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NFL Power Rankings Week 5: All Aboard The Cowboys Bandwagon!

Who's still sleeping on the Cowboys?

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Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

After four weeks of play, just five of last year's 12 playoff teams have winning records. But who cares about last year's playoff teams. Let#s look at this year's favorites. Two days before kickoff weekend this year, Will Brinson of CBS Sports reviewed the 2015 Super Bowl odds for all 32 NFL teams. Here are the top ten teams heading into the 2014 and their W/L record after Week 4:

2015 Super Bowl Odds
Team Preseason odds Week 4 record
Broncos 11-2 2-1
Seahawks 6-1 2-1
Patriots 8-1 2-2
49ers 8-1 2-2
Packers 9-1 2-2
Saints 9-1 1-3
Eagles 20-1 3-1
Bears 22-1 2-2
Colts 22-1 2-2
Lions 33-1 3-1


Of the ten top favorites heading into the season, only four teams have managed a winning record, while most of the others have struggled to break even. At the same time, there are eight teams with three wins in the league, and only two of those eight teams show up on the preseason top 10 list above.

Which just goes to show that team fortunes change, often dramatically, from season to season in the NFL. Yet the early narratives often fail to reflect that. Such is the case in the weekly power rankings, where last year's story often trumps this year's W/L record.

Here's an extended and remarkably snark-free summary of where the Cowboys are ranked this week. A little further down you can see how that compares to the rest of the NFC East.

Opinion-based rankings

Week 5 Rankings (previous rankings in parenthesis)

AZCentral: 6th (11th): "They’ve climbed 16 spots in two weeks thanks to three consecutive wins and the ability to pound the ball behind the league’s leading rusher, DeMarco Murray. I still worry about the defense, which is incredibly spotty, but if they beat the visiting 3-1 Texans this week, they’ll more than validate this lofty ranking."

USA Today: 9th (19th): "After slamming the Saints, it's clear they're no mirage. The offense hasn't had such ideally complementary players in two decades."

Washington Post: 10th (16th): "Who saw this coming? The defense is playing reasonably well and QB Tony Romo is running around like a youngster, surgically repaired back and all. The Cowboys are perhaps the NFL’s most pleasant surprise through the first quarter of the season. Do they have staying power? That remains to be seen. A few things are clear: The offensive line is really good. And DeMarco Murray, operating behind that excellent line, can be a workhorse runner to make things easier for Romo."

CBSSports (Prisco): 10th (17th): "The offense was the story against the Saints, but let's not overlook that defense having its best game against a good offense. Now comes the Texas Bowl with the Texans."

ESPN: 10th (18th): "DeMarco Murray had 103 rushing yards before contact Sunday, his third game with at least 75 yards before contact this season. All other players have eight such games combined."

Bleacher Report: 10th (18th): "I was wrong about the Dallas Cowboys.

Rod Marinelli has been a visionary for the team as the defensive coordinator. Players like linebackers Rolando McClain and Bruce Carter looked like they were done before the 2014 season began, but now they're key contributors on this defense. Even with cornerback Morris Claiborne continuing to struggle, Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick are making plays at corner in his stead.

The offense here is good enough to win the NFC East, without question. Tony Romo is playing smart, the offensive line is playing better than any in the league and DeMarco Murray looks like the best running back in the NFL through four weeks.

The Cowboys are quickly becoming the team no one can afford to overlook."

Shutdown Corner: 10th (20th): "On second thought, never mind about Marinelli for coach of the year. With the job he's doing, let's do Marinelli for President."

Penn Live: 11th (18th): "As DeMarco Murray goes, so go the Cowboys. The league's leading rusher by far, Murray had his fourth 100-yard outing (149) in as many weeks in a rout of New Orleans. That makes life much easier on quarterback Tony Romo, but a defense that has forced eight turnovers in four games gets credit as well."

M-Live: 11th (19th): "Scott Linehan (remember him?) has the Cowboys offense humming behind workhorse running back DeMarco Murray."

SB Nation: 11th (21st): "The Cowboys jump all the way to No. 11 with a convincing defeat of the slumping Saints. Behind excellent and important offensive line play, Tony Romo was efficient and the run game was punishing. The 'Boys are 3-1, the offense looks explosive, but Dallas' defense remains the big question mark." (Peter King): 11th (- -): "Cowboys number 11. Just one more example how, in football, nobody knows anything."

Bleeding Green Nation: 11th (18th): "How 'bout them Cowboys? Total shellacking of the Saints. Dallas is on a three-game winning streak. DeMarco Murray already has 534 rushing yards through just four games." 12th (18th): "The Dallas offense is loaded. It will win them plenty of games."

Newsday: 13th (19th): "Cowboys may be the surprise team of the year so far. What was supposed to be an atrocious defense manhandled Drew Brees and the Saints on Sunday night, and it’s now Dallas and Philly atop the NFC East."

