NFL Power Poll with a BCS Twist: 4th Installment
As Week 11 of the NFL season gets under way tonight with a matchup pitting the surging wishbone offense of the Tim Tebow’s, versus, the wish they had an offense of the New York Jets, here is the fourth installment of the BCS style NFL power Poll.
What we learned last week is, quarterbacks are still very fragile, or in the spirit of the upcoming season, and in honor of the great holiday movie a Christmas Story, Fra-jeel-lee. Its Italian remember.
Last week the 49ers continued to roll by beating an old rival in a new classic. The Baltimore Ravens lost to a bad team after beating a good once again, and the Green Bay packers, are the most explosive team since the 2007 New England Patriots.
The following quarterbacks were all injured, some including the Texans Matt Schaub will be out for the season.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger confirmed Tuesday he broke the thumb on his throwing hand in Sunday’s win over the Bengals. Meanwhile the other key stone state superstar signal caller, Michael Vick suffered two broken ribs in a loss to the Cardinals
In Detroit, the Lions have dropped three in a row after starting 6-0. Matthew Stafford, playing with a fractured finger in his right hand, was picked off four times Sunday in a loss to the Bears, with two of the interceptions run back for touchdowns.
Matt Cassel injured his throwing hand in Sunday’s loss to Denver and the Chiefs QB may also be done for the year. So like I said, Fra-jeel-lee.
Another big story line continues to be the decision by Mike Smith to go for fourth and inches in overtime on his side of the field.
The Playoff race is far from shaping up, but as we approach Turkey day, things will start to get more intense. Isn’t it nice that Thanksgiving will be a good day for football?
Five of the six teams slated to play that day, are in this poll, and to know why that is, just click through to the next slide if you do not understand the points system.
Otherwise, skip it, and enjoy the show. As always, please feel free to leave your comments, but please leave them within the boundaries of good taste.
The Point System
If you know how this works, or really don't care, simply skip this slide, and jump to the rankings.
This is a power poll that ranks teams according to a point system, and not by my personal preferences. As I like to remind everyone from time-to-time, no poll is perfect, but I would stack my rankings up against any that rank teams in the NFL on a weekly basis.
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 17 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 in addition to the points they have received the previous weeks for being ranked.
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. The Tennessee Titans have returned to the poll this week after cracking the .500 barrier, but do not receive the points they had from week one, and two because they were not in the poll last week with a 4-4 record.
They will be eligible to receive bonus points again, once they appear back in the poll during consecutive weeks. If this is confusing, I apologize, but many will want to know how these points came to be.
As I said , please feel free to leave your comments. I simply ask that you do so in the boundaries of good taste, as power polls, and rankings seem to be very personal to many fan bases.
No.17 Tennessee Titans
Last Week: Not Ranked
This Week: @ Atlanta Falcons
This past Sunday, the Tennessee Titans defense did something not many have been able to do this season; they slowed down Carolina Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton.
The Titans defense, which is seventh in points allowed this season, held Newton to 212 passing yards, no touchdowns, and forced one interception.
Perhaps the biggest success Tennessee enjoyed was watching their star running back leap off the side of a milk carton and finally onto the top of the statistical rushing column. The NFL’s one time leading rusher, Chris Johnson, banged out 130-yards on the ground, and added 44 more through the air. His 147-all-purpose yards were 38-percent of Tennessee's offense, which is more like the Titans we all know and for some, love.
Hopefully, this is the start of something big for Tennessee. After starting 3-1, the Titans are 2-3 in their last five games, and rank in the middle of the pack in both offensive (14), and defensive (15) rankings. If Johnson's game versus Carolina was the beginning of good things for him, than Tennessee may still have a say in how first place in the AFC South is determined, especially when you consider the state of injury affairs in Houston.
No.16 Oakland Raiders
Last Week: Not Ranked
This Week: @ Minnesota Vikings
Like the NFC West last season, the AFC's equivalent is equally as bad this season. The Seattle Seahawks did not seem to mind how they made the playoffs, as they were thumping the Saints in the first round of the playoffs last year, and neither will the Silver and Black.
Despite losing back-to-back division games at home to end October, and start November, one after a bye week, the Oakland Raiders are 5-4, in first place, and in control of the wild wild West.
Losing to the Chiefs, and Tim Tebow's in the Black Hole became a moot point when inexplicably, the San Diego Chargers welcomed the Raiders last Thursday night, and promptly laid another Norv, as the Raiders stole a 24-17 road division win.
Carson Palmer does seem to be finding a groove, as he fell one yard shy of 300, tossed two TD's and threw just one interception during the victory over the Chargers. Running back Michael Bush was more than an adequate replacement for the injured Darren McFadden.
He ran for 157 yards, scored a touchdown, and had 85 yards receiving, totaling 242 yards from scrimmage. The 242 combined yards are the most yards from scrimmage since Raiders All-Pro wide receiver Art Powell, had 247 yards on December 22, 1963 against Houston. Earlier that season, Powell set the franchise single-game record with 256 yards from scrimmage.
