All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 3
All-32 is back to highlight where each NFL team stands heading into the third week of the season. Some teams have already started to pull away from the pack, while other have done so in the opposite direction.
As a weekly reminder, our power rankings aren’t subjective - they’re based off our nERD scores. 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. For the early part of the season, the nERD score still incorporates some data from last season and our preseason projections. As the season progresses and a larger sample of games play out, the nERD scores will be a closer representation to a team’s play this season, as we’ll see in the movement this week.
Each week, we’ll list all 32 teams from worst to best with a more detailed breakdown of five different teams. The highlighted teams will rotate each week, which will lead to each team being featured at least three times during the course of the season. Here's how we view each team heading into Week 3.
Getting Late Early
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -13.62, Record: 0-2, Last Week: 32)
31. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -5.75, 0-2, Last Week: 30)
30. St. Louis Rams (nERD: -5.41, 1-1, Last Week: 31)
29. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: -4.33, 0-2, Last Week: 24)
”50 Ways to Lose With Andrew Luck” is this fall’s next blockbuster being produced by Chuck Pagano and Pep Hamilton. It’s the sequel to last season’s smash hit “How to Succeed in the AFC South Without Really Trying.” It involves two inferior players taking snaps away from clearly superior ones at two different skill positions, a power running game plan with an offensive line that would be alright in a recess game of Red Rover and a defense with a lack of remarkable talent. It’s not the ideal way to build around a franchise quarterback, yet that’s what Pagano, Hamilton and general manager Ryan Grigson have constructed.
In his first two seasons, Luck completed eight fourth-quarter comebacks and 11 game-winning drives, per Pro Football Reference. That’s an unsustainable amount of close wins and it has already shown with an 0-2 record in 2014. Luck has played well, ranking seventh in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) through two games, but it’s getting a point when even his most valiant efforts will not be enough to will the Colts to victory. We’ve highlighted some of the talent Indianapolis has at the receiver position, but the team’s lack of talent has started to show itself elsewhere.
This season starts with the defense. While facing Denver and Philadelphia two weeks in a row wouldn’t be favorable for many defenses, the Colts have been even worse than expected. Through two weeks, Indianapolis ranks last in Adjusted Defensive NEP, which adjusts for the quality of opponent.
It’s still early to write them off, and the Colts do play in the AFC South, so an 0-2 start is not a death sentence. But the team is no longer a lock to be the division winner by default.
28. New York Giants (nERD: -3.95, 0-2, Last Week: 28)
Some Signs Of Life
27. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -3.24, 1-1, Last Week: 29)
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -2.85, 0-2, Last Week: 27)
25. New York Jets (nERD: -2.28, 1-1, Last Week: 21)
24. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: -1.71, 1-1, Last Week: 15)
23. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: -1.68, 1-1, Last Week: 23)
22. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: -1.47, 0-2, Last Week: 19)
21. Houston Texans (nERD: -1.07, 2-0, Last Week: 26)
20. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: -.95, 1-1, Last Week: 17)
What Do We Make Of You?
19. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: -.87, 1-1, Last Week: 11)
Atlanta seemed back to 2012 Falcons form with a Week 1 win over the New Orleans Saints. Atlanta then seemed back to 2013 Falcons form with a Week 2 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. At this point in the season, it’s certainly possible that the Saints defense is worse than many expected, and the Bengals defense is even better than many expected (more on this later). Through all this, Atlanta might just be who we thought they were. The Falcons currently ranked sixth in Adjusted NEP on offense and 31st in Adjusted Defensive NEP, which is all pretty identical to 2013.
Matt Ryan is tied with Andrew Luck for the second most pass attempts through two games. That’s not great for a team that started Gabe Carimi and Lamar Holmes at the two tackle spots against Cincinnati.
Fortunately, Ryan has only been sacked three times in two games, but it might be a matter of time before this line implodes around him. The Falcons are playing Tampa Bay on Thursday night and the Buccaneers have shown no signs of a competent pass rush yet this season, so that's good news for Atlanta.
Somewhat surprisingly, the line has also held up in the running game. Against Cincinnati, the Falcons only rushed 16 times, but Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers combined for 69 yards and a 4.3 yards per attempt average. Jackson even as a positive Rushing NEP through two weeks, something he hasn’t done over a full season since 2006. Atlanta is fifth in the league so far this season in Adjusted Rushing NEP.
If Atlanta is going to be taken seriously as a contender in the NFC South, the defense is going to have to take a giants leap forward. The Falcons rank 29th against the pass and 30th against the run so far this season. That's not all that surprising, and there's plenty of room for improvement. They’ll be better than the four-win team they were last season, but this rate of play will make them an eight or nine win team rather than a locked-in playoff contender.
18. Buffalo Bills (nERD: -.32, 2-0, Last Week: 20)
17. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -.24, 1-1, Last Week: 16)
16. Miami Dolphins (nERD: -.05, 1-1, Last Week: 14)
15. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: .56, 1-1, Last Week: 22)
14. San Diego Chargers (nERD: 1.04, 1-1, Last Week: 13)
Sitting at 1-1 isn't a shock when looking at the first two games on San Diego’s schedule, though how they got there is. The Chargers lost a close game in Arizona during the late Monday night game in Week 1, then handled the Seattle Seahawks better than just about any team during the Russell Wilson era in Week 2.