ProFootballTalk: 13th (19th): "Glitz, glamor, glory."

Foxsports: 13th (22nd): "After entering the season with question marks all over the defense, most people counted out the Cowboys. In the meantime, they had a blueprint—continue to build a dominant offensive line and control the clock through the running game. DeMarco Murray joined a trio of Hall of Famers that includes Emmitt Smith by opening the season with a fourth-straight 100-yard rushing game and a rushing touchdown. Keep an eye on Bruce Carter, who left the game with a quad injury and has been the team’s best coverage linebacker this season."

CBSSports (Kirwan): 16th (19th): "The Cowboys are on a three-game winning streak and the expectations are rising fast. DeMarco Murray is leading the league in rushing and when he has at least 80 yards on the ground the team is 14-5. The big surprise is the defense. Can they keep it up?"

Statistics-based rankings


Aikman Efficiency Ratimgs: 3rd (6th): This metric combines seven stats into one number: yards per rush, yards per pass play, turnovers per game, first downs per game, third-down percentage, points per game (unit on field) and points per red zone possession.

ColdHardFootballFacts: 8th (15th). This indicator ranks teams based on their average ranking across a range of CHFF's Quality Stats. 9th (14th). These rankings are based on an ELO rating system. 10th (13th) This site measures the relative strength of all teams using team performance, home/away status, margin of victory and other factors.

Pro Football Reference: 13th (17th). PFRs Simple Rating System (SRS) takes only two factors into account: strength of schedule and adjusted margin of victory.

Sagarin NFL rankings: 15th (19th). These are rankings based on W/L record, points differential and schedule strength.

Oddsshark: 15th (22nd). Oddsshark use a multitude of stats to establish an offensive and defensive power ranking, which they then adjust for the strength of schedule. 16th (19th). "Dallas is 3-1 for the first time since 2008 with winnable home game this week vs. Houston before going to Seattle. The 'Boys are 5-1 ATS L6 vs. winning teams."

Numberfire: 17th (22nd). These rankings are based on expected point differential against a league average team. If the team's rating is 10, they would be expected to win by 10 points against a league-average opponent. This week, the Cowboys would be expected to lose by 1.4 points to such a league-average team. 19th (12th). BeatGraphs provide rankings that cannot be defeated by a chain of A beat B beat C scenarios. In the end, when all ambiguity is removed, if A has beaten B, A will be ranked above B.


The table below summarizes the power rankings for the four NFC East teams plus the Cowboys' next opponent. As usual, we'll update the remaining rankings once they're available.

Dal_medium Phi_medium Nyg_medium Was_medium Hou_medium
Wk 5 Wk 4 Wk 5 Wk 4 Wk 5 Wk 4 Wk 5 Wk 4 Week 5
USA Today 9 19 6 4 21 25 27 22 14 10 17 7 4 16 25 29 26 13
ESPN 10 18 6 4 19 26 27 23 13
Shutdown Corner 10 20 5 5 23 29 30 28 21
M-live 11 19 7 5 18 28 29 25 19
SBNation 11 21 9 5 20 27 28 25 13 12 20 6 2 13 21 27 26 21
Pro Football Talk 13 19 6 4 25 26 29 23 14
Newsday 13 19 6 4 14 24 21 22 26
Foxsports 13 22 10 6 15 20 29 27 17
Avg.Opinion-based 11.2 19.4 6.8 4.3 18.4 25.1 27.6 24.7 17.1
Aikman Ratings 3 6 26 16 11 29 16 2 14
Cold Hard Football Facts 8 15 19 10 9 18 22 18 13 9 14 11 10 18 22 30 28 25
Team Rankings 10 13 12 9 8 20 29 28 13
Pro Football Reference 13 17 17 26 8 21 26 24 16
Sagarin 15 19 12 8 17 21 27 20 19
Oddsshark 15 22 8 5 22 24 28 25 29 16 19 13 13 17 20 27 22 21
Numberfire 17 22 4 6 15 26 24 12 21
Beatgraphs 19 12 18 14 8 18 23 24 9
Avg. Stat-based 12.5 15.9 14 11.7 13.3 21.9 25.2 20.3 18
Total 11.8 17.6 10.4 8 15.8 23.5 26.4 22.5 17.5


There's a reason I separate these power rankings into stat-based and opinion-based rankings. I find that when the two diverge, there is often a fairly simple reason for that disconnect. When the opinion-based rankings are lower than the stat-based rankings, the team is undervalued by public opinion. When it's the other way around, it usually means the hype machine is in full gear for a particular team - as had been the case for the Eagles over the early part of the season.

In today's power rankings, the Cowboys are ahead in the opinion-based rankings for the first time this seasons, a warning sign that perceived performance may not be in line with measured performance.

What's your take? Are the Cowboys a little too hyped right now or do you welcome any and all aboard the Cowboys bandwagon?

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