As the 2017 regular season quickly approaches, we at PFF are excited to offer our readers some of the insights generated from our analytics group this offseason. The problem of rating and ranking teams is one that has interested researchers for as long as the game has existed, and our group is no exception.
Below is the first installment of our weekly PFFELO rankings. 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.
No surprise here. The Patriots are still led by Tom Brady, whose 2016 seasons (and 98.0 overall grade) ranks among the best in the PFF era. They added Brandin Cooks (1.92 yards per route run in 2016) in the offseason, who teams with a healthy Rob Gronkowski (3.18) to make New England of the league’s best passing game potentially even more efficient in 2017.
Will the Super Bowl hangover hit the Falcons? Although Atlanta lost Kyle Shanahan this offseason, their core of skill position players Matt Ryan (92.6), Julio Jones (96.5), Devonta Freeman (83.3), Taylor Gabriel (82.3) and Tevin Coleman (79.2) remains offensively, while Desmond Trufant (78.0) returns from injury to bolster the pass defense.
One the league’s final four teams returns to that echelon with even more firepower than a season ago, returning Martavis Bryant (2.13 career yards per route run) from suspension and presumably slated to have Le’Veon Bell for all 16 games. Pittsburgh’s skill players will be doing their work behind an offensive line that was one of the league’s best a season ago, with a pass blocking efficiency of 83.3 a season ago (fourth in the NFL).
Somewhat of a surprise here, but the Chiefs did finish 12-4 a season ago while surrendering only 311 points (seventh) on the strength of a turnover percentage of 16.5 percent (first). Regression might be in order given that latter number, but Kansas City is expecting edge player Justin Houston back healthy for a full season for the first time since 2014 (where he was the league’s most-efficient 3-4 outside linebacker in terms of rushing the passer).
A disappointing end to the 2016 season and possible suspension to Ezekiel Elliott aside, there’s a lot to like about the Cowboys’ offense going into 2017. Dak Prescott was fourth in the league a season ago in passer rating when kept clean (116.5), so look for the Cowboys to stay above water when/if Elliot is unable to play, leaning on a passing game featuring Dez Bryant (114.9 passer rating on his targets) and Cole Beasley (117.6).
The question mark for Green Bay in 2017 will be its pass defense, where Davon House (40.5 overall grade a season ago) returns from Jacksonville to team with 2016 disappointments Quinten Rollins (46.2) and Damarious Randall (35.8), the overmatched Ladarius Gunter (41.9) and rookie Kevin King.
Seattle has had a busy month, with the most-notable move being the acquisition of interior defender Sheldon Richardson from the Jets. Michael Bennett, Frank Clark, Cliff Avril and Richardson combined for 36 sacks, 43 quarterback hits and 153 quarterback hurries in 2016, and promise to improve a Seahawks defense that dipped slightly in recent seasons.
The first non-playoff team appears in the ratings, due in large part to a rash of bad luck that occurred in the kicking game a season ago. With Chandler Catanzaro (responsible for losing at least two wins in 2016) gone, and Carson Palmer stationed for something of a comeback campaign, look for the Cardinals to challenge Seattle in the NFC West, leveraging the strengths of a strong defense (they were second in our overall grading in 2016) anchored by cornerback Patrick Peterson (83.9).
Carolina was more unlucky than the Cardinals a season ago, playing eight games decided by three or fewer points (including a stretch of five in six games). They were 2-6 in those games. Throw in the substantial regression in Cam Newton’s game (his adjusted completion percentage was the worst in football in 2016) and it’s not difficult to see how 15-1 could turn into 6-10 so quickly. Some new additions offensively, as well as a schedule including the 49ers, Jets, Bills and Bears, could mean a bounce back for the Panthers in 2017.
The Broncos are here based on the strength of their defense, the third-highest graded group in the league a season ago. There are real questions surrounding how Trevor Siemian will perform in his second season as Denver’s starting quarterback, however. Be that as it may, improvements to the offensive line through the draft and free agency, as well as the existence of Emmanuel Sanders (84.7) and Demaryius Thomas (81.3), will only help Siemian develop if he has the requisite talent.