It seems somewhat foolish to write our first NFL Power Ranking 14 weeks into the season but I thought it would be a good tool to use to assess the Bills draft status in the offseason and to examine how far they’ve come this year (yes even at 3-10). Let’s start at the top.
1. New England Patriots (11-2): It really pains me to say it but the proof is there: the Patriots are without a doubt the best team in the league. With absolute thrashings of the Jets and Bears in consecutive weeks the Pats look unstoppable.
2. Atlanta Falcons (11-2): I was tempted to put the Steelers here but the Falcons are so damn good at home and it’s almost a certainty that they will be playing host throughout the playoffs.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3): Troy Polamalu is the best defensive player in football, they have two other defensive players in the top ten (Harrison and Woodley), and Roethlisberger is better on one foot than 90% of the quarterbacks in the league with two.
4. New Orleans Saints (10-3): The Saints looked like they were in for a Super Bowl hangover but after winning six in a row with a vastly improved defense, the Bourbon Street boys look pretty scary heading into the playoffs.
5. Philadelphia Eagles (9-4): Michael Vick is a shoe-in for Comeback Player of the Year and most likely MVP, and leads an absolutely electric Eagles offense. I guess Andy Reid knew what he was doing bidding adieu to Donovan.
6. Baltimore Ravens (9-4): A subpar second half performance against a desperate Texans team dropped the Ravens out of the top five but don’t be fooled, the Ravens still have a great D and plenty of firepower on offense.
7. New York Giants (9-4): Losing Steve Smith for the season hurts but Hakeem Nicks is getting healthy and the Giants pass rush may be the best in the league. This week’s game against the division rival Eagles should be a good test for Peyton’s little brother and the G Men.
8. New York Jets (9-4): The Sanchize is back to his old tricks, LT looks like the average player of the past few years, and Rex Ryan has been left speechless (thank the lord) for the past few weeks.
9. Chicago Bears (9-4): What is there to say about the Monsters of the Midway? Urlacher, Peppers and Briggs are all beasts on defense but with an average offense at best it’s tough to see this team going very far in the postseason.
10. Green Bay Packers (8-5): This was the toughest decision I had deciding between Green Bay, Indy, and Kansas City but with Aaron Rodgers in the lineup there’s no question that the Packmen are the most talented team. Therein lies the problem however. With Rodgers out of the lineup, Matt Flynn was absolutely pathetic against the Lions and concussions are a tricky thing. Without Rodgers in the lineup the Packers will have to rely heavily on Clay Matthews and their strong D.
11. Indianapolis Colts (7-6): No you’re not reading that record wrong, the Colts are a game over .500 through 13 games, their worst record since 2001. All the blame can’t go on Peyton’s shoulders with the team struck hard by injuries this season. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Colts will head back to the playoffs this season but this week’s game against the Jags is make or break for Indy.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5): Without a doubt the biggest surprise success story in the NFL this season. Surrounded by young talent in LaGarrette Blount, Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams, Josh Freeman is proving to be a great young QB and leader. If it weren’t for recent season ending injuries to Gerald McCoy, Aquib Talib, and Quincy Black on defense and the nightmare of a division the NFC South has turned out to be, the once lowly Bucs would be in the top ten.
13. Kansas City Chiefs (8-5): The Chiefs proved that they can’t rely on their running game every week after that trouncing at the hands of the Chargers this week. It was surprising to see just how bad KC can be without the slightly above average Matt Cassel at the helm. They better hope he heels quickly from that appendectomy or teams will continue to stack the box and take away the two headed monster that is Thomas Jones and Jamal Charles.
14. San Diego Chargers (7-6): Talk about an enigma wrapped in an anomaly, the league’s best offense and defense add up to a 7-6 record. The Bolts thoroughly dominated the division leading Chiefs this week but still need to fight for their playoff lives. It shouldn’t be too hard with the 49ers, Bengals and Broncos rounding out their schedule.
15. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-5): This may seem a little bit low for a division leading team but I just can’t buy into the Jags yet. Maurice Jones-Drew is heating up at the right time for the surprising Jaguars however, and if they are able to take down the mighty Colts for the second time this season, effectively clinching the AFC West, the Jags should be propelled into the top ten.
