Week 1 NFL Power Rankings
by Robert Ferringo - 09/02/2008
Here is my Week 1 installment of Doc's Sports Power Rankings:
1. New England Patriots - The Patriots have as tentative a hold on this spot as any team in football. And, in fact, I don't truly believe that they are the best team. However, With their candy-corn schedule they are virtually guaranteed another 13-win season and possible home field advantage in the playoffs. But one thing is for sure: this team is not nearly as capable as the team they fielded in 2007. And, since last year's club was one of the most dominating and overwhelming teams of all-time, that's not exactly a knock. But the defense is slow and leaky in the secondary. And the offensive line is becoming a concern because of its shoddy run blocking. Also, I do feel like the rest of the division has closed the gap, which will put some value on them if the Pats are still being shackled with Hindenburg-sized lines.
2. San Diego Chargers - This team has plenty of injury issues even if Shawne Merriman's knee doesn't blow out. Left tackle Marcus McNeill (neck) and Jamal Williams (knee) are both questionable for Week 1, and guys like Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson have had minor issues also. The irony is that Norv Turner really didn't play his starters and his key players much at all in the preseason. I mean - at all. I know this is a veteran team but I expect there to be some rust and rough edges through the first few weeks of the season as a result of their "tiptoeing" through the preseason. But talent eventually will prevail, and they have as much of it as any team in the league.
3. Dallas Cowboys - The Cowboys are very good and have all of the pieces. However, they certainly are not as good as they think they are. Much like the Chargers, this Dallas team has the swagger of a team that's actually accomplished something significant even though they've been annual January underachievers. The Dallas defense holds the key to this season, as their offensive line and skill players should allow them to score plenty of points. A potential problem on O is their depth at wideout. But as long as T.O. stays healthy and anyone with a pulse manages to catch 50 balls on the other side then they will be fine. Dallas has a trying task in opening at Cleveland, but they should be able to take advantage of one of the league's worst secondaries.
4. Indianapolis Colts - From what I hear, Peyton Manning is not fine. He will be OK to start against Chicago, but, the way I've heard it, is that Manning's long-term prospects are questionable. Apparently he had a second knee surgery last month and there are still issues with swelling in the area. He can play, but if he takes an awkward hit (made more likely with the loss of his center, Jeff Saturday) he could be put out for the count. Indy hosts the Bears in Week 1. Look for a lot of the ground game, since there is no way Manning will be in top form.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -Tampa Bay looked as good as any team in the league this preseason. Their defense is fast and aggressive, their running game is solid and dependable, and Jeff Garcia and his frantic play under center helps keep the attack unpredictable. Their offensive line played well this preseason, but still has to overcome the loss of Luke Petitgout and Davin Joseph. They also have a very difficult start to the year, having to open at their chief competition for the divisional title - New Orleans. However, Tampa is 5-0 ATS in its last five visits to the Bayou and is 5-1 ATS in the last six meetings overall.
6. Seattle Seahawks -The Seahawks just keep on keeping on. The departure of Shaun Alexander has helped this team's attitude (and talent) as much as any free agent signing has benefited any other NFL team. They will be without Jordan Babineaux and Rocky Bernard for the opener in Buffalo, but neither loss can be considered crippling. Dating back to the middle of 2004, the Seahawks are just 6-15 ATS in any game played east of St. Louis. They have not been a good team under Mike Holmgren and they are 0-3 ATS in their last three meetings with Buffalo. Seattle has some questions at wideout, so don't expect their offense to be hitting on all cylinders early on, as they are short a few playmakers.
7. New York Giants - This is how it starts. First a few guys - from solid-but-unspectacular-starters to veteran role players - get poached in free agency. Then there is an injury or two to some key starters. Before you know it, the core of last year's winner softens, a slow start ensues, the fan base gets restless because the team isn't living up to it's championship pedigree, and the negative karma snowballs into a lost season. Lately it's been happening more to Super Bowl losers, but right now the Giants fit the mold of a Major Letdown Team. The division is brutal and they have to answer the bell every week against teams who want to Beat The Champs. The Giants - especially this team - have always had issues with maintaining focus through the season. This is still a very, very solid unit. But the cracks are showing and this team could be on the ropes by the end of September.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers -Very quietly the Steelers have retooled their defense, gotten some key players (Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, Aaron Smith) healthy, and added even more talent on offense. Pittsburgh is legit, and if they can stay healthy they should roll through their division. That said, the Steelers play the toughest schedule in the league this year and are not as deep as the Super Bowl team was. Houston offers a tricky opening test. But Pittsburgh is 4-1 ATS in Week 1 and in home openers over the last five years. Also, the Steelers are 40-15-2 'over' in their last 57 home games so look to see if that continues.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars -I'm still not 100 percent sold on the Jaguars. The intensity and fever they brought to their "must-win" preseason game in Week 3 was impressive. But I still wonder if they have the focus and skill players necessary to be a true threat. Jacksonville coaches have run a very lax camp to try to protect against injuries. However, that attitude and the fact that the Jags seem to be buying into their own Super Bowl Hype is a bad recipe. Jacksonville is a road favorite against division rival Tennessee this weekend. Jacksonville is 8-1 ATS in Week 1 and 9-3 ATS in its last 12 games in September.
