This is where I am supposed to introduce you to this week’s Power Rankings. Putting aside the fact that it makes no sense to put the word “Power” in there, I am supposed to tell you what happened this week. However, so much happened this week that I literally can think of nothing to say that is not going to be thoroughly covered in the rankings below. We had the Vikings waived Moss, Shanahan pull his only good QB, and a handful of really close games that went a long way toward determining wh
o will be the team to beat in each division and conference. I see no reason to waste your time further as we will get to all of that, so let’s go!
32. Carolina Panthers (1-6)
I think the Panthers are clearly the worst team in the NFL. I know, they have one more win than the Bills, but the frequency with which the Panthers do not show up for games is astonishing. They have a lame-duck coach (perhaps part of the reason), no consistency anywhere on offense due to bad line and QB play, and really struggle to stop people. This team had a decent amount of potential coming in with that solid running game and O-line to go along with what looked like a decent defense on paper, but all of that has failed them and I do not there there is a team I would feel less confident in picking than the Panthers.
31. Denver Broncos (2-6)
This team was pretty promising there for a while. Those days are over. Going into the season I liked the team but did not think they had a go-to-guy, but instead of that just costing them in close games, it has left them somewhat at a loss to even get big 1st downs. They also seem to have made a habit of costly penalties, like the one on the flea flicker that killed their momentum, and just cannot get stops when they need them. Kyle Orton has had a fantastic year so far, but it is going to be wasted thanks to some poor defense, lack of a running game, and 3rd down efficiency (22nd in NFL).
30. Cincinnati Bengals (2-5)
Be honest. How funny would it be if they picked up Randy Moss? I say its about a 9 out of 10 for the following reasons. It would show an impressive lack of understanding about what their problems are as a team. This would go a long long way toward making it funny but when you add the towering egos that could be on the field at the same time, it just gets funnier. Not only that, but watching Carson Palmer STILL struggle to get them the ball would just be great to watch.
The bottom line is that this is just not a good team. They have decent stats, but most of those come in garbage time (like Carson Palmer’s 350 yards passing vs the Pats in week 1). The defense has really not lived up to expectations despite holding Miami to 5 field goals and only one touchdown, and the combination has just left the people of Cincinnati feeling blue. Or orange and striped. Either way.
29. San Francisco 49ers (2-5)
28. Arizona Cardinals (3-4)
I have not been bunching teams together so I can talk about them more, but I am making an exception. Why? Because I do not want to talk about these teams. San Francisco had a great week with Lincecum picking up the win in Game 5 of the World Series, and Edgar Renteria came through with the game winning shot off Cliff Lee. These are the only things that happened in San Francisco sports this week.
The Cardinals are right in the hunt in the NFC West, and that makes me a little nauseous. Who gives up 38 points to Tampa Bay? I can understand giving up yardage to LeGarrette Blount as he is a frightening man, but come on, the defense was supposed to be alright this year. I realize that a big part of this was Max Hall playing like Rex Grossman (I’m not kidding) and spotting the Bucs 14 points, but that is just embarrassing. Yes, I have them below the Bills and no, I have no qualms about it. The Bills would beat the Cardinals by 10 on a neutral field. By the way, I told you Derek Anderson would be back. He is the cockroach; you just cannot kill him.
27. Buffalo Bills (0-7)
Speaking of the Bills, here they are! 27th and climbing! Am I the only one who feels pretty sure they will beat the Bears next week? I don’t know but I secretly kind of like this team right now. They stood up to KC in KC (something the Chargers barely did), and really just blew that game. Shoulda won it, but I guess that is why they are the Bills. Still, take solace in this ranking, Bills fans, because you are CLEARLY not the worst team in the league. I mean it.
The good news for Bills fans is that the schedule gets easier. Bears, Lions, Bengals is very manageable, but they had better take care of business there and not find themselves 0-10 and facing Pittsburgh at home, and at Minnesota. I am pretty confident they can pick up a win with how well they are playing.
26. Cleveland Browns (2-5)
Cleveland has not been this thrilled about mediocrity since they acquired Mo Williams. They hang around in just about every game, and if not for a few bad breaks here and there that are to be expected with a mediocre football team and the city of Cleveland, the Browns could boast a decent record. Not a ton to say about them coming off a bye week, but they aren’t half bad.
25. Chicago Bears (4-3)
Speaking of half bad, welcome to Chicago. The only positive thing I have to say about this team is that the defense is pretty solid most of the time. Aside from that, I got nothing. Is there any quicker way to waste talent than big turnovers and poor offensive line play? I really don’t think there is. This team will continue to struggle until they fix that offensive line. They couldn’t block Gilbert Godfrey.
