Thursday, July 12, 2012

NFL Power Rankings: Top 12

To see teams 32 through 13, scroll down a little.  

Here are the top 12 teams in my NFL Power Rankings.    

12. Dallas Cowboys
That means, yes, Buffalo is still in play with 11 teams left! 

Why I like Dallas enough to rank them in the top 12:

-DeMarcus Ware rates as my 5th best player in the NFL. He’s good for 20 sacks. 
- Tony Romo is the best quarterback in the NFC East, at least according to Amani Toomer, who played with Eli for five years.
-I’m unabashedly in love with DeMarco Murray, and have been since I watched this Youtube clip last September. He is a clone of Adrian Peterson and I’m still trying to figure out how he went in the third round.
-The secondary went from a weakness to a strength, with the additions of Maurice Claiborne and Brandon Carr. They now have the best tandem of CBs in the NFC.

Why I’m not completely sold on Dallas:
-Every year, they are undisciplined and stupid. Drama is the lifeblood of their organization and I don’t think that changes as long as Jerry Jones runs the show. This type of weakness outweighs personnel weaknesses. You can win with a bunch of average players who play their butts off; you can’t win with undisciplined morons, no matter how talented they are.
-Miles Austin hasn’t been the same since getting his huge contract, and Dez Bryant is a diva waiting to be born.
-Their schedule is very rough.
-The interior of the offensive line is unresolved.
-Romo is not clutch. You may have heard this before. I think the overwhelming media attention he absorbs messes with his head.

11. Buffalo Bills

My flier team for 2012. For more reasons that just the signing of Mario Williams, though that was huge.

What I love about Buffalo this season:

-Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller. Jackson was on pace for 1,500 rushing yards and 2,200 total yards at the time of his leg injury, and was ripping off a league-best 5.5 YPC. Spiller is a perfect change-of-pace back; 10-15 touches a game and he should break free for at least one big play.

-Ryan Fitzpatrick. Okay, I don’t actually love Ryan Fitzpatrick. But the dude is smart (went to Harvard), he understands defenses, and while he doesn’t have great physical ability, he usually doesn’t mess things up. 

-The defensive front 7 rivals San Fran and Pittsburgh as the league’s best. Even without Mario, it was a dominant defensive line with Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus. Then they added one of the league’s best pass rushers. The linebackers are led by the highly underrated Nick Barnett (130 tackles and 4 picks last year), and rising star Kelvin Sheppard.  

-The secondary is also above average, though very young. Safety Jarius Byrd is a stud, and they have a quartet of solid corners in Leodis McKelvin, Terrence McGee, Aaron Williams, and Stephon Gilmore. Three of those guys are under 26. That could be a great group for years to come.

-Most of all, I like Buffalo because they draft well. It’s not just about flashy free agent signings. Great teams are generally built in one of two ways: find an elite quarterback, or draft really, really well. Sometimes, like with Green Bay, you do both and you go 15-1. Other times, like with Indy, you get the QB but draft terribly, and then you go 2-14 when the QB has neck surgery.

But sometimes, a team like San Fran or Baltimore contends without an elite quarterback, and that happens if and only if you nail your draft picks year after year. Examine Buffalo’s last 5 drafts:

2008 – Got McKelvin in the 1st round; found WR Steve Johnson and OT Demetrius Bell in the 7th. That’s three starters. 
2009 – Totally wasted the #11 pick on Aaron Maybin, but still managed to grab 3 starters, two of whom are studs – center Eric Wood (pick #28) and safety Jarius Byrd (pick #42). Also got a solid starting guard in Andy Levitre (#51).
2010 – Okay, they got nothing out of this one, except Spiller, who was a lousy pick at #9. Bad example. Moving on …
2011 – In the first three rounds, they landed three defensive studs with Dareus, Aaron Williams and Sheppard. Three starters in three picks.
2012 – Gilmore at pick #10, and guard Cordy Glenn at #41 (could have gone in the first round). Neither of them have played yet, obviously, but I’m thinking both picks will work out well.

Even with a couple wasted first round picks, Buffalo has still built a contender from the past few drafts.

