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2017 NFL Power Rankings At The Quarter Pole: Part One

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Weston ranks the NFL teams 32-17 through the first four weeks of the season.

Tennessee Titans v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

I don’t like traditional power rankings. They overreact to one HUGE win and one SAD! loss. Rarely do they take in account the entire season or even the last few weeks. To give a more accurate representation of what’s going on and where these teams stand, I will not equivocate or give into the quick tug of heartstrings the NFL season brings by default. Here’s my opinion on where these teams stand through the first four weeks of the season.

The Worst:

32.) Cleveland Browns—Record: 0-4. Point Differential: -44 (31). DVOA: -54.5.% (32).

Lately I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night. Thinking about the end to all of this one day, my age, all the things I want to do, whether or not I will ever have the time to do it, all the places I want to go, and then I go back to sleep. I don’t think of these things when I’m awake. My life is good. There are zero things to complain about. Everything is right. Still this is what seeps out of my subconsciousness.

The Browns are the exact same. They have done everything right when it comes to building a team. They have traded down in the draft to collect lotto tickets. They horde young talent. The offensive line was invested in to put the vertebrae in place to build a backbone for the offense. Hue Jackson is a great offensive designer. And yet, this team isn’t even competitive. Before coming back to make it a more respectable final score, the Browns trailed the Colts by a score of 28-7.

There are injuries. Corey Coleman needs Adamantium in his hands. Myles Garrett and Jamie Collins, Cleveland’s two best defensive players, have yet to play. There’s been poor performances from DeShone Kizer is still inaccurate, holding onto the ball for too long, not pushing the ball down field, and is averaging only 5.4 Y/A (31st). Kenny Britt spent his entire career to put himself into a position to sign his current contract and then he quit on the field. But still...Cleveland should be better. There’s talent here. Don’t be shocked if Hue Jackson’s seat starts cooking.

31.) Indianapolis Colts—Record: 1-3. Point Differential: -65 (32). DVOA: -52.1% (31).

Andrew Luck is finally throwing a football. He still isn’t going to play this week. He may play next week. He should probably stick to reading Dune and hanging out on the sideline until the team puts together an offensive line good enough to protect him. Indy’s season is over if they lose to San Francisco this week since they will be in too big of a hole in an actually decent AFC South.

Andrew, just sit on the sideline as long as you can, man. Your team still can’t pass block. They are 31st in pressure rate and 29th in adjusted sack rate. They can’t run the ball up the middle without Ryan Kelly. You won’t have to play for Chuck Pagano if you don’t come back this season. Just save your body for next year.

The positives are that Malik Hooker is spectacular. He can cover the entire center of the field. He’s going to be like Earl Thomas without the heat-seeking tackling.

Watching Jacoby Brissett these past few weeks is so much more fun than Scott Tolzien, and it’s an absolute failure by Chris Ballard for not thinking this whole quarterback thing through better. Jabaal Sheard and John Simon have also been worth the investment; they will stay and start next season.

30.) Miami Dolphins—Record: 1-2. Point Differential: -32 (28). DVOA: -41% (30).

The Dolphins were Pyrite last year. They beat a lot of bad teams in close games to make the NFL Playoffs. Back then, they lost Ryan Tannehill for the year and Matt Moore played pretty alright. This summer they lost Tannehill for the year again. Instead of sticking with Moore, who is again a decent quarterback, they brought in Jay Cutler. And you know what?

JAY CUTLA STINKS AND I HATE HIM.

The Dolphins are 29th in offensive DVOA, 28th in passing, and 29th in rushing. In their first win, they had Cutler check down and dink and dunk over and over again. It wasn’t a functioning offense. Cutler is 30th in Y/A. He’s making $10 million to be a cigarette-smoking meme.

29.) Los Angeles Chargers—Record: 0-4. Point Differential: -21 (25). DVOA: -5.9% (24).

Dismantle this franchise. Take it and put every player into free agency this offseason. Create a new franchise like the Oakland Vandals, San Antonio Gunslingers, or the Portland Beavers, I don’t care. Have an expansion draft. This team is playing 16 road games this year. They are too talented to be 0-4. It doesn’t matter what the peripheral numbers say. They keep swimming in a stew of boiled black cats and keep losing in incredibly stupid ways.

28.) Chicago Bears—Record: 1-3. Point Differential: -43 (30). DVOA: -33% (29).

The Mike Glennon decision wasn’t a completely terrible call at the time. They signed him to what is pretty much one-year contract. He had been somewhat capable in the past as a downfield thrower. If it worked out, great. If it didn’t, it gave Mitchell Trubisky some time to cultivate. It didn’t work out, and Trubisky got four weeks to learn a little bit more. Glennon’s downfall was his inaccuracy and turnovers. In Chicago’s loss to Tampa, they started off the game with three straight turnovers. The Bears fell out of two games immediately because of gross throws like this:

Trubisky is coming into a nice situation. He gets to play behind a good offensive line. He has two great running backs. The defense is decent enough to not take Chicago out of every game. It’s going to be fun to watch Trubisky play, too. He has great athleticism, downfield throwing ability, had the best arm in last year’s draft class, and he picked up the game quickly last season.

