NFL Power Poll with a BCS Twist
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Power polls, rankings and any other form of trying to determine the best, and for that matter, the worst in any sport, is a debate that has raged on since the beginning of sports time.
Most notably, college football is often front and center in every rankings controversy simply because they do not have a playoff system to determine its champion. The Bowl Championship Series, which determines what two teams will ultimately play for the National Championship, ranks college football teams according to the following formula.
The USA Today Coaches Poll, Harris Interactive College Football Poll, and an average of six computer rankings each count one-third of a team's overall BCS score in the BCS Standings. If you need a better breakdown of how this all works, then simply click here.
I, like many of you, love the NFL, and anxiously await Tuesday afternoons to see where my favorite NFL team (the Baltimore Ravens) will be ranked in the numerous power polls. Last season, I began to tinker with a system of ranking NFL teams by using a point system.
I published several NFL-BCS style polls right here on the Bleacher Report and found the reviews favorable. So I decided to give it a shot again this season.
Rankings and poll systems are not perfect, and mine is certainly no exception. Here is an overview of how the point system works for Week 1 of the BCS-style NFL power rankings.
In order to qualify for the poll a team must have a record better than .500 or lead their division. Points are given based on how many teams are in that week’s poll.
This week, there are 15 teams that have a record exceeding .500, so, if a team finishes first in any category they are given 75 points. The points then decrease all the way down to five.
Quality wins and losses are given points:
1. 5 points- division win on the road
2. 4 points- win at home
3. 3 points- division win at home
4. 2 points- win at home
1. -5 points- non-division loss at home
2. -4 points- division loss at home
3. -3 points- non-division loss on the road
4. -2 points- division loss on the road
The following categories were used to determine how the points were distributed.
1. Win/loss percentage of opponent's schedule
2. Points for
3. Points against
4. Net difference in points
5. Offensive rank
6. Defensive rank
7. Average power poll rankings of three polls (ESPN, NFL.com, and FOX Sports)
8. Teams record
Teams are given five extra bonus points for leading a category, and if two or more teams are tied in any category, the points are added together, divided, and then distributed accordingly. Teams are rewarded for their consistency in the poll.
Every team that makes the poll will receive a bonus that they carry forward the following week. I call it the San Diego Chargers rule. Last season the Bolts had the No. 1 ranked offense and defense but were not in the poll until they topped the .500 mark late in the season. Once they finally made it, they were catapulted near the top of the poll unfairly because of their rankings.
The number of points any team carries forward will be dependent upon where they finish the week before, and how many teams fall out of the poll. Example: If the Packers finish first this week, and 13 teams return to the poll next week, Green Bay will receive 13 bonus points added to next weeks total
That total will accrue each week, as long as the team returns to the poll. If a team misses a week, the points will not carry forward. They will be eligible to receive bonus points again, once they appear back in the poll during consecutive weeks.
As I said earlier, every poll is flawed, and this one is no different. However, I like the way this one works, and how it rewards, or penalizes, every good and bad aspect of a team's performance.
So sit back and enjoy the BCS-style NFL power poll.
No. 15 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 227.5 Points
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With early-season victories over the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints, the Buccaneers are showing that they have matured as a team this season. The opening day loss to the Lions obviously looks a lot different now, as does the loss to the 49ers two weeks ago.
Last season, Tampa Bay was a combined 1-3 vs. their two division rivals, and because of that, one of the last teams not to make the playoffs in the NFC.
The biggest sign that the Bucs may be a team headed for the top tier of the NFC may have come the week after the 45-point loss to the 49ers in San Francisco.
The fact that Head Coach Raheem Morris was able to get his team to bounce back and beat the Saints speaks volumes for his young team’s maturity. Tampa is not as good as the teams they have lost to this season, but they could be once December arrives, and that is when it matters most.
Be patient, Bucs fans, this is all a process and the fact that nobody is giving the Bucs much respect in the power polls should not bother you.
The Bucs have some work to do, as they are a minus-32 in net point differential. However, the season is still relatively young, and a win across the pond on Sunday against a Bears team, which was trounced by the Saints in Week 2, should give the young Buccaneers some confidence headed into the match.
Yes, I said match, the game is being played in London.
No. 14 Tennessee Titans: 230 Points
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Without Peyton Manning in Indy, many thought the Houston Texans were the clear-cut favorites to win the AFC South. However, the Tennessee Titans have had something to say about that so far this season.
