All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 10
Entering Week 10, every team so far has played at least eight games, making up for half of the season.
As we hit the midway point, these rankings look slightly different than they did at the beginning of the year. While much of the playoff spots seem to be locked up because of a top tier that's well above the middle pack of teams -- eight teams have a 70 percent chance of making the playoffs -- there's still half a season to go before much of that is finalized.
As we've seen over the past few weeks, there could be injuries that change these odds and the rankings through the second half of the season.
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: -10.11, Record: 3-5, Last Week: 32)
The Chicago Bears have been down at the bottom of this list for the past seven weeks, but that hasn’t been to the fault of Jay Cutler. Cutler’s been relatively impressive given the state of the rest of Chicago’s roster. Cutler ranks 11th in Passing NEP and 12th in Passing NEP per drop back among quarterbacks who have done so at least 100 times.
Unfortunately, Cutler alone isn’t enough to bring up the Bears' offense this season. Chicago ranks just 26th in Adjusted NEP per play for passing offense, despite Cutler’s above average numbers. As much as many Bears fans would like to forget, that ranking does include 44 dropbacks worth of Jimmy Clausen this season.
But even if Cutler had played well all season, the Bears would still be brought down by the defense, which has been one of the league’s worst units all season. John Fox and Vic Fangio were brought in to turn around a defense that was routinely overmatched and out-schemed last season. That transition is somewhat in place, but there’s still enough pieces from the last regime that there’s been no significant -- nearly any -- improvement in year one. The Bears rank 31st in Adjusted NEP per play on defense, better than only the New Orleans Saints.
There have been bright spots on the defense. Fifth-round pick Adrian Amos has played well at safety, a position the Bears had struggled with in recent years. The investment in Pernell McPhee has also been a hit, as he leads the team with five sacks, and his versatility helps other parts of the defense. There’s enough flashes of talent to believe the Bears can take a step forward over the next few years, but there’s not enough of it this year, which has kept Chicago as one of the league’s worst teams -- worst by our metrics -- in 2015.
31. Detroit Lions (nERD: -9.23, Record: 1-7, Last Week: 30)
30. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: -8.92, Record: 3-6, Last Week: 31)
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -6.39, Record: 2-6, Last Week: 29)
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -5.68, Record: 3-5, Last Week: 28)
27. Houston Texans (nERD: -5.28, Record: 3-5, Last Week: 27)
26. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -5.00, Record: 2-7, Last Week: 24)
25. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -4.12, Record: 2-6, Last Week: 25)
The secret to winning an NFL game is firing your head coach the week before, apparently. Tennessee’s 34-28 overtime win against New Orleans was the third victory for an interim head coach in his first 2015 game. The win should not be placed all on Mike Mularkey, though. He was definitely aided by getting back quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Mariota put up some big stats against the Saints, who rank last in Adjusted NEP per play on defense, but he didn’t play particularly well until the second half of the game -- mostly through the fourth quarter and overtime. Mariota’s 61-yard touchdown pass to Delanie Walker was a bad pass that should have been intercepted by one of two Saints defenders but bounced favorably into the tight end’s hands.
Not all of the quarterback’s play has been luck driven, though. Among 33 quarterbacks who have dropped back at least 100 times this season, Mariota is 14th in Passing NEP per drop back, but Mariota’s play this season was never really the issue for Tennessee’s struggles this year. Mixing aspects of Oregon’s spread system and more pro style concepts was one of the best things Ken Whisenhunt did early in the season, but his poor ability in almost every other aspect of being a head coach -- and that scheme leading to a 32nd ranked offense by Adjusted NEP per play after the early success and through a few games of Zach Mettenberger -- caused him to be let go.
The continued development of Mariota is going to be interesting to watch for the Titans. It’s arguable that if he had played in every game, the Titans could have a shot at winning the AFC South, but as of now we have them with a 7.5 percent chance of winning the division. Tennessee has a top-10 defense -- ranked 10th in Adjusted NEP per play -- but a 2-6 record may be hard to come out from even with the rest of the division vulnerable.
24. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: -3.87, Record: 2-6, Last Week: 21)
23. Miami Dolphins (nERD: -3.78, Record: 3-5, Last Week: 20)
22. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: -3.60, Record: 2-6, Last Week: 23)
21. New Orleans Saints (nERD: -3.30, Record: 4-5, Last Week: 22)
20. San Diego Chargers (nERD: -3.01, Record: 2-7, Last Week: 16)
19. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -2.41, Record: 4-4, Last Week: 19)
18. New York Giants (nERD: -1.93, Record: 5-4, Last Week: 18)
17. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: -1.77, Record: 4-5, Last Week: 26)
Nothing has been easy so far this season for the Indianapolis Colts. Andrew Luck was reportedly battling through a rib injury for the early part of the season, and on Sunday, he sustained a kidney injury that could leave him out of action for over a month.
On Tuesday, Brandon Gdula broke down how Indy’s playoff chances could be impacted after the injury -- they’ll still be heavy favorites in the division. Matt Hasselbeck will assume the role of starting quarterback, one he already managed quite well with starts against Jacksonville and Houston in Weeks 4 and 5.
In 79 drop backs, Hasselbeck’s 20.03 Passing NEP ranks 22nd among all quarterbacks for the season, one spot behind the 21st ranked Luck at 24.50 over 308 drop backs. Of course this isn’t just Hasselbeck outperforming Luck in the same role. The offense takes a much different approach with the 40-year-old under center with quicker developing routes and passes.
