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NFL schedule: Each AFC team's win total projection for 2024 season

The 2024 NFL regular season schedule has been released! For the second year in a row, the season kicks off at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, with the back-to-back Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs hosting the Baltimore Ravens in a rematch of the AFC Championship Game. In Week 7, we'll get a rematch of Super Bowl LVIII, with the Chiefs visiting the 49ers. We'll see Russell Wilson head back to Denver in Week 2 and Kirk Cousins travel to Minneapolis in Week 14. We'll also see the top two picks from the 2024 NFL Draft -- Caleb Williams and Jayden Daniels -- square off, when the Bears visit the nation's capital to face the Commanders in Week 8. Oh, and in Week 5, the Texans and Stefon Diggs will host the Buffalo Bills. There are so many intriguing storylines and so much to look forward to -- I can't wait!

In our fourth season with 272 games on the schedule, and with the NFL heading into its fifth campaign with a 14-team playoff field, we continue to see an uptick in contests that have postseason consequences. While we've long known the identity of each team's opponents (and, in most cases, the location of each game), the actual sequencing of the schedules has an impact on projected win totals. For example, having to make multiple cross-country trips (or adding an international one ... or even staying abroad for a week) could influence a team's win probability. Facing elite QBs in back-to-back weeks has had a substantial impact over the past seven seasons, as defenses have seen a statistically relevant dip in first-quarter production. In fact, in that same time span, the order of games played has shifted season win totals by as many as 0.70 wins.

Once again, the AFC is teeming with great QBs, which means earning the coveted first-round bye in the playoffs is forecast to occur quite late in the campaign; in fact, it might not happen until Week 18. The AFC is tough (real tough), and some of these near-50-50 games -- even early on -- are going to go a long way in shaping the postseason.

Here's how to read these win projections: Using the projected 53-man rosters as of May 14, I ran 150,000 simulations for all 272 regular-season games. (A quick note: Barring injuries, which are typically the biggest source of uncertainty, I have made roster projections using the best information available. It's May, for goodness' sake, so you should check back for the updated versions of these win-total projections just before the season starts.) These simulations yielded a projected win total for each team, which, thanks to the multitude of factors involved, is not always a round number. The top seven teams in each conference are my projected playoff participants.

Remember, these simulations account for many contextualized data points that have been proven to correlate to wins and losses based on historical football games that were actually played; personnel is the most important, but other key factors include play-caller tendencies and in-game situations. I re-run these simulations should any player change teams, suffer an injury or otherwise be made unavailable, thus changing the complexion of his team. The more important the player involved, the more the win totals shift -- including opponents' probabilities. Should a high-impact player (or two) change status, we can track how those moves shift everything. Again, this all suggests that you check back in September -- and that it's kind of fun to track everything from May until Super Bowl LIX!

The lines below provided by Caesars Sportsbook & Casino are current as of 5:45 p.m. ET on Wednesday, May 15 unless otherwise noted below.

Kansas City Chiefs

My models indicate the Chiefs are on their way to winning their ninth straight AFC West division title. Despite two tough games to start the season (hosting the Ravens and Bengals), the schedule is favorable for the reigning Super Bowl Champs, who are not slated to be underdogs in my models in any of their 17 contests. Next Gen Stats show that Kansas City's passing offense averaged just 6.5 air yards per attempt in 2023, the second-lowest mark in the NFL. The addition of receivers Hollywood Brown (free agency) and Xavier Worthy (Round 1 of the draft) should help change things. The Chiefs also benefit from the fact that their hardest four-game stretch of the season comes late in the slate (Weeks 14-17), which means they have a lot of time to establish their offensive identity before facing the likes of the Chargers, Browns, Texans and Steelers in December.

Cincinnati Bengals

Worst-to-first debates are great offseason fodder, and in that spirit, no team has a greater probability of achieving the feat this season than the Bengals in the AFC North. I project the Bengals to have at least a 55 percent win probability in four of their first six games, and a hot start could go a long way in this hotly contested division. One of the reasons Cincinnati has such a positive forecast is the upgrades they made up front, specifically in the additions of Trent Brown (free agency) and Amarius Mims (No. 18 overall pick in the draft). In fact, the Bengals' O-line win share projects to be the highest in Joe Burrow's career to date.

