Remember that part in "Infinity War" where Doctor Strange went into that peyote trip-like trance, looked into the future at 14,000,605 possible outcomes of the battle with Thanos and the Avengers only came out on top in one scenario? ESPN just did that for the 2020 NFL season, running 20,000 simulations based on "each team's Las Vegas win total; last season's performance on offense, defense and special teams; the number of returning starters; coaching staff changes; and starting and backup quarterbacks."
The results at the top are pretty much as chalk as you'd think a model like this would produce. Unless and until Patrick Mahomes evolves into a ball of pure energy and astral projects back to his homeworld, all the predictions will have the Chiefs repeating. This one is no exception:
Several long months after defeating the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl, Kansas City enters the 2020 NFL season as both the best team in the league and the Super Bowl favorite, according to ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI). ...
Buoyed by what FPI considers to be easily the best offense in football, the Chiefs are more than a touchdown better than an average NFL team and more than a point better than the second-best team in the league, the Baltimore Ravens. That strong rating fueled the Chiefs to a 21% chance to win the Super Bowl, which makes them the second-largest preseason favorite since we began projections in 2015, behind only the 2017 New England Patriots (32%). The Chiefs were our preseason favorite last season too, with a 15% chance to win it all.
Let me interrupt here to say I had no idea the Patriots were almost a 1-in-3 shot to win it all in 2017. Goddamned Philly Special. Goddamned Jordan Richards. Goddamned Johnson Bademosi. And why didn't Malcolm Butler play again? I forget. To continue:
Though FPI thinks the 49ers are the third-best team and the best NFC franchise, the New Orleans Saints (fourth in FPI rating) are actually the third-most-likely team to win the Super Bowl at 13%, with San Francisco coming in at 12%.
Again, no huge upsets here. Unless you consider the upset Aaron Rodgers is feeling since the Packers drafted a quarterback with their first pick, because Green Bay went from the NFL's Final Four in January to out of the top five on this ranking.
But here's were this gets fun:
The buzz around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Patriots feels noticeably different this offseason. And yet, FPI doesn't see much of a difference between these two teams. Though FPI does have Tampa Bay as the better of the two franchises entering 2020, the Bucs and Pats are back-to-back in the model's rankings at No. 8 and No. 9.
That translates into a slight advantage for the Bucs in terms of chance to reach the playoffs. Tampa Bay has a 63% chance to reach the postseason, while FPI projects a 60% chance for New England. In other words, Brady's departure has hurt FPI's view of the Patriots, who finished last year fourth in its rankings, but the model has hardly written off Bill Belichick & Co. yet.
What about a seventh ring for Brady? Tampa Bay has a 4% chance to win the Super Bowl, and the Patriots have a 3% chance.
4% for Tampa? 3% for New England?
Bring it on. Bring it right the hell on. Give me that sweet, sweet nectar of being an underdog.
The Buffalo Bills are AFC East favorites? Technically, yes. But barely.
Here's how close the margin is: Buffalo has a 41.0% chance to win the division while the Patriots are all the way down at … 40.9%. This division is a toss-up for the first time since we discovered fire.
Oh, that's what daddy likes. Right there. Just like that. It's been so long, so very, very long since the Patriots weren't the giant mothership in the sky everyone trained their missiles on, I'd started to forget what that feels like. No only am I not bent out of shape about it, I relish it. It'll be a whole new perspective on life.
And if anything, it's the furthest thing from an insult. To have the Pats lose the best player in the history of the sport, plus two of their defensive starters and try to replace them with rookies and second year players who were mostly non-factors last year, and do it without making a single splashy free agent acquisition and still place in the top 10 is a compliment. Meanwhile, Tampa adds the best quarterback/tight end hookup of all time to the best wide receiver pairing in the league, and you can't shine a beam of light between the computer's assessment of the two teams. I'll take that as a compliment. A show of faith in the coach, the front office and the new quarterback.
So, while I don't say this very often, thanks ESPN. These are strange days indeed when the World Wide Leader is making me say that.