NFL Power Rankings Week 8: Rating All 32 Teams Based on Strength of Schedule
Nearing the midpoint of the 2011 NFL season, it is time to power rank the 32 teams in the league using key factors such as wins, point differential and strength of schedule.
This won’t be so much a ranking of the worst record straight through to the best record; there may be a two-win team ranked better than a three-win team or vice versa.
32. Indianapolis Colts (0-8)
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At this point in the season, it certainly seems like the Indianapolis Colts are going all-in for Andrew Luck. The Colts desperately miss Peyton Manning’s play at quarterback, but beyond just the loss of their three-time MVP, the Colts are a mess.
The defense ranks last in the NFL with 252 points allowed, a whopping 45 points more than the next-last team. The offensive line has been poor and the defense ranks 28th in the league in touchdown passes allowed and 31st in rushing yards allowed.
31. St. Louis Rams (1-6)
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The St. Louis Rams have been absolutely brutal this year, and there’s no denying that. Despite yesterday’s 31-21 win over the New Orleans Saints, the Rams still have a point differential of minus-101, and lag five games back in the NFC West, a division for which they were expected to be strongly in contention.
However—and not to make too many excuses for a Rams team that looks awful week in and week out—their schedule has been a nightmare. They’ve played the last two Super Bowl champions so far this year and the combined record of their seven opponents is 31-19, a playoff-caliber .620 winning percentage team.
The only three teams the Rams have played with a losing record reside in the NFC East, and two of them (the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles) are never easy opponents, despite their 3-4 records collectively.
That being said, the Rams have all the makings of the ’07, ’08 and ’09 Rams teams that won three, two and one game.
30. Miami Dolphins (0-7)
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Forgive me St. Louis Rams fans, for ranking a winless Miami Dolphins team ahead of a Rams team coming off a strong win against a top-notch team.
The Dolphins, despite being 0-7, have been outscored by just 59 points this year, an average of eight points per game. They’ve had three tough losses (17-16 against Cleveland, 18-15 against the Denver Broncos in the Tim Tebow Game and 20-17 against the New York Giants), essentially meaning they are a few plays away from being 3-4.
They also play in the toughest division in the NFL, as the other three teams are all legit playoff contenders. The schedule the rest of the way for the Dolphins is brutal—New England, Buffalo twice, Philadelphia, the New York Jets and a road game in Dallas—so this may be the highest ranking the Dolphins get this season.
29. Arizona Cardinals (1-6)
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This spot is a toss-up between the Arizona Cardinals (1-6) and Seattle Seahawks (2-5), but the Cardinals get the nod because of the way in which they blew yesterday’s contest against the Baltimore Ravens.
Sure, the Cardinals needed to get the big lead before blowing it, but they looked downright awful in the third quarter, trying to protect an 18-point lead. Since the opening-day win over the Carolina Panthers, the Cardinals are 0-6, with losses to subpar teams such as the Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings.
Kevin Kolb hasn’t impressed too many people, although it’s difficult to grade him behind the Cardinals’ paper-mache offensive line. Free-agent signee Stewart Bradley has been a bust, and outside of safety Adrian Wilson, the defensive backfield has been brutal, allowing the third-most passing yards in the league thus far.
28. Seattle Seahawks (2-5)
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It’s hard to believe the 2-5 Seattle Seahawks are in second place in the NFC West. The magic this team had after beating the New Orleans Saints in last year’s wild-card round playoffs is long gone.
The quarterback carousel has been ineffective with both Tarvaris Jackson (78.5 rating) and Charlie Whitehurst (62.9 rating). Sidney Rice has just one touchdown catch at the near-halfway point of the season, and Marshawn Lynch is at 3.6 yards per carry.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6)
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This is an awful team, although they’ve managed to stay out of the bottom five by virtue of a two-point win over the Tennessee Titans on opening day and an impressive five-point Monday night win against the Baltimore Ravens.
Still, the Jaguars have the making of a 4-12 team. Blaine Gabbert seems to be regressing on a weekly basis, the offensive line isn’t helping Gabbert out much and 2010 first-round pick Tyson Alualu is looking more and more like a bust.
