I have been fine tuning my projections for actual win totals for the upcoming NFL season (ONLY 7 DAYS TO GO!!). To produce the win projections, I input the entire season into a simulator, and project the score of every game along with the probability that the winner is picked accurately. These projections are based on the model I used with the Wall Street Journal during the playoffs last year and explained roughly in previous posts. Using those projections I simulate the entire season and take average win totals.
The results are always interesting and occasionally produce a result that draws my attention. I like to compare the projected win totals with last season's win totals for each team to see who the system says the big risers and fallers will be. After running the simulation, I found that the team with the largest drop in wins from last season to this season is the Indianapolis Colts. That's right, Peyton and Co. are projected to go from 14 wins last season to only 9 this season (I say only 9...I think Rams/Browns/Raiders' fans would just about kill for 9 wins).
The Colts being the owner of the largest projected drop in wins is cause for further investigation. What causes the Colts to go from 14 wins and clinching home field advantage throughout the playoffs to 9 wins and maybe not making the playoffs at all?
Part of the answer of course is Peyton himself. Peyton will continue to be one of the best QBs in the league, but he will be 34 during the 2010-11 season and is projected to have his first sub 4000 yard season since he was 29. A 700 yard drop in total passing yards is fairly significant, particularly since his interception total has been trending up since he was 30, but perhaps not enough to explain a 5 win drop.
The second part of the explanation has to do with schedule. Last season, the Colts' opponents had an average win total of 7.5. The Colts' are faced with a much tougher schedule in the upcoming season as their opponents' have an average win total of 8.5. One extra game in average win total may not seem like a big deal, but consider that last season, only 37.5% of the Colts' opponents had more than 8 wins while 68.75% of their opponents in the upcoming season have projected win totals of more than 8 games.
Peyton's decline along with a significantly tougher schedule make the Colts a prime candidate for a post-Super Bowl slump to only 9 wins (again, sorry Rams/Browns/Raiders' fans for the "only"). A repeat Super Bowl appearance seems fairly unlikely as they are not lock to even make the playoffs.