NFL Strength Ratings update: Is it an official changing of the guard?

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Certain transitions in sports are well defined, set by a specific game result or when a new team hoists a championship trophy. At other times, they happen without a hint. In the NFL this season, it’s been quite clear that we have officially entered a new era.

Watching the struggles of the Patriots, Steelers, Buccaneers and Packers, or the unimaginable performances of quarterbacks including Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan, it’s obvious that the NFL acronym of Not For Long has hit without warning. Many bettors have tried to keep the faith in these former powers, but it feels like after the last recent brutal performances, they are finally ready to abandon ship.

Could it really be the end for these teams and/or coaches and former stars we’ve watched dominate the game for many years? Or are we just watching another teaser, where the cream will eventually rise to the top against all odds? With big games looming in all of those situations, we will have the answer in just a few weeks’ time. For now, though, let’s take a look at the current strength ratings and which teams are thriving in today’s league.

Power Ratings: Chiefs gain on rested Bills

The Chiefs picked up a point in my Power Ratings this week after an offensive explosion at San Francisco. The 49ers were riding high after acquiring running back Christian McCaffery but apparently forgot to tell their defense they had a big job to do on Sunday. Kansas City put up 529 yards of offense in the win and goes into its week off with positive momentum.

Speaking of time off, Buffalo enjoyed its bye and now will host a struggling Green Bay team on Sunday night. Are the Bills ready to deliver a knockout punch or will coach Matt LaFleur’s Packers come to play once again under the lights, as they look to extend an amazing 12-game SU and ATS winning streak in prime time? My No. 3 team, Philadelphia, was off last week and now hosts in-state rival Pittsburgh, which as I noted earlier, is a shell of its former self. Rounding out my top 5 are Cincinnati and Dallas, two teams coming off relatively easy 18-point wins.

Biggest upward movers after Week 7

1. Seattle Seahawks (+ 2.5 points)

Easily the surprise team of the season so far, Seattle has moved four points in my power ratings over the last two weeks. The Seahawks’ most recent effort was perhaps the most eye-opening of all, a 37-23 win on the road against the Chargers. The offense gained more than 400 yards again and now ranks a shocking third in the league in yards per play at 6.5. This coming from a unit that experts had no problem bashing in the offseason. Coach Pete Carroll’s team is in its customary spot, leading the NFC West.

2. Chicago Bears (+ 2 points)

What a Monday night shocker we witnessed, another game that knocked out its fair share of Survivor contestants. The Bears were 9-point underdogs at New England, yet won 33-14 behind a huge effort by Justin Fields both throwing efficiently and making huge plays running the football. Could we be witnessing the emergence of a future star in Chicago? In the huge MNF win, the Bears put up more than 390 yards of offense for a second straight week and now actually rank in the upper half of the NFL in yards per play. It might be time to start looking at this team a little differently.

3. Arizona Cardinals (+ 1.5)

There were a lot of experts, and fantasy football players, who figured the return of DeAndre Hopkins would give the Arizona offense a big lift. I don’t think anyone believed the defense would benefit so much. The Cardinals used two pick-sixes in their Thursday night rout of the Saints to reignite their season. There seemed to be a different level of energy in the building for Arizona. Can it continue with 18 days of rest between the win against the Saints and their next game at home against division-leading Seattle?

Biggest downward movers

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-2.5 points)

You can go through an entire NFL season without seeing many shocking results rivaling what happened in Carolina on Sunday. The Buccaneers, playing as 13-point road favorites against a team they had owned over the last two years, were beaten soundly by the struggling Panthers. Surely you’ve seen Mike Evans’ TD-costing drop in the first quarter that set the tone. What’s worse is that the Bucs allowed 173 yards rushing, a season high for Carolina, to a team that had just jettisoned its star running back.

2. Los Angeles Chargers (-1.5 points)

I have to admit, I was all in on the Chargers before the season, figuring that the offensive explosion at the end of the season combined with the disappointment of barely missing the playoffs would fuel a huge 2022 run. Instead, it seems this team has taken a step back and is actually worse defensively despite the addition of several star players. They may actually be getting worse coaching this season as well, if that’s possible. On the bright side, despite the loss to Seattle, they’re still 4-3 with a week off to pick up the pieces before heading to Atlanta in Week 9.

3. New England Patriots (-1.5 points)

How often do you see such emotional shifts in an NFL game like we witnessed on Monday night? The Patriots, coming off a huge road blowout win at Cleveland, got their starting quarterback back only to see him benched just after the first quarter. The backup comes in and lights a second-quarter fire only to be totally humbled in the second half. Coach Bill Belichick now officially has a QB mess on his hands after the 33-14 loss to the Bears. This team still has solid numbers across the board, but it is going to take some intestinal fortitude to recover from the MNF debacle.

