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The following is excerpted from the team chapters of the always-excellent Football Outsiders Almanac. Buy it here as a PDF, or here in print.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens face a choice. After two years of Marc Trestman’s Dumpoff Fiesta (if you buy the line that offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was coaching with Trestman’s playbook), it’s clear that the Ravens need to run the ball a lot more to succeed. Baltimore’s offense ranked seventh in their average lead per drive, yet only two teams had fewer rushing attempts. The only other team with an average lead and rushing total anywhere near Baltimore’s last year was Green Bay, and they A) have the best quarterback in the game and B) had to turn a wide receiver into their starting running back. The Ravens don’t even have the excuse that the rushing game was unproductive, as Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon were each right around the league average in rushing DVOA. West was a spectacular reclamation project, and Dixon has true three-down ability if he ever stays on the field for a full season. (A PED suspension will cost him the first four games in 2017.) The offensive line could use some work, but so could the line for about 27 other teams, and those teams don’t employ Marshal Yanda. (Rivers McCown)

Cincinnati Bengals: While the Bengals finally shed Rey Maualuga and Domata Peko this offseason, replacing Maualuga with two-down run-stuffer Kevin Minter, they didn’t put much of an effort into finding passable solutions beyond that. If their young edge rushers fail, the answer is still Michael Johnson. Pat Sims is still here. Wallace Gilberry is still here. Reinard Wilson is still here. OK, OK, we made that last one up. But you get the gist: there’s very little upside here unless the Bengals have hit on their draft picks. The stopgap solutions are just the same guys you saw in 2011, but older and slower. (Rivers McCown)

Photo: David Richard/AP

Cleveland Browns: The biggest deal may have been one Cleveland didn’t make. Most pre-draft speculation had the Browns taking Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett with the No. 1 overall pick. Then, just days before the draft, rumors began to float that Cleveland might take North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Even stranger, the rumors said that the analytics department was pushing Trubisky over Garrett, even though no team with a strong analytical background would gamble on a risky one-year starter. In the end, the Browns took Garrett, then sat back and watched as Chicago traded up to grab Trubisky. The rest of this paragraph is purely speculation, but it seems likely the Browns knew Chicago was looking to make a deal and were leaking the Trubisky rumors to try to bait the Bears into a mega-package. In the end, they could not get an offer they liked more than Garrett, and stood pat. This is why Browns management was shown on the draft broadcast congratulating each other after the pick was made—they had done their due diligence in exploring all options with that first pick and chosen the option that best fit their needs. And it was another sign of the new intelligence in Cleveland—while the old Browns might have been happy to make a deal, the new Browns are only interested in the right deal. (Vincent Verhei)


Pittsburgh Steelers: A trio of 2016 draftees started at least eight games for Pittsburgh’s defense. First-rounder Artie Burns played in all 16 games, starting every game after the Week 8 bye. His charting numbers were quite poor, but many highly-drafted cornerbacks struggle as rookies and take two, three, or even four seasons to fully develop. Second-round safety Sean Davis started the last seven games of the regular season and all three playoff games. He showed promising potential as an in-the-box type, though he must improve his tackling. Third-round nose tackle Javon Hargrave outplayed the two men picked before him, starting 16 games including the playoffs. As a nose tackle, it’s doubtful he’ll ever put up big individual numbers of any kind, but his continued development would solve a lot of problems for a defense that hasn’t finished in the top 10 in adjusted line yards since leading the league in 2010. (Vincent Verhei)

AFC West

Denver Broncos: While Trevor Siemian, the team’s official starting quarterback, boasted better overall numbers, this looks like the classic low ceiling (Siemian) vs. high potential (Paxton Lynch) argument. Siemian exhibited a lot of traits shared by division rival Alex Smith in his careful way of protecting the ball; at least he costs only a small fraction of what Smith makes in Kansas City. Meanwhile, Lynch was more of the deep-throwing, get-on-the-move wild child with questionable accuracy. We’re not calling him Tebow 2.0, but Lynch’s 24.7 percent rate of off-target throws (over- or underthrown passes according to ESPN Stats & Info) was the second highest in 2016 for all passers with at least 50 attempts. (Scott Kacsmar)


