Tuesday, September 13, 2011

3 comments J.S.' NFL Power Rankings: Week One

Panic! Women and children first! The sky is falling! That's certainly the message coming out of James Walker this week. Remember that the Steelers have gone to two of the last three Superbowls, return essentially all of their starters, and get to play the Seahawks, Niners, Rams (in Pittsburgh), Titans, Jags, an Eric Berryless Kansas City who just lost 41-7 at home, the Colts in two weeks sans Peyton Manning and Cleveland and Cincinnati for four games. It was a bad day. They are gonna be fine. This was a team Bill Barnwell pegged as the best in the NFL (or at least, with the highest chance of winning the Superbowl) just last week. Football Outsider's formula had them as a 13.3 win team!

Meanwhile, following two very tight road losses Pete Prisco is calling on Locker and Ponder to start. It's not even week 2! Everyone, step away from the gun and take a deep breath. These power rankings are going to be the sanest you will read all weekend. For some reason we are always implored to not get carried away early in the NBA or MLB but there's no one who says this in the coke fueled frenzy that is NFL analysis. Allow me to be the friend who takes you away from the party and gets you some blankets and tea until you calm down and stop talking about jumping off the roof.


I still have concerns over their ability to run the ball and stop the run. In fact, these concerns ring in my ears even louder than last year with the loss of Cullen Jenkins and Nick Barnett in the offseason. But just like last years playoffs, it doesn't seem to matter with Rodgers back there. An MVP season from him would have him knocking on the "transcendent" door which, for me, has only two members in Brady and Manning. Picked up right where left off last year with 312 yards and 3 TD's against what I think will be a good defense. Green Bay has simply been the best team in football the last eight weeks back to last season.


Business as usual. Mind you three things caught my eye. New England were more balanced than you think last year, but despite not trailing from 4 minutes left in the first, the Pats called 50 pass plays vs just 21 rushes. Part of that might be because Brady was so hot but I thought it might be something to watch in the coming weeks. The second thing is, despite those dropbacks, there's no problem in the communication between Brady and the offensive line - Miami (with a quality pass rush led by Cameron Wake) only got to him 3 times all night for just a single sack. Finally, new additions Mark Anderson and Andre Carter had a sack each against a good offensive line. Scary for the AFC East.


Playing in St. Louis is almost a perfectly NFL average opponent. Philadelphia did this comfortably, albeit with Steven Jackson out much of the game. The sizzling rushing attack that came out of the blue last year was there. Those looking for flaws on the offensive line (3 sacks) and lineback corps (St. Louis rushed for 154 yards, even chasing the game and without Jackson) had plenty to point at, but Philadelphia got stronger as the game wore on scoring 17 of the last 20 points, and should continue to improve throughout the season. Babin and Jenkins had a combined 3 sacks in their debut game. DeSean Jackson looked electric and was in the middle of everything the Eagles did. Just a super talented team.


Unquestionably the shock of the week, with seven (count 'em seven!) turnovers from the Steelers resulting in a 35-7 blowout to the hated Ravens. At one point in the second half, Pittsburgh ended five out of six straight possessions with a turnover. The offensive line problems aren't going away, and considering the Ravens were a middling (at best) pass rushing team last year, and if anything got worse (older mainly) in the offseason, this was an abysmal display. Still, Pittsburgh have been playing with fire on this issue, willing to go with turnstiles on the line for years and years now. Is this the year Ben just can't get it done behind that line, which is also missing Willie Colon for the year now? And offensive line and turnover issues aside, what the hell was with letting Rice (and even Ricky Williams!) run all over them (107 and 63 yards) to the tune of 5.5 a carry? I still believe this was just a bad day, and a loss in Baltimore is hardly the worst crime. Still the AFC North favourites by a hair on the strength of their pedigree, but without an absolute savaging of the Seahawks at Heinz next week, there will be much cause for concern. The Ravens were taking two point conversions and went for it on 4th down in field goal range at 29-7 up. They were trying to humiliate the Steelers. I'd be astonished if black and gold don't win the return date on Nov 6 with Jules Winnfield style vengeful fury.


