Thursday, November 4, 2010

Gimmicky NFL Power Rankings

We are midway through the 2010 NFL season. I still have no definitive idea who is going to win the Super Bowl. However, through eight weeks is the best time to reexamine our rankings and see where everyone stands.

The last time I did this was in August, before the season had started. Simply based off of off-season moves and hype, you can tell I was way off on a lot of teams. However, I actually nailed a few on the head (patting myself on the back).

As stated previously, power rankings need a gimmick to tie itself together. Just listing teams is horribly boring to read as well as write. In this edition, the teams will be separated into tiers with a description for each group. In addition, next to each team I will write how much they've moved since August. It's kind of fun. Well, for you hopefully; kind of embarrassing for me.

Tier One: The Elite
This group is the cream of the crop. They also all happen to be AFC teams. That is just the way the cards fell this season. The top five teams in the league are all from the American Football Conference.

1) Baltimore Ravens (+7) I had them in the top ten to start the year, but right now I feel they are the best team in the league. With Ed Reed finally returning, their defense should be as strong as ever. Their offense has actually been a bit disappointing thus far, with both Joe Flacco and Ray Rice being inconsistent. This only adds to my feeling they are the best team. Once the offense hits their mark, this team will be hard to beat.

2) Pittsburgh Steelers (+24) Definitely the largest gainers since the preseason, the Steelers were everything I was not expecting. Their defense just shrugged off last year's debacle and are the best in the league. And their offense just kept on trucking without Roethlisberger. They didn't even really need him. I thought they would struggle mightily, start 1-3 or even 0-4 and not be able to recover. Instead, they blew through the opening part of their schedule, behind Rashard Mendenhall, and with Ben back, they are a Super Bowl contender.

3) New England Patriots (+7) Also in my previous top ten, this team is better than I expected. The offense seems to have settled into a groove since trading Randy Moss. The defense is bending but not breaking. Offense can win in this league nowadays, and the Pats are a perfect example of that.

4) Indianapolis Colts (-1) Peyton Manning is just plain outstanding. His team is falling apart around him and it doesn't matter. Continually winning games with no one at wide receiver, 2010 has now seen him do it with no one at running back and no one at tight end as well. If they get a lead and their defense can rush the passer, this team is unbeatable.

5) New York Jets (+1) Similarly to the Colts, they are right in line with what was expected coming into the season. Sanchez has again been sporadic but the running game has been so good it hasn't mattered. The rumors of LaDainian Tomlinson's death were greatly exaggerated. And everyone knows about the stout defense.

Tier Two: The NFC Elite
Clearly a step behind the AFC's best, the next tier are the best the NFC has to offer.

6) Atlanta Falcons (+11) Probably the best team in the NFC, the Falcons have been solid everywhere and great when playing at home. Roddy White is putting in a bid to win offensive player of the year. It's hard to say they are a favorite to win the Super Bowl, but they obviously have a great chance to get there with all five teams ahead of them from the other conference.

7) New York Giants (+2) People were all over the board on this team coming into the year. In fact, this was still the case just a few weeks ago. They have rattled off dominating performances since then however. And now, with the great pass rush on defense and Ahmad Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks on offense, this team is looking like a NFC winning favorite. How cool would a Jets-Giants Super Bowl be by the way? Much better than that crappy baseball Subway Series a decade ago.

8) New Orleans Saints (-7) They are still the defending champs. Beating Pittsburgh last week is also a good sign. However, Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush are both still out of commission. Their offense has struggled with a lack of a running game. Not many people realize how well they ran the ball last season on their way to the title. Also factoring into their drop in the standings is the fact that their defense is not forcing turnovers at as great a clip as a year ago.

9) Green Bay Packers (-7) The Saints aren't the only title contender who caught the injury bug early. Losing Ryan Grant seemingly crippled the offense. Injuries all across the rest of their roster have made it hard to overcome that loss. They shutout the Jets a week ago and if their offense can get rolling, this may still be the best team in the conference.

