Preseason NFL Power Rankings
by Robert Ferringo - 08/11/2008
- Mike Tyson
I know what you mean Mike. I do. See, in the world of the Betting in the National Football League, expectations, perceptions, and preparation are fundamental components of achieving success. And everyone has a plan, until they see some 255-pound gorilla of a linebacker spear his helmet and bulging left shoulder into the sternum of an opposing human being.
See, it's the power that determines the ranking in the ol' NFL. And how can people possibly measure a team's power without first watching them hit, and be hit? So I had to wait until after the opening weekend of NFL Exhibition action before I could, in good conscience, unleash my opening version of Doc's Sports Power Rankings for the 2008 NFL season. I had to see these untamed beasts in action, mauling and maiming one another in front of a live studio audience. And even though we didn't see the Money Men play more than a dozen or so plays, I witnessed enough of The Fury to help establish a baseline of performance for the upcoming season.
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Remember: all Power Rankings are a fluid situation. And you can expect heavy fluctuation over the next two or three weeks. The reason is that my ratings are based on where I see these clubs RIGHT NOW. I am not trying to project, at the moment, but am simply trying to reflect the current landscape of The League. That will change once the bullies start flying "for real" at the start of September.
Also, this is kind of a basic, wide-shot of each of the NFL's 32 teams. I will go much more in-depth in my divisional previews. That is where I will really dissect the issues that are at the heart of each of these gangs.
But for now, let's take a leisurely walk through the NFL and its minions. Here is the first installment of Doc's Sports Power Rankings:
1. New England Patriots - No, they aren't the champions. And yes, they are old on defense, soft in the secondary, and in the Hangover-Letdown Situation of all hangover-letdown situations. But they are still a godless killing machine that averaged nearly 40 points per game last season and faced (and covered) spreads usually reserved for USC nonconference games. The Patriots are the standard. For the moment. And the fact that they have the easiest schedule in the entire league means that we should all brace ourselves for a lot more Brady Mania.
2. San Diego Chargers - If this team had played with that heart that it displayed last January at any point during the previous three years then San Diego might have earned itself at a Super Bowl trip. The trick now is to replicate it. The Chargers showed me an attitude, will, and desire that I didn't think they had. It was never a question of talent with this group. Just a question of want. And now with a comfortable schedule, a weak division, and a core of players either just entering, at, or just exiting their prime I think this might be the best shot that this group has at a title.
3. Dallas Cowboys - There might be enough talent on this team that even Wade Phillips can't sabotage them. Naaaaaah. The Cowboys have all of the pieces. And the addition of Zach Thomas is exactly the type of savvy, bring-in-a-great-locker-room-presence move that championship teams usually make right before they make The Leap. And the move for Pac Man is the stereotypical troubled-but-talented pickup that contenders make out of desperation just prior to the b-i-a-g-l-r-p move. This team can dominate up front on either side of the ball and has the finest collection of skill players this side of Foxboro. But they need to keep their heads on a swivel. Because in that division things can change mighty quickly.
4. Indianapolis Colts - It's all about the system. And I don't believe that anyone has a better setup than Indianapolis. I believe that Peyton Manning will be fine. And if he is this will remain one of the marquee franchises in the league. That said, I believe that this is the most vulnerable that the Colts have been over the last five years in their division. And I think there is next to zero value, from a betting perspective, on this team. But until one of their AFC South rivals rise up and take a baseball bat to the King, you have to give the Colts the nod.
5. New York Giants - This is an awful lot of respect for a team that's claiming that it's getting no respect. But I'll kiss the ring - for now. There are a lot of historical factors here conspiring against the Giants really doing much of anything this season. First, is there own history; they failed to make the playoffs each of the last two times they won the Super Bowl. Second, there is a poor track record for teams that didn't win their division but made to the Super Bowl. The party is over, and in a brutal division I can see the Giants ending their season in the bottom half of these rankings.