26. Denver Broncos (2-6)
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Like the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Denver Broncos have just two wins—a two-point win and a three-point win, this one against a winless Miami Dolphins team.
The AFC West isn’t the toughest division, but the Broncos’ 0-2 record against divisional foes isn’t helping their cause. Tim Tebow is one of the nicest guys in the world, but he isn’t going to be a successful NFL quarterback.
Like most teams in the bottom of the power pool, the Broncos’ offensive line has been a major weakness this season, and outside of rookie linebacker Von Miller, the defense has been largely a disappointment.
25. Minnesota Vikings (2-6)
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Despite strong seasons from running back Adrian Peterson and defensive end Jared Allen, the Minnesota Vikings are mired in last place in the NFC Central.
The Vikings have just two wins on the year, against the 1-6 Arizona Cardinals and the 2-6 Carolina Panthers, and they started the year 0-4. Donovan McNabb has since been benched, and although Christian Ponder may one day turn out to be a successful quarterback, he won’t be helped by the shaky offensive line.
24. Washington Redskins (3-4)
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Remember when the Washington Redskins were 3-1 and in first place in the NFC East? It’s been all downhill since then, and Mike Shanahan is learning the hard way that it’s tough to win football games without a competent quarterback.
Prior to the season, Shanahan was content on the duo of Rex Grossman and John Beck as his starters; since then, Grossman has been benched and Beck is still winless in his career as a starter.
The injuries (Chris Cooley, Tim Hightower and Kory Lichtensteiger) won’t help, but an overall inept offense may be the more telling problem. The Redskins’ 116 points-scored rank is just 26th in the league, drowning out a seventh-ranked defense. Yesterday’s blanking at the hands of the Buffalo Bills magnified the poor play by the offensive line.
23. Cleveland Browns (3-4)
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The Cleveland Browns are the lone non-playoff threat in the AFC North, and having to play the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and even the surprising Cincinnati Bengals six times, won’t help a team’s playoff chances.
The Browns’ three wins have come against the winless Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins, plus a 6-3 win over the Seattle Seahawks that featured two sets of inept offenses. The Browns’ opponents this year have just a .420 winning percentage, but Cleveland still has the fifth-worst scoring offense in the NFL.
Colt McCoy seems to be just an average quarterback and the Madden Curse has caught up with Peyton Hillis.
22. Carolina Panthers (2-6)
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Despite a 2-6 record thus far, Carolina Panthers fans have to be looking at this season as a success for one main reason: the emergence of franchise quarterback Cam Newton, the No. 1 overall pick in this past year’s draft.
Newton is on pace for nearly 4,800 passing yards, a mark that would be by far a single-season rookie record. He already owns the rookie record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (seven), having topped Vince Young’s total from the 2006 season just eight games into his career.
Newton has resurrected Steve Smith as a bona fide No. 1 receiver, and the duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart (plus Newton) has given the Panthers the NFL’s fifth-ranked rushing offense, but the problems arise in the sort of injuries.
Three-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jon Beason is gone for the season, as is starting right tackle Jeff Otah. The Panthers have a staggering 11 players already on IR, including four on the offensive line. Even so, the Panthers have managed to play every team tough this year, as five of their six losses have come by seven or fewer points.
21. Tennessee Titans (4-3)
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Chris Johnson in 2011 will go down in history as a lesson to all running backs who are contemplating a lengthy holdout. Johnson has been downright mediocre this season—in fact, he’s actually been awful. He is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry and is now all but splitting time with Javon Ringer.
Meanwhile, Matt Hasselbeck has enjoyed a quietly impressive year in Tennessee, although the Titans have enjoyed a fairly easy schedule thus far, meeting Cleveland, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Denver.
20. Oakland Raiders (4-3)
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The Oakland Raiders have the bye week to think about the 28-0 thrashing they were handed by the Kansas City Chiefs last week.
Carson Palmer imploded in his first action at quarterback for the Raiders, and he will have to play substantially better for the 4-3 Raiders to contend in the AFC.
The defense—particularly the ability to stop the run—has been a strength for the Raiders all year, but the questionable offensive line won’t help a quarterback seeing his first real action in about a year.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-3)
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This team did beat both the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons this year, but they’ve been extremely inconsistent on a weekly basis.