Despite leading the South with a 3-2 record, the Titans are an anomaly this season. You simply never know which Tennessee team is going to show up and play.
Will it be the one that soundly pushed around the Baltimore Ravens and handed them their only loss this season, or will it be the one that allowed five touchdown passes to a less-than-dominant Steelers team during a Week 5 loss?
Tennessee has a very good defense, and despite surrendering 38 points to the Steelers, allows just 19 points per contest this season. If the offensive line can somehow hold up, and Chris Johnson can get back to being Chris Johnson, the Titans could be a surprise division winner this season.
This Sunday will probably tell us everything we may need to know about the Titans, as they prepare to take on the Texans for the top spot in the division.
Houston is missing their two best players in WR Andre Johnson and outside linebacker Mario Williams, and are playing their second team on the road who is coming off a bye week.
A loss on Sunday to the Texans at home, and this could be the last time we see the Titans in this poll.
No. 13 Washington Redskins: 240 Points
The Washington Redskins (3-2) are perhaps the first team that many would say do not deserve to be ranked ahead of the teams that sit below them in this poll. They have played the weakest schedule in terms of opponent’s win/loss record this season, but their defense bails them out.
Former Saints Head Coach and Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has his unit playing well. Washington is ranked sixth in the NFL, and has surrendered the second least amount of points of any team in these rankings.
However, many players, coaches and fans alike could be heard mumbling to themselves, "what a difference seven days makes in the NFL" this past week.
After leading the division with a 3-1 record, and with a chance to bury the 1-4 Philadelphia Eagles this past Sunday, the Skins lost 20-13 at home. They are now mired in a quarterback controversy, between Rex Grossman and some guy named Beck.
This is not an ideal situation for Head Coach Mike Shanahan, who is used to gamers named Elway and Cutler calling his offense. The Skins travel to play Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, and should come out of Charlotte with a win.
Following the game in Carolina, the Skins will encounter tough sledding with a road game in Buffalo, and then back home to face the 5-1 San Francisco 49ers.
At most, Shanahan has one more week to figure out this whole QB situation, and then throw it all against the wall to see if it sticks. Washington fans are hopeful their defense will keep them in most games, and eventually the offense can make a play or two to win more games.
I'm not sure if playing that way earns them an NFC East title, or even a Wild Card, but it's gotten them to No. 13 five games into the season, and that’s higher than I ever thought Washington would be this far into the season.
No. 12 New York Giants: 242.5 Points
After beating their upstate rivals, the Buffalo Bills last Sunday, the Giants are now 4-2 and all alone in first place in the NFC East. Giants fans must be saying to themselves, here we go again, another good start under Head Coach Tom Coughlin.
The Giants are by no means in a bad situation, but their schedule says they could be headed for disaster if they do not somehow become a better team during the bye week.
New York returns from their bye to play the winless Miami Dolphins, and should head into a tough stretch at 5-2. Following the game vs. Miami, Eli and Co. travel to play the Patriots, 49ers and then return home to play the Eagles. Following that three-week stretch, the Giants take on the Saints, Packers and Cowboys.
The good start is nothing new for the G-men under Coughlin. Last season, the Giants were 6-2 after eight games, and during the Coughlin (2004-present) era, have a combined 41-15 record over the first eight games of the season.
For whatever reason, and there have been many over the past several seasons, the Giants have a knack for falling apart during the second half with a combined 24-32 record since 2004. I am not sure how many wins are in the Giants second half schedule but if the past seven years are any indication, it won't be many with the teams they are slated to play.
New York is ranked No. 20 on defense and No. 12 on offense. They are simply going to have be better than those average numbers to win on the road in New England, San Francisco and New Orleans.
Eli Manning must continue to perform at his current level. He is one of only three quarterbacks with a passer rating over 100, and the brother of Peyton is currently in the top 10 in every important category that matters to a good quarterback.
Eli has to keep up with his current TD-to-interception ratio, and not revert to the interception machine he is known to be at times. Eli is capable of carrying the Giants to wins, but can he deliver seven of them in their final 10 games facing the teams they do? That is what it may take in order for the Giants to make the playoffs.
No. 11 Oakland Raiders: 252.5 Points
The move to Oakland for Carson Palmer is a match made in heaven. Al Davis must be looking down on his team, as Palmer joins Raiders Head Coach Hue Jackson, who recruited and coached him at Southern California (USC) and was an assistant in Cincinnati with Palmer.
