The NFL regular season is about to get underway, and that means it’s time to start arguing over how good your favorite team is or isn’t going to be this year. Luckily, every team is winless, so the debate won’t take long.
Or will it?
Just because no meaningful games have been played doesn’t mean we won’t try to get an idea of who the best and worst teams will be. For starters, that analysis will help inform our weekly NFL picks, which you’ll find below.
To establish our preseason power rankings, we started with the point spreads released by Cantor Technology for every NFL game in Weeks 1-16 — Week 17 is excluded because players sitting out the final week and teams jockeying for playoff positioning make projections fairly erratic — and turned those into a Simple Rating System, which was then used to determine each teams projected win-loss records, their opponents’ win-loss records and, finally, their power ranking using a scale of 1 to 100, with higher numbers indicating better teams.
The power rankings on Fancy Stats take into account a team’s actual record (once the season begins), what their record should be based on points scored and allowed, also known as their Pythagorean win percentage, and how much better or worse their opponents are in relation to an 8-8 team. A good team playing against good opponents will be near the top while those who struggle against mediocre or poor teams will trend toward the bottom.
It’s unlikely we would ever see a team at either of the extremes. The 2007 New England Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season with a plus-315 point differential against opponents who averaged 7.5 wins for the season, earning them a power ranking of 87. The 2008 Detroit Lions went 0-16 with a minus-249 point differential against opponents who averaged 9.6 wins for the season, earning them a power ranking of 11.
With the power rankings established, we can determine how often one team should beat another based on its actual and projected win rates, giving us win probabilities for every game as well as an implied margin of victory — helpful for picking games against the spread. For example, over the past three seasons, teams that were favored by exactly seven points went 36-12-1 (.735 win percentage).
Got that? Great. Here are this week’s power rankings.
|Rank||Team||Power Rank (1 to 100)|
|1||New England Patriots||81|
|3||Kansas City Chiefs||74|
|4||Green Bay Packers||73|
|9||New York Giants||63|
|17||New Orleans Saints||48|
|22||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||44|
|26||Los Angeles Chargers||37|
|28||New York Jets||25|
|30||Los Angeles Rams||19|
|31||San Francisco 49ers||18|
No surprise the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are at the top of the list. They lost wideout Julian Edelman, who suffered a noncontact leg injury in the first quarter of a preseason game against the Detroit Lions, but the Patriots have more than enough talent to catch passes with tight end Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan and recently acquired Brandin Cooks.
As if Coach Bill Belichick needs any help, Football Outsiders’ early-season projections have New England facing the easiest schedule in the NFL this year per their Defense-adjusted Value Over Average metric and Warren Sharp ranked the Patriots’ strength of schedule as the fifth-easiest in 2017, a schedule he calls “highly unfair” because Tom Brady and New England’s offense will play six games after Week 7 against teams whose defense was in the bottom 10 in terms of efficiency, the most of any team.
Some are expecting the Kansas City Chiefs to regress after turning in a 12-4 record last season, and while they may very well lose the season opener to the Patriots, this is a team loaded with talent.
Marcus Peters was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the top playmaking cornerback in the NFL since 2015, leading the league in interceptions (14) and passes defensed (46) over that span, and the Chiefs’ secondary was ranked No. 10 overall heading into the 2017 season. Kansas City’s defensive line was ranked ninth and every one appears to be excited with what rookie running back Kareem Hunt has shown in the preseason after projected starter Spencer Ware was ruled out for the season with a knee injury.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the New York Jets not appearing at the very bottom of the list.
The team’s best quarterback, Josh McCown, produced a below-average passer rating in 2016 (72.3) and he won’t have a veteran corps of receivers to rely on after a neck injury to wide receiver Quincy Enunwa cost him the season, leaving second-year pros Charone Peake (caught 19 of 35 targets for 186 yards in 2016) and Robby Anderson (caught 42 of 78 targets for 587 yards and two touchdowns last season) at the top of the depth chart. Defensively, there are some bright spots. The Jets’ defensive line stopped rushers at or behind the line of scrimmage 27 percent of the time, second only to the Los Angeles Rams, and they still have defensive end Leonard Williams on the roster.
