The Not So Scientific Power Rankings

A few years ago, when the likes of Brian Burke, Pro Football Reference and Pro Football Focus (I’ll refer to the latter as PFF from here on) were putting together team rankings, I noticed that each site tended to differ on where they ranked teams and what their systems examined.

I noticed that Burke would sometimes rank a team in the top 10 that Pro Football Reference Simple Ranking System put further down the ranks. So I decided to take the rankings that each site did, using Burke’s breakdowns of offense and defense, the same for SRS, and throwing in PFF’s power rankings. I did that to see if it could give a clearer picture of where teams measured up and account for what some might call anomalies in a site’s rankings.

I decided to bring that back and will attempt to do this each week. However, Burke has gone to work for ESPN and I haven’t seen rankings from him. So I looked at four different rankings, each one using different criteria. The four candidates:

* Pro Football Focus’ power rankings, given PFF’s reputation for how well it usually analyzes players and teams.
* Pro Football Reference’s Simple Ranking System, which uses a mathematical formula to determine were teams really measure up.
* Football Outsiders’ rankings, which consider multiple criteria to determine rankings.
* Andrew Mason’s power rankings, not just because he covers the Broncos, but because he has a mathematical formula that looks at each area of the game.

I took the rankings from each and averaged the numbers together to come up with what I call the Not So Scientific Power Rankings. It’s merely an exercise to see if we can sort out anomalies each ranking system out there might have. I won’t go beyond the four, unless Burke revives his team rankings (last I checked, he hasn’t).

But here is how I have teams ranked. The numbers beside each team represent, in order, the PFF ranking, the SRS ranking, Mason’s ranking, the Outsiders ranking and the average of the four.

1. New England 2 1 3 1 – 1.75

The Patriots should be a top three team in anyone’s book and the four rankings I’ve chosen show that. The Pats are the early favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

2. Atlanta 5 2 2 5 – 3.5

I think Atlanta qualifies as a top five team, no matter what you look at. The four rankings show that, but averaging them together shows you have a team that looks like a good bet to reach the Super Bowl.

3. Green Bay 1 11 1 3 – 4

You will notice that the SRS numbers puts the Packers out of the top 10, which I imagine makes no sense to most of you. This is why averaging the numbers puts the Packers into better perspective — they are a top five team.

4. Arizona 6 4 6 2 – 4.5

The loss to St. Louis pulls the Cardinals down a bit, but not enough to keep them out of top-five team discussion.

5. Cincinnati 4 7 5 4 – 5

The SRS ranking is the only ranking that doesn’t put the Bengals in the top five. It remains to be seen if the Bengals can get over the playoff hump, but so far, they look very good.

6. Denver 3 12 4 7 – 6.5

It’s the SRS ranking that pulls the Broncos down, and it’s the only one not putting the Broncos in the top 10. I think it’s fair to say the Broncos are not top five because of the offense, but improvement over time could change that.

7. Pittsburgh 13 6 8 6 – 8.25

PFF’s power rankings don’t have the Steelers in the top 10 while the others do. I would imagine that’s in part because the Steelers aren’t quite the same on offense with Ben Roethlisberger out. When he returns, though, the Steelers could be dangerous.

8. New York Jets 11 8 9 9 – 9.25

I don’t think anyone thought the Jets had a chance of challenging for a wild card spot, but that’s exactly where they are at. Additionally, what might have been thought as an easy win for the Patriots in divisional play doesn’t look like that as much.

9. New York Giants 12 3 12 11 – 9.5

Here, SRS goes the opposite route, putting the Giants in the top three when everyone else has them outside the top 10. Regardless, the Giants are the early favorite to win the NFC East, simply because they are keeping most of their starters healthy and cutting down mistakes.

10. Carolina 9 17 7 10 – 10.75

Again, it’s SRS dragging a team down, though not enough to put the Panthers outside the top 10. Like the Broncos, the Panthers have a quality defense but the offense needs improvement. The question is whether the Panthers can find playmakers to take pressure off Cam Newton.