Jackson worked closely with Palmer in Cincinnati, where he coached the wide receivers. Jackson was also present for Palmer's best season in 2005 when Palmer threw for 3,836 yards with 32 touchdown passes and a 101.1 rating while leading the Bengals to an AFC North title.
Palmer's left knee was shredded during a playoff loss to Pittsburgh that season, and although Palmer returned to play well, he has not since he tore a ligament and tendon in his passing elbow during the 2008 season.
Late news out of Oakland says Palmer will not play this Sunday, but the Raiders with less than stellar play from the QB position so far this season, are still at 4-2 and deep in the mix as a playoff contender.
The Raiders have done it with the AFC's best rushing attack, and the NFL's leading rusher, Darren McFadden. The Raiders average 160 yards per game and have scored a league-high 10 rushing touchdowns this season.
Their offense is strictly geared to run the football. Offensive coordinator Al Saunders averages almost 32 rushes per game, which is tops in the NFL. However, the Raiders are starting to get production from their former No. 7 overall pick, Darrius Heyward-Bey.
DHB has averaged almost 100 yards per game during the past three weeks and should get better with Palmer under center. With the Raiders rushing attack playing as potent as it is, Palmer will settle into the Raiders system, one he is already familiar with, very nicely.
At the moment, there are plenty of question marks surrounding Palmer. He has been a self-professed couch potato over the past seven weeks, and many are wondering which QB we will see. Will it be the Carson Palmer from 2005, or will it be the disgruntled, injured Palmer who threw six more interceptions than touchdowns last season?
With the way the improving Raiders are playing, I'm sure they will settle for something in between the two, and if that happens, the Raiders could be a serious contender come January.
No. 10 Cincinnati Bengals: 280 Points
While their former quarterback garnered all of the headlines this past week, all the 4-2 Cincinnati Bengals did was quietly prepare to enter their bye week, and Seattle next Sunday. The Bengals have to be considered, with the Lions and 49ers, as one of the bigger surprises in the league.
Like Detroit and San Francisco, the Bengals are performing well above expectations through the first quarter of the season. However, unlike those two teams, they are not getting any of the headlines, and that is OK with Head Coach Marvin Lewis.
Lewis seems to have settled his troops and instead of appearing in police blotter reports, the Bengals appear near the top of the AFC North with Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Two rookies are a very big reason why the Bengals are 4-2 this season, and in a similar style to their team, are not getting headlines like some other rookies in the league.
Quarterback Andy Dalton (TCU), and the Bengals No. 4 overall pick in April's draft, A.J Green (Georgia) have shined this season, and done so very quietly.
While it is true that neither Dalton nor Green posses a National Championship or a Heisman Trophy, they do have something that Carolina QB Cam Newton does not through six games: four wins.
Dalton has been serviceable this season, completing 62.4 percent of his passes. He has thrown more touchdowns (7) than interceptions (5), and has shown a knack for making big plays when it matters most down the stretch. Green has 29 receptions for 453 yards and four touchdowns. He leads all NFL rookie receivers in all three categories.
The Bengals defense is the real story in Cincinnati, and despite the loss of players like Jonathan Joseph, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has his group excelling on a consistent basis. They Bengals are a well-coached unit that is fast and aggressive. They tackle well, and although they do not have many interceptions (2), they are second in the NFL with seven recovered fumbles.
The Bengals have held high-scoring offenses like the Bills and 49ers under their season scoring averages. Buffalo, who was scoring 32.8 points per game (third in the NFL), was held to just 20 points, and the 49ers, the League’s seventh best scoring team, could muster only 13 points on the Cincy D.
The schedule has been generous so far this season, but it gets tougher. The Bengals must still face the Ravens and Steelers twice. However the season turns out, it is a safe bet that not even Mike Brown could screw up what looks like a very bright future for the Bengals and their fans.
No. 9 Pittsburgh Steelers: 355 Points
The Pittsburgh Steelers may be 4-2, but they do not look like the Steelers from the past few seasons.
Despite winning four of their last five games, the Steelers appear old and slow at times. Their four wins have come against teams with a combined 6-16 record, and although they still have the No. 1-ranked defense in the league, that may be a result of the competition and not the play of the Steel Curtain itself.
