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Look out for the Lions

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Power Rankings - Week 14

After 13 weeks, 12 games for each team, the performance ratings have mostly stayed in line at the top & bottom. There has been some reshuffling at the very top in recent weeks, along with the Detroit Lions joining the “Big Four” (Seattle, Carolina, Denver, New Orleans) who have dominated the #1-#4 spots almost exclusively since the early part of the season. At the very bottom Jacksonville continues to rank #32 as they have for 12 of the 13 weeks (after Wk2 they slid up to #31 for one week), Minnesota checks in at #31 for the sixth straight week, while Atlanta remains at #30 for the fourth straight week.

Performance Ratings (max grade is 160, 80 on offense and 80 on defense, calculated using 16 different stats with 5 points per stat being the best score = 16x5 = 80).

Performance Ratings - Week 14
Category Offense Defense Total Team Blended Turnover
Wins Team Rating Rank Rating Rank Rating Rank SOS Margin
11 SEA 49.3 3 47.8 2 97.1 1 31 12
9 CAR 46.9 7 48.1 1 95.0 2 32 10
10 DEN 54.6 1 39.4 18 94.0 3 25 (4)
7 DET 49.0 4 43.3 10 92.3 4 28 (8)
9 NO 47.8 6 43.8 8 91.5 5 29 3
8 CIN 41.5 13 47.4 3 88.9 6 26 (1)
9 KC 43.0 11 42.4 12 85.4 7 27 14
8 SF 39.7 20 44.6 7 84.3 8 5 6
7 ARI 38.0 23 44.8 5 82.7 9 7 (1)
3 WAS 45.8 9 36.5 21 82.3 10 16 (3)
2 HOU 39.0 21 42.8 11 81.8 11 12 (12)
5 TEN 40.7 16 40.5 17 81.2 12 22 2
6 CHI 48.6 5 32.5 27 81.1 13 19 7
5 SD 50.0 2 30.7 29 80.7 14 12 (5)
7 PHI 46.3 8 34.2 25 80.5 15 23 7
5 PIT 39.8 19 40.7 16 80.5 15 31 (4)
9 NE 41.7 12 38.6 19 80.3 17 18 6
5 GB 45.6 10 33.4 26 79.0 18 13 (4)
4 BUF 37.2 24 41.7 13 78.9 19 15 2
6 MIA 35.8 25 41.7 14 77.5 20 24 2
6 BAL 31.7 30 45.7 4 77.4 21 18 (3)
8 IND 41.1 15 35.5 24 76.5 22 8 6
4 CLE 32.2 29 43.5 9 75.7 23 20 (9)
5 STL 38.3 22 36.5 21 74.8 24 4 8
5 NYG 33.4 28 40.8 15 74.2 25 12 (11)
7 DAL 41.5 13 32.4 28 73.9 26 9 12
5 NYJ 28.6 31 44.7 6 73.3 27 21 (18)
4 OAK 35.4 26 37.6 20 73.0 28 14 (2)
3 TB 34.9 27 35.5 23 70.4 29 1 10
3 ATL 40.1 17 29.4 31 69.5 30 6 (9)
3 MIN 39.9 18 28.6 32 68.5 31 3 (9)
3 JAC 26.0 32 30.0 30 56.1 32 2 (4)


Seattle is the newly minted #1 team in the performance ratings, the first time all season they have reached the pinnacle – matter of fact it’s the first time they have reached the top spot since I started these ratings. The Seahawks are easily the most balanced of the contenders checking in at #3 offensively along with #2 defensively. Over the last three weeks they have posted an average game grade of 115, dominating their opponents with an average margin of victory at 24 points. QB Russell Wilson has posted a QB rating of 131+ in each of his last three outings, and has not been below a rating of 91 in any of their last seven games. With home field advantage in the NFC playoffs all but officially sealed up after last night’s win over the Saints, the Seahawks are clearly the cream of the NFC crop and will be tough to take out in Seattle – they also rank #2 in home performance (for the second straight season) averaging a grade of 107.1 (only trail New Orleans’ average grade of 108.3, making it all the more important picking up that win on MNF) & #2 in home points margin at +18.7 (only trail Denver’s mark of +20.0).

