Gambler’s NFL Power Rankings – Preseason 2017

If a team is ranked 12th in the latest NFL power rankings, and another team ranked 19th, what’s really the difference? If the Browns are ranked 30th, and the Patriots 1st, are you surprised? My mother can identify which teams are good, and which aren’t, fairly easily and within about 5 minutes… She only watches sports when I’m around, and I use “watch” loosely.

So, what’s the point of power rankings?

They’re like celery. We think because it’s green it’s healthy. But in reality, it’s just low in calories and has little nutritional value. So yeah, if someone took the time to rank the teams, it should have meaning. But in reality, very little significance.

Now, I don’t enjoy wasting my time (or other’s time for that matter), so I took this useless exercise, and made it into something we can actually utilize.

If you’ve never read my Gambler’s Power Rankings, I’ll be looking at all of the usual suspects (schedule strength, point differential, record…) but the first added data points are against the spread (ATS) records.

Any experience with NFL betting will tell you that a team’s actual ability doesn’t necessarily translate to more money in your pocket… Bad teams cover spreads. And, while losing close is still losing, there’s something to be said about remaining competitive. Evaluating how a team performs with regard to the spread can help identify which teams might actually be better (or worse) than their record suggests.

It’s also the only thing that matters at the sports book; unless you’re laying the money line odds on a 14 point dog.

Secondly, since the 2017 season has yet to kick off, we only have past data to forecast off. Thankfully, an incredibly intelligent man named Bill James came up with the Pythagorean expectation formula which calculates how many games a baseball team should have won based on the number of runs scored and allowed in a particular season.

This concept was applied to the NFL by Daryl Morey, then the good folks at Football Outsiders took it a step further and created an adjusted Pythagorean equation which eliminates garbage time numbers to increase the accuracy of the results (Adj. PE).

In simple terms, winning more games than the Pythagorean expectation spits out indicates a team is likely to regress the following season. Likewise, winning less than the Pythagorean expectation suggests a team should show improvement the following season.

The Pythagorean expectation provides more data to help determine which teams over (under) performed, and truly measure in game performance without the luck factor.

Here are the results from 2016

Team ’16 Win Total Adj. PE Difference
Arizona 7 10 -3
Jacksonville 3 6 -3
LA Chargers 5 8 -3
Cleveland 1 4 -3
Cincinnati 6 8 -2
Philadelphia 7 9 -2
Buffalo 7 9 -2
Chicago 3 5 -2
San Francisco 2 4 -2
Minnesota 8 9 -1
Baltimore 8 9 -1
Indianapolis 8 9 -1
Carolina 6 7 -1
New Orleans 7 8 -1
Seattle 10 10 0
Denver 9 9 0
Washington 8 8 0
LA Rams 4 4 0
Atlanta 11 11 0
NY Jets 5 5 0
New England 14 13 1
Detroit 9 8 1
Tampa Bay 9 8 1
Tennessee 9 8 1
Green Bay 10 9 1
NY Giants 11 9 2
Dallas 13 11 2
Kansas City 12 10 2
Pittsburgh 11 9 2
Houston 9 7 2
Miami 10 8 2
Oakland 12 9 3

Power rankings are now useful…

1. New England Patriots

2016 Record: 14-2

2016 Adj. PE: 13-3

2016 Record ATS: 13-3

2017 o/u Win Total: 12 ½

There are millions of people who’ve never experienced the Patriots finish a season with a losing record, and that won’t change this season. The Brady/Belichick era has spanned 16 seasons; the Pats have 5 Super Bowl banners, 14 AFC East crowns, and their worst record? 9-7

Offensively, they added Brandin Cooks, Mike Gillislee, and Dwayne Allen. Rob Gronkowski is healthy, and the deflategate fiasco is behind us. Defensively, they’ll return most of the starters from last year’s #1 ranked scoring defense, and added Pro Bowler Stephon Gilmore for good measure.

Projected Win Total: OVER 12 ½

2. Seattle Seahawks

2016 Record: 10-5-1

2016 Adj. PE: 10-6

2016 Record ATS: 8-8

2017 o/u Win Total: 10 ½

Like the Patriots, there’s a good chance you might not remember the Seahawks being a bad team (Ricky Watters was my guy, though). Going back to ’03, they have a total of three losing seasons – and since Russell Wilson arrived in 2012, the ‘Hawks have won three NFC West crowns, haven’t finished worse than 10-6, and have represented the NFC in two Super Bowls.

