NFL Strength Ratings update: Three top teams fall

November 15, 2022 05:13 PM
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It was a big weekend for restoring parity in the NFL as three of the league’s top four rated teams all lost, leaving experts scrambling to figure out which teams really are the best. Top-rated Buffalo lost at home to Minnesota, its second straight setback, and third straight performance out of the bye week that left something to be desired. Philadelphia, the NFC’s top team, saw its unbeaten run end with a loss to division rival Washington on Monday night. Finally, Dallas, fresh off its bye, went to Lambeau Field in Green Bay and lost its first 14-point fourth-quarter lead in 195 games.

You may recall the jinx that was growing regarding the covers chosen for our old digital publication, Point Spread Weekly. I hope I didn’t start one last week in this column by forecasting the Packers’ dire prospects for the rest of the season. All they did was respond with one of their best outings of the year, leaving quarterback Aaron Rodgers to proclaim “We’re not dead,” and perhaps leading to a new rallying cry. Similarly, the Buccaneers, written off by many a couple of weeks ago, put up their most complete performance of the season in Munich, Germany, in beating upstart Seattle. 

One thing that is quite obvious in watching the NFL … every week is different. That in itself makes it a challenge for bettors. Let’s take a look at how the Week 10 action affected my strength ratings as we head into Week 11 and a slate of 14 games that features six road favorites. What could go wrong? 

Power Ratings: Bills no longer a surefire No. 1

By statistical standards, the Bills are still out in front, but their grip on the top spot in my latest NFL Power Ratings is loosening. After all, what good is it if you dominate in wins but lose more often than other good teams? At 6-3 and sitting in third place in their own division, Buffalo is no longer the surefire Super Bowl favorite most experts pegged them to be. In fact, they are showing some weak spots. Which reminds me of a ribbing I got from VSiN producer Kelley Bydlon in the summer when I suggested that the Bills' recent playoff struggles and inability to get over the hump could be wearing on them and that they weren’t as much of a lock to pass their 11.5-season win prop, With eight games left, coach Sean McDermott’s team will have to go 6-2 to beat that. Or in other words, play better than they have so far. Elsewhere, we do have some teams outperforming expectations. Minnesota moved to 8-1 with the win in Orchard Park. The Giants continue to impress with their 7-2 mark. Kansas City is taking care of business at 7-2, the best record in the AFC, and Miami paces the AFC East with its 7-3 mark. On the opposite side, the Rams head the list of disappointments, but the Raiders and Broncos, teams that will square off again on Sunday, are not far behind.

Biggest upward movers after Week 10

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+1.5 points)

I spoke of this on Brent Musburger’s “Countdown to Kickoff” show on Sunday, but it bears repeating. With Tampa Bay having won two straight games to go to 5-5 and atop the NFC South, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team bust out at any time. Sometimes all a team needs is a bit of momentum. The Bucs might have gotten that on Sunday with their win over the Seahawks in Germany, as they enjoyed their most complete and balanced offensive game of the season. Heading into their bye week, this team’s trajectory is definitely upward.

2. Green Bay Packers (+1.5 points)

Yes, I was very hard on the Packers in this column, and what we all witnessed on Sunday in the fourth quarter and overtime was certainly unexpected. The most pleasant surprise for Green Bay was the emergence of rookie receiver Christian Watson, who hauled in three touchdown passes. If Watson can become consistent, Rodgers will again have the deep threat he’s been missing this season. I admit I may have written the Pack down too far after the fifth straight loss last week. However, if you look closely at the offensive numbers over the past three games, they have averaged more than 170 rushing yards and 230 passing yards. Prolific and balanced, and an obvious concern for future opponents.

3. Washington Commanders (+1.5 points)

In reviewing the betting options for Monday night’s game with a colleague, I said, “I want to take Washington, they are just a very pesky team with Heinecke at QB. See if you can talk me out of it.” In the end, I did go with the Commanders, my only regret is not backing their chances to beat the Eagles outright. While Taylor Heinecke played a role, perhaps more spiritually, the defense made the formidable Philly offense look anything but. This team is just a half-game out of the final NFC playoff spot, and even when Carson Wentz is able to play again, he’d better fall into the backup QB role.

Biggest downward movers

1. Buffalo Bills (-1.5 points)

At the end of the day, there is nothing more important than winning football games, regardless of the scoring differential. Buffalo has lost three games by a field goal or less, but those are still losses. The Bills may not be the third-best team in their division, but that is where they are in the standings. Fundamentally, this team is making a lot of mistakes, and, as evidenced by the failure to knock down the pass that Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson miraculously caught in extending the game on Sunday, players seem more interested in being part of the show than being business-like. Oddsmakers seem to have abandoned this team as well, underpricing them at home for a second straight week. Maybe they are on to something.

