Wednesday, November 9, 2011

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

So we're halfway through the season and if you're anything like me, you're reading a lot of prediction columns and/or midseason awards columns. I'm not going to waste your time on that (though we will be checking in on the divisions after Week Twelve) simply because we don't need to. This shapes up as the best slate of games so far this season, 14 of my top 18 teams in the league were playing each other this week, which is both pretty incredible and has me salivating. To be honest, I've largely ignored the rest of the league this week. Thankfully, we were rewarded with some great games. Let's get stuck in.

1 - GREEN BAY (-)
8-0, 1st NFC NORTH
W 45-38 @SD, next vMIN

While it is kind of sickening listening to the sycophantic coverage of Aaron Rodgers (I'm not sure they wouldn't blow him on national television if they had the chance), at the end of the day...he's pretty fucking amazing. San Diego were just helpless in trying to get him off the field in what was yet another virtuoso performance, 247 yards on just 26 throws and four TDs. This crosses off yet another conceivable loss. The only other realistic possibilities left are one of the remaining games against the Lions, or, more ambitiously, @NYG or vCHI.

2 - HOUSTON (+1)
6-3, 1st AFC SOUTH
W 30-12 vCLE, next @TB

Steady as she goes through the soft part of their schedule. They have gone 3-1 without Andre Johnson.

3 - BALTIMORE (+4)
6-2, T-1st AFC NORTH
W 23-20 @PIT, next @SEA

This was a well played football game. Both offenses had their moments; they weren't as shut down as the score made it seem. Baltimore played their cards close to their chest, on the heels of some abysmal offensive performances recently. Flacco (28/47, 300 yards and, of course, the fateful TD) was even more of a checkdown king than usual, but stood up in a huge way on that final drive, which may resuscitate his (so far terrible) season. For all the flak (sorry) Flacco has received for failing against the Steelers, this was the second time he beat the Steelers in the final minute in consecutive years. Like Pittsburgh, their secondary has been an unheralded part of their vastly improved pass rush (2nd in the league this year up from 27th last year - Baltimore has one less sack so far this year than they had all of 2010).

4 - NEW ORLEANS (+1)
6-3, 1st NFC SOUTH
W 27-16 vTB, next @ATL

They have a great set of running backs. Chris Ivory (67 yards on 15 carries but looked much better than that) was stampeding all over the place. I love when the Saints run. In 2008 they were 26th in rushing attempts. In 2010 they were 30th. Neither of those teams were remotely as good as the 2009 team which was seventh. I know some of that is having leads and it's not as simple as I may be suggesting, but I think there is genuinely something to it. This year they are 6th and went to it early here, setting up a devastatingly effective play action as the game wore on. I also love when Darren Sproles gets involved in the game. He had 99 yards from scrimmage with a TD but his impact was felt much more than that. No one in the game is a better runner behind a screen in the game. He also had a fifteen yard punt return. Seemed to steady themselves in this game, but still a lot more to do to wrap up the NFC South.

6-2, T-1st AFC NORTH
L 20-23 vBAL, next @CIN

Their offensive line has improved markedly over the past three or four weeks and is close to average (played well against a high quality rush - only one sack conceded), but I am worried about their own pass rush, which seems to be a lot less savage against the high quality lines of Baltimore and New England (and with the unsettled injury status' of Farrior, Harrison and Woodley in recent weeks). Most of their sacks recently have been the result of excellent coverage. The secondary is having its best year in a long time, especially from non-Polamalu players. Ryan Clark has been coming along for a few years now, and Ike Taylor has had a real renaissance. They covered well while Flacco had a lot of time looking for receivers. So it's a team in transition with plenty of moving parts. But that lack of characteristic pass rush (9 hits but went missing for long stretches on key plays) really told on third down (and the final drive where Flacco went 7/13 with 93 yards - the Steelers were sending men), where the Ravens just killed them here (an incredible 15 of 22, including a fourth down conversion, did you ever think you'd see the Steelers concede that on third down?). The Steelers defense could not get off the field when it mattered. Something to watch going forward.