While last season was possibly the worst in the Wilson/Carroll era, Wilson played noticeably injured for most of the season, and Earl Thomas missed significant time; they were still the 3rd stingiest defense.

Projected Win Total: OVER 10 ½

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

2016 Record: 11-5

2016 Adj. PE: 9-7

2016 Record ATS: 9-7

2017 o/u Win Total: 10 ½

Le’Veon Bell missed four games in 2016; he still amassed 1,268 rushing yards and nine offensive touchdowns. Ryan Shazier missed three games, Bud Dupree missed the 1st half of the year; the Steelers still allowed the 10th fewest points. Martavis Bryant missed all 16 games, Ben Roethlisberger missed two; Big Ben still put up 3,819 passing yards.  Damn near everything which could’ve gone wrong in the Steel City in 2016 went wrong; they still won 11 games.

They’re healthy (and not suspended) heading into the 2017 season, and if it stays that way, they’re one of the measly few who actually have a chance to knock off the Pats.

Projected Win Total: OVER 10 ½

4. Atlanta Falcons

2016 Record: 11-5

2016 Adj. PE: 11-5

2016 Record ATS: 10-6

2017 o/u Win Total: 9 ½

The Falcons offense might look a bit different this season, but Matt Ryan was pretty damn good before Shanahan arrived, Julio Jones isn’t human, Devonta Freeman has back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons, and their offensive line is still one of the best.

The addition of Dontari Poe will help shore up the middle of their d-line, and their young linebacking corps/secondary should show some improvement as well.

If there was a prototypical candidate for a “Super Bowl hangover”, it’d be the 2017 Falcons. But, on talent alone, we shouldn’t see much of a fall off… If any.

Projected Win Total: OVER 9 ½

5. Green Bay Packers

2016 Record: 10-6

2016 Adj. PE: 9-7

2016 Record ATS: 9-6-1

2017 o/u Win Total: 10 ½

While the Packers defense may still be a question mark in 2017, their offense has finished top-10 in points per game in eight of the nine seasons since Aaron Rodgers took over.

True, covering up bad defense with a great offense feels a bit like spraying Febreze on dog shit and expecting the smell to last – lest we forget, their 2010 Super Bowl team allowed the fewest points per game – thing is, they’ve failed to reach double digit wins just twice in the Rodgers era.

Projected Win Total: OVER 10 ½

6. Oakland Raiders

2016 Record: 12-4

2016 Adj. PE: 9-7

2016 Record ATS: 10-6

2017 o/u Win Total: 9 ½

On the heels of their best season in 15 years, the Raiders didn’t change much during the off-season. Well, they won 12 games last season. So, that’s good… Right?

Not really.

Their +3 surplus (actual wins vs. adjusted Pythagorean expectation) was the largest of any team in 2016, and six of the eight teams with a point differential within 10 points of Oakland’s +31 had records at/below .500. Then, you factor in that they went 9-1 in games decided by 7 points or less, and you have either a ridiculously clutch team, or a blessing from the football gods.

All of which suggests that the Black Hole could see some regression in 2017.

On the bright side, Oakland gets the AFC East this season – Jets, Bills, and Dolphins should be penciled in as wins – so assuming they win about half of their remaining contests, they’re virtually a lock to be a 10 win team in 2017.

Projected Win Total: OVER 9 ½

7. Kansas City Chiefs

2016 Record: 12-4

2016 Adj. PE: 10-6

2016 Record ATS: 9-6-1

2017 o/u Win Total: 9 ½

If you were asked to name the top offenses in the NFL, you’re probably not going to mention the Chiefs… Ever. But, they finished 2016 13th in points per game (24.3), 9th in 2015 (25.3), and 3rd in 2013 (27.9).

Andy Reid has quietly made a huge impression.

Alex Smith set a career high in passing yards in 2016 (and is one of the most efficient signal callers the league has to offer), and with weapons like Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and a healthy Spencer Ware, this offense has the potential to be pretty damn scary.

Then, there’s Justin Houston – one of the league’s top defenders who missed 11 games last season. His presence alone will elevate this Chiefs D which managed to allow the 7th fewest points in 2016.

Projected Win Total: OVER 9 ½

8. Carolina Panthers

2016 Record: 6-10

2016 Adj. PE: 7-9

2016 Record ATS: 6-9-1

2017 o/u Win Total: 9

Speaking of Super Bowl hangovers, last season was brutal for the Panthers. Only four teams allowed more passing yards per game, just six allowed more points per game, their 23.1 points per game (15th) was a TD and two point conversion lower than the 31.1 they averaged just a season before, Cam Newton experienced what could easily be considered the worst season of his career…

It was bad.

