Normally when we project out the NFL season, we provide a percentage chance of an event occurring -- it's all degrees of maybe. But there's no maybe today.
Before each season, we simulate the entire NFL slate 20,000 times using the ESPN Football Power Index (FPI), our prediction and projection system. In the preseason, it is based on a few factors, including each team's projected season win total from the betting market matched with its schedule, past performance in all three phases of the game, returning starters and who the starting and backup quarterbacks are expected to be. Altogether that gets us a strength rating for every team, which we in turn use to determine game predictions and the likelihood of one team beating another.
Today, we took just one of those 20,000 season-long simulations -- No. 1,721 -- and played out the entire slate with final scores for all 267 games. And we baked a little creative license into the details along the way. Consider it another way to preview what this 2019 NFL season might look like. Let's dive into the 2019 season, starting with a handful of upsets and a standout rookie performance in Week 1.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers hold off Bears in opener: Unlike last year's opening-week battle, the Packers won't need a valiant comeback to edge Chicago. Green Bay's offensive line is able to keep Rodgers upright in its 34-27 victory. The Bears were able to recover from a devastating Week 1 defeat last time ... can they do it again?
Kyler and Kliff flourish in debut: At least on this night, the Lions looked like a Big 12 defense trying and failing to stop Kliff Kingsbury's new Air Raid offense. Kyler Murray slices and dices Detroit with his arms and legs in the blowout 36-10 win, quickly causing fans to forget his preseason inconsistency and remind them why he won the Heisman Trophy and went No. 1 overall in April's draft.
Texans edge Saints: Deshaun Watson outplays Drew Brees in a Week 1 barnburner, torching the Saints' secondary in a 34-33 win and delivering an early blow to a Super Bowl hopeful. Remember when the Buccaneers did the same to New Orleans in 2018? The Saints rebounded with 10 straight wins.
Slow start for Pats, Rams: Could it be a Super Bowl hangover? Bill Belichick's and Sean McVay's teams stumble out of the gate, but no one is worried about either team ... yet.
Sweet, sweet revenge for New Orleans: In a rematch of the NFC Championship Game, the Saints avenge their loss and make sure that a stray pass interference call (or lack thereof) can't get in the way, as they smack down the Rams 27-3.
Worried yet, New England? The defending Super Bowl champs drop another game, this time a 38-28 defeat at the hands of a (2-0!) Miami team that at least seemed in the preseason to be effectively tanking. But FitzMagic doesn't go down without a fight.
Raiders stun Chiefs, man: Jon Gruden can't stop smirking after Derek Carr and his Oakland team get the best of Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs 27-20. Oakland is out of the gate strong with a 2-0 start.
Browns living up to the hype: Beating the Titans and Jets was one thing, but taking down the Rams 17-7 in primetime has the league breaking out in Cleveland fever. Jarvis Landry hands out Bless 'Ems to every one of his teammates. They're riding high at 3-0.
Bears, Rams drop to 0-3: Mitchell Trubisky's QBR has taken a precipitous drop, while the Chicago defense has regressed to the mean. Both of those events were fairly expected. But L.A.'s nightmare start? That came out of nowhere. Suddenly the Cardinals say Kliff Kingsbury and Sean McVay weren't like best friends or anything. Only regular friends. Maybe even just acquaintances.
Marcus Mariota puts up 51 on Jaguars: A once-elite defense is torched by a never-considered-elite offense, as the Titans flex a completely unexpected level of firepower. And their 2-1 record is all the more impressive considering their lone loss came against the clearly unbeatable Browns.
Seahawks' defense sends them to winless start: Russell Wilson and the team's offense is doing enough, but the defense continues its early-season struggles -- even after trading for Jadeveon Clowney. After a shocking Week 1 loss to the Bengals and a tough defeat against Pittsburgh, the Seahawks falter again in a Week 3 loss to New Orleans.
Packers fans are plenty R-E-L-A-X-E-D: A 44-7 win over the Eagles on Thursday Night Football gives the Packers a 4-0 start, although it has come with a shade less buzz than the Browns' undefeated start (they trounced the Ravens 45-17). Mike McCarthy's job prospects dim.
Your first place ... Miami Dolphins? This was not how "Tank for Tua" was supposed to go. But then again, we've seen this story with FitzMagic before. Don't worry, we know how this ends: In a blaze of interceptions. The Dolphins sit at 3-1, even after dealing Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills right before the season began.
