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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Zwiller: ZeLO NFL picks look to nail Super Bowl champ again

A little over a year ago, I penned a Sports Authority titled “Zwiller: Rams to be Super Bowl contenders this Year.”  

While I have never really liked the title “Sports Authority” (I have about as much authority over sports as a lucky quarter), my Rams article is my favorite article I have ever written here at the Observer. 

For one, it was just a fun piece to write; I love sports, but the NFL is unquestionably my favorite. Writing a season predictions column means that the NFL is back, and after months of speculation, we will have actual results to analyze and debate. 

That and the article aged like a fine wine; it’s always fun to be correct.

So, with the hope that I can keep my Super Bowl picking streak alive for another year, here goes my prediction, based on my ZeLO model, for the 2022 season.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills: 12.01-4.99

Miami Dolphins: 10.43-6.57

New England Patriots: 9.23-7.78

New York Jets: 6.68-10.32

According to the model, the Bills are projected to be the best team in the AFC East, with nearly a 70% chance of taking the crown. While the Patriots are likely to be a solid team with a good defense, the lack of an actual offensive weapon will be their downfall. Meanwhile, the Dolphins have two lethal wide receivers in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, which finally propel them into the playoffs. The Jets take a meaningful step forward but still post a losing record on the season. 

AFC North

Cincinnati Bengals: 9.41-7.59

Baltimore Ravens: 9.29-7.71

Cleveland Browns: 7.9-9.1

Pittsburgh Steelers: 6.83-9.17

I have been a doubter since the Bengals began their legendary playoff run. I thought they would lose to the Titans, the Chiefs, then to the Rams and this year, they would regress. 

The model feels differently, as the Bengals currently are neck and neck with the Baltimore Ravens for the division. As for the Browns, they have an unremarkable season primarily due to the (well-earned) 11-game suspension of Deshaun Watson (though they will have a good defense). And speaking of good defenses, the Steelers should continue to have an elite unit, just not an offense that can make the most of it. 

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts: 8.8-8.2

Tennessee Titans: 8.28-8.72

Jacksonville Jaguars: 7.57-9.43

Houston Texans: 6.5-10.5

Since the Colts acquired Matt Ryan, they have been my favorite to win the division. Ryan will have a great o-line and run game and a solid defensive unit. ZeLO is not as optimistic, though; like the Patriots, the Colts’ lack of an elite wide receiver will prevent them from running away with the division. Meanwhile, Derrick Henry returns and produces incredible volume, but on low efficiency, just 4.2 yards per attempt, his worse mark since 2017. Both the Jags and Texas take significant steps forward, with Trevor Lawrence performing much better under Doug Pederson.

AFC West

Los Angeles Chargers: 11.40-5.6

Kansas City Chiefs: 9.53-7.47

Denver Broncos: 9.46-7.54

Las Vegas Raiders: 8.98-7.02

It certainly feels weird not to have the Chiefs here (and I am sure I will regret it). But the Chargers are a loaded team, boasting a better defense than KC and, yes, a better offense. Mahomes is currently the second in the model’s MVP chase, but Herbert has the better supporting cast. The Broncos certainly got an upgrade with Russell Wilson, and it could bring them into the playoffs as a wildcard, but it will not be enough to get them over KC. Vegas has a good first year under Josh McDaniels but falls short of the playoffs. 

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys: 11.52-5.48

Washington Commanders: 10.06-6.94

Philadelphia Eagles: 9.11-7.89

New York Giants: 5.73-11.26

My rule of thumb for both the Cowboys’ defense and the Commanders’ defense is to estimate that both will be a little worse than the model thinks. The Cowboys because the volume of turnovers produced last year is not sustainable, and the Commanders because the unit was questionable last year. As for the Eagles, I know they were a playoff team last year, but they went 0-6 against teams that also made the playoffs and just beat up on weaker teams. Meanwhile, the Giants continue the noble New York tradition of tanking.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers: 10.57-6.43

Minnesota Vikings: 10.2-6.8

Detroit Lions: 7.21-8.79

Chicago Bears: 6.69-10.31

This division will be incredibly close this year, thanks to the departure of Davante Adams. The Packers lack a true #1 wide receiver, and ZeLO thinks they will miss Adams this year. Meanwhile, the Vikings have an overwhelming amount of offensive talent; it’s up to head coach Kevin O’Connell to turn it into touchdowns. Dan Campbell continues the rebuild in Detroit, and the Bears finish fourth.

NFC South

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 11.62-5.38

New Orleans Saints: 9.72-7.28

Carolina Panthers: 7.61-9.39

Atlanta Falcons: 5.05-11.95

Unsurprisingly with Brady back in Tampa Bay, the Bucs are a force to be reconned with and firm favorites to win the NFC South. I have some questions about the sheer volume Brady expected to produce, but ZeLO has the 44-year-old as its most valuable player. Jameis Winston leads the Saints to a winning record and a wildcard spot. Baker helps to turn the Panthers into a 7-win team, and the Falcons begin to figure out what their rebuild will look like.

NFC West

Los Angeles Rams: 9.89-7.11

San Francisco 49ers: 9.86-7.14

Arizona Cardinals: 9.49-7.41

Seattle Seahawks: 7.03-9.97

The Super Bowl champs will take a bit of a win-loss record step back here but still find a way to win the division, albeit narrowly. Assuming Lance is as good as his projections indicate, the 49ers will be an absolute force, both on the ground and defensively. The Cardinals, meanwhile, will have to navigate their first six games without DeAndre Hopkins, so repeating last year’s 7-0 start seems unlikely.

The Playoffs

The Bills and Buccaneers take the first-round bye as the 1-seeds in their respective conferences. The other AFC division winners are the Chargers, Bengals and Colts. The wildcard teams are Miami Dolphins, Kansas City and Baltimore. In the NFC, the other division winners are Dallas, Green Bay and Los Angeles. The wildcard teams are Minnesota, New Orleans and the 49ers.

The Chargers handle the Ravens, while the Bengals survive the Chiefs, and the Dolphins upset the Colts on the road. The Bills host the Chiefs, finally overcoming their most significant roadblock, while the Chargers have an electric showdown with the Bengals, emerging victorious. 

The Bills edge past the Chargers to make it to the Super Bowl. 

In the NFC, Dallas actually wins at home against the 49ers, Green Bay beat the Saints, and the Rams continue their title run by barely defeating the Vikings. The Bucs host the Rams, with the Brady Bunch ending the champs title run while the Packers fall to Dallas. Tampa rematches with the Cowboys, and the Buccaneers make it to the Super Bowl for a second time under Brady. 

The ending is different this time, with Josh Allen hoisting Lombardi in State Farm Stadium. 

Contact Tom Zwiller at