NFL Power Rankings - Week 4
by Robert Ferringo - 9/24/2013
I felt that one of the overarching themes of this 2013 NFL season was the fact that the NFC was clearly the superior conference in the league. Conference superiority has swung back and forth for the past 25 years, and after the beginning of this century was it was controlled by the AFC (seven of 10 Super Bowl titles). I felt their counterparts had regained the upper hand after taking three of the last four championships.
Not so much.
The AFC has dominated the early part of the season, going 11-3 straight up and 10-4 against the spread in interconference matchups. The AFC ruled last weekend, going 6-2 SU and ATS in eight matchups with the NFC. That included impressive underdog wins by Kansas City, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Cincinnati.
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There really aren’t a lot of reasons why the AFC is controlling the tempo. Beyond the fact that this conference is much better and more balanced than expected. But the fact that the AFC is hammering the NFC is just one of the many reasons why the books are dominating the players early in the pro football season.
This week there are eight tilts featuring an AFC team versus an NFC opponent, and that is one of the main trends that I am going to be looking at throughout the weekend.
Here are Doc’s Sports Week 4 NFL power rankings:
1. Denver Broncos (3-0) – Really, what is there to say? The NFL has changed the rules so that any offense with a competent quarterback and sound passing game can pretty much move the ball at will. It is going to be months before anyone catches up to where Manning and the Broncos are. And this looks like it is shaping up to be another vintage 14-2 Manning effort this season.
2. Seattle Seahawks (3-0) – There has been a steam move on Seattle’s trip to Houston this week. That game opened as a ‘pick’em’ on Sunday but was quickly bet up to Seattle as a three-point road favorite. Seattle is 3-0 ATS this year, and their 26.6 defensive yards per play is No. 3 in the league. They are allowing just nine points per game, and the defense should only improve as they get players back from suspension and injury. The Seahawks are getting over their road woes, and they are now 5-0 ATS in their last five road games. Seattle is 25-9-1 ATS in their last 35 games overall and 13-3 ATS against teams with winning records.
3. Chicago Bears (3-0) – Henry Melton tore his ACL, and that is a huge loss in the middle of the Bears defense. The Bears are succeeding because they are playing more disciplined football. They are second in the league in yards per point (10.5), and they are converting 72.7 percent of their red zone opportunities. They have cut their penalties in half, and Jay Cutler has a quarterback rating of 108.2 in the fourth quarter. This team is playing with a ton of confidence, even if the results are not paying out at the window (2-5-1 ATS in L8 games).
4. San Francisco 49ers (1-2) – It looks like Patrick Willis may miss Thursday’s game with a groin injury, and the status of Vernon Davis (hamstring) is still very much in doubt. The Niners are averaging 9.7 penalties per game (worse than Detroit), and their 12 yards per point on defense is worse than the Jaguars. They simply aren’t playing good, fundamentally-sound football. Also, they are favored at St. Louis this week. But road favorites against a team off a loss of 24 or more are just 22-37 ATS over the last 25 years.
5. Green Bay Packers (1-2) – I have said from the beginning of the season that I have no idea where to put the Packers in my power rankings. I don’t think this team is all that good. But how do I put them below the Bengals, let’s say, when Green Bay so obviously should’ve won that game on the road. The Packers secondary can’t stop anyone. They are allowing 68 percent completions. Also, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense have scored just seven points in the fourth quarter so far this season.
6. Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) – The Bengals have back-to-back big home wins, beating Pittsburgh on “Monday Night Football” and then using a ridiculous comeback to take down the Packers on Sunday. Now they are shaky road favorites on the road against a division rival. Cincinnati is 4-1-1 ATS on the road and 5-0 ATS against a team that is below .500. But they are just 3-8-1 ATS in their last 12 divisional games. Right now 88 percent of the wagers in the Browns matchup are coming in on the Bengals, but the spread has dropped from 5.5 to 4.5. That is a red flag.
