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Stat-Based NFL Power Rankings: Week 8, 2016

The Patriots are climbing up this week. Stats were pulled from Football Outsiders, Team Rankings, Pro Football Reference, and NFL websites.

The Patriots rank 2nd in the NFL behind the Minnesota Vikings, although at their current trajectories and the talent on the field, it’s only a matter of time before the Patriots assume the #1 spot. It could even be as early as next week. Here is a link to the spreadsheet, the Patriots are Row 21 in the first four sheets. The Patriots next opponent, the Buffalo Bills, are Row 5. If you don’t care about the numbers, just skip ahead to the last paragraph of the article.

The Top 5 teams in the NFL are the Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, and Denver Broncos. The members of the All-50 club (Schedule, Offense, Defense, Special Teams, Overall ≥ 50) are the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Oakland Raiders, and Kansas City Chiefs. The All-50 Club is a measure of teams that should be able to win in the playoffs, as a component below 50 suggests a potential weakness. No teams were able to pass the criteria for the 70/70/60/60/50 criteria, where the Schedule must be better than 60 and the team better than 70.

Patriots Grade:

Offense (63/5th)
Defense (54/9th)
Special Teams (59/10th)
Schedule (86/2nd)
Team (65/2nd)

On offense the Patriots rank 5th in the league with a score of 63. The Patriots score 50 or better in every category on offense (Drives, Gain, Downs, Red Zone). The lowest score is Gain at 56, everything else is better than 60. The offense should be reaching great levels (75-85) by the end of the season at Brady’s current pace. Brady’s impact on the offense in 3 games has raised the unit’s performance from a mid-50’s offense to a mid-60’s, although by the end of the year I expect Brady to push it into the 70s.

The Patriots defense got a huge boost with terrific Red Zone play against the Steelers (4 possessions: TD, FG, INT, missed FG) and held the Steelers offense to 1.25 Points/Drive. The defense scored 54, although there is still room for improvement in the Red Zone with a team score of 45. Everything else was above 50. The Patriots are 5th in Points Allowed/Drive (1.44). The Patriots were content to let Landry sit there, scan the field for no open receivers, then sometimes let him pressure himself (make bad decision, hold the ball, scramble right into a Patriots rusher). It’s not a sexy strategy, but got the job done.

Special Teams suffered from poor kickoff and punt coverage lowering the grade down to 59. The Patriots are 50 or better in every unit except kick return, although the Patriots don’t field a lot of kickoffs anyway. The Patriots got a good game from Julian Edelman returning punts until he fumbled one away, then Danny Amendola did a half-baked return attempt with the team up 11. The kickoff and punt coverage needs to improve next week as the Bills nearly cleaned the Dolphins clock on Special Teams in the first half.

The Patriots high schedule grade is due to an NFL-best 6-1 record. The Patriots strength of schedule is 20-21-1 (.488), which is a tick below average, but their strength of victory is 17-18-1 (.486) is above average. The schedule grade is weighted to reward teams more for winning instead of penalizing them for beating up on bad teams. The Patriots will face another above-.500 team in the Bills. The Patriots are projected to go 13-3 with their current level of play.

Next Opponent? Buffalo Bills:

Offense: 54 (11th)
Defense: 61 (5th)
Special Teams: 59 (9th)
Schedule: 59 (15th)
Overall: 58 (8th)

The Bills will be hosting the Patriots at New Era Field on Sunday for what should be the Bills’ last stand. The Patriots can wrap up the division with a win that puts them up 3 games with 8 to go. The Bills offense is below average in sustaining drives and converting key downs, although not by much. The Patriots proclivity to allow teams to pick up a couple first downs before forcing a punt, could mitigate that weakness a bit, although they’ve been getting better at forcing 3 and outs (15th). I expect to see the Patriots try to keep QB Tyrod Taylor inside the pocket and make the Bills offense move the ball in the air. Lesean McCoy’s health could be a factor as he sliced apart the Patriots defense in Week 4.

On the other side of the field, the Bills offense is about average at allowing opponents to move the ball, although I don’t think they’ve faced an offense as good as they’ll face on Sunday. The Patriots when healthy have a lot of favorable match-ups across the ball, so we’ll see if the Bills try to throw some unique wrinkles on the defense post-snap to try to confuse Brady because blitzing him is an exercise in futility and Brady has been able to deliver the ball while under pressure this year.

The Special Teams matchup should favor the Patriots if they execute unlike last week. Both teams are percentage points apart, but the Patriots special teams is a 65+ grade unit when it’s doing it’s job. The key will be Ryan Allen to continue to pin back the Bills offense and Stephen Gostkowski to force long fields after the Patriots put up points.

Big takeaway for those who want to skip ahead and comment: The Patriots are one of four teams in the NFL with all four main grades above 50, having the highest team score of the group thanks to an NFL-best 6-1 record. They face another team in that same group in the Buffalo Bills in Week 8 with a chance to wrap up the division on the line. With an offensive and defensive unit that’s improving each week, the #1 spot in this spreadsheet isn’t too far away if the Vikings slip up again.