The fourth week of the 100th NFL season was the week of the road dog, as the Buccaneers, Raiders, Browns, Eagles, Titans and Panthers all won against favored home teams. Nothing changes the perception of a team more than winning as a road dog or, on the flip side, losing as a favorite at home. Consequently, even though PFF ELO is designed to resist overreaction, this means there is a lot of movement in our weekly PFF ELO rankings.
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.
Last Week: 1st
How scary is the Patriots’ defense this season? The team’s “worst” performance in terms of EPA per play allowed was in a 33-3 drubbing of the Steelers in Week 1. Last week was a much closer contest, as Tom Brady struggled on the road, but the defense and special teams carried the day with four interceptions and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown.
Last Week: 2nd
The Chiefs got a win to stay among only three undefeated teams, but it was a close game in Detroit, and Patrick Mahomes had to convert a fourth down through a Daniel Jones memorial scramble to keep the winning streak alive. They lost some ELO points because our grades tell us that the Chiefs should have lost the game in which both teams combined to lose five fumbles. Why is that so? Breeland’s fumble recovery touchdown was basically a 14-point swing, a huge but also fluky play that isn’t entirely reflected by our predictive grades.
Last Week: 4th
After Brees went down, we thought the Saints would drop a few spots in the rankings, but they actually got the third spot back after the Rams lost their first game. Their offense has struggled, as Teddy Bridgewater has thrown for the league-lowest average depth of target (4.8 yards) in the last two weeks, but their defense has held strong, holding the high-flying Cowboys to 10 points.
Last Week: 3rd
The Rams laid an egg at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by giving up 55 points, giving up the highest EPA/pass play of the week in the process. On offense, at least the big plays returned to the Rams' passing game: Jared Goff had three big-time throws, one more than in the first three weeks combined.
Last Week: 5th
The Cowboys fell one spot in the ranking after losing to the Saints on the road. Dak Prescott struggled, posting negative EPA for the first time this season. But the biggest negatives of the week were fumbles by Jason Witten and Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys' defense played well in defeat surrendering the sixth-lowest EPA per play.
Last Week: 9th
After shutting down Kirk Cousins and the Vikings, the Bears rise three spots in our PFF ELO rankings. While not the best unit of the league like last year, the Bears’ defense has still been a top-10 unit over the first four weeks, giving the Bears chance to compete on a weekly basis. This week they also got strong play from their quarterback, as Chase Daniel posted the second-best passing grade of the week.
Last Week: 10th
The Chargers' passing game put it all together last week against the hapless Dolphins. Rivers combined his typical strong throwing numbers with few negatives: one sack, zero turnovers. It will be an uphill climb or the 2-2 Chargers to catch the 4-0 Chiefs and win the division, but they’re at least positioning themselves as a strong wild-card contender.
Last week: 15th
Carson Wentz is our highest-graded quarterback after four weeks, and after two losses, it finally turned into good results as they handed the Packers their first loss of the season with a good offensive performance. There is still a lot of unpacked potential, though, as the 12th-best passing offense in the league as measured by EPA per pass play is not what you would expect from the best quarterback in the league.
Last week: 17th
Which Titans team will show up on offense is a week-to-week proposition. Against the Falcons in Week 4, we got the good one, as Marcus Mariota had his best performance of the year. The Titans quarterback took zero sacks, got the ball out quickly (2.31 seconds average time to throw) and produced two big-time throws on only 27 attempts.
10. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Last Week: 16th
After a couple of weeks of pass-happy offense, the Seahawks got back to basics with their normal 60/40 pass-run split. The Seahawks defense also got back on track holding the Cardinals’ offense to -9.4 EPA after a disappointing Week 3 performance against the Brees-less Saints (2.2 EPA allowed).
Last week: 11th
The undefeated 49ers enjoyed their bye week, not moving in our rankings at all. Not playing is surely a better experience when your team has been a top-five defense and a top-five offense so far. Their production has come even though Jimmy Garoppolo hasn’t graded out elite so far, indicating that Kyle Shanahan is drawing up well-designed plays once again.
