News & Analysis

2019 PFF Week 3 NFL Power Rankings

The NFL has become the land of the wounded/sick/retired quarterback: Foles, Darnold, Roethlisberger, Brees and Newton will all join the recently retired Andrew Luck as bystanders for at least the next week. While our PFF ELO metric accounts for the relative strengths of teams based on what happened according to our grades, it doesn’t adjust the raw number preemptively for a change in quarterback. If some teams’ rankings appear too high in light of a recent injury, that’s why.

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.

1. New England Patriots

Last Week: 1st

The Patriots went into Miami and made a mockery of a laughable 18.5-point spread on the road winning 43-0 against the hapless Dolphins. 7-0 is firmly on the table for the Patriots as their next five matchups are entirely winnable: Jets, Bills, Redskins, Giants and Jets. We don’t know how long he’ll be there, but Antonio Brown’s presence was felt early last week with eight targets, four catches, 56 yards and a touchdown on only 17 routes run.

2. Kansas City Chiefs

Last Week: 2nd

Does Patrick Mahomes still shock anyone by throwing for four touchdowns in one quarter? Probably not. Like he did last year, Mahomes currently leads the league with eight big-time throws. The third-year quarterback is not the only Chief to trump over the league, as Chris Jones leads all pass-rushers with a 91.0 pass-rushing grade two weeks into the season, helping his team to shut down the Raiders' offense for the better part of the game.

3. Los Angeles Rams

Last Week: 4th

Starting 2-0 with a win against one of the best teams in the league usually improves your odds. However, the Rams stayed put at the 48% chance we gave them prior to the season of winning their division mainly because their rivals from Seattle and Santa Clara have exceeded expectations so far, presenting a strong title contention for the favorites out of Los Angeles. The Rams' star players haven’t enjoyed a good start to the season: Aaron Donald has been held to an uncharacteristically low 70.2 pass-rushing grade with only six total pressures so far, and Jared Goff has recorded only one big-time throw and three turnover-worthy plays for the last two weeks.

4. New Orleans Saints

Last Week: 3rd

The Saints lost one spot in our ELO ranking due to losing to the Rams, but in Drew Brees they lost their most important player on the way. Our rankings don’t adjust for quarterback changes within the season, but without their Hall of Fame signal-caller, we expect the Saints to drop a few more spots within the next weeks. Their preseason expectation of over 10-plus wins has dropped to below nine wins. Prior to the season, we had them winning the NFC South 61% of the time. As of now, we anticipate this happening with a 43% chance.

5. Baltimore Ravens

Last Week 7th

The second-year leap is a common phenomenon for quarterbacks, but Lamar Jackson is taking it to new levels. Jackson is our highest-rated passer (91.2). The Ravens are second in the NFL in passing efficiency according to EPA (0.63 per play), and Jackson has added another 128 yards rushing. We’re not sure the Ravens have been sufficiently tested so far, but you can’t ask for more dominating performances, regardless of competition.

6. Dallas Cowboys

Last Week: 9th

The Cowboys are one of the bigger PFF ELO movers this year, going from 12th to ninth after Week 1 and now up to sixth. Dak Prescott could be in the middle of the rare fourth-year breakout, with two of the top-12 weekly passing grades this season (91.2, 72.4). The team’s next two matchups against the Dolphins and the Brees-less Saints provide an easy path to 4-0.

7. Los Angeles Chargers

Last Week: 6th

In typical Chargers fashion, they lost a game they should have won last week in Detroit. They outgained the Lions 6.8 yards per play to 5.8 but missed two field goals. Philip Rivers also threw a fatal interception while in range to tie. The Chargers PFF ELO moves up in accordance with a narrow victory according to the the internal grades.

8. Philadelphia Eagles

Last Week: 5th

With a close loss in Atlanta, the Eagles have lost the spot as the best NFC East team in the standings and in our PFF ELO ratings. Their receiving corps hasn’t performed as strong as advertised, as DeSean Jackson is their only player to eclipse 1.5 yards per route run after two games. After playing only one snap against the Redskins, rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside was welcomed to the NFL the hard way, catching only one ball for four yards on 54 routes run.

 9. Green Bay Packers

Last Week: 13th

The Packers jump into the top 10 of our rankings, riding the back of their defense which ranks top-five in coverage grade, pass-rush grade and overall grade. As defensive performance is generally less reliable over the season, the Packers will need more help from their offense. The unit led by Aaron Rodgers and head coach Matt LaFleur combines for a disappointing 23rd-best overall grade and only the 27th-best EPA per play after two games against strong defensive units from Chicago and Minnesota.