24. Dallas Cowboys (1-6)
I thought about this ranking for a long time. Their Jacksonville loss was a combination of old and new for the Cowboys. Usually they lose from mental mistakes and poor coaching, but this week had much more to do with physical mistakes, with a few mental mistakes mixed in. The physical mistakes were clearly the dropped passes that turned into picks, turning an otherwise great day for Jon Kitna into a mediocre one. Believe it or not, this is a great sign for the Cowboys. Physical mistakes are correctable, but mental mistakes kill you over and over again, as I am sure the Cowboys are learning. However, the mental mistakes were still there with Jason Witten not getting his head around on that one pick, and failing to prepare for David Garrard.
This David Garrard issue is a big deal. First off, he is the epitome of a certain kind of QB. If you underrate him, he will kill you every time. Ask Dallas. If you overrate him, you are overplaying him way too much. However, if you just watch film and appraise him, there is nothing to fear. The Cowboys clearly did not come to play this Saunday, and their lack of preparation showed on the field. This brings me to the other Garrard point. After the game, Garrard said the Cowboys did not look interested in the game. If he is right, and it’s hard to argue with him given the results, that is a huge deal. If that is really the case, and I think it is, then it is time to clean house in Dallas. Not just Wade Phillips, but Jason Garrett, Dave Campo, and anyone else who helped instill this lack of discipline needs to go. I don’t care if it means going 6-10 for 2 years. Nothing is worse for a football team (or any team) than not wanting it badly enough.
23. Seattle Seahawks (4-3)
Did they fool anyone besides Tony Dungy? I doubt it. The line is almost as bad as the Bears’ line, Hasselbeck is way way way over the hill to the point where he can’t even see the top any more, and they have no identity whatsoever on offense. The defense is mediocre at best, and that is to be expected given their youth, but yeesh. 33 to the Raiders? What’s next, 40 to the Giants?
Oh, they play them next? Uh oh.
22. St. Louis Rams (4-4)
This is the best team in the NFC West by default. I mean who else is there? Consider me un-fooled by the 4-4 record too. The two teams with records of .500 or better that they have beaten are Washington and Seattle, and they lost to Arizona, Oakland, and Detroit by 38. I mean they have a really easy schedule and could make it to 7 wins, but they are really just not that good. I will pick them a decent amount just because of how soft their schedule, but they are not nearly as good as their record would imply.
21. Minnesota Vikings (2-5)
What just happened with the Moss thing? No, that isn’t rhetorical, I’m serious. Do they not have to pay him “straight cash homie” now? is this their way of throwing in the towel on the season? Are they just that confident that Sidney Rice will pick up where he left off? Do they not see the correlation between Moss being on the field and Percy Harvin eating people alive?
Look, I get that the Vikings do not want a guy on their team who doesn’t try to catch a ball 3 feet from him, but is this really the time the Vikings decided to take a hard line? Right now? Not when Brad Childress would have rubbed Favre’s tummy if he was asked to?
I am just perplexed. The Vikings are going to be just a little above mediocre for the rest of the year, and their coach is to blame (along with some nagging injuries). He needs to be fired at the end of the season, or if Favre misses a game. Promote Leslie Frazier from within and move on. I cannot say this strongly enough.
However, this is probably the best time to discuss where Moss should go as well. I am not sure what really happened in that locker room, so I cannot call him a cancer yet, but if you are St. Louis, Seattle, or (and just for fun) the Cowboys, aren’t you interested? In the case of the first two teams, he gives them a serious boost in the passing game, and in the case of the Cowboys, it would give them yet another star that Wade Phillips couldn’t handle. It would be one hell of an implosion. I do not know how far down the waiver wire he will drop, but Tampa Bay could be a possibility too. We will see.
20. Washington Redskins (4-4)
What the hell, Mike Shanahan? We will get to the excuses in a second and if they had any validity, but I would rather start out with Rex Grossman. I guarantee that every Bears fan was laughing his ass off when he saw Rex Grossman come into the game. It brought their minds back to the times when Rex’s hands weren’t big enough to handle the snaps from center, and how he would fumble at least one snap a game. What does he do when he comes in? FUMBLES A SNAP!!! How perfect is that? I may or may not have fantasized for a few minutes about Mike Shanahan coming out after the game and saying “Rex Grossman is our quarterback” in a monotone, defeated kind of way.
