Thursday, September 25, 2014

2014 Week 4 NFL Power Ratings (September 25, 2014)

With another interesting week of NFL football in the books, it's time to update the power ratings. 

Note: I decided to change up the scale for a couple of reasons, primarily because I was using '85' as an arbitrary number to represent the best team, which can be confusing and doesn't make much sense. As a result, '100' will be used as the benchmark instead of '85' from here on out.

Just to give a refresher, if Seattle played Cincinnati on a neutral field, the Seahawks would be about a 4-point favorite according to my ratings. By no means is this the end all, be all, but the ratings allow us to compare each team, and ultimately estimate how much better one team is than another.

Here are the updated power ratings for Week 4:

100 Seattle
  99 Denver
  97 New Orleans
  96 Cincinnati, New England
  95 San Francisco, San Diego, Arizona
  94 Philadelphia, Detroit, Indianapolis, Green Bay
  93 Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago
92.5 Pittsburgh, Carolina
91.5 Washington
  91 NYJ, Kansas City
90.5 Dallas, Houston, Buffalo
  90 NYG, Cleveland, Miami
  89 Minnesota, Tennessee
88.5 St. Louis
87.5 Tampa Bay
  86 Oakland
  85 Jacksonville

To give another example, if New Orleans played Dallas on a neutral field, the Saints would be favored by about 6 points according to the ratings.

Just a few quick hitters on some of the upper-echelon teams...

There wasn't really anything I saw from Seattle that concerned me, aside from maybe falling asleep at the wheel with a 17-3 fourth quarter lead. However, that type of stuff tends to happen in the NFL, and it's not always clear how to interpret these instances. To me, Seattle outplayed Denver for most of the afternoon, but went through the motions with a fairly large lead in the fourth quarter and allowed the Broncos to get back in the game, thanks to a textbook Peyton Manning drive. With that said, Denver showed us they can compete with the Seahawks, which a positive sign moving forward, and I didn't see a reason to upgrade or downgrade either team.

Cincinnati has been impressive this year, there's no doubt about it, but I'm not as high on them as most analysts, writers and math modelers. I believe that too much stock is being put into Cincinnati's home win against Atlanta in Week 2. Despite the Cincy beat down, it cannot be forgotten that Atlanta is a 'dome team,' meaning they are much better when playing at home as opposed to on the road. As a result, we can't confuse the Atlanta team that beat New Orleans and Tampa Bay at home with the Atlanta team that went on the road and got blown out by Cincinnati.

Additionally, Andy Dalton is still the quarterback of this team. Last time I checked, the quarterback is the most important player on the field and usually has the largest impact on the outcome of a football game. In the NFL, you're only as good as your quarterback, and I truly believe that. Hue Jackson appears to be doing a solid job with the offense, which should continue to benefit Dalton, but I'm still not sold on the erratic, fourth-year quarterback. However, I digress. If Cincinnati can win at New England next week, perhaps I will buy in and change my tune on this team.

There's no doubt that San Francisco hasn't looked like an elite team through the first three weeks, but I'm not writing them off yet. While I may be behind the curve with this one, the 49ers are currently installed as 4.5-point favorites in their matchup with the Eagles, which gives me some confidence that San Fran is still an above-average team. The 49ers are having problems specifically with the offensive line and defensive secondary, but with their backs against the wall versus Philadelphia, we should see an improved San Francisco team this week.

Philadelphia may be 3-0, but they are missing three of their five starters on the offensive line, which is a major problem that hasn't been talked about much by the mainstream media. Another concern is that the defense has looked pretty soft thus far, particularly in pass coverage. Kirk Cousins had all day to throw in the pocket, and as a result he lit up the defense for over 400 passing yards. Don't be fooled by the 3-0 record, as Philadelphia is very fortunate to be undefeated and has major issues on the offensive line that cannot be understated.

To their credit, Green Bay's defense didn't play poorly against Detroit last week, but overall I view the unit as soft. Dom Capers has overstayed his welcome in Green Bay as far as I'm concerned. They have trouble getting stops, as well as creating turnovers, which is a recipe for disaster on defense. Additionally, the Packers have a relatively weak offensive line, which has been a problem in both of their losses. It really makes you wonder what this team would look like if Aaron Rodgers wasn't running the show. Rodgers has held that roster together during the last couple of seasons and I would argue that he's the most valuable player to his team, as well as to the point spread.

