Team Efficiency Rankings: Week 5

Take a look at this week's rankings and you might notice happening: as we move away from the small sample size caveat, teams are beginning to stratify themselves by tiers.  Not only does this allow ESPN talking heads to scream about whether or not teams are "elite," but it also begins to validate some early-season surprises.

Most tellingly, we can see the separation in the top 10 teams, and not simply because 10 is a nice round number highlight shows like to use.  Removing the ridiculous outlier that is the Denver Broncos, and all the teams from second-ranked Seattle to 10th-ranked Cincinnati have a GWP somewhere in between 0.67-0.59.  The 11th-ranked Jets immediately drop off to 0.55, providing a convenient mark-off point.

Examining the top 10, there's one team in particular that few believed in before the season, but now looks like a viable contender.

#Chuckstrong 2.0

Coming off an 11-5 record buoyed by tremendous fortune in lots of high-variance statistics, plenty of respected writers pegged the Indianapolis Colts as the most logical regression candidate of the season.  But at 4-1 with two impressive wins over NFC West behemoths Seattle and San Francisco, one can no longer attribute the Colts' success to luck or preternatural Pagano-fueled inspiration.

Indy has been ranked quite favorably the whole season, and much of that stems from the development of the offense under new coordinator Pep Hamilton.  Last year, Bruce Arians' "Air Coryell" concepts showcased the Colts' speed at the skill positions, but led to lots of mistakes from Andrew Luck.  Indy's 2.9 percent interception rate led to a pass success rate of 45.9 percent, 17th in the league.  This year, Luck has sliced his interception rate to 1.7 percent, and Indy's 49.7 pass SR is ranked eighth.

Apart from that flashy uptick, the Colts have also shown marked improvement in both the run game and pass defense.  Indy and Philadelphia are miles ahead of every other team in run EPA, though the Eagles are technically in a league of their own and thus breaking the rankings system.  And with a gaudy 4.6 interception percentage, the Colts pass D has improved to eighth in EPA after checking in at 24th in 2012.

Most tellingly, the Colts are no longer defying the laws of regression.  Indy is 2-1 in one-score games, and their plus-60 point differential is better than all but the undefeated Broncos and Chiefs in the AFC.  Indeed, Football Outsiders places the Colts' estimated wins at a tidy 3.0, their exact current mark.  Pundits will claim that Indy's Sunday night showdown with the Broncos in two weeks is a litmus test of their legitimacy, but don't be fooled: the Colts are here to stay.

Sneaky Yet Familiar

When thinking of the top NFC contenders this year, most people will immediately mention Seattle and New Orleans.  That sentiment is probably true, as the Seahawks are ranked second this week, while the Saints have the second-best GWP difference.

However, the Packers and 49ers are two familiar NFC powerhouses who certainly possess the pedigree and talent to emerge from the conference.  Green Bay and San Francisco were the two biggest movers of the week after each beat a top-10 squad, rising 14 and 16 spots respectively.

At least so far, the main reason why neither of those two deserve first-class status is a glaring deficiency in one aspect of the passing game.  Only five teams are worse than the Packers in both pass defense EPA and efficiency, a problem that has existed to various degrees since their Super Bowl win in 2010.   Meanwhile, Matt Schaub's mind-boggling pick-six streak and a lopsided win clouded what was another mediocre performance for Colin Kaepernick.  Kaepernick has not progressed as a passer, as his 17th-ranked 5.1 adjusted yards per attempt (AYAR) is a huge decrease from his league-leading 6.7 mark last season.

Between the two, the 49ers might foster a bit more optimism, as some improvement from Kaepernick coupled with better health on defense might anoint San Francisco with the annual "Wild Card Team Nobody Wants to Play" belt.  Unfortunately for Cheeseheads, however, 2009 Charles Woodson is not walking through the door.

