Week 7 of the NFL season has officially closed, and with it, our weekly PFFELO rankings, looking ahead to Week 8. Like all ELO systems, PFFELO is an iterative system that updates each team’s rating after each game based on two things: how well they played against their opponent and how well they were expected to play against their opponent. The PFFELO rating system measures the former using our unique offensive, defensive and special teams grades, while the latter is determined by the PFFELO ratings leading up to the game and where the game is played.
For example, a heavy favorite playing at home is expected to outplay the visitor, so a victory would result in only a small rise in their PFFELO rating and a similarly-small decrease in the defeated team’s, but if an upset were to happen, the visiting team would see their PFFELO rating rise substantially, and the home team’s see a similarly-sized drop.
Sometimes in football the best team does not win, and PFFELO accounts for these oddities by using our grades. Hence there will be teams rated higher or lower in this system than their win-loss record would suggest.
LAST WEEK: 1
It wasn’t the cleanest effort they’ve ever had, but the Patriots handled Atlanta in the much-publicized Super Bowl rematch Sunday night in Foxboro. Their defense continues to lead the league in yards allowed per play, but have surrendered fewer than 20 points in three consecutive games. Offensively, Tom Brady wasn’t touched all night, facing pressure on just eight of his 32 dropbacks, and he generated a 135.0 passer rating when kept clean. It appears they’ve adapted to losing Julian Edelman to this point, with Brady completing 3-of-4 passes over 20 yards downfield against the Falcons, while throwing two touchdowns over the short middle of the field. With the league’s best signal caller and a relatively-easy schedule from here on out, expect the Patriots to maintain this spot for the foreseeable future.
LAST WEEK: 2
The league’s last undefeated team is coming off two losses in a five-day stretch. During last week’s piece we bemoaned the Chiefs’ issues as a run defense, and they did improve in that area against the Raiders, allowing just 73 yards on 20 carries to Oakland’s three running backs. However, the house of cards that has been Terrance Mitchell at right cornerback, Phillip Gaines in the slot, along with Daniel Sorenson and Eric Murray at safety for Eric Berry, tipped over last Thursday night, as the Chiefs allowed 417 yards (170 after the catch) on 50 passing attempts against a hobbled Derek Carr. If the Chiefs cannot slow opposing offenses, their once-promising season might be more stress-inducing than we envisioned a week or two ago.
LAST WEEK: 3
Another impressive week has the Eagles with the league’s best record at 6-1. They find different ways to win each week, jumping on Carson Wentz’s back when their running game was less than efficient against Washington Monday night. With Jason Peters out for the season, however, it’s an open question as to how long the party will continue (at least offensively) in Philly. Wentz has been a different player when pressured (64.7 passer rating, 21st) than when kept clean (117.4, third). Early returns have been fantastic for the quarterback from North Dakota State. This is the next test.
LAST WEEK: 5
While it’s not clear they’ve gotten all of their off-the-field shenanigans fixed, talent has propelled the Steelers since their Week 5 loss against the Jaguars at home. Their defense is surrendering the fewest yards per play of any unit through seven weeks, possessing the eighth-best cumulative PFF grade in that span. They were smothering against the Bengals, getting five sacks, two quarterback hits and 10 hurries. Artie Burns continued his strong sophomore campaign by giving up only 25 yards on three targets to A.J. Green in his coverage. With a tiebreaker over the Chiefs in hand and a December meeting with the Patriots upcoming, don’t sleep on Pittsburgh in the AFC.
LAST WEEK: 4
People will likely say this is too high, and it’s hard to argue. That said, the Falcons have the league’s second-highest yards gained per play offensively (6.2), and are 13th best in that metric defensively, suggesting that some of their problems are likely to abate in the coming weeks. The adjustments to a new offensive coordinator have been real, and they are sputtering on the margins (the kicking game, in the red zone, on fourth downs) in ways they didn’t a season ago. All of that said, they still have Devonta Freeman (90.1), Julio Jones (88.4), Matt Ryan (81.1), and an offensive line where each player has a PFF player grade above 69.0. Look for the offense to come together this week in New York against a Jets defense that let up 31 points to Jay Culter and Matt Moore a week ago.
LAST WEEK: 7
It’s never pretty anymore, but the Seahawks continue to win games. Against a depleted Giants passing game, The Legion of Boom surrendered only 134 yards through the air (at 4.1 an attempt), while cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Shaquill Griffin were responsible for only 22 of those yards on 10 targets into their coverage. They’ve rebounded very nicely since their game in Tennessee, to the point where nine of their 11 starters are earning PFF player grades above 74.9, with four starting players earning grades over 80.1. While the darlings of the division are currently playing in Los Angeles, it’s too early to write off the class of the NFC West through seven weeks.
LAST WEEK: 10
The week-to-week purgatory that is Ezekiel Elliot’s status makes it difficult to handicap the Cowboys on a weekly basis, especially given how well Zeke ended up playing in San Francisco last Sunday (219 total yards, 127 after contact, and three touchdowns). However, if Dak Prescott (one of our focuses last week) can invoke the efficient style he played with against the Niners (145.6 rating on his 19 dropbacks when kept clean) it will go a long way towards Dallas generating enough offense to overcome the league’s 24th-highest graded defense and make a push in the NFC East, where the upstart Eagles are now facing injuries to key players.
LAST WEEK: 6
On one hand, last week’s loss to the Bears was tough to watch for Panthers fans. On the other hand, the Bears’ defense is quite good, helping them to a 3-2 record the last five weeks (including 4-1 against the spread). The Panthers surrendered only three points themselves defensively – even without Luke Kuechly in the mix. All that said, the Panthers have two big issues offensively: The blocking (or lack thereof) of left tackle Matt Kalil (51st in pass-blocking efficiency among tackles) and the accuracy problems of Cam Newton (19th in accuracy percentage among quarterbacks). Without these resolved, it won’t matter how well the new and improving pieces along the rest of the offense are playing; the Panthers will be in coin-flip-like slug fests all season, which is what took them from 15-1 in 2015 to 6-10 in 2016.
LAST WEEK: 11
Another week, another win for the Bills. This time the Bills asked for and received a big effort by quarterback Tyrod Taylor (our seventh-highest graded quarterback through seven weeks). Taylor produced 53 yards on the ground (all after contact), while completing 7-of-10 passes for 146 yards when under pressure against the Buccaneers. It’s unclear whether the Bills, getting better-than-expected play from all three phases, can continue their terrific start in what has become a tough AFC East, but it’s a better league when the Bills are competitive week to week.
LAST WEEK: 12
The Vikings make their first appearance on this list, making it to 5-2 in a way far different than their course a season ago. It all starts with the league’s best defense, which boasts superstars at every level. Defensive end Everson Griffen has recorded a sack each game, while adding four quarterback hits and 12 hurries. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes faced the likes of Michael Thomas, Antonio Brown and Mike Evans through the season’s first three weeks, and since then teams have mostly avoided him. He’s yielding only 0.75 yards per coverage snap and a 56.1 passer rating into his coverage through seven weeks, which are among the league’s best at the position. Harrison Smith’s 93.7 overall grade is the league’s best among safeties.