OK, this time around, the Not-So-Scientific rankings are running late. Andrew Mason’s power rankings came out late, so these were delayed, too.
This go-around, I’m using five rankings, taking a suggestion made last week to include another. The rankings are, in order, and with links provided:
In some cases, when you look at the numbers, you will no doubt find some that don’t make sense. Again, that just demonstrates that everyone’s ranking system looks at different criteria, and my exercise is to see if I can illustrate a clearer picture.
With each team, I’ll talk about what would be generalized as “weaknesses.” The expanded version , though, goes like this. For the top teams, I’ll talk about the areas of concerns that, while not ones that eliminate them from playoff contention, are things those teams will need to be aware of as the season continues. For the lower-ranked teams, I’ll review the issues that explain why this team is ranked so low and what areas, if any, the team will have to consider changing, particularly if their playoff hopes are fading fast.
1. New England 2 1 2 1 1 – 1.4
The Patriots’ biggest concern might be the early bye week. A later bye week is useful to get banged up players healed up before the final run to the playoffs. Losing Nate Solder for the season was not a season breaker, but if too many offensive linemen get banged up, it could cause the Patriots problems against a team with a top defense. Based on Football Outsiders DVOA, the only top 10 defense the Pats have faced is Buffalo, a defense that is arguably regressing as the season continues.
2. Green Bay 1 8 3 2 3 – 3.4
The Packers’ offensive line is a concern. Aaron Rodgers can do good things when he escapes the pocket, but teams that can rush him so that he stays in the pocket can keep him from making plays. It’s worth noting the Packers, in their first six games, have only faced one defense ranked in the top 10 in Football Outsiders DVOA: St. Louis, who sacked Rodgers twice and picked him off twice.
3. Cincinnati 3 6 4 4 2 – 3.8
From a roster standpoint, there are no glaring weaknesses. But the Bengals don’t have a top-10 defense based on Football Outsiders’ DVOA. The real issue with the Bengals may not be how Andy Dalton performs down the stretch, but how the defense performs against offenses who can match what the Bengals do.
4. Arizona 7 2 1 8 4 – 4.4
While the Cardinals have lost two games, it’s premature to write them off as a Super Bowl contender. Their offense and defense are top 10 by almost any measure, regardless of overall record. The area that might be the most concerning is special teams, in which Football Outsiders DVOA ranked the unit 13th. This is certainly the best coached team in the NFL, considering their talent level may not be as high as the Patriots.
5. Pittsburgh 8 4 6 6 8 – 6.4
It may seem strange that the Steelers are ranked this high, but it appears they should have rolled with Landry Jones instead of Michael Vick in Ben Roethlisberger’s absence. Big Ben’s return could make the Steelers a dangerous playoff team. With that said, the defense and special teams are not top 10 and they can’t always count on the better offenses making mistakes, as happened with Arizona.
6. Denver 5 11 11 3 6 – 7.2
We’ve discussed the Broncos’ offense a lot, so I won’t repeat what everyone has said. I will add, though, that special teams has been good this year, ranked ninth in Football Outsiders DVOA.
7. New York Jets 10 3 5 14 7 – 7.8
Two things keep the Jets from being a mirror image of the Broncos. In the Jets’ favor, they run the ball effectively. Not in the Jets’ favor, however, is special teams. Football Outsiders DVOA ranked that unit 31st. Sounds like the Jets have issues with punt and kick coverage, so perhaps the field position battle is the Jets’ Achilles heel.
8. Carolina 4 14 10 7 5 – 8
Nobody is really talking up the Panthers’ defense, but it’s one of the best units in the NFL. The offense is better than you think, even with Cam Newton and Greg Olsen the only real playmakers. But like the Jets, special teams isn’t something Football Outsiders DVOA rates favorably (ranked 30th). As with the Jets, punt and kick coverage could be issues.
9. Philadelphia 11 5 7 9 11 – 8.6
To think some were ready to write off Chip Kelly, but the Eagles have a quality defense, even if signing Byron Maxwell was a mistake. The offense, though, must get better if the Eagles expect to make a deep playoff run. Are the Eagles the NFC version of the Broncos, perhaps?
10. Atlanta 6 7 14 11 9 – 9.4
The offense has been strong but the Falcons lack a pass rush. That shouldn’t keep them from reaching the playoffs, but I will stand corrected on them being a legitimate Super Bowl threat.
11. Seattle 13 12 9 5 10 – 9.8
The Seahawks need to finish games. As things currently stand, their offense and defense are just outside the top 10, so closing out games will be a must if Seattle is to go far in the playoffs. The good news: Seattle has the top-ranked special teams unit by Football Outsiders DVOA. (Yes, Tyler Lockett is a big reason why.)
12. Buffalo 12 10 8 15 14 – 11.8
The Bills are better on offense than you think (ranked sixth in Football Outsiders DVOA) but discipline and penalties are concerning. They are not out of the playoff hunt yet but they must get those mistakes corrected or they will be on the outside looking in when it comes to the AFC playoff picture.
