The FFM Analysts Debate/Discuss the 2022 NFL Season Projections (Part 2)
A couple of weeks ago, we ran a series (Faux 1.0) where our analysts ran their 2022 season projections for wins-losses and projecting through the playoffs. They then took that information and pitched their Top 3 over-under win total bets, using a fictitious $1,000 to wager. Now, to wrap up this series, the analysts were engaged in a chat format debate/questions on their 2022 projected season results and top over-under bets – and we will be publishing the chat over the course of this week in a daily series, publishing a section at a time (in order).
This chat was designed to detail more on the group’s top predictions and/or most controversial projections. Sometimes the group is in agreement, but there’s always room for firework debates on the right topic (and we had a few).
We hope you enjoy this peek behind the curtain as the FFM analyst’s weigh in on their early predictions and projections for 2022. Analysts = RC, Ross Jacobs, Xavier Cromartie, and Chris Bilello (limited due to travel when we had this ongoing chat).
*Forgive any typos, shorthand-grammar…it’s an informal chat, with a lot of words published straight from the chat.
(The comment/question where we last left off yesterday) RC: Another consensus group item is Cincinnati projected to beat the 9.5 ‘over’. Chris and Ross have them at 10 wins, RC at 12 wins, and Xavier at 13 wins…and Xavier with them as the Super Bowl champs. So, I want to put these strong consensus teams/bets into a hierarchy of some kind…
The strongest consensus win totals vs. Vegas win count for betting, among us, seems to be Pittsburgh (under 7.5), Cincinnati (over 9.5), and Arizona (under 9.5). If we focused on these three teams, and we ignored the odds (because Arizona’s is ‘out there’) and we’re just trying to get to a consensus of the consensus, if I proposed the following bet to you…how would you respond and why?
The contest is: You get to pick any one 2022 team over or under from the PIT-CIN-ARI group at the lines we’re using, Pittsburgh (under 7.5), Cincinnati (over 9.5), and Arizona (under 9.5, and the pick costs you nothing/$0 dollars, but if you get the pick correct, you win $1 million dollars. If that’s the bet, walk us through your pick.
Ross: Of those three, I am firmly in the Arizona camp. Forget my faux season, not all of those landed near the averages I get in a simulation. Some were up or down a game or two and I've adjusted it since. Right now I have Cincy at 9.4 wins (vs under 9.5 line), Pit at 7.1 (vs under 7.5 line), and Arizona at 8.6 (vs under 9.5). So it's not even close.
Personally I don't see a ton of margin in the other two teams. I think the group as a whole is overrating Cincinnati based on a somewhat lucky season/playoff run and getting too caught up in Joe Burrow's greatness. I'm a fan but I don't see that they improved dramatically over last year and they were very up and down with several close wins. Likewise Pittsburgh I think is being a bit underrated based on the narrative that a rookie QB takes them down a notch and somehow Mike Tomlin is destroying the team. RC has been predicting their demise for 3-4 years now and yet they are keeping things afloat so far. What has massively changed to make them suddenly under 6 wins? I could definitely see 7, which would hit the under, but I don't think it's as big a margin as everyone else is expecting.
Arizona to me is the one team of the three that is significantly worse than last year. They lost Chandler Jones and more importantly Jordan Hicks, Hopkins is suspended for a while (and while Marquise Brown is pretty good he's no Hopkins), and the schedule is quite difficult this year. They are clearly the 3rd best team in their own division, and it was only a year ago that we were thinking they were an average team. Last year they surprised everyone with an 11 win season out of nowhere. Before that they were considered nothing special. I think that's what they are really, average.
Much like my strategy in the main contest, for a million dollar shot on one team I'm taking the most obvious bet, the one that Vegas agrees on with their long odds on the under. Give me Arizona all day long.
XC: I focused on the win total more than the odds. I would keep my order the same, with the Bengals #1, Steelers #2, and Cardinals #3. The Steelers and Cardinals felt more like good value plays, whereas the Bengals win total number was more of a shock.
