NFL Week 16 Power Rankings

Welcome to the first edition of the Princeton Sports Analytics NFL Power Rankings, a feature which will continue through the final few weeks of the season.

The rankings were compiled based on the votes of five of our writers: Julian HK, Jonathan Lack, Danny Lei, Bruno Velloso, and Chad Horner.  For each team, we had the voter who was highest/lowest on that team give something good/not so good about them, to explain their decision.

Please don’t hesitate to comment and to share your thoughts on the overall rankings, or the individual opinions given by the voters.

2012 Power Rankings: Week 16
Rank Team / Record The Good The Not So Good
The fact that the 49ers have a top-2 defense is not surprising. The fact that their offense is the 3rd most efficient in the league (averaging 6 yards per play) is just scary. (Velloso) The Niners are rolling on all fronts, but the Pats’ 28-0 run during Sunday night’s game should be cause for concern. If young QB Colin Kaepernick gets down big, it could be trouble for the NFC favorite. (Lack)
Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are easily the top receiving duo in the AFC, and Knowshon has had over 100 total yards in 3 of his 4 games as a starter.  The defense is top 5 in the league, and Peyton Manning is their quarterback.  What’s not to love? (Horner) With upcoming games against Cleveland and Kansas City to close out the season, Denver should lock up a first-round bye. However, unlike the other top-four teams, this young Broncos defense has not played deep into the playoffs and that might prove to be the difference. (Lei)
The Patriots had 425 passing yards against the 49ers, who had yet to allow a 300-yard game. And they are on pace to score 578 points this season, which would be second all-time next to the 589 points scored by the undefeated 2007 Patriots. (Velloso) If last week’s shellacking of Houston counted as a “signature win” for the Pats this season, what does that make this week’s loss to the Niners? Interesting stat: This was the first Patriots loss in the month of December in the last 14 games.
Aaron Rodgers has met or exceeded his career yards per attempt 4 times in his past 5 games, after doing so only twice in his previous 9 games. As the Packers get healthy, watch out. (Lei) How to describe the Packers this season… lackluster? With the second easiest strength of schedule, they’ve lost to the Niners, Seahawks*, Colts, and Giants, and their PPG and yardage (League ranks of 13 and 17, respectively) aren’t outstanding. (HK)
After exposing the Colts, the Texans need a home win against the Vikings to avoid the Broncos and Patriots until the AFC championship game. While their 5th-best rush defense may be up to the task, Adrian Peterson has a habit of impoverishing anybody who dares to bet against him. (Lack) They beat Denver way back in week 3, but since then the only elite teams they’ve played (GB and NE) have handled them easily – by a total of 46 points.  (Horner)

