Which NFL Teams Are Best Entering Week 8?
With a record setting five undefeated teams heading into Week 8, it’s fair to ask who the best team in the NFL is right now.
The reality is, being undefeated doesn’t constitute being the best. There are many factors to consider. That’s why, at numberFire, we’ve simplified the analysis and created the nERD metric. nERD combines all the relevant factors and measures a team’s expected point differential against a league-average opponent. It's the definitive metric when measuring NFL teams against one another. You can read more about nERD in our glossary.
Today, we’ll count down the top five teams in terms of nERD and find out which team is really the cream of the crop.
5. Carolina Panthers (6-0)
Checking in at number five, the undefeated Carolina Panthers have a nERD of 5.88.
With feature back Jonathan Stewart finding his stride in recent weeks, Cam Newton’s rushing contribution (54 carries, 245 yards, 4 touchdowns) has Carolina ranked as our top rushing team, according to our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric.
Newton’s passing numbers, however, are a different story. He ranks 19th in Passing NEP among quarterbacks with at least 175 drop backs, and he's 21st in Success Rate, which measures the percentage of positive passes per NEP, among that same group. He ranks 26th in passing yards, and his putrid 78.4 passer rating slots him comfortably between E.J. Manuel and Sam Bradford.
Knowing this, you won’t be shocked to find out that Carolina is the only NFL team that runs the ball more than it passes. It’s been an effective approach, as Carolina sports the eighth best offense according to our metrics.
Defensively, teams simply can't pass on the Panthers. Led by corner back Josh Norman (14 pass deflections, 4 interceptions, 2 touchdowns), the Panthers rank second in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP, and have only allowed five passing touchdowns on the season, tied for first in the NFL.
On the other hand, Carolina ranks an alarming 28th against the run, bringing their total defensive rank down to seventh.
The Panther’s remaining schedule includes home dates with the Colts, Packers, and Falcons, as well as road trips to Dallas, New Orleans, New York (Giants), and Atlanta. Their upcoming opponents combine for a winning percentage of .545.
We project the Panthers to win 12.7 games with a 65.6 percent chance to win the NFC South.
4. New York Jets (4-2)
Coming off a tough loss to the New England Patriots, the Jets have a nERD of 6.39, good for fourth in the league. Despite two losses on the season, they're one of the more balanced teams in the NFL.
Defensively, this unit ranks fourth in schedule-adjusted NEP, but their forte is stopping the run -- opposing rushing attacks find nothing but brick walls, as New York leads the league in yards per carry allowed (3.4) and are our top rushing defensive unit, per NEP. Their pass defense is elite as well, ranking fifth in schedule adjusted NEP and allowing the second best passer rating against (68.5).
Incoming offensive coordinator Chan Gailey leads an improved unit, ranking 13th in overall NEP, up from 23rd last season. Running back Chris Ivory has been a complete revelation, ranking third in Rushing NEP and fourth in rushing Success Rate among running backs with at least 100 carries. On pace for a career high in carries, he’s setting the tone for this offense, allowing quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to drop back only 214 times, 19th in the league.
The Jets' upcoming schedule is relatively light (excluding a Week 16 rematch with New England), and their upcoming opponents combine for a winning percentage of .446. We project the Jets to win 10.4 games, with only a 13.4 percent chance to win the AFC East.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (6-0)
Yet to face a winning team this season, The Cincinnati Bengals are undefeated heading into Week 8. In terms of nERD, we rank the Bengals third (7.57); a distinction bolstered mostly by their upstart offense.
Specifically, their passing offense. Andy Dalton has been great this season, leading the league among qualifying quarterbacks with a 116.1 passer rating. Only throwing two interceptions, Dalton ranks second in Passing NEP among quarterbacks with at least 175 drop backs, and first in passing Success Rate among that same group.
While Cincinnati ranks a pedestrian 20th in Rushing NEP, their fourth best point differential of 60 is partially buoyed by their special teams, which ranks second in total NEP through seven weeks.
Cincinnati’s defense is an average unit, ranking 12th overall, 17th versus the rush, and 16th versus the pass, according to schedule-adjusted NEP. They’ve been doing enough to allow the offense to win games, but this is not a defense to fear as the winter months approach.
Looking ahead, the Bengals' upcoming opponent’s winning percentage is a combined .456. In Week 8, they're headed to Pittsburgh for what will undoubtedly be their toughest test to date.
We project the Bengals to finish the year with 12.7 wins and are an overwhelming favorite to win the AFC North at 91.6 percent.
2. New England Patriots (6-0)
Coming off a gutsy win over the division-rival Jets, the defending champions rank second in nERD (9.13). The Patriots also rank second in point differential, and are tied for fourth in turnover differential. They’ve scored at least 28 points in every game this season.
New England’s strength is their offense. According to Total NEP, they have the highest rated offense, and are second in the league in scoring (213 points). Their Passing NEP is the best in the league, and among qualifying quarterbacks, Tom Brady has thrown a league low one interception. Their rushing offense has been impressive too, ranking second in the league, per our metrics.
While not terrible, their defense is a bottom-half unit, ranking 18th in NEP. Their rushing defense has been the real issue, ranking 26th in NEP and surrendering 4.5 yards per carry. Their pass defense has been much more effective, ranking 12th in NEP.
With a remaining opponent’s winning percentage of only .492, New England’s schedule remains relatively light. Highlighted by two trips to New York (Giants, then Jets), a Week 12 date in Denver, and two matchups with the suddenly upstart Dolphins, we project the Patriots to finish the season with 12.6 wins and an 84 percent chance to win the AFC East.
We also project the Patriots to repeat as Super Bowl champions, with a league-leading 17.5 percent chance to win the big game in February.
1. Arizona Cardinals (5-2)
Despite two losses to inferior teams, the Arizona Cardinals rank an overwhelming first in nERD (13.02). In fact, the 3.89-point advantage over the number-two team (New England) is the largest such differential in the league from one spot to the next. According to nERD, they’re the best and it’s not even close.
According to our metrics, Arizona is a well-balanced unit, corroborated by their league leading point differential of 96. Their premier strength is their passing attack, ranking fourth in the league by NEP. Their 98.64 schedule-adjusted NEP ranks second, and their 406.9 yards per game ranks fourth in the league. The addition of Chris Johnson has bolstered Arizona’s rushing attack from 28th in 2014 to fourth in 2015, according to our metrics.
Defensively, they rank fourth in yards permitted per game. Our metrics indicate that their rush defense is stronger than their pass defense. Their rush defense ranks fourth in NEP, but their pass defense is no joke, however, ranking seventh in NEP and leading the league with 12 interceptions.
Going forward, the Cardinals schedule gets a lot tougher, including dates with unbeaten squads Cincinnati and Green Bay, as well as two games versus division rival Seattle. With a remaining schedule winning percentage of .542, we project Arizona to finish with 11.1 wins and we give them a 73.3 percent chance to win the NFC West.