NFL Strength Ratings: Teams on the move after Week 5?

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For as much as we all like to debate who the best team is in any given sport, there’s no clearer way to decide it than to see the teams do battle on the field or court.

Well, with five weeks of games in the books in the 2022 NFL season, we will get the chance to see who rules the roost now when Kansas City hosts Buffalo on Sunday. Granted, there are some experts out there who would group undefeated Philadelphia with the two AFC powers, but as far as I’m concerned, the early performance indicators don’t warrant it, and hence Sunday’s game at Arrowhead is the benchmark game. Interestingly, oddsmakers don’t really see it that way, and clearly view the Bills as the better team, installing them as 3-point road favorites. This is despite the Bills’ recent postseason struggles against the Chiefs, who have been a thorn in their side. However you look at it, this week’s showdown will be one to watch and one that will forge a roadmap for the rest of the season.

Week 5 was an interesting one in the NFL, with several games decided in the closing minutes, both on the scoreboard and in the betting column. There also were several prominent comebacks. At this point, after a wild start to the season, aside from a few obvious exceptions, the standings are starting to look much like they were predicted to be. In fact, I’d say the only surprise division leader right now might be the Vikings, although they were a popular pick to be among the most improved teams in 2022. Let’s take a look at how this return to normalcy has affected my strength ratings as we head into Week 6, the first week in which teams will be enjoying byes.

Power Ratings: Bills separate after dominating victory

The Bills and the Chiefs come off Week 5 wins and maintain their spots as the Nos. 1 and 2 teams, respectively, in the Power Ratings. They accomplished the feats in far different ways, however, as Buffalo demolished visiting Pittsburgh 38-3 and Kansas City rallied from 17 points down early to post a 30-29 win over the rival Raiders. The Eagles maintained the No. 3 spot after surviving an upset scare at Arizona, but they are quantitatively 2.5 points behind the Chiefs, a fairly sizable separation between single spots by NFL standards. The Buccaneers also show a PR of 28.5, followed by Dallas and San Francisco at 28. Interestingly, besides the top two teams squaring off on Sunday, the “Sunday Night Football” game matches the Cowboys and Eagles in Philly, meaning four of the top six teams will be in action against one another, which should lead to some interesting movement at this time next week.

With the Texans having won their first game last week at Jacksonville, they have moved up out of the bottom spot in the Power Ratings and have been replaced by the Panthers, who fired their head coach after their loss at home to San Francisco. Carolina shows a PR of 17. Houston, Seattle and Pittsburgh are next to worst with a PR of 18.

Biggest upward movers after Week 5

1. Buffalo Bills (+ 2 points)

The Bills were 14-point favorites last week against Pittsburgh, and according to my Power Ratings, should have been closer to 17-point favorites. They proved themselves worthy of the latter by thumping the Steelers 38-3. The performance was so dominant that I bumped them up two points on the PR scale. Buffalo is now officially 3.5 points better than any other team in the NFL and could be even more than that it you trust the Effective Strength indicator.

2. New York Jets (+ 1.5 points)

Both New York teams posted impressive wins on Sunday, and it’s becoming a regularity, something we haven’t been able to say in recent seasons. The Jets toppled Miami 40-17 on Sunday, posting five rushing touchdowns. Coach Robert Saleh’s team is over .500 at 3-2 and playing with a confidence we haven’t seen in a while. I speak of this a lot, but I believe momentum is a more important factor in the NFL than any other league or sport. Right now, this team has it.

3. San Francisco 49ers (+ 1.5 points)

After a questionable personnel decision in the offseason in turning to Trey Lance to be their starting quarterback, the 49ers have blossomed after his injury and have gotten back to 3-2 to lead the NFC West. The latest triumph was a dominant effort at Carolina. San Francisco looks to be more and more like the team that nearly made a Super Bowl run last January, winning with pressure on defense, running the football and QB Jimmy Garoppolo doing just enough to win.

4. Dallas Cowboys (+ 1.5)

At this point, you have to wonder how many Cowboys fans in the back of their minds are hoping QB Dak Prescott stays out. Coach Mike McCarthy’s team has rallied behind Cooper Rush and seem to have its 2021 identity back. That’s forcing turnovers and getting big plays on defense and winning with balance and physicality on offense. Dallas has won four games since its ugly season-opening loss to Tampa Bay and can make a huge statement with another big effort at Philadelphia on Sunday night.

Biggest downward movers

1. Carolina Panthers (-2.5 points)

Before the Panthers’ home loss to Arizona a couple weeks ago, I shared some thoughts with Brent Musburger on his VSiN NFL Kickoff show regarding how much was wrong with the team at the time. It’s only gotten worse since, to the point that coach Matt Rhule was jettisoned after the ugly 37-15 home loss to the 49ers on Sunday. That said, things are rarely as bad as they are projected in the NFL, and for this week, this team is an 11-point underdog to the struggling Rams.

