News & Analysis

2019 PFF Week 4 NFL Power Rankings

Three weeks into the season, and while the top-four teams remain relatively unchanged, the rest of the NFL is in flux. Perennial playoff teams like the Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks look vulnerable, while the 49ers have burst into the top-11. PFF ELO is designed to resist overreaction and doesn’t account for mid-season quarterback changes, so these rankings could appear slow to change in the eyes of the average NFL fan.

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

You’ve probably heard the New England defense has yet to give up a touchdown this season. However, we should note that they haven’t faced an offense ranking better than 29th per our grades. Their next opponent? The Bills with the 24th-ranked offense.

No team in the PFF era started a season more dominantly than NE in the first three weeks, as they lead all teams since 2006 in our internal point differential (derived from grades) after three weeks of play, sending their own 2007 team to second place.

2. Kansas City Chiefs

Last Week: 2nd

Tough to say that Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs haven’t gotten enough hype, but most would be surprised to hear they’ve narrowed the ELO gap with the Patriots this year. The unexpected improvement for the team comes on the defensive side of the ball with a unit that ranks a not awful 23rd in overall defensive grade and shocking ninth in coverage (72.3).

3. Los Angeles Rams

Last Week: 3rd

It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Rams are 3-0, adding incrementally to their ELO total each week. The knock on Jared Goff continues to be his play under pressure, but this year his drop in yards per attempt (YPA) when pressured is roughly in line with league averages. More concerning is that Goff’s efficiency from a clean pocket has fallen from a league-leading 8.8 YPA to 7.3 (16th). The Rams’ defensive grades have fallen this year, but its results have improved (opponents’ EPA -0.22 in 2019 vs. -0.01 in 2018).

4. New Orleans Saints

Last Week: 4th

The Saints maintained their No. 4 ranking, which does not incorporate mid-season QB changes – this week with a victory over the Seahawks with Teddy Bridgewater behind center. Alvin Kamara was the star with nine catches for 92 yards, 105 after contact and the highest receiving grade of the week (91.7, min. 15 routes run).

5. Dallas Cowboys

Last Week: 6th

Dallas rises another spot in our power rankings and cracks the top-five. After three weeks, they are a well-balanced team, ranking second in passing grade, second in receiving, third in pass-blocking, third in run-blocking, 10th in coverage and 11th in pass-rushing. With the Saints and Packers ahead, they will face their first real tests of the season playing against teams just above and below them in our rankings.

6. Green Bay Packers

Last Week: 9th

While the new pairing of Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur got most of the offseason hype, the story of the 3-0 Packers has been written more by their defense than quarterback. The Packers have the second-highest defense grade (81.8), and the offense ranks 22nd and 28th in offensive grade and EPA per play, respectively. A bright spot for the passing offense has been using play-action, where Rodgers’ yards per attempt is 9.7 versus 5.2 without.

7. Baltimore Ravens

Last Week: 5th

The Lamar Jackson hype train came to a stop, as the second-year signal-caller posted only a 32.1 passing grade in Kansas City, the third-worst outing of any quarterback in 2019 so far. The Ravens’ defense was overwhelmed by the Chiefs’ offensive firepower and posted only the 30th-best defensive team grade of the week, another sign that a good offense is more important than a good defense.

8. Minnesota Vikings

Last Week: 12th

It’s been an up-and-down year for the Vikings, hitting the positive outcome last week at home against the Raiders. Despite the dominant victory, the Vikings don’t move up as much as some others considering the opponent and being at home. Kirk Cousins has been the weak link so far, having graded as the 32nd-ranked passer of 37 with at least 50 dropbacks.

9. Chicago Bears

Last Week: 14th

The championship formula for the Bears was on display Monday night, with the combination of dominance on defense and competence from Mitchell Trubisky. A win against the Redskins wouldn’t appear significant, but one-sidedness on the road gives the Bears a boost back into the top-10. Unfortunately for Bears' faithful, our graders did not love the strong statistical performance (231 passing yards and three touchdowns), giving Trubisky a passing grade of 50.5 for the week, only slightly better than his season grade (49.0).

10. Los Angeles Chargers

Last Week: 7th

The Chargers only win of the season came in overtime, and it’s not hard to find out why. While having a top-10 pass offense, the Chargers are struggling in the run game (58.0 run-blocking grade), resulting in only the 25th-best rushing offense per EPA/carry. Yet, they are relatively run-heavy on early downs and maneuvering themselves into close games.