13. New York Giants 18 9 12 17 12 – 13.6
What’s hurt the Giants has been costly mistakes. Their defense is good, but not good enough to overcome gaffes by either the defense itself or by the offense. And when the defense has come up with big plays, the offense hasn’t capitalized enough.
14. Minnesota 9 17 26 13 13 – 15.6
The Vikings will make a wild card push but may not have enough to get there. The offense isn’t as sharp as it needs to be and it’s becoming clear the Vikings can no longer rely on Adrian Peterson to carry the load. They’ll have to be prepared to move on from him after this season.
15. Dallas 15 16 24 12 16 – 16.6
I think everyone knows that the absences of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant are major factors in the Cowboys’ struggles. The defense, though, hasn’t been up to par, even with the return of several players. Losing Orlando Scandrick has been a big blow to the Cowboys, who don’t have another defensive back who can make up for his absence.
16. Baltimore 21 18 13 16 19 – 17.4
The Ravens have lost multiple games that could have been wins had certain plays unfolded differently. But the secondary hasn’t been as good as expected and the Ravens not retaining a few defensive player in their primes has made it difficult to run the defense the way they want. There are legitimate questions about whether or not Marc Trestman is the right offensive coordinator, too. The Ravens don’t need to clean house, but they’ll have to be wiser about deciding who to retain or let go and will likely be forced to ask Joe Flacco to restructure his contract to gain space.
17. Indianapolis 14 23 19 10 23 – 17.8
The Colts should win the division but the team has major issues it must fix to become a bona fide Super Bowl contender. It’s easy to say that they may need a new coach, but they really need a new general manager. Ryan Grigson has not built the roster well enough and Andrew Luck has taking a pounding behind a subpar offensive line. Re-signing Anthony Castanzo was a good move, but the line is a mess otherwise. The Colts have also not found good defensive playmakers in the draft. Both must change if the Colts expect to reach the Super Bowl.
18. St. Louis 20 15 17 24 17 – 18.6
The Rams have a top 10 defense (seventh in FO DVOA) but the offense hasn’t been that good. Nick Foles hasn’t produced as well as expected. Todd Gurley’s presence is helping and should give the Rams a few wins against teams that don’t defend the run well. The Rams may not make the playoffs, but as with the Ravens, it’s not a sign they need to clean house. They will have to be smart with free agency and the draft when it comes to finding the final pieces for the offense.
19. Oakland 15 24 16 27 15 – 19.4
The Raiders aren’t a playoff contender but are better than they were last year. Say what you want about Mark Davis, but he was wise to retain Reggie McKenzie. Oakland still has issues, though, with the biggest ones being the inside linebackers, the defensive backs and needing an additional playmaker on offense. The pieces are starting to fall into place to make the Raiders a contender, though, so they need to avoid panic moves and keep looking for value in free agency and the draft.
20. Cleveland 19 22 20 26 20 – 21.4
The Browns’ run defense is the most glaring weakness and they lack playmakers to draw attention away from Travis Benjamin. They probably will have to go with Josh McCown the rest of the season unless he falls apart, because it doesn’t appear Johnny Manziel can earn the trust of the locker room. If that is the case, they’ll have to go looking for another quarterback next year. Along with that, they must get better defenders up front. Having a micromanaging owner, though, is going to make things difficult.
21. Kansas City 23 25 18 19 22 – 21.4
Losing Jamaal Charles for the season spelled an end to any hopes for the Chiefs to make the playoffs. And while Justin Houston is a great defensive player, Eric Berry has performed well since his return and Marcus Peters was a good first-round pick, the defense as a whole is not good (ranked 24th by FO DVOA). The Chiefs will have to part ways with certain defensive players next season (but retaining Berry is a must) and wisely use free agency and the draft for replacements. And, yes, they must also think about a quarterback who can eventually replace Alex Smith.
22. Miami 26 20 22 23 18 – 21.8
After I overrated the Dolphins in my season preview, I’m not falling into that trap again. Winning Sunday was a good thing but the Dolphins still have plenty of work ahead. Really, this team needs to clean house from top to bottom at season’s end and not trade a draft pick for Sean Payton. The defense lacks depth because they committed so much money and cap space to Ndamukong Suh and they have no way to get out of the deal early. I think the Dolphins are another team with ownership that just won’t let the front office build as it sees fit. If it is true Stephen Ross made the push to sign Suh, he needs to quit worrying about pursuing the big names in free agency.
23. San Diego 30 19 21 20 21 – 22.2
Phillip Rivers is having a fine year but he’s having to take on a lot of the load. The Chargers’ issues are numerous. Melvin Gordon hasn’t become the game changer he was thought to be and has ball security issues that got him benched against the Packers. They don’t have a receiver who commands attention on every down. The offensive line isn’t good. And the defense is one of the worst in the NFL (26th in FO DVOA). I think it’s fair to give Tom Telesco and Mike McCoy another year, but they have plenty of work to do to make the Chargers a playoff contender again.
