So why not just simulate the entire season and begin the coronation now. That’s what USA Today did. They simulated the season — after the free agents have signed, after the rookies have arrived, after the suspensions have been doled out — and appealed to federal court — so that now the NFL’s players can get back to work with training camp. So, now that every team’s circumstances have been solidified — Nate Davis of USA TODAY Sports projected the results of all 256 regular-season games to create one snapshot of how the 2015 season would play out before injuries, firings and Murphy’s Law take their toll.
Eagles (10-6): Chip Kelly went 10-6 during his first two seasons, why not now? Really, this team’s range for success or failure seems extensive based on how QB Sam Bradford, RB DeMarco Murray, a new-look defense, etc. mesh.
Cowboys (8-8): First month could be telling minus suspended DE Greg Hardy and MLB Rolando McClain as D faces four potentially elite offenses (Giants, Eagles, Falcons, Saints) without DeMarco Murray eating the clock on its behalf.
Giants (6-10): How effective will DE Jason Pierre-Paul be after his accident? Can rookie T Ereck Flowers protect Eli Manning’s blind side? Can they establish the run or even stop it? A lot to figure out no matter how well they chuck it.
Washington Football Club (4-12): Much is riding on how quickly new defensive coordinator Joe Barry and O-line guru Bill Callahan whip their units into shape. Robert Griffin III’s future may be riding on it, especially against two scary fronts (Dolphins, Rams) to start.
Packers (12-4): They open on the road against the hated Bears before hosting the Seahawks at home in NFC title game rematch. Two big games to wash bile from last season out of their collective palate while potentially mapping a route to the top seed.
Vikings (10-6): Highly motivated Adrian Peterson should take offense and second-year QB Teddy Bridgewater to a new level, and a potentially stacked defense looks ready to blossom. Schedule gets friendly after Week 5 bye.
Lions (7-9): Last year’s No. 1 run defense sees Adrian Peterson (twice), Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles in first half minus Ndamukong Suh. We’ll know then, how badly franchise erred (or didn’t) by letting all-pro walk.
Bears (3-13): Defense will look almost entirely different in terms of personnel and scheme. They can only hope QB Jay Cutler looks entirely different from 2014 version, or any version under new coaching staff.
Panthers (11-5): Cam Newton is healthy from a mind, body and bank account perspective. He and his formidable defense will also face just four playoff teams from last season.
Saints (10-6): They lost their final five games at the Superdome in 2014 and still finished 7-9. Don’t expect that streak to continue, especially with a favorable schedule and, theoretically, improved run game and D.
Falcons (4-12): New coach Dan Quinn is probably a long way from accruing the talent and personnel that fit the defensive scheme and philosophy he honed in Seattle. It could be a rough start. Buy hey, you’ve got Julio Jones and Matt Ryan – so they’ll score touchdowns.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12): Jameis Winston could begin 1-0 by beating fellow Heisman winner Marcus Mariota in opener. But Bucs play four of next six on road before hitting teeth of their schedule.
Seahawks (12-4): Open with pair of tough roadies (Rams, Packers) and play three of final five away from comfy CenturyLink Field, so need to make hay in the middle. Week 2 game at Green Bay could determine NFC’s home field.
Rams (10-6): Catch potentially battered Seahawks in opener and may not get full dose of Le’Veon Bell in his Week 3 debut. After Oct. 11 game at Lambeau Field, Rams leave St. Louis once in subsequent five weeks, good time for Nick Foles to find groove.
Cardinals (9-7): Three 1 p.m. ET kickoffs aren’t good news for a team that’s historically struggled on East Coast. But healthy Cards should be in the mix provided new-look defense clicks without Todd Bowles.
49ers (5-11): A schedule that includes the AFC North and NFC North doesn’t look particularly forgiving to a team that lost so many key vets to retirement and is adjusting to regime change as well.
Patriots (11-5): Remember, they started 2-2 last year with Tom Brady (plus Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork and Shane Vereen) in the lineup. Whether Brady plays out of the chute or not, rest of AFC East appeared to close on Pats this offseason.
Bills (10-6): They just missed snapping 15-year playoff drought last year. Are Rex Ryan, LeSean McCoy and Percy Harvin — plus still-loaded on defense — enough to get them back into January?
Dolphins (10-6): They won’t see a playoff team from last year until Week 8, and only two before December. Plenty of time for the Ryan Tannehill-led offense to crest and the Ndamukong Suh-led D to crystallize.
Jets (7-9): Unless QB Geno Smith does an about face, they still look like the division’s weak link. But a defense revitalized by CB Darrelle Revis could be special under new coach Todd Bowles. Overall talent is vastly improved.
Ravens (10-6): Having four offensive coordinators in four seasons (Marc Trestman is the latest) isn’t ideal. But aside from receivers, there’s plenty of continuity throughout lineup. Opening with five of seven on road a major hurdle.
Bengals (9-7): Per usual, they have look of solid outfit not necessarily built for a deep playoff run. Navigating NFC West-laden schedule could even leave them short of another one-and-done postseason.
Steelers (8-8): Defense is undergoing a huge transition and seeking new leaders. Meanwhile, last year’s second-ranked offense won’t have all-pro RB Le’Veon Bell for first two weeks, making league’s toughest schedule more difficult to survive.
Browns (5-11): Soft September opening includes Jets, Titans and Raiders. Only team they’ll see rest of way with a sub-.500 2014 record is the always competitive Rams. Guess here is that Johnny Manziel will get extended tryout by midseason.
Colts (13-3): It seems they’ll again benefit from playing in the league’s weakest division. And if their incremental pattern of success under coach Chuck Pagano and QB Andrew Luck holds, they’ll reach Super Bowl 50.
Texans (6-10): Quarterback aside, they looked fairly formidable elsewhere — until Arian Foster was injured, again. No matter how good the defense is, and Jadeveon Clowney could take it to new level, offense doesn’t seem capable of holding up its end now if Foster is out for long stretch.
Jaguars (6-10): The core of young talent has quickly improved, and this team plays hard for coach Gus Bradley — whose job may be on the line without a spike in the win column.
Titans (4-12): Let’s have some patience with Marcus Mariota, who inherits a last-place schedule that still features trips to New Orleans and the AFC East gauntlet.
Broncos (10-6): Peyton Manning must learn a new scheme in what could be his final rumba — and he may have to dance frequently behind patchwork O-line. But don’t sleep on a defense that just may carry this team for stretches.
Chargers (9-7): They must deal with three 1 p.m. ET kickoffs … though perhaps being far removed from the siren call of Los Angeles and the inherent rumor mill will help. Rookie RB Melvin Gordon could have dramatic impact.
Chiefs (8-8): With RB Jamaal Charles and OLB Justin Houston, they have a bona fide superstar on each side of the ball. But will either get enough help to make playoff return? O-line’s ability to coalesce may be the key.
Raiders (5-11): The L.A. conundrum also hangs over this franchise. But the foundation is quickly improving, and new coach Jack Del Rio worked some miracles under similar circumstances in Jacksonville.
Wild card: (3) Broncos def. (6) Dolphins; (4) Ravens def. (5) Bills
Divisional: (2) Patriots def. (3) Broncos; (1) Colts def. (4) Ravens
AFC Championship Game: (1) Colts def. (2) Patriots
Wild card: (6) Rams def. (3) Panthers, (5) Vikings def. (4) Eagles
Divisional: (1) Packers def. (6) Rams; (2) Seahawks def. (5) Vikings
NFC Championship Game: (1) Packers def. (2) Seahawks
Super Bowl 50: Packers def. Colts