All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 7
Somehow we're already headed into Week 7. We're getting our second London game of the season Sunday morning and what seems like our eighth potentially unwatchable Monday night game. Through seven weeks, we've had five different teams atop these rankings, though it's possible the current No. 1 could stay there for a while. At this point, we also have 11 teams with playoff odds of 50% or greater and two squads with odds above 90%. However, there is still a lot left to be determined over the next 11 weeks of the season.
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: -6.78, Record: 2-3, Last Week: 32)
31. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: -6.12, Record: 2-4, Last Week: 28)
After Week 1, it looked like Andrew Luck was back to his good form. After a Week 2 loss, it was fair to wonder whether that performance was a Week 1 mirage. Now six weeks into the season, the answer appears to be a little of both. Luck definitely hasn’t been one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but his struggles have not all been his fault. Luck currently ranks 31st among quarterbacks in Passing NEP per drop back, though that’s not completely reflective of how he’s played.
As has been the case with some of other down years in Indianapolis, the circumstances surrounding the quarterback aren’t great. Luck’s getting sacked at the highest rate in the league -- 8.8% of his drop backs. Per Sports Info Solutions charting data from Football Outsiders, the Colts are allowing the third-most pressure of any offense. The only two worse are the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills, who both have more mobile quarterbacks. Though to that point, Luck’s efficient running has returned this season. At his best, Luck was one of the smartest scramblers in the league, but starting in 2014, Luck was more running for his life than trying to get first downs. This season, Luck has the fourth-highest Rushing NEP among quarterbacks.
Despite their struggles, the Colts are one of four teams to score at least 20 points in every game this season -- one of three to do it in six contests. They also rank 12th in Adjusted NEP per play.
That brings the focus on the other side of the ball. During the week general manager Ryan Grigson said it’s hard to build the other side of the ball when paying Luck what the Colts are paying him. That would be fine if Luck hadn’t had a high cap hit of $7 million over the past four seasons when the defense was also terrible. Maybe it’s harder to put together a good defense when your general manager is Ryan Grigson.
The Colts have the second-worst defense in the league by Adjusted Defensive NEP per play through six weeks. The defense has allowed the most yards per drive and third-most points per drive. Half of Colts’ opponents’ drives have ended in points, which is the worst rate in the league.
With a better defense, the Colts could be in control of the AFC South -- if they held the win against the Houston Texans, when they had a 97.93 win probability, they’d be tied for the lead at 3-3 -- but instead Indianapolis is in last place with a 2.5 percent chance of making the playoffs. In short, the Colts are basically done for in 2016, wasting another year of Luck's prime.
30. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -5.85, Record: 0-6, Last Week: 30)
29. New York Jets (nERD: -5.51, Record: 1-5, Last Week: 22)
28. Chicago Bears (nERD: -5.31, Record: 1-5, Last Week: 29)
27. Los Angeles Rams (nERD: -5.17, Record: 3-3, Last Week: 27)
26. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: -4.94, Record: 1-5, Last Week: 25)
25. Detroit Lions (nERD: -4.45, Record: 3-3, Last Week: 24)
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -4.34, Record: 2-3, Last Week: 26)
23. Miami Dolphins (nERD: -3.98, Record: 2-4, Last Week: 31)
22. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -3.30, Record: 4-2, Last Week: 19)
The Oakland Raiders were the offseason darling of 2016. There were young pieces to like on offense, and the team spent a chunk of a league-high amount of cap room to bring in reinforcements on the defensive side of the ball. One of those units has lived up to expectations this season.
Oakland has the seventh-best offense through six weeks by Adjusted NEP per play, but even that has been hit or miss. The offense was among the top five, but it fell out after a sloppy game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6. Much of the success on offense has come from the passing game. Derek Carr currently ranks 13th among quarterbacks in Passing NEP per drop back. Carr has made some incredible throws this season, especially in the red zone. Carr’s first touchdown pass against the Chiefs was a beautiful touch throw to Andre Holmes from three yards out.
The Raiders have even figured out the one successful way to throw a fade a the goal line -- just use Michael Crabtree on the other end.
Oakland’s secret for the passing game, though, has been their offensive line, another area where they spent big this past offseason. Oakland is giving up the least amount of pressure on offense at 9.4%, per Sports Info Solutions charting. Carr has the league’s lowest sack rate for quarterbacks at just 3.0%.