Kansas City Chiefs: Either ultimate success comes early, or the situation deteriorates and someone has to go. With the Chiefs entering Year 5 of Andy Reid/Alex Smith, it is really on Smith to deliver this season. We know Reid isn’t going anywhere after the team signed him to a four-year extension in June. Clearly, there have been limitations within this offense that start at the quarterback position. The Chiefs jumped on the opportunity to trade up with Buffalo for Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes, moving from 27th to 10th by giving up a third-round pick (91st overall) and a first-round pick in 2018. Going from Smith to an Air Raid quarterback sounds like a huge change, but it’s likely not one we will see until 2018 at the earliest. The Chiefs have not won a regular-season game with a quarterback they drafted since September 13, 1987 (Todd Blackledge), and that streak is all but guaranteed to extend beyond 30 years. (Scott Kacsmar)

Los Angeles Chargers: If the Chargers can finally stay healthy this year, then head coach Anthony Lynn is inheriting a very talented starting roster on both sides of the ball. Depth is of course an issue, but let’s consider the range of talent that this team has put together. As always, we have to start at the quarterback. The fact that Philip Rivers has started every game since 2006—185 and counting when we include the playoffs—has been remarkable, especially when so many of his offensive teammates have been hurt. This is the weakness in blaming injuries for Mike McCoy’s ineffective tenure. Yes, there have been a lot of injuries, but a top player at the most important position remained healthy enough to suit up every single week, and the Chargers still went 27-37 over that stretch. (Scott Kacsmar)

Oakland Raiders: It is not an insult to believe that the Raiders will regress and win fewer games this season. Stacking 12-win seasons is a very difficult thing to do in this league. Joe Montana, Steve Young, Roger Staubach, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Matt Ryan have never stacked together consecutive 12-win seasons, to give a few notable examples. A team basically has to have Peyton Manning or Tom Brady at quarterback to consistently win 12 games a year, and Derek Carr is not at that level yet. Last year’s team was rough around the edges despite the record, and the inability to beat Kansas City limited them to a wild-card berth. Lesser competition also tended to give the Raiders all they could handle. (Scott Kacsmar)


AFC South

Houston Texans: Right now, the Texans look very much like a team that has gambled their future on Deshaun Watson reinvigorating a dead passing offense. It could work, but it’s more likely to work in the longer term. Rookie quarterbacks being good right away is a hard thing for projection systems to catch on to, and we have no empirical data that points to Watson excelling immediately. We also have a lot of evidence proving that the other teams in this division have gotten better. The Colts finally got rid of their dead-end general manager and stopped fielding an AARP defense. The Jaguars are building a great defense and are only tied to Blake Bortles for one more year. The Titans are relying a lot on green defenders, but have become a much scarier team on the other side of the ball. These are some of the things that head coach Bill O’Brien may begin to see show up on tape this year, rather than abstract analytical terms. (Rivers McCown)


Indianapolis Colts: For the Colts to make an immediate beeline to the playoffs would take some things going right even beyond QB Andrew Luck’s health. It would take an immediate reconsolidation by a defense that, in many ways, is pieced together on the fly without any continuity. It would take a healthy supporting cast around Luck. It would probably require fourth-round rookie Marlon Mack to show some juice and make hay out of Chuck Pagano’s preferred offensive style. That’s a lot of change necessary for a team that hasn’t changed much at all over the four years since it drafted Luck. (Rivers McCown)

Jacksonville Jaguars: If Blake Bortles’s improved garbage-time performance is the result of greater mental comfort on his part, then what the Leonard Fournette selection may do is put him in a more comfortable position to succeed before the game reaches garbage time. Some of the time, at least. Every offense, no matter how good, ends up in two-minute drills and other obvious passing situations like third-and-long, and Bortles has no choice but to be better there. And in competitive situations, a Fournette-based offense does not suggest greater success given the makeup of the rest of the Jacksonville roster. (Tom Gower)

