All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 10
Heading into Week 10, every team has played at least eight games, so each team is either at or past the midpoint of the season. With that much football already played, there’s been some changes to the rankings. Since Week 1, the biggest surprise team has been the Dallas Cowboys, who started at number 23. The biggest disappointment has been the Carolina Panthers, who started the year fifth overall.
A weekly reminder, our power rankings aren’t subjective - they’re based off our nERD scores put together by people much smarter than I. For those unfamiliar, nERD is our calculation of how good a team really is, and it 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 (NEP) metric.
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 two to three times during the course of the season. Be honest, this is probably the last time you want to read about the Jaguars.
They're Staying Consistent, At Least
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -10.93, Record: 1-8, Last Week: 32)
Every week this season, Jacksonville has ranked as our number 32 team, but this week is the smallest margin between the bottom two teams. Whether that says more about the Jaguars or the Buccaneers is really up to you, though it might not actually matter.
There are some improvements Jacksonville has made throughout the season. The defense has started to turn into the unit it was expected to be under Gus Bradley after a few free agent signings in the offseason such as Red Bryant and Chris Clemons. At 27 years old, Sen’Derrick Marks is experiencing the best season in his six-year career, his second in Jacksonville. Marks trails only Clemens in snaps played on the defensive line, and he’s been more productive in nine games this season than he was in all 16 last year.
Thanks to a stronger defensive line, the Jaguars rank 11th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play against the run. That’s useful as Jacksonville is tied with the eighth lowest pass to run ratio against. For a much of the first half of the season, the Jaguars found themselves trailing giving the opponent the luxury of running the ball with the lead.
Jacksonville ranks 18th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, but two young corners have shown glimpses of good play as the season progresses. 2013 third-round pick Dwayne Gratz was replaced as a starting corner and replaced by 2013 seventh-round pick Demetrius McCray after poor play and a concussion earlier in the season. Gratz is now starting on the other side of McCray, and the two second-year corners each played 99 percent of the defensive snaps against Cincinnati on Sunday.
Of course Sunday’s work should be graded on a curve since covering A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu is difficult enough for any pair of corners, never mind two second-year players. While neither is a finished product, there are worse starting corner pairs in the league right now.
On the offensive side of the ball, the switch from Toby Gerhart to Denard Robinson at running back has paid off over the past three weeks. Robinson missed his third straight 100-yard game this season by just 6 yards. He’s averaged positive Rushing NEP each time he’s touched the ball this season, which is more than can be said for Gerhart. While Jacksonville would like to see an overall improvement from Robinson’s 43.53 percent success rate this season, it’s much better than Gerhart’s 32.73 percent.
Of course the focal point of the Jacksonville offense will be the development of Blake Bortles. While the physical talent is apparent, Bortles’ decision-making has been borderline-Weeden at times since he took over as a starter. Bortles has the lowest total Passing NEP of any quarterback this season, and no quarterback with at least 100 drop backs has a lower Passing NEP on a per-play basis than Bortles. On the bright side, Michael Vick is only six drop backs away from that distinction. Josh McCown is 27 drop backs away from passing both Bortles and Vick, and he was just named the starter again in Tampa Bay, in case there’s something you wanted to watch for on Sunday.
A lot of Bortles’ bad decisions have come trying to fit a pass into a space that’s non-existent. He did it a few times against Cincinnati, including an interception in the end zone that never should have been thrown. The next step of Bortles’ development has to be learning when to throw the ball away or just take a sack when there’s pressure and nothing’s open if the Jaguars hope to escape number 32 in the power rankings behind an optimistic, young defense.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -10.31, 1-7, Last Week: 31)
30. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -7.77, 0-8, Last Week: 30)
29. St. Louis Rams (nERD: -7.33, 3-5, Last Week: 29)
28. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -6.54, 2-6, Last Week: 28)
27. New York Jets (nERD: -6.04, 1-8, Last Week: 27)
26. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -5.62, 5-3, Last Week: 26)
25. Carolina Panthers (nERD: -4.42, 3-5-1, Last Week: 25)
24. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: -3.02, 4-5, Last Week: 24)
23. Chicago Bears (nERD: -2.87, 3-5, Last Week: 23)
Good at One Point This Season
22. San Diego Chargers (nERD: -1.65, 5-4, Last Week: 14)
A bye week couldn’t come at a better time for the Chargers. Three weeks ago the Chargers were 5-1 and looked like one of best teams in the league. In the last three weeks the team has lost three games in a row to the Broncos, Chiefs, and Dolphins. That could be understandable as all three of those teams are (spoiler alert) in the top five of our rankings. San Diego lost three games to three really good teams, which happens. Is there still reason to worry about the team even if schedule sequencing has played a big part in the recent three game slide? Well, yes.
