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Week 14 NFL power rankings: Browns on the rise

By Drew Dinsick  (VSiN.com) 

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NFL Week 13 had it all — impressive comebacks, impossible collapses, bad beats, miracle covers and blocked kicks returned for touchdowns. Road teams dominated again, going 10-4 straight up and 11-3 against the spread and covering by an average of eight points, mostly thanks to the Patriots. The average closing total fell to 47.5, with Unders ruling the day again, going 9-5. Market makers had a mixed day that was a small positive overall. Hot sides included the Browns, the Rams and the Patriots, who all covered in impressive fashion. The Bengals, the Seahawks and the Falcons did not fare as well after seeing strong support during the week. Some wild total results came in as well. The Houston Under was somehow a winner despite 44 first-half points, and the New England Over did not get home even though the Patriots managed 45 points on their own, their highest output to date.

The current power numbers and rankings across the NFL are tabulated here. They are my rankings based on a weighted sum of offense and defensive efficiency as measured by EPA per play, with offense up-weighted relative to defense and passing up-weighted relative to running. These rankings reflect a two-thirds weight on 2020 game data and one-third weight on the market consensus win total prior, generally. They have also been adjusted for known injuries as we head into the Week 14 slate. Notably, the Saints’ power number assumes Drew Brees will return as the starting quarterback, elevating them to No. 3 overall. 

  

Rising

Patriots: 

Bill Belichick’s team flew to the West Coast a day early to prepare for a two-game stretch in Los Angeles, and the Patriots looked like the far better-prepared team, winning every phase of the game in a 45-0 destruction of the Chargers. The defense and special teams contributed substantially to the point total. New England’s special teams managed a punt-return touchdown and blocked a field-goal attempt for a touchdown in the waning moments of the first half. It is unlikely that this level of performance from the defense and special teams is sustainable. However, with the Patriots electing to stay at UCLA this week to prepare for the Thursday night tilt with the Rams, they have seen ample support in the betting market, with their spread coming in from + 6.5 to + 4.5 before some buyback in the early market. Based on the recent positive trend with the Patriots defense, they’ve been adjusted up from -1.5 to exactly league average as we enter the final quarter of the season. If Belichick continues to work his magic with the rushing attack and defense, they will remain trending upward in the coming weeks. 

Browns: The market was quiet for Cleveland-Tennessee through most of the week until support for Cleveland exploded Sunday as the spread fell from + 5 to + 2.5 at the market-making books. This move was clearly the right side as a comfortable and well-protected Baker Mayfield had his most impressive showing this season. The Browns were never really in jeopardy of losing the game despite the one-score final margin of victory. This contest told us a good amount about both teams, but the main takeaway for Cleveland is that against a bad defense, the Browns are difficult to stop, especially when employing misdirection and play-action. Their efficiency moving the ball has vaulted them to the No. 6 offense and No. 12 overall, earning an upgrade to + 2.0 points against an average team on a neutral field. We have no early indication if support for Cleveland will continue into Week 14 as we wait for the Browns-Ravens market to open, but I suspect with the more challenging matchup, enthusiasm may have cooled.

Lions: The ghost of Matt Patricia looked as though it were still influencing the Lions early Sunday. Detroit looked sluggish in the opening half and dug a 10-point deficit before rallying to defeat the Bears in Chicago. Detroit managed the 34-30 comeback win without many of its key players and predominantly using a one-dimensional passing attack. Despite playing with heart late in this game, it is fair to characterize the Lions’ performance as a one-off, and it would be surprising to see Detroit backers at the window this week as they take on the mighty Packers, who come to town as 7.5-point favorites. This number directly reflects a small adjustment up for the Lions, and they sit with a power number of -3.5 until they can produce a more impressive upset. 

Honorable Mention: The Jets surely deserve an upgrade after fighting hard for 59 minutes 45 seconds. The departure of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams does have real potential to see the defense rise from No. 30 in the NFL — that is, if the scheme was holding back this unit.

Falling

Chargers: Shocking result from a team that had been playing well for a majority of the season. The effort level was low. Potentially some veterans were equally as unimpressed with the coaching against Buffalo as the betting public and decided they were unwilling to fight for their coach. The result was the worst defeat in franchise history and a significant step backward for the young players who will make up the future of the team. Between coaching and special teams, the negative intangibles for the Chargers are so great that it’s not reasonable to read too much into a power number for this squad (in general, offensive and defensive efficiency metrics can’t capture the intangibles on their own). In addition to the overall sentiment of the Chargers turning sour, the offensive efficiency slipped a lot Sunday and resulted in a downgrade to No. 22 in the NFL on offense. Their overall rank slid to 19th, and the Chargers are now on the low side of league average, expected to win 48% of games against league-average teams. The market was quick to adjust them down as they play host to the disappointing Falcons in Week 14. Whereas in previous weeks it was fair to look to the slipping teams to bounce back, it is not prudent to expect the same from a team actively quitting on its coach like Los Angeles may be doing, and it will keep me off them for the foreseeable future.

Steelers: The Steelers have played down to their opponents several times this season, so it is fair to conclude the Monday loss was bound to happen at some point with perfection coming to an end at the hands of the Washington Football Team. In the grand scheme, that was the optimal loss because it came against an out-of-conference opponent, so Pittsburgh retained the tiebreaker for the No. 1 AFC seed over the Chiefs. The more concerning aspect of the Steelers’ recent string of lackluster efforts is the complete inability to manifest a rushing attack, particularly when they lead. This has put undue pressure on the defense to play perfectly, which is unsustainable. This quality of play will be problematic if it shows up in January. The Steelers do not get a lesser opponent to help them rebound from this loss as they head to Buffalo for a Sunday night matchup with the high-powered Bills. On one hand, this is a decent chance for the Steelers offense to get right, but they will have to raise their level if they hope to hold on to the top spot in the AFC. The loss drops the Steelers’ power number from + 5.5 to + 4.5, and it may fall further without a solid performance against Buffalo. 

Seahawks: The worst loss of the week from a quality team was the Seahawks dropping a home game to the Colt McCoy-led New York Giants. The offensive line had its worst game of the season, putting Russell Wilson under pressure and unsettling the soaring Seattle pass offense in the process. The defense continues to play up, but there are real problems with what this team is trying to do when it has the ball. On the heels of back-to-back poor offensive games, the Seahawks are down to  No. 7 in the NFL after being the clear No. 1 earlier this season. Their overall rating has slipped a point to + 3.0, but the good news is they next draw the Jets, who have been the ultimate get-right team for the rest of the NFL this season. 

Dishonorable Mention: Arizona and Tennessee played poorly in big games, earning fair downgrades this week. Arizona fell out of the playoff picture and desperately needs a bounce-back against the Giants in Week 14. The Eagles also continued their slide into irrelevance. Quarterback Carson Wentz was benched, and the team was downgraded 1.5% in terms of winning probability against a league-average team.

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