All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 9
Not a whole lot changed in our rankings this past week, as the bottom-five and top-four teams stayed the same. To get a better feel for how these teams are actually doing and in attempt to break the Internet, this week the teams will be broken down by the power rankings of track's on Taylor Swift's new album 1989. Taylor Swift and NFL power rankings in the same place - this is a science experiment to see how much the Internet can actually handle.
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.
Special note for this week: while our NFL rankings aren't subjective, the Taylor Swift rankings are extremely subjective and are not the result of any type of algorithm.
Each week, we’ll list all 32 teams from worst to best with a more detailed breakdown of four different teams. The highlighted teams will rotate each week, which will lead to each team being featured at least two to three times during the course of the season. By Week 12, you're not really going to want to hear about the Titans anymore.
I Know Places
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -11.57, Record: 1-7, Last Week: 32)
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -11.00, 1-6, Last Week: 31)
Leading up to the trade deadline, there were rumors that hinted at fire sale coming out of Tampa Bay. Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin were both rumored to be on the block, but both ended up staying on the roster. While the fire sale didn’t fully happen, there were some remnants of ash and ember that snuck out on the defensive side of the ball.
New England made their annual defender trade, trading a fifth-round pick for Jonathan Casillas and a sixth-round pick. Through Week 8, Casillas had played on just 24 percent of Tampa Bay’s defensive snaps — fifth-most among Buccaneers linebackers — while being the only linebacker to play on more than half of the special teams snaps. The trade is reminiscent of last year’s Patriots trade of a fifth-round pick to Philadelphia for defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga. The deal was supposed to add depth to New England’s defensive while really impacting very little on the field.
The more surprising trade was the one that netted a fourth- and sixth-round pick from the St. Louis Rams in exchange for safety Mark Barron. Just two years ago, Barron was drafted number-seven overall by Tampa Bay. Reports surfaced that Barron had struggled picking up parts of Lovie Smith’s defense. While Barron’s skill set isn’t an ideal match for the role he was playing the Cover-2 scheme, it’s difficult to imagine the concepts were particularly difficult to grasp unless Smith is teaching super secret plays the Buccaneers have yet to show in their relatively vanilla defensive game plans on Sundays.
In the big picture for the Buccaneers, this is still a team trying to figure out what and who they are. Nothing planned during the offseason has played out as hoped, and Tampa Bay will enter Week 9 ranked 31st in Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) and 30th in Adjusted Defensive NEP. This is a team that made many splashes in free agency and just months later is now projected to win four games, according to our numbers. This looks like a long rebuilding process and dumping an underperforming former first-round pick two years into his career is how Tampa Bay decided to start.
30. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -7.70 0-7, Last Week: 30)
29. St. Louis Rams (nERD: -7.07, 2-5, Last Week: 29)
28. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -6.54, 2-6, Last Week: 28)
27. New York Jets (nERD: -6.27, 1-7, Last Week: 26)
26. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -4.39, 4-3, Last Week: 27)
25. Carolina Panthers (nERD: -3.63, 3-4-1, Last Week: 22)
24. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: -3.16, 3-5, Last Week: 25)
23. Chicago Bears (nERD: -2.87, 3-5, Last Week: 20)
22. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: -1.45, 2-6, Last Week: 23)
How You Get The Girl
21. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: -.65, 5-3, Last Week: 24)
20. Washington Redskins (nERD: -.44, 3-5, Last Week: 21)
19. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: -.15, 4-3, Last Week: 17)
Welcome To New York
18. Buffalo Bills (nERD: .44, 5-3, Last Week: 19)
17. New York Giants (nERD: .56, 3-4, Last Week: 16)
I Wish You Would
16. Green Bay Packers (nERD: .98, 5-3, Last Week: 9)
The Packers had been on a roll since a very mediocre start to the season. Entering Sunday night, they had won four games in a row, though only one of those four teams rank in our top 20. Still, during that run, Green Bay was doing what good teams are supposed to do — blow out bad teams.
In three games against the Bears, Vikings and Panthers — two bottom-10 defenses and a top-10 Minnesota defense, by Adjusted NEP — the Packers offense put up at least 38 points and scored 42 on the Vikings. Then came Sunday night when Green Bay struggled, putting up just 23 points in New Orleans against our second-worst defense, according to our metrics.
There were some extenuating circumstances surrounding Sunday night’s performance, though. Aaron Rodgers tweaked a hamstring that seemed to affect some of his movement throughout the game. That could have been a result of the bigger picture of New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan unleashing every piece of voodoo he’s learned during his two years in New Orleans.
Offense won’t be the issue the Packers need to overcome to stay as one of the top teams in the NFC, but it may be a solution. Even after only putting up 23 points against the Saints, the Packers offense still ranks sixth in Adjusted NEP. Dom Capers’ defense is not so fortunate. Green Bay currently ranks 26th defensively, 18th against the pass and 31st against the run. That has been a recurring theme with Green Bay’s defense during the Dom Capers era.
A best-case scenario for the Packers is having Rodgers recover 100 percent during the bye week and repeat the Week 7 game against the Panthers. The Packets jumped to a commanding lead early enough that Carolina was forced to pass and abandon the run just a week after using the Cam Newton read-option so effectively against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Packers have games remaining against Chicago, Atlanta and Tampa Bay where this type of game plan could actually work.
Green Bay already lost to Detroit in Week 4, and they don’t get to play the Lions again until Week 17 when the division may already be decided. Despite Jim Caldwell’s best efforts, the Lions have an 88.7 percent chance of making the playoffs. That might only leave a wild-card spot open for the Packers after Sunday night’s loss, as we have them with a 40 percent chance of getting in and just a 23.3 percent chance of winning the division.
