All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 7
One of the best things about the NFL is that each season reminds you how stupid you are. Think you know something about football, and the NFL laughs.
That certainly seems to be what happened this week, as some dominant performances shook up the rankings. The top three looks nothing like it did at the start of the season in anyone’s imagination. Though if you want some consistency in the league, at least you have Jacksonville.
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.
At Least They're Consistent
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -15.62, Record: 0-6, Last Week: 32)
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -9.37, 1-5, Last Week: 30)
30. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -6.60 0-5, Last Week: 31)
29. St. Louis Rams (nERD: -5.49, 1-4, Last Week: 29)
If you had to choose to watch one of the first six teams on this list outside of fan affiliation, it would be the Rams, right? St. Louis is definitely this year’s most watchable bad team. So they’ve got that going for them, which is nice. But while they’ve been exciting at times, the Rams haven’t particularly efficient in any area this season.
The offense ranks 26th in Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP), while Austin Davis ranks 24th in Passing NEP - not bad considering he started the season as the number-three quarterback on the depth chart. That number would certainly be higher with a more reliable tight end. Jared Cook has been targeted on 42 passes this season, and while about 40 of them feel like they’ve been dropped, he does have 23 receptions. However, that type of catch rate gives Cook a Target NEP - the number of points added for a player's team on all targets - of -4.06. A tight end is regularly a safety net for young quarterbacks, so having a net negative at that position isn't ideal.
Other pieces of the offense are coming together, though, and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer even did interesting things with Tavon Austin Monday night against San Francisco. Brian Quick is finally starting to look like the receiver he was drafted to be in the second round of the 2012 draft. And even Kenny Britt has shown signs of life at times.
Heading into the season, the obvious strength of this team was its defensive line. Six weeks into the season, that line has become the obvious least-efficient unit. The St. Louis defense has faced 144 pass plays this season and has recorded one sack. Getting pressure on the quarterback makes the jobs of all other defensive players easier, and not getting pressure is a significant factor into St. Louis’ 26th ranking in Adjusted Defensive NEP.
28. New York Jets (nERD: -5.25, 1-5, Last Week: 28)
27. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -4.91, 2-4, Last Week: 25)
Silver Linings In Playbooks
26. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: -3.53, 3-3, Last Week: 24)
25. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: -3.52, 2-4, Last Week: 27)
24. Washington Redskins (nERD: -1.79, 1-5, Last Week: 23)
23. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -1.19, 3-2, Last Week: 26)
There were times when a blowout win over the Pittsburgh Steelers meant something in the NFL. That’s not the case anymore, apparently.
A 31-10 win over the Steelers in Week 6 was only enough to move the Browns up three spots in the overall rankings, and couldn’t pull them out from a negative nERD score. The win against Pittsburgh was Cleveland’s first game of the season decided by more than three points. Win or lose, this has been a very competitive team this season.
Brian Hoyer has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks so far this season. He ranks 10th in Passing NEP and 5th on a per drop back basis among quarterbacks who have dropped back to pass at least 100 times.
If the Browns are going to be taken seriously as opposed to just taking advantage of a favorable stretch of schedule, the defense is going to have to step up. Cleveland is 27th in Adjusted Defensive NEP, and even with Hoyer’s favorable metrics, the offense isn't good enough to carry that kind of defense against better competition.
What’s concerning is Cleveland’s rank of 20th against the pass. First-round pick Justin Gilbert hasn't seen the field much - less than half of Cleveland’s defensive snaps - and he hasn’t been great when he actually does see field. While a first-year struggle is common from rookie corners and not everyone can defy the learning curve like San Diego’s Jason Verrett, there will need to be some more production from Gilbert this season, even if it's in limited time on the field.
It wouldn’t be bad if the rookie corner was the only one struggling, but Joe Haden hasn't played very well this season either.
The biggest long-term concern for the Browns is the loss of center Alex Mack. Cleveland’s offensive line has played very well this season, leading to ranking seventh in Adjusted Rushing NEP despite a myriad of backs taking snaps. Mack was the center, both figuratively and literally for that line. Not only do the Browns have to replace Mack, but starting guard Joe Greco took over at center, which leads to two replacements along what was one of the league’s best lines entering Week 6.
But overall, with the next three games against the Jaguars, Raiders and Buccaneers, the Browns could head into a Week 10 game in Cincinnati with a 6-2 record.22. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: -1.04 2-4, Last Week: 18)
21. Buffalo Bills (nERD: -.92, 3-3, Last Week: 17)
Been Hangin' Around This Town
20. Miami Dolphins (nERD: .40, 2-3, Last Week: 20)
19. Carolina Panthers (nERD: .76, 3-2-1, Last Week: 19)
Cam Newton running all over the Cincinnati Bengals wasn’t enough for the Panthers to pull out a win in Week 6. While there’s probably no division a tie could be less harmful in than the NFC South, Carolina probably would have liked to have that extra win in hand before the next few weeks of their schedule - at Green Bay, Seattle, New Orleans and at Philadelphia.
Unfortunately for Carolina, the talent on the team isn't significantly better than its record. The offense has gotten by, but one of the main offseason concerns of a weak offensive line has been a problem. The Panthers have struggled running the ball, even when they had healthy running backs. Carolina ranks 31st in Adjusted Rushing NEP, in front of only the team that employs Trent Richardson. That’s forced Carolina to throw the ball a little more than they should given their talent at receiver. The Panthers have the ninth-highest pass-to-run ratio in the league, bunched in with teams like Washington and St. Louis who have been throwing while trailing late in games.
The bright spot in the Panthers passing game outside of Newton has been rookie Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin is currently eighth in Reception NEP, which places him among the league’s top receivers and between Dez Bryant and DeSean Jackson.
Carolina’s biggest problem, though, has been the defense. The Panthers rank 24th in terms of schedule-adjusted Defensive NEP, and haven’t held up well against the run or the pass. They’ve struggled in the secondary, though that's a specific side effect listed on the warning label when signing Roman Harper. The real problem is the defensive line, which in previous seasons made everyone behind them on the defense better. This year the line hasn’t gotten the same time of pressure, and the Panthers have seen the eighth-highest pass-to-run ratio against them in the league.18. Houston Texans (nERD: .76, 3-3, Last Week: 21)
17. New York Giants (nERD: .83, 3-3, Last Week: 12)
Can You Take Me Higher
16. Chicago Bears (nERD: 1.42, 3-3, Last Week: 22)
15. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 1.88, 4-1, Last Week: 16)
14. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: 2.12, 3-2, Last Week: 5)
13. New Orleans Saints (nERD: 2.12, 2-3, Last Week: 14)
12. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 2.76, 4-2, Last Week: 11)
11. San Diego Chargers (nERD: 2.77, 5-1, Last Week: 4)
10. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: 2.93, 4-2, Last Week: 3)
On The Cusp9. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 3.41, 2-3, Last Week: 8)
On the surface, it would be strange to suggest an injury to a team’s star player has been a positive thing for a team, but that might be the case in Kansas City. The short-term injury to Jamaal Charles - and let’s stress the non-severity of the injury is key here - actually helped the progression of the Chiefs offense.
Last season, Charles was the most used player in football, leading the Chiefs in targets, receptions, rushing attempts, receiving yards and rushing yards. As much as Charles could handle that type of role, the full effect was slightly counterproductive. When I took a look in the offseason at what happened to Dwayne Bowe last year, it was obvious Alex Smith was over-reliant on Charles. Smith was looking to check down as early as after his first read, which isn’t ideal for any quarterback, even when the check down is one of the best running backs in the league.
The Chiefs opened up the offense in their playoff game against the Colts after Charles was forced to leave the game early with an injury. Without Charles, Smith was forced to do actual quarterback things such as throwing ball to his wide receivers.
We’re seeing this happen again in Kansas City. With Charles missing time with a sprained ankle, Smith was forced to open up, and he’s been pretty successful at it. Heading into Kansas City’s Week 6 bye, Smith was among the top-10 in Passing NEP. He’s now 13th, but was passed by players who have played an additional game.
As a whole, Kansas City ranks 10th offensively, and that was without Charles for multiple games. Adding Charles back into an offense that has succeeded with breakouts from Knile Davis and Travis Kelce makes the Chiefs much more dangerous on the offensive side of the ball than would have been expected this season. Add that to a defense that still ranks 15th in Adjusted Defensive NEP despite the amount of injures they’ve seen, and Kansas City can fight its way to being a legitimate wild-card contender.
8. New England Patriots (nERD: 3.62, 4-2, Last Week: 10)
7. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 4.05, 5-1, Last Week: 13)
6. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: 4.52, 4-2, Last Week: 7)
5. Detroit Lions (nERD: 4.60, 4-2, Last Week: 5)
4. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 4.92, 3-2, Last Week: 2)
3. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: 5.24, 5-1, Last Week: 15)
2. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: 5.46, 4-2, Last Week: 9)
Many might be surprised to see the Cowboys sitting in the third position on this list, but a jump like that isn’t shocking after beating the previous number-two team on the road. We don’t put a lot of stock into one-game samples, but when added into Dallas’ body of work up to that point, the current ranking makes sense.
That’s not to say Baltimore’s number-two ranking doesn’t make sense, but their play has been much more under the radar than Dallas’.
Gary Kubiak’s system has paid off the most for the running game - even better than expected. The Ravens are the fifth-best rushing offense by Adjusted NEP without any production from the top-two running backs on the depth chart entering the season. Justin Forsett leads all NFL running backs in Rushing NEP, and Lorenzo Taliaferro has a positive Rushing NEP per attempt as well.
As a result, the Ravens are the second-best offense in the league according to our metrics. No, really. The offense that scored 20 points per game last season is currently the second-best in the league. Kubiak deserves a medal.
Some of that offensive output is skewed by the Tampa Bay game, but Baltimore’s defense has also returned to being one of the best - the fifth-best - in the league across all of their games this season. Baltimore will play two top-15 offenses in their next two games against Atlanta and Cincinnati, but if they can hold against them, they'll see Pittsburgh and Tennessee before their Week 11 bye. Things are looking good for Flacco and company.
King of the Castle
1. Denver Broncos (nERD: 9.02, 4-1, Last Week: 1)