Quick Hits 

- The Giants, Steelers and Vikings have one win among them, but all are ranked ahead of the 4-1 Patriots.  Unlike past years, New England does not have a single elite facet (i.e, the passing game) that can neutralize average or worse units.  It's folly to write off Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in October, but the Pats are probably not significant threats to the Broncos at the moment.
- Despite an eight-point home loss to the Saints, the Bears actually moved up eight spots in the rankings.  Chicago racked up 434 yards of offense, but a series of turnovers, sacks and mental mistakes led to all but two offensive players earning a negative WPA, as the Saints' early 13-0 lead made them favorites for nearly the entire game.
- The old adage is that you must run the ball and stop the run to win games.  The first part of that remains somewhat relevant, but the second half appears to have reached its expiration date.  Four of the seven worst run defenses by EPA (Saints, Colts, Lions and Chiefs) are ranked in the top 10, while four of the five best EPA run defenses are outside the top 10 (Philly is the exception).

Per usual, the rankings after Week 5 are below:

1 DEN10.710.48129
2 SEA30.670.50510
3 IND60.650.47715
4 PHI50.640.55420
5 GB190.640.56227
6 NO20.630.44624
7 SF230.620.54133
8 DET40.600.49129
9 KC80.600.48271
10 CIN180.590.51156
11 NYJ130.550.431111
12 DAL210.540.511021
13 HOU70.520.53262
14 SD100.510.52332
15 CHI280.510.55928
16 TEN90.500.53168
17 CAR120.500.501812
18 NYG170.490.60247
19 CLE160.480.45295
20 PIT250.470.512016
21 MIN240.460.521426
22 NE150.450.472114
23 MIA140.440.512222
24 ARI220.440.472313
25 ATL110.430.46831
26 WAS270.420.561919
27 BUF200.400.471718
28 OAK300.380.502817
29 TB260.370.52314
30 BAL290.350.512523
31 STL320.230.453030
32 JAC310.230.503225


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13 Responses to “Team Efficiency Rankings: Week 5”

  1. Unknown says:

    Are these rankings cumulative, or are they just for Week 5? I'm noticing that the fumble rates for Arizona and Philadelphia are zero, but I'm fairly certain both teams have fumbled the ball at least once...

  2. Anonymous says:

    Agree with Thomas last week Arizona had a fumble rate of 3.4 this week can't be 0. The data is off...

  3. Anonymous says:

    Any ideas on how the Ravens defensive rank got worse? I'm sure there is some reason but I can't think of it.

  4. Unknown says:

    Anonymous@: They had a pretty good defensive game against Miami this past week, so it is somewhat puzzling...the only thing I can think of is that Miami's offense is mediocre, so perhaps the Ravens performance against them isn't given much weight. Just my guess.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Also what is the O and D ranks based on

  6. Brian Burke says:

    Fumble rate fixed...

  7. Anonymous says:

    You are too high ton Indy - They are like Atl last ye VERY lucky with penalty rates. (~60%) below the mean. How long will INDY be the chosen one?
    ALso the sample size is still too small. There is a stronger correlation using part of last years rates at least until wek 12 & even farther.
    I found the correlation from year to year at .3 (significant enough that it should be included in these 'early' rankings' . My system has INDY 11th.Def. in the 'second' tier

  8. Unknown says:

    @Anonymous: I agree that Indy is ranked a little too high, but not that much. Their offense is well-balanced and efficient: I've got their running game averaging about +4.0 EPA/game (2nd in the league behind PHI) and they're passing game about +5.4 EPA/game (8th in the league). Their defense as a whole is average, but they're strong where it counts - passing defense, which is adding about 2.0 EPA/game. That being said, you're right when it comes to penalties, they are definitely on the "good" side: they're gaining about +2.5 EPA/game, 4th in the league. I don't have a system worked out, but I'd put Indy not much further down the list...maybe 4 or 5.

  9. mitch says:

    Using the model this week, the big game we find Denver -19 over Jax.

    The model is strongly suggesting Jax would be the right play with the spread.

    I would have Seattle no.1 with a better chance to win the SB then Denver.

    KC is way to low, looks similar to SF back in 2011, when they finished the year around 10th but beat the Saints in the playoffs and were about 3rd in the model.

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