All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading into Week 3
After two weeks of the NFL season, everything we knew about the NFL following Week 1 is just wrong.
Well, some of it at least.
With another week in the books, we can start seeing whether some things might be trends or one-game aberrations. With that said, two weeks still doesn't bring in enough data to make any sweeping conclusions. We can still work with what we've been given and for our rankins, it still relies on what we expected these teams to be in the preseason and not solely on how they've played so far. That's a reason why our top-10 teams haven't changed too much, despite some of the play on the field. However, we do have our third different No. 1 team through the first three weeks of these rankings.
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 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. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -7.86, Record: 0-2, Last Week: 31)
31. Chicago Bears (nERD: -5.58, Record: 0-2, Last Week: 27)
30. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -4.96, Record: 1-1, Last Week: 32)
29. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -4.22, Record: 0-2, Last Week: 30)
28. Los Angeles Rams (nERD: -3.84, Record: 1-1, Last Week: 28)
27. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: -3.38, Record: 1-1, Last Week: 29)
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -3.30, Record: 1-1, Last Week: 13)
After one week of the regular season, Jameis Winston looked like a star. He lit up the Atlanta Falcons for four touchdowns and just one interception and some were leapfrogging him onto the earliest of MVP contender lists. Then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers headed down to Phoenix to play the Arizona Cardinals and all that MVP talk came to a screeching halt. Winston looked more like a young quarterback as he threw four interceptions to just one touchdown.
Winston’s performance against Atlanta was one of the best of Week 1, per our Passing NEP metric. He had the second best Passing NEP per drop back of the season’s opening week, but in Week 2 he was the second-worst passer. Some of the interceptions were due to inaccurate throws in tight windows, something the Buccaneers might just have to live with from their quarterback.
There were some nice throws in the game -- Winston’s lone touchdown throw to Mike Evans was a nicely placed ball where only the receiver could adjust to it in the endzone -- but the young quarterback’s performance might continue to be more hit or miss than Week 1 as us believing. Through two weeks, Winston is now 31st in Passing NEP per drop back among quarterbacks.
Tampa Bay hasn’t been getting much out of it’s running game, though, to help out the offense. Among 23 running backs with at least 25 rushing attempts on the season, Doug Martin ranks 17th in Rushing NEP per attempt, but that’s the optimistic part of his stat line. Martin has a Success Rate -- the percentage of plays positively impacting NEP -- of just 20%, the lowest of those same backs. That means only one of every five carries has helped the Buccaneers on offense. It was reported on Wednesday morning that Martin will miss about three weeks with a hamstring injury. Charles Sims hasn’t been much better in his place this year, although all these sample sizes are small. On 13 carries so far this season, Sims’ Success Rate is only 23%.
25. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: -2.97, Record: 0-2, Last Week: 17)
24. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: -2.89, Record: 1-1, Last Week: 18)
23. Miami Dolphins (nERD: -2.71, Record: 0-2, Last Week: 26)
22. Detroit Lions (nERD: -2.64, Record: 1-1, Last Week: 24)
21. Washington Redskins (nERD: -2.37, Record: 0-2, Last Week: 21)
20. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -1.93, Record: 1-1, Last Week: 22)
19. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: -1.67, Record: 1-1, Last Week: 23)
Matt Ryan got a lot of criticism for his play last season, but he still finished the year ninth in Passing NEP per drop back. He’s establishing the same path this season as he sits second in Passing NEP per drop back through two weeks.
Ryan has turned into quite the underrated quarterback, but the ceiling may not be all that high and he won't get the defenses of the Oakland Raiders and Bucs every week -- although his Week 3 matchup with the New Orleans Saints is pretty darn juicy.
Against the Raiders in Week 2, Ryan had no qualms about spreading the ball around. Nine different plays caught a pass for the Falcons -- all of them were targeted at least twice and eight of them caught at least two passes. This has led to Jacob Tamme seeing eight targets in both games this season, and he leads the team with 16 total targets. The team's should-be top target, Julio Jones, is tied for second on the team with Mohamed Sanu at 13 targets apiece, though Jones leads the team in receiving yards and is 12th among wide receivers in Reception NEP.
For Ryan, the trouble has come with his production in the red zone. Ryan threw 4 interceptions inside the 20-yard line last season, and he had another one last Sunday on a throw behind Tamme. It’s early, but Ryan has a -0.2 Passing NEP per drop back inside the 20 through two games, well below his overall mark of 0.47 Passing NEP per drop back.
While the offense does appear to be clicking, Atlanta’s defense does not. The Falcons were on the receiving end of Jameis Winston’s four touchdown performance in Week 1 and the Raiders' offense was not slowed down much in Week 2. The Falcons have one sack on the season, and it didn’t involve the quarterback getting tackled. Derek Carr scrambled and ran out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage without being touched. Vic Beasley was the closest defender to him and got credit for a sack.
The defense currently ranks 29th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play, and they face the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers in the next two weeks. If those two opposing quarterbacks aren’t pressured, it's probably going to be a long day Falcons' defense.
18. New Orleans Saints (nERD: -1.64, Record: 0-2, Last Week: 20)
17. Buffalo Bills (nERD: -0.95, Record: 0-2, Last Week: 15)
16. New York Giants (nERD: -0.91, Record: 2-0, Last Week: 19)
15. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: -0.03, Record: 2-0, Last Week: 14)
14. San Diego Chargers (nERD: 0.30, Record: 1-1, Last Week: 25)
The San Diego Chargers were one of the most injury stricken teams in the league last season, and it's happening again this year. They lost Keenan Allen midway through the 2016 opener, and Danny Woodhead went down in the first quarter of Week 2. Those are two key injuries, but they’ve yet to slow down the San Diego offense. It doesn’t mean they won’t eventually, but it might not be for a little bit as the Bolts face the Indianapolis Colts, Saints and Raiders over the next three weeks.
Despite the injuries, the Chargers currently rank fourth in Adjusted NEP per play because Philip Rivers is a wizard. Rivers is ninth in Passing NEP per drop back while Travis Benjamin has become the team’s go-to receiver. Benjamin’s 92.9% catch rate is tied for the best among receivers with at least 10 targets this season.
The running game has also been a pleasant surprise after being a league-worst unit last season. The Chargers rank fourth in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play through two games, led by Melvin Gordon. A week after scoring his first NFL touchdown, Gordon had his first 100-yard rushing game. Behind an improved offensive line, he looks more like what the Chargers were expecting out of their 2015 first-round pick. Of the 23 running backs with 25 or more carries, Gordon is 2nd in Rushing NEP per attempt, and his Success Rate ranks 8th.
San Diego might be able to rely on the running game more if the defense can hold opponents in check. So far, half of the defense is showing up. The run defense is still a work in progress. After finishing 31st in 2015, the defense currently ranks last in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play.
However, the pass defense is a much improved unit this year, ranking 10th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play through two games. Much of that has been from the dominance of Jason Verrett, who is emerging as a No. 1 corner. In the two games this season, Verrett has mostly followed opposing top targets, which has been Jeremy Maclin and Allen Robinson. Both were held in check against Verrett, including this interception against Maclin in Week 1 where he uses some slight-of-hand magic to come away with the ball.
13. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: 1.04, Record: 2-0, Last Week: 11)
12. New York Jets (nERD: 1.59, Record: 1-1, Last Week: 12)
11. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 1.72, Record: 2-0, Last Week: 16)
Carson Wentz is the greatest football player to ever play the game. He’s the obvious choice for Offensive Rookie of the Year and probably league MVP. Or he’s taking advantage of a fortuitous schedule and an offense system that allows him to take advantage of some quick throws with some adjustments on the line. It's one of the two.
