Wednesday, November 16, 2011

4 comments J.S.' NFL Power Rankings: Week Ten

This week really seemed to be a turning point for the NFL season, maybe the most important week thus far. The entire AFC North don't seem up for the job and the Chargers took the final fatal blow to their Superbowl hopes, irrespective of what ultimately happens in the AFC West (a division I now think is the NFL's worst). The NFC South sorted the men from the boys, finally. The NFC East, which just a few weeks ago looked bunched up, now has two clear contenders for the crown, and neither is everyone's pre-season favourite, the Eagles, who also put everyone out of their misery. Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, New Orleans, New England and the Jets all played each other in mouth watering division matchups and potential playoff previews.

1 - GREEN BAY (-)
9-0, 1st NFC NORTH
W 45-7 vMIN, next vTB

Rodgers has thrown in excess of a 140 passer rating in three straight games (though two were against a ghastly Minny secondary). He has not thrown for under 110 against anyone but Chicago (and a Lions game where injury meant he threw only 11 passes) since October last year. That includes the playoffs and covers 20 games. He's thrown for 53 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. On NFL Network this week, Joe Theismann was talking about how watching Rodgers is like watching Picasso paint. I reflexively laughed it off as ridiculous but you know what? It actually isn't. A quarterback has not played this well for such a long stretch of football in my generation - enjoy it. If Green Bay does not win the Superbowl this year I will honestly die of shock.

2 - HOUSTON (-)
7-3, 1st AFC SOUTH
W 39-7 @TB, next BYE

There's plenty of room on the bandwagon. Jump on! Andre Johnson finally comes back after the bye, but he's been promised in just about each of the last three weeks - I'll believe it when I see it. It's good to see Schaub finally have a good game, he threw for 2 TDs and 242 yards on just 15 throws (154.9 rating) after 88.9 against the Jags and just 56.3 against a bad Cleveland defense. On the bell, I found out he's out for the season with the sexily named Lisfranc injury. Normally I'd drop a team down a number of places when they lose their starting QB (especially a good one), and am bracing to do just that. But they do have a bye week to get Leinart up to speed, so as much as this kind of thing can be timed well, this is. Matt Leinart, in principle, should be a reasonable backup too. Andre Johnson will help, and remember, this team has the best running game in the NFL. I'm giving them a chance - Houston have outscored their opponents 132-42 in the last four weeks.

3 - NEW ORLEANS (+1)
7-3, 1st NFC SOUTH
W 26-23 (OT) @ATL, next BYE

This was an amazing game of football, maybe the best all season. As much as I loved what Atlanta did (best performance by a losing team all season), and I thought the Saints were lucky to win, I think New Orleans beats them on a neutral field maybe eight times out of ten. Jimmy Graham set a franchise record for season receptions by a tight end during this game (62), a pretty amazing accomplishment considering it was set in the first half of the Saints tenth game. He is incredibly 5th in the league in receiving yards (873). More records - Drew Brees has the most passing yards of any quarterback in history through ten games (3,326). They have an exceptional offensive line (they have conceded no sacks and just five hits over their last two games, even against teams with bad pass rushes that is fantastic), great stable of versatile backs and a QB that is perhaps, amazingly, underrated because of the craziness going on in Green Bay. The Saints have their problems, they aren't perfect, but they are damn good.

4 - NEW ENGLAND (+4)

6-3, 1st AFC EAST

W 37-16 @NYJ, next vKC

It's a top quality offensive line...on pass protection at least, defending Brady well (was hit just once all night) against the best blitz in the league. Brady (26/39 for 329 yards and 3TDs) himself had a great game, back to his best against the most complete pass defense in the league. Speaking of blitzes and pass protection, New England might have raised a few eyebrows by generating a very real pass rush here against the Jets (5 sacks, 14 hits). It was quite impressive at times against a good offensive line. If that trend can maintain, New England may be on the way back. You can win being a bad, even very bad, defensive team in the NFL, but you need a defensive gimmick. Usually it's turnovers, but it can be pass rushing or third down defense or something like that. New England may have stumbled onto theirs, led by specialists Mark Anderson (5 sacks this year) and Andre Carter (9, with a ludicrous 4.5 in this one game). New England has the easiest schedule remaining of any team (Chiefs, Colts, Dolphins and Bills at home and Philly, Washington and Denver on the road) so their playoff ticket is all but stamped with this win.

