For every week until the end of the season, I will be ranking the NFL teams from 1-32, power rankings style. They will be arranged into four blocks.
The biggest problem with traditional power rankings is they take too much in account of every week. Each game is exacerbated. Every loss is the end of the world. Every win is another stitch in a dream season. Part of it just goes along with football in general. These games happen only once a week. There are only sixteen of them. Exaggeration is just part of it. I'm going to try and remove that by looking at the big picture instead of bumping up and down based on one loss or one win. The rankings below are simply adjustments made based on what I thought heading into the season; in the future, they will be adjusted based on an entire body of work and trends, not because of a single HUGE win or one BAD loss.
32.)--Record: 0-12. Point Differential: -155. DVOA: -38.1% (32). Last Week: 32.
31.)--Record: 1-11. Point Differential: -136. DVOA: -22.3% (29). Last Week: 31.
30.)--Record: 3-9. Point Differential: -101. DVOA: -32.5% (31). Last Week: 30.
29.)--Record: 2-10. Point Differential: -89. DVOA: -16.3% (27). Last Week: 29.
The 2016 season is approaching its end. Crazy, huh? Get a load of that. Time goes by so fast, right?
Entering the season, I wrote an entire AFC South preview. I was completely wrong about Tennessee and Jacksonville. I picked the Titans to win four games because I hated Mike Mularkey, and the idea of exotic methmouth with Marcus Mariota at quarterback made my stomach churn thanks to the lack of wide receiver talent to catch deep passes. This, combined with a horrendous secondary that would put them behind in games and not allow them to play this run-heavy style, would leave their investments sitting covered in a garage, toys never to be played with. I also picked Jacksonville to win seven games this year. I was very wrong about that. But why was I so wrong?
The biggest question I had entering this year was whether or not Gus Bradley is a good coach, when I should have been asking whether or not Blake Bortles is a good quarterback. By record, Bradley is not a good coach. He is so far from it. His record as a head coach is 14-46. On record alone, he should be flushed down the pot or relegated to the attic sifting through film for some #FunBelt school. But when it comes to defensive game planning and scheming, he showed that when he has talent, he can do things with it. With all the new additions, like Jalen Ramsey (DB), Myles Jack (LB), Yannick Ngakoue (DE), Sheldon Day (DT), Tyrone Holmes (OLB), Jonathan Woodard (DE) in the NFL draft, and Malik Jackson (DE), Tashaun Gipson (FS) and Prince Amukamara (CB) in free agency, Bradley churned out a really good defense. With all this talent in the trunk Bradley has coached a defense that has gone from 26th in defensive DVOA at 9.7% to 10th at -3.5%.
Jacksonville's pass defense is the biggest thing that has changed. Last season, their pass defense DVOA was 26.8%, 31st in the NFL. This year it is 0.5%, 10th. They don't grade out well by DVOA when it comes to covering outside receivers, mainly because they have allowed 15 touchdowns. What they do well is cover tight ends and running backs. Their pass rush has gone from 30th in pressure rate and 24th in adjusted sack rate to 12th and 20th. Ngakoue is long, quick, and has the skeleton in place to become a demonic edge rusher. Malik Jackson is really good, but not great; more importantly, he's provided an interior pass rush that is really important and really hard to find. This jolt in performance has occurred despite the Jaguars having only three interceptions, last in the league, which is a case of bad luck and some slapstick dropped interceptions.
Tackling is such an underrated part of defensive play. It's like offensive line play, where you only notice it when it's bad. When the defense is working and things are going well, you praise sacks, interceptions, and big hits. We fail to mention the chest in the sternum, the hands wrapped around the pads, and the shoot of the hips. The best part about this defense is a continuation from last year. They tackle really well. Jacksonville has the lowest broken tackle rate in the NFL at 7.0%. They have missed only 56 tackles this season.
