Thursday, November 10, 2016

The NFL Mid-Season Power Rankings

Okay so every team has now played at least eight games, I haven't written anything other than some snarky tweets in weeks and my foot hurts (one of those facts is not relevant to this or anything really). That means it's time for either a personal anecdote or a contrived list and, since I remember almost nothing about my trip to Scottsdale two weeks ago, we're going with the latter. That's right. A good old fashioned batch of midseason NFL power rankings just like the kind your grandad used to brew-up in the still behind the barn and then drink out of a mason jar while he called you by your cousin's name and told you stories about how he used to have a still behind the barn (I'm half hillbilly on my father's side).

Manufactured at the
"Factory of Sadness."
Let's start with a general overview of the season. The league is dreck. If it were a Carmax lot, there would be one 2014 Range Rover looking out of place (the Patriots), three 2013 Chevy Tahoes (the Cowboys, Raiders and Seahawks), one 1998 Ford Taurus that has almost certainly carried both a dead body and a family of racoons in its trunk at some point in its history (the Browns) and twenty seven 2005 Dodge Stratuses with cloth seats, manual windows and a minimum of four previous owners, two of whom smoked (every other team).

If the NFL was a movie character right now (back to back analogies!), it would be one who the writer just spent the first twenty minutes making you fall in love with only to have her kiss the kids goodnight and then go into a minor coughing fit that she assures her husband is "nothing." There's no blood on the handkerchief yet but let's just say you wouldn't want to combine that cough with other fatal symptoms like unwatchable Thursday night games, dwindling starpower at the most important position, a high profile domestic violence case every year and referees who think they're getting paid by the penalty. When the NFL games start moving with the flow of an over-officiated middle school field hockey game between two bad teams, you've got a problem.   

Remember that there was a time in this country when other sports like boxing and horse racing ruled. I'm not saying that the NFL is going to get knocked off its pedestal anytime soon but those games the college kids are playing on Saturday tend to be a lot more entertaining. And while the NFL is ham-handedly trying to plunder England, soccer is taking over Sunday morning viewing in a lot of American households and then the next generation of sports fans is actually going out to play the sport they just watched. Cristiano Ronaldo just signed a $1 billion lifetime deal with Nike who have a pretty strong history of predicting the next big thing. Just sayin'. With that backdrop of unbridled optimism, let's do some ranking.

1. New England Patriots

Just fucking shoot me now. Not to kill or mame but please hit me square enough to cause enough pain so I forget how good the Patriots still are. Maybe through my left calf while being careful not to hit my shin bone. (Had a friend in high school who actually did that to himself . . . by accident though. Apparently wrestlers have lousy aim). Bill Belichick just traded their best defensive player to Cleveland to show the league that he can do whatever in the hell he wants and still win. Suffice it to say that trade's going to work-out great for the Browns (eye roll . . . sideways glance . . . chuckle).        

2. Oakland Raiders

Well it took three decades but it looks like the Raiders have finally found their way back to what once made them great. A clutch quarterback, a coach who likes to take chances and committing more penalties than both teams in The Longest Yard combined. So there's your #1 and #2 Goodell. A team that you failed to derail with a lawsuit that Judge Judy would've scoffed at and the most penalized team in the league. Eat it.   

3. Dallas Cowboys

Let the 70's throwback continue with the one-eyed Cowboys currently ruling the land of the blind that is the NFC. Wait, so you mean that if you can run the ball (1st) and stop the run (5th), you can still win in this crazy madcap passing league? Well leave it to Jerry Jones to stumble onto that idea during the 2014 draft while indirectly (but predictably) setting-back the Browns' already failed recovery another two years by leaving them the burning turd on the doorstep that was Johnny Manziel. (The ineptitude of the Browns will be a recurring theme. Sorry to hit you while you're down Cleveland but hey, LeBron).  

4. Seattle Seahawks

We're going to give the Cowboys their day in the sun but, let's be honest, the NFC is on a collision course with a 24-10 win for the Seahawks in Dallas on January 22, 2017. Dak Prescott and, more importantly, Jason "Hey Are Those Headlights?" Garrett are not going all the way this year.    

5. Atlanta Falcons 

You could put a bunch of different teams here but let's go with the Falcons while we can before they close the season 3-4 and get bounced in the first round of the playoffs to drop Matty Ice's postseason record to 1-5. The curse of Bobby Petrino is tough to shake.      

6. Kansas City Chiefs

Not to dwell on the rampant mediocrity in the league this year (but that's kind of the theme of these rankings so dwell we will) but a team that we can rank 6th without much debate just eked-out a 19-14 win over a 2-6 Jags team that would be the worst team in any league that didn't include the Browns and 49ers.   

7. Denver Broncos

The Broncos are fighting on valiantly after Peyton Manning's retirement but the fact is that you're not going to win a Super Bowl with a quarterback named Trevor so this is kind of a lost season. Super Bowls are not won by quarterbacks with lacrosse player names so that also rules-out Carson, Blake and Brock. (Consider that twelve Super Bowls have been won by guys named Joe, John or Jim). You could maybe argue that Trent Dilfer in 2001 qualifies but the Ravens defense could have won that game with Trent Lott under center.    

8. Detroit Lions

We're only at No. 8 and it already feels like we're sliding off the rails because we just put a testament to historical ineptitude in the top ten. But someone has to win the NFC North and, after what we saw last weekend, it sure doesn't look like it's going to be the dysfunctional Vikings or the lethargic Packers. Besides, the Lions' offensive coordinator is named Jim Bob Cooter and, when the Jim Bob Cooter bandwagon rolls into town, you don't ask questions. You just jump on, take a swig of whatever they're passing and enjoy the ride. But most importantly, don't ask questions.   

9. Cincinnati Bengals

This seems like about the right spot for an inevitable division winner/first round playoff loser from a division that isn't the AFC South (more on them much later in the rankings). I'm pretty sure we have a sufficient sample size on Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis to say that they may never play more than 17 games in a season.   

10. Pittsburgh Steelers

It feels like we're witnessing a once proud division in decline as the Bengals and Steelers have slipped, the Ravens seem lost and the Browns look like a disoriented SCUBA diver who is low on oxygen and swimming in the opposite direction from the bubbles. The prospect of the Steelers winning by throwing the ball fifty times a game and outscoring everyone always seemed a little odd (if not sacrilegious) anyway.  

11. Arizona Cardinals

As noted earlier, you're not winning a Super Bowl with a guy named Carson and you're sure as hell not winning one with a 50 year old guy named Carson. Anyone who thought that last year's catastrophic playoff performance was an aberration definitely spends their holidays at Carson Palmer's house.    

12. Minnesota Vikings


The Vikings are in freefall. The only reason they're here is that their purple cape got caught on the wing of a gargoyle mid-fall but the seams are tearing and the only thing left between them and the ground is Sam Bradford. LOOK OUT BELOW!!! 

13. Buffalo Bills


Rex Ryan may come across as the MC for open mike night at the Chuckle Hut and he certainly is that but he also took the Jets to two AFC Championship games with Mark Sanchez as his quarterback so the man can coach. The man can also implode so the Bills' outcome this season ranges from making the playoffs to going 1-6 down the stretch with the Ryan brothers getting dropped like a pair of patsies in a WWE tag-team match.  

14. New York Giants 

Here are the Giants again in the middle of no man's land halfway through the season. Sure they're 5-3 but, other than an opening day win over the Cowboys and Dak Prescott playing his first NFL game, they don't have much to hang their hats on. And this year they don't have Tom Coughlin's angry old man "fuck that sunscreen" beet red wind burn tan to inspire them.   

15. Green Bay Packers

The Packers look really bored. Not just the sitting around the house on Sunday morning at 11:30 a.m. waiting for the games to start kind of bored. More like stuck on a five hour flight just finished your book, forgot your laptop and thumbing through the in-flight magazine kind of bored. Might be a good idea for some of the teams who've had the same Super Bowl winning coach for 8-9 years (Ravens, Steelers, Packers and Saints) to just rotate them like tires . . . as long as the Ravens got Mike Tomlin or Sean Payton. 

