It happens every year.
We talk about how strange the NFL season has been.
Then we get to November.
And it starts to feel ... normal.
Teams like the Patriots and Steelers at the top. Teams like the Browns and Dolphins at the bottom.
Sure, there are a couple of new teams in the mix this season, but for the most part, the standings look rather familiar.
Now that we’ve just passed the halfway point, it’s time to assess the NFL landscape and separate the contenders from the pretenders.
What follows below is a ranking of all 32 teams. You’ve read power rankings before, but the difference here is that the methodology is at least a little more scientific than "Hey, it’s just my opinion, man."
In our rankings, we consulted five objective measures of team strength:
• Pro Football Reference’s Simple Rating System
• Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average ratings
• ESPN’s Football Power Index
• FiveThirtyEight’s Elo ratings
• Statistician Jeff Sagarin’s NFL ratings
We then used a composite of those measures as a guidepost. We believe that the team ranked first would beat the team ranked second, the team ranked second would beat the team ranked third, and so forth.
Disagree? Feel your team should be ranked higher? Drop us a line in the comments below.
On to the rankings!
1. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (record: 6-2; composite ranking: 4.4)
Last week: bye
Playoff odds: 98.9 percent
Early in Ben Roethlisberger’s career, the Steelers’ strength was their defense. Over time, they relied more and more on their offense. This season, they’re strong on both sides of the ball. Opponents are averaging 16.4 points per game, the second fewest.
2. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (6-2; 4.8)
Last week: bye
Playoff odds: 88.7 percent
The Patriots aren’t dominating — they’ve won four games by one score — but they get a bump here because they’re the Patriots. Since Bill Belichick took over as coach in 2000, they’ve won 70 percent of their games in November.
3. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (6-3; 4.8)
Last week: 28-17 loss to Cowboys
Playoff odds: 93.3 percent
The Chiefs have lost three of their past four games, so perhaps the Eagles belong in this spot. Whether they can get to the Super Bowl is a fair question, but you can’t ever rule them out because they’re always good at protecting the football. They’ve turned the ball over a league-low four times this season.
4. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (record: 8-1; 2.4)
Last week: 51-23 win over Broncos
Playoff odds: 98.1 percent
We’re about to find out just how good the Eagles really are. Their next five games: away vs. Cowboys, home vs. Bears, away vs. Seahawks, away vs. Rams and away vs. Giants. Their defensive line might be the NFL’s best.
5. LOS ANGELES RAMS (6-2; 6.2)
Last week: 51-17 over Giants
Playoff odds: 90.2 percent
The hot trend this offseason will be teams trying to find the next Sean McVay, the first-year coach who has salvaged Jared Goff’s career. The real key to the Rams’ emergence, however, might be defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. In each of his previous seven coaching stops, his teams have made the playoffs in his first season (Denver, Buffalo, Atlanta, San Diego, Dallas, Houston, Denver again).
6. DALLAS COWBOYS (5-3; 6.4)
Last week: 28-17 win over Chiefs
Playoff odds: 43.1 percent
When the Cowboys started 2-3, there were a lot of comments like "See, I told you they weren’t as good as 13-3." They weren’t. The Cowboys were a little lucky last season. They were 7-2 in one-score games. This season? They’re 0-2. During their three-game win streak, though, they’ve beaten opponents by an average of 18.3 points.
7. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (6-2; 5.0)
Last week: 30-10 win over Buccaneers
Playoff odds: 88.5 percent
Along with the Steelers, Eagles and Rams, the Saints are one of the NFL’s most balanced teams. They struggled to contain opponents’ No. 1 receivers last season, allowing them to gain 73.5 yards per game. They’re holding them to 49.4 yards this season. On Sunday, Bucs No. 1 receiver Mike Evans caught one of six targets for 13 yards.
8. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (5-3; 7.8)
Last week: 23-7 win over Bengals
Playoff odds: 95.7 percent
The Jaguars have the NFL’s most efficient defense, according to Football Outsiders. They’re allowing the fewest points per game (14.6) and fewest yards per play (4.6). They have the most sacks (35) and are tied for the third-most takeaways (16). Blake Bortles? He has been good enough. For the first time in his career, his touchdown rate (4.3 percent) is double his interception rate (2.1 percent).
9. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (6-2; 7.8)
Last week: bye
Playoff odds: 78.8 percent
Running backs don’t stand much of a chance against the Vikings. They’ve limited not only rushing yards (81.4 yards allowed per game is third fewest) but also receiving yards (39.0 yards allowed per game is ninth fewest).
10. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (5-3; 7.8)
Last week: 17-14 loss to Washington
Playoff odds: 53.0 percent
No team relies on its quarterback more than the Seahawks rely on Russell Wilson. Wilson’s passes per game have increased every season he has been in the league, from 24.6 in 2012 to 37.9 today. Oh, and he leads the team in rushing yards, too. He’s doing everything but catching his own passes.
11. CAROLINA PANTHERS (6-3; 12.2)
Last week: 20-17 win over Falcons
Playoff odds: 58.0 percent
The Panthers are the Vikings but with a less consistent offense. Rookie running back Christian McCaffrey leads the NFL in targets and catches. Tight end Greg Olsen led the team in both of those categories last season, but he has missed most of this season because of a broken foot. He could return as soon as November 26.
12. ATLANTA FALCONS (4-4; 13.8)
Last week: 20-17 loss to Panthers
Playoff odds: 15.1 percent
The Falcons have scored only two fewer points than they’ve allowed, so their 4-4 record is a fair representation of their performance so far this season. Their pass offense has declined, but keep in mind how unlikely it was for them to duplicate last season’s historic success. Matt Ryan’s 9.3 yards per pass attempt was the fourth most since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. He is down to 8.0 this season.
13. DETROIT LIONS (4-4; 12.2)
Last week: 30-17 win over Packers
Playoff odds: 40.6 percent
The Lions are firmly in wild-card contender territory. They’re good enough to beat the really bad teams (the Cardinals, Giants and the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers) but not good enough to consistently challenge better teams. They’ve lost to the Falcons, Panthers, Saints and Steelers. If they make the playoffs, they’ll be a good warmup for someone.
14. BALTIMORE RAVENS (4-5; 15.0)
Last week: 23-20 loss to Titans
Playoff odds: 41.3 percent
Like the Jaguars, the Ravens boast one of the NFL’s best defenses. Unlike the Jaguars, however, they have not been able to hide their quarterback. Joe Flacco is averaging a league-low 5.3 yards per pass attempt and is one of four quarterbacks to throw at least 10 interceptions.
15. WASHINGTON (4-4; 15.0)
Last week: 17-14 win over Seahawks
Playoff odds: 22.8 percent
Keep an eye on Washington. Its first half schedule has been brutal. They’ve played the Eagles (twice), Rams, Chiefs and Seahawks — teams that have a combined record of 33-10. They get the Giants (twice), Chargers and Cardinals in the second half.
16. BUFFALO BILLS (5-3; 18.0)
Last week: 34-21 loss to Jets
Playoff odds: 61.0 percent
Classic Bills. They start off 5-2 and get everyone talking about whether they’ll reach the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Then they lose to the Jets.
17. TENNESSEE TITANS (5-3; 19.8)
Last week: 23-20 win over Ravens
Playoff odds: 56.7 percent
It takes a really compelling reason to watch the Titans, and right now they’re not offering one. Coincidentally, that’s how most people feel when they’re driving through Tennessee. They’d prefer to keep going and will stop only if they really, really have to.
18. GREEN BAY PACKERS (4-4; 15.8)
Last week: 30-17 loss to Lions
Playoff odds: 10.1 percent
After watching this offense scuffle for the past three weeks, it’s hard to see the Packers staying above .500. They do, however, have games against the Bears, Bucs and Browns. Those teams have gone a combined 29 seasons without making the playoffs. The Packers have made them eight straight seasons.
19. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (3-5; 18.4)
Last week: bye
Playoff odds: 7.7 percent
The Chargers don’t do anything remarkably well, except lose close games. Since the start of the 2015 season, no team has played in more games decided by one score and no team has lost more of those games (22).
