The NFL's Trimester Conference Power Rankings
(None) It's just that kind of year.
1. Patriots (4-2)
2. Steelers (4-2)
I know, how can the Patriots possibly be the #1 team in the AFC? They are dead last in defensive DVOA according to Football Outsiders, and they give up 30 more yards on average than the 31st placed Colts. They got trounced on opening night by the Chiefs and they barely beat the Jets last week. Well, despite those struggles, when you look at the landscape of the league, nothing is very pretty, and every team seemingly has multiple flaws. Who do you trust to fix/improve their flaws better than Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots? The answer is nobody. This team always gets better as the year goes along, and it would shock me if the defense continued to be as bad as it has been. Until anybody else steps forward, they’re in the driver's seat.
The Steelers are a serious contender because their defense put the clamps on the Kansas City offense last weekend, and has the ability to do that on a weekly basis. The Steelers are not a serious contender because their offense can't seem to get its engine in gear. Big Ben hasn’t looked good at any point this season. And how it’s even possible that an offense with Antonio Brown, Leveon Bell, and Martavis Bryant ranks just 13th in total YPG, and 15th in offensive DVOA is beyond me. Still, I’m banking on experience here. They seemingly own the Chiefs. And Big Ben still has the second most championship chops in the conference. If the Patriots didn’t own them, they’d probably be number one.
3. Chiefs (5-1)
4. Texans (3-3)
5. Broncos (3-2)
Little known fact: The 29th ranked defense in terms of yards allowed belongs to the Kansas City Chiefs. Well known fact: The quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs is still Alex Smith. Alex Smith has been fantastic this year, but he’s still Alex Smith. It’s not like he’s become a special QB in the matter of a year. And can you really win a Super Bowl with Alex Smith and the 29th ranked defense? How many times has a slightly above average QB with a bad defense run the table and won the Super Bowl? By my account only once, and only one other team has come close. These are the best examples in NFL history compared to the 2017 Chiefs dating back to 1970:
2017 Chiefs: 29th YPG, 13th PPG, QB Alex Smith, ?????
2016 Falcons: 25th YPG, 27th PPG, QB Matt Ryan, Super Bowl loser
2012 Giants: 27th YPG, 25th PPG, QB, Eli Manning, Super Bowl winner
Even though the Chiefs only rank 13th in PPG allowed, I feel like the yards they allow are bound to catch up with them. Also, I would rather have Matt Ryan and Eli Manning in those respective years than Alex Smith this year. The point is, I’m not sure the Chiefs are as serious contenders as people believe they are.
The case for the Texans is simple. This is a team that without J.J Watt last year went to Foxborough and gave the Patriots fits, and if it weren’t for an Osweilerian effort at the QB position, they might have came out a victor. Insert Deshaun Watson. I know he’s a rookie. But he’s got championship poise, and he can make throws like this. I’d be shocked if they didn’t win the South.
Even with the Broncos’ ugly loss to the Giants on Sunday night, there’s still hope that this defense can carry the Broncos deep into the playoffs. It’s obvious they’re not as good as the 2015 No Fly Zone, as they only ranked 7th in defensive DVOA through Week 5. But this offense has to be better than the half armed Peyton Manning led offense of 2015? I mean it couldn’t possibly be worse, right?
6. Bills (3-2)
7. Titans (3-3)
8. Jaguars (3-3)
9. Chargers (2-4)
10. Raiders (2-4)
11. Dolphins (3-2)
12. Ravens (3-3)
There’s something really painful to watch about all of these teams. Through five games the Buffalo Bills’ leading wide receiver is Jordan Matthews with 162 yards on 10 receptions. The new team in town, the Los Angeles Chargers, are 0-3 at home, and have continued to squander games away at a record breaking clip. The Raiders have lost four in a row, and don’t look anything like the explosive team that rolled to a 12-4 record last year. Jay Cutler has thrown for just 171 YPG (30th in the league), and 5.23 Y/A (32nd in the league), proving that he belongs closer to the booth than the Dolphins huddle. The Titans, though they have the talent to be a playoff team, continue to put together inconsistent efforts. The Jaguars were ranked first in defensive DVOA through the first 5 weeks, but their best offense is playing keep away from their own QB. Joe Flacco has thrown 8 INTs to just 4 TDs this year, and the only reason the Ravens even came close to winning last weekend against the Bears was due to two special teams touchdowns. All in all, nobody has really done enough in this grouping to separate themselves from the pack.
There’s Always Next Year
13. Jets (3-3)
14. Bengals (2-3)
15. Colts (2-4)
16. Browns (0-5)
The Jets have been the league’s biggest surprise at 3-3, but can they really keep that going? It wouldn’t shock me if the Bengals found their way to 8-8, and Marvin Lewis unfortunately got to keep his job. If the Colts were smart, they would just play out the rest of the season without Andrew Luck, get him healthy and get a high draft pick to help that awful defense. And the Browns... do I really have to say anything about the Browns?
