Blind Power Rankings: Week 7, Plus College Football Idiocy

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Going into Week 7, there was a lot more change that one usually expects as the NFL nears the middle of the season. I also found out that data-based power rankings work best in homogeneous and closed systems, because I tried applying it to college football, like a moron.

There didn't seem to be too many upsets last week (three according to the betting lines—but I don't know if anyone really thinks of Pittsburgh beating New York's less-storied team counts), but there were a lot of changes in the per-play numbers of a lot of teams, which precipitated more movement than a predictable week would normally involve.

St. Louis, Dallas and San Diego moved up significantly. San Diego and Dallas seem to be doing through offensive efficiency, while St. Louis simply stopped being bad on both sides of the ball and moved closer to average after an impressive performance against a quickly sinking Houston.

Teams have had some recent changes that aren't reflected in their rankings and therefore the subsequent strength-of-schedules, and Houston might be the poster boy for that, after moving from Matt Schaub to T.J. Yates without any real improvement.

Indianapolis' acquisition of Trent Richardson has seemingly increased it's run success rate, so Indianapolis' offensive efficiency may not fully be captured yet.

Cincinnati's rise is less due to a change in performance than a change in opponents, as most of their rise has to due with an increase in strength-of-schedule than anything else.

The opposite is true of the New York's disfavored (but somehow better) team, whose performance fell dramatically due to a decrease in efficiency and a worse opponent.

Everybody who has played Seattle or Kansas has received basically a one-point increase in their strength-of-schedule, which is somewhat significant. It helped Tennessee keep their eighth spot in efficiency despite a dismal performance and Oakland moved up two spots despite giving up ten sacks.

If you want a refresher on how the rankings were calculated or what they include, take a look here.

Again, I prefer an efficiency metric to rank teams as it generally does a good job of measuring team quality instead of past performance, and tends to reduce the influence of random events. But all the headers are sortable, so you can choose whichever method suits you.

Team Efficiency Points Wins Average Average Rank
Kansas City Chiefs 2 2 2 2.00 1
Seattle Seahawks 1 3 4 2.67 2
Denver Broncos 7 1 1 3.00 3
New Orleans Saints 4 5 3 4.00 4
Indianapolis Colts 5 4 7 5.33 5
San Francisco 49ers 10 6 6 7.33 6
New England Patriots 14 10 5 9.67 7
Detroit Lions 6 13 11 10.00 8
Green Bay Packers 17 8 10 11.67 9
Tennessee Titans 8 14 14 12.00 10
Dallas Cowboys 11 7 18 12.00 10
Carolina Panthers 3 9 26 12.67 12
Cincinnati Bengals 16 16 9 13.67 13
Chicago Bears 15 17 13 15.00 14
Miami Dolphins 26 11 8 15.00 14
Arizona Cardinals 12 18 17 15.67 16
Cleveland Browns 18 19 15 17.33 17
Baltimore Ravens 29 12 12 17.67 18
Philadelphia Eagles 13 20 21 18.00 19
Buffalo Bills 9 23 24 18.67 20
San Diego Chargers 28 15 16 19.67 21
Oakland Raiders 21 22 22 21.67 22
St. Louis Rams 22 24 19 21.67 22
Atlanta Falcons 24 21 25 23.33 24
Washington Redskins 19 25 27 23.67 25
New York Jets 25 28 23 25.33 26
Houston Texans 27 30 20 25.67 27
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20 26 32 26.00 28
Minnesota Vikings 23 27 30 26.67 29
Jacksonville Jaguars 30 32 28 30.00 30
Pittsburgh Steelers 32 29 29 30.00 30
New York Giants 31 31 31 31.00 32

There's a decent way to tell if a team is underperforming relative to their talent or overperforming, and that is simply by subtracting their efficiency rank from their "wins" rank.

In this case, you can tell that the Panthers had been underperforming until very, very recently. They have the largest difference between efficiency and wins. On the other side, the Miami Dolphins have been overperforming, with an eighth overall ranking in wins but a 26th overall ranking in efficiency.

Other big underperformers include the Buffalo Bills, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Dallas Cowboys.

Overperformers include the Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers, the New England Patriots, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Houston Texans.

