Posted on: September 27, 2011 10:47 pm

2011 NFL Power Rankings, Week 3

Three weeks down, three undefeated teams left.  I know that I expressed surprise after seeing more than a few of them drop off, but this week was even more surprising, actually.  Two AFC East "powerhouses" (do we really know yet?  Not quite) went on the road and lost.  Two surprise teams sacked up and took victory into their hands.  And the defending champs played well again.

The picks this week went better than I expected.  Even with the surprise victories/losses, I had a good week, despite not gambling too much.  Here are the standings for Week 3:

Prisco: 8-8
Red: 11-5
King: 11-5 

Finally, Peter King came back to the pack after two incredible weeks.

We all went wrong with Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Arizona.  Oh, and let's not forget the Patriots (and honestly, how could we).  I gambled on the Jets to go out to Oakland and win.  That was ill-conceived.  I also "gambled" on the Packers in Chicago.  Not much of a gamble, really, and it turned out well.

Here are the Rankings for Week 3:

1.) Green Bay (3-0) [no change]
 Jermichael Finley stepped up.  The defense seemed a bit stiffer, as well.  One may wonder if a new vulnerability in the special teams has been unearthed; I look at it as an aberration until proven otherwise.  Let's not forget that few teams have a dynamic return man like Devin Hester.  Aaron Rodgers played well enough to win, but there were a number of ugly drives.  Also, clock management appeared to be an issue.  All small stuff, it seems, but as the old expression goes, the devil is in the details.

2.) Detroit (3-0) [+2]
 Are the Lions really this good, or did they take advantage of a Minnesota team that just can't close the deal?  I'll take a little bit of both.  They definitely took advantage of Vikings miscues.  But let's be honest here: Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson are pretty good.  Johnson is probably a top 3 receiver (just after Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson).  Stafford is proving that when he's healthy, he's a top 10 QB.

3.) Buffalo (3-0) [+2]
 At some point, I have to stop being surprised about this team winning and come to expect it.  One thing that helps their chances is a favorable schedule.  Before their Week 7 bye, they get the Bengals, Eagles, and Giants.  Those are three winnable games.  And looking further, they don't have what looks like a tough game until they have to go to San Diego in Week 14.  I'm guessing the Jets will play them tough, but if Fred Jackson can run anything like Darren McFadden did this week...yeah, not so tough.

4.) New Orleans (2-1) [+4]
 With the rules being what they are and the prevalence of passing, red zone defense has become a premium.  New Orleans had it in Week 3.  It helped that the Texans struggled, as usual, and had no idea what they were doing in the red zone (Washington had the same problem, and is there any surprise there?  Nope).  One other obvious point: the Saints are money in the 4th quarter.  When they absolutely had to score, Drew Brees led them down the field and got TD's.

5.) New England (2-1) [-3]
 If I have long-time readers, they might be asking me "Why keep the Pats in the Rankings after a bad loss"?  Well...there are a number of teams that appear to be deserving of a spot.  It's one of those weird weeks where more than 10 teams deserve to be in.  But I've been an admirer of the Pats since 2007 or so, and because of that, I can never truly count them out.  Plus, does anyone really think that Oakland, San Francisco, or Cleveland have staying power?  Or more staying power than the Pats?  In both cases, I'd vote no, and so the Pats stay in, though they had to drop.

6.) NY Jets (2-1) [-3]
  Much like their division rivals in New England, the Jets appear to have more staying power than other 2-1 teams that don't have a recent history of winning.  I fully expected the Jets to pull out a win in Oakland, but since they didn't, they had to drop a little.  And despite getting run over by Darren McFadden, I think they have a solid chance to be a playoff team.

7.) Baltimore (2-1) [-]
 An impressive first quarter led to a rout in St. Louis for the on-again, off-again Ravens.  Inconsistency may well be their calling card this season, but when they're on, they are ON.  As such, they move into 7th this week over the Steelers, who they already beat head-to-head.  And, as usual, more impressive victories tend to lead to moving up higher than those who are not so impressive.

8.) Pittsburgh (2-1) [+1]
 Speaking of unimpressive wins...the Steelers' Sunday Night win over Indy has to rank as one of the least impressive wins this season, considering how bad Pittsburgh looked throughout.  That's why Baltimore, the Jets, and the Patriots are still above them.  If it had been closer to the spread, I would have kicked the losers down a couple more spots.

9.) San Diego (2-1) [-]
 Another unimpressive win leads to a good team being in the lower part of the top ten.  I think the spread for this game was among the largest I've heard of recently.  It'll probably be one of the largest of the season, too.  At any rate, the Chargers are tied for the division lead, and while they haven't looked their best, I'd be willing to bet on them winning the AFC West over Oakland.

10.) Dallas (2-1) [-]
 I wrestled with this one a little bit.  The last thing I want to do is exhibit blatant favoritism, especially toward a team that has one awful loss and two borderline wins.  Yes, they won against SF and Washington, but both of them were not what I would call "strong" wins.  Although, that play Anthony Spencer made last night was pretty strong in my book.  So look at it this way: every team Dallas has played so far is 2-1.  If that counts for anything, then there's a reason Dallas is in the top ten aside from being my favorite team.  And if not, then I'm a bloody homer.  No excuses here.

