All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 10
Heading into Week 10, we're just past the midway point of the season. Due to teams having byes, just over 51 percent of regular season games have been played up to this point. Yet we're still here with not much of a clue with what to make of this football season.
This week marks the sixth different team to come in at the top of these rankings, though four of last week's top-five remain, just not in the same order. Eventually we might find out which teams are really good this season, but for now, maybe we can just appreciate back-to-back watchable primetime games this past week.
Savor that while you can because we get the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night.
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. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: -10.04, Record: 1-7, Last Week: 30)
A change at quarterback was needed for the San Francisco 49ers, and that change was made -- but not much has changed. It’s rather simple to watch Colin Kaepernick and see how much of an improvement he is over Blaine Gabbert, but the problem is that Gabbert was so bad at the beginning of the season that almost anything would have been better.
Below is a chart comparing Gabbert and Kaepernick in Passing NEP, Passing NEP per drop back, and Success Rate, along with their ranks among the 33 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs on the season.
|Quarterback||Drop Backs||Passing NEP||Passing NEP/DB||Success Rate|
|Colin Kaepernick||110||-4.64 (29)||-0.04 (31)||41.82% (32)|
|Blaine Gabbert||160||-19.21 (33)||-0.12 (33)||37.5% (33)|
While Kaepernick has been much better, it hasn’t been enough to lift the offense of the 49ers. San Francisco is 30th in Adjusted NEP per play on offense, but there’s a fairly wide gap between the passing offense and the running game. The 49ers rank 31st in Adjusted Passing NEP per play but 11th in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play.
Much of that, though, comes from the quarterbacks. Between Gabbert’s 37 rushing attempts and Kaepernick’s 22, no team has seen more running from the quarterback position. The two have combined for nearly 25 percent of the team’s rushing attempts this season.
For the running backs, the production has not been as great individually. Carlos Hyde has missed the past two games, but he’s still one of 20 running backs with at least 100 carries on the season. Among them, he’s 11th in Rushing NEP per attempt, but his overall contribution is still negative by NEP and he’s 16th among them in Success Rate.
Defending the run has been San Francisco’s biggest problem this season. The 49ers are 23rd in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play but last in the league in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play. While some blame this on a possible Chip Kelly fatigue factor due to a fast-paced offense, the numbers don’t bear that out. San Francisco is allowing an opposing Rushing NEP per play of 0.21 and a Success Rate of 52.76 percent in the first half and a Rushing NEP per play of -0.01 and a Success Rate of 40.37 percent in the second half.
31. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -9.68, Record: 0-9, Last Week: 32)
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -6.28, Record: 2-6, Last Week: 31)
29. Los Angeles Rams (nERD: -6.27, Record: 3-5, Last Week: 28)
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -6.00, Record: 3-5, Last Week: 27)
27. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: -5.46, Record: 4-5, Last Week: 29)
26. New York Jets (nERD: -4.43, Record: 3-6, Last Week: 26)
25. Chicago Bears (nERD: -4.31, Record: 2-6, Last Week: 25)
24. Detroit Lions (nERD: -3.55, Record: 5-4, Last Week: 24)
23. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: -3.11, Record: 4-4, Last Week: 23)
If you need any quick look at how weird this NFL season has gotten, look no further than the Baltimore Ravens, the current AFC North division leader. Baltimore is doing their best Baltimore impression by delivering some uninspiring and mostly boring football week after week.
What’s separating this Ravens team from ones of the past few seasons is a much improved defense. Baltimore currently ranks fourth in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play with the best run defense in the league by Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play. The Ravens have given up 100 yards on the ground in a game just twice this season and last week held the Pittsburgh Steelers, the seventh-best running team by our metrics, to 50 rushing yards. Le'Veon Bell was the leading rusher in the game with 32 yards.
Baltimore’s defense is also allowing the least time of possession, plays, and yards per drive to opposing offenses. They’re just third in points allowed per drive but last in opposing possessions that end in a score.
Some of this comes from the short fields the Ravens have to defend, thanks to the 32nd-ranked offense by Adjusted NEP per play. Baltimore’s offense has struggled to move the ball for much of the year, as they’re 31st in both yards and points per drive. Joe Flacco is 29th among quarterbacks in Passing NEP per drop back and is having quite the impressive season for mostly the wrong reasons.