Bush was also named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts. I make fun of the putrid AFC West, but the raiders possess a 1-2 punch at running back that could surprise a lot of teams come playoff time. If Carson Palmer continues to progress in a positive direction, the raiders could actually be decent contenders in a watered down AFC this season.
Despite playing on the road in Minnesota this week, the Silver and Black catch a break. With 10-days to rest, Oakland will play a weary Vikings team that is coming off a short week. Minnesota was busy on Monday night chasing Aaron Rodgers wider receivers all over Lambeau during the Packers 45-7 blowout win.
The Raiders and Vikings matchup is one of 20 Super Bowl rematches that take place in the NFL this season.
No.15 Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 14
This Week: @ Miami Dolphins
If the biggest highlight for your football team during the month of November is a wide receiver giving his cheerleader girlfriend, albeit, a Dallas Cowboy’s cheerleader girlfriend, the football from his touchdown catch, than it is safe to say your season could be in jeopardy.
The Buffalo Bills have hit a wall. They have hit on offense, and defense. Granted their defense couldn't stop their noses from running for most of the season anyway, but at least the offense could cover their tracks during the first seven games, as the Bills managed a 5-2 record.
During that span (seven games), Buffalo’s offense averaged almost 30 points per game, as Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw 14 TD's, only seven INT's, and posted a 98.4 QB rating.
Since then, Buffalo has lost by a combined score of 71-18 to the Jets and Cowboys, while Fitzpatrick has thrown two touchdowns and five interceptions. His average QB rating has been a paltry 49.2 as the Bills struggled to move past midfield during both games.
The Bills defense has fared no better. Since pitching a 23-0 shutout versus the Redskins back on October-30, the Bills have allowed almost 400 yards per game. Jets QB Mark Sanchez played like Joe Namath, while Cowboys QB Tony Romo (148.4) fell less than 10 percentages points shy of registering a perfect QB rating (158.3) for the game.
This week, Bills fans will indeed know if this is the same ol' Bills when they travel to Miami to take on the surging Dolphins. Miami has won two in a row on the strength of not allowing a touchdown during their last two games, both wins over the Chiefs and Redskins.
The Bills can salvage their season with a win. The AFC is a very forgiving conference this season. If Buffalo wins on Sunday, 6-4 could have them as the top wildcard, or with a New England loss, once again tied for the division lead.
Whatever happens Sunday, let’s hope Kelsi Reich is still not the top highlight for the Bills in November.
No.14 New York Giants
Last Week: 12
This Week: Vs. Philadelphia Eagles
So you think you have found the big flaw with this poll because the G-Men are No.14, well think again. Despite being ranked No.9, 8, and 7 in the NFL.com, Fox, and ESPN polls respectively, Big Blue is right where they need to be in this poll. Sometimes it’s not all about the record, as the next few weeks will tell us if the Giants are contenders, or pretenders.
Here's what I can tell you about why the Giants are ranked at No.14.
Like the BCS poll, strength of schedule does matter. When you add up the wins and losses for each team's opponents in this poll, New York (34-49) has played the second easiest schedule.
The Giants are the best in the league at rushing the passer with 30 sacks this season, but are ranked No.17 in total defense, and No.21 in points allowed (23.4) per game. Yes, Eli Manning is having a great season, but he’s starting to turn the ball over more during the past two weeks, and that’s not a good sign for bad second half team in recent years.
The NFC East is not the beast everyone thought it may be this year, as the Eagles, Skins, and Cowboys are a combined 11-16 this season. Their signature win is over the New England Patriots in Foxborough, but don't the Pats own the league’s worst defense, and shouldn't an "elite" quarterback be able to expose it? With a plus-7, Eli and company are the lowest positive team in point differential in the NFL this week.
The Giants played a good tough game out west versus the 49ers last Sunday, as both teams conjured up thoughts of games from year's past between the two, but they did allow almost 250 passing yards to Alex Smith, who's only averaging 190 per game this season. Only the Eagles allowed Smith to pass for more. Are you starting to see the connection here?
I'm not a Giants hater, but you know the deal when it comes to the G-Men and the second half of the season. What looked to be a huge game in terms of division implications has cooled, as the 6-3 Giants host the 3-6 Philadelphia Dream Teamers this Sunday night.
The Giants cannot suffer a letdown versus their division rivals because if they do, and regardless of how hard they played in San Francisco, they will be 0-2 to start the second half. With two of the next three games on the road versus the Saints, Packers, and suddenly hot Dallas Cowboys, the Giants must simply win, and that’s all there is to it.
No.13 Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 10
This Week: Vs. Tennessee Titans
To go for it, or not to go for it, is the debate that still rages in the A-T-L.
Whether you agree or disagree with the decision by head coach Mike Smith to go for fourth down in his own end in overtime vs. the Saints, one thing is clear to me, the decision was made for the wrong reason, and was a clear act of unneeded desperation.
