Four teams appear to stand above the rest. Philadelphia, Minnesota, the Rams, and New Orleans, all have a team strength above 45.0 heading into the season’s final week. Two of those teams, the Vikings and Rams, have been gaining the most momentum headed into the playoffs with meaningful three-week lifts as well as one-week improvement. All four teams reside in the NFC, so a team like the Patriots only needs to beat one of them.
It seems hard to imagine any team in the AFC standing up to the Patriots. Kansas City did it to start the season in rousing fashion, but Eric Berry played a large role in that game before getting injured. I’d like to believe Jacksonville could do it, but they got waxed by the upstart 49ers, who have gained more team strength the past three weeks of any team in the NFL.
Seattle remains a top ten team, mainly because the league sucks this season. The Falcons team they are fighting with for the final playoff spot ranks even lower, due in part to giving up a 95.9 opponent passer rating on defense.
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)