6. Seattle Seahawks - This is another team that I'm not as high on right now, but I have them listed at No. 6 more because the clubs behind them can't make much of a case until the pads start cracking. The Seahawks offense is in trouble. Their receiving corps is razor thin and their offensive line continues to wear down. They have the "Win it for Mike!" angle going in Holmgren's last season as coach. But there are depth issues that could supplant this club. That said, they have won four straight division titles and are heavy favorites for No. 5. That's saying something in this league.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers - The foundation of the Super Bowl team from 2005 has eroded from this organization. However, they still have a Top 22 that can hang and bang with any team in the league. They have amassed a stingray group of skill players on offense and they still lay enough lumber on defense to make you think twice. The problem with this team is depth and age. Guys like Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, and James Farrior are showing some wear, and the guys playing behind them offer a significant drop-off. Further, the offensive line, which was the true crux of their championship club, is now below average in a conference full of swarming pass rushers. The body looks nice on this one, but what's under the hood with this team?
8. Tennessee Titans - This team is simply by the book. And I love it. There is not an area that you can point to where the Titans are not at least proficient and several areas where they can be overwhelming. The bottom line is that if you run the ball and stop the run you are going to be successful. The Titans do both as well as anyone in the league. The additions of Alge Crumpler and rookie Chris Johnson may not have made headlines, but they have at least improved this offense by three points per game. Last year they managed 18.8 per (22nd overall) and that extra field goal would be good enough for 15th overall, which could help them approach 10 wins again.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars - This is where my power rankings differ from a lot of the mainstream rankings you'll find. See, Jacksonville is everyone's top Tier 2 team and a supposed Super Bowl sleeper. I really don't think so. They have not lost a ton from their core, but they have taken hits in the offseason. Guys like Chris Naeole, Marcus Stroud, and Ernest Wilford might not raise many eyebrows in a sports bar, but they were key components during the Rise of the Jags. Jacksonville is a solid team with a lot going for it. But I am not sold on them as a Super Bowl contender. At all.
10. New Orleans Saints - I feel like the Saints pushed all the right buttons this offseason. Jeremy Shockey is amazingly overrated, but he brings much-needed attitude to a team that was too soft to tangle with Tampa Bay. They drafted for need and got a couple guys who might be able to contribute right away. And they picked up a stud linebacker in Jonathan Vilma. In all, I think it was a great offseason for a talented team and I think they remind me of Dallas from a couple years ago.
11. Cleveland Browns - Beware of Everyone's Sleeper Team. That's so important I'm going to say it again: beware of Everyone's Sleeper Team. And right now, Cleveland is the team that every bobblehead in the country has pegged as their "Sleeper". Usually, these things end poorly. The bottom line here is that in order for Cleveland to take The Next Step their defense has to get better. Is there any reason we should think that it will? Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers can be dominant up front. But this team still is paper thin and questionably talented at linebacker, which is the key area of the 3-4. I also don't expect Jamal Lewis to equal last year's stats. They are tentatively at No. 11, but I'm ready with the quick hook.
12. Washington Redskins - I really, really like the pieces that this team has in place and the system that they are running. Remember: the Redskins lost five games by a touchdown or less last year and blew several fourth quarter leads. I think Jason Campbell is ready to be The Man, Jason Taylor addresses a huge need on defense, they post a sick 1-2 rushing punch, and both the offensive and defensive lines are playoff-caliber. This team closes with four of six on the road, so Jim Zorn's learning curve better be short. The 'Skins need a fast start or they could be buried in the rugged East.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Bucs have been a yo-yo organization over the last four years, going from five wins (2004) to 11 wins (2005), then down to four wins (2006) and back up to nine wins (2007) over that span. This team is ranked a little higher, perhaps, than it should be. But they have a very interesting blend of youth and experience on this squad and that makes for an intriguing locker room. They are a wide receiver away from the Top 10, as I don't see Joey Galloway holding on forever. But they have one of the NFC's stingiest defenses and a solid power running game. That's enough to start the year in the top half of the rankings. (Oh, and their schedule is amazingly soft.)
14. Minnesota Vikings - The Vikings are the new Chicago Bears: a crippling defense, a strong running game and offensive line, and an empty suit under center. With Tarv Jackson at the helm the Vikes are the NFL's equivalent to a girl with a Butter Face. However, I think their defense and their rushing attack are just that ridiculously good that Minnesota deserves this rating. If I've said it once, I've said it 1,000 times - this is the year that Adrian Peterson gets hurt. But, again, I think they have potential to clean up the sad-sack NFC North. And even though T-Jack has negative charisma and average talent, I actually believe he won't be the reason this team doesn't reach its goals.
