All-32: 2016 NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 1
Football is back. Well, it's hard to say football ever really left with how much we focus on the sport during the offseason, but Thursday night features a real game that means something in the standings. What better way to get ready for the season than by releasing our first All-32 of the season featuring numberFire's power rankings?
A lot has changed since the Denver Broncos left Levi's Stadium as Super Bowl champions. Peyton Manning has retired to a life of making Tom Brady jokes on television. Tom Brady is sitting out the first four games for something that may or may not have happened two seasons ago, and Jeff Fisher has struggled to develop a young quarterback to improve the Los Angeles Rams offense. So maybe not everything has changed.
We'll take all of that into account as we lay out our rankings heading into the 2016 NFL regular season. To start, we'll take a look at each team's projected record and playoff odds. Now, don't get too caught up on the projected wins for each team. These are done by numerous simulations of the season, and that results in most projections hovering around 8-8. Our projections have the lowest team at 6.3 wins and the highest at 9.8. Obviously, there are probably going to be a couple teams with less than 6 wins or more than 10, but these are the mean projections. So instead of just looking at the wins for one team, take them in context of all the other teams, along with the nERD scores and playoff odds.
This will be a weekly reminder: our power rankings aren’t subjective; they’re based off our nERD scores put together by people much smarter than me. For those unfamiliar, nERD is our calculation of how good a team really is, based on expected point differential against a league average team. If the team's nERD rating is 10, they would be expected to win by 10 points against a league-average opponent. All individually noted rankings are based off our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which measures the value of each play on the field based on how an average team would be expected to perform, according to historical data.
Each week, we’ll list all 32 teams from worst to best with a more detailed breakdown of five different teams. The highlighted teams will rotate each week, which will (hopefully) lead to each team being featured two to three times during the course of the season.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -6.14, Projected Record: 6.6-9.4, Playoff Odds: 15.8%)
So, this seems like a pretty interesting place to start, and there’s a lot to unpack. Last year, the Jacksonville Jaguars were bad, there’s really no way around that. There were certainly bright spots on the roster -- namely Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns catching passes -- but two really good receivers weren’t enough to lift the play of the entire team. Even with Hurns and Robinson, the Jaguars ranked just 28th in Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back.
Blake Bortles, despite impressive raw statistics like 35 touchdown passes, wasn’t viewed favorably by advanced statistics. The second-year quarterback ranked 28th in Passing NEP per drop back among the 46 passers with at least 100 dropbacks last season. The running game was even worse than the passing attack, ranking last in the league in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play. Then there was the defense, which was also quite bad, checking in 28th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play.
But there were many improvements made during the offseason, mostly on the defensive side of the ball. A lot of money was spent to bring in Malik Jackson from the Denver Broncos to help with the pass rush. The secondary was improved with the signing of Tashaun Gipson and the drafting of Jalen Ramsey in the first round, while linebacker Myles Jack fell to the Jaguars in the second round due to injury concerns. Jacksonville will also get back last year’s first-round pick Dante Fowler, who missed all of last season due to a torn ACL suffered on his first day of practice. With so much turnover, though, our projections still don’t rate the defense highly, which is one of the biggest factors in the low ranking.
31. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -6.09, Projected Record: 6.7-9.3, Playoff Odds: 17.1%)
30. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: -5.20, Projected Record: 6.3-9.7, Playoff Odds: 9.8%)
29. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: -4.12, Projected Record: 7.0-9.0, Playoff Odds: 22.8%)
28. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -3.59, Projected Record: 6.9-9.1, Playoff Odds: 16.2%)
27. Chicago Bears (nERD: -3.57, Projected Record: 7.5-8.5, Playoff Odds: 26.0%)
26. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: -2.82, Projected Record: 7.3-8.7, Playoff Odds: 27.4%)
This projection would have been much different just last week. Sam Bradford hasn’t lived up to expectations as a former No. 1 overall pick, but with him under center, the Philadelphia Eagles might have had a chance to compete in what could be a wide open division.
But now with the trade of Bradford to Minnesota for a first- and fourth-round pick, the Eagles have announced they’ll go forward immediately with rookie Carson Wentz. We weren’t too high on either the trade up or the selection of Wentz, and his college production did not indicate success at the NFL level, but those in Philadelphia appear to be sold. So much so, that Wentz was named the starter with barely any preseason playing time. He suffered a rib injury late in the first preseason game and did not see any game action afterwards, ending his contributions with only 38 snaps.