6 - JETS (+3)
5-3, T-1st AFC EAST
W 27-11 @BUF, next vNE

Leading 3-0 and facing 4th and 2 from the Buffalo 38, the Jets punted and TMQ wrote "Game Over" in his notebook. Phil Simms came out with this gem; "it's a hard place to score from inside the one". Well, Phil, it's actually the easiest possible place on the field, by definition. Anyway, some have asked me over the last five or six weeks why I've stuck with the Jets. Their defensive line is not really good enough and cannot handle the run (nor did they here really - Buffalo rushed for 96 yards at 4.4 a carry) and their offense is below average on balance, with fits of retardation. This is why - they have the best pass defense in the league. They have the best cornerbacks. They run the best blitz. They have the best coaching. I love me some run game, as I think my analysis suggests, but in the end, you have to throw in this league. This is the team with the best chance of stopping Rodgers, I feel. Fitzpatrick was 4/11 in the first half (24 yards) with two picks. It was at the point that in the two minute warning on halfway in the first, the Bills ran Jackson and then a QB draw; they were terrified of throwing. Burress (79 yards on five big catches), who I thought was one of the best three offensive players in football back in 2007, is really starting to round back into some form and his pairing with Holmes should give them more than enough offense down the stretch.

7 - DETROIT (-1)
6-2, 2nd NFC NORTH
BYE, next @CHI

Come back Calvin Johnson! I miss you. (why are there ninjas in that?)

8 - NEW ENGLAND (-6)
5-3, T-1st AFC EAST
L 20-24 vNYG, next @NYJ

I know this is a large drop, but I have given the Patriots a lot of rope this season. Obviously the glass half full view is that their defense played better. And it did. It was more intense and the fundamental tackling was much improved. I'm not sure much about the defense changed in terms of schemes or anything, they just executed better. Still, I don't share this view. Offense is what makes New England go, and the last few weeks, really, a trajectory ever since the first two games, have been very disturbing. They have scored just 57 points the last three games, fine for many teams, not for New England. They are never going to be good defensively, but if they are anything less than a top two offense, their ability to win a Super Bowl this year falls off a cliff. It wasn't even that they were giving up sacks, the obvious route the Giants would take to halt the offense, the protection was, by and large, fine - great even (the Giants had just 5 pressures). Brady just wasn't hitting guys (28/49 for 342 yards and the two picks were bad, bad throws and there should have been a third, his QB rating was 75.4), receivers were dropping passes, the running game (78 yards on 19 carries) wasn't there (especially early) and they have nothing deep (their longest completion on fifty throws was 28 yards). It's not time to push the panic button yet, but the finger is hovering nervously, tied with both the Bills and the Jets in the AFC East, a position they just should not be in.

7-1, 1st NFC WEST
W 19-11 @WAS, next vNYG

Was always a good matchup for them, with Washington's only options either running the ball (52 yards on 15 carries) or Fred Davis (4 catches but only 42 yards), both of which played into their formidable corps of linebackers. They are second in giveaways this year with just seven. Again, stay tuned for dates against Pittsburgh and Baltimore but this week at home to the Giants is also a chance to generate some attention.

10 - ATLANTA (-)
5-3, 2nd NFC SOUTH
W 31-7 vIND, next vNO

Should be rested for next week's enormous clash with the Saints after the bye. Or playing Indy. Same thing.

11 - GIANTS (+2)
6-2, 1st NFC EAST
W 24-20 @NE, next @SF

I'm not really sure why Brandon Jacobs (18 carries for 72 yards, a touchdown, but also stuffed on a crucial 2nd and goal from the 2 with 19 seconds left) was supposed to be the story in this game. He's terrible, what's the big deal? The Giants have won this year because of offense (and more specifically Manning), and although the pass rush has been characteristically vicious (best in the league with 26 sacks) they have done basically nothing else well on D. This was an across the board improvement, against an excellent offense, on their field, where they had not lost in 31 games. Encouraging for Giants fans that they can win a game where Manning plays poorly (final two drives notwithstanding, Manning was 20/39 for 250 yards including a pick in the endzone, mind you, he now has five fourth quarter comebacks this year, which is incredible), against the Pats no less. This was not a good game for offense (I think it was more bad offense by both teams as opposed to good defense), and an even worse game for special teams (three dropped kick returns and a missed twenty seven yard field goal) but was a huge game for the Giants and for the first time this season I feel the NFC East has not only a genuine favourite, but a prohibitive one.

