I love win totals, and these are the best I've got.
In order to create season-long win totals, I take data from the past 10 NFL campaigns and use it to forecast this year's outcomes. I make a model that takes into account trends, personnel and situations that were proven to lead to wins (or losses) in the past. Then I "play out the season" 320,000 times. Yes, it's kind of like "Madden" simulations. Yes, it adapts each year to account for the game's evolution. And yes, I am aware no team is winning 8.2 games ...
... but the reason our game is the best is the same reason we need fractions: parity. There are only 256 total regular-season games and there should be more 8-8 results. Look at the NFC East, where a team hasn't won the division in consecutive years since 2004! So, take it for what it's worth: relative value. Then look to see how big the ceiling-to-floor range is -- if it's big, that means a team is projected for more close games.
One cool side note: The whole NFC forecasts to be incredibly competitive this year, with 14 teams having the same combined chances of making the playoffs as the top seven in the AFC.
You'll find win totals for every AFC team below.
Baltimore Ravens: 8.3 wins
Buffalo Bills: 5.7 wins
The Bills have averaged the fewest passing yards per game (183.2) over the past two seasons. Not surprisingly, Buffalo's O-line projects to rank in the bottom third of the league as a unit in throwing situations. Meanwhile, the Bills have averaged the most rushing yards (145.2) in the past two years, largely because LeSean McCoy is as elusive a back as you'll find. And given the continued uncertainty at quarterback, it's a safe assumption Buffalo will be quite ground-based again in 2018.
Cincinnati Bengals: 6.8 wins
The run game projects to greatly impact the win total. Joe Mixon and Gio Bernard had a rough preseason. If that's just a temporary August problem, this team could surprise.
Cleveland Browns: 6.0 wins
Tyrod Taylor has the third-best TD-to-INT ratio since 2015 (Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are the only two who top him), and Baker Mayfield has the potential to be a high-accuracy passer on any route. Consequently, my model projects far fewer turnovers than in 2017 -- when Cleveland posted league worsts with 28 INTs and 41 total giveaways -- and this improved ball security fuels 2.5 wins on its own in my calculations.
Denver Broncos: 8.4 wins
I am not overweighting preseason information, but in the throws I have been able to track, Case Keenum has gotten the ball within a three-foot halo of his receivers at a rate that is almost 30 percent higher than any of the Broncos' QBs in the past two seasons. This should help address Denver's turnover woes from 2017, when the Broncos ranked second-to-last with 34 giveaways. Also, Royce Freeman has shown the potential to be a high-YAC back, breaking more tackles than Devontae Booker over the last month. (Again, I know it was the preseason, but this is something to monitor.)
Houston Texans: 9.4 wins (projected wild card)
The return of Deshaun Watson means we can expect almost 35 points per game, like Houston managed in the QB's six starts before injury last season ... right? Unlikely. But the stability and reliability that is associated with the return of J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus -- and Romeo Crennel as defensive play-caller -- mean the Texans' offense won't need to score as many points. Instead, Houston can be strategic with Watson -- in both passing and rushing situations -- to protect his health and minimize turnover potential. The Texans' fourth-place schedule also keeps their floor high.
Indianapolis Colts: 5.3 wins
It kind of shocked me that the return of Andrew Luck didn't drive this projection higher, especially given that Indy added a premium protector in No. 6 overall pick Quenton Nelson. The Colts project to be most able to move the ball downfield via quick-tempo offensive play calling, especially with their lack of depth at the skill positions (running back, in particular). This pushes T.Y. Hilton's projections up.
Jacksonville Jaguars: 10.44 wins (projected AFC South champions)
Maybe the coolest "wins compared to an average" figure in my model: The Jags' defense is worth 6.8 wins. That's not just the most for any defense, but also more than any quarterback. Look for second-year RB Leonard Fournette to break out (adding greater efficiency in addition to maintaining high volume) with the addition of All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell.
Kansas City Chiefs: 10.39 wins (projected AFC West champions)
The AFC's biggest boom-or-bust team in my model projects to win the West. The Chiefs are handing the keys (and potentially the most well-rounded supporting cast in the NFL) to Patrick Mahomes. To make a big leap, the Chiefs must fix the 29th-ranked pass defense from last season, and they'll have to do it without star CB Marcus Peters. The good news is that three-time All-Pro safety Eric Berry is on his way back from an injury that basically cost him the entire 2017 campaign. Furthermore, the acquisition of cornerback Kendall Fuller in the Alex Smith trade helps mitigate the loss of Peters. If inside linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Reggie Ragland can reduce opponents' ability to rush against the Chiefs, K.C. could be set up for a deep playoff run.
Los Angeles Chargers: 9.5 wins (projected wild card)
The interior of the Chargers' O-line has already shown signs of improvement. Yes, for the umpteenth time, I know preseason football can only tell you so much, but the starting offensive line's push-back measurements were considerably better than last year. That kind of improvement is directly tied to better offensive efficiency. Especially good news for Melvin Gordon in the run game.
Miami Dolphins: 6.7 wins
New England Patriots: 11.3 wins (projected AFC East champions)
Last season, the Pats' D ranked 29th in yards allowed and 17th in pressures, but an impressive fifth in touchdowns allowed. Opposing offenses were on the field for a long time, but settled for field goals or no points. This year, expect a healthy uptick in defensive pressures; with Trey Flowers in a contract year and Adrian Clayborn coming aboard in free agency, I forecast New England jumping into the top 10 in this area. This will help CB Stephon Gilmore keep improving on his end-of-season form. And the return of Pro Bowl linebacker Dont'a Hightower is the cherry on top. All of this will combine to place the Pats in the top half of the league in total defense.
New York Jets: 6.2 wins
With rookie Sam Darnold set to start from Week 1 and an O-line that forecasts to be in the bottom five in terms of pressures allowed, turnovers could come in bunches.
Oakland Raiders: 5.71 wins
Pittsburgh Steelers: 10.9 wins (projected AFC North champions)
Tennessee Titans: 7.2 wins
Mike Vrabel is now in control, and the Titans made a good number of offseason moves that seem to reflect the first-time head coach's Patriot/Texans lineage. One major beneficiary of this who was already in Nashville? Second-year wideout Corey Davis, who projects to take a big step forward this season.