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NFL Power Rankings – FINAL EDITION

With that disaster of a Super Bowl behind us we can now look upon the 2009 NFL season with some finality. We have about 7 months until the start of the 2010 season which seems like a long time but really isn’t. Until then we can dissect the NFL Draft over and over and over again. We can worry about if Brett Favre is coming back or not. We can wonder about a lockout in 2011. For me of course, I’ll be waiting for college football season to begin!!! What else would I be doing!?

Here is the final Power-15 with comments!

1. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 16-3

Get used to it. If you believe that coaching and quarterbacks when NFL Championships then outside of New England there is no better combination than Sean Payton & Drew Brees. Payton was absolutely Belichickian with that onside kick to begin the 2nd half of the Super Bowl. The bottom line is that Payton knew that possession was going to determine the Super Bowl champion. If Indianapolis goes up 17-6 to start the 2nd half then New Orleans is toast. Sometimes you have to have the balls to gamble and Payton did it. When Indianapolis had a chance to stick the dagger in New Orleans with a little under 2 minutes left in the 2nd quarter with the ball on the Indianapolis 1-yard line, Jim Caldwell was OK to run 3 times and punt. Huge mistake. Instead of possibly going into halftime up 17-3, Caldwell settled for 10-6 which became 13-10 which became game, set, match. Oh, and there is that guy named Drew Brees. Brees essentially forced himself into the discussion with Brady & Manning as to who is the best QB in the NFL. I’d get used to it. New Orleans is the best team in the NFC from this point forward until Payton or Brees completely lose it, which I don’t think is happening anytime soon. WHO DAT!?

2. MINNESOTA VIKINGS 13-5

The Vikings have to be absolutely kicking themselves at this point after watching the Super Bowl and the performance of the Indianapolis Colts. This could have been a spectacular storybook ending for Brett Favre. Can you imagine what it would have done for his legacy had he took the Minnesota Vikings to the Super Bowl and then won it!? Has there ever been another QB take two different teams to Super Bowl titles? No there hasn’t. Favre would have been the first. Some came close. Kurt Warner came close last year. Craig Morton got to Super Bowls with both Dallas & Denver but lost both of them. What would have made it even more exquisite would be the fact that Favre took two arch rivals to Super Bowl victories. Two franchises that hated each other. Hell, Ted Thompson wouldn’t release Favre after the 2007 season because he didn’t want Favre to sign with Minnesota in 2008! Instead Favre went to the Jets before coming to Minnesota. The Vikings picked an awful time to have their worst game of the season. It took 6 fumbles, 5 turnovers & 2 interceptions for them to lose. On the road. In overtime. The sick part? Minnesota fans don’t believe that’s the worst loss in Vikings history.

3. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 16-3

The Colts have some problems. There comes a point in time where a team or an organization or a fan base can have a false sense of security and you to have start to wonder if the team isn’t simply about turning profit rather than winning championships. Let’s not forget that if Reche Caldwell catches just one pass, the Colts don’t get to Super Bowl XLI where they’d played a team that had no business being there quarterbacked by possibly the worst starting QB in the history of the Super Bowl coached by possibly the worst coach in the history of the Super Bowl if you aren’t counting Jim Caldwell’s performance in Super Bowl XLIV. The bottom line is that the Super Bowl win was about as soft as you can get. As long as Peyton Manning is there, Indianapolis should be able to win 10-12 games a year. They’ll make the playoffs, but will they win a Super Bowl? It’s hard to say. Caldwell is in over his head. There is no killer instinct in Indianapolis. There never was under Tony Dungy. There isn’t going to be one under Jim Caldwell. Manning could have cemented his legacy with a 2nd Super Bowl title, but now he falls behind Tom Brady and way behind Joe Montana. When Dan Marino had all the passing records nobody thought he was the best QB ever because he never won a Super Bowl. When Brett Favre bested Marino for all the passing records nobody thought he was the best ever because he only had the 1 championship. Manning will likely overtake Favre for all the passing records, but if he only has that one championship (and a soft one at that) nobody will ever believe he was the best QB ever. He’ll be a top-10 QB, but not the best ever. Possibly not the best in his generation. Especially if Brady wins another Super Bowl. It’s not necessarily fair because football is a team game, but that is the criteria we are fed constantly from the media. As to the Colts, unfortunately they are on the road to nowhere with Caldwell as HC. The end for Caldwell won’t come until Manning leaves and you don’t have potentially the greatest QB of all time under center, but it’ll come. It makes you wonder if Jim Irsay really does care about winning, or does he care about dollars more?

