2011 NFL Power Rankings - Week 4
by Robert Ferringo - 9/27/2011
We are reaching the quarter-pole on the NFL regular season and I feel like it has already been a whirlwind in the land of NFL odds. The Bills, Lions, Raiders and Browns (combined: 10-2) are all charging ahead while the Eagles, Falcons, Bears and Colts (combined: 3-9) are barely treading water.
It has been a goofy start following a bizarre offseason. But there is still a lot of football to be played and, in fact, starting next week I feel as if we’ll be able to incorporate even more statistical analysis into our NFL handicapping. I believe that it takes at least four games before stats can be relevant, as in the first few weeks too many outliers and anomalies can skew the numbers. (Tom Brady isn’t going to throw for 7,700 passing yards this year…is he?) But next week’s NFL Power Rankings should feature even more facts, figures, and stats as we really start to see who’s who in this upside-down league.
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Here is my Week 4 version of Doc’s Sports NFL Power Rankings for Week 4:
1. Green Bay Packers (3-0) – The Packers put on a clinic in Chicago last week, and at no point were they out of control in that game. Green Bay has now won nine straight games and they are the biggest favorite on the board this weekend against Denver. The Packers are 12-4-1 ATS in their last 17 games against sub-.500 teams. But we saw them come out flat against Carolina two weeks ago. They are also coming off an emotional road rivalry win and next week they have another big game in Atlanta against the team they smoked last January. We’ll see how motivated the Pack is to put a big number on banged-up Denver this week.
2. New Orleans Saints (2-1) – There is absolutely no way that the Saints should have covered the spread last weekend against Houston, but they did. New Orleans’ defense still goes limp for long stretches. But Drew Brees is just that good. The Saints are 1-9 ATS against teams with losing records and they don’t seem to have the knockout punch against feeble foes that they have in the past. In 2007 they won only seven games, but five of them were by 11 points or more. In 2008 they went 8-8 but had four blowouts. In 2009 they won the Super Bowl and had eight wins by 11 points or more. But over the course of their last 19 games only three of them have been by 11 or more.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) – Even I will admit that this team is wobbly at No. 3. They got smoked by Baltimore and haven’t been impressive in two wins over two of the five worst teams in football. However, bail on this team at your own peril. When you’ve been to the Mountain Top as many times as the Steelers have (three Super Bowls in five seasons), you can forgive them for not getting stoked to piss-pound the Seahawks or Colts. Pittsburgh is 8-3 ATS as an underdog, 7-3 ATS as a road underdog, and they are facing a team slowly and awkwardly transitioning to a 3-4 defense. You think the Steelers are going to know how to attack Houston’s 3-4 this week? I do.
4. Baltimore Ravens (2-1) – Hmmm, maybe I was wrong about this team. They have a cupcake schedule so I expect them to end up looking better than they actually are this year. But they have two blowouts in three games and have a shot to make another statement against the Jets this week. The Ravens are 7-1 ATS against the Jets, and 3-1 ATS against them since 2004. They have won six straight in the series outright and they have quietly built up the best home field advantage in football. Baltimore is an absolutely astounding 46-22-1 ATS in their last 69 games as a home favorite.
5. New England Patriots (2-1) – Yeah, I said two weeks ago after the Miami game that New England’s defense looks awful. Congrats to the rest of the football-loving world for catching up. But I also suck because I haven’t been blindly betting the ‘over’ with this team. Don’t be stunned to see a New England total near 60 this year. Basically, they are like a Conference USA team right now. The Patriots are 19-7 against the total in their last 26 overall, 16-5 when they are favored, 15-3 against the AFC, and 5-0 after a loss. The Patriots have a lot of sellers on them right now. But New England is still 45-22-3 ATS in its last road games and 24-9-1 ATS following a loss.
6. Detroit Lions (3-0) – I went against the Lions for a 6-Unit winner last week because I think that this team is quickly being overrated. The sack numbers suggest that their line is doing a great job in protection, but Tamba Hali and Jared Allen have abused Jeff Backus the last two weeks. Also, this team has been soft in rush defense. They need to clean that up, and top-tier teams don’t get manhandled on the road the way Detroit was in the first half last week. They also don’t want to get caught looking ahead to the MNF game in Week 5.
7. New York Jets (2-1) – I’m not selling my stock in this team right now by any means. However, their rushing game is still shockingly mediocre, and last week the offensive line couldn’t protect Mark Sanchez at all. I kind of agree with Joe Namath, who said this week that he thinks that Rex Ryan has this team convinced they are better than they actually are. But considering the wretched messes behind them that may have more talent but more weaknesses, I’ll take a mediocre Jets team with an ironclad identity over a shaky Chargers team or overrated Texans group.