15. Houston Texans - You know how Denver just always seemed to find a way to win 10 games every year? Well that is the system that Gary Kubiak has installed in Houston and the Texans are a step or two away from reaching that level. The problem: they play in one of the two toughest divisions in football so headway is measures in blood-soaked inches. Houston has solid depth at every position, so now it's just about increasing talent level. But if Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson stay healthy, and if someone steps up to provide a running game, these guys are going to be able to score enough to take the pressure off and up-and-coming defense.
16. Philadelphia Eagles - I think I'm being about 5-6 spots generous with this club, but that's simply out of respect for Andy Reid. There are still plenty of big names - McNabb, Dawkins, Runyan - but those players are each past their prime. The offense will score, as long as it can execute better in the red zone. But the defense is very green, and very small, as Reid tries to put a premium on speed. Philadelphia is a proud football town and this team will play its heart out. There is minimal depth and minimal experience once you get past the Names. And names don't win in the NFL.
17. Arizona Cardinals - Yeah, yeah, yeah - this is their year. We've heard it before, eh? Arizona is a perennial sleeper pick (kind of like Detroit!) and they never live up to the advance billing. Well, now that there are some available seats on the bandwagon I'll jump aboard. I love what Ken Whisenhunt has done here, instilling a toughness in the locker room and backing it up by bringing in veteran role players with strong character. Guys like Clark Haggans and Travis LaBoy aren't big names, but they are winners. Arizona finally has some depth. And now if they can just keep their key guys - like Adrian Wilson, Anquan Boldin, and Matt Leinart - healthy then they have a shot to usurp the vulnerable Seahawks.
18. New York Jets - It is fantastic that they picked up Brett Favre. Good for you. But that doesn't solve all the problems for the Jets. New York is clearly desperate - and that was before making the move for Favre. The Jets were spending money like a Republican senator in a homosexual whore house in the free agent market. Their charge was finding experience and stopgaps, and the result is kind of a hodgepodge roster with tenuous chemistry and little depth. Perhaps Favre can rally the troops. And if so I see the Jets jumping up in these rankings quickly. But I don't know if he can make up for some of the deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball.
19. Buffalo Bills - I really wanted to put the Bills higher than this because they are a club that I, like many others, have hope for. The bottom line is that last year they finished 8-8 and were highly competitive while playing most of their backups. This team was wracked with injuries, but was able to use that to develop a lot of its younger players. Marcus Stroud was a nice pickup and if Paul Posluszny can stay healthy and be effective I see the defense being much improved. They also need to sign Jason Peters and get him into camp. But if Trent Edwards continues to make stride this team could be a thorn in the side of several AFC foes.
20. Green Bay Packers - Needless to say, I'm skeptical of Aaron Rodgers. It's not that I don't think he has potential. But Brett Favre covered for a lot of weakness along that offensive line. Further, last year was a bit of an aberration. They played a patty-cake schedule, pulled off some fluky wins (vs. Philly, San Diego, and Washington) and were 5-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less. A lot of that intangible, which is so critical in this league, walked out the door with No. 4.
21. Oakland Raiders - This team is like Buffalo in that I wanted to place them higher on this list but I just kept finding other more polished clubs. However, the Raiders are one of my sleeper teams for this year for several reasons. First, no one has any expectations of them so we can buy low. Second, the rest of their division (other than San Diego) is trash. Third, their rushing attack has the potential to be devastating. And finally, their defense is better than you think and their secondary has a chance to be elite. Obviously, this team is only going to go as far as JaMarcus Russell can take them. But I am seeing shades of the 2006 Titans - one of the best underdogs bets in NFL history.
22. Carolina Panthers - We're well past desperation time for John Fox. This is it. If Fox can't turn things around for Carolina this year - and who knows what's possible in the always wacky NFC South - then he will likely be shown the door. The Steve Smith incident just adds more bad karma and pressure to the situation, and this club is banking an awful lot on a quarterback (Jake Delhomme) that I can't even decide if he's a top-notch signal caller or a glorified NFL Euro hack.
