All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 11
Heading into Week 11, 15 teams still have a 30 percent chance or better for making the playoffs. In the coming weeks, we're going to start focusing more on those teams fighting for the final spots, paying close attention to playoff odds.
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 extensive 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, depending on their relevance.
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32. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -10.54, Record: 1-9, Last Week: 32)
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -10.47, 1-8, Last Week: 31)
30. St. Louis Rams (nERD: -8.03, 3-6, Last Week: 29)
29. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -7.92, 0-9, Last Week: 30)
28. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -7.92, 2-7, Last Week: 28)
27. Chicago Bears (nERD: -6.20, 3-6, Last Week: 23)
Where do we even start with the Bears? For a team once known for its defensive prowess, the defense has dropped to one of the worst in the league. By Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points, the Bears currently have the the second-worst defense in the league, better than only the Atlanta Falcons. After their Week 10 game, even considering the Bears defense the 31st best in the league seems generous. In Chicago’s defense, Green Bay ranks fourth in Adjusted NEP on offense, but any offense could have carved up the Bears with how they’ve been playing this season, especially Sunday night.
While we love to put the blame on a singular player and have scapegoats, there hasn’t been one aspect of the Chicago defense that has underperformed — it’s been a team effort. The most concerning, though, has been the lack of execution on simple defensive concepts. Sure, there was the first Jordy Nelson touchdown with Tim Jennings passing Nelson off to a wide open third of the field, but that was with the defense stuck between switching from a single-high look to Cover-2 before being beaten by the snap. While that suggests a lack of preparation pre-snap, there have been bigger struggles with simpler concepts this season.
The second Nelson touchdown was blown coverage on a simple Cover-2 look in which safety Ryan Mundy never committed to covering the open receiver. There’s also been a lack of effective game plan, which led to things like Mundy in single coverage against Rob Gronkowski for too many snaps in Week 8 against New England. Anything higher than zero in that scenario is too many snaps, by the way.
The most discouraging thing about Sunday night’s performance against Green Bay was that it came after a bye week following a game where they surrendered 51 points to New England. For the Bears, a silver lining would have been executing their game plan while being beaten by one of the best offenses in the league - that’s understandable. Instead, they gave away plays to one of the league’s best offenses, which could have gone even worse if the Packers hadn’t let up in the second half.
All of this before getting to Jay Cutler, who seems to be the focal point of Chicago blame. Cutler hasn’t been great this season, but he’s hardly been the Bears’ biggest problem. Cutler currently ranks 27th in Passing NEP for quarterbacks who have dropped back at least 100 times this season. That’s not the type of production the Bears were expecting, but his NEP is still positive. Compare that to Josh McCown, who has been worth -.09 NEP every time he’s dropped back this season for Tampa Bay.
26. Carolina Panthers (nERD: -5.18, 3-6-1, Last Week: 25)
25. New York Jets (nERD: -4.82, 2-8, Last Week: 27)
Still Mathematically Alive
24. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: -3.82, 5-3-1, Last Week: 19)
23. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: -3.02, 4-5, Last Week: 24)
22. New York Giants (nERD: -2.09, 3-6, Last Week: 18)
More Mathematically Probable21. San Diego Chargers (nERD: -1.65, 5-4, Last Week: 22)
20. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: -1.54, 3-6, Last Week: 21)
19. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -1.38, 6-3, Last Week: 26)
Jeremy Hill technically wasn’t wrong. He probably could have been a little more elegant in his post-game statements, but his assertion that the Browns aren’t as good as their record or last Thursday’s performance isn’t far off. Only two teams with a winning record are lower in our rankings, and one is the Bengals. Hey, Hill wasn’t asked about how good the Bengals are.
Even though the Browns might not be 6-3 good right now, there’s certainly value in overachieving to this point and already having six wins in the bank. We have the Browns with a 36.3 percent chance of making the playoffs with a 22.3 percent chance of winning the AFC North. We never want to go down a schedule and pencil in wins, but Cleveland’s next three games are very winnable. They’ll play the Houston Texans at home this week during Ryan Mallett's first career start, then play the Atlanta Falcons and Buffalo Bills on the road. The final four-game stretch, though, is what could be an issue for the Browns’ playoff hopes. Cleveland ends against Indianapolis and Cincinnati at home, then against Carolina and Baltimore on the road. If we predict wins and losses by our rankings, the most likely scenario is the Browns go 3-4 over the final seven games, finishing with a record of 9-7. We currently have Cleveland projected for 9.2 wins, so that assumption wouldn’t be far off. Still, the good news for the Browns is they might look like a different team as early as Week 12.
Week 12 would be the first time Josh Gordon is eligible to play coming off his 10-game suspension. Cleveland’s offense has been passable up to this point, and will now get a gift of adding one of the league’s best receivers for the stretch run. As a quick refresher, last year Gordon played only 14 games and finished with the sixth-most receiving yards in NFL history for a single season. Even with missing two games he finished the year with a higher Reception NEP than any receiver not named Calvin Johnson. That was also accomplished with Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden throwing him the ball for the majority of the season, too.
Brian Hoyer is an upgrade from both of those quarterbacks. Hoyer currently ranks 14th in Passing NEP despite Andrew Hawkins being Cleveland’s top receiver and Jordan Cameron having only 13 receptions this year while playing in just six games. Gordon’s return should open up some more opportunities for Hawkins, Cameron and Taylor Gabriel, but big plays to Gordon will be a legitimate threat. So far this season, Hoyer has the eighth-highest percentage of passes thrown deep for quarterbacks, and of the top 10, he has the highest adjusted yards per attempt. The Browns have been successful pushing the ball downfield and are on the verge of adding possibly the best deep threat in the NFL.
18. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: -.28, 5-4, Last Week: 20)
17. Washington Redskins (nERD: .22, 3-6, Last Week: 17)
16. Houston Texans (nERD: 1.02, 4-5, Last Week: 14)
15. Buffalo Bills (nERD: 1.16, 5-4, Last Week: 16)
Oh, the misery of Marrone. The Bills might have played themselves out of the playoffs while completely outplaying the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. With the loss, Buffalo dropped to 5-4 and we now have them with just a 19.2 percent chance of making the playoffs heading into Thursday night’s game against the Miami Dolphins. Of course the Bills odds go up with a win against the Dolphins, but we still have Miami as the better team heading into the game.
It didn’t have to be like this, though. Buffalo should be a game up on Miami heading into the contest, but a few questionable coaching decisions cost the Bills a win against the Chiefs. First was the decision to punt rather than go for it on 4th-and-1 from their own 41-yard line, down by four with just over seven minutes remaining in the game. The Bills were able to get the ball back after forcing a three and out, and drove the ball down the field.
Then with the ball at Kansas City’s 15-yard line, under three minutes remaining and with all three timeouts, Buffalo took four shots to the end zone, none of which were successful, instead of trying to just pick up a first down. Three of the four balls were forced by Kyle Orton as well. The only missed opportunity was an overthrown pass to Chris Hogan on a slant to the end zone on third down. And after that throw, the Bills were forced to go for it on 4th-and-10 after bypassing an easier 4th-and-1 earlier in the quarter. This isn’t to undermine how good the Bills have been, but that series of decisions could be what keep Buffalo from the playoffs.
How Buffalo even got to this point is worth mentioning, and it’s been from successful decisions and coaching. It can’t be understated how much better Orton has been at quarterback for Buffalo since taking over for EJ Manuel. Orton hasn’t been anything special — he’s 21st in Passing NEP and has a Success Rate of just 45.83 percent — but the upgrade to average is sizable given Manuel performance at the start of the year. On a per drop back basis, Orton has been .08 Net Expected Points better than Manuel, a significant difference.
The strength of the Bills has been the defense, which, at times, has almost been carry-your-coordinator-off-the-field worthy outside of the Patriots game in Week 6. Buffalo has our fifth-ranked defense by Adjusted NEP, sixth against the run and third against the pass. It all starts up front where Marcell Dareus, Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams each have at least seven sacks this season. The pressure those three have been able to produce makes everything easier for the players behind them in against both the run and the pass. Against the Chiefs, the defensive line spent about as much time in Kansas City’s backfield as Jamaal Charles.
Buffalo’s defense has a tough task ahead, one of the reasons the playoff odds are so low. Three of Buffalo’s final four games will come against teams in the top eight offensively: Green Bay, Denver and New England.14. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: 1.39, 6-4, Last Week: 12)
13. New Orleans Saints (nERD: 3.20, 4-5, Last Week: 10)
12. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: 3.78, 7-3, Last Week: 6)
11. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 3.91, 6-3, Last Week: 5)
The Contenders10. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 4.10, 6-3, Last Week: 13)
9. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 4.37, 6-3, Last Week: 15)
8. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 4.64, 7-2, Last Week: 9)
7. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 4.79, 8-1, Last Week: 7)
6. New England Patriots (nERD: 5.06, 7-2, Last Week: 4)
5. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: 5.33, 6-4, Last Week: 11)
4. Miami Dolphins (nERD: 5.94, 5-4, Last Week: 2)
3. Detroit Lions (nERD: 5.98, 7-2, Last Week: 8)
2. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: 6.56, 6-3, Last Week: 3)
Still The King1. Denver Broncos (nERD: 9.87, 7-2, Last Week: 1)
A quick list of some teams that have been written about twice since we last focused on the Broncos after Week 1: the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers, among others. Really, not much has changed from that time. Outside of a brief two-week stretch from the Seattle Seahawks after Weeks 3 and 4, the Broncos have been our top team every week, usually by a pretty wide margin. Even now, we have the Broncos winning by more than three points against the Colts on a neutral field (courtesy of our nERD metric).
Denver has our top-ranked offense, which tends to happen when a team is quarterbacked by Peyton Manning. Manning is our top-rated quarterback by Passing NEP and Passing NEP per drop back. Of quarterbacks with at least 250 drop backs, only Drew Brees and Tony Romo have a higher Success Rate — the amount of passes that positively affect NEP. Manning has played well enough following a historic season to stave off any decline narratives by failing to back up last season’s statistics.
Manning isn’t even that far off from some of the numbers he put up last season. He’s only thrown a touchdown on 0.1 percent fewer passes (8.3 percent to 8.2), his adjusted net yards per attempt is off just .27 (8.87 to 8.6), and he’s getting sacked at a lower rate (2.7 percent to 2.5).
Helping Manning has been two of the top eight receivers in Reception NEP this season, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, who rank second and seventh, respectively. Only the Green Bay Packers have two receivers in the top 20, but with that expansion, the Broncos have three players with the inclusion of Julius Thomas. Sanders, signed for a three-year, $15 million contract in the offseason, has already reached a career high in Reception NEP at 72.49. His previous high was last season with the Steelers at 54.15.
Most of Denver’s offseason focus was on improving the defense, and those investments have so far paid off. The Broncos are the fifth-best overall defense in the league per Adjusted NEP, and something that may end up being the most effective weapon the front office gave to Manning. After being a cap casualty in Dallas, DeMarcus Ware has eight sacks and a forced fumble in his first year as a Bronco. Take that production alongside Von Miller, who has developed into one of the best pass rushers in the league, and Terrance Knighton, who has been able to plug the middle of the defensive line - that makes life much easier for a secondary that has already improved with the additions of Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Bradley Roby.