Finally, a note on the teams that exited the Rankings.  They were Houston (6), Washington (7), and Atlanta (10).  Two undefeated teams that went down, plus another road loss for the Falcons.  I don't think there's a lot of surprise in any of these results, nor the fact that all three dropped because of them.  I never had a lot of faith in the Texans or Redskins; let's face it, the Texans have no history of success whatsoever, and the Redskins are still starting Rex Grossman, which bit them in the rear last night.  The Falcons are now 1-2, which is not good enough at this point to be in the top ten.  That's not to say that they won't make it back in, of course.

That's all for this week.  See you next week!
Category: NFL
Posted on: September 20, 2011 8:10 pm

2011 NFL Power Rankings, Week 2

After two weeks, there are seven undefeated teams in the NFL.  Surprised?  I am, a little.  I expected bounceback from certain teams (i.e. Pittsburgh), but I figured there would be eight or nine undefeated teams at this point.  It'd make it easier to do this, that's for sure.  Anyway, onto the picks for this week.

Here are the standings for Week 2:

Prisco: 12-4
Red: 11-5
King: 14-2 

No, that's not a typo.  King has started out amazingly well, to the point where he's calling out to himself how great he's been.  Probably not a good idea, but we'll see how it goes through the rest of the season.

So where did I screw up?  Well, I gambled on a few teams, namely Indy, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and St. Louis.  Baltimore failed all three of us (and anyone who picked them in a survivor pool).

I saw Cleveland as a beatable team, especially in Indy.  Once again, Kerry Collins and company failed to deliver until late in the game, and by then it was too late.

Had I known Cincinnati can't win in Denver (they haven't won there since 1975, thanks Judge), I wouldn't have picked them.  And I don't trust Denver, even with a new coach.

I thought Philly had a decided advantage over an Atlanta team that couldn't score on the Bears.  We saw New Orleans carve up the Bears, and people have been trying to put Matt Ryan up in that rare air that Brees et al inhabit.  Apparently, Philly's defense isn't good enough just yet.  Michael Vick getting hurt didn't help, but Mike Kafka came in and played pretty well.  One dropped pass from Maclin sealed it for Atlanta, which is rather hard to believe.

And finally, the Rams.  Their offense was inconsistent at best, but considering all the injuries on the Giants' D, I thought it could be a walkover for Sam Bradford.

OK, so with that done with, here are the Rankings for Week 2.  As usual, these are not meant to be predictive and only reflect the results of the games.

1.) Green Bay (2-0) [no change]
  I'm not sure if I was wrong about the defense or what.  Charles Woodson stepped up with two INT's and a fumble recovered, but Cam Newton still threw for over 400 yards.  I guess as long as they keep winning, the defense will get a pass.  Although I'm sure Dom Capers can't be pleased about his unit's progress thus far.  After two weeks, they're undefeated, and still the defending champs.  So let's not make too much of their "problems".

2.) New England (2-0) [+1]
  If anybody is questioning who the best QB in the league is, I have a response: Tom Brady.  With Peyton Manning on the shelf, there are no if's, and's, or but's about this.  Tom Brady is the best QB in the NFL, period.  The defense, on the other hand, is a lot like the Packers'.  Not good so far.  Next week, they get the Bills, which could be interesting.  The stats say otherwise, obviously.

3.) NY Jets (2-0) [+1]
  Beatdown!  There's not much to say other than that.  Well, Mark Sanchez is still throwing bad picks...but until they affect the result, does anyone really care?  It's a question of aesthetics at this point.

4.) Detroit (2-0) [+2]
 One of the surprising 2-0 teams, to be sure.  It seems that anyone who has Kansas City on their schedule can lick their chops, as it were, because an easy win is in the offing.  Matthew Stafford has been nothing short of spectacular thus far.  Any team that gets as many takeaways as Detroit does will be in the game, no matter the opponent.

5.) Buffalo (2-0) [+4]
  Another surprising 2-0 team.  It could all go to hell next week, though, and I expect it to.  I mean, it would be a really big surprise if they were to beat New England, especially given how well (i.e. poorly!) they've played the Pats since 2003 or so.  But for these first two weeks, Buffalo has been quite good.  Maybe not great, considering the competition (KC and Oakland, yeesh), but quite good.

6.) Houston (2-0) [+4]
 Who needs Arian Foster when you have Ben Tate?  I kid, of course.  Once Foster is healthy, Ben Tate is going back to the bench.  But until then, Tate has a great chance to impress a lot of people.  Prisco and King both picked Miami this week, and the Texans did an admirable job in closing out the game.  They didn't play their best for 60 minutes, again, but they played well enough.  That's really all that matters, and like everyone else, as long as they keep winning, they're in here.

7.) Washington (2-0) [-]
 I wasn't taking the Redskins seriously last week.  After narrowly beating Arizona, I have them as the least of the undefeated teams, which seems to be a good move right now.  I still don't trust Rex Grossman.  But my own stuff aside, Washington has played pretty well in the first two weeks, though it seems like they made it harder on themselves than it needed to be against Arizona.  If they're serious about winning the NFC East, beating Dallas in Week 3 would be a good start.

