NFL Week 17 Power Rankings
December 30, 2008 by Brad Oremland • Print Story •
Five Quick Hits
* Best announcers this season: Bob Papa, Mike Tirico, Daryl Johnston.
* Worst announcers: Thom Brennaman, Joe Buck, Tony Kornheiser. Brennaman may be the worst play-by-play man in NFL history.
* The debate about whether or not Jerry Jones should keep Wade Phillips misses the point. Jones wants to keep Jason Garrett, but he can't justify promoting him, so he needs to keep Phillips.
* If it were up to me, I'd keep Phillips, but fire the coordinators and clean out the locker room.
* Super Bowl XLIII: New York Giants over Tennessee Titans.
Were the 2008 Detroit Lions as bad as the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers? The Lions went 0-16, were outscored 517-268 (an average of 32-17), and lost by double-digits 10 times. They ranked 30th (out of 32) in offense, 27th in scoring, and 32nd in both total defense and points allowed. Their strength of schedule was .559, and they faced seven playoff teams.
The '76 Bucs went 0-14, got outscored 412-125 (an average of 29-9), and lost by double-digits 10 times. They ranked 28th (out of 28) in both offense and scoring, 24th in defense, and 27th in points allowed. Their strength of schedule was .520, and they faced four playoff teams. It's probably unfair to compare this year's Lions to an expansion team, but no, they were not as bad as the Bucs.
Not only are the '08 Lions not the worst team in NFL history, they're not even the worst team in franchise history. The 1942 Lions were 0-11 and got outscored 263-38, losing by an average score of 24-3. Since the AFL merger, the worst team is probably either the '76 Bucs or the 1-15 1991 Colts.
Now, the final power rankings of the 2008 season. Rankings are for right now, end-of-season strength. If you want a summary of the 2008 season, look at the standings. This column is evaluating each team's power at season's end, specifically. Brackets indicate last week's rank. Please check back tomorrow for my all-pro team and end-of-season awards.
1. Baltimore Ravens  — I think we can all agree that the Ravens, Steelers, and Titans have the three best defenses in the NFL. Out of that group, Baltimore has the best offense. They have more yards and more points, and they've been steadily improving. The Ravens led the entire NFL in time of possession and tied with Tennessee for best point differential (+141). Their only loss in the last six weeks was that controversial "irrefutable visual evidence" defeat against the Steelers. No one is playing better right now.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers  — Obviously, everyone hopes Ben Roethlisberger's injury this week won't affect him in the future. But is it just me who thinks that Big Ben's backups routinely outplay him? In the three games Roethlisberger has been knocked out of, Byron Leftwich has performed better than Ben did. Roethlisberger generally has not played well coming back from injuries, which would concern me if I were a Steeler fan. There will be no gimmies in this postseason, and they'll need a QB who's 100%.
3. Tennessee Titans  — Fine, they weren't really trying in Week 17. Neither were the Colts, and you should never lose 23-0. In the battle between Jim Sorgi and Vince Young, Sorgi dominated. The Titans showed absolutely nothing on offense, they have no momentum going into the playoffs, and they may be rusty after three weeks between real games. I understand resting guys who are banged up, but I don't like the way Tennessee closed out its season.
4. Indianapolis Colts  — Nine-game winning streak following the meaningless victory against Tennessee, but they drew a tough first-round playoff game at San Diego. A decent argument could be made that these are the two hottest teams in the NFL. It's the hardest wild card game to call, but I lean toward the Colts. I think they'll win in either a blowout or, more likely, a big comeback; I don't see Indianapolis winning in any sort of conventional manner. This is a really dangerous matchup for the Colts.
5. New York Giants  — They weren't going 100% in Week 17, but it's still disconcerting that they've lost three of their last four games. If they don't have all the key guys healthy for the playoffs — minus Plaxico Burress, obviously — I don't think they can repeat.
6. Atlanta Falcons  — Is this the best wild card class in playoff history? The wild cards have a combined record of 43-20-1 (compared to 38-26 for the division winners they'll face in the first round), and the road team is favored in every first-round matchup. All four are probably better than their records suggest. This year's wild cards all started out 2-2, then got hot at the end of the season, finishing a combined 17-3 in the last month. The sixth seeds, Baltimore and Philadelphia, may be the most dangerous teams in their respective conferences. I've never done this before, but I'm picking all four road teams — including Atlanta — in the wild card round.