4. NEW YORK JETS 11-8

The antonym of the Colts, meet the New York Jets. The Jets are a bit difficult to judge because of the way in which they got to the playoffs. If Indianapolis & Cincinnati don’t lay down over the final two weeks of the season, New York doesn’t get into the playoffs. On the other hand, it’s not like the Jets were 1 & done. They went on the road and beat both Cincinnati & San Diego to get to the AFC Championship game against the Colts. They then rush out to a 17-6 lead late in the 2nd quarter and the route was one. Unfortunately Peyton Manning did what he should have done late in the 2nd quarter in the Super Bowl. He drove the length of the field before the half and made it 17-13. Momentum swings towards Indianapolis & Peyton takes over leading to a Colts berth in the Super Bowl. Forget that though. This year was gravy for the Jets. Rex Ryan was a rookie HC. Mark Sanchez was a rookie QB. Shon Greene was a rookie RB. The Jets have it all in place and most importantly, they have a HC in Ryan and a OC in Brian Schottenheimer who have killer instincts. The AFC is tough enough as it is, but the Jets could very well be the next big thing in this conference. It was the Patriots for awhile. It might have shifted to Indianapolis for a couple of years, but now the reign of the Jets might be slowly closing in. There will be a TON of competition especially from Baltimore & New England, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see quite a few NYJ/NEP AFC semifinal matchups in the near future.

5. BALTIMORE RAVENS 10-8

You simply had to be impressed with the 33-14 beatdown of New England in Foxboro! The AFC is somewhat reminding me of the American League in the sense that a majority of teams are starting to catch on with great head coaches. In the AL we had Billy Beane and his counterpart in the AFC is Bill Belichick, but then the AL grabbed Theo Epstein, Brian Cashman (after Big George cut him loose), Mark Shaprio, Dave Dombrowki, Bill Stoneman, Terry Ryan & Andrew Friedman. The AFC too has gone through a little change. You now have relatively new coaches in Rex Ryan, John Harbaugh, Tony Sporano, Eric Mangini, Gary Kubiak, Josh McDaniels & Todd Haley. It certainly makes it logjammed in the AFC much like it is in the AL. It also makes the conferences a bit lopsided. The one saving grace in the NFC is that they do have coaches like Sean Payton, Mike McCarthy & Ken Whisenhunt, plus some old guard coaches like Andy Reid and Tom Coughlin. Grabbing Mike Shanahan isn’t bad either to bolster the conference’s coaching credentials, but the AFC certainly has the better talent. The Ravens are a part of this group and I’d expect Baltimore, New York, & New England to begin some intense battles. The interesting thing about the Ravens is how much longer can Ed Reed & Ray Lewis go? Lewis will be 35 next season. Reed 32. Reed is already talking about retirement so it’ll be interesting to see how the defense shakes out when those 2 are gone. Still, that’s a ways away and Baltimore is set up super nice with Joe Flacco at QB and Ray Rice at RB.

6. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 10-7

Let’s not get crazy here. Tom Brady was coming off his knee surgery and hadn’t played football in a year. The Patriots still won 10 games and still won the AFC East. Were they the dominating Patriots from couple of years prior? No. Were they the 18-0 Patriots needing just one more win in the Super Bowl to become the first team to ever go 19-0? No they weren’t, but expecting them to be that team was foolhardy at best. One of the most interesting aspects of the Patriots is how much personnel loss they’ve had yet have had the ability to maintain their excellence. They’ve lost multiple coaches. They’ve lost a lot of players on defense due to retirement or age. Heck they even lost their GM to the Kansas City Chiefs. The mainstays however have been Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Those two aren’t going anywhere and neither is New England. The Patriots were awfully young on defense and they’ll only get better. Next season, Brady will be 2-years removed from the ACL tear. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Jets will be knocking on the door in my opinion, but you have to beat the champ to be the champ.

7. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 13-4

A lot of hype, but not much substance.The 13-3 record is just a bit misleading I suppose. Eight of the Chargers 13 regular season wins came by 8 points or less. That 13-3 could have just as easily been 5-11 and we wouldn’t even be talking about San Diego at this point. The big elephant in the room here is that San Diego was a pitiful defensive team this past season. They were terrible against the run and I’m not sure a championship level team can be that poor against the run unless they go crazy the way Indianapolis did during the Super Bowl run 4 years ago. The other problem with San Diego is that Norv Turner is the HC at a time that the head coaching level in the AFC is exploding like I outlined above. The Chargers have also been able to take advantage of the division they play in. Denver, Kansas City & Oakland have been down. That’s not going to be that way for long. Kansas City is making strides. Denver almost won the division this season if they didn’t fade down the stretch. Oakland is Oakland, but if Al Davis ever leaves that franchise can return to glory in my opinion. The Chargers need to revamp the defense and get a running back. The LaDainian Tomlinson era. They have studs in Rivers, Gates & Jackson, but they need to retool in some pretty important place. Their window may have closed.

