2018 NFL Power Rankings: Divisional Round Edition
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.
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|
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|
|16||New York Giants||16|
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 Offense||NEP per Play||Success Rate||Passing NEP per Drop Back||Passing Success Rate|
|Weeks 1 - 13||0.05||46.4%||0.09||48.5%|
|Week 14 - 18||0.10||44.8%||0.28||52.6%|
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.