Tennessee Titans: With the quarterback operating from shotgun, the Titans had a pass offense DVOA of 34.4 percent, ranked fourth in the league. With the QB under center, their pass offense DVOA of 7.3 percent was just 23rd, or not far behind where the Jets and Bears ranked. Only Houston and Pittsburgh showed a greater improvement in their pass offense going from under center to shotgun. The Titans want to play as much of the under center “base” offense as possible. Given that, it makes perfect sense that improving the passing game in that preferred look was a high priority. Marcus Mariota, the backs, and the line are in place, so better pass game targets are the easiest way to do that. With feature receivers in short supply in free agency, the draft became the place to meet that need. And the Titans complied, adding Western Michigan’s Corey Davis with the fifth overall pick, then Western Kentucky’s Taywan Taylor and tight end Jonnu Smith out of Florida International in the third round. (Tom Gower)


AFC East

Buffalo Bills: There is great optimism for the Bills’ ground game, which ranked first in DVOA last year and should continue right where it left off as long as LeSean McCoy stays healthy. McCoy was terrific in 2016, as he ranked second in rushing DVOA and DYAR. It will be interesting to see if McCoy continues to flourish in offensive coordinator Rick Dennison’s scheme. McCoy excels with his vision and improvisational style. Dennison prefers a more decisive one-cut runner, but McCoy certainly has the ability to do that. If McCoy deals with injuries again, which seem like an every-year occurrence now, the Bills could be in trouble. With backup Mike Gillislee now in New England, the Bills have little depth behind McCoy. (Greg A. Bedard)

Miami Dolphins: What can the Dolphins hope to hang their hats on this year? If head coach Adam Gase has his way in his second season, then it looks like running back Jay Ajayi is the answer. It is hard to believe that the Dolphins toyed with signing Chris Johnson, actually signed Arian Foster to delay his inevitable retirement, and left Ajayi as a healthy scratch in Week 1 last season. Ajayi’s emergence and surprising 204-yard rushing day against the Steelers in Week 6 really turned Miami’s season around. The team won nine out of 11 games after a 1-4 start where the offense was struggling in a pass-centric, no-huddle attack. Miami shifted towards the run, and actually had the slowest pace of play in the league, which helps to explain why the Dolphins averaged the fewest plays per drive (5.03). Miami had the eighth-fastest pace in 2015, so this was a big change, but Gase is used to being able to switch things up on the fly from his time in Denver and Chicago. (Scott Kacsmar)


New England Patriots: New England’s listed mean projection of 11.6 wins may not look impressive, but it’s quite extraordinary for a team to come out of our preseason simulations with a number that high. Since Football Outsiders introduced a more conservative simulation system in 2012, only one team has come out with a better forecast: the Patriots themselves five years ago, when they were coming off a loss in Super Bowl XLVI. The 2017 Patriots are the only team in the past five years to emerge from the simulation with an average forecast above 11 wins. There’s no question that the Patriots start the season in pole position, and everyone else is at least three or four car-lengths back. (Greg A. Bedard)

New York Jets: A kind of one-foot-in, one-foot-out approach to tanking has left the Jets in an impossible spot. While their offense could well turn out to be the worst in the league, there are several reasons to believe that the defense will improve significantly this fall. For the second year in a row, the Jets’ run defense was one of the best we have ever measured. However, their pass defense was terrible. No team on record has ever had a bigger gap between run defense DVOA and pass defense DVOA. This is critical, because run defense is more consistent from year-to-year than pass defense. Over the past decade, the year-to-year correlation coefficient for run defense is .43, as opposed to .29 for pass defense. Most of the other teams with big gaps between run and pass defense have improved their overall defense the following season. (Vincent Verhei)


NFC North

Chicago Bears: In reality, Mitch Trubisky gains nothing from sitting. A quarterback whose primary knock coming out of college was that he only played in 13 games isn’t going to benefit from not playing. Should Trubisky sit for the entirety of his rookie season and then start the next year, he will have started 13 games (all in college) between leaving high school in 2013 and his first NFL start in 2018. That’s not the way to develop a quarterback. It’s especially not the way to develop a quarterback with Trubisky’s skill set. (Cian Fahey)

