We’ve now played 13 of 18 regular season games, which puts us exactly at the three-quarter mark of the season at this moment in the middle of the week. And just like I did after the first month of the season, I thought it was time for me to rank and tier all 32 NFL teams yet again.
As I always say – these are power rankings, based on what I perceive teams to be right now, rather than listing them by record and basically creating a standings table. Some squads may have started off slowly but are starting to hit their groove, while others have fallen off, as the season has progressed. Funnily enough, numbers one and 32 are still the same today as they were for me back on October 5th, but there’s been plenty of shake-up between those two.
Here’s my list:
The big four:
1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-1)
I personally called for the Titans upset on Sunday, because I thought with their ability to match the physicality up front with their defensive line and how some teams have been able to take advantage of Philly’s five-man fronts, they’d be able to control the game to some degree. Through 27 minutes, things were looking pretty good with a score of 14-10 in the Eagles favor, but then they actually took charge in a major way. I didn’t realize rookie D-tackle Jordan Davis would be back in the lineup, along with those veterans they added to that group, since that instantly transitioned them back into a wall to run against, while their pass-rush destroyed Tennessee’s protection. A.J. Brown got revenge versus his former team and has allowed everybody on the offense to shine, as they can take advantage of one-on-ones if opponents stack the box, yet if they overplay #11, Jalen Hurts has a bunch of guys at his disposal, who can take advantage of those favorable looks, and the QB can get it there accurately. Plus, then he of course adds that +1 in terms of box counts in the designed run game and has ripped off some key scrambles to keep drives going. Defensively, if they can live in those front dynamics again, they have the CB tandem to squeeze down route patterns, along with safeties, who are more aggressive with triggering on stuff in front of them. That’s how Philly is allowing a league-low 4.7 yards per play and they’re now four clear of the next-closest team with a turnover differential of +13.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (9-3)
Prior to their trip to Cincinnati, I would have put Kansas City at the top of the list. They obviously lost by three points, but that was such a closely contested game, where they nearly pulled it off again, after a slow start. I broke down their offense in depth on my most recent video, previewing that matchup with the Bengals. The way they can run the ball from under center and more 12 personnel sets, along with taking some shots off play-action, has diversified their portfolio on offense. And Patrick Mahomes is playing at as high a level as we’ve ever seen, navigating the pocket, recognizing coverage rotations and placing the ball into borderline indefensible spots. Thanks to that, they lead the NFL yet again with 6.5 yards per play and in points scored (29.2 per), along with the Bills having barely overtaken them for the best third-down conversion rate (51.4%). Their defense just allowed 27 points to Cincy and we see what those teams with multiple legit receivers can do against a young group of defensive backs, but they’ve held opponents to less than 4.7 yards per rush in all but three of 13 games so far, and DC Steve Spagnuolo can throw some creative pressure packages the opposing way in crucial situations, to force the issue. You combine what Mahomes & company can do with a pass-rush that can close games – as they pressure the opposing QB on 24.4% of dropbacks (seventh-best in the NFL) – they’re still one of the two teams most likely to come out of the AFC, but they’ve already lost those direct matchups against Buffalo and Cincinnati now.
3. Buffalo Bills (9-3)
With that win in Kansas City back in week six, the Bills now have the tiebreaker over those guys and control their path to the conference’s number one seed. Along with hosting each of their three rivals still, they have a trip to Chicago and Cincinnati on deck. They’ll be favored in every matchup most likely, because at full health, they might just be the best all-around team. The Eagles on the NFC side may be more complete, because of the way they can run the ball, but Buffalo has elite quarterback play and I really like how Ken Dorsey has brought more variety in terms of personnel and conceptually to that offense. They simply haven’t taken enough care of the ball, as the Colts, Saints and Texans are the only teams with as many or more than their 20 turnovers. The Bills defense on the other hand, has created a turnover or held their opponents to below 250 total yards in every single one of their games, whilst having multiple takeaways in seven of those. That’s despite all but one of their five starters in the secondary missing multiple games. They’re not quite as dominant situationally, ranking 14th in third-down (38.8) and 23rd in fourth-down percentage surrendered (60%), but they’re better at creating pressure with four, in combination with the way they can flood the field and create tight windows in zone coverage. They’re also tied for fourth in takeaways (20) and when you do get into the red-zone against them, they’re one of only five teams that allows touchdowns less than half the time (47.2% – third). And not only are they number one in overall team DVOA, but they’re also tied for first in the HRF.com metric of where they start drives on average compared to their opponents, at +3.1 yards of field position.
