A strange thing sometimes happens late in NFL seasons: The hard-worn truths that develop across 12 and 13 weeks of crunching hard data can sometimes be turned on their head at the snap of your fingers. What's more, even when things seem to go as expected on the field, they sometimes don't reflect in the Quality Stats.
That was illuminated by the ColdHardFootballFacts after Week 13, where the Ravens won, the 49ers and Patriots lost, and the big winners in the Power Rankings were ... the 49ers and Patriots?
Here are the big takeaways we gleaned from all the ColdHardFootballFacts Quality Stats:
5) About that weird twist in the Quality Stats Power Rankings: Yes, the Ravens beat the 49ers. Yes, the Patriots were de-pantsed by the Texans in Houston. And yes, when all was said and done, the 49ers maintained the top spot in the Power Rankings while the Patriots slipped past the Ravens into second place. The empirical numbers show that San Francisco did dip a bit from Week 13, as did the Ravens and Patriots. So what's up? The answer seems to be about relative performance against quality opponents. The Ravens surged into second place a week earlier on the back of a near-historic rout of the once Super Bowl competing Rams. This week they eked past the 49ers on a last second field goal. And while the Patriots may have lost, a pair of garbage time touchdowns ensured that the loss was closer than it really was on the field, and that the offense's numbers were puffed up from what New England has achieved in some other recent performances. The net result was a surprising flip in the rankings, even if New England and Baltimore remain close enough that the Ravens could easily leapfrog New England again this week, even if both teams win against the Chiefs (Pats) and Bills (Ravens) respectively.
4) As expected, the Texans' win against New England, in which the Houston ex-Pats brain trust truly appeared to outmaneuver the great Bill Belichick and co., led to the biggest leap up the Intelligence Index standings. Houston is still stuck in the relative doldrums of 11th place, but that's far better than their previous hold on 15th (the Broncos also made a four-position leap after rookie quarterback Drew Locke's first victory, for what it's worth). The other big movers of even more significance reflect the improvement of one new quarterback and the continued dominance of another. The rejuvenated Titans under Ryan Tannehill, always darlings of the Quality Stats, have now reached the No. 3 spot in the Intelligence Index. That's a far cry from the 11th place spot they occupied before benching former first round pick Marcus Mariota. The Chiefs have also hit their statistical stride, emerging as a top-five coached team despite the everpresent Andy Reid time management issues. That speaks volumes about the play of Patrick Mahomes, who has lifted the Chiefs back up to the top-three in Scoreability and propped up Kansas City's lackluster defense in the process.
3) The Patriots are losing their grip on the top of the three key statistical indeces! OK, that's an overreaction, but the Pats have now officially been leapfrogged in Real Quarterback Rating Differential by the surging Ravens. That's all about the Ravens' unstoppable offense, as New England still retains a huge lead on top of Defensive Real QBR, by more than 10 points. The Ravens? They lead Real QBR by five points ... but are more than 22 points better than the Patriots in the same statistic. The total edge to Baltimore's favor is less than a single point, because New England's advantage in Defensive Real QBR is ... also 22 points. Something tells us that more will give on one side or the other in the next four weeks.
2) It's almost impossible to overstate the rushing dominance of the Ravens. Take a quick gander at the Offensive Rusher Rating rankings and it's readily apparent: Only four teams on the list are within 900 yards of the Ravens' rushing total ... and just one is within 800 yards (the Seahawks). That's explains why Baltimore's edge in Offensive Rusher Rating — magnified by a league-best 18-to-5 touchdown to fumbles lost ratio — is nearly five points higher than the Panthers, who continue to enjoy a historic season from running back Christian McCaffrey despite coach Ron Rivera's dismissal. The flip side of Baltimore's dominance in Offensive Rusher Rating? The Ravens are among the league's worst in Defensive Rusher Rating, ranked 24th and less than four points removed from 30th-place Green Bay. The fact that two of the NFL's most successful W-L teams would be in the bottom quartile of Defensive Rusher Rating showcases that a team can win while struggling to stuff the run in 2019, but it also illuminates a potential glaring Achilles heel for both apparent Super Bowl contenders. Hear that Saints, Seahawks, 49ers, Patriots, Texans and Chiefs? Pound the rock against the Packers and Ravens. Like Obi Wan, it may be your only hope.
1) After Seattle's clutch victory against the Vikings on Monday Night Football, it sure appears that we may be seeing separation of a top-four in the Passer Rating Differential standings, which could be extremely telling heading into the playoffs. "The mother of all statistics," Passer Rating Differential has always been considered the most, or one of the most, accurate prognosticators of a team's long term potential. Essentially, if a team wants to win the Super Bowl, it better rank near the top of Passer Rating Differential or it's not going to be playing to hoist a Lombardi Trophy. Now the 2019 standings have had a five point gap open between fourth-place Seattle and their recently vanquished foe, fifth-place Minnesota. By comparison, there is a five point gap between New England at the top and Seattle in fourth. If that's a clear indicator of the true top four teams in the league with just four weeks of the regular season remaining, the real contenders to win it all are the aforementioned Patriots and Seahawks, plus the Ravens and 49ers sandwiched between them. That certainly passes the smell test, though it's instructive to note the absence of the Saints and Packers (in seventh and ninth, respectively), in particular. It was be fascinating to see if a team or two creates even more separation at the top after the season's final four regular season matchups.