Through four games, it’s safe to say that we know some definitive things about all 32 teams.
It’s safe to say that Kansas City is still among the elite teams in football, despite numerous offseason losses and the retooling of the offense. The Chiefs flexed their muscles Sunday night in destroying Tampa Bay’s defense, scoring 41 points on a unit that had allowed a combined 27 points in its first three games. Andy Reid’s team has been a thorn in the postseason side of Buffalo, the current top-rated team in the league, and with the Chiefs now breathing down their necks, the Bills can’t be too comfortable.
Elsewhere, it’s becoming more and more clear that Philadelphia is a team to reckon with in an up-for-grabs NFC. On the other side of the spectrum, we know Houston is as bad as advertised, and Pittsburgh is fielding its worst team in decades.
Some of the questions we might still be asking, however, are:
1. Is the NFC East better than we all thought?
2. Was the AFC West way overhyped?
3. Is anyone capable of winning the AFC South?
We’ll find out the answers to those questions in the coming weeks.
For now, let’s take a look at how the Week 4 action impacted my Strength Ratings as we head into Week 5, which has several lopsided point spreads, at least by NFL standards, with seven teams favored by 6.5 points or more.
Power Ratings: Buffalo’s grip on No. 1 spot loosening
The Bills rallied from 17 points down on Sunday to win at Baltimore, after some highly questionable time/point management decisions late cost the Ravens. It takes a strong and gritty team to rebound from such a deficit in a tough environment on the road, so I did not penalize Buffalo for a somewhat sloppy effort. The rainy conditions also played a part. However, the Bills’ PR cushion over the Chiefs shrunk to just a half point after KC’s explosive win at Tampa Bay. Scoring points on a team that has played the league’s second-toughest schedule so far and was allowing just 9 PPG can do wonders to a team’s strength indicators, and I have reflected that in bumping the Chiefs up a point overall. Philadelphia sits in the No. 3 spot in the PRs, but a distant three points behind Kansas City. Tampa Bay, Green Bay and Baltimore sit in the Nos. 4-6 spots. Watch out for the Cowboys, as they’ve surged to No. 8 with a 26.5 rating despite playing (and winning) their last three games without Dak Prescott. The Texans, still looking for their first win, bring up the rear with a 17 rating. Washington, Chicago, and Seattle are tied for the next-to-last spot with ratings of 18.5.
Biggest upward movers after Week 4:
1. Seattle (+ 1.5 points): There were a ton of concerns regarding Seattle at the outset of the season, although many of my season-to-season transitional systems saw the Seahawks in a better light. Well, after four games, Pete Carroll’s team is hanging in there and is actually tied atop the NFC West standings (all four teams are 2-2). Seattle climbs 1.5 points this week after drubbing the Lions defense for 48 points, a season-high in the NFL.
T2. Kansas City (+ 1 point): I have written a lot already about the Chiefs’ impressive win at Tampa Bay, and seemingly, they were on a mission to erase the memories of their Super Bowl loss two seasons ago. Most encouraging is that their first-half schedule was considered to be extremely difficult and yet they are thriving. Up next is a Monday night against the Raiders.
T2. Atlanta (+ 1 point): Like Seattle, the Falcons are proving to not be nearly as bad as many experts projected. Also like Seattle, the Falcons are tied atop their division with a 2-2 record. The biggest question surrounding the Falcons this season revolved around how they would handle QB Matt Ryan’s departure. They have answered the question with a resounding, “No problem,” and currently rank third in the NFC in points scored with Marcus Mariota running the show.
Biggest downward movers:
T1. Carolina (-2 points): I was on “Countdown to Kickoff with Brent Musburger” on Sunday and we discussed his reasoning for switching his contest selection to the Cardinals, who were taking on the Panthers. We both agreed there were plenty of reasons to fade Carolina, and Arizona’s rather easy win did nothing to dispel that. The Panthers offense is in shambles and there seem to be some internal issues going on as well. Coach Matt Rhule has to be on the hot seat. This team sits at 1-3 despite playing the third-easiest schedule so far.
T1. L.A. Rams (-2 points): With the defending champions sitting at 2-2, it’s become quite obvious that something is amiss. They are not the same team that finished off the 2021 season hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. Their offensive and defensive fronts are a mess and QB Matthew Stafford is panicking under the pressure. Don’t expect a quick resolution as the Rams’ current effective points and yardage stats indicate they are closer to the bottom than the top.