Through the first few weeks of the season, Philip Rivers was the early favorite for league MVP. He’s no longer the front runner, but his play has not substantially dropped off since the start of the season. Clearly, that’s not an easy thing to say after a no-touchdown, three-interception performance, but the offense around the quarterback has crumbled more than the quarterback himself. Entering Week 10, Rivers is third in Passing NEP and is second in Passing NEP on a per-drop back basis behind Peyton Manning. The biggest problem through the past three games has been the time given to Rivers on those drop backs. During the 37-0 loss to Miami in Week 9, Rivers was hit 5 times and sacked on 4 of those hits.
The offensive line has been a revolving door of players getting injured and defenders running through it. At its most successful, the offense under Mike McCoy has been quick-hitting in the passing game, but three good pass rushing teams in Denver, Kansas City, and Miami were able to disrupt that. Injuries along the line and in the backfield have also slowed down the running game, almost to a complete stop. San Diego ranks last in Adjusted Rushing NEP and is tied with Oakland for the lowest Adjusted Rushing NEP per attempt. That’s not as big of a deal for the Raiders because they’re trailing enough in games that they aren’t running the ball all that often anyway. The Chargers, however, have the ninth-lowest pass to run ratio despite having Rivers at quarterback and the worst running game in the league.
On the defensive side of the ball, things haven’t been any better. Simple regression suggested the Chargers couldn’t be as bad on defense as they were last season, but they now sit 31st in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play above only the Falcons. Injuries have also played a big part in that as Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett are upgrades over what the Chargers had at cornerback last season, but both have been battling injuries throughout the season. Getting pressure was also an issue last season for this defense, and against Miami, the Chargers were able to hit Ryan Tannehill just once with no sacks.
While this was a tough stretch of games, our numbers were less favorable than San Diego’s record in the early part of the season. San Diego has only been in our top ten in one week this season - heading into Week 6. The Chargers probably won’t be the 22nd-best team for the remainder of the season, but with just an 18.2 percent chance of making the playoffs, they also probably won’t be the contender most thought they were earlier in the season either.
21. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: -1.45, 2-6, Last Week: 22)
20. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: -1.09, 4-4, Last Week: 19)
19. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: -.34, 5-2-1, Last Week: 15)
Just Good Enough to Hang
18. New York Giants (nERD: .11, 3-5, Last Week: 17)
17. Washington Redskins (nERD: .22, 3-6, Last Week: 20)
16. Buffalo Bills (nERD: .44, 5-3, Last Week: 18)
15. Green Bay Packers (nERD: .98, 5-3, Last Week: 16)
14. Houston Texans (nERD: 1.02, 4-5, Last Week: 11)
Just Good Enough to Belong
13. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 2.09, 5-3, Last Week: 9)
12. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: 2.84, 6-3, Last Week: 21)
Pittsburgh has performed like two different teams this season, occasionally during the same game. In Weeks 4-6 the Steelers lost to the Buccaneers by 3 points, beat the Jaguars by just 8 points, and lost to the Browns by 21 points — 3 of our worst 7 teams. Over the next 3 weeks, the Steelers scored 30 points on the Texans, 51 points on the Colts, and 43 points on the Ravens. All three of those defenses rank in the top half of Adjusted Defensive NEP, with Indianapolis being one of the best defenses in the league before the game against Pittsburgh.
While Rivers has fallen out of the MVP conversation, Ben Roethlisberger has thrown himself in. 12 passing touchdowns in a span of two games is a pretty surefire way to put yourself in that conversation. If Michael Vick threw 12 touchdowns over the next two Jets games, someone would bring him up in an MVP discussion. Probably not someone credible but someone nonetheless. Roethlisberger has jumped to number four in Passing NEP and not just because of historic touchdown stretch. He currently has the third highest Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt in the league, almost two yards above his mark last season. All of this is while keeping a similar sack rate to what he’s had over the past two years.
