The Model Speaks: Week Three Rankings

76
THE MODEL SPEAKS 2021 NFL Week Three Rankings

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

With week two complete, our dataset doubled. It is still not sufficient to make wagering predictions. Some of the rankings below are the sole product of the first two weeks of the seasons. Other metrics include simulations based on the model’s prior predictions. I will identify in each section what the dataset contains. 

The model will begin using the data that follows in more significant percentages after week four. This week it is a polaroid of the season to date. It tells us who has been erratic and who has been consistent. 

Projected Final Standings:

The data that follows is based on more than just the first two weeks of the season. It is based on countless simulations. Those simulations now include the actual results from the first two weeks and the model’s previous simulations. As the season progresses, the simulations become less important until they are removed entirely. At that point, earlier weeks in the season become less critical. 

These rankings will change dramatically over the next two weeks. As of today, this is where the model stands. 

As you read through the list that follows, notice the absolute disparity in talent the model sees between the teams over the entirety of the season. The model has clear favorites. Then compare that disparity to the rankings that follow where, after one week, it sees teams generally bunched in the middle. What explains the seemingly contradictory positions is that a slight advantage applied throughout a season results in significant disparities.

The AFC projected division winners are the Chiefs, Bills, Browns, and Titans. The Wildcards are up for grabs between seven teams at this point. I expect Pittsburgh to drop considerably from the running after this week. With the Ravens and the Browns at 1-1, their odds are artificially high.  

AFC TeamsProjected WinsMake PlayoffsWin DivisionWin ConferenceWin Super Bowl
Kansas City Chiefs1281.12%54.96%24.34%12.01%
Buffalo Bills1174.62%64.83%27.45%14.38%
Cleveland Browns1172.24%44.36%15.67%10.82%
Baltimore Ravens963.05%35.22%12.73%8.43%
San Diego Chargers952.35%19.83%5.43%1.27%
Tennessee Titans849.00%45.12%2.42%0.06%
Las Vegas Raiders847.20%15.31%1.94%0.04%
Indianapolis Colts842.00%38.33%0.31%0.00%
Miami Dolphins837.32%12.21%1.49%0.02%
New England Patriots835.99%15.67%2.28%0.05%
Pittsburgh Steelers735.01%12.26%1.50%0.02%
Denver Broncos833.21%9.73%2.54%1.22%
Cincinnati Bengals731.04%9.63%0.93%0.01%
Houston Texans519.12%14.01%0.27%0.00%
Jacksonville Jaguars615.28%2.45%0.03%0.00%
New York Jets56.50%6.00%0.36%0.00%

After two weeks, it is looking even more likely that the NFC West will produce all three wildcard teams. There is a 10% disparity between Arizona and New Orleans, with Arizona getting the final wildcard spot in this projection. Dallas is nestled between them, but they would be the East’s division winner in this scenario. 

NFC TeamsProjected WinsMake PlayoffsWin DivisionWin ConferenceWin Super Bowl
Tampa Bay Buccaneers1287.00%65.76%30.17%9.10%
Los Angeles Rams1063.00%31.44%11.23%7.25%
Green Bay Packers1061.95%58.33%10.09%6.38%
Seattle Seahawks1161.00%29.18%9.87%6.21%
San Francisco 49ers1060.00%19.82%7.78%4.67%
Arizona Cardinals1058.00%18.54%7.15%4.22%
Dallas Cowboys952.32%38.67%7.46%4.44%
New Orleans Saints948.28%10.43%2.09%0.96%
Minnesota Vikings844.00%19.88%2.30%1.08%
Philadelphia Eagles843.00%32.14%2.03%0.93%
Washington728.00%19.19%2.21%1.03%
Carolina Panthers728.00%12.43%2.45%1.17%
New York Giants516.87%12.47%1.39%0.59%
Atlanta Falcons513.45%10.25%1.05%0.42%
Chicago Bears512.27%10.34%1.07%0.43%
Detroit Lions45.24%9.34%0.87%0.34%

Power Rankings:

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.