8.)  New Orleans (1-1) [-]
  Who's the best outside of the undefeated teams?  My vote goes to New Orleans.  They took a tough loss in Week 1, in a game they could have easily won.  It wasn't a bad loss, in my mind.  Then they came out in Week 2 and put a beatdown on the Bears, a team that people were changing their minds about.  I didn't make too much of the Bears beating Atlanta; they weren't playing in the Georgia Dome, they were playing in Chicago.  And Jay Cutler is still a whining pouter.  Joe Buck attempted to trumpet Cutler for his toughness; by the end of the game, when the Saints' D had smacked him around and the Saints' offense had put up 30, there were no plaudits for Cutler or his teammates.  Brees had an absolutely scintillating pass to Devery Henderson which went for a TD.  I loved it, for sure.

9.) Pittsburgh (1-1) [-]
  It's hard to know what to make of the Steelers thus far.  On the one hand, you have that utter demolition against Baltimore.  And then you have the beatdown they just laid on Seattle.  My inclination is to say that because Baltimore lost to Tennessee, and Pittsburgh bounced back (albeit against a terrible opponent, which cannot be emphasized enough), that the Steelers are still an elite team.  But because they beat Seattle, I'm not entirely sure.  I guess that's not a bad thing; they just squashed grapes in Week 1 and drank wine in Week 2, to paraphrase Mike Tomlin.

10.) Atlanta (1-1) [-]
 As it turns out, beating Philadelphia at home is good enough to get the Falcons into the Rankings.  I was impressed, and Matt Ryan is money at home still.  We'll see how they go from here; bouncing back from that loss at Chicago was good, though.

Finally, a quick note on the four teams that exited the Rankings.  They were Baltimore (2), Philadelphia (5), San Diego (7), and San Francisco (8).  Obviously, all four lost in Week 2.  Still, I think that three of those four will be back in the Rankings at some point this season.  All it takes is a win, or in some cases two or three of them.  I'm still pretty high on Baltimore, but losing to Tennessee (especially after their Week 1 performance) is utterly inexcusable.  I probably could have ceded them the tenth spot, but I like using this space to celebrate the winners.  And, obviously, teams that remain undefeated.  The other three losses were a bit more "expected", I would say.  So I don't think there should be much controversy, and besides, this is just one guy's opinion on something that really doesn't matter all that much.  I do this for fun.

That's all for this week.  See you next week!
Category: NFL
Posted on: September 13, 2011 8:06 pm

2011 NFL Power Rankings, Week 1

And...we're back!  It's been a long offseason, what with the lockout and such, but there were no games missed (except the first preseason game, but who cares about that), so all seems to be well.  It was a confusing week for me, and a bit of a disappointing one as my team (Cowboys) gave one away late and a lot of the results just seemed wrong.  A lot of bad performances around the league in Week 1, with a couple that were praiseworthy in defeat.  The winners for the most part looked pretty spectacular.  That said, it's one game, and I'm not officially counting anyone out just yet.

Introducing a new feature for 2011, a look at the picks I made for this week's games.  As you may know, Pete Prisco here at CBS and Peter King of Sports Illustrated & NBC's pregame show make their picks and predict the score too.  I've been doing this since 2007 or so, but now I'm going to keep track of my picks here in the Rankings and note where I screwed up.  Here are the Week 1 standings:

Prisco: 8-8
Red: 8-8
King: 12-4

Obviously, King has a decided advantage after the first week.  All three of us had in common Atlanta, Cleveland, and Kansas City.  I also messed up on Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, NY Giants, and Dallas.  The explanation for this is not terribly involved, but I'll go through them anyway.

Atlanta, Cleveland, and Kansas City all had winnable games, despite Atlanta being on the road.  I'm not a believer in the Bears (is anybody outside of Chicago?) so it's no surprise I didn't pick them.  I don't trust them, honestly.  And I dislike Jay Cutler.  Speaking of Cutler, in spite of what Bob Costas claims, any criticism that he took from players and the media over that injury flap last season seemed entirely justified to me.  Fans tend to blow up about stuff like that and lose objectivity, but the players who are out there every week and can spot a guy who's not putting in the effort to get back out there are qualified to make their opinion known.  I for one applaud them for calling out Cutler for being what he is/was.

I sure as hell didn't expect Buffalo to be any good, either.

As for the rest, I took a chance on Tennessee and Indy.  Tennessee was essentially a toss-up, or so it seemed.  Indianapolis has a great history against the Texans, and Houston has a tendency to yack in the big games.  They didn't this week, so I took one on the chin.  And who could have foreseen what happened to Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers?  They're usually ready to play, last I checked.  Not this time.

The Giants had injuries on defense, but with Rex Grossman the opposing QB...well, do I need to say more?

And the Cowboys.  Yeesh.  I could probably write an entire post on that game, but I'll just say that while I didn't expect that result, I wasn't necessarily surprised either.

OK, with all that said, here are my Rankings for Week 1.  Remember, these reflect the results of the games, and are not meant to be predictive in any form or fashion.  Generally, since each winning team is 1-0, I tried to take into account the impressiveness of their victory.  I then add that into a pot with my own gut feeling and my particular bias.  Hey, at least I admit I'm biased, right?

1.) Green Bay (1-0)
  Give the champs credit; they came out swinging and discovered another weapon in Randall Cobb.  Some may call the defense a concern, I say that they'll round into form in due time.  Nothing to see there.

2.) Baltimore (1-0)
   Well, that was a demolition.  It's hard to tell what to make of that game, to be honest, because I can't even remember the last time the Steelers played that badly.  I'm guessing Neil O'Donnell or Kordell Stewart was starting at QB.  But hey, I've been wrong before.  I figured the Ravens would be a strong team, not to mention a Super Bowl contender.  But to have this kind of result after the first game?  Wow.

