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: -37.6% (32). Last Week: 32.
31.)--Record: 1-10. Point Differential: -116. DVOA: -17.1% (27). Last Week: 31.
30.)--Record: 3-8. Point Differential: -70. DVOA: -26.9% (31). Last Week: 30.
29.)--Record: 2-9. Point Differential: -79. DVOA: -19.6% (29). Last Week: 29.
28.)--Record: 2-9. Point Differential: -86. DVOA: -9.3% (24). Last Week: 28.
27.)--Record: 4-7. Point Differential: -66. DVOA: -13.8% (26). Last Week: 27.
The Rams are terrible. It has been the same story again this year. A good defense centered around their line combined with a flaccid offense. Unlike previous seasons, the Rams couldn't go quietly into the night and sneak through unscathed toward 7-9. They just haaaaaaad to move to Los Angeles. They just haaaaaaad to go on Hard Knocks. They just haaaaaad trade up and draft Jared Goff.
They didn't start Goff to start the year. They stuck with Case Keenum because he's a fighter, and controls the game, and he's a leader. Of course that didn't go well. They were 30th in the NFL in passing DVOA with him. Keenum completed 61% of his passes, threw 9 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, had 6.9 Y/A, a QBR of 46.4, and was 29th in DYAR and DVOA. During his tenure the Rams were held to ten points or less four times. Gross.
It's not entirely Keenum's fault. LA isn't the ideal situation for any quarterback. Despite using a lot of draft picks on their offensive line, they have been a miserable unit. They've allowed 27 sacks, but it's a run heavy offense. Their adjusted sack rate is 6.5%, 21st, and are ranked in the middle in pressure rate. In the run game they are 26th in adjusted line yards, and get nothing when they try to run up the middle. They have turned Todd Gurley from a rare first round pick that could possibly be worth the investment to someone who's stuck doing nothing behind the line of scrimmage. He's 31st in DYAR with -65 and 29th in DVOA at -16.5%.
LA's receiving core is underwhelming too. Tavon Austin is force fed, and is nothing more than a novelty toy, like one of those glow up spinny things they sell at Disneyland for $20. Again, he's in the bottom of the league in DVOA and DYAR. He's averaging 36.5 yards a game, and has produced stellar performances like 4 catches on 12 targets for 13 yards and 10 catches on 15 targets for 57 yards. The only thing he's good at is being the best wide receiver at taking snaps running back. He should play for the Packers. Kenny Britt gets the majority of the targets and actually produces. But aside from him there's just overused Austin and a lot of guys who can't get separation.
Why would you want to bring a baby quarterback into this reality? Especially one that was in a spread offense and never played under center. So much pressure is put on first round quarterbacks to come in and excel and start right away. I don't get this. Let them learn and grow develop and make sure their surroundings are child proof. The Rams would have only hurt Goff by immediately putting him in the I-formation, throwing behind a limestone offensive line, with an inefficient run game, and receivers who can't get open.
But at 4-5 and a 9-6 win over the New York Jets it became time to put Goff in. And so far he's been pretty much the same as Keenum, with the one difference being he's not turning the ball over. He is completing 58.7% of his passes, averaging 5.5 Y/A, 9.4 Y/C, has thrown 3 touchdowns to 1 interception and has been sacked as often as Keenum was. Considering the offense he's moved to and his inexperience and the situation he's played admirably, not well, but admirably.
Next year the Rams are going to have cap space. They will draft high. The focus is going to be on improving the offensive line, adding receivers who can beat man coverage, and providing a cozier home for Goff. But this season it's going to be more on the job training in a hazardous work environment.
23.)--Record: 3-7-1. Point Differential: -32. DVOA: -2.2% (21). Last Week: 23.
25.)--Record: 5-6. Point Differential: -31. DVOA: -18.4% (28). Last Week: 25.
24.)--Record: 4-7. Point Differential: -5. DVOA: -2.6% (22). Last Week: 24.
23.)--Record: 4-6-1. Point Differential: +15. DVOA: -3.0% (23). Last Week: 13.
22.)--Record: 6-5. Point Differential: +26. DVOA: 3.7% (16). Last Week: 15. (Doesn't include TNF)
21.)--Record: 6-5. Point Differential: -15. DVOA: -0.2% (19). Last Week: 26.
