Since each NFL season carries with it the weight of expectations and the ultimate stark realities for every team and their fans, I tried something a little bit different for the final edition of NFL Power Rankings for the 2009 season.
With the end of the holiday season and the end of the NFL season running parallel to one another, I decided to get some of my friends, colleagues, and readers involved in the assessment of their respective team’s season. It’s a ranking by the people, for the people, if you will.
Also, I did not try to justify any non-playoff team being better than one who actually made "the tournament"—you’re either good enough or you’re not (I’m looking at you Steelers, Texans, and Falcons). On that note, I wish you all a Happy New Year, thanks for reading, and one last time…let’s navigate all the way from No. 1 to No. 32…
1. San Diego Chargers (13-3) : Ten wins to close out the year and a red-hot offense has San Diego ranked at the top of the list. My preseason pick for the AFC Super Bowl rep looks to be in great shape all around but "uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." A well-earned bye week awaits the Bolts.
2. Indianapolis Colts (14-2) : All one can say is "I hope they know what they’re doing." They bailed on the 19-0 campaign only to insert starters in horrible conditions for personal milestones—seems counter intuitive. A loss in their first game of the playoffs will bring the entire organization into question but we have a week to wait on that debate.
3. New Orleans Saints (13-3) : From 13-0 to 13-3 is not the way to close things out but the Saints don’t appear to be concerned about it. They earned home-field advantage throughout and will await some legit potential opponents for next week. The league’s No. 1 offense should be fine in the comfort of the Superdome.
4. Minnesota Vikings (12-4) : The Vikings pounded the Giants into the next decade and earned a week off. Similar to the Saints, the Vikes will enjoy the comfort of dome and weather has been eliminated as a factor in the NFC playoffs altogether. Can Favre pull off another title and walk into the sunset? And then come back again?
5. Dallas Cowboys (11-5) : Big D posted consecutive shutouts for first time in franchise history and grabbed the NFC East title, but this ranking is based on how I think they stack up. ML from Boston: “I came away satisfied from the season but not feeling Dallas has played their best yet—too many penalties and poor tackling.” For his sake, let’s hope he’s right. And, would Wade survive a first round loss to Philly?
6. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) : Despite getting shellacked in Dallas on Sunday, MM likes his team to come back and beat Dallas this week but concedes, “the defense will not get them to the Super Bowl…and anything short of that is a disappointment.” Andy Reid has never lost a first-round playoff game and if he does this week, there will be no calls for his head given the contract extension he just signed.
7. Green Bay Packers (11-5) : The Packer bandwagon is pretty full at this stage. The sixth-ranked offense and the second-ranked defense reside in Green Bay, and QB Aaron Rodgers looks the part of a seasoned veteran, except he has no postseason experience. Arizona may not be bad place for this team to start even thought the smackdown last week was against backups.
8. Arizona Cardinals (10-6) : The Cardinals are not an easy team to figure out. Last year, they shocked the football world and nearly won the Super Bowl after a 9-7 season so given their explosive nature on offense, it would not be wise to count them out. Looking towards 2010, a lot will depend on Kurt Warner and/or Matt Leinart’s future.
9. New England Patriots (10-6) : A meaningless game in Houston resulted in a loss on the scoreboard and the loss of go-to WR Wes Welker who is out for the playoffs after wrecking his knee. With Tom Brady rumored to be ailing as well, the Pats’ playoff expectations have taken a hit in the public’s eyes. Even die-hard New England fan RS admits “this team seems destined for a second round playoff loss at San Diego.”
10. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) : The AFC North champs did very little against the Jets last Sunday so that they could prepare for, um, the Jets on Sunday. Hosting a playoff game in Cincinnati will be a solid home-field advantage, but if they don’t stop the rushing attack early, they will be home early. Overall, Marvin Lewis finally has his team built the way he wants moving into the new decade.
