All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 2
There have been football games played. We can now finally react to real things that happened on the fied instead of trying to predict and project what will happen. Well, with 16 weeks remaining we’ll still do plenty of predicting and projecting, but we at least have something to base those on now. What’s important to remember here, is that Week 1 is not enough to change a thought process radically from before the season kicked off.
Remember last year in Week 1, the Miami Dolphins defeated the New England Patriots 33-20, and the Tennessee Titans beat the Kansas City Chiefs 26-10.
That’s going to be reflected in the rankings this week. While there’s plenty of teams in new spots, there are less major changes. That includes our top four, which remains the same from last week even though one of those teams lost. Part of this is because the numbers still include our preseason projections through the first few weeks of the season. Keep that in mind when going through the rankings below.
Unlike many other rankings across the internet, these are not some subjective rankings by a writer -- trust me, those would be way worse. Instead we use nERD, which 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.
For the early part of the season, the nERD score still incorporates some data from last season and our preseason projections. As the season progresses and a larger sample of games play out, the nERD scores will be a closer representation to a team’s play this season.
Throughout the rankings we’ll also be using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which is used as part of the nERD score. NEP measures the value of each play on the field based on how an average team would be expected to score in each scenario using historical data.
Each week, we’ll list all 32 teams from worst to best with a more detailed breakdown of five different teams. The highlighted teams will rotate each week, which will lead to each team being featured around three times during the course of the season.
They Are Who We Thought They Were
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -9.37, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 31)
There was hope for the Buccaneers, just about to the point when Jameis Winston threw his first pass. Moments after fellow rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota drove the Titans down the field for a touchdown to start a historic day, Winston’s first throw was a baffling pick-six. Winston showed some flashes through the remainder of the game but still finished with the fifth worst performance by Passing NEP in Week 1. Not all of this should be put on Winston -- the offensive line was not helping him out with clean pockets -- but it was clear the offense could be a longer work in progress than anticipated.
A more concerning problem could be the state of the defense, which ranks 29th in schedule-adjusted Defensive NEP per play through Week 1. While Mariota and the Titans were successful though some packaged plays and play action, they were able to take advantage of Tampa Bay’s relatively simple coverages. As Lovie Smith has favored in his career, the Bucs ran a majority of their plays in zone coverage and stayed in concepts that quickly looked outdated against some of the spread concepts Tennessee sprinkled into their game plan to help suit Mariota’s strengths.
The Bucs were much better against the run, 18th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play, but it didn’t really matter when the Titans were able to do almost whatever they wanted in the air, which allowed Mariota to throw four touchdown passes in the first half and sit out for most of the second. Tampa Bay will play New Orleans in Week 2, so the task will not be any easier for the defense. The ability of the defense leads right back to development of Winston. Continuously facing negative game scripts will not be how the team would ideally break in the rookie quarterback.
31. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -8.28, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 29)
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -7.21,Record: 0-1, Last Week: 30)
29. Chicago Bears (nERD: -5.63, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 27)
28. Washington Redskins (nERD: -5.26, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 28)
27. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -5.06, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 26)
26. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: -4.39, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 25)
Wait and See
25. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -3.12, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 32)
24. New Orleans Saints (nERD: -1.16, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 16)
23. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: -0.88, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 22)
We knew the Atlanta Falcons offense had the ability to be good. That wasn't going to be a surprise. Even during the 6-10 season last year the Falcons had a top-10 offense by Adjusted NEP per play, carried mostly by an eighth-ranked passing attack. With Matt Ryan, a healthy Julio Jones and new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the potential to be one of the best offenses in the league is there, and it showed some on Monday night.
Atlanta had the 10th-best passing performance by NEP in Week 1, led by the Ryan-Jones connection. Jones had the fourth highest Reception NEP and Target NEP of the week as he caught 9 of his 11 targets for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns. Jones was already the third most targeted receiver in the NFL last year behind only Antonio Brown and Demaryius Thomas, and through one week it appears that type of pace is going to continue.
The surprise of the night was relative ability of the defense to hold up against the Eagles. The defense slipped a little in the second half, but the unit already looked much improved from what it was in 2014. While the offense rated well last season, there was a reason the team went 6-10. Atlanta was 29th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play last season, giving up more points than all but five teams.
It’s too early to know whether the 2015 version is going to be good -- the unit ranks 16th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play through one week -- but it might not be the catastrophe it was last season. Early in the game, the defensive line was able to get pressure on Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford. Maybe that was due to Philadelphia’s poor guard play. Of course, none of the pressure turned into sacks, but the pass rush was non-existent for this team last year and at the least there appears to be some hope for one this year.
Some will say cornerback Desmond Trufant is a star in the making, but there’s a good chance he’s already there. Trufant has turned into one of the league’s best corners and was a significant reason why Nelson Agholor had just one catch for five yards. Trufant bears watching and will be on Odell Beckham next week. That’s going to be fun.
22. Detroit Lions (nERD: -0.37, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 18)
21. New York Giants (nERD: -0.16, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 20)
20. Houston Texans (nERD: 0.10, Record:0-1, Last Week: 14)
19. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: 0.49, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 13)
18. San Diego Chargers (nERD: 0.83, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 21)
17. St. Louis Rams (nERD: 0.91, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 17)
Beat the team we have ranked as the best team in the league and don’t move a spot in the rankings; that’s the case here for the St. Louis Rams. They did increase in nERD but not as much as some would expect after beating a team like the Seahawks. Was the outcome of Sunday’s game really that unexpected, though?
