Playoff Power Rankings 2019
The 2019 playoffs are upon us and what that means is it must be time for some power rankings. Yes, all 12 teams have been seeded, but that does not mean those seeds correspond to the best teams right now. Therefore, let’s take a look from 12 to 1 at how the teams rank, by diving into a variety of different numbers.
The 12 playoff teams are all assessed in this article using nine metrics and aided by Pythagorean win percentage. The nine categories used are pass rush win rate, pass block win rate, defensive DVOA, offensive DVOA, defensive EPA/play, offensive EPA/play, QBR, point differential and 538’s ELO ratings. If you would like to see the raw rankings then please reach out on twitter @benrolfe15.
12. Houston Texans (10-6)
This team has been so strange this year. They manhandled the Chiefs and Patriots, beat the Titans on the road, and just generally handled their business away from home. Their home form has been an issue at times, and getting shellacked by the Ravens was a huge black mark on their record. When we look at their Pythagorean win expectation, they are outperforming their expected record by more than any other AFC team, thanks to a points differential of -7, the worst in the playoffs.
They do not rank in the top-five in any of the nine categories I examined, and only rank in the top 10 in three, pass block win rate, offensive EPA/play, and QBR. Their issue is their defense, which ranks 27th and 26th in defensive EPA/play and DVOA respectively. The reason for that can be attributed to a pass rush win rate which ranks 28th in the league. The news that JJ Watt might be back for the playoffs could not be a more welcome sight. Now the question is, can their offensive line stand up to the Bills, or will we get another poor playoff showing from Houston?
11. Seattle Seahawks (11-5)
Injuries have ravished a team that frankly needed everything to go their way. The Seahawks have lost so many key players that at this point they are using people I have never heard of. Things were so bad that they had to re-sign Marshawn Lynch off the street to come and be their running back.
This season the Seahawks rank in the top 10 of just two of our nine categories, QBR and offensive DVOA. The positive is that the only category they rank outside the top-20 in the league is pass block win rate. When you have Russell Wilson operating your offense, that is something you can overcome. One thing in the Seahawks favour has been their strength in tight games. In one score games this season, they are 10-2, leaving them 1-3 in games won by more than eight points.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)
I cannot believe I am putting this team above anyone, but they have put together a tremendous run down the stretch. Yes, they sunk to 5-7, but to finish 9-7 with four straight wins is impressive. They rank between 10th and 20th in all our categories, except for pass rush win rate, which they are within the top-10.
Unbelievably, the one team they really do have a chance to beat in this one is the Seahawks. They were in a tight battle earlier this season, which ended 17-9 to the Seahawks after some mistakes. However, with the clear strength of this team being their pass rush and the Seahawks clear weakness being their pass blocking, that is where they need to win. If they are going to make a run at the Super Bowl, that pass rush is going to need to play a huge role. This season they are 5-5 in games decided by one score, which they are likely going to be facing again with a game against the Seahawks.
9. Buffalo Bills (10-6)
The Bills are just so unconvincing but have yet got to 10 wins, and probably should have got to 12 with a little more composure in a couple of key spots. They had a real chance to challenge for the AFC East, but fell to the Patriots twice by a combined total of eight points. However, going to Houston is not a bad consolation prize.
The Bills strength is in the trenches. They rank in the top 10 in pass rush and pass blocking win rate. Their defense has also been a force to be reckoned with, ranking top-10 in both defensive EPA/play and DVOA. The offense is a concern, ranking outside the top-20 in all three categories, EPA/play, DVOA and QBR. One concern is that they currently rank last among playoff teams in ELO, sitting 15th in the league. As fun as this season has been for Buffalo, their inconsistency on offense likely limits their ceiling to one playoff win at most.
8. Minnesota Vikings (10-6)
This team badly needs to get itself healthy, because they face one of the toughest challenges in football. Going into the Superdome is a daunting prospect, especially when you are weak in the trenches. The Vikings rank outside of the top 20 in both pass block and pass rush win rate. The statement “bad offensive lines do not travel” rings loud here.
For the large part this is a fairly well rounded team, ranking 10th or better in most categories that are not about the trenches. The problem is whether they finally put it all together. They have defeated just one playoff team, the Philadelphia Eagles, losing to the other four playoff teams they have faced. Unfortunately for the Vikings, they are facing the one team this weekend that I simply cannot see them beating.
7. New England Patriots (12-4)
I really wanted to slide the Patriots even lower after the way they have played recently. However, they deserve a level of respect simply for their know how. They were largely written off last year and then went into Kansas City and came out overtime winners before defeating the Rams in the Super Bowl.
The problem with assessing the Patriots is what their numbers mean. A lot of their numbers are inflated by a very simple first half of the season. After going 8-0 to start the year, the Patriots have stumbled to a 4-4 finish, and looked bad doing it. Surprisingly their offense is the issue, ranking outside the top 10 in EPA/play, DVOA and QBR. That lack of production has put pressure on their defense and we have seen them stumble at crucial moments. Additionally, their pass rush win rate ranking of 22 demonstrates just how much rides on their secondary. If a receiver can repeat the performance of Devante Parker against Stephon Gilmore then the Patriots are sitting ducks for any opponent.
