All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 4
There was a lot of movement this week in the power rankings. There were some close wins, close losses and some teams got to play the Jaguars and Buccaneers - so far, that's the best way to guarantee moving up a few spots.
With three games down, we're getting a better picture of who these teams might be and our data is starting to rely more on this season rather our preseason projections.
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.
Ramp Up the College Scouting
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -15.50, Record: 0-3, Last Week: 32)
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -7.18, 0-3, Last Week: 26)
This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. The new era of the Buccaneers so far has looked like an extension of the last with a slightly older quarterback. When Josh McCown was brought over from the Bears, it was widely believed the Tampa Bay passing offense would become Chicago South with McCown heaving the ball downfield to tall receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans like he did in the second half of last season with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. So far that hasn’t happened. Through three games, McCown is 4 for 12 on deep passes - at least 15 yards downfield - for 108 yards and one touchdown. That touchdown wasn’t even to a receiver, it was a 19-yard pass to running back Bobby Rainey.
It’s certainly possible and plausible that some of this has to do with the health of offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford. Tedford has been dealing with a heart condition and hasn't called the plays in the first three games. There’s really no way of knowing what type of impact Tedford’s absence has been having on the offense, but so far the results have not been good. Tampa Bay ranks second-to-last in Adjusted NEP and Adjusted Passing NEP. The Buccaneers ranked 11th in Adjusted Rushing NEP though, so there's at least some hope.
The defense - the unit expected to improve the most under Lovie Smith - has not fared much better. Tampa Bay ranks 26th in Adjusted Defensive NEP, mostly due to a 32nd rank in Adjusted Pass Defense NEP. That’s one of the side effects to a defense with a lot of zone coverage and minimal pass rush. Tampa Bay leads the league in opposing completion percentage at 76.9 percent, and they’re giving up a touchdown on 5.5 percent of those attempts, which is the ninth-highest rate in the league.
On a slightly brighter note, the Bucs rank third in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP, which is good because it seems opponents will be spending a significant amount of time trying to run out the clock at the end of games. Lavonte David is one of the top linebackers in the league, and more people might realize that this season because his tackle totals could be astronomical. Obviously a flawed stat like tackles isn't a true representation of what David brings to the defense, but he’s been all over the field making stops because other players have not.
30. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -5.82, 0-3, Last Week: 31)
29. St. Louis Rams (nERD: -5.35, 1-2, Last Week: 30)
Still Hanging On
28. New York Jets (nERD: -3.15, 1-2, Last Week: 25)
27. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: -3.02, 1-2, Last Week: 20)
26. New York Giants (nERD: -3.02, 1-2, Last Week: 28)
Is this the Giants offense that was supposed to be in place to start the season? After an atrocious game against Detroit to start the year, the offense looked competent against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2 and highly efficient against the Houston Texans in Week 3. Our numbers suggest to hold off the parade, at least for now. Entering last week, the Texans were our lowest ranked 2-0 team, so the opponent adjustment for dominating that defense is not as favorable as the 30-17 final score would indicate.
The Giants still have negative Adjusted NEP in total offense, ranking 27th in the NFL. Still, the production against Houston is the type of thing the Giants wanted to see out of the offense. Eli Manning 21 of his 28 passes, but will have to be even more efficient to have a positive Passing NEP. His -4.21 Passing NEP is still behind Geno Smith and Jake Locker for the season.
Rashad Jennings was the star against Houston, and while he’s only 10th in Rushing NEP for running backs with at least 20 carries this season, he’s the best of the high-volume bunch. Seven running backs have at least 55 carries this season, and six of them have a negative Rushing NEP. Of those backs, only DeMarco Murray has a higher Success Rate. In that same group of backs, Giovani Bernard is the only player to have a higher Reception NEP than Jennings.
Other bright spots for the offense have been Rueben Randle's ability to run the route Manning is expecting, the Week 3 emergence of Victor Cruz and Larry Donnell turning into a legitimate receiving threat at tight end.
