An exciting Week 1 of the 100th NFL season is in the books. Prior to their annual nightmare matchup at South Beach, the New England Patriots widened the gap between themselves and other contenders such as the Saints, Eagles, Chargers and Rams, all of whom had troubles before coming away with victories, while the Kansas City Chiefs confirmed concerns about their defense. The defending champions dominated another top-10 team in convincing fashion on both sides of the ball, easily securing the top spot in the weekly PFF Power Rankings, powered by our own PFF ELO metric.
Like any ELO system, it adjusts the ranking of a team after each game based on what happened in the game and the perceived strengths of the team and its opponent prior to the game. As opposed to most other ELO systems, PFF ELO doesn’t use the final score to update the rankings. Instead, we compute what the final score should have been based on the player grades. Thus the predictive power of our grades carry over to a strong predictive power of our ELO rankings, though we should note that other variables go into our season-long or game-by-game projections.
Week 1 Ranking: No. 1
It was business as usual in New England, as Tom Brady hit his receivers on quick passes over the middle, connected with his running backs in the flat and took advantage of open receivers down the field when he was given the opportunity. Maybe even more impressive was the effort of their secondary, (83.3 coverage grade as a unit) which held JuJu Smith-Schuster to two catches until garbage time.
Week 1 Ranking: No. 3
The Chiefs' offense didn’t post an unusually high offensive grade (73.1, 11th) but averaged 8.2 yards per play and scored on eight-of-nine full possessions. Sammy Watkins was the biggest surprise performer, making the early exit of Tyreek Hill an afterthought by posting the highest receiving grade of the week (91.4). The Chiefs' secondary continued to be a sieve, giving up 10.2 net yards per attempt and making sixth-round pick Gardner Minshew look like an All-Pro.
Week 1 Ranking: No. 2
Winners of the week’s most exciting game, the Saints fall slightly after barely scraping by the Houston Texans at home. Despite early struggles, Drew Brees looked like his true, Hall of Fame self for most of the contest (87.8 passing grade). The Saints' defense continued to look like the weaker unit, allowing the Texans to move the ball at will (0.16 EPA per play surrendered, fourth highest).
Week 1 Ranking: No. 4
The Rams didn’t play particularly well, but a road win is a road win. The newly minted Jared Goff posted a mediocre passing grade of 61.0 — right between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum — and threw for a lowly 4.7 yards per attempt. On the other side of the ball, the Rams had the sixth-graded defense (73.9) based on strong coverage grades led by linebacker Corey Littleton (94.1).
Week 1 Ranking: No. 5
The Eagles maintain their ranking following a surprisingly close come-from-behind victory over the Redskins. Week 1 saw the return of Eagles clutch plays on third down, with the second-highest EPA per play (1.18) while performing much worse on early downs (23rd, -0.20 EPA per play). The defense struggled, especially in coverage (49.5 grade, 24th), giving up a handful of big plays to Washington's receivers.
Week 1 Ranking: No. 8
The Chargers edged out a close overtime win against the Colts that didn’t look too impressive, but our ELO rating still liked them because Indianapolis was supposed to be a strong team. The Chargers surely didn’t miss Melvin Gordon, as Austin Ekeler broke 10 tackles on 19 touches — an incredible rate. His 165 yards from scrimmage earned him an 82.7 overall grade, the fifth-best among all running backs this week.
Week 1 Ranking: No. 13
Lamar Jackson can pass the ball, for now. It’s needless to say that he earned the week’s best passing grade (93.6). Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews can catch the ball, earning the week’s best two receiving grades. Add that the defensive unit — led by Earl Thomas III — combined to earn the best unit grade of all 32 defenses in the league and it’s no surprise to see the Ravens climbing up six spots.
Week 1 Ranking: No. 9
Mike Zimmer owned stat nerds after the Vikings posted a 39:14 run-to-pass ratio (including penalty snaps) that had football guys cheering across gridirons everywhere. The ratio was more balanced before the game was blown open to a 21-0 lead (17:10 run-to-pass ratio through four drives). The Vikings' defense posted a top-five grade (74.3), holding a potent Falcons’ passing attach to only 5.4 net yards per attempt.
Week 1 Ranking: No. 12
The Kelen Moore era is off to a great start in Dallas as he set up Dak Prescott to enjoy his best game in his career, posting a 91.2 passing grade. The first-time OC called a play-action fake on 15-of-36 dropbacks, and his offense responded by gaining a ridiculous 1.1 expected points added per play on these thanks to Tony Pollard selling the fake.
Week 1 Ranking: No. 6
Believe it or not, the Steelers were missing Antonio Brown in Week 1, as their receiving corps combined for the second-worst receiving grade of the week. With Brown suddenly on the other side of this matchup, the Patriots locked down JuJu Smith-Schuster and forced Ben Roethlisberger into tough throws deep to James Washington (4-of-6 uncatchable targets) or short to Donte Moncrief and Diontae Johnson, with the latter two combining for seven catches on 17 targets, eight of which were contested.
