Last week we asked the age-old question, “What the hell is going on?” Well, a Sunday with one of the worst slates of games that I can remember really left us many more questions than answers. But I’ll start with one of my favorites:
Are all NFL seasons this dramatic?
While the entire football world is wasting time on the drama involving Randy Moss, Donovan McNabb, the Vikings, the Cowboys, and a bunch of other guys that haven’t produced much of anything this year, there are a lot of stories that are sliding under the radar. And if Joe Public wonders why he is a consistent loser when it comes to NFL handicapping he can partially thank the bobblehead media for force-feeding sensationalist stories instead of actually trading in fact and stat.
So I’ll try to keep it straight and simple in this week’s Power Rankings and I’ll leave all of the gossip and girl-talk to the mainstream monkeys.
Here are my Week 9 NFL Power Rankings:
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) – This week marks a second straight primetime road game for the Steelers and I’m looking for a bounce-back performance. Pittsburgh is 25-18 ATS on Monday Night Football but they are just 1-5 ATS as a road favorite. No matter what happens on Sunday I expect the Pittsburgh line to get at or over 4.0 by kickoff because the public will hammer the Steelers. Pittsburgh is 7-1-1 ATS at Cincinnati and the visitor in this series is a serious 12-4-1 ATS. Pittsburgh also has a revenge spot here as the Bengals swept them last year.
2. Baltimore Ravens (5-2) – Besides having two weeks to prepare I think that the Ravens have a solid schematic advantage when facing the Dolphins this week. Miami likes to trap, counter, and run a majority of their attack between the tackles. However, that is the property of Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg, perhaps the best defensive tackle tandem in the league. The favorite is just 2-6 ATS in this series and the Ravens are just 2-5-1 ATS against teams over .500. Despite that, the Ravens still drop the hammer at home. They are 43-19-1 ATS as a home favorite – one of the best marks in the NFL over the last decade – and this group is 7-2 ATS after a bye week.
3. New York Jets (5-2) – How do you think Rex Ryan is going to handle his team this week after a loss? Something tells me that they are going to come out raging this Sunday after last week’s performance. And I’m sure Rexy will have some serious blitzes cooked up for young Matt Stafford. Braylon Edwards, of all people, called out some teammates this week suggesting that they have a bit of an “arrogant streak”. We will see how that resonates in the locker room. But either way I expect a strong effort from a group that already thinks it has won a championship.
4. New England Patriots (6-1) – What was most striking about New England’s win last week is that it looks like the Patriots defense is growing up before our eyes. They are still ranked No. 28 in the league and No. 31 against the pass. But they have surrendered an average of just 18 points in the last four weeks, against quality opponents, after allowing an average of 27.3 points per game in their first three games. The Patriots are an exceptional 19-9 ATS as a road favorite and they have covered their last four meetings against the Browns.
5. Indianapolis Colts (5-2) – I loved the Colts on Monday night and I find it pretty laughable that people are making such a big deal about injuries on the Indy offense. Peyton Manning could take you, me and two hobos from under a bridge and put up 28 points. Injuries only sidetrack this team when they come on the defense.
6. New York Giants (5-2) – The G-Men are looking to avoid the same post-bye week fate as their Gotham buddies, the Jets, faced last Sunday. New York continues to dominate on the road, going 20-7 ATS in their last 27 road games, and they are taking an overwhelming amount of the NFL point spread action in this one. According to Advanced NFL Stats, the Giants are actually the second-best team in football right now. That is tough to argue with. But what the numbers don’t consider is that this is still a team that can tie its own noose at times. They are heading into a difficult place to play this week, but they are facing a far inferior team. A big road win in this spot would go a long way in solidifying the G-Men as the best in the NFC and earning them an inside track for home field advantage.
7. Atlanta Falcons (5-2) – Let’s see if the Falcons can gear up once again on their home turf. Atlanta is 16-1 straight up at home with Matt Ryan under center and they are 7-2 ATS in their last nine home contests. The most important thing for the Falcons is to keep Tampa’s electric young receivers in front of them. Atlanta is just No. 27 in pass defense, and without quality safety play they are always just one toss away from being exposed. But if Atlanta runs the ball like it did against a much stronger Cincinnati front then they will be in business.
8. New Orleans Saints (5-3) – Apparently the public is buying back into the Saints. As of Wednesday morning a stunning 96 percent of the action in their game at Carolina this week was on the road chalk. And I have to say: I can’t really blame Joe Public on this one. I think the line is short as well. Even if the books think that Carolina is game for this one, or that New Orleans is going to continue its up-and-down play, this number still should have been closer to 9.5 rather than 6.5 because you had to know where the money was coming. Even if it’s a trap, it’s a poor one. The Saints are 6-2 ATS in their last eight trips to Carolina.
