All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 8
After a lot of shuffling last week, especially at the top, this week's rankings had little movement. Most of it was done from teams in the middle. There was one surprising squad that jumped into the top 10, but not quite the Cowboys or Ravens jumping to number 2 and 3 like we saw a week ago.
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 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.
Winning as Much as the Cowboys...Combined
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -11.86, Record: 1-6, Last Week: 32)
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -9.37, 1-5, Last Week: 31)
30. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -7.07 0-6, Last Week: 30)
29. St. Louis Rams (nERD: -5.64, 2-4, Last Week: 29)
28. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -4.99, 2-5, Last Week: 27)
The Tennessee Titans have been underwhelming in just about every aspect this season. After a surprising Week 1 win against the Chiefs on the road, the Titans have won just once since, and that was against the Jaguars in a game that needed a blocked 55-yard field goal with 12 seconds remaining. Even as the Titans have been underwhelming, not much has been particularly unexpected. Everything down to the Jake Locker injury probably could have been foreseen for this team.
Locker’s yearly injury has given way to the Charlie Whitehurst era. The main responsibility of a Titans quarterback is to find either Justin Hunter or Kendall Wright for a big play or touchdown to keep fantasy owners happy. To this point, Whitehurst hasn’t done a great job. While Wright has four touchdowns, he ranks just 82nd in Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) - no wide receiver has more receptions than Wright’s 32 with a lower Reception NEP. Hunter only has 16 receptions on 36 targets, and has scored just once. With the Locker-Whitehurst tag team, the Titans rank 27th in Adjusted Passing NEP.
Tennessee’s 22nd rank in Adjusted Defensive NEP is also a little disappointing. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton spent the past two seasons crafting good defenses in Arizona and Cleveland, but the talent in Tennessee isn't near where it was during his last two stops. Jason McCourty was expected to fill in for the departed Alterraun Verner, and while the drop off from Verner to McCourty hasn’t been bad, the drop from McCourty to 2013 third-round pick Blidi Wreh-Wilson as the number-two corner has been noticeable.
The Titans have also not done as much with the defensive line as some may have expected. Horton has lined up defensive tackle Jurrell Casey in multiple looks including standing up, but the variety has been better in theory than reality. Casey has four sacks on the season, but those have come in just two games. Two of those four came against the Jaguars.
Wishing They Played in the NFC South
27. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -4.86, 3-3, Last Week: 23)
26. New York Jets (nERD: -4.83, 1-6, Last Week: 28)
25. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: -3.78, 2-5, Last Week: 24)
24. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: -2.91, 4-3, Last Week: 26)
Actually Play in the NFC South23. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: -2.21 2-5, Last Week: 22)
22. Carolina Panthers (nERD: -1.68, 3-3-1, Last Week: 19)
21. Washington Redskins (nERD: -1.68, 2-5, Last Week: 24)
20. Chicago Bears (nERD: -.55, 3-4, Last Week: 16)
19. Buffalo Bills (nERD: -.53, 4-3, Last Week: 21)
It turns out Sammy Watkins is pretty good. He spent most of Sunday showing why the Bills desperately moved up to draft him. The game-winning touchdown against the Vikings doesn’t justify trading this year’s first-round pick to move up, but in terms of trading first round picks to the Browns, the Bills will be much happier with Watkins than the Colts will be with Trent Richardson. It’s all about finding those silver linings.
Watkins is 13th among pass catchers — tight ends included — in Reception NEP and, of the top 20, only Steve Smith has a higher Success Rate (the percentage of plays that positively impact NEP). There’s little shame in doing something slightly worse than Steve Smith, and it’s probably the best for your personal safety.
All Watkins really needed was a slightly competent quarterback, and Kyle Orton was there to answer the slightly competent quarterback bat phone. Watkins is showing he is capable of more than the screen passing and crossing routes he frequented in college. Let’s remember his college quarterback was Tajh Boyd, who was not able to make the Jets in training camp.
Orton hasn’t been great for the Bills, but he’s been better than EJ Manuel, and that’s what was needed. Orton has been worth just .02 NEP per drop back this season, higher than Manuel's -.05 NEP per drop back average. So far so good.
Even with Orton and Manuel at quarterback, the Bills have the eighth-highest pass-to-run ratio in the league this year. That might have to be even higher now with the injuries to both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. Jackson reportedly could miss a month with a groin injury, but that’s the best-case scenario of the two. Spiller was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return following a broken collarbone. He would have to be out at least eight weeks, but even that time table could be an optimistic outlook.
