All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 11
Somehow, the NFL season is more than halfway over. Each team has played at least nine games, some have already reached double digits.
As the season starts to progress, we'll be looking a little bit less about how these teams are playing and focusing on what that play means for playoff odds -- at least for the good teams. We won't be talking about the playoff odds for the Lions (0.1 percent, by the way).
Through 10 weeks, there's five teams with at least a 90 percent chance of a playoff berth, but after that, there's still plenty of positioning to be determined.
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. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: -8.92, Record: 3-6, Last Week: 30)
No matter how pessimistic you were about the 2015 San Francisco 49ers, it was hard to see the team being quite this bad -- even after a Week 9 win over the Atlanta Falcons. Their 3-6 record might surprise some, but it undermines the porous play on the field this year.
Colin Kaepernick has been benched for Blaine Gabbert after being the fourth worst quarterback in the league by Passing NEP per drop back among the 35 quarterbacks who have dropped back at least 100 times. Gabbert played okay against the Falcons but did not face the most imposing defense, and his two interceptions bring concern over any possible optimism over his future play. He’ll face the Cardinals and Seahawks in back-to-back weeks, the sixth and second best defenses in the league by Adjusted NEP per play.
Even the fun parts of the 49ers have gone away, and the team has lost even more players after the unthinkable roster exodus during the offseason. Jarryd Hayne was cut, whatever excitement left in Reggie Bush was just put on injured reserve, and Anquan Boldin hasn’t played since Week 7.
Things haven’t been much better on the defensive side of the ball either, where the 49ers rank 29th in Adjusted NEP per play. The usual suspects -- NaVorro Bowman, Michael Wilhoite -- are playing well, and Aaron Lynch is blossoming into the team’s best pass rusher, but the rest of the unit is mixed of young developing players and struggling veterans.
31. Detroit Lions (nERD: -8.25, Record: 2-7, Last Week: 31)
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -6.44, Record: 3-6, Last Week: 29)
29. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -6.42, Record: 2-8, Last Week: 26)
28. Chicago Bears (nERD: -6.14, Record: 4-5, Last Week: 32)
27. New Orleans Saints (nERD: -6.12, Record: 4-6, Last Week: 21)
26. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: -5.19, Record: 2-7, Last Week: 24)
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -4.39, Record: 4-5, Last Week: 28)
24. Miami Dolphins (nERD: -4.24, Record: 4-5, Last Week: 23)
23. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -4.07, Record: 2-7, Last Week: 25)
22. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: -3.35, Record: 2-7, Last Week: 22)
21. San Diego Chargers (nERD: -3.01, Record: 2-7, Last Week: 20)
20. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -2.97, Record: 4-5, Last Week: 19)
The Week 10 loss to the Vikings might have knocked the Raiders out of a wild card spot -- we now have them at a 9.0 percent chance of making it -- but that shouldn’t overshadow what the team has accomplished this season. The Raiders have developed some young talent that has started to breakthrough this season and could help the team to the top of the AFC West over the next few seasons.
This starts with the selection of Derek Carr in the second round of the 2014 draft. Carr undeniably struggled in his rookie year, but he’s taken a big step forward in his second season. Carr is sixth in Passing NEP per drop back among those who have dropped back at least 100.
Oakland was able to help this by surrounding with Carr with a lot of talent, not only on the receiving end with Amari Cooper (15th among wide receivers in Reception NEP) and Michael Crabtree, but also with a strong offensive line that has kept the quarterback protected.
Most of the pieces are in place on offense, so now the rebuild can focus on the defensive side of the ball, which ranks 31st in Adjusted NEP per play. Khalil Mack is on his way to being a star, but other early draft picks such as cornerback D.J. Hayden have not yet become the players the Raiders were expecting.
The Raiders are still a young defense, which does give some hope for development. The only player getting significant snaps on defense older than 29 is 39-year-old wonder Charles Woodson. There will need to be a little more talent infused on that side of the ball for it to match the improvement the offense has been, but if that happens this could be a team that impresses over the next few seasons.
19. Houston Texans (nERD: -2.85, Record: 4-5, Last Week: 27)
18. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: -1.77, Record: 4-5, Last Week: 17)
17. New York Giants (nERD: -0.37, Record: 5-5, Last Week: 18)
In four of New York’s five losses this season, the Giants at one point had at least a 90 percent win probability per the calculations from numberFire Live. That would suggest the Giants’ record should be much better than the 5-5 it stands at heading into a Week 11 bye. Sure, the Giants could have won any one -- or all -- of those games, but we can’t expect a team to win all of their close games, though this team has given reason in each of them. New York’s Pythagorean win expectation, though, is that of a 5.4-win team, which suggests the Giants have underperformed, but not as much as the sequencing of those scores would suggest.