Now in the second year under head coach Mike McCoy, the Chargers have been a worthy opponent to the top teams in football. The secret has been efficient ball control. The Chargers did it during a Week 15 game in Denver last season, as San Diego nearly doubled Denver’s time of position 38:49 to 21:11, scoring on four of their eight drives (not counting the end of the half). The goal was to keep the ball out of Peyton Manning's hands as long as possible, and it worked.
There aren't many teams that would game plan to face Seattle’s defense for as long as possible, but it worked for San Diego. It wasn’t a ground-and-pound type of strategy just to keep the clock running, either. Chargers running backs only ran 26 times for 84 yards. Rather, Philip Rivers was given complete control of the offense and he kept the chains moving.
Through two weeks, Rivers has the third-highest Passing NEP in the league after facing both the Cardinals and Seahawks defenses. However, San Diego still sits in the middle of our rankings with mediocre opponent-adjusted numbers, ranking 22nd defensively and 16th offensively. The offensive NEP numbers are brought down by an inefficient rushing attack - one that was solid a season ago. It won’t help that Ryan Mathews will now be out for 4-5 weeks with a knee injury.
However, with competent backups in Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown - though Brown has a Rushing NEP of -3.45 on just nine carries - the San Diego offense could be able to keep pace with more reliance on Rivers' arm.
13. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 1.24, 1-1, Last Week: 12)
12. Chicago Bears (nERD: 1.59, 1-1, Last Week: 18)
11. Washington Redskins (nERD: 1.65, 1-1, Last Week: 25)
Regardless of the opponent, our system looks favorably on scoring 41 points in a game. Washington’s blowout performance against Jacksonville led to the biggest jump in the rankings this week of 14 spots. Of course, the story out of Washington wasn’t just the win, but the (at least) temporary shift at quarterback. Our Jordan Hoover took a look at what we could possibly expect from Kirk Cousins as a starter in Washington, and the past results aren’t favorable.
Cousins had a good day NEP-wise with a Passing NEP of 15.84, which already puts him sixth among all quarterbacks through two weeks. But looking a little deeper, much of Cousins’ success came throwing to wide open receivers against a team that showed why they’re all the way at the top of this article. Washington’s success in the passing game on Sunday came mostly from failures by the Jacksonville secondary.
That might not matter too much in the upcoming weeks, as Washington’s next two opponents are the Eagles and the Giants, not teams known for their defensive efficiency thus far. Cousins may be able to remain competent against two struggling defenses, and look like he has the offense under control through three weeks as the main quarterback. The two following games on the schedule come against Seattle and Arizona, which could be pushing Cousins from the bunny slope to a black diamond.
Sustained success for Washington as a team will rely on how the defense holds. Washington is currently the second best defense according to Adjusted Defensive NEP, far better than what they were a season ago. Facing Houston and Jacksonville is factored into the adjustment, but it’s still facing Houston and Jacksonville. If the defense can continue playing at a high level, there won’t be as much pressure on Cousins to carry the team. Considering what Cousins has been so far, that might be the best case scenario for this team.
Make a Change and Breakaway
10. Detroit Lions (nERD: 2.71, 1-1, Last Week: 9)
9. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 2.85, 2-0, Last Week: 10)
8. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: 3.63, 1-1, Last Week: 4)
7. New England Patriots (nERD: 4.80, 1-1, Last Week: 8)
6. New Orleans Saints (nERD: 5.2, 0-2, Last Week: 3)
5. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 5.26, 2-0, Last Week: 6)
4. Carolina Panthers (nERD: 5.72, 2-0, Last Week: 5)
3. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: 6.02, 2-0, Last Week: 7)
If there was a concern in Cincinnati heading into the season, it was how the team would adjust to two new coordinators. While Jay Gruden’s offense was more competent than spectacular, Mike Zimmer was able to pull the most from unheralded players on the defensive side of the ball. Neither one of those transitions have been a problem so far this season.
The Bengals have the fourth best offense according to our Net Expected Points metrics, and though the defense is only 13th, they’re third against the pass. After Atlanta scored 37 on the Saints in Week 1, they were only able to score 10 points against Cincinnati in Week 2. The concern so far for the defense has been stopping the run, as they rank 24th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP. The Bengals have only given up 191 total yards on the ground, but with just 39 attempts against, that’s a 4.9 yards per attempt average.
If Hugh Jackson’s offense can continue to get early leads, opposing offenses won’t have as much luxury to run the ball. That’s worked out so far, as the Bengals are second in Adjusted Passing NEP, behind only the Broncos. Andy Dalton ranks fourth in Passing NEP, though his 45 percent Success Rate - a rather average ratio of successful throws - may be concerning if it does not increase. Though it’s nice to see Dalton playing well after receiving his new contract, it’s even better to see him being productive without a lot from A.J. Green.
Green only has nine targets and six receptions on the season after suffering a foot injury on Sunday that caused him to leave the game. The latest word is its a sprained ligament that doesn't appear to be serious. If the Bengals can continue to be an efficient offense without their best receiver - and without tight end Tyler Eifert - they could be able to solidify themselves as a top contender when Green is at 100 percent health and productivity.
We’re Still Here
2. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 10.38, 1-1, Last Week: 2)
1. Denver Broncos (nERD: 10.98, 2-0, Last Week: 1)