Flacco has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns but has also avoided interceptions at an above league average rate. Flacco’s interception rate (2.1 percent) is currently 3 percent better than the league average, but his touchdown rate (1.8 percent) is 29 percent worse.
So far this season, Baltimore’s best offense has been letting Mike Wallace run past defenders on either deep routes or 95-yard catch and runs.
While the Ravens currently sit atop the AFC North at 4-4, we have them with just a 29.8 percent chance of making the playoffs, which is third in the division. Pittsburgh is above them at 36.8 percent, and the Cincinnati Bengals are currently our favorites -- barely -- at 37.8 percent.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: -2.95, Record: 4-4, Last Week: 22)
21. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -2.59, Record: 4-5, Last Week: 18)
20. Miami Dolphins (nERD: -1.66, Record: 4-4, Last Week: 16)
19. Houston Texans (nERD: -1.60, Record: 5-3, Last Week: 21)
18. Carolina Panthers (nERD: -0.61, Record: 3-5, Last Week: 14)
17. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: -0.46, Record: 3-4-1, Last Week: 15)
16. New York Giants (nERD: -0.30, Record: 5-3, Last Week: 17)
Sometimes the best thing a team can do is let others around them start to crumble. That’s partly how we’ve gotten the New York Giants from a roughly 30 percent chance of making the playoffs last week to the 5 seed in the NFC. The Minnesota Vikings have struggled, the Green Bay Packers have struggled, and the Philadelphia Eagles have dropped two straight NFC East games, including this past Sunday against the Giants. We now give the Giants a 54.3 percent chance of making the playoffs, the fifth-highest odds in the conference.
Of course, other teams aren’t the only reason the Giants have gotten to this position. This year has been the opposite of the past two for them with a defense exceeding expectations and carrying a sputtering offense.
There were a lot of resources spent in the offseason to build up this defensive unit, and so far, those additions have come through. Damon Harrison has been one of the best run defenders in the league, Janoris Jenkins has been one of the league’s best cornerbacks, and despite the total sack numbers being down, Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul have helped with the 11th-best pressure rate in the league, according to Sports Info Solutions charting from Football Outsiders.
The Giants are 11th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play -- 12th against the pass and 9th against the run -- while the offense is closer to league average at 16 by Adjusted NEP per play.
Early in the season, the Giants’ passing game was taking off despite little contribution from Odell Beckham. Now at the halfway point of the season, the opposite has been the case. Beckham has been productive while the other receivers have not provided much value.
Sterling Shepard was one of the league’s most productive receivers through three weeks but did not have more than 32 receiving yards in a game from Week 4 through Week 7. He’s now 27th in Reception NEP per target among 48 wide receivers with at least 50 targets on the season. But even Beckham’s recent value hasn’t been enough to lift his season totals, as he’s just 33rd among those wide receivers in Reception NEP per target.
There may be some hope in the passing game thanks to the four-touchdown performance from Eli Manning against the Eagles, though Manning still ranks 21st among quarterbacks in Passing NEP per drop back.
Remaining on this track towards the playoffs would require the passing offense to look more like it did over the first few weeks of the season, and there might have been some adjustments over the bye week to fix that.
15. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 0.63, Record: 6-2, Last Week: 12)
14. Oakland Raiders (nERD: 1.26, Record: 7-2, Last Week: 20)
13. New Orleans Saints (nERD: 1.85, Record: 4-4, Last Week: 19)
12. Washington Redskins (nERD: 1.85, Record: 4-3-1, Last Week: 13)
11. Buffalo Bills (nERD: 2.70, Record: 4-5, Last Week: 11)
10. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 3.57, Record: 4-4, Last Week: 7)
9. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 4.18, Record: 5-2-1, Last Week: 9)
8. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 4.52, Record: 3-4-1, Last Week: 8)
7. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 4.60, Record: 4-4, Last Week: 5)
6. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: 4.63, Record: 5-3, Last Week: 6)
5. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: 5.39, Record: 6-3, Last Week: 4)
Only two teams have better playoff odds in the NFL than the Atlanta Falcons. No offense has played better this season, but only four defenses have played worse. In any other season, that might make the Falcons a fringe playoff team, but this year, it makes them a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Atlanta ranks first in Adjusted NEP per play on offense, thanks to the play of Matt Ryan. Ryan is second in Passing NEP per drop back among quarterbacks, behind Tom Brady, but he’s first in Success Rate. While Ryan has the luxury of throwing to Julio Jones, that’s not the only part of the Atlanta passing offense that’s succeeding this season.