The Vikings aren't an upper-echelon team, but I wanted to touch on their quarterback situation. It might take a few games to show in Minnesota, but Teddy Bridgewater is an upgrade over Cassel as far as I'm concerned. I wouldn't expect Adrian Peterson to return this season, and as a result, one would think offensive coordinator Norv Turner will start airing the ball out. Handing the ball off to Matt Asiata for three yards isn't going to win games in the NFL. Minnesota needs to become a high-variance team if they want a shot at the playoffs this year and I think Bridgewater will emerge as a competent NFL quarterback as he becomes acclimated to the league.

Week 4 Projected Point Spreads
NYG @ Washington (-4)
Buffalo @ Houston (-3)
Tampa Bay @ Pittsburgh (-8 )
Detroit (-1) @ NYJ
Tennessee @ Indianapolis (-7.5)
Carolina @ Baltimore (-3.5)
Green Bay (PK) @ Chicago
Miami (-4) vs. Oakland*
Jacksonville @ San Diego (-12.5)
Atlanta (-2.5) @ Minnesota
Philadelphia @ San Francisco (-4)
New Orleans (-3.5) @ Dallas
New England  (-3) @ Kansas City
*Game being played in London

Thursday, September 11, 2014

2014 Week 2 NFL Power Ratings (September 11, 2014)

With the first week of NFL football in the books, it's time to go back to the drawing board and make some adjustments to the power ratings.

Most of the teams remain unchanged after the first week of games. However, there were a couple of squads that jumped out and got my attention, for better or for worse. While it may be dangerous to overreact to 60 minutes of football, it can also be detrimental to underestimate what occurred during Week 1. It's difficult to strike a balance between the two, and as a result I don't like moving any team too far up or down the spectrum based on one game of football. 

Here are my updated power ratings for Week 2...

85.0 Seattle
84.0 Denver
83.0 San Francisco
82.5 New Orleans
82.0 New England
81.5 Green Bay
78.5 Cincinnati, Philadelphia
78.0 Pittsburgh, Indianapolis
77.5 Detroit, Arizona, San Diego, Atlanta, Chicago
77.0 Carolina, Miami, Baltimore
76.5 Tampa Bay
76.0 Minnesota, Houston, Kansas City
75.5 NYJ, Tennessee
75.0 Buffalo, Washington, Dallas
74.5 NYG, Cleveland, St. Louis
73.5 Jacksonville
73.0 Oakland

Note: St. Louis has a * because they are down to their third-string quarterback. If Shaun Hill is available to start Sunday's game, then St. Louis would be more like a 76. 

Detroit (77 to 77.5)
Atlanta (77 to 77.5)
Miami (76 to 77)
Minnesota (75.5 to 76)
Tennessee (75 to 75.5)
Buffalo (74.5 to 75)

Atlanta showed some resiliency in their comeback win against New Orleans, which definitely warrants some respect. In case we had forgotten, Matt Ryan reminded us that he is one of the upper echelon quarterbacks in the league (I'd take him over Foles any day of the week) after his 2013 campaign was sort of swept under the rug due to a poor performance by the team as a whole. I'm not sold on the defense, but boy did that Atlanta offense look impressive on Sunday. This team is nowhere near the 4-12 mark they put up last year, and it cannot be forgotten that the Falcons went 13-3 just two short years ago.

Minnesota looked impressive against St. Louis, although the final score may not give a true indication of how good each team is. Not only were the Rams forced to turn to third-string quarterback Austin Davis after Shaun Hill left the game due to injury, but St. Louis also committed 13 penalties resulting in 121 yards, as well as two turnovers. It was a sloppy performance overall to say the least. However, the Vikings averaged 6.1 yards per play and 6.0 yards per rush attempt against what is thought to be a stout, above-average defense, so you've got to give them some credit there. Overall, I was impressed with Mike Zimmer's debut and it's safe to say Minnesota proved to be the better team in this one.