7-3, 1st AFC NORTH
W 24-17 @CIN, next BYE

Came into this game having generated only 4 turnovers all season. That is the lowest total for any team after nine games in NFL history - and that includes 0-9 and 1-8 teams, let alone the 6-3 lot. Their aging and less vicious D has taken some getting used to (though they have four picks in their last three games which is some improvement), but Pittsburgh have maybe the best top two receivers of any team in the league (how's that for a provocative statement?). Antonio Brown is arguably the most improved player in the NFL, and he is making Hines Ward so laughably irrelevant it doesn't even bear discussing. As I have said at other points this season, the Steelers are quietly rebuilding with dignity. They are turning into a team whos best asset is their passing game. I'd be flabbergasted if they win the Superbowl (or even the AFC), but they are certainly not disgracing themselves.

6 - ATLANTA (+4) 5-4, 2nd NFC SOUTH
L 23-26 vNO, next vTEN

I thought the Falcons outplayed the Saints quite conclusively here, despite the score. I know it's easy to "Eckstein" Grimes, but I love his commitment, and in honesty, that is a real trait of the Falcons defense. They aren't especially talented or physical, but they play a good zone, and are committed on every play. Not only did they key in on Sproles (who touched the ball six times for three yards) but they took away every checkdown from Brees (Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram had five catches for just 12 yards). They keep the Falcons in games, including this one. A team like New England, with a much more creative coach, could learn a lot from this group. Michael Turner has had a great year (4.4YPC with a substantial workload - he is second to only Jones-Drew in carries - and his best receiving year ever), which is what he needed to to make sure this Falcons team was relevant. Atlanta is one of the very few teams in the league that can show run and run for consistent yardage. He's one of the toughest runners to bring down in the league, with a huge, momentum shifting 4th down run in the third quarter (a simple, but great, call from Smith). The Falcons scored their first TD on the next play. He is the Atlanta Falcons offensive identity. With that in mind, here's my thing about the fourth down call in overtime; I have no problem with it, but on 3rd and 2, twice in the extra period, Atlanta threw - why?


8-1, 1st NFC WEST
W 27-20 vNYG, next vARI

The vaunted Giants pass rush just didn't show up (2 sacks and 6 total hits), or more accurately, was shut down by a much improved offensive line. San Fran do have the aura of a team that is genuinely getting better as the season moves forward. They are at least "good". It is relevant that the Niners can win a game where Frank Gore gains not a single yard on his 6 first half carries. It is irrelevant that Troy Aikman actually called Alex Smith an "elite quarterback" (this was a thirtieth ranked pass offense in the NFL coming into this week), he also intimated Delani Walker was more important to the San Francisco offense than Vernon Davis. No.

8 - JETS (-2)

5-4, T-2nd AFC EAST

L 16-37 vNE, next @DEN

I really thought New York blew this game (the score looks bad but this was a one touchdown game at the start of the final quarter). They shut the Pats running game (which has been falling apart gradually all year, has dropped to #20 in the league, 11 yards on their first 9 carries and finished with a 2.1YPC average) down in their best performance up front defensively all year. They stopped Welker (who I think is very good, but overrated, he's the best in the league on drags, curls, slants, bubble screens, fine, but there is more to being a wide receiver than that and he just can't get seperation, had just 46 yards and no TDs here) via the Revis effect. And the Pats defense, especially in the secondary (which was banged up), was as confused as ever (even with Sanchez, of all people, forced to throw for the majority of the second half, he still accrued 7.8YPA). Stupid turnovers (especially on the punt return when three Jets seemed to wrap it up with barely any Patriots around) and a missed twenty four yard field goal changed the complexion of the game dramatically. Best wild card team in the AFC though.

