Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Powerlines: Week 9 NFL Power Rankings

It's kind of weird to study a topographical map on a commuter train.

Are the Broncos, 49ers and Giants falling apart? Will the Colts or Saints ever lose? How pathetic are the Rams, Bucs, Browns and Lions? I have no idea, but here is my best attempt to make sense of the NFL this week.

1. Saints – Their trend to let teams walk all over them early is troubling, but their ability to come roaring back is impressive. The Saints almost seem like they are toying with teams at this point. Falling far behind early is going to bite them one of these days, as they won’t always be able to mount the furious comeback, but right now I see no reason to drop them from number one.

2. Colts – The Texans came close to forcing overtime and having a chance to get their first ever win in Indiana, but the Colts lucked out. They remain at the top of the AFC right now, but Pittsburgh, New England and the Bengals are lurking. I’d like to see Indianapolis look a little more overwhelming to keep them this high, but as they are still undefeated, I can’t put them any lower than number two. They’ll get their chance to prove they belong here with a gigantic game against the Patriots this Sunday.

3. Patriots – The Pats are back. Ever since losing a tough game in Denver, New England has looked like the team that ran roughshod over the rest of the league a few years ago. Tom Brady is back to being the super stud quarterback, and the Patriots are back among the elite again. Don’t discount how big of a win they got on Sunday against the Dolphins. That team has been surging lately, and to knock them down when they had to be up to try and get back into the division race was big. My biggest fear is that we could see the Patriots and Yankees both win a championship in the same season. That would be far too much despicable champions at one time…I’m not sure my heart could take it.

4. Steelers – I think people underestimate the Steelers because they don’t play a style of ball that we associate with great teams. They often struggle to run the ball, their quarterback makes things happen, but often it’s because of his grit and ability to stand tough, and they just hang in there and win at the end, even though teams often outplay them for large portions of games. Make no mistake about it, though. This is a great team, and watching them wear down the Broncos and then grind them into the ground in the second half Monday night was depressing for this Denver team. Underestimate Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and company at your own risk.

5. Vikings – Brett Favre is bound to collapse, right? I keep waiting to see it, and he keeps playing at an all-pro level. Mix in Favre tossing the ball with the beast that is Adrian Peterson running over guys, and the stout Vikings defense stoning opposing attacks, and you have the final of the five teams that I think can win it all. If the champ this year doesn’t come from the group of Vikings, Patriots, Colts, Saints or Steelers, I’ll be shocked.

6. Bengals – I have been underestimating this team all year, but no longer. They curb stomped the Ravens on Sunday in as big of a domination over a good team as I have seen in the NFL this season. Cincy is good.

7. Cowboys – Another team like New England that has turned their game up a notch after a loss in Denver. Since losing to the Broncos, the Boys have been rampaging through the league. Winning in Philly on Sunday night was gigantic, and now their schedule eases up a bit which could allow them to really put some ground between them and their divisional rivals. Their next three weeks include a game at Green Bay versus a reeling Packers team, then home games with the putrid Redskins and Raiders. Their win streak should extend to seven games, barring a Packer renaissance on Sunday.

8. Cardinals – When they play well, they play REALLY well. They went into Chicago and waylaid the Bears. Not only that, but Ken Whisenhunt had the coaching audio clip of the season on Sunday when he said “"I'd also like to compliment the Bears too because they played hard and they came back ... And the last thing I'll to say is "we didn't let em off the hook."

Good work, Coach W. With that statement invoking the legendary Denny Green rant you have vaulted to the top rung of my favorite NFL coaches along with Mike Tomlin, Mike Singletary, and Josh McDaniels.

And just because it's fun to see Denny Green lose it in a completely incomprehensible rant...

