Football Outsiders' early 2016 AFC projections

With the NFL draft in the rearview mirror, Football Outsiders is ready to move on to projecting the 2016 season. You can find a detailed breakdown of our projection methodology at the bottom of the article.

These are the same projected standings that Todd McShay used to build his way-too-early 2017 mock draft. Today, I'll go through the AFC division-by-division and explain why we see certain teams moving up and down in 2016. On Thursday, I'll tackle the NFC.

Here are the results:

AFC East

1. New England Patriots: 10-6 (10.3 mean wins, SOS: 16)
2. Buffalo Bills: 9-7 (8.6 mean wins; SOS: 15)
3. New York Jets: 6-10 (6.0 mean wins; SOS: 2)
4. Miami Dolphins: 5-11 (4.7 mean wins; SOS: 4)

This year's projections assume that Tom Brady will serve his four-game Deflategate suspension. While it's a big deal, you might be surprised to hear that in our current forecast, the Patriots win an average of 1.9 games during Brady's suspension; with Brady as quarterback, we would project them for 2.5 wins in those four games. So four games without Brady cost the Patriots less than one win. But at the same time, preseason forecasts like this end up grouping around 8-8 because they account for so much randomness. That means that one win indicates a bigger difference between teams than it would at the end of a season.

Our forecast gives the Bills their best chance in a while to break that long playoff drought. We project a bit of a decline on offense, though it's hard to know what to expect from Tyrod Taylor after he was much better than anyone would have expected in his first year as a starter. But no matter what happens on the offensive side of the ball, the Buffalo defense is likely to bounce back from last year's collapse. The Bills had been a top-five defense by DVOA for two seasons before dropping to 24th in 2015.