And the main reason is that Joe Burrow is, in fact, great. There is no way to say that it is a fluke anymore. In his first seasons with LSU and Cincinnati, he needed time to acclimate to the new situation, he had to adjust to the higher level of competition, and he had to defer to coaches more. But in his second season with LSU, doing things his way, he was magnificent. 15-0. In the three biggest games of the season—the SEC Championship and two playoff games—he averaged 6 TDs per game. Now after only his second season with Cincinnati, he has a 3-1 playoff record (actually 4-0 if not for refball). He was arguably the best QB in the league. And that was with rookie Ja'Marr Chase. Burrow, Chase, and Tee Higgins are now all veterans just starting the prime of their careers.
The Bengals, as a team, have no obvious weak points. They wisely loaded up on DBs in the draft. I see the Bengals, Bucs, and Bills as the clear-cut tier-1 teams. And the Bengals are the best of them. I don't see a way to make an argument that they will be 9-8 or worse, unless Burrow is injured or a Jared Goff-level fraud. At worst they should win 11.
Ross: These are the teams the Bengals beat in the regular season: (8-9) Vikings, x2 (9-7-1) Steelers, (3-14) Jaguars, (3-13-1) Lions, 2x (8-9) Ravens, (10-6) Raiders, (7-10) Broncos, (12-5) Chiefs. The only legitimate winning team they beat was the Chiefs in week 17 and they won by 3 points after getting dominated early. The Steelers and Raiders are two of the worst “winning record” teams I've ever seen. Both of them were closer to 7-8 win teams than where they finished.
They lost to the Bears, Packers, Jets, 2x Browns (injuries and all), Chargers, and 49'ers.
The reason everyone is giving them a pass is because they got lucky and won close games over the overrated Raiders, the overrated Titans, and the Chiefs. Fluky playoff runs happen all the time. I'm not saying they weren't pretty good. They were. They deserved to be in the playoffs. But they were far, far from a dominant team last year. They were ok.
So why are we suddenly bumping them from 12-13th best team all the way to top 5? How did they get that much better this off-season? They brought in retread offensive linemen in Ted Karras, Alex Cappa, and La'el Collins. They signed a decent TE in Hayden Hurst. And they drafted ok but somewhat overrated Dax Hill. How do any of those players magically make this team 2-3-4 wins better than they were last year?
I count 6 games where they are clearly favored, 8 that are tossups, and 3 where they are clear dogs. That looks like 9-10 wins to me on average. Now it's always possible they get a little lucky or maybe they are a little better than expected, but luck can also work the other way too. The line looks totally fair to me.
Ross, are you out of your mind?
The Bengals were lucky and won close games…that’s how they made a run last season? First off, they coulda/shoulda won the Super Bowl…they got F’d by a horrific P.I. call late. Regardless, they played toe-to-toe with the L.A. Rams, in the Super Bowl, at L.A. and with no offensive line. You don’t fluke your way to getting through the AFC and arrive at the Super Bowl…and almost win it.
Second, if QB is everything…then with Burrow, they have a built-in 10+ win missile defense system (in a 17-game season now). And they pretty much have everything back BUT added some depth/talent to their O-Line, which was their only real flaw from 2021…and Burrow still overcame it, because he is a wizard. And the Bengals are the best team in their division with the Browns missing Watson for ___ time and as long as Lamar Jackson is QB of Baltimore. The Ravens could break out in 2022, and Cincy still comfortably win 10+ games.
You said I had called for the Steelers demise for several years, but they always hang in there…which is valid, but I would turn that on you and say – did you not bet against Cincy their entire later season run and up and through the playoffs? I should be disqualified on Steeler predictions because I always underestimate them, that’s a valid reason to worry about my new-new Steelers hate/best bet in 2022. But I would ask, “Are you not blind to the Bengals by the same account? Because you did not see it ahead late last season and went against it the whole playoff run (except the LV game, I’m sure)?”
