All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 6
We're five weeks into the NFL season, and we're seeing fewer and fewer surprises. The truly good teams are starting to show themselves, and the hot starts are beginning to fizzle out. If you’ve been paying attention to our ratings since the start of the season, you’d have a good idea of which teams were which before it started happening on the field. We’re starting to get a clearer hierarchy of teams, with a new team — kind of — taking over the top spot.
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.
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.
That Kind of Luxe Just Ain't For Us
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -16.37, Record: 0-5, Last Week: 32)
31. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -7.96, 0-4, Last Week: 31)
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -6.97, 1-4, Last Week: 30)
29. St. Louis Rams (nERD: -5.20, 1-3, Last Week: 29)
28. New York Jets (nERD: -5,00, 1-4, Last Week: 26)
With an offensive line that struggles to block, receivers who struggle to get open or catch and a secondary that can’t cover, it doesn’t really matter who the starting quarterback is. Though it doesn’t help when the two quarterback options are Geno Smith and Michael Vick. Smith had a bad rookie season last year and hasn't progressed much five games into 2014. Only Derek Carr has a lower Passing NEP this season for quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs, though Carr has been 0.09 Net Expected Points (NEP) worse per drop back. Even with as bad as Smith has been this season, he still might be the better option at quarterback.
Whatever spark Vick was supposed to give to the Jets offense against the San Diego Chargers must have extinguished long before he took over in the second half. With just 23 drop backs this season, Vick has a Passing NEP of -14.00. That’s more than two points worse than Christian Ponder's performance against the Green Bay Packers last Thursday night. Vick has also lost more than half a point every time he’s dropped back this season with a Passing NEP per drop back of -0.61. Only Matt McGloin and Thomas Morstead have worse per drop back numbers - Morstead is a punter for the New Orleans Saints who attempted a pass on possibly the worst fake punt play ever run.
This isn’t a Buffalo Bills-like scenario for the Jets, where they have a legitimate shot at winning the division and the backup is clearly a better option. Through the small sample, the backup has brought even less to the table, so a change in quarterback is not going to turn this team around.
The Jets have overcome bad quarterback play in previous years, but this season the defense is nowhere near where Rex Ryan led teams have been in the past. The Jets rank just 25th in Adjusted Defensive NEP, led by most teams picking on the Jets’ secondary. They've played some close games, but have trailed enough for opponents to have some ability to run the the clock out at the end of games. Still, opponents are throwing the ball against the Jets 1.5 times more than they’re attempting to run, a ratio that ranks 14th and well above other one win teams. With the Broncos coming to the Meadowlands in Week 6, that’s not going to get much better.
One thing the Jets can be happy about is the play of Chris Ivory. Ivory has clearly separated himself as the best running back on the team and has been one of the most effective in the league thus far. Only Baltimore’s Justin Forsett has a higher Rushing NEP for running backs with at least 50 carries.
A Different Kind Of Buzz
27. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: -3.31, 2-3, Last Week: 22)
26. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -3.22, 2-2, Last Week: 27)
25. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -2.95, 1-4, Last Week: 28)
24. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: -2.04, 3-2, Last Week: 25)
23. Washington Redskins (nERD: -1.18, 1-4, Last Week: 24)
22. Chicago Bears (nERD: -.12, 2-3, Last Week: 16)
21. Houston Texans (nERD: -.02, 3-2, Last Week: 21)
This is the third week in a row the Houston Texans sit at number 21 in these rankings. In those three weeks, they’ve lost to the Giants, beat the Bills and lost to the Cowboys in overtime. Houston hasn’t been a very high variance team through five weeks. They’ve given up more than 20 points on defense once and scored more than 20 on offense twice. In the three other games the’ve scored 17 points.
The defense, unsurprisingly, is the strong part of the team. According to our metrics, the Texans have the best defense in the league, thanks to the top-ranked pass defense. That ranking wouldn’t be expected by just looking at raw yardage totals. Houston has given up the 11th-most yards through the air, but have only given up the ninth most passing touchdowns. Turnovers have been a helpful factor, as the Texans rank 12th in the league with 5 interceptions. The defense has caused one turnover in each game so far and Week 3 against the Giants has been the only game this season in which they only forced one.
Things have not gone quite as well offensively. Peak Ryan Fitzpatrick can competently steer an offense when backed by a good defense, but Houston has not yet gotten peak Ryan Fitzpatrick. He currently ranks 24th in Passing NEP with more interceptions than touchdowns. As a whole, the offense ranks 25th in Adjusted NEP, 19th in the air and 23rd on the ground. The run game certainly hasn’t been helping the offense out.
20. Miami Dolphins (nERD: .20, 2-2, Last Week: 19)
19. Carolina Panthers (nERD: .20, 3-2, Last Week: 18)
18. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: .74, 2-3, Last Week: 11)
17. Buffalo Bills (nERD: .81, 3-2, Last Week: 23)
Live That Fantasy
16. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 1.46, 3-1, Last Week: 8)
15. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: 2.05, 4-1, Last Week: 17)
14. New Orleans Saints (nERD: 2.12, 2-3, Last Week: 7)
Our numbers can’t quit you, New Orleans. As bad as you’ve looked at times and how disappointed we’ve been in you, we just can’t completely count you out.
It took a near loss to Tampa Bay for the Saints to finally drop seven spots in our rankings and out of the top 10 for the first time this season. Our numbers still like certain aspects of the Saints, though. They’re still the second-ranked offense behind only Atlanta. Drew Brees is fifth in Passing NEP, though he’s tied with Alex Smith for the lowest Passing NEP per drop back of the top-10 quarterbacks.
