NFL Power Rankings Week 9: A Statistical Perspective
Eight teams have six wins, making it hard to tell who's the best in the league.
A lot of the debate—like the rankings themselves—are mostly subjective opinion backed up with some selected facts.
This week, two of those teams are going head to head: New England and Pittsburgh. The debate over who is better has already begun.
It'll include such names as James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, Bill Belichik and Tom Brady. With a dash of Ben Roethlisberger thrown in. Notice that only Roethlisberger and Brady are a direct apples-to-apples comparison?
But isn't football a team effort? Isn't there some way to judge the entire team?
Putting together a boatload of stats and combining them in a clearly objective manner, I rigged up a spreadsheet using stats including offense, defense, all special teams, W-L record as well as quality of opponents. I threw them all into a computer and you'll see what I get.
Your curiosity will make you look, but I also know you won't like a lot of it.
Go ahead and waste your time reading something that will anger, frustrate and leave most of you feeling insulted.
And when you're done, go ahead and waste more time commenting on how much you hated what simple math said.
(After all, if I wanted to rig it, I'd at least put my Browns in the top half of the league, wouldn't I?)
The Worst of the Worst
32. Buffalo Bills
The only reason the Bills are at the bottom of my rankings is because of their 0-8 record. They are a bad team, true. Outside of ranking dead last in rush defense, the Bills are just a mediocre team that only does the little things to lose a game, like three points each for the last three weeks.
But consider that their schedule is filled with teams now .500 or better.
With Detroit and Cincinnati coming in the next two weeks, now is the time to prove if they're just plain bad or truly horrible.
Win one, and they'll likely be out of last place.
31. Dallas Cowboys
Despite having the same record, this is not the rookie year for Jimmy Johnson and Troy Aikman.
This is a good mix of young and old that is going nowhere.
If the Bills are doing the little things to lose games, the Cowboys have been doing everything to lose games.
Without Romo, they just quit. All of them.
With the firing of Wade Phillips, any improvement that happens will only show how poor of a motivator he was.
The Rest of the Really Bad
30. Carolina Panthers
Offensively, the Panthers are a scoring machine...much like a subcompact is a driving machine.
The only statistic I need to explain this is 88. As in the number of points they've scored all year.
Basically they're a worse version of the Bills, but luckier because they have an easy schedule.
29. San Fransisco 49ers
This isn't a horrible team, but it seems like they've been saving a lot of their good play for teams that are better.
They beat Oakland, and also lost to Philadelphia, Atlanta and New Orleans by a combined eight points.
Head Coach Mike Singletary knows this team should be better.
With the bye week coming after their win against Denver, the second half could either turn them around...or turn them into another version of the Cowboys.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars
When I compiled my final rankings, I wondered if I had entered my numbers in wrong. A 4-4 team? This far down?
Their four wins have come against teams with a combined 8-24 record.
That's including the 5-3 Colts. By a combined 38 points—17 of them against the free-falling Cowboys.
Then look at the losses. Combined record: 18-14. Point differential in losses: 87 points.
They narrowly win games against bad teams, but, except for the Colts, most good teams have had their way with them. Don't be surprised if the second half of the season includes a slide down the standings.
The Just Plain Bad
27. Denver Broncos
Granted, they've had a tough schedule. (Combined record: 41-24). Even though the 223 points given up by the Broncos is highlighted by the 59-spot by Oakland, they haven't been able to shut teams down.
Only Seattle has failed to score less than 20 against them.
26. Cincinnati Bengals
I watched their Monday Night performance against the Steelers, where it seemed that the team showed up somewhere around the middle of the third quarter. Which is when they finally showed up against New England in their season opener.
A simple look at their line scores shows that the Bengals cannot play offense and defense at the same time for all four quarters.
Of course, when the special teams makes mistakes like they did Monday night, the D gets in quite the pickle.
25. Arizona Cardinals
For the entire season, the Cards' defense has given up almost 1,100 more yards than the offense has gained. That's not going to win many games.
Makes you wonder how they won the three they did over St. Louis, New Orleans and Oakland.
Maybe it was special teams, which seems to be out-producing their opponents across the board.
The Almost Bad
24. Detroit Lions
Well, they're getting better.
With Minnesota being the only losing team on their schedule so far, you'd have to say a 2-6 record is quite an improvement from a few years ago. A point differential of +15 says they're actually playing competitively against good teams, but just not well enough to win.
But then again, the next two weeks are Buffalo and Dallas. Respectively. If they don't prove it there, the only other team on their schedule that currently has a losing record is the Vikings.
23. Minnesota Vikings
They still rank in the top half of passing yards, rushing yards, passing defense and rushing yards.
Despite having a 3-5 record their point differential is only -12. Which is close to their turnover differential of -9, a number that is in the neighborhood of Arizona, Dallas, Carolina and San Diego, their AFC counterpart in self-sabotaging.