Tier Three: Whatever's a step below Elite
This group is comprised of teams who are very good, just probably not title-contending good. They are frisky. They can go on the road and beat one of the top nine any week. However, making the Super Bowl might be just out of reach for whatever reason.

10) Tennessee Titans (+6) Chris Johnson hasn't even torn up the league yet and this team is very good. If he breaks off a number of tremendous games to round out the season, they could easily win the AFC South over the Colts. However, I don't see Vince Young or Kerry Collins winning multiple playoff games. I just don't.

11) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+19) Boy do they not suck. I expected them to be awful back in August. Instead, Josh Freeman is a comeback quarterback, already with a number of fourth quarter game-winning drives. Their running game may have finally found a leader as well, in LeGarrette Blount. They may not make the playoffs, being in a very competitive division with the Saints and Falcons, but they sure have made an impression.

12) Kansas City Chiefs (-1) For new readers, the minus one may surprise you. However, we at the Sports Pinata had the Chiefs pegged as a playoff team back in August. I expected them to finish with around 10 wins and get in. Now it looks like they may even exceed that, and with San Diego playing so badly, they could take home the AFC West crown. Their running game is unparalleled right now. With the way their schedule shakes out, that might be all they need to make it to the playoffs.

13) Philadelphia Eagles (+8) Mike Vick has been such a pleasant surprise and he is back. He will start the Eagles' next game. With Vick behind center for the rest of the way, they may very well be a NFC title contender. The problem is that is no sure thing. Andy Reid may go back to Kevin Kolb at some point, Vick may get hurt again. There is just too much in question to back this team with any more confidence.

14) Miami Dolphins (+4) They are about what we thought they'd be. They are a tough team to beat, especially when you are hosting them. They will create problems for the Jets and Patriots of the world coming down the stretch.

15) Houston Texans (-3) That fast start got people carried away. Arian Foster has been really good. Matt Schaub has not. Andre Johnson has been hurt. DeMeco Ryans is on IR. Mario Williams has taken a step back from last season. Could they make a run at the AFC South title? Sure. Will they? Umm, no.

Tier Four: Don't totally suck
Everyone here is either playing really well (above their heads) or has talent but isn't living up to it. None of them totally suck. But, on the other hand, no one here is putting fear in opponent's eyes come playoff time.

16) Oakland Raiders (+8) How 'bout them Raiders? They are putting up points faster than the '99 Rams. And they're doing it with a quarterback who is so much worse than people expected. Jason Campbell was supposed to be a huge step forward from JaMarcus Russell. Instead, Raiders fans are just waiting for the immortal Bruce Gradkowski to return from injury. Either way, with a tremendous running game from Run DMC and Michael Bush, this team is someone to watch out for. Winning their division is within reason.

17) St. Louis Rams (+15) A feel-good story almost as impressive as the Buccaneers. This team was supposed to be terrible. Instead, they are not bad. They can win at home. They can compete with teams. Sam Bradford is already a solid quarterback, perhaps the best in his division (almost by default) in just his first year playing. Being in the NFC West, this team could easily make the playoffs because someone has to be division champ.

18) San Diego Chargers (-11) In almost a mirror image of the Raiders, this team could also take home the AFC West crown, but it would be relief rather than surprise and elation. Every year under Norv Turner they come out flat even with a very talented team. Phillip Rivers is a great QB. Antonio Gates is far and away the best tight end in football. Injuries to the wide receivers and the Ryan Mathews bust factor have led to the slow start, but they might not have time to catch the Chiefs this year.

19) Washington Redskins (0) We know about the McNabb questions. We know Clinton Portis is still injured. We know their receivers are older than Father Time. We also knew all of this coming into the year. Hence they are still ranked 19th.