Browns finally lose: Cleveland was due for a reality check at some point, and it comes in Week 5. Meanwhile, Green Bay edges out Dallas 27-22 as the only undefeated team left in the league.
New Orleans rebounds: Ever since their last-minute loss to Houston in Week 1, Drew Brees has had the Saints clicking at 4-1. Three of the team's four wins have been by more than a touchdown, too.
Jones enters: With a goose egg on the scoreboard late in the third quarter, Shurmur obliges the chanting fans at MetLife Stadium and puts Jones in at quarterback. The game ends in a shutout, but the impact stretches beyond Week 5: Shurmur announces Jones is now the starter.
Murray bests Matt Ryan in shootout: It hasn't all gone smooth for the Cardinals since their opening-week wonders, but the Arizona offense gets it together against Atlanta in a 44-41 overtime victory. Both teams are 3-3 after six games.
Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper contained by Jets: The Cowboys can't find the end zone and drop to 2-4 on the season. The Jets' secondary -- including not only Jamal Adams but also last year's disappointment, Trumaine Johnson -- shuts down the Dallas passing attack in a 20-3 win. Gang Green opened with a three-game losing streak but have now won two in a row coming out of their bye.
Lions continue to flounder: Two zeroes remain in the standings, as the Packers make quick work of the Lions to improve to 6-0. Detroit, meanwhile, falls to 0-5. Fans ponder calling for a quarterback change, but then remember Josh Johnson is Matthew Stafford's backup.
Denver loses its fifth game: The Broncos lose their fifth of six in the Joe Flacco era, as the Titans score 36 on Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and the Denver defense. Coach Vic Fangio continues looking for answers at Mile High. Meanwhile, the Titans' win puts them in a three-way tie atop the AFC South at 4-2.
Playoff Nick Foles, checking in: Jacksonville drops 38 on the Bengals, marking the third consecutive week the Jags have put up at least that many points. And each have ended with a win. The Jaguars move to 5-2, matching the Titans' record in the division.
Jay Gruden switches it up: After Washington's third consecutive loss (3-4) with Case Keenum at the helm -- this time a 38-21 defeat at the hands of the 49ers -- Gruden announces that Dwayne Haskins will make his much-anticipated debut next week against the Vikings. He's the third rookie QB to be named starter, and it's only Week 7.
Patrick Mahomes has an off day: Mahomes throws three interceptions -- one turns into a pick-six -- in a 34-3 loss to the Broncos. It's the worst performance of his career and not a good sign for next week's meeting with the undefeated Packers. The Chiefs are still 5-2 atop the AFC West, though.
Jones picks up his first win ... over Murray: In college, Jones and Murray weren't considered anywhere near the same level. But in the first bout between the two top-six overall picks, the former Duke QB comes out on top, beating last year's Heisman winner and the Cardinals 28-20. It's the Giants' second win of the season, while the Cards fall to 3-4.
Rodgers rolls over Mahomes, Chiefs: Mahomes is no match for the red-hot and revitalized Rodgers. Rodgers becomes a consensus -1,000 favorite to win the MVP, as most consider it a foregone conclusion at this point. Green Bay is flying at 8-0.
Another old guard beats the new: After undergoing their typical September swoon, the Pats are back. And they prove it with a 17-10 win over Mayfield and the Browns. New England is in first place in the AFC East, though only a half-game up on the Dolphins at 6-2. Cleveland is up a game on the Steelers in the North at 5-2.
Falcons take the lead in NFC South: After the 4-4 Saints drop a close contest to the Cardinals and the Falcons beat the Seahawks by a touchdown, Atlanta gains sole possession of first place in the division at 5-3.
Chargers become first to down the Packers: Philip Rivers and the Chargers' offense are too much for Rodgers & Co., as they surprisingly dominate a 43-18 game in Los Angeles. The 1972 Dolphins break out the bubbly. But Green Bay appears destined to win the NFC North, as no other team in the division is even at .500, while the 5-4 Chargers keep pace with the Chiefs and remain one game back in the AFC West.
Niners beat Cardinals, take two-game lead in NFC West: A 23-16 win over Arizona gives the 49ers a three-game winning streak and a 6-2 record, as Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan start to put together the kind of run that San Francisco brass imagined when they landed the former Patriot two years ago. With the Rams stumbling at 3-5, the 49ers are in prime position to take advantage.
Eagles go for two to ... tie: Ties are weird. But a late two-point conversion run by Jordan Howard secures one for the Eagles against the Bears, 29-29. Philly holds at 3-5-1, while Chicago's season remains bleak at 2-5-1.
The halfway point
Let's check in on every division at the halfway mark of the season:
AFC East: Miami (6-2) has stunningly taken the lead in the AFC East by a half-game over the Patriots (6-3).
AFC North: The Browns (5-3) hold a one-game edge over the Ravens (4-4) and Steelers (4-4).
AFC South: The Titans have the edge (6-3), but the Colts (5-3) have made a recent surge as they find their offense without Andrew Luck. The Jags and Texans linger at 5-4 apiece.
AFC West: Despite a couple of hiccups, the Chiefs (6-3) are doing what's expected: Holding first place. The Raiders are actually next on their tail at 5-3.
NFC East: It isn't pretty. The Cowboys (4-4) lead by a slim margin, while the Redskins (4-5) -- with Haskins at QB now -- are a half-game back.
NFC North: Green Bay (8-1) all the way. Oh, and the Lions are still winless (0-8).
NFC South: The Falcons (5-3) hold a one-game lead over a team that many expected to be at the top (Saints, 4-4) and another that no one did (Bucs, 4-4).
NFC West: The 49ers (6-2) have a strong two-game lead over Arizona and Seattle (both 4-5).
Bills hand Browns their third straight loss: Josh Allen beats another 2018 first-round QB in Mayfield and helps move the Bills above .500 and to just one game back in the AFC East. And all of the fawning coverage the Browns received at the start of the season now feels like a decade ago. Can Freddie Kitchens keep the team together and right the ship and win the division? Cleveland is now tied at 5-4 with Baltimore, while the Steelers remain a half-game back.
Steelers' huge fourth quarter forces overtime at Heinz Field: For the second time this season, there is a tie. Ben Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster go to work in the game's final quarter to complete a big comeback against the Rams and push the contest to extra time -- but neither team can score again. Pittsburgh goes to 4-4-1, while the Rams continue their struggles at 3-5-1.
Bucs shut out the Cards: Arizona's offensive line implodes and Murray can't get away from the Tampa Bay defense, which shuts down the Air Raid and then some. The Buccaneers move to 5-4.
Jets take the regular-season Snoopy Bowl: The once-every-four-years game between the two New York teams that actually counts comes down to the wire. While neither are really contenders -- the Giants are 3-7, while the Jets are 4-5 -- it's a battle for future dominance. Sam Darnold orchestrates a successful two-minute drill that results in a game-winning field goal.
Lions fire Matt Patricia: Enough is enough for Martha Ford. Eager to avoid another winless season, she removes Patricia from his role as head coach after an 0-10 start and an overall 6-20 record for his tenure. Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni takes over as the interim head coach.
Miami can't be stopped: Those Fitzpatrick interceptions? They haven't begun. And Miami, after beating the Bills, is now 7-3 and a full game up on the Patriots, who lost to the Eagles this week. Forget tanking. Miami is trying to win a division here! Could this really happen?
A four-way tie in AFC South: Yup, all four teams are 6-4. Plenty around the league are surprised with how the Colts have managed without Luck. Jacoby Brissett and T.Y. Hilton have built up a rapport. But Watson is also lighting it up, Mariota is having a career year and Foles is settling into Jacksonville very well. It should be an exciting stretch run for what has often been an anything-but-thrilling division.
NFC East misery: All four teams in the NFC East sit at .500 or worse, with the Eagles -- fresh off of a 29-19 win over the Seahawks -- barely leading the pack at 5-5-1.
Packers become first team to 10 wins: With 35 points against the Niners, Rodgers has Green Bay at double-digit wins and in cruise control. It's the Packers' biggest NFC challenge yet -- the 49ers are the only other team in the conference with at least eight wins.
Falcons beat the Saints, take lead in NFC South: The two teams entered this rivalry game tied in the standings, but Atlanta had no problem throwing on the Saints in this 37-21 win. For the first time in a while, New Orleans looks awfully mortal, and at 7-5, they are no sure thing for the postseason.
The Motor City Nightmare is over: The Lions win! This is not 2008 all over again. Detroit takes down the Bears, the latest indignity for a Chicago team that entered the year with Super Bowl aspirations and now wallows in third place in the division at 4-7-1.
Vikings win third straight: You like that?! A 24-10 win over the Seahawks puts Kirk Cousins and the Vikings at 7-5 and plants them firmly in the wild-card race.