Williams had 29 run stops in 2016, seventh most among defenders, and his 48 total sacks, hits and hurries tied him for 11th overall. He suffered a wrist injury in the preseason against the New York Giants and didn’t return to the game, though Bob Glauber, NFL columnist for New York’s Newsday, reported Williams believes he will be ready for the season opener against the Buffalo Bills.
Using the data above, here are this week’s picks against the consensus point spreads from multiple sports books in Vegas. We start with the featured matchups of Week 1.
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots (-9)
Winner: New England Patriots, 71 percent
Pick: Kansas City Chiefs +9
Since Brady become the Patriots starting quarterback in 2001, New England is 8-0 at home during Week 1 of the season. That doesn’t mean the Chiefs can’t keep it close.
The key will be how well they prevent New England’s running backs from catching passes in the backfield. Last season, running back James White was Brady’s most-targeted player (67) after Edelman (131) with the running backs as a group seeing more targets per game (8.6) than the tight ends (7.6). Some of that is obviously because Gronkowski was limited to just six starts last season, yet even in 2015, a year in which Gronkowski was healthy, running backs still saw nine targets per game.
The Chiefs should be up to the task — they ranked fourth against pass-catching running backs last season per Football Outsiders, allowing just 33.3 yards per game to the position.
Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers (-3)
Winner: Green Bay Packers, 68 percent
Pick: Green Bay Packers -3
Expect the Seahawks to put pressure on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers with defensive ends Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Frank Clark plus former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who was acquired from the New York Jets on Sep. 1, although it might not matter.
Rodgers led the league with a 90.3 passer rating under pressure last season with a 13-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, per Pro Football Focus, and will have the eighth-best offensive line in front of him in 2017.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-4)
Winner: Dallas Cowboys, 66 percent
Pick: Dallas Cowboys -4
The Dallas Cowboys learned that running back Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension was upheld by arbitrator Harold Henderson on Tuesday night, but because of the timing of the announcement, Elliott will be allowed to play against the New York Giants on Sunday.
Elliott rushed for 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2016, plus caught 32 of 39 targets for 363 yards and a touchdown in the passing game, earning him the fourth-highest player rating at the position by the game charters at Pro Football Focus.
The Giants were the second-best team against the run last season per Football Outsiders, yet they struggled stopping the rusher at or behind the line of scrimmage (17 percent stuff rate, 20th in the league). Elliott, meanwhile, averaged close to three yards per carry after contact.
The remaining games
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills (-9)
Winner: Buffalo Bills, 78 percent
Pick: New York Jets +9
Atlanta Falcons at Chicago Bears (+7)
Winner: Atlanta Falcons, 85 percent
Pick: Atlanta Falcons -7
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins (+1)
Winner: Washington Redskins, 60 percent
Pick: Washington Redskins +1
Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions (+2)
Winner: Arizona Cardinals, 58 percent
Pick: Arizona Cardinals -2
Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans (-2)
Winner: Oakland Raiders, 64 percent
Pick: Oakland Raiders +2
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans (-5.5)
Winner: Houston Texans, 79 percent
Pick: Houston Texans -5.5
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns (+9)
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers, 93 percent
Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers -9
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (-3)
Winner: Baltimore Ravens, 61 percent
Pick: Baltimore Ravens +3
Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Rams (-3.5)
Winner: Los Angeles Rams, 64 percent
Pick: Los Angeles Rams -3.5
Carolina Panthers at San Francisco 49ers (+5.5)
Winner: Carolina Panthers, 77 percent
Pick: Carolina Panthers -5.5
New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings (-3.5)
Winner: Minnesota Vikings, 62 percent
Pick: Minnesota Vikings -3.5
Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos (-3.5)
Winner: Denver Broncos, 82 percent
Pick: Denver Broncos -3.5
Jack Barry contributed research to this article.