NFL Power Rankings Week 4
Apparently the NFL decided that professional football should be more like Big 12 football.
The overriding story of the first three weeks of the season – besides the Covid-19 tightrope walking that everyone is doing – is that scoring is up. Way up. Astronomically up. Teams are combining to average 49.4 points per game through the first three weeks. That is up 16 percent from the first three weeks of last season and 22 percent from the average of the previous 20 years.
If the current scoring pace holds, it would blow away last year’s total (45.6) and would be nearly five points higher than the NFL record for highest scoring year, 2013 (46.8).
The NFL has been changing the rules to goose scoring for the last two decades. Throw in a bizarre, Covid-infected offseason putting the defense behind the eight-ball, and there are some basic reasons for scoring to be up. However, the league is also calling fewer holding penalties – 60 percent fewer – through three weeks and they have instructed officials to “lay off,” making one of the most important calls in the sport.
All of this scoring has caused chaos in the NFL totals market. Of the 48 games that have been played to this point, 30 of them (63 percent) have gone ‘over’. The books have been getting killed by the ‘over’ (and they were praying to God that Monday night’s Ravens-Chiefs game stayed ‘under’, which it did) and that’s one of the reasons that the public has beaten the books all three weeks of the NFL season so far.
This has also created severe upward pressure on NFL totals. Eight of the 15 games on the board this week have a total set in the 50’s. That is unprecedented. That is unheard of. That is ridiculous!
There will be a natural regression to scoring and to games going ‘under’. That is the way things work. The teams will continue to score, but the books will eventually push the weekly totals past what the teams are capable of beating. (Expect to see multiple games with a total of 60 this year.)
The only question is when that will happen. And what should bettors do in the meantime? It took the sportsbooks weeks to adjust to the high scoring games at the start of the NBA bubble. Eventually they did, but it was an ATM machine at the start of the year. Should bettors continue to throw money at high-scoring NFL games or is it better to get ahead of the curve and get an early stake in regression ‘under’ betting?
I don’t know. And I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer right now. I do know that it is one of the most important questions bettors must answer in this early season, though. And it is another fascinating facet of a bizarre season.
Here is Doc’s Sports NFL Power Rankings:
1. Kansas City Chiefs (3-0) – These guys are simply unstoppable. Defensively, the Chiefs are still extremely vulnerable. However, it isn’t going to matter with that offense. They know they can hang 40 on anyone – which surprisingly they haven’t done yet – and they play with the confidence of a team that knows that even if its opponent gets ahead the Chiefs are never out of it. These guys are like the Golden State Warriors of football, and they are 8-0 ATS in their last eight home games.
2. Baltimore Ravens (2-1) – Why the hell would the Ravens pass the ball 28 times against Kansas City? Why would they run it at all? Baltimore averaged 7.5 yards per carry against the Chiefs on Monday. Think about that for a second. They sabotaged their opening drive by throwing the ball, and the Ravens should’ve pounded the ball on the ground at least 40 times in that game. The Ravens are 5-0 ATS as a road favorite but 0-6 ATS after a straight up loss.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-0) – It looks like the Steelers-Titans game is going to be pushed to Monday or Tuesday. Theoretically the Steelers should have a big advantage since the Titans can’t practice this week. However, this bizarre situation may also stimulate an all-hands-on-deck/rally-around-each-other effort from a veteran Tennessee team.
4. Seattle Seahawks (3-0) – Be wary of the Seahawks this week. Their secondary is a wreck, and the defense will have a major hole if Jamal Adams can’t go this week. The Seahawks are off back-to-back emotional wins over the Patriots and Cowboys, and now they have to fly across the country for a 10 a.m. PST start.
5. New Orleans Saints (1-2) – The Saints are definitely the Square Pick of the Week this weekend, taking in over 75 percent of the action in their game as a short road favorite in Detroit. It isn’t crazy to think that this squad will bounce back after back-to-back losses and blow out a shaky Detroit team. However, the books are practically begging you to lay the points in this spot, and that’s a bit of a red flag.
6. Buffalo Bills (3-0) – OK look, obviously Josh Allen is putting up some big numbers and doing some big things. But apart from the game-winning drive, he was a disaster most of the second half. I understand his strength and willingness to try to extend a play. Yet there’s a difference between trying to make a play and outright recklessness. Allen was on the wrong side of that line too much last Sunday.
7. Tennessee Titans (3-0) – Winning three games against below .500 teams by a combined six points is a definite red flag. So is the Titans’ plus-five turnover differential. However, like I pointed out in my season win total predictions for Tennessee, I’ve seen enough from Mike Vrabel-coached teams to stop thinking that this success in close games is “luck”.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) – It doesn’t matter that the Bucs were beating up a Denver team playing with half a roster and both hands tied behind its back. At this point the Bucs just need snaps together. They need success together. Chemistry is the only thing standing between this team and a division title. The Bucs have the clear situational advantage this week, hosting a West Coast team that’s coming off back-to-back games decided on the final play.