Bradley will be fired at the conclusion of this year because of his record. Yet there's evidence that shows when he gets talent, he can create a viable defensive unit; he showed that in Seattle as well. The problem here is the offense. The Jaguars were supposed to pair this defense with last year's offense. Last year's offense isn't this year's offense, though. It's far worse.
Blake Bortles is the problem here. He hasn't improved at what he struggles with, and he hasn't continued to do the things he was good at doing last year.
|15'||58.6%||5.8%||3.0%||7.3||12.5||46.4||7.8%||54 (25th)||-9.9% (25th)|
|16'||58.4%||4.1%||3.1%||6.1||10.4||50.6||4.7%||-103 (27th)||-14.2% (26th)|
Bortles has a similar completion percentage, interception rate, and QBR to last year. He's still having accuracy troubles. He's still making hideous mistakes, like failing to carry the one while attempting the same arithmetic. The problem with this season is that the deep passes he was able to complete aren't happening. His Y/A have dropped by 1.2 yards, which is 720 yards over the course of the 600 pass attempt season that he's on pace for. His yards per completion have dropped by 2.1 yards. Those throws where he put it up for Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns haven't been converted this season, and the efficient passes needed to carry an offense has turned into the usual incompletions and bad decisions. Bortles failing to improve is why the Jaguars are a two win team and are again locked in a cage in the NFL's basement.
Heading into the offseason, the Jaguars will self-medicate with some High Gravity Hurricanes and a supposed offensive genius at head coach--someone who can spiritually connect with Bortles to fix all of those quarterbacking issues. They have one more year before they have to decide whether or not to pick up his huge fifth year option. If I'm Jacksonville, based on his performance, I'm 100% taking a QB in the second or third round of this year's draft to hedge my bet if Bortles doesn't correct things by next year. This way you have an insurance policy. You don't have to hang out with a McCown brother, you don't have to pay an excessive amount for Bortles' garbage, and you have someone who could potentially start in 2018 if 2017 is more of the same.
I've said it before. I'll say it again. If Bortles has a great run game, like what Tennessee has for example, and he doesn't have to be the main first down maker, and if he can sit back and sling it deep against fat boxes, I think he could be a competent quarterback. Without a run game, in this offense, he's in way over his head. Now after year three, with a probable new head coach, the clock is ticking away. The hours, lonely.
28.)--Record: 3-9. Point Differential: -66. DVOA: -4.4% (23). Last Week: 28.
27.)--Record: 4-8. Point Differential: -82. DVOA: -19.3% (28). Last Week: 27.
26.)--Record: 4-8. Point Differential: -38. DVOA: -7.2% (24). Last Week: 24.
25.)--Record: 4-7-1. Point Differential: -14. DVOA: -0.8% (21). Last Week: 26.
I can't completely quit Cincinnati. Their talented front seven underperformed with Vontaze Burfict suspended. They lost three of their four top receivers, two to free agency, and didn't have Tyler Eifert to start the year and for the majority of this season. Hue Jackson left for Cleveland. Cederic Ogubeih was the Jenga piece pulled from the bottom that sent the pass protection crashing to the floor, raining gun shots around the room.
This team is still talented. Andy Dalton is still a top ten quarterback. Despite the brain drain on offense, the drop-off in pass blocking, and the injuries, Dalton still has a DYAR of 556 (12th) and a DVOA of 7.1% (13th). Dalton has thrown for 3,000+ yards and 14 touchdowns against only 6 interceptions. He's going this throwing to ??? names and guys like Brandon LaFell. He's been sacked 32 times and has faced a moderate amount of pressure. He's been under pressure on 17.2% of pass attempts.
Because of Dalton, the talent and the past, I'm already ready for next season when they prop back up. See the plexiglass principle, see their 0-3 one-possession record, see their tough schedule, see their 1.6 less wins than expected, see their high draft pick. After last week's eyes peeled back, skin flaying 32-14 win over the Eagles that crushed their playoff hopes, I don't see the Bengals tanking. I see them attacking the rest of their schedule to end hopes and dreams.
