Football Outsiders Preliminary Projections: Another Mediocre Season For The Dallas Cowboys

Rick Yeatts

The stats analysts over at FO are not impressed with the Cowboys, again.

Every year Football Outsiders put out an annual detailing each team as they head into a new season. In that magazine they predict the mean wins for each team. This year's annual won't be out for a few months, but when Todd McShay asked for some preliminary projections from FO for a 2015 mock draft, the stats gurus complied. In their own words...

[We] started with Football Outsiders' defense-adjusted value over average ratings (DVOA), then applied the usual regression toward the mean that a good or bad team sees from each unit. We then adjusted the projections to account for last year's injury numbers, major free-agent moves and a few other indicators.

Also note that stat projections naturally consider a wide range of possibilities, so all teams end up grouped more toward 8-8, with very few teams listed with double-digit wins or losses. Obviously the 2014 season won't really end up with only one team below 6-10 and no teams above 12-4.

For the last few years the Outsiders have predicted between seven and eight wins for the Cowboys, and every year the Cowboys win eight games. This year, it doesn't look much different. The down-and-dirty prediction, which is subject to change by the time their annual comes out, is 7.1 mean wins.

BTW, their football almanac is a treasure-trove of information, we recommend it every year.

Philadelphia Eagles: 10-6 (10.0 mean wins, strength of schedule: 23)
New York Giants: 9-7 (8.6 mean wins, SOS: 24)
Dallas Cowboys: 7-9 (7.1 mean wins, SOS: 15)
Washington Redskins: 6-10 (6.3 mean wins, SOS: 21)

Of all the teams with losing records in 2013, the Giants are probably the best bet to make next year's postseason. They were 7-9, so it isn't as if this is a massive turnaround, but there are a couple of strong indicators.

First, yardage is much more consistent from year to year than turnovers. It's very unlikely the Giants will put up a turnover margin of minus-15 again, especially given that Eli Manning's 27 picks almost matched his total from 2011 and 2012 combined. More importantly, the Giants were destroyed by injuries last year, with the highest "adjusted games lost" total of any team Football Outsiders has ever tracked (going back to 2000). Some teams do have a tendency to have more injuries than average year after year -- the Packers and Patriots keep making it to the postseason despite this problem -- but, for the most part, we should go into every season expecting each team to have an average number of injuries. That change alone would do wonders for the Giants.

It's also the biggest reason to believe they could top Philadelphia for the division title, as the Eagles were among the lowest teams in adjusted games lost last year. On the other hand, we know offense tends to be more consistent than defense, which in turn is more consistent than special teams. That means teams that significantly improve based on offense, such as the Eagles, are more likely to maintain their improvement the next season than teams that significantly improve based on defense, such as Carolina.

Dallas has been 17th in Football Outsiders' DVOA ratings for two years now. Despite the big names, this is a mediocre team that hasn't made big changes this offseason, and the Cowboys won't be lucky enough to recover 67 percent of fumbles again next year, either. The Redskins' projection could be too low, depending on how much difference another year of ACL recovery makes for Robert Griffin III. The Redskins also had one of the five worst special-teams ratings since 1989 last year, and that isn't going to happen again; better field position will make the offense and the defense look better.

So what do you think BTB? Are we headed for another 8-8 season, or will we finally defy their predictions? And if we defy predictions will it be more wins, or fewer wins?

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