4. Dallas Cowboys (9-3)
I’m still a bit hesitant to put the Cowboys into this top tier, because of their past, as we’ve seen them look like a juggernaut at times, before laying an egg in the playoffs. Yet, from what we’ve seen since their overtime loss at Green Bay a little less than a month ago, I just don’t have any justification on the field as to why they wouldn’t be up here. Dallas is one of only five teams that currently ranks top-ten in yards per run and pass each, and since the return of Dak Prescott against the Lions (24 points), they’ve scored at least 28 points on that side of the ball alone, along with a couple of defensive touchdowns. They’ve finally realized that Tony Pollard should lead this group in touches because of the dual-threat ability he presents, while Zeke can shine in short-yardage and goal-line situations, Ceedee Lamb has emerged as a true number one receiver and somebody different seems to catch a touchdown every week. Despite losing All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith before the season even started with a hamstring injury, nobody has given up fewer sacks on the year (15). Defensively, they’ve been vulnerable on the ground, allowing an average of 163.7 rushing yards in their six matchups versus top-ten groups in that regard, yet if they can get you in some long-yardage situations or play with a lead, they can be devastating. Micah Parsons has been an even bigger game-wrecker this season and his effect has rubbed off on that entire front, which legitimately goes like ten guys deep. Meanwhile, they’ve gotten some solid play from veterans and young guys on the back-end, while Dan Quinn has really excelled at making quarterbacks hold onto the ball with the way they change up the picture after the snap. They’re number one in pressure rate (29.3) and just one behind the Eagles’ NFL-high 23 takeaways.
Capable of beating anybody:
5. Cincinnati Bengals (8-4)
When I was piecing together my video preview of the Chiefs-Bengals matchup, I already sang Cincinnati’s praises and laid out how they could win that game, which I ultimately predicted them to do on Sunday. I think they showed on a national scale that this team is legit. When you look at their parg to the Super Bowl last year, it’s all very similar, only this season the Ravens aren’t as banged up but rather are in the driver’s seat for the AFC North crown. However, Cincy’s underlying statistics at this point are actually a little better, as they’re number one in rushing success rate from the shotgun and Joe Burrow is number four in EPA per play. That’s thanks to head coach Zac Taylor’s willingness to embrace an offensive identity, which revolves around operating out of the gun more than any other team not named the Ravens and Cardinals – who do so largely due to how it enables their option-based run designs – more diversity in terms of run schemes and a larger arsenal of little wrinkles to put coverage defenders in conflict. Now with Ja’Marr Chase back, they have two legit number one receivers, which puts tremendous stress on their opponents, and only the Bills and Chiefs are converting third downs at a higher rate (48.3%). However, the defense has also quietly been tremendous this season, building on last year’s success, with DC Lou Anarumo crafting specialized game-plans to challenge some of the better offensive units in the league. Their secondary is smart and physical, the linebackers trigger with authority, D.J. Reader at the nose is a force against the run and some of those creepers and creative simulated pressures really throw off their opponents.
6. San Francisco 49ers (8-4)
And they would’ve been part of that elite group at the top, if not for the Jimmy G injury. I really like what I saw from Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy stepping in, who I looked at as a nice long-time backup, who could have a Taylor Heinicke-like career potentially, but I had to downgrade the Niners a little bit. Still, the combination of their five top skill-position players and the versatility they can operate with from that personnel, along with Kyle Shanahan’s wizardry as a play-designer, can make almost any quarterback look good. The gameplan didn’t change much on Sunday, and as we see Christian McCaffrey create more familiarity with the system, we’ll see them span those weak-side option and angles routes with him against linebackers even more so. The Niners defense is on a different level to the rest of the league and they just emphatically shut the down on the Dolphins’ comeback efforts. Nick Bosa is my favorite for Defensive Player of the Year, Fred Warner’s ability to cover ground in the pass game allows them to play zone coverages differently than any other team in the league, whilst having a pair of safeties that sees and attacks things exceptionally well, and the whole unit is only getting healthier, with DeMeco Ryans establishing himself as the first choice for open head coaching positions, looking at the way he’s run the ship, even with injuries on all three levels. They’re now behind only Dallas in defensive DVOA (-15.1%), allowing half a yard less per rush (3.3) and opponents to score on four percent less of drives (25.6%).
7. Minnesota Vikings (10-2)
Along with the Titans +5 seeming like too many points at Philly, I thought the Jets +3.5 were a good bet as an AFC squad pulling off the upset in an intra-conference clash. And to be fair, the Jets got down to the Minnesota one- and 19-yard line with a chance to score game-winning touchdowns at the end. The way they are built and the fact that no element of the Vikings is really elite, other than Justin Jefferson as an incredible individual player, was why I called for the Cowboys to beat them at home – and they clobbered those guys. The Vikes are still only 18th in offensive and defensive DVOA respectively, while barely having a positive point differential on the season (+10), but they have a knack for hanging around and pulling out these tight games. Kirk Cousins hasn’t felt like a deer in the headlights in those high-leverage moments, Jefferson has made some phenomenal catches and they have enough balance on offense, while on the opposite side of the ball, they have ended games with huge takeaways (tied for fourth in the NFL with 20) and the pass-rush, spear-headed by Za’Darius Smith to close things out. Although, they do have some issues on the back-end, considering they’re tied for a league-worst 7.1 yards surrendered per dropback. My concern with them, with their games versus the Eagles and Cowboys not being competitive, do I trust them in a potential rematch or versus the 49ers once we get to January? Still, they are tied for number one with the Bills in the HRF.com metric of where they start drives on average compared to their opponents, at +3.1 yards of field position.
