All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 14
Only one quarter of the NFL regular season remains. Each team has just four games left on the schedule, and while a few divisions have been decided for quite some time, there are still a few playoff spots that will garner intrigue for next few weeks.
After a wacky but exciting Week 13, our rankings shook a bit at the top. While we have the same top top for the 12th week, the rest of the top five has shifted a bit in its order.
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. We've featured each team at least twice already and from now until the end of the season, most of the focus will be on teams in the hunt for playoff spots.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -8.41, Record: 4-8, Last Week: 32)
31. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: -6.80, Record: 4-8, Last Week: 31)
30. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -6.59, Record: 2-10, Last Week: 28)
29. Miami Dolphins (nERD: -5.61, Record: 5-7, Last Week: 29)
28. New Orleans Saints (nERD: -5.59, Record: 4-8, Last Week: 30)
27. San Diego Chargers (nERD: -5.45, Record: 3-9, Last Week: 27)
26. Chicago Bears (nERD: -5.23, Record: 5-7, Last Week: 25)
25. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: -4.74, Record: 4-8, Last Week: 26)
24. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: -4.41, Record: 4-8, Last Week: 23)
23. Detroit Lions (nERD: -4.32, Record: 4-8, Last Week: 24)
22. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -3.47, Record: 5-7, Last Week: 20)
21. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -3.18, Record: 3-9, Last Week: 22)
20. St. Louis Rams (nERD: -2.99, Record: 4-8, Last Week: 19)
There’s only so much more the St. Louis Rams can do without really doing anything. During the offseason, the Rams flirted with some of the available big name offensive coordinators, such as Adam Gase, Kyle Shanahan and Greg Roman, though the only possible coordinator who reportedly had an official interview with St. Louis was Nathaniel Hackett. The Rams then decided to promote quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti, and after just 13 weeks Cignetti has been let go.
It’s a tricky job, Rams offensive coordinator, because the bar of success is really unknown. Is the goal to just be better than Brian Schottenheimer (not too difficult), or is the goal to make Nick Foles look good (only done by Chip Kelly)? It appears the latter was used as the measuring stick, and not only has Foles not been good, he’s been the worst quarterback in the league by Passing NEP per drop back. Of the 40 quarterbacks this season who have dropped back at least 100 times, none have contributed less than Foles. His -0.17 is more than double the next worst quarterback, Ryan Mallett, at -0.08. His inability to throw downfield accurately has also allowed defenses to key in on Todd Gurley to stop what had been the most productive part of the offense this season.
Taking so long to figure out the offense -- it’s been years now -- is wasting the amount of talent that’s been put on the defensive side of the ball. The Rams now rank fourth in Adjusted NEP per play on defense, behind the Broncos, Panthers and Seahawks. St. Louis has spent the past the past few years building up the defense -- mostly through picks from the Robert Griffin III trade -- but now some of those efforts feel wasted with an offense that can’t function and ranks last by Adjusted NEP per play this season.
19. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: -2.86, Record: 6-6, Last Week: 14)
18. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: -2.75, Record: 5-7, Last Week: 21)
An unexpected win against the New England Patriots brought the Philadelphia Eagles right back into the playoff hunt in the NFC East. Though in the NFC East, no one is ever really out of the playoff hunt. Three teams now sit at 5-7 and tied in record at the top of the division. Washington holds the tiebreaker currently over Philadelphia, and New York has the advantage from our odds. Washington is the slight favorite at 35.5 percent, but Philadelphia is close behind at 32.3 percent.
While the win against the Pats might have been a morale booster in the locker room, the way in which it happened did not provide a sustainable gameplan for the remainder of the season. Touchdowns from a blocked punt, punt return and interception return are not going to happen every game. The offense scored twice against New England, both through the air, and that will likely have to pick up for the Eagles to continue to be successful. Sam Bradford currently ranks 29th in Passing NEP per drop back, but made a few throws late in the Week 13 game that could give some hope.
Philadelphia’s best shot at sustaining some offensive success is probably fixing the running game, but now heading into the 14th week of the season, that might not be something we should expect to see happen. It came out this week that DeMarco Murray had expressed displeasure with his role in the offense to team owner Jeffrey Lurie, and he’s not wrong. Murray ranks 19th in Rushing NEP per attempt among 39 running backs with at least 100 carries this season. He’s continually been used on sweeps to the outside when his skill-set and success in Dallas stems from running between the tackles. It feels like there should be some middle ground in the zone blocking scheme, but if there was it's hard to figure why it hasn't been found by now.
17. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: -1.58, Record: 6-6, Last Week: 15)
16. New York Giants (nERD: -1.41, Record: 5-7, Last Week: 17)
15. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: -0.91, Record: 8-4, Last Week: 12)
Minnesota’s path to the playoffs was always going to be a tough one. The second half schedule for the Vikings was, and still is, one of the hardest in the league. They’re at the end of a stretch that sees them play the Packers, Seahawks and Cardinals within four weeks. Games against Green Bay and Seattle did not go too well and now Minnesota must prepare for Arizona -- still our top ranked team -- on a short week. Even the lesser of the final four games of the season aren’t easy wins. After Arizona, Minnesota will play Chicago -- suddenly an offense coming together -- and the Giants -- who knows -- before ending the season on the road in Green Bay.
