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Week 1 Power Rankings

Tom Brady has been known to wear Suggs.

In my experience, most power rankings are pretty vague about what the rankings are supposed to represent. In general, ranking systems are usually either retrodictive or predictive, meaning they’re either supposed to explain the past or predict the future.

If you’re going to make power rankings, you should be clear what you’re rankings are supposed to represent. Are they a snapshot of how good teams are right now? Are they a prediction for which teams have the best odds of winning the Super Bowl? Are they supposed to predict which teams will end the year with the best record? Are they supposed to reflect what we have seen so far?

Nearly every set of power rankings conflate these principles. It’s true that in some ways, the philosophies of retrodictive and predictive are less binary and more two ends of a continuum. On the far left end of the spectrum you have the actual NFL standings, published every day. On the far right you would have the Las Vegas power ratings which drive the point spread in each game (or the Simple Rating System). Power rankings sort of hover in the middle, with writers generally ranking teams by record but then bumping up the teams they like because they think they will play better soon.

Another component of most power rankings: they’re usually forgotten as soon as next week’s rankings are released. But I want to create power rankings that are testable. So here’s the plan. Each week, I’m going to predict how many wins I expect each team to have by the end of the season. Right now, this isn’t so easy. By week 16, it will be really easy. I’m curious to see how my thoughts change on certain teams throughout the year, and the goal is to put up a cool chart at the end of the season tracking the progress. At least, that’s the plan.

Without further ado, here are my Week 1 Power Rankings, which simply represent my best guess — as of today — as to the total number of games each team will ultimately end up winning this year.

New England Patriots13Incredible offensive weapons, an improved defense and a cupcake schedule. Only injuries on the offensive line or to Tom Brady could derail them.
San Francisco 49ers11At this point, the class of the NFC. Defense looks elite, schedule is manageable. Excited to see LaMichael James can get on the field for them and add another dimension to that offense. It may be too early to make the Bill Walsh-Jim Harbaugh comparisons, but Harbaugh has been nothing short of brilliant.
Green Bay Packers11The defense was bad last year and looked no better Sunday against the 49ers. It looks like we'll see regression -- perhaps significantly so, considering the 2011 production -- by the offense, and I think the Packers are going to take some lumps this year. But the schedule is very manageable and more importantly, the Packers will be as dangerous as anyone in the playoffs.
Houston Texans10Going to win the AFC South going away; this team could win 12 games, but concerns about injuries and the potential to rest starters late keep them at 10 wins for now.
Denver Broncos10Watching Peyton Manning work his magic was a thing of beauty on Sunday night. The less John Fox touches this offense, the better, but I think everyone in Denver already knows that.
Baltimore Ravens10Great performance on Monday Night, but I have to imagine missing Terrell Suggs is going to hurt this team. He's too good to simply expect business as usual in Baltimore, and their schedule (AFC West, NFC East, Houston, New England outside the division) is riddled with traps.
Pittsburgh Steelers10Sunday Night was one of the best games I've seen from Ben Roethlisberger. An elite team that will be favored to win most weeks, although questions remain about the offensive line, the running backs, and the age of the defense.
Chicago Bears10Jay Cutler finally has some weapons and the defense should be strong. Getting to face the NFC West and AFC South is helpful, and a split with GB will put the division up for grabs.
Philadelphia Eagles10Trendy to rip the Eagles, but they notched the win. I still love what an offense with Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin can do, and I think the defense is going to be strong. A very talented team if they can ever get it together.
New Orleans Saints9New Orleans had a tough opening day, and only have 7 more home games. 9 more wins may even be pushing it considering how bad this defense looks, but Drew Brees is too good to bet against.
Atlanta Falcons9Matt Ryan should have a big year, but the Chiefs were missing four defensive starters in week 1. A tough division drops the Falcons to the 9-win tier, as they may only get 3 wins against the NFC South. Week 16 in Detroit should have playoff implications.
New York Jets9The additions of Quinton Coples and LaRon Landry were easy to mock, but these two could make the Jets defense a top-three unit. So far, so good. Right tackle Austin Howard exceeded expectations by infinity against Mario Williams, and his play this year will be tied to the Jets success on offense.
New York Giants9A nod to how good the Giants were the last month of last season, as a 9-6 record the rest of the way against their schedule is not going to be easy. New York can't afford any slip-ups.
Detroit Lions9The star model is alive and well in Detroit. With Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson, the Lions will hang around. Can they get Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley to become nightmares for opposing offenses?
San Diego Chargers9Unimpressive on Monday Night Football, but the schedule lines up for them to succeed. Philip Rivers is still elite, so expecting them to only go 8-7 the rest of the way is probably more of a knock on them than anything else. A healthy Ryan Mathews back will help.
Dallas Cowboys9Nothing really changes about my opinion of Dallas, but banking a road win against New York helps. If Rob Ryan gets this defense together, watch out.
Seattle Seahawks8Seattle has a tough schedule but I like the makeup of this team. Very good defense, strong running game, and I think they have enough talent to get to 8 wins.
Carolina Panthers8An improvement over last year, but what happened in week 1? The Panthers will be able to run on teams, and I like their offense, but I can't predict a winning record until they actually start, you know, winning games.
Kansas City Chiefs7I can't get a good read on Kansas City. Some continue to tout them as sleepers, but they've now been outscored by 186 points in their last 19 games.
Cincinnati Bengals7I said the Bengals had a chance to prove themselves on Monday night. Unfortunately for them, they did.
Washington Redskins7Very intriguing defense and Robert Griffin III was marvelous. The creativity of Mike Shanahan was surprising and impressive; unfortunately, there are still 3 better teams in their division and their schedule is brutal after this week 6. I was extremely impressed with them in week 1 but trying to contain myself, otherwise I would switch them with Seattle.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers7I was pretty low on Tampa Bay before the season, but they wildly exceeded my expectations in week 1. A tough division, but the Bucs don’'t appear to be an easy out anymore, and they've already got a confidence-building win.
Buffalo Bills6The Bills go from being a trendy sleeper team to a team that's 1-9 in their last 10 games. Bad Ryan Fitzpatrick showed up for the first 40 minutes of the Jets game, and I don't know if we're going to see the good version anytime soon.
Tennessee Titans6I don't love Jake Locker, and the Titans had an SRS of -1.0 last year. Chris Johnson continues to struggle, and I've got my doubts about their defense.
Oakland Raiders6A home loss in week 1 isn't good for a team that needed all the bounces to go their way to make the playoffs. I still like their skill position talent, but not much else. As my friend Jason Lisk put it, "They couldn’t snap the ball last night, which kind of sums up their chances."
Arizona Cardinals6Getting a win against the Seahawks prevents them from being a tier below; not much to like here, although they've got some legitimate superstars in Larry Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson. Even Jets fans think the Arizona quarterback situation is ugly.
St. Louis Rams6Impressive performance in Detroit; 6 wins may be pushing it, as I think the Rams are one of the least talented teams in the league. But they're going to be a well-coached team and will have their share of upsets.
Minnesota Vikings6Not as bad as people think; had some tough luck last year, Adrian Peterson is a robot, and they've already banked a win.
Miami Dolphins5Some coaches inspire you to go through a wall for them. Joe Philbin is not one of those coaches. I don't think they're any good, but let's not forget they started 0-7 last year and still got to 6 wins.
Jacksonville Jaguars5Blaine Gabbert looked a zillion times better than he did last year, and the Jaguars have more talent than you might think. But Minnesota was one of the more winnable games on the schedule.
Cleveland Browns4Their schedule is a nightmare. Only three games against teams I'm projecting with fewer than 7 wins -- @Indianapolis, home for Buffalo, and @Oakland -- and they'll probably be underdogs in all three.
Indianapolis Colts4There will be growing pains in Indianapolis. But nobody feels bad for their fans, nor should they; the Colts will be contenders each year for a decade, starting next season.