12 - CHICAGO (+3)
5-3, 3rd NFC NORTH
W 30-24 @PHI, next vDET

I love you Matt Forte, you are one of my favourite players in the NFL, but you cannot fumble that ball in the first half in particular. The Bears had choked up Philly entirely to that point (Philly returned it for a TD and followed it up with consecutive TD drives). I think many people, and I am definitely one of them, would be surprised by how well Chicago have played this year against a challenging schedule. Their offensive line has not had one of their customary implosions for some time, and the Bears are a respectable 22nd in the league at conceding sacks. The attention then turns to their receivers, who were dropping perfectly thrown balls all night. Have earned their spot as legitimate wild card challenger, but with games still remaining against the Lions, Packers and Chargers, still have an awful lot of work to do. Will need to win at least one of those - possible.

13 - CINCINNATI (+3)
6-2, T-1st AFC NORTH
W 24-17 @TEN, next vPIT

There are so many high quality defenses running around in the NFL with appalling offenses attached to them like a ball and chain. San Fran is the poster child for this (appalling may be a touch harsh), but Cincy, Seattle, Washington, Jacksonville and Tennessee all lay claim to some version of it. Maybe it's always been like this but it seems much more pronounced this year. I can't help thinking when I watch the Bengals play, how much better they'd be with an NFL quality running back. Benson (78 yards on 20 carries) is not good, and the quality offensive line, deserves a more explosive runner. Cincinnati improved to 4-1 on the road this year. Even considering their cupcake schedule that deserves some applause, though the season almost certainly is about to go downhill from the lofty heights of 6-2.

14 - SAN DIEGO (+3)
4-4, T-1st AFC WEST
L 38-45 vGB, next vOAK

Albert Hammond was wrong, it does indeed rain in southern California. Mike Novak made a
ridiculous 52 yarder in, perhaps not driving rain, but far from inconsequential rain. Even interceptions aside (and you cannot give up 14 points to non-Rodgers Packers, impossible to win under those circumstances, rather obviously I would have thought), Rivers (26/46, 385 yards, 4TDs and 3INTs) does not look good throwing the ball. He made some hideous throws. I thought Jackson (seven grabs, 141 yards, 3 TDs) who I have never been a fan of, was quite excellent here, especially early and Gates (8 catches for 96 yards and a touchdown) too playing his best game really the past two years or so, dealing with injuries. The pass rush looked stronger than it has all year (8 hits with four sacks against the best QB in the game). Mike Tolbert (83 yards on 4.4YPC with a TD) is one tough dude. All in all, one of their better and more committed performances this year, although Green Bay is clearly in a different class. Rivers needs to be better - the rest of the team is coming around.

15 - BUFFALO (-3)
5-3, T-1st AFC EAST
L 11-27 vNYJ, next @DAL

Their offense, which had eroded some against the 'Skins, is now in panic mode. At one point they had 3 first downs and 3 turnovers. They held the ball for barely 22 minutes. They got some yards late, but now have to play that same team on the road (1-2 on the year) and a game against the Patriots in Foxboro, who will be keen to atone for a Week Three loss. The Patriots haven't lost twice to a divisional foe in the same season since 2000.

16 - TAMPA BAY (-2)
4-4, 3rd NFC SOUTH
L 16-27 @NO, next vHOU

I don't understand. You have a great offensive line with Davin Joseph and Donald Penn. You know how atrocious the Saints are against the run. LaGarrette Blount is back. I mean I hate to be obvious but run the football! Keep it away from Brees! The Bucs ran it only 20 times. Despite Blount gaining 33 yards on his first four carries, the Bucs called pass on 13 of the next 17 plays, when the game was still well in hand. They are not a good enough team to escape that kind of stupid play calling against a team as good as the Saints at home, even if Josh Freeman throws for a 103.5 QB rating.

