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.
For the most part, these are the same projected standings that Todd McShay used to build his way-too-early 2017 mock draft. There's a slight difference because I've fixed a variable that mistakenly penalized the Giants and Buccaneers for having new offensive systems. (Because the offensive coordinator became the head coach for both teams, the system stays the same.)
I looked at the AFC Wednesday, and today I'll go through the NFC division-by-division and explain why we see certain teams moving up and down in 2016.
Here are the results:
1. Dallas Cowboys: 10-6 (9.6 mean wins, SOS: 30)
2. New York Giants: 6-10 (6.3 mean wins, SOS: 17)
3. Philadelphia Eagles: 6-10 (6.3 mean wins, SOS: 11)
4. Washington Redskins: 6-10 (6.0 mean wins, SOS: 9)
Without Tony Romo, the Cowboys finished 31st last year in offensive DVOA, suffering one of the 10 largest year-to-year drops in offensive DVOA since 1989. With Romo back and a healthier Dez Bryant on the field, they're almost guaranteed to rebound in 2016. Meanwhile, the Dallas defense ended just 6.0 percent of opposing drives with takeaways last season. That was dead last in the NFL and the fourth-lowest rate of any team since 1998. There's a lot of year-to-year regression in turnovers, so there's a strong chance that improves in 2016. (In 2014, the lowest teams in this stat were the Jets and Chiefs, who both turned their defenses around significantly in 2015.)
Forecasting that Dallas will return to winning is probably less controversial than forecasting that Washington will return to losing. However, Washington isn't exactly starting from greatness. Washington won a bad division at 9-7, but ranked only 15th in DVOA. That was a big improvement over the previous two seasons, when Washington was 29th (2013) and 28th (2014) in DVOA. But this means they're likely to run into the "Plexiglass Principle," which states that teams that significantly improve one year will tend to decline the next year and vice versa. In particular, the defense is unlikely to keep up its turnover rate (15.1 percent of drives, fifth in the NFL) or ability to stop short-yardage runs (49 percent conversions, the best figure in the NFL). The addition of Josh Norman is somewhat blunted by the losses of veteran defensive linemen Jason Hatcher and Terrance Knighton.