Last Week: 8th
The quarterback play in Minnesota has been bad so far, but the good news is that their defense has been good enough to handily beat worse teams, leaving them in a good position in a wide-open NFC. To compete with better teams, Kirk Cousins has to step up and produce more value, though. Throwing it beyond the sticks at a higher rate would be a good start, as his rate of throws short of the marker is currently the fourth-highest in the league.
Last Week: 13th
The Steelers came away with a victory Monday night against the struggling Bengals to maintain their PFF ELO ranking. We’ll reiterate that these rankings do not account for mid-season quarterback changes, only the results of games. The Steelers have fallen from ninth to start the year, and the fall will likely pick up again next week without improved quarterback play with the Ravens and Chargers next on the schedule.
Last Week: 6th
On the same day their offense finally produced at a high level and posted the sixth-best EPA per play of the week, their defense had its first bad game and allowed the Eagles to post the second-best EPA per play of the week. Consequently, they lost their first game, but the offense showing life is an encouraging sign for the Packers.
15. BALTIMORE RAVENS
Last Week: 7th
Back-to-back losses have dropped the Ravens from top-six to mid-teens in our rankings. Lamar Jackson received much of the hype after two weeks, and his performances have been worse the last two weeks (combined EPA of 8.3 vs. 43.4 in Weeks 1 and 2). But there’s been more turbulence with a defense that has now given up the second-highest EPA per play this season. Some of that is a function of an uptick in the offensive competition (Chiefs, Browns), but it's still something to watch moving forward.
16. HOUSTON TEXANS
Last Week: 12th
The Houston defense has rounded into form the last few weeks after an initial tough matchup at the Saints. Now the concern is the unpredictability of the offense, who got away with a down Week 2 against the Jaguars but again couldn’t put it together against the Panthers last week. Deshaun Watson needs to play better, as he's currently 20th among quarterbacks in EPA per dropback, and that won’t be enough to get the Texans to the playoffs.
17. CLEVELAND BROWNS
Last Week: 21st
The Browns offense faced a lot of critics after the first three games, and they responded in the best possible way by beating the Ravens on the ground and through the air, combining for the best EPA per play of the week.
Last Week: 22nd
Perhaps Cam Newton’s injury wasn’t as big of a blow as expected. The Panthers are 2-0 with Kyle Allen behind center, who hasn’t been special but has done enough to win. Christian McCaffrey is averaging 26 rushing attempts and seven receptions the last two games, a workload that might not be sustainable until Newton returns.
Last Week: 24th
Tampa is our biggest ELO riser of the week, getting the largest ELO change since the start of the season after upsetting the previously third-ranked team by two scores and scoring a franchise-record 55 points in the process. After shaking away the disaster in the opener, the pass offense has become the strength of the team, leading the league in percentage of dropbacks that result in a first down in the last three games.
Last Week: 14th
The Colts drop six full spots after losing at home to the Raiders. Their positive story of the season is still that Jacoby Brissett has taken only seven sacks on 165 dropbacks so far. However, he also doesn’t provide much value, throwing for only four big-time throws and ranking in the 20s in passing grade. That said, Frank Reich was still able to turn this kind of quarterback play into the sixth-best passing offense as measured by EPA per pass play so far.
21. ATLANTA FALCONS
Last Week: 18th
The Atlanta Falcons are in danger of another lost season after dropping a home game to the Titans in disappointing fashion. Their pass offense is still good, but it's not great anymore, and it’s not enough to overcome their poor defense at this point. In the last two games, they couldn’t stop anyone, giving up the second-most EPA per pass play in the league in that stretch.