6. Green Bay Packers (13-3)
This team has made everything look difficult. They managed to beat the Lions twice while leading for a combined 0 seconds across the two games. That stat alone tells you how tricky this team has been to evaluate. However, they have pulled out wins and that is what matters to some extent. Their points differential is just +63, less than four points per game, and they Pythagorean win prediction is three wins less than their 13-3 record.
In one score games this season they are 8-1, but that means they are also 5-2 in games decided by more than eight points, which is solid. Interestingly, their offense has ranked top-10 by EPA/play and DVOA, despite Rodgers ranking 15th in QBR. To further complicate that, they also rank first in the league in pass block win rate, so Rodgers should be having plenty of time to deliver the ball. Their defense is what they are going to need to step up in the playoffs ranking 13th and 15th in EPA/play and DVOA respectively. Hosting their first playoff game after a weeks rest will be huge, especially with the Saints their likely opponents.
5. Tennessee Titans (9-7)
Ranking a 9-7 team who is a #6 seed here may seem daft, but the Titans are actually an extremely impressive team. They were 2-4 when Ryan Tannehill took over and have gone 7-3 ever since. The other key here is their hard running game. We saw what a dominant run game can do in the playoffs last season, and we have already seen them overcome the Chiefs with a tough physical performance, combined with big plays.
The rankings of this offense is heavily affected by the six games Marcus Mariota started. However, given how poor that offense looked, the fact they finished eighth in EPA/play and 6th in DVOA is very promising. Tannehill also ranked an impressive 9th in QBR this season. With the way the Patriots are playing lately, it would not be a shock to see the Titans heading to Baltimore in the divisional round. If that is the case then we could be in for a fantastic battle between two run heavy teams.
4. New Orleans Saints (13-3)
If the Saints are going to go to the Super Bowl they are going to have to do it the hard way. That loss to the Atlanta Falcons really came back to haunt them, because a win in that game and they enter the playoffs with the number one seed and the chance to host two playoff games in their raucous dome.
The numbers for the Saints are interesting because they rank in the top five offensively, despite not having Brees for a number of games. The injury to Brees may now be playing into their hands, as he is fresher for the extended rest. Defensively they rank just outside the top-10 and have mixed dominant defensive performances with complete defensive meltdowns. One area of concern will be their 25th ranking in pass block win rate, coupled with a 24th ranking in pass rush win rate. At home with the dome behind them they can overcome those numbers, but in Green Bay against the best pass blocking team in the league might be a different matter.
3. San Francisco 49ers (13-3)
What a season for a 49ers team that very much became a post-hype sleeper type team. After 2018 went from hopeful to a mess very quickly, they have rebounded in a big way this season. The play of their defense was the highlight of the early part of the season, and while they still rank highly, their pass rush win rate has dropped outside of the top 10.
Offensively this team ranks in the top-10 across the board, with Jimmy Garoppolo at 12 in QBR and the line ranking 26th in pass block win rate. The run game has been huge for this team this season, but if that gets shut down, the numbers above suggest the passing game is liable to struggling. Impressively the 49ers are 8-0 in games decided by more than one score, going 5-3 in one score games, five of which came in their last five games of the season (3-2).
2. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
It has been a weird season for the Chiefs. They came out of the gate strong, defeating the Ravens in Week 3. They also managed to beat the Vikings in Week 9 without Patrick Mahomes, and then went into New England and came away with a huge victory. In between, they dropped games to the Colts, Texans, Packers and Titans. However, three of those are playoff teams, two of the games Mahomes was limited and one he was missing.
The Chiefs defense has been their Achilles heel, ranking 19th in pass rush win rate, 17th in defensive EPA/play, and 14th in defensive DVOA. However, in the past few weeks their defense has stepped up in a big way. Offensively they rank top-five in the league in five categories, with their only negative being pass block win rate. However, when you have Mahomes as your QB then even PBWR becomes slightly less of an issue.
1. Baltimore Ravens (14-2)
Well, if you needed any more convincing that the Ravens were not only good, but also had depth, then their defeat of the Steelers this past weekend proved it. To give you some context of how good the Ravens have been this year I ranked all of the playoff teams for each category. I then added up all of the rankings across the nine categories, and the Ravens scored an average of two points per category. The next nearest team averaged nearly five points per category.
Entering the Ravens here are the categories the Ravens lead in: Offensive EPA/play, points differential, QBR, offensive DVOA and ELO. The only category that they were outside of the top-10 in the league this season was pass rush win rate. To put it simply it has been an incredible 2019 for the Ravens, now they need to finish it off.
Image credit: Mitchell Layton-USA TODAY Sports, Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports, Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports, Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports