NFL Power Rankings: Separating the Contenders from the Pretenders
The midway point of the 2011 NFL season is nearly upon us and that means it's time for NFL Power Rankings. We're going to break down whether teams like the Baltimore Ravens and San Diego Chargers are real contenders, or if they're more like what we saw this past weekend.
With that said, let's see which teams are the contenders and pretenders in what's turning out to be an epic football season.
Enough with waiting around, let’s dive in and get after it.
32. Miami Dolphins
There’s not much to say here, is there? The Dolphins have two things going for them right now:
1. They’re the leading contenders for Andrew Luck (“lucky” guy).
2. You managed to keep yourself in the news by blowing a 15-0 lead to Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos with three minutes left in the game—further escalating the hot-button topic of whether or not he’s legit.
Save yourself until we get there.
31. Indianapolis Colts
It’s hard to have the Colts sitting ahead of the Dolphins after getting done in 62-7 at the hands of the New Orleans Saints, but they didn’t lose a 15-0 lead with three minutes left in the game either.
Call me insane, but I think this Colts team has somewhat of a shot at beating the Tennessee Titans this week in Nashville.
30. St. Louis Rams
The Rams have been a huge disappointment for a team that has one of the most talented young quarterbacks in the league in Sam Bradford.
I can’t really blame Bradford or Steven Jackson too much considering the Rams defense has been putrid, especially against the run where they rank dead last.
How much fun would that time leading up to the NFL draft be, if the Rams had the first overall pick?
29. Arizona Cardinals
Andy Reid must have known something that the rest of the NFL didn’t know—that Kevin Kolb isn’t as good as we all thought he was.
I haven’t given up on him yet, but it’s definitely looking like the Cardinals got bamboozled by the Eagles front office.
Larry Fitzgerald has to be absolutely beside himself by now and wishing he had waited to sign that extension until after the season is over.
28. Washington Redskins
Rex Grossman gets benched in favor of John Beck, Santana Moss is out for the next 5-7 weeks and Tim Hightower is lost for the year with a torn ACL.
What else could go wrong with the Washington Redskins? How about Chris Cooley getting put on IR yesterday along with Hightower?
What sucks for Beck is that he’s going to take the vast majority of the heat that comes this team's way, when the truth is he really only has one weapon (Fred Davis) in the passing game.
Unfortunately for Skins fans, it’s going to get worse in D.C. before it gets better.
27. Minnesota Vikings
There’s a lot of optimism right now in the Twin Cities with the insertion of Christian Ponder into the starting lineup and impressing everyone against the defending Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.
He played well and didn’t look rattled or phased by the moment, which is a great trait to have in such a young QB given the situation.
He opened up the passing attack by connecting on a 72-yard bomb on the opening play of the game, which set the tone and allowed Adrian Peterson to scamper for 175 yards and a touchdown.
If Ponder can continue this trend of rookie QBs making an impact in the NFL, the Vikings will soon climb up this list.
Side Note: Cornerback Chris Cook was charged with trying to strangle his girlfriend in the early morning hours of October 22nd.
The Vikings are already without Antoine Winfield, so things are looking bleak in the secondary and this could haunt the Vikes the rest of the way.
26. Denver Broncos
OK, we're finally here! Bring it on Tebow haters!
Tim Tebow looked awful for 55 minutes of that game against the Miami Dolphins, but then he turned the last five minutes into “Tebow Time.”
He brought the Broncos back from a 15-0 deficit with just three minutes to play, albeit against the NFL’s worst team.
I don’t care about his mechanics, his release of the ball, where the ball ends up or what team it was that he was playing against (he didn't write the schedule), all I or anybody else cares about is getting the “W.”
Getting that “W” requires the leader of any team to have that clutch gene and he has it. He just does. It’s not pretty, or will probably ever be, but it’s effective.
The Broncos are a better franchise now with him leading this team.
25. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks are an absolute mess on offense. They have Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst to choose from at quarterback, giving Seahawks fans nightmares of having to long for the days of Seneca Wallace.
They also lost Marshawn Lynch to a freak back injury just before game time this past week.
