There was no shortage of storylines during Week 1 of the 2023 NFL season. How did the earliest results impact expectations, both for the rest of the regular season and the 2024 draft?
To find out, we’re diving into Austin Mock’s projections. Mock projects the score for every game and the final win percentage for every team using his NFL betting model. The model phases out older data and uses data from this year as the season progresses. The simulation then runs 100,000 times after each day of games to give us, in this case, our projected top-10 draft order plus each team’s projected win total and playoff chances.
Projected top 10 (as of Sept. 12)
A few thoughts on the (very) early projections:
1. Arizona’s outlook is bleak, except …
The Cardinals nearly stole one on the road in Week 1, but the Commanders ripped off 10 straight points in the fourth quarter to send new coach Jonathan Gannon to his first loss. A Week 2 matchup with the Giants looks significantly more winnable now — after New York’s embarrassing Sunday night display — than it did on schedule-release day.
Even so, our projections don’t reveal much optimism this season. Arizona’s projected win total (4.1) is well below even the team sitting in next-to-last place, Houston (5.9). Arizona is also the only team with less than a 5 percent chance of making the playoffs (0.5) and a non-existent, 0.0 percent chance of winning its conference.
However, let’s not forget that the Cardinals hold Houston’s original 2024 first-round pick, via the Texans’ 2023 trade-up for Will Anderson Jr. (Houston acquired Cleveland’s 2024 first-rounder in the Deshaun Watson trade, currently pick No. 23 in our projections).
So, just like in our preseason mock draft, the Cardinals’ reward for a miserable year could be picks 1 and 2 in April.
Looming over all of this is the suggestion by Caleb Williams’ dad that his ultra-talented QB son could consider returning to USC in 2024, if he doesn’t love the franchise holding the No. 1 pick.
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2. A big opportunity for the Bears?
Let’s just say that Bears fans didn’t love Austin’s preseasons projections, which had Chicago at a win total of 5.7 — tied for lowest in the league with Arizona. The projection has ticked up slightly since then (to 6.0), despite whatever … uh … that showing was in Week 1.
The silver lining (if we’re doing silver linings with 17 weeks left): Chicago currently is projected to hold two of the top five picks in 2024 draft — the Bears have the Panthers’ first-rounder in their back pocket, courtesy of the ’23 draft trade for No. 1 overall.
The reality of that situation, and of this exceptionally talented QB class in particular, is it will force GM Ryan Poles to make a call on Justin Fields’ future as a franchise QB. But that fork in the road was coming anyway, so may as well reach it with two high draft choices.
3. Monday night fallout
What an absolute whirlwind that was. The Jets lost Aaron Rodgers for the season to an Achilles injury, then somehow rallied for a walk-off overtime win over the Bills. How’d it all impact our projections?
Well, for starters, the Jets didn’t plummet quite as much as one might expect. As we saw Monday, their defense and run game are good enough to keep them competitive, especially if Zach Wilson can put the ball, like, anywhere in the vicinity of Garrett Wilson. They were projected for 9.1 wins in Austin’s preseason model; they’re at 8.1 now, minus Rodgers — still good enough for a 32.4 percent chance of making the playoffs (and the 17th pick).
The Bills, meanwhile, slid from 10.7 projected wins to 10.2. They still are the AFC East favorites (45.4 percent chance to win the division; Miami is next at 37.4 percent), and their Super Bowl odds are the fifth-best (7.3 percent). But they are trending the wrong way after Week 1.
4. A crowded middle of the pack
There are a few expected playoff contenders (the Giants, Seahawks, Steelers) showing up in this first top-10 projection. Such is the price to pay for losing in Week 1. But it’s a pretty narrow gap between picks 7-10 and those teams in potential wild-card positions. As you can see in our chart up top, the Steelers still have a 20.3 percent shot at the playoffs, while the Bucs — off their Baker Mayfield-led stunner in Minnesota — are at 21.6 percent.
And those projected win totals for the teams at the bottom of our current top 10 are very much within range of, say, the Jets, Commanders (7.9), the Rams (7.9) or Vikings (7.5) — all right in the heart of the projected draft order.
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5. Watch out for the 49ers
The Steelers are 0-1 and holding that current draft projection in part because the 49ers absolutely handed it to them on Sunday. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, San Francisco took a significant leap, from the seventh-highest projected win total preseason (10.3) to the second-highest now (11.4).
The latter number puts Kyle Shanahan’s team behind only Philadelphia (11.7), meaning it’s leapfrogged Kansas City (11.2) and Dallas (11.0), among others. San Francisco’s chance of making the playoffs? Ninety-two percent.
(Photo: Quinn Harris / Getty Images)
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