Patriots regain control of AFC East: Miami loses at the wire in dramatic fashion to the Eagles 30-28, and it costs them first place thanks to another narrow result elsewhere: An 18-16 win for the Pats over the Texans. New England sits at 8-4.
Here come the Rams: Aaron Donald has been angry. After reaching the bottom of the division a month earlier, he has become a nonstop force of destruction. And the Rams? They've quietly won six straight, just as the 8-5 Niners drop their third in a row. They're 7-5-1 and right back in this thing!
After a long wait, Chiefs avenge AFC title game loss: A 35-31 win over the Patriots won't mean as much to the Chiefs as a trip to the Super Bowl would have, but it's something. The victory keeps the Chiefs in first place in their division, and at 9-4, gives them the No. 1 seed for the moment in an AFC without a runaway team. The 8-5 Patriots keep a one-game lead in the AFC East after 7-6 Miami stumbles against the Jets.
PLAYOFF PICTURE: Cleveland (8-5) is a half-game up on the Steelers in the AFC North, as are the 49ers in the NFC West over the charging Rams. The AFC South is deadlocked yet again with the Colts, Texans and Titans all tied at 8-5. The Falcons and Saints are also tied atop the NFC North (8-5). And out in the NFC East, the Eagles own a 7-5-1 record and are 1½ games up.
Monday Night Football drama in the AFC South: The 8-6 Colts' loss sets up a battle for first place in the division between the Titans and Texans. It came down to the end, but the Texans were able to stop Mariota's final drive and hold on for a 17-15 victory. The win kept 9-5 Houston in contention for a bye, too.
Three-way race for the No. 1 pick: Perhaps motivated by the coaching change, the Lions have suddenly won three games, tying them for the league's worst record with the Panthers and Bengals to set up a chase for next year's No. 1 pick. Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy and the rest of the 2020 draft class offer the cluster of teams a lot of options come next April.
PLAYOFF PICTURE: The Patriots, Browns, Texans, Chiefs and Chargers all are tied with nine wins, and each either leads or is tied for the lead in the division. The Ravens, Colts, Titans and Raiders all are in realistic playoff contention, as well. In the NFC, the Packers hold a two-game lead for No. 1 seed. The 49ers and Eagles each have a half-game lead in their divisions, while the Saints are now up by a game on the Falcons. But Atlanta joins the Rams, Vikings and Redskins in a fight for the postseason.
49ers clinch NFC West: It seemed preposterous, then likely, then tenuous -- but now certain. The 10-win 49ers are division champs, and they get it done by beating their division-rival Rams 26-24. For the first time, a pang of regret strikes Bill Belichick for dealing a quarterback.
Eagles clinch NFC East: It was far, far uglier than Philadelphia ever imagined it would be, but it still managed to grind out a division title at 8-6-1. A 27-20 win over the Cowboys (6-9) seals the deal.
Saints clinch NFC South: Atlanta gave them a run for their money, but ultimately Brees and Sean Payton were able to keep their foot on the gas down the stretch and build up a two-game advantage over Atlanta at 10-5. The Falcons remain alive for the postseason at 8-7.
Baltimore stacks 51 points on Browns: The 9-6 Ravens stay in the AFC North mix heading into the final week of the season, as Lamar Jackson runs all over Cleveland's defense. The Week 17 matchup with Pittsburgh (8-6-1) could hand John Harbaugh the division title for a second straight year.
PLAYOFF PICTURE: It's all up in the air in the AFC. The Patriots and Dolphins have a Week 17 showdown for the AFC East title (no, really). The Browns, Ravens and Steelers can all still win the AFC North. Either the Chargers or Chiefs can win the AFC West. And the Texans haven't wrapped up the AFC South just yet. Out in the NFC, it's the opposite. Every division is settled, and the Rams are locked into one wild-card spot. The only question now is whether the Falcons or Redskins take the last berth.
Patriots hold off Dolphins for AFC East title: Xavien Howard and the Miami defense did everything they could to make Tom Brady's day tough, but it just wasn't enough. Stephon Gilmore and the rest of the Pats' top-five defense shut down Fitzpatrick's passing attack. The Patriots squeak by to win the division title again, and somehow manage to earn a bye, as well. And it truly is the worst of all worlds for Miami: It loses a heartbreaker, misses the playoffs, never gets to see Josh Rosen play a meaningful down and won't have an early draft pick.
Chiefs stumble at the last second to ... miss the playoffs: Rivers guts out an excellent Week 17 performance to topple Mahomes and the Chiefs 27-24. Andy Reid's team finishes 9-7 with a cluster of other teams and ends up on the wrong end of the tiebreaker. It never truly felt like the Chiefs were going to miss the postseason, but after three straight losses to close the year, here we are.