In any walk of life when a high pressure decision is needed to be made, panic is not uncommon as a thought process. There is no doubt that Smith realized this game was for first place in the NFC South, and versus a Saints team that his team, is 2-5 against since he became head coach in 2008.
As winners of three straight, the Falcons were starting to string together a good looking stretch to their season, and a win over New Orleans could have catapulted Atlanta into their soft second half schedule.
Smith was also very aware that his Falcons, including the playoffs had lost just five times at the Georgia Dome in their last 20 games. Four of those five games were against the Packers and Saints, two teams Smith knows he must beat in order to claim his stake in the NFC.
Having already lost to Green Bay this season at home, Smith panicked, and took a shot at Drew Brees and company. He failed, and while I have no problem with the decision, the call itself left a lot to be desired. American Author Christian Nestell Bovee once said, "Panic is a sudden desertion of us, and a going over to the enemy of our imagination.
All Matt Ryan had to do was simply fall over his center. Many will say if you can’t get a few inches, you don't deserve to win the game, which is ridiculous. Smith’s call wasn’t the only factor that allowed the Saints to take over control in south again.
Both teams missed field goals, and two plays before Roddy White failed to make the game winning TD catch, the Saints Roman Harper dropped a sure interception that would have ended Atlanta's 10-point fourth quarter rally.
Taking all of the blame on Sunday, Smith is singing a different tune now, as he blames a lack of execution. Chances are Smith looked at the fact that his team still has a decent shot to be within a game, or even tied as they head to New Orleans the day after Christmas.
The Falcons schedule is soft, as they play the Titans, Vikings, Texans (without Schaub), Panthers, and Jaguars. Throw out Houston, and Atlanta faces teams that are a combined 12-24 before their rematch with the Saints. New Orleans will head into their bye week then return to play the Giants and Lions.
Anything is possible, but Smith can ill-afford to panic again. Post-Thanksgiving November and December is a time for clear thinking in the NFL. While it wasn't a horrible decision, do yourself a favor next time Mr. Smith and punt the damn ball!
No.12 New York Jets
Last Week: 11
This week: @ Denver Broncos
It seems Jets head coach Rex Ryan is headed towards the realization that his team may in fact not be headed for the playoffs this season. At the very least Ryan realizes the road his Jets must travel looks a lot tougher after being swept by the Patriots.
This should not be a startling revelation for many of you when you consider that the Jets do not stop the run as they have over the past few seasons, or run the ball as well either. After finishing in the top 10 in rushing defense in each of the last three seasons (seventh, eighth, & third), the Jets are No.15 this year.
The Jets were a constant at the top of every rushing category on offense in 2008, 09, and 10'. They finished the year ranked, No.'s 9, 1, and 4 respectively. This year they are 24th, and despite averaging 125.5 yards per game over their last four games, those numbers came against rushing defenses that average 16.5 in stopping the run.
The Jets have some real questions to answer about quarterback Mark Sanchez; teams are stuffing eight into the box and daring the third year signal caller to beat them. He does not handle pressure well, and has no big play making ability. He has completed a league worst one pass over 40 yards, and when you consider his receivers, that’s unacceptable.
The former USC standout has completed just 56.7 percent of his passes, as only Sam Bradford, Joe Flacco, Curtis Painter, and Blaine Gabbert are worse.
The only saving grace in New York is their schedule the rest of the season. They play just two teams that currently boast winning records (Bills, Giants), and it's possible that neither will have that record when the Jets play them. If Sexy Rexy and his boys cannot stop the Tim Tebow’s tonight, it could be a very long drama filled second half in New York
No.11 Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: Not ranked
This Week @ Washington Redskins
Quickly now, who's the only team to beat the 49ers this season? That's right; the Dallas Cowboys did it in San Fran back in week two. Despite winning two in a row, experts aren't jumping on America's Team bandwagon like in year's past just yet. The Boys are ranked No.14 in the NFL, and Fox polls, and No.12 over at ESPN.
Dallas debuts in this poll for the first time this week, and that’s a shame because they should have been over .500 a long time ago. The Cowboys live and die with QB Tony Romo, and instead of having a 7-2 record and leading the NFC East, they are 5-4, and living week-to-week.
Just like in seasons past, the Cowboys have the talent to be better than their record, but simply are not. Dallas travels to Washington this week, and despite the Skins situation at quarterback, and record this season, Dallas knows better than to overlook them.
Dallas needed six Dan Bailey field goals to beat the Skins back in week three at home. Washington held Romo and the Cowboys out of the end zone with a bend but don't break defense, as Dallas can expect much of the same in D.C.
Washington is desperate as they look to stop a massive five game losing streak, and Sunday would not be the first time in this rivalry the so-called better team lost to the one with a worse record.
If the Cowboys can sneak out the nation’s capital with a win, it should be clear sailing for the next few weeks, but with Tony Romo at quarterback, nothing is ever as clear as it seems. Dallas will host the 2-7 Dolphins on Thanksgiving, and then travel to play the 3-6 Arizona Cardinals. That's always a home away from home game for Dallas, so the Cowboys should be 8-4 when the New York Giants come to the Jerry-Ma-Hal on December 11 for a big NFC East showdown.