Houston Texans

I was the most wrong about the Texans when I forecasted their win total last May, so I spent some extra time analyzing my mistakes and learning from them ahead of this year's exercise. Jonathan Greenard was a big value player on the defensive front in 2023, and he not only outperformed my estimates of him, but earned a big new contract from the Vikings in March. I feel better about how to forecast free-agent addition Danielle Hunter this season. NGS shows he had the fourth-most pressures last season. Trading for Stefon Diggs and re-signing Dalton Schultz creates an awesome environment for 2023 Offensive Rookie of the Year C.J. Stroud to lead Houston to back-to-back AFC South titles. It also helps that the Texans' schedule builds in terms of difficulty, so they should have have an opportunity to build chemistry among their new pieces and potentially get out to a fast start. The toughest section on their slate -- a three-game stretch from Weeks 15-17 -- comes right after their bye and includes a Christmas gift for us all: a matchup with the Ravens.

Miami Dolphins

Last season, Miami’s offense finished top five in total points, yards and completion percentage. This season they are one of three teams, per my model, that doesn't have a win probability of less than 47 percent in consecutive games until after Thanksgiving. But that's when things get a bit tricky for the Fins. After facing the Packers at Lambeau Field to cap the holiday's three-game slate, they take on the Jets twice during a five-week period, with matchups against the Texans (road), 49ers (home) and Browns (road) sandwiched in between.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens' schedule slides them under the Bengals in terms of median win projection and renders them a more probable wild-card team than division winner. (Again, it's May, so let's all take a deep breath.) The AFC North currently projects as the most difficult division in the NFL, which is not shocking, but makes for a lot of potential internal disruption among these four teams. For fun, I modeled out which game on Baltimore's schedule forecasts to be the most pivotal, and, as of right now, it looks like the outcome of Ravens-Eagles in Week 13, just ahead of Baltimore's bye, is the one most likely to determine the Ravens' playoff picture.

Buffalo Bills

For the past three seasons, the Bills have ranked in the bottom third in terms of win-total variance in May. It’s not super surprising that Buffalo -- a team with an elite QB but a squad that has experienced significant turnover on both sides of the ball (Stefon Diggs, Jordan Poyer, Tre'Davious White, Micah Hyde, et al) -- could, with equally realistic probability, win the division or end up third. The Bills follow up their Week 3 Monday night clash against the Jaguars with a challenging three-game road trip (Ravens, Texans, Jets) that drove down their win probability by almost 0.3 games from before my models factored in their 2024 schedule -- and that's not even their hardest stretch! Their most difficult sequence occurs from Weeks 11-15: Chiefs, bye, 49ers, at Rams, at Lions.

New York Jets

I am SO looking forward to Week 1, when the Jets head to Santa Clara to face the 49ers. It'll be really cool to see Aaron Rodgers play near where he grew up in his return from injury and in what will be the de facto restart to his Jets career. I played around with my models by equating win totals and volatility to a 100-point scale. The Jets' schedule is almost 23 scale points more favorable than the Bills', which is the biggest disparity between teams that ranked first versus third in their division last season. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but the Jets' O-line and defensive depth will likely determine the team's ceiling this season.

Get your popcorn ready! In Week 2 we get Russell Wilson back in Empower Field at Mile High. While that early-season revenge game will provide plenty to talk about in the comings months, it's Pittsburgh's second-half slate that really deserves attention. It's an absolute nightmare. After their Week 9 bye, the Steelers' final nine games are, in aggregate, more than twice as hard as their first eight (I measured the win probabilities and added them). Among those nine contests: all six of their division games, as well as heavyweight bouts with the Eagles (in Philadelphia) and Chiefs (on Christmas).