9. Green Bay Packers (5-3) – Last week the Packers dug deep and got the type of win that I wasn’t sure they could muster because of the rash of injuries they have endured. That was as impressive as anything I’ve seen this season, especially against a Jets offense that had been soaring in the past month. Clay Matthews reminds me of a young Derrick Thomas. I know, I know, that seems like an odd comparison. But those two linebackers are guys that always seem to play at a different speed than everyone else on the field. The home team is 8-1 ATS in the Dallas-Green Bay series and the favorite is a stunning 7-2 ATS.
10. Tennessee Titans (5-3) – A growing issue for this Titans team is that it is No. 3 in the NFL in offensive penalties and No. 2 in penalty yards. Combine that with a team that is consistently being outgained and one that has a shockingly low yards-per-point number, and it is a recipe for a second half collapse. But with steady Jeff Fisher at the helm this team should continue to work. Vince Young will be back on the field next week (Tennessee has a bye) and I expect to see him under center in Week 10.
11. Kansas City Chiefs (5-2) – Kansas City is walking into a potential buzz saw this week against the suddenly spry Raiders. But despite being dogged I think that the Chiefs are the tougher, more physical team in this one. Kansas City has the No. 1 offense in the NFL and they are facing the No. 26 rush defense. That compares much more favorably than Oakland’s No. 2 rush offense against K.C.’s No. 7 rush defense. The road team and the underdog have been the clear plays in this series. The visitors are an incredible 19-6-1 ATS in the last 26 meetings (the Chiefs have covered seven straight in Oakland) and the underdog has covered six straight in this series. The visitor has won an amazing seven straight times when these two get together.
12. San Diego Chargers (3-5) – Play on the Chargers on the road at your own risk. But Norv Turner is 23-7 SU and 20-9-1 ATS during the second half of the season as the coach of San Diego. I’m not sure if it is getting the attention that it should be, but Antonio Gates is having an MVP season. He leads the league in touchdown catches (nine) and is third in receiving yards (663). He is single-handedly carrying one of the most banged up receiving corps in the league and he’s been doing it through injuries and against defenses completely geared to stopping him.
13. Washington Redskins (4-4-) – I, like so many others, am still dumbfounded by most of what Mike Shanahan has done with this team. He has run a former Top 10 defense into the ground, has blown two fourth-quarter leads, and the idea that Rex Grossman has ever been better at anything on a football field than Donovan McNabb is laughable. And how about this: up 25-20 with the ball at their own 26 and 4:40 to play and the Redskins are throwing the ball? What genius (hint: he’s the coach’s son) is throwing the ball in this situation? I’m not big on bashing play calling, but I have tracked the Redskins all season long and they have been getting it wrong way too often. This team doesn’t trust McNabb, but they have thrown the ball on nearly 58 percent of their snaps this year. All of this couldn’t have happened at a worse time because the locker room has two weeks to simmer. It is very interesting to see how they react.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (4-3) – New quarterback, but still the same old Andy Reid. And Philly is a sparkling 15-1 SU and 13-3 ATS after a bye week under the crafty Mormon. I think there is a better than 50-50 chance that DeSean Jackson plays this week. By his own account, his injuries over the last two weeks from that vicious Dunta Robinson hit were more “like whiplash,” and it hurt more in the neck and shoulders. He has been seeing a neurologist, but he has said that he hasn’t really been experiencing headaches. I am still curious if Mike Vick is going to have any lingering issues from his rib injury; it seemed like he recovered from that faster than I expected. (You know, because I’m an M.D.)
15. Miami Dolphins (4-3) – The Dolphins are a stellar 10-1 ATS as an underdog and are 6-0 ATS on the road. Going back even further the Dolphins are 15-5 ATS away from home. But they are also playing their third road game in four weeks. This defense looked extremely soft to me through the first week of the season but they have done a great job of tightening up. This team isn’t missing tackles. When I watch them on tape that is one of the biggest things that jumps out at me. They aren’t hitting all that hard but they aren’t having breakdowns that open up opponents for big plays.
16. Houston Texans (4-3) – The stench of mediocrity is all over this team and I think that they peaked way, way too early this year. (The Colts suggested that two months ago. I guess they were on to something.) I think that it’s going to be tough to bounce back after such a crushing Monday night loss. And the Texans are just 2-12-1 ATS when they are at home with a record better than .500. The bottom line for this team is that its back seven on defense is one of, if not THE, worst in football. You just aren’t going to win many games when you are that horrific on defense. They have given up 30 or more points in three straight games and I’ll be surprised if they hold more than one of the next six teams that they face below that threshold.
17. Minnesota Vikings (2-5) – So, anything new with these guys? Lost in all of the Favre-Moss-Childress drama is a plain and simply fact that has had as much, if not more, to do with Minnesota’s demise than anything: their defense went from sensational to suck-tastic. After giving up just 13 points per game in the first three games of the season the Vikings have been hit for 29, 21, 28 and 28 in the last four weeks – all of which have gone ‘over’. This team just isn’t getting stops like it was last year. Maybe Leslie Frazier should quit mentally decorating Brad Childress’s office and focus on fixing that unit. I have no idea how this team is favored by nearly double digits this weekend. None.
18. Chicago Bears (4-3) – It will be interesting to see what the Bears “Brain Trust” has cooked up with an extra week to prepare for the winless Bills. Chicago gets the added advantage of this game being in Toronto at the Rogers Centre instead of in Orchard Park. They got some reinforcements back on the offensive line with the return of Roberto Garza. But Jay Cutler is just 8-24 ATS as a favorite and you have to wonder how much the negative karma from their last lost has lingered this week. If Chicago is the first team to lose to the Bills I think that their fan base and front office will get to experience a little taste of what is going on in Minnesota right now. One positive development for this team is that the defense has gotten some of its teeth back. And the result is a 2-5 mark against the total this season.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-2) – Tampa Bay’s five wins this season are against teams that are a combined 12-24. And four of those wins, against the Browns, Bengals, Rams and Cardinals, came in the last five minutes of the game. So the reality is that this team is just a few plays away from being 2-5. The Bucs have been exceptional against the Falcons in recent years. They are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 trips to Atlanta and 5-1 ATS in their last six meetings overall. Also, the road team in this series is a solid 5-2 ATS.
20. St. Louis Rams (4-4) – The Rams have to feel great about themselves heading into the bye week. And had they not blown that big lead in Tampa Bay two weeks ago this club would be in the driver’s seat in the NFC West. Having watched all of the teams in that division I am still projecting that it will come down to St. Louis and Arizona. The Cardinals won the first meeting and get the Rams out in Phoenix later this year. But I think the Rams are playing the most consistently on defense and have the most established running game in the division. They play four of five on the road on the other side of their bye and their home game is against the Falcons. We’re going to know by Thanksgiving if this team is for real or not but I definitely like what I am seeing.
21. Cleveland Browns (2-5) – I think that Eric Mangini should give Bill Belichick the dead fish handshake after this Sunday’s game. In the first win that Mangini ever orchestrated over the Patriots he had an extra week to prepare. The two haven’t squared off since 2008 and Mangini was just 2-5 against his mentor. It appears that Seneca Wallace’s ankle has healed and that he may be the starter this week for the Browns. I know he is more seasoned and probably the better immediate option, but I think the Browns would be wise to see what they have with Colt McCoy. The home team is 4-1-1 ATS in this series.
22. Oakland Raiders (4-4) – Prior to last week’s big win over the Seahawks the Raiders had been losing by an average of about 17 points following a win. And that win/cover last week pushed them to a feeble 1-12 ATS as a favorite. The last time the Raiders won three straight games was back in 2003 and Oakland is 0-6 ATS following back-to-back straight up victories. A major problem for this team will be if Nnamdi Asomugha can’t go because of a high ankle sprain this weekend. (And I don’t think there is any way he plays.) He is so critical to everything that the Raiders do on defense and I think it would be demoralizing not to have him out there.
23. Cincinnati Bengals (2-5) – Marvin Lewis’ squad has taken a complete header. The Bungles are just 3-12 ATS in their last 15 games and they are just 1-6 ATS in their last seven home games. Penalties and their continued ineffectiveness on third down is just killing this team. NFL underdogs are 30-10 ATS this year if they are off a loss the previous week. Cincinnati is back in its preferred role as an underdog against a divisional opponent. But the thing that is stunning me about this team is the total lack of toughness out of the defense. They made such strides last year that I was expecting them to be a Top 10 unit this season. It hasn’t worked that way at all.
24. Dallas Cowboys (1-6) – Next.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-4) – I have to say that I’m just as stunned as everyone else by Jacksonville’s demolition of the Cowboys last week. However, I am still not buying into this team at all. They have been outscored by more than 60 points on the season and their offense (No. 23) and defense (No. 30) are among the worst in football.