22. Seattle Seahawks
Three weeks ago, this was a scrappy, inconsistent 4-2 team that just needed to get it together. Now, they're the Arizona Cardinals, only without the costly turnovers.
Considering their last two games were losses by a combined 74-10 score, this probably says more about San Diego's self-destructiveness than it does how good they are.
Unfortunately, winning percentage plays heavily in my formula. At this rate, this will change.
21. Washington Redskins
They get yards, even on special teams. However, they give up even more.
A point comparison of 155 earned v. 170 allowed, suggests that a bend-but-don't-break defense is joined by a bend-but-don't-break offense.
20. St. Louis Rams
It'd be easy to say this is where the Lions would be if they were in the NFC West. And for the most part, I'd agree, but for completely opposite reasons.
Where Detroit is eighth in passing and 27th in stopping the run, the Rams are 24th in passing and eighth stopping the run.
Just hope that Sam Bradford doesn't continue having injury-plagued shoulder problems like Matthew Stafford.
19. Miami Dolphins
An above-average offense plus an above-average defense plus an above-average division plus an above-average schedule equals an average record.
The only reasons I saw for them being in the bottom half is the 0-8 record of the Bills (who they only beat by 5) and the 41-14 drubbing by the Pats in Week 4.
They just cannot put anybody away. If they do make the playoffs, that could be their downfall.
18. Houston Texans
If there's an Achille's Heel with the Texans, it's in their pass defense. True, it's faced Peyton Manning twice as well as Philip Rivers once, so that's not surprising.
Giving the Cowboys their only win doesn't help either.
Considering that Matt Schaub-to-Andre Johnson has led the Texans to the 12th best passing game, and Arian Foster is leading the seventh best running game, the two games against the Jaguars are going to be crucial if the Texans are going to be in the playoff hunt, since they're also facing the Jets, Ravens, Eagles and have two games against the Titans in the second half.
The Deeper Middle
17. Cleveland Browns
So far, the Browns' opponents have a combined record of 42-23, the best record of any opponents so far.
The Bengals are the only team on their schedule not above .500. Their 3-5 record also comes with a measly -4 point differential.
Add to that their wins over the Saints and Patriots by a combined 64-31 score and it's easy to say they are heading in the right direction.
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This team knows how to beat lesser teams, but hasn't figured out how to beat better teams.
And even when they do face lesser teams, they don't beat them by much.
Then, against better teams, they are exposed. If they can learn to stop the run, they can help that.
15. Chicago Bears
When you've got the third-best rushing defense, good things happen—even if you've got Jay Cutler. While Cutler was hot in the early parts of the season, his inconsistencies are starting to show that he is looking to inherit all the wrong parts of Brett Favre's throne, as well as some of the good ones too.
However, even if he does lose a game, the defense and special teams can bail him out.
The Pretty Good
14. San Diego Chargers
Don't let the 4-5 record fool you. With Philip Rivers leading the NFL in passing yards, and the defense in the top five in stopping both the run and the pass, all they have to do is work on the AFC's worst turnover ratio (-9) and they will have one of their typical late-season runs.
13. Oakland Raiders
Even more than the Browns, this is a team that has really shown improvement. Granted, with the stats-based formula I used, the 59-14 win over the Broncos probably carries them up a notch or three all by itself. It probably even compensates for the losses against the 49ers and the Cardinals, although they were by a combined nine points.
Still, with the 33-3 romp over the Seahawks on their resume, any team that leads the NFL in rushing, and is third in stopping the pass, is not one to be taken for granted.
The remainder of the season will test their ability as it includes Pittsburgh, Miami, the Colts and rematches against the Chiefs and Chargers. But for now, they've built their case.
Another note: You want to know if you're getting the old-school Raiders? Look at their penalty yardage.
12. Kansas City Chiefs
Despite losing to the Raiders on Sunday, my math is what it is.
Overall, when running is involved, things tend to go KC's way. Jamaal Charles leads the NFL's best ground game and the defense ranks ninth against the run. Add to that the fact that the Chiefs have the fewest (six) giveaways in the league.
The first two weeks can classify as "comebacks," but others can argue that both the Chargers and Browns choked late.
Considering the Chiefs' other three wins came against the 49ers, Jaguars and Bills (in OT, no less), they are definitely benefiting from their last-place schedule. The next four weeks include—in order—Denver, Arizona, Seattle and Denver again.
They have a dominant running game, but with their schedule, I think this team can make the playoffs.
If they do, they probably won't go very far.
The Pretty Darned Good
11. Philadelphia Eagles
Across the board, this is just a good team. It's expected, with the two-part QB of Dr. Kolb and Mr. Vick, that the offense would be highlighted by the passing game.
Passing game, 10th; running game, fifth. In the league.
They have been penalized a lot—652 yards—this year, which is costing them the game that will keep them out of first place in the NFC East.
10. New Orleans Saints
Super Bowl hangover...yeah, yeah. Since when does a 6-3 record mean you suck?
Even though defenses have figured out how to potentially stop Drew Brees, it's still not a given that you will.