Tony Romo was nearly perfect last Sunday versus Buffalo. He passed for 270-yards and three touchdowns. He didn't turn the ball over, and made good decisions on the run.
If Sunday's Romo becomes the rule instead of the exception, there could be another contender in the NFC. However, if he becomes the imploding quarterback we have all come to know, than the Boys are just another 8-8 team with questions at quarterback.
No. 10. Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 8
This Week: @ Baltimore Ravens
Not even Bengals owner Mike Brown could screw up what appears to be a very bright future for the Cincinnati Bengals. In this week’s edition of Sports Illustrated's, Damon Hack draws a nice comparison to the 1989 Dallas Cowboys and the deal they mad when they traded away Herschel walker.
In 1989 the Cowboys drafted a franchise quarterback (Troy Aikman) and followed that up with a blockbuster deal that cost them their best-known player (Herschel Walker) but would bring back the high draft picks that set up the team for a decade.
Dalton has immediate weapons at his disposal—including rookie receiver A.J. Green (fourth pick overall) and second-year tight end Jermaine Gresham—and is supported by a defense that ranks fifth in yards allowed. And the haul the Bengals received last month when they shipped semiretired quarterback Carson Palmer to Oakland (a first-round pick in 2012 and a second-round pick that could become a first in '13) has positioned the franchise to be a long-term threat.
If you could prove more in a loss than in a win, the Bengals did that last week versus the Steelers. Despite losing 27-24 to the current AFC Champs, quarterback Andy Dalton impressed his counterpart on the other sideline.
"He'd make a nice throw, and someone would go, 'Ooooh, that was a good one,'" said Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger. "He's the new guy on the scene. He spins the ball really well, and he seems really cerebral. I think he's playing the best of all the rookie quarterbacks."
High praise coming from a quarterback that has beaten Cincinnati in 11 of his 15 regular season starts. This week, the schedule provides no break for Dalton and his teammates. They travel to Baltimore to play a Raven steam that is not exactly in a good mood.
If the Bengals are for real, a good showing will not suffice this week, they must win in Crab Town. Last season, The Bengals split with the Ravens and held their offense in check during both contests. They held QB Joe Flacco to an average of 139.5 yards passing, while intercepting him five times in two games.
The defense is ranked fifth in the NFL, second vs. the run and No.10 against the pass. They suffered a big blow last week when they lost the leader of their secondary, Leon Hall. Playing in his 74th straight game and making his 66th consecutive start last week, Hall was placed on injured reserve Monday after tearing his left Achilles tendon during the second quarter of Sunday's loss to Pittsburgh.
Head coach Marvin Lewis will have his troops ready without Hall, as has preached the team concept this season. How much has everyone bought in? Despite being on crutches and meeting with doctors, Hall attended all the defensive meetings Monday.
Do you think a certain numero Ocho Cino, or former QB from USC would be buying in right now? Cincinnati may not win the north this season, or even win a wild card berth, but those days are not far away, and don't be surprised if the Bengals control Flacco and the Ravens offense again on Sunday, and leave Baltimore with a win.
No.9 Chicago Bears
Last Week: 13
This Week: Vs San Diego Chargers
The Chicago Bears are playing the scariest football of any team in this week’s poll. They are clicking as well or better than any team in the league in all three phases of the game.
They beat up the Lions last Sunday, and in doing so, forced six turnovers from a team that had only surrendered a league low five all season. Aside from scoring a touchdown on offense, defense, and special teams during the 37-13 beat down over Detroit, the Bears seemingly won a physical battle that brought back memories of the old Norris division in hockey.
Their future Hall Of Fame kick returner, Devin Hester, makes their special teams the most explosive in the league, and the fact that quarterback Jay Cutler is able to stand in the pocket with a little more time this season, also has a lot to do with Chicago's success. Let’s also not forget about some running back named Forte, who chips in here and there
The Bills Fred Jackson leads the NFL in total yards from scrimmage with 1,309; Matt Forte is second with one yard less. A lot of the credit must go to the Bears offensive line, as they have been pretty stout lately. Forte is third in the NFL with 869 rushing yards, and although Cutler is tied for fifth in sacks this season, he is well off his league leading pace of 52 from last season. Through nine games last season, Cutler had been sacked 34 times compared to 23 this season.
As a team, Chicago has won four in a row by averaging a scoring margin of 2-to-1 over their opponents. The Bears have allowed an average of 16.2 points while scoring an average of 32.5 during the streak. Contributions are coming from everywhere.
The offense has scored 10 touchdowns while the defense and special teams has two each. The defense has also recorded a safety, while kicker Robbie Gould is 10-of-12 for the Bears over the last four games. It was about this time last season that the Bears began their march towards the division title. Chicago was 7-2 in their final nine games, and if this type of play continues it is not stretch to think that they could be headed for a rematch with the Packers in the NFC Championship game
No.8 New England Patriots
Last Week: 11
This Week: Vs. Kansas City Chiefs
The Patriots will once again be talked about as one of the best teams in the AFC over the last half of the season. Aside from having Tom Brady, their strength, or weakness of schedule will give New England a chance to grow up on the defensive side of the ball.
