Nobody knows what power rankings are supposed to mean. And frankly, nobody cares. They just want to see lists. Are power rankings supposed to simply reflect records, in which case, what is the point of doing them? For example, I have cracked the code to ESPN’s power rankings:
- Step 1 – Rank teams in descending order of wins.
- Step 2 – Move San Francisco ahead of Kansas City (Chiefs are trending down!), San Diego ahead of Miami (even though Miami has won two straight, we had them really low two weeks ago, so we can’t move them that high), and move Tampa Bay ahead of Cleveland (Bucs are trending up, Browns are trending down!).
- Step 3 – For team with same number of wins, rank randomly, or based on the the best way to generate discussion.
I don’t see the point in doing power rankings that read just like the NFL standings page. Are power rankings supposed to reflect which teams we think are the best going forward? Perhaps you would like Advanced NFL Stats’ ratings, but that leads to situations where a team like the Ravens is ranked 25th despite being in line for a playoff perth. Which, of course, is either totally acceptable or makes no sense at all, with no middle ground.
Are power rankings supposed to reflect which teams have the best odds of winning the Super Bowl? You might as well use Football Outsiders’ playoff report and call it a day.
Instead, I’m going to make power rankings based on this method of measuring how each team played in each game relative to the performance by the team’s opponents in the rest of its games. The lower the rating, the better. You can view the historical ratings using this formula here.
Let’s look at some of the ratings that might seem odd.
- Carolina is number two! But Cam Newton has a fake smile! And the team has three losses! Seattle has two more wins so it must be ranked higher! Well, the SRS ratings have the Seahawks at #2 and the Panthers at #3, so Carolina is presumably deserving of a top-three rating, disingenuous smiles aside. But why are the Panthers ahead of the Seahawks?
Tthe Panthers have a rating of 3 or lower in all nine wins. Six of the team’s wins were by double digits, two were against New England and San Francisco, and well, the Miami game actually rates very highly in this system, too.1 Seattle may have only one loss, but the Seahawks beat the Rams, Titans, Texans, and Bucs by a combined 18 points. Those four games drag down Seattle’s rating enough to put them behind the Panthers.
- Much is made of Seattle’s home field advantage, and for good reason. But the Seahawks have an average rating of 3.8 in their home games and 3.9 in their road games, so I’m not sure how much the narrative is holding up this year. Seattle is just a great team, and great teams often look completely dominant at home. On the other hand, the narrative about the Saints is true, at least in 20132: New Orleans has a 2.7 rating in home games and a 6.5 rating in road games; that 3.8 point differential is the largest in the NFL. The other teams with the biggest improvements at home? Cincinnati (+3.0), New England (+2.6), Arizona (+2.5), Buffalo (+2.3), and Baltimore (+2.0). The worst teams at home? Jacksonville (-4.3), Philadelphia (-3.7), Kansas City (-3.3), Minnesota (-2.8), and San Francisco (-2.2). As always, take ratings based on sample sizes of 4-7 games with a handful of salt, especially when they involve backup quarterbacks.
- Do the Eagles seem low to you? If you only count the games Nick Foles has started and finished, Philadelphia would be 5-0 and have a rating of 4.0, good enough for 4th place. The Eagles beat some bad teams, but they get a 1 for the Oakland dismantling, a 2 for cruising against the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers by 14, a 4 for winning by 11 in Tampa Bay, a 5 for beating the Cardinals at home by three, and an 8 for only beating Washington at home by eight points (even though the Game Script was much higher). Not counting the Packers game would still leave the Eagles with a 4.5 rating, so you could conceivably rank the Eagles much higher if you think a Nick Foles adjustment is appropriate.
- The Jets come in at #31, which is where New York ranks in points differential, too. Don’t be fooled by the close wins against Buffalo, Tampa Bay, or Atlanta, each of which produced a rating of 7 or more points. The Jets have four 12-point games (Cincinnati, Tennessee, Buffalo, Miami), and two 11-point games (Baltimore, Pittsburgh). That means that in half of the Jets games (and each of the team’s last three), their opponent produced its best or second best game of the year.
Finally, let me close with a table showing the results from every game: I’ve modified the search function so that it only searches the “Team” column.
The Colts and Rams are the strange ones here. Indianapolis joins San Francisco, New Orleans, and Denver as the only teams where they had the best (or tied for best) performance against a team. The Colts crushed the Jaguars, beat the 49ers by 20, and beat Denver and Seattle. But the Colts also get 12s for games against the Cardinals and RAms, an 11 for the loss in San Diego, and a 10 for the home loss to Miami.
As for St. Louis, the Rams looked dominant against the Colts, Bears, and Texans, but otherwise have been one of the worst teams in the league.