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2011 Week 6 – NFL Power 15

Last week the NFL went completely crazy and jacked up my Power 15. At certain points in the NFL season, it’s always good to take a step back and see where everything stands. Every team is 5-6 games in so we have a certain idea of what’s going on, but not really. For example, the Bucs are 4-2 with wins over the Saints & Falcons, but losses over the Lions & 49ers. Seeing how the Lions & 49ers are a combined 10-2 and potentially both top-5 teams in the entire NFL, how can you not have Tampa Bay above teams like New Orleans & Atlanta, but just below teams like Detroit & San Francisco? Does anyone believe Tampa Bay really is a top-5 or top-8 team in the NFL? Not really, but how can you rank them lower in a Power Ranking given what has happened over their first 6 games? Despite starting 4-2 with some impressive wins, Tampa has a better shot at finishing 8-8 than they do 11-5. Still, at this point they have to be ranked accordingly which leads to some interesting conclusions. I’m going to keep the analysis fairly short today since this is coming out late!

RANK TEAM COMMENTS
#1 The Packers at this point are chasing history. The Patriots back in 2007 went 16-0, got to 18-0 before losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl to fall a game short of a perfect season. The Packers have the same opportunity because they really are that much better than everyone else in the NFL. Would you like the defense to be a little better? Sure, but this team averages 33ppg and the defense is a lot better than a unit that averages allowing 34ppg! Aaron Rodgers is absolutely the best QB in the NFL at this point and doesn’t look like he’s giving up the title anytime soon. There are too many weapons and he’s too good. Maybe the Ravens & Patriots make it a game if they are clicking at 100% efficiency, but this Packers team is exceptional.
#2 Hammering on Houston this past week was a solid win for Baltimore. I know it’s a home game against a Texans team playing without both Mario Williams & Andre Johnson, but beating them 29-14 is pretty impressive in my book. Baltimore is very much starting to resemble their 2000 squad that hammered the Giants to get their first Super Bowl win. Joe Flacco isn’t doing anything fancy other than managing the game to the best of his ability while the defense is flat out nasty. The Ravens despite the lackluster offense are still averaging almost 30ppg while the defense allows only 14ppg. Some naysayers might wonder if Flacco is playing well enough to get to the Super Bowl, but he’s not playing any worse than Trent Dilfer was. It’s somewhat amazing that Ray Lewis is still playing. He was 26 when they last won it. Now he’s 36.
#3 Like Green Bay in a way. Would you like to see the Patriots play a little better on defense? Absolutely, but the team scores 31ppg and there simply isn’t that many football teams with the offensive capabilities to score 32ppg. Are the Packers one of those teams? Absolutely and it’s something New England will deal with if/when they get to the Super Bowl, but for now, it almost becomes a non-issue. In some ways you feel like the Patriots are analogous to the Yankees. When New York won those World Series titles in 1996, 1998, 1999 & 2000 they were mostly defined by great pitching. When New England won those Super Bowls in 2001, 2003 & 2004, it was more about defense. Now that the Patriots are more offensive minded, they don’t win, much like the Yankees didn’t win when collecting a bunch of hitters  neglecting pitching.
#4 How good for the game is Jim Harbaugh & Jim Schwartz going at it at the end of the Lions/49ers tilt? I was loving every minute of that! The NFL typically stands for the “NO FUN LEAGUE”, but having a coaching rivalry like that makes it all the better. You can’t but love coaches like Jim Harbaugh, Jim Schwartz, Rex Ryan & Hue Jackson. These guys love running their mouths & it’s fantastic. The 49ers are this close to being 6-0 instead of 5-1. The win over Detroit in Motown is amazing & Harbaugh is doing a masterful job. The defense is for real you can be sure, but Alex Smith all of a sudden is turning into a QB. It really goes to show you how great Harbaugh has done with Smith. He’s keeping Smith within his own specific abilities and Smith is rewarding that. He’s on pace for 2,907 yards with 21TD to 5INT while completing 63.3% of his passes. Fantastic!
#5 There is no shame in losing to a 5-1 San Francisco team that looks like it could easily get to the conference finals. The Lions actually played a pretty good game and in some ways they probably still should have come out of that contest with a win, but Detroit didn’t fare too well against Frank Gore who gouged the defense quite a bit. That’s actually a pretty good teaching tool for Jim Schwartz and company as now the Lions have a bit more to work on. Another problem with Detroit might be their lack of a running game. The funny thing about passing teams like Green Bay & New England is that they can actually run the ball. Sean Payton always talked about how the running game was a big part of their Super Bowl run. The Lions really have to figure out if they can run the football. Losing Mikel Leshoure was a gigantic loss in retrospect!
#6 It feels ridiculous to put the Bucs this high, but they are coming off a win over the Saints, are 4-2 with their only losses coming to the 49ers & Lions! If San Francisco & Detroit are #4 & #5 respectively then can’t Tampa Bay make a legitimate case for being the #6 overall team? Tampa Bay is actually -32 in point differential! Pro Football Reference has an SRS (Simple Rating System) metric for ranking the teams and they have Tampa Bay being the 4th worst team in the NFC, the worst team in the NFC South and the 9th worst team in the entire NFL! How in the world is this team 4-2 with wins over the Saints & Falcons? Tampa doesn’t do anything particularly well, but this is one of the anomalies of the early season. I doubt the Bucs remain here, but who knows? A win over the Bears this week puts them at 5-2!
#7 Is it just me or are the Steelers an awfully quiet 4-2 on the season? Their two losses have come on the road to Houston & Baltimore & those aren’t bad losses by any stretch. Football Outsiders has Pittsburgh being the most consistent team in the AFC with the 9th best offense & the 9th best defense. The team was hit with sad news this week as starting DE Aaron Smith is likely out for the season which makes this the 3rd straight year that Smith’s season has been cut down due to health reasons. At age-35, it looks almost certain that Smith will likely call it a career. The 6’5/300lbs 3-4 DE was an integral part of Pittsburgh’s vaunted defensive front and was a big part of Pittsburgh’s two Super Bowls wins. It’s next man up for Pittsburgh although Smith will be a difficult player to replace.
