The NFL is all about the quarterback. The quarterback is by far the most important position on a team. It’s extremely rare for a team with a poor quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Everybody likes to mention Trent Dilfer on the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, but I like to think of that as the exception that proves the rule. The 2000 Ravens had one of the best defenses of all time.
My simple way of ranking NFL teams is mostly about the quarterback. First, I rank the 32 starting quarterbacks, then I adjust teams with strong defenses upward, and adjust teams with weak defenses downward.
How should I rank the quarterbacks? I decided to combine three statistics: traditional passer rating, DVOA, and Total QBR. Then I decided to nudge old quarterbacks down a little, and give quarterbacks who were rookies last year a slight boost.
The result is the following ranking of quarterbacks:
- Aaron Rodgers
- Peyton Manning
- Tom Brady
- Robert Griffin III
- Russell Wilson
- Colin Kaepernick
- Drew Brees
- Ben Roethlisberger
- Matt Ryan
- Tony Romo
- Matt Schaub
- Alex Smith
- Andrew Luck
- Eli Manning
- Cam Newton
- Matthew Stafford
- Joe Flacco
- Sam Bradford
- Andy Dalton
- Christian Ponder
- Josh Freeman
- Carson Palmer
- Ryan Tannehill
- Philip Rivers
- Jay Cutler
- Michael Vick
- Brandon Weeden
- Jake Locker
- Blaine Gabbert
- Mark Sanchez
- E.J. Manuel
- Matt Flynn
I’m assuming Mark Sanchez, E.J. Manuel, and Matt Flynn will win their respective position battles. If it’s Geno Smith instead of Mark Sanchez and Terrelle Pryor instead of Matt Flynn, nothing changes for me. If it’s Kevin Kolb instead of E.J. Manuel then I would upgrade Buffalo.
Manuel and Flynn didn’t play last year, but I’m ranking them at the bottom because that’s my best guess for how good they will be.
I like to think of NFL teams as being on one of nine tiers. Before adjusting for defenses, here’s what those tiers look like based on the above rankings:
Tier 1: None
Tier 2: Green Bay, Denver, New England, Washington
Tier 3: Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans, Pittsburgh
Tier 4: Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City
Tier 5: Indianapolis, NY Giants, Carolina, Detroit, Baltimore, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Minnesota
Tier 6: Tampa Bay, Arizona, Miami, San Diego
Tier 7: Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Tennessee
Tier 8: Jacksonville, NY Jets, Buffalo, Oakland
Tier 9: None
Adjusting for defenses is simple. If a team finished in the top 10 of weighted defensive DVOA last year, they move up a tier. If a team finished in the bottom 10, they move down a tier.
That results in the following tiers:
Tier 1: Denver
Tier 2: Green Bay, New England, Washington, Seattle, San Francisco, Pittsburgh
Tier 3: Houston
Tier 4: New Orleans, Atlanta, St. Louis, Cincinnati
Tier 5: Dallas, Kansas City, NY Giants, Carolina, Baltimore, Arizona
Tier 6: Indianapolis, Detroit, Minnesota, Miami, San Diego, Chicago
Tier 7: Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Tennessee, NY Jets
Tier 8: Philadelphia, Buffalo
Tier 9: Jacksonville, Oakland
So based on those tiers, here are my preseason NFL team rankings:
- Green Bay
- New England
- San Francisco
- New Orleans
- St. Louis
- Kansas City
- NY Giants
- San Diego
- Tampa Bay
- NY Jets
Over the course of a season, I’ll move teams to different tiers based on actual game results.
OVERRATED NFL TEAMS 2013
Chicago: If Marc Trestman can make Jay Cutler an above-average NFL quarterback, my hat’s off to him. For now, I have to assume that Cutler will play at the same level, and that means a disappointing season for the Bears.
Detroit: Nobody respects/fears the Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson connection more than I do. Are the Lions ready to stop opponents on defense?
Miami: This one boggles my mind. Why exactly do people think Miami will have a winning record this year? Is Ryan Tannehill that inspiring?
Philadelphia: I acknowledge the chance that Chip Kelly’s offense/strategy will revolutionize the NFL. I also recognize that Michael Vick is once again the starting QB and the defense remains miserable.
UNDERRATED NFL TEAMS 2013
Washington: Am I the only one who noticed that Robert Griffin III had by far the best season of any 22-year-old quarterback ever? Or do people think his bones are made out of glass and he’ll get injured as soon as somebody touches him?
St. Louis: Last year’s most underrated NFL team remains underrated. Sam Bradford quietly had a solid season and the Rams defense was quietly very good. St. Louis is my choice for potential “shock” playoff team of 2013.
Carolina: I didn’t think I’d be saying this, but the Panthers might be a bit underrated. I see them as league-average and a fringe playoff contender, which is a notch above the predictions I’ve seen floating around out there.
Arizona: The Cardinals defense was awesome last year, and undone by having John Skelton at QB. Now they have Carson Palmer, who is not great but is worthy of starting in the NFL. Their over-under win total should not be the same as Jacksonville and Oakland.
Minnesota: I know, I know… Vikings fan thinks Lions and Bears are overrated and Vikings are underrated. It seems people think the Vikings will suck because of Christian Ponder, but Ponder wasn’t nearly as bad as people think he was last year.