Home > NFL > LiveBall Sports’ Preseason NFL Power Rankings

LiveBall Sports’ Preseason NFL Power Rankings

flickr.com/bradjward

flickr.com/bradjward

As all power rankings at LiveBall Sports will be, these are based on an objective system.  Sure, even an objective system is essentially just going to show you what I want it to.  But I like it for large rankings lists (such as power rankings) because I don’t get to pick the exact order of all the teams.  I simply create a system that values everything I believe to be an important predictive measure of success, and then I spend the rest of the time trying to defend or destroy my own rankings, rather than making them.

Trust me: way more fun than slotting all 32 teams based on opinions and then trying to defend why I don’t like the Vikings as much as you do.

We’ll start with team number one, and move all the way down to team #32, but first, the methodology:

To determine the “strength” of each team, and to remove as much bias as possible from the process, I created a formula to power rank each of the 32 teams.  The formula is 75% adjusted “QDS” (quality depth plus starters) which is a simple count of the number of pro bowl quality players on a roster PLUS the number of positions at which the team is stacked with starting quality talent throughout the depth chart.  This number was adjusted to fit on a “wins” scale of 0-16.  The formula is also 25% an average of the last five years of the team’s Pythagorean records, a measure of past strength.  I settled on 3 parts current roster, and 1 part historical strength because it felt right to me, but I might need to polish up this method as the season goes on.

Teams will have their “power” ranking and projected win total next to their preview.  Because this number is NOT schedule adjusted, it has no bearing on the order of the teams in the divisions.  Only how good you can expect the teams to be.

The most important thing you can not forget is that these win totals were designed specifically for power rankings, and therefore: 1) are not schedule adjusted, and 2) do not perfectly reflect LiveBall’s division-by-division picks.  The less important thing to remember is that, QDS is a simplistic metric of current team strength, and has limited predictive ability for December compared to it’s ability to slot all the teams right now.

Anyway, enough disclaimers.  Your number one team is…

1. New England Patriots Projected Wins: 11.9

From QDS to the coaches to the traditional and organizational strength of the franchise, there’s little not to like about the Patriots at No. 1.  As long as Tom Brady and Randy Moss are both healthy and in the starting lineup, there is nothing that you can do to keep this team out of the postseason for a second consecutive year.  Vince Wilfork is in a contract year, and if he’s the next Albert Haynesworth, expect to see him play like it this season.

2. Indianapolis Colts Projected Wins:  11.8

This is hardly surprising to me.  The Pats, and then the Colts.  Manning, and then Brady.  It’s been that way since 2003.  This year figures to be another chapter in the rivalry, one where the Colts are a pretty big threat to overpower the Pats in the playoffs.  What separates the Colts from the rest of the pack is the defense: fast as it’s ever been, and unlike 2006, these linebackers attack the run well.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers Projected Wins: 10.7

Last year’s super bowl champs come out as much on par with the top NFC East teams like the Redskins and the Giants as much as they do with the two elite AFC teams, the Colts and the Pats.  Consider: the Steelers went 2-2 against the NFC East last year, nearly losing to Dallas before a Tony Romo-forgets-his-offense collapse, and while their most impressive win was against the Redskins last year, they didn’t even pull away there until Byron Leftwich relieved Ben Roethlisberger in the second half.  The Steelers did beat the handicapped Pats last year, which is worth it’s weight in Brownie points.

4. San Diego Chargers Projected Wins: 10.6

These are not schedule adjusted numbers, and as such, the Chargers are an even favorite to lead all NFL teams in regular season wins next season: 6 games against the Raiders, Chiefs, and Broncos yielded a 5-1 record last year (insert your own Ed Hochuli joke here), while the Titans and Dolphins aren’t traditional “first place schedule” opponents.

5. Philadelphia Eagles Projected Wins: 10.3

The Eagles have problems.  They also have a strong organizational structure and good coaches.  But these problems might run deeper than even the most experienced coaches and executives: no health or continuity on the OL, trying to field a more conventional defense without any linebackers, trying to replace a hall of fame coordinator and hall of fame (if declining) safety in the same year, and trying to fit Michael Vick into a modern-NFL offense (again).  The Eagles are loaded with talent, and can overcome any one of these potential problems.  If they get the worst of two or three of these concerns, they’ll watch from home in January.

6. Washington Redskins Projected Wins: 9.7

Five experts on NFL.com, including Jason La Canfora, the Redskins beat writer from 2004-2008, picked the Redskins to finish between 6-8 wins in 2009.  Jim Zorn will want to prepare his speech to the media after his team unexpectedly staves off the fierce Detroit Lions, since apparently, it’s being taken for granted that the Redskins will have to alternate wins and losses this year.  Of course, if the experts are wrong, then this is a 10-win playoff team on paper.

7. New York Giants Projected Wins: 9.6

The Giants grade out very well by all measures, but probably had the most overrated offseason in NFL history.  Signed Chris Canty.  Signed a few vets (like Rocky Bernard) to back up Chris Canty.  Gave 35 million guaranteed to Eli Manning.  Acquired two complementary receivers in the draft to go with the four complementary receivers they already have on the roster.  Signed a lot of mediocre safeties, and a once star-bound linebacker coming off a horrendous year (Michael Boley) in which he got benched on a 11-5 playoff team for…former safety Coy Wire.  Bam, greatest offseason of all time.

It’s not hard to notice that the Giants have received plenty of credit for good intentions, like competing with the Redskins to sign Albert Haynesworth, and internally discussing the possibility of a Braylon Edwards/Anquan Boldin trade.  For years, the Philadelphia Eagles have been derided for failing to make the one move that could put them over the top, despite consistent competence (not to mention undeniable success) from the decision makers.  But all the Giants seem to need to do is make it look like they know more than you, and suddenly, they are the best organization in the NFC.

/end rant.  I really have nothing against the Giants.  If they can make winning over the media this effortless, more power to them.

8. Tennessee Titans Projected Wins: 9.4

Despite the critical, scheme altering loss of Albert Haynesworth, the Titans still grade out incredibly well.  Where they will be very much killed is by the schedule-makers.  Not the people who make the schedule, though, just the system who determines who they will play.  New England, Indianapolis twice, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Diego, Seattle, Arizona.  Throw in the Jags, and more than half their schedule (10 games) has been to the playoffs in the last two seasons.

9. Arizona Cardinals Projected Wins: 9.1

flickr.com/MPR 529

flickr.com/MPR 529

The Cardinals debut really high on the power poll because with all the talent they have on the roster, they are a very dangerous team who no one wants to play in September.  The problem is that they run their entire offense through the mind of a 38 year old quarterback with an extensive injury history.  The defense might need to step up should Matt Leinart be forced into duty, and even then, there’s nothing special about this team without Warner and the receivers who catch his passes.

10. Baltimore Ravens Projected Wins: 8.9

The Ravens feel like Joe Flacco is ready to establish himself in this league as a franchise quarterback, based on his offseason and play in the preseason.  So, in anticipation of this, they will go with the future at tailback (Ray Rice) as opposed to the effective Le’Ron McClain, or experienced Willis McGahee.  Derrick Mason, one of the five best receivers of the decade, will lock down the No. 1 WR target for another season.  If Todd Heap or LJ Smith can control the middle of the field, this is a scary good team.

11. Seattle Seahawks Projected Wins: 8.8

This projection forecasts a strong defensive rebound to get the Seahawks back to a competitive 9 wins, but what it doesn’t see may be even more important: the offensive rebound.  The Seahawks OL, much like that of the Eagles, is in disarray right now with Mike Wahle released before training camp, Center Chris Spencer out for a few weeks, and LT Walter Jones’ status very much in the air after surgery.  If they struggle, the Seahawks are probably an 8 or 9 win team.  If that unit does well in spite of injuries, the Seahaws become an 11 or 12 win team easily.

12. Dallas Cowboys Projected Wins: 8.4

I think this one is right on the mark.  An 8-9 win projection puts the Cowboys in the realm of “mediocre”.  In the NFC East, mediocre doesn’t go very far: just ask the Redskins.

13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Projected Wins: 8.3

Are you surprised that the highest projection in the NFC South goes to the Bucs?  This is a team who produced Pythagorean win percentages of 10.0 and 9.0 the last two seasons.  If you consider that no matter what you think of Byron Leftwich’s release, 16 games of him is more productive than any combination of passers that involves Brian Griese, combine it with the return of Cadillac Williams, and the job Raheem Morris has done with the defense to day, then this team can’t be all that much worse than last season.

14. Chicago Bears Projected Wins: 8.3

If you take away Jay Cutler, the system would see the Bears as a 7.9 win team.  That’s probably undervaluing Cutler’s effect on the Bears’ just slightly, he’s probably worth a bit more than half a win over another year of Kyle Orton in any given season, even given the limiting effect of the Bears offense.  It would not be that accurate to say that the difference between the Bears and the Packers (8.0 projected wins) is Cutler, because Aaron Rodgers is arguably better, but perhaps that the difference between the Packers and the Bears as equals is Cutler?  That sounds about right.

15. Carolina Panthers Projected Wins: 8.2

flickr.com/CarolinaDoug

flickr.com/CarolinaDoug

Carolina might have to get serious about fixing their run defense issue if they want to stay ahead of the curve in the NFC South.  You’re going to take the good with the bad from Jake Delhomme.  You may not be able to get 16 games of Steve Smith, or even 16 games of DeAngelo Williams.  But if you fix the defense, you can compete despite some bad luck with the offense.  Otherwise, you’re just hoping that 8-8 is good enough.  Might be.

16. New Orleans Saints Projected Wins: 8.2

0.1 projected wins separates the Saints from leaping the other two teams in the division.  Do you think the benefit of getting to play the Lions and Rams will change that?  You bet that more than covers the gap.

17. Green Bay Packers Projected Wins: 8.0

The Packers may project as a middle-of-the-pack team, but when you look at teams that might just completely bust all these projections up, you have to like the teams that are more than 85% comprised of homegrown, developed talent.  Teams like the Titans, the Packers, and to a lesser extent, the Texans, Falcons, and Rams all are threats to completely embarrass the system.

18. Jacksonville Jaguars Projected Wins: 7.9

I don’t find myself believing in the Jaguars this year, and that’s probably the first time in 4 years I can say that.  The projection screams “average” in a division loaded with “great”, and I just don’t see enough reasons to bump up the Jaguars past third place.  This is a rebound, of sorts, but a small one.

19. Houston Texans Projected Wins: 7.8

I do believe in the Texans however, even though their defense still looks despicable.  I don’t think you really need to look past the defensive line to see signs of improvement.  Mario Williams is one of the five best pass rushers in football, and Amobi Okoye is about to reap a lot of the benefits.   The former is only 26, the latter, a mere 22.  If nothing else, I think the Texans going from a severly negative turnover team to a positive turnover team (as rated by turnover margin) will have a 2-3 win swing in the teams record, and a possible playoff berth.

That’s completely anecdotal though, so if things do not change in the turnover margin, the Texans will not win more games.  The defense just isn’t complete enough to expect major improvement.

20. New York Jets Projected Wins: 7.5

The Jets have impressed in the preseason, but the offense hasn’t done much, and that figures to be the Achilles heel of the entire team this year.  I see no reason that the offense will be better than a 5-11 unit.  Should the defense be well-above average, the Jets are capable of 7 or 8 wins, but more reasonably, about 5 or 6 wins against a tough schedule.

21. Cincinnati Bengals Projected Wins: 7.3

The Bengals are expecting big things from their defense, and here is my system expecting those same big things.  Well, the Bengals are also expecting a big rebound from the offense, and I think there’s just going to be a small one.  Small offensive rebound means another season without the playoffs.  But if the Bengals are right, and I’m wrong, they do have the roster talent to get to the playoffs in the AFC North.

22. Cleveland Browns Projected Wins: 7.0

Once Brady Quinn inevitably gets named the starter, he can get to work on establishing himself as a quality NFL quarterback this season.  That will go a long way to helping the OL gel, and helping Braylon Edwards get his career on the right track.  I don’t expect very much of a contribution from their defense, but they have talent like Alex Hall and Kamerion Wimbley and Shaun Rogers, so you never know.

