NFL Strength Ratings update: Bills set themselves apart

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One of the big questions entering the huge Week 6 matchup between the Bills and Chiefs was in regard to the point spread. How could Buffalo possibly be favored by 2.5 points in Kansas City? After all, quarterback Patrick Mahomes had never been a home dog, and had been fantastic in the role of underdog overall. This was a battle of the top two teams in the league, surely the home team had to have the edge, right? Wrong. The Bills flexed their muscles and came away 24-20 winners. As such, they have separated themselves from the pack and are now clearly the team to beat. Sure, the Eagles are the lone undefeated team remaining, but in terms of their statistical strength indicators, they aren’t anywhere near the Bills' level.

Elsewhere this past weekend, there were some massive upsets, notably with the Steelers, Falcons, Jets and Giants scoring noteworthy wins. All four of those teams saw their strength ratings positively affected, while those of their victims fell. Let’s take a look at how an amazing weekend of NFL action has moved the strength indicators.

Power Ratings: As clear a No. 1 in NFL since 2007 Patriots?

Over the last 20 years or so, there has been an overall parity in the NFL not witnessed prior. The only truly dominant team, one that didn’t even win a Super Bowl in the end, was the 2007 New England Patriots. There have been other very good teams since, but none reached the point where they were a clear No. 1, with a huge separation from the rest of the pack. Buffalo is now in that position, as my current Power Rating of 35 has the Bills 4.5 points better than any other team. That No. 2 team right now is the Chiefs, at 30.5. The Eagles are third at 29. Demonstrating further how good this Bills team is, they would be at least a 7.5-point favorite over the other 29 teams on a neutral field. Things can and probably will change between now and the end of the season, but bettors holding futures tickets on the Bills have to be giddy at this point.

In the NFC this past weekend, three of the four teams in the divisional round of the playoffs last year suffered brutal losses. The Packers fell to the Jets at home, while the 49ers and Buccaneers lost on the road at Atlanta and Pittsburgh, respectively. All three teams were prohibitive favorites in their games and join the defending champion Rams as conference favorites sitting at 3-3 after six weeks. The balance of power has shifted to the Eagles, Vikings and gasp … Giants. Can it last? We’ll see, but there’s a reason they say NFL stands for Not For Long.

Interestingly, only 10 of 32 teams are over .500 at this point. Obviously, that math doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Biggest upward movers after Week 6

1. Atlanta Falcons ( 2 points)

Is it time the markets and experts start taking the Falcons more seriously? With their outright upset of the 49ers on Sunday, they moved to 3-3 SU and 6-0 ATS, the league’s only remaining unbeaten team against the spread. Atlanta is outscoring its opponents by 1.6 PPG and is one of only nine teams scoring more than 24 PPG. The Falcons are also the No. 3 rushing team in the NFL.

2. Seattle Seahawks ( 1.5 points)

One of the other teams that has gotten an unexpected high level of performance from its offense has been the Seahawks. Like the Falcons, they have scored 24.3 PPG through their first six games. That said, it was the huge defensive effort that led to an upset of Arizona at home on Sunday. Unlike Atlanta, however, the Seahawks haven’t played well every week and have been more of a Jekyll & Hyde type of team. In any case, they are on a high now and have been better than projected.

3. New York Jets ( 1.5 points)

In my years of analyzing pro football, I can’t say I’ve ever witnessed culture shifts as great as what is happening to the teams in the city of New York in 2022. The Jets might be very young, but they already believe in what coach Robert Saleh is selling them. Perhaps they are too young to know how unexpected their turnaround has been. In their latest of three consecutive wins, the Jets got a signature victory at Green Bay, dominating quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in all three phases. If this team can develop a respectable passing attack, who knows how far it can go?

Biggest downward movers

1. San Francisco 49ers (-2 points)

I mentioned earlier the three NFC powers that dropped games unexpectedly in Week 6. They are my three biggest downward movers of the week. The only reason I moved the 49ers a little more than the others is that I might have overreacted the week before to their blowout win at Carolina, a team in obvious disarray. While the San Francisco defense continues to perform, its offense is again becoming the Achilles heel, and its inconsistency is proving maddening to bettors.

2. Green Bay Packers (-1.5 points)

What would the Packers give to go back to Week 5 at halftime against the Giants in London. At that point, they held a comfortable two-touchdown lead and appeared poised to move to 4-1. A game and half of questionable play calling later and Green Bay is sitting at 3-3 and seriously doubting itself. Are the Packers as good as experts were proclaiming a couple of weeks ago? Are they as bad, and finished, as those same people are screaming now? It’s probably somewhere in between.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-1.5 points)

At one point in Sunday’s loss to the Steelers, Bucs QB Tom Brady was caught on video lambasting his offensive line. Have things broken down that badly for this offense in 2022 and for the team overall? The loss at Pittsburgh was their fourth straight point-spread defeat, a usual surefire sign of a team that is overrated. Last year, they scored nearly 30 PPG. This year, Tampa is averaging just over 20. Can it be turned around? Well, I wouldn’t bet against Tom Brady, particularly this week, as they have averaged 37.5 PPG in four games versus the Panthers with Brady under center.