10. New Orleans Saints -This team is ready for the season to begin. They looked unstoppable in their "dress rehearsal". Granted, it was against the sad-sack Bengals, but the Saints starters looked razor-sharp in Week 3. Their first team offense scored on seven of its first eight possessions to start the year. The Saints benched Jason David for Tracy Porter, and Porter has played well in his place. But I think Sean Payton is being too stubborn by not at least featuring some zone looks to protect his secondary from the deep ball. New Orleans is practicing this week in Indianapolis, and you have to think that the extra travel and awkward schedule will hurt them this week.
11. Tennessee Titans - The Titans offense is officially a problem, and Vince Young is rapidly entering Mike Vick Territory. And now, this has nothing to do with a fondness for drowning and decapitating dogs. Young is surrounded by a team that is solid in all aspects of the game, but he has not been able to command the offense or provide any consistency in the passing game. Right now he is the weak link (although his lack of receiving options is certainly a culprit, a la Vick). I just know that in the most competitive division in football, the Titans need to figure it out quickly. The Titans are 8-1 ATS in their last nine divisional games and the underdog in the Jags-Titans series is 7-2 ATS.
12. Houston Texans -The Texans are teetering, but there is no doubt that this is a team that will trap some foes this year. That said, the injuries are already mounting for a team that seems ill equipped to bang heads with divisional tough guys Tennessee and Jacksonville. However, Houston's offense should be explosive and should be able to move the ball consistently enough to keep the pressure off of their D. But the same old problems still plague this team. They have no go-to running back, their secondary is suspect, and the offensive line lacks depth. Also, they open at Pittsburgh and then play three of four against divisional foes. We will know early what the ceiling for this team is.
13. Washington Redskins -Three dud performances in a row by Jason Campbell and the Redskins offense has everyone jumping off the bandwagon. Campbell's play has reminded us of a very simple fact: he is a second-year starter and he is going to be prone to inconsistency. I will also say that Clinton Portis does not look explosive and Santana Moss is still MIA. Further, if anything happens to Jason Taylor the defense is going to go from promising to porous very quickly. But all that said, I think the Redskins are flying a little under the radar. If Taylor is healthy and ready to go in Week 1 I think they are more than equipped to beat the defending champions on Thursday night.
14. New York Jets -Brett Favre is getting all the attention on this team, but Kris Jenkins rivals him for the team's most important offseason addition. He is the fulcrum of their 3-4 defense and has been instrumental in helping the ends and OLBs get pressure because of his ability to occupy blockers. Despite Favre Mania, this team is still somewhat of a mystery. There is plenty of talent, so now it's going to come down to coaching, scheme, and some good ol' fashioned good luck. The Jets open in Miami against the guy who was the face of the franchise up until about a month ago, Chad Pennington. Normally, this Revenge Game would scream for Dolphins action. However, the Jets are a ridiculous 9-1 ATS in their last 10 trips to South Beach and New York is 8-0-1 ATS against the Fins overall.
15. Minnesota Vikings - The four-game suspension of left tackle Bryant McKinnie is a potentially devastating blow to the Minnesota offense. Their identity lies in the left side of their line, with Pro Bowlers McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson setting the tone. What's worse, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has a gimpy knee and won't be as mobile and the Vikes face several speed rushers in their first four weeks of the season. This is an issue. The Vikings are not a Super Bowl threat - they are a playoff threat. Keep that in mind and don't believe the hype. Also, one look at the schedule and you'll see that the Vikings play just one team - Atlanta in Week 15 - that finished worst than 7-9 in 2007. That's brutal.
16. Philadelphia Eagles -Dr. Z's selection of the Eagles to go to the Super Bowl is the single-most ridiculous prediction that I've heard this offseason. The Eagles have the potential to surprise some people. But they are still pretty mediocre. Their receiving corps is one of the worst in the league and their two primary offensive weapons - D-Nabb and Brian Westbrook - can't stay on the field. Also, the biggest issue with this crew is the youth and size on defense. They have some athletes, but this is mostly an unproven front seven. The good news is that last year's eight-win campaign has left them with the easiest schedule in their division. It gets started at home against St. Louis, whom the Eagles are 7-1-1 ATS against.