Sure these are games Seattle should win as a Super Bowl contender, but for the Rams, it was a home divisional game. Over the past few years, NFC West teams have consistently played each other tough, and it appears Jeff Fisher always leaves his best coaching for when St. Louis plays Seattle. Now if he could just keep that up for the other 14 games on the schedule the, Rams could get out of the 7-9 purgatory they've occupied. A close home division win in overtime won’t suddenly jump the Rams up the rankings, even if it came against our top team.
None of this should take away from what St. Louis did, though, which was demolish Seattle’s shaky offensive line to keep Russell Wilson under constant pressure. Wilson was sacked six times and that could have easily been doubled if not for the quarterback’s ability to move around. Even while Wilson was able to avoid other sacks the Seahawks passing game couldn’t do much more, which placed St. Louis as the seventh best pass defense by NEP in Week 1. A dominant defensive line is what the Rams were supposed to be built on last season, but it resulted in no sacks through half of the season until something clicked and the sacks piled up quickly. Like the Falcons, the Rams faced a weak offensive line in their first game, but the Rams are loaded with enough talent (hey, Aaron Donald) to prove this line is no fluke.
It wasn’t just the defense that was impressive, however. Nick Foles and the offense were a pleasant surprise against the Seattle secondary. Early on Foles had two throws he could have made better -- most notably a deep would-be touchdown to Tavon Austin, who had gotten behind Richard Sherman in coverage -- but he didn’t make many mistakes beyond that. His performance was enough to be the ninth best by Passing NEP through the first week. If this is something Foles and the offense can keep up, the Rams won’t be stuck in the middle of these rankings for long.
16. New York Jets (nERD: 1.41, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 24)
15. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: 1.89, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 6)
14. Miami Dolphins (nERD: 1.89, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 12)
13. Carolina Panthers (nERD: 1.93, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 19)
12. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: 2.22, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 23)
11. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 2.71, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 8)
After such an eventful offseason that saw surprise trades, releases, signings and whatever else Chip Kelly was doing, the first half of the Monday night game could not have been more disappointing. The Eagles offense started with the straight three-and-outs and punted on five of their seven first half drives, not including the one that ended the half. At halftime the Eagles were trailing 20-3, and DeMarco Murray had three carries. Those aren’t the Chip Kelly Eagles we’ve come to know.
Then the second half started and the offense began to look a little more like itself. Philadelphia scored a touchdown on its first three drives of the second half, granted the first needed just two plays and eight yards after an interception. But the following two drives were the Chip Kelly Eagles, drives of 95 and 80 yards with enough tempo to leave Falcons defenders gasping for breath in between plays. Overall, the offense performance wasn’t great -- just 17th in total NEP -- but the team in the second half was much more promising than the one in the first.
What could be more concerning for the offense was Kelly’s pass happy tendencies against a team that ranked 31st against the run last year by Adjusted Defensive NEP per play. With Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles available, Kelly spent a majority of the first half calling for Bradford passes. Even when they did run, it was to the right side, for some reason avoiding the matchup of Jason Peters against rookie Vic Beasley, who was not drafted highly for his run defending ability.
The Eagles had the highest pass-to-run ratio in Week 1, 3.25 drop backs to every rush attempt, something worth keeping an eye on. Last season Philadelphia was 21st in that ratio, which matches more with how a typical Chip Kelly offense is run, but on Monday it seemed passing often was a big part of the game plan.
10. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: 2.79, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 5)
9. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 2.85, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 9)
8. Buffalo Bills (nERD: 2.89, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 11)
7. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: 2.92, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 7)
6. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 3.71, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 10)
5. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: 4.00, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 15)
The overarching theme from Week 1 is not to overreact to just one game, but there are some things we can look for as indicators of a good team -- one of which is blowouts. Throughout the season one thing many good teams will be able to do is blow out the bad ones, and that’s exactly what the Cincinnati Bengals did against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. As a result, no team jumped more in the rankings than the Bengals.
Sure even in the blowout there are a few things to be skeptical about. More than half the game was played against Matt McGloin at quarterback, though the score was already 17-0 before McGloin entered just before the two minute warning in the first half. Still the Bengals did enough to have the fourth best offense and seventh ranked defense by NEP in the first week.
We maybe saw some of the “Pandora’s Box” offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was talking about in the offseason. Both Tyler Eifert and Jeremy Hill scored two touchdowns, which is a positive sign for the offense going forward. Even Hill’s lack of efficiency -- 19 carries for 63 yards -- isn’t much of a worry because Giovani Bernard was able to come in and get just as many yards on eight carries. That might not be great for Hill’s fantasy owners, though they’ll enjoy the two touchdowns, but a combination like that could be just fine for the real life run game.
This isn’t the first time the Bengals have done something like this early in the season, though. Last year they had the fourth best defense in the league by Adjusted Defensive NEP per play through three weeks before giving up 43 points to the Patriots in Week 4. They’ll play the San Diego Chargers in Week 2, who should prove to be a tougher opponent than their possible future Los Angeles roommates.
Still on Top
4. New England Patriots (nERD: 5.72, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 4)
3. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 6.52, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 3)
2. Denver Broncos (nERD: 7.11, Record: 1-0, Last Week: 2)
1. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 7.11, Record: 0-1, Last Week: 1)