A near perfect performance, particulary from lone pass rusher Suggs (3 sacks, 3 hurries) and Ed Reed (well on his way to back to back interception crowns with 2). Got pressure on Roethlisberger all day until by the end they only had to hint at a rush to get him to chuck it to them. Some of his throws were just plain bad. Concerns about the offensive line (always a chic offseason topic) were typically overstated - Grubbs is one of the top three guards (along with Davin Joseph and Jahri Evans) in the league and while McKinnie is a concern, the vaunted Pittsburgh pass rush only got to Flacco four times in 29 dropbacks all day, sacking him only once. Baltimore gets the much easier assignment of the Titans next week to consolidate this strong performance from every aspect of the team. One small concern - Lee Evans didn't grab a ball. He was an important pickup in the offseason for obvious downfield reasons but was falling off badly with the Bills. Long term, Baltimore needs to get him going to have sustained success.

6 - JETS

Like it or not, that's going to contribute to the legend of Mark Sanchez, despite the lost fumble and the fact his fourth quarter numbers were in line with his stats over the night (which were mediocre). In the end, it may simply ensure more teams don't throw at Revis (who was jaw droppingly sensational in this game, especially in the fourth when he came up with three huge plays), which can only be a good thing for the Jets, who really needed to blitz to get pressure last year and sans Shaun Ellis will need to be even more blitz happy now. It's amazing that the Jets, of all teams, could have a 34/26 time of possession deficit and win, but win they did.


A very good team on paper, very good indeed. I loved the offseason addition of Abruyo Franklin. No one talks about it, but with Greer, Vilma, Franklin and co. this is one of the most talented defensive teams in football. It's hard to get a read on whether that will translate to on field results against Rodgers playing like he is at the moment. We should get a better idea against the Bears next week, I expect great things against that offensive line and Cutler.


Were my lock of the week in my elimination pick 'em, so I was sweating when it was still tied with just over five minutes left in the game. Minnesota, with an injured McNabb who threw just 15 passes (and connected with only seven) led for over 30 minutes of this game, and the Chargers just five. The team has never really found a replacement for Jamal Williams who left two years ago and their run D in the 3-4 (with poor inside linebackers) has always been quite suspect. Peterson ran for nearly 100 yards and the uninspiring triplet of McNabb, Gerhart and Harvin even stole 63 yards at 7 yards a carry. That's unlikely to improve now that Luis Castillo is also out for the year. They are extremely thin on the D-Line. Then there is that old bugaboo rearing it's head - kick returns (Harvin took the very first one of the season to the house after they had allegedly focused on this, season ruining problem); there were an awful lot of arm tackles on that play...again. To compound the special teams nightmarish deja vu, kicker Nate Kaeding is out for the year. The Bolts lost the turnover battle and got less than 3 yards per carry from a rushing attack that has been poor for about three years...sometimes you wonder if this is Rivers and scraps, but he got them out of jail in the end and it's a weak division.


The big concern I had with the Falcons was Michael Turner breaking down. He's had so many carries the last three years, and has progressively been producing more and more modest results (1700 yards three years ago at 4.5ypc down to 1371 last year and 4.1) but he was great here (100 yards on ten carries). The bigger problem on Sunday was Atlanta not giving him the ball. Chicago had only sixteen points halfway through the third quarter, so I'm not sure what the rush was, but Atlanta threw 47 times to just 14 rushes as they try and work out what kind of team they are exactly with Julio Jones in the mix. Against a good (not great) defense playing at home, that kind of predictability spells disaster and disaster dutifully followed with two turnovers coming within two minutes in the third off dropbacks that turned a 16-6 game into a 30-6 laugher. Atlanta conceded 5 sacks and 11 hurries in all, and you can expect more Michael Turner next week against Philly, a winnable game with their linebacker concerns and in the Georgia Dome where Atlanta are so strong.