7. Kansas City Chiefs (3-0) – The Chiefs will likely be without corner Brandon Flowers this weekend thanks to knee inflammation. That is a big problem going up against a potent Giants receiving corps. However, the Chiefs can compensate with their incredible pass rush. Justin Houston already has a stunning 7.5 sacks in just three games, and Kansas City’s 27.3 defensive yards per point is the best in football. Kansas City is allowing 5.5 yards per rush, but those numbers are a bit skewed thanks to some long scrambles by Mike Vick last Thursday. Kansas City is just 3-7 ATS in its last 10 home games.
8. Baltimore Ravens (2-1) – There is no doubt that the Ravens defense is much better this year than it was last year. You can’t quantify what guys like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed meant in the locker room. But Baltimore is clearly better off with new blood on the field. Baltimore’s problems are with an offense that is completely out of whack. They have the second worst yards per play in the league at 4.3, and I think that Jim Caldwell is being exposed a bit as an offensive coordinator. I generally like teams that take shots down the field in their passing game. But too often the Ravens are throwing the ball deep – and by that I mean Joe Flacco is lobbing the ball up for grabs – when the situation doesn’t warrant it. This passing game needs to be more efficient.
9. New Orleans Saints (3-0) – I still don’t fully buy into this team. But the Saints are 7-0 ATS the last seven times they have hosted a game on primetime TV, winning by an average of 15 points per. The big story for the Saints is obviously the fact that the defense has improved from allowing 28.4 points per game to 12.7. The main reason is that they are getting off the field on third down. Last year they were allowing 40 percent third-down conversions, and this year it is just 35 percent. That has helped them control the ball for 55 of 90 second-half minutes so far this year.
10. Houston Texans (2-1) – I have been saying it now for two years: this Houston team is not that good. They win games. But their metrics – and just the eyeball test – tells me that they are a very average team. Houston’s 9.1 defensive yards per point is actually worse than the Giants. And they are allowing opponents to score a touchdown on 87.5 percent of their drives inside the 20. Matt Schaub has been terrible, and the Texans are not running with the same authority that they have had in seasons past.
11. New England Patriots (3-0) – New England is actually moving the ball on offense. They just aren’t doing anything with it in the red zone, as their 30.8 percent red zone-conversion rate is last in the league. Overshadowed by their offensive malfunctions has been the fact that the Patriots defense – as I predicted this preseason – has been vastly improved. Their 27.3 yards per point is tied for the best in football, and their 11.3 points per game allowed is one of the best in the game.
12. Dallas Cowboys (2-1) – The big question for the Cowboys is how will they respond now that the hype around them is starting to build again. Dallas has been posted as a road favorite this week, and over 70 percent of the betting in that game has come down on them. But The Boys are just 5-14 ATS after a win and 0-4 ATS after a win by two touchdowns or more. The defense still hasn’t fully adjusted to the Cover-2 scheme, and Dallas’ 75 percent touchdowns allowed in the red zone have to improve. But the Cowboys aren’t turning the ball over on offense. And when they aren’t turning the ball over, this team can be very tough for bottom-tier teams to beat.
13. Miami Dolphins (3-0) – The Dolphins are converting 87.5 percent of their red zone opportunities this year, by far the tops in the league. The reason – whether Mike Wallace likes it or not – is that they have a diverse receiving corps. Because teams can’t focus in on one No. 1 receiver, the Fins are very tricky to defend inside the 20. What is also impressive about this team is that over the past 12 months they have ditched two very good starting corners, Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, but now the pass defense is allowing just 55 percent completions, among the best in the league.
14. Indianapolis Colts (2-1) – It is an understatement to say that the Colts had an extremely impressive performance last week in San Francisco. The underrated aspect of the Trent Richardson trade, in the short term, is the extra juice that it has given the Colts locker room. You could see the extra bounce in their step when they took the field last week. The Colts have played very disciplined football thus far, and they are the least-penalized team in the NFL with just two flags per game. The defense still has some troubling signs though, like the 85.7 percent red zone defense. That’s the worst in the NFL.
15. Atlanta Falcons (1-2) – The Falcons have gotten off to fast starts in each of their games and are No. 3 in the NFL in first-quarter points (10.0 per game). But Atlanta is just No. 27 in fourth-quarter points, with just 10 points in the final quarters of their three games. Atlanta has been the best bounce-back team in the NFL, going 23-9 ATS following a loss. They have been dominating at the Georgia Dome, and last year they dominated Peyton Manning and the Broncos in a primetime Sunday night game. Atlanta’s rookie corners have to grow up quickly, though. They have been awful through the first three weeks.