17 - DALLAS (+3)
4-4, 2nd NFC EAST
W 23-13 vSEA, next vBUF

Their former #1 ranked rushing defense not only was gashed by the Eagles (forgivable) but just surrendered 135 yards to Marshawn Lynch. That is the opposite of forgivable. Nevertheless, collected another win, and with Philly's loss, move into the lone challenger role to the Giants in the second half. Have a very managable schedule over the next month, with games at home to Miami and the Bills, and road games against the Redskins and Arizona.

3-5, T-3rd NFC EAST
L 24-30 vCHI, next vARI

Despite what the Monday Night analysts would have you believe, Vick played poorly in this game, as his numbers (21/38 for 213 yards, TD, INT) suggest. I thought the game would come down to how Philly's linebackers handled Forte (133 yards on 24 carries) and how the Bears line handled the Eagles pass rush (better than anyone could have possibly expected - incredibly not a single pressure on Cutler, amazing). While Chicago conclusively won that battle, Philadelphia stayed in the game largely by limiting the ever dangerous Chicago return game (only 1 punt was returned all night, and Hester and Knox got just 10.2 yards over five kickoff returns). This was a borderline fatal blow to their playoff ambitions.

19 - TENNESSEE (-1)
4-4, 2nd AFC SOUTH
L 17-24 vCIN, next @CAR

Johnson was better (46 yards on 14 carries), but hardly Chris Johnson good. And remember that even when he's at his brilliant best he comes with a bucketload of no gain/negative plays and there were plenty against Cincinnati. Still, proof of life against an above average defense (as I am convinced the Bengals are), is at least a positive sign. As for this game, a two score lead with 7:30 left in the third against a team as offensively challenged as the Bengals should really be enough, especially with Johnson to help run down the clock. As it turned out, thanks in part to Johnson (he was in absentia in the second half, with nine yards on five carries and also dropped a huge third down catch on a crucial fourth quarter drive while trailing, which would have been a first down), the Titans were shut out at home in the second half.

20 - CAROLINA (+2)
2-6, 4th NFC SOUTH
BYE, next vTEN

Cam Newton has a higher passer rating than Jay Cutler or Michael Vick. He's also third in rushing TD's - among all players.

2-6, 3rd AFC SOUTH
BYE, next @IND

Normally, a bye week is a good time to tap your 62.0 rated QB (34th and last amoung qualifiers in the league) on the shoulder and show him the door. Unfortunately, literally the only option is a man who threw 23 passes in the past three years, and in his last start was the lowest QB rated game with 4INT's since Tim Hasselbeck in 2003. Exciting times in Jacksonville. Still, so many teams in this part of the rankings (Oakland, Kansas City etc) were so bad, they get an unexpected bump.

22 - MINNESOTA (+2)
2-6, 4th NFC NORTH
BYE, next @GB

Their next three road games are Green Bay, Atlanta and Detroit. Those teams are 25-9 since the beginning of last year at home. They also have to play the Saints. Good luck.

23 - MIAMI (+7)
1-7, 4th AFC EAST
W 31-3 @KC, next vWAS

Matt Moore threw three touchdown passes. Say that three times into a mirror and Beetlejuice will appear. But good for their defense, which has been reasonable all year. It got to Cassel 14 times this week with 5 sacks. All set to be spoilers in the back half.

24 - SEATTLE (+1)
2-6, T-2nd NFC WEST
L 13-23 @DAL, next vBAL

Yet another honorable loss, although the Cowboys got away from them badly towards the end and ended up with over 400 yards (Romo threw for a 112.2 rating and Murray ran for 139 yards at 6.3 a carry). Between this and the win over the now 6-2 Giants, have been quite competitive on the road.

25 - KANSAS CITY (-7)
4-4, T-1st AFC WEST
L 3-31 vMIA, next vDEN

Heading into a probable loss to Green Bay this week, Adam Schefter mindlessly claimed the San Diego game was a must win to "save their season". That's a ridiculous comment in the AFC West, but was even more hilarious considering how Sunday played out. Look, I don't like the Chargers either, but they are still clearly the favourites out west. KC's performance this week is testament as to why.