Detroit Lions: Detroit only trailed to start the fourth quarter in one of its eight comeback wins. Five times, the Lions took a lead into the final quarter, lost it, and regained it at the end. None of Detroit’s comebacks was from a deficit of more than seven points, and six of them were from deficits of four points or less. When the 2009 Colts and 2011 Giants had seven fourth-quarter comebacks, the average deficit they overcame was 5.7 points, compared to 3.4 points for Detroit. We looked at win probability data from EDJ Analytics on the four 2016 teams with at least six game-winning scores in the fourth quarter or overtime. Detroit’s lowest win probability in the fourth quarter of its “clutch wins” averaged out to 22.9 percent, which was actually a little higher than the average triumphs engineered by the Dolphins (19.5 percent) and Raiders (22.4 percent). So maybe this team didn’t quite have as much luck as one might expect from a team with a record number of late comebacks. (Scott Kacsmar)


Green Bay Packers: By neglecting the interior of their line, the Packers are putting more pressure on Aaron Rodgers to carry the offense. Even though the Packers offense ranked fourth in DVOA—seventh in passing and fifth in rushing—this unit’s success hinged on the quarterback more than most. Rodgers constantly found himself holding the ball longer than the play called for because his receivers couldn’t create separation against aggressive coverage or find soft spots in zones within the timing of the play. Rodgers’s patience and footwork allows him to extend plays within the pocket and create leverage for his linemen while slowing the pass rush from the beginning of the play. But he still needs that offensive line to be effective when he has to wait for his receivers to get open. Jordy Nelson put up big numbers after returning from 2015’s torn ACL, but Nelson wasn’t the same player he had been previously. He could no longer separate with ease, and it took him longer to get downfield on vertical routes. Nelson’s athleticism improved as the season wore on, but his inability to get open was a big part of what forced Rodgers to execute more difficult plays on a more regular basis. (Cian Fahey)

Minnesota Vikings: NFL teams often rely on great strengths to overcome great weaknesses. The best example from recent times was the Carolina Panthers team that reached the Super Bowl in 2015. That offense had phenomenal quarterback play, a good interior offensive line, and a running game that could consistently create hesitation in every level of the defense on each snap. Even on the defensive side, the Panthers relied on their front seven to execute tougher assignments so the secondary could be filled with disciplined but unathletic older players. Unfortunately for the Vikings, it’s harder to rely on receivers as your strength to cover weaknesses on the offensive line than it is to do the inverse. A bad offensive line requires expert play calling from the coaching staff to set the quarterback up to negate the inevitable pressure. (Cian Fahey)


NFC West

Arizona Cardinals: Arizona’s defense has been its calling card for the last four seasons. It’s a swarming, aggressive group which will bring pressure from anywhere and everywhere to disrupt opposing offenses. They blitzed five or more rushers on 39 percent of plays last season, third-most in the NFL. That’s their basic philosophy—tons of pass-rushers from tons of positions so you don’t have time to make a decision. They remained successful through a defensive coordinator switchover, going from Todd Bowles to James Bettcher without missing a beat. Now it’s time to see if they can handle significant turnover on the field. Arizona finds itself facing the 2017 season having to replace five starters and two key members of their rotation. This is not exactly ideal. (Bryan Knowles)

Los Angeles Rams: All quarterbacks struggle when under pressure, and given that Jared Goff led the league in pressure rate at 40.4 percent, it might be tempting to try and explain away his performance by saying he didn’t get any help from his offensive line. However, Case Keenum faced a pressure rate of 21.2 percent with largely the same personnel in front of him, which suggests that Goff created some of that pass pressure with his own style of play. And when he did have time to throw, he didn’t suddenly see a massive improvement in relative performance à la Andy Dalton. No, Goff turned in the worst performance without pressure of any quarterback in our database: -45.2 percent [DVOA]. The next-worst season for any quarterback with at least 200 passes since 2010? Brady Quinn had -6.7 percent DVOA without pressure for the 2012 Kansas City Chiefs; he hasn’t taken a regular-season snap since. In 2016, Goff played worse without pressure than 10 other quarterbacks did with pressure. The 2017 season will be critical for Goff’s development, but based on historical precedent, it will be difficult for Goff to turn into an above-average starter after his mess of a half season. (Carl Yedor)