There are two prevailing reasons a team will over- or underperform. The first is the most obvious: luck. A team might have an unusually high fumble recovery rate (it has always regressed to 50%), have the ball bounce the right way or have an unusual number of favorable calls. Other things that aren't accounted for include special teams performance, like good returns and a rangy kicker—while these aren't "luck," they are functionally "luck" for the purposes of this discussion.

The second reason is coaching. Is anyone really surprised that the Ravens and the Patriots are overperforming their talent? This is likely a more sustainable way to consistently have efficiency lag behind wins. On the other hand, the Panthers have consistently had disparate efficiency and wins scores and could very well shoulder the blame on Ron Rivera. He's well known for being too conservative in late-game decisions and notoriously poor with clock management.

I do not need to go into much discussion regarding the Buccaneers.

If you prefer recency weighting, perhaps to capture emerging trends in the data and emphasize relative health, here you go:

Team Efficiency Points Wins Average Average Rank
Kansas City Chiefs 3 2 2 2.33 1
Seattle Seahawks 1 3 4 2.67 2
Denver Broncos 11 1 1 4.33 3
San Francisco 49ers 7 5 3 5.00 4
New Orleans Saints 4 6 6 5.33 5
Indianapolis Colts 6 4 9 6.33 6
Detroit Lions 5 11 10 8.67 7
Green Bay Packers 17 7 5 9.67 8
Dallas Cowboys 9 8 17 11.33 9
New England Patriots 15 12 8 11.67 10
Carolina Panthers 2 9 24 11.67 10
Cincinnati Bengals 14 15 7 12.00 12
Arizona Cardinals 10 17 15 14.00 13
Chicago Bears 13 18 13 14.67 14
Baltimore Ravens 28 10 12 16.67 15
Philadelphia Eagles 12 20 18 16.67 15
Tennessee Titans 16 16 19 17.00 17
Cleveland Indians 18 19 14 17.00 17
Miami Dolphins 27 14 11 17.33 19
Buffalo Bills 8 24 23 18.33 20
San Diego Chargers 26 13 16 18.33 20
St. Louis Rams 20 23 20 21.00 22
Oakland Raiders 21 22 21 21.33 23
Washington Redskins 19 25 26 23.33 24
Atlanta Falcons 24 21 27 24.00 25
New York Jets 25 29 25 26.33 26
Minnesota Vikings 23 27 29 26.33 26
Houston Texans 29 30 22 27.00 28
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 22 28 32 27.33 29
Pittsburgh Steelers 32 26 28 28.67 30
New York Giants 30 31 31 30.67 31
Jacksonville Jaguars 31 32 30 31.00 32

Evidently, laying only 16 points on the Jaguars was not good for Denver in the model. The table above seems to imply, shockingly, that Panthers' recent victory did them no good in the overall ranking, but that's not quite true. It has a similar average ranking as in the first table, but it simply is outweighed by the recent boosts of the teams above them that were washed out when the model eliminated recency bias.

Record against the spread:

Efficiency: 5-11
Points: 7-7
Efficiency (What Have You Done For Me Lately): 7-7
Points (WHYD4ML): 7-7

That is disappointing, I know.

Efficiency games against the spread:

Seattle over ARIZONA (+7)
ATLANTA (-8) over Tampa Bay
DETROIT (-3) over Cincinnati
Buffalo over MIAMI (-8)
New England over NEW YORK JETS (+5)
Dallas over PHILADELPHIA (-2.5)
Chicago over WASHINGTON (+0)
CAROLINA (-6) over St. Louis
JACKSONVILLE (+7.5) over San Diego
TENNESSEE (+4.5) over San Francisco
Cleveland over GREEN BAY (-10)
KANSAS CITY over Houston (-7)
Baltimore over PITTSBURGH (-2)
INDIANAPOLIS (+6.5) over Denver
Minnesota over NEW YORK GIANTS (-3.5)

Efficiency games against the spread (WHYD4ML):

Seattle over ARIZONA (+7)
ATLANTA (-8) over Tampa Bay
Cincinnati over DETROIT (-3)
Buffalo over MIAMI (-8)
New England over NEW YORK JETS (+5)
Dallas over PHILADELPHIA (-2.5)
Chicago over WASHINGTON (+0)
CAROLINA (-6) over St. Louis
JACKSONVILLE (+7.5) over San Diego
PUSH: San Francisco at TENNESSEE (+4.5)
Cleveland over GREEN BAY (-10)
KANSAS CITY over Houston (-7)
Baltimore over PITTSBURGH (-2)
INDIANAPOLIS (+6.5) over Denver
Minnesota over NEW YORK GIANTS (-3.5)