9 - CHICAGO (+3)

6-3, T-2nd NFC NORTH

W 37-13 vDET, next vSD

There may be no wilder swing from worst performances to best performances in the NFL than Chicago. Collecting turnovers (especially forcing fumbles) has always been a hallmark of the best Chicago teams. Historically (last 5-10 years) they have been the best in the league at this, even moreso than stalwart defenses in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. They have solved their rushing problems (9th in YPC), their pass protection problems (just eleven hits and four sacks in their last three games), and are at their electrifying best on special teams (averaging more than 2 yards per punt return more than #2 in the league), turnovers (6 in this game) was the final piece of the puzzle to lock into place. I mentioned last week that Chicago needed to win one of their remaining games against Detroit, San Diego or Green Bay. Detroit was the most alluring of those prizes and now they have it. San Diego look a clearly inferior team. Chicago has the inside track to the playoffs now, and it's time to acknowledge - this is a dangerous football team.

10 - DETROIT (-3)

6-3, T-2nd NFC NORTH

L 13-37 @CHI, next vCAR

Came into this game with the fewest turnovers in the league, which was pretty unbelievable considering they are one of the most egregious bunch of chuckers in the NFL (2nd in pass attempts). Luck was probably always gonna bite them in the ass at some point and it happened in the worst possible game, against the very team they are likely to be fighting for a wildcard birth with. Even Calvin Johnson was pretty poor in the red zone, with a drop and three targets leading to no catches in the red zone. On one level, this happens to passing teams (including good ones), turnovers that is, and a certain inconsistency in finishing in the red zone, and anyone can (and pretty much everyone has) be Hestered. You'd still rather, by and large, to be a pass reliant team in the NFL rather than a run reliant team. On the other hand, Detroit has won only once since the 9th of October, and with a history of losing (including this) haunting this franchise, which has not made the playoffs since 1999. Next week is a game they should win, against a swooning Panthers team in Michigan. The degree of difficulty is straightforward, but the pressure is absolutely enormous - a loss in that game, with Atlanta and the Bears playing so brilliantly at the moment, jeopardises their season in a profound way.

11 - BALTIMORE (-8)

6-3, T-2nd AFC NORTH

L 17-22 @SEA, next vCIN

Without a couple of miracles, the Ravens would be on a four game losing streak. They never even led in this game. Flacco had another terrible performance with 255 yards on 52 throws (seriously?). They gave the ball 53 times to Flacco to throw, guess how many times they gave it to Ray Rice to run? Five. Fucking five. Are you serious Harbaugh? Are you honestly going to sit there, with your oblong head, and look me in the eye and say "yes, I think giving Ray Rice the ball five times in a game gives us the best chance to win"? Seattle are honestly not that bad, but again, think about that prospective four game losing streak. Even pulling out a big sweep of the Steelers, it's impossible to take them seriously for the Lombardi trophy with how they've played over the past month against a basically cupcake schedule.

12 - GIANTS (-1)

6-3, 1st NFC EAST

L 20-27 @SF, next vPHI

The question was always going to be, against Justin Smith and the endless parade of San Francisco linebackers, if the Giants, led by tantrum thrower Brandon Jacobs, could run the football against the #1 rush defense in the league (73.2YPG, a full 13 yards better than #2 Cincinnati). The Giants tried, but no dice (Jacobs had 55 yards on 18 carries). Manning (who really is having a transcendent season, again, obscured by Rodgers with a 97.0 rating on the season, although take note, that's actually lower than the much vilified Tony Romo) started with ten straight completions for 102 yards. He finished strong as well. Unfortunately the lack of a viable ground game allowed San Francisco to cheat on the throw and once a two score lead was established, with the help of several picks (and many drops by Manning's substandard receivers), the mountain was too high to climb.