11. Tennessee Titans
Week 1 Ranking: No. 17
Here is another new offensive coordinator helping himself with the play-action pass, using it 43% of the time. Marcus Mariota off play-action: 87.9 passing grade and three touchdowns along with 1.1 EPA/play. Mariota on all other dropbacks: 48.7 passing grade along with -0.4 EPA/play. No team increased their ELO rating more than the Titans did in Week 1.
12. Seattle Seahawks
Week 1 Ranking: No. 10
A close win at home against the Bengals isn’t necessarily impressive, so the Seahawks get leapfrogged by teams that played more convincingly. Giving up 400 yards through the air is as concerning as Brian Schottenheimer’s play-calling tendencies. D.K. Metcalf had a strong debut (74.9 receiving grade) and Russell Wilson was his usual self, but this offense plays with its hands tied.
Week 1 Ranking: No. 16
The Packers' TNF victory didn’t look particularly impressive offensively (60.7 grade, 28th), but the defense was stellar (78.1 grade, 3rd), leading to a valuable win on the road against a highly rated opponent. Revenge-game star Adrian Amos posted the team’s highest defensive grade (78.1), and the Packers’ other two high-priced acquisitions, Preston and Za’darius Smith, ranked second and third, respectively.
14. Chicago Bears
Week 1 Ranking: No. 7
The Bears were one of the week’s biggest fallers, with the hopes of a Mitchell Trubisky third-year breakout falling to the ground with a thud. Trubisky had the fifth-lowest passing grade of the week. The Bears’ defense played well with our 10th-highest grade of the week (70.4), but it wasn’t near the kind of performance that had the unit head and shoulders above the rest last season.
Week 1 Ranking: No. 11
Jacoby Brissett played well in a tough overtime loss to the Chargers (81.7 passing grade, 9th) and Marlon Mack led the league in Week 1 rushing grade (86.8). Even considering the quality of the offense faced, the Colts’ defense wasn’t as strong, giving up 7.4 yards per play.
16. Houston Texans
Week 1 Ranking: No. 15
The mission to protect Deshaun Watson has suffered a setback on Monday night, yet whenever he releases the ball, the offense is as electric as any offense in the NFL. Watson was slinging the ball with an average depth of target of 11.2 yards, resulting in seven explosive plays (plays of 15 or more yards). The hunger for big plays comes with the risk of taking sacks, so it’s not too surprising that newly acquired left tackle Laremy Tunsil gave up two sacks and three more pressures in the process.
17. Atlanta Falcons
Week 1 Ranking: No. 14
The Falcons only fall slightly in the rankings this week, partly because the loss was on the road against a quality opponent and partly because their struggles were largely self-inflicted. A blocked punt and three turnovers gave the Vikings all the field position needed to build a strong lead. The Falcons' defense graded in the middle of the pack (64.9, 16th), which was a relative improvement from their 25th-ranked 2018 season.
Week 1 Ranking: No. 23
The 49ers came away with the victory against the Buccaneers, but it’s tough to call anyone a winner. Jimmy Garoppolo’s 43.8 passing grade was the league’s worst other than his opponent Jameis Winston. The lone bright spot for the 49ers offensively was an offensive line that earned the week’s best pass-blocking grade (85.7), allowing on six pressures on 35 snaps. Positive regression hit the 49ers defense with three interceptions, one more than the team’s 2018 total (2).
19. Denver Broncos
Week 1 Ranking: No. 21
Joe Flacco was who we thought he was in his first start as a Bronco, posting a passing grade of 62.1 (20th) and taking four sacks against the league’s worst pass-rush last season. More surprising was the lack of production from star Edge defenders Von Miller and Bradley Chubb who combined for only three hurries on 42 snaps.
Week 1 Ranking: No. 20
The season in which the Panthers' offense is supposed to explode with a healthy Cam Newton and legitimate offensive weapons is off to a rough start. Christian McCaffrey’s volume looks impressive, but an offense whose leading pass target catches the ball three yards down the field isn’t a good offense, and as a result, the Panthers produced only three explosive passes, the second-lowest mark of the week. On the bright side, the defense held Los Angeles' high-flying aerial attack to the same amount of explosive plays.
Week 1 Ranking: No. 19
The Jaguars' defense looked overwhelmed by Andy Reid’s genius, and the offense lost Nick Foles to injury for at least eight weeks, but Gardner Minshew stepping in with an 87.4 passing grade sparks some hope in Jacksonville. Next up for the rookie: Throwing it downfield. The Washington State product finished Week 1 with the lowest average depth of target, passing the ball only 6.2 yards past the line of scrimmage on average.
22. Cleveland Browns
Week 1 Ranking: No. 18
We viewed the Browns with more skepticism than the public going into the season, so a home loss to a very beatable Titans team wasn’t totally unexpected. Despite three interceptions, our passing grade for Baker Mayfield was a respectable 64.1, or the 18th-best mark of the week (min. 10 attempts). The bigger issues for the Browns were discipline (18 accepted penalties) and defense (29th-ranked grade).
Week 1 Ranking: No. 23
Redskins lost a close game on the road against a tough opponent, but our grades give them less credit than you’d think. Case Keenum’s traditional passing stats look great (408 yards, three TDs), but he only had the 25th-best passing grade of the week (58.3, min. 10 attempts). The defense didn’t perform much better with the 27th-best grade(49.5).
24. Buffalo Bills
Week 1 Ranking: No. 29
The Josh Allen experience was in full display on Sunday. Allen produced -0.6 EPA per dropback on his first four drives and +0.3 EPA per play on the final seven drives, helping turn a 16-point deficit to the Jets into a 17-16 win. No. 9 pick Ed Oliver looked the part, playing 47 snaps, registering four hurries and one quarterback hit while producing the Bills’ highest defensive grade (80.3).
25. Detroit Lions
Week 1 Ranking: No. 26
Blowing an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter to come away with a tie leaves Lions’ fans in bitterness, but per our grades, the Lions should have actually lost the game. At least they’ve seen an impressive debut from T.J. Hockenson. The Iowa standout played 36 receiving snaps and earned a whopping 164 air yards on nine targets, producing 3.45 receiving yards per route run. That’s worth an 84.7 receiving grade in our books.
Week 1 Ranking: No. 28
The Bengals came that close to a major upset in Seattle but couldn’t get the job done in the fourth quarter. Andy Dalton throwing for 400 yards sounds like an extraordinary performance, but he also dropped back 59 times, and our grades don’t view him favorably (69.9 passing grade). John Ross had the best outing of his career, totaling 164 receiving yards for a whopping 3.35 yards per route run.
Week 1 Ranking: No. 30
Disaster was looming over the Cardinals as their first-year signal-caller posted a 33.6 passing grade in the first three quarters and the Lions took a commanding 18-point lead with 15 minutes to play. Thanks to Kyler’s much-improved 79.5 passing grade in the fourth quarter along with two big-time throws, the day ended as a conciliable debut for the first-time NFL head coach Kliff Kingsbury, coming up eight yards short of an overtime win.
28. New York Giants
Week 1 Ranking: No. 27
It’s hard to win a football game when your defense posts the second-worst coverage grade along with the worst pass-rush grade of the week, and the same holds when your star running back receives the football beyond the line of scrimmage only once in a game. No other team gained more EPA per carry than the Giants, but that doesn’t win games without a proper passing attack.
29. Oakland Raiders
Week 1 Ranking: No. 32
Darren Waller and Tyrell Williams immediately took over the receiving duties in Oakland’s offense and combined for 15 of the Raiders’ 25 targets, earning a 77.9 and 86.2 receiving grade, respectively. Derek Carr finding his new favorite targets helped the Raiders put up a convincing win against a division rival to start their Oakland farewell tour.
Week 1 Ranking: No. 25
Sometimes you get good Jameis Winston; sometimes you get bad Jameis Winston. Against the 49ers, the Buccaneers got awful Jameis Winston. It’s hard to imagine a worse beginning to the Winston-Arians era than the former putting up the league-worst passing grade and EPA per dropback. Despite the scoreboard showing 31 points for its opponent, by many measures, the Bucs’ third-worst defense by 2018 grade improved last week, holding the 49ers to 256 total yards (4.3 per play).
31. Miami Dolphins
Week 1 Ranking: No. 24
#FishTank is on, so let’s check in on their young players: Rookie Christian Wilkins finished his first game with one pressure and no hits or sacks. Second-year player Minkah Fitzpatrick played 22 coverage snaps and was targeted six times; all of them were caught, gaining 117 yards, five first downs and three touchdowns. He also missed two tackles and was benched in the second half as a consequence. Looking on the bright side, rookie Preston Williams showed off with the teams’ only touchdown reception of the day.
32. New York Jets
Week 1 Ranking: No. 31
If you exclude a last-second fumble on a desperation lateral, the Jets had a +4 turnover margin and still managed to lose the game. Conservatism was the dominant theme for the Jets' offense, as Sam Darnold completed 68.2% of his passes yet only averaged 4.3 yards per attempt. Darnold’s 6.7 aDOT would have ranked dead last among quarterbacks who threw 100 passes last year. It’s a small sample, but the Jets’ defense looked lost after an injury to free-agent acquisition C.J. Mosley. They held the Bills’ offense to -16 EPA in Mosley’s 46 snaps versus +3 EPA in 20 snaps without him.