NFL Week 9 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* The NCAA, and the BCS in particular, are exceedingly corrupt organizations. Yahoo!'s Dan Wetzel has a good piece this week on one of the many unfairnesses in modern college football.

* Anquan Boldin, I've supported you in the past, but disrespecting your coach and deliberately sabotaging your team are not cool. Really, is anyone but the Raiders going to want you after this?

* Why did Pittsburgh returner Stefan Logan keep running kicks out from halfway through the end zone on Monday night? He only made it back to the 20 once, and barely. I know you're fast, kid, but learn to love touchbacks when the kickoff is that deep.

* Nice win by Fëdor Emelianenko this weekend, but how many fans did Jake Shields lose with his boring, lay-and-pray tactics? Props to CBS for televising MMA, but get a real announcing crew. This one was unforgivably bad.

* San Diego's once-great rushing game is dead: LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles combined for 23 yards on 13 attempts this week. The Chargers are last in the NFL in rushing yards and average.

***

This isn't fair at all, but I suspect Ray Rice is going to miss the Pro Bowl. He'll lose out to Cedric Benson (CIN), Chris Johnson (TEN), and Maurice Jones-Drew (JAC). Those guys are all having good seasons. Johnson leads the league in rushing, Benson is second, and Jones-Drew leads the NFL in touchdowns. But Rice belongs, too. The AFC has four Pro Bowl-quality RBs this season, and Rice is going to miss out because he doesn't have the name recognition. Compare Benson to Rice, and see whom you prefer:

		Att	Yds	Avg	Rec Yd	TD
Benson	198	837	4.23	66		6
Rice		108	573	5.31	436		6


Does Benson's 264-yard rushing advantage make up for Rice's 370-yard receiving advantage? Yeah, it probably does. But Rice's average per carry is a full yard higher than Benson's, and he hasn't fumbled all season. Rice leads all RBs in receptions and receiving yards, and he trails only Johnson in yards from scrimmage. Rice is the best receiving RB in the league this season — maybe not quite Marshall Faulk, but probably comparable to Tiki Barber or Brian Westbrook a few years ago. He deserves a trip to the Pro Bowl. So do the other three, but at least they'll get to go.

We're halfway through the 2009 regular season. Brackets indicate last week's rank.

1. New Orleans Saints [1] — Big-play defense continues to make big plays, but also showing some cracks. Will Smith had another multi-sack week, and the Saints' defense scored its seventh return TD of the season, but New Orleans now ranks in the middle of the pack in yards allowed (16th) and points allowed (19th). That's cause for concern. On the other hand, this week New Orleans won by double-digits for the seventh time this season.

2. Indianapolis Colts [2] — Struggled to score points the last two weeks, moving the ball between the 20s, but settling for field goals in the red zone. That trend needs to end next week against New England, or the Colts' winning streak will end instead. I know you've heard this already, but Peyton Manning threw 40 passes in the first half this week.

3. New England Patriots [3] — I can't decide who is more dangerous, Randy Moss or Wes Welker. The impulse is to say Moss, because he's such a big-play threat. But Welker is incredibly reliable, and New England's offense looked lost without him in Weeks 2 and 3. In fact, Welker averages more catches, yards, and touchdowns per game than Moss. It is very rare for a team to have two receivers this good at the same time.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers [4] — Wins over Minnesota and Denver in their last two games, five straight victories altogether, and undefeated with Troy Polamalu in the lineup. This was Pittsburgh's first real road win of the season (they also won at Detroit, which doesn't count), and now the Steelers head home — where they are 4-0 — for a huge matchup with the Bengals, and first place in the AFC North on the line. Great games Monday night from backups Tyrone Carter (2 INT) and Keyaron Fox (8 tackles).

5. Minnesota Vikings [6] — I don't understand why everyone else ranks them third. Their defense is only average, and they've played a soft schedule. At the beginning of the season, when most people saw Minnesota as a borderline top-10 team and the Packers were favored to win the NFC North, we all said that the Vikings would get off to a good start because of their schedule. We were right, and Green Bay being worse than we expected doesn't change Minnesota from a good team into an elite one. Hey, 7-1 deserves respect, and top-five is a position of respect. But the Vikings haven't beaten anyone good — every team they have defeated this season lost in Week 9, except the Rams and Browns, who had byes but may be the two worst teams in the league — and they haven't been impressive on the road. I've got a dollar* that says if the Vikings and Dolphins swapped schedules, Minnesota would be 3-5 and Miami would be 7-1. The Vikings are definitely a good team, but they're overrated, and I don't see why we should believe they're as good as the Patriots or Steelers. That said, they'll probably be 10-1 before they lose again.

* Please don't fine me, Mr. Goodell. And don't fine Sideshow Chad, either. He was obviously joking.

