All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 14
The central theme of the 2016 season has been the lack of dominant teams. Through Week 13 and every team having played 12 games, we do know who the good teams are, at least for the most part. But those teams are good in relative to the rest of the league, not exactly good teams in general. The current No. 1 team in the rankings right now would just be fifth with the same nERD score compared to last year and the 2014 rankings. This is to say, the rest of the regular season might get pretty fun and pretty random.
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. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -10.77, Record: 0-12, Last Week: 32)
31. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: -10.00, Record: 1-11, Last Week: 31)
30. Los Angeles Rams (nERD: -8.38, Record: 4-8, Last Week: 30)
29. New York Jets (nERD: -6.73, Record: 3-9, Last Week: 26)
“Put [backup’s name] in, he can’t be any worse,” is a common phrase uttered by fan bases of bad teams. When a starter is playing poorly, it sometimes feels like the alternative has to be better. Except the possibility the backup could be worse is very much a real one, and that’s where we are at quarterback for the New York Jets.
By just about any metric, Ryan Fitzpatrick has been terrible this season. But until the stinkfest of a first half, which turned into a stinkfest of a second half, against the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football, it wasn’t bad enough to be permanently stripped of his starting duties.
In the second half, Bryce Petty started, and he couldn’t have been any worse -- until he was. On 12 drop backs, Fitzpatrick was worth -0.15 Passing NEP per drop back and Petty was worth -0.26 on 26 drop backs. Petty has been worse than Fitzpatrick every time he’s been on the field in 2016, which includes his Week 10 start against the Los Angeles Rams, albeit he has an extremely small sample of work.
|Comp-Att||Touchdowns||Interceptions||Passing NEP/Drop Back|
|Ryan Fitzpatrick||196 of 343 (57.1%)||12 (3.5%)||14 (4.1%)||-0.02|
|Bryce Petty||30 of 57 (52.6%)||2 (3.5%)||3 (5.3%)||-0.16|
But just because Petty has been worse doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be the starter for the rest of the season -- something head coach Todd Bowles noted will be the case. At 3-9 and eliminated from playoff contention, there’s no reason for Fitzpatrick to be under center. The Jets need to find out what they might have in Petty to evaluate for next season. At this point, he might be bad enough that Christian Hackenberg looks like a legitimate answer to the problems under center. Hey, he can’t be any worse, right?
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -6.11, Record: 2-10, Last Week: 29)
27. Chicago Bears (nERD: -4.38, Record: 3-9, Last Week: 28)
26. Miami Dolphins (nERD: -3.72, Record: 7-5, Last Week: 21)
25. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: -2.99, Record: 6-6, Last Week: 27)
24. Carolina Panthers (nERD: -2.52, Record: 4-8, Last Week: 17)
23. Houston Texans (nERD: -2.39, Record: 6-6, Last Week: 25)
22. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -1.70, Record: 6-6, Last Week: 22)
21. Detroit Lions (nERD: -0.99, Record: 8-4, Last Week: 23)
The Detroit Lions have a made a habit of pulling wins out of places wins are unlikely to come from. While that’s set them up atop the NFC North at the moment, it hasn’t really shown they’re a dominant team. Last week’s 28-13 win over the New Orleans Saints was Detroit’s first game of the season decided by more than one. So, despite the eight wins, the Lions have the same point differential as the 6-6 Minnesota Vikings (+24), which ranks 12th in the league.
Many of Detroit’s wins have been carried by the offense, which ranks seventh by Adjusted NEP per play. Matthew Stafford is 10th among quarterbacks by Passing NEP per drop back, and he has been credited with seven fourth-quarter comebacks and seven game-winning drives, both of which lead the league.
Part of Stafford’s improved play this season has come from his ability to avoid sacks. While his 5.9 percent sack rate isn’t near his peak sub-four percent years in 2012 and 2013, it’s dramatically better than his past two seasons of 6.9 percent and 7.0 percent. While much of this is part of Detroit’s switch to shorter passes, the team has also been moving the pocket around for Stafford, which has given the quarterback more time to find receivers down the field.
While the offense is still rolling, how far the Lions can go in the playoffs might rely on the defense. Right now it’s a bend-but-not-break unit. The defense ranks 31st in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play despite giving up 20 points or less in each of the past six games. Detroit’s defense did enough to disrupt the timing of the New Orleans' offense last Sunday, which helped lead to their biggest win of the year.
20. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 0.09, Record: 9-3, Last Week: 19)
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: 0.23, Record: 7-5, Last Week: 18)
18. New York Giants (nERD: 0.30, Record: 8-4, Last Week: 15)
17. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: 0.55, Record: 4-7-1, Last Week: 20)
16. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: 0.65, Record: 7-5, Last Week: 24)
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: 0.90, Record: 7-5, Last Week: 16)
14. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 0.98, Record: 5-7, Last Week: 11)
13. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 1.34, Record: 6-6, Last Week: 13)
12. Buffalo Bills (nERD: 1.39, Record: 6-6, Last Week: 10)
In just the second half of Week 13, the Buffalo Bills went from a dominating performance to franchise uncertainty. Buffalo took a commanding 24-9 lead over the Oakland Raiders before every facet of the team failed in the second half, which led to a 38-24 loss.