The plus side here is that playing time may help Wentz's development. While that’s potentially positive for the long term, it’s not great for Philadelphia’s 2016 win total.
One of Wentz’s biggest problems is performance under pressure, and it was something that showed up during his brief preseason playing time as an interior pass rush caused a pick.
Where the Eagles could see a significant improvement from last season’s disaster is on the defensive side of the ball, though the defense was not as much of a disaster as many Philly fans would suggest. Despite giving up the third-most total yards and eighth-most yards per play, the Eagles ranked 14th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play. Some of the poor raw stats can be attributed to the Eagles' fast-paced offense last season, which resulted in the defense playing more snaps.
Now, Jim Schwartz takes over as the defensive coordinator and will use a base 4-3, which should mesh well with the current personnel, especially in the front seven. With Fletcher Cox in the middle, Connor Barwin moving down to defensive end and a bigger role for Brandon Graham, the front four could help the rest of the defense out by improving on the eighth-worst defensive sack rate in the league last season.
25. Miami Dolphins (nERD: -2.47, Projected Record: 7.0-9.0, Playoff Odds: 18.2%)
24. Detroit Lions (nERD: -2.41, Projected Record: 7.8-8.2, Playoff Odds: 31.5%)
23. New York Giants (nERD: -2.40, Projected Record: 7.7-8.3, Playoff Odds: 33.8%)
22. San Diego Chargers (nERD: -2.38, Projected Record: 7.2-8.8, Playoff Odds: 19.4%)
21. New Orleans Saints (nERD: -2.29, Projected Record: 7.1-8.8, Playoff Odds: -2.29)
20. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -1.27, Projected Record: 7.6-8.4, Playoff Odds: 25.8%)
19. Los Angeles Rams (nERD: -0.91, Projected Record: 7.5-8.5, Playoff Odds: 26.2%)
18. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: -0.85, Projected Record: 7.7-8.3, Playoff Odds: 27.7%)
17. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: -0.66, Projected Record: 7.4-8.6, Playoff Odds: 25.4%)
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -0.51, Projected Record: 7.7-8.3, Playoff Odds: 30.8%)
15. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: -0.37, Projected Record: 8.1-7.9, Playoff Odds: 40.9%)
14. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: -0.17, Projected Record: 8.2-7.8, Playoff Odds: 39.2%)
Then there’s the other side of the Bradford swap, the one that said, “Yup, this makes a lot of sense for our franchise.” On the surface, there is some logic to acquiring Bradford and our Joe Redemann went over that when the trade was announced. Then, after general manager Rick Spielman stated other teams were trying to take advantage of Minnesota’s unfortunate loss of Teddy Bridgewater by asking for not only a high pick, but also a core player, the price for Bradford doesn’t seem quite so terrible
With a solid roster, Minnesota feels a sense of urgency to win, especially with the best player on the team being a 31-year-old running back in Adrian Peterson. The problem is, even with a healthy Bridgewater, the Vikings might not have been as close to contention in 2016 as 2015 would have made it seem. The Vikings vastly overplayed their point differential last season -- by the fourth-highest margin -- which usually indicates a step back in record the next year. Basically, in order to finish as well as the Vikings did last season, they would have to play even better this year. That was going to be hard with Bridgewater under center, barring some big improvements from the young signal caller.
If Minnesota is going to succeed, it will likely be by a combination of their rushing offense and their stout defense, which is not dissimilar to their plan last season. In 2015, the Vikings ranked 3rd in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play and 20th in Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back. The defense was also an above average unit, ranking 15th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play, and there’s potential for young pieces like Anthony Barr, Danielle Hunter, and Eric Kendricks to improve.
It was already a hard road for the Vikings to get back to the playoffs and the injury to Bridewater only made it more difficult. Before the injury, we had Minnesota with a 30.7 percent chance of winning the division and a 46.9 percent shot at making the playoffs overall. Now those numbers have gone down to a 26 percent chance at the division and 39.2 percent overall playoff odds.
13. Washington Redskins (nERD: 1.17, Projected Record: 8.4-7.6, Playoff Odds: 48.5%)
12. Buffalo Bills (nERD: 1.60, Projected Record: 8.0-8.0, Playoff Odds: 34.9%)
11. New York Jets (nERD: 1.72, Projected Record: 7.9-8.1, Playoff Odds: 33.0%)
10. Houston Texans (nERD: 1.83, Projected Record: 8.6-7.4, Playoff Odds: 53.4%)
9. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 2.34, Projected Record: 9.1-6.9, Playoff Odds: 57.5%)
8. Denver Broncos (nERD: 3.88, Projected Record: 9.1-6.9, Playoff Odds: 55.6%)
Riding high off a victory in Super Bowl 50, the Denver Broncos turn the keys for the title defense over to … Trevor Siemian? The 2015 seventh-round pick beat out Mark Sanchez and 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch for the starting job. That is quite the fall from Peyton Manning, at least in name value.
Last year was clearly Manning’s worst campaign in Denver as the Broncos' offense ranked 28th in Adjusted NEP per play and 25th in Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back. In theory, there’s not a high bar to clear for Siemian -- or maybe Lynch by season’s end -- in order to improve the offense from last season, but there’s no guarantees the Northwestern product or 2016 rookie will be able to do so.
The Broncos will again rely on the defense, which led the league in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play last season. While the unit lost starters such as Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan, the defense returns a significant number of contributors. That includes the entire secondary, which led to a pass defense over twice as good as the next best unit, per Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back.
However, relying on a defense to remain great is not an easy proposition. Only one defense since 2000 -- the start of our NEP database -- has finished back-to-back years as the top-ranked unit on a per-play basis. Six of the 15 remained in the top-five the following season, but three dropped out of the top half of the league.
We give Denver a 55.6% chance of making it back to the playoffs but only a 36.7% chance of winning the AFC West. The favorite, by our numbers, is the Kansas City Chiefs at 40.7%. We don’t want to jump to many conclusions after Week 1, but getting to see how this team -- especially the offense -- looks in a regular season game will give us a better idea of how likely it is for the defending champs to make another postseason appearance.
7. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: 4.23, Projected Record: 9.0-7.0, Playoff Odds: 53.7%)
6. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 4.99, Projected Record: 9.3-8.7, Playoff Odds: 59.6%)
5. Carolina Panthers (nERD: 5.56, Projected Record: 9.5-6.5, Playoff Odds: 68.8%)
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: 5.92, Projected Record: 9.5-6.5, Playoff Odds: 63.5%)
3. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 6.27, Projected Record: 9.2-6.8, Playoff Odds: 59.6%)
2. New England Patriots (nERD: 7.06, Projected Record: 9.5-6.5, Playoff Odds: 65.4%)
1. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 7.97, Projected Record: 9.8-6.2, Playoff Odds: 71.1%)
Each year, the Seattle Seahawks come in, do their thing and make the playoffs. The defense has been consistently spectacular -- it’s No. 4 ranking in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play in 2015 was its worst over the past three seasons (that's how good they've been lately) -- and the offense just keeps getting better.
We clearly believe in the Seahawks since they’re atop our rankings and are the only team with greater than a 10% chance of winning the Super Bowl. Seattle is currently has 10.7% chance of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the year. The next best odds belong to the New England Patriots at 8.6% and then it drops to 6.9% for Seattle’s biggest opposition in the NFC West, the Arizona Cardinals.
There’s going to be a shift on the offensive side of the ball, but it might not be as big of a change as many would think. The Seahawks' offense ranked sixth last season in Adjusted Passing NEP per play. Seattle has always had an efficient passing offense under Russell Wilson, but the volume could be a bit higher than in the past.
Even as the team needed to replace Marshawn Lynch on the fly last season, the Seahawks still had the fourth highest run-to-pass ratio in the league. Only twice last season did Wilson throw the ball 40 or more times in a game, both in losses to the Rams. But with a trio of Thomas Rawls, Christine Michael and C.J. Prosise, Wilson likely still won’t have to throw the ball a bunch of times each game. Rawls might have to ease into a regular season workload, but he was second in the league last season behind David Johnson in Rushing NEP per carry among backs with 100 or more carries.
It's not like the passing game isn't good, though. Last season, Wilson was third in Passing NEP per drop back, and he helped three wideouts achieve top-tier marks in efficiency. Among the 123 receivers who saw at least 32 targets last season, Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett and Jermaine Kearse ranked 2nd, 3rd and 16th, respectively, in Reception NEP per target. Only one other team had three receivers in the top 50.
So while there might be some changes in how the Seahawks attack opponents this season, they should still be able to have plenty of success moving the ball.