Yes, some of the things Wentz has done have been very impressive, and there are clearly positive signs for the future. But his actual impact on the field has not been as big as many have proclaimed. Wentz is currently 16th in Passing NEP per drop back through two weeks, right between Eli Manning and Joe Flacco. In the Monday night game against the Chicago Bears, Wentz only threw for 5.6 yards per attempt (YPA), which, over a full season, would have been the worst YPA of any starting quarterback. Of course this was just one game and wasn’t a full season, but he's been playing it safe despite the long highlight reel worthy touchdowns from Week 1.
Who should get a little more credit for the Philadelphia Eagles is Ryan Mathews. Mathews currently leads the league in Rushing NEP per attempt among runners with at least 25 carries, even though he only rushed 9 times for 32 yards on Monday night. The Eagles are 10th in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play thanks to Mathews and Darren Sproles, who led the team with 12 carries on Monday.
If Philly is going to turn into a serious playoff contender this season, it might be because of the defense. Led by new coordinator Jim Schwartz, the Eagles rank second overall in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play, first against the pass and eighth against the run. Philadelphia is the only team to not allow a passing touchdown through the first two weeks of the season.
They’ve allowed the 12th-highest opposing yards per attempt (7.7), but the pass rush has also been able to make an impact with the fourth-highest sack rate in the league. When factoring in sacks and turnovers, the Eagles have allowed the seventh-lowest Adjusted Net Yards per attempt. That’s not likely to hold unless the pass rush gets to opposing quarterbacks on a league-leading level, but with this defensive line under Schwartz, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
10. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 2.02, Record: 1-1, Last Week: 6)
9. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 2.87, Record: 1-1, Last Week: 9)
8. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: 3.34, Record: 1-1, Last Week: 7
7. Houston Texans (nERD: 4.25, Record: 2-0, Last Week: 10)
6. Denver Broncos (nERD: 4.99, Record: 2-0, Last Week: 8)
5. New England Patriots (nERD: 5.03, Record: 2-0, Last Week: 4)
4. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 5.78, Record: 1-1, Last Week: 2)
3. Carolina Panthers (nERD: 6.83, Record: 1-1, Last Week: 5)
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: 7.28, Record: 2-0, Last Week: 1)
1. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 9.58, Record: 1-1, Last Week: 3)
After an odd showing in Week 1 falling to the Tom Brady-less New England Patriots, the Arizona Cardinals came back in a big way in Week 2 against Tampa Bay. With another strong performance by the Patriots against the Miami Dolphins and a blowout win against the Buccaneers, the Cardinals showed Week 1 was just a loss to a pretty good team and that Arizona is still a contender to be one of the league’s best. Our metrics love blowouts early in the season, and the Cardinals’ convincing win over the Buccaneers was enough to put them on top of the Pittsburgh Steelers after Pittsburgh played a sloppy, rain-filled game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Carson Palmer is once again among the leaders in terms of our metrics. He ranks third in Passing NEP per drop backthough two weeks after finishing second last season, and his chemistry with Larry Fitzgerald has been evident early in the season. Fitzgerald is currently 10th among receivers in Reception NEP, catching three of Palmer’s five touchdown passes this year.
Arizona’s offense is now second in Adjusted NEP per play, which is exactly where they were expected to be before the season. But really the offense is only just starting to click. John Brown has two receptions through two games as he works his way back from concussion issues that kept him out for most of the preseason. Brown was the fifth-best receiver by Reception NEP per target among receivers thrown to at least 100 times last season, and his impact this year will only grow as he gets integrated back into the offense.
David Johnson is fourth among 25-plus carry backs in Rushing NEP per attempt and is already getting back to the form he flashed in the second half of last season. He also has the second highest Reception NEP for running backs, behind only Spencer Ware. Johnson has gotten to the point where he's become one of the toughest NFL players to take down on first contact -- just ask the Buccaneers.
Arizona gets the Buffalo Bills in Week 3, a defense that 24th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play. With one impressive blowout under their belt to grab the top spot, the Cardinals might be able to make it two lopsided wins in a row.