8. GREEN BAY PACKERS 11-6

I wouldn’t worry too much about the Packers. Green Bay simply got caught in one of those odd wild card games that didn’t work out to their advantage. I’ll say this about the Packers, they are cultivating a QB who is going to be as hard as nails by the time he’s finished. Heck he might already be there. It’s not easy replacing a legend. It’s also not easy when that legend takes your team to a 13-3 regular season and then one game away from the Super Bowl. Brett Favre did that for the Packers and then they simply handed the keys to Aaron Rodgers and told him to drive the car. Rodgers responded by going 6-10. Then Favre moved to Minnesota where he beat Rodgers and the Packers twice. Then Rodgers gets into the playoffs and loses his first attempt on a sack fumble that resulted in an Arizona TD in OT to give the Cardinals the victory. Make no mistake about it. Rodgers is a premier QB. You don’t throw for over 4,000 yards with a TD:INT ratio of 30:7 without being one. Mike McCarthy is a good coach. Green Bay has a solid defense. They struggled on the O-Line a bit this season, but they are close. I’d say Green Bay & New Orleans are the two best teams in the NFC and will be for sometime. I think it has a chance to remind people of the Dallas/San Francisco or Dallas/Green Bay rivalries in the early to mid 1990s. Remember that Favre was 1-1 in Super Bowls with the Packers. Rodgers has a very real chance to do better than that.

9. DALLAS COWBOYS 12-6

Just when you think Dallas may have turned a corner, they go up to Minnesota and get bombed 34-3. Dallas is interesting in that they did seemingly get the monkey off their back in regards to play in December and finally getting a playoff win even if it was against Philadelphia in Dallas. Dallas is lumped in there with San Diego & Indianapolis. Wade Phillips is in the same category as Norv Turner & Jim Caldwell. They simply aren’t going to win the biggest games on the biggest stages. Turner & Caldwell are masked a little big by Rivers & Manning respectively. Phillips doesn’t have that luxury with Tony Romo. Romo is solid, but in the NFC you have Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, Eli Manning and Jay Cutler who are all better. The Cowboys are probably at a place now where Romo & Phillips can go out and win 10-11 games a season. It’s a road to nowhere that I think fans in Indianapolis and San Diego know fairly well. I thought it might be interesting if Dallas went after Mike Shanahan, but instead he goes to the Redskins which can’t be good news for the rest of the NFC East. The Cowboys are a ridiculously talented football team. It’s unfortunate that they might not be able to put it all together.

10. ARIZONA CARDINALS 11-7

A tough ending for the Cardinals getting hammered in New Orleans like they were. The 08-09 seasons were the best 2-year run in Cardinals history. They didn’t win the most games during the regular season in those 2 years, but they did get to a Super Bowl they probably should have won. I think Ken Whisenhunt is a solid coach. He’s one of the up and coming head coaches in the NFC along with Payton & McCarthy. The problem facing Arizona that isn’t facing New Orleans or Green Bay is what to do at QB. It’s been reported that the receivers don’t have much faith in Matt Leinart. Where Arizona turns is pure speculation at this point although my guess is that the organization will give Leinart the reigns and see what happens. The Cardinals were somewhat Jekyl & Hyde this season. One week hammering the Vikings, the next losing to the 49ers. They take a complete beating by Green Bay in the season finale then beat the Packers in the playoffs. They beat an excellent Green Bay team only to get murdered the following week in New Orleans. Everything is there for Arizona to be great. They have incredible skill position players. Drafting Chris Wells was a hit. The defense is solid and can border on great if they play to their potential. It’s all up to Leinart to guide them.

11. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 11-6

A tough ending for Philly. The Eagles reeled off 6-straight wins to move to 11-4 after starting the season 5-4. After Week 16, the Eagles actually held the #2 seed over Minnesota and was in line for a 1st round bye in the playoffs if they could just head down to Dallas and beat the Cowboys. A loss would not only cost the Eagles the #2 seed, but it would also cost them the NFC East championship. You know what happened. Philly lost 24-0 and they feel from a guaranteed #2 seed to the #6 seed. There was no reason to head back to Philly as they were playing Dallas again in the Wild Card round. It’s tough to beat a team 3 times in one season, but that is what Dallas did by beating Philadelphia again 34-14. Hindsight is always 20/20, but the 13-9 Week 6 loss to the Raiders essentially killed Philadelphia. The loss changes everything in retrospect as Philly would have had the #2 seed and who knows what would have happened in the postseason. They were locked into a 1st round bye and a 2nd round home game. Now things get interesting for Philly as the Donovan McNabb era is likely over. I hate to say it, but I think it’s a good thing for Philly. Kevin Kolb is the future of that franchise and Andy Reid is still a great coach. They have everything in place to be a great team. The only thing keeping Philadelphia from being in the discussion with Green Bay & New Orleans going forward is how well Kolb does. If he does well then you have a trio of NFC teams that should dominate for the foreseeable future.

