Statistical NFL Rankings: Week 12

Every week I do power rankings, and while they’re partly based on statistics (i.e. where teams rank in the various categories), they’re mostly subjective. So I wanted to create a way to rank teams based purely on their statistical ranks in the major categories; a completely numbers-based system.

What I did was I took 9 major categories and averaged out every team’s rank in all 9 of them to get a single number to rate teams by. The lower the number the better, since 1 means #1 rank in the category and 32 means the lowest-ranked team in the category.

The 9 categories are:

  • Passing offense
  • Passing defense
  • Rushing offense
  • Rushing defense
  • Points scored per game
  • Points allowed per game
  • Yards per play
  • Turnover margin
  • Point differential

Again, we’re using ranks in these categories in order to have a uniform standard across all of them. We’re simply averaging out where these teams rank in the 9 categories.

Here’s an example using the Colts, who came out as the top-ranked team:

It’s important to keep in mind that a rankings formula is not necessarily wrong just because it doesn’t conform to your (and my) pre-existing opinions. It could mean the rankings are wrong, but it could also mean your (and my) pre-existing opinions were wrong.

So here’s what I got when I plugged in the numbers:

  1. Colts (5.4): The Colts are the only team in the league ranked highly in all 9 categories. Their lowest category is yards-per-play, where they rank 12th in the league, which is still good. I doubt anyone thinks the Colts are the best team in the league (I had them at #5 in my most recent power rankings), but the numbers show that they’re probably the most complete team in the league. Or, put another way, the team with the fewest weaknesses. I personally don’t believe the Colts are the best team in the league, but they are the best team statistically. There’s nothing they do poorly. They’re at least average in every category.
  2. Chiefs (7.4): This is not a surprise. The Chiefs should be ranked inside the top 2, everyone knows it. However, the Chiefs have one glaring weakness: run defense, where they currently rank 27th in the league. But in almost everything else, they’re exceptional: #1 in passing offense, #1 in points scored per game, #2 in yards-per-play, #3 in turnover margin. They even rank #8 in pass defense, which is impressive because you’d expect opposing teams to be throwing more against them. The Chiefs rank #7 in points allowed, too. Not really much more to say about them: they’re elite, we don’t need numbers to know this.
  3. Saints (8.2): The Saints are a team that doesn’t do anything poorly. #12 pass defense, #2 run defense. Top 10 in both points scored and points allowed. Their worst category is passing offense, but even there they rank #15. And now they’ve got Michael Thomas back. They rank #12 in yards-per-play, which is a bit concerning because you’d prefer them to be in the top-10, but it helps that they have an elite defense.
  4. Rams (8.6): More people are coming around on the Rams and realizing they’re really good, so this might not be too big a surprise. But statistically, they’re elite. They’re the #2 pass defense, the #5 run defense, and the #2 scoring defense. No surprises there. But they’re better than people think on offense, too: #9 in both rushing and passing, and #9 in yards-per-play. The only area they’re a bit sketchy in is scoring offense, where they rank #18. And they rank #15 in turnover margin. But this Rams team doesn’t have any real weaknesses. It really doesn’t matter that they are in the bottom-half of the league in scoring, because they have one of the stingiest defenses in the league. They can win low-scoring games. This team is going to be a problem in the NFC.
  5. Steelers (8.9): As long as the Steelers are undefeated, I’ll keep them at #1 in my power rankings. But there’s a few problem areas in their statistical rankings: they’re #18 in passing offense, #22 in rushing offense and #22 in yards per play. So their offense is below-average. That is not ideal. But despite these low rankings, they’re still #5 in scoring offense. Their defense is unquestionably elite, ranking #3 against the pass, #7 against the run and #1 in points against. Plus the Steelers are #1 in the league in turnover margin. You can view this as a product of luck, but I do not as the TO Margin ranks correlate pretty well with the best teams in the league in terms of all the other statistical rankings. In other words, I would say teams have high TO margins because they’re good, not the other way around (teams are good because they have high TO margins). I still believe in the Steelers even though the statistical rankings have them a bit lower, but perhaps we should be a bit more concerned about their offense than we are currently.