Status Quo:
Seattle (85)
Denver (84)
San Francisco (83)
New Orleans (82)
Cincinnati (78.5)
Philadelphia (78.5)
Pittsburgh (78)
Indianapolis (78)
San Diego (77.5)
Baltimore (77.5)
Arizona (77.5)
Carolina (77)
Tampa Bay (76.5)
Houston (76)
NYJ (75.5)
Dallas (75)
Cleveland (74.5)
Jacksonville (73.5)
Oakland (73)

San Diego and Arizona are two teams to keep a close eye on during the next few weeks. Both teams looked fairly even on Monday night, but neither of them impressed me. San Diego had trouble moving the ball various times throughout the night and they could never really get into a rhythm. Similarly, Arizona's offense was mostly held in check, aside from a few big plays. Arizona's run defense was stellar, despite the absence of Darnell Dockett which was a positive sign. I was tempted to lower each team down to a 77, but decided to take the wait-and-see approach. It's tough to judge these two teams (compared to the rest of the league) based on that head-to-head matchup, and thus will keep my eyes peeled. 

Cincinnati's offense moved the ball with relative ease on Baltimore, but struggled mightily to convert in the red zone. The Ravens offense looked horrible in the first half, but nonetheless they still managed to spark a comeback and almost steal a game they had no business winning. Flacco threw the ball 62 times, which is absolutely ludicrous to me. The Bengals kicked five field goals (three of which occurred inside the red zone), which is obviously not a recipe for success. However, Cincinnati managed to scrap out a tight one, but the jury is still out on both of these teams as far as I'm concerned.

Philadelphia made survivor pool entrants like myself extremely weary after mailing in a first half clunker and finding themselves down 17-0 at halftime to a team that has been an NFL bottom dweller for years. Chip Kelly made some adjustments at the break and the Eagles ended up outscoring the Jags 34-0 in the second half. Despite the impressive comeback, Philadelphia's offensive line is decimated, and that 17-0 halftime deficit is nothing to gloss over. The division they play in might be terrible, but the Eagles are far from world beaters and I still have my reservations about this team.

New England (82.5 to 82)
Green Bay (82 to 81.5)
Chicago (78 to 77.5)
Kansas City (76.5 to 76)
St. Louis (76.5 to 74.5)
Washington (75.5 to 75)
NYG (75 to 74.5)

New England may have just come out flat in Week 1 and gone through the motions, but in the same token, Miami committed three turnovers so it's not like the Dolphins were sharp in this one either. Miami ended up blowing the game open in the second half, outscoring the Patriots 23-0. I was only able to see bits and pieces of this game, but I thought Bill Lazor's offense looked light-years ahead of the one we were accustom to seeing down in Miami.

Green Bay's defense couldn't have looked softer on Thursday night. Granted they had to face the Seahawks in Seattle, but the defense simply couldn't get stops and struggled to make tackles. We will find out more about the Packers as the season progresses, but the offensive line and defensive unit are two question marks that I would keep an eye on. After Brian Bulaga left the game with a knee injury, the offensive line fell apart once Derek Sharrod took over at right tackle. Aaron Rodgers was under all sorts of pressure, and as a result Green Bay couldn't move the chains on offense. I'm not a fan of Dom Capers and his defensive scheme and I wouldn't be surprised to see the Packers continue to struggle against above-average offenses.

Tampa Bay's offense couldn't have looked worse against Carolina. The Bucs were shutout for the first three quarters until they strung a few scoring drives together in the fourth. Some of Tampa Bay's struggles on offense could be attributed to the inexperience of their play-caller (offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford was unavailable to call plays), but nonetheless, it's tough to feel good about this offense. The offensive line did not look good to say the least, and to make matters worse Logan Mankins was injured during the game. However, I will take the wait-and-see approach with this team for now because I have respect for the defense and head coach Lovie Smith.