8. Miami Dolphins (8-4)
The final team of this group is the only one coming off a loss and there is some concern about what that looked like. After the 75-yard touchdown to Trent Sherfield on their first snap of the day, that explosive Dolphins offense had just 233 yards on 44 plays for the rest of the afternoon and they put together just two possessions of more than four plays altogether. Meanwhile, the 49ers more than doubled them up in time of possession and were able to sustain drives with seventh-round rookie Brock Purdy from the second possession on. With that being said, the Phins had scored at least 30 points in each of their four prior matchups and held double-digit leads in all but one of those, when they came back from two TDs down at Detroit. We’ll have to see if defenses can adapt some of the ways San Francisco was able to close those passing lanes typically created by all that speed, particularly in the RPO game, but barely anybody has that needed personnel, especially on the second level. Even though the run game has been a little hot-and-cold at times, they rank behind only the Chiefs in yards per play currently (6.3) and Tua has now barely moved below Patrick Mahomes in EPA per play (+0.329). I remain concerned about the defense, facing teams who have a comprehensive plan for some of the pressure looks thrown their way, but as they transition to more cover-two, with some different ways to get to it, we’ll just need to see that pass-rush be able to take advantage of positive game-scripts and being in high-scoring affairs. They’ve easily had their two most productive games in terms of pressures since the arrival of Bradley Chubb a month ago.
Likely playoff teams:
9. Baltimore Ravens (8-4)
Being a Ravens fan myself, I should be happy about this group. They’re 8-4, with wins at home over the Browns and Bengals inside their division. However, as much as I want to love this team, something keeps me from really buying in. Early in the season it was coverage busts that cost them wuins, now the passing game on offense seems to have devolved and unless Lamar creates magic, it feels so hard for them to actually move the ball – and now he could miss some time with a knee sprain. Late-game turnovers have killed them as well. With that being said, they did lead by multiple scores in all four of their losses and in all but one of those, they did so in fourth quarter even. The same way I credit the Vikings for finding ways to pull out those games, Baltimore deserves to be questioned for how they’ve navigated those waters, but there’s also reason to believe the pendulum could swing their way more often heading down the final stretch of the season. Rashod Bateman not being healthy has been a major issue, but if some of those other receivers can step up and Greg Roman learns how to utilize them, to accentuate Lamar’s strengths again, plus as an effect of that creating softer box counts for this run game, we could see this offense still kind of get their groove back. And now you pair that with getting a Pro Bowl safety in Marcus Williams back, for a unit that’s tied for fourth with 20 takeaways, is up to second in third-down rate (31.2%) and hasn’t surrendered more than 24 points since week three, outside of that late comeback by the Jags. Baltimore is somewhat surprisingly fourth in overall DVOA as a team now (23.8%), thanks in part to fielding the premiere special teams unit.
10. New York Jets (7-5)
As much as I despise everybody on the internet using any opportunity they get to crap on Zach Wilson and call Mike White god’s gift, I have to admit that the latter has brought a certain stability to offense and despite the stat sheet saying no passing TDs versus two interceptions, I thought he actually had the performance this past Sunday at Minnesota, where Braxton Berrios dropped a potential game-winner in the end-zone late. Garrett Wilson has broken out as a dominant rookie receiver, the ball is being spread around by OC Mike LaFleur and despite a rotating wheel in the backfield, over the last eight weeks, the Patriots (twice) are the only team to hold them under 120 yards on the ground. That’s good enough, paired with how tremendous Gang Green has been on defense. No matter which metric you’re looking at – yards per play (4.8), points per game (18.6), DVOA (-12.6%), etc. – this is a top-six unit in the league. Rookie Sauce Gardner gets all the shine – and deservedly so – but this entire secondary is so smart and instinctive, those guys on the second level are flying missiles and they have a deep rotation up front, where everybody comes in with a revving motor, including Quinnen Williams having an All-Pro level season. Even considering the fact they felt like they needed to bench their number two overall pick from just a year ago at QB, you’ve got to love what you’ve seen from Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas in terms of how they’ve built up this squad.
11. Tennessee Titans (7-5)
Man, that was a major letdown on Sunday. After winning seven of eight games before a narrow loss against the Bengals, where a penalt on the field goal block team took away a chance to tie up the score late, they allow the Eagles to score the final three touchdowns, as their offensive line gets dominated and their former Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Brown absolutely destroys their secondary through the air. Prior to this past Sunday, they had been the number one defense in rushing success rate (70%), despite playing with six defenders or less in the box at the second-highest rate in the league. I also think with Denico Autry back in the lineup against anything but the best O-line in football, they’ll be able to wreak havoc, although they can have their issues against teams that get their receivers isolated down the field against a corner group that misses bodies. Still, they’re allowing a league-low 30.4% of third downs to be converted against them. The real concern however is the offense to me. Ryan Tannehill still delivers some big-time vertical shots, but with a banged-up ankle he doesn’t provide the same as a rushing threat, other than rookie Treylon Burks, nobody really scares you through the air, and if you take away that monster 300-yard day against a horrible Texans run D, they’re bottom ten in rushing yards per game (102.3), with below 90 in four straight. Some of those depth issues that concerned me during the offseason are starting to really manifest themselves.