Moreover, this is the raw data from the model. These numbers are only showing the data from the first two weeks of the season. As you can see, outlier performances, both good and bad ones, are still causing the data fits. The Saints/Packers game is still causing havoc. 

After week four, this graph will begin to produce a highly accurate prediction on the spread in games on a neutral field. The extremes will regress to the middle.  For now, it serves as a reminder that parity is more widespread than the Vegas line indicates. 

Quarterback Rankings:

The model ranks quarterbacks based on its own metric called Total Passer Rating (TPR). The metric can be faulted, like any metric can, for undervaluing the contributions of quarterbacks such as Lamar Jackson. I accept that criticism. Generally, I believe most people will not have too many issues with the ranking. You will notice that it punishes quarterbacks for interceptions. The model does not like quarterbacks that throw interceptions. 

Remember, this is based solely on the first two weeks of the season. Rodgers is moving up, and he is one of on.

The four quarterbacks that start for the NFC West are rated four, five, six, and eleven. All four may finish in the top ten at the end of the season. Rodgers is moving up, and Taylor will move down. Bridgewater is a limited but good quarterback. He is so easy to like. It makes me happy to see him sitting at number one after two weeks.

RANKPlayerTPR Adj.Comment
1Teddy Bridgewater13.52Another stellar performance. He is playing the position at the most effective level through two games. And Denver is quietly stacking wins.
2Tyrod Taylor13.46He cannot catch a break. If it isn’t his own training staff taking him out with a needle, it is injuries. Blazing start for him. Now he sits for a month. In the first game of the season, his numbers were gaudy, but if you watch the tape, he was just chucking the ball up and getting a little lucky. On Sunday, he was outstanding until the injury.
3Patrick Mahomes13.28We know exactly who he is. He is phenomenal. Had his team in position on the road against Baltimore. Last season all of those plays went their way. This time it did not. A brutal fumble felt hardest by the Chiefs’ ML backers.
4Matthew Stafford12.93The Model’s MVP choice is was better than every other quarterback after week one. He came back to earth a bit in week two. Still, he remains in the front of a group of four or five through two weeks and he should be in contention until the end. At 20-1, the play was solid.
5Kyler Murray12.17He just might be this … explosive. The picks prevent him from topping this list. The NFC West is so loaded at Quarterback as good as he has played. He is either the second or third best in his division.
6Russell Wilson12.00After blowing a fourth-quarter lead, look for Carroll to reign in the offense unnecessarily
7Tom Brady11.34This young man is worth keeping an eye on. He just might have a future.
8Jalen Hurts11.31With each week he remains in the top ten, it gets more difficult to doubt his legitimacy. Still, the All-22 shows a quarterback that needs work but has a ton of upside. He is buoyed by his week one score and another solid outing.
9Kirk Cousins11.24Cousins and Minnesota thought last week was the fourth preseason game. Despite a terrible start in Cincinnati, the world’s most boring quarterback showed up with his team against Arizona. Another loss, but the model is confident they are the second-best team in the North.
10Sam Darnold11.15He was impressive on Sunday. The model still has its doubts. Very little chance it backs or fades Carolina in the coming weeks.
11Jimmy Garoppolo11.15Back to Back road wins on the east coast are a great way to start the season. Still, after two weeks, they are the most vulnerable team in the stacked NFC West.
12Derek Carr11.03If he keeps this up, Derek is going to get paid. It is a little funny because it seems like Gruden cannot stand him. He did his own little imitation of Rod Tidwell last week, but he is playing exceptionally well. The Raiders face the second-toughest schedule of any team over the rest of the season.
13Daniel Jones11.02Run Daniel Run. The model is still not a believer. However, the clapper called a better game. He had a touchdown taken away on a bogus holding call.
14Dak Prescott10.67It looked bleak last season. This guy seems to be mentally tough, and he has the skill set. An efficient if unspectacular performance. He played well enough to win. And he did.
15Baker Mayfield10.25A solid game. He is the best quarterback in his division. He has the most talented team in his division. His team faces the second easiest schedule the rest of the season, including 9 of 15 remaining games at home. The Browns are legitimate. Baker is a big reason.