16. Miami Dolphins (7-6): The Fins just seem to have the Jets’ number. Without that victory this week there’s no way Miami is as high on this list. Chad Henne is a pathetic excuse for a quarterback and the running game has been a non-factor for the majority of the season. This Dolphins defense really needs to get more credit. Cameron Wake is an absolute monster and Carlos Dansby may be the most underrated free agent acquisition of the offseason.
17. Oakland Raiders (6-7): The Raiders are another huge surprise this season and though their loss to the Jags this week may have effectively ended their playoff aspirations, Tom Cable has this team heading in the right direction. Darren McFadden is finally showing that explosiveness that made him a top five pick and there are some building blocks on defense with the likes of Kamerion Wimbley and Rolando McClain. With a solid free agent/draft class the men from the Black Hole could be contenders in the AFC West for years to come.
18. San Francisco 49ers (5-8): As much as it pains me to put a team from the NFC West in the top 20, the 49ers are clearly the most talented team in the worst division in football. Keep in mind they have played a tough schedule this year but have proven they can play toe-to-toe with the likes of the Saints and Packers. San Fran has been very disappointing this year but even at 5-8 they are only one game out of the division lead. If Alex Smith can show some consistency over the last few weeks and the niners can somehow get past the Bolts this week, they should be heading to the playoffs with a .500 record.
19. St. Louis Rams (6-7): Sam Bradford is a shoe-in for Offensive Rookie of the Year and the Rams have had an impressive season but this team still feels like they are another year or two away from truly contending.
20. Houston Texans (5-8): The Texans have taken it on the chin down the stretch, their defense is one of the worst in the league, and Gary Kubiak’s job is in serious jeopardy. Still, this Texans team has the best quarterback, running back and wide receiver of any of the 5-8 teams and has played an absolutely brutal schedule this season. They did have a great second half against the Ravens on Monday but fell short in overtime and effectively ended any legitimate shot of making the playoffs. At least it seems that they have found a franchise runner in Arian Foster to complement Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson.
21. Seattle Seahawks (6-7): Even at 6-7 and a share of the NFC West lead with St. Louis, I still feel this may be too high of a ranking for the Hawks. Matt Hasselbeck is in the twilight of his career, Marshawn Lynch has been anything but impressive since he was sent packing from Buffalo, and their defense is nothing to write home about. The 49ers showed who the superior team (if there is such a thing) in the NFC West is after manhandling Seattle on Sunday.
22. Washington Redskins (5-8): Give McNabb some credit. He’s surrounded by an offense who doesn’t run the ball effectively on a consistent basis, a wide receiving corps that’s headlined by Santana Moss, a defense who can’t stop anyone and all of a sudden a special teams that can’t snap the ball correctly on an extra point. I’m sure Daniel Snyder will open up his checkbook this offseason to surround McNabb with some legitimate talent on both sides of the ball but one has to question whether or not it’s too late for the former All-Pro QB. Donavan hasn’t set the league ablaze with his numbers this season and maybe you can attribute that to the lack of talent on offense but he’s approaching the wrong side of 30 and you have to wonder how much longer he can be efficient for.
23. Minnesota Vikings (5-8): If it weren’t for the Dallas Cowboys, the Vikes would without a doubt be the most disappointing team in the league this season. After showing signs of life against the Bills last week, the roof caved in, in more ways than one, on the Brett Favre-less Vikings against the Giants in Detroit on Monday night. So Favre wasn’t the answer, Jackson isn’t the answer, does Ziggy Wolf consider drafting a quarterback in the offseason? An offseason without the headache of Brett Favre’s decision to return looming in Minnesota, the Purple People Eaters should focus on finding the right coach, plugging some holes in the draft and getting back on track in 2011 (if there is a season that is).
24. Tennessee Titans (5-8): After losing six straight it’s apparent that Jeff Fisher vastly overestimated the impact that Randy Moss could have on his anemic offense. Moss isn’t the only one to blame however. CJ2K is going to fall drastically short of his preseason prediction of becoming the league’s all-time single season rusher and the quarterback position is in complete disarray with the ancient Kerry Collins and Rusty Smith (or whatever the hell his name is) at the helm and the constant headache that is Vince Young.