Ok, on to the McNabb thing. First Shanahan said he did not know the plays. This was pretty appalling if true, and pretty slimy if false. Then he said that McNabb did not have the cardiovascular fitness to do it. Does Washington just have the hardest cardio tests ever? Albert Haynesworth thinks so. But what gives? Is Shanahan just being a jerk like earlier in the year with Haynesworth, or was he right about something?
The excuses were weak and a little slimy. However, a stat on Sportscenter caught my eye. Among QBs with 15 or more pass attempts under 2 minutes at either half, Donovan McNabb was 3rd worst in the NFL with a rating of around 40. The only two worse were Jake Delhomme (22.5) and Kevin Kolb (20). Also worth noting, though irrelevant, was that Rodgers and Henne were just a smidge better than McNabb. So he sucks running the 2 minute drill. That is nothing new, given all his time with Andy Reid, but is this something more?
Imagine for a moment that all these years, when we were killing Andy Reid for clock management, that it was really McNabb’s fault. What if all those times Reid screwed it up worse than Les Miles, it was really just Donovan not being able to run the 2 minute drill? Would that be a big deal for a QB who has been one of the best of this decade? The only bad news for Reid is that he is not at all exonerated since Kolb’s rating is 20. Seriously 20. 5 attempts and 0 completions gives you a rating of just under 40. Anyway, the Redskins locker room is probably now divided and I do not expect good things from this team.
19. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-4)
I used the clever line (if I do say so myself) about Dr. Jag-yll and Mr. Hyde last week, and it is still true. They killed Dallas like its name was JR (I would be dating myself here if I was alive when Dallas was on air) and did so with pretty shocking ease. Next week they have a by, which means they have plenty of time to think of how to throw us for a loop next.
18. San Diego Chargers (3-5)
Was that Titans game more about their return to potentially being a contender out west, or more about their special teams being historically bad? They got ANOTHER punt blocked, muffed an extra point try, and just generally can’t squeeze anything positive out of special teams. You cannot win games like that. To quote Bill Williamson, Blogger for ESPN.com on the AFC West:
San Diego has allowed a 94-yard punt return for a touchdown at Kansas City, two kickoff returns for touchdowns at Seattle and two blocked punts at Oakland in less than five minutes, which resulted in a touchdown and a safety. Football Outsiders believes the Chargers are on their way to having perhaps the worst overall special-teams unit in the history of the NFL.
I couldn’t have said it better myself, Football Outsiders. You cannot win games like that. Period. It is impressive how high I have them in spite of that. Take note, too, because it is a huge compliment to Philip Rivers, who no one likes.
17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-2)
Are they for real? No. Will they keep winning games? Absolutely. Their schedule is a joke, and Josh Freeman is pretty good in the 4th quarter. The defense certainly picks its spots to play well (like got against Charlie Batch and Pittsburgh, and not against New Orleans in Tampa, but otherwise they seem competent enough to get turnovers and wreak havoc, even if it means giving up 35 points to Arizona in the process. They are not for real, but they could surprise some people down the stretch.
They are very symbolically the last team of the lower half of the league.
16. Detroit Lions (2-5)
Yeah, I did it. The Lions are in the top half. They earned that win against what was a good Redskins team, and have Minnesota squarely in their sights for crawling out of the cellar in the North. They honestly could finish second in that division given the state of the Bears. Stafford showed some rust in his first game back, but still knew the gameplan was to throw it to Calvin Johnson, so he ended up with 4 TDs. I love this team going forward. Think of them as the Texans when they finally got Matt Schaub healthy with Andre Johnson, and had Steve Slaton killing people for 9 games. They are a lot like that, but Ndamukong Suh is better than Mario Williams, and that is no slight to Williams. WE NEED MORE LIONS KOOL-AID!!!
15. Houston Texans (4-3)
They lost to the Colts, so what. It wasn’t the first time. Actually, it was the 16th time out of 18, so there isn’t really any extra reason for concern. The pass defense is still atrocious, but that is nothing new, and the Texans tried to counterbalance that by dropping 7 into coverage. Mike Hart beat them when they did. The defense was missing Demeco Ryans, but they should get used to it, because he could be out for a while. The Texans have really not changed in my perception since Week 2.
14. Oakland Raiders (4-4)
Who will die first, Fidel Castro or Al Davis? You are right, it was a trick question, both have probably been dead for a year. I still have no idea what is going on at QB for the Raiders, but behind a solid ground game, some above average QB play, and a mediocre schedule, the Raiders are .500, and should be 5-3 if Sebastian Janikowski could hit a short field goal against Arizona. The defense has been pretty solid too, which was a surprise to me, SOmething seemed to click with this team, and whatever it is, I would not want to face it when it is angry.