There you have it. Next week, I’ll take another stab at guessing how many wins each team will ultimate have during the 2012 regular season. Until then, rip the power rankings in the comments. As I understand it, that’s the main point of power rankings.

  • Danish

    This is a nice idea. I’m really looking forward to the analysis at the end of the year.

    • Chase Stuart

      Thanks — I’m a sucker for graphs and charts, which is the main reason I’m doing this.

  • Ben

    These rankings are absolute crap. You have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re a terrible person and you should feel terrible. 😀

    • Chase Stuart

      Not bad, but you need to point out a specific team to get an A.

  • Richie

    Are you actually looking at each team’s schedule and/or are you making sure that your total wins for the season = 256?

    I’m a Dolphins fan, and not expecting a lot from them this year, but they have a pretty soft schedule. I think they have a shot at 7 or 9 wins based on these games: OAK, NYJ, at Ari, SL, at Ind, TEN, SEA, JAC, BUF. It’s a shame they don’t have just a little more talent this year to take advantage of the schedule (like they did in 2008).

    • Chase Stuart

      Yeah, I’m paying some attention to schedules and will pay more once there are fewer games left. And each week, the win total will equal 256.

  • Mac

    Yeah but which of the 9-win teams make the playoffs? 😉

  • DB

    Chase – a couple of questions:
    -Win total after week 1 is 256 which is what we would expect. Did this naturally fall out of your methodology or did you need to make some adjustments to get to 256?
    -I’m guessing you’re not using the methodology you described in Tuesday’s column. Presuming you are using some sort of metrics to create these win totals, can you describe your methodology?

    • Chase Stuart

      The methodology is as unimpressive as can be: it’s my gut feeling. Now I’m using some metrics — my thoughts on the predictive stats these teams excel in, Vegas win futures, SRS standings, Tuesday’s posts — but they’re guidelines, and this is more art than science.

      I made the win totals equal 256. I made some adjustments here and there, even after I was done. You have to give each team 1 more win and then take away a win from another team.

  • Ben Stuplisberger

    You seem to be the only analyst to notice that Roethlisberger played a great game against the Broncos. Watching the game myself, I thought both QBs were great. Kudos!