The second half of the schedule is pretty favorable for the Packers, with only two games against teams in the top half of our power rankings, and both are at Lambeau - Week 11 against the Eagles and Week 13 against the Patriots.
15. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: 1.02, 4-2-1, Last Week: 18)
14. San Diego Chargers (nERD: 1.22, 5-3, Last Week: 12)
All You Had To Do Was Stay
13. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 2.28, 6-1, Last Week: 11)
The Arizona Cardinals have been held together by duct tape and magic, and it’s been enough to sit atop the NFC West at 6-1 after eight weeks. The Cardinals haven’t been very impressive in any one aspect, but they've done enough to be one of the better teams in the NFL.
When we last looked at the Cardinals in this space, we noted how many players were lost on defense from the previous year. Now added to that group in Matt Shaughnessy, who was placed on injured reserve, and Calais Campbell, who play in his first game since missing two after a low block in the Broncos game in Week 5.
Arizona is our 10th-best defense by Adjusted NEP, and that’s with Patrick Peterson having what’s been the worst season of his career. Without the superstar defender playing like one, there’s arguably been no better coordinator in the league this season than Todd Bowles. Bowles has been able to put his best players in position to succeed on the field, wherever that may be. The defense can be considered a base 3-4, but rarely are there actually three linebackers on the field for the Cardinals. Only three linebackers have played more than 50 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. Rookie first-round pick Deone Bucannon has played a hybrid linebacker-safety position that was worked well and also allows him to be on the field with other safeties Tony Jefferson and Rashad Johnson. With six players consider defensive backs playing over 50 percent of the team’s snaps on defense, Arizona still ranks ninth against the run by Adjusted Defensive NEP.
Of course, Arizona still has a long road ahead before being crowned one of the top teams in the league, and our numbers don’t think the Cardinals have played quite as well as their 6-1 record would indicate. However, some of their past performances involved Drew Stanton and Logan Thomas attempting passes. The good thing about six wins in eight weeks is already having six wins in the bank. The Cardinals have our third-highest probability to make the playoffs at this point, behind only Denver and Detroit. Even if Arizona plays under .500 and goes 4-5 for the remainder of the season, they’ll finish 10-6, which should at least be enough for a wild-card spot. Even if our numbers don’t think they’re a 6-1 team, we shouldn’t be expecting under .500 play from this point, either.
12. New England Patriots (nERD: 2.61, 6-2, Last Week: 14)
11. Houston Texans (nERD: 2.90, 4-4, Last Week: 15)
10. New Orleans Saints (nERD: 3.11, 3-4, Last Week: 13)
9. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 3.16, 4-3, Last Week: 8)
Shake It Off
8. Miami Dolphins (nERD: 3.36, 4-3, Last Week: 10)
7. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 3.58, 5-2, Last Week: 7)
6. Detroit Lions (nERD: 4.08, 6-2, Last Week: 5)
5. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 5.83, 4-3, Last Week: 6)
4. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: 6.20, 6-2, Last Week: 4)
3. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: 6.30, 5-3, Last Week: 3)
Giving up 51 points is never great for a defense, but being the victim of a historic passing day from Ben Roethlisberger is certainly an exception more than the rule given how the Colts have played defense so far this season. Heading into Week 8’s game against Pittsburgh, Indianapolis had the ninth-best overall defense according to Adjusted Defensive NEP. They’re now 19th overall, because even if it is an anomaly, giving up 51 points and 639 yards did still happen.
Last week aside, the Colts defense has been much better than expected over the course of the season. There has actually been a pass rush after what could have been a glaring hole on the roster after Robert Mathis’ season ending injury. Bjoern Werner has improved in his second year and now has four sacks and has been on the field for 77 percent of Indianapolis’ defensive snaps, second to only D’Qwell Jackson for Colts linebackers. Along the defensive line, Ricky Jean-Francois and Eric Walden, who seemed like ill-advised free agents signings a year ago, have also played at a much higher level than they did last season.
The star of the defense, though, has been cornerback Vontae Davis. Heading into Week 7, the Colts were our top-ranked defense against the pass by Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP, and Davis was a big part of that. They now rank 10th because, again, that’s a lot of points to give up in a week.
Antonio Brown had a solid day against Davis on Sunday, but Brown has managed solid days against everyone he’s faced so far this season. Davis has vastly improved in coverage this season and has been well worth the second-round pick the Colts traded to Miami in exchange for him before last season. The downside of Davis has been a tendency to get a little too close in coverage, as he’s already been flagged for three defensive pass interference penalties, tied for the fourth most in the league, totaling a loss of 76 yards.
We’ve gone over what has been a major strength for the Colts without even bringing up Andrew Luck. Luck trails only Peyton Manning in Passing NEP, though he trails by 0.13 in Passing NEP on a per drop back basis. He's been good, but he hasn't been as good as the best in the game this year.
The Colts ask a lot of Luck, as Indianapolis has the eighth-highest pass-to-run ratio in the league. After accounting for the top four teams — Oakland, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Jacksonville — there are not many teams that have been competitive in games late that have asked more of their quarterback. Indianapolis is our second-ranked offense behind Denver, and given the fact that the Colts are second-to-last at running the football, there’s no bigger reason for that success than Luck.
2. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: 6.90, 5-3, Last Week: 2)
Out Of The Woods
1. Denver Broncos (nERD: 12.09, 6-1, Last Week: 1)