23. Minnesota Vikings Projected Wins: 6.7

I’d like to move them up, anecdotally, after watching Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson take it to the Texans, but facts are facts: this has been a middling team over the last three years of Brad Childress, and barring an unexpected contribution from someone like Harvin, it’s just not a team that profiles as a strong finisher in December.  They’ll do some good things along the way, but their ceiling is 8-9 wins, and a Favre retirement (as opposed to playoffs) in January.

flickr.com/Free-ers

flickr.com/Free-ers

24. Miami Dolphins Projected Wins: 6.7

The Dolphins have Chad Pennington and Ronnie Brown as their two best players on offense, which is tough for a team’s best units to have it’s best players be two very injury prone guys.  If the Dolphins compete this year, it will be due to contributions from unexpected sources, and probably not because Pennington and Brown carry them again.  With that said, given the health of those two, few, if any, are a better QB/RB duo.

25. Denver Broncos Projected Wins: 6.4

The Denver Broncos are not a BAD football team, but they are a below average team playing a schedule that involves: New England, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Diego (twice), Washington, Dallas, Philadelphia, and the New York Giants.  If the Broncos simply win all games they are favored in this year, that will make them 3-13.  Because they are a little more talented than that, 4-5 wins are more likely.

26. Buffalo Bills Projected Wins: 6.2

The Bills are working without a competant offensive unit this year, and no semblance of a short term offensive line.  However, back in 2004, the Bills very nearly made the playoffs with a completely incompetent quarterback (Drew Bledsoe) and no running game.  They did it with the leagues’ best defense, and the leagues’ best special teams.  That’s what it will take for the Bills to get back in the playoffs again.  If they do get major contributions from two of the three sides, neither Lee Evans nor Terrell Owens is a slouch, and both can make periodic contributions, even with little offensive help.

27. Atlanta Falcons Projected Wins: 5.8

The Falcons should be in the thick of things in the NFC South, despite what this number says.  The decline that this predicts appears to be accurate, the Falcons are probably a sub-.500 team.  But again, if Matt Ryan gets better in his second year, having Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White makes this a top ten offensive unit easily, in which case, it’s going to be tough to see them as less than a 7-8 win team.

28. San Francisco 49ers Projected Wins: 5.7

I personally think the Niners should start Nate Davis at quarterback ASAP, but then again, I also thought Davis was the best QB in the draft before he dropped out of top two round contention.  He’s got a stronger arm than Pat White, for example, and it’s not like you have to come from a BCS school to be a successful QB in this league: about half of all successful QBs in this league did not, which is disproportionate to other positions.  Look for the Niners’ defense to make a leap forward this year, because the offense certainly will not.

29. Kansas City Chiefs Projected Wins: 5.5

It’s going to be tough sledding for the Chiefs again this year, who have the parts of both a successful defense and offense, but are still about a year away from putting it together on either side of the ball.  They’re an easy choice to hold the first overall pick next year.

30. Detroit Lions Projected Wins: 5.1

The Lions are weighed down by their history as much as anything.  Given that, 5.1 wins seems a bit low.  I like them for 4-6 wins this year, but they seem more likely to overachieve that range than to underachieve it.  And yes, Jim Schwartz is actually that good.

31. Oakland Raiders Projected Wins: 5.1

Tough dress rehearsal for the Raiders at home against the Saints, where they at one point trailed 45-0.  The team’s best players are a little banged up right now, and since the Raiders operate so close to the failure threshold every year, it looks like 2009 is going to become another lost year before it starts.  They open with all three AFC West opponents in the first three weeks, so if they can save face and go 2-1, they have a legitimate chance to compete.  Anything less than that, and you can write the Raiders off again this year.

32. St. Louis Rams Projected Wins: 4.4

I said above that the Rams could be a system buster.  QDS sees, unequivocally, the least talented team in the National Football League.  Recent Pythagorean record sees an endless stream of terrible and below average.  The fans don’t really see any light at the end of the tunnel.  Jason Smith, the second overall draft pick, is struggling at the pro level.

And despite all that, 4 and a half wins seems incredibly low in the NFC West.  I know its’ been two years since the Rams have been over that mark, but give me almost any team in the NFC at 4.5 wins, preseason projection, and I’ll the over.  On the Rams, I’m thinking 6-7 wins might be more accurate.

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  1. September 10, 2009 at 5:56 pm
  2. January 2, 2010 at 9:37 pm

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