NFL Preseason Rankings 2020: Tampa Bay Surges, Chiefs Lead the Way

2020 NFL Preseason Rankings

Tom Brady in an orange Tampa Bay jersey is roughly the 1,001st weirdest thing about 2020 (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)

The official 2020 NFL preseason rankings and predictive ratings from TeamRankings have arrived.

If you’d like to learn about the methodology behind our mostly data-driven preseason team ratings, make sure your read our post on how we make NFL preseason rankings.

To see the 2020 rankings, keep reading, and find out how good (or bad) we expect all 32 NFL teams to be this year.

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The 2020 TeamRankings NFL Preseason Rankings

The table below shows our 2020 preseason ranking of all 32 NFL teams, along with each team’s associated preseason predictive rating (e.g. 8.1 for Kansas City).

The team ratings are expressed as points better (positive rating) or worse (negative rating) than a “perfectly average” NFL team, when playing on a neutral field.

The final seven columns of the table show the relative contribution of specific factors our preseason ratings model considers, as well as a final “market adjustment” we make for each team. We’ll explain these factors below.

1Kansas City Chiefs8.
2Baltimore Ravens7.
3New Orleans Saints6.
4San Francisco 49ers4.93.5-1.21.5-
5Tampa Bay Buccaneers3.40.2-
6Dallas Cowboys2.
7Seattle Seahawks2.
8New England Patriots2.02.91.9-1.60.0-
9Philadelphia Eagles1.6-
10Pittsburgh Steelers1.4-
11Minnesota Vikings1.
12Green Bay Packers1.11.0-0.60.7-0.7-
13Tennessee Titans1.11.9-0.30.3-
14Indianapolis Colts1.0-0.4-0.31.0-
15Buffalo Bills0.70.6-1.40.1-
16Los Angeles Rams0.
17Atlanta Falcons0.
18Cleveland Browns0.3-0.8-1.1-
19Houston Texans-0.30.1-0.11.3-0.6-
20Chicago Bears-0.6-0.30.8-1.0-
21Los Angeles Chargers-0.9-0.21.3-
22Denver Broncos-1.2-0.5-0.7-1.5-
23Arizona Cardinals-2.1-1.1-
24Las Vegas Raiders-2.2-2.0-1.9-
25Detroit Lions-2.4-1.7-
26Carolina Panthers-3.7-2.3-0.2-
27New York Giants-4.0-2.7-1.0-
28Cincinnati Bengals-4.8-2.6-1.1-
29New York Jets-4.9-2.2-1.7-
30Miami Dolphins-5.7-3.9-1.9-0.21.9-0.3-1.30.0
31Washington Redskins-6.9-3.7-0.9-2.70.0-
32Jacksonville Jaguars-6.9-2.00.5-1.9-

2020 Preseason Ratings Predictive Factors

Using more than a decade of NFL data, we’ve identified team-level stats and characteristics that are highly correlated with success in an upcoming NFL season.

Just as importantly, we’ve worked to identify and ignore information that isn’t impactful. You can build all sorts of qualitative narratives that attempt to presage why an NFL team might be good or bad this season (very experienced QB, great new rookies, motivated from losing in the playoffs last year, etc.). But often times, theories like these aren’t confidently substantiated by historical data-based testing.

(For example, we have not found a strong correlation between the quality of a team’s most recent draft class and its upcoming season performance. However, the quality of draft classes three and four years ago does seem to make a difference, presumably because it takes a few years for most talented rookies to develop into higher performers.)

While we encourage you to read our full preseason rankings methodology, here’s a quick explanation of the factors we currently use in our NFL preseason ratings:

  • LAST YEAR: How good a team was last season (final predictive rating)
  • FRANCHISE: Recent historical performance, excluding last season
  • QB: Projected starting quarterback play, compared to the rest of the league and recent play for the franchise
  • LUCK: Level of improvement (or decline) expected in higher-variance metrics like turnovers
  • DRAFT: Expected increases in production based on quality of players recently drafted
  • COACH: Recent coaching changes expected to have positive or negative impact
  • MARKET: Adjustment if our ratings-based projection for a team is far off the betting market

(Note: These factors are not the same as the factors that drive our 2020 preseason college football rankings.)

The Relative Importance Of Rankings Factors

Certain factors used by our preseason ratings model are worth more than others, as you can see from the above table. For example, last season’s performance level (LAST YEAR) tends to be the best predictor of how a team will do this season.

In comparison, how a team has done over a longer period of recent history (FRANCHISE) — more a measure of the consistent quality of the coaching staff, and a team’s general prowess at restocking and developing talent — also has a predictive impact. But its correlation with upcoming season performance generally isn’t as strong as LAST YEAR.

MARKET, the lone subjective factor of the bunch, varies from team to team. We make final ratings adjustments based on team-specific factors that likely represent blind spots in our current algorithm. This factor deserves an appropriate explanation, which you can also find in our preseason rankings explanation post.

