Uncertainty abounds, not only with respect to the NFL but the world in general. Assuming we are graced with football in five months, and before we know anything with respect to the NFL draft next week, it’s time to do some power ranking.
As always, these power rankings are built using our PFF Elo system, which is a variation of the traditional Elo system initiated by mathematician Arpad Elo to rank chess players. At PFF, we use a machine learning algorithm to infer what the score of a game should have been before running it through the system, meaning some teams will be given more or less credit than the final score of a game indicates, depending on circumstances.
Between seasons, we regress PFF Elo to the league average of 1505 for a few different things, namely coach and quarterback changes. Finally, we regress the number towards the odds that a team will win the Super Bowl to come up with the final ranking. Without further ado, here are the too-early power rankings for the 2020 NFL season:
1. Kansas City Chiefs (+650 to win the Super Bowl on BetOnline)
The defending Super Bowl champions are favored to become the first repeat champion since the ‘03-’04 Patriots. Like those teams, the Chiefs have a young quarterback entering his prime in Patrick Mahomes, who has earned over seven wins above replacement the last two years (best in the NFL).
2. Baltimore Ravens (+700)
If you simulate last season’s playoffs 10,000 times it would not have been the Chiefs that won the title in the plurality of universes. That would be the Ravens, who (like the Chiefs) will try to rebound from not taking advantage of the conference’s 1 seed in their second year, equipped with a young MVP quarterback in Lamar Jackson.
3. San Francisco 49ers (+1100)
Can Jimmy G, who had one of the lowest average depth of targets and more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws in 2019, improve enough to keep the 49ers atop the NFC for years to come?
4. New Orleans Saints (+1500)
After three straight difficult playoff exits, Sean Payton, Drew Brees and the Saints are going to run it back one more time. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, acquired in free agency last month, has been the 10th-most valuable player at his position since 2014.
5. Green Bay Packers (+3300)
The Packers, despite having a point differential of a 9- or 10-win team, return a great deal of starters from their 2-seed, 13-win team from 2019. Aaron Rodgers will have to generate positively graded dropbacks at a higher rate than he did last year (23 percent) for them to improve enough to even come close to reaching 13 wins again in 2020, though.
6. Tennessee Titans (+4000)
It’s pretty easy to see Ryan Tannehill, who led the NFL in positively graded throw percentage in 2019, regressing toward the league average a bit. But even if he’s 70 percent of what he was down the stretch in 2019, the Titans will be in their best spot at the position since Steve McNair in the mid 2000s.
7. New England Patriots (+2500)
This is likely too high, but the truth of the matter is that the Patriots still have the components of a great defense, and the market (currently hanging a win total of 9 wins for the club) has not fully embraced the idea of the team tanking the way that I have.
8. Minnesota Vikings (+3300)
I’m not very high on the Vikings going into the draft, as they are going to need a good draft to replace three starters at cornerback, one at wide receiver and shore up an offensive line that’s been their achilles heel since Mike Zimmer took over in 2014.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+1600)
Chris Godwin and Mike Evans were the most valuable wide receiver pair in terms of PFF WAR in 2019, and the defense, which was put in a lot of bad positions by Jameis Winston, was actually in the top 10 in both yards per play allowed and expected points added allowed.
10. Seattle Seahawks (+2500)
From top to bottom, the Seahawks were probably one of the worst 11-5 teams in recent memory in 2019. They had Russell Wilson, though, who was our MVP last year in terms of wins above replacement, holding off Patrick Mahomes.
11. Los Angeles Rams (+5000)
Only the Patriots lost more talent during the 2020 offseason than the Rams, which is even more striking given that they did not make a change at quarterback.
12. Buffalo Bills (+2800)
The Bills are one of the better-run franchises in the NFL, but they have a glaring weakness where it matters the absolute most. Josh Allen led the league in percentage of negatively graded dropbacks in 2019, and as we talked about with Mitchell Trubisky going into last year, it’s hard to guide a successful offense that way.
13. Dallas Cowboys (+2800)
This is probably a bit low on the Cowboys, since they were much better than an 8-8 team last year. However, even though Dak Prescott was the second-most valuable player in the NFL during the regular season last year, he has not strung two good seasons together back to back in his career. Is Mike McCarthy the man to change this?
14. Philadelphia Eagles (+2500)
There might not be a team with a less-impressive three-year streak of making the playoffs than the 2017-2019 Philadelphia Eagles. The defending NFC East champion acquired one of the better corners in the NFL this offseason to shore up their weakest position defensively, acquiring Darius Slay from the Lions via trade.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (+2500)
The Steelers lost their first three games of the season and their last three games as well. In the middle they were the second-best defense in the NFL, led by Minkah Fitzpatrick and his half of a win above replacement in 2019.
16. Houston Texans (+5000)
Deshaun Watson covers a multitude of sins, but it’s unclear if there is any direction to this current Texans outfit.
17. Indianapolis Colts (+3300)
At this time last year, I was talking about how much I loved the Colts process and how they were going to be a team to watch in the AFC in the future. Welp, in one year they exchanged Andrew Luck for Philip Rivers and traded a top-15 pick for an interior lineman. The division is wide open for them, though, and its best coach operates in Indy.