2. Miami Dolphins (-1.5 points)

The Dolphins have gone from one of two undefeated teams two weeks ago to a group that is now reeling, and it stems from injuries to their top two quarterbacks. After losing Tua Tagovailoa at Cincinnati, Miami also saw Teddy Bridgewater go out this past Sunday in a bad loss to the Jets. At this point, it looks like neither will be available for Sunday’s game versus Minnesota, and they’ll need to find a spark elsewhere to recover what has been lost in just two games.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (-1.5 points)

Contrary to several of my VSiN colleagues, I was outspoken with my feelings about Pittsburgh’s prospects in 2022, making the Steelers one of my favorite season-win total Under bets. I just didn’t see what this team had to build on after an extremely fortunate playoff appearance last January. My wager is looking strong after coach Mike Tomlin’s team dropped to 1-4 after an ugly 38-3 loss at Buffalo. This team is the only one in the NFL being outscored by more than 10 PPG and to me, it’s no accident.

Effective Strength Ratings

My Effective Strength Ratings are “effective” because they are a quantified indicator of how much a team has outplayed or been outplayed by its competition level to date. At this point, Buffalo is a CLEAR No. 1 in the NFL, with an ESR of 16.8, a full 8.2 points better than any other team. If you’re wondering why the Bills are a 3-point favorite at Kansas City, that’s the reason. The Chiefs are the No. 2 team at 8.6, while the Eagles at 8.2 are No. 3. Dallas is at 7.5 and holds down the No. 4 spot. Remarkably, those top four teams in my current ESR indicators will be squaring off against one another on Sunday. Grab a beverage or two and sit down for what figures to be two great games in a row starting at 4:25 p.m. ET. San Francisco has moved up into the top 5 in the ESRs with a rating of 7.2. Some teams to consider with better stats than perception, beyond the Jaguars, are the Giants, Jets and Falcons. Other teams that might be a bit overrated by analyzing it in the opposite fashion include the Packers, Rams and Colts. At the bottom of this Effective Strength list you’ll find Washington at -8.7, essentially 25.5 points worse than No. 1 Buffalo. The Commanders did move up a bit, however, after their loss to Tennessee, a game they should have won by all rights. The Steelers are next to the bottom at -8.6, while the Lions are back down in their customary territory, sitting in 30th at -7. One thing to watch going forward, while Buffalo is also the No. 1 team in Effective Strength stats in yards per play with an equivalent power rating of 39, San Francisco is No. 2 in this metric, about six points worse.

Bettors Ratings

The Bettors Ratings are a quantitative reflection of what the betting markets think about the teams in pro football in 2022. This week’s BRs are based on the last three weeks of action, as I typically don’t like to go back much further than that, as things can change dramatically in just a couple of games, in most cases due to overreactions. The BRs are a good metric for spotting teams that might be overrated (Rams, Colts, Steelers) or underrated (Cowboys, 49ers, Patriots). Buffalo again sits on top of these measures, with negative numbers being better. The Bills are at -8.2, meaning they would be laying 8.2 points to the average NFL team right now on a neutral field. They are rated 2.2 points superior to the Chiefs and Buccaneers. The No. 4 team is the Packers at -5.9, and the they continue to command respect from the betting public this week, as they are TD favorites against the emerging Jets. The betting market’s least favorite team remains Houston, with a BR of + 5.7. Essentially, bettors believe the Texans are 13.9 points worse than the Bills. Seattle is deemed to be 0.4 points better than Houston, and the Jets, despite their 3-2 mark, check in at No. 30 with a BR of + 5.3. Look for big margins between the PR ranks and BR ranks to find teams that the markets are late to catch up on.

Recent Ratings

For the Recent Ratings, I like to go back three games for NFL teams in determining how quantitatively well teams are playing recently. The hottest team in football is Dallas, with a RR of 14.2, and riding a four-game winning streak. That RR is 2.2 points better than the Bills, who, of course, lead all of the other strength indicators. San Francisco, Cincinnati and Baltimore round out the top 5 in the Recent Ratings. Interestingly, those last two teams battled to a 19-17 Ravens win on Sunday, a game that didn’t move the strength indicators very far for either team. As I mentioned earlier, Pittsburgh has unraveled and has been the league’s worst team over the last few weeks with a RR of -14.7, while Detroit is next to last at -12.5. Again, savvy bettors want to look for variations between the Recent Ratings and Power Ratings to find value betting opportunities. For instance, Tennessee doesn’t seem to be getting much respect despite a recent surge that has their RR of 3.3 ranked 11th in the NFL, while Tampa Bay’s RR of -0.6 ranks 19th in the league, and they are deemed to be far better than that.

Schedule Strength Ratings

The Schedule Strength Ratings, reflecting the difficulty of each team’s 2022 schedule, shows Miami again as the team that has faced the most difficult five-game slate to open the season. The average power rating of the Dolphins’ first four opponents has been 27.42, which is almost 2.0 points higher than any other team. Pittsburgh and Las Vegas are No. 2 and No. 3 in terms of schedule difficulty, and unfortunately for both, the challenge has not been met, as they are both 1-4. Kansas City and Arizona round out the top 5 for schedule strength, and the Chiefs’ slate will get even tougher this week when they host the powerful Bills. Keep in mind, these ratings do include home/road considerations, as well as any injury or situational adjustments I make to games in my simulations. The easiest slate so far has belonged to the Browns, who, despite the ease, are 2-3. Just ahead of them are the 49ers, Giants and Eagles, three teams that are riding high with records over .500, so perhaps use caution when you consider the actual strength of these teams. I like to remind readers that the Schedule Strength Ratings are reflected in all of the other rating sets I build, either qualitatively or quantitatively.

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