2021 NFL Rankings: Week Four

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Each week I will publish the model’s rankings in the following categories: Projected Final Standings, Overall (Power), Quarterback, and Offense and Defense. 

As mentioned in previous weeks, some of the following metrics are based solely on the season’s first three games. Others take in prior data projections. The former group is much more susceptible to variance. After week four or five these rankings will be incorporated into the model.

I will point out whether a section relies solely on this years’ data or incorporates prior simulations and data.  

Projected Final Standings:

These rankings include prior projections, the first three games, and future predictions based on strength of schedule. 

AFC TeamsProjected WinsMake PlayoffsWin DivisionWin ConferenceWin Super Bowl
Buffalo Bills1187.88%75.92%31.70%13.53%
Cleveland Browns1177.23%58.56%17.47%12.32%
Kansas City Chiefs10.574.29%34.15%19.83%11.67%
Las Vegas Raiders1064.55%22.56%7.58%3.23%
Tennessee Titans959.49%54.55%3.42%0.12%
Baltimore Ravens957.65%21.87%3.10%1.55%
San Diego Chargers1056.35%25.39%8.47%5.35%
Indianapolis Colts843.33%36.82%2.58%0.07%
Denver Broncos938.44%17.88%2.40%1.14%
New England Patriots835.99%12.89%1.22%0.01%
Cincinnati Bengals729.81%8.89%1.15%0.01%
Pittsburgh Steelers724.78%9.93%1.03%0.01%
Miami Dolphins612.65%3.13%0.00%0.00%
Houston Texans59.12%5.45%0.00%0.00%
Jacksonville Jaguars57.12%2.45%0.00%0.00%
New York Jets56.50%3.23%0.00%0.00%
NFC TeamsProjected WinsMake PlayoffsWin DivisionWin ConferenceWin Super Bowl
Tampa Bay Buccaneers1287.00%68.38%22.56%11.44%
Los Angeles Rams1178.40%45.75%25.32%13.84%
Dallas Cowboys1071.00%64.18%7.46%4.44%
Green Bay Packers1061.95%58.33%10.09%6.38%
Seattle Seahawks952.28%15.76%8.72%4.35%
San Francisco 49ers948.53%19.82%7.78%3.67%
Carolina Panthers945.23%13.51%1.97%0.90%
Minnesota Vikings844.00%21.54%2.30%1.08%
Philadelphia Eagles843.00%10.23%1.45%0.62%
New Orleans Saints942.46%10.43%2.09%0.87%
Arizona Cardinals939.85%15.30%4.73%1.57%
Washington728.00%12.42%1.87%0.65%
Atlanta Falcons720.12%7.65%0.59%0.21%
New York Giants619.87%12.10%1.39%0.59%
Chicago Bears512.27%10.34%0.93%0.02%
Detroit Lions45.24%9.34%0.56%0.05%

Power Rankings:

The model is not using these rankings yet. As you can see, there is still too much variance based on outlier performances. I expect this to level out after this week. 

Generally, You can use the power rankings to produce a raw expected spread (RES) on a neutral field by subtracting each team’s number. The RES does not account for the scheme employed by each team. The model’s ultimate prediction may differ.

Quarterback Rankings:

We are still seeing some degree of outlier performances influence these rankings. I think you can argue that Herbert and Prescott should be higher. These rankings will start to normalize after this week. 

Matt Nagy is either grossly incompetent or sabotaging Fields. The game plan that he installed (even though he took play-calling duties away from himself last year) seemed designed not just to make Fields look bad, but to get Fields hurt. Nagy never once offered his porous offensive line any help blocking Garrett. He also never put Trubisky in a decent position. I have never liked Nagy as a coach, and the Bears should terminate him before he destroys Fields.  

I am tired of hearing people say, “well, he saw Mahomes sit in Kansas City.” This is faulty logic. Are they suggesting that, but for sitting, Mahomes would not be great? I can make the argument he too, should have played his first season. Just because Mahomes sat and is excellent, it does not follow, at all, that sitting increases your chances of being great. One person needs to sit on the Bears, Nagy. 

