Monday, October 02, 2006

My 1/4 of the way into the season NFL Power Rankings...

I put almost no stock in any ranking before at LEAST a quarter of the season is passed. Pre-season rankings are more reflective of past performance and potential, and for the first few weeks things are shaking out and teams are forging identities. This is not to say that these will hold true (for instance the 4-0 record of the Colts, Ravens, and Bears. History suggests that they are playoff bound, but nothing is certain. Just ask the 2003 Vikings, 2000 Jets, or the 1999 Patriots about that), but I think that by this point you can have a general idea of how teams are going to do, barring major injuries or massive brain farts that can ruin seasons. So without further ado, my NFL Power Rankings...

...One further ado. I always see these lists from first to worst. Just like when Entertainment Weekly publishes their latest "50 Greatest (insert list name here) of All Time" and they start with a big splash page of number one and work their way down the list. Well I subscribe to the Casey Kasem school of lists. I want to hear #40 before I hear #1. It builds the suspense. Once I know that you have Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds ranked #1 & 2 respectively, what do I care what #37 is? So I will be counting UP.

32. Oakland Raiders
Not much that can be said about this team, especially coming off a bye and playing a team that was demoralized the week before by letting a division foe come to their house and beat them in the final 3 minutes. And playing at home. Art Shell was a bad coach last time and he is no better now. Yes he had a winning career record, but his Raiders' teams should have won at LEAST one Super Bowl with the talent they had. If you don't believe me, look at THIS and tell me how you have a QB with 19 TD's to 9 INT's and both Marcus Allen AND Bo Jackson in the backfield (with Napolleon McCallum backing them up) and you lose to the 6-10 Green Bay Packers at HOME? I can understand losing to the Chiefs in KC, but to lose to THEM at home too?

31. Tennessee Titans
Going to the rookie QB in game 4 means you have said that this season is over and you are looking at it as one long training camp for next year. This pick is as much about the rest of the season as it is about now. Will Vince Young be a good NFL QB? I don't know yet. But either way it won't be this year.

30. Houston Texans
Their offensive numbers are tricky. A lot of those stats making David Carr the #1 QB have come in garbage time. They barely beat the Dolphins (more on them in a moment) and haven't been in a game prior to that this season. Let the "Houston was forced to pass on Reggie Bush for the sake of New Orleans" hysteria get some momentum and this could easily turn into a distraction filled 2-14 season. How many head coaching jobs did Kubiak turn down? And why did he decide that THIS was the one to take, with a team in the same division as the Colts and the Jaguars? I am beginning to doubt that "Genius" tag they pulled from Billick's neck to anoint him with.

29. Miami Dolphins
Culpepper is NOT a good NFL quarterback. He never was. His numbers were monstrously inflated by playing with Randy Moss and Chris Carter (ESPECIALLY Chris Carter), and the amount of abuse he put himself through as a running quarterback built like a linebacker (and watch him prove it when he takes another stupid hit instead of throwing the ball away or sliding) have made him even LESS effective. The Joey Harrington Era of Miami football should begin in about 3-4 weeks tops.

28. San Francisco 49ers
I think people were expecting too much from Vernon Davis to start the season, and while they are building a good team and have a decent coach, they are at least 2-3 years from being serious contenders at this point. With that said, keep an eye on their backfield, and if they can get a couple of decent defensive players they could start to make some serious noise. Give them some time and see what happens.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Was last year an anomaly, or is it this year? Or (more likely), is Chris Simms just the latest to wow everybody until teams figure him out. How many pitchers have come up from the minors midway to late in the season and blown away a good team, followed that with a strong half season in the bigs where maybe they were starting to get a little beat up on near the end of the season, but everyone attributed it to fatigue because he had never pitched that many innings before and it must have caught up with him, and then next season he is penciled into the starting rotation only to be sent back to the minors by June to get his mechanics worked out or whatever the rationale is...Basically, is Chris Simms just another Bruce Chen?

26. Detroit Lions
This hurts a little, as I had high hopes for them coming into the season (but they are a perfect example of why I wait at least 4 weeks before doing this). The defense is the real problem here, but everyone already knows that. To me the thing that really pulls them down is the impatience on offense, although that is something that I think Jon Kitna will help correct. Kevin Jones is still not waiting for his blocks to develop before crashing into the line (when he does, you get those 35 yard TD runs like he had yesterday), and the receivers are not running the routes as precisely as they need to in Mike Martz's offense. I expect them to end up around 6-10 to 7-9 be an improvement over last year, but not as much of an improvement over what they have the potential to be.