If we don’t get some Trubisky and Tarik Cohen option plays now, I’m going to die.

27.) San Francisco 49ers—Record: 0-4. Point Differential: -28 (27). DVOA: -30.5% (28).

They are 30th in offensive DVOA. Brian Hoyer is their starting quarterback.

At least the front seven has been bashing people and they can top the run. DeForest Buckner is going to be a superstar, if he isn’t already. I need to call in sick from work sometime next week to inject Buckner’s All-22 into my limbic system.

26.) New York Jets—Record: 2-2. Point Differential: -17 (T-22). DVOA: -17.8% (25).

Because of the lack of offensive talent and fun Jets jokes like, “name one player from their offense,” it was overlooked that the team has real talent on defense. For all the Christian Hackenberg and Josh McCown heckling, there is Leonard Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson, Darron Lee, Jamal Adams, and Marcus Claiborne. They are going to be 3-2 after playing the Browns, but they won’t stick around. Regardless, watching the JEts blitz the quarterback is still fun, and Williams is incredible.

25.) New York Giants- Record: 0-4. Point Differential: -35 (29). DVOA: -29.5% (27).

Wow. I still can’t believe this. Yes, there were offensive questions heading into this season. Eli Manning is old, Odell Beckham’s health to start the season, Paul Perkins being bad, the offensive line, Ben McAdoo’s new haircut, and all that jazz. But for the defense to be this awful is the most surprising part of the infantile 2017 NFL season. The exact same defense that was second in DVOA last year at -14.5% is now 28th this season at 14.5%. The Giants’ defense should play better. I don’t see the offense improving, though. They can’t sustain drives and are 25th in plays per drive with 5.6. They rank 29th in time of drive. With this offensive line, no run game, and Manning’s play, it isn’t getting better. They aren’t this bad, but they are still going to be bad.

The Mediocre:

24.) Baltimore Ravens—Record: 2-2. Point Differential: -20 (24). DVOA: 3.7% (18).

Turn that magazine horizontal and check out the Ravens’ injury report.

It’s four weeks into the season and they already have 14 players on injured reserve. Brandon Williams, their best run stopper, has a foot injury and there is no timetable for his return. I don’t think Baltimore can come back from the injuries they have sustained, especially on defense. And there’s the inevitable Terrell Suggs injury looming somewhere.

Additionally, in their two wins, they forced five turnovers in each one. Since then, they have forced one and have lost by a combined score of 16-70. Joe Flacco is last in yards per attempt again. When Flacco isn’t throwing the ball downfield, he’s useless. He has a cap hit of $24.5 million. They can cut him next season and save $4 million. This may happen. In 2019, they would save $10.9 million by cutting him. I can’t believe Ozzie Newsome extended him. That contract is Newsome’s Adalius Thomas.

23.) Arizona Cardinals—Record: 2-2. Point Differential: -17 (T-22). DVOA: -22.2% (26).

Carson Palmer is done.

The Cardinals were able to add players that shouldn’t have been left available in the 2017 NFL Draft because of the number of quarterbacks taken in the first two rounds. Instead of selecting a quarterback, they loaded up on Haason Reddick and Budda Baker. That’s the choice they made instead of having young talent sit behind Palmer.

Palmer has won some close games and has led two comebacks, but it’s not sustainable. He’s 37 years old. He’s just bad. His arm is zapped. He has issues against pressure, which is especially bad since Arizona is 25th in adjusted sack rate and 28th in pressure rate. Unlike some early season trends that smooth out over the course of the season, this isn’t one. Palmer was bad last year. He’s been bad again this year.

22.) Cincinnati Bengals—Record: 1-3. Point Differential: -3 (T-20). DVOA: 3.3% (19).

What a mess those first two games were, Andy Dalton specifically. I was incredulous watching his game against Houston. He didn’t push the ball down field. He was missing receivers. It was an absolute mess. Then the Bengals fired their offensive coordinator, and things have gotten better. So so so so much better.

Dalton in Games 1-2: 36/66 (54.5%) 394 yards, 0 TD, 4 INT, 8 sacks.

Dalton in Games 3-4: 46/57 (80.7%) 498 yards, 6 TD, 0 INT, 6 sacks.

The biggest change I’ve seen so far is the screen game. The Bengals are setting up easy throws with screens to take heat off the pass rush. That’s something that is absolutely necessary with this tackle situation and a quarterback who needs pass protection to have success. It also gives the Bengals’ athletic skill players the ball in space and allows them to run fast and break tackles. You know, the thing they get paid to do.

