NFL Preseason Predictions and Rankings 2023
Our 2023 NFL preseason predictions and team rankings, including season win totals, projected final standings, playoff and Super Bowl odds.
May 12, 2023 - by Jason Lisk
Will the Chiefs be celebrating again in 2023? (Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire)
This post documents our 2023 NFL preseason predictions and rankings, including a preseason rating for each team, projected end of season records and standings, odds to make the playoffs, and more.
For the third year in a row, we are initially releasing these predictions and rankings in early May, right after the 2023 NFL schedule has been released and soon after the NFL Draft.
So we will likely update at least some of these projections based on notable news that breaks before the 2023 season starts, especially related to quarterbacks or other key injuries.
NFL Rankings and Predictions Menu
Here is what you can find in this article:
- 2023 NFL Preseason Rankings
- Rankings Highlights
- AFC Preseason Predictions
- NFC Preseason Predictions
- 2023 Playoffs Projections
- How We Make These Predictions
- Interpreting Preseason Rankings
- Historical Prediction Performance
2023 NFL Preseason Rankings
The table below shows our 2023 preseason ranking for all 32 NFL teams, along with each team’s associated predictive rating (e.g. “+7.7” for Kansas City).
The team ratings are expressed as points better (a positive rating) or worse (a negative rating) than a “perfectly average” NFL team, when playing on a neutral field.
The final five columns of the table, from BASELINE to COACH, are sub-components of the final team rating and explained below.
|1||Kansas City Chiefs||7.7||7.4||0.0||0.1||-0.4||0.7|
|5||San Francisco 49ers||4.7||4.7||-0.2||0.1||0.1||0.0|
|6||New York Jets||4.3||-1.9||4.6||1.4||0.5||-0.2|
|10||Los Angeles Chargers||2.7||3.3||0.2||-0.9||0.3||-0.2|
|14||New England Patriots||0.9||-0.4||0.2||-0.1||0.1||1.0|
|17||New York Giants||-0.3||-0.7||-0.1||0.2||0.1||0.2|
|20||New Orleans Saints||-1.8||-0.5||-0.6||0.1||-0.7||-0.2|
|21||Las Vegas Raiders||-1.9||-3.9||1.0||0.8||0.8||-0.6|
|22||Green Bay Packers||-2.6||-1.0||-1.8||0.4||0.2||-0.4|
|28||Los Angeles Rams||-4.3||-3.0||0.2||-0.5||-0.8||-0.2|
|30||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||-6.0||-2.5||-2.9||-0.1||-0.5||0.0|
Preseason Ratings Predictive Factors
Using more than a decade of NFL data, we’ve identified team-level stats and characteristics that are highly correlated with success in an upcoming NFL season.
Just as importantly, we’ve worked to identify and ignore often-cited information that actually has little to no predictive value.
Anyone can build plausible-sounding narratives that attempt to presage why an NFL team might be good or bad this season (great draft class, motivated from losing in the playoffs last year, etc.). But often times, those types of theories can’t be clearly substantiated by historical data.
For instance, despite what certain sportscasters may think, there is no strong correlation between the consensus projected quality of an NFL team’s most recent draft class and its upcoming season performance. However, the quality of draft classes three and four years ago does seem to make a difference, presumably because it typically takes a few years for talented rookies to develop into higher performers.
Here’s a quick explanation of the factors that currently do influence our NFL preseason ratings:
- BASELINE: Mix of adjusted recent-season predictive ratings and betting market data
- QB: Projected starting QB play, vs. the rest of the NFL and recent QB play for the team
- LUCK: Expected impact of regression of higher-variance metrics like turnovers
- DRAFT: Expected impact of quality of players drafted in recent years
- COACH: Expected coaching impact not already captured in BASELINE factor
The COACH factor is generally the largest when a team changes its head coach, but can also include situations where we think the betting market is not fairly valuing the influence of a particular coach on a team’s win total.