9. Chargers – It pains me to say this, as if I were allowed to punch one NFL quarterback in the face with total impunity my first, second, and third choices would all be Phil Rivers; but Mr. Rivers is really starting to show an Elway like tendency to be able to lead his team on last minute comebacks to win games. He did it in the season opener against the Raiders in Oakland and also on Sunday in a hostile environment in New York. The possibility that the Broncos surrender three game leads in the division for two consecutive years to the Bolts is looking more and more likely.

10. Eagles – Which loss hurts the Eagles more? The indefensible road loss to the Raiders, or the exceptionally painful loss to the Cowboys in Philly? They are only one back in the division, and there is a lot of football left to go, but I have to imagine that the Iggles would like to have mulligans on both games.

11. Ravens – It feels like the Ravens should be better than this, but they are what their record says they are, and their record says they are a .500 team. The schedule maker hasn’t done them any favors as their losses are to Cincy twice, the Patriots, and the Vikings…good teams all, but they need to pull together a solid second half if they want to make they playoffs.

12. Broncos – The NFL is figuring out how to beat Denver, and the secret is to make Kyle Orton try to beat you. Despite a solid start, the fact remains that Kyle just isn’t very good. Cracks in the foundation of Denver’s 6-0 start are beginning to show. This next week is crucial; it is concerning but understandable to lose back to back games to Baltimore and Pittsburgh, but if you lose to the Redskins, that is when it is time to declare a state of emergency. If the Broncos want to return to looking like contenders, they need to figure out what has happened since the bye week and correct it pronto. Right now, they look like pretenders.

13. Giants – Talk about a team that is sliding off of a cliff right now. The Giants have dropped four straight and the sledding doesn’t get easier as their next two are at home against the Falcons and a Thanksgiving matchup with the Broncos in Denver. They need to get their swagger back, as this team is playing with it’s tail between it’s legs right now. They should have won on Sunday against the Chargers, but they played scared and couldn’t punch in the clinching touchdown in the final minutes, and settled for a field goal which gave them a six point lead, and then watched as Phil Rivers marched the Bolts right down the field for the winning score. When you play not to lose, all too often you lose anyway.

14. Falcons – We have had an Michael Turner spotting! After only going over one hundred yards once in the first six games, and only barely with 105 yards in week two versus the Panthers…Turner has gone over 150 in his past two games. In fact, he gained more yards rushing on Sunday than Matty Ice had passing in the Falcons decleating of the toothless Redskins on Sunday.

15. Dolphins – After losing a tough one in Foxborough on Sunday, the Dolphins are probably a bit too far out of the playoff picture to be able to make a run to the postseason, but if you’re a contender you aren’t happy to see the plucky Dolphin squad on your schedule in December.

16. Texans – Matt Schaub is a stellar fantasy quarterback, but I’m not sure he is good enough in real life to get the Texans to the postseason for the first time. Although, If Kris Brown hits a 42 yard field goal at the end of regulation, there was an excellent chance that the Texans could have gone three games over .500 for the first time in franchise history. If Houston was 6-3 right now, I’d like their odds a lot better right now. However, they missed the kick, and now at 5-4 they are in good but not great position for the playoffs.

17. Jets – The Jets are 4-4 halfway through, and they have a shot to make the postseason, but their hopes rest upon a rookie quarterback who has dropped four of his last five games. It’s certainly not impossible, and I think Matt Sanchez has a bright future, but I’m certainly not betting the house on the Jets this year.

18. Bears – The Bears have been blown out twice in the past three weeks and have lost three of their last four games. Their only win in the past month is against the Browns, and lets face it, a group of blind nuns might be a pickem against Cleveland. I’m not sure that the Bears are any good. I imagine that Chicago was hoping for better than 4-4 at the halfway mark when they made the deal for Cutler.

19. Packers – Apart from beating the Bears on opening day, every other win the Packers have is over a terrible team with only one win. On top of not beating anybody, they lost to the creamsicles on Sunday, who were winless at the time. In spite of one of the easiest schedules in the league to this point, the Packers are only at .500 on the year. I can’t prove it yet, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the Packers are terrible.

