On Monday, ESPN’s Seth Walden introduced the site’s “Football Power Index” for 2023.
FPI is our rating and projection model for NFL teams. In the preseason, the model’s predictive ratings are based substantially on win totals from Caesars Sportsbook and strength of schedule, along with factors such as past team performance and returning starters. We use team ratings to simulate the season thousands of times, creating our projections, which update every day during the season. Game predictions are also informed by factors such as travel, rest differential and changes at starting quarterback.
With a rating of 6.4, a familiar team now stands at the top of the FPI rankings.
Who else, really, could be No. 1? Offense is more stable year-to-year than defense, and the Chiefs led the league in expected points added per play last season by a wide margin. They are also returning their two most important ingredients in Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid. Offensively, they are just too good, and that alone is enough to put the Super Bowl champs back atop the league to begin this coming season.
The Chiefs are followed by the Buffalo Bills at +5.6, the Philadelphia Eagles at +5.0, the Cincinnati Bengals at +4.6 and the San Francisco 49ers at +3.6. So far, so good.
But then, Walden seems to go a bit off the rails.
The median AFC playoff team in our simulations is roughly 2.4 points per game better than the median NFC playoff team. That’s a big reason Philadelphia leads Kansas City in Super Bowl chances, 14% to 13%. The Chiefs also face quite the gauntlet of a schedule in the regular season — second toughest in the league, according to FPI — which dampens their projections despite being the best team in football by almost a full point.
Wait... what? Walden seems to argue that because FPI calculates that Kansas City has a difficult regular-season schedule, the Eagles stand a better (albeit slightly better) chance to win the Super Bowl.
Why? Because the Chiefs will be more tired in the championship game?
If the argument is that Kansas City will face more Super Bowl contenders in the AFC, that seems fair; the AFC does seem more loaded. But if that’s the case, wouldn't that be reflected by several AFC teams having good chances to win the Super Bowl? Among AFC teams, the Chiefs have a 13% chance to win, followed by the Bills (9%) and the Bengals (9%). In the NFC, the Eagles are at 14%, followed by the 49ers (11%) and Dallas Cowboys (7%).
So each team’s two biggest conference rivals have an 18% chance to win the championship — but third-ranked Philadelphia has a better chance to win than first-ranked Kansas City? To me, this does not compute.
In fairness, it’s possible that simulating the season “thousands of times” can produce results that are hard for the eye to see. And naturally, any preseason projection of the season’s end result should be taken with a grain of salt — particularly when right now, ESPN is saying FPI is primarily based on sportsbooks odds, which are nothing more than the public’s perception of each team’s strength.
Still, we’d be inclined to think the Chiefs should have a slightly better chance to win Super Bowl LVIII than the Eagles.