Injuries are again proving to be a concern on both sides of the ball. The defense is missing linebacker James Harrison (eye), nose tackle Casey Hampton (knee) and defensive end Aaron Smith (foot). If the Steelers are not careful, their QB could be next.
Ben Roethlisberger, who gave fans a scare with a foot injury a few weeks back, has been sacked 18 times behind an offensive line that has had five different tackles and three different guards so far this season.
After throwing five touchdowns vs. the Titans, Big Ben and the Steelers turned to an old friend for help in their win over the Jaguars last Sunday, their rushing attack. Rashard Mendenhall, who left the game with a hamstring injury the week before, rushed for 146 yards and one TD on 23 attempts.
Pittsburgh may stay with the run as they travel to play the Arizona Cardinals this week. Arizona has allowed an average of 130 rushing yards per game over the last four games, but the Steelers will need to be careful in the desert this week. The scenario smells like a trap game.
The Cardinals are coming off a bye week, and it would only be natural if Pittsburgh was caught looking ahead. They return home to host the Patriots next week, who beat them badly last season, and then the Ravens come to the Steel City. We all remember what Baltimore did to the Steelers in Week 1.
If the Steelers do not win this Sunday, they could be 4-4 when Ray Lewis and Co. come cawing for the Nov. 6 divisional showdown in Pittsburgh.
No. 8 New Orleans Saints: 367.5 Points
Very much like the team they face Sunday, the New Orleans Saints live and die on the arm of their quarterback. Drew Brees is the instrument that makes the team march, and more importantly, win.
When Brees plays well, the Saints win, when he does not, they sometimes lose. Last week was one of those days when Brees did not play great, and they lost. He did set a few records during the loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Brees became the first quarterback in NFL history with four consecutive 350-yard games, and he also set an NFL record with 20-plus completions in his 26th straight game.
However, he also threw three interceptions, and the last one was costly, as it came in the end zone late in the game on fourth down. The loss to Tampa Bay pulled the Buccaneers into a tie with the Saints for first place in the NFC South.
The Saints should be concerned about a few issues; one of them is their defense, which continues to drop in the ranks of the NFL. A unit that finished fourth in the league last season is currently No. 17, but more importantly, the Saints are allowing an average of 25.2 points per game. They ranked dead last in this poll in points.
The Saints are a minus-seven on the season in turnover ratio, and it doesn't matter how good the Saints offense and Drew Brees is, if the defense cannot improve then the Saints are destined for another early exit in the playoffs, or worse, missing the playoffs altogether.
If you think that offense alone will carry you to the Super Bowl in the pass-happy NFL these days, just ask Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots how that is working out for them. New England was 14-2 last season but without a defense, they could not beat the Jets at home in January, or the Ravens the year before.
The Saints should learn the lesson their opponent on Sunday is currently teaching any organization that is watching. Teams cannot be built to rely on one player, no matter how great he is.
The Colts did not build around Peyton Manning, they simply brought in players to complement him, and without him for a prolonged period for the first time in his career, they are winless.
Even the defense was built to hold a lead instead of trying to beat the opposition. Dwight Freeney and the rest of the Colts appear to be fast, but are glaringly undersized. They were built to get after the passer.
Teams tend to throw the ball when playing from behind, and that is what the Colts did with Manning on offense. They jumped on teams, forcing them to play from behind.
Indy never could stop the run, but they didn't need to most of the time. With Manning throwing for three and four touchdowns a week, who had time to run the football?
Teams like the Steelers, who were 3-1 last year without their starting QB, build through the system, not through a player. The Saints may be falling victim to this philosophy, and if you do not think so, then ask yourself this question. How many games could the Saints win without Drew Brees?
No. 7 San Diego Chargers: 375 Points
Rex Ryan said this past week that if he had the talent Norv Turner has worked with in San Diego over the past few seasons, he would probably have a couple of rings. This sparked a little emotion from Turner, but with the way the Chargers have played and not played during the past few seasons for him, I have to side with Rex on this one.
The Chargers are 4-1, but we do not know anything about them just yet. Their four wins have come against teams that are a combined 4-17 this season. Their only loss this season is against their AFC nemesis, the New England Patriots.
The Chargers, who finished last season with No. 1-ranked offense and defense in the NFL, are sixth on offense and fourth this season. They remain in the conversation as one of the top teams in the AFC despite playing average football at best. Whether they remain the conversation, and for that matter, the AFC playoff hunt, will be determined over the next five weeks.