16Jameis Winston10.17In week one, the Saints got good Jameis. This is bad Jameis. Inconsistent quarterback play must confuse all Saints fans in their 20s. They have never seen it before.
17Mac Jones9.96Your OROY front-runner has looked solid through two starts. The game does not seem too fast for him, and he makes excellent decisions with the ball. Still a rookie, but his floor is higher than I thought two weeks ago.
18Lamar Jackson9.95He now has a jump-pass in his arsenal. If he can become more effective from the pocket, he will skyrocket up this chart.
19Taylor Heinicke9.02Meet the new fan favorite. He has that same Minshew appeal. Fun to root for this kid.
20Andy Dalton8.77It is hard not to feel for the guy, but he is not a good NFL quarterback. Now he leaves a game due to injury, and it seems unlikely he starts another game in the NFL unless he is filling in for an injured player.
21Aaron Rodgers8.73I will take 70’s Sitcom Theme Songs for a 1000, Aaron … “What is Moving on Up.” (RIP Turd Ferguson). I heard some speculate that Rodgers might be suddenly over-the-hill. I heard others suppose that he threw the game last week because he is still pissed at the Packers. It is all nonsense. He remains the most skilled quarterback I have ever seen.
22Ryan Tannehill8.62His numbers were okay against Seattle, and they got the win. Still, it seems like this team is lost without Arthur Smith. Everything Tannehill does exceptionally well, they no longer do.
23Carson Wentz8.55He threw an interception on a shovel pass. Then he got hurt, again. He is ranked perfectly. In the 20s.
24Justin Herbert8.42Ok, so he is human. Herbert will be fine. He has the genes, skillset, arm, and approach of a superstar.
25Josh Allen8.35A convincing win, but still some concern about his accuracy. That has been his biggest concern and the area most susceptible to regression this year. He had always been a mid 50% thrower. Last year he spiked to almost 70%. The model expected some regression, but he is back down to the mid-50s. If that continues, there is a far lower ceiling for this team despite the rout of Miami. You can rationalize it away, but this has been with him since high school. The concern meter is moving in the wrong direction.
26Joe Burrow7.40At one point, he threw three consecutive interceptions. One returned for a touchdown. Still, it was a three-point game with three minutes to go, and the Bears hard to convert a 3rd and nine to run out the clock. It was a bad game. Nothing more. Nothing less.
27Ben Roethlisberger7.40It wasn’t good. Again. If the Steelers lose to Cincinnati this week, their backers are going to have an existential crisis. If Skinny Ben does not play better, they will. Oh, and they have the 5th most difficult schedule remaining. After this game, it jumps to the 3rd most difficult schedule remaining. The outlook is mediocrity.
28Jared Goff7.39This season has unfolded most likely for Goff. This is who he is as a quarterback. He is a serviceable lower-tier starter.
29Matt Ryan6.54He played better, but that does not say much. But for three picks, it would have been sensational. He found Pitts, six targets, five receptions, and a 14+ yard average. They were never going to win this game. Their season starts this week.
30Jacoby Brissett5.98It was as expected, Not good in a tough spot.
31Tua Tagovailoa5.35Is Miami on the phone with Houston again? If he and Will Fuller play this week and the results do not improve, look for Watson to head to Miami.
32Trevor Lawrence5.35<—Misses Clemson
33Zach Wilson5.35<—Misses the Tabernacle Choir
34Davis Mills3.60<—Sounds like a company that does a lot of things with oats

Offensive & Defensive Rankings:

To read these graphs correctly, you need to know that a team that ranks precisely at 1.00 is considered league average. Technically it is the 16½ best team on offense or defense. Knowing the exact median provides a standard candle for the model to compare units. This data includes only the first two weeks of the season and is still subject to extreme outlier performances. 

In short, good units are on the right and valued over one, bad teams are on the left and valued under one. 

One look at the chart below, and you can see that New Orleans is still reaping disproportionate value for their week one performance. NEw England has joined them. By the end of week four, all teams should be within plus or minus 25% of the median. At that point, this data will become crucial to the model. 

About the author:

+ posts

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

Leave a Reply