However, Ryan Kalil’s return, and the addition of Matt Kalil should shore up the offensive line. And on the defensive side of the ball, they still boast what’s arguably the best front-7 in the league, rookie corners James Bradberry and Daryl Worley are no longer rookies, and they added Mike Adams over the top.

Don’t sleep on the Panthers in 2017.

Projected Win Total: OVER 9

9. Arizona Cardinals

2016 Record: 7-8-1

2016 Adj. PE: 10-6

2016 Record ATS: 6-10

2017 o/u Win Total: 8 ½

While the Cards won just seven games last season, their Pythagorean expectation suggests that they should’ve been a 10 win team. Given their roster, 10 might even be low. But, the 2016 season can be summed up in one word: injuries.

Carson Palmer has more weapons at his disposal than ISIS, but their offensive line is average at best. They’ll need Palmer upright if he’s going to make it three straight 4,000 yard seasons.

Projected Win Total: OVER 8 ½

10. New York Giants

2016 Record: 11-5

2016 Adj. PE: 9-7

2016 Record ATS: 9-6-1

2017 o/u Win Total: 8 ½

Only six teams finished 2016 with a winning record, and a lower point differential than the +26 put up by the Giants. The fact that they were in the green is a plus, but five of their eleven wins came by four points or less, and their offense put up just 19 points per game – 6th fewest in the league.

Like the Cards, their o-line is an issue, but they should be strong enough defensively to claim their 1st NFC East crown since 2011.

Projected Win Total: OVER 8 ½

11. Minnesota Vikings

2016 Record: 8-8

2016 Adj. PE: 9-7

2016 Record ATS: 9-7

2017 o/u Win Total: 8 ½

Like most teams who under perform, the Vikings fell victim to the injury bug in 2016. While I don’t think they’re as good as the team that we saw start the season 5-0, I don’t think they’re as bad as the team we saw finish the season 3-8 either.

Projected Win Total: OVER 8 ½

12. Denver Broncos

2016 Record: 9-7

2016 Adj. PE: 9-7

2016 Record ATS: 9-7

2017 o/u Win Total: 8 ½

Denver’s defense allowed the second fewest points per game (18.6), Denver’s offense put up the 12th fewest points per game (20.8) – that’s the Broncos in a nutshell.

The offensive line is the most obvious issue, and while they should be better, they’re still one of the worse units in the league. Denver allowed the 9th most sacks (40), and rushed for the 6th fewest yards per game (92.8). Both may show slight improvement, but not enough to expect much more than the nine wins we saw last season.

Projected Win Total: OVER 8 ½

13. Philadelphia Eagles

2016 Record: 7-9

2016 Adj. PE: 9-7

2016 Record ATS: 8-8

2017 o/u Win Total: 8

The Eagles under performed based on their Pythagorean expectation in 2016, and we saw flashes of what this team could be. They also got better during the off-season.

They would be considered as a contender to rep the NFC in Super Bowl LII… If they only had a secondary. Their front 7 is good enough to possibly disguise it, but it’ll be like those little costume glasses with the nose and mustache. While the trade for Ronald Darby helps, outside of that, there’s little that says they’ll be able to stop the pass.

Offensively, though? Different story. They’ve surrounded Carson Wentz with everything he needs to take a step forward in year 2. Feels a bit like Green Bay 2.0.

Projected Win Total: OVER 8

14. Washington Redskins

2016 Record: 8-7-1

2016 Adj. PE: 8-8

2016 Record ATS: 10-6

2017 o/u Win Total: 7 ½

The Redskins surprised a lot of people last season; one of those sip your drink expecting Coke and it’s really water kind of surprises.

Our expectations were just misaligned with reality.

While we might not have expected an eight win team, that’s pretty much what they are (although I have them finishing 2017 at 9-7), and now that our expectations have shifted

Projected Win Total: OVER 7 ½

15. Baltimore Ravens

2016 Record: 8-8

2016 Adj. PE: 9-7

2016 Record ATS: 7-9

2017 o/u Win Total: 9

Joe Flacco has a back issue which led to his absence in training camp, and has kept him out of preseason action thus far. He’s also 32. While that’s a scary thought for Ravens fans, Ryan Mallett actually reminds me a bit of Flacco… A Chinese (Arkansasan) knockoff version.

Regardless of QB, they have a plethora of weapons on the offensive side of the ball, and their defense should be good enough to keep them in the mix for a Wild Card berth.