9. Green Bay Packers (3-0) – If Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky can torch the Falcons secondary for 307 passing yards, what do you think Aaron Rodgers is going to do to it? Green Bay does need to improve defensively, though, and they are last in the league allowing 6.6 yards per play to their opponents. Yes, opponents have ad a lot of garbage time and have been playing a lot of catch up. But the Packers are not nearly as stout against the run or the pass as they have been last year.
10. New England Patriots (2-1) – This isn’t a terrible situation for the Patriots this week in Kansas City. They are catching the Chiefs in a slight letdown spot after their dominating Monday Night Football effort. I also don’t think that Bill Belichick will make the same mistake as John Harbaugh and abandon the run so quickly. Belichick has made his bones taking on (and beating) the highest powered offenses of his generation. He will have a plan for Sunday. It remains to be seen if he has the personnel.
11. San Francisco 49ers (2-1) – I don’t care of it was just the Jets and the Giants. That is still incredibly impressive for the 49ers to overcome injuries and an unusual travel situation to pull off back-to-back no-doubt blowouts. I’m not entirely comfortable with them laying points to a desperate Philadelphia team, though, and the 49ers are just 7-20 ATS in their last 27 games as a home favorite.
12. Arizona Cardinals (2-1) – The Cardinals defense has quietly been very good this season, hosting opponents to just 28.6 percent conversions on third down and to just 30.8 percent in the red zone. Kliff Kingsbury has to impress upon Kyler Murray that he absolutely can’t turn the ball over the way he did on Sunday. He had three interceptions and had two other throws that should’ve been picked off. If he doesn’t turn it over against Carolina, the Cardinals should pick up a valuable road win.
13. Indianapolis Colts (2-1) – The Colts have played a bunch of nobodies to this point in the season, allowing them to rack up a lot of impressive stats (a 77.1 pass completion percentage, the No. 1 total defense, etc.). We are going to learn a lot about this team after their trip to Chicago this week. The Colts are 0-4 ATS on the road and they are 2-6 ATS as a road favorite.
14. Los Angeles Chargers (1-2) – I know that Keenan Allen has been catching flak for his poor pitch to Austin Ekeler on the final play. And he deserves some. But Justin Herbert threw off the timing of the play by holding the ball too long, and Ekeler needed to time his run better. The Chargers were about four inches away from a miraculous win. And they are about three plays away from being 3-0 this season. The Chargers have covered 63 percent of their games as an underdog under Anthony Lynn.
15. Los Angeles Rams (2-1) – Aaron Donald is absolutely not human. The way he rag-dolled Josh Allen, who is a pretty big beast, for a sack, forced fumble, and fumble recovery was as impressive of a defensive play as you will ever see in football. The Rams are 6-1 ATS against teams below .500 and 5-1 ATS at home. They are also 15-5 ATS against the AFC, but they are not good as a double-digit favorite.
16. Chicago Bears (3-0) – That Nick Foles was named the starting quarterback was only a surprise to anyone that has never seen a football game. Trubisky is a total amateur. Foles is a player. He actually threw five touchdown passes in the second half, with two of them called back upon review. With Trubisky, the Bears were mediocre. With Foles they have a chance at double-digit wins and the playoffs.
17. Dallas Cowboys (1-2) – Hat tip to The Big Lead for these numbers, but since Prescott’s rookie year, he has gone 6-17 straight up against teams above .500 with 25 touchdowns and 25 interceptions. Last year, he had an 8-to-8 ratio and the Cowboys went 1-6 against teams with a winning record. This secondary is a train wreck right now, and Mike McCarthy is a clown. But more has to be expected from Prescott.
18. Las Vegas Raiders (2-1) – Given the statements from their coaching staff, recent actions by several of their starters, and the general position of their home city, don’t be surprised when the Raiders are the next NFL team that has to go into Covid lockdown. The Raiders are 9-4 ATS after a loss and 7-2 ATS as a home underdog.
19. Atlanta Falcons (0-3) – How does Dan Quinn still have a job? Seriously? How? Quinn should’ve been gone yesterday. But Future Hall of Famer Matt Ryan should not dodge criticism for Atlanta’s historic blown leads. At any point on Sunday – just like in the Super Bowl – Ryan could’ve checked out of a ridiculous pass play and into a run play, which is exactly what the Falcons should’ve been doing up 15 points with less than 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Ryan should not be immune from the absolute stench of these losses.