Ryan has been able to spread the ball around to other receivers, tight ends, and running backs, and 10 different players on the Falcons have at least 10 targets this season. Atlanta also runs one of the most well coordinated offenses in the league under Kyle Shanahan.
This shouldn’t discount what Jones has been able to do as a receiver. He’s been the intended target on 26 percent of Ryan’s passes, and he leads the league in Reception NEP per target among receivers. He’s just one of two wide receivers, along with Willie Snead, to be worth more than a point per target while being thrown at 50 or more times.
If there is something that could potentially take down the Falcons this season, it would be their inability to stop anyone on defense. Atlanta is 28th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play, and they have allowed the 6th-most yards per drive and 2nd-most points per drive of any defense in the league.
Luckily, though, that might not be a problem until the playoffs. Of Atlanta’s seven remaining opponents, only one ranks among the top half of teams in Adjusted NEP per play on offense, and that’s the third-ranked New Orleans Saints in a game that won’t be played until Week 17. Of the other five teams, the 20th-ranked Arizona Cardinals will have the best offense.
4. Denver Broncos (nERD: 5.81, Record: 6-3, Last Week: 1)
3. San Diego Chargers (nERD: 5.86, Record: 4-5, Last Week: 10)
The AFC West is really good this season. So good that the team with the worst record comes out not only as the best in the division, but as the third best team in the league. The San Diego Chargers are good, but that might not be enough to matter.
San Diego has been one of the more fun teams to watch in the league this season, but the results from the first half of the season certainly don’t reflect how well the team has played. But at 4-5, the Chargers still have a shot at making the playoffs. It’s not a likely one, but it’s a shot. San Diego has a 31.2 percent chance of making the playoffs, and while those are the seventh-best odds in the conference, they’re the fourth-best in their own division.
It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see both Wild Card teams come from the AFC West. At this point. it might be an upset if that’s not the case. But in order for the Chargers to get a chance, either the Denver Broncos or Kansas City Chiefs would have to fall away -- with seven wins, the Oakland Raiders can likely still underperform in the second half and still grab a Wild Card with an 82.4 percent chance of making the playoffs.
While the Chargers as a whole might be underrated this season, the defense has undoubtedly been the best kept secret in the league. San Diego has the eighth-best defense in the league by Adjusted Defensive NEP per play. That’s been aided by the ability to create turnovers, mostly from interceptions.
The Chargers have the third-best defensive turnover rate in the league and are second in interceptions, even without Jason Verrett. Casey Hayward, who has seen an increased role in Verrett’s absence, has accounted for 5 of San Diego’s 11 picks.
The offense has also been able to stay as an above average unit despite the injuries to key skill positions. However, one place that has stayed healthy is the offensive line, which was not the case over the past few seasons. The healthy line is definitely a big reason for the emergence of Melvin Gordon this season. Gordon is just 13th among 20 running backs with 100 or more carries in Rushing NEP per attempt, but that’s a substantial improvement from last season when Gordon was the second-least efficient among 44 backs with 100-plus carries.
Of course there’s also Philip Rivers, who continues to outperform his surrounding talent. Rivers is just 16th in Passing NEP per drop back, but that’s an impressive feat given his targets for much of the season. Of those pass-catchers, Tyrell Williams has emerged as the best of the bunch, and he’s currently sixth among receivers in Reception NEP per target.
The season might not end like it should given the performance level, but there’s been a lot of good happening in San Diego this year.
2. New England Patriots (nERD: 6.81, Record: 7-1, Last Week: 2)
1. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: 9.66, Record: 7-1, Last Week: 3)