All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 9

Andy Dalton and the Bengals keep finding ways to win. Where do they land in the power rankings?

In just one week, everyone will officially be at the halfway point of the season. Some teams are already there. At this point we have a decent idea of who most of these teams are this season, which means there won't be much fluctuation in these rankings from week to week -- the Oakland Raiders this week are quite the exception.

Knowing who these teams aren't doesn't exactly mean we can know exactly how they'll play in a given week. Some of these teams we know are going to be mediocre, but the volatility in play each week still makes them interesting to watch -- say, the Kansas City Chiefs. 

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. 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.

32. Chicago Bears (nERD: -11.25, Record: 2-5, Last Week: 32)
31. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: -11.02, Record: 2-6, Last Week: 31)
30. Detroit Lions (nERD: -9.23, Record: 1-7, Last Week: 26)

There’s much that can be said about the Detroit Lions offense, and plenty of it already has been. Matthew Stafford has not played well -- only eight quarterbacks with a worse Passing NEP this season, and only one of whom will be starting a game in Week 9. Ameer Abdullah’s public stock has taken a hit between limited usage and a bad offensive line. As a whole the offense ranks 23rd in Adjusted NEP per play, 21st for the pass, 24th for the run.

What’s more concerning, though, is the defense, which was one of the league’s best units in 2014. The Lions were expected to regress with the loss of Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley in the interior of the defensive line, but the rest of the defense has also fallen apart. Detroit ranks 30th in defense by Adjusted NEP per play, 21st against the run, and 32nd against the pass.

There’s been a pass rush -- Detroit ranks eighth in sacks (20) and seventh in sack percentage (7.4 percent), but when the opposing quarterback has been able to get passes off, there hasn’t been much stopping of anything. The Lions have allowed the highest percentage of passes to be completed against them (73.1 percent) and have tied for the seventh lowest interception rate, while giving up the most points per drive in the league (2.68).

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -7.52, Record: 2-5, Last Week: 29)
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -5.46, Record: 3-4, Last Week: 30)
27. Houston Texans (nERD: -5.28, Record: 3-5, Last Week: 27)
26. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: -4.35, Record: 3-5, Last Week: 24)
25. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -4.35, Record: 1-6, Last Week: 23)
24. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -3.72, Record: 2-6, Last Week: 25)
23. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: -3.60, Record: 2-6, Last Week: 20)

It’s been a tough fall for the Baltimore Ravens, made even tougher with the loss of Steve Smith for the season after a ruptured Achilles ended his season in Week 8. With so many other things going wrong in Baltimore, Smith was the highlight of the season on and off the field.

Smith ends his season ranked eighth in Reception NEP among wide receivers through eight weeks, all while being the only real receiving threat among Baltimore’s pass catchers. Smith leads the team with 73 targets, leading the next most targeted receiver, Kamar Aiken, by 29 and the next highest wide receiver is Marlon Brown with only 29 targets. The Ravens are going to have some holes to fill with Smith sidelined.

Even with Smith, the offense hadn’t been playing particularly well. Marc Trestman was expected to come in as the offensive coordinator to add in his style of passing while keeping enough of Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking to continue the offense on its upward trend from last year, but that just hasn’t happened.

Joe Flacco has been okay -- 14th in Passing NEP -- but has been put in situations that don’t play to his strengths with a weak supporting cast. Flacco has been one of the best deep passers in the league but has not been able to take advantage of that skill as often with the current set of receivers. His air yards per attempt has dropped over a half yard from 2014, from 3.92 and 54.4 percent of his passing yards to 3.27 and 48.6 percent. That won’t be getting much better without Smith on the field.

22. New Orleans Saints (nERD: -3.21, Record: 4-4, Last Week: 22)
21. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: -3.02, Record: 2-5, Last Week: 21)
20. Miami Dolphins (nERD: -2.82, Record: 3-4, Last Week: 17)
19. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -2.79, Record: 4-3, Last Week: 28)
18. New York Giants (nERD: -2.48, Record: 4-4, Last Week: 19)
17. Washington Redskins (nERD: -1.59, Record: 3-4, Last Week: 18)
16. San Diego Chargers (nERD: -1.38, Record: 2-6, Last Week: 16)

There’s only so much a team can do when all of its players end up injured, and “all” might not be an exaggeration. It’s like San Diego is the setting for the latest Final Destination movie and Philip Rivers is set to be the only one standing at the end. The Chargers’ offensive line has seen a rotating cast all season, and now both King Dunlap and Orlando Franklin are questionable for the Week 9 game against Chicago on Monday night. Including the two tackles, nine Chargers are listed as questionable for Monday night’s game. Just under 71 percent of players listed as questionable have suited up in that week for the Chargers, but that means about two and a half players should be expected to miss the game this week.