Carolina checks in at #2, and my performance ratings have been bullish on the Panthers almost the entire season – way before many other bloggers, analysts and handicappers picked up on their dominance (my ratings have had the Panthers inside the Top 3 in each of the last eight weeks! Carolina is buoyed by a stifling defense that checks in at #1 in the NFL driven by a rushing defense ranked #3. Carolina has only posted a negative TOM in 2 games all season – and those games make up two of their three losses on the season! During their current 8 game win streak they are outscoring their opponents by an average score of 26-12, showcasing that dominant defense. Over their final four games of the regular season they will face the Saints twice, along with a pair of games against lowly Atlanta & NY Jets; they will likely need a sweep of the Saints to win the NFC South since they currently have the same # of divisional losses as New Orleans (2nd tiebreaker after head to head), but have one more loss in conference games. The first matchup between these two heavyweights will take place on SNF this week.

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Denver
has slipped to #3, their 2nd straight week out of the top spot which they held for 9 consecutive weeks since Wk3 action. However, when you adjust these ratings for SOS the Broncos are definitely #2, and possibly ahead of even Seattle who has played the 2nd weakest schedule in the NFL to date. Denver continues to own the #1 offense in the NFL largely driven by the #1 passing game, but their defense has slipped some in recent weeks – some of which has been driven by injuries. Over the first six weeks of the season Denver posted an average grade of 103.1 including four 100+ grades with their lowest mark during that time a 97.0 in their Wk5 win at Dallas; over their last 6 games they have posted an average grade of just 84.8, with only one game graded over an 89 (a 98.0 in their home win over Washington in Wk8). Keep an eye on their injured defensive players, along with weather in their last quarter of the season as their passing game slips some when the temperature drops.

Next up are the Detroit Lions, who have busted into the Top 5 for the 2nd time this season (they were ranked #2 after Wk1’s win over Minnesota). A huge reason for their big jump into the Top 5 was last week’s destruction of the Green Bay Packers – they graded to a 143.5, which is the top performance of any team in any game this entire season! Besides their Wk11 mark of 72.0 in a road loss at Pittsburgh they are averaging a grade of 111.1 over their last 5 contests, and have posted a winning grade (any mark over 80.0 in a game) in nine of their 12 games this season. The biggest reason they only have seven wins when they should have at least nine with their rating is a (8) TOM, proving once again turnovers are one of the top two key statistics to winning NFL games.

Rounding out the Top 5 are the New Orleans Saints, who are coming off EASILY their worst performance of the season with a grade of just 41.5 in last night’s big loss in Seattle. Before that game they only posted a losing grade once all season – and that rating was a solid 76.0 in a road loss at Chicago Wk5. The Saints have been perhaps the most consistent team in the league this season, which is solid when it comes to regular season play; but their ceiling also doesn’t appear to be as high compared to some of the other notable contenders, which could be an issue when the playoffs commence and they will be facing the best teams in the NFL. What also is a potential big deal come January is the fact they will likely NOT have home field advantage in the NFC – we all know they typically do not play their best offensive ball outside the dome, but overall as a team they check in at just #19 in road performance this season versus the 5th easiest slate of road contests! Among the playoff contenders in both conferences that average road grade is “bested” by only the Cowboys who check in at #31 in road performance – but at least that has come against the toughest slate of road contests to date. The Saints have been outscored on the road by an average of (3.7ppg), while Dallas is almost identical at (4.3ppg).

One final note on the ratings this week and applicable going forward – we have touched on it before but Turnover Margin (TOM) is absolutely critical to success, but also could raise flags for good or bad when applied. What I mean by that is we can see the top two teams – Seattle & Carolina -- have posted a combined TOM of +22, while the #3 & #4 teams have posted a combined (12) TOM; if those teams TOM were to flip or just better/worsen slightly we could see a big time trickle-down effect to their performance, for good or bad.