Last Week: 20th
The legend of Gardner Minshew II grows with a last-second victory on the road against the Broncos. But the Jaguars lost PFF ELO points as the internal numbers showed they were outplayed. It’s a rare occurrence when the offense provides more value running when the Jaguars dropped back to pass (9.8 EPA vs. -0.7). The Jaguars will have to decide whether to switch back to Nick Foles once he’s healthy, a choice that’s much more difficult if the team is winning, no matter how impressively.
23. DETROIT LIONS
Last Week: 23rd
The Lions officially lost to the Chiefs at home, but it was ultimately fluky plays that felled them, like a 100-yard fumble return for a touchdown. Matthew Stafford has taken to Darrell Bevell’s offense, posting positive EPA in every game this season. The team’s season could turn based on results the next two weeks, facing division rivals Packers and Vikings back-to-back.
24. BUFFALO BILLS
Last Week: 19th
Non-surprisingly, the Bills have lost their first game after starting 3-0, but we came away impressed with their pass defense, holding Tom Brady (who posted an 80.0-plus passing grade in each of his first three games) to a 44.1 grade and 3.8 yards per attempt, the lowest figure of the week. The Bills defense has allowed the second-fewest EPA/pass play four weeks into the season.
25. OAKLAND RAIDERS
Last Week: 26th
The Raiders claimed their second victory of the season on the road in Indianapolis. Derek Carr didn’t light up the field (5.6 yards per dropback), but he avoided mistakes, with zero turnovers and only one sack on the day. If the Raiders look to improve on their 2-2 record, they’ll need better production out of the pass defense, which currently ranks 29th by opponent EPA per dropback.
26. DENVER BRONCOS
Last Week: 25th
The Denver Broncos are winless after four games, but they have been extremely unlucky. Sunday’s nailbiter against Jacksonville was the second game this season they should have won, the close loss against the Bears being the other one. They are easily the best of the teams without a win, also because Joe Flacco has been serviceable so far, posting the 17th-best passing grade.
27. NEW YORK GIANTS
Last Week: 28th
Daniel Jones led the Giants to victory for a second week, but the results haven’t registered in PFF ELO. Facing the Redskins at home isn’t the toughest test, and while Jones avoided sacks, he did have three turnover-worthy plays to only one big-time throw. On a positive note, the Giants’ defense finally had a strong performance against the pass, as the Redskins finished with a massive -18 EPA on dropbacks.
Last Week: 29th
The Bengals continued a potentially lost season with a loss to the Roethlisberger-less Steelers. Andy Dalton was constantly under pressure with eight sacks on 46 dropbacks, and the Bengals' defense couldn’t hold down a Steelers offense that dinked and dunked its way down the field (3.0 yard aDOT).
Last Week: 27th
The positive news is that the defense has looked okay, forcing Daniel Jones into three turnover-worthy plays and not allowing a big-time throw. However, their offense was really bad on Sunday, posting the league-worst EPA per play by a wide margin. Next up: A meeting with the NFL-best defense from Foxborough.
30. NEW YORK JETS
Last Week: 31st
For the first time in four weeks, the Jets haven’t lost a football game, but thanks to a bye week which basically gifts the Jets one more game with Sam Darnold. The eventual return of their young signal-caller and a potential second-year leap is their current best hope. What would also help: Continuing the sound tackling. No team has missed fewer tackles than the Jets so far.
Last Week: 30th
The Cardinals' offense has been out of sync the last couple weeks, and Week 4 may have been the worst performance. Kyler Murray rarely was able to push the ball downfield, with only five completions of 10 or more yards and an aDOT of declining below five yards. The Cardinals' schedule softens in the coming weeks (Bengals, Falcons and Giants), giving them an opportunity to head into Week 8 with wins on the scoreboard.
32. MIAMI DOLPHINS
Last Week: 32nd
The Dolphins had, by far, their best offensive performance of the year against the Chargers, yet still produced negative 8.0 EPA. Their defense, which on paper has more talent, has been the failing unit, with more than double the EPA per play allowed than the second-worst defense (Ravens).