#8 Like Tampa Bay, I didn’t have the Giants ranked this past week, but a home win over Buffalo & a 4-2 record seems to indicate the Giants should be up there with the best teams in the league. Like with Tampa, you have an idea where you’d like to place the Saints, but doesn’t Tampa deserve to be above them? The same goes for the Giants. I have an idea of where I want to place Buffalo, but doesn’t New York deserve to be a spot or two head of them? The Giants are a hard team to judge. They go on the road & beat Philadelphia & then beat the Bills at home, but they can’t go on the road & beat Washington or beat the Seahawks at home? It doesn’t make any sense. Did you know Eli Manning in on pace to throw for 4,741 yards? That would rank 8th all time for most passing yards in a season. That’s more than Peyton ever threw in a single season.
#9 The loss at home to Cincinnati hurts bad now that the Bills are 4-2 and the Jets are 3-3, but remember that Buffalo’s two losses are against teams who are a combined 8-4. That’s not necessarily on the Bills. They were never going to go 16-0. Statistically the Bills are still an excellent football team that can put up points and force turnovers. There big issue right now is winning the games they are capable of winning. Their margin for error is tiny which is why the Bengals loss hurts a bit. Still, they are on a bye week this week before having play home games against Washington & NY Jets. The game against the Redskins should be winnable enough, but it’ll be interesting to see how Ryan Fitzpatrick & the passing attack fares against the Jets. Remember that New England’s pass defense isn’t nearly the pass defense Buffalo will see against the Jets.
#10 The biggest injury to date for the Saints is their own head coach! I don’t know what to say about the road loss to Tampa Bay. Sometimes things simply don’t go the way you’d like them to. The Saints are 4-2 with their losses coming against Tampa Bay & Green Bay who are a combined 10-2. Both were road games to boot. The Saints are somewhat like Green Bay & New England. You’d like to see the defense play a little better, but their are so dominating offensively that an opposing team will have to score a ton of points to beat them. I also think the Saints are still feeling their way through the season. The rushing attack isn’t that great and Drew Brees is throwing a few too many interceptions although he’s flirting with a 70% completion percentage. They could easily win the rest of their games and finish 14-2. They’ll move up from #10.
#11 Usually I’m an ardent all things Bears hater, but can you imagine if this team ever got on the page? Jay Cutler is proving to be a malcontent of such vast proportions that it might not even be worth it to have him on your roster. Is he a Super Bowl winning QB? Absolutely not, but the Bears can certainly win quite a few games with him. They hammered Minnesota 39-10 last week which isn’t fantastic, but keep in mind that the Bears 3 losses have come against the Lions, Packers & Saints who are a combined 15-3! They don’t look great statistically but when you are playing elite NFL football teams, your aggregate stats aren’t going to look championship quality. I think the game against Tampa Bay will be really instructive this week. Are the Bears good or are they just better than the truly sucky teams in the NFL?
#12 The Jets ended their 3 game losing streak this past week with a win over Miami, but New York is in much the same boat as Chicago. They are 3-3 which doesn’t seem great, but their 3 losses have come against Oakland, New England, and Baltimore and all 3 games were road games! Those 3 teams are a combined 13-4 and all 3 could easily wind up division winners. Even with those 3 losses, the Jets look primed to still make a legitimate playoff push. They’ve yet to play Buffalo so beating the Bills twice pushes them past & you really can’t expect the other wild cards to come out of the West & South. Do they have problems offensively? Sure, but they’ve had them the past two seasons too. Mark Sanchez seems to turn it on in the postseason so the Jets will ride that formula once again.
#13 Like the Bears & Jets, the Cowboys are simply a victim of schedule, but also of poor play when it matters. Dallas is currently 2-3, but their 3 losses have come against the Jets, Lions & Patriots how are a combined 13-5. Keep in mind also that the Cowboys had pretty good leads against Detroit & New York but came up short. In those 3 games, the Cowboys have lost by a combined score of 70-81 or rather 3-4 points per game. The schedule eases up considerably for Dallas as their next 7 games are very winnable games. That could put Dallas at 9-3 through three quarters of the NFL season & I don’t think anyone would complain about that. In the bigger picture, this is something Dallas needs if only for Tony Romo. Romo is on pace to throw for 5,088 yards, but he needs some wins to go along with those gaudy stats.
#14 With all the transition that Tennessee experience over this past offseason, it was odd to think they’d be ahead in the South, but the Texans have battled injuries and inconsistent play while the Colts are dealing with life without Peyton Manning. That isn’t saying the Titans have played solid football. They are the lone team who defeated the Ravens and Matt Hasselbeck has played very well so far this season. I think Titans fans are still waiting for the Chris Johnson to turn it on. If Hasselbeck can stay healthy & Johnson find his running ability again then Tennessee all of a sudden looks like a dangerous team because the defense is playing well. This week they’ll take on Houston & a win here puts Tennessee at 4-2 and in the driver’s seat in a very weak AFC South. Wild card teams probably want to avoid a 1st round game in Nashville.
#15 Let’s face it. The Bengals are playing well. Cincinnati gave Buffalo their first loss and one of their two losses came at the hands of the 49ers. They have a head scratching loss to Denver, but I’m sure the Bengals would love to have that one back because it could mean they’d be 5-1 right now! The Bengals at this point are a product of their defense. It’s for real & it’s very good. You have to love Mike Zimmer as a DC! Offensively I think Cincinnati couldn’t have been more happy with how Andy Dalton & AJ Green have worked out. Dalton is completing 62.4% of his passes and is on pace to throw for 3500 yards. AJ Green is the true #1WR that the Bengals have lacked since Chad Ochocinco got old. Green is on pace for a 77-1208-10 season as a rookie! Maybe they don’t make the playoffs, but this is a good football team.

