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2018 NFL Power Rankings: Halfway Home

Matt Weston ranks the NFL teams 32-1 now that each team has played eight games.

Los Angeles Rams v New Orleans Saints Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Traditional power rankings suck, dude. 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 weekly yank of heartstrings the NFL season brings by default.

Instead, here’s where all 32 teams rank when taking account their first eight games of the season along with an award to hand out for each team.

Why Bother?

32.) Buffalo Bills—Record: 2-7. Point Differential: -145 (32). DVOA: -41.6% (32). Previously 32nd.

Worst Quarterback: Nathan Peterman

We know bad quarterback play around here, we were molded by it, ruined by it, our football watching lives were wasted by it. And of all the putrescent fecal slinging, horrifying pocket leaking, inopportune sack taking, spine yanking hold it out in front of you and eat it like grapes fatality interception throwing, one man stands above it all, and that man is Nathan Peterman, the most vile of history’s quarterbacks. This season he has a DYAR of -448, -98.5% DVOA, and a QBR of 8.3.

People say things like I could make that throw or score right there when watching a professional football game. They are always wrong, YET, I do think my QBR would be somewhere around 8.3 in my second year in the league, after two years in a NFL offseason program, and time to watch and learn. Peterman has been as invaluable as the worst quarterback in football by ‘advanced stats’ in half as many throws. That quarterback is Josh Allen of course, but Allen is a rock star with a monster arm and pedigree who’s still a baby. Putrescent Peterman is just noxious. Like previous Bills teams, they’re wasting a great defense with the worst offense in football. Bless up.

31.) Oakland Raiders—Record: 1-7. Point Differential: -111 (31). DVOA: -29.3% (30). Previously 29th.

Premature Rebuild:

The Raiders’ roster is 53 crusty and bubbling corpses with eyes dangling out of orbital bones that puffy rats scurry in and out of like elementary recess. This season is a disaster even if your reference entering this season was that it would be a disaster. It’s been unimaginable. Oakland is 1-7 and has a point differential of -111. Their one win was an overtime win over the Browns that Cleveland was jobbed out of. They lost 34-3 to the 49ers with an unknown late round rookie quarterback making his first start on national television. It really doesn’t get worse than this.

John Gruden is purposeful. He wants to rebuild and gut the entire team and build it in his image. He hog tied general manager Reggie McKenzie and is storing him in a vacated Chuck-E-Cheese diaper pit. With him absent, Gruden signed old terrible players who primes were back in 2008, traded Khalil Mack, the exact type of player everyone wants to build a defense around, who’s talent won’t be matched with two first round selections, made a shrewd trade by getting a first for Amari Cooper, is turning Derek Carr into a checkdown west coast vagabond, and has let the best part of the team, the offensive line, get gutted by Tom Cable. They’re 100% going to move on from Carr after this season and trade him to like New York (G).

Sometimes teams don’t rebuild when they should and hang on for hopes of a future that never happens. Stuck in mediocrity. Never doing much of anything. Replacing average players for more expensive average ones. Looking back on another six to seven win season. See Miami every year. Yet, this type of rebuild wasn’t needed from Oakland. They had talent, an offense that made sense, a young backyard football tossing quarterback who can hang forever behind a great offensive line, a top three defender in Mack, and some go up and get it weapons. Usually this is a seven win team, and with some luck, they can win ten games. Instead, it’s all on fire, they will rebuild, I just wouldn’t trust the man doing it.

30.) Cleveland Browns—Record: 2-6-1. Point Differential: -57 (29). DVOA: -22.1.% (28). Previously 23rd.

New Miserable Experiences:

The Browns shouldn’t have gone 0-16 last year. Hue Jackson should be in jail for what happened last season, but rather than fire him after week six last year like they should have, they kept him around, and made him the first coach fired this year. I refused to watch Cleveland while Jackson was there, and I wish I just kept the streak going once Gregg Williams came in. The entire offense was swing routes and checkdowns. They big blitzed the best screen passing team in football and couldn’t even get a pass rush. It’s another horrific season.