Projected Win Total: PUSH (9)

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2016 Record: 9-7

2016 Adj. PE: 8-8

2016 Record ATS: 9-7

2017 o/u Win Total: 8

Doug Martin will miss the 1st three games, their offensive line and secondary are average at best, and only Philip Rivers threw more interceptions than Jameis Winston in 2016…. I like the Bucs more than I probably should.

I’m blaming Hard Knocks.

There is a reason for my optimism, however. Winston and Evans are one of the best QB/WR duos in the game, and with the additions of J.R. Sweezy, DeSean Jackson, and O.J. Howard it’s hard not to be excited about this offense (which has looked unstoppable this preseason).

Projected Win Total: OVER 8

17. Los Angeles Chargers

2016 Record: 5-11

2016 Adj. PE: 8-8

2016 Record ATS: 7-9

2017 o/u Win Total: 7 ½

The Chargers -3 deficit between actual wins and their Pythagorean expectation was tied for the largest of 2016, and if you saw any of their games last season, chances are you saw their heart’s broken.

They were responsible for the Browns lone win, lost five games by four points or less, and blew six 4th quarter leads. They were the 2nd best worst team.

However, with what should be an improved o-line, one of the better secondaries in the league, a lift of the injury curse, and a little less misfortune, the Chargers have the makings of the bounce back team of the year.

Projected Win Total: OVER 7 ½

18. New Orleans Saints

2016 Record: 7-9

2016 Adj. PE: 8-8

2016 Record ATS: 10-5-1

2017 o/u Win Total: 8

The Saints finished 2016 with the 2nd best record against the spread. They were the best worst team. Seven of their nine losses came by six points or less, and they just couldn’t get enough stops to win close games. We can expect the same in 2017.

Projected Win Total: UNDER 8

19. Tennessee Titans

2016 Record: 9-7

2016 Adj. PE: 8-8

2016 Record ATS: 7-9

2017 o/u Win Total: 8 ½

The Titans schedule looks a lot tougher this season than last, but they shouldn’t have much trouble in the division. Lucky for them because they’ll see Oakland, Seattle, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Arizona outside of the division.

I think they’re an improved team, and have a bright future, but this feels like an 8-8 season to me.

Projected Win Total: UNDER 8 ½

20. Cincinnati Bengals

2016 Record: 6-9-1

2016 Adj. PE: 8-8

2016 Record ATS: 7-9

2017 o/u Win Total: 8 ½

I might be sleeping on the Bengals here, but they’ve been meddling in mediocrity for so long that it’s hard to have any sort of confidence in them.

They lost Andrew Whitworth, and Kevin Zeitler so who knows what their offensive line will look like, and while they have some talented players on both sides of the ball, I think the most optimistic of outcomes is what we’ve seen in recent years – 10 win team, who loses in the Wild Card round.

Projected Win Total: UNDER 8 ½

21. Dallas Cowboys

2016 Record: 13-3

2016 Adj. PE: 11-5

2016 Record ATS: 10-6

2017 o/u Win Total: 9 ½

The Cowboys were able to survive despite their defense in 2016 due to a dominant run game. With an inferior offensive line (still pretty damn good), and a Zeke Elliott suspension, I struggle to see how they pull it off again.

The loss of Barry Church will hurt, and Sean Lee is already… hurt. They have trips to Denver, Arizona, Atlanta, and Oakland this season. Suffice it to say, that there a countless factors which suggest they’ll take a step back, and few (if any) which suggest last season’s success is replicable.

Projected Win Total: UNDER 9 ½

22. Miami Dolphins

2016 Record: 10-6

2016 Adj. PE: 8-8

2016 Record ATS: 9-6-1

2017 o/u Win Total: 7

Jay Cutler knows what it’s like to play behind a weak offensive line. If he forgot, he’ll be reminded this season… At least the weather is nicer in Miami.

On paper, the Dolphins look legit. But, with a quality printer, anything can look good on paper.

Projected Win Total: PUSH (7)

23. Houston Texans

2016 Record: 9-7

2016 Adj. PE: 7-9

2016 Record ATS: 6-9-1

2017 o/u Win Total: 8 ½

Three of the Texans nine wins came against teams with a record above .500. Sure, they just played the schedule they were dealt, but a 3-6 record vs. winning teams isn’t ideal.

The defense – which has been their calling card – will be without A.J. Bouye and Quintin Demps; two of their top defensive backs a season ago. But, that front 7 is HIV scary, and one way to coverup a weak secondary is a strong front 7.