Every year, there is a team that doesn't want anyone else to be happy. They want to piss on fresh white carpet. They want to chew up their food at a birthday dinner and spit it right back at the person sitting at the head of the table. They want to twist the top off the salt shaker and screw it back on meekly. They are here for one thing, and one thing only. Sabotage.
To end the season, the Bengals have four chances to bring misery. They get a chance to send Cleveland to 0-13, which would force them to beat either Buffalo, San Diego, or Pittsburgh, to stave off 0-16 like a man in a mustache holding a chair up to a lion's throat. The Bengals play the Texans, a team they lost to last year and were knocked out of the first round of the playoffs twice by. They play both of their most hated rivals, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, on the exteriors of the Houston game. These aren't games you can check as a win right away. The Bengals are here to ruin dreams. They are here to object at the altar.
24.)--Record: 6-6. Point Differential: -0. DVOA: -8.4% (25). Last Week: 25.
23.)--Record: 5-6-1. Point Differential: +25. DVOA: -3.6% (22). Last Week: 23.
22.)--Record: 5-7. Point Differential: +12. DVOA: 3.7% (15). Last Week: 17.
21.)--Record: 5-7. Point Differential: +15. DVOA: 3.0% (17). Last Week: 19.
20.)--Record: 6-6. Point Differential: +24. DVOA: 3.8% (14). Last Week: 25.
19.)--Record: 5-7. Point Differential: +23. DVOA: 16.6% (5). Last Week: 11.
18.)--Record: 6-6. Point Differential: -7. DVOA: 5.2% (12). Last Week: 20.
17.)--Record: 6-6. Point Differential: +12. DVOA: 0.7% (18). Last Week: 18.
16.)--Record: 6-6. Point Differential: -50. DVOA: -24.5% (30). Last Week: 16.
15.)--Record: 7-5. Point Differential: -23. DVOA: -0.4% (19). Last Week: 12.
Wooo! That was fun. The Dolphins went on a six game win streak. They went from 1-4 to 7-4 and become a playoff contender. The team was led by Ajayi, baby [in a Jay-Z voice] and an offense that can run block with the best of them, but can't protect the passer at all. Ryan Tannehill stuck in the pocket with his tennis shoes melted into the asphalt and delivered some throws that ended with released exultations. On defense, their star players played like star players.
BUT, teams can win games without playing well. Miami's winning streak is another classic example of Overvaluing of Wins 101. During this six game win streak, the Dolphins won five straight one possession games after beating a team led by a meniscus torn Ben Roethlisberger 30-15. After that, they won with an average margin of five points. As a result, the Dolphins have won 1.6 more games than expected.
Additionally, they were wrapped up in a nice, soft, and cozy schedule. They beat Pittsburgh, Buffalo, New York (J), San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. These teams are 7th, 16th, 30th, 17th, 28th and 29th in DVOA. Their average opponent DVOA was -8.7% during this run. This is the equivalent of playing the 26th ranked team in DVOA. They beat three of the worst teams in the league, two good ones, and one great one with an ailing quarterback. The saying goes that good teams barely beat good teams and beat up on bad ones. Miami had to fight and struggle to come out of this soft stretch of schedule at 7-4.
When they finally met a foe in an important game, they were thrashed. Joe Flacco, who was in the bottom of the league with Brock Osweiler, Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Blake Bortles, threw for 381 yards and four touchdowns. Baltimore went up 24-0 and ended up winning 38-6.
By record, the Dolphins are still in the playoff hunt. Very much so. Really they are just a decent team that won close games and caught fire for six weeks. They end the season against Arizona, at New York (J), at Buffalo, and hosting New England, who could still be playing for home field advantage in Week 17. These teams are ranked 22nd, 16th, 31st, and 1st in DVOA. Miami's average opponent has a DVOA of -3.2%, 19th in the league. Out of Buffalo, who has the easiest remaining schedule, and Denver, which is just a better team, and either Baltimore or Pittsburgh, the AFC North loser, the Dolphins are the least likely of AFC bubble teams to make the playoffs.
