While most of Football Outsiders’ rankings this week make perfect sense, there are a few that make us say, “Really??”
The Patriots are 1st overall, and that should be a surprise to absolutely nobody. They’re the best team in the league. I am curious, though, as to why they’re the 8th overall ranked defense. While they’ve only given up more than 30 points to the Bills with their late comeback, the Pats haven’t faced a murderer’s row of offenses. Football Outsiders’ rankings adjusts for competition, which is why it’s hard to think that the Pats are 8th. They’re a good defense, but I don’t know if they’re in the first quartile of NFL team defenses.
When looking at the offensive vs. defensive rankings of some other teams, it seems like the rankings on either side of the ball aren’t as separate from each other as we’d like to think. For instance, the Jets are 5th overall behind their not surprising 2nd ranked defense and their definitely surprising 11th ranked offense. I realize that Football Outsiders’ DVOA system is based off of determining how each team does on every play in relation to the league average of how teams do on such plays. I get that, and I love the system, which is why I use it as my #1 reference for which teams are the best in the league.
But is it possible for that type of stats system to pick up on all the intricacies of the game in terms of when the ball changes possession and the confidence that a team gets when it does? Let me explain. Last season, it was clear that the Arizona Cardinals defense went downhill after Carson Palmer’s injury. Former high-level football players that I’ve either read or spoken to all told me that such a situation is not only possible but very likely. They explained that it can be debilitating for a defense when they know that their offense has no chance of scoring. Aside from the intangible aspect of confidence in their quarterback, it’s also reasonable to assume that the defense will fare worse if the offense turns the ball over and gives them a short field and less rest time.
That would explain the Jets offense being 11th, and it unfortunately might explain some of the Pats’ high ranking. It’s pretty easy to stop someone when mediocre quarterbacks like Blake Bortles, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Tannehill, and Kirk Cousins are frantically trying to come back from a deficit that Brady has already handed them. The Pats get lots of opportunities for garbage time stops and easy picks on desperation heaves. I’m not saying that’s happened in every game that the Pats have won easily or even close to all of them, but over the course of 8 games against the bad batch of QBs that the Pats have played, that seems like it’s gonna happen sometimes, right?
Outside of the AFC East, the Cardinals are ranked 2nd overall behind their offense and defense that are both ranked 3rd. If it wasn’t for their 17th ranked special teams as opposed to the Pats’ 1st ranked ST, they’d be higher ranked overall than the Pats. If the Pats make the Super Bowl, the Cardinals are the biggest threat.
Coming in at 3rd and 4th are the Bengals and Panthers, demonstrating that their undefeated records are not a fluke. They’re both damn good teams, and I’d slot them both as the clear 2nd best teams in their conferences. They have exact opposite rankings, with Cincy in 2nd on offense and 10th on defense, while Carolina is 10th on offense and 2nd on defense. The difference between the two is the Bengals’ far superior special teams, ranking 5th as opposed to 28th.
After the Jets at 5, 4 playoff teams from last year with high hopes before the season follow. Fans of thee Packers, Steelers, Broncos, and Seahawks expected their teams to be in the top 5 before the season, but they’re all chasing the surprising stories of the Cards, Bengals, Panthers, and Jets. Their presence in the top 10, though, demonstrates that they could easily make a leap come playoff time and come away with the Lombardi Trophy..
Denver’s defense is still 1st overall, though there is now less of a gap between 1 and 2. Their formerly ranked 32nd ranked offense has made a colossal jump all the way to… 31st. Too bad Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers forgot how to play football and keep the Broncos in their place.
Last important notes:
- The Chiefs and Raiders are ranked 10th and 11th, meaning they’re much more legitimate than we realized.
- The Giants, whom the Pats obviously play this week, are ranked 15th overall, coming in at #17 on offense and #20 on defense. The Pats shouldn’t have an issue with an opponent with those credentials.
- The Falcons and Colts are ranked 17th and 18th. The Falcons part may surprise you, and given that they’ve been healthy, it’s safe to say they’re not a super bowl contender. The Colts only are if Andrew Luck gets healthy and plays like what the talking heads were saying he would before the season.