6. Arizona Cardinals [8] — Kurt Warner threw 5 TD passes this week, but they also had their best rushing game of the season. Arizona is 4-1 since its bye, all quality wins (good opponent or a blowout victory), and the loss a fluke in which Warner committed six turnovers. Circle December 6th on your calendar: Minnesota at Arizona. We could see a rematch of that one in January.

7. Cincinnati Bengals [12] — I thought the defense would get noticeably weaker without Antwan Odom, who was placed on injured reserve after posting 8 sacks in six games. They don't seem to miss him. Jonathan Fanene has played well in Odom's place, and the Bengals have won six of seven since the last-second loss to Denver in their opener. Early in the second quarter this week, Cincinnati had more first downs than Baltimore had offensive plays.

8. Dallas Cowboys [13] — Credit Miles Austin, or the bye week, or something else if you want. The Cowboys are on a roll. In the last three weeks, they're 3-0 against decent opposition (13-11), outscoring opponents 95-54. Tony Romo has been especially good during that stretch: 291 ypg, 7 TD, 1 INT, 111.3 passer rating. I don't understand why NBC tried so hard to sell its audience this week on the notion that Dallas/Philadelphia is the biggest rivalry in the NFC East. Anyone who follows football even a little knows that it is Dallas/Washington, a legendary rivalry on par with Bears/Packers and Browns/Steelers. Look, all the rivalries in the NFC East are good, and that includes Cowboys/Eagles. But better than Dallas/Washington? Get real.

9. Denver Broncos [5] — They're not good enough to overcome turnovers, and it is obvious at this point that the offense has real problems. The pass attack looked great on the first drive, confusing the Steelers with play-action and picking on CB William Gay. The drive led to a field goal, and Denver's offense did nothing for the rest of the game (186 yards, 9 first downs, 0 points), with their lone touchdown coming from the defense. The Broncos don't stretch the field vertically, and until they do, they're going to have trouble scoring, problems moving the chains. And where was Elvis Dumervil all night? Fine, he got half a sack. It was the dude's only tackle in the game. Half a tackle. I realize offenses are focusing on Dumervil now, but impact players have an impact even when they're getting double-teamed, which Dumervil usually wasn't. In fact, tight end Heath Miller regularly handled him one-on-one. Miller is a good blocker, but he's still a tight end. Come on, Elvis.

10. Houston Texans [9] — There is obviously a curse on this team's starting running back. One week after Steve Slaton was benched for fumbling, replacement Ryan Moats lost a fumble against Indianapolis. Houston blew a number of opportunities to beat the Colts this week, including over 100 penalty yards and a missed 42-yard field goal on the last play of the game.

11. Miami Dolphins [7] — Better than their 3-5 record suggests. Those five losses all came against teams with winning records, and Miami is the only team to face both the Saints and Colts. If we assume those are automatic losses — and let's add at New England as another one — the Dolphins are "morally" 3-2. The schedule is easier the next few weeks, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Dolphins are 6-5 when the Patriots come to Miami for the rematch.

12. Baltimore Ravens [11] — The defense missed Haloti Ngata this week, but the bigger issue is their passing game. At the beginning of the season, Joe Flacco was a fireball, and he's slowed down. We could just attribute that to tougher competition in recent weeks, but what concerns me is that Flacco is playing differently. Specifically, he's not hitting his wide receivers. This week, RB Ray Rice and TE Todd Heap combined for more than twice as many yards (115) as WRs Derrick Mason, Kelley Washington, and Mark Clayton (56). Rice, Heap, and FB Le'Ron McClain totaled 13 catches, the wideouts only 5. Think it was just this game? For the season, Baltimore WRs account for under 55% of the team's passing yardage, and Rice is poised to become the team's leader in receiving yards. The Ravens went 1/10 on third down conversions this week. That will happen when all you throw are screens and check-downs, though in fairness to Baltimore, Cincinnati's DBs played awfully well this week.

13. Atlanta Falcons [10] — Tore apart Washington's injury-decimated offensive line, and Michael Turner has just exploded in the last two weeks (317 yds, 8.3 avg, 3 TD). That's the good news. The bad news is that a victory over Washington should be automatic, and this game was close (24-17) in the fourth quarter. The bad news is that Atlanta has lost two of its last three and still can't win on the road (5-8 since the beginning of last season). And the really bad news is that the passing game is regressing. In the first four games, Matt Ryan passed for 977 yards, +5 TD/INT, and a 102.9 passer rating, with only two sacks. In the last four games, Ryan has 807 yards, -2 TD/INT, a 63.2 rating, and 10 sacks. Defenses are going to key on Turner, and if Ryan can't turn it back on, the Falcons will be in trouble.