(You can read more about our research into some coaching factors and win total performance.)
If you’d like to learn about the methodology behind our (mostly) data-driven preseason ratings, please read our post about how we make NFL preseason rankings.
2023 NFL Preseason Rankings Highlights
Here are some observations and notes from our preseason rankings and predictions:
Kansas City On Top
The Chiefs are the defending Super Bowl champions, and are also sitting atop our initial 2023 preseason rankings. With Patrick Mahomes at QB, Kansas City is probably the “safest” pick to be a contender in 2023. Since Mahomes became the starting quarterback, Kansas City has averaged 12.8 wins and has not finished with a power rating below +6.6 in our end-of-season ratings.
In some years, both NFL conferences are fairly balanced. However, the upcoming 2023-24 season does not appear to be one of those years. There are a lot more uncertain quarterback situations in the NFC. In our initial preseason power ratings, AFC teams make up eight of the top 11 teams in the NFL, and 10 of the top 14. Meanwhile, eight of the bottom 11 projected teams in the NFL are in the NFC.
That discrepancy makes for some potentially imbalanced schedules and projected team win totals across conferences. New England, for example, has the same initial preseason rating as Detroit, but season win projections and chances to make the postseason for those two teams are vastly different. The Patriots are projected at the bottom of their division, while the Lions are projected at the top of theirs.
Aaron Rodgers to the Jets
The Jets were one of the biggest movers in the offseason, going from the dysfunctional QB situation of last year and adding Aaron Rodgers to a team that had a strong defense and some skill position talent. Running back Breece Hall was off to a great start as a rookie before a knee injury, while Garrett Wilson won Offensive Rookie of the Year and had over 1,100 yards receiving.
So while some negative defensive regression should be expected for a team that finished 4th in both points allowed and yards allowed a year ago, that potential downside should be more than offset by the upgrade at quarterback.
Doom in the Desert?
Arizona is the lowest-rated team in our preseason rankings, and their outlook has tanked in the betting markets. This is due to a combination of factors, including the team firing head coach Kliff Kingsbury and replacing him with former Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon.
Primary among Arizona’s concerns is QB Kyler Murray’s uncertain status. He suffered a knee injury in December, and it’s unlikely he plays a full season in 2023-24. Even before that injury, Murray’s yards per attempt had plummeted to 6.1. He’s also an undersized quarterback that has relied on his legs, which could make coming back from a knee injury even more difficult.
So it’s possible that Murray misses a chunk of the season, and the team that was 31st in net yards per pass last year enters Week 1 with either journeyman veteran Colt McCoy or rookie Clayton Tune behind center.
Worst To First?
Based on our 2023 preseason projections, here are the teams most likely to go from last place in their division last season, to first place in their division in 2023-24.
|Team||Division||Odds to Win Division|
|Atlanta Falcons||NFC South||29%|
|New York Jets||AFC East||26%|
|Cleveland Browns||AFC North||17%|
|Chicago Bears||NFC North||17%|
|Denver Broncos||AFC West||11%|
|Houston Texans||AFC South||9%|
|Washington Commanders||NFC East||6%|
|Arizona Cardinals||NFC West||2%|
Since 2002, a last-place division finisher has jumped to first place the next season no less than 23 different times. On average, that’s slightly more than one last-to-first jump per season.
Last season, the Jacksonville Jaguars pulled off the feat by surging to the AFC South title after a 3-7 start.
Our projections only gave Jacksonville an 8% chance of winning their division last season, but the eight last-place finishers from 2021 combined to add to an expected 1.05 last-to-first place teams in 2022. So while picking which specific team may go from worst to first is difficult, our overall expectation that one team would do it in 2022-23 was right in line with reality.
Our projections this year have Atlanta with the highest chance (29%) of doing it by winning a weakened NFC South, where Tom Brady’s retirement has dropped Tampa Bay’s outlook. The New York Jets (26%), Cleveland Browns (17%) and Chicago Bears (17%) also each have over a 15% chance of going from worst to first in 2023-24.