Also, has anyone told you the Saints are the NFL's best at stopping YOUR quarterback? Overall, the Saints offense has out-gained their opponents by a combined 834 yards. You're going to win some games that way.
And when you have a bye week followed by Seattle, Dallas, Cincinnati, St. Louis, things are looking good.
Especially considering they end the season against division rivals Atlanta and Tampa Bay.
The Really Good
9. New England Patriots
Not to go SABR-metrics on the NFL, but in the course of my analysis, I did make one observation. Most offenses average 15.4 yards for every point the team scores. The Pats? Just under 12. (Before the loss to Cleveland, it was just over 11)
Simply put, when Tom Brady gets the ball, points go on the board more often than other QBs.
New England ranks near the bottom in number of punts, is tied for second fewest giveaways and still fifth in total points scored.
They may not light up your fantasy league, but they do produce.
8. Indianapolis Colts
They may not dominate these power rankings like in recent years, but Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning.
As long as they can put a defense on the other side of the ball, the Colts do just fine. And so far, the D has done sufficiently.
While they handed the Giants a good thumping, the fact that two of their three losses are within the division (Jacksonville and Houston) help explain why the AFC South is so close.
7. Baltimore Ravens
Across the board in many ways, The Ravens are just good at every aspect of the game: Offense, defense and special teams.
Except for the loss to Cincinnati, they compete well against good teams and usually beat them. The only out-of-ordinary note I noticed, was that they were penalized 213 yards less than their opponents.
They may be hard-hitting, but they're not dirty (or at least not caught).
6. Green Bay Packers
Yes, they have the NFL's highest point differential, thanks to their annihilation of Wade Phillips' job. And yes, they also beat the Jets 9-0. However, the Jets were one of only three opponents they've played with a record over .500.
After the bye this week, their schedule does include the 49ers, it also contains rematches with all three division rivals, as well as games with the Falcons, Patriots and Giants.
I doubt they'll run that table.
5. Tennessee Titans
The only teams who have scored more points than the Titans are teams that have played more games than the Titans.
Only the Steelers have held them to under 20 points in a game (and boy, did they ever!)
Considering they're also tied for third in takeaways, that's a combination that might be better than you think.
With five of their last eight games coming off the bye within the division, it's very possible the Titans could host a post-season game come January.
All they have to do now is make sure Randy Moss is an asset.
4. New York Jets
Yes, they laid an egg against Green Bay and came close to getting upset against an improving Lions squad. But given their only other loss was a one point squeaker to Baltimore, that's not so bad.
The schedule gave them Buffalo, Minnesota, and Denver. All they've done is win.
The next two weeks—against the Browns and Texans—will either separate themselves from the pack, or have them thinking about IF, and not WHEN, they make the post-season.
3. Atlanta Falcons
Yes. This was surprising to even me.
Then I looked further. An overall point differential of +42. While some teams are led by their high-ranked defenses (Jets, Steelers, Bears, Ravens), others their high-ranked offenses (Chargers, Colts, Saints), the Falcons rank 10 in scoring offense and scoring defense. The Titans lead in offensive scoring and are ninth in scoring defense.
The only thing I think that puts the Falcons this high is the fact that they really haven't had a bad loss. In both losses (to the 6-2 Steelers and the 5-3 Eagles), they gained almost 300 yards on offense. Maybe it was winning their six games by a combined 62 points, although 34 of those were against the Cardinals alone.
Okay, fine. I can't even explain this. This is how objective it is. I just entered the numbers and the computer spit this out.
If you can explain it, go ahead.
However, if you dispute it, please use logical arguments.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
In a word...Defense. Tops in Scoring Defense, takeaways and second on overall yardage, the Steelers defense was simply the reason why they went 3-1 without Ben Roethlisberger.
In his absence, the Steelers only scored more than 20 once. Since his return, they've failed to score 20 points only once. Lately the defense has shown a little leniency, allowing 20 points the last three games after not letting anyone break it in the first five.
The second half of the season includes a mixed bag. There are three games against contenders (Patriots, Jets, Ravens), two against teams that can "trap" you quite easily (Raiders and Browns), and three they should win (Panthers, Bills and a rematch with the Bengals.).
What keeps Pittsburgh from being No. 1 is only two of their wins have been by 10 points or more, unlike the...
1. New York Giants
No team holds it's opponents to fewer yards per game than the Giants. Only the Chargers gain more yards per game.
Their six wins have been by a combined 192-93, which is what a great team should do against the likes of Carolina, Detroit, Houston, Dallas and Seattle.
That is what sets them apart.
But don't worry. With two games against the Eagles and one against the Packers, they can't dominate like this forever, can they?
Now you can "comment," i.e. start ripping me a new one.
However, realize I just may have revealed something about your favorite team that you may not have thought about in this process.
Because like it or not, I'm going to keep this up. You never know. Maybe some numbers don't lie. This is just an experiment to try something different.
If you think you can do better, there's more than enough room on B/R.