Max Thompson

140 days ago, in my last article, I said, “that it has been 40 days. 40 days since the world of sports was turned upside down.” With the help of my UT Math 123 education, I can confidently say that it has now been 180 days since March 13th. 

Nevertheless, there is a real life football game tomorrow. No, not some Tuesday evening DII scrimmage between EastWest University and their just-as-irrelevant rival. There is a National Football League game coming. With the NFL season kicking off, I thought it would be a great time to break down the entire league. 

In order to do so, I used ESPN’s Football Power Index. This complex algorithm determines how many points above or below average a team is and it serves as a predictor for team performance going forward. According to their site, “projected results are based on 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season using FPI, results to date and the remaining schedule”. Yeah, you read that right. Ten thousand individual simulations, all without bias from the fans or media. While no perfect system exists, this is one of the most accurate ways of predicting future performance. With that in mind, let’s hop into the tiers!

A Rebuilding Year

32 - 26: Jaguars, Washington, Bengals, Panthers, Lions, Dolphins, Giants 

Unless something crazy happens, the only real competition that these teams will have is with one another in order to land the top pick next year. Most of these teams all have serious question marks for the quarterback position. Combine that with a depleted roster and you have a recipe for a 5-11 season. As for the Giants and Lions, their situation is moderately better as their QB’s aren’t horrible, but it is highly unlikely that we see an elite season from Daniel Jones or Matt Stafford. Even with that, both teams’ defensive lineups are missing talent in key areas.

Probably Pretty Bad

25 - 20: Jets, Texans, Raiders, Cardinals, Bears, Chargers

This is the level of teams that have occasional bright spots, but also a major weakness. The Jets, Chargers and Bears all should have competitive defenses. However, they are going to have to rely on scrap work on the other side. Mitch Trubisky and Tyrod Taylor aren’t exactly playoff quarterbacks. As for Sam Darnold, he has yet to really blossom and is going to have to rely on Breshad Perriman as his go-to target this year. Yuck. Arizona and Houston should be entertaining as always, but each of them lack the top-down talent to be an early season playoff contender.

Incredibly Average

19 - 14: Browns, Falcons, Broncos, Titans, Packers, Colts

Each of these clubs have a shot of becoming playoff teams if things go well. The Titans and Packers are both coming off of playoff runs and the Colts and Falcons have talent surrounding their experienced signal callers. As for Cleveland and Denver, these two young teams have the potential to excite, but also have very low floors as well. Remember, this is the same Browns team that managed to turn one of the most exciting off-seasons ever into another 5-11 year. 

Playoff Contenders

13 - 10: Steelers, Vikings, Bills, Rams

Finally, we have reached the land of actual expectation. Pittsburgh is expected to have one of the best defenses in the league this year to compliment Big Ben’s return. Minnesota brings back a nearly identical roster that almost got them a spot in the playoffs last year. For Buffalo, Josh Allen’s development is expected to be boosted in a big way by the addition of Stefon Diggs. Finally, there are the Rams which are my personal favorite sleeper for this year. The Vegas odds actually have them with worse odds to make the playoffs than the Browns, which is mainly because Sean McVay’s squad is no longer the “trendy” team. Cool or not, LA will be a force in this year’s season.

Super Bowl Hopefuls

9 - 5: Patriots, Buccaneers, Seahawks, Eagles, Cowboys

If anyone is going to challenge the elite teams, it will be this bunch. Tampa Bay and New England each feature their own trendy spin off of the old Brady & Belichick combo. Seattle still has one of the best pure players in the game with Russel Wilson, who is poised to have another fantastic season. Finally, there are the NFC East rivals. Dallas was one of the most underrated teams last year, severely outperforming their record. Another stable off-season and smart draft later and the Cowboys are rearing for another potential Super Bowl run. For Philly, it’s more of the same, if Wentz stays healthy and this team remains this talented, anything is possible.

The Cream of the Crop

4 - 1: Saints, 49ers, Ravens, Chiefs

The four best teams last year are expected to be the four best teams for this year. Each is led by their own genius head coach, historic quarterback and stout defense. However, there are still concerns for all of them. Will this be the year that Drew Brees finally shows his age? Will Jimmy G continue to turn the ball over? Will racist fans ever accept Lamar Jackson as the player that he is? Will Patrick Mahomes start playing with his left hand to make it fair for the rest of them? All of these, among with countless other questions, will begin to be answered tomorrow night. One thing is for certain, however, it feels fantastic to have the NFL back.

Max Thompson is a sophomore majoring in business management and journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at sthomp92@vols.utk.edu. Follow @The_Out_Route on Twitter for high-quality NFL analysis!

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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