25. Dallas Cowboys (4-9): You have no idea how badly I wanted to put Jerry’s boys dead last on this list but you have to give Jason Garrett some credit with the team’s mini-turnaround. The Boys quit on Wade Phillips half way through the season and abandoned any hope of even making a run at the playoffs. It looks like they are starting to warm up to the thought of Garrett taking over on a permanent basis however. Dallas is 3-2 since Garrett took over after taking out the Giants and Colts and having strong performances against the Eagles and Saints as well.
26. Buffalo Bills (3-10): I’ve said that I would rather watch this Bills team than any other Buffalo squad in the past half-decade on multiple occasions this season. The game against the Browns on Sunday may have been a yawner but Buffalo has shown glimpses that they may not be as far away from contention as everyone thought going into this season. I may be an optimist when it comes to the Bills and it seems like we say this every year but the Bills were only completely out of two or three games this season. They suffered through a brutal schedule, a poor defensive scheme, and several injuries but came out realizing that they may actually have some professional football players on this roster. Fitzy seems like he can right the ship for a few years, Stevie Johnson is a solid number one receiver even with the drops, and Kyle Williams is a beast. A solid free agency period and draft class this offseason could be the key to the turnaround for this franchise.
27. Cleveland Browns (5-8): Like the Bills, the Browns have shown glimpses throughout the season, staying close in just about every game and even taking down the Dolphins, Saints and Patriots. The Browns probably deserve to be higher on the list than the Bills and maybe even the Cowboys but after getting a chance to watch them for an entire game I realized that this team really isn’t that good. Peyton Hillis is having an unbelievable season and their defense, which is filled with no-names, is actually pretty solid but I didn’t see anything to make me believe that they can get it done through the air. It does look like this team is also heading in the right direction and with a solid offseason, who knows what the Browns could do in 2011.
28. Detroit Lions (3-10): Taking down the Packers is no small feat even if they were without Aaron Rodgers in the second half. Keep in mind that the Lions are down to their third stringer Drew Stanton and they pretty much shut down Rodgers when he was in the game. This is a promising team bursting with young talent in Calvin Johnson, Alphonso Smith, Ndamukong Suh, and Matt Stafford when he’s healthy. Now there are rumors that the over-paid but dominant when he wants to be Albert Haynesworth wants to be reunited with Jim Schwartz in Detroit. Suh and a happy Haynesworth would be a formidable duo in the middle of that Lions defensive line.
29. Arizona Cardinals (4-9): How sad is it that with a 4-9 record the Cardinals are not mathematically eliminated from the NFC West race? I was completely wrong about Arizona this season. I thought they would substitute not having Kurt Warner with a two-headed monster at running back in Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells. Neither have done anything of substance this season. Don’t count the red birds out just yet though. With three winnable games against Dallas, Carolina and San Francisco left on their schedule and some serious help, the Cardinals might be able to pull off a miracle and take the toilet bowl of the NFL which is the NFC West crown.
30. Denver Broncos (3-10): Read Killer’s Korner from last week and you’ll know exactly how I feel about the Broncos. Kyle Orton looked down right pathetic against a weak Arizona defense and the Broncos D gave up 43 points to a Cardinals offense that was led by John Skelton in his first career start. Let the rebuilding begin in Mile High.
31. Cincinnati Bengals (2-11): It only took him 14 weeks to finally start pointing the finger at everyone else but T.O. might actually be right this time. Marvin Lewis saved his job with an impressive start last season but the Bungles fizzled out at the end of the year. Terrell Owens is having a great season Ochocinco has played well in stretches but Carson Palmer keeps on finding new ways to lose games. There’s no doubt that Lewis will be ousted in the offseason but it may be time for Cincy’s front office to take a long hard look at their franchise QB. If their futility continues, they will have a shot and Cam Newton or Andrew Luck in April. Will the temptation be too much for Mike Brown?
32. Carolina Panthers (1-12): I’m not even going to waste my time. They are a horrible team, with no offense, no defense and soon to be no head coach. There’s no quick fix in Carolina but if their miserable season means they get a chance to draft Andrew Luck in April then it might all be worth it.