We head into what is sure to be a very interesting NFL season, with numerous offseason coaching and personnel moves greatly affecting the prospects of numerous teams. It’s hard to remember any season in recent memory that had this much change, with huge names like Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Deshaun Watson, Baker Mayfield, Tyreek Hill and several other All-Pro-level players finding new homes. On top of that, we have 10 head coaching changes to deal with. Let’s take a look at how all of these moves have affected my different strength ratings heading into this week’s openers.
Note: In regard to injuries/suspensions, in the case of non-season-ending situations, I deduct points from each of the ratings sets on a game-to-game basis but DO NOT alter the team’s overall rating in each indicator until it is season-ending. For instance, because of Watson’s 11-game suspension at the start of the 2022 season, the Browns’ Power Rating will begin at 26 with a Game 1 adjustment of -3.5 points. I will continue to adjust off of that number. If Watson were to have been suspended for the entire season, I would have begun with Cleveland on a 22.5 Power Rating.
Biggest upward movers since last season
1. Jacksonville (+ 5 points)
The Jaguars’ improved Power Rating has as much to do with a coaching change as anything else. New head coach Doug Pederson won a Super Bowl in his second season with the Eagles. Some of the upward move was simply based on a return to normalcy. Not that Jacksonville is normally a lot better, but this franchise was such a trainwreck in 2021 that it’s impossible to see the Jaguars duplicating last year’s horrific campaign. Plus, they have last year’s top draft pick QB Trevor Lawrence at the controls and welcome back RB Travis Etienne, who missed all of his rookie season with an injury, plus several other roster additions.
2. N.Y. Giants (+ 4.5 points)
When Daniel Jones was lost for the season in late November last year, the Giants were a respectable 4-7 and had lost three games by a field goal or less. Jones had a 10-7 TD-INT ratio at the time as well as 298 yards rushing. Naturally, the overall season numbers wound up ugly, leading to a less-rosy outlook and a coaching change. I am a huge fan of that coaching change as the Giants were able to lure offensive coordinator Brian Daboll from the high-scoring Bills. Daboll also brought in Mike Kafka as offensive coordinator from the Chiefs and longtime defensive stalwart Wink Martindale from the Ravens as the defensive coordinator. This is a high-level coaching staff now, a major upgrade from the departing group.
3. Denver (+ 4 points)
How much difference can the acquisition of one key player in an offseason make? We are about to find out for the Broncos, whose change to Russell Wilson at quarterback figures to be the biggest move for the franchise since they turned to Peyton Manning to right the ship before the 2012 season. All Manning did over the next three seasons was lead Denver to a 38-10 regular-season record and a Super Bowl title. This team was 7-6 at one point last season and lost its last four games, three of them by five points or fewer. They scored just 15 PPG during that skid and would have benefited tremendously from having Wilson at the controls. This is a team with a solid defense, a new head coach, a new quarterback and high expectations.
Biggest downward movers
1. Seattle (-5.5 points)
Denver’s gain was Seattle’s loss, and after leading the Seahawks to a Super Bowl title and several other memorable seasons, QB Russell Wilson is no longer under center for coach Pete Carroll’s team. The competition to replace Wilson continues between Geno Smith and Drew Lock despite Smith having been named the Week 1 starter. This team lost eight games by 10 points or fewer last season. The loss of their franchise quarterback makes it less likely that they will improve in that area.
2. San Francisco (-4.5 points)
San Francisco made a huge late-season jump in my Power Ratings by winning three consecutive January games in upset fashion. The 49ers nearly reached the Super Bowl. That all happened with Jimmy Garoppolo as the starting quarterback. This season they turn to 2021 first-round draft pick Trey Lance to run the show. How much of a risk is this move? So big that they decided to hang on to Garoppolo on a one-year contract in case Lance doesn’t work out. Not exactly a great endorsement. This is a team that scored only 20 PPG in its late-season six-game run. If/when that continues under Lance, this will not be an elite team.
3. New England (-4 points)
New England is another team that seemed to catch lightning in a bottle last season, vastly overperforming expectations by winning 10 games in the regular season, including seven straight at one point. Take away that seven-game streak and this was a 3-8 team, including the playoffs. In all likelihood, the Patriots of 2022 will be somewhere in between those extremes, and a bit of regression from second-year QB Mac Jones would not be a surprise.
Effective Strength Ratings
Buffalo begins the season as the top-ranked team in my overall Power Ratings, my Effective Strength Ratings and my Bettors Ratings. Most of this is due to the expected continued growth the franchise has enjoyed in recent years. Could this be the year the Bills break through and get to or win a Super Bowl? Or will their disappointing playoff losses take their toll. Buffalo changed offensive coordinators this season after Brian Daboll accepted the head coaching assignment with the Giants. The defending champion Rams, who match up with the Bills on Thursday, are No. 2 in my Effective Strength Ratings, mostly based upon how they closed the 2021 season. They have some concern regarding QB Matthew Stafford’s elbow as well as some key losses from their title team. Tampa Bay and the NFL’s top-ranked player, QB Tom Brady, assume the No. 3 spot in the ES ratings. At the bottom of the list you’ll find Atlanta, which moves on in the first year post-Matt Ryan.
The Bettors Ratings are a reflection of what the betting markets think about the teams in pro football in 2022. My calculations for the opening of any season in this measurement are based on last year’s finishing position, any adjustments made to overall strength since the end of last season, plus any unusual futures markets differing from my projections. Buffalo is currently the highest-rated team in my Bettors Ratings, with a 0.6-point edge over the Chargers (-7.9 to -7.3) and a 1.2-point edge over the Packers (-7.9 to -6.7). Obviously, the more negative the better for this rating set. The Texans are the lowest-rated team at + 8.2, 1.3 points worse than the Jets at + 6.9.
The recent ratings, which designate the teams playing best in recent weeks, won’t be fully in effect until teams have played three or four games. For this week, they mirror the Effective Strength Ratings. Over the next two weeks they will be based on manual adjustments. Dallas is currently atop this rating.
Schedule Strength Ratings
The Schedule Strength Ratings, currently reflecting the difficulty of each team’s 2022 schedule, will begin to be altered immediately after Week 1 games. Thus the Rams or Bills, facing each other this week, figure to rank at or near the top next week. For now, Kansas City faces the toughest slate on paper, a truly grueling schedule that will test a team that has trended downward in three straight seasons, from winning the Super Bowl, to losing it, to losing in the conference title game. Also facing challenging schedules on paper out of the gate are the Chargers, Cardinals and Raiders. The easiest schedules in the league belong to the Eagles, Giants and Ravens. All three of those teams have improved, and the easy schedules should contribute to their expected improvement.