Russell Wilson has had a passer rating above 80 in 9 of his last 10 games.  Unfortunately, that one bad game was against the 49ers.  (Horner) It’s easy to jump on the Seattle bandwagon after two 50-pt. games, but before beating Buffalo in Toronto the Seahawks had a -14 point differential on the road, and they are unlikely to play any playoff games at home. (Lack)
Matt Ryan leads the league in Expected Points Added (EPA) for a team that just manhandled the defending champs. How well he throws the deep ball (on par with Brandon Weeden based on completion percentage) is going to determine how far this team goes this season. (Lei) Have you ever been less confident in a 12-2 team? The Falcons have 7 wins by one possession or less, with losses against the Saints and Panthers. Are you comfortable with the Falcons against the Seahawks or Packers?
RGIII is second in the league in passer rating (104.2), has thrown the fewest interceptions of any starting quarterback, and leads the league with 8.27 YPA. He can run, but he is a really good passer as well. (Velloso) So long as RGIII is healthy, the Redskins have a chance to win. But they have been the benefactors of some good luck – including a league-leading 66.7% fumble recovery percentage, and could be done in by a lackluster pass defense (27th in the league in yards per attempt.) (Lack)
They’re maddeningly inconsistent, but the Giants at their best are one of the top teams in football. Apart from a close loss to the Eagles, all their losses have come to playoff hopefuls. They are fourth in the league in net turnovers, and control their own playoff destiny. (Lack) If Eli turns the switch “on” again for these last two games, will there have been any quarterback in the history of the league like him? My bet is that he is not a machine. (Lei)
Yeah, the Ravens just lost two close ones to the Steelers and Redskins, but things are looking up: They’ve already clinched their playoff spot and they have some key defensive players returning and playing healthier. (HK) Last week Joe Flacco managed to deliver the second-worst single game QBR of the season with a horrible 0.4 rating. The worst? Joe Flacco in Week 7: 0.3 QBR. (Velloso)
Despite their recent three-game skid, Chicago is still an above average team with an excellent defense. Their six losses have come against Green Bay (twice), Seattle in OT, Minnesota, San Francisco, and Houston. In cold weather, Chicago’s defense could carry them on a playoff run. (Lack) With no legitimate secondary receiving option to pair with Brandon Marshall, who nearly quintuples the output of their second-leading wide receiver, the Bears have been able to put up more than 20 points only once in their last six games. (Lei)
With a 1 point loss to Dallas included, the Bengals are 5-1 over their last six with an average margin of victory of 18 points.  They’re getting hot at the right time.  (Horner) It’s tempting to get up on the Bengals but losses to the Dolphins, Browns, and Cowboys are tough to swallow.  (HK)
Dallas is 5-2 in games when Dez Bryant catches at least one TD. He’s accomplished this in each of his past six games. Feed the beast, Mr. Garrett. (Lei) I have zero faith in Tony Romo
Lost in all of the statistics mentioned about Adrian Peterson is how easy he makes it look as he toys with defenders. This is a whole different kind of animal than the Chris Johnson of 2009. Johnson, known for his home run-hitting ability, averaged 0.7 YPC less than Peterson is now. (Lei) Adrian Peterson has been other-worldly, but Minnesota’s pass attack has been historically bad: dead last in pass yards per game (a measly 168.1 YPG), and 31st in yards per attempt (5.9 YPA). (Velloso)
The Steelers are the only team besides the Broncos to have both a top-10 passing attack and passing defense, allowing only 180.6 yards per game and passing for 269 yards per game when Roethlisberger plays. (Velloso) Have been completely underwhelming all year, and while the injury to Roethlisberger accounts for some of it, Steelers losses include the Raiders, Titans, Browns, Chargers, and Cowboys… not exactly murderer’s row. (HK)
Call him lucky as much as you want, Andrew Luck moves the ball. Consistently. Indianapolis has picked up the 3rd-most first downs this year, with only Tom Brady and the maddeningly inconsistent Matthew Stafford ahead of him.  (Lei) Despite the Colts’ record, they have been outscored by 49 points this year. And Andrew Luck has not been as good as advertised: 75.5 passer rating, 31st in the league.  (Velloso)
Their three most recent losses (49ers, Falcons, and Giants) look much less worrisome than their first three (Chiefs, Panthers, and Redskins).  (Horner) While the Saints have bounced back nicely from a potentially disastrous 0-4 start and just goose-egged the struggling Bucs, they missed 2 opportunities for big wins against the Falcons and Giants.
An offense too reliant on home runs, and a defense too prone to giving them up, got exposed in their last four-game stretch. However, Tampa still leads the league in rush defense, and is 2-6 in games decided by a TD or less. With a couple of breaks, this team could have contended. (Lack) Forget the 41 points the Saints put up against them; how did the New Orleans Saints defense, ranked 31st both against the pass and the rush, manage to blank them?? It looks like it’s back to the drawing board for Greg Schiano.
The Panthers have had seven games decided by a TD or less this season, and they’ve lost all of them.  If just two of those had gone the other way, they’d be competing for the playoffs. (Horner) A number of foolish contracts on defense (Thomas Davis, Jon Beason, Charles Johnson) ensure that the currently mediocre Panthers won’t be adding too much talent on the open market, and Steve Smith isn’t getting any younger. (Lack)
Surprisingly, the St. Louis Rams have a top-ten caliber defense, allowing only 335.1 yards per game, 4th best in the NFC. (Velloso) Sam Bradford has improved this season, but he’s still nothing more than league-average (83.3 passer rating), and Steven Jackson, now in his 8th season as a starter, is going to start breaking down soon.  (Horner)
2 receivers who are top 15 in the AFC in receiving yards, a running back who is 5th in the AFC in YPC, and the second best scoring defense in the AFC.  If Tannehill progresses next year, watch out for the Dolphins.  (Horner) Barring a miracle, the 6-8 Dolphins look like they’re going to be staying home in January. Stat of the week: The average temperature in January is 75 in Miami versus 36 in Boston. Take that, Patriots!
The Browns are bad, but with just one more win, they’ll have their highest win total since 2007. And RB Trent Richardson just broke Jim Brown’s rookie rushing TD record. God might hate Cleveland sports, but he lets them enjoy the little things.
With Trent Richardson averaging 1.5 touchdowns a game, the Browns have won 3 of their last 4. However, with games against the Broncos and Steelers to close out the season, it’s hard to be too optimistic about this team. (Lei)
Philip Rivers has to regress to the mean at some point this season, right? One of the league’s most unpredictable teams has games against the struggling Jets and Raiders to close the season. (Lei) What once was an explosive offense has been derailed by injuries and offseason departures. Phil Rivers certainly has regressed (31st in QBR), but a suspect offensive line, a diminished Antonio Gates, and a poor rushing attack are also to blame. (Lack)
Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. (Lack) For all of the talk about Ryan Fitzpatrick regressing, he has actually improved from last year based on Pro Football Reference’s Passer Index. However, the defense is ranked 30th against the run and has never pulled its weight this year. (Lei)
With QB Jake Locker throwing the deep ball at a near-Top 10 level and Chris Johnson still standing in the backfield, this team at least poses some threat to opposing defenses, unlike the teams I ranked below them. The defense is coming along, no longer giving away 30+ points a game. (Lei) Without that 94-yard Chris Johnson TD run, the Titans had 200 total yards on Monday night. They
didn’t win the game, Mark Sanchez lost it. (Horner)
The Lions should be much better than 4-10. They move the ball well with 406.5 yards per game, 2nd in the league, but haven’t been able to turn yards into points (only 14th in the league with 330 points scored) (Velloso) Calvin Johnson on this year’s Lions team is essentially Kobe Bryant on the 05-06 Lakers, except the Lions will not be going to the playoffs. (Lei)
This defense is still top 10 in yards allowed, despite the fact that they spend far too much time on
the field thanks to their awful offense. They’re an average QB away from playoff contention – can McElroy be
average? (Horner)
Did you see Monday night’s game against the Titans? How many embarrassing fumbles can a team have? (Velloso)
There were whispers of Patrick Peterson supplanting Darrelle Revis as the best cornerback in the league before the Cardinals’ run of futility. Still, he leads all cornerbacks in WPA (Win Probability Added), and this defense is still a threat to make big plays (see last week.)
Remember when everyone thought Arizona was the team to beat in the NFC West following its win in NE? Well, it’s hard to get wins when you’re deciding between Skelton and Lindley, who have combined for 2 TDs and 15 INTs. (HK)
With a positive TD:INT ratio, Nick Foles is giving his team at least a chance to win some games. However, tough games against division opponents New York and Washington lie ahead. (Lei) The Eagles have allowed at least 3 touchdowns in 9 straight games.  They’re 1-8 in that span. (Horner)
Oakland has been terrible. But don’t blame Carson Palmer. With 22 TDs and 14 INTs, 7.1 YPA, and almost 4000 passing yards (7th in the league), Palmer has been above average at least. (Velloso) Kicking 5 FG against the worst team in the NFL is nothing to brag about – the -139 point differential tells a very different story. Oakland will be kicking themselves for trading first and second round picks for a semi-retired Carson Palmer for a long time. (Lack)
The Jags and Chiefs both have only 2 wins, so it comes down who did more with less. At least the Jags’ awful running game (30th in the league) comes without MJD, so Jacksonville gets the nod over KC.  (HK) The Jags’ top two rushers last Sunday were Montell Owens and Richard Murphy. Adrian Peterson gained more yards last week than that duo has combined for all season. (Lei)
The only reason I ranked them above Jacksonville? They have at least a somewhat useful offensive player in Jamaal Charles. (Lei) The Chiefs didn’t have a single first down in the first half on Sunday, and were shut out, by the team who was last in scoring defense coming into the game.  (Horner)

11 thoughts on “NFL Week 16 Power Rankings

  1. Wow, the two best teams record-wise are ranked 5th and 7th. And coming off a 34-0 win for the 12-2 Falcons, they’re only two spots ahead of the 8-6 Giants! And the Seahawks ranked 6th? Who’ve they beaten lately? No one.

    1. Well, the Seahawks did beat the Bears in Chicago three weeks ago. And they haven’t lost by more than a touchdown all season – they’ve been in every single game.

      As for the Falcons, this was an incredibly impressive game, but it doesn’t erase the fact that they’ve been just pretty good for the entire season up to this point. They’re probably the least impressive 12-2 team in the history of the league. Look at the other elite (top 7) teams; they all have a better running game than Atlanta, a better run defense, and Matt Ryan doesn’t have anything over any of the QBs of those teams – they all have a good passing game. Record isn’t everything. It’ll get them a first round bye and home-field advantage, but that’s it.

      1. I’m not a Falcons fan, but why so much hating? I don’t know how you can say they are the worst 12-2 team ever. At the end of the day, they’ve been able to pull off the wins, and they just beat the Giants by the worst score a defending champion has ever endured. It’s not like the players have changed for the Giants in the past year. And don’t insult Matt Ryan by saying that he has nothing over Kaepernick, Wilson, or Schaub. He is a top-5 QB in the league

      2. That was poorly worded on my part. What I meant to say was that he doesn’t offer the Falcons much of an advantage over any of those other teams. Wilson’s passing numbers have been almost as good as Ryan’s, and with the running ability he brings to the table I think it’s easy to argue that he has been just as valuable – the same goes for Kaepernick, although over a smaller sample size. I still think the Falcons are one of the better teams in the league (personally I ranked them 7th), just not anywhere close to the best.

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