When you add up of all of the probabilities, you would expect an average of about 1.18 division winners in 2023 out of last year’s eight last-place finishers. We would project a 73% chance that at least one last place team from a year ago finishes in first place this year.
AFC Preseason Predictions 2023
|AFC East||W||L||Playoffs||Win Div||Top Seed||Win SB|
|AFC North||W||L||Playoffs||Win Div||Top Seed||Win SB|
|AFC South||W||L||Playoffs||Win Div||Top Seed||Win SB|
|AFC West||W||L||Playoffs||Win Div||Top Seed||Win SB|
The AFC projects as the stronger of the two NFL conferences for 2023, but so many teams rated near the top of the league makes for a lot of parity within the conference:
- Fourteen of the 16 AFC teams are projected for between 7 and 11 wins.
- All four teams in the AFC North are projected for at least 8.5 wins.
- New England is the only team in the AFC East projected below 9.4 wins.
As a result, even the top AFC teams are a little riskier in 2023 when it comes to odds to make the playoffs. Kansas City is at 78% odds to make the playoffs, while perennial contender Buffalo is only at 68% because of the strength of the AFC East.
The NY Jets (9.7 expected wins), Miami (9.6), Los Angeles (9.1), and Cleveland (9.0), are all very near the cutline for the postseason, with between 44% and 54% of making it. The Jets and Dolphins are just ahead of the other two teams by percentage odds, but this is a case where it’s less likely that both make it, since they’re in the same division.
In simulations where the Jets and Bills both make the playoffs, for example, the Dolphins’ playoff chances drop down to slightly below the Chargers and Browns.
Best No. 1 Seed Odds:
Kansas City (20%), Cincinnati (15%), Buffalo (14%)
Biggest Expected Increase In Wins:
Denver (from 5 to 7.8), NY Jets (from 7 to 9.7), Houston (from 3.5 to 6.1)
Biggest Expected Decline in Wins:
Kansas City (14 to 11.4) and Buffalo (13 to 10.6)
Most Expected Wins:
Kansas City (11.4)
Fewest Expected Wins:
NFC Preseason Predictions 2023
|NFC East||W||L||Playoffs||Win Div||Top Seed||Win SB|
|NFC North||W||L||Playoffs||Win Div||Top Seed||Win SB|
|NFC South||W||L||Playoffs||Win Div||Top Seed||Win SB|
|NFC West||W||L||Playoffs||Win Div||Top Seed||Win SB|
The NFC teams that were the top two seeds a year ago and met in the NFC Championship Game (Philadelphia and San Francisco) have our top two projected win totals for the coming season. Dallas, who played at San Francisco in the divisional round and were the top wildcard, is third. All three teams are projected to again reach double digit wins.
After that, the conference opens up quite a bit:
- No other NFC team is projected for more than 9.1 wins.
- Nine different teams are projected with 30%-60% odds to make the postseason.
- The NFC North is particularly wide open, with Detroit (who last won the division in 1993, before there was a NFC North) as the initial favorite.
No. 1 Seed Odds:
San Francisco (22%), Philadelphia (20%), Dallas (14%)
Biggest Expected Increase In Wins:
Chicago (from 3 to 7.7), New Orleans (7 to 8.9)
Biggest Expected Decline in Wins:
Minnesota (13 to 8.5), Philadelphia (14 to 10.7)
Most Expected Wins:
San Francisco (10.8)
Fewest Expected Wins:
2023 NFL Playoffs Projections
Based on our preseason predictions, we can project the playoff picture for each conference at the close of the 2023-24 regular season.
AFC Playoffs Picture
|Seed||Team||Avg. Projected Wins||Playoff Odds|
The AFC playoff picture is very muddled. Our playoff odds are based on the results of thousands of season simulations, with the average results reported here. But the dynamics of this year’s AFC make it more difficult to accurately predict the playoff participants.
