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NFL predictions: The Dallas Cowboys might be better than you think

Net rating is all the rage in sports analytics. Point differential.

The NBA gurus believe it is the best indicator of a team’s strength. Long-term, like over a full season, better than even won-loss record.

Baseball geeks, the pioneers of the analytics movement, long have championed run differential as the prime example of a team’s true status.

So how about the NFL? Does point differential in the NFL carry the same weight? Probably not. The NFL plays 16 games. One fifth the amount of an NBA season. One tenth the amount of a baseball season. One NFL blowout could carry a disproportionate emphasis.

But still, seems like it’s relatively interesting number, point differential in an NFL season. It’s hard to score in pro football. It’s hard to keep the opponent from scoring. It’s all hard. So a team should get extra credit for a dominating victory or a close defeat. That’s really what point differential is all about.

With that in mind, here are the NFL rankings, based on point differential:

1. New England (8-1): +172. Does anyone really argue that the Patriots aren’t the most feared team in football?

2.San Francisco (8-0): +133. This is an endorsement of the 49ers. They’ve won by an average of 16.6 points. Impressive.

3. Dallas (5-3): +85. Whoa. This puts things in a different light. Are the Cowboys better than we think they are? Maybe so.

4. Baltimore (6-2): +75. The Ravens have been really good.

5. Minnesota (6-3): +76: The Vikings rank a tad below Baltimore because they’ve played nine games.

6. Kansas City (6-3): +48. Staying this far up the food chain, missing Patrick Mahomes for 2-1/2 games, is notable.

7. Houston (6-3): +47. The Texans are a sleeper team, though you can’t blame anyone for sleeping on a team that has lost J.J. Watt.

8. LA Rams (5-3) +40: There’s not that much buzz about the Rams this season. But Sean McVay’s team has played rather well.

9. New Orleans (7-1): +39. Surprise, surprise. The Saints seem to be dominant, but they’ve won a bunch of close games. That’s great for the record, not always great for future performance.

10. Green Bay (7-2): +37. Much like the Saints, not as gaudy of a point differential as the record indicates.

11. Buffalo (6-2): +27. The Bills’ schedule has been so weak, who cares what the point differential is?

12. Seattle (7-2): +18. Strange team. Might not be long for the playoffs.

13. LA Chargers (4-5): +15. Hmm. A losing record with a positive net rating makes for an interesting future.

14. Philadelphia (5-4): +11. This is about what you’d expect from a 5-4 team.

15. Pittsburgh (4-4): +7. Teams playing without their quarterback shouldn’t care about net rating. You’re just trying to survive.

16. Indianapolis (5-3): +5. I don’t know. The Colts look like a 4-4 team.

17. Carolina (5-3): +5. A resilient squad, just like Indy, making a quarterback change on the fly.

18. Tennessee (4-5): +3. The most anonymous NFL team this side of Buffalo lives up to its billing.

19. Chicago (3-5): -2. All the Bears fan who say their team should have a better record are right.

20. Jacksonville (4-5): -13. The Jaguars appear to be fortunate to be only one game under .500. 

21. Detroit (3-4-1): -13. The Lions have been competitive – even more competitive than maybe we thought.

22. Tampa Bay (2-6): -22. Some would say you are what your point differential says you are. 

23. Denver (3-6): -21. To be 3-6 and have been outscored by just 2.3 points a game is not half bad.  

24. Oakland (4-4): -34. Oops. All the optimism over the Raiders might need some brakes.

25. Arizona (3-5-1): -56. The Cardinals have been more competitive than most thought.

26. Cleveland (2-6): -53. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

27. NY Giants (2-7): -79. Uninteresting New York team. That’s hard to achieve.

28. Atlanta (1-7): -85. Here’s another way to look at net rating. The Saints are 7-1 and are +39. Which means the Falcons are more bad than the Saints are good.

29. Cincinnati (0-8): -86. Now this is rich. And instructive. The Bengals are the NFL’s only winless team, but three other teams have a bigger point differential. Which means Cincy has been more competitive.

30. Washington (1-8): -111. It’s difficult to fall far and fast from mediocre, but the Redskins have managed to do so.

31. NY Jets (1-7): -115. The worst team in New York means you’re really bad.

32. Miami (1-7): -153. The Jets lost to this team. They should be ashamed.

Let’s get to the predictions:

Chargers at Raiders: Los Angeles 23-21. The team that started in LA and moved to San Diego before returning to LA but rumored to be headed for London, plays the team that started in Oakland and moved to LA before returning to Oakland and now headed for Las Vegas, though it played in London two weeks ago. Got that straight?

Lions at Bears: Detroit 20-17. Chicago’s offense has ground to a halt under Mitch Trubisky. How about free agent Cam Newton as a Bear next season?

Ravens at Bengals: Baltimore 33-13. Lamar Jackson is the flavor of the month, and I have to say, he’s turned into a far better passer than I ever thought possible.

Bills at Browns: Cleveland 21-19. Buffalo is a cool story at 6-2, but the Bills have beaten the Jets, Giants, Bengals, Titans, Dolphins and Redskins. Combined record – 9-42.

Chiefs at Titans: Kansas City 27-19. Patrick Mahomes might return this week from a dislocated knee cap. It might not be necessary. The Chiefs just beat the Vikings with Matt Moore at QB.

Falcons at Saints: New Orleans 30-7. How did the Saints stay so good and how did the Falcons get so bad?

Giants at Jetropolitans: G-Men 24-13. The Giants are 1-0 as the visitors in their home park. As the road team, they beat the Jets in 2011.

Cardinals at Buccaneers: Tampa Bay 34-31. The Bucs are 2-6 but have been incredibly competitive – overtime with Seattle last week, a one-point loss to the Giants, a seven-point loss to the Saints, a four-point loss to Tennessee.

Dolphins at Colts: Indianapolis 17-14. Indy quarterback Jacoby Brissett might play, but I’d rest him from an apparent MCL sprain and try to beat hapless Miami with Brian Hoyer at QB.

Panthers at Packers: Green Bay 28-20. Kyle Allen might have won the Carolina quarterback job. The Panthers are considering releasing Newton at the end of the season, for health and contractual reasons. Beat Green Bay, and all about might be resolved.

Rams at Steelers: Los Angeles 26-17. Nothing comes easy for Mason Rudolph and the Steelers offense these days, but the long tall OSU Cowboy is 3-2 as a starter this season.

Vikings at Cowboys: Dallas 25-24. Both Dak Prescott and Kirk Cousins are oft-maligned quarterbacks, but both rank in the upper 25 percent of NFL starters in passer rating. Cousins is third, Prescott eighth.

Seahawks at 49ers: Seattle 23-20. What a game. And what a season for San Francisco, should the 49ers win. They would have the NFC West virtually sewed up before the middle of November.

Last week: 9-5. Season: 87-47-1.

Related Photos
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throws a pass against the Baltimore Ravens during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throws a pass against the Baltimore Ravens during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-8b6a907fb24652f131c67ff836357a88.jpg" alt="Photo - New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throws a pass against the Baltimore Ravens during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)" title="New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throws a pass against the Baltimore Ravens during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)"><figcaption>New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throws a pass against the Baltimore Ravens during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)</figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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