San Diego will play the Jets, Chiefs and Bears on the road, while hosting the Packers and Raiders. The combined record of their next five opponents is 17-11. They need to play tougher and more disciplined, and it must start with quarterback Phillip Rivers.
Last year, Rivers was the second-best QB in the game; this year, he is far from it. He has thrown one more interception than touchdown, and is ranked No. 15 with an 87.6 passer rating. If the Chargers are to emerge from this five-week stretch still on top of the AFC West, then Rivers must play better over the next five games.
Pressure is already squarely on the Bolts shoulders as the Raiders acquired Carson Palmer this week and have already beaten the Jets earlier this year. The Chargers seem to win ugly this season, and considering the competition they have faced, winning ugly to bad teams could translate to narrow losses to good ones.
The Chargers are playing as if they are looking over their shoulder. After the events of this past week in Oakland, they may no longer have to look behind them, as the Raiders could take over the AFC West if San Diego does not start playing better football.
No. 6 Buffalo Bills: 405 Points
The Buffalo Bills are a good football team that deserves to be ranked this high right now. They have played the toughest schedule of any team in this poll in terms of opponent win/loss record.
Their opponents have a combined record of 25-16 and the Bills score points, lots of them. Buffalo has scored the second-most points in the NFL, and are a plus-nine in turnover differential, which is first in the league. The Bills secondary has forced 12 interceptions, returning three of them for touchdowns.
Led on offense by their quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bills are averaging 31.3 points per game. Fitzpatrick is now 8-11 with Buffalo over the past two seasons, as the Harvard graduate has thrown for 4,477 yards, 35 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions.
He was the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for September, and will turn 29 on Nov. 24.
The former seventh-round pick is close to signing an extension with the Bills. Currently, he is under contract for $3.195 million in base salary this season. However, ESPN's Chris Mortensen is reporting that a deal could be reached next week.
Look for the Bills to finish in the hunt for a wild card in the AFC, but do not be surprised if they finish the season out of playoff contention. That is by no means a knock and would still be a great improvement over last season, but they still have issues on defense, and the injury bug has found its way into their locker room.
Their bye week has come at the perfect time. The Bills have nine players of note dealing with injuries. Left tackle, defensive line, and linebacker have been hit the hardest. Outside linebackers Shawne Merriman (Achilles' heel) and Chris Kelsay (calf) sat out the Giants game, as did Pro Bowl NT Kyle Williams (bone spurs in his foot).
The Bills must find a way to rush the opposing QB. They are currently last in the NFL with only four sacks, and 21 defensive players currently have more sacks than do the Bills entire defense. They must also cut down on the yards they allow per game. In their loss to the Giants this past Sunday, Buffalo allowed 400-plus yards for a fifth consecutive game.
It is unlikely that the Bills will finish ahead of New England, but beating the Jets for a wild card spot could be a more realistic goal. One thing is for sure in Buffalo; Head Coach Chan Gailey was indeed the right hire at the right time for an organization in search of an identity.
No. 5 Detroit Lions: 467.5 Points
Despite losing to the 49ers last Sunday, the Detroit Lions are 5-1, and very much in contention to earn their first playoff berth since 1999.
Winning the division for the first time since 1993 may be a tall order with the Super Bowl champions ahead of them, but using the word playoffs and saying Detroit Lions in the same sentence is OK with fans in Detroit.
The thing that makes the Lions a very dangerous team is the balance they have on both sides of the ball. The 1993 team had a great running back in Barry Sanders, but that was it. Rodney Peete was the QB and Herman Moore the team's leading receiver. The 2011 Lions possess a great wide receiver, a very talented quarterback, and a potential Hall of Fame defensive lineman.
Calvin Johnson is on pace to complete one of the best seasons by a receiver in recent years. His nine touchdown receptions in the first five games set an NFL record. Not only is Johnson having a great season, but also he has a great nickname.
With his helmet visor covering half of his face in the Lions metallic blue and silver uniform, combined with his freakish play-making athletic ability, Johnson is referred to as Megatron.
Megatron was known as the robotic leader of the of the Decepticons in the Transformers franchise. Of course, no wideout is great without their quarterback, and Johnson has a good one, who could be great one day in Matthew Stafford.
With great pocket presence, Stafford is on his way to a great season. He is sixth in yards, third with 15 touchdowns, and fourth with a 98.2 passer rating. He has also been protected this year. He has already played in twice as many games this season as he did last season.