PS do not be surprised if they blow one soon on the road. Raider Nation never comes without speed bumps. I also may have overrated them a little with a tough schedule coming up, but I think they can beat KC in Oakland next week.
13. Green Bay Packers (5-3)
Now THAT is more like it, Pack! First shutout of the season, against a top notch AFC team coming off a bye? Done. The offense was junk, but a lot of that can be blamed on the wind and the Jets defense, neither of which was going to be compatible with good offense this Sunday.I would not put a ton into this performance except that they played a very good game defensively and did not shoot themselves in the foot once. Big strides for them.
They still have not earned my Super Bowl pick back, though.
12. Tennessee Titans (5-3)
I think this Titans team is like every other. They are good for around 20 points a game (generally speaking no more no less), play good defense until crunch time, and will have to win games through good special teams. Strictly speaking, there is nothing wrong with that, but that is not the equation for a good playoff team. What is worse is that Kenny Britt, their only really talented receiver, could miss extended time, further killing any diversification in their offense. I mean, by the sound of it so far, you would think the Titans stink, but they are pretty good, just without any long term potential.
11. Kansas City Chiefs (5-2)
Never bet against the Chiefs at home, even if it means assuming a team will completely blow the game like Buffalo did. It is hard to rank a team high after almost losing at home to a winless team, but the Chiefs have what it takes to win the AFC West and put the fear of God in teams in the playoffs. They average 190 ypg rushing (over 20 yards more than 2nd), and play excellent defense. Matt Cassel is not good, so they are clearly not contenders, but that is a diabolical combination in December and January. The defense is real, the running game is real, and the Chiefs are real, even though Matt Cassel is also real.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (4-3)
The Eagles get the Colts next week in Philadelphia, which is a sort of tricky situation as far as appraising them. Teams play differently against the Colts than they would against most teams just because of game plan, so on that level, we will learn little about the Eagles as a team. However, we will learn a great deal about their discipline overall. They are coming off a bye week and the Colts played Monday, so the Eagles should be energized, focused, and able to protect their home turf, but something about them makes me uneasy in thinking they can. Can a team with no running game beat the Colts? Is Michael Vick the kind of QB whose arm is good enough to beat the Colts on short throws? Will the incessant blitzing undo the Eagles like it does to all other Colts opponents? All these things should turn out somewhat in their favor, but I just get a sense it may not. Do you trust a team that doesn’t dominate time of possession to handle that much Peyton Manning? The Colts injuries will help them out, but I would be uneasy about this game as an Eagles fan, even though they have every reason to win.
9. Miami Dolphins (4-3)
Are the Dolphins a great team? No, no one is this year. Are the Dolphins a little confused about their identity? Yes, they throw the ball way too much and forget how good their running game is. Are they the exact record they should be given the schedule? Yes, their losses are to Pittsburgh (almost won it), New England, and the Jets. In other words, for all the crap I give the Dolphins about being perennial disappointments (and they are), they have played like the #9 team all year, we just had the other teams wrong. The win over Minny? Should win it. Win over Green Bay? About right given the Packers’ struggles. The close game with Pittsburgh in Miami? Exactly right.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Miami Dolphins are exactly correctly rated. The schedule has been brutal so far, but it gets easier after Baltimore this weekend. Titans, Bears, Raiders, Browns, Jets, Bills, Lions, Pats. If the Dolphins cannot scrape 5 wins there, then they do not deserve the playoffs. The only bad news is that the AFC is so strong that they are rated #9 overall, and that puts them at #6 in the AFC, without including the Chiefs at #11. Uh oh, Fins fans.
8. Atlanta Falcons (5-2)
Last week, I wrote that the Falcons are good, while playing just poorly enough to not be really confident about them. I have not changed my mind about that. Still a top 3 NFC team, but no more. The defense is not good enough to make a serious run. Since they did not play, I have nothing new to say, this sentence– haiku.
Yeah, that happened.
7. New Orleans Saints (5-3)
They absolutely needed to have that game, so it should not be any surprise that they got it. The defending champs, in a must-win home game in prime time with a huge home field advantage? Of course they won. They still have some work to do before they are back to near the level they were at last year, but I still think they can make it back. I mean, this is pretty much the same team as last year but with RB injuries, both of whom come back soon. Relax on the Saints, people. It is only through a revelation this weekend that they are not the best team in the NFC. Wait on those injuries before writing them off; the running game was a big part of their team last year.