The Patriots play seven teams with a combined record of 21-34, including the 0-10 Colts. Having the last ranked defense in the league will not matter facing QB’s named Painter, Grossman, and Tebow. That point was drilled home last Sunday night versus a struggling Mark Sanchez.
Sunday night’s win prevented the Pats from losing three straight for the first time since 2002.
However, it's not New England's fault that this is their schedule, and in an AFC that doesn't have a dominating team, the Pats could find themselves with a first round bye and home field throughout the post season if they continue to play great offense.
A schedule like this gives Belichick more time to groom the youth on his defense, and don't be surprised if the Patriots are indeed the team in Indianapolis on the first Sunday in February. Less than average, or average defenses, and winning Super Bowl's is not a foreign concept in Belichick-land.
He won a Super Bowl with a defense that ranked as low as No.24, and never had a defense ranked higher than seventh during any of his three Super Bowl winning seasons. Ironically, the best defense coach Belichick had was during his perfect 16-0 season when the Pats were fourth, and we all know what happened in Arizona that February.
The Patriots, along with any number of teams including, the Steelers, Texans, and Ravens could be considered the best of an average pack. If the post season were to start today, I'd predict a third straight one and done for New England, but against teams like KC, Indy, Washington, Denver, Philadelphia, and Miami, the Patriots young defense will have a chance to grow.
Good things can and will start to happen defensively as the season wears on. LB Andre Carter has been named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week, for recording 4.5 sacks against the Jets. We all know what their offense is capable of, and if the Patriots defense can just become average consistently, New England will probably have the inside track at representing the AFC in the Super Bowl.
No.7 New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 7
This Week: Bye Week
No other quarterback in the history of the NFL has thrown for more yards through the first 10 games than Drew Brees. The Saints gun slinger is almost 300 yards ahead of Tom Brady for the year. In addition, Brees is now within 10 games of what is considered the equivalent to Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in baseball.
During Sunday's win over the Atlanta Falcons, Brees surpassed Brett Favre for No.2 on the list of having thrown a TD pass in 36 consecutive games. Brees connected with Jimmy Graham for a 21-yard strike to push past Favre with number 37.
With a TD pass in 47 straight games, former Baltimore Colts great Johnny Unitas currently holds the record. Considered a streak that helps build professional football, Unitas threw at least one touchdown pass in every game from December 9, 1956 through December 11, 1960.
Ironically for the late great Unitas, his streak began in Los Angeles, and ended in Los Angeles vs. the Rams. In between, No.19 threw 110 touchdowns, won two (1958 & 59) world championships, and the league’s MVP.
Brees began his streak with a four TD performance vs. the New York Giants on October18-2009. Since then, he has tossed 78 more TD's, won a league MVP, as well as a Super Bowl Championship, earning the games top player award.
Being within ten games to tie the streak of No.19 would be the equivalent of being with 15 to 20 hits of DiMaggio. If Brees continues to toss TD's in consecutive games, you will start to hear more nationally, especially if he hits 40 games. Brees can only pull within four of tying the record this season, and if he still has shot, should look to tie it sometime during week four next season.
As a team, the New Orleans saints are real good shape as they head into their bye week. They hold a two game lead in the NFC South, and are coming off a big division win on the road in Atlanta. Good teams take advantage of bad mistakes, or in this case decisions, as New Orleans mad Falcons head coach Mike Smith pay for his gamble to go for fourth and inches last Sunday.
The Saints have two tough games coming out of the bye, but get both the Giants and Lions in the friendly confines of the Super Dome. New Orleans continues to play good football under the radar, but will need to improve their middle ranked defense if they hope to avoid a fate similar to the one they endured last year in Seattle.
The Saints rushing attack will also need to step it up a notch as they rushed for a season low 41 yards on Sunday. Granted the Falcons entered the game as a top five defense in stopping the run, but New Orleans needs to help out their passing attack with a more balanced effort.
The Jekyll and Hyde backfield needs to find a happy medium from this past Sunday, and two weeks ago when they combined to gain 195 yards on the ground. That effort came only after amassing 56 yards rushing in an embarrassing loss to the Rams the week before.
New Orleans is in control of the south, but clearly that’s not the goal for head coach Sean Payton and his squad. The Saints know these issues must be corrected, and will surly look to fix them during the bye.
Way back in week one, A-Rod and his offense showed New Orleans what they are capable of should they meet in the playoffs. However, if anyone can take down the gun slinger from Green Bay, I’d take my chances with the one in Cajun country.
No.6 Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 6
This week: Bye Week
Riddle me this Bat Man, how is it, the Steelers can be talked about one week as being an old team with slim playoff chances after being swept by the Ravens, to being the third best team in most power polls the following week.