However, if Stafford should go down, the Lions are no better than a .500 team.
The defense is also greatly improved this season, and at times, playing lights out. Led by the reigning Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl lineman Ndamukong Suh, the Lions are not being pushed around this season, not even in defeat. The Suh Squad, which refers to some of the members of this up-and-coming unit, are Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, and first round pick Nick Fairley.
The Lions defense is ranked No. 12 in the NFL after finishing No. 21 last season.
Even in defeat on Sunday, The Lions and their Head Coach Jim Schwartz showed the kind of fighting spirit necessary to be a great team in this league. You have seen the postgame display of affection between Schwartz and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.
A team as young and talented as the Lions can only get better as a season progresses, and if Stafford can stay healthy, you should expect no fewer than 11 wins from Detroit this season.
No. 4 San Francisco 49ers: 475 Points
The San Francisco 49ers can probably start resting starters by Week 13.
While the 49ers have not actually clinched a playoff berth just yet, they seem to be a mortal lock for a division title, as they lead the horrible NFC West with a 5-1 record. In fact, the Niners have more wins than the rest of the division combined.
San Francisco actually had more points than the third-place team in this poll but fell to fourth when the team ahead of them picked up five bonus points for leading a statistical category. New Head Coach Jim Harbaugh has brought a college-like atmosphere to his locker room and NFL players are buying into what he is selling.
The Niners defeated the previously undefeated Lions on Sunday, and have road wins against two teams (Eagles, Bengals) in the Eastern time zone. In one of those games, San Francisco came back from a 20-point deficit in Philadelphia to beat Michael Vick and the dream team Eagles.
The 49ers win the old-fashioned way. They play good defense (fourth in points against) and win the turnover battle (third in NFL at plus-8) each week. Harbaugh uses his rushing attack, which is led by Frank Gore, and has gained over 200 yards in each of the past two weeks, to protect leads, and help the passing game make necessary plays to stay on the field while scoring points in the process.
Speaking of Smith, he takes very good care of his offense. He is ranked eighth in the league with a 95.2 passer rating, and has thrown eight touchdowns, with just two interceptions. He is on track to complete a career best in completion percentage. Currently, Smith is accurate with his passes 63.3 percent of the time.
Harbaugh will not let Smith throw the ball all over the field but he does not need to, and if the last six years tell us anything, Smith cannot do it anyway. Smith’s leading pass catcher is his tight end Vernon Davis, and that is common when coaches are trying to control the flow of a game with their quarterbacks.
Another telling sign of how much the Niners play old-fashioned football is Smith's 1090 passing yards, which ranks 25 out of 33 quarterbacks this season. San Fran also wins the kicking battle each week, as former Eagles placekicker David Akers is 13-of-15 this season.
Like I said, the Niners win the old-fashioned way, and old-fashioned football has a way of succeeding in the postseason.
With five wins in six games, and five games remaining to be played against their NFC West division foes, San Francisco may even have the luxury of a week off before playing their first playoff game in nearly 10 seasons.
No. 3 Baltimore Ravens: 477.5 Points
Despite trailing the Patriots in almost every NFL poll, including this one, the Baltimore Ravens appear to be the most balanced team in the AFC. The Ravens are winning games decisively, as they have beaten the Steelers, Rams, Jets, and Texans by an average of 22.5 points.
For the last 11 years the Baltimore Ravens have dominated on defense in the NFL, and this season is no exception. Once again led by 16-year veteran Ray Lewis, the Ravens have the third-ranked defense in the NFL and show no signs of letting up.
Besides Lewis, Ed Reed is still prowling around in the secondary and defensive lineman Haloti Ngata is dominating up front. The Ravens are also rushing the passer better than they have in recent seasons. After registering a franchise-low 27 sacks last season, Baltimore has 15 through five games this season.
The Ravens have surrendered just 71 points through five games this season, which are just 16 fewer than the historic defense from their Super Bowl winning season of 2000.
The problem is with their offense, and although the Ravens are averaging almost 30 points a game, they lack an offensive identity at times, mostly due to the average play of quarterback Joe Flacco.
The fourth-year signal caller has struggled at times this year and has not quite made the proverbial next step as many had hoped he would. He is not having a great statistical year, and seems to be making some bad decisions at crucial times.
Flacco has completed just 51.4 percent of his passes, but still seems to make the big throw when his team needs it. Confused by the last two sentences, join the crowd in Baltimore.
