Most tellingly, we can see the separation in the top 10 teams, and not simply because 10 is a nice round number highlight shows like to use. Removing the ridiculous outlier that is the Denver Broncos, and all the teams from second-ranked Seattle to 10th-ranked Cincinnati have a GWP somewhere in between 0.67-0.59. The 11th-ranked Jets immediately drop off to 0.55, providing a convenient mark-off point.
Examining the top 10, there's one team in particular that few believed in before the season, but now looks like a viable contender.
Coming off an 11-5 record buoyed by tremendous fortune in lots of high-variance statistics, plenty of respected writers pegged the Indianapolis Colts as the most logical regression candidate of the season. But at 4-1 with two impressive wins over NFC West behemoths Seattle and San Francisco, one can no longer attribute the Colts' success to luck or preternatural Pagano-fueled inspiration.
Indy has been ranked quite favorably the whole season, and much of that stems from the development of the offense under new coordinator Pep Hamilton. Last year, Bruce Arians' "Air Coryell" concepts showcased the Colts' speed at the skill positions, but led to lots of mistakes from Andrew Luck. Indy's 2.9 percent interception rate led to a pass success rate of 45.9 percent, 17th in the league. This year, Luck has sliced his interception rate to 1.7 percent, and Indy's 49.7 pass SR is ranked eighth.
Apart from that flashy uptick, the Colts have also shown marked improvement in both the run game and pass defense. Indy and Philadelphia are miles ahead of every other team in run EPA, though the Eagles are technically in a league of their own and thus breaking the rankings system. And with a gaudy 4.6 interception percentage, the Colts pass D has improved to eighth in EPA after checking in at 24th in 2012.
Most tellingly, the Colts are no longer defying the laws of regression. Indy is 2-1 in one-score games, and their plus-60 point differential is better than all but the undefeated Broncos and Chiefs in the AFC. Indeed, Football Outsiders places the Colts' estimated wins at a tidy 3.0, their exact current mark. Pundits will claim that Indy's Sunday night showdown with the Broncos in two weeks is a litmus test of their legitimacy, but don't be fooled: the Colts are here to stay.
Sneaky Yet Familiar
When thinking of the top NFC contenders this year, most people will immediately mention Seattle and New Orleans. That sentiment is probably true, as the Seahawks are ranked second this week, while the Saints have the second-best GWP difference.
However, the Packers and 49ers are two familiar NFC powerhouses who certainly possess the pedigree and talent to emerge from the conference. Green Bay and San Francisco were the two biggest movers of the week after each beat a top-10 squad, rising 14 and 16 spots respectively.
At least so far, the main reason why neither of those two deserve first-class status is a glaring deficiency in one aspect of the passing game. Only five teams are worse than the Packers in both pass defense EPA and efficiency, a problem that has existed to various degrees since their Super Bowl win in 2010. Meanwhile, Matt Schaub's mind-boggling pick-six streak and a lopsided win clouded what was another mediocre performance for Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick has not progressed as a passer, as his 17th-ranked 5.1 adjusted yards per attempt (AYAR) is a huge decrease from his league-leading 6.7 mark last season.
Between the two, the 49ers might foster a bit more optimism, as some improvement from Kaepernick coupled with better health on defense might anoint San Francisco with the annual "Wild Card Team Nobody Wants to Play" belt. Unfortunately for Cheeseheads, however, 2009 Charles Woodson is not walking through the door.
- The Giants, Steelers and Vikings have one win among them, but all are ranked ahead of the 4-1 Patriots. Unlike past years, New England does not have a single elite facet (i.e, the passing game) that can neutralize average or worse units. It's folly to write off Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in October, but the Pats are probably not significant threats to the Broncos at the moment.
- Despite an eight-point home loss to the Saints, the Bears actually moved up eight spots in the rankings. Chicago racked up 434 yards of offense, but a series of turnovers, sacks and mental mistakes led to all but two offensive players earning a negative WPA, as the Saints' early 13-0 lead made them favorites for nearly the entire game.
- The old adage is that you must run the ball and stop the run to win games. The first part of that remains somewhat relevant, but the second half appears to have reached its expiration date. Four of the seven worst run defenses by EPA (Saints, Colts, Lions and Chiefs) are ranked in the top 10, while four of the five best EPA run defenses are outside the top 10 (Philly is the exception).
Per usual, the rankings after Week 5 are below:
|RANK||TEAM||LAST WK||GWP||Opp GWP||O RANK||D RANK|