11. New York Jets (9-7) : Living in NY, I am surrounded by slightly euphoric Jets fans this week who are dreaming of a Super Bowl appearance. DA is “very happy with Rex Ryan as he learned…and got better.” LJ adds “Sanchez's regression was a bit alarming but I think there's a reason to be optimistic for the future.” It seems most Jets fans would love a win this week in Cincy but are realistic about not advancing after that...for now...
12. Baltimore Ravens (9-7) : The Ravens did what they needed to do in Oakland by running all over The Black Hole. They make the third playoff appearance in four years and will head to New England to try to advance. Joe Flacco’s less than stellar play (9TDs and 7 INTs in his last nine games) has some worried and a banged-up Ed Reed further hurts their chances to advance but with the way the Pats look, they may just steal one before bowing out.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7) : MO agreed that watching the Steelers blow five fourth quarter leads was excruciating but “it might have been worse watching the Jets win two games that the other teams just handed to them.” Even with the Polamalu injury and winning out tough games against Green Bay, Baltimore, and Miami, there are no excuses for the Steelers dropping earlier games to the Chiefs and Raiders. Getting healthy, building some depth through the draft, and revamping special teams is likely to be the approach to get back to the playoffs in 2010.
14. Tennessee Titans (8-8) : Closing the season on an 8-2 run ranks them right up there at the top of the league in those last 10 games. Unfortunately, there are those pesky six losses to open the season that did not vanish from the record. But, the Vince Young Era has officially resumed and they will go into 2010 with a clear picture of who is leading them; Chris Johnson will be tearing up opposing defenses as well.
15. Atlanta Falcons (9-7) : A win over the Bucs secured consecutive winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. Unfortunately, the Falcons were the only NFC team with a winning record to miss the "second season" but DH from Atlanta is less worried about “not meeting lofty expectations” for 2009 than he is about QB “Matt Ryan not progressing from his rookie year.”
16. Houston Texans (9-7) : The Texans beat the Pats to secure their first-ever winning season but the celebration was tempered after being eliminated from the playoffs on tiebreakers. Matt Schaub led Gary Kubiak’s explosive offense very well, and the defense has plenty of talent but poor special teams play led to some close losses that find them on the outside looking in yet again.
17. Carolina Panthers (8-8) : John Fox teams never quit; you have to give him credit for that. Saddled with an aging, expensive QB in Jake Delhomme the team struggled until he was injured. Backup Matt Moore won four of the last five games to get them back to .500 which gave all the doubters "evidence" to call for Delhomme’s pink slip. Changes will be made to the roster but expect the Panthers to challenge for the playoffs in 2010.
18. San Francisco 49ers (8-8) : The Niners throttled the Rams to close out the season winning three of their last four to finish a respectable 8-8 but clearly, the expectations are higher in San Fran. Mike Singletary: "In order to make wise decisions, we have to evaluate closely what we need to do. We're going to take our time and be thorough.” So far, the special teams coach has been axed and while Alex Smith remains the top guy for now, the QB question will rage on throughout the offseason.
19. Denver Broncos (8-8): The most hot-and-cold team in the NFL this year along with the Giants, the Broncos 6-0 start did not hold up when they lost their last four games to miss the important January games. Rookie head coach Josh McDaniels will have to deal with more drama regarding star wideout Brandon Marshall which is likely to end up in a trade around draft time. To an extent, I feel like they overachieved based on expectation but the perception is that they choked big time in ‘09.
20. Miami Dolphins (7-9) : Miami’s playoff hopes were officially dashed with a loss to the Steelers. KK from NYC thought his Dolphins had “hope and promise with a young, flourishing QB, but momentum was lost when Ronnie Brown went down.” Never lacking confidence in his beloved Fish he “guaranteed an AFC East title” in 2010.
21. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9) : The Jags stood at 7-5 and controlled their own destiny to the playoffs only to drop their last four and end the season with a loud thud in Cleveland. Head coach Jack Del Rio is likely to stick, as he is owed $15 million over three years and rumors of the team being for sale swirl constantly these days. Del Rio tagging his QB David Garrard as “middle-tier” this week is accurate but a strange motivational tool when there is no football for such a long period after that commentary.