Fall From Grace
18. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: -.50, 3-2-1, Last Week: 14)
17. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: -.15, 4-3, Last Week: 10)
So You're Telling Me There's a Chance
16. New York Giants (nERD: .56, 3-4, Last Week: 17)
15. Houston Texans (nERD: .89, 3-4, Last Week: 18)
14. New England Patriots (nERD: 1.31, 5-2, Last Week: 8)
13. New Orleans Saints (nERD: 1.45, 2-4, Last Week: 13)
Good Things Are Happening
12. San Diego Chargers (nERD: 1.86, 5-2, Last Week: 11)
11. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 1.91, 5-1, Last Week: 15)
10. Miami Dolphins (nERD: 2.93, 3-3, Last Week: 20)
After a made up quarterback controversy by his own head coach, Ryan Tannehill has played just well enough to not lose hope, but not quite good enough to completely inspire confidence. Tannehill ranks 22nd in Passing NEP for quarterbacks who have dropped back at least 100 times. He’s been as productive as Kirk Cousins on a per drop back basis, which we’ve learned is less productive than Colt McCoy. That’s not a place a former first-round pick wants to be.
The hope for Tannehill with new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was that running a more uptempo offense and creating more space for receivers would ease the burden on the quarterback to do more than he was capable of doing. Some of that has held true. Tannehill is getting easier reads and has been better at taking what the defense gives him. While he’s been able to execute the simpler parts of the game plan, there’s still enough left to be desired in taking the passing game from competent to good. By our metrics, competent might be slightly generous, as Miami ranks 23rd in Adjusted Passing NEP and 24th in total offense.
There are some weapons forming on the offense that could improve as the season goes along though. Tight end Charles Clay had his best game of the season against Chicago on Sunday, while Jarvis Landry is starting to make Mike Wallace’s contract look worse by the day. Put those in addition to an offensive line that has continued to not get its quarterback demolished every other snap like it did last season and there’s some optimism for this group.
A below-average offense is tolerable — though never preferable — when the defense is playing like one of the best units in football. That’s the case in Miami, as the Dolphins have the second-best defense by Adjusted NEP behind the Detroit Lions. Miami is fifth against the pass, which is even more amazing when you consider the duo of Brent Grimes and Cortland Finnegan have lined up as the starting cornerbacks on 95 percent of Miami’s defensive snaps this season.
The Dolphins’ strength has come from what is still perceived as a weakness by teams, since Miami has the eighth-highest pass-to-run ratio against them on defense. The most underwhelming parts of the secondary comes from one of the last major moves of the Jeff Ireland era. Jamar Taylor was drafted with Miami’s second-round pick in 2013 — one obtained in the Vontae Davis trade — and has yet to earn significant playing time. After an injury filled rookie season, Taylor has played less than 18 percent of Miami’s defensive snaps and is behind 2011 seventh-round pick Jimmy Wilson on the depth chart. To be fair, for the Dolphins to only have one Jeff Ireland mistake in the secondary could be considered a small victory to some in the Miami area.
9. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 3.88, 5-2, Last Week: 12)
8. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 3.92, 3-3, Last Week: 4)
7. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 4.05, 5-1, Last Week: 7)
6. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 4.84, 3-3, Last Week: 9)
5. Detroit Lions (nERD: 5.06, 5-2, Last Week: 5)
Raise your hand if you thought the Lions would be one of the top teams in the league because of defense. Even when we explained why Detroit was one of the best bad teams in 2013, we couldn’t predict the defense would be the best in the NFL. Yet, somehow that’s where we are heading into Week 8. The Lions rank first in Adjusted Defensive NEP, third against the pass and first against the run.
This year’s Lions team is a bizarro version of Lions teams of recent memory. The Lions of old would have Calvin Johnson'd the ball down the opposing defenses throats enough to hopefully stay in the game. Now, without Johnson for the past few weeks, the offense hasn’t been able to come close to its past success, as it ranks just 21st in Adjusted NEP. The saving grace for the offense has been the emergence of Golden Tate, who's currently eighth in Reception NEP. More than just the total production has been the efficiency on Tate’s targets, as he has the highest catch rate of any player in the top-15 within the Reception NEP metric.
Atlanta’s defense might be exactly what the Detroit offense needs to get back on track when they play this week in London. The Falcons have been the third-worst team against the pass this year, and with no real threat in Atlanta’s secondary, Detroit should be able move the ball better than they have — Tate aside — over the past few weeks.
The good news for the Lions, too, is the team has been able to stay afloat while the offense has struggled. The better news is if Johnson can return to form when he comes back, Detroit could be a dangerous team on both sides of the ball.
Really Good Things Are Happening4. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: 6.39, 6-1, Last Week: 3)
3. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: 7.58, 5-2, Last Week: 6)
2. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: 7.66, 5-2, Last Week: 2)
Great Things Are Happening
1. Denver Broncos (nERD: 11.21, 5-1, Last Week: 1)