This was not a good week to be in the top ten. Eight of the teams lost team strengths, and a ninth (New Orleans), lost their game. The Chargers are the lone team that both won and continued to gain strength. I had held up four different units across the NFL as the potentially the most dominating heading into last week. The Patriots offense failed to get a third down conversion for the first time since 1991 and lost to the resurgent Miami Dolphins. The New Orleans Saints scored 17 points and lost star rookie Alvin Kamara (expected back soon). The Ravens defense gave up 39 points and over 500 yards passing. Even the vaunted Jaguars defense gave up over 400 yards and a season-high 3 passing touchdowns against the Seahawks.
The other contenders for most dominant unit in the NFL include the Eagles offense (lost Carson Wentz for the year) or defense (gave up 35 points), the Vikings defense (gave up 31 points), and the Rams offense (scored 28 points, but had just 308 yards). Of all those groups, the Jaguars defense and Rams offense probably had the best week. None of them had a banner day.
The Eagles will not fade away. They will become more like the Jaguars, with an excellent defense and powerful rushing attack. The hardest part to envision for either team is their quarterback being good enough to win the whole thing. For my money, the Jaguars have the best single unit in the NFL with that defense and should not be counted out.
The Rams are probably the most balanced team across all phases, have great coaching, and are the healthiest. A Rams vs Jaguars Super Bowl would likely get the lowest ratings of any Super Bowl ever. Both the Vikings and Eagles have beat the Rams, and both would likely host Los Angeles in the playoffs. The Rams have yet to beat a great defense. New England remains the favorite in the AFC, but this game against the Steelers will tell us a lot. Should the Steelers win and secure home-field advantage, that conference opens up.
This view 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)