Josh Freeman has regressed mightily from a strong 2010 campaign, and Mike Williams isn’t having the same impact at receiver.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers squeaked out wins against the Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts, lost to the Detroit Lions and got killed by the San Francisco 49ers. Yesterday’s tough loss to the Chicago Bears would have been a statement win for the Bucs, but instead it puts them right in the middle of the pack in both the NFC South and the entire NFL.
18. Kansas City Chiefs (4-3)
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Is anyone outside of Kansas City aware this team has won four consecutive games? Early on, it appeared the Chiefs were in the running for Andrew Luck; now the team has an outside shot at getting back in the race for the AFC West.
Early season injuries to Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry were devastating, but the Chiefs have moved on with impressive play from key members of the defense, notably Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson.
Tonight’s Monday Night Football game against the San Diego Chargers was a big opportunity for the Chiefs to jump right back into the hunt in the AFC West—and they did, making this division a three-way race.
17. Dallas Cowboys (3-4)
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If the Dallas Cowboys had beat the Philadelphia Eagles the way the Eagles beat the Cowboys, they had a chance to crack my top five teams.
After all, Dallas’ losses had come to three very strong teams—the New England Patriots (by four), the Detroit Lions (by four) and the New York Jets (by three)—and the last two of those games easily could have been wins.
The Cowboys were manhandled Sunday night, though, and they’re on the outside looking in of a tough division and a tough conference. Tony Romo is a very talented quarterback, but he just doesn't seem to have the intangibles or leadership abilities to get the Cowboys to play to their potential.
16. San Diego Chargers (4-3)
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Every year, the San Diego Chargers seem to be an underachieving squad of immensely talented players that put together a strong December run to clinch the AFC West.
This year, the Chargers are still right in the thick of the division even following tonight’s heartbreaking loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, but the team is different than in previous years.
Philip Rivers isn’t playing like the MVP candidate he normally is. He has been out of sync all season, like the quarterback version of Chris Johnson. Until he recaptures his form, the Chargers will have difficulty making the playoffs.
15. Chicago Bears (4-3)
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The Chicago Bears don’t seem like the NFC runner-up they were last year, but they are still a tough team. The Bears play in a strong division, so they will need a wild-card berth to make the playoffs, but it remains a definite possibility.
The Bears have lost to a trifecta of top-notch teams: the 5-3 New Orleans Saints, the 7-0 Green Bay Packers and the 6-2 Detroit Lions, and their average opponent this year has a .558 winning percentage.
The Bears play consecutive games against tough NFC opponents—the Philadelphia Eagles and the Lions again—that could easily make or break the Bears’ season.
14. Atlanta Falcons (4-3)
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The Atlanta Falcons remain a tough team that has lost to tough teams (Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears), but also beat some tough teams (Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions).
Matt Ryan has played very well this year despite poor overall play from the offensive line, a position group that could haunt the Falcons against some of the league’s toughest defensive lines. That being said, they held the powerful Lions line to three sacks and came away with a win in last week’s game.
13. Cincinnati Bengals (5-2)
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I had the Cincinnati Bengals as the top preseason candidate for Andrew Luck. It looks like I was wrong.
Andy Dalton has been a pleasant surprise for the Bengals, and he looks like the quarterback of the future for this team. He and wide receiver A.J. Green will be one of the league’s top QB-WR combos for years to come, and it’s high time left tackle Andrew Whitworth be regarded for what he is—one of the game’s great offensive linemen.
The Bengals haven’t beat a strong collection of teams this year—a three-point win over the Buffalo Bills being their only win against a team with a winning record—but their fans have to be ecstatic with the 5-2 record, regardless of the poor competition thus far.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4)
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One more game like the one this Philadelphia Eagles team turned in last night against the Dallas Cowboys, and the Eagles could easily crack the top five.
Everything seems to have clicked for this team—Michael Vick is playing smart football and he’s still the unstoppable playmaker he was last year in his resurgence year. LeSean McCoy is maybe the best running back in the game. Offensive line coach Howard Mudd has restored an offensive line that seemed that it could be the downfall of the team. The defensive ends are top-notch, the cornerbacks are starting to play like they should and the safeties are gelling.
