News & Analysis

PFF projects the favorites to win every NFL division entering Week 5

PFF data scientists Eric Eager and George Chahrouri have run the numbers to project division win probabilities for every team in the NFL entering Week 5. Highlighted below are the eight NFL teams with the highest division win probability in their respective divisions.

[Editor’s Note: Eric Eager and George Chahrouri are the guys behind a lot of PFF’s advanced modeling and PFF Greenline, a betting dashboard with projections for every NFL and NCAA game each week. Subscribe today to gain access!]

AFC

New England Patriots – 92.2% Division Win Probability

No surprises, here. Not only do the Patriots roster a top-five quarterback in passing grade in Tom Brady, but Bill Belichick is pulling the strings for a defense that currently ranks first in expected points added (EPA) per play allowed, scoring drive allowed percentage and yards per play allowed through Week 4. Despite ranking outside the top-10 in team pressure percentage, New England ranks third in yards per pass attempt allowed (5.3), and they have their standout coverage unit to thank for that. With five different players earning coverage grades above 75.0 to start the season, New England’s team coverage grade (91.3) leads the NFL. Without a loss yet and a truly dominant roster, the rest of the AFC East doesn’t have much of a chance.

Kansas City Chiefs – 86.4% Division Win Probability

Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs enter Week 5 with a perfect 4-0 record and one of the best offenses in the NFL. The team shares the league lead in points for (135) with the Baltimore Ravens but is the clear-cut leader in EPA per play, EPA per play on early downs and total yards per play. Mahomes & Co. also rank second in the NFL in scoring drive percentage at 36.6%. Kansas City’s electric passing attack has been the primary driver behind their success. Through Week 4, the Chiefs lead the NFL in yards per pass attempt (9.3) and rank second in explosive pass percentage (20.8%). No other team in the AFC West can score like KC can; it’s Mahomes and Andy Reid’s division to lose.

Cleveland Browns – 51.8% Division Win Probability

After a sloppy start to the season, the Browns find themselves atop of the AFC North at 2-2 with division win probability above 50% after a convincing win over the Ravens in Week 4. Second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield ranks eighth among qualifiers in overall passing grade (76.6) and passing grade from a clean pocket (82.6). In Cleveland’s win over the Ravens, new head coach Freddie Kitchens was much more creative with his play-calling compared to previous weeks and limited Mayfield’s downfield passing. More than 70% of Mayfield’s passing yards came after the catch, and he logged his lowest single-game average depth of target (6.2) of the year. A whopping 66.7% of his passes were thrown within 2.5 seconds of the snap, the highest single-game percentage for Mayfield this season. Kitchens got the ball out of Mayfield’s hand quickly to protect his struggling offensive line, driving down his quarterbacks’ ADOT but also improving the offense’s overall efficiency. Kitchens should do much of the same moving forward; protect the offensive line (and Mayfield) with the quick passing game and take more calculated shots down the field.

Tennessee Titans – 30.0% Division Win Probability

To be clear, the AFC South is still very much wide open. With every team in the division at 2-2, all four clubs have a division win probability above 18% through Week 4. Tennessee and the team’s 30% division win probability narrowly beat out the Houston Texans (28.2%). To maintain their lead on the division, Tennessee needs improved, consistent play from quarterback Marcus Mariota. Four games into the final year of his rookie deal, Mariota ranks 17th among the 27 NFL quarterbacks with 100-plus dropbacks in passing grade (65.8). He has just five big-time throws and six turnover-worthy throws in said span. He is, however, coming off a season-best 84.8 passing grade against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4. More play like that from Mariota will undoubtedly improve the team’s chances to take home the division crown.

NFC

New Orleans Saints – 66.3% Division Win Probability

Even with Drew Brees sidelined and Teddy Bridgewater’s NFL-low 5.4 ADOT, New Orleans finds themselves atop the NFC South at 3-1 with their division win probability at 66.3% according to PFF’s latest simulations. The defense has stepped up significantly in Brees’ absence. In Weeks 3 and 4, New Orleans ranked eighth in EPA allowed per play and seventh in explosive pass percentage allowed. The Saints ranked seventh in EPA per play allowed on early downs in Weeks 3 and 4, as well. New Orleans’ improved defense handed Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott his worst single-game passing grade of the season (64.5), held Ezekiel Elliott to his lowest single-game yards per carry average (1.9) and limited Amari Cooper to six receptions for 62 yards in Week 4. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are second in the division at 2-2, but the likelihood of Jameis Winston & Co. jumping ahead of the Saints is low considering just how well the defense is playing and Brees’ pending return.

Dallas Cowboys – 63.7% Division Win Probability

Despite taking a loss to Bridgewater-led Saints on Sunday Night Football in Week 4, Dallas still leads the NFC East with a 3-1 record and a 63.7% division win probability. Before getting their butts kicked against a very good Saints defense, Dallas’ offense was one of the best in the NFL. In Weeks 1-3, Dak Prescott ranked second in the NFL in passing grade, and the offense ranked third in EPA per play. Prescott & Co. can’t afford to turn their Week 4 blunder into a trend if they’re going to maintain their lead in the division; Kellen Moore needs to right the ship starting with their Week 5 bout against the Green Bay Packers.

San Francisco 49ers – 39.8% Division Win Probability

San Francisco did have the benefit of a bye in Week 4 and will go into their Week 5 matchup with the Browns at 3-0. The team’s defense is vastly improved compared to last year, as the unit currently ranks seventh in yards per play allowed and second in EPA per play allowed. The defense has four primary players with coverage grades 75.0, and newcomers Dee Ford and Nick Bosa lead a significantly improved pass-rush upfront. Offensively, Kyle Shanahan & Co. run the football a league-high 53.7% of the time with an offense that currently ranks 10th in run-blocking grade. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been unspectacular to start, with a 72.6 passing grade, two big-time throws and two-turnover worthy throws so far this year. Garoppolo and the offense overall will need to be better against better NFL teams moving forward, but their stout defense and the risk-averse offense have worked thus far.

Green Bay Packers – 36.2% Division Win Probability

The Packers have a narrow lead in division win probability over the Chicago Bears through Week 4 but could start to pull away with a win in Jerry World against the Cowboys in Week 5. Aaron Rodgers currently ranks ninth in passing grade (76.0), but he’ll be without the team’s highest-graded offensive player in Davante Adams for at least this week and possibly longer with the Fresno State product battling turf toe. Defensively, Jaire Alexander is the star of the show with his position-high 88.3 coverage grade, and he leads a defense that currently ranks inside the top-10 in yards per play allowed and EPA per play allowed. Green Bay’s defense also leads the NFL in pressure percentage and ranks seventh in yards allowed per pass attempt. Matt LaFleur and his 20th-ranked offense (in EPA per play) needs to work out the kinks if they’re going to be legit contenders this season, but the team’s defense will keep them in games for as long as they keep playing like they have to start the season.

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Cris Collinsworth

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