San Francisco 49ers: Kyle Shanahan’s offensive philosophy is a dramatic change from Chip Kelly’s spread attack, but one that should feel very familiar for longtime 49ers fans. In the passing game, it’s a modern take on the classic West Coast system. It’s focused on getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly and producing yards after the catch, using short routes to the running back and fullback as extensions of the running game. (Atlanta was second in the league with an average of 6.1 yards after the catch last season.) However, it also incorporates a more vertical aspect, stretching the field with go routes and fades. Andre Johnson in Houston, Pierre Garçon in Washington, Julio Jones in Atlanta—Shanahan likes to design his passing concepts around one key receiver. This top receiver will stretch and stress the defense on one side of the field, simplifying both the reads and precision needed from the quarterback. (Bryan Knowles)

Seattle Seahawks: When healthy, the defensive stars for the Seahawks produced at a high level, but it is fair to wonder how much gas is left in the tank for some of them. Defensive end Cliff Avril set a career high with 11.5 sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career, joining fellow defensive end Michael Bennett, cornerback Richard Sherman, and linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright in Orlando as representatives for the Seahawks defense. However, Avril and Bennett are over 30 years old, and Sherman and Kam Chancellor are both 29, meaning that the next generation of Seahawks defenders will likely need to take on a larger role in 2017 and beyond. (Carl Yedor)


NFC South

Atlanta Falcons: The takeaway from history is that good old-fashioned regression, rather than merely Kyle Shanahan’s absence, is the more likely culprit should Atlanta fail to be as dominant in 2017. And regression is a virtual certainty, regardless of who calls the plays. Matt Ryan and the offense just can’t play any better; injuries are likely to hit harder than they did in 2016; the offensive line is already less cohesive, thanks to the retirement of guard Chris Chester; and on and on. And that’s why our projection for the Falcons is more pessimistic than conventional wisdom, though we still expect Atlanta to be in the playoff mix. (Robert Weintraub)

Carolina Panthers: The question now becomes whether offensive coordinator Mike Shula intends to truly change his scheme, or just make smaller modifications. Working quick-strike players like Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel into the existing framework will lessen their impact, and risks blunting the best of both approaches. Yet building entirely around the rookies’ skill sets not only works against the best attributes of the quarterback but negates the previous drafting of big-framed, slow-twitch wideouts Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess. Whatever the blend, it will be up to Cam Newton to make it all work. He is most certainly capable of doing so, if healthy, but missing all of the offseason won’t help get that important timing down (and McCaffrey wasn’t available until the final day of June minicamp, thanks to Stanford being on the quarters system). (Robert Weintraub)


New Orleans Saints: Despite the success of Drew Brees and the consistently excellent Saints offense, the team has now finished 7-9 in four of the past five seasons, and each of the past three. No other team in our table of the top five offenses since 2014 has even missed the playoffs once; the Saints have missed the playoffs every year. No other team in that top five has had a losing record since 2012; the Saints have had a losing record both for the five-year period and in four of the past five individual seasons. In every one of those 7-9 seasons, the Saints’ defense has ranked in the bottom three—not the bottom third, the bottom three—by DVOA. The lone exception, 2013, is also the lone playoff season. Taking the past three years as a whole, the Saints have had far and away the worst defense in the entire NFL. (Andrew Potter)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Our projection is wary of the hype. DeSean Jackson is one player, and one player only. Jameis Winston threw six more touchdowns as a sophomore than he did as a rookie, but also had seven more turnovers (three more interceptions, four more fumbles). His raw passing yardage numbers will probably increase—Winston ranked 16th in yards per game last year, and the team didn’t sign all of these receivers to use them as run blockers—but that does not necessarily correlate to more touchdowns, or an improvement in overall efficiency. Jackson will get his numbers as long as he’s healthy, but will probably siphon much of his value from other players rather than adding raw value of his own. The rest of the offense hasn’t changed a bit: O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate will be competing for many of the same snaps, with Brate more likely to provide immediate receiving value. Chris Godwin is considered an outside receiver, not a slot guy, so Adam Humphries will still play in the slot. Last year’s 28th-ranked running game is still a huge question mark, particularly with so much uncertainty on the offensive line. The team’s high 2016 DVOA on screens and play-action is probably unsustainable, and very likely to regress toward the mean. Winston still throws too many interceptions, and far too many interceptable passes. The Buccaneers offense ranked 18th in DVOA last year and has a mean projection of 20th for this year. It’s not that we expect the Buccaneers to be appreciably worse; we just aren’t convinced they’re going to be that much better. (Andrew Potter)