There are still too many early-season losses that are inexcusable—the 20-point blown lead to the San Francisco 49ers, the fourth quarter collapses against both the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants—but the Eagles are one of the few teams in the NFC that could give the Green Bay Packers trouble.
11. New York Giants (5-2)
I was tempted to put the Philadelphia Eagles higher than the New York Giants, but the Giants have a two-game lead in the division and they did beat the Eagles by 13 points.
The Giants certainly didn’t play their best football in yesterday’s contest against the Miami Dolphins, nearly losing to a winless team, but as they say in football, a win is a win.
Not many people realize how good Eli Manning is playing this year (64.7 comp pct, 13 TDs, 5 INTs, 102.1 rating), and Victor Cruz has been the surprise of the season. Meanwhile, offensive lines have their hands full trying to stop the combination of Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka rushing the passer.
The Giants just need to be wary of the annual December collapse that has plagued the team under Tom Coughlin.
10. New York Jets (4-3)
Darrelle Revis may be the single most dominant defensive player in the NFL, as he completely shuts down half the field. Quarterbacks throwing his way this year are just 10-of-33 for 120 yards, no touchdowns and four interceptions, for an unheard-of 2.6 passer rating.
Revis has been enough to make up for a subpar passing and running game, so far, although the Jets will need more offense to keep up with divisional foes, the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots.
The Jets will also need more consistency, having won their first two games, suffered a three-game losing streak and then won their next two.
9. New Orleans Saints (5-3)
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I’m not sure which team I’m supposed to grade—the one that put up 62 points against the winless Indianapolis Colts or the one that lost to the winless St. Louis Rams.
Regardless, the Saints have the league’s top scoring offense at 260 points. According to Pro Football Focus, Drew Brees has been the single best player in the NFL this season with a point value of 45.6. Brees remains on pace to shatter Dan Marino’s single-season record for passing yards, and he is also completing over 70 percent of his passes.
The Saints have the No. 1-rated offense in yards and second in points, although the defense is just 15th and 22nd in these two categories. While it would certainly be helpful for Brees and Co. if the defense played better, the team did win the Super Bowl following the 2009 season with a similar recipe.
8. Houston Texans (5-3)
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This finally looks like the year the Houston Texans will earn the first playoff appearance in the history of their franchise.
The Texans have suffered their share of injuries—first Arian Foster, then Andre Johnson and now Mario Williams is out for the season. There’s nothing a team can do about injuries, but surprise performances from unexpected players (center Chris Myers is having an All-Pro season) has contributed to the Texans’ 5-3 record.
Consecutive wins over AFC South opponents have helped strengthen the Texans’ run for a spot in January and beyond.
7. Detroit Lions (6-2)
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The Detroit Lions are the clear-cut third best team in the NFC, as they are riding a (finally) healthy season by Matthew Stafford and a dominant defensive line led by Ndamukong Suh.
The Lions just thrashed the Denver Broncos 45-10, following a pair of losses to two tough conference opponents (San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons). The Lions have the fourth-ranked scoring offense and sixth-ranked scoring defense, and their late-season games against the Green Bay Packers could easily be a preview of this year’s NFC Championship Game.
6. Baltimore Ravens (5-2)
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The Baltimore Ravens have been overshadowed by the Pittsburgh Steelers (and surprising Cincinnati Bengals) this season, but the Ravens are a team built for a deep playoff run.
They thrashed the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1, beat Rex Ryan and the New York Jets by 17 and held the high-scoring Houston Texans to 14 points. The Ravens rank second in the league in scoring defense but also seventh in scoring offense.
The only thing keeping the Ravens from a higher ranking is their last two games: a Monday Night Football letdown to the Jacksonville Jaguars and a near-loss to the Arizona Cardinals yesterday.
5. New England Patriots (5-2)
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The New England Patriots keep on rolling with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, which is fortunate because those two have managed to overcome a defense that ranks dead-last in the NFL in total yards allowed and total passing yards allowed.
The offense is as good as any in the league, as Brady, Wes Welker, the young tight ends (Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski) and the offensive line have helped the Patriots put up 30 points five times already this year.
