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The debut of the Brinson Model™️ during Monday's full win-loss record prediction breakdown for every single NFL team ahead of the 2023 season was such a raging success, Corporate asked me to dust off my proprietary projection process for some more fun the very next day. Which brings us to division title and wild-card picks, essentially my "way too early" playoff picks. 

Last year my good friend Jason La Canfora managed to hit on six of his eight division winners (only the Rams and Colts cost him a sweep), although his wild-card record left something to be desired. Picking NFL playoff teams in August is hard. Picking playoff teams in May ... even harder! 

I plan to abide by the projection system here -- any manual tweaks for my preferred selections usually comes during the actual projection process anyway. Plus, given all the fantastic feedback I've gotten from satisfied readers ... how could I not??? 

Over on Instagram (follow me @WillBrinson if you want to yell at me for my picks!), I've been called "dry trash," a "🤡" and a "doofus." People asked how I "still have a job," told me I "write with my ass," that I'm "higher than Denver itself" ... and someone even angrily complained I gave the 49ers a 12-5 record. 

Twitter (again @WillBrinson, come for the yelling, stay for the witty humor) wasn't much better, although it was mostly Browns fans screaming about my giving them a 7-10 record. You know every NFL fanbase is delusional when Browns fans -- despite Cleveland having four seasons with eight wins or more since 1999 -- are apoplectic about a 7-10 record in May. Spoiler, Browns fans: You don't win the division below! 

Angry optimism runs red through the NFL streets, my friends. Let's dive back in!  (Note: Division winners are in bold; wild-card teams have an asterisk.)

Projected Standings

AFC East

  1. Buffalo Bills (12-5) -- Division winner
  2. New York Jets (10-7)* -- Wild-card team
  3. New England Patriots (9-8)
  4. Miami Dolphins (8-9)

A very easy selection for me at the top: Buffalo might be "down" after failing to beat the Chiefs again, but this roster is still loaded and -- last I checked -- Josh Allen is still very, very good. The presence of Aaron Rodgers can put up for debate "best quarterback in the division" but I'll still take Allen relative to the continuity issues each of them face. If the Jets offense takes flight out of the gate -- without any delays, even -- this could be a different story. And I think the Jets will push Buffalo here as long as Rodgers stays upright and healthy. But Buffalo is great value in the betting market and definitely strong value in the prediction market if everyone and their brother is dabbling in Big Apple futures. 

AFC North

  1. Cincinnati Bengals (13-4) -- Division winner
  2. Baltimore Ravens (12-5)* -- Wild-card team
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-8)
  4. Cleveland Browns (7-10)

The Bengals have never been AFC North champs for three straight seasons. Last year was just their 12th divisional title and just the second time they repeated as divisional champs. Joe Burrow is pretty good! This year would have been a cakewalk, too, barring something strange, if Baltimore hadn't gotten its act together and inked Lamar Jackson to a long-term deal. Jackson's presence definitely makes this divisional race much more interesting. I've still got the Bengals squeaking it out, although in very narrow fashion with the Ravens projecting as the top wild-card team in the AFC. I love Todd Monken's addition as offensive coordinator plus the weapons Baltimore grabbed for Lamar this offseason. The Steelers were definitely close to being a wild-card team in my model; Matt Canada is very meh but I like what they've done to the roster. The Browns went 3-3 last year with Deshaun Watson back, beating the Texans, Ravens sans Lamar and Washington. Maybe settle down on this coronation, Cleveland.

AFC South

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars (11-6) -- Division winner
  2. Houston Texans (7-10)
  3. Tennessee Titans (6-11)
  4. Indianapolis Colts (4-13)

The AFC South once again represents what will likely be the worst of the conferences in terms of total performance by a division, but this is a potentially enthralling division for the long haul with three top-five picks in Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson plus a projected top-five pick (by some) in Will Levis lined up to run these offenses for the next little bit. I thought I'd be down on Jacksonville a little bit relative to the rest of the "market," but once you run through the schedule it's hard to really hate on the Jags. Stroud or Richardson could definitely surprise and I never rule out Mike Vrabel/Ryan Tannehill/Derrick Henry making chicken salad from less appetizing ingredients. But right now the Jaguars look like the cream of the crop in this division, particularly if Lawrence makes a leap in his second season with Doug Pederson. 