Also, I can’t stand their jerseys. This post-modern twist on Cleveland is ghastly dookie. Loud oranges, big block letters, pizzazzing what should be plain. They’re picking the corn out of a turd and replacing it with sequins. Go back to the basics. Make everything brown or white and give them an orange helmet. Put ‘Browns’ across the chest. Wear orange socks. That’s it. Remove the rest.

I don’t know if I can stomach another one of these games.

29.) New York Giants—Record: 1-7. Point Differential: -55 (28). DVOA: -13.1.% (25). Previously 28th.

Retire Man: Eli Manning

The Giants are healthy on offense, have Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham Jr, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram, and are scoring 18.8 points a game. Scrumpled face, delaying the inevitable. Nate Solder wasn’t worth the contract he received.

28) Arizona Cardinals—Record: 2-6. Point Differential: -89 (30). DVOA: -32.6% (31). Previously 30th.

Burn The Witch: Mike McCoy

Hell yes. It finally happened. McCoy was released back into the sewer for what will hopefully be the last time. AND stay down there. The Cardinals offense was a short throwing, inside running, waste of time offense that refused to give David Johnson the ball enough or even try to get him space. He had only 20 catches in seven games with McCoy around.

The team put a plastic bag over his head and named Byron Leftwich the offensive coordinator. Yep, my former NFL 2K5 quarterback is now an offensive coordinator. And in one game, against a horrendous San Francisco defense, the offense was much better. They threw the ball downfield. Larry Fitzgerald was back in the slot. Johnson had 4 catches on 4 targets for 41 yards. Josh Rosen had the best game of his career, and threw a game winning touchdown pass. With a top ten defense, my favorite of all the rookie first round quarterbacks, and an offense that looks to make sense again, the Cardinals are the best bad team to watch.

27.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers—Record: 3-5. Point Differential: -46 (27). DVOA: -20.7% (27). Previously 26th.

Worst Defense:

The Bucs’ defense everyone: 30th in turnovers created, 32nd in pass touchdowns allowed, 30th in pass yards allowed, 32nd in interceptions, 30th in net yards an attempt, 30th in rush touchdowns allowed, 32nd in points allowed, 32nd in defensive DVOA, 31st in pass defense DVOA, and 31st in pressure rate.

26.) San Francisco 49ers—Record: 2-7. Point Differential: -32 (24). DVOA: -18.7.% (26). Previously 31th.

Pointless Season:

Since Jimmy Garoppolo lost his knee running out of bounds this team has been pointless to watch. They went from being an intriguing mediocre team, to an abhorrent team with speckles of glitter. The jerseys are beautiful. If you love the outside zone, boot legs, play action, competent screens and shovel passes, a multi-level passing offense, and transcendent Deforest Buckner rushes, there’s enjoyment to be found here. Yet, when it comes to postseason thoughts, there hasn’t been a reason to watch this team since that tragic day.

25.) Miami Dolphins—Record: 3-5. Point Differential: -38 (26). DVOA: 4.7% (14). Previously 24th.

Funniest Subplot: Is Ryan Tannehill A Franchise Quarterback?

Batter up. It never ends. The Dolphins have Ryan Tannehill signed until 2020. Next year he has a cap number of $26 million, the year after his cap number is $25 million. When you pay a quarterback that much you’re paying him to be able to steer the offense and team on his own, and lift up the players around him. Aside from some nice downfield throws and the occasional white man athleticism, there hasn’t been anything that says he does this. The Dolphins can save $13 million if they were to cut him. There’s no way they’re going to. He makes just enough plays, the Dolphins win just enough games, and he’s just intriguing enough. He’s expected to be back week 12 against the Colts and get ready for more of the same. The Dolphins will never move on. Tannehill is going to be 37 years old and the Dolphins will still be stroking their goatee hairs thinking of his potential.

Medium In The Middle:

24.) Detroit Lions—Record: 3-5. Point Differential: -30 (23). DVOA: -23.4% (29). Previously 20th.

Joe Flacco Bad Contract: Matthew Stafford

Since his Superbowl win, Joe Flacco has been the least valuable player in football aside from his 2014 season with Gary Kubiak. Paid a ton to be abhorrent. He’ll probably be released next year. We need to find a new disastrous quarterback contract to laud. Matthew Stafford’s is looking to be exactly that. Stafford has a cap hit of $29.5 million this year and $31.5 million next year. The same things said about Tannehill stand here. When you pay a quarterback this much he needs to lift up the rest of his team. Stafford hasn’t done that. All he’s doing in Jam-Job Scooter’s offense is throwing short a lot. He’s 21st in yards per attempt, 18th in DYAR and 19th in DVOA. He’s been good when throwing it downfield. He’s completed 48.7% of his attempts for 565 yards and 4 touchdowns to 2 interceptions, but he’s attempted only 39 passes (24th). With the receivers he has, and the awful defense playing behind him, this is a fireable offense. Stafford isn’t elevating the team, and able to overcompensate for the defense. Instead, he’s just being paid $30 million to be mediocre.

23.) New York Jets—Record: 3-6. Point Differential: -15 (21). DVOA: -11.3% (23). Previously 21st.

Uh-Oh: Sam Darnold

In his two starting seasons at USC Darnold threw 22 interceptions, which comes out to an interception rate of 2.6%. Not too too bad, but high considering the opponents and the nature of a 20 year old football game. In his rookie season Darnold has an interception rate of 4.8%, behind only Jameis Winston, who has an interception rate of 6.8%!. Darnold has thrown 11 interceptions to 14 touchdowns and has been sacked 21 times. Rookie years should be given a pass, yet, this is still concerning, for a previous weird habit to become a coping mechanism in adulthood.

These aren’t even long tosses intercepted thanks to great plays by the defensive back, or bad luck bounces off hands, these are outrageously bad decisions. Darnold has X-Ray vision.

It’s also just been a sad year for rookie quarterbacks in general. Five were taken in the first round. The four that have started a number of games are all in the bottom of the league in DVOA and DYAR. Lamar Jackson maybe our only hope if he makes his first start this weekend.

22.) Dallas Cowboys—Record: 3-5. Point Differential: +3 (13). DVOA: -11.3% (24). Previously 19th.

Greatest Expectations:

I didn’t understand the postseason hype for the Cowboys. They looked like a mediocre football team, and this year that’s all they’ve been. Sure, it’s been surprising the defense has been as good as its been, the offensive line has been as bad as its been, and Dak Prescott has turned it over too often to game manage, but overall, it all all culminated to the same level of performance. Pretty ok. And if they won enough close close games or had a ridiculous turnover differential, and the division was putrid, they could turn it into a playoff spot. This didn’t happen. They are 2-3 in one score games and have a turnover differential of -2. The problem is that every year is Superbowl or bust for a team whose aspirations shouldn’t be that high. Yet because of Jerry Jones, the 1990s, and not my Amercia’s team, we all are stuck playing along.

21.) Tennessee Titans—Record: 4-4. Point Differential: -7 (17). DVOA: -9.9% (22). Previously 18th.

Most Banal:

The Titans’ offense with Mike Mularkey: 2016 they scored 23.8 points a game (14th) and had a DVOA of 10.8% (9th), 2017 they scored 20.9 points a game (19th) and had a DVOA of -2.2% (18th). This year with Matt LaFleur they have scored 16.8 games (29th) and have a DVOA of -11.8% (26th). Everyone owes him an apology.

Anyways, the problem with the Titans is they don’t do anything well. They are mediocre to bad at everything. The best part of their games is seeing Mike Vrabel stand on the sideline. I would do anything for that man.

20.) Indianapolis Colts—Record: 3-5. Point Differential: +18 (11). DVOA: 3.4% (15). Previously 27th.

Feel Good Hit Of The Summer:

I don’t think Andrew Luck will ever be the in your face downfield throwing, hit taking, pocket climbing monster he was before. That’s ok. Despite being 32nd in yards per attempt at 6.4, Luck is picking his shots. He’s attempted 52 downfield throws, has completed 56.2% of them for 584 yards and 5 touchdowns to 1 interception. The pocket presence is still there, and the touch is still there.

The biggest aspect of Luck’s 2018 season is he isn’t being hit and pressured like years prior. His sack rate of 2.8% is the lowest in the league. The Colts are 9th in pressure rate. His offensive line composed of La’Raven Clark, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Matt Slauson, and Braden Smith is the best he’s had in his career, and it’s also super young. They’re running the ball well too.