A pretty big win from a team with lots to prove this year. The offensive line, now Kruetzless, was not great (4 sacks, 6 hurries) but it wasn't absolutely awful and Cutler had time to get off a few 20+ yard completions. He finished with a QB rating of 107.8 and got the ball to an impressive eight Bears in all. Matt Forte was his usual do it all self with 158 yards from scrimmage and leading the team in receptions. The Bears ran quite a few screens, and successfully as well. Shrewd play calling considering the weak offensive line will tempt teams to blitz, and Forte's ball catching ability. One led to a TD. The usual suspects on defense, Peppers (2 sacks and a hurry) and Urlacher (10 tackles, fumble recovery and interception) made this a very impressive start for the Bears at home. Unknown defensive end Henry Milton had a huge game with two sacks and seven hurries against a normally disciplined Falcons offensive line. If the Bears can knock over the Saints in Louisiana next week, we might just have an excellent three team NFC North race.


A big game they had to have. In fact I thought this was the most important win of week one. If Detroit are going to be the wild cardesque force they hope to be, doing things like beating Tampa in Florida is the kind of thing they must do. Calvin Johnson could be in for his best year yet, dominant with six catches for 88 yards and a pair of scores. The running game still needs work.


The pass defense numbers were fine (not great) with the obviously epic disclaimer of not just no Manning, but Dallas Clark's first full speed game since October last year and the fact that last year, Reggie Wayne was below average in yard per catch against bad, mediocre and elite cornerbacks last year according to Football Outsiders and might be getting close to the end. Schaub actually finished with a QB rating lower than Collins and the offense scored just three points from the seven minute mark in the second quarter. Long way to go for the Texans, but after this week, and with Manning probably lost until December, hard to see a way they fail to win the South from here.


The media was reading out of the same book last year, especially early last year, that the 'Boys needed to run it. This year, the book has been to watch out for the Felix Jones breakout season, even though his between the tackles ability is still in question. Well run it they did in this one with no result (Jones averaged 2.6ypc and 2.0 in the fourth quarter on five carries). Admittedly the Jets are tough to run on but still, with a two score lead in the fourth, you expect to be able to run down the clock. The stars, however, look ready to play. Against a top class defense and offensive line, Witten had 6 catches for 110 yards, Romo posted a 101.9 rating in a strong performance coming back from injury, and Ware got to Sanchez five times by himself, picking up a couple of sacks. The secondary, as predicted, gave up some big plays to let the Jets back in. Things should get easier next week at San Fran.


Played second fiddle to the Newton show really but came away with a quiet, solid win. Will be enthused that Beanie Wells had a bright start to his first season as a feature back with 90 yards at 5 per carry. For all the Newton pyrotechnics, Kolb had an even better day, posting a 130.0 rating. Look like the best team in the NFC West for what it's worth. Intriguing game at the 'Skins next week.


Rex Grossman did the one thing he can do well - throw the ball deep. Just remember how incredibly decimated that Giants defense, and especially its secondary, is before buying in. The fact that Grossman was airing it out successfully and Hightower still only managed 2.9 yards a carry on a laborious 25 runs is something of a concern. I have real doubts about Washington's almost total reliance on a basically unproven commodity back there; they had only one non Hightower carry all game. The defense got it together in the second half but were not impressive in the first, and this team absolutely must win with its D the majority of the time. Jury is out.

16 - MIAMI

Were still in it when Carpenter put a field goal over with 3 and a half minutes to go in the third but Brady and the Pats took over from there with drives of 78, 62 and finally the 99 yard connection with Welker to ice it. Henne threw the ball ok, and Brandon Marshall started the season on the right foot with 139 yards on seven catches. Chad Henne running for 59 yards was an eye opener. Host the Texans next week and will have some hope after this game, but with three roadies following that, including dates at the Jets and across the country at the Chargers, this looms as already a must win game for them to keep their glimmer of hope alive for a wild card spot.

17 - ST. LOUIS

Hard to get much of a read really against such a quality opponent. Especially when Jackson left after just two touches (for 56 yards and a score no less) but St. Louis held on gamely, in what is a reasonable prediction of their season generally. It doesn't seem likely that games against Philly, who all teams in the division play, will decide the NFC West. A game at the Giants should be much more illuminating, though they will be sweating the results of Jackson's MRI.