3.) New England (1-0)
  I was impressed.  But I kind of expected something like this, and when Prisco picked the Dolphins, I just chuckled.  Tom Brady comes out and throws for over 500 yards, just to remind everyone who thinks that other QB's are better than he is that he's still the best.  And without Peyton Manning to contend with, another MVP season for Brady could be in the cards.  Is it likely?  I'd say so, but I'm doing my best to not overreact here.

4.) NY Jets (1-0)
  It's always nice to be a beneficiary of someone else's stupidity.  In this case, the Jets took advantage of stupid plays by Tony Romo, not to mention that huge punt block.  Mark Sanchez wasn't exactly at his best (whatever that is), but he played well enough and didn't make a soul-crushing mistake like Romo did.  The defense might be a concern as well, but as long as the opponent's receivers can't stop cramping, I'm not sure it's a big deal, just like in Green Bay.

5.) Philadelphia (1-0)
   Oh, snap, the Dream Team won!  Yeah, I'm not buying that garbage about Philly being the "Dream Team".  They won and looked pretty good, so whatever.  Supposedly the stats were not good for Vick; let's be honest, though, stats don't mean everything.

6.) Detroit (1-0)
  Matt Stafford goes down to Tampa and cramps up, but still gets the win.  I gotta admit, seeing him limp around late in the game made me cringe a little.  The guy is always (almost always?) injured, and seeing something like that doesn't really inspire confidence.  But the temperature was over 100 and it was Week 1...and they play their home games in a dome.  So it's probably not a concern.  Like most things that went on in Week 1, really.  Solid win, and a good start to a season where people expect things to happen.

7.) San Diego (1-0)
   It got ugly, especially on special teams, but they ended up winning.  Of course, any team should win big when holding the opposing QB to 39 yards.  That's really bad, and one has to wonder how many of those McNabb can have before getting replaced.  With Denver and KC going down, the Chargers have a chance to get out to an early lead, depending on how Oakland plays moving forward.  But they do have to beat Oakland at some point.

8.) San Francisco (1-0)
  If Ted Ginn, Jr. had a better day as a pro before Sunday, I obviously missed it.  He was the difference against Seattle.  Supposedly, Seattle is a contender for the worst team in the league (and good on Carroll for being at the helm for it, he deserves it).  So maybe there's a concern that the 49ers should have had more of a beatdown going on before Ginn went off.

9.) Buffalo (1-0)
  Biggest surprise of the week?  I'll cast my vote.  I thought Kansas City would show up at some point.  Obviously, I was wrong.  And I didn't see Buffalo coming out and putting 41 on ANYBODY.

10.) Houston (1-0)
   A solid win for the Texans over a division rival.  I'll just pass on this one caveat: they didn't score a single point in the second half.  That fact has been glossed over by just about everyone of note, but I saw it.  I'm not saying that means anything, but if they're playing better teams (let's face it, Indy without Peyton was just awful), they need to keep their foot on the gas pedal for 60 minutes, not 30.

That's all for this week.  See you next week!
Posted on: January 5, 2011 12:51 am

2010 NFL Power Rankings, Week 17

All of a sudden, the regular season is over.  So as I end this season's version of the Rankings, I have most of the playoff teams in.  The only ones not in are Green Bay and (of course) Seattle.  Let's go!

1.) New England (14-2) [no change]
 After trading away Randy Moss, losing to the Jets and Cleveland, and remolding their offense around a couple rookie TE's, an undrafted RB, and another RB they picked up off the street, I could hardly imagine the Patriots would be the best team in the NFL.  That said, they still have one of the top two QB's in the league in Tom Brady, and the defense, while not as great as it was when they were winning Super Bowls, is steadily improving.  With homefield throughout the playoffs, the Patriots are the favorites to win the Super Bowl.  Having been unbeaten over the last couple months and taking out a bunch of playoff teams helps.

2.) Atlanta (13-3) [no change]
 Despite falling on their faces against New Orleans last week, the Falcons recovered by taking out a patsy.  Now they have the top seed in the NFC and homefield throughout.  I find it hard to believe that they could get beat again, but I don't have quite as much faith as I do in the Patriots.  Mostly because nobody has beaten the Patriots in awhile (though Green Bay with Matt Flynn gave it a good run).  The Falcons have a solid defense and a bruising running game, plus they're nearly unbeatable at home.  All in all, it looks good for the Falcons to advance.

3.) Pittsburgh (12-4) [+1]
 Since the Steelers won the AFC North, I moved them up above Baltimore.  They look pretty solid as well, especially since Troy Polamalu came back after sitting out a couple games.  Like the two teams above them, they have a week off just to make sure everyone is rested and healthy.  I like their chances to advance, because their defense is fierce and Rashard Mendenhall is a tough runner.  Also, they've been there, done that; Ben Roethlisberger has a couple rings and coach Mike Tomlin has a ring too.

4.) Baltimore (12-4) [-1]
 While they're going in as a Wild Card, I can't deny that the Ravens are a dangerous team.  Even with some of their defensive lapses (especially against the Texans, ouch), they're still a strong team.  Billy Cundiff had 40 touchbacks; any kickoff is virtually guaranteed to have no return.  Ray Rice is ready to go, and Joe Flacco seems ready to have more of the offense go through him.  With that receiving corps, Flacco should be able to have success.