7. Carolina Panthers  — It's hard to see them losing in Charlotte, where the Panthers were 8-0 this year. The worries are: Jake Delhomme, who has played well recently, but is prone to occasional very bad games; a suddenly porous defense, which has allowed more than 30 points in four of the last six weeks; and Giants Stadium, the only place Carolina might have a road game before the Super Bowl. The Panthers went 0-4 on the road against teams with winning records, losing to the Vikings, Buccaneers, Falcons, and Giants.
8. New England Patriots  — One of the best teams to miss the playoffs in recent memory. New England went 11-5 and finishing among the top 10 in yards gained, yards allowed, points for, and points against. The Patriots were 6-2 in the second half of the season, winning the last four games in a row. They're probably a better team than Miami, but the Dolphins earned their way in.
9. Philadelphia Eagles  — Five teams outscored their opponents by at least 100 points this season: Baltimore and Tennessee (+141), the Giants (+133), Philadelphia (+127), and Pittsburgh (+124). That's pretty elite company. The Eagles played a tough schedule (.514), beating the Giants, Steelers, Falcons, Cowboys, and Cardinals. This team is better than its record suggests, and is a serious threat to everyone in the NFC playoffs.
10. Minnesota Vikings  — Intriguing first-round matchup next Sunday, when the student hosts the mentor. Minnesota head coach Brad Childress was an assistant to Philadelphia HC Andy Reid for seven years, including four seasons as his offensive coordinator immediately before getting hired in Minnesota. I think the Vikings are a dangerous team, and I'm not sold on the Eagles' consistency, but I'll take Philadelphia in a close one. Either way, look for special teams to play an important role.
11. San Diego Chargers  — Became the first team in history to qualify for the playoffs after starting 4-8. They were eliminated by the Patriots in the last two postseasons, but this year, their Achilles' heel is pass defense, not the Pats. San Diego is a good team with lots of momentum, but you have to think that defense is going to be a problem in the postseason.
12. Miami Dolphins  — It's hard not to be happy for Chad Pennington, who just months after being cut by the Jets, returned to the Meadowlands to clinch a playoff spot for a division rival. The Dolphins have won five in a row, but I think that streak will end when they face Baltimore on Sunday. Ravens by double-digits.
13. Dallas Cowboys  — They went 5-5 this year when Terrell Owens had more than three receptions. When he was held to three or fewer, they went 4-2. Owens averaged 4.1 receptions in the Cowboys' wins, but 4.6 receptions in their losses. They also went 2-4 when Owens had a rushing attempt. Basically, the more involved Owens was, the less often Dallas won. This doesn't necessarily mean that Owens' involvement caused his team to lose — maybe they just passed more when they were losing — but it's interesting.
14. Houston Texans  — Clearly, the offense is in place. Now it's time to get Mario Williams some help. A play-making strong safety or a dynamic outside linebacker would be a good start. A complementary pass rusher could probably get 10 sacks with opponents focusing on Williams.
15. Chicago Bears  — We think of the Bears as a strong defensive team. This year, Chicago ranked 16th in points allowed, 21st in yards allowed, and 30th in pass defense. Last year, the team ranked 16th in points allowed, 28th in yards allowed, and 27th in pass defense. This has become an average defense with a noticeable weakness.
16. New Orleans Saints  — Drew Brees finished with 5,069 passing yards. One day in the not-too-distant future, someone will break Dan Marino's single-season record of 5,084. Unlike Marino, that person will not play for a 14-2 team. I suspect their record will be closer to the Saints' 8-8.
17. Arizona Cardinals  — I've been somewhat of a believer all season, but I don't see Arizona winning in the playoffs. The Cardinals are 3-7 outside the NFC West, and the last time they beat a team with a winning record was almost three months ago, in Week 6 against Dallas. The Falcons haven't been great on the road, but I think they'll win on Saturday.
18. San Francisco 49ers  — Won four of their last five under new head coach Mike Singletary, who begins his head coaching career 5-4. Singletary is the first new head coach since my updated coaching tree, and he's a Buddy Ryan guy, joining Jeff Fisher (TEN) and possibly Jim Schwartz or Rex Ryan, both of whom are hot prospects this year. Singletary also has ties to Mike Nolan, Mike Ditka, and Brian Billick.
19. New York Jets  — Surprised many fans by firing Eric Mangini, who had two winning seasons in three years. Brett Favre was 38 when he joined the Jets this year. He began the season by throwing for 12 TDs and 4 INT, with a passer rating of 110.8. After his 39th birthday, Favre passed for 10 TDs and 18 INT, with a rating of 71.8. This was the second time in the last four years that Favre led the NFL in interceptions. He was a great player, but he's human. Favre should have retired as a Packer, and I hope he'll have the sense to hang them up now without further diminishing his legacy.