11. Buffalo 18 5 13 8 – 11

The rankings are all over the place here. The main issue for the Bills has been costly mistakes. They remain a threat for a wild card spot, though, and opponents can’t take them lightly.

12. Seattle 7 16 10 12 – 11.25

Another team in which rankings vary greatly. A lot of it has to do with the absence of Kam Chancellor for the first two weeks and an offense that hasn’t gotten into sync.

13. St. Louis 16 14 11 13 – 13.5

There’s more consistency with the rankings here. I think the Rams are about where they should be: A team that has a shot at a wild card berth, but even if that doesn’t happen, the Rams can play spoiler.

14. Dallas 17 10 16 19 – 15.5

It’s likely the Cowboys would be higher were it not for injuries. When Tony Romo and Dez Bryant return to the linuep, we’ll see if it’s enough to get them into the playoffs.

15. Philadelphia 19 9 20 17 – 16.25

The Eagles have done some good things, but not consistently. That’s what makes for a middle-of-the-road team. I wonder if the Eagles draw enough losses to miss the playoffs, but enough wins that it saves Chip Kelly’s job.

16. Minnesota 14 18 15 20 – 16.75

Not everything is in place yet for the Vikings to make the playoffs, but they are getting there. Like the Rams, they could play the spoiler role.

17. Oakland 15 23 14 16 – 17

The Raiders are indeed a better team than they were last year. As with the Vikings, they aren’t a playoff contender yet, but they will spoil playoff hopes for at least a couple of teams.

18. Baltimore 22 15 17 14 – 17

Mathematically, the Ravens aren’t out of the playoff hunt, but a lot of things need to fall into place for that to happen. Improvement on offense is one of the biggest things.

19. Washington 24 13 19 18 – 18.5

Though not as bad as I had excepted Washington to be, this still isn’t a good team. I wouldn’t count on Washington winning the NFC East.

20. Tennessee 21 21 18 15 – 18.75

This will raise eyebrows for those who follow the AFC South that the Titans are ranked higher than the Colts. But the Titans have closed the gap between the teams, in part because of Tennessee’s improvement and in part because of Indy’s regression. Don’t sleep on the Titans.

21. Kansas City 8 19 22 27 – 19

Pro Football Focus differs from the rest of the rankers I’ve looked at. PFF likely considers the Chiefs’ early strong schedule a factor and expects them to bounce back. Time will tell if that happens.

22. Indianapolis 10 22 25 21 – 19.5

Again, PFF differs from the rest. The Colts, though, are the weakest of the teams considered playoff contenders. Improvements must come on the offensive line and the defense or the Colts will be one and done if they reach the postseason.

23. New Orleans 20 20 24 25 – 22.25

The Saints’ win Sunday isn’t enough to save their season, not with Atlanta and Carolina in the way.

24. San Diego 23 24 21 23 – 22.75

The Chargers need to get their offensive linemen healthy if they want to reach the playoffs.

25. Cleveland 26 25 23 24 – 24.5

Not the worst team in the NFL, thanks to a good defense, but they must figure things out on offense.

26. Jacksonville 25 29 27 26 – 26.75

It remains to be seen if Gus Bradley remains with the team after the season.

27. Detroit 30 27 30 22 – 27.25

From playoff team to afterthought. Who would have guessed?

28. Miami 31 26 26 28 – 27.75

Firing Joe Philbin isn’t enough. The Dolphins need to clean house after the season.

29. Houston 27 28 29 30 – 28.5

Did someone say “if you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterback”?

30. Chicago 28 31 31 31 – 30.25

Getting Jay Cutler in the lineup helps, but it may not be enough to revive the Bears.

31. Tampa Bay 32 32 28 29 – 30.25

Are they getting the No. 1 overall pick again?

32. San Francisco 29 30 32 32 – 30.75

Or does this team take it from the Bucs?

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Bob Morris

I'm a sports writer in real life, though I've always focused on smaller communities, but that hasn't stopped me from learning more about some of the ins and outs of the NFL. You can follow me on Twitter @BobMorrisSports if you can put up with updates on the high school sports teams I cover.