5.) NY Jets (11-5) [+3]
 I guess sitting Mark Sanchez worked out.  Hopefully he's healthy for this week's Wild Card game...I wouldn't want any of them making excuses about not being able to take out Indy because their QB wasn't up to snuff.  Let's face it, though, Rex and co.'s struggles with the Colts have little to do with their offense.  Peyton Manning has their defense figured out, if the record is any indication.  I think the Jets are one-and-done as a result.

6.) Indianapolis (10-6) [+4]
 After starting the season in surprisingly un-Colts-like fashion, and suffering a barrel full of injuries, a four game winning streak has propelled elder Manning and the rest of his backups masquerading as starters into the playoffs.  Now they host the Jets, and I like their chances.  Peyton Manning has owned Rex Ryan's defenses, both in NYC and Baltimore, and even though he doesn't have Austin Collie or Dallas Clark, Blair White and Jacob Tamme have been performing admirably as their replacements.  Plus, he still has Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon.  Not to mention an RB tandem of Joseph Addai and recently returned Dominic Rhodes.  The occasionally suspect defense has stiffened up in recent games as well; they've stopped the rushing attacks of Oakland, Jacksonville, and Tennessee, all of whom have top-flight RB's.  Does all this mean they'll beat Pittsburgh or New England?  Maybe not, but I'm betting they could put a scare into them.

7.) New Orleans (11-5) [-2]
 If you believe in momentum, then the Saints are not at their best right now.  They weren't at their best ending last season either, and look how that turned out.  So I guess momentum isn't particularly important.  While they might not have momentum, they do have Drew Brees and three healthy RB's.  Their defense is solid too.  Despite having to go into Seattle for their first playoff game, I like their chances.  They already beat Seattle this season.

8.) Chicago (11-5) [-2]
 Despite having nothing to play for, the Bears played a hard-fought game and lost to the Packers.  They were locked into the second seed anyway, guaranteeing them a bye and a home game next weekend.  I'm not quite sold on them moving on.  We'll see what happens, though.

9.) Kansas City (10-6) [-2]
 One of the most disappointing performances this week.  The Chiefs played poorly in a loss to Oakland, and they have Baltimore coming into KC this week.  Anything can happen, of course, but I don't like the odds of the Chiefs moving on.

10.) Philadelphia (10-6) [-1]
 Another season, another loss to Dallas.  Of course, that's what happens when you rest Vick in favor of Kevin Kolb.  Suddenly, though, the Eagles are looking a little vulnerable.  They didn't manage much with Kolb, and the game before exposed a weakness to corner/safety blitzes.  Green Bay will come with pressure from all over, including LB Clay Matthews.  How Michael Vick responds to that pressure could determine if the Eagles move on.  I like their chances.

Thanks for reading.  See you next season.
Category: NFL
Posted on: December 29, 2010 1:44 am

2010 NFL Power Rankings, Week 16

Kind of an odd week, what with football being played on Tuesday night for the first time in 60 years.  So my Rankings are a little bit late as a result.  Also, there were a couple upsets that I really didn't see coming.  I don't care for upsets, most of the time.  They tend to ruin what I plan to put out here in the ol' blog.  Let's go!

1.) New England (13-2) [+1]
 After another resounding win, the Patriots move up.  Of course, it helps that Atlanta fell on their faces; I was reticent to move the Patriots up, unless something happened to the Falcons.  Both teams just kept winning, so they stayed where they were.  Well, finally, Atlanta got beat, so now the Patriots are first.  They've been the best team in the NFL for the past few weeks, and now there are no roadblocks.

2.) Atlanta (12-3) [-1]
 Luckily for the Falcons, there are no other 12 or 13-win teams.  They could have taken quite a tumble, and they probably deserve it.  They were at home and should have won, no matter who the opponent was.  The Saints played well, though.  Atlanta gets another reward with Carolina coming into the Georgia Dome...sounds like an easy win, but then again....

3.) Baltimore (11-4) [+1]
 Another win for the Ravens.  They could win the AFC North if Pittsburgh slips up next week.  I think they'll go in as a Wild Card, but it doesn't make much difference.  It's not likely that anyone will be spoiling to face the Ravens, after all.

4.) Pittsburgh (11-4) [+3]
 Having a patsy come in on Thursday proved to be excellent tonic for the Polamalu-less Steelers.  Even with the division game remaining, it doesn't look like there's much to play for, beside securing the 2-seed.

5.) New Orleans (11-4) [+3]
 Going into Atlanta and winning proved something to me.  And it looks like New Orleans is peaking at the right time.  This despite last week's loss to Baltimore.  Then again, Baltimore plays tougher defense.  Atlanta's defense was strong, but Drew Brees was able to puncture it at the right time.  I think they exposed Atlanta, and now have the best chance to win the Super Bowl among NFC teams.

6.) Chicago (11-4) [no change]
 Rarely do the Bears play a shootout with anybody, much less another defense-oriented team like the Jets.  I'm not quite sold on Chicago, even with them clinching their division and beating a team that just took out Pittsburgh.  I don't think they'll advance far in the playoffs.  Maybe they'll prove me wrong.