6. New England Patriots (6-1)
You heard me. So they beat a Vikings team in distress at home, get completely pillaged on the ground, cannot cover Percy Harvin with a bad ankle, and you want them at the top? Are you kidding? The offense even had a hard time. In fact, if I remember right, before that ball somehow slipped through Asher Allen’s hands/body and fell to Brandon Tate, the Pats were having a hard time moving it. Look, they have an outstanding offensive line (best in the NFL, at least in pass blocking) and a very good QB, but that offense is not much better now than in the days before Brady had weapons and depended on Deion Branch, Andre Caldwell, and co. The difference was that in those days, they played world class defense. Now? Mediocre defense. Why so high at #6, if I hate them (I really do, and you are welcome to call me biased) and think they suck?
Because they win. Every bounce goes their way. They never commit stupid penalties. They are disciplined. They are also 6-1 and it was hard to move them this far down. They are a really good team and I am nervous ahead of the Colts trip to Foxborough, but this team is not nearly as good as it is blessed.
5. New York Giants (5-2)
This was my revelation from the weekend. The Giants are the best team in the NFC right now, and will be for a while until they get too hyped and fall off for a bit. They have maimed 2 QBs already this year, can throw the ball all over, can run the ball, have a good QB, and, for the last 4 weeks, have been very well coached. They really are not so different from the team that won the Super Bowl (slow start included), except Hakeem Nicks might be better than Plaxico was at his prime. Maybe not more efficient or as tall, but better overall.
What’s better for Giants fans is the upcoming schedule. Every single game looks winnable. @Seattle (check), vs Dallas (they own Dallas), @Philadelphia (tricky), vs Jacksonville (winnable), vs Washington (winnable), @Minnesota (depends on how much they decline but very winnable), vs Philly (less tricky at home), @Green Bay (tricky), @ Washington (winnable). That has 12-4, and a potential division title, written all over it. Watch out for the Giants, especially after the team they were named for just won the World Series.
4. Indianapolis Colts (5-2)
Am I biased to bump them with all those injuries? Yeah, a little. Ok, maybe a lot. However, the fact that the Colts were down their #1 RB, #1 TE (Clark is much more than a TE), #2 WR (Collie), #2 TE (as of 1 play into game, Eldridge), #1 and #2 SS (Sanders and Bullitt), had injuries in their secondary, their #2 RB was not at 100%, and still handled the Texans with ease is telling. Mike Hart is like MoJo Drew Lite (very lite), Jacob Tamme is like Chris Cooley (in other words, mediocre), and guys like Blair White keep making contributions. Hell, even the special teams looked good, and that’s never the case with the Colts.
Now, Clark is out for the year and that is a big deal. However, Collie will return, Addai will return, and the defense should keep getting healthier to the point where they are easily the 4th best team in the league. I mean they absolutely kicked the crap out of the Giants (albeit the old Giants that were not on task). The schedule ahead is not easy, but not overly tough too, with the Philly game being tricky (as discussed when talking Eagles), then Bengals, Pats, Chargers, Cowboys, Titans, Jags, Raiders, Titans. It could be a very hard schedule, or an easy one, depending on how certain teams swing. Regardless, I am pretty sure the Colts are the 4th best team in the league.
3. Baltimore Ravens (5-2)
The Ravens needed that bye. They looked dead against the Bills, and I am assuming, with this #3 ranking, that they are going to come out rested and ready from that bye. If not, forget I said anything.
2. New York Jets (5-2)
They lost coming off a bye week. That is bad, but the weather played a big part. Perhaps equally big were the coaching mistakes by Rex Ryan. He was foolish in his challenge use, ultimately gave Green Bay 3 points with that fake punt, and just did not give his team a great chance to win. Mark Sanchez did not play especially well either, missing Braylon Edwards deep at least once, and just generally struggling with the wind. I am giving them a pass and blaming it on the wind, but the Ravens made up a lot of ground by not playing a game.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2)
Yes, our top 2 teams lost this week and kept their spots. That was an impossible situation for the Steelers (as explained in the Saints section), and their loss confirms more that they are not great (and we did not think they were) than there are chinks in the armor. The defense is still frightening, and the offense is still hitting its stride, but I do not think I would pick any team to beat them on a neutral field right now. Big Ben was full of something when he said Heath Miller was the best TE in the NFL, but they are still the best team. As SportsNation pointed out, he may not even be the best Miller (Zach Miller, Raiders). Regardless, the Steelers clearly deserve the top spot.