Blind Power Rankings: Week 9 Power Rankings, Drive Stats, Average Margin of Victory

Otto Greule Jr

Halfway done with the season, even the top of the NFL sometimes find themselves struggling—there's significant movement around the league. In addition, I find a way to make the rankings incredibly more robust when we discuss drive statistics. I also found a slightly less discouraging way to rank the Vikings

Naturally, the Vikings have been a depressing team to watch, but they can at the very least take heart in the fact that they aren't the worst team in the league. Just close to it.

Once again, if you want an explanation for how the rankings are calculated, take a look here.

One thing I've noticed is that the rankings put a similar amount of weight on the relative capabilities of the offense and defense, so a team that is dominant in one respect won't do well without the other half of their unit performing. In this sense a few models may overrate teams like Carolina (who should be in the top five, but perhaps shouldn't be ranked first overall, like one model presumes) and underrate teams like Denver (eighth seems low).

As I remind everyone every week, I prefer raw efficiency over any other metric, including the average rank these are sorted by. But I include everything, so you can choose which you prefer.

First, we'll look at the rankings without a recency bias. Remember, the headers are all sortable:

Team Efficiency Points Wins Average Average Rank
Seattle Seahawks 1 2 2 1.67 1
Indianapolis Colts 5 3 3 3.67 2
Denver Broncos 6 1 5 4.00 3
Kansas City Chiefs 4 8 1 4.33 4
New Orleans Saints 3 5 6 4.67 5
San Francisco 49ers 8 4 4 5.33 6
Green Bay Packers 10 6 8 8.00 7
Carolina Panthers 2 7 19 9.33 8
Cincinnati Bengals 12 10 7 9.67 9
Dallas Cowboys 7 9 14 10.00 10
Detroit Lions 11 11 10 10.67 11
Arizona Cardinals 9 14 13 12.00 12
New England Patriots 17 13 9 13.00 13
Tennessee Titans 13 15 12 13.33 14
San Diego Chargers 22 12 11 15.00 15
Chicago Bears 14 17 15 15.33 16
St. Louis Rams 15 21 24 20.00 17
Oakland Raiders 24 20 16 20.00 17
Buffalo Bills 19 22 20 20.33 19
Cleveland Browns 20 19 22 20.33 19
Miami Dolphins 28 18 17 21.00 21
Philadelphia Eagles 16 24 26 21.33 22
Baltimore Ravens 30 16 21 22.33 23
Washington Redskins 18 25 25 22.67 24
Houston Texans 21 27 23 23.67 24
Atlanta Falcons 26 23 27 25.33 26
New York Jets 27 31 18 25.33 26
New York Giants 23 28 29 26.67 28
Pittsburgh Steelers 31 26 28 28.33 29
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 25 30 32 29.00 30
Minnesota Vikings 29 29 31 29.67 31
Jacksonville Jaguars 32 32 30 31.33 32

The Seahawks, despite taking a massive hit in their efficiency against a mediocre St. Louis team (one that will hurt them more later after St. Louis continues to suffer at the hands of Kellen Clemens), are hitting on all cylinders. It's not correct to say they are "massively ahead" of the others because they are highly ranked in all three metrics, but that their performance is matching their results.

Others who are performing to their metrics: nearly everyone at the bottom of the rankings. The most interesting differences are at the top, with Carolina, San Francisco, Kansas City and Denver.

There seems to be clear tiers forming in the power rankings. The tiers are not particularly useful, of course, because we are averaging three completely different (but not unrelated) ranks. Still, it's a fun concept.

Tier One: Seattle Seahawks
Tier Two: Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints
Tier Three: San Francisco 49ers
Tier Four: Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions
Tier Five: Arizona Cardinals, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, San Diego Chargers, Chicago Bears
Tier Six: St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns
Tier Seven: Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Ravens, Washington Redskins, Houston Texans
Tier Eight: Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets
Tier Nine: New York Giants
Tier Ten: Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings
Tier Eleven: Jacksonville Jaguars

There's nothing to read into the tiers. The Seahawks are a high-efficiency team whose results are matching their relative performance. Tier Two consists of slight differences in performance/results while Tier Three has an overperformer. After that, it's open season on what they mean. Carolina and Green Bay, for example, are sort of opposites in their character here.

The Eagles will not turn it around without a quarterback, and the efficiency model overstates their ability (as it does in a small way with Carolina and understates Denver) because of how it de-emphasizes turnovers, which are difficult to project due to low repeatability.