Even with the ups-and-downs of Luck, and Hasselbeck now having to start for the third time this season, the Colts still have the 14th ranked offense by Adjusted NEP per play. Indianapolis has enough play makers catching the ball that can make Hasselbeck’s job easier throwing the ball, but the running game may be of more importance for sustaining success.
The Colts rank 24th in Adjusted NEP per play on the ground and have not gotten much from Frank Gore. Among 48 running backs with at least 50 carries this season, Gore ranks 32nd in Rushing NEP per attempt. Partly because of game scripts, partly because of a poor offensive line, but also partly because of ineffectiveness, Gore has yet to rush for 100 yards in a game and has only carried the ball more than 20 times in a game three times this season. The Colts also have very few alternative options on the ground. Luck is second on the team in rushing attempts with 33, and Ahmad Bradshaw, signed four weeks ago, is third with 18.
16. Washington Redskins (nERD: -1.15, Record: 3-5, Last Week: 17)
15. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: 0.05, Record: 6-2, Last Week: 15)
14. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: 0.97, Record: 6-3, Last Week: 12)
13. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 1.03, Record: 3-5, Last Week: 14)
12. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 2.03, Record: 6-2, Last Week: 13)
11. Denver Broncos (nERD: 2.83, Record: 7-1, Last Week: 6)
10. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 2.90, Record: 4-4, Last Week: 10)
Much of the talk surrounding Philadelphia’s performance, good or bad, has been about the offense. It’s understandable, Chip Kelly is known for his offensive system, and while that new approach to offense worked the first few years, it hit an adjustment period to start this season with turnover at important positions. The offense has yet to fully rebound -- there were flashes this past Sunday against Dallas, but the unit still ranks 26th in Adjusted NEP per play -- but the team has played better as a whole and is our favorite to come out atop the NFC East.
All the talk about how the offense is playing has greatly underscored how well the defense has performed this year. The Philadelphia defense ranks fourth in the league by Adjusted NEP per play, and thanks to the pace of the offense has seen the 10th most plays on defense this season. Only Carolina and Pittsburgh have seen more defensive plays and rank within the top 10 of Adjusted NEP per play on defense.
The Eagles have young players on the defensive side of the ball who are developing into stars and a few veterans who are playing above expectations. Malcolm Jenkins is having one his best seasons as a safety, and paired with Walter Thurmond -- just recently moved to safety -- the back of the secondary has been able help out when the cornerbacks have struggled. After getting picked on early, Byron Maxwell has played better overall, and the Eagles rank fourth in Adjusted NEP per play against the pass.
Up front, Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan have been forces along the defensive line, as Cox leads the team with five sacks. Logan has filled the gap up the middle, though the weakness of the defense is still against the run even as it ranks 11th in Adjusted NEP per play. There will unfortunately be a big hole to fill now with Jordan Hicks lost for the year after tearing his pec this past Sunday -- Hicks led the team in tackles, had a forced fumble and two interceptions and was a leader for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
9. Buffalo Bills (nERD: 3.23, Record: 4-4, Last Week: 11)
8. St. Louis Rams (nERD: 3.57, Record: 4-4, Last Week: 9)
7. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 4.01, Record: 4-4, Last Week: 8)
6. New York Jets (nERD: 4.48, Record: 5-3, Last Week: 7)
Heading into a Thursday Night Football game against the Buffalo Bills, the New York Jets are the favorite for the top Wild Card spot in the AFC. While any playoff spot would be a success for the Jets, the top Wild Card spot would get to play the AFC South champion, and while it’s too early to think about playoff matchups, that would be more favorable than having to face one of the trio of New England, Denver and Cincinnati. Our odds currently give the Jets a 70.9 percent chance of making the playoffs this season, the eighth highest odds among all NFL teams and second most behind the Falcons for a team that does not currently lead its division.
The Jets have gotten here, unsurprisingly, thanks to their defense. New York ranks seventh in Adjusted NEP per play on defense, sixth against the pass and third against the run. Head coach Todd Bowles has crafted ways to get the Jets’ three best defensive linemen -- Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams -- on the field at the same time even though they’re not quite natural fits together for a typical 3-4 line.
New York’s biggest weakness on the defense has been a consistent pass rush from the outside, but with the secondary playing the way it has been, allowing a league-low 56.5 percent of opposing passes to be completed, pressure has not been required for the defense to disrupt opposing passing offenses.
Entering the season, there was some hope the pieces put together on offense could combine for a cohesive unit, and for the most part, that has been the case. The Jets haven’t particularly stood out at any one aspect -- they rank 14th in Adjusted NEP per play for overall offense -- but they also haven’t been bad at anything, a step up for the Jets. The biggest success has been the performance of Eric Decker in the second receiver role. Among the 53 wide receivers with at least 40 targets this season, Decker ranks fourth in Reception NEP per target.
The Jets will have a tough task against the Buffalo defense on Thursday -- though not as tough as it would have been early in the season as the Bills rank 13th for Adjusted NEP per play on defense -- but should they get past the Bills, a playoff spot could be all but guaranteed.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: 6.08, Record: 5-4, Last Week: 4)
4. Carolina Panthers (nERD: 7.37, Record: 8-0, Last Week: 5)
3. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: 8.98, Record: 8-0, Last Week: 3)
2. New England Patriots (nERD: 11.76, Record: 8-0, Last Week: 2)
1. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 14.01, Record: 6-2, Last Week: 1)