We list the Chargers initially in the final slot, and the Dolphins just out. Why is that, when Miami has the higher win expectation and the slightly higher playoff odds overall?
Because the Dolphins are the third team in the AFC East right now, just behind the Jets, and we project an average number of exactly 1.0 Wild Card teams from the AFC East. In a vacuum, we’d say the Dolphins are more likely to reach the playoffs than the Chargers, but the scenario of all three of the [Bills, Jets, Dolphins] making it is less likely than all three of the [Bills, Jets, Chargers] making it.
The Chargers also play the Dolphins at home this season, and we project them as a slight favorite right now in the head-to-head matchup. So based on all of that, we initially project the Chargers for the seventh playoff spot in the AFC. Though if you want to swap the Dolphins in for either the Jets or Chargers, that’s reasonable.
NFC Playoffs Picture
|Seed||Team||Avg. Projected Wins||Playoff Odds|
|Just Missed||NY Giants||7.9||38%|
|Just Missed||Green Bay||7.6||36%|
The top contenders in the NFC (San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Dallas) are a notch above the rest of the field, but then it’s wide open. We project two changes to the playoff field from a year ago, with Detroit (NFC North) and New Orleans (NFC South) moving in. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay and the New York Giants were in last year’s playoffs but are not projected to make it in 2023.
Minnesota gets into our playoffs projection just ahead of Atlanta. Both of their divisions are up for grabs, and there are manageable paths to the playoffs for the second-place finisher. We’ll note that we project both teams with just under a 50% chance of making it, and both are also projected for right around a .500 record. In comparison, we have two AFC teams not making the playoffs despite having more projected wins than either Minnesota or Atlanta.
That also means that practically, that last NFC playoffs spot is wide open and just getting to a ninth win could get a team in.
How We Create Our 2023 NFL Preseason Predictions
As we explain in our article on how we create NFL preseason rankings, we have identified a set of team-level preseason metrics that have demonstrated predictive power.
We identified these metrics by reviewing over a decade’s worth of NFL data and applying significance tests to any interesting looking findings. We then built an algorithmic model that uses the metrics with predictive power as inputs, and computes a preseason predictive rating for all 32 NFL teams. We also continue to refine this approach a bit more each year.
A team’s preseason rating signifies how good we think it will be this coming season. Figuring out how many games we expect that team to win or how likely it is to make the playoffs, however, is a more complicated problem. To do that, we run thousands of computer simulations of the 2023 NFL season, using our ratings to determine implied win odds for each game.
Thanks to randomness, each season simulation plays out differently. Occasionally, an unheralded team like Arizona or Houston gets lucky and makes a run. Once in a blue moon, a team projected to be bad in the preseason even wins the Super Bowl.
After thousands of simulations, though, patterns in the results begin to emerge. The 2023 NFL preseason predictions presented in this post represent the averages of the thousands of season simulations we conducted.
What Do These Predictions Mean?
It’s important to understand how our system generates the results it does, and what those results imply. Here are the key details:
- We end up projecting a lot of fractional wins.
That obviously can’t happen in real life, but we don’t want to reduce precision in the numbers just to make them look prettier. For example, a team with 9.6 projected wins has worse prospects than a team with 10.4 projected wins. If we rounded our win projections, they’d look the same (10 wins each).
- We may not be very confident that a team will end up with its exact number of projected wins.
Let’s say we project a team with almost exactly 8 wins. In our season simulations, 8 wins was probably the most common outcome. However, that team may have ended up with either seven or 9 wins nearly as often, and sometimes with five or 11 wins. Our final projection, since it’s an average of all those numbers, ends up at 8 wins. But the odds of the team ending up with exactly 8 wins may be as low as only 15% or so.
- Our season predictions can change slightly day-to-day, even with no new game results.