-One last thing I like about Buffalo, before I address the weaknesses. They have a super easy schedule. I mean, insanely easy. They get Miami twice, the Jets twice, the Chiefs and Browns, the NFC West, and the AFC South. That should equate to at least 10 games in which they are favored.

Now, the weaknesses … first of all, it should be said that the receivers stink. Steve Johnson is a nice possession guy (though he drops a lot of passes), but they don’t have a big play, stretch-the-field player. That hurts them.

The offensive line isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t overwhelming. It’s middle-of-the-road, much like Detroit’s.

They are very young on defense, relying on lots of rookies and second-year players. They’re also  hoping a few key players recover fully from nasty injuries, namely the Williamses (Mario and Kyle).

Lastly, Ryan Fitzpatrick is limited physically, as I mentioned, and won’t be able to carry the Bills on his back. He needs to be a manager, and let Fred Jackson and the defense win games. I think that can happen, but it’s a risky formula that doesn’t always work.

Overall, because of the silly-easy schedule, I think the Bills go 10-6 and earn a Wildcard.

10. New Orleans Saints

In the wake of “BountyGate,” I would like to propose that we stop calling every single scandal “SomethingGate.”  It's stupid, lazy, and totally overdone.  I nominate calling it "Crushin for Concussions.”  Or what creepo Gregg Williams called it: “Kill the Head! The Body will Die!!” 

About the Saints, I rank them this low because I’m pretty nervous about Drew Brees’ potential holdout. It sounds like they aren’t close to an agreement. Brees wants to be the highest paid QB in the league, and the Saints are saying “Uh, bud, you’re 33.…”

The Saints have until July 16 to work out a deal, otherwise Brees is stuck under the ‘franchise tag,’ which is bad for him (no guaranteed money), and bad for them ($23.5 million due to him this year)  So it appears a deal has to get done soon; if it doesn’t, it’ll be awful for everybody.

But in the meantime, Brees is skipping practices and conducting interviews to talk about his frustrations. He needs to be there; he’s basically the team’s coach in the absence of suspended Sean Payton.

The Saints suffered a few blows this offseason, losing All Pro guard Carl Nicks and WR Robert Meachem. But they added Ben Grubbs from the Ravens to replace Nicks and they still have Brees’s favorite weapons in Graham, Sproles and Colston.  Mark Ingram should take over as the primary ballcarrier in his second season, but this will still be one of the most pass-heavy teams in the NFL, so Ingram won't be used much.

*If you’re in a PPR league, make sure you draft Darren Sproles. I did last year, brilliantly, and after a few awesome weeks I decided to trade while his value was high. Idiot.  I got Santonio Holmes for him, and was totally screwed by that trade.

Defensively, the Saints are under the microscope because of “BountyFence.” It’s just assumed that they’ll suck defensively because of it. But Gregg Williams was already gone, so his suspension is irrelevant. And Jonathan Vilma was on the decline of his career before his suspension, and then he was replaced in free agency by Curtis Lofton, a superior player anyway. (Read this well-written article for 9 reasons why Lofton makes the Saints D better than they were with Vilma).   Also, the defense landed a pair of reliable starters in DT Brodrick Bunkley (from Denver) and OLB David Hawthorne (Seattle).  

But, I still have the Saints ranked 10th, behind the Lions who they whipped twice last year, because they don’t have a head coach (or a play-caller), and they don’t have much of a pass rush or a secondary.  That, and of course the Drew Brees holdout.  If Brees doesn’t play, they’ll go 0-16.   

9.  New York Giants

Some Power Rankings have put the G-Men at #1 out of respect for their Super Bowl. I’m not quite that stupid. They went 9-7 last year, and only made the playoffs because Dallas choked.

That being said, they exploded in the postseason, and annihilated the Falcons, outplayed Green Bay in Lambeau, got a little bit lucky in San Fran (two fumbled punts), and then upset New England thanks to the Pats’ horrendous defense.  Eli’s QB rating was 92.9 in the regular season and103.3 in the playoffs.

