All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading into Week 5
For 30 NFL teams, we are already a quarter of the way through the season. After the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers take the field in Week 5, every team will have played at least 25% of its games. It's strange to think we already have a quarter of the information we'll get throughout the season, yet there is still a lot we don't know. At this point, though, our numbers are starting to reflect the actual play on the field and not so much the expectations of preseason projections. With that comes another new No. 1 team, our fourth different top team in five weeks.
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 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: -6.89, Record: 1-3, Last Week: 32)
31. Detroit Lions (nERD: -6.03, Record: 1-3, Last Week: 27)
30. Chicago Bears (nERD: -5.21, Record: 0-4, Last Week: 30)
29. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: -4.48, Record: 1-3, Last Week: 28)
28. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -4.37, Record: 0-4, Last Week: 25)
27. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: -4.33, Record: 1-3, Last Week: 22)
The Indianapolis Colts have a problem that runs all the way through the organization. The front office has lacked an ability to bring in new talent over the past several years, and the coaching staff has not been skilled enough to compensate. Right now, it’s all coming to a head in what’s likely to be the most disappointing Colts season with a healthy Andrew Luck.
This year, Indy has run a total of 49 plays with a lead in a game, the third-fewest in the league, better than only the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans. This isn’t really on the offense, a unit that ranks 14th in Adjusted NEP per play and 6th in points scored per drive.
Luck hasn’t been carrying the team like he did in his first few seasons -- he ranks 30th in Passing NEP per drop back -- but there’s arguably more to carry this year than there has been in previous seasons. Protection continues to be a problem in the passing game, with Luck under constant duress. Luck has the third-highest sack rate among quarterbacks and heading into Week 4, the Colts had given up the highest percentage of pressure on offensive plays, per Sports Info Solutions charting data from Football Outsiders. Then Luck was sacked six times against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London.
While the offense hasn't been great, the real hole on the team comes on the defensive side of the ball. The Colts rank 30th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play. That's only better than two two, but it still seems high. The biggest issue comes from attempting to defend the pass, where Indianapolis ranks 28th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. The secondary was injury stricken to start the season, but the lack of depth goes back to both the talent and coaching issues. Replacement cornerback Antonio Cromartie was just released on Tuesday after playing 75% of the team’s defensive snaps through the first four games of the season.
Indianapolis is now a disappointing 1-3 in what should have been a winnable division, and the team now has just an 11.3% chance of making the playoffs. They’ll also be the first team to not have a bye in the week after playing in London. Who knows if there’s going to be a London hangover when they host the Chicago Bears this week, but if there is, this season could get even worse.
26. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -4.30, Record: 1-3, Last Week: 30)
25. Miami Dolphins (nERD: -4.25, Record: 1-3, Last Week: 24)
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -4.08, Record: 1-3, Last Week: 23)
23. Los Angeles Rams (nERD: -3.58, Record: 3-1, Last Week: 29)
22. New Orleans Saints (nERD: -2.68, Record: 1-3, Last Week: 26)
21. New York Giants (nERD: -2.61, Record: 2-2, Last Week: 21)
20. New York Jets (nERD: -1.47, Record: 1-3, Last Week: 17)
Ryan Fitzpatrick cut his interceptions in half from Week 3 to Week 4. Unfortunately, half is still three after his six-interception game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3. After an entire offseason spent wondering if Fitzpatrick and the New York Jets were ever, ever, ever getting back together, Fitzpatrick is currently 33rd among quarterbacks in Passing NEP per drop back and the Jets are 23rd in Adjusted Passing NEP per play.
Fitzpatrick isn’t the only problem on the team, though. The defense, which was one of the best in the league last season, is just 26th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play. Against the pass, the team ranks 30th. Leonard Williams has been one of the few bright spots on the struggling unit. The Jets are 8th in sack rate, but 4 of the team’s 11 sacks come from Williams. Williams, for his part, has been ridiculous. Against the Seattle Seahawks, Williams had one of the Jets’ two sacks and was consistently in the backfield beating Seattle’s offensive line.
On the back end, Darrelle Revis has gotten a lot of attention for his poor play, but the Jets have been bad all over defending the pass. They’re giving up a league-worst 9.7 yards per pass attempt, with the next worst team at 8.9.
Unfortunately the Jets have already fallen far behind at 1-3, especially as the New England Patriots went 3-1 without Tom Brady. The Jets have just a 14.1% chance of making the playoffs while the 2-2 Buffalo Bills currently have a 48.7% chance.
19. Washington Redskins (nERD: -1.32, Record: 2-2, Last Week: 19)
18. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -1.06, Record: 3-1, Last Week: 18)
17. San Diego Chargers (nERD: -0.46, Record: 1-3, Last Week: 16)
16. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: 0.33, Record: 3-1, Last Week: 20)
15. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 0.42, Record: 2-2, Last Week: 7)
The 2016 season took quite a turn for the Chiefs on Sunday night. What was expected to be a close game between two AFC contenders turned out to be an impressive blowout win by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Pittsburgh offense was shut down by the Eagles in Week 3, but they had no problem tearing up the Kansas City defense in Week 4.
Though despite the outburst of points allowed at Heinz Field, the Chiefs still rank 10th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play. Much of that has come thanks to the turnovers the defense was able to force. Yes, there was the six-interception game versus Fitzpatrick -- and that certainly shifts their turnover margin quite a bit -- but they were also able to force two turnovers against the Houston Texans in Week 2.
If there’s a concern for the defense, it’s in its lack of ability to stop the run so far this season. The Chiefs are 26th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play and have allowed opponents to rush for at least 100 yards in three of their four games. The Texans, the only opponent to not hit the century mark, rushed for 97 yards. That was also on 34 carries, which might say more about Houston’s willingness to give Lamar Miller the ball even when he’s not being successful than it might about Kansas City’s defense.
