All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 13
Week 13 should be a lot fun. Not only are there three Thursday games this week, but each one will have some type of playoff implication. And an underrated perk of the week is the end of bye weeks, as all teams have now played the same amount of games. Not only is that great for your fantasy rosters, but it gives us a clearer picture of the real playoff hunt, as we can now compare records and remaining schedules with the same amount of weight.
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 four 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.
Thankful for the Draft
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -10.52, Record: 1-10, Last Week: 32)
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -8.79, 2-9, Last Week: 31)
30. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -7.11, 2-9, Last Week: 29)
29. New York Jets (nERD: -6.78, 2-9, Last Week: 27)
28. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -5.55, 1-10, Last Week: 30)
Thankful for the Previous Group and Knowing It Could Be Worse
27. St. Louis Rams (nERD: -5.50, 4-7, Last Week: 28)
26. Carolina Panthers (nERD: -4.38, 3-7-1, Last Week: 25)
Play around with some playoff scenarios long enough, and the 6-9-1 Carolina Panthers win the NFC South. There’s been a lot of discussion, both on this site and others, about how bad the division has been this season. But man, the NFC South is bad.
With three wins, the Panthers still have a 19 percent chance of not only making the playoffs, but hosting a playoff game. Every other three-win team in the league has a zero percent chance of a playoff appearance. The two-win Buccaneers have a 0.2 percent chance according to our numbers because they, too, play in the worst division in football.
Though 19 percent is high for any three-win team, it’s still the third-lowest odds in the division. New Orleans still leads the way with at 48 percent, and Atlanta is behind at 32.8 percent. It’s even difficult to look at which team might have the easiest remaining schedule since there’s still too many games to be played against each other. Only the Falcons and Buccaneers have played each other twice, meaning we will get five more NFC South games through the end of the season. The Panthers have already lost to the Saints and Falcons, and both of those upcoming games will be on the road.
For Carolina to have a shot at taking the division and stopping a five-game losing streak (six-game winless streak if you want to count the tie against Cincinnati, but no one blames you for trying to forget), health is going to be a big factor. Obviously health is an important factor for any team making a push towards the playoffs, but it’s especially important when the team’s quarterback is dropping back behind whatever Carolina has deemed an “offensive line” this season.
Cam Newton has pretty clearly been playing in some pain over the past few weeks, and it’s shown more in his ability to run the ball. Since taking over that Bengals game with a high volume and success rate of zone-read plays, Newton hasn’t been running as much or as well. With a bye week to rest, Newton may be a little healthier and some more zone-read plays could be used in the game plan. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to get some different looks for opposing defensive lines, who have sacked Newton on a career high 8.8 percent of his drop backs. The pressure has also affected Newton’s passing, placing him 27th in Passing Net Expected Points, between Jay Cutler and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The offensive line has also set back Carolina’s run game. No team with the GDP of a small country invested in its backfield should rank 27th on the ground by Adjusted NEP, but that’s where the Panthers are. Even while there was more Darrin Reaves and Fozzy Whittaker than any team should bear, the run game could not be rescued before it fell into despair.
25. Chicago Bears (nERD: -4.18, 5-6, Last Week: 26)
24. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: -3.95, 4-7, Last Week: 24)
23. New York Giants (nERD: -2.77, 3-8, Last Week: 23)
22. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -2.74, 7-4, Last Week: 22)
21. Washington Redskins (nERD: -2.38, 3-8, Last Week: 20)
Thankful for Telling Them There's a Chance
20. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: -2.30, 4-7, Last Week: 21)
19. San Diego Chargers (nERD: -1.57, 7-4, Last Week: 19)
18. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: -.79, 7-3-1, Last Week: 18)
It’s been 10 weeks since we last covered the Bengals in this space. While they still sit atop the AFC North, much has changed since they looked like the best team in football heading into Week 3. Through the first few weeks, Cincinnati had one of the the best defenses in the league, which proved to be the case of a small sample and overrated opposing offenses like Atlanta and Tennessee. The Bengals now have the 18th best defensive by Adjusted NEP, including a 30th-ranked run defense.
Injuries at linebacker can explain some of that drop off. Vontaze Burfict has played five games, and Rey Maualuga has played in seven. Between the injuries and a lot of nickel formation, only two linebackers — Vincent Rey and Emmanuel Lamur — have played more than half of Cincinnati’s defensive snaps this season. Lamur, a 2012 undrafted free agent, has tried to do his best Burfict impression by leading the defense in tackles, but his first step is not quite as quick as Burfict, which allows opposing running backs to gain a few more yards in the second level. The pass defense is ranked sixth by Adjusted NEP.
Cincinnati’s offensive rank of 14th in Adjusted NEP is fitting considering the amount of variance the unit has shown this season. Bad Andy Dalton has shown up more often than warranted, and at some of the most inopportune times. Dalton’s game against the Browns was one of the worst quarterback performances of the season, but his 18-of-38 for 126 yards against the Colts three weeks earlier was just as disappointing.
What’s really interesting is that Dalton and division foe quarterback Brian Hoyer have been almost the same player this season. Hoyer leads Dalton by 4.14 Passing NEP, but Hoyer has also dropped back 32 more times. They have an identical .09 Passing NEP per drop back, and Dalton has a slight edge in Success Rate, 47.86 percent to 45.69 percent. With both of these teams fighting for the AFC North title, it’s quite amazing they’ve had the same level of quarterback play.
