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2022 AFC win-total projections: Ravens win North; Patriots, Raiders, Steelers miss playoffs

Analytics expert Cynthia Frelund took data from the past 10 NFL campaigns to create historical references for personnel, scheme and matchups, identifying factors that are proven to lead to wins (or losses). She vetted the correlations with a bunch of real football people (e.g., coaches) and had her math checked out by real math people (e.g., PhDs) to make sure the model reflected reality as much as possible. Then she compared this season's personnel, schemes and matchups -- with the vetted mathematical weightings -- and simulated the season to produce a ceiling, floor and projected win total for all 32 teams. The ceiling-to-floor range is something to home in on -- a big discrepancy means the team is projected to play in more close games.

Cynthia's simulations included 1,000,000 runs of every single regular-season game, which equals 272,000,000 total games "played." Without further ado, here are the projected win totals for AFC teams in the 2022 campaign, ordered from most to least wins, with playoff berths noted.

NOTE: All FanDuel over/under listings are current as of 2 p.m. ET on Monday, Sept. 5.

Buffalo Bills

Ceiling: 12.9

Floor: 8.5

FanDuel over/under: 11.5

Based on the traditional strength of schedule measurement (using teams’ records from last season), the Bills have the second-hardest first eight games (with a bye in Week 7). My models have the probability of them starting at least 5-3 at 56.8 percent, which is high. Buffalo is the most likely team in the AFC to earn 13 wins (28.8% of simulations).

Kansas City Chiefs

Ceiling: 12.5

Floor: 8.7

FanDuel over/under: 10.5

Over the past five seasons, no tight end has a higher win share in the red area than Travis Kelce, who boasts a 1.6-win average -- and remember, that metric also factors in when he is not the target of a pass (for example, the help he gives to others by drawing defensive attention and blocking). To put that number into context, tight ends for playoff-caliber teams average 0.9 wins added. Kelce scores at least 10 touchdowns in 53.9 percent of simulations.

Indianapolis Colts

Ceiling: 12.1

Floor: 9

FanDuel over/under: 9.5

My favorite Jonathan Taylor stat from 2021: His rush yards after contact (1,272, per Pro Football Focus) exceeded the total rushing yards produced by any other player (Nick Chubb ranked second in the league with 1,259 total rush yards). While Taylor might not be asked to carry as big a workload in 2022 -- he was responsible for a whopping 36.8 percent of the team’s scrimmage yards in 2021 -- the 23-year-old is likely to sustain or even improve his effectiveness on the touches he receives.

Los Angeles Chargers

Ceiling: 11.8

Floor: 7.3

FanDuel over/under: 10

The Chargers rank no lower than the top eight in terms of win-share units at QB, RB, WR, OL, pass rusher and DB. They had a 30.9 percent QB pressure rate in 2021 (fourth-highest in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats) but only a 5.9 sack rate (20th). With the addition of Khalil Mack to a unit that already featured Joey Bosa, look for an uptick in sack total, which will matter quite a bit in the extremely tough AFC West.

Baltimore Ravens

Ceiling: 11.4

Floor: 7.8

FanDuel over/under: 10.5

Lamar Jackson tops 900 rushing yards in 54.5 percent of simulations and throws for more than 3,550 yards in 54.1 percent of simulations. The Ravens earn at least 10 wins 53.8 percent of the time, which might sound low, but within the context of my models, that’s a pretty high rate. 

Denver Broncos

Ceiling: 11.1

Floor: 6.2

FanDuel over/under: 9.5

Yep, the AFC West snags three playoff spots in this projection. New Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero inherits a unit that allowed 17 points or fewer in 10 games last season (tied for the most with the Bills). This year, the D's third-down conversion rate allowed should improve. Denver ranked 28th (44.9%) in the category last season, with only 13 interceptions (tied for 15th) and 36 sacks (tied for 18th). With Evero coaching a presumably healthy Bradley Chubb (missed 10 games last season), and Pat Surtain II entering his second season after leading all rookies with four interceptions and 14 passes defensed (tied for the lead), this team should be significantly better at limiting opponent first downs.

Cincinnati Bengals

Ceiling: 11.4

Floor: 6.7

FanDuel over/under: 9.5

I wrote about this in my win-share leaders article, but it bears repeating: Joe Burrow’s ability to overcome pressure -- and his ability to be efficient on the next play after being pressured -- is the best in my 20-season sample, and it's not close. His passer rating on the play after getting pressured was 99.1 last season; in my sample, the average figure for playoff QBs in this scenario is 60.4. The fact that he was coming off a season-ending ACL injury makes that doubly impressive. As for this season, he does forecast to be under pressure less frequently (assuming his upgraded offensive line stays relatively healthy), pushing his fantasy projection to QB8.

Miami Dolphins

Ceiling: 10.1

Floor: 5.5

FanDuel over/under: 8.5

There are a lot of fun pieces in the Miami offense. After acquiring Tyreek Hill and increasing the overall win-share projection at the running back position with their offseason moves, the Dolphins have greater odds for separation on passing downs. Better rushing leads to more favorable down-and-distance situations and bolsters the play-action passing game. Last season under then-coordinator Mike McDaniel (now the Dolphins’ head coach), the 49ers averaged 6.9 yards after the catch per reception, which gives you an idea of what to look for in Miami this season. 