On the other side of the ball, the offense has been futile. In past years, even if the Chiefs’ offense wasn’t easy on the eyes, it got the job done. This year, they haven’t been able to do much and rank 30th in Adjusted NEP per play. Alex Smith has the third-most drop backs of any quarterback, which is not Kansas City’s M.O. on offense. Against the Steelers alone, Smith attempted 50 passes and was sacked 4 times.
What’s more surprising is the lack of success the Chiefs have seen on the ground, where they rank last in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play. In the past, Kansas City has been able to still put up a dominant rushing offense without Jamaal Charles, but that hasn’t been the case this year. Spencer Ware ranks 63rd in Rushing NEP per attempt among 71 running backs with at least 10 carries this season after he was one of the most efficient running backs in football last year.
Charles only saw 10 snaps in his return to action against Pittsburgh, and they now get a Week 5 bye to get him ready for their Week 6 divisional clash with the Oakland Raiders. There’s no guarantee Charles will be able to step right in and improve the offense immediately, but his return to action appears to be more important to the Chiefs than it had been perceived just a few weeks ago.
14. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: 0.99, Record: 3-1, Last Week: 14)
13. Houston Texans (nERD: 1.73, Record: 3-1, Last Week: 11)
12. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: 2.25, Record: 3-1, Last Week: 15)
11. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: 2.51, Record: 2-2, Last Week: 12)
10. Buffalo Bills (nERD: 2.60, Record: 2-2, Last Week: 13)
9. Carolina Panthers (nERD: 2.87, Record: 1-3, Last Week: 6)
Last year the Carolina Panthers weren’t quite as good as their 15-1 record would have suggested. This year, they’re not nearly as bad as their 1-3 start indicates. But, like how those wins were in the bank last season, the losses still count this year. With the Atlanta Falcons now atop the NFC South with a 3-1 record, the Panthers have found themselves in a hole with just a 35% chance of making the playoffs, according to our numbers. While that’s much better than the typical 1-3 team’s chances, it’s still going to take a lot of work to get back into the postseason.
Many will look at letting Josh Norman go and then the massive game from the Falcons' offense in Week 4 and put the blame on the defense, but the Panthers still rank 8th in Adjusted Defensive NEP, which includes a rank of 14th against the pass. Sure, that’s closer to average than last year's dominant defense, but it’s also not one that’s going to allow 500-yard passing performances on a weekly basis.
If there is a unit that’s been disappointing after last season’s performance, it’s the offense, which ranks 23rd in Adjusted NEP per play and 26th in Adjusted Passing NEP per play. Cam Newton is currently 27th in Passing NEP per drop back and 35th in Success Rate, which is the percentage of plays that positively impacts NEP. Newton was not on the field at the start of practice on Wednesday, which raises questions about his availability on Monday night. Newton hasn’t been great while Carolina has gotten into the 1-3 hole, but if they’re going to get out, Newton is going to have to play a big part in the resurgence.
8. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 3.46, Record: 2-1, Last Week: 8)
7. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: 3.90, Record: 4-0, Last Week: 10)
t-5. New England Patriots (nERD: 4.09, Record: 3-1, Last Week: 3)
t-5. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: 4.09, Record: 3-1, Last Week: 9)
4. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 4.93, Record: 1-3, Last Week: 2)
3. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 5.82, Record: 3-1, Last Week: 1)
2. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 6.14, Record: 3-0, Last Week: 4)
1. Denver Broncos (nERD: 6.79, Record: 4-0, Last Week: 5)
Top defenses don’t usually last from season to season, but the Denver Broncos look like they’ll be one of the teams that can sustain a top level of performance. After finishing last season as the best defense, per Adjusted Defensive NEP per play, the Broncos are fifth through four weeks in 2016. There has been a bit of a hole in the run game, where Denver ranks 27th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play, but the rest of the defense has been good enough to make up for it.
Denver has the second-best pass defense, according to Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, and that stems from both the secondary and the pass rush. The secondary is still shutting down opposing passing games by allowing the fewest yards per attempt in the league at 5.6 -- no other defense is below 6.0. And that’s only for plays when the pass rush hasn’t gotten home. Denver leads the league in sack rate at 10.9% and has caused pressure on over 22% of opposing drop backs, which also leads the league, per Sports Info Solutions.
Von Miller spearheads the attack, but there’s been production all over the front seven. Derek Wolfe has stood out with four sacks, and Shane Ray stepped up for an injured DeMarcus Ware and now has three sacks of his own.
But this is nothing new. The Broncos had a devastating pass rush and secondary last season. The biggest change from 2015 is the appearance of a passable offense. Passable might even be underselling it since Denver ranks 10th in Adjusted NEP per play. This is thanks to a passing game that can move the ball downfield.
With Trevor Siemian under center -- physically under center -- Denver coach Gary Kubiak is able to open up more of his playbook. Per Sports Info Solutions, the Broncos rank 5th in percentage of plays with play action this season after finishing 13th in 2015 with Peyton Manning at the controls.
Siemian hasn’t been spectacular, but he’s done enough to keep the offense moving, ranking 18th in Passing NEP per drop back. Siemian’s status for Week 5 is still up in the air after he suffered a shoulder injury and was forced to leave the game on Sunday, but he noted on Tuesday that his shoulder has been feeling better. In his place, rookie Paxton Lynch took over and performed quite well. Lynch now actually ranks 5th in Passing NEP per drop back among quarterbacks who have dropped back at least 25 times this season. He should be more than capable should he need to make his first NFL start in a nice home matchup against the Falcons.
This all-around success helps put Denver atop our nERD ranking. They have a 94.7% chance of making the playoffs, the best odds of any team.