This year marks the fourth year that I have attempted to quantify how good an NFL team is, and it's the third year that I'm posting them on this website for the wonderful Bleeding Green Nation community to scrutinize. In a nutshell, these numbers are an attempt to separate the "pretenders" from the "contenders" as early in the season as possible through the use of lesser-known (but possibly more important) statistics. If you would like to know more, check out the "Crunching The Numbers" hub for an archive of past articles.
There is one thing that I should mention before we go on. The values associated with each team are, by definition, index values. This means that they are completely meaningless unless they are compared with each other. There is no "scale"; the value twenty is not necessarily "good" unless the other numbers in the set are below twenty. Conversely, if all the other numbers were above twenty, that would make twenty "bad." Got it? Now, onto the rankings.
Crunching The Numbers Rank Index, Week 4
1. Cincinnati (39.656): It's not really surprising that the Bengals are number one after owning the league's best score differential through three games. I actually have to put an asterisk with their number because they have yet to allow a sack, which would cause my formula to divide by zero, so I had to assign a "sacks per game" number to them in order to make it reasonable. They are also the only team to have a positive pass defense index in my system (beating out the "Legion of Boom"), so if they keep this up they should break that playoff wall they've hit the past few years.
2. Baltimore (24.519): It's hard to see the Ravens up this high, but they are still riding big wins over the Steelers and Panthers at this point. Their offensive backfield is a mess right now, and that could catch up with them. They are near the top of the league with rushing first downs per game - I don't see them sustaining that in the future.
3. Indianapolis (19.280): The Colts are also riding big wins after dropping forty burgers on their last two opponents. Additionally, they are holding opposing quarterbacks to a mediocre 84.5 passer rating. That's a pretty good recipe for success.
4. San Diego (18.846): Philip Rivers is setting the league on fire with his 114.6 quarterback rating. The defense is averaging 2.5 sacks per game. The Chargers could be a force to be reckoned with this year.
5. Dallas (14.890): Before you yell at me in the comments, the Cowboys (begrudgingly) deserve some credit for not being a complete train wreck right out of the gate. Their defense is playing just well enough to get by, and Tony Romo is averaging fewer than ten incompletions per game. That's enough to put Dallas up here... for now.
6. Seattle (13.837): The Seahawks are doing all the right things, like they were last year, but their pass defense seems to lack that noticeable bite it had in 2013. Russell Wilson is still playing at a high level (109.5 quarterback rating) and the run defense is still fearsome by allowing only four rushing first downs a game.
7. Houston (13.816): What to really say about the Texans? Their pass defense has looked pretty good, but they haven't exactly played stellar competition. We'll know more about them after they play some better teams.
8. Arizona (13.061): They've been able to win with Drew Stanton as quarterback, so give them credit there. Nothing really in particular sticks out about that defense, other than the fact that they've only been allowing fifteen points per game. You'll win a lot of games that way.
9. New York Giants (12.521): Another team with numbers inflated by a big win. The fact that this was only good enough to bump them up to ninth says something about who they probably really are. Of course, time will tell, and most likely sooner rather than later.
10. Denver (11.991): The defending AFC champions look a little more vulnerable this year than last year. The defense, despite putting up good statistical numbers (2.7 sacks per game, 5.3 rushing first downs allowed per game, 86.7 opposing quarterback rating) is allowing over three touchdowns per game, which could be concerning.
11. Detroit (11.476): The Lions are starting to assert themselves as the best team in the NFC North, despite a big rebound by the Packers last week. The defense is allowing under six yards per pass attempt, but that shoddy offensive line (2.8 sacks per game allowed) could come back to haunt them.
12. Atlanta (11.394): I think this is the highest the Falcons will get this season. That defense is just atrocious (0.8 sacks per game, 8.2 rushing first downs per game allowed, 8.4 yards per attempt allowed).
13. Kansas City (9.637): The Chiefs are doing some things right on defense (3 sacks per game), but their offensive line may be worse than the Eagles' (3.2 sacks per game allowed). Still, with that surprise walloping of New England, Andy Reid continues to prove his mettle as a coach.
14. Philadelphia (9.199): After that horrid game against the 49ers, the Eagles find themselves down here. All things considered, the defense could be worse statistically, but they are still giving up too many points. Nick Foles is a legitimate point of concern as his 17.5 incompletions per game is dead last in the league by a good margin.
