans is the clear frontrunner with 10.7 mean wins; then comes Carolina at 7.9, with Tampa Bay third at 7.5.
Of the Falcons, Schatz writes:
For Atlanta, you have to figure the return of Julio Jones is offset by the retirement of Tony Gonzalez. The Falcons’ best bet for a return to the postseason is for their young defensive talent to blossom in Mike Nolan’s new 3-4 scheme. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise, but it isn’t likely enough to forecast a good defense.
Hope shouldn’t be abandoned just yet. Football Outsiders sees the Falcons going 7-9, with Carolina and Tampa Bay both finishing 8-8. That’s not a lot of difference, duh. (New Orleans is tabbed at 11-5, which is the best projected record in the conference. Yes, better than Seattle and San Francisco.) And even the most sagacious prognosticator doesn’t get everything right. But Football Outsiders is, I say again, pretty darn sagacious.