The symphony of violence that is the National Football League is about to commence.
The tribes have assembled and the war drums are banging. Warrior training, and the synchronization of pain, is over. And it is time again to for the national psyche to be engulfed by the ritualized violence that marks each weekend in this time of the Harvest.
Make no mistake: football has become our National Sport for two reasons: bloodshed and point spreads. And while college football has retard-strength in pockets of this nation – not coincidentally the same pockets seeped in the oppression of organized religion – there is no doubt that the NFL still rules the roost and sets the tone for our sporting, and gambling, public.
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It is time. Time again for a five-month tour of duty in a War against civility, alcohol, statistical analysis, the oddsmakers, the id, common sense, Fate and our own understanding of individual mortality. It’s going to be a blast. And I thought that this final moment, the calm before the tour, deserved a little NFL Power Rankings.
So without further ado, here is my initial 2010 NFL Power Rankings:
1. New Orleans Saints (0-0) – The NFL started the Thursday night opener back in 2002. And in the eight years they’ve had this game the home team is 7-1 SU and 5-1-2 ATS. New Orleans is going to be rocking tonight, and it was already one of the most difficult venues in the NFL to get a win. Darren Sharper’s injury (he will miss the first six weeks) leaves a major hole; I don’t care what they say about how well Mike Jenkins has looked. For all of the talk about how the Saints battered Brett Favre, there is no doubt that the Vikings physically dominated when the teams met in January. And had the Vikings not turned the ball over five times they would have advanced.
2. Dallas Cowboys (0-0) – There has been a lot of bluster about the play of the offense this fall. But the fact of the matter is that this is a veteran team that’s had the same guys running the same system for more than three years here, so it’s not like they needed to exert themselves. That said, there are some issues cropping up on the offensive line. Tackle Marc Columbo and guar Kyle Kosier likely won’t be playing in Washington Sunday night. The Cowboys are 9-3 ATS in their last 12 trips to Washington and the visitor is 4-0 ATS over the last two years. However, the favorite is just 7-19 ATS in this series and Dallas is just 2-5 ATS in the last seven.
3. Baltimore Ravens (0-0) – One of the least-reported stories of the preseason involved two of the best safeties/defenders in the NFL: Sharper and Ed Reed. That Reed is on the PUP list and will miss the first six games is a huge blow to a defensive secondary that is already in shambles. There is no doubt that the big question mark on this team is its defense and whether it can stop people in the back seven. Ray Lewis has no coverage skills at this point and the corners and safeties are a mess. The good news is that the Jets don’t have the skills in the passing game to take advantage of Baltimore’s weakness. The Ravens are 5-1 ATS in the last six meetings.
4. San Diego Chargers (0-0) – I really don’t think that this team is this good. I don’t. But I suppose until they prove otherwise they have to be considered a threat in the AFC. The bottom line is that their offense is ridiculously good and if the defense can continue to just be good but not great they are in business because they are still head and shoulders above the rest of their division. They are 24-10-4 ATS in their last 38 games against the AFC West. San Diego has won five straight against the Chiefs, with last year’s two wins coming by 29 and 30 points. However, I’m sure everyone remembers them almost losing at Oakland last year in their opener.
5. Green Bay Packers (0-0) – The Packers are 20-8-1 ATS in their last 29 road games, but Philadelphia is one of the few teams they’ve had a lot of trouble with. The Pack is just 2-7 ATS in the last nine meetings. Green Bay’s offense has been an absolute wrecking crew this preseason. But one thing people aren’t talking about is that they have played about as sorry of a lineup as anyone in the preseason (Cleveland, Seattle, Indianapolis, Kansas City). I am still holding firm that this team is going to take a step back and that they aren’t even close to being the Super Bowl threat that some have crowned them.
6. Indianapolis Colts (0-0) – If the Colts win 10 games again this year with this roster I think that every team in the league should retire Peyton Manning’s jersey. This team is a mess behind Manning, starting with the offensive line. Indy will start a UFA (Jeff Linkenbach) at left tackle and may still be rolling with their backup center if Jeff Saturday can’t go. There is some grumbling in the locker room and right now I don’t know what we can expect from the defense. However, the Colts are 15-1 SU against the Texans and Manning is 9-3 SU in season openers.
7. Minnesota Vikings (0-0) – If the NFL is completely a passing league right now the Vikings are in some trouble. Their wide receiving corps is mangled and they will face the No. 1 pass offense in the league with just three healthy cornerbacks. That’s a problem. Last year Favre looked awful in his first game, a road win at Cleveland. He went 14-for-21 for just 110 yards and one touchdown. I don’t expect him to be all that sharp tonight in New Orleans, regardless of what blitzes the Saints throw. If I’m Minnesota I am running the ball 40 times Thursday night and trying to shorten this game.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) – I actually think that Byron Leftwich’s knee injury was the best thing that could have happened to this team because it essentially made the quarterback decision for Mike Tomlin. That also settles the locker room because they know that it is what it is. Dixon has completed more than 70 percent of his passes this August and he at least has some experience from a start at Baltimore last year. And his mobility will help him behind that shaky offensive line. Dating back to 2000, Pittsburgh has only been a home dog three times – they won all three games. The last time was back in 2004 when they were dogged in back-to-back weeks to New England and Philadelphia and hammered both of them by more than two touchdowns.
9. New York Jets (0-0) – Getting Darrelle Revis back is a boon, but I don’t know when he became Deion Sanders. We will see. Right now the two biggest problems that this team has is Mark Sanchez and lack of depth. The Jets have an outstanding 22, but if you look at their roster (or if you watched the preseason) it’s obvious that they are lean in the reserves. That’s what happens when you have to pay the star. Sanchez is going to be an anchor most of the season. And if teams can stand up to the Jets running game – not a given – then New York won’t make plays through the air to break defenses down.
10. New England Patriots (0-0) – Nevermind the distractions this week out of Foxboro. All of the talk about Brady and Moss and their contract situations is just a smoke screen. The offense is impervious to distractions. The real question is how the defense is going to hold up to the Cincinnati offense. The Bengals can bang. But they don’t threaten with big plays so the Pats will have plenty of chances to bow their backs. The ‘over’ is 10-3 in New England’s last 13 season openers.
11. Cincinnati Bengals (0-0) – I’m still confused how everyone has been questioning Carson Palmer on this team. If this team fails it will be because Marvin Lewis is a terrible game coach and he doesn’t have his mistake-prone team properly prepared. Palmer should be the least of anyone’s concerns. The Bengals are just 24-44 ATS in September and they need to avoid digging an early hole. Cincinnati’s defense matches up very well with New England’s offense, and they are 7-2 ATS as underdogs dating back through last year. Cincinnati has more depth and talent. But they are in an incredibly tough venue and they will be outcoached.
12. New York Giants (0-0) – Every team wants to win its opener. But few teams have the full motivation of the Giants. Carolina absolutely demolished the Giants last December, 41-9, in New York’s last home game in Giants Stadium. Now the G-Men will open a new stadium with a monster revenge situation against the Panthers. These teams have played five times in the last seven years, with the road team winning three times outright.
13. San Francisco 49ers (0-0) – Right now the Niners are one of the biggest public plays on the board. They are taking over 75 percent of the action in their game and I will be surprised if the number doesn’t move off the 3.0. The key to San Francisco’s game will be how the quarterback and offensive line handle playing in the loudest outdoor stadium in the NFL. The Niners lost here last year and Seattle is actually 4-2 ATS in this series. That said, the Niners will finally have their full offense on the field for an extended period and they should be able to dominate defensively. The Niners are 12-5-4 ATS in their last 21 games.
14. Washington Redskins (0-0) – I really like Mike Shanahan, but he needs to stop being a douchebag in regards to Albert Haynesworth. Shanahan has made his point. But he’s basically just pissing in the face of a guy that is still one of the top defensive players in the NFL. If the Redskins are going to make a move this year – and I think that they can – they need all hands on deck and they need everyone focused and pointing in the right direction. At this point Shanahan is just dragging out this Haynesworth thing in some sort of power trip. Give it up and start coaxing the guy back into a spot where he can contribute. Because if he’s as bad as you’re acting you would have cut him.
15. Atlanta Falcons (0-0) – I think that this is a very, very dangerous spot for the Falcons this week. They are road favorites in a place that not a lot of teams leave with a win. The Falcons were not sharp on offense this preseason and they still look to me like a group that is great between the 20’s but is going to struggle to make big plays. The defense has looked sharp so far this year. But when you consider that three of the games were against the Jets, Bills and Bucs, and in the other game the Patriots tore them up. This team has had a quiet, soft August.
16. Houston Texans (0-0) – The line on the Texans-Colts game indicates some significant money down on the Texans. But there are some big problems with that. This first is how in the world can Houston’s secondary stop Indianapolis’ passing game? The next is that the Texans are just 7-17 SU in their last 24 divisional games (1-5 last year). Finally, Houston is notoriously a poor September team. They are just 1-4-1 ATS in their last six home openers and just 1-5 ATS in their last six season openers. And the one win was over pathetic Kansas City in 2007. I’ll let everyone else jump on the bandwagon. I need to see some results first. Six of the last seven meetings have been decided by one score or less.
17. Tennessee Titans (0-0) – The Titans are on the wrong end of a steady reverse line movement this week, as they are taking over 60 percent of the action but have seen the number dive from -8.0 at open to -6.0 today. Tennessee is 6-2 ATS in its last eight season openers and the home team has won in this series in seven of the last eight meetings. Also, the favorite is a solid 7-3 ATS when the Titans meet the Raiders, dating back over 11 years. This is a good matchup for Tennessee because Oakland can’t exploit Tennessee’s weakness in the secondary. It will be a long year for the Titans pass defense if they can’t identify a clear No. 2 corner.
18. Philadelphia Eagles (0-0) – Here’s my nickname for Kevin Kolb: Happy Feet. Either that, or you can call him Mumble (the penguin from the movie “Happy Feet”). I don’t think I’ve seen him step up in the pocket one time this preseason. That’s not why he completed only 53 percent of his passes this August or why the first team offense scored only one touchdown in three games. And watching the disaster of an offensive line he’s working behind I can’t say I blame him. But Kolb needs to settle in the pocket if he’s going to develop. Keep in mind: Philadelphia didn’t beat a single playoff team last year. They went 11-1 against non-playoff teams and 0-4 against the cream of the crop. They are just 1-3 ATS in their last four home openers.
19. Arizona Cardinals (0-0) – I may be in the minority here, especially if you’ve listened to the bobblehead media pile on Matt Leinart lately, but I think that Ken Whisenhunt has completely screwed the pooch here and made a big mistake. I know I’m not there at practice every day and I’m not in that locker room. But I also know this: Derek Anderson is awful. We still didn’t really know what Leinart was as an NFL starter, but we know who Anderson is. And it’s not good. But we’ll see.
20. Miami Dolphins (0-0) – The more I see this team play the less bullish I am about their prospects for 2010. I just think that this team is way too young to make a major move, especially with their schedule. And a loss in their first game could be an indicator that this is a five- or six-win team. The home team is 7-3 SU and Buffalo is 6-3-1 ATS in the last 10 meetings between these AFC East rivals.
21. Oakland Raiders (0-0) – There have been plenty of warm and fuzzies around Raiders Camp lately. But now it’s time for them to put up or shut up. This team needs to come out ready to bang heads because the Titans are tough to beat at home, and Oakland has to deal with a 1 p.m. EST start (which is 10 a.m. PST). The Raiders will likely be without Michael Bush, so this becomes a potentially defining game for former No. 1 pick Darren McFadden. The Raiders are 5-1 ATS in their last six meetings with the Titans, but the teams have only played twice in the regular season since 2005. The Raiders have been one of the worst bets in football over the past decade, but it’s tough to dig too deep in the trends because this looks like a different team.
22. Chicago Bears (0-0) – What a mess. This was by far the worst looking team that I watched in the preseason. Offensively, they still have zero grasp of Mike Martz’s offense. Add that on top of the fact that they have a pathetic offensive line and one of the weakest crops of skill players in the NFC and even if this group knew what it was doing I don’t think it would amount to much. Oh, and there’s the fact that Mike Martz hasn’t led a Top 10 scoring offense in his last five seasons and hasn’t had an offense ranked higher than No. 19 the last three years he’s been an OC. Defensively, they are still soft in the middle and they are still lost in the secondary. Lance Briggs is one of the best defensive players in football, but he’s being wasted with this group. The Bears have won four straight in their series with Detroit and the ‘over’ is 8-2 in the last 10 meetings.
23. Carolina Panthers (0-0) – Right now the Panthers have the most underrated defense in the league. Jon Beason and Everette Brown are young stars and this group was tops in the league this preseason, allowing just 185 yards per game with 18 sacks and eight forced fumbles. But as stout as the defense has been, the offense has been worse. The first team group was 0-for-14 in scoring touchdowns and the team went 0-for-42. It is true that they didn’t have Steve Smith or Jonathan Stewart. But still, maybe with those guys they are 2-for-42. Is that so much better? Carolina is 8-0 ATS in its last eight against the NFC and John Fox remains the best underdog bet in the league.
24. Denver Broncos (0-0) – The Broncos are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 season openers, including their improbable win at Cincinnati to start last year. The Jags and Broncos have played three times in the past five years and the road team has won each time. Denver is a mystery right now. I don’t think they are any good, but they have the potential to play very sharp at times on both sides of the ball. Their defense was a train wreck this preseason. But they never played a single series with their starting 11 on the field. The offense is streaky, and that was without any stability along the offensive line or in the running game. This team has a big “STAY AWAY” sign on it until I see more.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0) – The Jaguars are just 3-13 ATS in their last 16 home games. And I wouldn’t expect a sellout, so I don’t see them having much more of a home field edge. These teams have met 10 times since 1995 and he underdog has covered the spread eight of 10 times, including five straight. It should be hot and humid this weekend in Jacksonville, so hopefully the Jags can use that to their advantage. This is a very athletic team. But they are incredibly young and their defense has a ton of holes. But in all they are one of the teams I am most interested in seeing play.
26. Seattle Seahawks (0-0) – Releasing T.J. Houshmandzadeh is the least of Seattle’s concerns right now. This team has a league-low 26 players on the roster that played in Seattle last year. They are down two starting offensive linemen from a line that was already one of the worst in the league, and then o-line maestro Alex Gibbs bailed on this group. There is just no stability here. Seattle does have the edge with Matt Hasselbeck, and if he gets any protection he’ll outplay Alex Smith. Seattle is 7-3-1 ATS in its last 11 home games and they will not roll over for the up-and-coming Niners.
27. Detroit Lions (0-0) – This is a team that is competitive in some areas, but then one of the worst in the NFL in others. Their skill players are improving and will be able to give some people some problems. But their pass defense is shockingly bad and their linebackers and offensive line still leave a ton to be desired. Ndamukong Suh is an absolute animal. Go ahead and pencil his name in as the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Despite obvious improvement, the Lions are still just 2-6 ATS in their last eight road games and 3-7 ATS overall. They are 9-21 ATS in conference games, so they have a lot of ground to cover. Good news this Sunday: the underdog is 15-7 ATS in this series.
28. Kansas City Chiefs (0-0) – Before you get too nervous about betting against the Chiefs in Arrowhead, which used to be one of the most intimidating places in the NFL to play, remember that Kansas City is just 7-18-1 ATS in its last 26 home games. The Chiefs were No. 2 in the NFL in rushing this preseason with 148 yards per game. But you know Todd Haley is going to want to sling the ball, so we’ll see if they try to protect their defense by grinding it out or if the Chiefs opt for a shootout. Neither team rushes the passer very well, so a big sack or a turnover forced by pressure could be a massive play in this game.
29. Cleveland Browns (0-0) – The Browns actually have several big advantages over Tampa Bay in the opener. Not the least of which is a massive experience advantage at the two most important places: coach and quarterback. Also, the Browns are much stronger in the trenches with tougher offensive and defensive lines. This team should actually handle the Bucs. But the major X-factor is Jake Delhomme. The Tampa Bay corners are exceptional at baiting interceptions. And if Delhomme is throwing those floaters up for grabs in the middle of the field – see: his play in Carolina, 2005-2009 – that would be trouble.
30. Buffalo Bills (0-0) – I have to admit: Buffalo has looked a bit better than I expected. They still have the talent and schedule of a four-win team. But the offense is light years ahead of where it was last year at this time. C.J. Spiller looks like the real deal, but he won’t hold up for more than two or three games in a row as a featured back. The secondary is still stellar and Buffalo has been a great bet in their opener. They are 6-1 ATS in their last seven Week 1 games and I think that Buffalo is in a prime upset spot this week.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0) – Josh Freeman is convinced that despite the fact that his thumb is broken he is going to play this Sunday. Yeah, I’m not banking on it. Any quarterback will tell you that the thumb is the most important finger when throwing the ball. And it’s not like Freeman is some veteran that will be fine once he gets in there and will find a way to compensate. If he does play I’m betting he’ll be a mess. Tampa Bay is a stunning 1-10 ATS in its last 11 games at home. Keep an eye on Sammie Stroughter this year. I am a huge fan of what their No. 2 wideout brings to the table.
32. St. Louis Rams (0-0) – This team really, really impressed me with how hard it played this preseason. Defensively, this team has improved as much as any team in football (outside of Oakland). This team lost by an average of more than two touchdowns per game last year. They still don’t have enough talent to really compete on a weekly basis, but I could see them cutting that deficit by a touchdown or so. I am a staunch, staunch advocate of making rookie quarterbacks wait and watch. But I can understand why this team will go with Sam Bradford. He has looked very sharp and is already as accurate as any NFL quarterback. The problem is that he’s still a rookie and he’s going to be erratic as hell. And with zero skill players and a shaky offensive line to work with I wouldn’t expect miracles yet. I was hoping to get at least a couple games betting against A.J. Feely. Damn.
Robert Ferringo is a writer and a professional college football and NFL handicapper for Doc’s Sports. Last year he brought home +62.5 Units for his clients for NFL picks and he is regarded as one of the top totals players in the sport. He has turned a profit in 4 of 5 football weeks and has a 6-Unit NFL Total of the Month on the board this Week! You can sign up for his college football and NFL picks and get more information here.