No panic stations yet, but got just 56 yards on the ground and the offense generated only 13 points at home to a good, but not great defense. They got by on some heroics and a soft schedule last year, but it's an awful lot to put on young Freeman's shoulders when they rush like that. Pass rush was almost literally non existant - Stafford wasn't touched all day. Schedule is much tougher this year in a very difficult division.


We probably know Buffalo aren't good, even if that 41-7 result shakes that belief a tad. What we don't know is if Kansas City are, and any argument in defense of them has to have taken a beating this weekend. Their celebrated secondary, featuring Berry, Flowers and Carr, proved impotent in the endzone in man coverages. To make matters worse, the aforementioned Berry is now out for the season. The Chiefs have two road games coming up, and tough roadies at that, Detroit, and strong division favourite San Diego who already have a game on them. On this performance it is hard to see them winning either and this loss threw them very badly off schedule early. Following Monday night's abortion of a football game, we might be able to hand this division to the Chargers very soon.


Their season is dangerously impereled already due to injury issues and they looked like a last placed team much of Sunday night. Manning has three touchdowns and six interceptions in his last three starts and has now lost two of his passing weapons in the offseason. Hard to see how they win games. Pass rush (four sacks, seven hurries) looked good and was about the only thing that did. It's hard to see what else New York does well.


Jones-Drew was his usual tenacious self and unlike their opponents, Jacksonville went with a sensible gameplan. While not overpowering, the oft criticised pass rush seemed improved, with a couple of sacks and five hurries against a very good offensive line. Luke McCown wasn't a disaster and had a clean sheet, earning the first of possibly many "game manager" tags. We still need to see more of a pass rush and the receivers without Sims-Walker look too dreadful to take the Jags seriously, last years 8-8 seems a high water mark to me. This is the Texans division to lose.


Basically the same team as Jacksonville. Hasselbeck was quite good before throwing a late, desperation pick. The big, mysterious question is why Chris Johnson only ran four times until the 12:22 mark of the fourth quarter and not AT ALL in the second or third quarters. I mean Jacksonville weren't streaking away. Is that what we can expect from the new coaching regime? Becuase if this team rides with Hasselbeck and Britt they might not win three games.


Were quite obviously improved from last year. Yards can often be misleading, obviously, but it's probably fair to say that Jimmy Clausen or Matt Moore were never going to be able to pull the 400+ yard trick off. Newton even had a rushing touchdown, and Steve Smith might finally be off suicide watch after collecting 178 yards and two scores. Carolina threw for less than 150 yards in seven games last year, including three games with double digit passing. In the end, the Cats only lost on a punt return TD. They did lose, but this was about as good a loss as you can get coming off a 2-14 season. Still, the Beason injury downgrades their defense from average to quite bad, the secondary looks terrible (so many coverage breakdowns against Arizona), and if Charles Johnson was a fluke, the D-Line is no better. Clay Matthews comes to town next week...that should be fun for Cam, and Aaron Rodgers might throw for 1,200 yards against that back four.


Peyton Manning is good. So, is this rock bottom or does it get worse? Indy got unlucky on third down, Collins should get better (right?) and I don't think the Colts were as bad as the score made it seem but still, this is going to be a long season.


A stunningly good performance from the Vikings considering McNabb was on one leg and nearly didn't play. Still, you have to wonder if that's sustainable if McNabb is going to be a question mark all year. Sure, Peterson is great (98 yards on 16 carries), but d'Angelo Williams was great coming into last season too...just saying.


Well, that was nearly unwatchable. 25 penalties in all with 15 (Fifteen!) coming from the Raiders who reverted to their bad old undisciplined ways. Turnovers are a wonderful thing I guess. They got less than 100 yards in the air and their secondary was noticably leaky without Asomugha. It's going to be tough sledding for the Raiders this year, Miller was a key component of the passing game, and I don't see how they make completions.