The Patriots may have peaked too early though. The offense, which scored 38 points in the opener against the Miami Dolphins, has decreased (or remained the same) its point output for six straight weeks. The two losses this year have come to the 5-2 Buffalo Bills and 6-2 Pittsburgh Steelers, but with the patchwork secondary, the offense will need to put up more points than it has been accumulating in recent weeks.
As competitive as the AFC East and the AFC as a whole is this year, a playoff spot is not guaranteed for the Patriots.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2)
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Four weeks into the season, many experts speculated that the 2-2 Pittsburgh Steelers may go on to miss the playoffs, largely because of their subpar offensive line.
Four straight wins later, following a statement of a win over the New England Patriots, and the Steelers are making a case to be the AFC representative to take on the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl (again).
Max Starks was brought back to help revitalize the offensive line, and he’s done a fine job in his two starts. The defense has had to overcome a barrage of injuries, the latest being LaMarr Woodley, but the Steelers rank third in the NFL in points allowed and second in yards allowed.
The only thing keeping them from being ranked higher is their opponents thus far this season—their wins have come against teams with no wins, one win, two wins and two wins. Other than the Patriots in their last game, the Steelers haven’t beaten anyone this year, and they are just 1-2 against playoff-caliber teams (losing to the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens).
3. Buffalo Bills (5-2)
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I can’t believe the Buffalo Bills are 5-2 this year. I also can’t believe I’m ranking them as the best team in the AFC, ahead of the New England Patriots (5-2), Baltimore Ravens (5-2) and Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2).
The Bills are for real though. Ryan Fitzpatrick is having a strong season and was rewarded with a contract extension for his performance. Fred Jackson has been the NFL’s best running back in 2011. Steve Johnson is a downfield threat at wide receiver, and the offense line—particularly guard Andy Levitre and center Eric Wood—has been stellar, putting the Bills as the AFC’s top scoring offense.
The move of Marcell Dareus to nose tackle paid off marvelously, as the Bills recorded nine sacks in a 23-0 rout of the Washington Redskins (Dareus had 2.5). Nick Barnett was a fantastic addition for the defense and safeties George Wilson and Jairus Byrd are playing like Pro Bowlers, helping the Bills to the NFL’s lead in interceptions (14) and takeaways (18).
The Bills also pulled off the performance of the year thus far, coming back from down 21 against New England, to win. They’ve beaten the Philadelphia Eagles, who were beginning their season resurgence, and their only two losses are by a combined six points to a pair of 5-2 teams—the Cincinnati Bengals and the New York Giants.
2. San Francisco 49ers (6-1)
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I can’t imagine too many people had the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills at a combined 11-3 record at Halloween.
The 49ers are thriving under new coach Jim Harbaugh, who is finally getting production out of Alex Smith in Smith’s seventh season with the team. Frank Gore is running wild and the defense is the NFL’s stingiest, at just 15.3 points per game.
The Niners have knocked off the undefeated Detroit Lions (at the time), the 4-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a rout, the Philadelphia Eagles in a historic comeback and the 5-2 Cincinnati Bengals in a defensive battle. The only loss for Harbaugh’s team was a three-point overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys back in Week 2.
San Francisco has been conservative on offense, as its six turnovers rank second-best among NFC teams, and aggressive on defense, as its 16 takeaways also rank second best among the NFC.
With remaining games still against the St. Louis Rams (twice), Arizona Cardinals (twice) and Seattle Seahawks, the 49ers could have the NFC West clinched by Thanksgiving.
1. Green Bay Packers (7-0)
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Who else could possibly take up this No. 1 spot than the Green Bay Packers, a team that has now won 13 consecutive games including last year’s Super Bowl?
Aaron Rodgers is having as good of a year as any quarterback has ever had, as he has thrown 20 touchdowns to just three interceptions, and remains in line to break Peyton Manning’s single-season record for passer rating.
The Packers offense has scored at least 24 points in every game this season. The offensive line is giving Rodgers plenty of time to throw the ball. Clay Matthews has been a wild animal again on the defensive side.
At this point, it’s looking very well like the Packers may be in line for their second Super Bowl title under Rodgers.