The most exciting thing going for the Giants in 2012 is undoubtedly Justin Pierre-Paul. The #15 pick in 2010 emerged from a relatively unknown backup to arguably the best DE in the league in just four quick months. He didn’t even start the first four games of 2011, but injuries to Tuck and Umenyiora plunged him into the starting job, where he was completely and utterly dominant, amassing 17 sacks, two forced fumbles, a safety, and a blocked field goal which came in the closing seconds of a huge game.  JPP was so under-the-radar that he wasn’t even on the Pro Bowl ballot, but he ended up making the NFC roster anyway, then was voted a First Team All Pro. Oh, and he was the Giants’ best player during their Super Bowl run.  Pretty good for age 23.  This guy is just going to get better, and the rest of the league better be scared. If he stays healthy and smart, he could eventually be of the best pass-rushers of all time.

Next to JPP are a couple of other well-established pass rushers in Justin Tuck and Osi. The rest of the Giants D is nothing special, though Prince Amukamara is a sensible nominee for a breakout season.

Offensively, they’ll continue to live and die by Eli’s late-game heroics and uncanny knack for making big plays. Losing Mario Manningham shouldn’t slow them down as Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are one of the best tandems of receivers in the NFL. Ahmad Bradshaw was re-signed for 4 years, and rookie David Martin from Virginia Tech (the #32 pick) joins him in the backfield.

The Giants face arguably the toughest schedule in the league this year, with the NFC South, AFC North and a 1st place schedule that pits them against Green Bay and San Fran.  I think they’ll probably make the playoffs again, but it might only be with 9 or 10 wins.

8. Denver Broncos

I’m really excited about Peyton Manning.  And Von Miller.  I might actually be a closet Broncos fan. Not sure yet.  

7. Detroit Lions

Yeah that’s right. The seventh best team in the NFL resides in Michigan.

Here are a few reasons why this is the best Lions’ team ever:  (I’m not counting the stupid 1950s teams)

-Calvin Johnson. Third best player in the NFL. Totally unstoppable. Twice as talented and ten times as smart as the average receiver.
-Matt Stafford. Best quarterback the Lions have had since … …. …. … … well, ever. I was totally wrong about him. I still can't believe how good he was towards the end of the year. 
-Suh and the D line. Corey Williams, Avril, KVB, Fairley, Lo-Jack, Willie Young, Sammie Hill … that’s some serious depth. Eight guys who can really play. Strangely, KVB might be the weakest link in that group.
-Explosive offense. I didn’t like the Titus Young or Ryan Broyles picks, but they have afforded the Lions a dynamic arsenal of weapons. Along with Burleson, Pettigrew, Scheffler, Best, LeShoure … it’s going to be pretty difficult for defenses to double team Calvin.
-Chris Houston really stepped it up last year, and might be even better this year. If he can play like a solid #1 CB, it’ll make him one of the most important players on the team.
-Stephen Tulloch is a stud. He might not get the attention he deserves, but the Lions took care of him financially and he’ll anchor the middle of the field for years.
-Riley Reiff should replace Gosder at right tackle and will be an immediate improvement. 
-Ford Field became an intimidating place to play last year. Jim Schwartz has the players and fans believing. They have a nastiness and an arrogance that, while it can lead to stupid behavior, can also be pretty darn effective.

And of course, here are the reasons Detroit might suck:

-They continue to neglect the secondary. Bringing in warm bodies isn’t enough; 3rd round rookies and Colts’ castoffs aren’t going to make a difference. Until Schwartz and Lewand make the pass defense a priority, we’ll continue to give up huge passing plays.
-Bad drafting in 2011. Fairley and LeShoure are both potheads and morons. Titus Young has an anger problem. None of these guys were very smart picks in the first place even before the character concerns arose. 
-Veteran leadership. Somebody has to whip these undisciplined idiots into shape. Stafford may be the guy, but he’s a little young and a little too laid-back. Calvin doesn't have that fiery personality either. Suh could be the guy, but he's more of the problem than the solution. It could be KVB, but he’s kind of a hooligan too. Nobody else on the roster really has any credibility, except Jason Hanson. The butt-kicking could come from Schwartz or Gunther Cunningham, but they’re just as hotheaded as the players who have taken on their personalities.  
-Backus, Raiola and Peterman remain pretty mediocre mainstays on the O-line. Only Rob Sims really stands out at left guard, and he’s not exactly an All Pro. Having Reiff at RT and grooming him to take over Backus’s spot in 2013 will be a good start, but this is still a position of weakness for the time being. We can’t afford another injury to Stafford.
-Most of all, the infamous Madden Curse is looming. It’s inevitable. Our best-case scenario is Calvin only missing 6 to 8 games. Anything less than that would be a miracle. If we can go something like 3-4 in the games he misses, we may be able to overcome the Curse. If he misses the entire season, like I think he probably will, we’ll finish no better than 7-9.

