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Top-ranked Patriots are the smart pick again; Eagles should eke out win over Rams

Top-ranked Patriots are the smart pick again; Eagles should eke out win over Rams
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New England Patriots have allowed 1.1 points per drive during their eight-game win streak. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The New England Patriots won their eighth game in a row on Sunday, beating the Buffalo Bills 23-3, giving them a commanding four-game lead in the AFC East. Overall, their offense is scoring a league-high 13.1 points per game more than expected after taking into account each play’s down, distance and field position, and their defense has improved to one of the best in the NFL this season (more on that below). No wonder they are No. 1 in this week’s rankings and the odds-on favorite to be this year’s Super Bowl champions.


Unlike other power rankings, these take into account a team’s actual record, what its record should be based on points scored and allowed — also known as its Pythagorean win percentage — and how much better or worse its opponents are in relation to a .500 team. A good team playing against good opponents will be near the top, while one that struggles against mediocre or poor teams will trend toward the bottom. A more detailed description of the method can be found in the Week 1 rankings.



Disagree with any of the rankings? Let me know on Twitter.


Rank
Team
Power Rank (1 to 100)
Change from last week
Make playoffs %
1
New England Patriots (10-2)
77
2
>99%
2
New Orleans Saints (9-3)
77
-1
>99%
3
Minnesota Vikings (10-2)
76
-1
>99%
4
Los Angeles Rams (9-3)
75
1
98%
5
Pittsburgh Steelers (10-2)
72
1
>99%
6
Philadelphia Eagles (10-2)
71
-2
>99%
7
Jacksonville Jaguars (8-4)
68
2
98%
8
Carolina Panthers (8-4)
65
-1
86%
9
Seattle Seahawks (8-4)
63
1
72%
10
Atlanta Falcons (7-5)
63
-2
24%
11
Baltimore Ravens (7-5)
59
0
93%
12
Los Angeles Chargers (6-6)
54
2
60%
13
Kansas City Chiefs (6-6)
52
0
59%
14
Tennessee Titans (8-4)
52
1
89%
15
Green Bay Packers (6-6)
50
2
11%
16
Detroit Lions (6-6)
50
-4
28%
17
Dallas Cowboys (6-6)
49.
3
14%
18
Oakland Raiders (6-6)
46
4
18%
19
New York Jets (5-7)
44
5
1%
20
Washington Redskins (5-7)
43
-4
3%
21
Houston Texans (4-8)
43
-2
0%
22
Buffalo Bills (6-6)
42
-4
34%
23
Cincinnati Bengals (5-7)
41
-2
1%
24
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-8)
38
-1
0%
25
Miami Dolphins (5-7)
37
2
2%
26
Arizona Cardinals (5-7)
35
-1
0%
27
Chicago Bears (3-9)
30
-1
0%
28
Denver Broncos (3-9)
24
0
0%
29
San Francisco 49ers (2-10)
24
0
0%
30
Indianapolis Colts (3-9)
23
1
0%
31
New York Giants (2-10)
22
-1
0%
32
Cleveland Browns (0-12)
13
0
0%

New England rises to the top of the rankings thanks in large part to its defensive improvement. During the first four weeks of the season the Patriots allowed 2.7 points per drive, with teams converting 64 percent of their red-zone opportunities into touchdowns. Since then they have allowed 1.1 points per drive while holding opponent’s to a 33 percent red-zone efficiency. The rate of drives in which they have forced a three-and-out has also increased from 24 to 31 percent over that same time frame. If the Patriots are going to have a top-flight defense to complement an offense that has Tom Brady, the fourth-most valuable passer per ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating, under center — look out.


2017-18 Patriots
Points allowed per drive
Red-zone defense
Percentage of drives forced three-and-out
First four games (2-2)
2.7
64%
24%
Last eight games (8-0)
1.1
33%
31%
NFL average
1.8
54%
35%

The playoff hopes of the Atlanta Falcons might rest on the outcome of this week’s game against New Orleans, but the second-worst run defense is going to have trouble containing the Saints two-headed monster of Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara in the backfield.