7.) Kansas City (10-5) [+2]
 With the stunning loss by the Chargers, the Chiefs took advantage and won the AFC West.  I'm not sure how they'll fare in the playoffs, but with that running attack, it's hard to believe they'd be one-and-done.

8.) NY Jets (10-5) [-3]
 Going into Chicago and putting up 34 points isn't terrible.  But losing means moving down.  I think the Jets could have won the game, and thereby made it a little easier on themselves in the playoffs.  Either way, it's gonna be hard, with three road games separating them from the Super Bowl.

9.) Philadelphia (10-5) [-6]
 Disappointing play by the Eagles, who looked nothing like their normal selves.  I guess it's understandable on an intellectual level...but I still don't get it.

10.) Indianapolis (9-6) [-]
 Colts are back in the Rankings after defeating Oakland.  They're also the presumptive AFC South winner.  That means more Peyton Manning in the playoffs for at least one game.  Hard to say they have a good chance of advancing far, but with the game at home, anything could happen.

Thanks for reading.  See you next week.
Category: NFL
Posted on: December 21, 2010 9:31 pm

2010 NFL Power Rankings, Week 15

The first division title has been clinched, with seven more remaining.  Races are on in the NFC West (gag), AFC West, AFC North, and AFC South.  Chicago clinched the NFC North; Atlanta is in firm control of the NFC South; Philadelphia looks to have the NFC East.  Of course, besides division titles, there are two Wild Cards in each conference.  Those seem to be solidified as well; North and East in the AFC; South and East in the NFC.  But there are still head-to-head matchups that will determine things clearly.  Let's go!

1.) Atlanta (12-2) [no change]
 Three weeks on the road, three wins for the Falcons.  The NFC is theirs for the taking, with the last big game of the season coming this Monday against New Orleans.  It's at home, which means Atlanta has a huge advantage.  New Orleans will be coming off a loss, though, and this game is clearly one of the biggest of the season.  After this, the Falcons get Carolina.

2.) New England (12-2) [no change]
 It was a bit unlike the Patriots we've seen recently on Sunday Night.  They let Green Bay hang around for pretty much the whole game, and really only won based on three plays: Kyle Arrington's INT, Dan Connolly's kickoff return, and Green Bay's inability to get a play off at the end.  Still, they have a couple gimmes at Buffalo and home for Miami.  Could be an 8-game winning streak for the hottest team in the AFC.

3.) Philadelphia (10-4) [+2]
 What a finish.  28 points in 7:28, and the Giants looked utterly terrible as a result.  DeSean Jackson may be one of the biggest arrogant showboating jerks in the entire league, but the guy can play, and he sure is effective when it counts most.  Michael Vick is having a heck of a season too.  If it wasn't for Tom Brady, Vick would be the runaway MVP.  And Offensive Player of the Year in the NFC.  And Comeback Player of the Year in the NFC.

4.) Baltimore (10-4) [+2]
 Another close shave, but this time the Ravens put the screws on when it mattered most.  Even Drew Brees was rendered helpless.  And thanks to the Steelers yakking one up at home, Baltimore is still very much alive for a division title.  Surprisingly, Cleveland is the team that could determine this race; they play Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the last two weeks, and if they pull an upset, it could well determine the division winner.

5.) NY Jets (10-4) [+3]
 Mark Sanchez got back into a groove, and ran in a TD that essentially sealed the game for the Jets.  A heck of an upset, until one considers that Troy Polamalu wasn't playing.  Still, the Jets needed a win badly, and they got it.  They're in the running for a Wild Card, and since they're a couple wins ahead of the Chargers, it's likely they can hold down that spot and keep the AFC West to one representative in the playoffs.

6.) Chicago (10-4) [+3]
 The first team to clinch a division was the Bears.  I could have sworn they would fall off...but they haven't.  More power to 'em.  They're set to win a playoff game at home now, provided Jay Cutler plays well and the o-line can keep up from getting crushed.  It's chic to continue to question them, it seems, but now that they're in the playoffs and are going to host a game...it's hard to say that they can't win.

7.) Pittsburgh (10-4) [-4]
 A thoroughly disappointing game for the Steelers.  Without Troy Polamalu, they apparently didn't have quite enough defense.  Ben Roethlisberger is not blameless, either; he handed the ball off to Mewelde Moore and got a safety out of it, and failed on two opportunities to score the game-winning TD.  Ben is beat up, to be sure.  But that was a game the Steelers should have won, and didn't.  Now they have a race on their hands with the Ravens.

8.) New Orleans (10-4) [-4]
 Unfortunately, when two teams in the Rankings play each other, the loser has to move down.  So this is not an indictment of the Saints.  They played well; they just didn't win.  Given Atlanta's hold on the NFC South, New Orleans is likely headed on the road in the first round of the playoffs.  It sucks, but unless they have to go to Chicago, it shouldn't be extraordinarily difficult.

9.) Kansas City (9-5) [-]
 Matt Cassel returned from an appendectomy and the Chiefs pulled out a convincing win in St. Louis.  They now have two winnable home games while the rival Chargers have two road games.  It's looking like the Chiefs will win the AFC West and the Chargers will be left behind.  To that I can only say: Good.