12. New York Giants (7-4-1)
Now we’re getting to back-to-back NFC East and you can really call them 12A and 12B here, since we just saw that there isn’t really any separation between the two, as their game on Sunday ended in a tie. I’m just going to give the slightest of nods to the Giants here, because they do have one fewer loss on their resume and I think their coaching is a little better. Even if New York ends up just sneaking into the playoffs as the seventh seed, Brian Daboll should deserve consideration for Coach of the Year, because of what he’s been able to do with very limited (offensive) resources. Darius Slayton remains the only player on the team with more than 300 receiving yards. That offense runs through Saquon Barkley as much as any unit does rely on the running back, along with some clever conceptual designs and Daniel Jones delivering some big third-down conversions. Other than in their loss to the Lions, when they turned the ball over three times, they just don’t make a lot mistakes. And then the defense can be very opportunistic, whilst Wink Martindale has been really good at finding the right call and having everybody on the same page on crucial downs, where he doesn’t leave his back-end as vulnerable. And nobody has missed fewer tackles than them as a unit (34). That’s how they’re top-six in third-down (35.2%) and red-zone TD percentage (48.9%). I just think we’ve been the limitations of this team twice now against the Cowboys, keeping the score close for a while, until the difference in talent level becomes very apparent.
13. Washington Commanders (7-5-1)
You can certainly argue that the Giants’ division foes are the more talented team. Particularly their trio of receivers and the Bama boys in the middle of that D-line are the major difference in their favor. There may be some limitations with Taylor Heinicke from a passing perspective, but if you have Terry McLaurin smoking All-Pro corners like Jaire Alexander, OC Scott Turner understands how to put defenders in conflict and you’ve averaged 146.6 rushing yards per game – with one below the century-mark – since their 2-4 start, you have a formula on offense that can move the ball pretty consistently. And then Heinicke definitely plays his heart out every team he takes the field. The defense has been the bigger story however has been the transformation of this season. Since I last released power rankings back after week four, they’ve improved from 24th to 10th in defensive DVOA, despite not having Chase Young. And after having only one takeaway through five weeks, they’ve now recorded 14(!) over the past eight weeks. Washington can crush the pocket from all angles and their back-seven has become much better at anticipating and driving on routes in front of them, rather than playing passive zone coverages. Plus, they’re tied with the Cowboys for an NFL-best 73 tackles for loss. They’re now fourth in third-down rate (33.1%) and they allow the fewest plays per drive (5.3), to help out their offense.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6)
Theoretically, the Bucs deserve to be in the next tier, because they just haven’t been a legit playoff team this season and needed last-second comeback efforts over the three-win Rams and four-win Saints to barely get to the .500 mark. However, the NFC South is so bad that they’re basically a shoe-in for the division crown. For the year, they average 0.4 yards per rush (3.3) and 11.4 rushing yards less than the next-closest team (73.3), and the only game in which they’ve scored more than 22 points was back in week four, when they were able to put 31 on the Chiefs in garbage time, as they were down by three touchdowns through basically three quarters. They’ve had protection issues on the interior and their receivers have either been banged up, inconsistent or both. The defense has been more of a bright-spot, because if you take weeks four to eight out of the equation, they’ve held opponents to just 13.6 points a contest. Even if you take the full season, they’re up at fifth in the league at 18.3. Tampa has some legit issues spotting run schemes that allowed offensive linemen to climb up to the second level – in particular outside zone – but they’ve now held opponents to below 70 yards in three of their past four contests, with Devin White being back to hunting things down towards the edges with his speed. They’re also top five in sacks (38), tackles for loss (67) and fewest missed tackles (43). They simply haven’t gotten those timely takeaways that we’re accustomed to seeing from them (11 – third-fewest).
In the hunt for a Wildcard spot:
15. Seattle Seahawks (7-5)
I know the Seahawks should be feeling good about being 7-5 and controlling their own destiny, as far as a playoff spot is concerned, but I don’t know how can look at their last three outings and not be highly concerned. They needed to put together a game-winning drive at the L.A. Rams this Sunday, who are currently fielding their C-team, to avoid going 0-3 over that stretch, with their offense having become very one-dimensional (just 194 yards on 59 rushing attempts) and their defense not being able to stop anybody on the ground, allowing 161 and 171 yards respectively against two of the bottom-run units in that regard, and getting gashed for 283 against the Raiders, who put 40 points on them. Geno Smith is playing like a top-ten quarterback and he has the weapons around him to deal some serious damage, but they don’t have the pass-rush to regularly have the upper hand in dropback-type games, while having a major disadvantage right now on the ground, comparing both sides of the ball. Seattle is tied for second in turnovers forced (21), but it’s become very rare that they hold much of the control over games. Geno just threw for 367 yards and three touchdowns and they needed to get into the end-zone with half a minute left to beat pretty much the Rams practice squad. I’m concerned about what might happen when they meet more complete teams in the playoffs.