2. New Orleans Saints (-2 points)

Has there been any team more frustrating to figure out than the Saints of late? It has been either all or nothing with them over the last month. In the last two games, both losses, New Orleans has rushed for a total of 77 yards, inexcusable with a running back like Alvin Kamara. Those two defeats followed a game in which they shut out the Raiders 24-0. Overall, coach Dennis Allen’s team is 3-7 SU and ATS, and playoff hopes are sinking fast. Statistically speaking, they are much better than that, but without the evidence of winning games, those figures are worthless.

3. Philadelphia Eagles (-1 point) 

Playing while 8-0 in front of the home fans in a rabid “Monday Night Football” atmosphere, the Eagles played anything but a motivated game. Perhaps the pressure of staying unbeaten was too much to bear against an inspired divisional rival. In any case, the punishment for losing games outright as double-digit favorites has to be imposed. I have dropped the Eagles a full point in my Power Ratings, and fairly I might add.

Effective Strength Ratings

Buffalo maintains its top spot in the Effective Strength indicators despite the back-to-back losses. At times Sunday, the Bills looked phenomenal, but the failure to score on three trips to the red zone is always a death blow. Even still, their cushion over the No. 2 team in the ESRs grew a bit to 4.9 points. The No. 2 team remains the Eagles. The Chiefs, Cowboys and Ravens round out the top 5 and are all within 1.8 points of the Eagles on this stat-based strength indicator. Two teams to consider right now with better stats than perceptions are the Jets and Bears. Some teams that might be a bit overrated, analyzing it in the opposite fashion, include the Rams and Chargers. At the bottom of this Effective Strength list, you’ll find Houston at -6.9, essentially 18.9 points worse than No. 1 Buffalo. The defending champion Rams are next to the bottom at -6.4, an amazing fall from grace, while the Steelers sit in 30th at -5.7. If we are considering Effective Strength stats in yards per play, the league’s best team is Buffalo with an equivalent power rating of 35.4, while the 7-2 Giants are the worst at an EPR of 16.9. Winning ugly against one of the league’s lighter schedules will do that.

Bettors Ratings

A reminder, the Bettors Ratings are a reflection of what the betting markets think about the teams in pro football in 2022. The BRs are based on the last three weeks of action. The Bills again sit on top of these measures, with negative numbers being better. The Bills are at -9.3, meaning they would be laying 9.3 points to the average NFL team right now on a neutral field. They are rated 1.7 points superior to the Chiefs and 2.1 points ahead of the Eagles in this calculation. San Francisco and Minnesota round out the top 5, and while the 49ers are getting heavy respect, perhaps too much as 8-point road favorites at Arizona on MNF, the 8-1 Vikings are shockingly a home dog to the Cowboys. The betting market’s least favorite team right now remains Houston, with a BR of +6.3. Essentially, bettors believe the Texans are 16 points worse than the Bills. Carolina is deemed to be 1.5 points better than Houston, though that might lessen as the public gets word that QB Baker Mayfield is back under center for the Panthers this week. Interestingly, the Jaguars and Titans seem to be underrated by the betting markets right now, while bettors aren’t grasping yet how bad the Rams and Raiders really are. Keep an eye out when the Bettors Ratings and a team’s league-wide rank vary greatly from my Power Ratings.

Recent Ratings

The Recent Ratings reflect actual recent performance, as I like to go back three games for NFL teams in determining this rating set, comparing the team’s recent outcomes against the quality of opposition they have faced. The hottest team in football is the Chiefs, who are coming off a 10-point home win against the Jaguars and have a RR of +10.7. Next in line is Dallas at +7.8, but the Cowboys figure to fall dramatically after their blowout win over the Lions falls off the ledger. That is, of course, unless they come up with an equally big performance at Minnesota this week. The Vikings are No. 3, Baltimore is No. 4 and Miami is No. 5 in recent play. As I have mentioned, the Raiders are in free fall and have been the league’s worst team over the last few weeks, with a RR of -12.5, while the Rams are next to last at -8.9. 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, reflecting the difficulty of each team’s 2022 schedule, show Pittsburgh as the team that has faced the most difficult slate thus far. The average power rating of the Steelers’ opponents has been 25.91, which would essentially be equivalent to playing New England nine straight weeks on a neutral field. These ratings do include home/road field considerations, as well as any injury or situational adjustments in my simulations. With coach Mike Tomlin’s team having been tested greatly to date, and now getting healthier, highlighted by the return of T.J. Watt, they could prove to be a dangerous spoiler team down the stretch. Other teams that have played tough schedules include the Jets, Lions, Bills and Ravens. The easiest slate has belonged to the Eagles, and I cautioned last week about laying big points with untested teams. Just ahead of them are the Cowboys and Giants. Yes, all three of those teams are from the NFC East, so use caution when you consider the validity of those three teams’ stellar records after nine games. Keep in mind that Schedule Strength is reflected in all of the other rating sets, either qualitatively or quantitatively

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