10.) NY Giants (9-5) [-3]
 One would think being up 31-10 with that defense would be a gimme.  And yet, what did the Giants do?  They gave it up.  Now they have to win two games to secure a Wild Card, with this week's matchup against the Packers critical.  Green Bay has the advantage with Aaron Rodgers coming back and playing both games at home.  The Giants' problems with their defense and their special teams (and on occasion some offensive bumbling as well) could keep them out of the playoffs, which looked so obviously in reach just a couple weeks ago.  I can't say I'm displeased.

Thanks for reading.  See you next week.
Category: NFL
Posted on: December 14, 2010 10:30 pm

2010 NFL Power Rankings, Week 14

In what seems like a sudden development, things are becoming clearer in the playoff picture in the NFL.  There are now two great teams in each conference, with two really good teams nipping at their heels.  The 9-4 teams are looking good as well for a bye in the first round.  Still, anything could happen in the last three games.  With division games still being played, each game means more than it did last season.  Let's go!

1.) Atlanta (11-2) [no change]
 Given that the AFC is the better conference, it might seem odd that New England isn't the first team here.  I can't move Atlanta down in good conscience as long as they keep winning.  Atlanta goes on the road in Week 15 to Seattle.  Tough sledding, to be sure.  In Week 16 they play New Orleans at home on MNF.  So this week could be a "trap game".  Either that, or the Falcons are going to pull out one of their better performances of the season.  Third game in a row on the road, and an important one to stay in front of everyone else in the NFC.

2.) New England (11-2) [no change]
 Two weeks in a row, the Patriots have utterly dismantled a division leader.  Last week it was the Jets at home, this week the Bears in Chicago, in the snow, no less.  One would think the Pats would play well in the snow, but not THAT well.  They have what could be a tough game this week if Aaron Rodgers plays for the Packers.  If not, it'll be a runaway.  After that, two division games, @Buffalo and home for Miami.  I'm not sure how New England loses the first seed and home-field advantage for the playoffs.

3.) Pittsburgh (10-3) [no change]
 Making Carson Palmer look ridiculously bad wasn't too difficult for the Steelers.  Troy Polamalu had a couple INT's, including a pick-six.  How anybody could throw a pick to Polamalu, easily the most recognizable player on the field, no matter who the Steelers are playing, is indicative of just how terrible Carson Palmer is.  And to think some people were proclaiming him an elite QB not too long ago.  The Steelers have a surprisingly tough end-of-season schedule, with the Jets at home this week, a Thursday night game against Carolina, and then on the road in Cleveland, which is no gimme.  I wouldn't be surprised to see a 13-3 Pittsburgh team with the 2-seed.  Then again....

4.) New Orleans (10-3) [no change]
 Much like New England, New Orleans lost to the Cleveland Browns.  Much like New England, New Orleans hasn't lost since.  It's a weird quirk of this season, and perhaps they're the two teams we'll see in the Super Bowl this coming February.  The Saints travel to Baltimore and Atlanta before finishing up at home against Tampa Bay.  Tough sledding.  Baltimore is looking vulnerable after last night's OT debacle, while the Falcons are unbeatable at home, and poor Tampa can't beat a winning team.  So maybe it's not that tough.

5.) Philadelphia (9-4) [+3]
 One more road game remains for the Eagles, who travel to the "new" Meadowlands this week to face the Giants.  They outplayed the Cowboys in the second half, especially LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson (say that three times fast, huh).  Now that they're tied with the Giants, this week's game proves quite important for determining the division winner.  Philadelphia gets Minnesota and Dallas at home after this week, which is a slight advantage compared to the Giants somewhat tougher schedule.

6.) Baltimore (9-4) [+4]
 As I said above, last night was a debacle for Baltimore.  The offense looked good in the first half before looking utterly pathetic in the second.  Similarly, the defense ran out of gas in the second half, allowing two colossal drives and looking completely impotent in the process.  When the game went to overtime, I had a bad feeling the Texans were going to win one they shouldn't, but then I was saved by Matt Schaub's tragic decision-making.  He threw a pick-six to Baltimore CB Josh Wilson, and that was that.  Baltimore has New Orleans at home next week, so maybe that was part of this ridiculous mess of a Monday Night game.  All I know is, if the defense plays like that against Drew Breeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees! and the Saints, the Ravens are going to find themselves cursing at the end of the game.

7.) NY Giants (9-4) [-]
 Having the game moved to Monday (and Detroit) had no effect on the Giants, who romped over the Vikings.  Now they face the Eagles in a potential revenge game that will also decide the division, in all likelihood.  The Giants end up at Green Bay and at Washington; if Rodgers is back for that game, the Giants could have some trouble.  Then again, they might concuss the poor SOB for a third time.

8.) NY Jets (9-4) [-3]
 If there was any team that really annoyed me in Week 14, it was the Jets.  They looked utterly pathetic against a hapless Dolphins team that could barely move the ball up the field.  Mark Sanchez was terrible, though his receivers were just as blameworthy; the defense was fine, for the most part.  Let's face it, the Dolphins are no offensive juggernaut, especially with Chad Henne throwing for a pittance (55 yards passing!  55!).  Coming off the heels of that terrible loss at New England, the Jets now look pitiful and vulnerable.

9.) Chicago (9-4) [-3]
 No matter how much I wanted to kick the Bears out of the Rankings, again, I just couldn't because there aren't enough good teams beside them.  I couldn't very well leave Kansas City or Green Bay in at 8-5 when the Bears are 9-4.  That said, I loathe the Bears.  They too have a tough schedule to end the season, going to Minnesota and Green Bay with a game against the Jets in between.  I still don't see how they win the division, even with Green Bay losing a very winnable game at Detroit.

