Let me just start by reiterating these rankings are calculated the same way every week, and they do not (directly) represent my opinion of which teams are the best. They formula I created represents what I believe is a reasonable approximation of how to judge team strength in a way I have time and resources to calculate on a weekly basis. Why the preamble this week? The rankings feel bonkers.
The Patriots on top makes sense. The Dolphins on the bottom makes sense. I even buy the 49ers being high in the rankings given how well their defense has played and the strength of their offense (they are averaging more points than the Patriots).
Jacksonville at third almost made me spit out my tea, if I had been drinking tea. Tennessee at four? Kansas City at five (and not higher)? Tampa at eight?
Let’s dig a little deeper. The Jags have a more efficient offense than most realize. They are only scoring 21 ppg but boast a 108.7 team passer rating and average 5.7 yards per carry. Their defense is okay, and gives them a spread in everything but points scored. What really helps the Jags is their strength of schedule, which ranks second in the NFL. If you remove the SOS as a factor, they drop to eighth.
The Titans have an efficient passing offense with a 106.2 passer rating, but it is their defense that holds opponents to an 87.4 passer rating and 15.5 points per game that deserves real praise. They also benefit from a very strong SOS. They would only drop to fifth, though, if that was removed.
The Chiefs are a powerhouse with a suspect defense. They are surrendering a 92.9 passer rating and a whopping 5.9 yards per carry to opponents. They have been able to overcome it so far, but how will that play out in the playoffs?
I am finding myself questioning the relative weighting of run versus pass in the formula. I made an adjustment a few years back when it was clear the run game was not being given enough importance in the calculation. If I go to a more pass-centric weighting, the rankings change to:
Better, but not enough for me to change anything yet. If I use the heavy pass weighting and remove SOS altogether, we get this:
It is possible I have SOS weighted too heavily as well. It is something to monitor. As much as I like seeing Seattle vault into the top ten in that last iteration, I have trouble arguing that a team that has struggled to beat bad opponents should be in the top ten. SOS helps keep things honest in that way.
Getting back to the actual rankings, Baltimore looked like a powerhouse early, but is falling back to earth. Their three week slide is ugly. The Rams fell out of the top ten with their loss this week.
It feels pretty wide open in general.
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:
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.