10. Pittsburgh Steelers

Last Week: 10th

The Steelers PFF ELO doesn’t account for the loss of Ben Roethlisberger, so their ranking may move quickly south. One positive for the short tenure of Mason Rudolph is that the offense improved after he took the helm, though it still wasn’t good (-0.04 EPA with versus -0.15 without). The Steelers have leverage their recent draft capital to two players: rookie linebacker Devin Bush and now recently acquired Minkah Fitzpatrick, both of whom will be instrumental in keeping the team in the hunt.

11. Tennessee Titans

Last Week: 11th

The Titans blew a chance to take an early lead in the AFC South losing to the Colts at home. But the Titans maintain their ranking this week with a small increase in PFF ELO despite the loss. The Titans' offense has lacked dynamism for years, but the legs of Derrick Henry generated 65 of his 81 yards after contact and should continue to be a big part of the team’s focus.

12. Minnesota Vikings

Last Week: 8th

With -0.49 EPA per pass play, the Vikings fielded the second-worst pass offense of the week, with only the Dolphins finishing worse. After avoiding negative plays altogether in Week 1, Kirk Cousins overcompensated with five turnover-worthy plays at Lambeau field. Xavier Rhodes became the impersonification of the volatility of coverage performances over the last two weeks, as he was shutting down Julio Jones in the season opener but followed up by allowing over two yards per snap in coverage against the Packers and posting a 34.3 coverage grade.

13. Seattle Seahawks

Last Week: 12th

The Seahawks get credit for two victories, but with the 19th- and 23rd-ranked offensive and defensive grades so far this year, they’ve been far from dominant. The team’s PFF ELO has barely changed from the beginning of the season, but good fortune should continue in the near-term facing the Saints without Drew Brees next week.

14. Chicago Bears

Last Week: 14th

Chicago won in Denver on a last-second game-winning field goal, but our grades actually suggest the Broncos won the close contest by one point. This is why the Bears stay put at 14. As the analytics crowd has anticipated prior to the season, their placekicker isn’t their largest concern. Mitchell Trubisky is just that, ranking 32nd in passing grade after two contests.

15. Indianapolis Colts

Last Week: 15th

The Colts won a close game against the Titans, but they lose some ELO as our grades tell a different story. Behind a strong offensive line (ranking 10th in pass-blocking grade and third in run-blocking grade), Jacoby Brissett has still shown enough competence to earn back some of our faith into the Colts because he is able to get rid of the ball at an average time of 2.4 seconds, the 12th-fastest time of the league.

16. San Francisco 49ers

Last Week: 18th

Blowing out the Bengals on their own homecourt means that the San Francisco 49ers are our biggest risers of the week. No other team increased their ELO rating by a larger amount.

George Kittle is already back to his 2018 production, being targeted on over 30% of his routes and posting a stellar 2.94 yards per route run in the process. We tend to be cautious regarding their fifth-ranked defense (per PFF grades) because defense is generally less predictive, and drawing conclusions after two weeks of play could be deceiving.

17. Atlanta Falcons

Last Week: 17th

Matt Ryan and Dirk Koetter know each other well from working together prior to 2015, but their connection hasn’t been re-established. Ryan has earned an underwhelming 59.3 passing grade over the first two contests and leads the league in turnover-worthy throws. Nobody is better than Koetter at creating those for his quarterbacks. On the positive side, Dan Quinn overcame his demons and won the game with PFF's Decision of the Week.

18. Houston Texans

Last Week: 16th

The Texans escaped with a victory last week against the Jaguars after having a win snatched away at the last moment the prior week against the Saints. Where does that leave this Texans team? They’re roughly where they started the year. Deshaun Watson has lived up to his end of the bargain with a top-10 passing grade (79.6), but the defense has shown signs of weakness. In particular, J.J. Watt has shown signs of decline. The Hall-of-Fame edge defender’s grade has fallen to an okay-but-not-studly 67.8 this year from closer to 90.0 previously in healthy seasons.

19. Buffalo Bills

Last Week: 24th

Josh Allen has started the season with the 16th-best passing grade, a respectable performance. Consequently, the win against the Giants in what could have been Eli Manning’s last NFL start was never in question, and the Bills had the second-highest ELO gain of the week among all teams in the league. John Brown fits perfectly to Allen’s arm strength, as he's averaged 2.6 yards per route run in the first two weeks.

20. Cleveland Browns

Last Week: 22nd

After starting their hyped season in disappointing fashion, their bounce-back win in New York was never in question. Odell Beckham Jr. enjoyed the trip to his former home stadium, showing off with a beauty of a one-handed catch on one of two big-time throws from Baker Mayfield. OBJ led all receivers with 4.47 yards per route run this weekend.