  6. Packers (10.8): The Packers aren’t really elite in anything other than scoring offense (#3) and yards-per-play (#4), but they also don’t really have any glaring weaknesses. They’re #14 in passing defense and #13 in rushing defense, which might surprise some people because in their 3 losses this season they’ve given up at least 140 rushing yards. I think the statistics have overrated their rush defense, as it has not been great against the best three rushing offenses they’ve faced this year (Tampa, Minnesota, Indianapolis). I think ~#6 is right where the Packers belong: they’re definitely a really good team, but they’re not quite in that elite category given that they are not really elite at any one thing.
  7. Ravens (11.2): We’ll start with the problem areas for Baltimore–they’re 31st in passing offense, 17th in run defense (I was surprised to learn this), and tied with the Bucs at 18th in yards-per-play. These are the Ravens’ glaring weaknesses. But they also have a lot to hang their hats on: #1 in rushing offense, #3 in points allowed, #7 in passing defense. On top of that they’re #9 in turnover margin. With the Ravens, there’s really no in-between: there’s things they’re elite at, and things they’re really bad at. I’ve been saying for a while I think Lamar’s limitations in terms of throwing the football cap this team’s upside big time, and the data backs this up. They don’t match up well with a lot of the top teams in the league.
  8. Bucs (11.3): Tampa is a team a lot of people are fading in the wake of their home loss to the Rams. But while Tampa was favored in that game, and they didn’t look particularly great, the Rams are a really good team. It’s hard to knock Tampa too much for losing by 3 to an elite team. There are some areas of concern for Tampa, however: their pass defense is ranked 16th, and their rush offense is #26. And they’re 18th in the league in yards-per-play. Being 7th in turnover margin is a welcome sign in Tampa after Jameis Winston’s famous 30 INT season last year. But being only 10th in the league in in passing offense despite having the best WR trio and the GOAT at QB is underwhelming, to say the least. Especially when they’re ranked so poorly in terms of rushing offense. Tampa has the weapons and the talent to be an elite passing offense, they just need to figure it out. If they can do that, they are a Super Bowl contender. But right now, I don’t see this team being able to win a Super Bowl.
  9. Cardinals (12.1): On offense, the Cardinals rank 2nd in rushing, 8th in points scored, and 6th in yards-per-play. Their passing offense ranks 12th. But on defense, they rank 19th in passing defense and 23rd in run defense. I don’t think they’re good enough on defense to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
  10. Seahawks (12.3): The data tells us nothing we don’t already know about Seattle. Potentially the most dangerous passing attack outside of Kansas City, but the worst passing defense in the league thus far. The defense looked like it was coming around in the win against the Cardinals, but we need to see more. Seattle is surprisingly good at stopping the run, ranking 4th in the league, but that could be a product of everyone knowing their pass defense is so bad that they hardly run on Seattle.
  11. Titans (13.8): While teams 7-10 were ranked pretty close to one another in terms of averages, the Titans are a decent distance behind all three. There’s a decent drop-off between Seattle and the Titans, at least according to the averages. And this is because while the Titans are 7-3 and everyone considers them a pretty good team, there’s a lot they don’t do well. They’re 27th in pass defense, which is a huge concern. They’re 23rd in passing offense, they’re 20th in run defense and 18th in points allowed. In other words, their defense is a liability and they aren’t consistent throwing the ball. However, they are elite at running the ball, they’re a top-10 scoring offense, they’re 7th in yards-per-play and they’re #2 in turnover margin. So they can run the ball and they don’t turn it over. The Titans are one of those teams that you know are good, but their greatness doesn’t really show up in the statistics. They just win games. They find ways to win.
  12. 49ers (14.4): This might be a surprise for some people. They’re ranked 5th in passing defense and 10th in rushing defense, and believe it or not they’re 13th in passing offense. The 49ers are a better team than most people think. They’ve been decimated by injuries, but this is still the same coach and team that went to the Super Bowl last season. They’re 27th in turnover margin, which might explain why they’re just 4-6 this season. They’re an underrated team, although I don’t think they’re the 12-best team in the league.
  13. Raiders (15.1): There are a few glaring weaknesses with this team (28th in pass defense, 26th in points allowed), but they’re rock-solid across the board otherwise. 12th in run defense, 7th in rushing offense, 9th in points scored, 9th in yards per play, 12th in turnover margin and 13th in point differential. On top of this they’ve played the most difficult schedule in the league.