Kamara is the No. 1-rated running back per the game charters at Pro Football Focus in addition to averaging over five yards per carry after defenders close within one yard. No other rusher is better in this regard per the NFL’s NextGen Stats. Ingram, meanwhile, averages 3.2 yards per carry after contact, second only to the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell.



The Tennessee Titans are 8-4 despite a negative point differential, making them much worse than their record reflects. Since 2002, 180 teams have qualified for the postseason, but just 13 have done it with a negative point differential. Of those 13, just one, the 2011 New York Giants, appeared in, and won, a Super Bowl.


It isn’t just their point differential that gives reason to be skeptical of how good the Titans look on paper: advanced metrics such as Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (2oth) and adjusted scoring margin (21st) also give reason to doubt they are as good as their record makes them appear.


Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Rams (-2.5)
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles, 51 percent
Pick: Philadelphia Eagles +2.5


This is a matchup between the No. 1 (Rams) and No. 2 (Eagles) teams according to Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, which measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent. It also features a key matchup between two former Buffalo Bills teammates in Rams wide receiver Sammy Watkins and Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby.



Watkins has been productive — 31 catches for 528 yards and six touchdowns — but Darby is allowing a passer rating of just 49.2 in coverage this season, not much better than the passer rating a quarterback gets for an incomplete pass (39.6).


Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (-5.5)
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers, 62 percent
Pick: Baltimore Ravens +5.5


Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs is the key to Baltimore upsetting Pittsburgh. The 35-year-old has 10.5 sacks this year and is the team’s highest-ranked pass rusher per the game charters at Pro Football Focus. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, meanwhile, sees his passer rating drop from 102.2 to 49.1 under pressure this season.

Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs (-4)
Winner: Oakland Raiders, 64 percent
Pick: Oakland Raiders +4


Two teams currently locked in a three-way tie for the AFC West, the Chiefs have been a mere shell of the juggernaut we saw during the first few weeks of the season.


During the first six games of the season, the Chiefs were scoring 2.6 points per drive while allowing 1.9. During the last six games that has declined to 1.8 and 2.2, respectively. Kansas City’s red-zone efficiency has also continually declined from the start of the season.

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Remaining games


Chicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals (-6)
Winner: Cincinnati Bengals, 72 percent
Pick: Cincinnati Bengals -6


Dallas Cowboys (-4.5) at New York Giants
Winner: Dallas Cowboys, 75 percent
Pick: Dallas Cowboys -4.5


Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No line)
Winner: Detroit Lions, 59 percent


Green Bay Packers (-3) at Cleveland Browns
Winner: Green Bay Packers, 84 percent
Pick: Green Bay Packers -3



Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills (No line)
Winner: Buffalo Bills, 75 percent


Minnesota Vikings (-2.5) at Carolina Panthers
Winner: Minnesota Vikings, 61 percent
Pick: Minnesota Vikings -2.5


New England Patriots (-11) at Miami Dolphins
Winner: New England Patriots, 86 percent
Pick: New England Patriots -11


New Orleans Saints (1.5) at Atlanta Falcons
Winner: New Orleans Saints, 61 percent
Pick: New Orleans Saints -1.5



New York Jets (-1) at Denver Broncos
Winner: New York Jets, 65 percent
Pick: New York Jets -1


San Francisco 49ers at Houston Texans (-3)
Winner: Houston Texans, 65 percent
Pick: Houston Texans -3


Seattle Seahawks at Jacksonville Jaguars (-2.5)
Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars, 64 percent
Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars -2.5



Tennessee Titans (-3) at Arizona Cardinals
Winner: Tennessee Titans, 65 percent
Pick: Tennessee Titans -3



Washington Redskins at Los Angeles Chargers (-6)
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers, 72 percent
Pick: Los Angeles Chargers -6



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