20. Oakland Raiders  — Two straight wins — against decent teams! — to finish 2008, and maybe keep Tom Cable in place as head coach next season. JaMarcus Russell seemed to make progress this season, and second-year WR/PR Johnnie Lee Higgins was a bright spot down the stretch. Offseason priorities have got to be the offensive and defensive lines.
21. Cincinnati Bengals  — Closed the season with three straight wins. Now they should build on that momentum by getting rid of Sideshow Chad. The Bengals scored a league-low 204 points this year, so it's not like they can realistically get any worse by unloading Johnson. And if you believe that team chemistry matters even a tiny little bit, there's no way you want this guy on your roster.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers  — The injury to Cadillac Williams reportedly is not as serious as it looked, but you just don't get a good feeling about this guy's future in the NFL.
23. Buffalo Bills  — The wind was so strong it tilted the goalposts. Kicking and passing were almost impossible. In the first half, neither team even attempted a pass going against the wind: Buffalo had no pass attempts in the first quarter, and New England had none in the second quarter. The wind eased up somewhat later in the game, but it was fascinating to watch.
24. Denver Broncos  — One of four teams to choke away the playoffs. Denver lost its last three games; a win in any of them would have clinched the AFC West. Tampa Bay lost its last four games; a win in any of them would have earned a wild card. The Jets lost four of their last five. The slide that has gotten the most publicity, the Cowboys' 1-3 finish, is actually the least damning. The finale against Philadelphia was horrible, but Dallas played its last four games against teams with a combined record of 44-19-1, an average of more than 11 wins by each opponent.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars  — Lost six of their last seven games, including 0-4 after the injury to Rashean Mathis. The Jags were 3-3 at the bye, but now they have a top-10 draft pick next April. They would be wise to use it on an offensive or defensive lineman. David Garrard and Maurice Jones-Drew can play, but the base needs to be there first.
26. Washington Redskins  — The defense is unspectacular, but very solid. The offense is dreadful. The 0-16 Lions scored more points this season than Washington did. Some of this is coaching, and some of it is the players, but all of it is Daniel Snyder's fault. This will never be a consistently good team while Snyder and his personal yes-man, the contemptible Vinny Cerrato, are in charge of the team. Hire a real GM, wiz kid.
27. Seattle Seahawks  — Mike Holmgren has (at least temporarily) retired. He may be back in the future, but it certainly sounds as though he's serious about a year off in 2009. Holmgren is part of a contemporary group of borderline-Hall of Fame head coaches, also including Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, and Mike Shanahan. Right now, I have Dungy in, Cowher a toss-up, and Holmgren and Shanahan out. Holmgren is not among the all-time top 10 in wins or the all-time top 20 in winning percentage, and his teams have frequently choked in big games. It will be interesting to see how the Seahawks do without him next year. I may not think Holmgren is a Hall of Famer, but he's ahead of Little Mora.
28. Green Bay Packers  — Only team with a losing record (6-10) that outscored its opponents (+39). Also, and this is strange, the only 6-10 team in the league this year. In 2007, no one was 6-10, but in the 20 years before that, there were an average of three 6-10 teams per year, with as many as six in one season (1990), and never fewer than two. Before these past two years, the last time there weren't at least two teams at 6-10 was the 1987 strike year.
29. Kansas City Chiefs  — A team that was explicitly rebuilding this year. I don't think giving Herm Edwards one more year to bring it all together would be the worst thing in the world, but I don't think firing him and bringing in someone new would be the worst thing, either.
30. Cleveland Browns  — When I was growing up, I had a coach who was fond of saying, "You can't win if you don't score." The Browns don't score.
31. St. Louis Rams  — In all the fuss over 0-16, we've largely ignored the historic badness of the Rams. Since the NFL expanded to 32 teams, only three teams have been outscored by 200 points in a season: the 2003 Cardinals, the 2008 Lions, and the '08 Rams. Furthermore, only three teams have 10-game losing streaks during that time: the 2007 Dolphins, plus this year's Lions and Rams. A compelling argument can be made that the '08 Rams are the second-worst team since realignment.
32. Detroit Lions  — Every year, fans try to draw meaningful conclusions from preseason games. The Lions went 4-0 this preseason.