Quickly recapping the offseason, the most important things Detroit did was re-signing Avril and Tulloch when it appeared we couldn’t keep both. By paying them, though, we weren’t able to bring in any other top free agents, so we just added two D+ players to the secondary. After drafting Reiff and Broyles, the Lions took a trio of cornerbacks (Dwight Bentley, Chris Greenwood, Jonte Green) and a trio of linebackers (Ronnell Lewis, Tahir Whitehead, Travis Lewis) with their other six picks.  Sounds like Ronnell Lewis is the only one of those guys who is really NFL-caliber. He might end up starting at OLB over Justin Durant. 

We didn’t lose any starting players in the offseason except CB Eric Wright, which is really a win for us. Bobby Carpenter was a nice special teams player and good depth at OLB, but losing him is not detrimental. Replacing Drew Stanton won’t be hard to do either. By far, the worst thing that happened this offseason was Calvin Johnson winning the Madden vote.

One of my favorite football sites used to be, but lately Walter has become a slacker and writes really dumb, low-quality stuff. However, his analysis of the Lions is spot on, so I will plagiarize it:

The Lions have one of the most talented rosters in the league. They now have to play up to that talent level. They must avoid stupid penalties and mistakes that resulted in losses last year. They also have to stop getting into legal trouble. If they can do all that, and if Calvin Johnson can elude the dreaded Madden Curse, there's no telling how far this team can go. “

Right on.

Of all the reasons to be optimistic this year, perhaps the best reason is our super easy schedule.
Ten of our games are against teams ranked in the bottom half of the league, and seven of the games are against teams in the bottom 10. We open the season at home against St. Louis (we’ll be favored by at least 10), then go to San Fran for a Sunday night rematch of Harbaugh & Schwartz. Then it’s at Tennessee, who has no chance of slowing down our offense, then home for Minnesota, who hopefully won’t have a healthy AP yet. That’s gotta be at least a 3-1 start. Hopefully 4-0 heading into the bye.

Then it’s two straight road games – Chicago on Monday night and Philly. We can’t afford to lose both; a split of those games would be nice. Then it’s home for Seattle in the highly anticipated Matt Flynn Revenge Game. I hope we crush his stupid face.

After that, it’s two road games against two lousy teams. Blaine Gabbert and Jacksonville, and then to Minnesota. We really need to win both of those, because the following week Aaron Rodgers comes to Ford Field. If we win the games we should win, and take care of business at home, we’ll be 7-2 heading into our first match against the Pack.

Assuming that’s a loss (probably safe to assume), we’ve got to recover quickly for a tough Thanksgiving game against Houston. Detroit isn’t accustomed to National TV games, and imploded last year on Thanksgiving (the Stomp). Then, we get our first look at Andrew Luck in a third consecutive home game.

Last year, the wheels almost fell off the wagon during the Lions short home stand. Remember, we were 5-0 (3-0 on the road) heading into two games at home, and everyone assumed we’d be 7-0 or at least 6-1 after that. But then came two crushing home losses to Atlanta and San Fran, and it looked like the same-old-stupid-Lions. Amazingly, they didn’t collapse, but responded by beating down Tim Tebow by 35 points the next week, and finishing the year out with a 5-4 record and 2 of those losses were to Rodgers and Brees. The only inexcusable loss was the Matt Flynn Fiasco.

For whatever reason, the Lions lost focus last year on the home stand. They can’t afford to repeat that mistake this year during weeks 12 and 13. We need to beat Houston, and we need to beat Indy. Those are games we should win, but could lose. Winning both of those games will be huge in earning another playoff spot. If we go 2-1 during that home stand, we’ll ideally be 9-3, in great position for a Wildcard spot.