AFC West

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-3) -- Division winner
  2. Denver Broncos (9-8)* -- Wild-card team
  3. Los Angeles Chargers (8-9)
  4. Las Vegas Raiders (7-10)

People questioned the Chiefs last year, and it worked out poorly for those JABRONIS. The Chiefs are the defending Super Bowl champions and even though they dealt with some attrition, they still have Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid, which puts them in the pole position to dominate this division yet again. Anything under -200 should be considered a good bet with how the Chiefs operate. The Broncos and Chargers are a little scary -- as long as Denver's flying under the radar going into the season I'll be higher on them. Sean Payton is a massive, massive upgrade over Nathaniel Hackett. It really can't be overstated enough. Someone got mad at me for putting the Raiders in fourth place here ... they've finished second three times since 2003 and haven't won the division since 2002, so maybe settle down on demanding I think the Raiders will be great this season. 

AFC wild cards

  • Baltimore Ravens (12-5)
  • New York Jets (10-7)
  • Denver Broncos (9-8)
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NFC East

  1. Dallas Cowboys (10-7) -- Division winner
  2. Philadelphia Eagles (10-7)* -- Wild-card team
  3. New York Giants (9-8)* -- Wild-card team
  4. Washington Commanders (6-11)

Eagles fans are also very steamed up about this projection. Don't blame me! The Brinson Model™️ is an unbiased, proprietary projection system designed to mathematically simulate an NFL season as accurately as robotically possible. Also, Philly went from having the easiest schedule in the NFL in 2022 to having the hardest. I actually want to pick the Giants to win the division and the model giving them nine wins in Brian Daboll's second season gives me good reason to do just that. For now I'm rolling with the Cowboys, who might actually be improved on offense with a little balance from Mike McCarthy's playcalling, something I'm sure I won't regret later. I'm higher on Sam Howell than most but this is just how Washington's schedule fell. 

NFC North

  1. Detroit Lions (10-7) -- Division winner
  2. Minnesota Vikings (8-9)
  3. Chicago Bears (6-11)
  4. Green Bay Packers (6-11)

Just like the Jags, the Lions surprised me with how high they finished in my model here. I sort of felt like I'd be down on them and higher on Minnesota and Green Bay and yet ... the numbers don't lie. Detroit's got a HUGE game to start the season against Kansas City; I'm more worried about how the Lions recover from that matchup (win or lose) than how they perform in Arrowhead with a pair of huge home conference games looming immediately afterwards. The NFC North has never been more wide open with Aaron Rodgers' departure. Dan Campbell and Jared Goff would love to take advantage. But I wouldn't put it past any of these teams from winning the North either -- Minnesota was a luck box last year but has a very good roster. Justin Fields taking a leap would make the Bears VERY interesting and Jordan Love is a complete and total wild card, not just in this division but the conference as well. I'm fully prepared for this set of projections to be completely wrong.

NFC South

  1. Atlanta Falcons (10-7) -- Division winner
  2. Carolina Panthers (8-9)
  3. New Orleans Saints (7-10)
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-12)

Another division that's just wide open. The Falcons are MY TEAM this year, for better or for worse it seems. I love what they did this offseason, turning a very questionable roster into a Titans-lite type of team that can be physical in the run game and efficient from a passing standpoint. The Panthers I initially had higher and would not be surprised to see win 10 games if Bryce Young clicks early on. Carolina is also one of my favorite sleepers in the NFC. I'm not as high on the Saints as a lot of folks -- Derek Carr is an upgrade but he's not a guy to take them over the top and the coaching staff still gives me some pause. Tampa Bay can prove me wrong but it's still dealing with the fallout from winning a Super Bowl with Tom Brady and going all-in on trying to chase a second one in 2021/2022. Bruce Arians' departure is still being felt.

NFC West

  1. San Francisco 49ers (12-5) -- Division winner
  2. Seattle Seahawks (9-8)* -- Wild-card team
  3. Los Angeles Rams (9-8)
  4. Arizona Cardinals (3-14)

My model projects the Seahawks over the Rams via tiebreaker, but both teams are pretty far back of the 49ers. Now, things can change, especially if Trey Lance isn't great or Brock Purdy isn't healthy or some combination of the two. If the QB situation is a problem, San Francisco can still be a playoff team for sure in a weakened NFC, but the ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl is gonna be tough. And I think Geno Smith or Matthew Stafford is capable of snaking the Niners if Kyle Shanahan's crew stumbles for any reason. Both Seattle and L.A. are undervalued coming into 2023. The Cardinals are the worst team in football and it's not particularly close for me.

NFC wild cards

  • Philadelphia Eagles (10-7)
  • New York Giants (9-8)
  • Seattle Seahawks (9-8)