All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 14
Another week in the NFL down, and another week of a shifting playoff picture. Teams like the Cincinnati Bengals helped themselves out with a win, while the Ravens, Steelers and Browns all took significant hit to their playoff odds. In this week's All-32, we'll be looking at three other teams who shifted their playoff odds tremendously over the past week.
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 two to three times during the course of the season.
Assessing The Roster
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -9.87, Record: 2-10, Last Week: 32)
31. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -9.13, 1-11, Last Week: 28)
30. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -8.59, 2-10, Last Week: 30)
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -8.29, 2-10, Last Week: 31)
28. New York Jets (nERD: -5.38, 2-10, Last Week: 29)
27. Chicago Bears (nERD: -4.73, 5-7, Last Week: 25)
26. Carolina Panthers (nERD: -4.53, 3-8-1, Last Week: 26)
25. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: -3.89, 5-7, Last Week: 25)
24. New York Giants (nERD: -3.82, 3-9, Last Week: 23)
23. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -3.20, 7-5, Last Week: 22)
22. Washington Redskins (nERD: -3.06, 3-9, Last Week: 21)
21. St. Louis Rams (nERD: -2.35, 5-7, Last Week: 27)
It took over 10 weeks, but the St. Louis Rams finally became the team we thought they were. After a very slow and disappointing start to the season, the Rams' defensive line — and defense as a whole — has morphed into a unit that more resembles its potential. The Rams currently have the 10th-best defense in the league in terms of Net Expected Points (NEP), 10th against the pass and 12th against the run.
After being on a historical pace for failure to develop a pass rush, St. Louis has found the ability to pressure the opposing quarterback. Overall sack totals may be low — Robert Quinn leads the team with nine, followed by Aaron Donald with six — but those raw numbers don’t capture the ways the pass rush has been able to at least disrupt the opponent’s passing game. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is widely known for his use of blitzes to create a pass rush. At the start of the season, the blitzes seemed too complex, too frequent and unnecessary considering how the line was supposed to be a strength on its own. Over the past few weeks, the line has been able to get pressure on its own and the blitzes were better timed, making them more effective.
What the pass rush has also done is make a young secondary even better. Somehow Janoris Jenkins, at 26 years old, is the oldest regular player in the secondary. The Rams have also been able to shuffle around some of those players, with the addition of Mark Barron at the trade deadline. St. Louis has occasionally been playing with a three safety look more often.
Unfortunately, St. Louis ranks 28th in Adjusted NEP on offense, 26th for passing offense and 21st on the ground. The Rams bounced from Sam Bradford to Shaun Hill to Austin Davis and back to Hill at quarterback, but none of it has made a significant difference. Hill has a -1.49 Passing NEP in his 105 drop backs, while Davis had a -12.28 Pass NEP through his 314 drop backs. The Rams will likely be in the quarterback market in the offseason, which could possibly bring the play of the young receiving unit to its potential as well. St. Louis has been a young team with potential for the past few seasons, but at some point that potential is going to have to be realized.
20. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: -1.10, 8-3-1, Last Week: 18)
19. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: -.64, 5-7, Last Week: 20)
18. San Diego Chargers (nERD: -.38, 8-4, Last Week: 19)
A win against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13 may have saved the San Diego Chargers’ season. We still have the Chargers with a less than 50 percent chance of making the playoffs, but their current playoff odds of 45.5 percent is up 23.6 percent from their playoff odds heading into last week.
Their low odds are because of the four remaining games on the Chargers’ schedule. San Diego’s final four games comes against the Patriots and Broncos at home, then San Francisco and Kansas City on the road. All four of those teams are in the top half of these rankings, and the contests against the two lower-ranked teams are on the road. The Chargers could go 2-2 and finish at 10-6, which would probably put them in a good position for a playoff spot, but 2-2 could be tough for that stretch.
After an early season of defensive improvement, the Chargers suffered some injuries on that side of the ball that has sent them to 27th on defense by Adjusted NEP. Rookie corner Jason Verrett started the season playing well above expectation for a rookie corner, but a shoulder injury sent him to injured reserve after playing just five games. That’s left Shareece Wright as a starting corner. San Diego ranks 29th by Adjusted NEP against the pass, which isn’t ideal heading into two games against the Patriots and Broncos.
The good news for the Chargers is the pass offense has found its way again after a rough stretch in the middle of the season, ranking sixth in passing offense. Philip Rivers is sixth in Passing NEP, and tied for fourth in Passing NEP per drop back. When the San Diego passing offense has been clicking, Rivers has been able to deliver the ball to any open receiver.
Tight end Antonio Gates ranks 19th in Reception NEP, but no wide receiver on the Chargers ranks higher than 30th. Those rankings shouldn’t take away from what Malcom Floyd and Keenan Allen have been doing this season. Floyd has been one of the most efficient receivers in the league, leading to a 1.00 Reception NEP per target, which is the highest for any receiver targeted at least 60 times this season. Allen is having a consistent season with 72 receptions in 12 games, and needs just 238 yards over the next four games for total 1,000 receiving yards.
Hot And Cold
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: .37, 7-5, Last Week: 15)
16. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: .75, 7-5, Last Week: 16)
15. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: 1.13, 8-4, Last Week: 10)
Aside from the Chargers, one other team received at least a 20 percent boost in playoff odds from last week to this week: the Philadelphia Eagles. And it came at the expense of the Dallas Cowboys. With the loss to Philadelphia on Thanksgiving, Dallas lost control of the NFC East and dropped in playoff odds by 30 percent.
Dallas has lost three of their last five games after starting the season 6-1. In that time, they've gone from a possible first-round bye to possibly not making the playoffs. At 8-4, there is also the possibility — though it is highly unlikely — that the Cowboys finish 8-8 for the fourth straight season. Dallas does have a good chance of gaining a game on the Eagles in Week 14 though, and they'll play the Chicago Bears on Thursday night while the Eagles host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. Regardless of what the Eagles do, a win for Dallas against Chicago will be almost necessary. With Seattle, Arizona, San Francisco and Detroit looming in the wild-card picture, an 8-5 record would be tough to overcome, especially with Dallas’ remaining schedule.
After Chicago, the Cowboys will play the Eagles on the road before hosting the Indianapolis Colts. One would figure the Cowboys would need to win at least one of those games to stay in the hunt.
A problem for the Cowboys is that the surprisingly good defense at the start of the season has returned to unsurprisingly mediocre. While it’s not the worst defense in NFL history as many believed it could be before the season started, the Cowboys have faded to 24th overall per Adjusted Defensive NEP. The team is 23rd against the run and 26th against the pass, which has started to put more pressure on the offense by shifting the game scripts and run heavy plan they were succeeding with early in the season.
Over the first 10 games, Dallas had given up 28 points or more just three times. That allowed the offense to rely heavily on the offensive line, DeMarco Murray, and the run game to lead the offense. The Cowboys rank eighth is Adjusted Rushing NEP, which also helped them control the ball and dictate the pace of the game. Over the past two games, the Cowboys have been playing catch-up, and even with Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and the ninth-best passing offense, the strength of the Cowboys is being taken away. It took an incredible last minute drive to beat the Giants in Week 12, and there was little the offense could do to keep pace with the Eagles on Thanksgiving.
The offense has been good this year, but that’s not new for the Cowboys. The team was successful early in the season when the defense was successful. The magic has worn off and the Cowboys are in danger of falling out of the race.
14. New Orleans Saints (nERD: 1.53, 5-7, Last Week: 17)
13. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 1.95, 7-5, Last Week: 12)
12. Buffalo Bills (nERD: 2.69, 7-5, Last Week: 13)
Making A Case
11. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 3.15, 9-3, Last Week: 6)
10. Houston Texans (nERD: 3.63, 6-6, Last Week: 11)
9. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 3.66, 9-3, Last Week: 14)
8. Detroit Lions (nERD: 3.88, 8-4, Last Week: 9)
7. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: 4.19, 8-4, Last Week: 8)
6. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: 4.57, 7-5, Last Week: 5)
5. Miami Dolphins (nERD: 4.68, 7-5, Last Week: 4)
4. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 4.88, 8-4, Last Week: 7)
The Seattle Seahawks were the best team in football, then they were no longer the best team in football. But it was because the Seahawks were once the best team in football that their fall from the top was viewed as a team in more trouble than it actually was. During the season, Seattle has spent one week outside of our top 10, at number 13. The Seahawks were never a bad team, but they weren’t the best, so there was panic.
Seattle now has a 73 percent chance to make the playoffs. With Arizona struggling, the Seahawks still have a 34.4 percent chance of winning the NFC West with a game against the Cardinals still remaining. This isn’t a team that disappeared and came back. Seattle is a team that was great, spent some time being pretty good and is now on its way back to being one of the top teams again.
The Seahawks are the number-one rushing team in the league, thanks in part to both Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson. WIlson leads all players in Rushing NEP this season, 23.1 points above Justin Forsett. Early in his career, Wilson was scramble happy and was likely to leave the pocket before a play broke down. While Wilson can still leave the pocket early on occasion, his scrambling has been smarter and more efficient this season. Wilson has been worth 0.66 NEP for each rush he’s attempted this season, which is one of the best averages you'll find over the last 15 seasons. Lynch has the third-highest Rushing NEP for backs with at least 100 carries, though his Rushing NEP per attempt of .07 is well below that of Forsett and Jamaal Charles.
Throwing the ball has not been as effective or efficient for the Seahawks this season though. Wilson ranks just 19th in Passing NEP, below the likes of Alex Smith, Mark Sanchez and Brian Hoyer. As a team, the Seahawks are 20th through the air, per Adjusted NEP. All four of Seattle’s remaining games will come against teams ranked in the top 10 against the pass, too, per our metrics — Philadelphia, San Francisco, Arizona and St. Louis.
With the defense coming back around to its normal state, ranked eighth overall by our metrics, the run-heavy approach could again be all the Seahawks need to do in order to be successful on offense and get back into the playoffs.
Still the Favorites
3. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 7.50, 9-3, Last Week: 3)
2. New England Patriots (nERD: 9.00, 9-3, Last Week: 1)
1. Denver Broncos (nERD: 9.03, 9-3, Last Week: 2)