Throw on top of that how they overpaid for Sidney Rice and snatched him away from the Minnesota Vikings, which they’re now finding out the hard way (makes you wonder how this franchise didn’t learn the first time when they overpaid for Nate Burleson), and you have a recipe for offensive disaster.
I think it’s time for Pete Carroll to stop with the practical jokes and start getting serious about coaching this team.
24. Cleveland Browns
The Browns have some nice pieces they can move forward with in Joe Haden, Joe Thomas and Colt McCoy, however, they still struggle in other areas of importance.
They are 3-3 and aren’t doormats, but until they figure out the deal with Peyton Hillis and the running game and have someone emerge as a true No. 1 WR threat, they just won’t be able to contend in a tough AFC North Division.
23. Carolina Panthers
There’s not much to say here other than that Cam Newton is the real deal. He’s a star in the making and the Panthers are heading in the right direction.
Steve Smith has rejuvenated his career and is looking like receiver we’ve come to know over the years.
They do, however, need to figure out how to get stops on defense. The Panthers' defense ranks 30th against the run and 21st against the pass. This must change in order to help Newton and that high-powered attack.
22. Jacksonville Jaguars
Blaine Gabbert led his team to an impressive, albeit ugly, victory over the Baltimore Raven this past Monday night.
The win was Gabbert’s first of his young career—the first of hopefully many more for the rookie QB.
The Jags need to put some pieces around him, especially at the receiver position, if they expect to develop as an offense. Hopefully the addition of Mike Sims-Walker back to this team will fill that vacancy.
Marcedes Lewis was expected to build off an impressive 10-touchdown season a year ago, but has yet to score one this season—letting one slip out of his hands in the Monday night game.
The defense, which is led by Daryl Smith and Paul Posluszny, has toughness and character and that should play out the rest of the year behind their leadership.
21. Kansas City Chiefs
After starting the season 0-3, the Chiefs have turned things around and are now 3-3. Improved play from Matt Cassel at the quarterback position and the emergence of Jackie Battle at running back are major cause for the turnaround.
It seems like overnight they went from all the “Suck for Luck” talk to being in the thick of things over in the AFC West.
They have a legitimate shot at winning the division now having just beaten the Oakland Raiders—and the San Diego Chargers not wanting to stake a serious claim to it.
20. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles’ bye week really couldn’t have come at a better time. They stumbled into the bye narrowly escaping the Washington Redskins with a 20-13 victory.
Michael Vick and that offense are as sick as it comes and LeSean McCoy is the most underrated player in the NFL, but until that defense plays up to the amount of money that organization is dumping into it, they won’t be doing anything but fighting it out with the Skins for last place in the NFC East.
19. Dallas Cowboys
Ah, the enigma that is the Dallas Cowboys. We know they can hammer on the likes of the St. Louis Rams, but can they run with the big dogs in the NFL? They did give the New England Patriots a good fight right down to the end and they beat the San Francisco 49ers on the road.
It’s just hard to come up with a concrete answer to what they’re all about.
Tony Romo gets blasted repeatedly in the media for coming up short in clutch situations and maybe I’m just missing it, but I haven’t seen or heard any of his teammates defend him—then again I don’t catch local Dallas television.
I think they’re headed in the right direction—"all we need is something to bring it all together."
(Anyone catch the Lou Brown quote I just dropped on you all?)
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This team frustrates me. They have Josh Freeman, who has the brightest future of any young quarterback in the league, and it shows when they went out and handled their business against the New Orleans Saints in one of his many fourth-quarter comebacks—yet they fall on their faces against the Chicago Bears.
If they don’t turn things around fast, they’ll find themselves too far behind the Saints and Atlanta Falcons in that tough NFC South Division, and on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.
17. Chicago Bears
Speaking of teams you don’t know what to make of—the Chicago Bears seem to have two things going for them—a real solid defense like always and Matt Forte.
You could make a case for Matt Forte being the reason they have four wins so far this year. You hear that Jerry Angelo? "Pay the man his money."
(Dropping some Teddy KGB on you now.)