The defense, however, was supposed the be the strength of the roster, but hasn't lived up to expectations so far this season. The defensive performance against Houston had more to do with making Ryan Fitzpatrick play from behind than anything else. The Giants rank 22nd in Adjusted Defensive NEP a season after ranking 6th. A 23rd rank in pass defense is not what the Giants had in mind when they gave out a big contract to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the offseason. The pass defense will have to improve against a Washington team on Thursday that hasn't been hesitant to take advantage of poor defenses thus far. The Giants might not be as bad as they looked in the first two weeks, but have a long way to go before Week 3 looks sustainable.
25. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -2.27, 1-2, Last Week: 27)
24. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -1.78, 1-2, Last Week: 17)
23. Miami Dolphins (nERD: -1.74, 1-2, Last Week: 23)
22. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: -1.62, 2-1, Last Week: 23)
21. Houston Texans (nERD: -1.29, 2-1, Last Week: 21)
On the Fringe
20. Buffalo Bills (nERD: -1.18, 2-1, Last Week: 18)
19. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: -1.13, 1-2, Last Week: 29)
18. Green Bay Packers (nERD: -.99, 1-2, Last Week: 13)
Green Bay might lead the league in not making sense so far this season. After being outplayed by the Seattle Seahawks on opening night (understandable), the Packers let the Jets hang around for just a little too long in Week 2 (oh no) before scoring only seven points against the Lions in Week 3 (wait, what?). The Packers are 1-2 and in danger of dropping two games below .500 for the first time since Aaron Rodgers' first season as a starter in 2008.
Somewhere in the Lions-Packers game, there was an offensive line waiting to block. That somewhere was unfortunately not on the field. While it’s still likely Eddie Lacy will be fine for the remainder of the season, he’s had a rough three weeks. Lacy has the lowest Rushing NEP of any player by a significant margin at -18.05. He’s also had a terrible Success Rate of just under 28 percent.
The offensive line also hasn’t done Rodgers any favors this season. Through three games, he’s already been sacked nine times, which amounts to 8.1 percent of his drop backs. What’s become concerning with that is his 6.19 Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt, which would be his lowest in a full season. Rodgers has never been the one to panic under pressure, but the constant threat of a pass rush play after play might be affecting his timing. Against Detroit, Rodgers was missing throws he’s made easily throughout his career. That included throwing behind his receiver on a screen pass, something more likely to be seen from the three other quarterbacks Green Bay had to play last season. Even as Rodgers has only thrown one interception, he ranks just 24th in Passing NEP this season. We can give some credit for Week 3’s performance on Detroit, who currently rank second in Adjusted Defensive NEP, but the Packers offense has just looked off.
A less fixable problem could be the defense, which continues to struggle under defensive coordinator Dom Capers. The Packers are currently 29th in Adjusted Defensive NEP, which is nothing Green Bay hasn’t overcome before. But if the offense continues to struggle, the defense will seem to be even more of a problem, even if its on par with its performance through the past few seasons. It might not be time to panic in Green Bay, but there is much more to worry about than there was three weeks ago.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: 0.00, 2-1, Last Week: 24)
16. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: .18, 2-1, Last Week: 15)
15. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: .19, 1-2, Last Week: 22)
Moving On Up
14. San Diego Chargers (nERD: 1.78, 2-1, Last Week: 14)
13. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: 2.16, 1-2, Last Week: 8)
12. Washington Redskins (nERD: 2.16, 1-2, Last Week: 11)
11. Chicago Bears (nERD: 2.78, 2-1, Last Week: 12)
10. Carolina Panthers (nERD: 3.24, 2-1, Last Week: 4)
9. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 3.26, 3-0, Last Week: 9)
Not many people would have expected the Cardinals to be 3-0 on the season with Carson Palmer at quarterback. The record is even more surprising considering Drew Stanton has started two of those games. Of course, Stanton hasn’t been the reason the Cardinals have been winning, but he’s been getting by with a little help from his friends. Stanton ranks 24th in Passing NEP, but has an alarmingly low Success Rate of 39.4 percent.