20. Cleveland Browns (2-1) – We should still be wary of the Browns. After all, how impressive are home wins over the Bengals and Redskins, really? The Browns have been roping unsuspecting bettors onto their bandwagon the past two seasons, and this could be another Charlie Brown situation this week at Dallas. The Browns are 0-7 ATS on the road and 17-40 ATS in their last 57 as an underdog.
21. Detroit Lions (1-2) – Kenny Golladay is healthy and made a massive difference in the Lions offense. Adrian Peterson continues to be a battering ram. And as long as Matt Stafford doesn’t do anything stupid, this offense is looking multidimensional and potent. This group is better than its No. 19 total offense ranking suggests. Detroit is just 3-11 ATS in its last 14 games and 3-8 ATS as an underdog.
22. Minnesota Vikings (0-3) – Kirk Cousins has already thrown as many interceptions this year (six) as he tossed all last season. He has been far less accurate with his throws while getting far worse pass blocking. Minnesota’s lack of play-action passing is a clear difference in their attack, and I think they clearly miss departed offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.
23. Denver Broncos (0-3) – I think the Broncos are making a mistake going with Brett Rypien. Jeff Driskel hasn’t been great in the last two games. He doesn’t exactly have a full compliment of weapons to work with either. Rypien isn’t close to ready, and he’s not an NFL-caliber quarterback. Despite Rypien getting the start, 62 percent of the bets on this game have come down on Denver. And despite that, the line has still moved away from the Broncos.
24. Houston Texans (0-3) – Despite attempts to improve the offensive line, and Bill O’Brien’s insistence that the Texans would protect their $160 million quarterback, Deshaun Watson is on pace to take 70 sacks this year. Houston is just 3-8 ATS in its last 11 home games and they are just 2-7 ATS in their last nine games as a favorite.
25. Miami Dolphins (1-2) – Last Thursday’s game against Jacksonville is the type of once-per-month performance that you’ll get from Ryan Fitzpatrick to make you think that maybe he could be a viable NFL starter. He’s not. Fitzpatrick has a 56-85-1 record as an NFL starter, and this year his 71 percent completion rate is watered down by his three interceptions.
26. Philadelphia Eagles (0-2-1) – I have been saying for years that Doug Pederson is not a good coach and he was not the driving force behind their surprise Super Bowl win. (I’ll pin that on sensational coordinators Frank Reich and Jim Schwartz.) Bad coach, mixed with an aging roster, mixed with an overrated and turnover prone quarterback, is a recipe for a 0-3 ATS start and a likely 5-11 straight up season.
27. Washington Football Team (1-2) – I don’t fully agree with Ron Rivera’s assessment of Dwayne Haskins’ need to get experience, get reps and take his lumps in order to develop. Haskins is a loser. He is never going to be an NFL-caliber starter because his decision making is so pathetic. He isn’t Cam Newton. So the comparison between Newton’s early career struggles and Haskins’ is apples to oranges.
28. Cincinnati Bengals (0-2-1) – The Bengals are just 3-12 ATS in their last 15 home games and they are just 3-7 ATS in their last 10 games overall. Cincinnati is just 1-5 ATS as a favorite. Yet they are healthy three-point favorites this week hosting the Jaguars. The public is jumping on Jacksonville (56 to 44), but some books are actually moving the line off the 3.0, suggesting sharp action on the Bengals.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2) – This defense is allowing teams to convert 50 percent on third downs, 71 percent in the red zone, and allowing 6.0 yards per play. This is the third meeting in four years between the Jaguars and the Bengals, and Jacksonville has won the first two with easy. They won 27-17 at Cincinnati last year and 23-7 at home in 2017, outgaining the Bengals by 170 and 260 yards in those games, respectively.
30. Carolina Panthers (1-2) – I’m not going to buy into the version of the Panthers as a “scrappy, up-and-coming team”. They won that game against the Chargers because Los Angeles turned it over four times and posted a YPP of 27.2 for the game. Carolina is 0-5 ATS in its last five home games but the home team is 6-1 ATS in the series with Arizona.
31. New York Giants (0-3) – So much for the new and improved Giants defense. New York has allowed its opponents to convert 58.1 percent of their third downs this year, and they’ve surrendered 53 combined points to Nick Mullens and Mitch Trubisky the last two weeks. Maybe hiring a defensive coordinator (Patrick Graham) whose only career season as DC yielded a No. 32 ranked scoring defense (30.9 points per game) and a No. 30 total defense (397.8 yards per game) wasn’t a great idea.
32. New York Jets (0-3) – Sam Darnold has always been a turnover-prone fool. He was that way playing for his overrated USC teams, and he is that way now. I don’t know why anyone would expect anything different. New York actually moved the ball well against the Colts last week and that game was not as big of a blowout as the final score suggested. But New York keeps turning it over (and whose fault is that?). The Jets have been outscored by 57 points in three games and have converted just 32.4 percent of their third downs.
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