Because we re-simulate the entire remaining 2023 season every day, randomness in simulation results may cause slight fluctuations in team projections from one day to the next, even if no new games have been played. So it’s wise not to read too much into tiny differences in our projections.
Why Is A Simulation-Driven Approach Valuable?
Despite some limitations, our simulation-driven approach to making preseason NFL predictions has some clear advantages over alternative prediction methods.
Some human NFL “experts” can be decent at projecting the future performance level of a team—especially one they’ve studied closely. But on the whole, humans tend to have a poor grasp of the potential impacts of probability and randomness over the course of a full NFL season.
In our experience, even knowledgeable football people tend to underestimate a great team’s odds of losing to a mediocre or bad team. And a lot of people like to look at a team’s future schedule and classify games into broad categories like “win,” “loss,” “toss-up,” etc. The implicit assumption there is that a “win” is a definite win, but no game in the NFL is a lock.
While it’s true that a team like Buffalo is unlikely to lose to a team like Houston, even small upset probabilities keep adding up game after game. So you can’t discount them, especially when division titles can be decided by just one win. Just last year, for example, the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs lost a game to the Indianapolis Colts, a team that finished with four wins for the season.
Running thousands of computer simulations of the 2023 NFL season, and observing the distribution of outcomes generated by all the various probabilities, is a much more objective and precise way to understand what is likely to happen over the course of a full season.
Final Advice On Interpreting Our Preseason NFL Rankings
Some people get quite worked up about preseason NFL rankings, especially when our numbers suggest that their favorite team is going to be worse than the prevailing consensus in the popular sports media.
That’s to be expected. No one else ranks teams exactly like we do, and our approach often discounts the impact of things that many media pundits believe to be important.
We also have a very specific goals for our preseason NFL team ratings (e.g. to accurately predict the margins of victory of this season’s NFL games) that don’t exactly match the motivations of many other rankings makers.
Just keep in mind that predicting how 32 different NFL teams are each going to do this season is no easy task. No system is perfect, including ours. It has strengths and weaknesses. We expect to get some teams slightly wrong, and some teams very wrong, for a variety of reasons.
But in the long term, our approach has done very well when measured by the yardsticks that mean the most to us, such as predicting margins of victory and team performance levels at the end of the upcoming season.
Look At Ratings, Not Just Rankings
Also, remember to look at team ratings and not just rankings, because ratings tell a much more precise story.
For example, in our 2023-24 preseason ratings, 3.0 points separate No. 1 Kansas City from the No. 5 San Francisco. That’s more than the difference between No. 12 Detroit and No. 21 Las Vegas. So the Lions finishing below the Raiders would be no greater surprise than Kansas City finishing below San Francisco.
So don’t overreact to a team’s ranking. Look at the rating as well, and you’ll better understand how teams breaking out into rough groupings or tiers of expected performance level.
NFL Preseason Predictions Historical Performance
Significant year-to-year accuracy fluctuations are always possible with preseason predictions, but our preseason NFL predictions have proven to be been quite solid.
Mike Lopez, the NFL’s current Senior Director of Data and Analytics, did the only third-party study of preseason projection systems that we’re aware of, in both 2013 and 2014. He found our preseason projections to be the most accurate system he studied in both years. Our system was also the only system he tracked that was more accurate overall than Vegas preseason win totals in both years.
Michael stopped his study after 2014, but we’ve continued to track our win/loss results against win totals lines from leading sportsbooks. From 2011 to 2021, when our preseason prediction for a team has indicated that there is at least 10% ROI on betting either the over or the under on its season win total, those implied picks generated +14.5 units of profit.
Last year, we began highlighting our favorite preseason NFL picks as part of our new Staff Betting Picks feature. We made four preseason win total picks overall, and they went 4-0 (Giants over 7.0 wins, Vikings over 8.5 wins, Panthers over 5.5 wins, and Bucs under 11.0 wins). We’ll be making preseason NFL Staff Picks again in 2023.