13 - DALLAS (+4)

5-4, 2nd NFC EAST

W 44-7 vBUF, next @WAS

It hasn't been against the creme de la creme of run defenses in the NFL, but DeMarco Murray has 601 yards in his last four games at 8.01 YPC. I don't care who is tackling him, you have to start to take this kid seriously now. As I alluded to in past weeks, a functional running gamemakes the Cowboys a totally different - and dangerous - team. It's a dogfight in the NFC East now, with the Giants wrestling with the best teams in the NFL at the same time as Dallas take on some of the worst.

14 - CINCINNATI (-1)

6-3, T-2nd AFC NORTH

L 17-24 vPIT, next @BAL

Probably didn't win many believers, and remember they still have to go into Pittsburgh, but certainly proved their record wasn't purely smoke and mirrors. Missed Carlos Dunlap (3 sacks this year, but played much better that that) and as a consequence got carried away with blitzes, especially early. Overpursuit was practically the motif of the first quarter, and the Steelers shrewdly used some quick slants and end arounds to confuse the talented, but young, defense. Cincy did grab plenty of sacks (5 and an amazing 18 hits), but they paid the piper, with it costing some big third downs, including a 3rd and 19 completion to Brown and several throws on early drives to put them in a 14-0 hole. As for the offense, it was simply overmatched (279 yards with two picks), as surely everyone had to know was on the cards. Baltimore look vulnerable in next week's matchup.

15 - TENNESSEE (+4)

5-4, 2nd AFC SOUTH

W 30-3 @CAR, next @ATL

Don't believe Johnson (174 yards from scrimmage) is back. Averaging 4.8YPC against that defense is no great accomplishment. My concern is on the offense after Britt's injury, I think the defense is fundamentally sound, if nothing more than that. Despite having an age in the pocket, against a poor secondary, Hasselbeck only managed 219 yards on 27 throws, completing only 15 and throwing a pick to go with the TD. In his first four games this year, Hasselbeck was Aaron Rodgers level hot (almost literally), throwing at a 104.7 rating. In the five games since (including dates with Indy and Carolina) he is throwing at a 77.6 rating.

16 - BUFFALO (-1)

5-4, T-2nd AFC EAST

L 7-44 @DAL, next @MIA

17 - TAMPA BAY (-1)

4-5, 3rd NFC SOUTH

L 9-37 vHOU, next @GB

Sunday was the perfect day for the NFC South to find it's own level. While the Falcons and Saints engaged in a battle royale, the Bucs and Panthers, two very young teams, fell away to lose by a combined 67-12. They are 28th in pass defense and 29th in run defense. Upcoming games at the Packers and Tennessee should KO this team. I know what you're thinking by the way - how the fuck is Tampa Bay, a team who has lost four of their past five by a combined -84 points a) the 17th best team in the league and b) dropped only one spot after losing by four touchdowns? From here on out, things get really ugly, it might be a good time to turn the children away from the computer screen. Read on if you dare.

18 - SEATTLE (+6)

3-6, T-2nd NFC WEST

W 22-17 vBAL, next @STL

Sure, it was built on the humble trio of turnovers, field goals and time of possession, but it's yet another example of Seattle's toughness this year, in the face of what appeared to be a humiliating season. Clearly the second best team in their division and with a lot of promising young talent, especially on a defense which I feel will be top five within three years.

