NFL Power Rankings: Arizona Worst in First and Chargers Top Class in Last

Bob Warja@@bobwarjaSenior Writer IOctober 17, 2010

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 10:  Runningback Tim Hightower #34 of the Arizona Cardinals runs onto the field during introductions to the NFL game against the New Orleans Saints at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 10, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Saints 30-20.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Sabermetric proponents in Major League Baseball will tell you why wins are meaningless for pitchers as a judge of individual performance because of all the variables that are outside of their control, such as defense, relief pitching and run support.

Well, in the NFL entire teams have records that often aren't truly indicative of how well, or not so well, they are performing.

Take, for example, the strange case of the Arizona Cardinals. They sit atop the NFC West at 3-2, yet are one of only two teams in first place that have given up more points than they have scored. By a lot, in fact.

The Cardinals have a minus-50-point differential so far this season, easily the worst of all winning teams in the NFL. Even Houston, who is minus-14, is a distant second.

So what does this mean? Well, nothing in terms of playoff expectancy as the team with the best record makes it and no one cares whether they've been outscored or not.

But as a predictor of future success, it may mean a heck of a lot. For one, luck may eventually catch up to them and they may begin to stumble. But even if they somehow make the playoffs, a better team will likely beat them.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

Another interesting case is the San Diego Chargers, who are in last place in the NFC West, yet have a plus-31-point differential. While Tennessee has an even better differential at plus-37, they at least have a winning record, even though they also sit in last place in their division.

How do the Bolts have a record like 2-4 yet outscore their opponents? They play well at home, where they are undefeated, and lose on the road. All four of their losses have been away from home.

Simply put, when they win, they win big. They beat Jacksonville and the aforementioned Arizona Cardinals by a combined score of 79-23. And it won't get any easier for them as they face New England next week, though they will be at home.

Meanwhile, when Arizona loses, they get blasted. In their losses to Atlanta and San Diego, they combined to be outscored 82-17.

The Jets and Steelers lead the NFL in point differential so far, each at plus-54.

Of course, point differential means little as an effective measure of a team's ability, but it bears watching. I doubt anyone thinks Arizona is better than the Chargers, for example, yet they have a better record. But most everyone agrees that Pittsburgh and the Jets are the two best teams in the NFL.

The opponents that each team plays against have a lot to do with point differential and their W-L record to this point. Injuries also have a lot to do with it, and those two things will change over the course of a season.

The overall quality of your division is critical too. In the NFC and AFC West divisions, a team may finish 8-8 and still take the division, while in other divisions it will take 10 or more victories.

When power ranking teams, look at their upcoming schedule. The Bears are 4-2 but following Washington next week, they face teams such as New England, Miami, Philadelphia and the Jets, not to mention tough inter-division rivals such as the Packers and Vikings (twice).

Looks can be deceiving, as they say, and teams that look like winners now may be exposed later, and vice-versa.