22. Chicago Bears (7-9) : While the Bears ended the season on a positive note by winning their last two, KL from Los Angeles summed up ‘09 by saying “this season got intercepted by another errant Cutler throw.” Ouch. The guillotine fell hard in Chicago already as six coaches were let go this week.
23. New York Giants (8-8) : The Giants uncharacteristically mailed in the last two games, getting blown out and costing people jobs, namely defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. AJ from PA sees a glaring “need for personnel changes” and “wouldn’t be surprised to see as many as 10 new starters,” which is a long way from where the expectations were going into the season.
24. Cleveland Browns (5-11) : Jerome Harrison put the team on his back in this last month to close out 2009 on a positive note. TR says the Browns were “disappointing in every aspect” but admits that you “can’t sleep” on their first four-game winning streak since 1994. The Mangini-hating also seems to have quieted with the wins and the arrival of football guru Mike Holmgren. Promise in Cleveland? Always…
25. Oakland Raiders (5-11) : When a team is 5-10 and down eight points with three minutes to go in its final game, is punting and playing the field position/timeouts strategy really the way to go? Live a little, Tom Cable, it’s not like your job hung in the balance during the loss to the Ravens. Or maybe it did, I don’t know, but I’m not about to try to get into Al Davis’ head—I may never come back. Cable throwing JaMarcus Russell under the bus will not help save his gig since Al is apparently still a fan—we’ll know more next week regarding this soap opera.
26. Buffalo Bills (6-10) : The Bills beat up on the fake Colts in the snow and then fired the entire coaching staff following a very disappointing year that saw them finish in last place in the AFC East for the second year in a row. Interim head coach Perry Fewell will interview for the head job there but he is unlikely to land it as they look for someone with a strong resume to come in and turn this around. Bill Cowher will provide writers like me with a lot of puns, so, there’s that…
27. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12) : The Chiefs surprisingly stomped the Broncos right out of the playoffs with a resounding win at Denver. KC was a sneaky sleeper pick for many before the year but after ranking 25th in offense and 30th in defense, it appears the rebuild will continue onward towards 2010.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13) : After the Bucs dropped the finale to Atlanta, RH wondered “Does the ship have a rudder?” which indicts everyone from the Glazers down through rookie Head Coach Raheem Morris. While Morris was officially retained, wholesale changes will need to be made to the roster and among the coaching staff. Josh Freeman has shown potential, but we all know that’s a long way from being any good at the QB position in this league.
29. Washington Redskins (4-12) : Jim Zorn was our first postseason coaching casualty as new GM Bruce Allen made his first major move after a disastrous season. The ‘Skins lost 18 of their last 24 games under Zorn and have more roster issues now than when he first came on board. Kevin H. from D.C.: “Poor coaching and bad players…you get what you see.” I think Kevin will feel just fine with new coach Mike Shanahan but will Jason Campbell be around for 2010?
30. Detroit Lions (2-14) : Everyone expected a long road ahead for the Lions and two separate six-game losing streaks locked up the No. 2 pick in the draft. Building blocks like QB Matt Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson on offense are bright spots for 2010.
31. Seattle Seahawks (5-11) : There’s nothing worse than watching a team quit like the Seahawks did this season. They didn’t make it too tough for the Titans’ Chris Johnson to break the NFL yards-from-scrimmage record but they have made it tough for their fans to have faith in the direction of the team. What can Jim Mora, Jr. say to defend himself, that "we played like diddley-poo?"?
32. St. Louis Rams (1-15) : CG said about his beloved Rams: “With so many holes and so few current players showing much, it is hard not to see this as a three-plus year project back to respectability.” It may not be the sexiest No. 1 overall pick ever but everyone’s guess is that it will be Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh since he will be a stable building block in Steve Spagnuolo’s defense for years to come. With that, the Rams are officially on the clock…