  14. Bills (15.4): This might be the biggest differential between statistical rankings and power rankings. In the power rankings I have them at #8. The main issue with Buffalo is their defense: 17th against the pass, 29th against the run, and 20th in points against. They’re pretty one-dimensional on offense, too: 5th in passing, 27th in rushing. Josh Allen is carrying this team. They’re 11th in points for, 7th in yards-per-play, 9th in turnover margin and 14th in point differential. They can score a hell of a lot of points, but their defense is a major liability. The statistical rankings value completeness, meaning effectiveness on both offense and defense, and the Bills just aren’t a complete team.
  15. Chargers (15.4): Despite the 3-7 record, the Chargers are 4th in passing offense, 11th in rushing offense; while on defense they’re 13th against the pass and 16th against the run. Those are far better numbers than any team with the same record. They’re definitely the best 3-7 team in the league, and they might even be the best sub-.500 team in the league. But they’ve made a habit of blowing leads in big games. They had a 17-9 going into the 4th quarter against the Chiefs and wound up losing 23-20; a 24-7 second-quarter over the Bucs but wound up losing 38-31; a 20-3 lead over the Saints but found a way to lose 30-27 in OT; and blew a 24-3 lead to lose 31-30 to Denver. The stats don’t tell the full story here: this team doesn’t know how to close out games.
  16. Browns (15.7): Despite their 7-3 record, the Browns are statistically a middle-of-the-road team. But for the Browns, the NFL’s worst team over the past two decades, that’s great news. The only things they do well are run the ball (#3 in the league) and stop the run (#8 in the league). Passing, they’re abysmal at 30th in the league, and they’re 21st in pass defense. They’re only 16th in yards-per-play and 21st in point differential. They’ve benefitted from playing one of the easiest schedules in the league, but you can tell this Browns teams is different because they’re actually winning games. The statistics would say they’re not as good as their record, but when it comes to the Browns, they’re held to a different standard because the past two decades have been so pathetically bad. Far be it from me to nitpick probably the best season the Browns have had since coming back to Cleveland in ’99. That’s where I’ll conclude the write-ups for these teams: I don’t really care to discuss the bottom half of the league other than the last two teams, which we’ll get to in a minute. But here are the rest of the rankings.
  17. Panthers (16.7)
  18. Dolphins (17.4)
  19. Vikings (17.4)
  20. Patriots (17.4)
  21. Falcons (17.7)
  22. Washington (18.1)
  23. Texans (19.9)
  24. Giants (20.9)
  25. Bears (21.2)
  26. Broncos (21.6)
  27. Eagles (21.7)
  28. Cowboys (23.3)
  29. Lions (23.8)
  30. Bengals (24.6)
  31. Jets (26.7)
  32. Jaguars (27.2): The Jaguars as the worst team in the league, not the Jets? Apparently so. While the Jets are undeniably awful, at least they do have some semi-redeeming qualities. They’re 11th in the league in run defense and 15th in turnover margin. The Jags, meanwhile, don’t do anything well. Their best stat category is 22nd in passing offense. Seriously, that’s their highest rank out of all 9 categories. Plus, the Jets have played the 2nd hardest schedule while the Jags have played the 12th.

Those are the un-adjusted rankings. I mentioned a few teams’ strength-of-schedule above but didn’t factor it into the rankings at all. Eventually I’ll adjust the rankings by strength of schedule, because that should be taken into consideration. For instance, the Steelers have the best point differential in the league and are undefeated, but they’ve also played the easiest schedule in the league.

In fact, all of the top 6 teams in the statistical rankings have played easy schedules. The Colts have played the 3rd-easiest schedule, the Saints have played the #18 ranked schedule, the Rams have had the #22 ranked schedule, and the Packers have had the #26 schedule.

Now, while we all believe those teams are legit and great, this could be part of the reason they’ve looked so good this year.

On the flip side, teams like the Ravens and Bucs have been getting lots of criticism lately, but the Ravens have played the 3rd toughest schedule in the league and the Bucs have played the 8th. That’s a huge difference from most of the other top 10 teams.

So these are the purely-statistical rankings going into week 12. They take into account the two Thanksgiving games. I will update them every week going forward after all the games are played and figure out a way to factor in strength of schedule.

There are also some other statistical categories I’d like to include, such as percentage of drives ending in points and percentage of opponents’ drives ending in points. I’ll tweak and add things to the ratings whenever possible to try to make them as accurate as possible.

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