20. 49ers – It’s high time Mike Singletary did something insane. The Niners have now lost five out of their last six, and they need to be on alert. There is no better way to get them on alert than to have Coach Crazy do something worthy of his nickname.

21. Panthers – This team is the NFC version of the Dolphins…they probably aren’t going to be able to make the postseason due to a dreadful start, but they are a frisky spoiler type team.

22. Titans – Now that they have Brett Kern doing the punting, 10-6 isn’t out of the question. He was 6-0 with the Broncos who are 0-2 since, and the Titans are 2-0 with him after starting out 0-6. I believe in the Kern VooDoo, I do!

23. Jaguars – Explain to me again why we have an NFL team in Jacksonville? The Jaguars beat the Chiefs on Sunday in what was very likely the least watched, least cared about game in NFL history. I can’t prove this, but I’d bet there were more Steelers fans at the game in Denver Monday night than there were Jacksonville Jaguars fans at the Jags home game on Sunday.

24. Bills – Thanks to the plan to outsource their home games to Canada, the Bills only have one game in Buffalo between now and December 19th which is probably not the way to get a middling team into the hunt. Sadly for the fanatical fan base in Western New York, it just doesn’t seem like there is enough money in Buffalo for the Bills to be viable there long term.

25. Seahawks – They finally managed to win a game in which they didn’t shut out their opponent, but this Seattle team feels like your stereotypical non-descript 6-10 team. There is zero buzz about them, and the only interesting thing they’ve done all season to this point is wear neon green.

26. Redskins – Daniel Snyder admitted that he is embarrassed at how the Redskins are being run. That’s a positive step, as he isn’t burying his head in the sand like an ostrich. If you’re Dan Snyder, at this point don’t you just consider selling the team? Is owning the perpetually mediocre Redskins really worth the consternation of having people passionately hate your guts?

27. Raiders – Ah, the comic relief of the NFL. When the high points of your season are: 1. The fact that people find it incomprehensible that you were able to beat a 5-3 team in your own stadium and 2. The fact that the authorities will not be pressing assault and battery charges against your head coach. It’s probably fair to say that things are not going as well as hoped for you thus far. Fun fact: JaMarcus Russell’s best day for total yards passing this season is 224 yards, and he’s only gone over 200 yards twice. How do you spell bust? J-A-M-A-R-C-U-S.

28. Chiefs – This coming Sunday we finally get the rematch in Oakland of the thrilling 13-10 Chiefs-Raiders game from September. How low would the number have to be to make the over seem like a good bet? 20? 19?

29. Buccaneers – Josh Freeman gave this team a spark, and a punt block taken back for a score certainly helped things along. In an era when just about anyone can break out a throwback, it was pretty cool to see Bucco Bruce make an appearance. It’s inconceivable to me that anyone could ever look at that shade of orange and think, “Why, this would make a stellar football uniform! Quick, someone get me 40 bolts of mesh in tangerine-creamsicle orange, we’ve got a football team to outfit!” Ah, the 70’s were a magical time.

30. Browns – Is it possible that Eric Mangini could get fired at the end of this season (certainly that is possible) and then end up with the Oakland Raiders next year where he promptly gets fired halfway through the year and sets a new record of being fired from three NFL head coaching positions in a calendar year and a half? Let’s just say that’s how I’m cheering right now. To say that the Browns look like a Junior High Flag Football team is an affront to Junior High Flag Football.

31. Rams – After beating the Lions 17-10, the Rams went into their bye week on a season high one game winning streak. Chances of stretching that streak to two games when they come back to action against the Saints this Sunday? Lets just say the chances aren’t good and leave it at that. I hate to embarrass the Rams any worse than their exploits on the football field have already done.

32. Lions – Welcome back to the cellar, Detroit. The positive of this season is that you literally have infinitely more wins that you did last year. The negative of the season is that it only took one win to get to that point. The Browns still remain on the schedule, so optimistically you do have an outside chance at two wins this year.

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