26 - DENVER (+5)
3-5, 4th AFC WEST
W 38-24 @OAK, next @KC

27 - OAKLAND (-6)
4-4, T-1st AFC WEST
L 24-38 vDEN, next @SD

Let's just say San Diego are feeling alright about the result of their "must win" game. In a way, Oakland were lucky. They gave up a special teams touchdown, lost the turnover battle 3-0 and yet still somehow only managed to outgain Denver by 5 yards. It's amazing they ever led this game.

28 - ARIZONA (-)
2-6, T-2nd NFC WEST
W 19-13 (OT) vSTL, next @PHI

We want Skelton! We want Skelton!

29 - ST. LOUIS (-2)
1-7, 4th NFC WEST
L 13-19 (OT) @ARI, next @CLE

We want Feeley! We want Feeley!

30 - CLEVELAND (-4)
3-5, 4th AFC NORTH
L 12-30 @HOU, next vSTL

Even the pass blocking is breaking down, conceding 4 sacks and 8 pressures against the Texans following 4 and 6 against the Niners last week. Ran only 46 plays and gave up 261 rushing yards on 6.1 a carry. Started a guy named Chris Ogbonnaya which went as well as it sounds. When you find yourself saying "man, they miss Peyton Hillis" you know it's a bad team. The rest of the season could get really, really ugly.

31 - WASHINGTON (-3)
3-5, T-3rd NFC EAST
L 11-19 vSF, next @MIA

Have lost four in a row and five of six. We want Grossman? This might be the worst offense in football (if not for the Colts/Jags duo of suck anyway). They scored 3 points in seven quarters at one point before an eight point offensive explosion in the fourth.

0-9, 4th AFC SOUTH
L 7-31 @ATL, next vJAX

They had three men on rookie Julio Jones on a 50 yarder and he still caught it for a TD. He had 166 yards from scrimmage and 2 touchdowns. It's that kind of year for the Colts, who are on their third QB now. Is the game against Jacksonville their last real chance to avoid 0-16?


Bengoodfella said...

JS, I enjoyed this as usual. My thoughts that no one cares about...

Rodgers is amazing. Who QB'd the Packers before he Rodgers did? I can't remember.

I didn't think the Chargers would miss Sproles as much as they do and I didn't know Sproles could have such an impact on the game when used effectively.

The Jets-Patriots game should be good this weekend. I think the Pats win that one. I think their ranking is appropriate, but I also think they will fix some of their problems as well. I don't know if the Jets are the better team.

Was that an Albert Hammond reference?

I think we all saw the Bills coming back down to earth a little bit. They just aren't as good as their first few weeks indicated.

I think the Eagles are still in it. I'm not counting them out...give me two more weeks and then I will count them out if they go 1-1 in that span.

Can't believe you have Jacksonville at #21. Are there that many bad teams?

I think the Redskins should put Grossman back in at this point. At least he has flashes of brilliance. Of course it is mixed with more flashes of stupidity, but it's always been a trade-off. I think Skins fans deserve a flash of brilliance or two.

Isn't it amazing how bad the team around Peyton Manning was? Bill Polian, Jim Caldwell and Chris Polian really have let this team down.

jacktotherack said...

I admit I'm a big homer, but the Bears made believers out of me this week. Their 3 losses are vs Green Bay at home and on the road at New Orleans and Detroit. They already hold the tiebreaker over wildcard hopefuls Philly, Atlanta, and Tampa Bay. If they beat Detroit at home this week I think they are in the driver seat for the WC in the NFC with the entire AFC West still on the schedule.

Bengoodfella said...

Jack, I looked at the Bears schedule earlier this week when doing MMQB and they do have a pretty favorable schedule from here on out. I don't know if I believe or disbelieve in the Bears, but they are definitely doing better than I thought they would. For a team that seems to have offensive line problems, beating the Eagles was a good win. They keep winning and I keep telling myself they aren't that good of a team...maybe they are.