NFL Football Power Index: 2024 projections, Super Bowl chances

BySeth Walder ESPN logo
Thursday, May 30, 2024

The San Francisco 49ers might have lost Super Bowl LVIII to the Kansas City Chiefs, but they enter 2024 as the best team in football and favorites to win Super Bowl LIX, according to ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI). The 49ers' edge in quality over the Baltimore Ravens and Chiefs is narrow, but because San Francisco plays in the weaker NFC, its championship chances (16%) are notably higher than any other club's.

The Football Power Index is our ratings and projection model for NFL teams. In the preseason, the model's overall predictive ratings are based primarily on win totals from ESPN BET in conjunction with each team's schedule -- along with factors such as the strength difference between a team's starting and backup quarterback and a revamped special teams rating based primarily on new predictive kicker ratings. We use these team ratings to simulate the season thousands of times, creating our projections.

During the season, ratings evolve based on how teams perform on offense, defense and special teams -- along with quarterback performance and changes. In addition to updated ratings, game predictions are also affected by home-field advantage and rest differentials.

Let's dive into the 2024 season.

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Ratings| Super Bowl| AFC East

Falcons| Draft order| Harbaugh | Bounce-back teams

49ers are the favorites

Although San Francisco fell short in overtime at the Super Bowl, there's no mistaking its elite play throughout the 2023 season. Postseason included, the 49ers were clearly the best offense in terms of EPA per play at 0.15, solidly ahead of the Buffalo Bills (0.12) and the Dallas Cowboys (0.11). Pairing that with a top-10 defense made the 49ers the best team in football in the FPI's mind, even if they didn't win.

There's little reason to believe that will change in 2024. We can debate the true division of credit among quarterback Brock Purdy, coach Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers' plethora of talented skill position players, but it all adds up to a championship contender as long as running back Christian McCaffrey, wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, and tight end George Kittle remain healthy and productive. The defensive leaders -- end Nick Bosa, tackle Javon Hargrave, linebacker Fred Warner and cornerback Charvarius Ward-- also return.

That all makes the 49ers the FPI's No. 1 team. And when coupled with the NFC still being weaker on average (by about 0.8 points per game in FPI rating) than the AFC, it leaves an open path for the 49ers to return to the Super Bowl. San Francisco has a 25% chance to reach the Super Bowl and a 16% chance to win it -- both best in the league. The favorite having a 16% chance to win the Super Bowl is roughly on par with previous versions of the FPI, as it's the fifth-highest percentage among preseason favorites over the past 10 years.

Could we be headed for a Super Bowl rematch?

Any singular Super Bowl matchup is unlikely to occur. But this year, the most likely Super Bowl matchup is a rematch of last season. Another Chiefs-49ers contest has a 6% chance of occurring, per the FPI. That number is fueled by the strength of the 49ers' projections, plus the Chiefs being the top team in the AFC.

Although Baltimore is right behind Kansas City in overall FPI rating, its chances to reach the Super Bowl lag behind the Chiefs' (24% to 17%) because the Ravens play in a much tougher division. The Ravens have only a 46% chance to win the AFC North (compared with a 74% chance for the Chiefs in the West), and their chance to land the No. 1 seed is 18% to the Chiefs' 24%. That said, Ravens-49ers is the second-most likely Super Bowl matchup at 4%.

The four most likely AFC Championship Games all involved the Chiefs against other contenders -- the Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Bills and Houston Texans-- with the Miami Dolphins the only other team to crack a top-10 AFC Championship Game clash. The 49ers, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles and Cowboys are in the majority of the most likely NFC Championship Game matchups, although the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons worked their way into the top 10.

Who'll take the AFC East?

It's still Buffalo's division to lose. Although the Bills have major questions at wide receiver, the New York Jets have a healthy Aaron Rodgers and a strengthened roster, and the Dolphins remain a threat. The FPI still sees the incumbent Bills as the favorites, with a 44% chance to win the strong division. Miami is next at 31%, and the Jets are third at 25%.

That breakdown is interesting given the hype and cautious optimism around the Jets -- and because New York has the easiest schedule of the three teams while Buffalo has the hardest. Fundamentally, the FPI believes the Bills will have a high-end offense even without receiver Stefon Diggs, with Josh Allen playing behind a solid offensive line.

The one team without a shot? The New England Patriots. It's no surprise given the team's current status. The FPI gives New England less than a 1% chance to win the division and only a 2% chance to reach the playoffs. The Patriots have the hardest strength of schedule in the NFL this year, but if you ask me those projections still feel a littleoverconfident forecasting New England's failure. Who's to say rookie quarterback and No. 3 pickDrake Maye can't be good right away?

Can Kirk Cousins lead the Falcons to a division title?

According to the FPI, it's more than likely. With Cousins walking into the woebegone NFC South, Atlanta is set up to take the division -- despite the Falcons having burned the No. 8 pick on another quarterback. Even though the FPI isn't overly fond of Atlanta -- considering it the 15th-best team in the NFL -- the Falcons are still clearly the top team in the division, with the Bucs (22nd), Saints (26th) and Panthers (32nd) lagging.

Atlanta is projected to win 9.6 games, the highest of any team outside FPI's top 10, because it has the easiest schedule in the league by a healthy margin.

Patriots and Panthers most likely teams on the clock

New England's league-topping strength of schedule combined with the FPI's skepticism regarding its roster has the model believing the Patriots are the most likely team to pick first in the 2025 NFL draft, with a 22% chance. The Panthers rate lower than the Patriots in the FPI, but their chance at picking No. 1 is slightly worse (21%).

If Carolina ends up earning the No. 1 pick again (it would get to use it this time), it will likely be looking for Bryce Young's successor -- although it remains to be seen whether there's a 2025 quarterback worthy of going first.

TheDenver Broncos, Tennessee Titans and New York Giantsround out the top 5 for chances of landing the top pick.

Will Chargers take a leap under Jim Harbaugh?

The FPI is not convinced! The model gives L.A. a slightly negative rating and ranks the Chargers 18th overall. Part of that is due to Los Angeles losing receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams this offseason, plus a defense that ranked 29th in EPA per play last season. Still, Jim Harbaugh plus Justin Herbert equaling (just) below average was shocking to see.

There is upside, though. The Chargers have a 45% chance to reach the playoffs and a 19% shot at wresting the AFC West title from the Chiefs. But the odds that Harbaugh will turn this team around in a single season are low according to the model, with 3% and 1% chances to reach and win the Super Bowl, respectively.

Can Eagles, Jaguars overcome 2023 collapses?

The FPI is a believer in the Eagles. Despite the team falling apart and losing six of its final seven games last season -- including a 32-9 blowout loss to Tampa Bay in the wild-card round -- the model is backing Philadelphia as the fourth-best team in the NFC behind San Francisco, Detroit and Dallas and makes it a narrow favorite to win the NFC East (49%). The Eagles still have the foundation of a contender, with good or great players at critical positions such as quarterback, tackle, wide receiver and along the defensive line. They've also added new coordinators.

As for the Jacksonville Jaguars? The FPI is much more skeptical. Jacksonville ranks 16th and has just a 22% chance to win its division due to its lukewarm strength rating and the ascendance of the Texans (and perhaps the Indianapolis Colts) at a time when the Jaguars appear stagnant.

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