17. Arizona Cardinals -Kurt Warner was clearly the proper choice for the Cardinals. The problem is that there is pretty much no way in hell he's going to stay healthy for all 16 games so they have to be careful how they handle Matt Leinart. In fact, the organization has potential landmine issues with several key players, including Boldin, Dansby, Wilson, and Dockett. Arizona couldn't manage a winning season last year primarily because they lost to the dreadful Niners twice. They will be looking for some payback this year in Week 1.
18. Oakland Raiders -They can. But will they? Oakland can run the ball against just about anyone and I think their defense will be one of the feistiest groups in the league. But can Oakland score enough points to be competitive? The Raiders kept 19 offensive and defensive linemen on the 53-man roster. That shows that the priority is beef up front and that is the proper attitude for this team to have. Oakland has covered four straight against the Broncos but are a dreadful 0-6 ATS in their last six Monday Night Football games.
19. Buffalo Bills - There is a lot of expectation and buzz surrounding this team. But in typical Bills fashion they just can't dodge the innumerable bullets that come their way. They will start the year without Pro Bowl tackle Jason Peters, which is a major blow to what had become a solid offensive line. Also, Trent Edwards still is not 100 percent from his leg injury. He will start, but his range of motion isn't 100 percent. The Bills get the benefit of starting against an equally gimpy Seattle team, and Buffalo has been a great home dog over the last several years. Basically, this is kind of a "must" game if Buffalo is going to make a move this year.
20. Denver Broncos - Brandon Marshall's reduced suspension is a huge boon for this team. He is one of the top up-and-coming talents in the league - think Chad Johnson three years ago - and is their best offensive weapon. This is another team that is floating under the radar. They finished 7-9 last season and their defense is going to be much improved. It's still not very good, but it will be better. The first-team unit gave up a lot of yards in the preseason, but they were scrappy and they seemed to find ways to make drives stall. Mike Shanahan owns the Raiders, posting a 20-6 mark against his former team, so it's a benefit that they open in Oakland.
21. Carolina Panthers -For the third consecutive game the Panthers offensive line has shown that it can be dominating in the rushing game. This unit really is playing at a high level early in the year. The problem is that they are probably one of the 5-10 worst pass blocking defenses I've seen. Combine that with Jake Delhomme's shocking penchant for making ill advised, low-percentage throws in traffic and I think Carolina's passing game is going to contradict the Power identity that they are trying to establish. Also, it looks like Julius Peppers is back from his 2007 vacation. Combine him with their stellar defensive tackle rotation and Carolina is working on one of the league's best defensive lines. They face a tough task in Week 1, but John Fox has been a solid road and underdog coach over the last six years.
22. Detroit Lions -This team is rapidly improving and I think they will finish the year No. 2 in the NFC North. Matt Millen is kind of the George W. Bush of NFL team presidents, but this could be his "blind squirrel" moment. Detroit's linebackers are fast and hungry and their secondary is playing sound and reasonable football. Oddly, their offensive line was one of the few units I saw this preseason that was more comfortable pass blocking than run blocking. They were outstanding at picking up the blitz and gave their quarterbacks enough time. But they need to improve their run blocking if Rod Marinelli is going to be able to play the style of grinding football that you know he wants to.
23. Cleveland Browns -This team has a lot of work to do, but, most importantly, it needs to get healthy. Their secondary is an absolute disaster and their linebackers were underwhelming against Detroit in Week 3 of the preseason. The much-ballyhooed offensive line also looked confused and weak against the most basic blitzes employed by the Lions. Shaun Rogers looks dominating, but he takes games off and if (when) he gets hurt this defense is a house of cards. They are relying an awful lot on injury-prone skill position players, and I think a daunting schedule will lead to an "underachieving" year for the Browns.
24. Green Bay Packers - There are a lot of indicators here that are pointing to a below-.500 record for the Pack this year. But the most troublesome issue facing this team isn't Aaron Rodgers. Instead, the biggest issue is the fact that they are soft and undermanned on both the offensive and defensive lines. The Pack had to put DT Justin Harrell, their 2007 No. 1 pick, on the PUP list, meaning he won't be available until Week 7, John Jolly is out with a four-game suspension, they lost Corey Williams in the offseason, and Ryan Pickett is still out with a hamstring injury. The offensive line hasn't fared much better. They have shuffled positions all preseason long and they don't have much continuity at the moment. Green Bay has covered six straight against the Vikings, including three straight at home.