For as well as the offense has played, the defense has been equally as bad. The unit ranks 29th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play with just about every offseason addition failing to meet expectations. Sean Smith has been slightly better of late, but early in the season he was constantly picked on for deep throws by opponents. Smith, along with Reggie Nelson, have helped make the Raiders the 29th-ranked pass defense by Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. Washington castoff David Amerson was a highlight early in the season at cornerback, but he’s also been picked on for big plays over the past few games.
Expectations were probably too high to begin with for a defense full of newcomers, but so far this season, the unit has failed to meet even the most conservative expectations. The defense will need to turn it around because even as the Raiders sit at 4-2, there’s two other teams in the AFC West with two or fewer losses. And we currently have Oakland with just a 33.9% chance at making the playoffs.
21. New York Giants (nERD: -1.90, Record: 3-3, Last Week: 23)
20. New Orleans Saints (nERD: -1.89, Record: 2-3, Last Week: 21)
19. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -1.59, Record: 3-3, Last Week: 20)
It’s really hard to know what to make of the Tennessee Titans. At their worst, they battle with the Jacksonville Jaguars as the worst team in a bad division. At their best, they might be the top team in the division. Whether this says more about the Titans or the AFC South might not matter if it proves to be true. Tennessee only has a 36.3% chance of making the playoffs, but those are the second-highest odds in that division. It’s really an impressive feat for a team that started the year ranked 31st by our nERD metric.
The Titans have gotten to this point by being about league average on both sides of the ball. Tennessee’s defense ranks 17th by Adjusted Defensive NEP per play, 19th against the pass and 12th against the run. The defense has been led by its two best players, Jurrell Casey and Brian Orakpo. After the first game, head coach Mike Mularkey made a puzzling statement that he’d like to play Casey on less snaps to make him more effective, but luckily that plan hasn’t really taken place. Casey has seen at least 70 percent of the snaps in four of six games, though Week 6 against the Cleveland Browns was his season low at 65.7 percent. When he’s been on the field, he’s been his usual dominant self as a force against the run. He also has three sacks, which have come in impressive fashion. Not many 300-pounders can move like Casey does.
Orakpo is second in the league in sacks with 7.0 through six weeks. He finished last season with seven sacks, starting all 16 games in his first year with the Titans. Orakpo hasn’t reached 10.0 sacks since the 2013 season with Washington.
On offense, things are starting to turn around. Marcus Mariota is coming off his best game of the season in a win over the Cleveland Browns, finishing with the third best Week 6 performance for a quarterback by Passing NEP per drop back. Overall, Mariota is just 25th in Passing NEP per drop back among quarterbacks, but there has been enough bright spots to bring hope if he’s ever placed in a more modern offense.
With the focus on the ground game, Tennessee has excelled with a No. 8 ranking in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play. DeMarco Murray has looked more like the Dallas-era running back instead of the Philadelphia-era one. He’s 12th in Rushing NEP per attempt among 29 running backs with at least 50 carries.
18. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: -0.61, Record: 3-3, Last Week: 15)
17. Carolina Panthers (nERD: -0.57, Record: 1-5, Last Week: 13)
16. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: -0.38, Record: 2-4, Last Week: 12)
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: -0.26, Record: 4-2, Last Week: 8)
14. Houston Texans (nERD: 0.64, Record: 4-2, Last Week: 14)
13. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 1.74, Record: 3-2, Last Week: 16)
12. San Diego Chargers (nERD: 2.01, Record: 2-4, Last Week: 17)
It’s time to appreciate Philip Rivers for what he is -- one of the best quarterbacks of this era. Rivers had a nice peak during his early years with the San Diego Chargers, but over the past few seasons, he’s been dealt injury-riddled squads that lack enough depth to keep up with the injuries. Still, he’s produced. Matt Ryan leads the league in yards per attempt at 9.9, but Rivers is second at 8.2. Given the circumstances, it’s hard to say which one is more impressive.
Rivers is 12th among quarterbacks in Passing NEP per drop back, and his receiving corps currently consists of Travis Benjamin, Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman. Even when healthy, Antonio Gates hasn’t been Antonio Gates -- he’s just 41st in Reception NEP per target among 46 tight ends with 10 or more targets -- but rookie Hunter Henry has already been more involved in the game plan that Ladarius Green ever was. Henry is currently second among those tight ends in Reception NEP per target, below only Rob Gronkowski.