RANKPlayerTPR Adj.Comment
1Matthew Stafford13.83The model’s 20-1 preseason MVP pick is playing like every bit of one. He threw Brady off the field. McVey had been holding some of the offense back in the first two games. The Rams look, as the model expected, like the best team in the league.
2Tyrod Taylor13.47He is out injured, but I am going to leave him in the Rankings
3Kirk Cousins13.34Cousins has always been better than his perception. He has played under Zimmer, who is vehemently dedicated to running the ball. I love Zimmer as a defensive mastermind, but Cousins can produce like he has the previous two weeks anytime he is asked to do more than hand off the ball.
4Teddy Bridgewater13.18Bridgewater is playing out of his mind. He has been in the top five all three weeks. He needs a nickname. I am going with Teddy Westside as an homage to HIMYM and the fact that he is now in the West. He has played the Giants, the Jags, and the Jets, so I will not get too carried away. The model thought he would be a great fit and suggested the Over on wins for Denver. Looks good through three weeks.
5Patrick Mahomes12.77Predictable regression is taking some of the shine off of Mahomes. It shouldn’t. He is still the quarterback we believe he is.
6Kyler Murray12.28I have the most fun watching him play. Look for their record and his play to start normalizing. They beat the Titans and Jags and should have lost to the Vikings. The Rams are next.
7Tom Brady12.04He was having the best season of his career and was the early MVP. Stafford and McVey knocked the shine off. He should get right again against the Patriots.
8Sam Darnold11.53Okay, he looks good. Still, 66% of his rating comes from games against the Jets and the Texans. I am still neutral. He did throw some beautiful balls early in the game against Houston.
9Russell Wilson11.28Seattle has not lived up to the model’s expectations after a great start. Wilson looked so-so, and I cannot blame this on Carroll. Seattle looks like the fourth team in the West.
10Derek Carr11.25He had a rough start to the game against the Dolphins with the pick-six, but he stayed composed and won the game. He has always been better than most people think. This year it is impossible to deny.
11Daniel Jones10.95Daniel Jones’ problem is that his GM is awful, his OC is awful, and his head coach is unproven. His best offensive player is on a pitch count. His lack of interceptions is keeping him this high in the rankings.
12Josh Allen10.80Nice of you to join us, Mr. Allen – the season actually started three weeks ago, not last week. Still, mighty impressive performance. You killed your MVP chances in the first two weeks, but the real prize is still out there for you.
13Aaron Rodgers10.75He has looked like Rodgers in two straight games and will soon take his rightful spot in the top five.
14Jameis Winston10.72Good Jameis, bad Jameis, good Jameis. The less he throws, the better Winston plays. The Saints have to rely on defense and run the ball effectively. If so, Jameis is good enough to win with this team. He can even air it out against subpar defenses.
15Jimmy Garoppolo10.49San Francisco fans were screaming from Lance at halftime. Jimmy has his limitations especially getting the ball out on time. Be careful what you wish for 49er fans, and notice the ranking of every other rookie on this list.
16Justin Herbert10.39If we redrafted all the quarterbacks, and I had the number one pick, it might be him. Since he is on a rookie contract, it would be him.
17Dak Prescott10.36Prescott has had three solid games. He threw two bad passes last night. He is not the best at anything, but he is so very good at so many things that quarterbacks need to be able to do to be successful. It seems to be clicking for Kellen Moore as well. The NFC East does not seem to have anyone that can score with them.
18Ryan Tannehill9.97Not sold on this new offensive approach. Tannehill misses both Smiths. They are the best team in the worst division. They will make the playoffs, and it will be the Saturday early game wildcard weekend.
19Baker Mayfield9.57I expect more from him. He has desperately needed OBJ back. Targeted him nine times for five completions. Look for this to increase as OBJ gets his feet under him.
20Lamar Jackson9.51The hardest quarterback to quantify in the NFL. Another incredible win.
21Mac Jones9.32The Saints’ defense put Jones in a position where he would have to not just manage a game but win it. The rookie is good but was not ready for it yet. The ball is going to be in his hands a lot again this week, as the Pats will not be able to run against Tampa. Look for a second poor showing. Long-term he will be fine.
22Taylor Heinicke9.02Impossible to put the blame on Heinicke for last week, but he did not look good.
23Andy Dalton8.96He has a massive supporter in Nagy, which tells you all you need to know.
24Jared Goff8.84He is playing exactly as expected, and that was good enough to hang with the 49ers and put Lamar on the ropes. This team is better than the model thought. They will hang around, run the ball. If Nagy losses this game to the Lions, is he out? Can Goff do the NFL world a favor and pitch Nagy into the abyss?
25Jalen Hurts8.77The model had said he was a bit of a paper tiger with his ranking in the top ten the first two weeks. He had a really tough game last night. This ranking more accurately reflects where he is at as a quarterback. I thought Philly made a massive mistake by putting the game on his arm instead of his legs early.
26Joe Burrow8.71Played his best game of the season against that vaunted Pittsburgh defense. Did not air it out because Ben was on the other side.
27Jacoby Brissett8.37He had them in position to win on the road, with some massive help from the defense. Miami has fallen off a cliff this season.
28Carson Wentz8.25Two sprained ankles did not look good at all against a bad defense. The team left too many points on the field and should have lost by a lot more.
29Matt Ryan7.87He is having a hard time overcoming his disastrous start. He will slowly start to climb out of the cellar.
30Ben Roethlisberger7.84He is good at being bad. 5.6 ADOT last week. The model was not buying Ben or the Steelers at all this season. Drafting a running back in the first round (SMH, Harris and his 3.1 ypc) may as well have been the white flag. The team needed offensive line help. Not a running back. Harris is playing poorly. Ben is playing poorly. I wonder, and I am just thinking out loud if line play would help the team.
31Davis Mills7.34First-ever start against a Rhule-designed defense. There is just no way to form an opinion of him yet.
32Trevor Lawrence5.61He has lost more in three weeks than he has his entire life. He is going to struggle all season. He has a lot more interceptions looming this season. I would argue he is lucky only to have seven picks.
33Zach Wilson5.42The rookie has looked bad, but do not be surprised to sim him start looking better. His first three games were about the most brutal the NFL has to offer a rookie quarterback – defenses designed by Rhule, Belichick, and Fangio. All are defensive masterminds. Wilson is still standing. His season starts now.

Offensive & Defensive Rankings:

The following data is solely from the first three games of the season. A team with a ranking of 1 is considered league average. The rankings are in percentages, so a team with a .88 ranking is 12% below the league average. 

The offensive rankings are only subject to two outliers at that point. The Saints are on one end of the spectrum and the Jets on the other. 

The defensive rankings are still massively skewed by the Denver Broncos. The Broncos have played the Giants, Jets, and Jaguars. Look for them to level out after this week. 

About the author:

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I write about data and sports. I created my first model in 1997 using nothing more than Excel. Currently, I have data-driven models for the NFL, NBA, and World Cup Soccer.

Mathematics is the music of reason.
— James Joseph Sylvester, English mathematician

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