25. Green Bay Packers
They are getting it done with smoke and mirrors. Against teams with mediocre to bad defenses they have a shot (or at least they did before Ahman Green got hurt again). But that is about it. And no, I am not getting into the Favre Debates here (Debates capitalized on purpose)

24. Kansas City Chiefs
Anyone who expected Larry Johnson to go for 2000 yards this year while wearing a big target on his back (a back that lost both tackles that were protecting it) and an quickly aging Tony Gonzalez offering relief from 7-8 in the box was fooling themselves. Losing Trent Green hurt, but not that much. This team's window for winning closed before Herm Edwards ever got there, and he isn't a good enough coach to open it back up. It will be a year or two to get the dead cap space cleared up and to (maybe) get some defense in there. Yes, defense is a recurring theme. The 1999 St. Louis Rams were the worst thing to happen to football in the last 20 years, except of course for Paul Tagliabue, who was in a class by himself.

23. Cleveland Browns
I like Romeo Crennel. I think he is going to be one hell of a coach. I like Braylon Edwards. I like the talent of Kellen Winslow (read into THAT what you will), and in a somewhat maverick stance, I really like Charlie Frye. If he survives the pummelling he is receiving, he will wind up as a Pro Bowl QB. He has the intangibles that I cannot put into words (hence "intangible") to be a winner in the NFL. He has the leadership, and he has the command and respect of his teammates. I thought he handles himself well in the Winslow 2006 version of "Just Give Me the Damn Ball". Watch this team.

22. Arizona Cardinals
The same principals that applied to the Titans apply here. The reason they are ranked so much higher is that the Cardinals have some real weapons on offense, unlike the Titans. Now it is just a matter of Leinart getting the weapons the ball. And if Edge is truly as much of a team player as he seems to be (read the ESPN the Magazine article about him if you just read that last sentence and almost swallowed your tongue) this will be when he proves it. Did you know that right now Edge ranks 5th ALL TIME for average rushing yards per game, minimum 50 starts? Yup, he does. Let's see where he ranks at the end of the season.

21. Buffalo Bills
J.P. Losman might just be a serviceable QB. And with Willis McGahee in the backfield, serviceable is all you need. This is another team worth keeping your eye on towards the end of the season and into next year.

20. New York Jets
I am not convinced that this team is ready to take the next step. The loss to the Colts on Sunday shows a lack of focus, especially on defense. The Jets could go either way right now. If I was a gambling man, I would not go near them.

19. Saint Louis Rams
A 3-1 team ranked in the bottom half of the league? Lost to the 49ers, should have lost to the Cardinals, yesterday was a shooting match where they happened to have the last bullet. They either need to stop being a Martz team and commit to the run or admit that they are still a gun and run (in that order) and just hope the defense gets enough of a breather during timeouts to not die on the field.

18. Minnesota Vikings
Brad Johnson is not a solution at QB. Filling in for an injured Culpepper (whose contract makes him a starter by default), yes. Being your starting QB in 2006, no. They traded for Brooks Bollinger and gave him a 2 year extension. It is time to see if he can handle being the man, and if he learned anything from his tenure with the Jets (since Herm Edwards was his coach, I wouldn't count on it).

17. New Orleans Saints
I have them higher than they probably should be, but I think that the coach is going to be good and that they are going to ride this wave of emotion to a total of 8-10 wins this year. The sentamentalist in me hopes they are really real, but the pragmatist in me says that Drew Brees will lead this team to the playoffs. In 2007.

16. Dallas Cowboys
The win against the Titans in Vince Young's first start shouldn't even count. As long as they have the human statue under center, they will be at the mercy of any team that knows how to disguise and effectively use the blitz. That is more teams than the Cowboys can ignore.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers
Until Roethlisberger can prove that he isn't gun shy from the accident, I am going to consider him damaged goods. And if your QB is damaged goods, it doesn't matter how good your receivers and TE are. And if your QB is damaged goods, you need the second coming of Jim Brown to win consistently. And Willie Parker is no Jim Brown.

14. New York Giants
I am as unconvinced of them as I am of the Jets, but I think Eli Manning is slightly (and yes I mean slightly) better than Chad Pennington, and only because of injury history. Pennington is probably a better overall QB if he can keep his rotator cuff together for an entire season. Plus, the Giants have Tiki Barber, who can hurt you as a rusher AND a receiver. No, I am not enamored with Jeremy Shockey. Show me what he has accomplished and maybe you can change my mind. But I don't think you can back it up.

13. Atlanta Falcons
You heard it here first, if the Falcons keep running the option, Vick will not last the season. To me, not having Vick under center is good for your team, because as I have said before, as a quarterback, Michael Vick is an excellent runner. The problem is going to be when a rusty Schaub comes in and tries to throw to receivers and tight ends that have seen nearly enough balls thrown their way. Like dropping a guy with a 103 degree fever in a tub of ice water, the team is going to go into shock.

12. Philadelphia Eagles
How long can this team survive with an injury prone Brian Westbrook at halfback and a group of (basically) journeyman receivers. Now the defense is banged up too? Donovan McNabb is a good quarterback, but he is not that good. This team will win more games than they should, and that is why they are ranked this high.