Take all of this, add a defense with integral pieces like Malik Hooker, Jabaal Sheard, Kenny Moore, Darius Leonard, and Anthony Walker, with zero important impending free agents and $125 million in cap space, and you have a Colts team that can flip from interesting to contending in a year. In a disparaging AFC South season we needed some good news.

19.) Jacksonville Jaguars—Record: 3-5. Point Differential: -36 (25). DVOA: -3.5% (18). Previously 6th.

Sicario 2 Most Disappointing Team:

There wasn’t a movie I hated this more this year than Sicario 2. It started to bubble after a kidnapping, but never actually boiled over. Benicio Del Toro v. the sandal cowboy Josh Brolin never really happened, and instead the movie turned into The Last of Us and focused on a character that nobody would ever care about, all while sticking to the same formula as the previous movie without meaning anything at all.

There hasn’t been a team as disappointing to watch as Jacksonville. They’ve dealt with a ton of injuries on offense. Marqise Lee never got to run crossing routes. Cam Robinson has been out for the majority of the season and they’re on their third left tackle. Leonard Fournette hasn’t been around to carry the offense when Blake Bortles is bad. The receivers have dropped passes. They never get out to a lead. All the blame has gone to Blake, while the offense is the same and he’s only played slightly worse than he did last year.

Defensively, they’ve fallen from 1st in DVOA at -16.2% to 6th at -8.9%. The run defense has improved substantially, but the pass defense has dropped from all-time great at -27.6% to a very good -3.7% (7th). What carried them last year is no longer diabolical. The interior rushing has been nonexistent. A.J. Bouye hasn’t been as good and is hampered by a calf injury, Jalen Ramsey hasn’t been as good either, Taven Bryan hasn’t done anything, and Barry Church is on his way out.

After the New England game I was expecting the Super Bowl I predicted this summer to become reality. Instead, it looks like the Jags will miss the playoffs entirely.

18.) Denver Broncos—Record: 3-6. Point Differential: -8 (18). DVOA: 12.8% (8). Previously 22nd.

Next Coach Fired: Vance Joseph

The Broncos have the best pass defense and one of the best run offenses in football. Yet, they are 3-6 and have won 1.3 less games than expected. Being incredible at two things is usually enough to push for a playoff spot. Instead the Broncos are underachieving and their free agent starting quarterback has regressed to his mean sack and interception rates. Let’s do the easy thing and blame it all on Joseph. He constantly looks overmatched on the sideline. He kicked a 62 yard field goal when Houston had two timeouts left at the end of the half, and settled for a 50 yard field goal with a timeout and additional time left. GTFO. We’re past these terrible decisions. Let’s get someone new in here.

17.) Washington Redskins—Record: 5-3. Point Differential: -12 (T19). DVOA: -5.9% (21). Previously 16th.

R.I.P.: Washington’s Postseason

Washington recently placed Paul Richardson, their best deep threat who’s paired with a quarterback who has enough struggles taking shots downfield, Shawn Lauvao, and Brandon Scherff on injured reserve. Trent Williams and Morgan Moses may miss extended periods of time. Chris Thompson is out this week. The Redskins were winning games because they have a great pass defense, offensive line, and Alex Smith, when he actually throws the ball downfield. But with the injuries around the offense, it’s going to get hand drawn circles ugly. You can’t win because of Alex Smith, but you can win a lot of games with him. There isn’t enough here now to carry it forward together.

Playoffs?

16.) Green Bay Packers—Record: 3-4-1. Point Differential: -12 (T-19). DVOA: 5.2% (13). Previously 14th.

Underrated Unit: Packers’ Interior Rush

Aaron Rodgers this. Aaron Rodgers that. Yes, he’s incredible, making peg leg throws on the run and quick flicking 30 yard perfect fade passes. It’s all that’s talked about when it comes to Green Bay though. There’s more here. They have the most underrated interior pass rush in football that’s second only to Los Angeles (R), because you know, Aaron Donald. Kenny Clark has 11.5 pressures, 7 quarterback hits, 4 sacks, and 5 tackles for a loss. Mike Daniels has 22 pressures, 4 quarterback hits, 2 sacks, and 1 tackle for a loss. Blake Martinez at the inside linebacker position has 7.5 pressures, 5 quarterback hits, 4 sacks, and 8 tackles for a loss. Don’t just watch Rodgers. There’s more here.