After the Indy contest, Detroit travels to Lambeau for a week 14 game. Unfortunately, it’ll be too soon for Green Bay to rest Rodgers, even if they’re 13-0.  So we’ve gotta chalk this up as a loss; it’s not unwinnable, but I sure won’t count on it. Then we go cross-country to Arizona, another should-win game but it’s never easy to play that far from home. Then it’s home for Atlanta, who will likely be vying for a playoff spot. We finish the season at home against the Bears, in a game that could very well be between two 10-5 teams, with the winner going to the playoffs and the loser staying home.  

So while we do enjoy a very easy schedule, I think the Lions inexperience in big games and lack of mental toughness is going to lead to us losing a couple games we should win. Still, I have us finishing 11-5, a very good record, but probably 2 games lower than where we could finish if we play to our full potential. 

Again, all this is based on health. If Calvin gets struck down by the Curse, pencil us down for 7-9 or worse. If Stafford goes down, Shaun Hill could do a decent job, but nothing will come easy. Everybody else on the team is replaceable, except Chris Houston, because after him we have no worthwhile cornerbacks. If Houston gets hurt, Detroit needs to trade its 1st round pick for a CB or suffer through some barnburners.

So that’s my prediction … 11-5 and a wildcard spot.  

Moving on to the top 6 …

6. Houston Texans

No team had more injury problems last year, and no team lost more talent in the offseason. Not only did they lose Mario Williams, but they said goodbye to two offensive lineman, most notably stud RT Eric Winston. The Texans O-line drops from being one of the league’s best to just an above average unit. They still have an elite left tackle and center, and thus they’ll still be formidable running the ball. But not quite as good.

Arian Foster got a big payday, which makes me think he'll regress, but his backup (Ben Tate) may be just as talented as Foster. In fact, Tate is probably a top 10 running back in the league once he gets his chance. He ripped off a 5.4 YPC last year on 175 attempts. Wow. If Houston can’t pay both guys, Tate will be getting a huge payday elsewhere in a year or two.

The Texans’ season really rests on the health of Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson, both of whom missed a lot of games last year. If they are both healthy all year, Houston will be a Super Bowl contender, and the main reason is their defense.

Despite losing Mario, the Texans have arguably the best overall defense in the league. With Brian Cushing anchoring the middle of the field, the pass rushers went ballistic, with Connor Barwin, J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed combining for 23 sacks last year. Now, with #26 pick OLB Whitney Mercilus joining the D, they’ll be even scarier. CB Jonathan Joseph is a stud shutdown corner as well.

The main thing the Texans have going in their favor is the departure of Peyton Manning from the AFC South. The starting quarterbacks in their division are ages 24, 22 and 22, and have combined to throw only 16 TDs in their careers. Luck and Locker are potentially going to be studs, but Houston has a window to dominate the division right now, and they need to take advantage of that window before Andrew Luck becomes awesome.

Houston can go 5-1 or 6-0 in the division, and that should be enough for a playoff spot. The rest of their schedule is tough, so I think they'll end up 10-6 or 11-5. 

5. San Francisco 49ers
I respect the heck out of them, but they are becoming my least favorite team in the NFL for some reason.  Adding Randy Moss didn’t help their cause. Amazing defense though. 

4. Baltimore Ravens
Probably should rank them a few spots lower now that their best defensive player (Suggs) is going to miss the entire season, but something tells me they’ll be okay without him. 

3. Pittsburgh Steelers
My hatred for “Them Stellers” is slowly fading, but that doesn’t mean I won’t cheer against them at any opportunity. But I think hatred is the wrong word; it’s more of a tolerable disdain.

On the other hand, I really like the Pittsburgh Pirates. They are my second favorite baseball team. Weird huh.

2. New England Patriots

I like what the Pats did in the offseason, bringing back O-coordinator Josh McDaniels, signing WR Brandon Lloyd, TE Jake Ballard, and CB Will Allen, and drafting OLB Chandler Jones and MLB Donta Hightower. They had to make serious changes to the defense, and they did. Hightower was potentially the best defensive player in the Draft, and will end up being a total steal at pick 25.

