ESPN has released their Football Power Index (FPI) rankings for the 2017 season, which looks at offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency and adjusts it for schedule. In other words, it seems like a more mainstream attempt at Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric.
The New England Patriots take the top ranking with +9.2 FPI, meaning that they are 9.2 points better than the average team in the NFL. The Patriots strong showing is linked to their top five ranking in offense (1st), defense (3rd), and special teams (4th). The Green Bay Packers came in second with +4.8, which shows how the Patriots are so far ahead of the field.
The rankings show the Patriots in a league of their own, then seven teams in the second tier of more than a field goal better than average (Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, Oakland Raiders, and Kansas City Chiefs). There are 18 teams that are with 2-points of an average NFL team, and then six teams that are notably below average.
The Patriots project to have a 12-4 record, which is super impressive because these projections usually skew records towards an average 8-8 season. The Patriots ability to consistently win close games means that New England is more likely to finish with more than 12 wins.
The Steelers are the only other team in the AFC projected to win more than 10 games, while the Raiders, Chiefs, and Baltimore Ravens (!) project to win 9 games.
In the AFC East, the Patriots are the only team expected to finish above .500, with ESPN noting that “the remainder of the division (including a Dolphins team that reached the playoffs last season) is in the bottom third of the rankings heading into 2017.”
This relative weakness in the division and conference results in FPI projecting a 96.2% chance of making the playoffs. 92.3% chance of winning the division, a 51.1% chance of getting the #1 seed in the conference, a 50.7% chance of reaching the Super Bowl, and a ridiculous 34.7% chance of winning the Super Bowl.
In fact, the Patriots odds of winning the Super Bowl (34.7%) is better than the odds of reaching the postseason for eight teams in the AFC, including the other three teams in the AFC East. It’s clear that the Patriots will have a bigger target on their backs than a standard reigning Super Bowl champion.
ESPN also released a list of the 5 best games in 2017 based on combined FPI of the two teams and all of them include the Patriots. The Patriots-Steelers game in week 15 is the best game of the season, followed by the week 11 Patriots-Raiders games, week 10 Patriots-Broncos games, week 5 Patriots-Buccaneers game, and week 2 Patriots-Saints game. All of these games involve the Patriots playing on the road to boost the opponent’s chance of victory.
The Patriots have two of the “most lopsided” games in 2017, too, with the Patriots-Jets game in week 17 at Gillette Stadium offering a 90.1% win probability for New England, and the Patriots-Chargers game in week 8, also at Gillette Stadium, giving the Patriots an 84.6% chance of victory.