15.) Philadelphia Eagles—Record: 4-4. Point Differential: +22 (10). DVOA: -4.8% (20). Previously 13th.

Still Hungover:

They haven’t played much better since they were under performing to start the year. Still, nauseous, headache riddled, dry mouthed and hungover. Nobody is talking much about them. Yet, talent usually wins out. They still have one of the best defensive lines in football. Carson Wentz is a touchdown machine, and every NFL scout’s wet dream. It’s expected for them to win the division, and bow out early on.

14.) Baltimore Ravens—Record: 4-5. Point Differential: +53 (6). DVOA: 10.9% (10). Previously 10th.

Cringe Watching: Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson

The Ravens have gone from a Superbowl? team to a black and purple bummer. They’ve lost three in a row to New Orleans, Carolina, and Pittsburgh, and during this time, Joe Flacco has been terrible. He’s over throwing receivers downfield and turning the ball over once again.

If this was NBA Twitter we’d be talking about petty wars and Flacco would be subtweeting Lamar Jackson after every win. The Ravens’ offense has gotten better when Jackson comes in. He’s no longer a record scratch. The power plays are working. They’re actually using him as a thrower sometimes. All the while Flacco stands, hands on his hips, more apoplectic than Jay CULTA, steaming through the television screen. And last week, rather than throw it to a wiiiide open Jackson, Flacco instead threw it out of the endzone to a double covered John Brown. I wish these two could just get along.

The real FUN is going to be if Jackson does start this weekend since Flacco has an ailing hip, and Jackson lights it up. We could see Jackson taking over from here on out, instead of next year once the Ravens absolve themselves of Flacco’s contract and eat the dead for a year.

The Ravens skid is mostly due to schedule. They’ll be competing with the Bengals from here on out for the Wildcard #2. They have the 16th toughest schedule, but have games against Oakland, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Cleveland. The Bengals have the 15th toughest schedule, and get Oakland once and Cleveland twice. Ravens-Bengals week 11 may decide a playoff spot.

13.) Seattle Seahawks—Record: 4-4. Point Differential: +32 (T-8). DVOA: 11.4% (9). Previously 15th.

Succession Plan: Seattle’s Defense

The Seahawks had the dominant defense of the 2010s. Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Bobby Wagner, Bruce Irvin, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas composed one of the best pass defenses in the history of football. With Thomas’s injury this year, and his expected departure next year, only Bobby Wagner is left. The past is bridged to the present. The Seahawks are fifth in DVOA, fifth against the pass and fifteenth against the run. What was once is now Jarran Reed, Frank Clark, Shaquil Griffin, Quinton Jefferson, and Bradley McDougald.

12.) Cincinnati Bengals—Record: 5-3. Point Differential: -16 (22). DVOA: 1.3% (17). Previously 7th.

Stats Are For Losers:

Past weeks against some of the best passing offenses in football have ruined the Bengals numbers this year. Playing Kansas City does that. I do think they’re better than the numbers indicate. It’s going to be hilarious when it’s realized that yet again, Marvin Lewis was brought back for another first round playoff exit.

11.) Atlanta Falcons—Record: 4-4. Point Differential: +2 (16). DVOA: -4.0% (19). Previously 25th.

Here They Come: Atlanta’s Offense

Matt Ryan should be given your MVP consideration. He has completed 70.82% of his passes for 2,685 yards, thrown 19 touchdowns to 3 interceptions, is averaging 8.9 yards an attempt, and has been sacked 22 times. The Falcons lost Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco for the season. And the Falcons have gone from 1-4 to 4-4 thanks to their change in one possesion record from 1-3 to 3-3. The next two weeks they get Cleveland and Dallas, then the schedule gets brutal. Deon Jones is coming back too. Their defense has played better in the second half than the first half since Dan Quinn has taken over. No matter what happens, the offense is here for Atlanta to be the resurrection who stampedes into the post season.

10.) Minnesota Vikings—Record: 5-3-1. Point Differential: +17 (12). DVOA: 2.0% (16). Previously 12th.