The defense is still pretty good. If the offense can stay pretty good, the Bengals will be pretty good and have a chance to compete for the playoffs despite starting off 0-3.

21.) Oakland Raiders—Record: 2-2. Point Differential: +12 (13). DVOA: -5.9% (23).

By default, they were higher until news broke regarding Derek Carr’s back injury. Somehow a fractured back keeps you out of football for only two to six weeks. Whatever. The Raiders have to have Carr to win.

Their defense isn’t good again. They aren’t running the ball well. Going back to his last two seasons, Marshawn Lynch has averaged 3.4 and 3.8 yards a carry. It’s very cool he’s in Oakland, but it hasn’t helped the team on the field much. Now their quarterback is E.J. Manuel.

20.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers—Record: 2-1. Point Differential: +7 (16). DVOA: 1.4% (20).

Quarterbacks—can’t live with them, can’t live without them. With Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, and Eli Manning all getting up in age, we are all trying to find out who’s going to replace them. This puts greater pressure on young quarterbacks and leads to questions regarding talent and skill when youth is the biggest reason for their erratic play.

Jameis Winston was appointed as one of the heirs to the quarterback aristocracy after last year when he was good, though Tampa Bay’s offense was bad. This season, he was whispered as a potential Offensive Player of the Year candidate with the addition of O.J. Howard and Deshaun Jackson. So far, Winston has been great. He’s among the top ten in all major statistical categories that are rate-based, all while without a real running game. This is spectacular news for those of us who turn into Tweek once they start thinking about football A.B.—After Brady.

The problem for Tampa Bay is their defense. It’s a top heavy defense missing its largest stars. Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander are both out this week. Gerald McCoy’s ankle has given him trouble and he has yet to record a sack. By DVOA, they are 3rd against the run and 27th against the pass. Any time you give up 369 yards to Case Keenum, you have to be horrified. They have the worst pass rush in the NFL so far, and the majority of their rush is coming from McCoy all on his own. Each one of their cornerbacks is covered in scabs and scabies.

Last season, the defense turned things around during their playoff flirtation because of forced turnovers. They forced 14 during their five-game game win streak and 17 in their last six wins of the 2016 season. So far this season they have forced four against Mike Glennon and haven’t done it again. I’m not expected for much to change. They are going to be similar to Oakland last year—a great pass offense that wins close games and needs their defense to force turnovers.

19.) Jacksonville Jaguars—Record: 2-2. Point Differential: +35 (3). DVOA: 14.8% (8).

The Jaguars’ plan to win games this season has kind of worked. They have a top five defense as long as they aren’t giving up 70 yard runs to the Jets. Calias Campbell and Malik Jackson are one of the better interior pass rushing duos. Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye are the best cornerback duo in the NFL. They are first in pass defense DVOA.

The offense has been a mixed bag. It’s been a lot of Leonard Fournette runs where he’s a barbarian tossing a club around to pick up even modest gains. Blake Bortles is still ripping off his chinstrap angrily because he doesn’t have the accuracy to keep drives going, but at least he’s fulfilling his goal. He said their drives have to end in kicks, and they do. He’s thrown only three interceptions so far. Not bad for him. It does seem like if they had a better offensive line this whole thing would have worked out better. Maybe next year.

It has to be heartbreaking to love this team and have them blow a chance to improve to 3-1 last week against the Jets. It was beautiful how many chances Jacksonville blew to lose that one.

18.) New Orleans Saints—Record: 2-2. Point Differential: +15 (T-11). DVOA: 13.4% (9).

I don’t know what to think about this team at all. I need more time. The offense is great as usual. The defense gave up 65 points in their first two games and only 13 in the last two. Like every Saints season, if the defense isn’t the worst in the league, they can win ten games. Until enough time passes, there’s no real way to tell if they had two great games against offenses still finding themselves and a bad Miami one that did find its true form in London.

17.) Dallas Cowboys—Record: 2-2. Point Differential: -3 (T-20). DVOA: -0.2% (21).

Spike TV needs to produce a show that has Rod Marinelli turning people with some athletic ability into pass rushers. Every season he takes a group of seven guys, most of whom you have no idea who they are, and generates a decent rush. All of his players are aggressive, can execute stunts well, and play with great technique. This year he has done the same, though he has a premier pass rusher in Demarcus Lawrence. The 25 year old is leading the NFL with 7.5 sacks and 18 pressures. Like Buckner, Lawrence is becoming a star in this league.

Dallas should be ranked higher. But just based on the numbers, they are the most mediocre of the bunch. They have issues stopping the run. They have brain drain in the secondary. Their offensive line hasn’t been as good as it’s been in the past. Ezekiel Elliott seemed off after playing football when he wasn’t expecting to. Dak Prescott hasn’t been as accurate. Everything should end up working out in the end if this offense plays at the level it should.

Check back tomorrow for the teams ranked 16-1.