If I’m disqualified from betting against the Steelers from my track record…am I then not the #1 expert on the planet on the Bengals – because I called the upset moment against KC Week 17 last year (and called for their big blowout win vs. BAL the week prior, which was a MASSIVE game for the division, and a massive blowout for Cincy)…but I actually started proclaiming the Bengals emergence as the AFC’s best team prior to their LAC blowout loss, and right after watching the tape of the LAC loss…which was a fluky loss, where they were the better team…you could see it…despite the 19 point loss.
Cincy had close, lucky wins in 2021…it’s true – it’s called ‘a superior team with a modern-day Tom Brady that finds ways to win’. Of course, they won a lot of close games. They also lost a few close games against top NFL teams in OT with weird kicking events against GB and SF…games they outplayed/played equal to the NFC’s best teams…and Cincy coulda/shoulda won them. If you say, “but they didn’t”…then what do they get any credit for? Losing close games is bad…winning close games is bad? I will only bet on the team that won all their games by double-digits last year…I just need to find them.
I love the discounting of running right through the AFC playoffs as ‘lucky’ or ‘discounted’ wins. Overrated Titans? The #1 seed in the AFC gets their offense back with Derrick Henry, has a bye week to heal and prep, and still Cincy beats them/handles them on the road – that’s a discounted win for you? You’ve gotta be kidding me. *For the sake of your Colts projections, you better hope the Titans are a good team…for Indy to get beat 2x by them last year* Then Cincy goes on to KC to face the playoff experienced Chiefs, as a big underdog…and beat them. These are all negatives? What would you have liked Cincy to do to prove that they were a really good team?
All that said, I would not make the Bengals my million-dollar bet…because if Burrow goes down, nothing else matters. I hate betting big on ‘overs’ when there is a massive drop-off from starting-to-backup QB. I would place my million bet on the Steelers under because their situation has changed so much…change at QB, weakest O-Line in the division, dying at CB, worst team in the division…got the 9th game on the road schedule draw (not an extra home game), and their 2nd-place finish in 2021 drew them at Indy, at Philly and Las Vegas this year on the schedule…tough matchups for them on the schedule along with all the other problems.
I wouldn’t place my $1M bet against Arizona, in case Kyler wakes up and comes into his own…and if that defense is more the 1st-half 2021 group than the 2nd-half of 2021.
Xavier, you may have some thoughts on Ross’s Cincy bashing…feel free, then Ross you can defend your ground…or tap out.
XC: Before the 2021 season started, the Steelers, Raiders, and Bengals were expected to be top-5 in most difficult schedules in the NFL. A major factor was that they were scheduled against the Ravens, who were projected to be an 11-win team. Then those three teams went a combined 5-0 against the Ravens. Now in retrospect they're frauds, it was all too easy, because they beat mediocre teams like the Ravens. However, the idea that the Bengals had it easy is nonsense when you include the playoff weeks, because then they had a very difficult schedule by any objective measure and still won 65%, which would be 11-6 in a 17-game season.
People who go game-by-game through a schedule cannot be taken seriously. The strength of schedule does not make a difference unless it is at the absolute extreme end of ease or difficulty, and even then the impact is small. Every team is expected to play a schedule of teams that, on average, have somewhere between an 8-9 to 9-8 record. You do not know in advance how hard the schedule will actually be. You do not know what injuries, trades, or suspensions will happen. You do not know who will win each individual game. But serious analysts can set a reasonable expectation level of long-term performance with proper evaluation of the talent.
The Bengals do not have to be any better than last year's regular season 10-7 (reminder that backups lost the week 18 game to the Browns). But they are better. QBs generally keep improving into their mid-to-late 20s, and Burrow is just starting his prime at age 25. WRs who stick in the league likewise tend to keep improving until age 26 or 27; Chase (22) and Higgins (23) still have room for growth (which should scare every other team). There is not a single person who will disagree that the Bengals upgraded their o-line this offseason. In today's NFL against offenses like the Bills and Chiefs, you need tons of depth and options among DBs, and so drafting those three DBs was a very wise decision. The Bengals are well-run, and we should be looking at them as potentially becoming one of the all-time NFL dynasties.
