All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 13

Are Josh Norman and the Carolina Panthers the team to beat in the NFL?

12 weeks of the NFL season have brought All-32 around twice. With this edition, each team in the NFL has been featured at least twice this season with our first team getting special treatment for the third time. From here on out, we'll be focusing on teams with something to play for, so the 49ers and Dolphins of the world might not pop up again in the breakdowns. However, that doesn't exclude us from looking at some possibly bad teams since the AFC South and NFC East are still in play.

While our top team in the rankings hasn't changed since before Week 3, we do have a new favorite to win the Super Bowl which will be looked at 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. 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. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -7.83, Record: 4-7, Last Week: 31)
31. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: -7.62, Record: 3-8, Last Week: 32)
30. New Orleans Saints (nERD: -7.46, Record: 4-7, Last Week: 28)
29. Miami Dolphins (nERD: -6.04, Record: 4-7, Last Week: 26)
28. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -5.49, Record: 2-9, Last Week: 29)

In the long line of Browns losses, Monday night’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens on a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown might be the Browniest. The loss dropped Cleveland to 2-9 and into the lead for the number-one overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft; only the Tennessee Titans also have just two wins on the season, and we have the Titans as a better team at the moment.

This brings up quite a few questions about the future in Cleveland. Of course that all starts with what’s going on at quarterback. Mike Pettine has been hesitant to put Johnny Manziel on the field but might not have much longer to hold out now that Josh McCown has been lost for the season with a broken collarbone. Austin Davis replaced McCown when he left the game on Monday, partly because of punishment for Manziel’s recent actions off the field.

When he’s gotten on the field, Manziel hasn’t been great -- his -0.26 Passing NEP per drop back ranks 29th among the 39 quarterbacks who have dropped back at least 100 times this season. Some of that is on him -- tight end Gary Barnidge’s production has dropped with Manziel taking snaps compared to McCown -- but there’s also a lack of help from other parts of the offense. Behind what should be a solid offensive line, the Browns rank last in Adjusted NEP per play for their rushing offense with a committee of inefficient backs. Cleveland’s remainder of the season should focus on evaluating which parts of the current roster are going to be pieces kept for next season. Now with Davis officially getting the nod over Manziel for the starting job this week, Manziel’s part in those plans is increasingly unclear.

What the Browns might need to be slightly more concerned about is the state of the defense. The Browns rank 28th in Adjusted NEP per play on the defensive side of the ball despite spending significant draft capital and cap space to defensive players over the past few seasons. Pettine is a defensive head coach, and the failure of the defense this season could be the biggest reason behind the Browns possibly moving on to a new coach for 2016.

27. San Diego Chargers (nERD: -4.37, Record: 3-8, Last Week: 25)
26. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: -4.26, Record: 3-8, Last Week: 23)

It’s always nice to have hope. The Cowboys had it briefly when Tony Romo returned from injury and won a game in Miami during Week 11, the first win since Romo’s injury. Dallas had hope of winning the NFC East if the team won out, but another injury to Romo has likely derailed those hopes again. But then there’s the reports the Cowboys don’t want to put Romo on injured reserve in the case of a long playoff run that would allow him to return. Even with how bad and injured the rest of the division has become, we only have Dallas with a 3.1 percent chance of making that playoffs, so that long run is unlikely.

We all know the ceiling of Romo when he’s healthy, he can be one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but he had barely been at that point throughout the season. Romo currently ranks 35th in Passing NEP per drop back, only one spot above his replacement, Matt Cassel and both quarterbacks are among the seven with a negative Passing NEP per drop back and at least 100 dropbacks. By our metrics, Dallas’ best player under center this season was Brandon Weeden, who despite playing below average and in a low-ceiling matter, is the only player of the three with positive Passing NEP per drop back this year.

Even without any type of productive passing game this season, the Cowboys have pieced together a decent running game behind an offensive line that hasn’t quite matched its play from last season. While Dallas’ stable of backs put to the rest the idea that any running back could have a 1,000-yard season behind that line, they still rank seventh in Adjusted NEP per play on the ground with most of the carries coming from Darren McFadden. Individually, McFadden ranks 15th in Rushing NEP per attempt among 35 running backs with 100 or more carries this season. While McFadden’s rushing value is technically negative (-0.01) it’s still above the average for these high volume backs (-0.02) because it’s harder to create positive value running the ball in today’s NFL.

25. Chicago Bears (nERD: -4.20, Record: 5-6, Last Week: 27)
24. Detroit Lions (nERD: -4.14, Record: 4-7, Last Week: 30)
23. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: -4.06, Record: 4-7, Last Week: 21)
22. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -3.88, Record: 2-9, Last Week: 22)
21. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: -3.83, Record: 4-7, Last Week: 17)
20. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -3.33, Record: 5-6, Last Week: 24)
19. St. Louis Rams (nERD: -1.80, Record: 4-7, Last Week: 15)
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -1.64, Record: 5-6, Last Week: 16)
17. New York Giants (nERD: -1.26, Record: 5-6, Last Week: 14)
16. Washington Redskins (nERD: -0.83, Record: 5-6, Last Week: 20)
15. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: -0.71, Record: 6-5, Last Week: 12)
14. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: -0.36, Record: 6-5, Last Week: 18)
13. Houston Texans (nERD: 0.18, Record: 6-5, Last Week: 19)
12. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: 1.45, Record: 8-3, Last Week: 13)
11. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 1.63, Record: 7-4, Last Week: 9)

It’s been an interesting few weeks for the Green Bay Packers, all involving games within the division. In three games against NFC North teams, the Packers went 1-2 with the one win coming against the team with the best record. That win against the Minnesota Vikings gave them a temporary edge in the division, but the loss to the Chicago Bears dropped them back down, though still with favorable odds to make the playoffs. The Packers have an 80.2 percent chance of a playoff berth per our odds, but just a 39.9 percent chance of taking the North.