We currently have the NFC East as a tossup between every team but Dallas. Philadelphia leads with 36 percent odds, New York follows at 33 percent and Washington is right behind at 30.1 percent, A win against the Patriots would have done wonders for the Giants’ playoff odds, but heading into the bye a 5-5 record gives them a half game lead over the Eagles. The bye week could give the Giants some time to get a little healthier, especially on the defensive side of the ball where they rank 21st by Adjusted NEP per play.
Where the Giants could use some help is in the pass defense, the 18th best unit in the league per Adjusted NEP per play. The lack of production here has come both from a lackluster pass rush and poor coverage on passes that weren’t intercepted -- the Giants are tied for the league lead at 14. Two key returners could play a big role in helping for the rest of the season. Jason Pierre-Paul has already shown flashes as a pass rusher in his two games back, even if it hasn’t resulted in a sack. Prince Amukamara is also expected to return following the bye after not playing since Week 5.
If the defense can improve, the 11th best offense by Adjusted NEP per play could be enough to carry this team into the playoffs.
16. St. Louis Rams (nERD: -0.26, Record: 4-5, Last Week: 8)
15. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: 0.90, Record: 7-2, Last Week: 15)
14. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: 0.97, Record: 6-3, Last Week: 14)
13. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 1.18, Record: 6-3, Last Week: 12)
12. Washington Redskins (nERD: 1.61, Record: 4-5, Last Week: 16)
11. Denver Broncos (nERD: 1.80, Record: 7-2, Last Week: 11)
10. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 2.26, Record: 4-5, Last Week: 13)
The Chiefs continue to be one of the most puzzling teams in the league. Around this time last season Kansas City ranked in a similar place, though with a much better record, and there was a case to be made about a playoff shot before four losses over their last six games. Now again the Chiefs sit as a top-10 team statistically but a significantly worse chance of making the playoffs -- just 28.5 percent.
Kansas City’s success comes mostly from the defensive side of the ball, the ninth best by Adjusted NEP per play. Some of this stems from the veterans on the team, such as Justin Houston who leads the team with 7.5 sacks -- the veteran is still just 26 years old. Some has also come from some younger players blossoming, like rookie cornerback Marcus Peters. The combination of pass rush and secondary play has helped the Chiefs rank 10th in Adjusted NEP per play against the pass.
Their defense against the run has been even better, though, the eighth best unit in the league. An unheralded part of that has been defensive tackle Jaye Howard, who has been able to plug the gaps in the interior of the line and has added 2.5 sacks of his own.
Unfortunately Alex Smith is still the quarterback of this team and even with Charcandrick West doing his best Jamaal Charles impression -- he’s 19th in Rushing NEP per attempt -- the offense isn’t really set up to help Smith. Arguably no quarterback in the league relies on his receivers to do more than Smith. He’s second to last in the league in air yards per attempt, and 62 percent of his passing yards this year have come after the catch.
9. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 2.83, Record: 4-5, Last Week: 10)
8. Buffalo Bills (nERD: 3.57, Record: 5-4, Last Week: 9)
7. New York Jets (nERD: 4.43, Record: 5-4, Last Week: 6)
6. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 5.22, Record: 4-5, Last Week: 7)
5. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: 6.78, Record: 8-1, Last Week: 3)
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: 7.05, Record: 6-4, Last Week: 4)
3. Carolina Panthers (nERD: 7.14, Record: 9-0, Last Week: 4)
2. New England Patriots (nERD: 10.30, Record: 9-0, Last Week: 2)
1. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 13.63, Record: 7-2, Last Week: 1)
The Arizona Cardinals have been our top ranked team by nERD since Week 2, and each week they continue to show why they deserve that honor. The Cardinals may be the most well-rounded team this year. Arizona has the second best offense in the league by Adjusted NEP per play and the sixth best defense by the same measure.
Carson Palmer just might be playing the best quarterback of anyone in the league this season. He’s second to @tom brTom Brady in both Passing NEP and Passing NEP per drop back, but it’s not by a wide margin, and Palmer’s degree of difficulty is a little higher. Brady deserves credit for reshaping his game and learning to rely on shorter passes, but Palmer has been seeing equal success airing the ball out much more often. Palmer even edges Brady out in Success Rate -- the amount of plays that positively impact NEP -- while leading the league in air yards per attempt. Palmer’s deep accuracy has been incredible all season, and he’s been able to take these downfield shots while compensating for a shaky offensive line in pass protection.
Thanks to the win against Seattle in Week 10, the Cardinals have pretty much locked up the NFC West and at least a bye in the first round of the playoffs with a 95.7 percent chance of winning the division and a 98.3 percent chance at the playoffs. Outside of another catastrophic Palmer injury, this team should be in good shape and the favorite to come out of the NFC. At this point, they’re also our favorite to win the Super Bowl at 25.2 percent, above New England’s 22.7 percent.