DROPPING OUT

#11 SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: I just don’t believe in the Chargers at this point. Ryan Mathews is playing much better in his sophomore year, but Philip Rivers is having a terrible year & who knows if Antonio Gates is ever going to play again. The defense hasn’t played all that well and when you break the Chargers down, who have they really beat? The Dolphins, Chiefs, Vikings & Broncos? Good grief! At least the Colts aren’t on the list. The 4-1 record is impressive, but San Diego really looks like a product of scheduling. This week they’ll face the New York Jets and a win there to push them to 5-1 will have them right back into the top-10 where a 5-1 team typically belongs. Until then, all we can say for sure is that SD is better than the absolute dregs of the NFL. That doesn’t make them a top-15 teams.

#12 OAKLAND RAIDERS: The Raiders deserve to be in the top-15 and I would have put them in except for the injury to Jason Campbell. Now with a rusty Carson Palmer & the potential of Kyle Boller starting games, the Raiders don’t look as good as they did before Campbell went down with injury. Luckily for the Raiders, they get the Chiefs at home which they should be able to win fairly easily before being on a bye week. Carson Palmer is going to have to come up to speed fast because the Raiders really do have a team capable of winning the West and making a little bit of noise in the playoffs.

#13 HOUSTON TEXANS: It’s not like Houston stinks. Losing Mario Williams & Andre Johnson would hurt any team, and the Texans’ losses have come against the Ravens, Saints & Raiders. Those 3 teams have a combined record of 12-5. On the other hand, they are 3-3 and frankly I can’t see putting them above anyone else on the top-15. A win over the Titans this week would really help them out, but the South looks terrible. Even without Johnson & Williams, you would think Houston had enough talent to overcome those losses because of the division they play in. I still like their chances, but they are going to need to win some games here soon. Their schedule isn’t nasty & a win over Tennessee sets them up well.

#14 WASHINGTON REDSKINS: It was only a matter of time. I really like what Jim Haslett has done with the defense, but this is still a football team relying on either Rex Grossman or John Beck to win them football games. How in the world did Ben Chappell not make this team given those two starting QBs? The Redskins are playing a lot like the Ravens & Jets except they don’t have a QB like Joe Flacco or even Mark Sanchez. It’s actually a tough model to replicate because you have to be so dominant on defense. The Redskins have been very good on that side of the football, but the offense hasn’t been remotely good enough to give the defense enough cushion. A loss this week to Carolina would be horrible.

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October 23, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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