Along with the Steeler's result, this was the other shocker of week one. Sure, Kansas City overachieved against a soft schedule to go 10-6 last year but Arrowhead is a very tough place to win as last years 7-1 record attests to. Buffalo also scored just sixty points in its last six games last year and gave away Lee Evans, so don't ask me where 41 of them came from. Matt Cassel just could not get the ball down the field, averaging a staggeringly poor 2.9 yards attempt. The reasons are a mystery, Buffalo did not get a ton of pressure and the Chiefs ran all over them. Perhaps, like Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing four touchdowns and no picks, it was just an extreme, once off anomoly. Wait and see I suppose.


A bit of a shock loss, and a wake up call to anyone who entertained a breakout year for Cleveland, based on their apparently soft early schedule. I don't rate the Bengals at all, and losing to them at home is unforgivable, week one or no. Colt McCoy was flat out bad, and completing 19/40 against the Bengals makes you shudder regarding the four games against Baltimore and Pittsburgh. On the bright side, they got a hell of a pass rush and dominated on the line, four sacks, seven hurries and seven tackles for loss with no one in the defensive front seven I've ever heard of (d'Qwell Jackson aside). Cincinnati are gonna be bad this year, and it seems Cleveland will be as well.


Kyle Orton looks a lot better as a quarterback option when you look around the league beyond Brady, Brees and Rodgers (Manning obviously too). He was quite good down the stretch here for the Broncos but the bad news is the defense does not look at all improved from last year. They struggled badly to stop the run (181 yards at 5.5 a carry, most of it done unsurprisingly from McFadden, but Bush too in the dying minutes) but more worryingly, their pass defense also wasn't great, Dumervil was essentially invisible in his return. Against a more prolific passing team (Oakland barely even tried really, understandably so), Denver might look just as bad as last year. It's difficult to believe either of those teams on Monday night will be relevant.


Somehow managed 33 points despite a grand total of 209 yards of offense. Oh wait, Ted Ginn ran back two kicks (kickoff and punt) for TD's in less than a minute of play, which was essentially what avoided them collapsing and losing to Seattle. At home. I suppose if they get a Leon Washington type year from Ginn, in the NFC West anything is possible. Pass rush looked nice with five sacks and eight hurries but who knows from this toilet bowl of a game. Alex Smith? For a seventh time? Seriously?


A nice little win against what is most likely a very bad team to get the 0-16 talk out of the way early. Dalton and Green's career's are off to solid starts, with a 102.4 rating and a TD catch respectively. Dalton may be out of the game in Denver. Win that and maybe we'll have something to discuss.


Tavaris Jackson was 7/10 for 42 yards at half time. He and Lynch had combined for 10 yards on eight carries. I was actually relatively bullish on Seattle, I remember a stretch a few years ago at the end of a season and Jackson played quite alright. I know he can play around league average and if so, why not Seattle winning the NFC West? But even though Arizona made Cam Newton look like Peyton Manning and St. Louis were beaten by three scores at home it seems pretty clear San Fran and Seattle are leading the fascinating race to the bottom in the NFC West early on. Lynch has averaged 3.4 ypc in thirteen regular season games with the Seahawks and has averaged over 4.0 once in his last seven regular season starts.


rich said...


I don't mean to sound rude, but Pittsburgh gets absolutely manhandled and their ranked fourth, while the team that manhandled them is ranked 5th? Conversely, Atlanta gets manhandled and they're 9th? I don't understand how you can look at the Bal-Pit game and keep Pitt in the top 5, while barely keeping Atlanta in the top 10 for a similarly embarrassing performance.

Add to that the fact that San Diego barely beat a terrible Vikings team and they're 8th? Chicago steamrolls Atlanta and they're 10th?

I can see that you might think that despite the wins/losses they're not good/bad teams (Buffalo for example), but it's very odd that a team can win by 7 over a team that's a joke right now and be ranked higher than a team that steamrolled a playoff team coming off a trip the the NFC championship game.

I also think you should have a disclaimer after 15 that all those teams are completely interchangeable. None of those teams are really very good, including the Giants.