Jacksonville: the 2020 Outlier

The biggest market adjustment in 2020 is Jacksonville. The Jaguars have been a below-average team the last two years, finishing 24th and 21st in our predictive ratings. Three years ago, they were unexpectedly in the AFC Championship Game and featured an exciting young defense. Our projection, without the market adjustment, would have them as a below average team, but not the worst team in the league.

The betting market, meanwhile, has them projected as the worst team in the NFL.

And it’s not like the quarterback situation is significantly worse. Whatever your thoughts on Gardner Minshew, he played better than Nick Foles last year. And it’s not like Jacksonville’s past ratings were due to great QB play with Blake Bortles either. But what the team has had is a major overhaul and jettisoning of the talent that was on that 2017 team. In just a few years, they have gotten rid of pretty much everyone from that team. So there has been a larger amount of turnover than we would expect, and maybe our models aren’t picking that up as well. Further, there’s some belief that they are “tanking” for the 2020 season to get a good draft pick in 2021.

Whether that’s true or not, we are regressing our ratings toward the market on Jacksonville. That said, we still have them rated a little higher than the implied rating from the betting markets. Just a year ago, everyone thought Miami was in tank mode and they still won 5 games and did not finish with the first overall pick.


2020 NFL Preseason Rankings Highlights

Here are some other observations and notes from our preseason rankings:

Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens Well Ahead of the Pack

The Kansas City Chiefs are again are No. 1 team in the preseason, just as they were in 2019. Baltimore checks in just behind them, coming off a 14-2 season where Lamar Jackson won MVP.

The difference, though, is in the size of the ratings gap between those two teams and everyone else. Last year, Kansas City was our top-rated team, but at +5.4 points, and very close to several other teams. Kansas City (+8.1) and Baltimore (+7.8) are our second and third-highest preseason ratings of the last five years, behind only New England entering the 2017 season.

That gap makes sense, though, considering that Kansas City has now shown some dominance in two straight seasons with Patrick Mahomes, and won the Super Bowl last season, while Baltimore was a historically dominant regular season, also with a young quarterback in place. Add in that the most consistently successful franchise of the last decade, New England, is undergoing major personnel changes, and the AFC is top heavy in 2020.

The NFC is More Balanced at the Top

While the AFC features a large gap in our preseason ratings between Kansas City, Baltimore, and everyone else, the NFC is more balanced. The New Orleans Saints lead the way, followed by last year’s NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers. Tampa Bay, with Tom Brady now at quarterback, has shot up to fifth overall and third among NFC teams.

All told, NFC teams make up the next 5 spots behind Kansas City and Baltimore, and 8 of the top 12 teams in our predictive ratings.

New England Ahead of Buffalo in AFC East

There’s plenty of optimism that Buffalo can end New England’s long run of dominance in the AFC East. Even with Tom Brady’s departure and the Patriots being rated far lower than they have been at any point in the last decade in our preseason ratings, we still have the Patriots ahead of the Bills.

Despite their 10-6 record and wildcard appearance, the Buffalo Bills were only at +0.8 in our predictive ratings when the 2019 season finished (13th best). They had an easy schedule in 2019 that made their emergence seem more drastic than it was. So the amount of ground they had to make up on the Patriots was fairly large.

Some Final Advice On Interpreting Preseason NFL Rankings

Some people get quite worked up about preseason NFL rankings — especially when our approach suggests their favorite team is going to be worse than the prevailing consensus.

That’s to be expected. No one else ranks teams exactly like we do, and our approach often discounts the impact of things that many media analysts and football “experts” believe to be important.

We also have a very specific goal for our preseason NFL team ratings, which relates to predicting the margins of victory of future NFL games. That goal doesn’t line up exactly with the motivations of many other rankings makers.

Just keep in mind that predicting how 32 different NFL teams are each going to do this season, before any of them have played a regular season game, is no easy task. No system is perfect, including ours. It has strengths and weaknesses. We expect to get some teams slightly wrong, and some other teams very wrong, for a variety of reasons.

But in the longer term, our approach has done very well when measured by the yardstick that means the most to us: the overall accuracy, across the entire universe of 32 NFL teams, of projecting team performance levels at the end of the upcoming season.

Look at Ratings, Not Just Rankings

Finally, please remember to look at team ratings and not just rankings, because ratings tell a much more precise story.

For example, in 2020, 4.7 ratings points separate No. 1 Kansas City from No. 5 Tampa Bay. That’s about the same difference as between Tampa Bay and No. 22 Denver (4.6 ratings point difference). So Tampa Bay finishing closer to Denver would be no greater surprise than them overtaking the Chiefs, even though they are 5th in the power ratings.

Meanwhile, less than a full point separates teams ranked 9th (Philadelphia) to 16th (Los Angeles Rams) so it’s more accurate to view all those teams as part of the same tier.

So don’t overreact to a team’s ranking number. Look at the rating as well, and you’ll be able to tell which generally expected performance tier a team is in.

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