11. San Francisco 49ers

Last Week: 16th

After a 3-0 start, the 49ers have risen steadily in the PFF ELO rankings from 23rd to 11th. Jimmy Garoppolo has been good, not great (14th-ranked passing grade, 72.6). He has benefited greatly from Kyle Shanahan’s generous usage of play-action passing (11.0 yards per attempt with, 6.6 without). The team’s improvement has been largely driven by its defense, which has risen from the league’s worst overall grade in 2018 all the way to third in 2019.

12. Houston Texans

Last Week: 18th

Winning in Los Angeles wasn’t necessarily expected prior to the season, so that was a nice spark for the Texans’ playoff chances. Also positive: After taking 10 sacks in the first two weeks, Deshaun Watson got only sacked twice against the Chargers. His big-play ability didn’t suffer from it, as he had four big-time throws and still a respectable average depth of target of 9.4 yards.

13. Pittsburgh Steelers

Last Week: 10th

The Steelers lost a close game against the 49ers, but according to our grades, they should have lost that game handily by 12 points, as they were lucky to recover three fumbles on defense. Consequently, they drop another four spots in our rankings. Losing Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t helped the cause, but it’s safe to say that Pittsburgh had higher expectations than ranking 30th in offensive grade after three weeks.

14. Indianapolis Colts

Last Week: 15th

The Colts maintain a PFF ELO in the middle of the pack following a close victory at home against the Falcons. Jacoby Brissett has been capable but not good with the 25th-ranked passing grade (61.5). He has especially suffered under pressure, throwing for only 2.7 yards per attempt versus 7.2 from a clean pocket. 

15. Philadelphia Eagles

Last Week: 8th

Things have changed quickly for the Eagles. Once seen as the most complete team in the NFL, now they’re firmly in the middle of our rankings. The team has been ravaged by injuries, but a loss at home to the Lions is a big blow regardless. While Doug Pederson has maintained his fourth-down aggressiveness, the team has been more conservative passing on longer (7+ yards) early downs (54.9% vs 59.5% in 2018). Their defense has been middling, at best, with a total grade ranked 20th (65.4) in the NFL.

16. Seattle Seahawks

Last Week: 13th

Seattle was favored at home against the Brees-less Saints, but they never got going in the first three quarters, digging themselves a hole they couldn’t escape from. Russell Wilson has interesting late-game splits for his whole career and showed it again on Sunday, as he had half of his positively graded throws in the fourth quarter. Rushing the ball 22 times for a combined -15 EPA hasn’t helped either.

17. Tennessee Titans

Last Week: 11th

After a rough outing on Thursday night in Jacksonville, the Titans drop five spots. Marcus Mariota’s struggle to avoid sacks carry on in 2019, as he leads the league in sacks while playing behind the 10th-best pass protection. On the positive side, play action works great for them. Their 0.56 EPA/play on play-action dropbacks ranks third in the league. When they don’t fake a handoff, however, Mariota ranks 31st in EPA/pass play and passing grade after three weeks.

18. Atlanta Falcons

Last Week: 17th

It doesn’t count any less in the standing, but the Falcons' close loss to the Colts on the road only marginally lowered the team's PFF ELO. The Falcons have a familiar dilemma this season with a top-10 passing offense (by EPA per play) and bottom-10 defense. Matt Ryan’s results throwing the ball have been good, but his passing grade is more middling (17th, 69.9) with seven turnover-worthy plays this year, only one fewer than Case Keenum and Jameis Winston.

19. Buffalo Bills

Last Week: 19th

The Bills have moved up this season with one of the more surprising 3-0 starts. But the movement has been somewhat limited, as the victories have been against marginal competition, and the team's victories against the Jets and Bengals were particularly close. Josh Allen has improved in his sophomore season but is still the 24th-ranked (of 38 with a minimum of 25 dropbacks) passer according to grade (64.3). The Bills' defense has been the story with top-10 grades for pass-rush, coverage and overall (10th, 7th and 7th, respectively).

20. Jacksonville Jaguars

Last Week: 22nd

The mustache-fueled Jaguars got their first win of the season in convincing fashion, basically shutting out the Titans' offense for the better part of the game. Reason for concern, though: Their vaunted coverage unit ranks only 27th after three weeks. Reason for hope: The pass-rush. Rookie Josh Allen has posted the 21st pass-rush grade among edge rushers so far, a promising start to his career. Calais Campbell leads all interior defensive linemen with a 90.6 pass-rush grade.

21. Cleveland Browns

Last Week: 20th

The Browns’ ranking looks disappointing to fans and those who were looking for a breakout this season, but it isn’t far from our opening 18th-ranked PFF ELO. Surprisingly, Baker Mayfield has been more efficient from a clean pocket this season (8.3 YPA vs 7.4) but much worse under pressure (3.4 YPA vs 5.5). Clean pocket passing is more stable, so if the Browns can relieve some of the pressure, things could pick up for last year’s rookie sensation. The Browns' defense has a grade in the middle of the league (15th, 67.4) in a combination of strong run defense (6th, 76.0) and poorer coverage (16th, 59.1).