14. San Diego Chargers [17] — Losing with :30 remaining, when karma from the Eli Manning trade rose up and won the game for them. First Philip Rivers threw a touchdown pass to tie the game. Then Nate Kaeding kicked an extra point to give San Diego the lead. And finally, Shawne Merriman sacked Manning to end the game. Rivers, Kaeding, and Merriman are the three players the Chargers obtained as a result of the trade that sent Eli to New York. People disagree about whether Manning or Rivers is a better quarterback (I'd rather have Rivers), but when you add Kaeding and Merriman, the whole thing is a no-brainer. Normally, I would say it's unfair to compare a player like that, but Eli and his daddy demanded this trade, so it's totally fair. The Chargers won the trade. Eli, you weren't worth it.

15. Philadelphia Eagles [14] — I would like to officially join two groups: first, those who question Andy Reid's decision to attempt a 52-yard field goal with 4:33 left, no timeouts, and down seven. Even making the field goal — which was far from a sure thing — means you still need a touchdown, big guy. You go for it or you punt. The other group is those who don't think Reid and the Eagles should have been in that situation in the first place. Walt Coleman makes by far the strangest replay rulings in the league, year after year. I am all for strict interpretations of "indisputable visual evidence," but I don't see how you can rule that Donovan McNabb didn't get the first down on his quarterback sneak earlier in the quarter. He pretty obviously made it.

16. New York Giants [15] — This is a stunning statistic: the Giants lead the NFL in yards allowed, but they rank 21st in points allowed. That is a huge discrepancy, an enormous discrepancy, and I absolutely cannot explain it. The Giants haven't allowed a single touchdown this season to opposing special teams or defenses. They tend to give up big plays, which means opponents make their yards count, but even that doesn't explain such a weird difference. The Giants also lead the NFL in time of possession (34:23), averaging a nine-minute advantage over their opponents.

17. Carolina Panthers [21] — Why do they move up four spots after a loss? Partly it's just that they're further removed from their horrible start to the season, but it also has to do with the teams above them. Green Bay, Chicago, and San Francisco all had ugly outings in Week 9 that necessitated dropping them, so I feel like I really just bumped Carolina ahead of the Jets.

18. Tennessee Titans [24] — Two-game winning streak, both with Vince Young at quarterback, and they've averaged 32 points in those two games. This after starting 0-6 and averaging 14 points per game. Young is obviously part of the improvement, but the real love should go to Chris Johnson, who has rushed for 363 yards and 4 touchdowns in the last two weeks. For the season, Johnson leads all rushers by over 100 yards, and is averaging 6.7 yards per attempt. As much as I love Adrian Peterson, Johnson may be the best running back in the NFL.

19. New York Jets [20] — Four losses in their last five games. The win was against Oakland. Why are they ranked this high? Well, look at who's below them.

20. Green Bay Packers [16] — Coming into this weekend, the Buccaneers only had 11 sacks, 1.6 per game. They quadrupled that against Green Bay, sacking Aaron Rodgers 6 times. Part of the problem is their terrible offensive line, and part is Rodgers, who won't throw the ball away. Let's also acknowledge that giving up 38 points to the Bucs, whose previous high was 21, is unacceptable. Special teams were an issue.

21. Chicago Bears [18] — Their Week 2 win against a Pittsburgh team missing Troy Polamalu is ancient history, and the Bears are struggling in a big way. They're 1-3 since the bye, with the win against Cleveland and two of the losses ugly blowouts. The Bears are bad enough that there's blame to go around, but start with the defense, which has allowed more than 40 points twice in the last three weeks.

22. Seattle Seahawks [22] — Seattle travels farther for its road games than any other team in the league. Even when the Seahawks are good, they can have trouble in away games, and this year, they're 0-3. Coming up in the next three weeks: three straight road games, two against good teams and one against the Rams.

23. San Francisco 49ers [19] — Raise your hand if you think the "Alex Smith is all grown up" bandwagon was a little premature. In the loss to Tennessee, Smith had 4 sacks, 3 interceptions, 2 fumbles, and a partridge in a pear tree. For the season, he's 0-2 as starter and has basically the same passer rating (83.3) as Shaun Hill (79.6), whom he replaced.

24. Buffalo Bills [23] — One of three teams that fired its offensive coordinator right before the season. Those three teams (the others are Tampa and KC) are a combined 5-19. They rank 28th, 29th, and 30th in yards per game. They're 25th, 27th, and 28th in scoring. Maybe they'd be even lower if they'd kept their OCs in place, but it's hard to imagine any of them have improved much.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars [25] — Lowest-ranked 4-4 team. In the last five weeks, they have two wins, two losses, and a bye. The wins, both by just a field goal, came at home against Kansas City and St. Louis, both of whom are awful. A good team beats those opponents by double-digits. The losses were against 2-6 Tennessee and 3-5 Seattle, the latter a 41-0 massacre. So against opponents with a combined record of 7-25 (.219), Jacksonville went 2-2 and got outscored 112-60. The Jaguars are not playing well.