10.) Jacksonville (8-5) [-]
 Playing a tough game against Oakland, the Jags pulled it out when Pocket Hercules (Maurice Jones-Drew, natch) ran it in quite easily.  They play at Indianapolis this weekend; with a win, it's likely that the Jags take the AFC South.  If they lose, it definitely opens the door to the Colts, who have a slightly easier schedule to finish.

Thanks for reading.  See you next week.
Category: NFL
Posted on: December 7, 2010 10:50 pm

2010 NFL Power Rankings, Week 13

Three-fourths of the season down for everyone, and a bunch of division matchups coming up.  Sunday and Monday night's games were just the beginning of the mayhem, so to speak.  That said, we finally have a pair of front-runners, after 13 long weeks.  But by no means are any of the division races "over".  We might actually have some clarity in a couple of them, though.  It should be a fun final four weeks of the season.  Let's go!

1.) Atlanta (10-2) [no change]
 Going on the road for three in a row starting this past Sunday, the Falcons came out and fought hard before getting the winning INT.  Given Tampa Bay's struggles against good teams, it probably shouldn't have been that close.  But the Falcons are missing something on the road.  That may not be a problem in the playoffs if the Falcons get home-field advantage.  At this point, there's no problem.  If Atlanta slips up once or twice...well, then it's something else entirely.

2.) New England (10-2) [+1]
 Last night's game was one of the bigger beatdowns of the season.  The Jets weren't in it at any point.  It had to feel good to Bill Belichick, since he no longer has to listen to Rex Ryan's empty proclamations, at least for this season.  If the playoffs come around and they play each other again, it's hard to imagine the Jets winning.  Heck, it's hard to imagine them competing, much less putting it all together.  New England has to be the consensus best team in the AFC.  They've got the inside track on the East, the #1 seed, and home-field advantage through the playoffs.  They looked unbeatable last night.

3.) Pittsburgh (9-3) [+1]
 The AFC North picture looks a little clearer.  Of course, now that the Steelers and Ravens have split the season series, I'm sure all kinds of complications would result if they both ended up, say, 12-4.  At any rate, Troy Polamalu had the play of the game in a tough matchup Sunday night.  Both teams played about as well as could be expected, given the robustness of their defenses.  The Steelers are in line for the 2-seed in the AFC.

4.) New Orleans (9-3) [+2]
 Let it never be said that the Saints fail to outsmart their opponents.  They did just that on Sunday and got a win against the Bengals.  Not quite the margin of victory that the inimitable Peter King predicted, but a win is a win.  They've got some ground to make up on Atlanta in the next four weeks if they want to win the NFC South again.  They've come around and are in good shape for the playoff run, being completely healthy finally.

5.) NY Jets (9-3) [-3]
 A lackluster effort on all sides last night moves the Jets down three spots.  Why ahead of the Bears?  Well, if you've read this blog any time this season, you know the answer.  The Jets have to regroup now, and have three tough games in a row, including road trips to Pittsburgh and Chicago.  So while it might look bleak at the moment, the Jets' future is entirely in their own hands.

6.) Chicago (9-3) [+1]
 Speaking of tough schedules, the Bears have a most difficult one on their hands, which pleases me to no end.  They still have trips to Minnesota (who'll surely want to play spoiler) and Green Bay (ditto), while also having the Patriots and Jets coming into Soldier Field.  They may be 9-3 now, but there's nothing saying they won't end up 9-7.  Currently, they lead the NFC North, and hold the tiebreaker against the Packers.  But this one's going down to the final week, I can smell it.

7.) Kansas City (8-4) [+1]
 Lucky breaks abound in the AFC West, where KC gets a slim victory and watches as the Chargers deep six themselves.  They now have a two-game lead on the Chargers, and the tiebreaker.  We'll see how they match up this week; if KC wins, the division is all but theirs.  With their schedule, 12-4 is very likely.

8.) Philadelphia (8-4) [+1]
 It helps to play a team with a bad defense after getting beat.  Philadelphia had the fraudulent Texans on tap last Thursday and despite a mini-comeback, prevailed in the 4th.  Michael Vick looked good again, but his MVP run has been slowed while others are running ahead.  The schedule stiffens up considerably as they get Dallas twice and the Giants once (in Jersey, no less).  The Eagles have to be presumptive favorites in the NFC East...but with the schedule they have, it wouldn't be surprising if they take a Wild Card.

9.) Green Bay (8-4) [+1]
 The Packers took out the 49ers and have won five of six.  They may not be leading their division, but it's hard not to consider them the favorite, even with the Bears ahead of them.  Their schedule is nothing to sneeze at, including a trip to New England, but given how tough the Bears have it as well...I like the Packers to take the NFC North.

10.) Baltimore (8-4) [-5]
 Losing to the Steelers was tough, to be sure, but I'm not counting the Ravens out.  After seeing their next four games, with the only tough one being New Orleans (at home, no less), it's easy to see that Baltimore can end up 12-4 or 11-5.  With Pittsburgh's schedule being of similar "difficulty", the Ravens need to get all the wins they can to try and get the AFC North outright.

Thanks for reading.  See you next week!
Category: NFL
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