Cleveland Browns

The Browns were dealt the NFL's hardest schedule based on their opponents' final 2023 records (.547). However, Browns fans fear not! Their slate isn't as bleak as it might seem. I currently have Cleveland's schedule as the fifth-hardest, but that outlook could become more favorable once the preseason starts, when we'll hopefully get a chance to see how key offensive players are performing coming off injuries. The Browns' final four games (Chiefs, at Bengals, Dolphins, at Ravens), which follow a trip to Pittsburgh in Week 14, are going to be a real test. In fact, that sequence currently ranks as the hardest final four games of any team in the league, per my models. But, again, that could change for the better. Another reason for optimism: the defense. That unit ranked top-two in passer rating, completion percentage allowed and QB pressures last season, creating a really solid win-total floor, especially given the Browns' more favorable first five games to start the season.

We're going to learn a lot about the success of the Jags' offseason moves early in the 2024 campaign, with Jacksonville set to kick off the year with the hardest four games of any team in the league (at Dolphins, Browns, at Bills, at Texans). The Jags' median projection is a wild-card berth, but my models show they need to make it to their Week 12 bye with at least six wins to have a strong probability of clinching a spot in the tournament.

Despite an early bye (Week 5), the Chargers' win share increased by 0.2 wins as a result of the 2024 NFL schedule. With a new coach, front office, offensive tackle, WR group, et al, Los Angeles will likely need some time to get everyone on the same page and build a strong rapport. The schedule does them some favors in this regard, as their hardest four-game sequence (Bengals, Ravens, at Falcons, at Chiefs) doesn't hit until mid-November. In addition, their final three games -- Broncos, at Patriots, at Raiders -- currently rank as the second-most favorable of any AFC team.

The return of Anthony Richardson, along with some great new pieces (AD Mitchell, Laiatu Latu), creates a ton of upside for this young team. The Colts' hardest four-game stretch comes in the middle of the season (Dolphins, at Texans, at Vikings, Bills), with a trip to the Jets and a home game against the Lions immediately following. That's a lot of different playing styles they'll need to adjust to over a six-week period. The good news: My models have Indy favored in each of its final four games of the campaign (at Broncos, Titans, at Giants, Jaguars).

The Raiders have an interesting amount of upside this season, and so my gut tells me my model is underestimating them. I think there are two primary reasons why they could have more success than my model projects. First, they have favorable spacing between some of their hardest games; for example, they're at Cincinnati in Week 9, but then have their bye before taking a trip to Miami in Week 11. While the slate from Weeks 6-11 is undoubtedly tough, with games against the Steelers, at Rams and versus the Chiefs also included in that mix, it would've been that much harder without the week-long break. The second reason is that they have nearly equal win odds in the games before and after their Week 10 bye, meaning one half of their schedule isn't more lopsided than the other. The main explanation for why my model is down on the Raiders is the uncertainty under center. Vegas will likely need at least average QB play to be competitive in the AFC playoff race.

Tennessee Titans

Will Levis threw four TD passes in his rookie debut, then just four more over his other eight games last season. That is just one indicator of why we still don’t have a clear picture of his potential, and I certainly don’t think we have a statistically relevant sample yet. Also muddling the forecast is a new coaching staff and the offseason departure of Derrick Henry, both of which signal a big identity change for Tennessee's offense. The Titans close out the campaign with four of their final five contests against division opponents, which gives them plenty of influence in how the AFC South shakes out down the stretch. Unfortunately, my models suggest they're more likely to play the role of spoiler than playoff contender.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos' first five opponents -- all either known for their defenses or for having defensive-minded head coaches -- are far from the ideal matchups for a rookie QB. ... But maybe it's a positive thing that Bo Nix, should Sean Payton name him the starter, won't know anything else for comparison? At Seattle, against Pittsburgh, at Tampa, at the Jets, versus Vegas -- talk about a warm welcome to the NFL. Then in Weeks 9 and 10, the Broncos travel to Baltimore and Kansas City. That is some tough sledding to start a career.

The new regime and new QB in New England are projected to have an extremely difficult start to the 2024 season. After opening the campaign in Cincinnati, the Pats host the Seahawks before facing the Jets and 49ers on the road. While their next two games are at Foxborough, they're against two playoff teams from last year -- Miami and Houston. The good news? My models forecast significant improvement from Jerod Mayo's group as the season goes on, especially with key defensive pieces coming back from injury.

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