Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Powerlines: Week 20 NFL Power Rankings (Heading into the Super Bowl)

Congrats, lady. You're the Final "Stranger on a Train!"

And then there were two... We’re down to the final power rankings of the season, which is sad for many reasons, foremost is that this will be the final random photo of some random stranger on the light rail train that will ever grace this blog. In case you were unaware, the reason that I kept posting weird photos of strangers riding public transportation on the blog was because that was this year’s “Random photo theme” for the power rankings. So enjoy this last photo, and these last rankings for the year. We’ll be back sometime in the preseason next year with more, but for now. Here is how the power lies…among the two teams that are left, with a little bonus blurb on the two teams that weren’t quite good enough to make it to the Super Bowl. Enjoy the big game on Sunday, and remember to savor it, as we won’t see meaningful NFL football again until early September.

1. Colts – Things were starting to compound on Indianapolis. The Jets had put together an 80 yard bomb to Braylon Edwards and a great trick play where Brad Smith faked an option run and pulled back and launched a 45 yard strike (okay, it floated like a duck, perhaps strike isn’t the right word, but it was complete) to Jerricho Cotchery which led to another touchdown. The Jets were up 17-6, and looked for all the world like they had an excellent shot to shock the world and somehow make it all the way to the Super Bowl. The Colts had just seen a 48 yard Jay Feely Field Goal split the uprights, and there were only two minutes remaining in the half. Things looked bleak, but then in strode Number Eighteen. Just like that, after rifling his way down the field with three completions to Austin Collie in less than a minute the last one resulting in a touchdown. BAM, Peyton Manning was suddenly in control of the game, and despite the fact that the Jets were up at the half, they were finished.

You could tell the exact moment that Manning clicked into gear…it was a ridiculously accurate bomb right down the middle of the field to Austin Collie for 46 yards that broke the Jets spirit. After that play, the game was over, Manning decided that the Colts were going to the Super Bowl. He just decided it, and no one could argue. Peyton Manning has that rare ability to absolutely end a game in the second quarter with a cool confidence that destroys his opponents. The Jets still technically led the game 17-6, but you could stick a fork in them at that moment, because Manning was going to win, you could feel it. The second half unfolded exactly as expected, and the Jets ended up getting trounced by a 30-17 final score. It wasn’t really a blowout, as the Jets held a double digit lead at one point, and were within 3 in the fourth, but it wasn’t exactly NOT an upset either because at no time from the moment Manning dissected the Jets secondary for 46 yards did I think the Jets had even a remote chance of winning the game. The Colts dominated from that point on.

The reason that the Colts must be listed as the Super Bowl favorite and the team at the top of the final Vertically Striped power rankings of the season is the quarterback. Drew Brees put up superior numbers, and he is a great quarterback in his own right. However, I have never seen Drew end a game in the 2nd quarter while trailing by 11. I know it sounds hokey, but Peyton Manning totally did that in the AFC Championship. It’s silly to ascribe super powers to mortal athletes, but there is something about the confidence that Manning possesses that puts him into the rarified air of a player like Michael Jordan…someone who is just a winner, someone who will not allow his team to lose. Take Manning off of these Colts, and they are a middle of the road team that may or may not make the postseason. With Peyton, the Colts are clearly the team to beat. He’s that important, and he is the sole reason that I have to place the Colts as number 1 in this week leading up to the big game with all the Roman numerals.

2. Saints – This team is exciting, and fast paced and fun. When they are on their game offensively, I have seen few teams who can keep up with their fast flying ways. They have a city that has spiritually rallied around them, and the Saints probably mean more to New Orleans right now than any professional team means to any community in the world. If you have a soul, and you aren’t a Colts fan, I have a hard time understanding how you could not be pulling for this team. The Saints are the spirit and symbol of a place that was ravaged by a horrible hurricane and are trying to fight their way back. Yes, I’m cheering for the black and gold on Sunday.

However, despite the good vibes and spiritual optimism surrounding this team, they are still a group of football players who have to make it happen on the field on Sunday. In that regard, the Saints make me a little nervous. Clearly, they’re a stud team, but their defense is middling, and their offense is a lot like a Ferrari…when it’s engine is roaring it can fly, but it can be a bit temperamental, and sometimes it needs to go into the garage for repair. Against the Vikings, the Saints as a team rode a wave of crowd support and enjoyed the benefit of being plus four in the turnover differential. Had the Vikings not coughed the ball up five times, likely Minnesota and Brett Favre would be in Miami getting ready to figure out a way to try and beat the Colts. Even with those advantages, the Saints also needed boneheaded mistakes from the Vikings and a beneficial coin flip in order to win the NFC Championship.

The Saints are a very good team, and they have a shot against the Colts in XLIV. (Check back to VerticallyStripedSocks.com on Friday to find out how much of a shot I think they have.) However, they are an underdog for a reason, and when there are only two teams left, someone has to be number two in the rankings. That lot falls on the Saints, but for this week, I join a chorus of zealots in Louisiana and with optimism and hope scream, “Who Dat?” (Hopefully NFL Properties doesn’t charge me royalties for saying as much.)

Thanks for coming, Best of luck to you all next year. (Except, of course, for you Mr. Favre.)

Vikings – I was watching the final quarter of the Saints-Vikings NFC Championship from the same restaurant that I saw the Giants-Packers NFC Championship two years earlier. Amazingly enough, the same exact thing happened…Just when it appeared that Brett Favre was on the cusp on qualifying his team for the Super Bowl, he threw up a terrible interception and ended his teams season. I was bummed two years previous, as I wanted the Packers to make it, but this year I was ecstatic. The people of Minnesota deserve better. After watching four Super Bowl losses (all before my time) and then seeing their chances to make Super Bowl 33 get blown by a shanked field goal against the Falcons in 1998, and seeing their team get throttled by the Giants 41-0 a few years later in another NFC Championship, those people have suffered too much already. With all apologies to those poor people of Minnesota, I was extremely happy. Favre is who we thought he was, and it only took until the final minutes of the NFC Championship for him to finally reveal himself. Now it’s on to another edition of the Brett Favre “will he or won’t he” retirement tease. Favre has proven over the past half-decade that he is a championship caliber Hamlet imitator, and now the fans in Minneapolis will get to live out his indecision for months. For now, he says he is “Very unlikely to return.” If you believe that will be the last word before a simple retirement announcement in a few weeks, you simply haven’t been paying attention to recent history. He’s playing well enough to come back, and it’s hard to deny that the NFL is more interesting when he’s around. I guess despite the fact that I love rooting against the guy, I do kind of hope he comes back.

Jets – If you’re the Jets, there is no way possible for you to feel bad about your season. You were able to sneak into the playoffs, and then make the most of it by improbably winning a couple of games and playing admirably in the AFC Championship. You have the lovable and bombastic (and fat) Rex Ryan as your leader, and things seem to be pretty positive. If Mark Sanchez can continue to develop in this system and avoid eating hot dogs on the sideline, the future looks bright in the city so nice they named it twice. Not to mention the stellar way that the Jets played defense this season. They probably weren’t good enough to achieve to the level that they did, but they did it anyway. New York, New York indeed! Start spreading the news! (All that positivity and chances are excellent that they go 6-10 next season…after all, this is the NFL.)

No comments: