All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 2
It's here. We finally have real football to talk about and analyze. It's not coming -- it already happened, and it feels great.
One week into the regular season, we can now be sure of every team's final record, which rookies are busts, and that Jimmy Garoppolo should become the starter in New England for eternity. Or we know none of that and in reality we have only a little bit more information that we did at this time last week.
Because of the small samples we're working with, there's not too much chance in these rankings from where they were to start the season -- for instance every team that was in the top-10 last week is still there this week with some slight difference in the order. We know enough to have a hint of what could come in the future, but also know enough not to overreact to anything that happened in the season's opening week.
Remember, the Minnesota Vikings lost 20-3 in the late Monday night game against a bad San Francisco 49ers team and eventually made the playoffs as the NFC North winner and came within a missed field goal of the NFC Championship Game.
We now have some data, and that's fun to work with, but what we have from Week 1 does not completely override what we thought about each team coming into the season. Our rankings still have a fair amount of our preseason projections built in, and these rankings won't strictly reflect 2016 performance until around Week 4. With that in mind, take this as a warning: there are some teams that lost head-to-head matchups this past week but are still ranked above the team that beat them. Trust us, that's ok.
A weekly reminder, our power rankings aren’t subjective, they’re based off our nERD scores put together by people much smarter than this writer. 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 four different teams. The highlighted teams will rotate each week, which will lead to each team being featured two to three times during the course of the season.
32. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -6.64, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 31)
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -6.43, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 32)
30. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -5.13, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 28)
29. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: -4.29, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 29)
28. Los Angeles Rams (nERD: -4.28, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 19)
27. Chicago Bears (nERD: -4.21, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 27)
26. Miami Dolphins (nERD: -2.20, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 25)
25. San Diego Chargers (nERD: -2.10, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 22)
24. Detroit Lions (nERD: -1.94, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 24)
It’s time to believe in the Cooter. Before the season started we gave some reasons to be optimistic about a full season of the Detroit Lions offense with coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. The Lions looked completely different on that side of the ball once Cooter took over in midseason last year. Against the Indianapolis Colts, the early returns were quite positive.
Matthew Stafford finished Week 1 as our top quarterback by Passing NEP per drop back. He was one of three quarterbacks -- along with Jameis Winston and Drew Brees -- to post a mark of 0.50 or better. Stafford didn’t just lead in Passing NEP, but he was also tops in the league in Success Rate -- the percentage of plays positively impacting NEP -- at 65 percent.
Last season, Stafford was successful on just over half of his passes (51 percent), which ranked eighth in the league. However, if we’re discounting some Week 1 performances, we might need to wait and see how the Lions perform against a non-Colts secondary. Indianapolis was without Vontae Davis and started Patrick Robinson and Antonio Cromartie on the outside. Robinson was signed to be a nickel corner in March, and Cromartie was signed at the end of August.
The move to a quicker passing scheme, though, not only helps Stafford, but also fits perfectly with the players Detroit has at the skill positions. The Lions might not push the ball down the field as much as Stafford used to, but they may not have to in order to still pick up big gains. Here’s Marvin Jones picking up 26 yards on a perfect zone coverage beater in just a two-man route off play action. (Video courtesy NFL Game Pass.)
There may be some concern with the defense, as it ranked 29th in the league by Adjusted Defensive NEP per play after the first week. It's too early to panic because some of that was caused by Good Andrew Luck being back -- Luck ranked fourth in Passing NEP per drop back. Some positives showed though, mainly reserve defensive end Kerry Hyder, who had 2 sacks, a tackle, and a hurry on just 22 snaps.
23. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: -1.85, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 17)
22. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -1.72, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 20)
21. Washington Redskins (nERD: -1.68, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 13)
20. New Orleans Saints (nERD: -1.67, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 21)
19. New York Giants (nERD: -1.49, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 23)
18. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: -0.97, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 30)
Here’s the thing about our system early in the season: it really likes blowouts. Generally, one of the best indicators of a good football team is its ability to blowout bad football teams. Therefore, the numbers heavily favor any type of blowout, especially early in the year. Add in the fact we projected the Los Angeles Rams to be around a league average team -- you know, that typical 7-9, 8-8 range -- and these rankings find the end result of Monday’s game to be very favorable for the San Francisco 49ers.
Luckily for the numbers, they were not physically staying up on the East Coast to watch that monstrosity.
A 28-point win is rather impressive, though -- it was the biggest scoring margin of Week 1 -- and when it comes to a shutout, it really doesn’t matter the opposition featured Case Keenum unable to complete a pass or that Tavon Austin had 13 yards on 12 targets.
We know the Niners aren’t going to hold their number-one ranking in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play, which is where they stand after the first week, and all of these rankings will eventually fall. But we also shouldn’t ignore everything that happened in this game.
On the offensive side, the running game was fairly impressive. If there’s one good unit on the Rams, it’s the defensive line, and the 49ers were able to run through it for most of the night. There were nine running backs who got at least 20 carries in Week 1, and Carlos Hyde finished third among them in Rushing NEP per attempt. Chip Kelly’s offensive system is based off the run game working from spread formations, and to see Hyde have a good game against what should be a tough run defense -- the Rams were third against the run by Adjusted Defensive NEP last season -- is a good sign.
Then there was Blaine Gabbert, who was terrible. Gabbert was flirting with a sub-3.0 yards per attempt during large chunks of Monday night’s game before a few meaningless late-second half passes bumped up his average to a still bad 4.96. Out of 32 quarterbacks to throw a pass in Week 1, Gabbert was 28th in Passing NEP per drop back. So maybe not everything is completely wacky in Week 1.
17. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: -0.78, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 15)
16. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: -0.48, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 26)
15. Buffalo Bills (nERD: 0.29, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 12)
14. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: 0.38, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 18)
Crab cakes and ugly football: that’s what Maryland does. The next good-looking win by the Baltimore Ravens might be their first in quite some time. The offense had some bright spots but overall put together an ugly performance that was just good enough to get by. Baltimore finished the day just 21st in Adjusted NEP per play, and Joe Flacco was 17th in Passing NEP per drop back among quarterbacks. Early in the game, Baltimore was pass-heavy but on run plays, the running backs appeared to be serving a true split. Justin Forsett had 10 carries, while Terrance West had 12.
The bright spot on the offense came in the deep passing game. Breshad Perriman made his presence felt for the first time on an NFL field with a 35-yard catch down the left sideline, though it was his only catch of the game with one other target. Mike Wallace was responsible for the biggest play of the game, a 66-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Outside of Wallace just making any contribution, everything about the touchdown should bring some hope to what the Ravens can accomplish on offense this season. It was an aggressive play on 3rd-and-1 early in the game that took advantage of what the Buffalo Bills' defense was showing.
There were no deep safeties on the play while the Bills expected either a short pass or run to pick up the first down. Meanwhile, the Ravens lined up three receivers to the right of the formation and got Wallace matched up against safety Aaron Williams in the slot. Wallace runs a quick sluggo route, and the initial movement toward the sideline is enough to turn Williams around. By that time, Wallace is too far ahead.
But this game was won with the defense. Baltimore held Tyrod Taylor to just 111 yards passing, and LeSean McCoy had only 58 rushing yards on 16 carries. This all helped the Ravens to the fifth-best Adjusted Defensive NEP per play of the week. The good thing for Baltimore was it wasn’t just the bigger names such as Terrell Suggs and Timmy Jernigan contributing. Players such as Za'Darius Smith and Shareece Wright were showing up and making plays. Last year, the Ravens didn't have that type of depth, but it already showed up in the opening week of 2016.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: 0.70, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 16)
12. New York Jets (nERD: 0.94, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 11)
11. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: 1.23, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 11)
10. Houston Texans (nERD: 2.71, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 10)
Throughout the game against the Chicago Bears, the Houston Texans got to try out their trio of new toys on offense. Quarterback Brock Osweiler, running back Lamar Miller, and wide receiver Will Fuller made their debuts for the Texans. The results were a little more mixed than the Texans probably would have liked.
During Miller’s time in Miami, the main thing holding him back from producing like a top back was his usage. Under both Joe Philbin and Dan Campbell last season, Miller wasn't treaded as a feature back. Miller signed with Houston in the offseason with the hope of being used more, and in the first week of the season, he set a career high with 28 carries -- he had previously carried the ball 20 or more times just twice.
Unfortunately, the higher volume did not mean better production on Sunday. Miller gained 106 yards on his 28 carries, a 3.79 yards per attempt average. Of the nine running backs with 20 or more attempts in Week 1, Miller was sixth in Rushing NEP per attempt. His Success Rate of 32.1 percent was third-worst, besting only Ezekiel Elliott and LeGarrette Blount.
The passing game wasn’t much more efficient, as Osweiler ranked 19th among quarterbacks in Passing NEP per drop back in Week 1, but he did show a comfort and trust in heaving balls up and allowing his receivers to make plays. Osweiler actually looked Fuller’s way more often than DeAndre Hopkins', and the rookie led the team with 11 targets.
Out of those 11 targets, Fuller only had 5 receptions, which was the fourth-worst catch rate among 18 receivers with 10 or more targets. One of the knocks on Fuller coming out of Notre Dame was inconsistent hands that can lead to drops -- and he did drop a should-have-been touchdown in the game. But Fuller has massive play-making ability that is going to make it easier to live with the drops.
On Fuller’s 5 catches, he gained 105 yards, and his 0.98 Reception NEP per target was the third-highest among the 10-plus target receivers despite the low catch rate, behind only Antonio Brown and A.J. Green, who had massive days.
Sometimes, Fuller is going to drop some catchable passes, but he’s also going to find a way to turn this throw into a touchdown like he did on Sunday:
9. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 3.00, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 9)
8. Denver Broncos (nERD: 3.27, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 8)
7. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: 4.17, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 7
6. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 4.24, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 6)
5. Carolina Panthers (nERD: 4.92, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 5)
4. New England Patriots (nERD: 5.26, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 2)
3. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 6.29, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 3)
2. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 7.09, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 1)
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: 7.75, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 4)
Take the reasoning behind San Francisco moving up because of a Week 1 blowout, then imagine if the numbers had already thought the 49ers were really good. That’s where we are with the Pittsburgh Steelers and why they take over as our top team in the rankings.
We had the Washington Redskins as a borderline top-10 team heading into the season from their production last year and some improvements, but Pittsburgh just dominated them on Monday night in every facet of the game from the defense -- which ranks ninth in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play and could have been even better if some "gimme" interceptions were caught -- to the ground and passing game on offense.
Filling in for a suspended Le'Veon Bell -- again -- DeAngelo Williams showed he could step in and be the lead back for the Steelers -- again. Williams was the second-most efficient running back in Week 1 by Rushing NEP per attempt among the 33 running backs with at least 10 carries behind Spencer Ware.
Last season, Williams led the league in Rushing NEP per attempt among backs with at least 200 carries. Bell is one of the best backs in the league, but Williams is showing he can be relied upon in Bell's absence.
Then there was the passing game, which already figured to be one of the best in the league -- it was seventh last season by Adjusted Passing NEP per play -- but it torched the Washington secondary. It wasn’t just Antonio Brown, either. Eli Rogers and even Sammie Coates made plays down the field.
The focus, of course, remains on Brown, who is probably the hardest receiver in the league to cover -- poor Bashaud Breeland. There also might not be a receiver any quarterback has more confidence in than Ben Roethlisberger has is Brown, evidenced by the deep shot on 4th-and-1 in the second quarter that resulted in a 29-yard touchdown. Brown led all receivers with at least 10 targets in Reception NEP per target, and he was the only one of the group to be worth more than a full expected point per target.
No one can cover Antonio Brown one-on-one, so in that sense, it’s understandable why Washington didn’t want to change the whole defense and shadow him with Josh Norman -- you don’t want your new $15 million per year corner getting burnt in his first game. But it’s less understandable why Washington would allow Breeland to stay on that island without rolling a safety over to that side on nearly every play -- something a team like the New England Patriots typically does when placing the number-two corner on the opponent's number-one receiver.
Washington took a chance but failed miserably on Monday night, and other teams should take note. There are 10 other players on the field, but how teams choose to cover -- or not cover -- Brown might be the biggest key to whether anyone can stop the Steelers in 2016.