12. HOUSTON TEXANS 9-7

Houston fans have to be sick with how close the Texans are to being a solid playoff team. QB Matt Schaub was finally healthy and we got a glimpse of what he can do, almost throwing for 5,000 yards and 29TD! That’s INSANE! What’s pretty wild about Houston is that their 9-7 record included 6 close losses meaning they were this close to pulling off a 15-1 season! That’s nuts. One of the close losses is borderline because they lost by 8 points, so 15-1/14-2 it doesn’t matter. Houston was very close. They were very streaky. They started the season 2-3. Then they won 3 games to move to 5-3. At 5-3 the Texans held onto the #6 seed in the AFC. However, they lost 4 straight to move to 5-7 which put them at the 12th seed (if there were such a thing). That was a huge drop. Houston did their best to rectify the situation by winning out to improve their record to 9-7. The record was good enough for the playoffs, but the tie-breakers screwed them over and Houston would wind up being the #7 seed in the AFC which is one too low to make the playoffs. Houston has all the right pieces in place. They really got burned in their rushing game this past season with Steve Slaton completely bombing, but that defense is young and extremely explosive. There isn’t a team in the NFL with 3 young defensive players like Brian Cushing, DeMeco Ryans & Mario Williams. Houston is VERY VERY CLOSE.

13. PITTSBURGH STEELERS 9-7

What an odd season for Pittsburgh. Going 1-3 against the Ravens & Bengals cost them a spot in the playoffs, but when you look at their schedule as a hole in retrospect you can only scratch your head. Pittsburgh had wins over San Diego, Minnesota, Green Bay, Denver, Baltimore & Miami. On the other hand, they had losses to Chicago, Cincinnati (twice), Kansas City, Oakland & Cleveland. If Pittsburgh would have beaten the teams they were supposed to have beaten they probably would have won 13-14 games! To say then that this season was a major letdown would be a huge understatement. The Steelers always seem to be a great team in the playoffs. Heck they were the defending Super Bowl champions for crying out loud. They really didn’t lack anything. They had a top-10 defense. Big Ben played great. Rashard Mendenhall was an outstanding RB taking over for Willie Parker. Santonio Holmes & Hines Ward had great years. Heath Miller had a great year. They maybe could have been a bit better against the pass, but that’s nitpicking. Pittsburgh simply has to beat the teams they are supposed to beat.

14. CAROLINA PANTHERS 8-8

The Panthers sneak up into the top-15 based on how they ended the season. Winning your last 3 games over the Giants, Saints & Vikings isn’t exactly an easy road. Doing it with a QB getting his first starts is even more difficult. Most pre-season pundits had higher hopes for Carolina than what the Panthers turned in. Phil Steele thought they’d go 9-7 (he was close!), but Steele also thought Carolina was a playoff team and the 11th best team in the NFL! Instead, Carolina began the season 0-3 and needed wins over the hapless Bucs & Redskins to get back to 2-3. They meandered to 4-7 before finishing the season off 4-1 to get to .500. John Fox probably saved his job and Matt Moore won the starting QB position. Carolina had a top-5 defense and it’s pass defense was especially ferocious. They had 2 1,000 yard rushers in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The one area they weren’t very good at? Passing offense. But that all changed when Matt Moore got under center. Carolina became a different team and it showed on the field. They bring back the team next season and we’ll get to see how Moore does as the starter from the jump. It won’t be easy sledding. The NFC South still has New Orleans & Atlanta, but Carolina had a couple of games they probably should have won which would have put them at 10-6 on the season. They should be definite playoff contenders heading into 2010.

15. CINCINNATI BENGALS 10-7

Should Cincinnati even be this high? I’m not even sure. What’s going to be tough for Bengals fans moving forward is the believe that because Cincinnati is the defending AFC South champions, the expectation is for them to be a competitive team when in reality this was just a house built on sand that experienced quite a bit of Lady Luck. The 10-6 record included 6 closes losses that mean Cincinnati was pretty close to being a 4-12 team battling Cleveland for last place rather than being considered better than Pittsburgh & Baltimore. The Bengals caught a lot of teams at the right time, but unfortunately they faded pretty bad at the end especially against the New York Jets who blasted them twice and ending Cincinnati’s season. There is really no reason why Cincinnati can’t be competitive again next season. They have a pretty good squad, but that whole regression to the mean is a cruel dictator and he might come collecting in 2010.

The next time we’ll do the power rankings will be in the 2010 preseason! The football season is finally over. Bring on the NFL Draft!

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February 9, 2010 - Posted by | NFL Power 15

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