22. Carolina Panthers

Last Week: 25th

Carolina gains three spots in the rankings, and no team increased their ELO ranking more than the Kyle Allen-led Panthers this week. That’s what a blowout win on the road does for you. Allen posted an 86.5 passing grade, the second-best mark of the week, and he was graded negatively only two times on 32 dropbacks. The Panthers' pass offense gained the second-most EPA/pass play this week.

23. Detroit Lions

Last Week: 24th

The Lions shocked the Eagles on the road and are rightfully climbing up our PFF ELO rankings. Marvin Jones Jr. stood out with 3.16 yards per route run and a 90.6 receiving grade, catching both of his contested targets in the game. Their next two games are against the Chiefs and Packers and should reveal whether they are contenders or pretenders.

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last Week: 23rd

While the Buccaneers suffered a soul-crushing loss to the Giants, their PFF ELO number went slightly up as they were the better team. It’s tough to win after two missed extra points and a pushed game-winning chip shot FG, and it's even harder when you choose to take the ball out of the hands of a passing game that dominated the first half. The Bucs have the 28th-ranked passing grade, but Jameis Winston has shown flashes. In a still wide-open NFC South, the Buccaneers can still compete, but they’ll have to take some chances.

25. Denver Broncos

Last Week: 21st

A defense with stud edge rushers like Von Miller and Bradley Chubb shouldn’t have the 29th-ranked defense by pass-rush grade (59.1). Through three weeks, the Broncos have zero sacks, four hits and 24 hurries for a total of 28 pressures, or 11 fewer than the next lowest team (Dolphins). If the defense can put things together and the offense can maintain its competent play (17th passing grade, 3rd rushing grade), the Broncos will begin to look better than their winless record.

26. Oakland Raiders

Last Week: 27th

The Raiders have reverted back to what we thought they were prior to the season, getting outplayed for the second week in a row against better teams. Derek Carr is still a very conservative quarterback, ranking 32nd with an average depth of target of 7.1 yards. More concerning is their league-worst defense (per PFF grades) after three weeks with a team defensive grade of 45.2, giving up the third-most EPA/play of all teams.

27. Washington Redskins

Last Week: 26th

After starting the season with a disappointing, but encouraging loss at the Eagles, the wheels have fallen off of the Redskins. The passing game has generated EPA per play of 0.6 despite a second-worst passing grade of 49.0. Outside of breakout rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin (7th-highest receiving grade, 81.8), it’s beginning to look like a lost season in DC.

28. New York Giants

Last Week: 31st

The Giants came back from an 18-point deficit and escaped with a win in the final seconds, but according to our grades, the Giants should have lost by two points, losing some ELO points in the process. They still gain three spots because a close loss on the road isn’t the worst that can happen and other teams have fallen more. Daniel Jones’ first career start was solid with a 69.0 passing grade, but he was accurate only 40% of the time, the second-worst mark of the week. We still don’t buy the hype, yet.

29. Cincinnati Bengals

Last Week: 30th

After hanging close with the Seahawks in their opener, the Bengals have disappointed in their next two games. The offense is toothless, ranking 27th in PFF grade. And the defense, while having a solid pass-rush (9th-best PFF grade), is having a hard time in coverage, ranking 30th.

30. Arizona Cardinals

Last Week: 28th

Air Raid? Kyler Murray threw it short of the sticks 79.1% of the time. No other quarterback has been that conservative in a single game since the start of 2016. Apparently, the play design hasn’t helped to turn those throws into chunk plays. He averaged only four yards per attempt. A reason for concern: Even though he threw many short passes, Murray was accurate on only 53.8% of those throws, the 19th-best mark of the week.

31. New York Jets

Last Week: 29th

Considering the level of competition and venue, the Jets losing by 16 points to the Patriots didn’t drop their PFF ELO materially. More concerning for the Jets’ chance to make something of the season than their 0-3 record is the Patriots doing Patriot things and the Bills also sitting at 3-0. We won’t get a good read on the Jets’ offense until Sam Darnold returns, but their defense has performed well enough to offer some hope (11th defensive grade, 70.6).

32. Miami Dolphins

Last Week: 32nd

The Dolphins played their best game of the season on Sunday and lost by 25 points. While this is enough to explain the dead-last ranking, we can also point out that they’ve “accomplished” the opposite of what the Patriots did. In the PFF era, no team played worse through three weeks. Per our grades, they are 14 points worse than the 2008 Rams at this point of the season.

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