16. Tennessee Titans (2-1) – Much like Kansas City, the biggest reason for the Titans turnaround is the fact that they are taking care of the ball much better this season. Tennessee has yet to turn the ball over in 2013. And like KC, they are getting it done by running the ball and playing great defense. Tennessee is running on 52.5 percent of its plays, No. 2 in the league. That is a big part in why they are allowing 11 points per game less this year.
17. St. Louis Rams (1-2) – I said last week that Janoris Jenkins was one of the worst corners in football. Nothing he did on Sunday would make me revise that statement. Teams are completing 71 percent of their passes against the St. Louis secondary, and they cannot stop anyone right now. For all the talk about the Rams front four, the back seven is awful. Shockingly, I still hear people complaining about the play of Sam Bradford. The Rams are throwing the ball on 75 percent of their plays, and he is basically a one-man gang on offense. How anyone can blame him for St. Louis’ slow start is stunning to me.
18. Detroit Lions (2-1) – The Lions are favored this week despite the fact that they have only beaten Chicago in one of the past 12 meetings. Detroit is a solid 5-1 ATS in the last six meetings with the Bears, and the home team is 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings. Detroit is just 3-8 ATS in its last 11 divisional games and just 7-17 ATS in their last 24 conference games. The Lions are just 5-13-1 ATS against a team with a winning record.
19. Carolina Panthers (1-2) – When you think about it, the Panthers probably should be 3-0. They outplayed Seattle and Buffalo but blew both of those games late. Their offense is converting 48.8 percent of its third downs. But the Panthers attack isn’t generating enough big plays down the field. I was happy to see Cam Newton running the ball last week. As I have said, Mike Shula was trying to squeeze Newton into the pocket, and the guy just isn’t a very good pocket passer. Newton needs to move around and gain yards with his legs. If he doesn’t, he really is just a younger Byron Leftwich.
20. Arizona Cardinals (1-2) – The Cardinals have the No. 4 rushing defense in football through the first three weeks, allowing just 3.2 yards per carry. However, they just lost two starting linebackers for the year. That was one position where the Cards had some depth. But that depth is now pushed to the limit. Bruce Arians is 11-4 ATS in his last 15 games as a head coach, dating back to last year with Indianapolis. The Cardinals didn’t fly back to Arizona this week, instead just moving on to Tampa from New Orleans.
21. Cleveland Browns (1-2) – It is easy to overlook Brian Hoyer’s three interceptions last week because he did throw three touchdowns to Jordan Cameron and because he led the Browns to a stunning win. Hoyer could end up being the latest example of why it is better to bring in young quarterbacks and let them sit and learn for a few years rather than throwing them into the fire. Cleveland is running on only 24 percent of their offensive plays. That is ridiculous, especially when you consider how weak this passing attack is. The Browns have a nasty front seven on defense. The offense has to try to grind out some drives to help the O out.
22. New York Jets (2-1) – The Jets are allowing just 22.2 percent of red zone drives to end in touchdowns. That is the best in football and an amazing improvement after 58 percent were converted last season. The Jets have to play more disciplined football, though, as their 11.3 penalties per game and six turnovers are unsustainable.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3) – Greg Schiano has said that he hasn’t thought about benching Josh Freeman. But he has to say that. Things are ready to explode in that locker room. And if Schiano goes to rookie Mike Glennon, then there’s a pretty good chance Freeman – and his faction of backers – will just completely check out. Tampa Bay’s yards per point is actually worse than Jacksonville and Pittsburgh, two teams with much less offensive talent. One positive: the Bucs have finally found a pass rush and are averaging four sacks per game.
24. San Diego Chargers (1-2) – Like I said last week, Philip Rivers has been playing out of his mind. He is singlehandedly carrying a very mediocre offense. The Chargers are converting over 52 percent of their third downs, No. 2 in football, and it is tough to bet against Rivers right now. However, the Chargers defense is a train wreck by any and all measurements.