Steeling a playoff spot: Pittsburgh sat a half-game behind Baltimore heading into their Week 17 showdown. Jackson played good enough all year, coupled with a strong defense, but in this one, he couldn't quite hold his own against Roethlisberger, who showed he had just enough left in the tank for another playoff push. With the victory, Pittsburgh locks up a wild-card spot.
Browns clinch AFC North: A Ravens loss and a Browns win landed Cleveland the division crown. The Steelers took care of the first part, and Freddie Kitchens' team didn't bother to make it close. While Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. received most of the glory during the season, this performance was all about Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, Joe Schobert, Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon. The league's second-best defense showed up in a shutout of the Bengals.
Texans fall but win divisional title anyway, Titans snag playoff berth: This was a rarely seen win-win in the NFL, as Mariota continued his breakout season by knocking off the Texans in Week 17. Tennessee had been two games back of Houston going into the game, and because Indianapolis lost to Jacksonville, the Texans ended up taking the AFC South anyway. The Titans take home a wild card for their efforts.
Cincinnati on the clock: After finishing with just three wins, the Bengals edge out the Panthers on tiebreakers for the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL draft.
(3) 49ers 37 (6) Falcons 0: Holy Garoppolo. It's one thing to shock the world during the regular season. But to come out like this in the postseason and take down a talented and experienced team like the Falcons? The world better wake up: The 49ers are Super Bowl contenders.
(5) Rams 30, (4) Eagles 26: It's the old 2016 NFL draft postseason battle. And yes, Carson Wentz is healthy this January. But perhaps because the Eagles lacked the magic of Foles or perhaps because the Rams are just sizzling after their second-half run, Sean McVay gets the best of Doug Pederson in a closely contested matchup.
(6) Titans 10, (3) Browns 9: Oh, Browns. Even in the postseason, they find a way to torture their fan base. After a successful regular season, they get a winnable home game in the playoffs against a Titans team that is better than we all thought, but the offense sputters at the worst time. Three field goals is all they can muster in a loss to Tennessee's top-five defense.
(4) Texans 27, (5) Steelers 17: Watson earns his first playoff victory, as he and DeAndre Hopkins connect again and again in Houston's win. The Texans move on to face New England.
(5) Rams 30, (1) Packers 17: And just like that, it's over. The Packers' magical season, featuring the league's No. 1 defense and No. 4 scoring offense and Rodgers' resurgence -- it's all gone. The quarterback will still win the MVP, but the 13-win Packers pack their bags without a playoff win. Consider that, in Week 9, the Packers were 8-1, and Los Angeles was 3-5. Now, it's the latter that continues on.
(2) Saints 27, (3) 49ers 17: And here's where Jimmy G's road comes to an end. Brees' devastatingly accurate passing attack was too much for this defense. Still, it was a very successful season for San Francisco.
(1) Chargers 39, (6) Titans 30: Mariota puts on a show, but so does Rivers. And Joey Bosa has clearly become one of the game's elite defensive players.
(4) Texans 38, (2) Patriots 26: Houston finally got past New England in the playoffs. The Patriots stopped Houston in 2012 and 2016, but with Watson under center and Brady showing signs of age on the other sideline, Bill O'Brien is able to get one over on his former superior. But no, neither Brady nor Belichick retires.
Saints 17, Rams 10: Finally, justice. Sure, it was nice for the Saints to beat the Rams in the regular season, but they held the grudge from last year for 12 full months. And they got the opportunity to really pay back L.A. Defense stole the show, too, stifling McVay and Jared Goff.
Chargers 34, Texans 26: Rivers is just flying now. He and Keenan Allen are tearing up defenses. Hunter Henry has broken out to become one of the game's top receiving tight ends. And Bosa picks up a trifecta of sacks against Watson, who is prone to take them. In the end, Rivers is finally going to the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl LIV: Saints 40, Chargers 33
In a meeting of the No. 1 (Saints) and No. 2 (Chargers) offenses in the NFL, Brees is back on top. A decade after he and Payton beat Peyton Manning and the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, the duo get it done again. It's heartbreak for Rivers, having come so close to finally winning that elusive championship, but he comes up a touchdown short. He says you'll have to simulate the offseason to find out whether he's coming back for a 17th season at 38 years old, but FPI leaves us at the Saints' victory parade down Bourbon Street.