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Football Outsiders 2016 early projections: Seahawks, Cardinals best two teams in the NFL

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Seahawks fans love Football Outsiders not only because it's has one of the smartest and most predictive metrics out there in DVOA, but it also helps that Seattle has absolutely f*cking dominated in DVOA for the past four years (the Seahawks have finished 1st overall in that metric, which is an efficiency measure that weights everything you should weight, for the past four seasons).

Regardless of Seattle's successes or failures in their statistics, I really do like the DVOA metric a great deal, and I track it closely as the season goes on to help me keep track of which teams are strong for the long run and which teams are just flashes in the pan. Their offseason projections are very cool, and I religiously read the Football Outsiders Almanac each year.

As a preview to that must-read season preview book, the folks over at FO are releasing early predictions for each conference, and their look at the NFC isn't too surprising. In it, they've got Seattle as the top team in the NFL, closely followed by the Cardinals. The standings are slightly different though, based on other factors, particularly Seattle's much more difficult schedule.

Here's what they had to say (read the rest over at ESPN Insider).

NFC West

1. Arizona Cardinals: 12-4 (12.0 mean wins, SOS: 18)
2. Seattle Seahawks: 11-5 (11.2 mean wins, SOS: 3)
3. Los Angeles Rams: 7-9 (7.2 mean wins, SOS: 5)
4. San Francisco 49ers: 4-12 (3.9 mean wins, SOS: 1)

More than the AFC East, this is the division that may be decided by Tom Brady's suspension for Deflategate. Seattle has finished No. 1 overall in DVOA for an astonishing four straight seasons, and the Seahawks are our No. 1 projected team for 2016 as well. But Arizona is our projected No. 2 team, and there are two huge schedule differences that benefit the Cardinals. The first one is only a problem if we're correct about Aaron Rodgers returning to greatness: Arizona's first-place finish last year means the Cardinals go to Minnesota while Seattle has to travel to Green Bay. The second one will require federal court intervention to help the Seahawks: Arizona opens the season at home against the Jimmy Garoppolo-led Patriots while Seattle has to go to Foxborough to play the Patriots with Brady in Week 10.

But overall, these are the two best teams in the league going into 2016. Arizona has the No. 3 projection on both offense and defense. Seattle has the No. 2 projection on defense and the No. 4 projection on offense. Arizona's defense can't expect to get quite as many turnovers -- the Cardinals were second in the league with turnovers on 17.0 percent of drives -- but Chandler Jones will improve the pass rush. Seattle still has a problematic offensive line and needs to fill holes left by Brandon Mebane and Bruce Irvin, but the Seahawks have been consistently good for years now and there's no reason to expect something different in 2016.

Our QBASE projection system really loves No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff, but rookie quarterbacks still don't have a great track record, class of 2012 aside. The Rams also have to replace two starters in the secondary, plus inside linebacker James Laurinaitis. Combined with a very difficult schedule, it seems like a recipe for another 7-9 season, albeit one with a lot of hope for the future if Goff is as efficient as we expect.

The 49ers are seriously talking about using Blaine Gabbert as their starting quarterback all year. They are getting used to yet another new offensive system, Anquan Boldin is gone with no clear replacement, and the strength of the rest of the NFC West gives San Francisco the toughest projected schedule in the league. At least the defense should rebound a bit after finishing 27th in DVOA a year ago.

A few things that FO would likely want me to note here:

FO's projection system starts with Football Outsiders' DVOA ratings for the past three years, although last year's ratings end up about six times as important as either 2013 or 2014. (You can find last year's final ratings here.)

Offensive projections incorporate a separate projection for the starting quarterback that's done independently of the team's analysis. After that, we account for general regression trends and incorporate a number of other variables that measure everything from turnover ratios to personnel and coaching changes on both sides of the ball. Each team has a forecasted record but also, for those of you wanting more detail, a more exact "mean projected wins" number. We also list strength of schedule based on average projected DVOA of next year's 16 opponents, ranked from the hardest (San Francisco is No. 1) to the easiest (Tennessee).

When considering these numbers, remember that this is not the final, official Football Outsiders forecast for 2016, and some of these projections will change between now and the July publication of "Football Outsiders Almanac 2016."

In other words, things may change before it's all said and done.

Pretty interesting though, and it's not terribly surprising that they've got Seattle and Arizona as their overall best teams going into 2016. What say you, Seahawk fans?