Effective Strength Ratings

In my Effective Strength Ratings, the Bills show the biggest separation between themselves at the top and the No. 2 team, the Eagles. Buffalo’s ESR is 15.4, 6.8 points better than Philly’s. I can tell you from experience that it’s been a long time since I have seen this big of a gap between Nos. 1 and 2. Remember, the ESRs are “effective” because they are a quantified indicator of how much a team has outplayed or been outplayed by its competition level to date. They take into account actual stats, opponent power ratings, plus any injury and home/road field adjustments made to games. The Chiefs are the No. 3 team at 6.8, while Dallas is at 6.0 and holds down the No. 4 spot. We have a new top-five team joining the mix this week and that is New England at 5.6. You’ll see a little more later as to why the Patriots are on the move. A couple of teams to keep an eye on are the Jets (4.0, No. 8) and the Jaguars (3.5, No. 9). These teams may be a little better than the oddsmakers are giving credit for. Other teams that might be a bit overrated by analyzing it in the opposite fashion include the Packers, Bucs and Chargers. All three of these teams are ranked higher in power ratings than in statistical measures.

Bettors Ratings

The Bettors Ratings are a quantitative reflection of what the betting markets think about the teams in 2022. This week’s BRs are the closest of the three top strength indicators I manage. In fact, Buffalo’s BR of -8.2 is actually showing that the Bills are still a bit underrated by the markets, as they are just 1.6 points better than Tampa Bay after Week 6 action. Kansas City is 1.9 points behind the Bills. Philadelphia checks in at No. 4, while floundering Green Bay remains No. 5. The team least respected by what it has accomplished thus far might be the Cowboys, who with a BR of -1.5, are the league’s 15th-rated team in the markets. The lack of respect is actually showing this week, with Dallas listed as a 7-point favorite over Detroit at home, when the Power Ratings indicate it should be closer to a 10-point line. This is assuming of course that QB Dak Prescott returns as expected. Other overrated teams include those Lions, the Packers and the Browns. The betting market’s least favorite team right now remains Houston, with a BR of 6.7. Essentially, bettors believe the Texans are 14.9 points worse than the Bills. Seattle is deemed to be 1.5 points better than Houston, and the Bears check in at No. 30 with a BR of 5.

Recent Ratings

For the Recent Ratings, each team’s last few games and the effective strength they have demonstrated during that stretch are quantified. The hottest team in football is New England, with a RR of 18.7. The Patriots come off a pair of blowout wins after nearly winning at Green Bay in the prior game. That number of 18.7 bests Buffalo by 3.2 points. Coach Bill Belichick’s team has a great chance to keep the momentum going with three of their next four games at home, starting Monday night with a date against Chicago. Other hot teams include the Jets (14.9), who square off with New England twice over the next four weeks, as well as the Cowboys (10.5) and Chiefs (6.8), rounding out the top 5. As I mentioned earlier, Carolina has imploded and has been the league’s worst team over the last few weeks with a RR of -15.4, while once-hot Miami is next to last at -10.7. Again, the best way for bettors to utilize the Recent Ratings is to look for variations between the RRs and Power Ratings to find opportunities. For instance, last week I noted that Tampa Bay’s RR of -0.6 ranked 19th in the league and they were deemed to be a far better team than that. On cue, they struggled in a huge chalk role in losing at Pittsburgh. Playing against struggling teams in recent weeks as favorites is just one worthwhile strategy.

Schedule Strength Ratings

The Schedule Strength Ratings, currently reflecting the difficulty of each team’s 2022 schedule, shows Miami continuing to pace the field in terms of schedule difficulty. The Dolphins are off a home loss to the 5-1 Vikings. Fortunately, it appears they will be healthy once again at quarterback. The average power rating of the Dolphins’ first four opponents has been 27.47, just .09 higher than the No. 2 team right now, Pittsburgh. The Chiefs, Ravens and Jets have also played tough slates. The Jets’ situation is particularly inspiring as they have managed a 4-2 resurgence despite facing one of the tougher schedules. Keep in mind that these ratings do include home/road field considerations, as well as any injury or situational adjustments I make to games in my simulations, so it's not just about who plays who, but where and when as well. The easiest slate so far has belonged to the 49ers, who have slipped to 3-3 despite the underwhelming schedule. Just ahead of them are the Browns, Seahawks and Colts, none of whom have won more than three games, so their actual strength should be analyzed more closely when matched up against better opponents. In fact, all three of those teams face tough road challenges in Week 7. I like to finish this segment by reminding readers that the Schedule Strength is reflected in all of the other rating sets I build, either qualitatively or quantitatively, because I deem this indicator to be quite important.

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