That is life in the fickle NFL during the 2011 season, and the Steelers like any other team have just as good a shot at winning the Super Bowl as they have in recent seasons. That's the good news, the bad news is, the Steelers must finish above the Ravens and Texans, as both own the tie breakers having beaten Pittsburgh head-to-head.
The Steelers have clearly transitioned into a passing team and the numbers prove that. Once considered a smash mouth football team with a potent rushing attack, much of the Steelers offense comes from airing out the football these days. Once a perennial top five unit, the Pittsburgh rushing attack is ranked No.17 in the NFL, while their aerial attack, led by Ben Roethlisberger, is seventh.
Speaking of Roethlisberger, he is third in the league with 2,877 passing yards, and is clicking with his young wide outs. There does seem to be the end of an era starting in the land of the Terrible Towels. Big Ben’s favorite target has been demoted to the fourth on the receivers depth chart.
When asked how he felt about the demotion, Hines Ward, who is the Steelers all-time leading receiver said, “I am still going to be the biggest cheerleader because I want to win." Pittsburgh has two wide receivers in the top 16 in receiving. The speedy duo of Mike Wallace and Antonio brown have combined for 1,548 receiving yards this season, and seven touchdowns. Wallace is third in the league with 922 of them.
Wallace has 19 total plays of 20 or more yards, with six over 40 yards. Don’t be fooled into thinking the Steelers don’t have the personnel to run the ball down an opponent’s throat when necessary. RB Isaac Redman has only 64 carries for 245 yards as No. 2 back, but he is tied for first in the NFL on third-and-first carries, converting all five of his attempts.
This is the type of season that the Steelers have jumped up from in the past and went onto play in the Super bowl. They relish the role of underdogs, and despite what many experts think the Steelers are indeed that to win the AFC. Mainly in part because they are 0-3 vs. Baltimore and Houston, and any tie breaker would belong to them, and not Pittsburgh.
If the Ravens finish 5-2 the rest of the season, the Steelers must finish 5-1 to have any shot to win the division.
There are still some issues in the Steele city, The Steelers are on pace to have their lowest sack total since 2007. They have only 23. Last season, they finished with 48. Their record is 55. They had 36 in 2007. Injuries continue to be a concern as Roethlisberger did not practice this week after breaking his right thumb Sunday. He has the thumb in a splint, but says he will play in the next game.
The Steelers are 3-2 vs. teams with a winning record, and 4-0 vs. teams that are under .500. In other words they are doing what their division rivals are not, beating the teams they are supposed to beat. It's probably a safe bet to say that if the Steelers take care of business, they will be back defending their AFC title this January.
Unfortunately for them, or fortunately, depending on how you view the Ravens, whether they do it at Heinz field or on the road will probably depend on Baltimore. The big deciding factor could be the 49ers, which the Ravens host on Turkey day night and the Steelers visit in mid-December.
Whatever happens, it is safe to say that some guy named Harbaugh will have a say on what happens with the Steelers and their playoff chances this season.
No.5 Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 3
This Week: Vs. Cincinnati Bengals
John Harbaugh may know how to say football but his team better start learning how to play it better and more consistently vs. the teams they are supposed to beat. For the most part, the Ravens are in the driver’s seat for the AFC North, but they no longer have the option of thinking about using the cruise control switch. That’s because while on cruise control last week in Seattle, the Ravens dropped their third game of the season, and second to a team with a substantial losing record.
Baltimore could be a team headed for turmoil in the locker room, as well as on the field. How up and down are the Ravens this season, well, it depends when you watch them play. Baltimore can look like a serious Super Bowl contender on one play, and on the next, a team that should be in the running for Andrew Luck.
Yes, it is that big of a disparity at times, and it is starting to frustrate everyone on the team. During Sunday's 22-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks quarterback, Joe Flacco, threw a career-high 53 times and only handed the ball off to Pro-Bowl running back Ray Rice, a season low five times.
Rice, a Pro Bowler in 2009 is a multipurpose back in Baltimore's offense. His 13 total touches in Sunday’s game tied for a season low for him.
This week, Rice has been classy in not calling out his offensive coordinator, QB or head coach in saying,“I am never going to be the guy that talks about touches,” said Rice, who has averaged nine carries in the team’s three losses. “But obviously, we know going into a game, five carries is not going to cut it.”
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Rice said, "You look at it, and I know five carries is not going to do us any justice, but at the same time, we found ourselves so deep in the situation that we had to climb our way out,”. "We were looking for answers. Whether it was running or passing, we have to find our way out of a situation. I always spoke about not getting down in a situation like that, to where you have to be in a two-minute offense. I always said the two-minute offense is great, but when you have to take your fullback (Vonta Leach) off the field, who is a Pro Bowl fullback, and not lead him on people, that leads to trouble."
Ravens QB Joe Flacco, who is on pace to obliterate Vinny Testaverde's franchise record of 549 pass attempts during the 1996 season, was not loud with reporters on Wednesday, but was visibly upset with a few questions about the Ravens run/pass ratio during the Seahawks game. Flacco answered the questions, but in a frustrating tone, and was condescending at times.