We have the Bengals with a 55.8 percent chance of making the playoffs, well above the Browns’ 22.6 percent.
17. New Orleans Saints (nERD: .88, 4-7, Last Week: 15)
16. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: 1.09, 7-4, Last Week: 16)
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: 1.11, 7-4, Last Week: 14)
14. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 1.56, 8-3, Last Week: 13)
When Mark Sanchez took over as the starting quarterback for the Eagles, many were interested in seeing where a scheme starts and a quarterback ends. Sanchez was known for his struggles during his time with the Jets, but he was entering one of the most quarterback-friendly systems in Philadelphia.
Sanchez’s first game as a starter was considered a monumental success, as he threw for 332 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions against the Panthers. In the following two games, he also also threw for at least 300 yards. Sanchez is already 19th in Passing NEP despite dropping back just 154 times this season - only one quarterback ahead of him in Passing NEP has dropped back fewer than 300 times (Carson Palmer). Of quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs, his 0.18 Pass NEP per drop back is tied for 10th best.
Some want to credit Sanchez for being a new quarterback, and others want to give full credit to Chip Kelly and his offensive system. The truth, as it often does, lies somewhere in between.
Sanchez is not a reborn quarterback, nor is Kelly’s system quarterback proof. The system does allow Sanchez to make quicker decisions and relies more on a first read than anything Sanchez ran in New York. For the most part, he’s been able to locate the open receiver — something the system does of great job of creating — and deliver the ball quickly. Where Sanchez has struggled has been timing routes, as he’s struggled with comfort and accuracy. On a few occasions, Sanchez has forced some balls knowing the receiver should be open, which has led to an interception on 4.1 percent of his passes.
The Eagles have improved the most on defense. Their number seven ranking by Adjusted NEP is aided by the amount of defensive touchdowns they’ve scored this year, but this is no longer a team that has to rely on a high scoring offense because it gives up just as many. Philadelphia is sixth against the run and 15th against the pass. The average pass defense is a huge improvement over last season, and sometimes a change from bad to average can be one of the best improvements a team can make. That can especially be the case when average is getting by against the 10th-highest defensive pass-to-run ratio in the league.
That sixth ranked run defense will be put to the test on Thanksgiving against the Cowboys offensive line and DeMarco Murray. While both teams will likely make the playoffs, Thursday’s game will be important for the NFC East title and a home game.
13. Buffalo Bills (nERD: 1.75, 6-5, Last Week: 17)
12. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 2.17, 7-4, Last Week: 8)
11. Houston Texans (nERD: 2.19, 5-6, Last Week: 12)
Thankful for Favorable Playoff Odds
10. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: 3.12, 8-3, Last Week: 9)
9. Detroit Lions (nERD: 3.47, 7-4, Last Week: 7)
8. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: 3.58, 7-4, Last Week: 11)
7. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 4.43, 7-4, Last Week: 10)
6. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 4.63, 9-2, Last Week: 5)
5. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: 5.53, 7-4, Last Week: 6)
Through 12 weeks of the season, the Baltimore Ravens have been the best team in the AFC North. But that's not what the standings say.
We still have Baltimore with the highest playoff odds in the AFC North at 58.6 percent, but the remaining schedule isn't easy. While the Ravens get a home game against the Jaguars, they will have to travel to Miami in Week 14 to play the Dolphins. The schedule also includes games against the Chargers, Texans and Browns. What currently hurts the Ravens is their record in division games - Baltimore is 2-3 inside the AFC North, which includes a sweep at the hands of the division-leading Bengals. With only one divisional game remaining in Week 17, Baltimore might have to go 4-1 through the next five games to leap into first place.
The Ravens' defense is once again among the best in the league, ranking eighth overall per Adjusted NEP. The Ravens rank second against the run, but that strength has almost exposed more of a weakness in the secondary. The Ravens have held some large leads this season, and in addition to their effective run defense, that has led the Ravens to face the third-highest pass-to-run ratio in the league on defense. That’s not ideal when such bad players are playing more than half the snaps at key positions in the secondary. As our own JJ Zachariason noted, since Jimmy Smith was lost of the season, the Ravens have dropped from ninth to 19th against the pass per Adjusted NEP.
The offense might be just good enough to endure some shootouts along the way, ranking 10th in overall offense per Adjusted NEP. Joe Flacco is ninth in Passing NEP, and has been much improved under Gary Kubiak. Steve Smith continues to defy aging curves, as he ranks 15th in Reception NEP among all pass-catchers.
The biggest improvement in the Baltimore offense under Kubiak has been the run game. The offensive line has found comfort in the zone blocking scheme, and Justin Forsett has emerged as one of the best runners in the league this season. Even with a larger sample of attempts, he still leads all running backs in Rushing NEP, almost 10 points above Jamaal Charles.
4. Miami Dolphins (nERD: 6.27, 6-5, Last Week: 4)
Thankful For Being The Best
3. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 7.33, 8-3, Last Week: 2)
2. Denver Broncos (nERD: 8.47, 8-3, Last Week: 2)
1. New England Patriots (nERD: 9.40, 9-2, Last Week: 1)