21. Denver Broncos

Last Week: 19th

As stated above, the Broncos played well enough to win the game, but they still fall in the rankings since the Texans – who were placed just above them – also won and the Bills and Browns won by a much wider margin on the road. This is considered more impressive by our PFF ELO system and proves enough to leapfrog Denver. Maybe even worse than dropping in our rankings: Dropping to 0-2 in the win-loss column after Eddy Pineiro shocked the hometown fans in the last second.

22. Jacksonville Jaguars

Last Week: 21st

After a slow start, sixth-round rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew came as close as possible to his first NFL victory felled by a failed two-point conversion with 30 seconds remaining. More concerning is that the team’s once league-leading defense has the 28th-ranked grade this season. The Andrew Luck injury opened up a path to the AFC South title for the Jags, but it’s shrinking with each week.

23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last Week: 30th

After posting the league-worst passing grade in Week 1, Jameis Winston enjoyed a major bounce-back game during a win in Carolina on Thursday night, earning the second-best passing grade of the week. The Bucs' defense gets a lot of praise at this point, but three fourth-down stops with one yard to go is not something they can bank on in the future. Ranking 20th in team coverage grade is an improvement; ranking 29th in pass-rush grade is not.

24. Detroit Lions

Last Week: 25th

The Lions remained undefeated (1-0-1) following a come-from-behind victory against the Chargers, but the team still hasn't moved much from their opening ranking. It’s difficult for the Lions to have been more average so far this year (16th-ranked offense; 17th-ranked defense by grade). The team faces a gauntlet for the next four weeks against the Eagles, Chiefs, Packers and Vikings.

25. Carolina Panthers

Last Week: 20th

The Panthers could be excused for losing a close matchup the Rams Week 1, but dropping another home game to the Buccaneers portends trouble. Cam Newton has struggled mightily as a passer (55.1 grade), and Norv Turner has been unwilling, or unable, to use Newton's rushing prowess (six carries for -8 yards this year). The Panthers’ rebuilt defensive has looked the part, but it won’t be enough without offensive support.

26. Washington Redskins

Last Week: 23rd

For the second week in a row, the Redskins started strong against a division rival but were ultimately overwhelmed by the opponent’s offensive firepower as the game went on. Fittingly, they rank only 29th in defensive grade and 31st in pass-rush grade. The coverage doesn’t hold up either, as none of their cornerbacks have earned a coverage grade above 60.0 at this point. The offense doesn’t have enough weapons to overcome this handicap.

27. Oakland Raiders

Last Week: 29th

No question is more important for the Raiders than who Derek Carr will be the rest of the season. He returned back to earth in Week 2, posting a 53.2 passing grade (24th) at home against a lackluster Chiefs’ secondary a week after showing out against the Broncos. The league’s second-worst defense by 2018 grade (62.4) hasn’t improved, registering the third-worst grade so far this season (50.2).

28. Arizona Cardinals

Last Week: 27th

The Cardinals fall slightly in this week’s ranking, but there was much to be encouraged by in their loss to the Ravens. Kyler Murray improved his passing grade from 52.6 (28th) in Week 1 to 66.3 (17th) while looking much more comfortable in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. The Cardinals have a good shot at improving to a symmetrical 1-1-1 next week at home against struggling Panthers team likely without Cam Newton.

29. New York Jets

Last Week: 32nd

After losing Sam Darnold to mono, the Jets also lost Trevor Siemian to injury during their loss on Monday Night Football. His on-field performance, however, will not be missed, as Siemian had only one positively graded throw on 11 dropbacks, throwing for a miserable 3.8 average depth of target. The Jets only climbed up a few spots because other teams were even more terrible this week. At least Luke Falk has flashed some potential, as he was positively graded on 24% of his dropbacks while mostly avoiding negative plays.

30. Cincinnati Bengals

Last Week: 26th

The Bengals were competitive last week on the road in Seattle, not so much at home against the 49ers. The defense posted the league’s worst grade (33.1) while surrendering 41 points to Jimmy G & Co. Coming up with W’s the next three weeks will be critical as the Bengals face the Bills, Roethlisberger-less Steelers and Cardinals.

31. New York Giants

Last Week: 28th

After an 0-2 start to the season, Eli Manning finds the bench in Week 3, and No. 6 overall pick Daniel Jones will hope to build on his preseason success (83.5 passing grade, seventh-best). The Giants’ ability to turn things around might have more to do with improving their league-worst defense (according to PFF grade, 43.1) than Jones improving their offense.

32. Miami Dolphins

Last Week: 31st

The Dolphins finally fall to the bottom of the rankings after losing their first two games at home by a combined score of 102-10. The fire sale continues with versatile CB/S Minkah Fitzpatrick shipped to the Steelers for a first-round pick. On a positive note, the schedule lightens up after a Week 5 bye, and the team’s passing results (worst EPA/play) could regress back towards its passing grade (57.1, fifth worst).

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