The fourth year QB is on pace to throw almost 650 times this season, and has already attempted 64 more passes through nine games this season than last season.
The flip side is Ray Rice, who has 9.3 rushing attempts in the team's three losses this season. Rice has carried the ball 28 times for 98 yards in loses to the Titans, Jaguars, and Seahawks. What makes matters worse is that during the loss to the Jags and Hawks, Maurice Jones Drew and Marshawn Lynch each rushed for over 100 yards, as both teams flipped the script on the Ravens, both backs needed an average of 31 carries to reach to century mark, while Rice combined to carry the rock 13 times in both.
Even Ray Lewis chimed in with his thoughts, “We know who our bell cow is on offense,” Lewis said to reporters after practice on Wednesday. “If that talent right there isn't touching the ball … 25, 30 times, then you have to question yourself, 'What are we actually doing balance-wise?' Jamal Lewis was that type of player back in the day. Ray Rice is definitely one of those talents that has to get an offense going. So, I just think our offensive guys will definitely do a better job getting the ball in his hands."
Sundays game vs Cincinnati is once again huge for the Ravens. The Bengals have proved to be a formidable foe over the years, Running back Cedric Benson has broken the 100-yard barrier just twice this season, but he is only the second opponent to post 100-yard games in back-to-back meetings against the Ravens when he rushed for 120 yards on Oct. 11, 2009 and 117 yards on Nov. 8, 2009.
The Ravens are 14-4 after a loss under coach John Harbaugh. Baltimore has won 11 straight games after a loss, which is the longest current active streak in the NFL. After struggling offensively in their previous two losses this season, the Ravens are averaging almost 34 points the following week.
The Ravens will have their work cut out for them, as the Bengals rank second in the league against the run and 10th against the pass. So getting Rice on track may be a tough chore this week.
No.4 Detroit Lions
Last Week: 4
This Week: Vs. Carolina Panthers
The Lions are one of those teams that will not receive the benefit of the doubt despite losing three of their last four games. They are after all, the same organization that has lost double digit games in nine of the past ten seasons. Despite dropping in the rankings on both offense and defense, the Lions still possess some of the best playmakers in the league on both sides of the ball.
Adversity is probably a word head coach Jim Schwartz is preaching this week following a meltdown type of loss in Chicago. The Lions committed uncanny mental errors, and exceeded their turnover total for the year (5) by one, as the Bears forced six Detroit turnovers.
Four of those turnovers were interceptions thrown by quarterback Matthew Stafford, Two of those picks became six points. It’s possible that a lot of what happened on Sunday had to do with quarterback Matthew Stafford’s sore finger on his throwing hand, which he wore a glove over to hide.
In defense of Detroit, they have played the toughest schedule in the poll, as their opponents are a combined 44-37 this season. They are also missing RB Jahvid Best. He's been out with a concussion since October 16, and is still not cleared for practice. Best isn't likely to play again Sunday, as Maurice Morris continues to start.
The Lions struggled to run the ball with Best in the line-up, as he was more effective as a pass receiver than runner when healthy. He was averaging 113 yards from scrimmage, which was about the same as Adrian Peterson at the time he suffered his second noggin knocker of the season. However, having Best in the line-up would improve the Lions 27th ranked rushing attack.
How the Lions respond to their loss on Sunday could be very telling this week, as they host the Carolina Panthers. Playing at home, Detroit should blow the Panthers out of Ford Field. I'm willing to give the Lions the benefit of the doubt, but much more will be written and said about Detroit’s progress this season after their home game vs. Green Bay on Thanksgiving,
Having said that, it’s important to remember Lions fans that, big time teams win big time games and your showdown on Thanksgiving is definitely one of those types of games. They cannot be blown out at home, or the script for the Lions season could be headed to the paper shredder instead of Hollywood.
No.3 San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 2
This Week: Vs. Arizona Cardinals
The 49ers play great special teams, run the football well, and play lights out defense. If ever there was a formula for playoff success, that’s it. The Niners play smash mouth football at its finest, and seem to be the one team capable of slowing down the Packers in the NFC.
They are 8-1 for the first time in 14 years and would be 9-0 if not for an overtime loss to the Cowboys in Week 2, so why are they ranked No.3 instead of second you ask? Because the team ranked ahead of them plays great defense, and up until last Sunday, had the offense to match.
Remember this is a numbers based poll, and by numbers I mean record alone does not elevate or drop your ranking.
The Niners, who were averaging almost 135 yards per game on the ground headed into the Giants game, could muster just 77 this past Sunday. The NFL's seventh leading rusher, Frank Gore carried the ball six times for zero yards in the first half and then spent most of the second half on the sideline after injuring his right knee.
Gore has also been battling an ankle injury for a few weeks. Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon took over for Gore, but could produce little else. Hunter had a 17-yard touchdown run, but the Niners had to turn to Mr. Game manage himself to carry the day.