11. Carolina Panthers
The complete inaptitude during Steve Smith's absence means one thing: they are too reliant on him, and without him they don't think that they can win. They could, but they don't believe in themselves. I think John Fox needs to make some Stone Soup, Panther's style. And tell Steve Smith that he has the day off when he does it.

10. New England Patriots
I don't want to hear anything about Tom Brady's body language. Yes, they got him to sign for less and then didn't keep his favorite players. Yes, it seems that they started reading their own reviews when it comes to player evaluation and the ability to pluck the cherries from trees that others see as bare. But Brady's performance against Cincinatti showed what he can do when he is properly motivated. Ben Watson is a decent to good tight end, Corey Dillon isn't done yet, and Laurence Maroney is going to be a beast by midseason. They will probably win their division again this year. But don't expect to see them in the Super Bowl until they start spending some money on some players to complement what they already have.

9. Jacksonville Jaguars
The loss to the Colts after the Monday Night Bloodbath against the Steelers was understandable, and they played good enough to win against Indianapolis. They also played good enough to win against Washington. They lost both games. They do not know how to finish off teams, and more to the point, I don't think they really know how to win. The talent they have keeps them this high, but don't be surprised to see hem in the middle to lower third of the pack by midseason.

8. Denver Broncos
This team (along with the Seattle Seahawks) has the only real "home field advantage" in football. It all but guarantees them .500 every season. And if Plummer and Walker can get on the same page, the Chargers might be "the best team not in the playoffs" for 2 years in a row.

7. Washington Redskins
It looks like Brunell and company are starting to get a grasp on Al Saunders' playbook. Mark Brunell, Clinton Portis, Santana Moss, and Brandon Lloyd (who I think is a damn good receiver) all on the same page makes the Redskins the team to beat in the NFC East, and a dangerous team in the playoffs.

6. Cincinatti Bengals
They were exposed by the Patriots. Don't think that every team they will be facing won't be watching that tape. This team has too many off field distractions, it is impossible to tune them all out. They have too many playmaking players who are bringing too much baggage to be effective. This is another team that could easily implode.

5. San Diego Chargers
Martyball. Doesn't. Work. I don't care if you DO have the best RB in the game in your backfield, if you don't use all your weapons to beat a team, you are beating yourself. And while we are on the subject, why wasn't LT on the field during that 4th quarter series that eventually caused the Chargers to give up the safety and the game? According to reports (second story down), LT said it was his decision to let Michael Turner be out there. Since when does a player decide who is and isn't playing, especially at a critial juncture like that?

4. Baltimore Ravens
Anyone in their right minds would take winning ugly over losing pretty, but might it be possible for the Ravens to NOT bring the ugliest girl to the prom every week? This is another case of a defense needing to hold he fort for another few weeks while the offense learns how to play together. Why have the Ravens been so good in the 2 minute drill the last two weeks? Because McNair is just playing from instinct and not trying to figure out what play is called. Until "8 Jet Right Double Waggle Blue Tango Option Cover 9" registers in his head without having to watch the film in his head to remember who does what (I don't know if that is an actual play from the Ravens' playbook, but if it isn't it SHOULD BE), the offense is going to struggle, especially when they are playing a front 7 like the Chargers have. Jamal only had 34 yards on 15 carries? I am surprised he got that much, and that is not a slam on him. It is praise for the skills and talent of the Chargers defensive front. If (and yes it is a big if) the Ravens can get untracked on offense, they will be one of the teams to beat in the NFL. If not, they will be a yo-yo, causing more heart palpitations in the Baltimore area than Blaze Starr did in her heyday.

3. Seattle Seahawks
Without Alexander, this team is good. With him, they are the NFC representative in the Super Bowl again this year. That is all there is to it. And on a side note, if I was the coach/GM/owner of the Seahawks and I heard that my star running back and reigning league MVP was going to do a commercial that makes fun of him being injured, I would find a way to stop it, even if it meant going all Jack Bauer on him. Superstitious or not, you don't tempt fate like that. It is like the old SNL bit where John Belushi talked about outliving his costars. You just don't do it.

2. Indianapolis Colts
This is a team that can win ugly in style, and they just know that they are never out of a game. That kind of confidence can go a long way. If Joseph Addai turns into the back everyone thinks he can be, the Colts might finally have a chance to go to the Super Bowl. There is only one problem. That would mean that they would face...

1. Chicago Bears
Yes, I know that I said that the Seahawks are the NFC representative in the Super Bowl, and yes, I know that Alexander is only supposed to be out 3-4 weeks. But I don't think he heals up all the way until the offseason, and that means I don't know if anyone can really stop the Bears, especially with Rex Grossman looking as good as he does. Their defense is devastating, they have two top quality running backs, a good receiver and a good quarterback. Oh yeah, they have a really good coach too. Lovie Smith is one of the best coaches working right now in ANY sport. As of right now, they re my pick to win it all.

So there you have it. Wait about 4 more weeks and we will see what has changed (if anything). What do you think America, am I right or am I completely off my rocker?

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