But I think it is fair to say that the reason turnovers are rarely repeatable is because players at the NFL level are so elite that turnovers are low-probability events. They perform at one tail end of the bell curve, and most of our debates are separating the best 0.00001% from the 0.00002%. With the Eagles, I am not so sure their quarterbacks fit into that tail end, and therefore their turnover rate might be more repeatable.

This is why I think Chip Kelly should not be held accountable for the difference in efficiency and wins, unlike Ron Rivera (who is turning it around in his new Riverboat Rivera persona).

This model evidently hates Baltimore. I was extremely pessimistic on them before the season, but not this pessimistic. This is very interesting, to say the least.

I would argue that San Diego, New England and Baltimore benefit from extremely intelligent coaching, but that is just speculation and I could simply be inventing a narrative that fits what we already know (Bill Belichick and John Harbaugh are good coaches, and Mike McCoy might be) instead of more accurately attributing these differences to luck.

There's another reason those teams may be performing better than their efficiency scores. I will detail it near the bottom at the "Drive Stats" portion.

Here are the recency-weighted metrics. They are still slow to incorporate data like QB injuries, but are better about it:

Team Efficiency Points Wins Average Average Rank
Seattle Seahawks 2 3 2 2.33 1
San Francisco 49ers 5 2 3 3.33 2
Indianapolis Colts 4 4 4 4.00 3
Kansas City Chiefs 7 8 1 5.33 4
Denver Broncos 8 1 7 5.33 4
New Orleans Saints 3 7 8 6.00 6
Green Bay Packers 9 5 6 6.67 7
Carolina Panthers 1 6 15 7.33 8
Cincinnati Bengals 11 10 5 8.67 9
Dallas Cowboys 6 9 13 9.33 10
Detroit Lions 13 11 10 11.33 11
Arizona Cardinals 10 13 12 11.67 12
New England Patriots 18 15 9 14.00 13
San Diego Chargers 20 12 11 14.33 14
Chicago Bears 12 17 17 15.33 15
Tennessee Titans 15 16 16 15.67 16
St. Louis Rams 14 18 24 18.67 17
Oakland Raiders 24 20 14 19.33 18
Washington Redskins 16 24 22 20.67 19
Baltimore Ravens 28 14 20 20.67 19
Cleveland Browns 23 21 19 21 21
Buffalo Bills 21 22 21 21.33 22
Philadelphia Eagles 17 23 26 22 23
New York Giants 19 27 27 24.33 24
Houston Texans 22 28 23 24.33 24
Miami Dolphins 29 19 25 24.33 24
New York Jets 30 31 18 26.33 27
Atlanta Falcons 26 25 29 26.67 28
Pittsburgh Steelers 27 26 28 27 29
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 25 30 32 29 30
Minnesota Vikings 31 29 31 30.33 31
Jacksonville Jaguars 32 32 30 31.33 32

Big differences here from the neutral rankings are San Francisco, who saw elevated QB play; San Diego, whose performance against the Raiders is dragging them down while not benefiting by playing Jacksonville; Philadelphia, who I've discussed; and Houston and Tampa Bay, whose new quarterbacks are being folded into the data better in the second set of rankings. Also significant is Miami, who simply lost their hot start.

Against the Spread

Last Week

Efficiency: 9-4
Efficiency (What Have You Done For Me Lately): 8-5
Points: 10-3
Points (WHYD4ML): 10-3

Woohoo!

Total

Efficiency: 18-24
Efficiency (What Have You Done For Me Lately): 21-21
Points: 21-21
Points (WHYD4ML): 24-18

There we go. These things come in bunches.

Next Week

Efficiency

Cincinnati over MIAMI (+3)
Kansas over BUFFALO (+3.5)
DALLAS (-10.5) over Minnesota
Tennessee over ST. LOUIS (-3)
WASHINGTON (-0) over San Diego
CAROLINA (-7.5) over Atlanta
SEATTLE (-18.5) over Tampa Bay
NEW ENGLAND (-7) over Pittsburgh
CLEVELAND (+3) over Baltimore
INDIANAPOLIS (-3) over Houston
Philadelphia over OAKLAND (-2.5)
Chicago over GREEN BAY (-11)

Efficiency (WHYD4ML)

Cincinnati over MIAMI (+3)
Kansas over BUFFALO (+3.5)
DALLAS (-10.5) over Minnesota
Tennessee over ST. LOUIS (-3)
WASHINGTON (-0) over San Diego
CAROLINA (-7.5) over Atlanta
Tampa Bay over SEATTLE (-18.5)
Pittsburgh over NEW ENGLAND (-7)
CLEVELAND (+3) over Baltimore
INDIANAPOLIS (-3) over Houston
Philadelphia over OAKLAND (-2.5)
Chicago over GREEN BAY (-11)

I am somewhat skeptical of the recency-biased rankings' differences with the unbiased rankings (Tampa Bay/Pittsburgh over Seattle/New England) but those spreads are both very large so I understand.