The offense has done just enough to stay afloat in both the run and pass games. Arizona ranks 13th offensively, and 14th in both passing and rushing offense. Michael Floyd has been the standout on offense so far, as he leads the team in receptions, targets, Reception NEP and Target NEP. He’s currently the only receiver on the team his a positive NEP per target.
Even though Andre Ellington has averaged 4.5 yards per carry this season, his advanced metrics place him around the 2013 Rashard Mendenhall level. Last season, Mendenhall had a Rushing NEP per play of -.11, and so far this season, Ellington’s Rushing NEP per play has been -.12. Some of that can be place on his low Success Rate of 34.8 percent. Of course, that’s not all on Ellington. Some can be pinned to a still work in progress offensive line and opposing defenses’ lack of fear in getting beat by Stanton. The good news for the offense is Palmer has been able to throw this week and could be in line to return after the Week 4 bye.
The star of this team, though, might be the front office and coaching staff. Arizona lost several key contributors from last year’s defense - Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett, Darryl Washington - for various reasons, but the unit hasn’t taken a step back. The Cardinals are 10th in Adjusted Defensive NEP and 4th against the run. The Cardinals are getting great play out of players both old (Larry Foote) and young (Deone Buchanan and Tony Jefferson).
The front office’s foresight to quickly sign running back and former Sun Devil Marion Grice off San Diego’s practice squad following Danny Woodhead’s injury is a sign of management that will be able to fill any holes that could pop up on the roster. Even if Arizona doesn’t stay as one of the top teams in the league, a staff like this could prevent a major regression from occurring.
8. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: 3.64, 2-1, Last Week: 19)
7. Detroit Lions (nERD: 4.23, 2-1, Last Week: 10)
6. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 4.39, 3-0, Last Week: 5)
5. New England Patriots (nERD: 4.71, 2-1, Last Week: 7)
4. New Orleans Saints (nERD: 6.75, 1-2, Last Week: 6)
Love On Top
3. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: 7.23, 3-0, Last Week: 3)
2. Denver Broncos (nERD: 8.49, 2-1, Last Week: 1)
1. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 10.16, 2-1, Last Week: 2)
The first 59 minutes of Week 3’s game against the Broncos was a slightly less embarrassing version of the Super Bowl. Seattle was able to move the ball on offense while keeping Peyton Manning from doing Peyton Manning things. Again, for the first 59 minutes.
Our numbers don’t suggest Seattle’s defense has been exposed, but through three weeks, the Seahawks defense doesn't rank as high as it normally would. Seattle ranks 12th in Adjusted Defensive NEP, which includes ranking 5th against the run. Somewhat surprisingly, they’re 27th against the pass. The Seahawks have not played that poorly, and their three opponents so far this season have been pretty good offenses. With more games and more opponent adjustments, it’s probably safe to assume the pass defense won’t rank just above Dallas and Indianapolis.
There has been a bit of a shift, though, to a more dangerous offense. Last season, the Seahawks were incredibly efficient with the threat of a big play. Now those big plays are becoming more common. Through three weeks, four different receivers already have a reception of at least 30 yards. Seattle ranks third in Adjusted NEP this season. Being the best running team in the league has helped. Russell Wilson is averaging 4.8 yards per attempt on the ground and ranks second in the league in Rushing NEP behind Justin Forsett. Only Le’Veon Bell has a higher Rushing NEP than Marshawn Lynch among running backs with at least 50 carries.
Seattle is pretty clearly the most complete team in the league, and how better to show it than by beating the team that has been number one in our rankings since the season began. Seattle and Denver had been within decimal points of each other in nERD over the past three weeks, but the win on Sunday gave the Seahawks a significant bump and are now the best team in the league by over a point and a half. With the way this team has played over the past three seasons, it’s hard to imagine that type of lead slipping away quickly or easily.