Week 2 Projected Point Spreads
Pittsburgh @ Baltimore (-2.5)
Detroit @ Carolina (-2)
Miami @ Buffalo (PK -120)
Jacksonville @ Washington (-4
Dallas @ Tennessee (-3)
Arizona (-2) @ NYG
New England (-3 -120) @ Minnesota
New Orleans (-5.5) @ Cleveland
Atlanta @ Cincinnati (-3 -120)
St. Louis @ Tampa Bay (-6)
Seattle (-5) @ San Diego
Houston (-1.5) @ Oakland
NYJ @ Green Bay (-8)
Kansas City @ Denver (-10.5)
Chicago @ San Francisco (-6.5)
Philadelphia @ Indianapolis (-2.5 -120)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

2014 Week 1 NFL Power Ratings (September 4, 2014)

It's that time of the year again, folks. The NFL is back!

With the 2014 season set to begin on Thursday night, I figured it was time to post my Week 1 power ratings.

As a reminder, I do not look at W/L records at all when making these ratings. I noticed that sites like ESPN and Bleacher Report basically just rank every team in order according to win/loss record to create their rankings, and those media sites are extremely influenced by what happened the week before. I'm pretty sure my nine-year-old cousin is capable of ranking teams in order (1-32) according to their win/loss records. I prefer to take a big picture approach considering I understand you can't overreact to a single game of football. I also realize that every team plays a different strength of schedule, and thus raw W/L records don't really tell us much about how good a team is compared to another.

For my power ratings, I assign numerical values to each team in order to get a better estimation of how much better one team is than another. Seattle is the best team in the NFL according to my ratings, but how much better are they than teams like Denver, Green Bay and New Orleans? I look to answer those types of questions when constructing power ratings.

Note: San Francisco has an * because they are missing some key players due to injury and/or suspension. There is no doubt in my mind that the 49ers are one of the best teams in the NFL, and thus they warrant a rating in the low-80's. However, at the beginning of the season, I wouldn't be surprised to see them struggle a bit out of the gate. With that said, I decided to keep San Francisco at an 83, realizing that teams like New England, New Orleans, and Green Bay may be better off as of now, but when it's all said and done, I expect the Niners to be right around that 83 mark. I didn't think it would be smart to move off of my number just because of the temporary absence of a few players. So please just keep that in mind when evaluating these ratings.

85.0 Seattle
84.0 Denver
83.0 San Francisco*
82.5 New England, New Orleans
82.0 Green Bay
78.5 Cincinnati, Philadelphia
78.0 Chicago, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis
77.5 San Diego, Baltimore, Arizona
77.0 Atlanta, Detroit, Carolina
76.5 Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Kansas City
76.0 Houston, Miami
75.5 Minnesota, NYJ, Washington
75.0 NYG, Dallas, Tennessee
74.5 Cleveland, Buffalo
73.5 Jacksonville
73.0 Oakland

Power ratings can be used to project the beginning stages of a point spread. For example, if Denver played Green Bay on a neutral field, my power ratings suggest Denver would be about a 2-point favorite. Other factors such as location, perception, schedule spots, etc. are then implemented into the number in order to create a more accurate point spread.

One thing that jumps off the page to me is the significant drop off between the top 6 and the rest of the aforementioned teams. While the NFL is known for it's competitive parity, and the playoffs are synonymous with underdogs getting hot and crashing the party, I don't see many viable contenders outside of the top six teams on this list.

I prefer to create my own numbers before checking out the Offshore/Vegas lines in order to avoid being influenced by the market. For example, when you go into a car dealership to buy a car, you want to have a price in your head before speaking with a salesperson. That way you can compare the sales price with your estimated price, and determine whether you are getting fair value or being overcharged. The same logic can be applied to the financial markets when trading stocks, commodities or futures. The trader usually has a predetermined price range in mind before exploring the market for opportunities. 

Projected Week 1 Point Spreads
Green Bay @ Seattle (-6)
New Orleans (-3) @ Atlanta
Minnesota @ St. Louis (-3.5)
Cleveland @ Pittsburgh (-6.5)
Jacksonville @ Philadelphia (-9.5)
Oakland @ NYJ (-5)
Cincinnati @ Baltimore (-2)
Buffalo @ Chicago (-6.5)
Washington @ Houston (-3)
Tennessee @ Kansas City (-4)
New England (-5) @ Miami
Carolina @ Tampa Bay (-2)
San Francisco (-4.5) @ Dallas
Indianapolis @ Denver (-8)
NYG @ Detroit (-5)
San Diego @ Arizona (-2.5)