3. Washington (-1 points): Let’s be honest, did anyone really expect anything different from Washington after their big acquisition of the offseason was Carson Wentz? Since surviving the opener versus Jacksonville, the Commanders have dropped three straight and have a Recent Rating of -12.5, worst in football. In other words, since the Week 1 win, this is the league’s worst team.
Effective Strength Ratings
Buffalo maintains its top spot in the Effective Strength indicator after its tight win at Baltimore. However, that rating dropped 3.4 points after all of the Week 4 action was considered. Still, the Bills’ cushion over the No. 2 team in the ESRs grew a bit to 4.6 points. The No. 2 team remains Jacksonville, despite its loss at Philadelphia. The Jaguars, Chiefs and Eagles are all within 1.2 points of one another on this stat-based strength indicator. Tampa Bay rounds out the top five with a 6.4 ESR. Some teams to consider right now with better stats than perception, beyond the Jaguars, are the Giants, Falcons and Lions. Some teams that might be a bit overrated include Green Bay, the two Los Angeles teams and Indianapolis. At the bottom of this Effective Strength list you’ll find Washington at -9.3, essentially 24.7 points worse than Buffalo. The Colts are next-to-the-bottom at -7.8, while the Seahawks sit 30th at -6.6. If we are considering Effective Strength stats in yards per play, the league’s best team is Buffalo with an equivalent power rating of 38.4, while Washington is the worst with an EPR of 13.5.
A reminder, the Bettors Ratings are a reflection of what the betting markets think. This week’s BRs are based on the last three weeks of action. Buffalo again sits on top of these measures, with negative numbers being better. The Bills are at -7.9, meaning they would be laying 7.9 points to the average NFL team right now on a neutral field. They are currently rated 2.4 points superior to the Bengals, and 2.6 points ahead of the Chiefs in this calculation. Tampa Bay and Green Bay round out the top five, and both teams will be relatively heavy favorites Sunday. The betting market’s least favorite team right now remains Houston, with a BR of + 6.4. Essentially, bettors believe the Texans are 14.3 points worse than the Bills. Seattle is deemed to be 1.6 points better than Houston, and Pittsburgh rightfully checks in at No. 30 with a BR of + 4.8. Interestingly, the Eagles and Cowboys are a pair of NFC East teams that seem to be underrated by the betting markets right now, while bettors aren’t yet grasping how bad the Commanders are. Keep an eye out when the Bettors Ratings and a team’s league-wide rank vary greatly from my Power Ratings.
For the first time this season, the Recent Ratings reflect actual recent performance, as I like to go back three games for NFL teams in determining this rating set. Currently, the hottest team in football is Jacksonville, despite the loss at Philadelphia last week. The Jaguars played reasonably well in that game and were coming off two runaway victories, thus earning the top spot in the RRs. Next in line is Buffalo at + 13.7, but the Bills figure to fall dramatically after their Week 2 rout of Tennessee drops off this ledger. Philadelphia is No. 3, Dallas is No. 4 and San Francisco is No. 5 in recent play. As I mentioned earlier, Washington has been the league’s worst team over the last few weeks, with an RR of -12.5, while Pittsburgh is next to last at -9.6. Again, savvy bettors want to look for variations between the Recent Ratings and Power Ratings to find value-betting opportunities.
Schedule Strength Ratings
The Schedule Strength Ratings, currently reflecting the difficulty of each team’s schedule, shows Miami as the team that has faced the most difficult four-game slate to open the season. The average Power Rating of the Dolphins’ first four opponents is 28.3, which would essentially be equivalent to playing Tampa Bay four straight weeks on a neutral field. These ratings do include home/road considerations or any injury or situational adjustments I make to games in my simulations. Other teams that have played tough schedules to this point include Tampa Bay, Buffalo and New England. The easiest slate so far belongs to the Browns, who are 2-2. Just ahead of them are the Giants, so use caution when you consider the strength of their 3-1 mark to open the season. Keep in mind that the Schedule Strength Ratings are reflected in all of the other rating sets I build, either qualitatively or quantitatively.