Green Bay’s fall has coincided with a dip in offensive production. Aaron Rodgers is still one of the best quarterbacks in football, but his job has become increasingly more difficult with the loss of Jordy Nelson and a mostly ineffective run game. Rodgers currently ranks 18th in Passing NEP per drop back, one spot behind Kirk Cousins -- not a place last year's league MVP typically occupies.

Rodgers and the passing offense were getting by at the start of the season thanks to the ability of James Jones. Jones still leads all receivers targeted at least 30 times in Reception NEP per target -- he’s the only receiver of that group topping 1.0. But Jones’ play has been hit or miss over the past few games. His past five games have seen him get targeted two times twice, six times twice -- one with two catches, the other with none -- and an 11-target game for 6 catches, 106 yards and a touchdown. Jones struggles to create separation against defenders -- a reason he was released from the Raiders and Giants -- but has a spectacular ability to win 50-50 balls, which allows a quarterback like Rodgers to take advantage thanks to excellent ball placement. But when there are fewe other receiving threats, defenses can make those opportunities harder.

Davante Adams has been historically bad this season in a year he was supposed to breakout. While those two options on the outside can be handled, that has allowed defenses to focus in on Randall Cobb in the slot, which had been Rodgers's safety net in the past. Cobb is just 67th in Reception NEP per target and well below his production last season -- 0.59 compared to 0.94.

10. Denver Broncos (nERD: 2.94, Record: 9-2, Last Week: 11)

Things were clearly going to change when Gary Kubiak took over as the head coach for the Denver Broncos. Throughout his career Kubiak’s had a particular style of offense he favors, one with zone-blocking concepts, bootlegs and a quarterback under center -- one that did not mesh well with the skillset of Peyton Manning. That was obvious during the first few weeks of the season, and Manning struggled. But then a compromise occurred, and the offense was split between Manning and Kubiak principles.

Manning still struggled, though. He’s 33rd out of 39 qualified quarterbacks in Passing NEP per drop back and still leads the league in interceptions despite not playing the past two weeks -- but there appeared to be a little more comfort and some hope.

Then an injury was revealed for Manning, which led Brock Osweiler to take over as the starter. There again was a clear shift in the offensive philosophy and a more Kubiak-like scheme was unveiled. Osweiler lined up more under center, was able to move around on bootlegs, and was able to work some intermediate throws more than Manning was able to do. It worked. Among those same 39 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs, Osweiler ranks 15th in Passing NEP per drop back.

Sure he was aided by a great defensive performance and a solid running game in his two starts, but Manning also had that defense -- the Broncos are second in Adjusted NEP per play on defense and have been among the league’s best all season -- and there’s an argument to be made the running game succeeded because of Osweiler and the shift to a more under center offense. They’ve had their two best rushing days the past two weeks, though the Bears and Patriots rank 23rd and 30th against the run by Adjusted NEP per play.

The Broncos will start Osweiler again this Sunday, but have not committed to a quarterback beyond then. If Denver turns back to Manning, it’s in hope some rest and full health will help bring him closer to the quarterback he’s been in the past and not the one we’ve seen this year.

9. Buffalo Bills (nERD: 2.98, Record: 5-6, Last Week: 8)
8. New York Jets (nERD: 3.06, Record: 6-5, Last Week: 10)
7. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 5.10, Record: 6-5, Last Week: 7)
6. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 6.01, Record: 6-5, Last Week: 6)
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: 6.29, Record: 6-5, Last Week: 4)
4. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: 7.67, Record: 9-2, Last Week: 5)
3. New England Patriots (nERD: 8.69, Record: 10-1, Last Week: 2)
2. Carolina Panthers (nERD: 10.36, Record: 11-0, Last Week: 3)

The still undefeated Panthers haven’t cracked the top of our rankings yet, but they’ve done something that’s probably a little bit better. Carolina now has our top odds of winning the Super Bowl at 28.1 percent. Arizona, still our top ranked team by nERD, have the second highest odds at 21.5 percent. Though we rank Arizona higher, Carolina would get the edge in the playoffs because the teams are not that far apart in nERD at this moment and the Panthers would have the benefit of home field advantage should the two teams meet in the NFC Championship Game.

It’s hard to argue why the Panthers shouldn’t be favored; they’ve been playing good football in just about every aspect of the game. They’ve overtaken the Broncos as the league’s best defense by Adjusted NEP per play, which has lessened the load for the offense this season. Let’s not discount what the offense has done, though, as it ranks sixth in Adjusted NEP per play and has put up at least 20 points in every game this season.

The Panthers boast award-worthy players on both sides of the ball this season, while much of the focus stays on Cam Newton’s MVP candidacy. Josh Norman has been one of the league’s best cornerbacks, if not the best, helping the second best pass defense by Adjusted NEP per play. Luke Kuechly has been rounding up his typical tackles, while also playing outstanding coverage. However, these two might take some votes away from each other when it comes to Defensive Player of the Year voting.

Carolina has a pretty easy schedule for the rest of the season too, which helps the odds of an undefeated regular season should they want to go for it. Only the New York Giants are in the top-16, per nERD, among Carolina’s remaining opponents, which feature an NFC South team for every other game.

1. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 11.52, Record: 9-2, Last Week: 1)