Four months from today, on September 13, the Cowboys will kick off the regular season against the New York Giants. And ESPN, with the help of Football Outsiders, already know how that regular season will end.
Interestingly, the projections see the Giants finishing ahead of the Eagles in the division. Though both are projected as 9-7 teams, the specific win projection has the Giants at 9.4 wins, while the Eagles come in with 8.7 wins.
The Redskins are projected to win five games, and the projection sees them as the worst team in the NFC.
Earlier today, we marveled at some highly dubious power rankings that ranked the Cowboys 18th in the league, largely because they lost DeMarco Murray in free agency. Our own Rabblerousr subsequently pointed out that a running back by committee approach is a Dallas Cowboys tradition, and that given the strength of the Cowboys' current O-line, there's every reason to believe that their current stable of running backs can compensate for Murray's loss just fine, a sentiment the statisticians at Football Outsiders appear to share:
Last year, these projections had the Cowboys way too low, with a mean forecast of just 7-9. This year, our projection looks too extreme in the other direction. How can Dallas be the second-best team in the league despite the loss of DeMarco Murray? History says that losing a top running back doesn't tend to have a strong impact on overall offensive quality. The passing game and the offensive line simply have much more importance in the modern NFL. The Cowboys are likely to have more injuries on offense (No. 2 in our adjusted games lost metric) but better health on defense (No. 28 in AGL) should help improve that unit to league average. (The Cowboys are also the only NFC East team that will not have to face the suspended Tom Brady).
The projection assumes that the Eagles' unusually good health record from last season will regress towards the mean, and penalizes the Eagles for the addition of Sam Bradford.
The Giants are projected to improve primarily based on improved health, and while the projection sees signs of improvement for the Redskins, that's still not good enough to move them out of the NFC cellar.
And while of that is nice and good, keep in mind that this was the Football Outsiders projection for last season:
Philadelphia Eagles: 10-6 (10.0 mean wins)
New York Giants: 9-7 (8.6 mean wins)
Dallas Cowboys: 7-9 (7.1 mean wins)
Washington Redskins: 6-10 (6.3 mean wins)
Let's hope that their projection for the Cowboys is not off by five games again.