24. Washington 27 13 15 29 28 – 22.4
What keeps Washington higher in some rankings is that the team’s defense is good. The offense isn’t that bad, either, but costly mistakes have been the difference. Washington will need to cut ties with Robert Griffin III before that injury-only guarantee becomes fully guaranteed, though. They may not have a choice but to re-sign Kirk Cousins, even with his struggles. Regardless, the offense is still a work in progress and won’t be transformed with a big-name free agent. Dan Snyder seems to have learned his lesson there, but you always wonder if impatience will get the best of him again.
25. New Orleans 24 21 25 21 25 – 23.2
I read a few pundits who thought the Saints saved their season by beating the Falcons. They haven’t. They’re 1-2 in the division and will need to go at least 2-1 in the remaining divisional games and win several games outside the division to have a chance. The truth is, the Saints defense is the worst in the NFL and their special teams aren’t good either (23rd in FO DVOA). They need to say goodbye to Mickey Loomis at season’s end and if a team wants to trade for Sean Payton, they need to do it. Then be prepared to trade Drew Brees and start rebuilding. They can’t keep pretending they are just a couple of players away from the Super Bowl.
26. Houston 17 29 31 22 26 – 25
The team is mediocre in all aspects. They got a career season from J.J. Watt last year, but as great as he is, it’s tough for any one player to duplicate a season like that. Of course, we know Houston’s biggest problem on offense is the quarterback situation. I do believe Rick Smith should get another season as general manager as he has usually drafted well. You do have to wonder, though, if the Texans had been able to trade up late into the first round to select Teddy Bridgewater in 2014, if their fortunes might be different now. Regardless, if Smith doesn’t trade for a QB next season, he’ll need to draft one early.
27. Tennessee 22 27 23 31 24 – 25.4
The good news for the Titans is their defense has been very good, ranked ninth in FO DVOA. The flipside is that the offense isn’t good, ranked 27th in FO DVOA. With that said, the team is getting pieces in place to have a better offense in the coming seasons. They just need to be patient. I would stick it out with Ken Whisenhunt next season and be wise with who they bring in via free agency. Running back seems to be the biggest issue they need to fill, but free agency really isn’t the best place to look for one to turn your fortunes around.
28. San Francisco 28 26 32 18 29 – 26.6
They aren’t as bad as some might have thought they would be, but they really aren’t a playoff contender. They are too inconsistent and have too many holes on both sides of the ball. I’m not convinced they have the right front office and coach in place, but the Niners will likely have to stick it out with both of them for another year. They will have a challenge ahead of themselves, though, as they have plenty of needs to fill but won’t be guaranteed to find them all in one offseason.
29. Detroit 31 28 29 25 31 – 28.8
The issue with the Lions is that two of their best offensive playmakers, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, haven’t played well overall. Their cap numbers weren’t team friendly this season, but next season, they could get out of the deals if the Lions wanted to. I don’t think they’ll do that, though. I also think it’s for the best to keep the same regime in place and carefully utilize the draft and free agency, rather than go for broke in an attempt to return to the playoffs. If they aren’t careful, they could put themselves into a worse position.
30. Jacksonville 25 31 27 32 32 – 29.4
The Jaguars are still in the rebuilding process, but I think it’s evident that Gus Bradley isn’t the answer at head coach. I think it’s best to stick it out with him for the rest of the season, but after the season, make a change. They should cross their fingers that Dante Fowler Jr. returns to full strength next season and proves to be the impact player they need on defense. They will need to find a coach who can get the most out of Blake Bortles and find value in free agency, rather than overpaying for any one player.
31. Chicago 29 30 30 28 30 – 29.4
The Bears aren’t as bad on offense as you think, but they aren’t as good on defense as you think. As I’ve said several times, Chicago wasn’t going to turn things around by hiring John Fox. They still need to sort out the roster and work their way out of the bad contracts Phil Emery left them with. They need to be selective in free agency next year — on one hand, I think they should re-sign Alshon Jeffery, but on the other hand, they need to let Matt Forte depart. I will say it’s unfortunate that they lost Kevin White for the season, but if he can return to full strength, they could be better offensively.
32. Tampa Bay 32 32 28 30 27 – 29.8
The Bucs are average defensively and on special teams but their offense is bad. Mike Evans isn’t playing well, Vincent Jackson hasn’t done enough to compensate, Doug Martin isn’t playing as well as you may think and Jameis Winston still needs development. The Bucs are in a tough situation, because they are a team that you would think needs a regime change, but they are doing well enough in certain areas to show that may not be the answer. I think they should stick with the current regime but perhaps find a new offensive coordinator and figure out what changes they need to make on that side of the ball.