25. Buffalo Bills (1-2) – C.J. Spiller, Alex Carrington, Mario Williams, Marcel Dareus, and Leodis McKelvin were all injured in last week’s loss at New York. You will definitely want to check their status this week. I know the Bills seem to have credibility right now. But the fact is that they should be 0-3 right now, and I haven’t seen enough positive things from them to think that they will stay competitive for 13 more weeks.
26. New York Giants (0-3) – I really, honestly can’t tell which is the more pathetic statistic: the fact the Giants have given up the most points in NFL history through the first three games (115) or the fact that that they have averaged over four turnovers (4.3) per game through three games. These guys are absolutely pathetic. And things don’t look to improve any time soon. Linemen Chris Snee and David Baas are both questionable this week. The offensive line has allowed 11 sacks already, and there is no depth behind those two shaky starters.
27. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3) – Man, that flight to London has to be miserable for this team. The Steelers have been manhandled in their first three games. They really aren’t doing anything right on either side of the ball, and I don’t anticipate any sort of turnaround any time soon. The talk has been about the punchless offense and Todd Haley’s bumbling. But the Steelers defense has just three sacks, worst in football, and their 11.8 yards per point is third worst. They can’t run the ball. They can’t stop people. They aren’t getting sacks. Who is this team, and what have you done with the Steelers?
28. Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) – For all the talk about Chip Kelly’s offense, the Eagles are actually a run-first attack. They have run the ball on 48.5 percent of their plays so far this season, No. 5 in the league. Granted, if you have LeSean McCoy, you want to get him as many touches as possible. But the fact is that Philadelphia is going to be a run-first team under Kelly. The Eagles are No. 1 in the NFL in yards per play (7.0). But the problem is that they are dead last in second-half time of possession, with opponents holding the ball for 59 of 90 minutes in the second half this year.
29. Oakland Raiders (1-2) – Terrelle Pryor has a concussion, but it looks like he will play again this week against the Redskins. And it will be fun as he is running and flying all over the field, like a young RGIII, while the Redskins have to look at their gimpy starter and wonder what the hell Mike Shanahan was thinking last January. Anyway, no matter how bad this season goes for the Raiders (I’m thinking 5-11), the year will be a success because it looks like they have found a QB to build around.
30. Minnesota Vikings (0-3) – Christian Ponder is clearly pathetic. However, you can’t say that the Vikings offense hasn’t been wildly-effective. Minnesota’s 12.5 yards per point is No. 3 in the NFL, although it has been aided by some defensive and special teams scores. The Vikings are moving the ball and scoring efficiently. However, they are allowing more than 10 more points per game this year, and the loss of Antoine Winfield apparently demolished the secondary.
31. Washington Redskins (0-3) – It has been an avalanche of awful for the Redskins so far this season. This preseason I talked about how putrid the secondary was going to be, and they have lived down to my expectations. That is having a serious impact on the offense as well, though. Last year Washington ran the ball over 51 percent of the time, No. 2 in football. This year they have the fourth-fewest rushing attempts as a percentage of their offense. All that said, the public still loves Washington as a road favorite in Oakland this week. Over 90 percent of the early betting has come in on the ‘Skins.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3) – The Jaguars really haven’t even come close to covering the spread in any of their three games. And it might not be too long before they are 20-point underdogs to every team that they face. This team has a legit shot at 0-16 this year, and I do not say that lightly. The Jaguars are pathetic by every meaningful offensive metric. But perhaps this is the most damning: the Jaguars are averaging just 3.5 yards per play for the season. Blaine Gabbert will be back under center this week for Jacksonville. That is not a positive.
Throughout the season I will have my NFL Power Rankings every Tuesday. My next ones will be released on Tuesday, Sept. 24.
Robert Ferringo is a lead writer for Doc’s Sports, and he is off to a strong start to the season. Robert has secured 28 of 40 winning football months and earned nearly $11,000 in profit for his backers in the last 16 football months. He is looking at a potential 7-Unit Game of the Year play this weekend. Take advantage of our free, no-strings-attached $60 credit to use toward a purchase of Robert’s football selections and get on this big game. CLICK HERE for $60 absolutely free!
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