14.)--Record: 7-5. Point Differential: -5. DVOA: -0.6% (20). Last Week: 21.
I told you earlier this year the narratives were untrue. Jameis Winston is a really good quarterback. It just took some time for that rocket arm, pocket presence, and those difficult passing attempts he was completing to all come together into tangible performance. It took time for the film to match the numbers.
The Buccaneers are the anti-Dolphins. The Dolphins played an easy schedule and won close games against bad teams. The Bucs did not. They ambushed the Bears 36-10. From here they beat the Chiefs 19-17, the Seahawks 14-5, and the Chargers 28-21. They blew the legs off a bad team and won close games against three teams that have an average DVOA of 11.2%.
The reason for their improvement hasn't been Winston. He's been good the entire season. It has been their defense. In the first eight games of the season, before their win streak, Tampa Bay gave up an average of 398.97 yards a game. They gave up an average of 29 points a game, including totals of 40, 37, 30, and 43. These last four weeks, those totals have dropped to 235.25 yards. They have allowed 13.25 points a game. That's 163.72 less yards and 15.75 less points. It's like the Bucs are playing only one half of a football game.
There are two reasons why this has happened. One, they are intercepting passes, and two, they are getting to the quarterback. In these games, the Bucs have seven interceptions. That's more than the Jaguars have had all season. They had four in their first eight games. The other is they are getting to the quarterback. They sacked Russell Wilson six times, Jay Cutler four times, and Philip Rivers twice. Robert Ayers has 4.5 sacks, Noah Spence has 3, Gerald McCoy has 3, and 3 others have one sack. They had 12 sacks in their last four games and 17 in their first eight games.
What's changed here isn't the personnel or health. They are just making more explosive plays. Tampa is attacking the ball, rushing the passer, and capitalizing on the mistakes offenses have made.
This is very important for the Bucs' postseason chances. To end the season, they play New Orleans twice, Dallas next week when the Cowboys are going to try to clinch the first seed in the NFC, and Carolina. These interceptions and this newfound pass rush are going to be the key in Winston v. Brees duels. If Tampa can win both New Orleans games and beat what should be a lifeless Carolina team, they'll walk into the postseason. If the defense plays like they did in the first eight weeks, the Bucs will be known as one of those young teams with promise and holes that is set at quarterback. If they play at this maniacal pace, Tampa could be in play for the NFC South and will be set for a wild card spot at a minimum.
13.)--Record: 6-6. Point Differential: +31. DVOA: 3.3% (16). Last Week: 13.
12.)--Record: 7-5. Point Differential: +49. DVOA: 10.9% (9) Last Week: 15.
11.)--Record: 8-4. Point Differential: +8. DVOA: 4.6% (13). Last Week: 10.
10.)--Record: 6-5-1. Point Differential: +8. DVOA: 7.8% (10). Last Week: 9.
9.)--Record: 8-4. Point Differential: +24. DVOA: -8.7% (26). Last Week: 14.
8.)--Record: 7-5. Point Differential: +54. DVOA: 15.4% (7) Last Week: 8.
7.)--Record: 8-4. Point Differential: +57. DVOA: 5.4% (11) Last Week: 7.
6.)--Record: 7-5. Point Differential: +55. DVOA: 17.3% (4). Last Week: 4.
5.)--Record: 9-3. Point Differential: +39. DVOA: 12.2% (8). Last Week: 6. (Doesn't include TNF)
4.)--Record: 9-3. Point Differential: +30. DVOA: 15.6% (6). Last Week: 5. (Doesn't include TNF)
3.)--Record: 10-2. Point Differential: +112. DVOA: 19.9% (1). Last Week: 3.
2.)--Record: 11-1. Point Differential: +105. DVOA: 19.7% (2). Last Week: 2.
1.)--Record: 8-3-1. Point Differential: +70. DVOA: 18.4% (3). Last Week: 1.
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