The problem in New Orleans has clearly been the defense. The tension is so strong in any television cut showing both Sean Payton and Rob Ryan that David Fincher is in negotiations to have them star in the sequel to Gone Girl. In the offseason, the Saints got Ryan a shiny new safety, but he’s already broken, which is why you should never give Rob Ryan nice things. Jairus Byrd wasn’t playing well before his season ending injury, as he struggled in run defense and was put in coverage schemes different than the ones he succeeded with in Buffalo. Again, you don’t give Rob Ryan nice things.
No defense is worse by Adjusted NEP, including the Jaguars who have given up 169 points already through five games. New Orleans ranks 31st against the pass and 26th against the run. There’s certainly some regression in play since the Saints vastly improved on defense last season. However, they've dropped so far the other way it would be difficult to expect the Saints to remain this bad for the remainder of the season.
Another positive outlook for New Orleans is that no team in the NFC South has pulled away. The current division leader, Carolina, is only a game up on the Saints in the standings and currently rank 19th in our rankings. Atlanta appears to be a league average team thus far and Tampa Bay still sits all the way at the top of this page. The Saints haven’t looked good for much of the season, but they still have a wide open opportunity to turn back into the team that was expected.
13. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 2.20, 4-1, Last Week: 4)
12. New York Giants (nERD: 2.56, 3-2, Last Week: 15)
11. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 2.56, 3-2, Last Week: 20)
10. New England Patriots (nERD: 2.76, 3-2, Last Week: 14)
Sunday night’s game against Cincinnati was impressive, but it mostly proved the Patriots can still execute a well put together game plan. The Bengals rank 30th against the run, and Stevan Ridley was given 27 carries in which he ran for 113 yards and a touchdown. The offensive line played its best game of the season, which was big for the run game and keeping Tom Brady upright. The long-term issues, however, are still present.
Even with his best game of the season against the Bengals, Brady still ranks in the lower tier of quarterbacks in terms of Passing NEP. Only four quarterbacks have dropped back at least 100 times and have a lower score than Brady. An issue at the core of this is Brady’s inability to throw deep, which isn’t a new issue. Against Cincinnati, he was able to make some longer throws over the middle, but there were still some missed throws. This obviously is not a death sentence as a quarterback, but Brady still seems to be figuring out the best way to use his abilities. Right now he’s a pitcher learning how to paint the corners with a 91mph fastball after a career of being able to blow 97 by hitters. Brady’s capable, but it’s been a process.
With the early struggles on offense, the defense has allowed the Patriots to stay competitive. New England’s defense ranks sixth in Adjusted Defensive NEP thanks to a strong pass defense. The Patriots have allowed Darrelle Revis to do Darrelle Revis things in man coverage. WIth Revis following the opponent’s top receiver, it lessens the responsibilities of the rest of the secondary. With Brandon Browner being activated after serving a suspension, those responsibilities could be even less once he’s fully incorporated into the defense.
Like the Saints, the Patriots can get by thanks to the competition in the division. Miami and the Jets are the AFC East’s version of Atlanta and Tampa Bay, while the Bills are New England’s Carolina. The Patriots will travel to Buffalo this week, which could give us an early sign if things are bound to return to the status quo in the division.9. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: 2.96, 3-2, Last Week: 9)
Bigger Than We Ever Dreamed
8. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 3.41, 2-3, Last Week: 10)
7. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: 3.44, 3-2, Last Week: 12)
6. Detroit Lions (nERD: 3.47, 3-2, Last Week: 6)
5. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: 3.94, 3-1, Last Week: 3)
4. San Diego Chargers (nERD: 3.97, 4-1, Last Week: 13)
3. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: 4.14, 3-2, Last Week: 5)
San Francisco’s number three placement by our metrics might say more about how far ahead of the pack Seattle and Denver might be than how good the 49ers have been. The Niners have played well enough, but haven't played nearly as good as either the Seahawks or Broncos so far this season. Though if we really use that as the basis of comparison, every other team in the NFL is awful.
The offense hasn’t taken off as expected with the addition of new weapons this year. The 49ers rank 17th in Adjusted NEP, 11th through the air and 17th on the ground. Colin Kaepernick is 13th in Passing NEP for the season, but really struggled against the Chiefs on Sunday. He might be helped out a little if the offensive game plan shifts to “throw more jump balls to Brandon Lloyd.”
Stevie Johnson has been the most productive receiver this season both in total and on a per target basis with a Reception NEP of 22.27 and a Target NEP of 1.17. Johnson has given the 49ers a legitimate third receiver behind Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin, something even more useful when playing without Vernon Davis like they did on Sunday.
The strength in San Francisco is still the defense, even without NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith. The pass defense ranks 10th while the run defense ranks 9th, per our metrics. The competence in pass defense is a big upgrade because the secondary was expected to be the weakness of the defense. Thus far, it’s held up. That hasn’t stopped opposing offenses from trying to expose it though. Opposing offenses have thrown the ball 1.88 times for every rushing attempt against San Francisco this season, the highest ratio in the league. If the pass defense can continue to hold up, the defense as a whole can once again be one of the best in the league once the likes of Smith and Bowman return.
You Can Call Me Queen Bee
2. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 7.98, 3-1, Last Week: 1)
1. Denver Broncos (nERD: 9.82, 3-1, Last Week: 2)