20.)--Record: 5-6. Point Differential: -15. DVOA: 2.2% (18). Last Week: 21.
19.)--Record: 5-6. Point Differential: +22. DVOA: 2.6% (17). Last Week: 22.
18.)--Record: 6-6. Point Differential: +12. DVOA: -1.8% (20). Last Week: 20.
17.)--Record: 5-6. Point Differential: +27. DVOA: 7.5% (11). Last Week: 17.
16.)--Record: 6-5. Point Differential: -42. DVOA: -26.3% (30). Last Week: 16.
15.)--Record: 6-5. Point Differential: +17. DVOA: 5.1% (13) Last Week: 14.
14.)--Record: 7-4. Point Differential: +9. DVOA: -12.3% (25). Last Week: 18.
13.)--Record: 6-5. Point Differential: +45. DVOA: 6.7% (12). Last Week: 10.
The Buffalo Bills don't have the best run offense in football. That belongs to the Cowboys. But they have the funnest. Their run scheme is just a joy to watch. They pull from every orifice with their blockers white capped and red, ready to explode, before popping into defenders. They have eleven different players who have carried the ball at least once. They have multiple talented backs, and their quarterback, Tygod Taylor, is a rushing option on every play and is second on the team in carries with 70. Because of this the Bills are second in DVOA at 12.5%, and lead the league in every counting stat except for touchdowns, which they rank second in.
The Bills aren't a team that runs a single play or style. They do it all. They run inside zone, outside zone, toss plays, power, counter, dart, and various zone read and pitch options with Taylor. Throughout the course of a game they will run twelve different rush plays, compared to most teams that stick with a type of zone and a couple of power run plays mixed in. Buffalo is as exotic as a run game can be.
This was all on display like it has been all year against Cincinnati. A win that ended the Bengals whisper of a playoff chance and continued theirs. A game where the Bills ran for more yards than they threw.
Here they are running counter to the right. The playside "Duece" gets to the playside linebacker. The tight end heads to the alley. The center blocks down so the left guard Ritchie Incognito can pull freely to the defensive end. The left tackle heads up to the second linebacker. And then they pull the fullback to act as a lead blocker for McCoy. They have seven blockers against a Nickle defense.
McCoy gets the snap and sees there's nothing open in the middle so he runs horizontally and prolongs the run until cutting outside and around the fullback's perfect block. He's so good outside the tackles. And he makes some devastating cuts and genius decisions to help him get there. Once he's out wide he has two blockers ahead of him who do their jobs. Then he makes one man miss to pick up some more ontop of that.
On this play the Bills are running a new variation of the outside zone that is sweeping the nation. Geoff Schwartz, current offensive lineman, and future media personality, broke this down earlier in the year. It broke my brain. What teams are doing are pulling the guard around to the outside linebacker on outside zone plays. It's such a tough block that requires a long distance against a faster player. To make it easier they are pulling the guard, which confuses the linebackers, and better blocking angles.
The Bills are doing exactly that here. They are pulling the right guard to the Sam linebacker #57. The tight end is blocking straight up. The center is supposed to block the middle linebacker, but he doesn't chase the play, so he ignores him and goes to the Sam backer. The left guard has the 2i defensive tackle and cuts him. The left tackle goes to the Will linebacker. And that pesky fullback comes behind the formation to seal the edge. It's so beautiful.
Like McCoy, Mike Gillislee has great vision and the capability to break tackles. The right tackle over shoots inside and never punches the defensive end. Gillislee runs horizontally past the blown block, jump cuts around #72's block, runs through an arm tackle, and goes down a few yards later. It's not perfectly blocked, but it's blocked well enough. The Bills' backs have the ability to break tackles, outrun defenders, and do so much more with the great blocking they get.
This last play showcases the other weapon they have in their arsenal, their quarterback Taylor. Blocking wise this is the silliest thing you'll see. They have two double teams on each side of the line. Each duece is supposed to get to the weakside and middle linebacker. The center is pulling right. The two members in the backfield to the right of Taylor are decoys. He kind of shows a fake as they ran in tandem left together. This fake and those two pull the defense to the right, leaving Taylor and the back wide open spaces the other way. When Taylor gets outside he reads the linebacker to decide whether or not he's going to pitch it.