8. San Diego Chargers (2-1) – Norv Turner just does everything he possibly can to have his team unprepared. I had to move this team down because they were outplayed by Minnesota for most of that game and were uninspiring against the Chiefs last week. The Chargers join the Rams as the only teams in the NFL that have yet to cover a spread and San Diego is again a significant favorite this week. It looks like Antonio Gates may miss this week as well and the rumors are starting to grow louder that his career may be in jeopardy. In lieu of Gates, the Chargers have gone to a more ball-control passing attack, with more than 52 percent of their pass plays going for more than 11 yards. That is the highest rate since Norv took over in 2007.
9. Houston Texans (2-1) – It wasn’t that long ago that Houston’s biggest Achilles heel was their offensive line. Yet, now it seems as if everyone considers that group among the best in football. Why? Because they have somewhat mastered the zone-blocking scheme? Houston has scored just three touchdowns in 13 red zone trips this year, and on 11 of 26 rushing attempts in the red zone they have failed to gain more than one yard. This team is still overrated and even I don’t know why I have them ranked this high.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) – What a mess this team is. And The Real Mike Vick is starting to rear his ugly head. He is injury prone, inaccurate, and is a horrible decision maker on and off the field. But Philly has built their team around this guy and it will be interesting to see how they respond to last week’s ugly loss. Vick is going to play this week. And against a playing-over-their-heads Niners team this could be the F-You game that the Eagles have been waiting for. The favorite in this series is 4-1 ATS and the Eagles are 5-0 ATS in the last five meetings.
11. Chicago Bears (1-2) – Count me among those that blame Jerry Angelo for this debacle. I have finally come around on Lovie Smith because I now understand his system (even if I do think that he’s a poor game manager). But Angelo has been a mess and deserves the criticism he is getting. That said, the Bears have had one of the toughest schedules in the league to this point (Falcons, Saints, Packers), and their losses were much more competitive than the scores suggest. The Bears need a win badly this week. But they can’t get caught in a letdown off of Green Bay and in a look ahead to next week’s Monday Night Football game in Detroit.
12. New York Giants (2-1) – I have been saying for years that the Giants are one of the most predictable teams in the NFL: when everyone expects them to dominate, they roll over and play dead, but when everyone thinks they are in trouble this team always wins games that they aren’t supposed to. The defensive line should demolish Arizona’s offense this week, and the Giants should be able to run the ball at will against a suspect Arizona front seven. If Ahmad Bradshaw has 100 yards or more this week I think the G-Men win by double-digits. New York is 28-13 ATS in its last 41 road games and they are 14-6 ATS as a road favorite.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) – I cannot believe how poised Josh Freeman is in the pocket. I have seen other young guys like Stafford, Ryan, and Kolb (especially Kolb) get big-time happy feet when facing a superior pass rush. Not Freeman. I don’t know if it is youthful ignorance or what, but his calm sets a great tone for this team. Tampa has been outgained in all three of its games this season and they will need to avoid a letdown on Monday Night Football. The Bucs are just 5-16 ATS in their last 21 home games and haven’t been a double-digit favorite in several years.
14. Atlanta Falcons (1-2) – I’m sorry, but who was the handicapper that predicted that Atlanta was going to fall on its face this year? Atlanta has given up 13 sacks in three games this year and their offense has completely shut down in two road games this year (one touchdown). What else was stunning was how rattled Matt Ryan was in the face of Tampa’s pass rush. He had happy feet and was just bailing on too many throws. I still love Ryan as a quarterback. But he’s gotta pull this offense together because Mike Turner looks slow and washed up and the defense doesn’t have anyone on it that scares me. The Falcons are 17-5 ATS after an ATS loss, 17-4 ATS after a SU loss, and 11-0 after scoring 14 or less points. They better get their road issues solved quickly though because it takes more than a Coke and a smile to fly out to Seattle and get a ‘W’.
15. Tennessee Titans (2-1) – We will find out if Kenny Britt’s season-ending injury is enough to derail my Titans bandwagon. He and Matt Hasselbeck were just starting to find a groove. But Chris Johnson has been the worst running back in football (statistically; he is averaging just 2.1 yards per carry). It is time for him to start earning those paychecks. They lack some talent on defense, but they are making up for it (so far) with attitude and an edge. They are currently first in the league in total defense, but I don’t expect that to hold. This team lost on the road to a sorry Jaguars team, so Tennessee still has to prove it can win away from home (and without Britt and, for all intents and purposes, Johnson) before the bandwagon can get going at full steam.