During the first half, the running game was gashing the Oakland defense, something that has been a recurring theme on both sides of that battle. The Bills rank first in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play as a team, and both LeSean McCoy and Mike Gillislee were able to take control on the ground. Gillislee carried the ball just eight times for 49 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s been the most efficient runner in the league with at least 50 carries. Among 57 backs reaching that mark, there’s a bigger gap in Rushing NEP per attempt between Gillislee and Jay Ajayi at No. 2 than between Ajayi and Devontae Booker at No. 51.
McCoy is third behind Gillislee and Booker, and he has looked like the best version of himself, changing direction on a dime and beating defenders to the outside.
But while everything fell apart during the second half -- the defense, offensive line, and special teams -- much of the blame is getting put on Tyrod Taylor and the passing game. Taylor has struggled some this season -- he’s 25th in Passing NEP per drop back and the Bills are 21st in Adjusted Passing NEP per play -- but he’s only had Sammy Watkins on the field for four games (and Watkins hasn't looked 100 percent for a couple of those) and Robert Woods for eight. The wide receiver depth chart after that isn't pretty -- it even included Percy Harvin for a point this year.
The contract Taylor signed in the offseason has an option that needs to be decided on after the season. In March, the Bills could walk away from the quarterback with just $2.8 million in dead money instead of guaranteeing a $15.9 million salary for 2017. Even with the struggles this season, that seems too aggressive of a move just a year after Taylor finished 10th in the league in Passing NEP per drop back.
11. Oakland Raiders (nERD: 2.25, Record: 10-2, Last Week: 14)
10. San Diego Chargers (nERD: 2.33, Record: 5-7, Last Week: 9)
9. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 2.65, Record: 5-6-1, Last Week: 12)
Our numbers have liked the Arizona Cardinals pretty much all season long. It took until Week 13 for them to play up to it. For much of the game against Washington, Arizona looked more like the 2015 version of the team than it has all of 2016. None more impressive than the Carson Palmer pass to J.J. Nelson that put the game away late in the fourth quarter.
That touchdown was preceded earlier in the drive by 4th-and-1 attempt on Arizona’s own 34-yard line, when the Cards were up one with 3:49 to go. There’s not many coaches who would call to go for it there, but the decision was rewarded with a 14-yard run from David Johnson and an eight-point lead five plays later.
Johnson continues to be one of the best players in the league, and he is the consistent force on an Arizona offense that’s been rarely consistent throughout the season.
While the Cardinals have showed up in some big games and they’ve been in our top 10, per nERD, all season long, they only have an 8.6 percent chance of making the playoffs -- only 1.5 percent of which comes from catching the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West.
Arizona might be done for the 2016 season, but the underlying metrics of this season should give hope for another year of contention in 2017. Palmer hasn’t been quite as bad as the 21st ranking in Passing NEP per drop back would suggest. Another year of development from Nelson and a full year of health from John Brown could help get Arizona's offense back on track in 2017.
8. Washington Redskins (nERD: 2.87, Record: 6-5-1, Last Week: 6)
7. New Orleans Saints (nERD: 3.41, Record: 5-7, Last Week: 5)
6. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: 3.82, Record: 6-6, Last Week: 7)
5. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: 5.10, Record: 7-5, Last Week: t-2)
4. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 5.26, Record: 8-3-1, Last Week: 8)
3. Denver Broncos (nERD: 5.38, Record: 8-4, Last Week: 4)
Once again, the Denver Broncos have been carried by the league’s top defense. While their defensive performance is no longer threatening to be better than the unit was in 2015, the Broncos comfortably sit in first by Adjusted Defensive NEP per play.
There is a big split, though in the defense, which was not the case last season. While the Broncos are far and away the best pass defense, per our metrics, they’re 26th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play.
But Denver’s offense hasn’t been able to grab big enough leads -- or leads at all -- to force opposing offenses to the air. The Broncos' offense currently ranks 21st in Adjusted NEP per play -- 23rd through the air and 21st on the ground. After two looks at Paxton Lynch at the helm, the offense is currently better with Trevor Siemian under center. Though Siemian ranks just 20th in Passing NEP per drop back (0.10), he’s outperformed Lynch (0.01), albeit Lynch's sample size is small.
Siemien has been one willing to take risks down the field. Converting some of those plays with receivers like Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas give the offense a higher upside on a given play. Semien returned to practice on Wednesday and was a limited participant, but he did throw the ball.
His return will be key for a difficult four-game stretch to end the season. The Broncos will go to Tennessee this weekend before hosting the New England Patriots in Week 15. The season closes with a pair of division games -- on the road against Kansas City and at home against Oakland.
As the current No. 6 seed in the AFC, we give the Broncos a 79.1 percent chance of making the playoffs.
2. New England Patriots (nERD: 6.34, Record: 10-2, Last Week: t-2)
1. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: 7.00, Record: 11-1, Last Week: 1)