The blocking here really doesn't matter. The playfake Taylor carries and the pullers do the job for them. All the offensive line needs to do is not get blown up. With everyone going one way, Taylor runs to the left, jukes the safety by extending the ball, and cuts up field for more. Three different runners, three different instances of Bills' ball carriers getting extra yards.
Watching Buffalo's line and diagramming out their plays like a shoddy architect was the most fun I've had this year watching football. So many complain that the NFL is stagnant and coaches are just trying to get by and not get fired. That the schemes are basic and vanilla. This is true to some extent. But there is innovation strategically. You just have to know where to look for it. Buffalo has innovated and has done so many different things to craft one of the best run games in the league. If you are looking for new ways teams are moving the ball, start with the Bills.
12.)--Record: 7-4. Point Differential: +9. DVOA: 9.1% (9). Last Week: 19.
11.)--Record: 5-5. Point Differential: +41. DVOA: 20.3% (3). Last Week: 8.
10.)--Record: 8-3. Point Differential: +18. DVOA: 5.1% (14). Last Week: 12.
9.)--Record: 6-4-1. Point Differential: +16. DVOA: 8.8% (10). Last Week: 11.
8.)--Record: 6-5. Point Differential: +44. DVOA: 12.9% (6) Last Week: 9.
7.)--Record: 7-4. Point Differential: +47. DVOA: 4.9% (15) Last Week: 5.
6.)--Record: 8-3. Point Differential: +38. DVOA: 10.1% (8). Last Week: 7.
5.)--Record: 9-2. Point Differential: +32. DVOA: 12.1% (7). Last Week: 6.
4.)--Record: 7-4. Point Differential: +56. DVOA: 21.9% (1). Last Week: 4.
3.)--Record: 9-2. Point Differential: +96. DVOA: 18.3% (5). Last Week: 3.
Rob Gronkowski is one of those incredible players that you have to savor when he's healthy. During and after every game there is the constant worry that he will be out with this, that, or some other thing. Against the Seahawks his lung was punctured. And this past week it was reported that he is going to have back surgery, the third of his career, to repair a ruptured disk. He's out for the year.
The Patriots offense depends on Gronk. He's the focal point of New England's quick pass offense that devours slower linebackers and smaller slot corners in the middle of the field. On the outside the talent isn't really there, and never has been, but it works because of Gronk, Julian Edelman, and the players seeping out of the backfield.
The only good news here is that Martellus Bennett is still around and is one of the better tight ends in the league when it comes to both blocking and catching. Together both him and Gronk were supposed to reenact the 2012 Patriots who devoured the league with two tight end sets. They only got one game this year, against Cleveland, where both stuffed the box score. Regardless of the numbers, New England did a nice job using different formations and route packages to use both to open things up for the other. Now that is going to fall solely on Bennett.
Did you know that Tom Brady is worse without Gronk than with him? Yes, yes you did. But did you know how much? Bill Barnwell wrote earlier this week about Brady without him and had the following to say:
The average passer rating for the league as a whole since 2010 is 87.0. It puts Brady in a range with the likes of Kyle Orton, Michael Vick, Joe Flacco and Sam Bradford, all of whom have passer ratings between 83 and 86 over that time frame. It's true that every quarterback will look worse without his No. 1 weapon, and it's entirely possible that Brady and the Pats are better-equipped to handle Gronkowski's absence this time around with Bennett.
It's also very clear that Tom Brady is not Tom Brady without Rob Gronkowski. Remember who Brady goes to when the chips are down. As much as he trusts Julian Edelman, it was Gronkowski who Brady threw to on fourth-and-the-season twice against the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game last season, even though his tight end was double-covered on both occasions. They simply aren't the same team without him.
It's going to be difficult for New England to pull off the ultimate FU by getting the Lombardi Trophy after Tom Brady's ball deflating suspension. Overall the Patriots have been whatever this season. Their front seven is movable and they haven't been able to get a consistent pass rush. They rely on their secondary. The driver of their success has been their passing offense. They are first in DVOA this year and Brady has been incredible since becoming a free man. Again, without Gronkoswki it's going to suffer, but you already know that.
All this does is open the door further for the rest of the AFC. Despite Pittsburgh's record, they are a Superbowl contender, and will win the division because of how difficult the Ravens' schedule is. Oakland is too. If New England plays either of these teams it's going to be a shootout between Brady and Derek Carr or Ben Roethlisberger, but in those possible scenarios Brady will be missing his best weapon. Additionally, it makes thing much easier for Denver and Kansas City too. Both are teams that can only score 20 points, something that is monumental to hold New England to. Without Gronk it would be possible for Denver to, they did it last year even with Gronk healthy, and Kansas City who's 15th at covering tight ends by DVOA, and doesn't have great coverage linebackers to deal with Gronk, is helped out tremendously.
New England is still the favorite in a flawed and weak AFC. It's just going to be so much tougher for a team that depends so much on their passing offense and so much on Gronk to turn that favoritism into another title.
2.)--Record: 10-1. Point Differential: +103. DVOA: 21.5% (2). Last Week: 2. (Doesn't include TNF)
1.)--Record: 7-3-1. Point Differential: +37. DVOA: 19.2% (4). Last Week: 1.
I hope that this is the last season we ever hear talk about how bad the Seahawks' offensive line is. It doesn't matter. They have running backs that break tackles, and Russell Wilson is a Houdini who could slip out of a straight jacket while locked inside a box that is filling up with water in the middle of the Pacific. It doesn't matter because their skill players don't need great blocking to succeed. And the lack of investment in their offensive line has allowed them to keep that DVOA dynasty defense together without losing any of their key members.
This season Seattle's offensive line has given up 26 sacks and are 24th in adjusted sack rate at 6.7%. They are also 31st in pressure rate at 24.5%. A rate that is only better than Indianapolis. Despite all of this pressure, Wilson has again been incredible. He's a top five quarterback in the NFL. He's 12th in DVOA and DYAR and has thrown 11 TD to 4 interceptions even under constant defensive swarming. According to data provided from Pro Football Focus, Wilson is 5th in accuracy rate under pressure and 3rd in quarterback rating and has completed 71 of 132 passes for 1,050 yards with 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions to go along with it.
Last week against Tampa Bay he had some troubles under pressure. It happens. All teams have off games, even the great ones. That was an aberration and not the norm. In Seattle's win over the Eagles two weeks ago, against the second best pass defense in the NFL, Wilson showed time and time again that he don't need no offensive line.
In the second quarter of that game he threw one of the most ridiculous touchdowns you'll see to Jimmy Graham. Connor Barwin knocks Rees Odhiambo's, left tackle #70, punch away, and gets around the edge. Wilson doesn't hesitate. He takes off through the hole provided by Barwin's edge rush and the interior defensive lineman crashing inside. Running to the left, being right handed, chased by Jordan Hicks (#58), he flicks the ball to Jimmy Graham who's open down the sideline. Graham is so much bigger than Jaylen Watkins. He runs out of his grasp and into the endzone.
Here the Eagles blitz six instead of sticking with their typical get a pass rush with the front four only lifestyle. The offensive line picks this up pretty well despite the mass chaos. No one goes uncovered. Wilson steps up to evade the looping defensive end who gets smashed into the ground. This movement brings Brandon Graham (#55) into the picture. He jukes left past him and flips the ball to a wide open Doug Baldwin streaking across the middle of the field on a drag route. Immediately after the ball is thrown he gets blindsided from the left. Against six rushers, in a constrained pocket that resembles an emergency room, he picks up 34 yards.
Wilson isn't a running quarterback. He's run the ball only 36 times. He's a slippery master of the pocket who is always looking to throw downfield. That being said, there are times when there are no other options and he's forced to take off down field. And when he does he's really good at it.
The entire rightside of the line gets beat with outside rips. When Wilson gets out of the playfake he has two mongrels in proximity. He plants and runs up field. Again, he doesn't hesitate. That's the key with Wilson. He knows instantly what he's going to do when trouble arises. He misses one arm tackle, slips through the hole on the left and picks up seven yards.
With salary cap restrictions teams aren't going to be great at everything. They are all going to have holes. The key is to understand your talent and your players' skills. Figure out what you do well and ignore the complementary parts that go along with it. The Seahawks know what their players are good at, have kept the team together as a result of where they chose to invest, and are one of the rare teams who have been able to sustain excellence.
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