***I'm really sorry, but something happened with Blogger for the last 14 teams and it deleted everything after this (I write this over several days) so no writeups, but thankfully, the main teams that are important were saved. Many of the below had only a couple of sentences. Exceptions were;

Oakland, who I still think are bad, but found the long passing game I wrote about in the KC loss

Indy, detailing exactly how insanely bad their offense and especially Painter have been

Arizona, who's secondary amazingly held Philadelphia to just 123 passing yards...on the road, among other amazing exercises in fail in that game

Philadelphia, DeSean Jackson has especially sucked this year, and especially on returns and in the running game

And generally, I slander, and slander hard, the AFC West

You've read 75-80% of what I had written, so it wasn't a major tragedy. Again, apologies, although it seems strangely apt seeing as really, the bottom half of teams in the NFL are all almost beneath contempt, but I assure you I wasn't merely being lazy but was instead fucked over by Blogger. If you are interested in my justifications or opinions of any of the below teams, please comment and I'll be happy to oblige***

19 - MIAMI (+4)

2-7, 4th AFC EAST

W 20-9 vWAS, next vBUF


3-6, 3rd AFC SOUTH

W 17-3 @IND, next @CLE

21 - SAN DIEGO (-7)

4-5, T-2nd AFC WEST

L 17-24 vOAK, next @CHI

22 - OAKLAND (+5)

5-4, 1st AFC WEST

W 24-17 @SD, next @MIN

23 - DENVER (+3)

4-5, T-2nd AFC WEST

W 17-10 @KC, next vNYJ

24 - MINNESOTA (-2)

2-7, 4th NFC NORTH

L 7-45 @GB, next vOAK

25 - ARIZONA (+3)

3-6, T-2nd NFC WEST

W 21-17 @PHI, next @SF


3-6, 3rd NFC EAST

L 17-21 vARI, next @NYG

27 - CAROLINA (-7)

2-7, 4th NFC SOUTH

L 3-30 vTEN, next @DET

28 - ST. LOUIS (+1)

2-7, 4th NFC WEST

W 13-12 @CLE, next vSEA

29 - KANSAS CITY (-4)

4-5, T-2nd AFC WEST

L 10-17 vDEN, next @NE

30 - CLEVELAND (-)

3-6, 4th AFC NORTH

L 12-13 vSTL, next vJAX


3-6, 4th NFC EAST

L 9-20 @MIA, next vDAL


0-10, 4th AFC SOUTH
L 3-17 vJAX, next BYE


Bengoodfella said...

My thoughts...

I feel like GB is setting up to lose a big game, sort of like the 2007 Patriots were, but that's just my feeling. Rodgers is awesome. We all know that. I want people to stop talking about how great Rodgers is so I don't get tired of him and stop enjoying him as much as I do.

That's really high for Houston. I think Leinart can't screw the offense up too much. I have way too much faith in him, but not enough faith to put them at #2.

I am glad Hines Ward is irrelevant. He's always annoyed me.

I'm on the Bears train as them being a great team. They have convinced me. Really, with Cutler playing well and that defense I can see them back in the NFC Championship game this year.

I'm not sure Tennessee is really that good of a team. Hasselbeck didn't look great when he had to throw the ball and if Carolina had competent defensive players who could catch Hasselbeck would have had 2-3 picks instead of just one.

I can't believe how many mediocre to bad teams it seems there are this year. This probably isn't out of the ordinary, but it feels like it is.

I would put Miami still in the mid 20's, lower Oakland to Miami's spot, and I don't believe the Eagles are the 26th best team in the NFL. Carolina should be at least #30...if not #34 or #35 behind LSU/OSU.

jacktotherack said...

My only point of contention is Atlanta at #7. I think they are a fraud. Sure they are dangerous at home and gave the Saints all they could handle, but they also lost at home to the division leader and they also don't have the tiebreaker over the Bears for a WC spot. Plus they continue to be mostly bad on the road. I think they might need a little luck to even get into the playoffs.

Bengoodfella said...

Jack, the Falcons aren't a fraud. They are going to the Super Bowl, just as I predicted they would. I don't care if your point of view has merit about the Falcons on the road nor do I care they will probably not win the division and have to play most of their playoff games on the road.

If they were a fraud, that would mean I was wrong about my Super Bowl pick from the NFC. That can't happen can it?

J.S. said...

I think Jack's point about the road is a very salient one, and it's really an article of faith that they can play well on the road. That's the best argument against them being "so high" I've heard.

But that game last week was just magnificent.