Which players miss the game could be an issue for a team that has not been afforded great depth behind the starters. Among the players listed as questionable are Brandon Flowers, Eric Weddle and Corey Liuget. Those are three big pieces for a defense that has been underperforming for much of the year. San Diego ranks 28th in Adjusted NEP per play on defense, and that side of the ball has been a weakness for the past few seasons.

That’s allowed the offense to put up a lot of numbers through the air but not in a consistent position to win games. Rivers ranks fifth in Passing NEP but has a lower Passing NEP per drop back than all quarterbacks but Drew Brees in the top-10 due to the amount of passes he’s been forced to throw. The Chargers rank fourth as a team in Adjusted NEP per play through the air, a compliment to what Rivers has been able to achieve with a myriad of injuries surrounding him.

15. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: -0.58, Record: 5-2, Last Week: 14)
14. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 1.03, Record: 2-5, Last Week: 15)
13. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 2.45, Record: 6-1, Last Week: 6)
12. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: 3.08, Record: 6-2, Last Week: 8)
11. Buffalo Bills (nERD: 3.10, Record: 3-4, Last Week: 11)
10. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 3.22, Record: 3-4, Last Week: 13)
9. St. Louis Rams (nERD: 3.79, Record: 4-3, Last Week: 12)
8. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 4.01, Record: 4-4, Last Week: 7)

Throughout 2015, the Seattle Seahawks have struggled to look like the Seattle Seahawks. Slowly, perhaps too much so, the team is starting to take shape. The Seahawks sit with a 4-4 record through eight weeks, two games behind the division leading Arizona Cardinals. Five other non-division teams also have at least four wins on the season, clouding Seattle’s road to the playoffs. We have the Seahawks with just a 17.5 percent chance of making the playoffs because of the logjam of teams in front of them. One bright spot for the Seattle is still two games remain against Arizona remain, the first after a Week 9 bye.

Seattle’s defense has started to play like the unit most have expected from the team, now fourth in Adjusted NEP per play. The Seahawks haven’t played a particularly rough slate of opposing offenses, but outside of Arizona twice and a game against Pittsburgh, the Seahawks have no other games against offenses ranked in the top half of the league by Adjusted NEP per play.

On the offensive side of the ball Seattle is still a work in progress, but they are starting to show their potential. Much of that comes with the use of Jimmy Graham as a receiver. Graham now leads the team in targets -- 55 to Doug Baldwin’s 40 -- and his only two games with at least 10 targets have come in Seattle’s last three played. Graham is now sixth in Reception NEP among tight ends, and his role is not just growing but also coming closer to his role in New Orleans being used out wide and in the slot more than a typical tight end.

7. New York Jets (nERD: 4.50, Record: 4-3, Last Week: 4)
6. Denver Broncos (nERD: 5.70, Record: 7-0, Last Week: 10)
5. Carolina Panthers (nERD: 6.01, Record: 7-0, Last Week: 5)
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: 6.12, Record: 4-4, Last Week: 9)
3. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: 7.04, Record: 7-0, Last Week: 3)

Just about everything is going right for the Cincinnati Bengals this season. Even in a game when they didn’t play particularly well against a division rival, the came away victorious. This is a credit to the amount of talent that has been brought into Cincinnati over the past few years. If one player has an off game, there has been enough surrounding talent to mask whatever inefficiency that may cause.

That’s been apparent on the offensive side of the ball, which has helped lead to the best passing offense in the league by Adjusted NEP per play. Andy Dalton has played better this season -- he’s third in Passing NEP. The Bengals have surrounded him with so much talent that it’s made the improvement a much smoother process. A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert have been excellent receiving options, but the offensive line has made a huge impact on Dalton’s performance. Dalton is getting sacked on 3.8 percent of his drop backs, which would be a career low for him.

The improvement isn’t just from getting the ball out quicker -- Dalton is airing it out. This season’s Dalton’s air yards per attempt is 4.97, the fourth highest total among quarterbacks. Last season, his average pass traveled 3.28 yards through the air, which was higher than only Kyle Orton, Jay Cutler, Derek Carr, Alex Smith and Blake Bortles. 57.6 percent of Dalton’s passing yards have come through the air, opposed to 46.5 percent last season.

While the offensive line has excelled in pass blocking, it hasn’t helped the running game much, which has been the biggest weakness in the team so far. The Bengals rank just 23rd in Adjusted NEP per play on the ground, behind the tandem of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. Much of that is due to Hill, an opposite trend from last season. Bernard currently ranks third among running backs in Rushing NEP, while only six backs have a lower Rushing NEP than Hill.

2. New England Patriots (nERD: 11.01, Record: 7-0, Last Week: 2)
1. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 14.01, Record: 6-2, Last Week: 1)