Points against the spread:

Seattle over ARIZONA (+7)
ATLANTA (-8) over Tampa Bay
DETROIT (-3) over Cincinnati
MIAMI (-8) over Buffalo
New England over NEW YORK JETS (+5)
Dallas over PHILADELPHIA (-2.5)
Chicago over WASHINGTON (+0)
CAROLINA (-6) over St. Louis
San Diego over JACKSONVILLE (+7.5)
TENNESSEE (+4.5) over San Francisco
Cleveland over GREEN BAY (-10)
KANSAS CITY over Houston (-7)
Baltimore over PITTSBURGH (-2)
INDIANAPOLIS (+6.5) over Denver
Minnesota over NEW YORK GIANTS (-3.5)

Points against the spread (WHYD4ML):

Seattle over ARIZONA (+7)
Tampa Bay over ATLANTA (-8)
DETROIT (-3) over Cincinnati
MIAMI (-8) over BUFFALO
New England over NEW YORK JETS (+5)
Dallas over PHILADELPHIA (-2.5)
Chicago over WASHINGTON (+0)
CAROLINA (-6) over St. Louis
San Diego over JACKSONVILLE (+7.5)
San Francisco over TENNESSEE (+4.5)
GREEN BAY (-10) over Cleveland
KANSAS CITY over Houston (-7)
Baltimore over PITTSBURGH (-2)
INDIANAPOLIS (+6.5) over Denver
Minnesota over NEW YORK GIANTS (-3.5)

I wanted to see if a more extreme situation created a different kind of ranking, so I applied the same points system to college football, and included every game between FBS schools, any games between an FBS school and an FCS school and any FCS games that included two teams that have played an FBS school. It produced the following unusual ranking that should give us some clues as to why the professional model could need tweaking.

Rank Team
1 Florida State
2 Oregon
3 Baylor
4 Clemson
5 Alabama
6 Washington
7 Louisiana State
8 Georgia
9 Louisville
10 Missouri
11 UCLA
12 Stanford
13 Arizona State
14 Wisconsin
15 South Carolina
16 Ohio State
17 Georgia Tech
18 Florida
19 Utah
20 Auburn
21 Miami (FL)
22 Eastern Illinois
23 Texas A&M
24 BYU
25 Boise State
26 Coastal Carolina
27 Nebraska
28 Virginia Tech
29 Oklahoma State
30 Marshall
31 Mississippi
32 South Carolina State
33 Arizona
34 Central Florida
35 Indiana
36 Utah State
37 Oregon State
38 Kansas State
39 Texas Tech
40 Illinois
41 Southern California
42 Mississippi State
43 North Dakota State
44 Penn State
45 Tennessee
46 Northern Iowa
47 Oklahoma
48 Syracuse
49 Pittsburgh
50 Michigan

The extremely high rankings of Eastern Illinois, Coastal Carolina, Marshall and South Carolina State concern me, but none more so than Georgia Tech. At least EIU has Jimmy Garappolo.

Ohio State's low ranking is odd, too, and it kind of sucks not seeing Northern Illinois in there. MIchigan is clearly too low and Michigan State didn't even make the top 50. I suppose playing in the B1G isn't that good for this system (so far). Fresno State is missing as well, and Oklahoma took a huge hit.

I do enjoy that North Dakota State is not the top FCS school, but only half of their games were included.

To me, this means that the system works best when there are relatively congruent data sets (In the NFL, I add 14-16 games every week usually. In college, the number can vary wildly from 140 to 180) and when teams are all supposed to play enough games to properly determine a strength of schedule. Not a lot of teams played Grambling State, but those that did had a good time.

Another thing to think about is that pace is so much more important than college, so not accounting for their effects leads to significant differences. Football Outsiders' Fremeau Efficiency Index makes a lot more sense, and that's what they do.

So, for next year, it looks like I will ditch "Point Differential" for "Point Differential Per Drive" (excluding kneeldowns) and incorporate "Drive Success Rate" into the efficiency scores, while decreasing "run success rate" and increasing "yards per carry," which is functionally not making a difference at all.

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