Midseason Acquisition: Dalvin Cook

There are plenty of players suiting back midseason: Le’Veon Bell, Deon Jones, Leonard Fournette, Joey Bosa, Josh Gordon is getting in shape, Justin Houston is back this week, and D’Onta Foreman are all getting closer or are already back.

Yet, the most important one of them all is Dalvin Cook. The Vikings had the worst rush offense in football to start this year, and Kirk Cousins was leading the league in passing attempts. Lately, they’ve run blocked better, and Latavius Murray is back to looking like a shoddier upright running Adrian Peterson. Cook averaged 2.72 yards a carry in weeks 1-4, and didn’t play again until week nine. Last week he averaged 8.9 yards a carry, 89 yards on 10 carries, 70 of which came on one run.

Cook adds a layer of athleticism that Murray doesn’t have. The rushing attack allows Cousins to be more complimentary instead of the sun and the moon and the sky. For the Vikings to plop into the NFC upper class they’re going to need Cook to be what he was last season, since the defense is no longer one of the three best in the league, and as good as Cousins has been, he can’t brunt full responsibility.

9.) Houston Texans—Record: 6-3. Point Differential: +32 (T-8). DVOA: 7.3% (12). Previously 17th.

Perfect Schedule: Houston Playing Run First Teams

Why did Houston go from 0-3 to 6-3? Sit down. Let me tell you all about it. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney finally got a pass rush going. Deshaun Watson stopped turning the ball over. Little scheme changes that should have been made after week two were made, more play action, using Watson as a runner until cracked ribs stopped him from being used as one, boot legs, downfield passes until last week when only three were attempted, chipping and helping the tackles, blocking the second level. Watson stopped turning the ball over. They saw their one possession record flip from 0-3 to 4-3. And the schedule broke perfectly for them.

During their six game run Houston played Indianapolis (18th pass offense DVOA), Buffalo (32nd), Dallas (28th), Jacksonville (27th), Miami (19th), and Denver (24th). Aside from T.Y. Hilton crushing Johnathan Joseph for a quarter and Andrew Luck scoring 34 with some scrubs, none of these teams were/are able to spread a defense out and win with their passing attack. Houston has played teams that ignore their defensive weakness. Instead the best run defense in football shut teams down, and their offense does just enough. Aside from another game against Indy, and one against Philadelphia, the schedule is going to continue to play out like this.

The concern will come in the postseason. Unless 4-5 Baltimore gets in and they’re matched against the Ravens, every other AFC team has a plus passing attack that can spread Houston out. And then, at that point, they’ll need their offense to do more than scrape past 20 points.

The Contenders:

8.) Chicago Bears—Record: 5-3. Point Differential: +82 (3). DVOA: 22.1% (4). Previously 5th.

Favorite Statistical Quirk: Mitchell Trubisky Box Scores

I’ve heard once before that when Tim Kurkjan was a boy he would cut out every box score and paste it in a binder. Very cute. I’m doing a similar thing. On Sunday Night, once all the games have been completed, before the condensed games get put on, I check out the Bears’ box scores and see what Mitchell Trubisky is up to. Last week the Bears scored 41 points against Buffalo. Trubisky completed 12 of 20 passes for 135 yards, 1 touchdown to 1 interception, and ran it once for 6 yards. I mean look at this stuff. It’s like staring at the sun.

I still don’t know if the Bears should be here. They’ve dominated teams, but haven’t beat anyone. Their wins are against Seattle, Arizona, Tampa Bay, New York (J), and Buffalo. Gross. They get another shot on Sunday Night Football next week against Minnesota.

7.) Carolina Panthers—Record: 6-3. Point Differential: +9 (13). DVOA: 23.8.% (3). Previously 8th.

Favorite Play: Carolina Reverses

Norv Turner, bless his soul. He’s taken what’s worked for Carolina previously and bumped it up a level. They have the most creative rushing attack and screen game in football. My favorite play all season long has been the reverse they’ve run. Reverses, they never work. Unless the Panthers are utilizing them.

6.) Pittsburgh Steelers—Record: 6-2-1. Point Differential: +70 (4). DVOA: 9.8% (11). Previously 11th.