Roethlisberger has also avoided interceptions this season, though currently at an unsustainable rate. He has thrown an interception on just 0.9 percent of his passes this season, well below his career average of 2.7 percent. That’s not to say we should start expecting a 2013 Eli Manning barrage of interceptions to come, but Roethlisberger is likely to turn the ball over a little more frequently than he has to date.
He is of course being helped out by now a deep group of receivers. Antonio Brown has been incredible, but the other players around him have been just as important during this recent stretch. The big piece is the development of Martavis Bryant over the past few weeks. In the draft process, Bryant was lost in the shuffle of what was predicted and has proven to be a historically deep class of receivers. Accompanied by some maturity concerns, Bryant dropped to the fourth round, at least two rounds below his true talent level. Without an immediate need at the position, the Steelers allowed Bryant to develop in practice while being inactive for the first six games of the season. When he was ready, Pittsburgh put him on the field, and he’s scored 5 touchdowns in his 3 games with 1.16 Reception NEP per target, the highest of any player with at least 15 targets this season.
What the emergence of Bryant has also done is take Darrius Heyward-Bey off the field completely. Though he only had 3 receptions on the season, Heyward-Bey had a Reception NEP of -2.17, the lowest of any wide receiver this season. It also gives a smaller role to Markus Wheaton, who can now be more effective on a smaller amount of targets.
With a deeper group of offensive contributors, the offense can still be successful even if it regresses slightly from where it sits now as our number-four offense by Adjusted NEP. Any regression might be put on hold since the best defense Pittsburgh plays for the remainder of the season will be Kansas City, currently our 11th best defense by Adjusted NEP. No other opponent is above 20th.
11. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: 3.75, 5-4, Last Week: 2)
10. New Orleans Saints (nERD: 3.75, 4-4, Last Week: 10)
9. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 3.93, 6-2, Last Week: 7)
8. Detroit Lions (nERD: 4.08, 6-2, Last Week: 6)
Already Printing Playoff Tickets
7. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 4.23, 7-1, Last Week: 13)
6. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: 4.30, 6-3, Last Week: 4)
5. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 4.49, 5-3, Last Week: 5)
4. New England Patriots (nERD: 5.06, 7-2, Last Week: 12)
After Week 4, the AFC East was the most wide open it had been in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era. As the Patriots now head into their Week 10 bye, the AFC East might be the only division that really makes sense. New England has won 5 games in a row and now has a 58.1 percent chance of winning the division. The narratives surrounding the Patriots’ demise were greatly overstated at the start of the season, though some of the concerns were based in fact.
Tom Brady still can’t throw deep effectively on a consistent basis. This isn’t news or the downfall of Brady as a top quarterback, it’s been the case for a while now. At the start of the season this issue was magnified because Brady didn’t have time to wait for a receiver to get open down the field and he had to force some throws he wouldn’t typically attempt. Now with some sense of continuity along the shuffled offensive line, Brady has time to either find the open receiver or find a healthy Rob Gronkowski because coverages don’t really apply to a healthy Rob Gronkowski.
Both side of the ball have improved over the past few weeks as New England ranks fifth in Adjusted NEP on offense and eighth on defense. Even with the early season struggles of the offense, the breakout of the defense has been the most impressive part of New England’s winning streak. Since giving up 41 points to the Chiefs, the Patriots haven’t allowed more than 25 points in a game, though somehow that was to the Jets.
New England’s defense currently ranks second in Adjusted NEP against the pass on a per-play basis. Brandon Browner is returning to form after serving a suspension to start the year but will have to adjust to playing slightly less physically. Browner has only played in two games this season and has already been flagged for defensive holding three times, the third highest amount for any defender this year. Darrelle Revis is playing as one would expect Darrelle Revis to play when not coached by Greg Schiano, and the secondary has played well enough that Patrick Chung made a positive contribution on Sunday against the Broncos.
The Patriots aren’t completely out of the woods as they have a tough few opponents coming out of the bye. Their next three games come against the Colts on the road, home against the Lions, and against Green Bay at Lambeau Field. Then the next two games are against whatever version of the Chargers happen to be playing in San Diego and a home game against the Dolphins, which could have the division on the line.
3. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: 6.56, 6-3, Last Week: 3)
2. Miami Dolphins (nERD: 7.46, 5-3, Last Week: 8)
1. Denver Broncos (nERD: 9.42, 6-2, Last Week: 1)