Tennessee Titans

Ceiling: 9.8

Floor: 5.2

FanDuel over/under: 9.5

With the return of a healthy Derrick Henry -- one of three players in NFL history to lead the league in carries per game and rush yards per game in three straight seasons (joining Pro Football Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Steve Van Buren) -- the Titans forecast to be knocking at the door of the Colts for the AFC South lead. Last season, Tennessee's defense was sixth-best at limiting opposing offenses on third down, which was a huge improvement from the year prior, when the Titans ranked last in the league. Staying strong in this area will be a big key for Mike Vrabel's bunch.

Ceiling: 9.6

Floor: 5.0

FanDuel over/under: 8.5

The AFC West is the most stacked division this season, and the Raiders have a brutal schedule that includes only playing at home once in a five-game stretch between Weeks 8 and 12. Fun fantasy note: Derek Carr is my QB11 entering the season.

Ceiling: 9.5

Floor: 4.9

FanDuel over/under: 8.5

This isn’t predictive, but it’s a great note: The Patriots have fielded a top-10 scoring defense in 18 of Bill Belichick’s 22 seasons in New England and made the playoffs in 16 of those 18 seasons. One thing to watch for this season is the leveraging of quick passes (less than 2.5 seconds time to throw). Mac Jones owned a 77.4 completion percentage on those throws last season (fifth in the NFL). The second area to keep an eye on when it comes to determining the team’s fate: the deep pass (20-plus air yards). Last season, Jones posted just a 62.4 passer rating on such attempts (fifth-lowest among QBs who attempted at least 40 such passes). Creating more big plays will be a key to the season in Foxborough.

Cleveland Browns

Ceiling: 9.8

Floor: 6

FanDuel over/under: 8.5

I’ve talked a lot about my high expectations for Nick Chubb -- the first RB in NFL history to average 5-plus yards per carry in each of his first four seasons (min. 100 carries) -- so I am adding some defensive notes here. Myles Garrett set the Browns' single-season sack record in 2021 with 16, and computer vision shows that five of the 12 fastest burst speeds (first 3 yards traveled) on individual rushes belonged to Garrett. Pair that with Denzel Ward’s effectiveness in the back end -- Ward is one of just four players with at least 10 interceptions and 50 passes defensed since 2018 -- and a strong predictive formula for success is achieved.

Ceiling: 9.7

Floor: 6.2

FanDuel over/under: 7.5

Offensive line performance is a big factor in my model because it plays such a significant role in earning wins. In fact, it’s the main factor in making the mean win total 7.8 here. The ceiling of 9.7 wins is driven primarily by the defense. T.J. Watt projects to earn the second-most sacks in the league (14.5), but the second-place projection in that category certainly doesn’t mean he won’t be a contender for a second straight Defensive Player of the Year award. The entire Pittsburgh front should combine to create incredible pressure.

Ceiling: 8.5

Floor: 3.5

FanDuel over/under: 6.5

With Doug Pederson crafting the opportunities, the Jaguars forecast to take a big step forward this season, especially QB Trevor Lawrence. Under Pederson’s coaching with the Eagles, Carson Wentz’s production increased dramatically in his second season. He threw 16 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and recorded a 79.3 passer rating as a rookie. In Year 2, Wentz posted 33 TD passes with only seven interceptions and a 101.9 passer rating. Jacksonville added weapons for Lawrence in the offseason, including WR Christian Kirk, which should lead to growth for the young QB as a deep passer. As a rookie, Lawrence had a 55.3 passer rating on deep attempts (30th in the NFL). Kirk gained 377 receiving yards on deep targets (seventh most) last season and had a 55 percent deep catch rate (ranking second only to Cooper Kupp). Kirk’s catch rate over expectation of 20.3 percent on deep targets also ranked second (min. 20 deep targets).

New York Jets

Ceiling: 7.5

Floor: 3.9

FanDuel over/under: 5.5

Jets running back Breece Hall comes in at RB30 in my fantasy rankings, leading all rookies (the Texans’ Dameon Pierce is one spot behind him). One quick note here: The Jets have several games that are much closer to a 50 percent win probability than it might seem from their projected win total, meaning they can outperform that figure if they take the games forecasted to be close. However, their schedule looks very difficult, especially in the beginning. 

Houston Texans

Ceiling: 6.4

Floor: 3.3

FanDuel over/under: 4.5

Houston’s Davis Mills led all rookie quarterbacks in completion percentage (68.8) and passing yards per game (228.5) in 2021. His 15 passing touchdowns and 91.8 passer rating were both second-best to Mac Jones among NFL newbies. Mills' strong start and potential this season can make it tricky to know where to draft Brandin Cooks in your fantasy league. I have him at WR23, with a lot of upside.

Follow Cynthia Frelund on Twitter.

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