23. Baltimore Ravens - Do you want to be the guy who tells Ray Lewis that the Ravens have almost no shot at the playoffs this year? Me neither. Baltimore still has its patented nasty streak in it. And that alone is good for a couple extra wins. But the Harbaugh Era will be a little slow to take flight since the dead weight of the Boller Era is still wrapped firmly around the fuselage.
24. Cincinnati Bengals - The Bungles aren't at No. 24 because I think they are any good. It's just that I think the teams behind them are so bad that Cincy's problems seem kind of tame in comparison. The bottom line is that we know what we're going to get from this team: a lot of talk and little action. They will play undisciplined, uninspired football and they will settle in around the six-win plateau. I am intrigued by their innovative strategy for improving the defense: get rid of all of our best defenders. I am curious how that will work out for them.
25. Denver Broncos - The Broncs under Mike Shanahan have finally run out of steam. I like Jay Cutler's future but he's surrounded by transition. They will still find a 1,000-yard runner and still dominate the Raiders. But this team is a work in progress and will experience a lot of growing pains. They simply can't stop people on defense and don't have an offense developed enough to pick up the slack. They get four of their first six games at home, though, so maybe they can smooth enough out to be average this year. But that's as good as it's going to get: average.
26. Chicago Bears - Lovie Smith and Bob Babich have taken the claws out of one of the most devastating defenses of the last 15 years, and now the Chicago back seven is looking more and more like an E-Z Pass. And that's the teams "strength" right there. I don't even know where to start on offense, as their lack of anything even resembling a "play maker", their rotted-out offensive line, and their feeble stable of running backs are ready to set new standards of Pathetic on offense. All of this negativity and I haven't even mentioned the two-headed monstrosity at quarterback. It's going to be a long, cold winter by The Lake.
27. Kansas City Chiefs - Larry Johnson, Tony Gonzalez, and Dwayne Bowe are all freaks of nature. But even they can't cover for the Brodie Croyle Experience and a sieve offensive line. The defense is young and hungry. And Herm always seems to do his best work with teams like this. I would say that this club has some solid earning potential against the spread, even if it does have a six-win ceiling.
28. St. Louis Rams - On one hand you can say that this team's luck has nowhere to go but up. They were devastated by injuries on both sides of the ball last year and were 0-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less. On the other hand you can say that they are banking on inconsistent, injury-prone guys so they are doomed for another losing season. I'm not sure. If Steven Jackson comes back and has his head right I think this team has some upside. That said, when Scott Linehan and Jim Haslett are the brain trust I don't think you can expect things like consistency, execution, and chemistry.
29. Detroit Lions - As long as Matt Millen is "leading" this organization this team will never go anywhere or win anything. They are pathetic, and they have nothing beyond a few fantasy football studs to be excited about. Is that clear enough? They are changing schemes, systems, and direction for the 85th time under Millen's watch. And I expect the results to be the same: about five wins.
30. San Francisco 49ers - Jesus, it's going to be the Detroit Lions all over again. Why Mike Martz is considered a "genius" is kind of lost on me. Someone needs to tell him that he doesn't have the offensive line that he did in St. Louis. If he were a genius he might realize that and cool it with the 7-step drops. There are names on defense, but no real direction. Skill players not named Gore are nonexistent. And since Alex Smith is a couple three-interception games away from buying a house in Ryan Leaf's neighborhood I would say the outlook is bleak.
31. Atlanta Falcons - Mike Smith has the team headed in the right direction. The problem is that the road is as long as I-75 and is as clogged as Atlanta rush hour traffic. Tack on the fact that people in the Dirty, Dirty couldn't care less about this team right now (not with UGA ranked No. 1 in the college poll) and this is primed to be a lackluster season for the Birds.
32. Miami Dolphins - These guys could actually be a solid bet this year. Last year's run at a Defeated Season and the dumping of Jason Taylor has their value as low as humanly possible. But this is a Tuna Team, so you know they will play hard.