However, the Giants lose by 14 to your number 15 team and they're behind KC, a team that lost by 34 to Buffalo?

The thing about the Giants is that while their game was embarrassing to watch (I think I told my dad it was the most pathetic display I'd seen since they were shutout against Carolina in the playoffs), but at least they had some positives. They started a front seven of: Tollefson, Canty, Joseph, JPP, Boley, some dude and Kiwi.

They still had a good defensive performance (21 points against thanks to Eli "shit another one!?" Manning) and most of the errors came on plays where Aaron Ross displayed the dipshit play recognition he has since he was drafted (I mean just watch that TD and watch him turn the wrong way to find the ball). Basically if you told me that the defense I listed above would only allow 21 points in a week where good defense were getting absolutely torched? I'll take it.

That said, the Giants get one pro bowler back next week (Tuck) which makes the defense that much better. Offensively, they're in a bad place, but it's all stuff that can be resolved in a short period of time (namely Kevin Gilbride still sucks at his job).

I can't really say that about some of the other teams: KC looked like a team that won't win many games and lost their best player for the year, St. Louis potentially lost Jackson and Bradford left the game early as well and displayed something that can't be fixed: the worst WRs in the NFL. I think there were half a dozen drops and those aren't really fixable.

Then again, I can't really fault you because like I said the bottom half of the league is pretty interchangible at this point.

J.S. said...

Not rude at all. It was one game, in both cases. Is it a worry? Sure, but there are 15 games left. Think of it this way, these rankings to me are in order of how I expect these teams to look come New Years. I expect Pittsburgh to be in the top five teams in the NFL come New Years. Divisions also played a role...honestly, I've always been a hater of San Diego (not so with Pittsburgh and I'm 50/50 on Atlanta) but I see no way they don't make the playoffs looking at the rest of the AFC West (both generally and in light of last weekend).

If Pittsburgh loses to Seattle, I'll rocket them down, probably close to 20, but I want more of a sample size than one game, especially when the Steeler's looked comically, impossibly, bad. This bad - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MK6TXMsvgQg. Just screamed anomoly to me, we'll find out soon, maybe you disagree.

Atlanta at 9 I think is quite low for a 13-3 team, and illustrates some suspicion on my part that they might not be so flash. Bear in mind, both these teams lost on the road to playoff teams, in week one of a lockout season. Perhaps we can grant them one mulligan. As I made explicit - I'm not doing this based on one game.

Do you really think Chicago are an excellent team? They have a great running back, a goodish defense with an iffy secondary and a flat out bad offensive line. Let's just bide our time for a few weeks.

I basically agree with you about the sub 15 teams, gets hard to order them. Kansas City I think gets the benefit of the doubt a little because of the weaker division (NFC East remains quite brutal) and injuries (Berry is bad, but the Giants are on like their 5th and 6th corners) and that I just cannot believe they are THAT bad. If KC and Pitt and these teams fuck up again next week, I promise you movement - Pittsburgh could beat Seattle by 10 and I would still almost certainly move them down.

While I like Berry, I would not put him above Charles and ESPECIALLY not Hali, who is dynamite.

Ultimately you either act on one game pretty unilaterally (you seem to be in this frame of mind) or you...don't. I'm in the latter category.

It's a great comment though and some interesting thoughts - thanks for reading!

Bengoodfella said...

J.S., I like these power rankings. I think, as I said in my NFL preview, that Atlanta will get stronger as the season goes on. They are my Packers this year and I think by Week 16 this loss the Bears is forgotten.

I will say I think the Patriots are #1, but that's just a personal choice. I guess you could say GB looked better against a better Saints offense if compared to the Miami offense, so that would be why GB is #1. I also think right now the Giants should be up a bit higher and Arizona should be dropped. The Cardinals have scared me as my pick to win the NFC West. They stopped the run well, but at the expense of stopping the pass. I wanted to see them beat a bad Carolina team a little more decisively.

Ok...I didn't WANT that to happen, but you know what I mean.