NFC West Takes Over Top Two Spots

Seattle retains the top spot after beating the Browns. Arizona gains a little ground, but still remains in the second spot. A good showing this week against the Packers could help the Cardinals regain the top spot based on strength of schedule alone. The Chiefs are buoyed by the toughest SOS of any team in the NFL. Pittsburgh has the second toughest. The Steelers are in interesting challenge for the rankings.


The formula favors team efficiency. The Steelers are a very different team when Ben Roethlisberger is on the field, but all the Michael Vick and Landry Jones snaps are baked into the season stats. Roethlisberger also throws some interceptions, especially at the passing volume he is reaching of late. That leads to a good-but-not-great team passer rating of 92.3, while the Steelers secondary allows a porous 94.1 passer rating to opposing teams.That the Steelers have a negative passer rating and still appear in the Top 10 is attributable to their SOS.

In other words, the formula wants to rank the Steelers even lower, but their schedule pushes them up. Seeing how they have been playing, one could argue they deserve to be even higher. Their three-week gain is second only to the Seahawks. That is a good indicator of which team is hottest.

I have been watching the Redskins out of the corner of my eye, knowing the Seahawks may face them in the first round. I was surprised to see they were so far down in the rankings, and also that they have not gained all that much team strength over the past three weeks. They feel like a hot team, with Kirk Cousins putting up numbers comparable to Russell Wilson and Cam Newton over the past five weeks. Don’t believe it? I’ll post about it later.

The Redskins are undone by a weak defense. They have a negative point differential, a negative run differential, and barely are above water in passer rating differential. They also have a weak SOS. We can break that team down further should they stand in the Seahawks way come playoff time.

RANKINGS (WITH SOS)

Scatter

This view helps to give you a view of how teams are grouped together. You will generally see tiers of strength develop as the season wears on.

RANKINGS EXPLAINED

Power rankings are always debatable. I don’t buy into the gut feel methods most places use to determine their rankings, so I developed a formula a few years back that attempts to take at least some of the subjectivity out of the discussion. My approach was simple, I measured offensive and defensive efficiency based on the Yards Per Carry (YPC) and Yards Per Attempt (YPA), as well as points scored and points allowed. The formula to calculate “Team Strength” was as follows:

(YPC (offense) + YPA (offense) + Avg Pts/Game Scored) – (YPC (defense) + YPA (defense)+ Avg Pts/Game Allowed)

The formula has proven to be a pretty accurate predictor of success, but I am always looking for ways to improve it. I read a great article on ColdHardFootballFacts.com. There was one gem in there about predicting championship teams. The article mentioned passer rating differential as the “mother of all stats.” A full 69 of 72 champions have ranked in the Top 10 in this statistic. It is a stat after my own heart, as I believe offensive and defensive efficiency is the key measurable outside of point differential. Turnovers would factor in there as well, but I am not convinced a team has as much control over that. My power rankings use YPA and YPC differentials. I went ahead and replaced the YPA with offensive and defensive passer rating, to give me this:

(YPC (offense) + Passer Rating (offense) + Avg Pts/Game Scored) – (OPP YPC (defense) + OPP Passer Rating (defense)+ OPP Avg Pts/Game)


As of September 23, 2014, I have added a strength of schedule component to the rankings as well. 

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