15. Cleveland (8.632): The Browns are a pleasant surprise this year with Brian Hoyer back under center (remember their hot start last year before he tore his ACL?). They will need to improve in most areas if they want to actually make a playoff push, but for right now they are playing well enough to hang in there in most games.
16. Buffalo (7.978): With the Bills, they're not terrible, but there's nothing really special about them either. So that's why they're here. Their 18.8 points allowed per game so far is worth noting.
17. San Francisco (7.552): This could still be a letdown year for the Niners since a dominant win over the Eagles couldn't put them in the top half of the rankings. That secondary is still pretty good (77.7 opposing passer rating) but their pass rush is virtually nonexistent without Aldon Smith by averaging only 1.2 sacks per game.
18. Miami (6.331): Miami is doing a lot of good things defensively, most notably allowing only 5.7 yards per pass attempt. Their quarterback play is subpar on the other side of the ball, however, which won't fly in today's NFL.
19. Minnesota (6.112): This is a team that has shown they can find ways to win against mediocre teams, but their numbers are just "meh." They'll probably hover between 18-22 all season.
20. Green Bay (6.074): Aaron Rodgers said "relax," but Green Bay still has some work to do. The Packers need to improve their pass rush (1.5 sacks per game) and running game (3.8 rushing first downs per game), but if anyone can carry the team until them, it's Rodgers.
21. Pittsburgh (4.684): Mike Tomlin might be the second coming of Jon Gruden - a coach who did great things with a team somebody else built. With the exception of the running game (7.2 rushing first downs per game) and Roethlisberger (101.2 passer rating), nothing about this Steelers team is really any good.
22. Chicago (4.559): Their defense has improved from last year, but they're still not anything special considering how bad it was in 2013. Jay Cutler is still not fulfilling that promise of being the great quarterback we were told he would be and is still only averaging a meager 6.2 yards per attempt.
23. New England (3.598): This is where the mighty Patriots have fallen. The offensive line is close to being an unmitigated disaster (2.5 sacks per game allowed) and the bad run defense (6.8 rushing first downs per game allowed) is giving opponents a reason to avoid a secondary that is holding quarterbacks to a passer rating of 75.1.
24. New Orleans (3.333): The Saints' road struggles continue. Having a defense that can't generate any pressure (1.2 sacks per game) and is letting quarterbacks post a passer rating of 105.7 won't solve the issue either.
25. Washington (0.903): Jay Gruden is probably getting the most out of a team right now that mortgaged away its ability to acquire talent for one quarterback with bones made out of glass. That running game is good (7.2 rushing first downs per game) but the pass defense is not (7.2 yards per attempt allowed).
26. Carolina (-0.405): Cam Newton is trying his hardest (103.7 passer rating) behind an offensive line averaging 3.2 first downs per game and 2.8 sacks per game allowed. This probably won't end well for the Panthers.
27. New York Jets (-0.879): Only the Jets could average 3.5 sacks per game on opposing quarterbacks and still let them post a 104.1 passer rating.
28. St. Louis (-7.720): So much for the newest edition of the Fearsome Foursome. The Rams' defense is somehow managing to only average 0.3 sacks per game. Gross.
29. Tennessee (-9.451): All you really need to know about the Titans is that their team quarterback rating is 67.3.
30. Tampa Bay (-10.888): It was an impressive win over Pittsburgh, but the Bucs' score differential is still reeling after that embarrassing game against the Falcons. Their secondary is only forcing eight incompletions per game, which won't get them anywhere fast.
31. Oakland (-11.307): Mark Davis decided to channel is father by firing his coach three weeks into the season. That was a joke - just like the Raiders, who are averaging 5.5 yards per attempt on offense and are giving up eight rushing first downs per game on defense.
32. Jacksonville (-22.488): What a terrible team. I could talk about their stats, but the only one that matters is their league-worst 37 points per game allowed.
That rounds out Crunching the Numbers for Week 4! Some of the results were a little surprising, but in my experience it's best not to sleep on them. Some teams will certainly fall back while others climb back to the top, but don't be surprised if a team like the Texans are making a playoff push in December or if the Patriots will leave the AFC East wide open this year.
So what are your thoughts? Any issues you think need to be addressed? Start a discussion in the comments below!