The Vikings still have an 82.8 percent chance of making the playoffs, thanks to the mediocrity of the NFC, but just 39.5 percent of that comes from a division title. Odds of that were much higher before the final play of the Packers game against the Detroit Lions on Thursday night.
We’ve discussed some of the problems of the Vikings offense and what that’s done in impacting the play of Teddy Bridgewater. All of those concerns still hold, but now Minnesota has problems on the defense that could a long term issue, but will especially be a concern against the Cardinals, the top offense by Adjusted NEP per play.
The Vikings will be without Anthony Barr, Linval Joseph and Harrison Smith against the Cardinals, three of their best defenders. Minnesota already ranks 19th in Adjusted NEP per play on defense and is coming off a game allowing 38 points to the Seahawks.
A weakness in the defense then comes back to the problems with the offense, a structure that’s just not built to come back from deficits right now. Negative game scripts diminish the impact of Adrian Peterson, who is sixth in Rushing NEP per attempt this season and currently represents the Vikings’ best chance of offensive success.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -0.57, Record: 6-6, Last Week: 18)
13. Washington Redskins (nERD: -0.53, Record: 5-7, Last Week: 16)
12. Houston Texans (nERD: -0.09, Record: 6-6, Last Week: 13)
Over the past few weeks, the Houston Texans defense looked like what many were expecting it to be this season. After being one of the best units in the league last year, the start to 2015 was incredibly underwhelming. The play picked up, but then the Texans looked like the early season defense against the Bills this past Sunday, getting torn up by Tyrod Taylor and Sammy Watkins . However, they still rank ninth in Adjusted NEP per play on defense though Week 13.
The Texans may get a still depleted Patriots team on Sunday night, which would likely help the defense. J.J. Watt again has been his dominant self, with 13.5 sacks. Sacks, of course, aren’t the best indicator of production, but Watt has also consistently been in the backfield impacting other plays that don’t result in sack.
An impressive season from Watt, or a good defense as a whole, isn’t too surprising for this Houston team. What has been quite the surprise is the effectiveness of the offense, at least through the air. DeAndre Hopkins has rendered himself basically quarterback proof. He makes at least one spectacular game per play and is staying productive on a per play basis while seeing heavy volume. Hopkins is the second most targeted player in the league, behind Julio Jones, but his Reception NEP per target is well above Jones’ and ranks fifth among 17 receivers who have been targeted 100 or more times this year.
Having a receiver with Hopkins’ ability certainly helps, but Brian Hoyer has also been above average statistically at quarterback this season. After a back and forth between Hoyer and Mallett started the season, Hoyer has been the clearly superior option this season. He currently ranks 12th in Passing NEP per drop back and eighth in Success Rate -- the percentage of plays resulting in positive NEP.
Houston has a 48.3 percent chance of making the playoffs, almost all of that -- 41.6 percent -- comes from a division title. We still have the Colts as the probable leaders of the AFC South -- 58.5 percent playoffs/58.0 percent division -- but those odds can shift greatly when the two play in Indianapolis in Week 15.
11. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 1.90, Record: 8-4, Last Week: 11)
10. Buffalo Bills (nERD: 3.04, Record: 6-6, Last Week: 9)
9. New York Jets (nERD: 3.35, Record: 7-5, Last Week: 8)
8. Denver Broncos (nERD: 4.05, Record: 10-2, Last Week: 10)
7. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 5.68, Record: 7-5, Last Week: 7)
6. New England Patriots (nERD: 7.95, Record: 10-2, Last Week: 3)
5. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 8.30, Record: 7-5, Last Week: 6)
4. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: 8.53, Record: 10-2, Last Week: 4)
3. Carolina Panthers (nERD: 8.58, Record: 12-0, Last Week: 2)
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: 8.59, Record: 7-5, Last Week: 5)
It’s hard to find a team more impressive over the past few weeks than the Pittsburgh Steelers. In their past four games, the Steelers have scored at least 30 points and have held opponents to 10 points or less twice. Our numbers have been high on Pittsburgh for much of the season -- they haven’t been outside the top-10 since before Week 3 -- but the jump to number two shows how well they’ve played lately.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, they’re still on the outside of the playoff picture at the moment. Even with a head-to-head matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals this week, the division is just about locked up with the Bengals having a 98.8 percent chance of winning the AFC North. That leaves the Steelers with the need for a wild card berth, but with a 45 percent chance to get in, they’re currently third in our odds behind the Kansas City Chiefs at 79.2 percent and New York Jets at 48.3 percent.
Just about every part of the Steelers offense is not only clicking, but ranked among the top of the league. As a team the Steelers have the fourth best offense in the league by Adjusted NEP per play, fifth passing and second rushing. That passing rank also includes 121 pass attempts from Michael Vick and Landry Jones.
If not for missing that time, Ben Roethlisberger would likely be one of the top candidates for the MVP award. He’s currently third in Passing NEP per drop back behind Andy Dalton and Carson Palmer and leads all quarterbacks in Success Rate.
Should the Steelers get into the playoffs, they would be one of the most dangerous wild card teams we’ve seen, especially if they get to feast on the AFC South winner (see Sunday night). But Pittsburgh will need some help for that to happen, because right now our second best team in the league is not a favorite to make the postseason.
1. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 12.98, Record: 10-2, Last Week: 1)