16. Oakland Raiders (2-1) – Perhaps I was wrong about this team. Or perhaps they just caught the Jets at the right time on the schedule. Whatever it is, Jason Campbell has looked much more comfortable and their secondary has been 100 times better than I expected. That pass rush is no joke and Darren McFadden is entering perpetual Beast Mode (sorry Marshawn Lynch). But for all the talk about Oakland’s running attack, the Raider defense is allowing an eye-popping 5.8 yards per rush. The Raiders are 9-4 ATS against good teams lately and they are 5-2 ATS at home.
17. Buffalo Bills (3-0) – It is only a matter of time. Hailing from Upstate New York I have seen the Bills do this to their tortured fan base time and time again. I said at the start of the year that this team was going to suck, but that they would be an entertaining sucky team that could score points. Oakland and New England were rocking them before furious comebacks. Now let’s see how they handle being road favorites and how they perform under the weight of sudden expectations. (PS – Stevie Johnson is legit. He is like a young Steve Smith.) There is a four-game losing streak coming for this team this year. Bank it.
18. Washington Redskins (2-1) – I hate to keep beating a dead horse, but the Kyle Shanahan-Rex Grossman combo is one of the worst in terms of game management that I have ever seen. It is a shame because those two guys are holding back what should be a 10-win team. With a four-point lead over Dallas and their defense dominating, Shanahan called six passes in seven plays near the start of and leading into the fourth quarter. Grossman threw five incompletions (three of which were nearly picked off), and when the dust settled the Skins had used only 2:03 off the clock. Shanahan has done that just so many times and it is not “bad luck” as to why the Redskins keep playing in – and losing – these close games. He and Grossman are just horrendous.
19. Dallas Cowboys (2-1) – I know that the big story in the bobblehead media this week is about Tony Romo’s leadership and courage. Well, I saw something different on Monday night. This team is terrible. As I pointed out in my early Power Rankings, their top 22 starters on O and D can play with anyone. But this team has overpaid so many starters that they have a terrible bench. And now that injuries have forced guys into action their roster is being exposed. This team is running on fumes and I don’t see anything that inspires confidence in the running game, at the skill positions, along the line, or in the secondary. They are on an emotional rush right now. But how long can that hold up?
20. Minnesota Vikings (0-3) – The Vikings have had three games and blown three double-digit leads in the second half. I also have no idea why they were going for it on fourth down on Detroit’s 20 with a three-point lead in the fourth. Maybe that is why they keep blowing games. Donovan McNabb has been horrible in his first three weeks, but he is still a better option than Ponder or Webb. McNabb isn’t turning the ball over and he is making plays with his feet. But the guy just misses way, way, way too many easy throws that a veteran quarterback should hit and his inaccuracy is the single-biggest culprit in this team’s 0-3 start.
21. Denver Broncos (1-2) – I am still having a hard time getting a good read on this group. You can see John Fox’s influence starting to take hold and that is why they should remain a good underdog play. But is there talent here? Are they just banged up, but undervalued? They have aspects that I like but nothing that I love. They are big dogs this week in Green Bay, but that has always been Fox’s best role. Denver is just 5-13 ATS on the road against a team with a winning record.
22. Miami Dolphins (0-3) – Much like Minnesota, I simply can’t believe that Miami is 0-3. They should have beaten Houston and Cleveland and I wouldn’t say they are “finding ways to lose” as much as they just aren’t doing enough to win. Now they have to find a reason to be motivated for a cross-country trip to face a shaky, upset-prone San Diego team. Daniel Thomas is showing some good things running the ball. But Thomas is absolutely killing this team. Whether it is terrible turnovers, dropped passes, or missed blitz pickups that lead to crucial sacks, Thomas has done more things wrong than he has right so far this year.
23. San Francisco 49ers (2-1) – Yeah, I am still not buying San Francisco. In kind of an odd scheduling quirk, this is the sixth time in seven years and the ninth time in 10 years that the Niners have played Philadelphia. San Fran has lost six of the last seven both SU and ATS. San Francisco will also be playing its second straight early game in the Eastern Time Zone. West Coast teams are 3-1 ATS in those spots so far this year but they have only won one of those games outright. And no team has had to make cross-country flights in back-to-back weeks yet.