Points

Cincinnati over MIAMI (+3)
Kansas over BUFFALO (+3.5)
DALLAS (-10.5) over Minnesota
Tennessee over ST. LOUIS (-3)
San Diego over WASHINGTON (-0)
CAROLINA (-7.5) over Atlanta
SEATTLE (-18.5) over Tampa Bay
NEW ENGLAND (-7) over Pittsburgh
CLEVELAND (+3) over Baltimore
INDIANAPOLIS (-3) over Houston
OAKLAND (-2.5) over Philadelphia
GREEN BAY (-11) over Chicago

Points (WHYD4ML)

Cincinnati over MIAMI (+3)
Kansas over BUFFALO (+3.5)
DALLAS (-10.5) over Minnesota
Tennessee over ST. LOUIS (-3)
San Diego over WASHINGTON (-0)
CAROLINA (-7.5) over Atlanta
SEATTLE (-18.5) over Tampa Bay
NEW ENGLAND (-7) over Pittsburgh
CLEVELAND (+3) over Baltimore
INDIANAPOLIS (-3) over Houston
OAKLAND (-2.5) over Philadelphia
GREEN BAY (-11) over Chicago

The picks for the point differential models are identical, but the confidence levels are not. The recency model really likes Cincinnati and Green Bay, but is hesitant about Baltimore. The unbiased model is very hesitant on Green Bay and not too confident in Cincinnati, but is reasonably confident about Baltimore.

The biggest confidence levels were for Dallas and Indianapolis. It seems that Vegas predicts the betting markets won't play action on Dallas at a more realistic level or don't understand how good Dallas is.

Drive Stats

As I've alluded to previously, drive stats are probably a better way to evaluate team quality than pure point totals. Some teams grind out the clock and decrease the number of drives in a game but get points on the board, like Carolina. Some teams relish having as many drives as possible, like Buffalo, so their offensive point total does not represent them very well.

While this doesn't affect point differential in significant ways (although it may overstate magnitude for drive-heavy teams like Miami and understate magnitude for drive-averse teams like Atlanta), it does affect the individual offensive and defensive points and therefore our ability to adequately assess offensive and defensive strength.

The table below is a point-specific set of drive data, with a few caveats. The first is that all special teams touchdowns are eliminated, because they are generally unpredictable and nonrepeatable. But the affect that special teams have on field position are already "priced in". I have also eliminated defensive scores.

The second caveat is that I've eliminated any drives that are "garbage time," which I've defined as any drive that takes place after a team has either a 99% chance of winning or a 1% chance of winning, based on historical point differential/time remaining data found at Advanced NFL Stats.

After poring over the data over the last few years, no team has won after hitting that game state, but they have put up points. So I am comfortable with doing that.

I have also eliminated kneeldowns.

Finally, I created an "average game" in the adjusted point differential column that has 11.7 drives, but that's not entirely accurate because the 11.7 figure include garbage time and kneeldowns while the data do not. There is an additional misleading point that I will discuss about this data in a second. For now, look at it:

Overall Offense Defense
Tm Rk PD/Dr Adj PD/Gm Rank Pts Pts/Dr Rk Pts PD/Dr
Denver Broncos 1 1.31 15.32 1 313 3.10 21 179 1.79
Carolina Panthers 2 1.17 13.66 5 171 2.19 2 84 1.02
Green Bay Packers 3 1.11 13.01 2 192 2.49 7 105 1.38
New Orleans Saints 4 0.91 10.62 4 186 2.33 8 112 1.42
San Francisco 49ers 5 0.87 10.16 9 185 2.01 4 112 1.14
Seattle Seahawks 6 0.84 9.79 13 181 1.93 3 98 1.09
Indianapolis Colts 7 0.56 6.51 6 168 2.18 13 130 1.63
San Diego Chargers 8 0.55 6.44 3 168 2.33 20 123 1.78
Kansas City Chiefs 9 0.49 5.78 22 127 1.43 1 97 0.93
Cincinnati Bengals 10 0.43 5.00 12 177 1.97 11 137 1.54
New England Patriots 11 0.37 4.35 16 165 1.60 5 123 1.23
Dallas Cowboys 12 0.26 3.02 7 203 2.14 25 186 1.88
Detroit Lions 13 0.25 2.96 8 194 2.02 18 175 1.77
St. Louis Rams 14 0.09 1.04 17 131 1.58 9 140 1.49
Tennessee Titans 15 0.03 0.37 26 103 1.32 6 107 1.29
Arizona Cardinals 16 -0.03 -0.36 18 147 1.50 10 150 1.53
Philadelphia Eagles 17 -0.07 -0.78 15 168 1.66 16 173 1.73
Baltimore Ravens 18 -0.09 -1.04 21 130 1.46 12 141 1.55
Chicago Bears 19 -0.28 -3.22 10 162 2.00 28 182 2.28
Buffalo Bills 20 -0.31 -3.67 19 160 1.50 23 199 1.81
Pittsburgh Steelers 21 -0.35 -4.07 23 115 1.40 17 140 1.75
Oakland Raiders 22 -0.36 -4.19 28 105 1.28 14 136 1.64
New York Giants 23 -0.39 -4.53 29 134 1.28 15 168 1.66
Atlanta Falcons 24 -0.42 -4.93 10 138 2.00 31 184 2.42
Miami Dolphins 25 -0.44 -5.14 24 145 1.37 22 150 1.81
New York Jets 26 -0.44 -5.16 25 134 1.33 18 175 1.77
Cleveland Browns 27 -0.52 -6.05 27 110 1.31 24 179 1.83
Washington Redskins 28 -0.54 -6.27 14 140 1.75 29 192 2.29
Houston Texans 29 -0.64 -7.51 30 106 1.26 26 139 1.90
Minnesota Vikings 30 -0.91 -10.65 20 121 1.48 30 198 2.39
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31 -0.99 -11.57 31 92 1.05 27 179 2.03
Jacksonville Jaguars 32 -1.67 -19.55 32 79 0.84 32 226 2.51

If I've coded correctly, the subheaders should be sortable, but the large multiple column headers won't be affected. It will be fun to find out, I'm sure.

The reason this is misleading is that while it does measure offensive and defensive output, it doesn't entirely measure the quality of those units. A huge reason is because it eliminates the effect of field position that one unit will have on another, along with the effect that special teams has on field position. I wrote an article for the Bleacher Report today that explains the significance of that as it pertains to the Vikings:

On a surface level, measuring offensive and defensive scoring opportunities is a simple way to determine whether or not a team is taking advantage of their drives.

But even that doesn't speak to the larger offensive problems, because the Vikings offense cannot create many of its own points—it needs more help from field position than other teams and by a significant amount.

The Vikings are the fourth-worst in the league at converting drives into scores from inside their own 20 and have the vast majority of their points come from favorable position.

They have needed more help than any other team except the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Dallas Cowboys in creating scoring opportunities and have the third-most favorable field position on touchdowns.

Simply put, they cannot put the ball in the end zone unless they have significant help in the field-position battle-a function of special teams and defense.

The offense is much worse than people might think, based on points scored.

I discussed ways to isolate performance from field position. One is almost captured in the efficiency rankings above, with a heavy bias on yardage and success rate. The other is more direct and already done by Football Outsiders:

That's not to say that the offense is worse than the defense, simply that the two are closer in quality than many people would think after looking at the surface-level statistics.

No single metric captures this better than Football Outsider's "Drive Success Rate"statistic, a field-position independent statistic that measures how well a team can gain first downs and touchdowns as a percentage of its total first-down opportunities.

The table below is, to date, the Drive Success Rate of every team in the league. Like the table above, the one below is not adjusted for opponent. Next week, perhaps.