18. Chicago Bears (+5000)
It’s a song as old as the modern NFL, but the Bears regressed in 2019 when Mitchell Trubisky’s penchant for negatively graded throws caught up with him and the defense (shockingly) couldn’t remain the league’s absolute best for two years in a row. It fell only slightly — to eighth in yards per play — but to only 18th in turnovers forced per drive (they were first in 2018), and that was enough to tip things over at the team level.
19. Atlanta Falcons (+5000)
The Falcons finished 7-9 after starting 1-4 for the second-straight season in 2019, unable to take advantage of the Saints and Panthers losing their starting quarterbacks for extended periods of time. Last season was Matt Ryan’s fourth-straight year of declining WAR. He’ll need to bounce back for the Falcons to be competitive in a tough division.
20. Denver Broncos (+6600)
The 2020 Broncos have the 2019 Bills, 2018 Bears, etc. written all over them. Broncos fans are ready to risk it all for Drew Lock, who despite having a bottom-five aDOT in the NFL in 2019 produced more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws in his five starts.
21. Los Angeles Chargers (+5000)
There’s a lot of buzz about the Chargers, and I get it. However, replacing Philip Rivers (1.7 WAR in 2019) with Tyrod Taylor (best career WAR is 1.6) is a downgrade that people worn out by Rivers’ inconsistencies probably don’t quite appreciate. The better alternative in this case is to find a way to draft Tua Tagovailoa, but that will come with growing pains unbecoming of a contender.
22. Cleveland Browns (+4000)
The Browns are talented, and their new head coach, Kevin Stefasnski, is the right man for the job. After a great rookie year, Baker Mayfield will have to demonstrate more awareness in the pocket in Year 3, as his pressure rate went from about 29 percent as a rookie to over 33 percent last year.
23. Las Vegas Raiders (+4000)
I’m already on the record as a bit skeptical that the Raiders can compete following their move from Oakland to Las Vegas, and despite having acquired a lot of players last month, they still didn’t get all that much better. They will need Derek Carr to repeat his first nine weeks of last year, and they'll have to nail their draft picks to have a chance in a division with Kansas City and the resurgent Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers.
24. Arizona Cardinals (+5000)
No team got better during free agency like the Cardinals did, fleecing Houston for its best player and shedding some dead weight in the process. For them to contend in a tough NFC West, though, they’ll need Kyler Murray to make more plays, as he was one of the league’s worst quarterbacks last year in terms of generating positively graded dropbacks (17.6 percent).
25. Carolina Panthers (+15000)
The Panthers appear to be in half-in/half-out rebuild mode, basically shedding their entire defense this offseason but buying into quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and running back Christian McCaffrey. To compete, they’ll need Bridgewater, who earned over half a win above replacement in 2019, and the seventh overall pick to be contributors right away — and for old age to hurt the other quarterbacks in their division.
26. New York Jets (+10000)
After an encouraging end to his freshman campaign, Sam Darnold saw ghosts in 2019, when he was one of the league leaders in turnover-worthy passes and negatively graded play percentage. Without Robby Anderson, or much of an offensive line to think about, it’s hard to be positive about New York or Darnold in 2020.
27. Detroit Lions (+15000)
The Lions were 3-4-1 before Matthew Stafford got hurt, and they never won a game thereafter. He was having a terrific season, earning over 1.4 WAR — which would have been a top-three mark in the league had it carried through the whole season. This ranking could increase substantially depending on what they do with the third pick next week.
28. Cincinnati Bengals (+25000)
Joe Burrow has one of the best projections we’ve given out since we started charting college football in 2014, and with the Bengals getting A.J. Green back and adding a ton of value to their defense, they could make a run at a wild card in 2020.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (+25000)
Of all the cautionary tales over the past decade in the NFL, none has been more explicit than the fall of the Jaguars from the AFC title game in 2017 to fighting for the first-overall pick in 2020. While their roster has been decimated, it’s important to point out that Gardner Minshew was the most valuable rookie in the NFL a season ago and shows promise.
30. Washington Redskins (+25000)
Dwayne Haskins was pretty solid down the stretch last year for Washington, generating more big-time throws than turnover-worthy plays. But it remains to be seen if they’ll be content sticking with him as the unquestioned starter come next week, where they pick second in the NFL Draft.
31. New York Giants (+25000)
Daniel Jones put up numbers that many Giants fans are proud of as a rookie, but most of said numbers were generated in a few games and nearly six percent of his dropbacks were graded as turnover worthy. If the Giants go against the grain in the draft and take a player to help enhance Jones, the team might be underrated here. But, given their history, I think next week will hardly move the needle for Big Blue.
32. Miami Dolphins (+80000)
Not a lot of respect here for the team that giftwrapped the Chiefs the two seed by going into New England and winning a season ago. The Dolphins then improved a decent amount this offseason with the acquisition of Byron Jones. Two new coordinators and by far the worst defense last year in terms of PFF WAR have a lot to prove before they ascend above this spot in 2020.