24. Cleveland Browns (2-1) – Pat Shurmur has quickly turned this Browns team into the 2010 St. Louis Rams. Shurmur is ultra-conservative on offense and is just trying to keep games close, have his guys avoid mistakes, and looking to win tight, low-scoring games in the fourth quarter. So far, so good. But this team has been unimpressive for about 10 of their 12 quarters this year. Cleveland is favored this week for the fourth straight time. In the last 15 years that has only happened one other time (December of 2007). Peyton Hillis will be back this week after battling strep throat last week.
25. Carolina Panthers (1-2) – Cam Newton is going to have days like that. But the great news is that the Panthers gutted one out and scored a win on Sunday. A loss could have crippled their young, immature confidence at this point. Newton will have to show patience and accuracy against Chicago’s Cover-2 this week. The Panthers are just 1-5 ATS in their last six games as an underdog, but they may be catching the Bears at just the right time. Also, this is a bit of a homecoming/revenge game for Carolina Coach Ron Rivera, who was Chicago’s defensive coordinator from 2004-2006 and who played his entire career with the Bears.
26. Arizona Cardinals (1-2) – Adrian Wilson is still leading this defense despite playing with a ruptured bicep. If he or Calais Campbell goes down I would expect these guys to start giving up around 40 points a game. That defense is wretched. Kevin Kolb’s happy feet are back in full effect. When he sets his feet he is an extremely efficient quarterback. But he is terrible under duress. That’s not a good thing behind that offensive line. The Cards are 7-2 ATS as a home dog and they catch the Giants off a big upset win. But unless Arizona can handle pressure better on both sides of the ball I don’t see them winning this game.
27. Cincinnati Bengals (1-2) – Marvin Lewis apparently has come out and predicted a win this weekend over Buffalo. Good for him. They are catching Buffalo in a huge letdown spot, so maybe I could see it. But besides Cincinnati’s very underrated, talented defense this team hasn’t shown me much. Cedric Benson may be suspended for this week’s game, so be sure to monitor that over the course of the week. The Bengals are 7-2 ATS as a home dog and so far this year home underdogs are a sweet 5-2-1 ATS across the NFL. However, the Bengals have not beaten Buffalo since 1988 and are 1-9 ATS in this series since 1989.
28. St. Louis Rams (0-3) – Wow, does this look like a broken, battered group right now. The Rams have had a rough schedule, but they have been essentially noncompetitive in their three games this season, losing by 20 points per game. Their weak back seven has been exposed in the running game and are not supporting a decent front four. The Rams have beaten the Redskins in three of the last four meetings going back to 2006. The Rams have been solid underdogs in the last three matchups, including last year’s 30-16 victory as a home dog. This game may be for the Rams season, as they look to follow the 2010 Niners footsteps as the prohibitive NFC West favorite that falls on its face.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2) – The Jaguars pass defense is ranked in the middle of the pack and their rush defense has been among the best in football. But why does it feel like this unit is much, much worse than their numbers suggest? Jacksonville has managed only three sacks (No. 31 in the league), and if they can’t find a way to pressure Brees this week things could get out of hand. The Jaguars are just 2-9 ATS against a team with a winning record and I wouldn’t expect much of a home field advantage from the crowd this Sunday.
30. Seattle Seahawks (1-2) – I will admit that this defense is much better than even I have given them credit for. They are getting consistent pressure from their front four. But Seattle’s secondary is allowing opponents to complete 70 percent of their passes so far this year. Ouch. The Seahawks are now 7-3 ATS as a home dog and the underdog is 5-2 ATS in their series against Atlanta. But if they don’t find a way to score some points (Seattle is ranked No. 29 or worse in total offense, rushing, passing and scoring) then the defense won’t hold up against a desperate Atlanta team this week.
31. Indianapolis Colts (0-3) – It looks like it is going to be Curtis Painter this week in Indianapolis. But don’t worry: the Colts brought in Brodie Croyle and Dan Orlovsky as potential backups this week. Things are spiraling out of control in a hurry for this team.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (0-3) – I can say that the Chiefs may be the best “worst team in football” that I have ranked in all my years of doing Doc’s Sports NFL Power Rankings. They haven’t played as poorly as the scoreboard shows and I don’t think there is much separation between them and a team like San Francisco. Kansas City’s opponents this year are a combined 8-1 so far this season and two of their losses have come on the road. But things have been “off” since training camp and this week’s game with the Vikings will be as much about who won’t quit as it is about who is better.
Robert Ferringo is a professional NFL handicapper and is coming off an exceptionally profitable 2010-11 football season (college and pro). He is on an 11-4 run with his NFL selections and banked $2,000 in profit for his backers with his NFL picks last weekend alone. He is looking forward to building on his stellar football handicapping resume again this fall and you can check him out here.