(None) Like I said before, it's just that kind of year.
1. Eagles (5-1)
2. Panthers (4-2)
3. Falcons (3-2)
The Eagles are on the short list of teams (Eagles, Chiefs, Redskins, Rams) who have yet to experience a loss that makes you say, “what?” Of course, the Eagles only loss on the year was to the red hot Chiefs. With experienced contenders struggling, the Eagles have separated themselves with some impressive victories. After leading for 3+ quarters against the Giants they gave up 21 unanswered points only to come back and stun the Giants at the buzzer. They throttled the hapless Cardinals. And their defense came up huge in the 4th quarter against both the Washington professional football team and the Panthers. For now they are the closest thing to unblemished there is in the NFC.
The Panthers will go as far as Cam Newton takes them. In the Panthers’ two losses this year, he’s completed 57% of his passes with 1 TD, 6 INTs, and has a QB rating of 44.1. In the Panthers’ four wins this year he’s completing 69% of his passes with 8 TDs, 2 INTs and has a QB rating of 112.4. If the Panthers are truly contenders, they're going to need Super Cam to show up consistently on Sundays.
After failing to score 20 points and losing in two consecutive weeks at home, the Falcons probably don’t belong in this category. However, injuries to Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu cost them against the Bills, and through the first three weeks of the season, they looked like one of the best teams in the league. They still convincingly beat an Aaron Rodgers lead Packers team, and the Lions on the road. So again, like the Steelers and Patriots in the AFC I’m putting a little trust in the Falcons to figure it out because they’ve been there before.
4. Washington (3-2)
5. Rams (4-2)
6. Seahawks (3-2)
7. Saints (3-2)
8. Lions (3-3)
9. Cowboys (2-3)
Washington’s defense has taken huge strides this year, and it’s one of the reasons they top the list of fringe contenders. Washington’s D which ranked 25th last year in defensive DVOA, ranks 10th so far this year, and according to Football Outsiders they’ve played the third hardest defensive schedule. Oh, and they’ve yet to lose to a bad football team (Eagles and Chiefs are their only losses).
Todd Gurley III has looked superhuman again this year and along with an impressive second year turnaround from Jared Goff, the Rams have catapulted into the playoff conversation. Clearly, they have the talent to overtake the Seahawks this year in the West, and they should have beat them in Week 5, the question is, do they have the ability to consistently put it together on Sundays?
Russell Wilson is still running for his life, and if the Seahawks can’t fix their offensive line woes, or their mediocre running game, they can’t be considered a true threat in the NFC. And unlike the Patriots, Steelers, and Falcons it’s tough to say they’ll just figure it out when they’ve failed to do so over the last two seasons.
The Saints have only given up 273 YPG over their three game win streak, which would rank 3rd league. They’ve also only given up 17.0 PPG over that span, which would rank 4th in the league. They still only rank 15th in defensive DVOA on the year, and I’m not exactly sure how they’ve turned it around after that opening night disaster at the hands of Sam Bradford, but if they can keep it up, they could find themselves on the short list of contenders in the NFC.
Just like last year, the Lions have failed to beat good competition. With wins only against the Cardinals, Giants and Vikings, and losses against the Saints, Falcons and Panthers, it’s hard to imagine them taking a leap this year. And even if they do sneak into the playoffs, they’re not going to be able to do any damage.
If Ezekiel Elliott can stay on the field, and Dak Prescott keeps up his current play, this team is as talented on offense as any. Unfortunately, they haven’t found ways to win close games in the fourth quarter this year (mostly because of their defense), and with a tough schedule the rest of the way, it’s going to be hard for them to make a playoff push.
10. Vikings (4-2)
11. Cardinals (3-3)
12. Bucs (2-3)
Nobody is afraid of Casey Keenum, Carson Palmer or Jameis Winston right now. Adrian Peterson is not going to save the Cardinals’ season. The Bucs have been atrocious on defense. And the Vikings, despite their defense, don’t pose an offensive threat to anyone. If any one of these teams finds their way into the playoffs they will have opponents licking their chops.
There’s Always Next Year
13. Giants (1-5)
14. Bears (2-4)
15. Packers (4-2)
16. 49ers (0-6)
The Giants have been competitive in nearly every game they’ve played this year. Unfortunately, you don’t get points for just being competitive, and they’ve already put themselves in too deep a hole. The Bears have had some fun victories this year, and they’ve played tough, but they’re clearly a year or two away from actual contention. The Aaron Rodgers news is sad. It will be shocking if the Packers can stay in contention without him. And Kyle Shanahan has yet to work his magic on the 49ers, and a tough schedule should put them at 1-15 or 0-16.