Flacco is like that box of chocolates in Forrest Gump, you simply never know which QB your going to get on a play-to-play basis.
One reason for Flacco’s average play and failed progress is the fact that he did not get the contract extension he wanted prior to the beginning of the season. Some inside the organization believe the contract, or lack of one is on Flacco’s mind.
The Ravens wanted to wait until this season was completed, and so far, the jury remains deadlocked on whether Flacco gets the high-dollar, franchise-QB type of deal he is seeking.
Bailing Flacco out is perhaps the best all-purpose running back in the NFL, Ray Rice. His 700 yards from scrimmage is fifth in the NFL, and like his quarterback, Rice has shown the ability to make the big plays when needed.
Only the Ravens and Eagles entered the season with a chance to make it back to the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season. Many experts and prognosticators believed the Eagles, and not the Ravens, would be that team.
While there is a lot of season to play, Baltimore has a very favorable schedule the rest of the way. They travel to play the 1-5 Jaguars this week and then return home to host the 1-4 Arizona Cardinals before a week nine showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers for AFC North supremacy.
Baltimore should enter the playoffs as a host team, which is something they have not done during the past three postseasons under John Harbaugh.
No. 2 New England Patriots: 500 Points
Bill Belichick could not possibly have imagined things would turn out this way for a second straight season.
His offense continues to steamroll the opposition scoring almost 31 points per contest while racking up an NFL-best 475 yards per game while his defense is ranked last in the NFL, allowing almost 424 yards per game.
This fact cannot sit well with the former defensive guru, who made his mark as a defensive coordinator with the New York Giants during the late '80s.
However, like last season, a poor statistical defense does not seem to hurt the Patriots during the regular season. Tom Brady and company are 5-1, and rolling right along. Where it might matter, and most certainly has over the past two seasons, is in the playoffs.
While Tom Brady won his 20th straight regular season home game and the Patriots, their 31st in a row at Gillette Stadium this past Sunday, both are 0-2 in their last two playoff games at home.
Even thought this not your dad's NFL in terms of how the game is played these days, defense is an important component come postseason time. The Patriots simply will not win a Super Bowl with a secondary that allows an average of 322.2 passing yards each week.
The Packers had the No. 5-ranked defense in the league last season, but many will point out that the Saints and Colts won Super Bowls with defenses ranked in the lower third of the league. I would counter with the fact that both defenses had stars at the right positions,who made big plays when it mattered most.
This could explain why Belichick acquired Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis this past offseason.
Brady, Belichick, and Co. have a schedule that favors them the rest of the season. New England faces stiff competition from the Steelers next week, and then the Jets a few weeks later. The Pats could easily be 12-4, or even 13-3 heading back into the postseason with a less-than-stellar defense.
Only time will tell if Belichick can make the moves that gets his team past the first round. I'm betting that no matter who is standing on the sidelines, he still needs a good defense on the field to win in the playoffs.
No. 1 Green Bay Packers: 560 Points
The Green Bay Packers are the league's clear-cut No. 1 ranked team, as Aaron Rodgers is leading the way for this year's MVP race. He leads almost every major category for quarterbacks (except yards) and has a 122.4 passer rating, which is almost 18-points higher than Tom Brady.
Rodgers has thrown 17 touchdown passes and just three interceptions. He directs an offense that is first in the NFL in points scored (197), and average points per game (32.8). Green Bay is a plus-83 in net points differential.
If the Packers do have some question marks, it certainly is not with the offense. Their defense, which finished the year ranked No. 5 last season, is currently ranked No. 24 allowing 383.7 yards per game.
As they do not with the Patriots, the numbers do not tell the whole story with Green Bay’s defense either. Take last Sunday's win over the Rams. The Packers gave up 424 total yards and allowed the Rams to freely move the ball between the 20-yard lines last Sunday, but St. Louis scored just three points as Green Bay continued a season-long trend of bending but not breaking in the red zone.
The defense is banged up a little. Defensive leaders Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews have missed significant practice time the last four weeks but have answered the bell on game days. The unit does continue to produce turnovers, as the Packers are a plus-seven this season.
This is a team clearly capable of repeating, and with a win over the Vikings on Sunday in Minnesota, can go into its bye week 7-0 for the first time since 1962. The Packers can also take the week off with the first 13-game winning streak (going back to last season) in the 93-year history of the franchise.