The Ghost That Looms: Losing To New England

Le’Veon Bell can show up it doesn’t matter. They’re going to play New England in the Divisional Round and they’re going to lose. At least this year, the Patriots won’t get to play Tennessee or Houston or whatever floatsam finds its way into the second round, and will have to get an AFC title type of opponent early on.

5.) Los Angeles Chargers—Record: 6-2. Point Differential: +40 (7). DVOA: 20.8% (5). Previously 9th.

Regression To The Mean: Chargers Luck

The Chargers have been super talented for a few years. Kickers. Phillip Rivers interceptions. Heartbreak. All of it have held them back. But this year, not even the kickers can keep them down. Despite making 72.7% of their extra points, and 75% of their field goals, down from 88.1% and up from 66.7% last year, the Chargers are 3-0 in one score games. They have a turnover differential of +6. Rivers is going for it. The sidearm softballer has a touchdown to interception ratio of 19:3, and at the age of 37, is having one of the best years of his career. Look at these things:

Long live Phillip Rivers.

4.) New England Patriots—Record: 7-2. Point Differential: +68 (5). DVOA: 16.5% (6). Previously 4th.

The Passing Of Time: New England winning football games.

Unlike previous years, the Patriots are winning games, and nobody is really talking about it. Everyone is talking about the Chiefs, Saints, Rams, and I hate it. I can already see their stupid parade and I can already hear Kyle Van Noy hollering nobody believes in us. They’re going to win the AFC again this year. And I already hate it.

3.) Kansas City Chiefs—Record: 8-1. Point Differential: +101 (1). DVOA: 43.8% (1). Previously 2nd.

Master Plan: Avoiding The First Round

You can’t lose in the first round of the playoffs if you don’t play in the first round of the playoffs.

2.) Los Angeles Rams—Record: 8-1. Point Differential: +99 (2). DVOA: 30.1% (2). Previously 1st.

M.V.P.: Todd Gurley

There are too many great quarterbacks this year. it doesn’t mean as much. Everyone can throw the ball well. Sure, the Chiefs have an all-time great passing offense, but is the difference between Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers, Jared Goff, and Matt Ryan that dramatic? I don’t think so.

Gurley was my M.V.P. pick last year and he is once again this year. The Rams’ offense is second to only Kansas City. Gurley leads the league in yards from scrimmage with 1,230, has 16 touchdowns and may get 30 this year, is averaging 5.6 yards a touch, has 362 receiving yards, leads the NFL in rushing yards with 868, and has 90 more DYAR than second place Alvin Kamara. He’s what makes the Rams’ offense go, allowing them to have four receivers on every play as they stay in their 11 personnel forever, making each one of their plays look like seven other plays, and creating anarchy across the field for the defense, which creates easier throws for Jared Goff. And in their only loss this season, Gurley was held to 68 yards rushing on 13 carries.

I’m tired of the M.V.P. award just going to a quarterback every year. If Gurley doesn’t win it this year, let’s just make a second award for most valuable non-quarterback.

1.) New Orleans Saints—Record: 7-1. Point Differential: +61 (6). DVOA: 13.8% (7). Previously 3rd.

Game Of The Year: Saints v. Rams

I still think the Rams are the best team in football, but the Saints are the worst matchup for them. So as the team that can beat the best team in football, the Saints get the nudge for #1 overall.

Last week Aaron Donald had four quarterback hits, Ndamukong Suh had zero, and no one picked up a sack. The Rams couldn’t generate any pressure against New Orleans. The best pass blocking offensive line by pressure rate dominated the best pass rushing defense by pressure rate. The Saints also have a great run defense, but a terrible pass defense. Gurley is the heart of the Rams’ offense, and New Orleans was able to keep him to his worst game this year. Limiting him to just 79 yards from scrimmage. Playing behind, forced to throw the ball, the pass defense was just good enough. Additionally, Michael Thomas is a subtle double move making wide receiver, and is an awful match up for Marcus Peters.

The Saints can do everything, but stop the pass. Against the Rams, their run defense, pass offense, and interior pass protection, it the poisonous stew that can beat the Rams. Against any other team I’d pick Los Angeles (R), except for against the Saints.