26. Seattle Seahawks (4-3) – I have noticed that if the Seahawks aren’t having points set up by turnovers or their special teams then this team really struggles to score. If you go back and look at their wins over San Francisco, San Diego and Arizona, almost all of their points in those games came as a result of one of those two avenues. Almost 90 percent of the money line wagers in the New York game are going on the Seahawks. And with good reason. Seattle is an outstanding 10-3 ATS in their last 13 home games and are 4-0 ATS at Qwest Field this year.
27. Arizona Cardinals (3-4) – Derek Anderson: are you shitting me? He is in range for the game-tying field goal with less than three minutes to play and then forces the ball into quadruple-coverage to Larry Fitzgerald. Just vintage Anderson. Arizona has been outscored by an average of 35-9 in their last three road games. One underrated thing that Kurt Warner was able to do over his last few years with the Cardinals, which they are not getting now, is that Warner was able to make an atrocious offensive line look better than it was. Warner was crafty in the pocket and cool under pressure. Neither Anderson nor Max “Pick Six” Hall are. Arizona’s line has been a train wreck for a decade. But Warner was finally able to adapt to it and find some success. These guys – as well as the running backs (remember when Edge averaged about 2.8 yards per carry for a whole season?) – haven’t been able to.
28. Detroit Lions (2-5) – It appears that the oddsmakers have had enough of the Lions. Detroit has been the best bet in the sport so far this year, posting a brilliant 6-1 ATS mark. Yet despite their continuing cash flow the Lions are catching only 20 percent of the action in their game with the Jets this week. I know that everything gets glossed over in the happy-happy glow from last week’s win, but I’m still not overly impressed with Matt Stafford. Also, I’m glad the rest of the Football World is catching on to what I’ve been saying for weeks: that Ndamukong Suh is an absolute grizzly bear and the guy is a pure dominator. Detroit has outgained three of its last four opponents this year and four of six after the Bears dominated them by over 290 yards in the opener.
29. San Francisco 49ers (2-6) – I don’t think that Troy Smith should be given the starting quarterback job for the Niners just because he won one game over one of the worst teams in football. I think that he should be the starter because you already know what you have (or don’t have) with Alex Smith. Troy Smith seemed to give the team a little spark, especially in the second half, and this is a guy with plenty of NFL experience (maybe not regular season experience, but he’s not some rookie) to draw from.
30. Denver Broncos (2-6) – It has gotten real ugly, real fast out in the Mile High City. I still can’t fathom how any of the blame can be hurled at Kyle Orton, who is leading the No. 4 pass offense in the league and is on pace for over 5,000 yards. It is safe to say that Jamal Williams hasn’t had the desired impact on the rushing defense (ranked No. 31) and it’s odd that such a dominant player has seen his skills decline so rapidly. Denver is in a nice situation getting Kansas City at home after the bye week. But they have four of five games on the road (three against divisional opponents) and if this teams decides to mail it in things could get even uglier.
31. Buffalo Bills (0-7) – That’s right: the Bills are out of the basement. How can I have a winless team ahead of a team that has a victory? Because they have taken two top teams – Baltimore and Kansas City – to overtime the last two weeks and because they are the one of only two teams in the NFL to have only played teams currently .500 or better. The other: Dallas. Buffalo’s opponents have a combined 34-15 record so far this year, the best in the league. The bad news is that they have given up 34 points or more in five of six games. And after playing nearly 10 quarters of football the past two weeks how much does this team have left in the tank?
32. Carolina Panthers (1-6) – The Panthers are averaging a league-low 12.1 points per game this year and are the only team in the NFL that hasn’t scored more than 100 points on the season. Carolina was able to push its way to an easy cover in the last meeting, losing a two-point decision in New Orleans as a 13-point underdog. The home team is just 4-17 ATS in this series and home dogs are 0-4 ATS when these clubs meet going back to 2005. Also, Jonathan Stewart called out Carolina’s offensive line after last week’s horrid performance. Perhaps he doesn’t get the fact that when teams can put 10 men in the box because they know that the Panthers can’t throw the ball that makes it a little tough to establish the run.
Robert Ferringo is a writer and a professional sports handicapper for Doc’s Sports. He has banked $6,000 in profit for his clients after four of five winning football weeks and is rolling out more predictions this week. This week’s card will include another exciting Game of the Year. He has brought in over $15,000 in overall profit in all sports over the last two-plus months. You can sign up for his college football and NFL picks and get more information here.