Regardless, until they find their guy at QB, I’m not buying in.

Projected Win Total: UNDER 8 ½

24. Indianapolis Colts

2016 Record: 8-8

2016 Adj. PE: 9-7

2016 Record ATS: 7-8-1

2017 o/u Win Total: 8 ½

Andrew Luck’s shoulder is beginning to get a bit worrisome. Especially when you consider their Swiss cheese offensive line. When healthy, the Cots can score with anyone in the league. They also allow anyone in the league to score.

Projected Win Total: UNDER 8 ½

25. Jacksonville Jaguars

2016 Record: 3-13

2016 Adj. PE: 6-10

2016 Record ATS: 8-8

2017 o/u Win Total: 6 ½

The Jags defense should be one of the better units in 2017, and their run game should be much improved. We’ll just have to see who’s lined up under center before projecting them to take a huge step forward because right now, it’s sounding like that might just be Chad Henne.

Projected Win Total: OVER 6 ½

26. Detroit Lions

2016 Record: 9-7

2016 Adj. PE: 8-8

2016 Record ATS: 8-8

2017 o/u Win Total: 7 ½

Cardinals, at Giants, Falcons, at Vikings, Panthers, at New Orleans, Pittsburgh, at Green Bay… The Lions 1st eight games of the 2017 season. It’s hard to imagine them winning more than one of those games, and that’s a pretty good indication of how this season is going to go.

Projected Win Total: UNDER 7 ½

27. Buffalo Bills

2016 Record: 7-9

2016 Adj. PE: 9-7

2016 Record ATS: 6-10

2017 o/u Win Total: 6 ½

New Bills HC Sean McDermott is a defensive guy, but it’s not looking like a top-15 defense is in the cards for year 1. The Bills top defensive back – Ronald Darby – is now in Philly and while there’s some recognizable names on their d, they just haven’t played very well.

The Bills did boast the league’s best rushing offense in 2016, though. So, maybe they can be a bizarro Dallas in 2017… Nah.

Projected Win Total: UNDER 6 ½

28. Los Angeles Rams

2016 Record: 4-12

2016 Adj. PE: 4-12

2016 Record ATS: 4-11-1

2017 o/u Win Total: 5 ½

I have a feeling the Rams will find themselves a bit higher in my rankings by season’s end. We all know they have a talented defense, and have added some pieces offensively to make them a threat, what we don’t know is what we’ll see from Jared Goff.

Projected Win Total: UNDER 5 ½

29. San Francisco 49ers

2016 Record: 2-14

2016 Adj. PE: 4-8

2016 Record ATS: 4-11-1

2017 o/u Win Total: 4 ½

Like the Rams, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the 49ers moving up a bit this season. Brian Hoyer is a proven vet, they added Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin and Elvis Dumervil, and NaVorro Bowman is healthy.

The ‘9ers are headed in the right direction, but it might take a while before we see it all come to fruition.

Projected Win Total: UNDER 4 ½

30. Cleveland Browns

2016 Record: 1-15

2016 Adj. PE: 4-12

2016 Record ATS: 4-12

2017 o/u Win Total: 4 ½

Their offensive line might just be the best in the league, and with Jamie Collins, Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers, and Jason McCourty the defense could soon be joining them among the league’s best.

Problem is, we’ve all seen the jersey

Projected Win Total: UNDER 4 ½

31. Chicago Bears

2016 Record: 3-13

2016 Adj. PE: 5-11

2016 Record ATS: 7-9

2017 o/u Win Total: 4 ½

It’s rebuild mode for the da Bears, and they’re not wasting time. Seven of their projected defensive starters called a city not named Chicago home last season, and their receiving corps: Meredith, White, Cruz, Wheaton, Wright will take some getting used to.

They hit the reset button, so they’re still a few years from relevance, and this season’s schedule looks like murderer’s row.

Projected Win Total: UNDER 4 ½

32. New York Jets

2016 Record: 5-11

2016 Adj. PE: 5-11

2016 Record ATS: 6-10

2017 o/u Win Total: 4

I’ve ran through their schedule over and over, and I can’t find a win. There’s a few maybes (at Buffalo, Jacksonville, at Cleveland), but….

Yeah.

I have a special place in my heart for the Jets, so I hope I’m wrong. But, even if I am, it’s still going to be a looooooong season.

Projected Win Total: UNDER 4

As always, thanks for reading! Be sure to subscribe, and check me out on Twitter: @maxingyourodds to stay up to date with the latest fantasy advice.

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