QB Alex Smith stepped up and delivered the performance that many thought he couldn't against the Giants. the Niners former No.1 overall pick was very efficient and delivered a clutch TD pass to Vernon Davis as well as an equally clutch two point conversion to Michael Crabtree. There was nothing outstanding about the throws, but he made them when called upon to do so.
Since 49ers left offensive tackle Joe Staley proclaimed the now famous phrase, "We don't suck. “to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. San Fran's offensive line has been great. They have propelled Frank Gore, and are very much responsible for the team record he set by rushing for 100 yards or more in five straight games.
They allowed just two sacks to the Giants, who lead the NFL in that category. Defensively. The Niners continue to stifle teams and their running backs. San Francisco allows just 72 yards per game and has yet to surrender a rushing touchdown.
It is possible that the Niners could clinch the division if they don’t overlook Arizona, and John Harbaugh beats his brother on Thanksgiving night in Baltimore. That’s great for the fans in San Fran, but sucks for the NFL.
No.2 Houston Texans
Last Week: 3 (tie with Ravens)
This week: Bye
The Texans have to be considered one of the most hard luck franchises in all of professional sports over the last two seasons. For those of you who are motivational speakers, I'm sure the Texans don't want to hear that luck is what happens when opportunity meets hard work crap.
Especially their head coach Gary Kubiak, who was very much on the hot seat to start the season. After losing one of the best wide receivers in football, Andre Johnson, to a hamstring injury back in Week 4, and then losing their best defensive player, Mario Williams, the following week, the Texans regrouped after losing two in a row and have exploded without both.
Granted these victories have come against Tennessee, Jacksonville, Cleveland, and Tampa Bay, but they have been impressive none the less. Two have come against divisional opponents, and to win a game 41-7 against the Titans in Tennessee, where teams like the Ravens were beat up, is very impressive.
Now, in the midst of getting back All-Pro wide out Andrea Johnson, the Texans learned on Monday that they will be without the service of their Pro-Bowl quarterback, Matt Schaub.
Schaub suffered a Lis Franc injury. This is the same injury that basically ended Brian Westbrook's career. Westbrook never truly returned to form following the injury, but Schaub should be ok because he is not a multipurpose running back.
The Texans eighth ranked offense is now turned over to the much maligned former USC Trojan, and Arizona Cardinal, Matt Leinart. The former Heisman Trophy winner has six more interceptions (20) than touchdowns (14) in his career, and is a 57 percent passer that barely hits the 71 mark for a passer rating. Some say this is his last shot, and I agree for this reason.
What the Texans have that none of his Arizona Cardinals teams did was a rushing attack of this magnitude. That is the last frontier for Leinart; not having a good running game can stymie the greatest quarterbacks, so it’s put up or shut up time for the former U.S.C star.
If Leinart can force teams to respect his arm even just a little bit, than I believe the Texans can still be there late in January. If not, then Gary Kubiak will probably not take long to turn to T.J Yates.
The Texans defense will have to continue to shine under Wade Phillips. Gone are the four game stretches where the Texans offense averaged 33 points, like the one they just finished with Schaub under center. Houston is tied with division foe Jacksonville for fourth in the NFL, with 166 points allowed.
That’s a far cry from the 287 they surrendered through 10 games last season. There is still hope, and speaking of motivation, Kubiak has a whole lot of good stuff he could use to get Leinart ready to perform.
The fact that Kubiak is a former QB and not a tight end (Ken Whisenhunt) may be beneficial to Leinart’s development, if not; Texans fans are hoping it will be for T.J. Yates.
No.1 Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 1
This week: Vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What can I say that you have not heard about the Pack or Aaron Rodgers 3000 times this season? They are without a doubt, the best team in the NFL. Despite having the second-worst passing defense in the NFL, Green Bay’s average margin of victory this season has been 14.8 points. When your offense averages more than 400 yards per game the other team cannot do anything but throw on every down to try to keep pace.
However, they have done it vs. competition that is a combined 34-48 this season, which gives them the easiest schedule of any team in this poll. Then there are the victories over the saints, bear and falcons by a combined 29 points.
The Pack has not trailed in the fourth quarter of any regular season game dating back to last December. According to the USA Today, if the Packers win, sorry, when the Packers win this Sunday vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they will accomplish the following things.
The Pack would be undefeated, at 10-0, going into the final week of November for only the second time in the 93-year existence of the franchise. It would complete a 16-0 run through the schedule - equivalent to the length of a regular season - going back to the final six games of last season, including the playoffs.
If I was playing devil’s advocate, I would caution Packers nation to take a minute and substitute everything you hear about Aaron Rodgers and the Packers and substitute Tom Brady, and the 2007 Patriots.
The saying is defense wins championships, and the last time I checked there are some pretty good ones in the NFC, so a cake walk through the playoffs is no sure bet for Mr. Rodgers and company. The 2007 Patriots were taken down by a ferocious Giants pass rush in the Super Bowl, the last time I checked; the G-Men can still rush the passer.
By the way, the 49ers are as stingy as they come, and the Bears may still have something to say before the season ends. That is all yet to be determined, but for right now, Green Bay is by far the leaders of the Pack.