Under Rivers, the offense has done what it’s needed to do to put the team in position to win. San Diego ranks 13th in Adjusted NEP per play and has the 5th-best point differential in the AFC. The offense has run the third-most plays in the league with the lead this season, yet they have a record of 2-4.
This comes down to the defense, which has been poor in late game situations this season. The Chargers have given up nine touchdowns in the fourth quarter, which is the most in the league. NFL defenses have given up a touchdown on an average of 3.1% of plays in the fourth quarter this season. The Chargers are at 5.4%.
The struggles are unfortunate because the defense has played fairly well in the other three quarters. San Diego has the 10th-best overall defense by Adjusted Defensive NEP per play, but the defense has fallen apart in the fourth quarter. Take a look at this table of splits for the defense this season:
|Quarters||TD Allowed||Passing NEP/P||Rushing NEP/P||Off Success Rate|
|1 Through 3||8||0.02||-0.03||44.48%|
San Diego has played relatively well this season, but all the losses count the same regardless of how long the team has held the lead. Because of that, the Chargers have just an 18.0% chance of making the playoffs.
11. Washington Redskins (nERD: 2.37, Record: 4-2, Last Week: 18)
10. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 3.16, Record: 3-2, Last Week: 6)
9. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 3.68, Record: 3-2, Last Week: 4)
8. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: 3.69, Record: 4-2, Last Week: 9)
7. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: 4.88, Record: 5-1, Last Week: 11)
6. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 5.38, Record: 4-1, Last Week: 5)
Seattle opened the season with a close, ugly win against the Miami Dolphins followed by a loss to the Los Angeles Rams, which brought the “what’s wrong with the Seahawks?” questions. But since then, the Seahawks have looked mostly like the Seahawks. They sit at 4-1 with a two-game lead in the division over the Rams and Arizona Cardinals, who they will play on Sunday night.
There’s still some work to be done on offense, but it’s gotten better with each game this season. On the ground, every remaining Christine Michael supporter has been vindicated by the running back’s play this season. He’s 11th in Rushing NEP per attempt among the 29 backs with 50 or more carries.
Pass protection is still a struggle for the line, as they’re allowing the fourth most pressure, per Sports Info Solutions. Luckily, the Seahawks have Russell Wilson, who is arguably the best thrower on the run in the league. Wilson hasn’t taken off and run like he has done in the past, which might be a sign his knee isn’t fully healed, but he has always excelled at keeping his eyes downfield to pass when he leaves the pocket. Wilson is 14th in Passing NEP per drop back among quarterbacks, but he also has the 8th-best Success Rate.
One of the biggest impacts on the passing game has been the recovery of Jimmy Graham. Before his injury last season, Graham appeared to be an unnatural fit in the offense as the Seahawks were trying to force him the ball for the sake of getting him the ball. This year, his production has come in the flow of the offense, and he’s eighth among tight ends with 10 or more targets in Reception NEP per target. It’s even more impressive coming off the microfracture surgery he had last season.
Seattle’s calling card, though, is still the defense, where the Seahawks rank third in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play. Despite a blown coverage or two against the Falcons on Sunday, the Seahawks have again been one of the best pass defenses in the league, ranking fifth in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. While that’s partly due to the secondary, it’s also in part to the defensive line -- mostly the ends -- bringing pressure. Cliff Avril was a force against the Falcons on Sunday, and Michael Bennett has continued to be one of the best and most versatile linemen in the league.
It’s still relatively early in the season, but Seattle’s Sunday Night Football game against Arizona is likely to be huge in sorting out the NFC West. Arizona is currently ahead of Seattle in these rankings and would pull within a win of the Seahawks with a victory. But a Seattle win would bring their record to 5-1 with Arizona dropping to 3-4, giving the Seahawks a big leg up in the division.
5. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 5.41, Record: 3-3, Last Week: 7)
4. Buffalo Bills (nERD: 5.44, Record: 4-2, Last Week: 10)
3. Denver Broncos (nERD: 5.53, Record: 4-2, Last Week: 1)
2. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: 5.98, Record: 5-0, Last Week: 2)
1. New England Patriots (nERD: 6.10, Record: 5-1, Last Week: 3)