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Football Outsiders: How Deflategate could help Cardinals finish 1st in NFC West

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) scores a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

One stat-based projection system believes the Seattle Seahawks are the best team in the NFC West, but that doesn’t mean Pete Carroll and company will end up with the best record.

Football Outsiders released their early division-by-division projections for the 2016 season, and two key schedule quirks — one in New England of all places — could help the Arizona Cardinals win their division.

The first one is only a problem if we’re correct about Aaron Rodgers returning to greatness: Arizona’s first-place finish last year means the Cardinals go to Minnesota while Seattle has to travel to Green Bay. The second one will require federal court intervention to help the Seahawks: Arizona opens the season at home against the Jimmy Garoppolo-led Patriots while Seattle has to go to Foxborough to play the Patriots with Brady in Week 10.

That would be a reference to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his Deflategate suspension to begin 2016. Brady’s suspension, should it stand, could be the difference for the Cardinals, who are projected in this exercise to finish the year with a 12-4 record, a full game ahead of the Seahawks.

Here is a look at the entire NFC West, as predicted by Football Outsiders’ DVOA statistics, which “measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent.”

1. Arizona Cardinals: 12-4 (12.0 mean wins, SOS: 18)
2. Seattle Seahawks: 11-5 (11.2 mean wins, SOS: 3)
3. Los Angeles Rams: 7-9 (7.2 mean wins, SOS: 5)
4. San Francisco 49ers: 4-12 (3.9 mean wins, SOS: 1)

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