2018 NFL Power Rankings: Divisional Round Edition

With four top-10 teams sent home last week, how do the remaining eight playoff teams stack up in our rankings?

The regular season is in the books, but the NFL campaign is just now heading into its climax and our power rankings will be there every step of the way.

Three teams in the top 10 of our rankings were sent packing over Wild Card weekend, as the third-ranked Bears, No. 6 Ravens and No. 10 Seahawks all lost.

The Chargers’ win over Baltimore lifted Los Angeles into the second spot in the nERD ratings (which measure how many points above or below average a team is) behind the idle Rams. Our models say the Chargers are 8.31 points above average, but because they will almost certainly have to play two road games to reach Super Bowl Sunday, four teams have better title odds than their 11.6%.

The other three teams that won over the weekend also saw their nERD scores increase, but the Colts were the only other team to actually see its ranking improve (Indianapolis moved up a spot, from ninth to 10th after defeating the Texans).

Here is how the playoff field breaks down, followed by a few more notes about the rankings.

Rank Team nERD Rec Super Bowl Odds Off. NEP Rank Def. NEP Rank Change
1 Los Angeles Rams 8.87 13-3 19.1% 2 11 0
2 Los Angeles Chargers 8.31 13-4 11.6% 6 4 2
4 New Orleans Saints 8.03 13-3 17.7% 3 14 -1
5 New England Patriots 7.27 11-5 16.2% 4 10 0
7 Kansas City Chiefs 6.77 12-4 18.9% 1 28 0
9 Indianapolis Colts 4.89 11-6 5.9% 5 20 1
13 Dallas Cowboys 2.26 11-6 3.8% 17 8 0
14 Philadelphia Eagles 2.10 10-7 6.8% 12 16 0

While Philip Rivers and a potent offense may earn more attention, the Chargers’ defense has been one of the league’s best all season, and the unit was pivotal to their win on Sunday. The Los Angeles offense was more than held in check by the Ravens’ excellent defense, as it could only manage 3.7 yards per play, -0.09 Net Expected Points (NEP) per play and a 40.0% Success Rate (you can read more about NEP and Success Rate in our glossary; the league averages are 0.09 and 45.4%). Fortunately for the Chargers, Baltimore’s offense was even worse, averaging 3.9 yards and -0.15 NEP per play with a 27.4% Success Rate. Winning in Foxboro in January is hardly an easy task, but this Chargers team seems as equipped to do it as any team in the league.

The Colts are a healthy ninth in our ratings and have played at an even higher level than this since Week 7. From Week 7 to Week 17, Indianapolis has gone 9-1 with a +0.16 opponent-adjusted NEP per play margin, a mark which would have led the league if sustained for the entire season. While a +5 turnover margin helped, the Colts also had a +7.0% Success Rate differential, implying their run was fueled by more than just a small number of high-impact plays (the Rams led the league with a +7.3% Success Rate and were the only team above 5.0%).

The Indianapolis defense has played a big role in this run, as no team allowed fewer points than the Colts from Week 7 to the end of the regular season (16.4). Opponents could only manage a 44.4% Success Rate and -0.02 NEP per play -- the latter number is impressive but there is a catch, as it is not adjusted for the Colts’ sub-par slate of offensive opponents. Only three teams (Baltimore, Chicago and Minnesota) allowed negative NEP per play after opponent adjustments, and once we apply them to the Colts over these 10 games, their mark falls to 0.07. This is much closer to league average than the elite level the raw numbers suggest. Consider who the Colts played to close out the season:

Week Opponent Off. NEP Rank
7 Buffalo Bills 29
8 Oakland Raiders 27
10 Jacksonville Jaguars 31
11 Tennessee Titans 20
12 Miami Dolphins 26
13 Jacksonville Jaguars 31
14 Houston Texans 11
15 Dallas Cowboys 17
16 New York Giants 16
17 Tennessee Titans 20
-- Median 23

As well as the Indianapolis defense has played, expecting it to continue to excel against the Chiefs is a tall order.

Speaking of impressive finishes to the season, Nick Foles is doing it again. Since Foles re-entered the lineup in Week 14, the Eagles offense has looked considerably better, fueled by increased production in the passing game.

Eagles OffenseNEP per PlaySuccess RatePassing NEP per Drop BackPassing Success Rate
Weeks 1 - 130.0546.4%0.0948.5%
Week 14 - 180.1044.8%0.2852.6%

The overall numbers in the latter split are weighed down by a mediocre running game; given the struggles there and a defense that has taken multiple steps back from last season, the reigning champs have needed every bit of this unexpected improvement through the air.