It’s too bad they have an offensive line that myself, and a handful of Bleacher Report writers would dominate, because Jay Cutler would be so dominant with some time to actually survey the field and step into a throw.
Unfortunately Forte and Cutler can only do so much, and quite frankly, it won’t be enough to get them back into the playoffs this year, let alone the NFC Championship game again.
16. Tennessee Titans
Their 41-7 beatdown at the hands of the Houston Texans was really surprising to me, especially with Andre Johnson out of the lineup.
This is the same team that went into Baltimore and beat the Ravens back in Week 2—the same team that found a passing game with Matt Hasselbeck.
This is also the same team that has a running back that can’t sniff 50 yards rushing in a game and thinks it’s not his fault.
Of course it’s not Chris Johnson’s fault. Why would it be your fault, Chris? I mean, you’re the one who got your money—you’re the one who proclaimed you would get 2,500 yards in a season and came up roughly 1,136 yards short—not that I was keeping track or anything.
It’s a shame stuff like this has to get brought up, because it’s going to become a distraction for this team and subsequently start their downward spiral out of the playoff hunt.
15. Oakland Raiders
People will be mad at me for not having the Raiders lower, but they have pieces that can get them to where it is they want to go.
I know they were just taken out behind the woodshed and beaten like a rented mule by the Kansas City Chiefs 28-0, but losing Jason Campbell stunned the team for a bit. Once Carson Palmer gets into the flow of that offense, they will right the ship.
Also, Michael Bush is no slouch. He’s a starting running back on half the teams in the NFL. The only real concern for me comes out of the kicking game. The loss of Sebastian Janikowski could prove vital.
14. New York Giants
Eli Manning is quietly having a really good year. He’s thrown for almost 1,800 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s also cut down on the interceptions this year having only thrown five, compared to eight picks for both Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
The loss of Steve Smith to the Philadelphia Eagles was thought to hurt this offense, but really turned out to be a blessing in disguise with the emergence of Victor Cruz.
Manning and the G-Men could make some noise in the NFC, but they need to tighten up on their run defense which currently ranks 23rd.
13. Houston Texans
Arian Foster and the Houston Texans made a statement against the Tennessee Titans with a 34-point Texas-sized butt whoopin.’
Foster is obviously over the injury that caused him to miss the first three games of the season, however, I’ll remain skeptical until I see them make it through the Jacksonville Jaguars, which has all the makings of a classic trap game.
12. New York Jets
Rexy and the Jets showed me something this past weekend with their stellar come-from-behind win against a tough San Diego Chargers team.
They do still need to solve their issues with run defense, but if Sanchez can manage that offense enough to consistently put points on the board, their defense should be able to do the rest.
I also like the fact that Rex Ryan says he will stop talking about the rings. Just focus on the task at hand, big guy.
11. Cincinnati Bengals
Don’t look now, but the Bengals are on the uptick. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are paying instant dividends as rookies and that defense is top notch—the main reasons I am not afraid to rank them here.
They actually have a great test in front of them this weekend. They travel out to the Northwest to take on the Seattle Seahawks who lead the league in rush defense—allowing 3.2 yards per carry.
Winning this game will go a long way in for this team moving forward.
10. Baltimore Ravens
Joe Flacco looked awful in the Monday night affair against the Jacksonville Jaguars, throwing for just 137 yards on 38 attempts. That won’t win many football games, no matter how tough your defense is.
What also won’t win you many games is feeding Ray Rice the ball only eight times. With a close game like that and all the trouble Flacco was having, what were the Ravens thinking not feeding Rice the rock? He should have had 25-30 carries.
As much as Flacco hurt the team, bad play-calling was just as much to blame.
9. San Diego Chargers
The Bolts are coming off a deflating 27-21 loss at the hands of the New York Jets, where they gave up an 11-point lead in the second half.
Philip Rivers has struggled to get in a groove this season—finally getting Antonio Gates back into this offense will be a big step in correcting his problems.
There’s enough veteran leadership on this team to keep this ship afloat—beating the Kansas City Chiefs this Monday night will go a long way to assuring it will.
8. Detroit Lions
After a roaring 5-0 start, the Detroit Lions been tamed now two weeks in a row.
