It has become boring to ask which is the best team in the NFL. The Saints have earned that title consistently through the season. Any team not from New Orleans that makes the Super Bowl will be a surprise. More interesting is trying to assess who might come out of the AFC.
New England is more vulnerable than they have been. Less dominant on offense and defense, they will need home field advantage to move along. One team that mirrors Seattle in some ways is the Ravens. They have turned to a run-centric style, even more so than the Seahawks. Lamar Jackson is nowhere near the passer Russell Wilson is, but is a much more elusive and aggressive runner. That, paired with one of the two best defenses in the NFL has made the Ravens a quiet riser.
They now rank just ahead of the Seahawks, and are sure to give anyone they play in the postseason fits. Their limitations on offense, similar to the Seahawks limitations on defense, likely put a ceiling on how far they can advance. As the Chargers just found out, though, they can beat anyone in the AFC.
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) As of September 23, 2014, I have added a strength of schedule component to the rankings as well. As of November 22, 2016, I have increased the weighting of the run game and point differential. Yards per carry will be multiplied by 10 to make it more evenly weighted with the passer rating. It is still roughly half as important, but will have a greater impact. Point differential will be multiplied by two as it still should be among the most important aspects of measuring teams.