25. St. Louis Rams -Steven Jackson is back in the fold for the Rams, but I really don't see how this won't end any differently than Larry Johnson's holdout for the Chiefs last year. I will say that Jackson is injured by Week 4. The kicker is that this offensive line has looked very strong in run blocking. And if Jackson is healthy he is the game breaker that the unit lacks at the moment. But you can't ignore the slow offensive starts that this team has gotten off to the last two years. They are 2-7 against the total the L9 season openers, and they 2-8 against the total in Weeks 1-5 under Scott Linehan.
26. Miami Dolphins - Chad Pennington will not get one vote for the MVP Award this year, but as long as he stays healthy he is going to be one of the most valuable players in the entire league. He has given this franchise a leader and given them hope, and everyone has been playing harder and with more purpose since he's come aboard. The penalties are a big problem for the Dolphins. Their effort level has been high in the preseason, but if they don't execute better they are going to cost themselves chances for wins and covers. This was also one of the oldest defenses in the league two years ago. However, they have done a great job of getting younger and faster, relying on a lot of high-motor guys.
27. Chicago Bears - Yet another awful personnel decision by Jerry Angelo involves first-round pick Chris Williams. Apparently Angelo lied about his knowledge of Williams' preexisting herniated disc. So instead of the Bears taking advantage of their No. 14 overall pick they essentially wasted it on a guy who will give them nothing this year and is questionable going forward. Ugh. Also, this team is going to be an 'over' machine for the first few weeks until the oddsmakers and general betting public shift their perspective here. The Chicago offense is a lot better than it gets credit for, and their defense is a lot worse than it has been. This team is soft up the middle of their D, and as a result they are getting worked over by opposing attacks.
28. Kansas City Chiefs -From the perspective of scheme and fundamentals, Herman Edwards is doing everything he can with this roster. The defense looks sharp and is ready to pick up where it left off last year when it was one of the most underrated units in the league. Just a solid tackling unit. The problem is that the offense is just not going to help them out at all. Brodie Croyle has negative pocket awareness, if that's possible, and the o-line is suspect. Also, their offensive scheme shows no innovation and little personality. It's vanilla all around, and they are relying on an awful lot to go right on each and every drive just to have a shot at scoring. They can move the ball a little and milk the clock. They just don't generate points.
29. Atlanta Falcons -Atlanta is a spry little bunch here. I really like the way they are building and if their veterans on defense - Lawyer Milloy, John Abraham and Keith Brooking - can stay healthy and produce this team is going to surprise some people. Also, and this is key to watch, bad teams can steal up to two wins per year just by consistently winning the special teams battle. Atlanta has been exceptional on ST during the preseason. If that is a constant, it will only help this team's value. Atlanta is on the way up in my book, and they are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 games in Week 1.
30. San Francisco 49ers - This team might be better than this ranking, but for now you can consider me a non-believer in the O'Sullivan-Martz marriage. Martz is going to put the Niners in the exact same position that he did Detroit. The defense is a sieve and is paper-thin on the depth chart, and the offense won't control the ball enough to protect them. Mike Nolan enters the year under tremendous pressure. And, like the two teams below, if the team gets off to another slow start then I can see some of the vets packing it in. This is the third consecutive year the 49ers have opened against the Cardinals and the underdog has covered both. The road team is 6-1 ATS in this series and the dog has actually covered four straight.
31. Cincinnati Bengals -This team is awful, with no immediate hope for improvement. Their offensive line is in shambles, just three short years after having one of the best young lines in the league. Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Carson Palmer - the pillars of the franchise - are all entering Week 1 battered and beaten, while former foundations Willie Anderson and Rudi Johnson are gone. The defense is pathetic. Marvin Lewis is a joke. They crossed midfield just twice in a home preseason game against one of the softer defenses in the NFC (Week 3 vs. New Orleans). All in all, this is the worst team I've seen this preseason.
32. Baltimore Ravens -I get nothing but bad vibes from this team heading into the season. They are the only team in the league that had not named a starting quarterback prior to this week and the Joe Flacco Experience promises to be a rough one. In the Week 3 "dress rehearsal" Flacco was thrust in as a starter due to Troy Smith's illness. He looked awful and was totally unprepared. Further, Willis McGahee is overweight and out of shape following knee surgery last month. He can't be counted on. The defense is aging and I bet the veterans on this team start to tune their rookie coach out once they start out around 1-5 and realize they aren't going anywhere.