Team NET DSR NET Rank OFF DSR OFF Rank DEF DSR DEF Rank
Denver Broncos 0.116 1 0.797 1 0.680 17
Carolina Panthers 0.104 2 0.751 3 0.648 5
Kansas City Chiefs 0.072 3 0.650 22 0.578 1
New Orleans Saints 0.055 4 0.716 7 0.661 9
San Diego Chargers 0.054 5 0.767 2 0.713 25
Detroit Lions 0.053 6 0.726 5 0.673 13
Seattle Seahawks 0.042 7 0.702 11 0.660 8
Indianapolis Colts 0.038 8 0.716 7 0.678 16
Green Bay 0.037 9 0.718 6 0.681 18
Baltimore Ravens 0.030 10 0.631 28 0.601 2
Atlanta Falcons 0.022 11 0.744 4 0.722 29
Houston Texans 0.021 12 0.681 15 0.661 9
San Francisco 49ers 0.021 12 0.656 19 0.635 4
New York Jets 0.011 14 0.627 30 0.617 3
Cincinnati Bengals 0.011 14 0.686 14 0.675 14
Dallas Cowboys 0.008 16 0.715 9 0.707 23
New England Patriots 0.007 17 0.656 19 0.648 5
Washington Redskins -0.008 18 0.708 10 0.716 27
Pittsburgh Steelers -0.017 19 0.661 17 0.677 15
Tennessee Titans -0.017 19 0.645 23 0.662 11
Chicago Bears -0.019 21 0.701 12 0.721 28
Cleveland Browns -0.021 22 0.662 16 0.682 20
Arizona Cardinals -0.022 23 0.659 18 0.681 18
Buffalo Bills -0.034 24 0.621 31 0.655 7
Philadelphia Eagles -0.035 25 0.693 13 0.728 30
Tampa Bay Buccaneers -0.038 26 0.635 25 0.672 12
St. Louis Rams -0.057 27 0.655 21 0.712 24
Miami Dolphins -0.059 28 0.636 24 0.694 21
Oakland Raiders -0.077 29 0.628 29 0.705 22
New York Giants -0.082 30 0.632 27 0.714 26
Minnesota Vikings -0.104 31 0.634 26 0.737 32
Jacksonville Jaguars -0.150 32 0.586 32 0.736 31

This is generally considered quite predictive. I assume it's a bit better after accounting for strength of schedule. This also reveals some things that disagree with my models a lot, which is why I'm so excited to fold the concept into my model next year. Baltimore ranks highly here and does not in my efficiency model. Other teams that do better in DSR than in my efficiency scores are San Diego, Atlanta and the New York Jets.

Notably, all those teams except Atlanta are "overperforming" their wins.

The teams who do much better in efficiency than they do in drive success rate include St. Louis, Arizona, Philadelphia and in a small way, Chicago.

Two of those teams are "underperforming" relative to their efficiency.

The only worry I have is that these drive statistics, by nature, fold in turnovers. They are extremely important to winning games, but do not do a good job replicating themselves so are not necessarily predictive. It's embedded into the type of data you need to gather for it, but when constructing the model there are ways around it by using "field goals and punts per drive" as a negative instead of "first downs per drive" as a positive.

You all have no idea how excited I am by this.

But next year.

Finally, one of the more interesting statistics I've come across: average margin of victory, which I explained last week. Again, it comes from Football Persepective's work on Game Scripts (which is the real term for it, but I'm using it for a bit of a different purpose.

It might turn out to be another statistic worth incorporating, although I'm not sure of it given its emphasis on "time" instead of drives. I could modify it to drives for next year however.

Woohoo.

Current strength-of-schedule adjusted average margin of victory:

Rank Team Average MOV
1 Green Bay Packers 6.6
2 Carolina Panthers 6.3
3 San Francisco 49ers 6.2
4 New Orleans Saints 4.5
5 Denver Broncos 4.4
6 Seattle Seahawks 4.0
7 Dallas Cowboys 3.9
8 Cincinnati Bengals 3.6
9 Indianapolis Colts 3.6
10 Kansas City Chiefs 2.8
11 New England Patriots 1.7
12 San Diego Chargers 1.2
13 Oakland Raiders 1.0
14 Detroit Lions 0.9
15 Atlanta Falcons 0.6
16 Arizona Cardinals 0.3
17 Buffalo Bills -0.7
18 Miami Dolphins -0.8
19 Tennessee Titans -1.0
20 Cleveland Browns -1.1
21 Chicago Bears -1.5
22 Baltimore Ravens -2.4
23 Philadelphia Eagles -2.6
24 New York Giants -2.6
25 Minnesota Vikings -2.7
26 Tampa Bay Buccaneers -3.0
27 St. Louis Cardinals -3.1
28 Washington Redskins -4.4
29 Houston Texans -4.6
30 New York Jets -5.2
31 Pittsburgh Steelers -5.3
32 Jacksonville Jaguars -10.8

Unsurprising that the Packers maintained their lead given their game against the Vikings. The Vikings, however, moved UP a spot because they did better, on average, than most teams did against Green Bay. More importantly, the other teams the Vikings have played against in the past (the Giants, Bears and Browns specifically) had positive average margins of victory this past week and that helped the Vikings' historical strength of schedule.

This is perhaps the most encouraging ranking. But the most encouraging really just means least discouraging, honestly.

It means that the Vikings don't lose games by a lot until late into the game.

There is also probably no one number that better underscores how bad the Jaguars really are.

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