Effective Strength Ratings

The Bills show the biggest separation between themselves at the top and the No. 2 team, the Eagles, in my Effective Strength Ratings. Buffalo’s ESR is 16.3, 7.0 points better than Kansas City’s. I mentioned this last week, but it only grew (by 0.2 points) since. It’s been a long time since I have seen this big of a gap between No. 1 and No. 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 and any injury and home/road field adjustments made to games. If you consider my ESRs for yards per play, the Bills are six points better than anyone else, again the Chiefs are second. The Eagles are the No. 3 ESR team at 8.7, while the Cowboys are No. 4 at 7.1 followed by the Bengals at + 4.3. The Cowboys and Bengals are definitely trending upward in recent weeks, which I will detail a little later. The scoring ESRs indicate that the Jets and Jaguars might be a bit underrated. The yardage ESRs show that the Dolphins, 49ers and Broncos are much better on a play-by-play basis than they are being given credit for.

The Packers, Chargers and Rams are the three top teams that seem to be given more credit in power ratings than they are in actual play, as evidenced by their ESR ranks being far lower than their PR ranks.

At the bottom of the Effective Strength Ratings is Detroit, a team that has become familiar with that position over the last half-decade or so. The Lions’ ESR of -6.7 is a bit lower than that of Pittsburgh (-5.9), Houston (-5.4) and Washington (-5.3).

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 the closest of the three top strength indicators I manage. In fact, Buffalo’s BR of -9.5 is actually showing that the Bills are still a bit underrated by the markets, and they are just 2.6 points better than, gasp, the Bucs after Week 7 action. I have a feeling these numbers for the Bucs could change dramatically in the next few weeks as they will be a home dog on Thursday night for the first time since hosting the Chiefs in November 2020. Speaking of the Chiefs, they maintain the No. 3 spot in the BRs at -6.6. That is a full 1.5 points ahead of Philadelphia and Green Bay. Ironically, the Packers, who are a double-digit dog at Buffalo on Sunday, are only 4.4 points worse than the Bills, according to the markets. If you factor in a couple of points of home-field edge, the projected line by the Bettors Ratings is still only Buffalo -6.8. The teams least respected by comparing their market values to the Power Ratings are the Cowboys, Bengals and Raiders. Last week, I indicated that the lack of respect for the Cowboys in the markets was alarming, as my PRs had them favored by double digits compared with the BRs, which were much lower. Dallas rolled 24-6. That is a good example of how to look for betting opportunities using this rating set. The betting market’s least favorite team right now is Carolina, with a BR of + 7.4. Essentially, bettors believe the Panthers are 16.9 points worse than the Bills. Houston is deemed to be 2.2 points better than Carolina, and the Bears check in at No. 30 with a BR of + 4.9. This week’s matchup of Bears at Cowboys thus matches two teams the markets don’t respect all that much.

Recent Ratings

For the Recent Ratings, each team’s last few games and the effective strength they have demonstrated during that stretch is quantified. The hottest team in football is Buffalo with a RR of 16.8. The Bills come off their bye week, but it may not have been all that well-timed as they were red-hot going into it. We’ll see how they react in the SNF game against the Packers, who happen to be No. 31 in RR this week. The Jets have also been hot and sport a RR of 15.4, just a tic behind the Bills, but almost five points better than any other NFL team. Other hot teams right now include the Chiefs (10.7), Cowboys (10.7) and Raiders (8.7). As I mentioned earlier, the Lions have imploded and have been the league’s worst team over the last few weeks, with a RR of -15.3, with the Packers 5.6 points ahead. The best way bettors can utilize the Recent Ratings is to look for variations between the RRs and Power Ratings to find opportunities. For instance, for the last two weeks I have noted that Tampa Bay’s RR was very low, and despite that was still laying a ton of points. The Bucs have been upset in embarrassing fashion in back-to-back weeks. Playing against struggling teams in recent weeks as favorites is just one worthwhile strategy, and vice versa.

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 just edged the No. 2 team in SS, Pittsburgh, on Sunday but failed to beat the Vegas number in a 16-10 final. The Chiefs rank No. 3 in schedule difficulty but continue to beat it and head into their much-anticipated bye week at 5-2. The Lions are next in line in schedule strength, with an average OppPR of 24.95, just ahead of the Bills at 24.93. Of that top-5 SS group, the Steelers face the most difficult Week 8 test, having to travel across state to take on the undefeated Eagles. 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 the opponent but where and when they play as well. The easiest slate so far has belonged to the Browns, who have slipped to 2-5 despite the underwhelming schedule. Just ahead of them are the Seahawks and Eagles. If there is any single concern regarding Philly’s hot start, it would be that. However, the Eagles’ next four games are against teams with losing records, so it doesn’t figure to get tougher anytime soon.

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