2018 NFL Power Rankings: Pre-Week 1 Edition

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Teams Ranked 32nd to 23rd

Rank Team nERD Projected Record Playoff Odds Super Bowl Odds Off. NEP Rank Def. NEP Rank
32 Indianapolis Colts -6.97 6.2-9.8 12.1% 0.2% 22 32
31 Buffalo Bills -5.7 6.5-9.5 15.7% 0.6% 31 22
30 Miami Dolphins -5.67 6.5-9.5 16.5% 0.4% 30 25
29 Cleveland Browns -4.05 6.4-9.6 13.6% 0.3% 24 28
28 Oakland Raiders -3.05 7.3-8.7 26.0% 1.0% 18 30
27 Cincinnati Bengals -2.76 7.3-8.7 24.9% 1.3% 28 19
26 Tennessee Titans -2.4 7.4-8.6 26.7% 1.0% 23 21
25 Denver Broncos -2.36 7.3-8.7 26.6% 1.2% 32 5
24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers -2.2 6.9-9.1 15.5% 0.8% 13 31
23 New York Giants -2.18 6.9-9.1 16.9% 0.7% 21 23

If Andrew Luck is healthy and at least comes close to replicating the form he showed when he last played, it’s hard to see the Colts staying at the bottom of these rankings. Still, the former top pick will need to be at his best to elevate a flawed roster.

Indianapolis finished at the bottom of the rankings in 2017 after posting the second-worst point differential (minus-141) against the league’s fifth-easiest schedule (according to Pro-Football-Reference). The defense does not project well here, and that is an understatement. Our models say it will be almost three standard deviations below the mean in terms of Net Expected Points (you can read more about NEP here).

Luck was ninth in net yards per pass in his last full season in 2016, prior to missing all of last year after shoulder surgery. His return should lift the offense, but while the offensive line is improved, this also appears to be the least talented receiving corps he has had as a pro.

Buffalo is also near the bottom despite making the playoffs last year, but if you followed these rankings last season, this should not surprise you. The Bills went 9-7 but finished 29th in nERD, making the playoffs thanks to factors that tend not to be repeatable.

They were outscored by 57 points but finished with a winning record by going 6-2 in one-score games. That point differential would have been even worse if not for an unsustainable turnover margin.

Buffalo was out-gained by 840 yards but had a +9 turnover margin. Winning the turnover battle is obviously important, but turnover margin is driven by a ton of randomness and tends to be inconsistent.

The Bills themselves actually illustrated this concept well: through seven games, Buffalo was +14 in turnovers, but over its next nine, it was minus-5.

This regression could continue into 2018, given that the interception-averse Tyrod Taylor (owner of a low 1.4% career interception rate) is being replaced by the inaccurate Josh Allen (who had a 56.2% completion percentage and 3.2% interception rate in college) and Nathan Peterman (who threw 5 interceptions on 14 attempts in his NFL debut).

We expect a similar decline from the Titans, who had a negative point differential against the third-easiest schedule in the NFL.