26. Washington Redskins [26] — Major penalty problems against the Falcons: 10 for 88 yards, including four Atlanta first downs, two of them on fourth down. Their patchwork offensive line almost got Jason Campbell killed on Sunday. Ladell Betts played well in relief of an injured Clinton Portis, and there's no realistic way their offense can get any worse, so I wouldn't anticipate a dropoff while Portis is out of the lineup. If the team has a bright spot in this lost season, it's rookie pass rusher Brian Orakpo, whose 5.5 sacks have helped the team achieve a legitimate pass rush for the first time since LaVar Arrington.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [32]Last week, I raised the possibility of Tampa finishing 0-16. If you're superstitious about these things, and I am a little, I'm glad to have possibly played a role in their finally getting a win. I don't want anyone to go 0-16.

28. Oakland Raiders [27] — Since this was their bye week, let's just list the statistical categories in which the Raiders are last or second-to-last: yards gained, points scored, touchdowns, yards per play, first downs, time of possession, turnover differential, fumbles lost, passing yards, yards per attempt, completions, completion percentage, passing TDs, passer rating, and rushing TDs allowed.

29. Kansas City Chiefs [28] — The only team in the NFL without a rushing TD this season, they finally cut Larry Johnson, who hasn't been effective in three years, but has earned negative attention off the field. Step in the right direction.

30. St. Louis Rams [30] — Halfway through the 2009 season, the Rams have been outscored by 144 points, on pace for -288, which would be an NFL record. The current mark is held by the expansion 1976 Buccaneers (-287 in a 14-game season). Last year's winless Lions finished at -249. I don't think St. Louis will match the record, but they could edge Detroit for the worst margin since realignment. The Raiders (-123) and Browns (-131) are bad enough to be part of this discussion, as well.

31. Detroit Lions [31] — Since the beginning of last season, the Lions are 1-23. But during that stretch, they have led after the first quarter 9 times, almost 40% of their games. They've led at halftime 7 times, after the third quarter 4 times. Hope just slowly slips away. This year, the Lions have actually outscored opponents 50-45 in the first quarter, but they've been outpointed 192-88 the rest of the way. Detroit hasn't scored in the third quarter since Week 1.

32. Cleveland Browns [29] — I'm not sure why I dropped them from 29th to 32nd during the bye week. They're just so bad. If they lose by less than 20 this week, I'll probably move them back up a little.

Comments and Conversation

November 10, 2009

TD:

I have to say that Boldin should have been informed in a better manner than he was last week that he was not playing. This guy is a gamer and has one of the biggest heart son the team. I think coming back from last year from that Jets game was amazing. His problem is that he plays too hard and as a result gets nagging injuries. I’d still want this guy as my #1 on half the teams in the league. His other problem is that he plays with the best receiver in football and wants to be the number #1. I think people make too much of the Cards record without Boldin and Sundays torching of the awful Bears. If the Cards want to win this year, they need Boldin against the better Ds in the NFC. They can trade him the offseason but its to both their advantages they get him the ball.

November 10, 2009

Anthony Brancato:

How many more games must the Eagles lose because they can’t convert on short yardage before Andy Reid discovers the joys of a true power runner?

It was the same thing with Reid and “one-dimensional” speed receivers, for the longest time - and look at what happened with that when Reid finally relented (DeSean Jackson).

The Eagles should sign Larry Johnson, who, as expected, cleared waivers today; and to make room for him on the roster, they should cut the newly-diagnosed cancer in their midst - Michael Vick.

November 11, 2009

kyle:

Your top ten is so bad its actually funny… Did you come with a brain or no?

November 11, 2009

Larry Matl:

Hey Kyle, I’m not sure how you can question his brain… His writing skills are genius as compared to your 2nd grade language arts abilities. His picks are not that far from pure statistical models. Models like Jeff Sagarin NFL ratings:

NFL 2009 through games of November 9 Monday -
1 New Orleans Saints = 30.44
2 New England Patriots = 28.53
3 Indianapolis Colts = 28.39
4 Cincinnati Bengals = 27.69
5 Denver Broncos = 27.68
6 Pittsburgh Steelers = 26.32
7 Minnesota Vikings = 25.87
8 Baltimore Ravens = 25.77
9 Atlanta Falcons = 25.37
10 Dallas Cowboys = 24.84

The difference is that instead of looking at pure numbers, he sees trends, players, personalities, coaching, statistics, and does so in an entertaining way.

Sorry Kyle, just my observation…

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