20. OAKLAND RAIDERS (4-5; 19.0)
Last week: 27-24 win over Dolphins
Playoff odds: 13.8 percent
What happened to the Raiders? Maybe they weren’t as good as their 12-4 record last season suggested. They’re the opposite of the Chargers. They’ve won a disproportionate number of one-score games. In 2016, they won nine of 11. This season, they’ve won two of four.
21. DENVER BRONCOS (3-5; 22.0)
Last week: 51-23 loss to Eagles
Playoff odds: 12.7 percent
No defense forces more three-and-outs (0.312 per drive). Too bad the offense has a propensity for giving the ball away. The Broncos turn the over 0.188 times per drive, second only to the Browns.
22. HOUSTON TEXANS (3-5; 17.4)
Last week: 20-14 loss to Colts
Playoff odds: 5.7 percent
Points per game when Deshaun Watson started at quarterback: 34.7. Points per game when Tom Savage started: 10.5. Watson’s yards per attempt: 8.3. Savage’s: 4.9.
23. CINCINNATI BENGALS (3-5; 24.2)
Last week: 23-7 loss to Jaguars
Playoff odds: 8.6 percent
The Bengals and Lions are the only teams that have rushed for 100 yards just once this season. Cincinnati bottomed out Sunday, gaining 29 yards against Jacksonville.
24. NEW YORK JETS (4-5; 24.6)
Last week: 34-21 win over Bills
Playoff odds: 7.9 percent
Be honest. Before the season, you thought the Jets would lose by three touchdowns every week. Instead, they’ve been much tougher and more competitive than anyone expected. They’ve held a lead in seven of their nine games.
25. ARIZONA CARDINALS (4-4; 26.4)
Last week: 20-10 win over 49ers
Playoff odds: 0.9 percent
Don’t be fooled by their record. They’ve beaten the Colts, 49ers (twice) and Bucs.
26. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (2-6; 24.4)
Last week: 30-10 loss to Saints
Playoff odds: 0.1 percent
Remember when Bucs defensive tackle Chris Baker taunted Jaguars fans during Hard Knocks? "Every year, y’all gonna get at least three wins."
27. CHICAGO BEARS (3-5; 25.0)
Last week: bye
Playoff odds: 0.7 percent
The Bears have an okay defense and … yep, the Bears have an okay defense.
28. NEW YORK GIANTS (1-7; 26.6)
Last week: 51-17 loss to Rams
Playoff odds: 0.0 percent
For all the credit the Giants organization gets, it took a 1-7 start for it to finally realize it needs to move on from Eli Manning.
29. MIAMI DOLPHINS (4-4: 28.2)
Last week: 27-24 loss to Raiders
Playoff odds: 7.1 percent
How can a team with four wins be ranked this low? Because the Dolphins’ wins have come by a combined 14 points. They’re also one last-second pass away from suffering three shutouts.
30. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (3-6; 30.6)
Last week: 20-14 win over Texans
Playoff odds: 1.0 percent
Despite three wins, the Colts are making a credible case for worst team in the NFL. They lost to the Rams by 37 points, to the Seahawks by 28 and to the Jaguars by 27, which explains why they have the league’s worst point differential. They get the edge over the 49ers, however, because they beat them — barely — earlier this season.
31. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (0-9; 30.4)
Last week: 20-10 loss to Cardinals
Playoff odds: 0.0 percent
After they lost 13 of their first 14 games last season, you would have thought that it couldn’t have gotten any worse for the 49ers. Their 0-9 start this season is the worst in team history.
32. CLEVELAND BROWNS (0-8; 31.6)
Last week: bye
Playoff odds: 0.0 percent
Because the Browns are winless, some NFL followers have seized the opportunity to declare the team’s so-called Moneyball approach a failure. These people lack a fundamental understanding of the difference between process and results. The Browns’ process started in January 2016 with a front office shakeup. Since then, they’ve added assets. They’ll head into the 2018 draft with 13 picks, including five in the first two rounds. Patience.
Playoff odds are from Football Outsiders. Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.