16. Detroit Lions (5-7)
I’ve been wanting the Lions to be good for so long and now they’re finally here. They were the number one scoring offense, but dead-last ranked defense over the first month of the season. Then they got shut up by the Patriots before going into their bye week and losing two games coming out of it, where the defense broke down late. Since then, they’ve won four of the last five, with the only loss coming on a walk-off field goal by the Bills on Thanksgiving. Their offense is now top-seven in the NFL in terms of yards per play (5.8) and points a game (26.3), along with top-12 in passing and rushing. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has quietly been doing an excellent job of bringing in new elements on a weekly basis, especially in terms of run schemes, and they have a dominant O-line that sets the table for them. When they get down to the red-zone, they score touchdowns, cashing in on a league-high 73.9% of those trips. More importantly, the defense has recorded nine takeaways over that five-game stretch, which puts them at a +6 compared to their opponents, and they’ve held opposing quarterbacks to a completion percentage of below 62% in each of those. They can still be vulnerable against some high-flying passing attacks, but they don’t allow many lay-ups anymore and can take the ball away. As of the time I’m writing this, they’re a one-point favorite at home against the Vikings, and after going to the Jets, they’ll be facing three more teams that are at least three games below .500 – Playoffs?!
17. Las Vegas Raiders (5-7)
Could we not have started this back in September? Like, the winning part? You look at the offensive numbers for the Raiders for the entirety of the season and it’s hard to fathom how they started the year 2-7. They’re tied for fifth in yards per play (5.9), including the second-best mark in yards per rush (5.2), behind only the Bears, who have the most dynamic running quarterback in the league right now. An only the Chiefs and Bills score on a higher rate of their possessions (45.1%). Josh Jacobs and Davante unquestionably are top-three players at their respective position, and they’ve failed to score at least 20 points just once since their season-opener, when they had that embarrassing shutout at New Orleans. Derek Carr has produced some frustrating turnovers and they didn’t less the passing game run through Davante enough for stretches, but if they had just been more consistent through quarters, that would’ve been fine. Defensively, they simply haven’t been disruptive enough, as they’re bottom-five in sacks (21) and tackles for loss (46), along with tied for dead-last in takeaways (nine). We’ve seen a little more coverage diversity under DC Patrick Graham, but other than Maxx Crosby, the rest of that front simply hasn’t been able to apply the pressure necessary for quarterbacks to not be able to decipher how the pictures changes post-snap. They’re the only team which opposing signal-callers are completing more than 70 percent of their passes against, for an NFL-best passer rating of 104.4.
18. Los Angeles Chargers (6-6)
I don’t remember a .500 team that is more disappointing on a weekly basis when I put on their game on a weekly basis. This was supposed to be a top-ten offense and defense each. They’re outside the top-20 in both in terms of DVOA and 26th overall as a team. I believe Justin Herbert is a top-five quarterback in the NFL, but they constantly hold him back with static passing concepts, as he’s 32nd among guys with at least 100 attempts with just 6.2 intended air yards per attempt. And they have no run game to consistently support him with. If you take out their matchup against a horrific Browns run D, they’ve averaged just 70.7 rushing yards per game and cracked the century mark just once. Yet, the re-worked defense might be even more disappointing. With more big bodies on the D-line, they were supposed to even out those negative box counts on the ground, they put Khalil Mack on the opposite edge to Joey Bosa, added J.C. Jackson to play as their boundary corner and orchestrate coverages around, and just a second year in the system should have allowed them to take a big step. In reality, they still put themselves in negative looks in the run game and can’t “win those gaps back”, Bosa has been hurt since week three, Jackson was benched at times before suffering a season-ending knee injury and other than some creative game-plans by Brandon Staley in specific matchups, they just haven’t been a cohesive unit. That’s why only Detroit – who has really turned things around over the last month plus – has surrendered more yards per play (6.1).
19. New England Patriots (6-6)
It’s pretty fitting that the Pats are now 6-6, because that’s what I see them as – a bang-on .500 team. If they’re facing a team with clear weaknesses, they have the organizational know-how to craft game-plans that can take advantage of those, but they most lack the individual talent to hang with the best teams around the league. The only team above .500 that they’ve defeated so far is the Jets (twice), while having lost to the four opponents above that mark. Defensively, they’re third in DVOA as a unit (-13.8), with big bodies up front to eat space, massive guys behind that to win collisions in the run game and an extremely well-coached secondary, which includes some young guys now with the juice to break on the ball. The offense on the other hand seems extremely limited. Rhamondre Stevenson is near the top of the league in terms of broken tackles and yards after contact, but outside of one good showing at Minnesota, Mac Jones seems to have regressed from a decision-making perspective, whilst not having much around him, in terms of being able to consistently create separation and make stuff happen after the catch. I mean they just put in rookie CB Marcus Jones last Thursday Night versus the Bills to give them some splash with that 48-yard touchdown on a quick screen, and averaged less than 3.9 yards per play for the rest of the day.
Maybe next year:
20. Cleveland Browns (5-7)
The Browns here are the only team of this group with a legitimate chance of somehow making a run at a Wildcard spot probably, but I’d still say it’s extremely unlikely, as they’d need to go 4-1 to even get there mathematically. If Deshaun Watson’s return is any indication of what he’ll look like for the most part over the final month plus, I don’t see a way they can make a run. However, while they’re now down to “only” ninth at 4.8 yards per rush, the way they can create movement and get that two-headed monster out of the backfield punishing second-level defender, there’s very few teams that can slow that group down, in neutral gamescript situations. Facing the Bengals now with D.J. Reader back in the middle should be a solid test. Unfortunately, their defense has not done their part at all, outside of Myles Garrett taking over some games when they’ve been ahead, and splashes by second-year linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Those two guys are actually the only ones on that unit that have forced multiple turnovers, and they’ve equally allowed a 4.8-yard average on the ground as a group. If you take off their four takeaways this past Sunday against the lowly Texans, they’ve only recorded eight of those in the other 12 games, which would be the fewest league-wide. They lack run-stuffers on the interior of their front and they’re out of position too often on the back-end.
21. Green Bay Packers (5-8)
What is there to say about the Packers at this point? Other than the reigning Super Bowl champion Rams falling into obscurity, this was the other NFC powerhouse for the last couple of years, that always seemed to have a seat at the table. We’ve seen their offense have a certain identity crisis, as it’s taken a while for Aaron Rodgers to build chemistry with those young receivers, they’ve had protection issues as they were figuring out the best constellation of the five names, and if you look at their rushing totals, they’d basically look like a see-saw visualized, with four games below 68 and of 199+ each. At times they’ve wanted to be a more methodical West Coast offense, while other teams Rodgers seems frustrated with those targets around him and is just taking isolated shots down the field. For me personally however, having projected this to potentially be a top-five defense in football, they’ve actually been more disappointing on that side of the ball. They’re one of only four defenses in the league to allow at least five yards per carry, not fighting off blocks and overrunning stuff on the second level because of it. That’s makes them vulnerable off play-action, combined with a DC in Joe Barry who’s been unwillingness to deploy his personnel accordingly, resulting in opposing passer throwing touchdowns on five percent of pass attempts (tied for fifth). Also, how the hell are the special teams still only 30th in DVOA, after how last season ended?
22. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8)
Want to hear the truth on the 2022 Jaguars? – They’re just not ready yet. Many people, including myself, got really excited about what this group looked like over the first month of the season, when they annihilated the Colts and Chargers, while having the ball with a chance to tie or win against the Commanders and Eagles. Since then, they’ve won just two of nine additional contests. This past Sunday should’ve been a tightly contested matchup in Detroit, as the bookmakers basically had it as a pick’em all week. Yet, we saw the Lions have just arrived where they need to be at the mid-way point of this year, and the Jags simply haven’t yet. There’s a lot to like here, with the development of Trevor Lawrence, coming off that come-from-behind win over the Ravens the week prior, when the QB was on fire throughout the fourth quarter. How consistent Christian Kirk has been and the juice Travis Etienne has given them as a dual-threat weapon are all encouraging. Unfortunately, the defense has fallen off quite dramatically. After pressuring opposing quarterbacks on 31.6% of dropbacks averaged over those first four weeks (which would lead the NFL), they’ve now regressed to the middle of the pack. Travon Walker had some flashes early on, but has not lived up to the status of a number one overall pick yet, and offenses have had the other first-rounder Devin Lloyd’s head spinning with stuff they’ve thrown at him, which is why his snap count has decreased each of the past five weeks. Their biggest issues on defense however, has been creating stops in high-leverage moments, as they’re 29th in third-down (45.6%) and 25th in red-zone TD percentage (61.0%).
23. Arizona Cardinals (4-8)
I’m still kind of surprised by how more people didn’t see this regression coming. This is a Cardinals team, which after starting off last year at 10-2, won just one of their final six games, including a non-contest against the Rams in the Wildcard Round. You’re looking at a team whose best offensive plays are back-shoulder fades to an isolated DeAndre Hopkins and Kyler Murray running around like he’s in his backyard, in order to make something happen. I do want to give Kliff Kingsbury a little bit of credit, because D-Hop has moved around a little more since his return and they’ve been more effective running the ball by creating favorable angles, but that’s now at best a basic level of offensive play-design. You combine that with a defense that has lived and died by the blitz (once again top-three with a blitz rate of 35.3%), with a bunch of somewhat misfit hybrid defenders and a lackluster group of corners, and you can quickly see fortunes swing the other way. Only the Falcons have allowed opponents to convert a higher percentage of drives into points (43.1%) and nobody has been worse at stopping teams in the red-zone, giving up touchdowns on 68.9% of those trips. The flawed build-up of that unit Vance Joseph is supposed to fit together somehow, combined with having missed the second-most tackles in the league (66), has turned them into a mess.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-7)
Theoretically, with mobility at the quarterback position and some of the pre-snap motion that was promised by offensive coordinator Matt Canada, this Pittsburgh offense was supposed to be more dynamic in 2022 than it had been with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm. And to be fair, first-round pick Kenny Pickett has had a few nice moments at the quarterback spot, and the Steelers are now 4-4 with him as the starter. However, Canada has put together some head-scratching play-designs, they’re still not a very efficient running team (4.3 yards per carry) and they haven’t really gotten any explosive plays, unless Pickett has hit George Pickens on deep shots, as the QB is tied for dead-last with an average of just 4.2 yards after the catch. Overall, they’re tied with the Texans for the second-lowest yards play (4.8), ahead of only the Rams. Defensively, not having had T.J. Watt for the majority of the season has certainly been a major factor, but considering they haven’t been able to play with the lead and gotten opposing teams into many obvious passing situations, they just haven’t put enough heat on opposing quarterbacks, having the fourth-lowest pressure rate so far (16.3%). And they haven’t been particularly disruptive against the run either, with a league-low 43 tackles for loss. The reason they’ve gone 3-1 since their bye week is their seven-to-nothing turnover advantage across that stretch, which doesn’t really seem sustainable. This could be an interesting team to watch next season however, if they can build up some more positive momentum.
Draft position should matter most:
25. Atlanta Falcons (5-8)
Early on this season, I thought the Falcons had a pretty clear path to victory, even if there might have been some limitations. We saw Arthur Smith create some schematic advantages and be relentless with pounding defenses on the ground. They’ve still only failed to reach the 100-mark once on the season (90 – back in week two) and are behind only the Bears with 158.9 rushing yards per game. However, what has been different during this most recent five-game stretch, when they’ve gone 1-4, has been the fact that it was more explosive runs sprinkled in, but also getting into third-and-long situations more regularly. That’s how we’ve seen more pressure on Marcus Mariota in true dropback settings (only converted 36.5% total third downs over those five weeks), where he’s missed several throws which you need an NFL starter to deliver on and in return, that has led to more turnovers – nine over the past six weekends. That won’t cut it in concert with a defense that still has a lot of young guys finding their way. That unit has surrendered more first downs (285) and allowed opponents to score at the highest percentage of drives this season (45.0%). I don’t really understand their plan on that side of the ball either, as they pressure opposing quarterbacks on a league-low 15.3% of dropbacks, yet despite Dean Pees’ roots of bringing pressure in designated passing situations, nobody blitzes at a lower rate (15.5%). Only the Colts and Texans are behind them in DVOA on that side of the ball.
27. Carolina Panthers (4-8)
Until that thrilling 37-34 overtime defeat to the Falcons back in week eight, the Panthers were dead-last in offensive DVOA, with P.J. Walker having taken over for Baker Mayfield, who had been on a historically bad pace, when you look at EPA per play and QBR, and reminded us of that a couple of weeks ago with a three-point performance against the Ravens. Walker did give them some spark, but after he got banged up, the Panthers have now moved on to their third quarterback Sam Darnold, who looked pretty solid in his lone start so far. They’re now up to number 30 in DVOA. A big reason for that has been a bigger focus on the downhill rushing attack, where their O-line can shine, as they’ve rushed for 169+ yards in four of their past six games. However, they need to make more plays to keep drives going, as only the Texans convert third downs at a lower rate (27.1%). Other than that random shootout at Atlanta, which I already referenced, the Panthers defense has quietly been pretty darn impressive. The final numbers may not quite look that way, but turnovers by the offense and being on the field more than any other unit in the league (32:43 minutes), have put a lot of stress on them. They’re top-11 in yards and points surrendered per drive, whilst having scored three touchdowns themselves.
27. New Orleans Saints (4-9)
Are the Saints really as bad that they should have more than twice as many losses as wins? Probably not. They were tied at three mid-way through the fourth quarter against the Bucs back in week two, before then-starting QB Jameis Winston tossed two horrible picks, and then they should have easily put their divisional rivals away this past Sunday, when they allowed a game-losing touchdown with just three seconds left. If they just pull out those two contests, they lead the NFC South right now. However, more so than we’ve ever seen from this group, veterans have made some back-breaking mistakes, and other than that outlier 24-0 thrashing of the Raiders, they haven’t really been able to put together any complete performances as a team. A big reason for why they haven’t managed to control the flow of the game has been their give-take numbers. New Orleans is tied for a league-low in turnovers forced (nine), whilst being second in giving them away (21). That puts them second behind only the Colts in plus/minus, at -12. The offensive line still protects the passer very effectively, as only Tom Brady has been pressured at a lower rate this season than Andy Dalton (13.2% of dropbacks), but considering the way they’ve been able to make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable back there in the past, they’ve fallen off in a major way, pressuring the passer at the second-lowest rate in the league (16.0%). And looking at this secondary, which had been so sound and well-coached in the past, six of the eight players with over 30% of the snaps have recorded a PFF grade of 52.2 or worse.
28. Denver Broncos (3-9)
I listed my top-five “most disappointing teams” of 2022 yesterday on Twitter and this was my pick for number one. Denver’s Over/Under for the season was set at 10.5 by Vegas. Just let that sink in for a minute. And really, if they had shown some signs of life on offense with Russell Wilson, things might not be quite as frustrating, but he and that entire unit have been absolutely dreadful. Up to this point, they’ve score on a league-low 26.6% of their drives and are also dead-last in points per drive at a miniscule 1.2. They’re ahead of only the Texans and Panthers in third-down percentage (27.4%) and tied with the Patriots for the worst red-zone TD percentage (37.5%). While we don’t know what exactly happened in that exchange between defensive tackle Mike Purcell and Russ, there’s probably reason for reports about some of the guys in that locker room being “out” on the freshly signed 250-million-dollar QB. I mean the defense has without a doubt been one of the elite groups in the NFL so far. They’re tied for second-lowest yards per play (4.8) and points per game (17.0) each. What they’ve been able to do in the red-zone, to combat those offensive struggles, has been particularly impressive, allowing opponents to get on the board for six points at a rate that is 11.1% below any other team (32.1%). This unit is Super Bowl-worthy, yet here they sit with three times as many losses as wins. That’s just mind-boggling, considering the investment they’ve made under center.