NFC East

Dallas Cowboys: Most remarkably, the Cowboys have built something sustainable. Jason Witten and Sean Lee will be the only regulars over 30 years old when the season starts. Zack Martin and Tyron Smith will turn 27 late in the season; the rest of the offensive line is younger. Recent free-agent contracts, like defensive tackle Cedric Thornton’s four-year deal last year, are more thoughtfully structured than the whoppers of years past. There are still some cap-proration shenanigans going on—Frederick converted his base salary to a bonus in February, freeing up $10 million in operational cap space in exchange for another round of future dead money hassles—but the new Cowboys core can remain intact for several years without any financial tomfoolery. (Mike Tanier)

New York Giants: The Giants have assembled one of the league’s best receiving corps. Brandon Marshall’s low DVOA last year was largely the result of the confusion and incompetence of the Jets quarterbacks. From Week 7 (when Ryan Fitzpatrick was briefly benched for Geno Smith) through the end of the season (when Bryce Petty began making cameos), the Jets were just 4-of-21 for 77 yards throwing deep passes to Marshall, with two interceptions. Marshall caught just one of 11 targets from Petty against the Dolphins in Week 16, albeit with a pair of drops. Given even replacement-level quarterbacking, Marshall can still win 1-on-1 matchups against most cornerbacks, which is all he will need to do for the Giants, because Odell Beckham Jr., Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard will keep opposing safeties more than occupied. (Mike Tanier)


Philadelphia Eagles: Even with all the changes, Carson Wentz doesn’t have a skill-position corps that ranks anywhere near the top five in the league. But last year’s units were bottom five. This group is deep, multi-dimensional, and capable. At the start of OTAs, Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery looked as good as advertised, while Nelson Agholor was sharper than last year, a sign that the increased competition has everyone on notice. It was a pronounced, encouraging change from 2016 OTAs, when Rueben Randle was the closest thing the incumbents had to “veteran challengers.” When Wentz throws down field this year, there is a chance someone will catch it. That should encourage him (and Doug Pederson) to take a few more chances. (Mike Tanier)

Washington Redskins: Ironically, the team that didn’t want to make a major commitment to the sturdy-but-limited Kirk Cousins has done just that. The Skins have a very good offensive line, but they are not the Cowboys. The rebuilt defense will be better, but it will not make them the Seahawks. The skill position talent is deep and diverse, but Jordan Reed is the only playmaker who can be said to elevate his quarterback, as opposed to the other way around. This is a balanced team with capable coaches. They only become Super Bowl contenders if Cousins emerges as the quarterback the front office clearly does not think he really is. (Mike Tanier)


Excerpted from the Football Outsiders Almanac, which can be purchased here as a PDF, or here in print. The almanac was written by Aaron Schatz, Greg A. Bedard, Ian Boyd, Bill Connelly, Cian Fahey, Nathan Forster, Brian Fremeau, Tom Gower, Scott Kacsmar, Bryan Knowles, Rivers McCown, Chad Peltier, Andrew Potter, Mike Tanier, Vincent Verhei, Robert Weintraub, and Carl Yedor.