Next let’s examine conference and divisional breakdowns to see where the strengths and weaknesses are across the NFL landscape:

Division Rankings
Division Rating Overall Rank
NFC West 42 1
AFC West 52 2
AFC North 65 3
NFC North 66 5
NFC South 66 5
NFC East 76 6
AFC South 77 7
AFC East 83 8


For the first time in quite some time this season the AFC West no longer resides at the top of the pecking order – the NFC West has reached the pinnacle, and by a wide margin at that. That huge jump to secure the top of the divisional rankings was largely driven by the Arizona Cardinals who have gone from consistently being ranked in the low 20s all the way up to currently 9th! That dramatic drive up the rankings has come from the Cardinals averaging a robust 99.8 grade over their last 5 weeks in which they have gone 4-1 ATS & SU. The AFC West hasn’t fallen very far, just to #2; but all four of the divisions teams have dropped in the ratings over the last month or so including the once unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs who have dropped 3 straight after opening their season with 9 wins. The AFC East remains the lowest rated division while the NFC East, which often found itself at the bottom of the divisional ratings, has jumped up to 6th.

AFC Playoffs
1) Denver
2) New England
3) Cincinnati
4) Indianapolis
5) Kansas City
6) Miami

NFC Playoffs
1) Seattle
2) New Orleans
3) Detroit
4) Philadelphia
5) Carolina
6) San Francisco

Obviously, as the weeks continue to go by the playoff picture becomes more and more secure. But, looking back at my week by week projections of the playoffs, they have been very solid this season as they have been the last five years.

In the AFC current projection three of those six teams have been in my projected playoff picture every week this year (Denver, New England, Cincinnati); Kansas City has been in the playoffs 12 of 13 weeks (only left off following Week 1), Indianapolis has been projected in 10 of the 13 weeks, leaving just the 6th seed that has seen significant movement. In the current version Miami holds down that spot (6th week the Dolphins have been a projected playoff team), while Oakland, NY Jets and Houston have also been projected to be the 6th seed since Week 5.

In the NFC it’s the same story as three of the six teams have been a projected playoff team the entire season (Seattle, New Orleans, San Francisco); Detroit has been included in 10 of the 13 weeks while Carolina and Philadelphia have been in and out of the projections. Carolina had been battling mostly Green Bay for one of two NFC wild cards, but since QB Aaron Rodgers has been injured Carolina has more of a stranglehold on that spot. Philadelphia & Dallas have been exchanging the NFC East crown all season - Philly has been the projected winner of the division after the first two weeks and the last four weeks; Dallas was the projected winner the remaining weeks.

One last note this week on the 1st pick in the 2014 NFL Draft - amazingly the Houston Texans, who were projected to be a Super Bowl contender by many this offseason, are currently in position to have that pick; it is likely the game on TNF between them and the Jaguars will decide that selection.

Last analysis for this week are my power rankings. My rankings are comprised of a pair of numbers: one measures team performance in my performance ratings (discussed in the opener of this entry); two measures team performance vs. the spread. These two ratings are weighted and combined for my official power rankings.

Weekly Power Rankings
Rank Team
1 Denver
2 Seattle
3 Carolina
4 New Orleans
5 San Francisco
6 Detroit
7 Cincinnati
8 New England
9 Kansas City
10 Arizona
11 Chicago
12 New York Giants
13 Washington
14 Tennessee
14 San Diego
16 Pittsburgh
17 Indianapolis
18 Philadelphia
18 Miami
20 St. Louis
21 Dallas
22 Baltimore
23 Green Bay
24 Houston
25 Buffalo
26 Oakland
27 Tampa Bay
28 New York Jets
28 Cleveland
28 Atlanta
31 Minnesota
32 Jacksonville


  
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