All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 16
Only two weeks remain in the regular season. The playoff picture is clearing up, but there’s still much to be determined. We currently have 12 teams with a greater than 50 percent chance of making the playoffs, but the order is still to be determined.
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.
Started The Bottom.. and Still Here
32. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -10.06, 2-12, Last Week: 31)
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -9.61, Record: 2-12, Last Week: 32)
It took 15 weeks, but for the first time, the Jacksonville Jaguars aren't the 32nd-ranked team by nERD. Up to this point, the Jaguars had been the only team to be in the same spot since the start of the season. With a close loss to the Baltimore Ravens -- who are much higher on this list -- and with Tennessee’s loss to the Jets, the Titans took over this week as the team ranked last. Fortunately, for the same national audience that endured Saints-Bears on Monday night, the Jaguars and Titans with square off on Thursday Night Football. There’s little hope that matchup will inspire well-played football, but for the first time in a while, there's some hope surrounding the future of the Jaguars franchise.
Jacksonville’s defense has quietly been improving over the second half of the season. The Jaguars rank 15th in Adjusted NEP in overall defense, 18th against the run and 15th against the pass. During the offseason, Jacksonville constructed its defense through a mix of veteran players and young talent to develop -- kind of like Oakland, but with an actual plan. Free agent signings in Chris Clemons and Red Bryant have teamed with Roy Miller and Sen’Derrick Marks to make a disruptive defensive line against both the run and the pass. That’s also started to make things easier for the secondary, where none of the current starters were drafted before 2013.
The key for how long it takes this team to progress, though, will come on offense, but there are a few more questions than answers. While the Jaguars would like to know a little more about what they have at quarterback after investing the third-overall pick in Blake Bortles, this season hasn’t been the best sample to judge what Bortles may bring for the future.
Bortles ranks last for all quarterbacks in Passing NEP this season at -81.34. Robert Griffin III is the next lowest on the list with a Passing NEP of -36.14. That’s a noticeable gap, but not many quarterbacks have been in worse situations this season. Jacksonville’s offense has the fourth-highest pass-to-run ratio in the league behind what may be the worst pass blocking offensive line in the league. They’re at least in the conversation no team wants to be a part of.
Bortles is getting sacked on 10 percent of his drop backs, which is rate lower than only Colin Kaepernick's 10.3 percent. However, the last time we focused on the Jaguars in this space, Bortles’ decision making was brought into question, especially when feeling pressure. Over the past few weeks, Bortles has been much better in his progressions and has mostly stayed away from a bad decision making process. With better and more consistent protection, Bortles could take advantage of a talented group of receivers -- which could also include Justin Blackmon -- in 2015. The Jaguars may be more than a few pieces away from contending, but they’re closer now than they have been in quite a while.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -9.29, 2-12, Last Week: 30)
29. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -8.20, 2-12, Last Week: 29)
28. New York Jets (nERD: -6.34, 3-11, Last Week: 28)
27. Chicago Bears (nERD: -5.42, 5-9, Last Week: 26)
26. Washington Redskins (nERD: -4.76, 3-11, Last Week: 27)
Playing For Next Year25. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -3.93, 7-7, Last Week: 22)
24. New York Giants (nERD: -2.70, 5-9, Last Week: 24)
23. Carolina Panthers (nERD: -2.41, 5-8-1, Last Week: 21)
22. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: -2.20, 6-8, Last Week: 25)
21. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: -.77, 7-7, Last Week: 18)
20. St. Louis Rams (nERD: -.57, 6-8, Last Week: 19)
19. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: -.50, 9-4-1, Last Week: 23)
18. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: -.49, 5-9, Last Week: 16)
17. San Diego Chargers (nERD: -.22, 8-6, Last Week: 17)
16. New Orleans Saints (nERD: -.11, 6-8, Last Week: 20)
15. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 1.62, 8-6, Last Week: 14)
14. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: 1.87, 10-4, Last Week: 15)
13. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 1.90, 9-5, Last Week: 12)
Only the Indianapolis Colts have run more plays on offense this season than the Philadelphia Eagles. On defense, the Eagles have seen about two games worth of plays more than the Colts have faced this season -- a difference of 119 plays. That difference stems from each team’s time of possession on offense. The Eagles, with their up-tempo offense, are more prone to giving the ball back to opposing offenses more frequently given the short amount of time the offense holds onto the ball. Time of possession can be a wildly overrated statistic by coaches and announcers as holding on to the ball means much less than what the teams do when possessing the ball. That’s why the Eagles have less of a time of possession problem and more of an efficiency problem this season.
In terms of average time of possession, the Eagles are almost exactly where they were a year ago in pacing. Per ProFootballReference.com, Philadelphia’s average drive this season has lasted 2:04 in game time, compared to 2:06 last season. The Eagles are also converting 37 percent of their drives into points, compared to 36.8 percent last season. So if both the time of possession and scoring percentage are almost identical, then why is that type of pace considered a problem this season when it worked last season? Sanchez. Ok, it’s not all on Mark Sanchez, but his play has been a part of what the Eagles are missing this season.
Last season the Eagles turned the ball over on just nine percent of their drives. This year, that rate has doubled to 18 percent. That alone has given opposing offenses twice as many possessions than last season, which is a lot to ask of a defense that’s already playing a significantly amount of snaps. While last season’s turnover rate was a result of an unsustainable lack of interceptions from Nick Foles, the Eagles have regressed to the opposite side of the mean. Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 18.1 percent have more offensive drives that end in turnovers.
That’s cost the Eagles 0.18 points per drive this season from their scoring rate last season. Philadelphia averages just under 13 drives per game this season, which is a potential of over 2.5 points per game lost from last season’s scoring.
Philadelphia has the seventh overall defense by Adjusted NEP, but much of that comes from their number-two ranked run defense. The Eagles rank just 17th against the pass, and giving opponents more opportunities to throw the ball after turnovers has been as big a part of the defensive weakness as the defense itself
Luckily for the Eagles, they finish the season against the Washington and the Giants, who might not be able to take advantage of those turnovers as much as teams like the Packers and Cowboys did.12. Miami Dolphins (nERD: 1.91, 7-7, Last Week: 10)
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: 2.22, 9-5, Last Week: 13)
10. Buffalo Bills (nERD: 2.94, 8-6, Last Week: 11)
9. Houston Texans (nERD: 3.15, 7-7, Last Week: 9)
8. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 3.20, 11-3, Last Week: 8)
Given all the injuries to the Cardinals, it's hard to believe they're 11-3.
The Cardinals have been able to get the most out of what they’ve been able to put on the field this season, but they’re probably testing the limit of Bruce Arians’ wizardry by starting Ryan Lindley at quarterback. Lindley’s last tenure as one of the many starting quarterbacks under Ken Whisenhunt was one of the worst we have on record by NEP, -0.42 Pass NEP per drop back. The outlook for his performance this year is not much higher, and he won’t have much help from a run game. Arizona ranks 23rd for rushing offense by Adjusted NEP, which is not the ideal way to help a limited quarterback. Kerwynn Williams, though, has been more efficient than Andre Ellington was when he was healthy. Ellington ranked last for all running backs in Rushing NEP, but Williams has averaged .04 Rushing NEP per attempt over his limited 34 rushes this season.
Arizona is still one of the top defenses in the league. That’s good since the defense might have to start pitching shutouts in every game for the offense to outscore the opposition. The Cardinals have surrendered more than 20 points in a game this season only twice, and have given up 20 combined points over their last two games. Granted, the past two games have been against the Chiefs and Rams, who rank 12th and 27th by Adjusted NEP on offense, but that’s the type of performance the defense is going to have to give regardless of the opposing offensive quality.
The Seahawks are currently our 10th-best offense by Adjusted NEP, which is what the Cardinals will have to worry about in order win the NFC West. Heading into Sunday night’s game, we have Arizona with 55.4 percent chance of winning the division, though admittedly that doesn't bring in as much of the Lindley factor that will have more of an impact on Sunday.
It’s unfortunate this Cardinals' season could come down to how Lindley does at quarterback over the next few games. Bruce Arians deserves to win Coach of the Year for getting the team to be eighth in our rankings even before the injury to Drew Stanton. Great defensive teams have dragged bad quarterbacks through playoffs runs before, but this may be too tall a task even for these overachieving Cardinals.
7. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: 4.38, 10-4, Last Week: 7)
6. Detroit Lions (nERD: 4.45, 10-4, Last Week: 6)
5. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: 5.93, 9-5, Last Week: 4)
The Favorites4. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 6.31, 10-4, Last Week: 5)
3. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 7.21, 10-4, Last Week: 3)
2. Denver Broncos (nERD: 8.56, 11-3, Last Week: 2)
Over the past few weeks, the Broncos have gone from top team in the league to one entering the playoffs with some major questions. Many of those questions revolve around quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning is having a typical Manning season, which tends to be so consistently good it’s unremarkable. Manning is leading all quarterbacks in Passing NEP this season, and is behind only Aaron Rodgers in Passing NEP per drop back. No one is questioning how Manning will perform when healthy, but his health has been called into question.
Against the Chargers, Manning was battling through an illness and thigh injury as he went 14 of 20 for 233 yards and a touchdown. Initial reports suggested the Broncos have little concern over Manning’s thigh injury, but it’s worth monitoring over the next few weeks. Any lingering issues could make a first round bye even more important for Denver. We currently have the Broncos with the highest projected wins in the league at 12.5, which should be safe for a top-two seed. Home-field advantage will be more difficult to achieve since the New England Patriots would have to lose to either the New York Jets or Buffalo Bills with Denver winning against the Bengals and Raiders to avoid the tiebreaker that favors New England.
If health is not a concern, these Broncos are still one of the top teams in the league. If health is a concern, Denver’s new commitment to the run game could be beneficial. Denver has the fifth-best rushing offense by Adjusted NEP, and C.J. Anderson has played a large role in that since becoming a bigger contributor. Anderson has been worth .07 Rush NEP per carry this season, which is much more than what the Broncos had been getting from Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman. It took two injuries for the Broncos to find out who their best running back was, but Anderson has stepped into the role and excelled.
With Cincinnati’s run defense as it’s currently constructed, 30th by Adjusted NEP, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Broncos bring another run-heavy game plan to Monday night’s game and lessen the offensive load for Manning. Then the next week the Broncos play the Raiders and Manning’s involvement might not even matter, especially if the Colts fall to the Cowboys and the Broncos clinch a bye. That could amount to about two and a half weeks of Manning not having to play at full capacity. Our projections currently have the Broncos winning the Super Bowl at 19 percent, the second-highest rate behind the Patriots’ 22 percent. That probably goes up if the Broncos can get the one seed, but for now, getting to the Divisional Round at full strength may be Denver’s biggest concern.
1. New England Patriots (nERD: 10.12, 11-3, Last Week: 1)