Also, I think Brady is pissed about the Super Bowl.

1. Green Bay Packers

I mean, they went 15-1 last year. Rodgers set the record for best QB rating ever (122.5!!!!!!!!!). And I don’t care  if they ranked 32nd in defense. That’s only because they led every game by 20 points at half and teams just aired it out. With Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, Charles Woodson, Desmond Bishop, A.J. Hawk, Tramon Williams, and now DT Anthony Hargrove (from the Saints) and rookies Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy  … that’s a darn good defense. Darn stinking good. They may have ranked 32nd in yards allowed, but they are top 15 in terms of talent.

The offense is just too stinking incredible. Only an injury to Rodgers can keep them from trashing everybody they play. I mean, do you realize how good a 122.5 QB Rating is? All I can say is Discount Freaking Double Check.

So that’s it.  Sorry this took like two months.  The funny thing is, I ranked the teams a long time ago, and then by the time I finished the writing, I’m not very happy with how the teams are ranked. Oh well.   I’m excited to get some fantasy football rankings up soon.   And of course my weekly against-the-spread picks.  


And lastly, a few notes about a few things ….

-Steve Nash signed with the Lakers.  That would have been so cool 5 years ago. Oh snap!

-Ray Allen went to the Heat. Sell-out.

-Dwight Howard has replaced LeBron as the Biggest Jerk in the NBA.  Too bad. I always liked Dwight. Not anymore. 

-Oh yeah, I forgot, the Heat won the Finals.  Big stupid deal. The NBA is almost as irrelevant to me right now as hockey.  The only thing keeping me engaged is fantasy basketball, which by the way, I am awesome at.

This whole “LeBron is a Hero, he won a ring!” crap is really stupid.  All he did was join forces with two stars. He didn’t do what Jordan or Bird or Magic or Kobe did – win with the team that drafted him!  He ruined his career and his legacy the minute he did the stupid Decision.  I don’t blame him for leaving Cleveland; that was acceptable. But he should have left the crap team for a different crap team. He should have said “Build around me and we’ll win it all!”  He should have gone to the Knicks.  Going to Wade’s team with Bosh was just childish. 

As I wrote last July ... “The Heat are gonna win the next 3 or 4 titles.  Wake me up in 2016.” 

Or, as I wrote in my NBA Preview in December, Heat over OKC in 6.  Good for you LeBron, you a-hole.”

-Switching to baseball … Prince Fielder won the Home Run Derby.  Now he just needs to do it with guys on base. 11 of his 15 homers are solo shots.

-The Tigers ended the first half of the season on a 5 game winning streak. That was great.  Let’s hope they keep it rolling.  But I have no confidence in anything Jim Leyland does right now. He is making decisions simply out of stubbornness and arrogance, not in the best interest of winning games.  He is honestly making it harder for the team to win, by doing things like batting Raburn in the 2-hole, watching him go 0 for 4, then doing it against the next day.  The Raburn fetish has gone on way too long, and I think it’s almost over as the Tigers will likely deal for a 2nd baseman before the deadline. But who knows. I have no idea what to expect from the evil wizard who abandoned reason for madness .

But I do think the White Sox are better than advertised, and catching them won’t be easy. They have a much better starting rotation than Detroit, and are better coached. What we really need is a crushing injury to somebody on Chicago. Also, we need to stay healthy ourselves, and we need JV to win his next 10 starts, and we need Max and Rick and Doug to pitch consistently, and we could really use some timely hitting from all the guys who are underperforming this year, in particular Boesch, Peralta, and Avila. I would add Delmon Young to that list, but I just can’t stand him and would rather see Detroit trade him. He is the least disciplined batter in baseball, with the worst walks-per-at-bat  ratio in the MLB to prove it.  Seriously, how do you draw 9 walks in 300 at-bats? I could draw 9 walks in 45 minutes at a batting cage. By the way, the only player in the MLB with a ratio almost that bad is Brennan Boesch – 12 walks in 301 at-bats. They have combined for 21 walks in 600 at-bats!  That’s horrendous. Quintin Berry has 17 walks in less than 150 at-bats. Just embarrassing how bad their brains are at the plate. I blame the hitting coach.


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