Now that the draft and bulk of free agency are both over, the analytic website Football Outsiders has now released their initial division projections for the 2014 season and they currently predict that the Pittsburgh Steelers will win the AFC North.
Aaron Schatz wrote Thursday on ESPN.com how the site compiled these projections.
We put together some quick-and-dirty projections that started with Football Outsiders’ defense-adjusted value over average ratings (DVOA), then applied the usual regression toward the mean that a good or bad team sees from each unit. We then adjusted the projections to account for last year’s injury numbers, major free-agent moves and a few other indicators.
While Schatz has both the Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals finishing with 9-7 records in 2014, he gives the edge to Pittsburgh because of their slight edge in the strength of schedule category even though the Bengals come out slightly better on the DVOA side.
Schatz also said the projections take into account players from both teams that will return from season-ending injuries in 2014 and that he believes the Steelers getting back center Maurkice Pouncey this season is slightly more important than the Bengals getting back defensive tackle Geno Atkins. His reasoning for this revolves around the Bengals having depth at the position.
In reality, the AFC North division will likely be tightly contested in 2014 and it could come down to the regular-season finale between the Steelers and Bengals, who just so happen to play each other in Week 14 as well.
The Steelers first two games of the 2014 season are against AFC North teams (Cleveland and Baltimore), so if they can get out of the gate quick with back-to-back wins, they’ll obviously be in great shape with only four more divisional games left on their schedule.
A lot of things will happen between now and the start of the 2014 season and significant injuries during training camp and the preseason could drastically alter Football Outsider’s projections. However, for now, this is perhaps the most optimistic projection we’ve seen so far this offseason for the Steelers.