This last loss to the Atlanta Falcons was especially frustrating because stud-quarterback, Matthew Stafford, limped off the field and is listed as day-to-day.
Losing Jahvid Best is rough enough—they can ill-afford to lose their quarterback again, for any amount of time—especially if they want to stay two games behind the Green Bay Packers.
7. Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta has turned things around, winning two in a row since losing to the Green Bay Packers back on October 9th.
Matt Ryan gave us his best Willis Reed impersonation, coming back in the game after going to the locker room to check on his ankle.
Matty Ice reentered the game and hit Harry Douglas right away on a 49-yard pass across the middle.
The Falcons defense then clamped down and denied the Lions the chance to tie, proving they are legitimate contenders in the NFC.
6. Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills have had a great year in comparison to recent years. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson have energized this team to accomplish more than any of us had expected to this point.
If they want to continue this upward trend as an organization, they must correct the mistakes that caused them to lose their last game against the New York Giants.
The defense will need someone to step up and establish a pass rush after losing Shawne Merriman to the Injured Reserve list.
5. San Francisco 49ers
You have to love and respect what Jim Harbaugh has done for the San Francisco 49ers in so little time. He's managed to turn Alex Smith into a quarterback—a more than serviceable one at that.
They really took it to an up-and-down Tampa Bay Buccaneers team 48-3 and they handed the Lions their first loss, so they can run with some of the better teams.
Their defense is good and Patrick Willis is a beast, but as long as Smith is quarterback, I reserve the right to restrain myself from slotting them higher until given more reason to believe.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
The 35-7 drubbing the Pittsburgh Steelers were handed by the Baltimore Ravens back in Week 1 had the sports world wondering what was going on in the Steel City.
But Mike Tomlin is a great coach and got his team back from that dark place the Ravens sent them.
Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace have become one of the scariest, if not the scariest quarterback-receiver tandems in the league.
They’ve gone 5-1since that massacre, including winning the last three in a row. The Steelers are looking like the team that got to the Super Bowl last year.
This Sunday’s game against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will say a lot about where this team is headed in 2011.
3. New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees and Co. showed why the New Orleans Saints have one of the scariest offenses in the NFL on Sunday night—handing the Indianapolis Colts a 62-7 spanking. I wonder if they stole the Colts' lunch money too?
Brees heaved it around the Superdome for 325 yards and five touchdowns. Everyone was catching touchdowns in this game—I'm pretty sure a pregnant woman caught a touchdown coming out of the tunnel on the way back to her seat.
It kind of reminded me of the way the New England Patriots ran up the score on teams a couple years ago. It just didn’t seem like the Saints ever let their foot off the gas.
Next to LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles is the most underrated player in the NFL. He’s twice the player Reggie Bush is—maybe more.
If they keep playing at this high of a level, they’re sure to have a date with the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
2. New England Patriots
Tom Brady is following up last year’s unanimous League MVP performance with another amazing season.
Aside from the one slip-up against the Buffalo Bills, Brady and the New England Patriots offense have been virtually perfect.
The one flaw that could keep them out of the Super Bowl this season is their defense. They’re awful. They rank 31st against the pass and 26th overall.
This weekend will be a big test for the defense as they face Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers. If they can avoid giving up the big play to Mike Wallace, they should find themselves with a chance to win in the end.
Expect a hard-fought game where the winner will most likely have the inside-track heading into the playoffs.
1. Green Bay Packers
What else can you say about the Green Bay Packers, other than they are playing at a level above any other team in the league right now.
Individually, Aaron Rodgers is playing a level of quarterback that none of us may have seen before—it’s almost perfect. He may be playing at a higher level than any other quarterback has ever played (it makes me sick to my stomach as a die-hard Minnesota Vikings fan).
It really looks like the only way the Packers get beat is by beating themselves. As long as they can avoid trap games and injuries, they should have an easy road back to the Super Bowl with a chance to defend their crown.
If you like these Power Rankings, check out Brian's other articles.
Brian can also be found at Out of My League, where he compiles fantasy football rankings each week.