Let’s start with the 7-1 Dallas Cowboys, who rank a lowly 13th this week. The rankings formula really does not like weak schedules. Dallas has the 32nd-ranked strength of schedule (SOS) in the NFL. Dead last. The toughest team they have faced so far is 10th ranked Philadelphia, and they were losing 23-13 in the fourth quarter at home before coming back to win in overtime. Even if you remove SOS from the equation, the Cowboys would still rank only 5th due to giving up a 95.0 passer rating to opponents. Passer rating differential is critical to team strength, and the Cowboys are merely okay in that regard.
This was always going to be a brutal stretch for the Seahawks, and it has actually gotten tougher as they have traversed it. The Saints are not the pushover that people would like to believe they are. They are now among the top ten in the rankings, meaning the Seahawks will have faced six of the top eleven teams in the NFL, including the top two, when this stretch is done. No game will be tougher than the one they have coming up this weekend against the best team in football, and the only one that ranks as a true powerhouse this season.
- #2 Atlanta (W 26-24)
- #6 @ Arizona (T 6-6)
- #9 @ New Orleans (L 25-20)
- #11 Buffalo (W 31-25)
- #1 @ New England
- #10 Philadelphia
Watch out for Oakland, who is climbing the charts, ranking only behind the Patriots in their 3-week gain in team strength. Like the Cowboys, they are held back by a less than stellar defense, but their SOS is far stronger than the Cowboys. Giving up nearly 25 points per game is what is holding them back.
It is definitely a down year for quality of play. Every team besides the Patriots has a serious flaw. There are usually at least a few elite teams by this point, but I’d bet it would be a coin flip if any team 2-15 faced each other on a neutral field. Atlanta’s offense is greater strength than most teams have, but their defense makes them vulnerable. Minnesota and Denver have good defenses, but they are not historically good and their offenses are below average.
Seattle is arguably in the best position to make a run at challenging the Patriots if they can find their way on offense, and get some elite players back on defense. The game this weekend will be a measure of where the two teams are right now. Much will change between that game and the next time they could face each other.
I like this view as it shows tiers of strength that develop over the course of the season.
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 (roughly 70% of the teams ranked in the Top 10 by week 3 make the playoffs), 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)