ZLO AFC Power Rankings: 2.0
Thomas Zwiller | Thursday, September 23, 2021
If you read my column predicting the entire NFL season and Super Bowl champion (the LA Rams), you will remember the ZLO Model algorithm, my NFL model I use to make predictions about the NFL season.
A new flood of information has come with the season, and I have been updating the Model accordingly, and I have been somewhat surprised by the results.
As you read on, keep in mind we are only two weeks into a long, expanded season, and Week 1 was incredibly chaotic.
So as I list off the ZLO Power Rankings, I will do my best to try and explain why teams are where they are and where I think they will end up.
So without further ado, I proudly present the ZLO 2.0 Power Rankings.
#1: Kansas City Chiefs
This one does not surprise me. The Chiefs have been the favorites to win the AFC and make the Super Bowl. Kansas City has the best offense according to the Model, which, again, is no surprise. The thing that worries me is their defensive rating which makes sense. I don’t think the Chiefs are built to stop the run, and both the Browns and Ravens took advantage of that.
#2: Las Vegas Raiders
This one did surprise me, but I don’t know if it should have. The Raiders put on a solid second-half performance against the Ravens, and despite some overtime mishaps, they found a way to win. Then, they beat the Steelers (arguably one of the best defenses in the conference) on the road. I am not sold on the Raiders yet, but they look like they can be dangerous.
#3: Denver Broncos
The Broncos are a worst-to-first-team if I ever saw one. So far, Teddy Bridgewater has proven himself to be much better than Drew Lock was last season. And on the other side of the ball, the Denver defense appears to be built to win right now. The AFC West is going to be crowded this year.
#4: Baltimore Ravens
After their performance on Sunday Night Football, I expected the Ravens to be a little higher than fourth in the AFC. I do get what the Model is saying; the Ravens’ passing game is not all the way there yet. I have seen flashes from Lamar, but he needs to work on turnovers; it almost cost the Ravens the game against the Chiefs.
#5: New England Patriots
Five feels slightly high for the Patriots. Both their offense and defense are inflated due to their matchup against the Jets when they won 25-6. I think New England is good, and at this rate, there is no reason they can not win the AFC East. But I do expect their rating to fall slightly.
#6: Cleveland Browns
Sixth feels sort of low for the Cleveland Browns. They are a good team, and they are so down because they underperformed against expectations when they played the Texans. As some of the teams above them fall off, I expect the Browns to become a top-five or four team.
#7: Houston Texans
The Texans at seventh are likely the highest overrated team the Model has so far. It is solely due to the Jaguars vs. Texans game in which the Texans simply dominated Jacksonville. They will drop off in the next few weeks when they play some higher-caliber opponents.
#8: Los Angeles Chargers
In the Cowboys vs. Chargers game, the Chargers played worse than I thought they would. Herbert went 31/41 for 338 yards but also threw two interceptions. In defense of the Chargers, they did have a crucial touchdown taken off the board that changed the game. But their defense has only been okay, and their offense underperformed, so the eighth ranking makes sense to me.
#9: Buffalo Bills
While Buffalo at nine is likely low, I think it indicates a significant issue for the Bills: Josh Allen. While I felt good about Allen going into the season and felt like I could explain away Week 1, Week 2 left me worried. Allen is passing at a 56% completion rate, and his net yards per attempt are at a career low of 4.83. The last season his NY/A was at 7.33. It’s early, and he played against two good defenses back to back, but Buffalo may have trouble.
#10: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers are indeed low, but not unexpectedly so. They may boast an elite defense, but as many experts said, the offense has been pretty horrible coming into the season. According to the Model, it is one of the worst in the AFC, and that makes sense. The only question around Pittsburgh is “Can they fix it?” Only time will tell.
#11: Indianapolis Colts
In all fairness to the Colts, they played Seattle at home and the Rams, two outstanding opponents, likely depressing their rating. Unfortunately for the Colts, the schedule does not get any easier; they go on the road for Tennessee, Miami, and Baltimore in the next three weeks.
#12: Cincinnati Bengals
Considering that the Bengals are in year two of a rebuild around Joe Burrow, twelve at this part of the season makes sense. The Bengals played well against the Vikings and then played poorly against the Bears. I think they might go up a little bit, but I expect them to flirt on and off with double digits.
#13: Jacksonville Jaguars
I would expect Jacksonville to drop to 15 or even 16 as the season progresses. Despite having Trevor Lawrence, the team is going to do a lot of losing this season. The only reason they are so high is that Tennessee and Miami are underperforming.
#14: Tennessee Titans
The Titans are a good team, and they are my pick to win the AFC South. They are anywhere near the double digits because of their opening week game against the Cardinals, in which they lost 13-38. They did have a great rebound win against the Seahawks, but they needed overtime to do it, which will not help their stats recover enough. Tennessee will rise, but it might take some time.
#15: New York Jets
The only thing that surprised me about the Jets was that they weren’t No. 16. They are bad, and they will be bad for the remainder of the season.
#16: Miami Dolphins
I think Miami is so low on the Model’s Power Rankings because of the Buffalo game. They lost 0-35, so they certainly did not help themselves statistically. I expect the Dolphins to rebound in the coming weeks.