29. Indianapolis Colts (4-8-1)
Since I just mentioned it with the Broncos – the Colts were number three “most disappointing team” of 2022, with the banged-up reigning champs in the Rams sandwiched between the two. Indy was supposed to be one of those semi-Super Bowl darkhorse candidates. Prior to their collapse in the final two games of last season, which cost them a playoff berth, they had won nine of their previous 12 games, with the only three losses coming on the final drive of those games. Then they swapped out Carson Wentz – who was a big reason for their late-season error – for a former MVP in Matt Ryan, along with some veteran defenders hungry for a ring. Yet, instead they ended up benching Matty Ice following week seven (who ranks 28th in EPA per play for the position) and then firing head coach Frank Reich a couple of weeks later, after ownership forced him to put in Sam Ehlinger at quarterback, who unsurprisingly looked overmatched. Yet, it’s the typical areas of strengths that have really been disappointing, as their O-line has surrendered a league-high 46 sacks and with a nicked-up Jonathan Taylor, they’ve gone over 110 rushing yards in just three contests – that’s basically what he averaged himself in 2021. A big factor has also been the Colts having turned the ball over five times more often than any other team in the league (26), whilst recording just 12 takeaways to their name on defense (tied for fourth), giving them the worst TO differential in the league at -14. The defense has had a few more good moments, being tied for the third-most tackles for loss league-wide (68), but they’re bottom-five in passer rating allowed (95.9) and missed tackles (64).
Legit tanking teams:
30. Chicago Bears (3-10)
I’m sure some oldschool fans from Chicago don’t love seeing their team lose these fairly tight games on a weekly basis, but if you’re looking at this objectively, this kind of perfect for where the Bears organization wants to be heading into the offseason. General manager Ryan Poles made it very clear that he wanted a complete overhaul of the roster, even taking some cap hits for players that he actively removed off the roster, to just clear money and get some of the young guys playing time. We can look at some of the numbers here, averaging a league-high 5.4 yards per rush and being sixth in third-down percentage (45.1%) actually on offense, but really what this comes down to is the growth we’ve seen from second-year quarterback Justin Fields, becoming one of the premiere dual-threats in the game. That’s despite having surrounded him with very limited weaponry and an O-line that leaves things to be desired. The defense has been significantly worse since Fields’ ascension, as they’re tied with the Vikings for the most net yards allowed per dropback (7.1), allowing opponents to convert an NFL-best 48.7% of third down attempts against them and can’t get to the quarterback, having a league-low 16 sacks on the season. Moving on from stalwarts on that unit however has allowed them to get rookies like Jaquan Brisker, Kyler Gordon, Dominique Robinson and even UDFA Jack Sanborn, who I actually liked quite a bit to make the roster, onto the field, and they’ve absolutely shown flashes.
31. Los Angeles Rams (3-9)
And it seems very ironic to put the Rams here, since they won’t actually be able to make three of their top five draft picks in 2023, having used those to acquire veteran players as part of their all-in mindset. Ownership is probably okay with this, since they did end up reaching the ultimate goal of winning a championship, but as we look ahead to the offseason and how this whole thing could be completely torn apart, considering some of the ambitions by Sean McVay, Aaron Donald and others to move to a different stage of their lives, the future seems very uncertain right now. Some of the roster-management decisions combined with a switch from their great injury luck last season, has put them in a weird place, where I don’t even look at them as anything but another team logo, where they just try to get through the rest of the season. The offense has looked doomed from the start, in large part due to how inferior they’ve been on the offensive line. Only the Bucs have averaged fewer than their 3.7 yards per rush and after keeping Matt Stafford clean for the most part last season, they’re now tied for the second-most sacks allowed. Altogether, that has contributed to being dead-last with just 4.7 yards per play. On defense, you have to question the level of motivation for some of their star players, as they’ve certainly not played up to their usual standard. They’re bottom-three in pressure rate (16.2%) and tackles for loss (44) as a group. Most importantly however for me personally, they’re 32 in the HRF.com metric of average start of drive plus/minus, as opponents begin possessions 4.2 yards further ahead than them
32. Houston Texans (1-10-1)
I didn’t really have another choice here for this final spot. Every other team in the league has at least three wins at this point and 28 of those have at least four. So there is some separation here and the Texans seem penciled in for the number one overall pick and a new coaching regime. Other than rookie running back Dameon Pierce literally carrying the offense on his back – and even he has slowed down in tremendous fashion over the last month – there’s really nothing to get excited about on that side of the ball. They simply can’t sustain drives offensively, as only the Broncos score on a lower percentage of drives (28.5%) and they convert a league-worst 26.5% of third downs. Meanwhile, Houston’s defense is allowing a whopping 169.1 yards on the ground on a weekly basis (13.8 more than the second-worst team in that regard) and has only held opponents to less than 24 points in one of their seven games since the bye week – rookie Malik Willis in an emergency start, when the Titans still trashed them for over 300 rushing yards. Houston is middle of the pack in some of the situational defensive categories and some of their young guys have shown flashes when available, but what it really comes down to, is the fact they’re 23rd or worse in yards per rush and pass on offensive and defense each. Bryce Young is on his way, but they’ll need somebody to oversee this massive overhaul over the next couple of years.
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