Ross: Yes, the Bengals were good enough to make the Superbowl and had a chance to win it, maybe even should have. But if the Jaguars can beat the Bills on any given Sunday then that statement doesn't mean much. The reality is that NFL teams are very close in overall ability. Sometimes weaker teams have things break their way a few games at a time. The Giants won the Superbowl twice while going 9-7. Does that automatically mean they were actually a super strong team in hiding? Of course not. It means they were pretty good and luck favored them. The year following those two magical playoff runs: the 2008 Giants went 12-4 for a 3 game improvement but the 2012 Giants went 9-7 again. A surprise playoff run does not necessarily mean impending greatness.
And when I say luck I don't mean that they necessarily got some crazy interception that shouldn't have happened. I mean that there are things about the game we can't account for and sometimes the lesser team wins. There are simply too many studies on the subject to argue the point anymore. Football is around 1/3 luck. Any game decided by 7 points or less, and even more so 3 points or less, could very easily have gone the other way. The Bengals were a decent team last year. They won 10 games against a weak schedule. Of the four actual good teams they played in the regular season they only beat one. Their playoff run made them look better than they are. You can't put too much stock into “winning the games.” That is not a good predictor of future wins.
And yes, I am giving them credit for their close losses as well. It is you guys that are ignoring the side you don't like, which is that the Bengals also won a lot of close games against supposedly inferior teams. These things tend to balance out. In the Bengal's case it looks like they did which is why I say they are a good, not great, team. The Titans and Steelers won a ton of close games last year but did not lose many. Does that mean they are better than the Bengals by your logic? Of course not. They got lucky. But the Bengals did not lose a high number of close games. They were evenly split on their close game luck...until the playoffs where they won 3 in a row. That's not a large enough sample size to conclude that it was their skill and not luck.
The Titans won more games than the Bengals, so shouldn't they automatically be the better team this year in your rankings? But they aren't and we all think they are closer to a .500 team than not. So why am I the heretic for thinking that perhaps the Bengals are the same team they were last year? It is you guys that are arguing for a radical change, not I. You think they are a 12-13-14 win team and I say...show me the evidence. A 3 game playoff run of 3 point wins is not evidence.
As for your Steelers argument...you've been underrating the Steelers for years, and I'm not saying you can't give your opinion on them. I'm saying that since it's a consistent miss that perhaps the rest of us should adjust for a possible bias in your opinion. I missed a 3 game playoff run on the Bengals that easily could have never happened. That's the point. Just because they won those games does not automatically mean they were great all along, just like the Steelers were not really a 9 win team nor were the Raiders a 10 win team or the Titans a 12 win team. If you'll recall, I was also the one calling for a Bengals bounce last year while championing Joe Burrow to you. I even argued that I thought he was better or at least in league with Herbert.
I want to reiterate my position because I think you guys are twisting my argument. I am not saying the Bengals are bad. I am not saying they are great either. I am saying that to me they look much like they did last year....and that's a top 10-12 team not a top 3-4-5 team. If they were as great as you guys think, then how come they only won 10 games? Luck...?
All I'm arguing is that I don't think they are the slam dunk you are making them out to be. They have a chance to beat the line, a good chance. I acknowledge that. I like the team. But I'm saying there's a lot of risk that you're ignoring as well. Remember last year when we all jumped on the Chargers train proclaiming their greatness? Every one of us was thinking 11-12 wins and we were wrong, in part because they played a difficult schedule last year...just like the Bengals this year. I just feel like it's too early to proclaim the Bengals have suddenly arrived as a power team.
The funniest part of this whole Bengals argument is that you won't even back them as your million dollar bet. If you're so sure...
*Join us tomorrow for Part 3 of the analyst's chat on the upcoming 2022 season...
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