20) Seattle Seahawks (+8) If they can somehow get home field advantage in the playoffs, watch out. I don't see it happening, but they could easily win their division and outside of that, who knows? At home they are a force to be reckoned with. Give Pete Carroll credit for that. On the road they stink, but so do lots of teams.

21) Detroit Lions (+6) Matthew Stafford is back. That fact is enough to make opponents weary of the Lions for the rest of the season. They can put points on the board. A year or two from now they might even be an NFC North favorite.

22) Minnesota Vikings (-17) Obviously disappointing from where they were expected to be prior to the season. Enough has been said about them though. I'm moving on.

Tier Five: Definitely suck
Some may have better records than others. Some may be showing more promise than early in the season. Some may be improving, some declining. The common thread is they all definitely suck.

23) Chicago Bears (-8) Cutler and Mike Martz was a match made in hell. Throw in an offensive line that cannot block a soul and this team's hopes for making the playoffs are getting slimmer by the minute. If they do get it, they might be the worst playoff team in recent memory.

24) Jacksonville Jaguars (-2) They have had some impressive performances. I'm not counting their win at Dallas on that list though. Maurice Jones-Drew has been disappointing. The offense as a whole is nothing that can be relied upon. This is the worst team in the AFC South by far, even if their record doesn't indicate so.

25) Arizona Cardinals (-2) As evidenced by the Bears, just because you totally suck, doesn't mean you can't make the playoffs. The Cards may very well win their division. That speaks more for their division than it does for the Cardinals. Larry Fitzgerald is writing angry letters to Kurt Warner on a daily basis at this point.

26) San Francisco 49ers (-12) Everyone's favorite sleeper back in August has done what "everyone's favorite sleeper" does every year: let everyone down. They stink.

27) Cincinnati Bengals (-14) Carson Palmer got very bad very fast, even faster than expected. Give Terrell Owens credit, he has had a nice season. Most of the rest of the team has not.

28) Denver Broncos (-2) Injuries held them back to start the year. Talent and coaching has held them back since.

29) Cleveland Browns (0) Peyton Hillis may be a diamond in the rough for the Browns to hang their hat on. The running game has kept them in a lot of contests. The quarterback position has led them to their ranking of 29th however.

30) Buffalo Bills (+1) Does everyone agree this is the best 0-7 team ever? They challenged and played tough in nearly every game, giving a scare to opponents who may have taken them lightly. Ryan Fitzpatrick is at least capable. Questions along the offensive line and on defense prevent them from being good, but they'll get a few wins somewhere along the line.

31) Carolina Panthers (-11) There were questions coming into the season. However, this running game was supposed to be great. Instead, it has been awful. DeAngelo Williams was pedestrian up until he got hurt. Jonathan Stewart was bad as a backup and was bad in his first start of the season. Letting the running game carry them through the season has put them where they are today.

Tier Six: The Dallas Cowboys
This tier is comprised of the Dallas Cowboys.

32) Dallas Cowboys (-28) It's not even that they are bad. They are bad, but it's more than that. It's not even how disappointing they've been being loaded with talent. They have been so disappointing because they are loaded with talent, but it's more than that. It's that they have apparently just quit on the (coach) season. Wade Phillips should be fired obviously. That seems like the only thing that might spark them to try the rest of the way.

In an interesting turn of events, could this be the most talented team ever to receive the number one overall draft pick? Come draft time next April, it will be interesting to see what happens. I am (almost) positive they won't draft a quarterback with the top pick, yet the top player will be a quarterback. I can already see a big trade formulating as I type. Cleveland, Carolina, someone will need to trade up and take an Andrew Luck, Jake Locker, Ryan Mallet of the world. There are too many top QBs in next year's draft to not have the Dallas number one pick be exciting as hell.

Also, adding a top pick to this Dallas roster would be tremendous. They should be Super Bowl favorites next year. Just imagine if the Super Bowl was being played in Dallas. That would have been awesome.

(Same image used as previous Power Rankings post)

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