16. San Diego Chargers

It seems like at least once per game an announcer hints that Phillip Rivers is a Hall of Fame quarterback which might be true if the Hall voters used passer rating like an SAT score because his 95.5 currently ranks him 8th between Drew Brees (7th) and Ben Roethlisberger (9th). However, the Chargers are currently 4-5 which anyone could have predicted (except maybe Nate Silver) considering that they're 50-55 since 2009 - the last time they made the playoffs. And speaking of playoffs, Rivers' postseason record is also 4-5. And you know what else? Rivers' birthday is April 5th. That's right . . . 4-5!!! (Actually I made that up. This Rivers thing wasn't really going anywhere and I needed a way out).

17. Baltimore Ravens

The bad news for the Ravens' offense is that they're ranked 24th in passing and Joe Flacco has thrown more interceptions than touchdown passes. On the other hand, they're ranked 28th in rushing. But the really good news is that they're ranked 26th in scoring with 154 points, 82 of which have been scored by their special teams meaning that their offense is averaging 9 point per game (one semester math major baby!). And the best news of all is that they recently fired offensive coordinator Marc Trestman and replaced him with Marty Mornhinweg who once lost an overtime game as a head coach because, under the old rule of the team that scores first wins, he won the toss and decided to kick-off (I did not make that up. I wish I had but I didn't).          

18. New Orleans Saints

Meet the Bizzaro Ravens. The Saints have leveraged 30.3 points per game into a 4-4 record. How do you do that? Easy. Just allow 29.8 points and 300 passing yards per game. You'd think that practicing against Drew Brees every day would make them better. You'd be wrong.      

19. Indianapolis Colts 

Hey look . . . it's the AFC South stopping by with their first entry at #19. The Colts may be a little better than this but would you feel confident about them beating any of the five teams above them or, for that matter, the five teams below them. Didn't think so. Let's move on.   

20. Carolina Panthers

Many people are saying that the Broncos provided the blueprint for how to beat Cam Newton in last year's Super Bowl. You think? He's currently ranked 26th in passer rating. But that's not even the Panthers' problem this year because they're still scoring 25.5 points per game. The problem is that their defense which carried them in 2015 is allowing 25.8 points per game. Their next four games are against the Chiefs, Saints, Raiders and Seahawks. At least Cam won't have to deal with any awkward postseason press conferences this year.    

21. Miami Dolphins

Blah blah blah the Dolphins blah blah blah Tannnehill blah blah 7-9 again blah blah blah.

22. Washington Redskins

The Redskins actually appeared to be heading in the right direction coming-off their playoff season but then they bungled their way to a tie against the Bengals and now they've lost arguably their best player in left tackle Trent Williams to a four game weed suspension. The next four games are against the class of the NFC in the Vikings, Packers, Cardinals and Cowboys. On the other hand, calling those teams the "class of the NFC" is like calling Chick-fil-a, Sbarro, Panda Express and Subway the "class of the food court."  

23. Philadelphia Eagles

Wait. Are you trying to tell me that the league has started to catch-up to a quarterback who made his bones in college playing against Youngstown State, Missouri State, Indiana State and every other "State" school the Missouri Valley Conference had to offer? Carson (there's that name again) is hanging in there but, after throwing for 7 TD's and 1 interception during the Eagles 3-1 start, he's thrown for 2 TD's and 4 interceptions during the ensuing 1-3 stretch. At least Philadelphia fans are known for their patient and nurturing support so Wentz will be able to grow at his own pace.    

24. Houston Texans

This first NFL gig for Bill O'Brien has all the earmarks of a Pete Carroll in New England or a Bill Belichick in Cleveland. Not saying he's going to go on to win Super Bowls but it might be time for him and the Texans to sit down to an awkward lunch and tell each other "it's not you . . . it's me." O'Brien could spend three years turning Notre Dame around and then come back to a team with a quarterback not named Blake, Brock or Carson.   

25. New York Jets

Not quite sure what to make of the Jets. They should be better, especially with the seemingly competent Todd Bowles running the show. They've lost some tough road games and some close games to relatively decent teams so maybe they're just victims of the schedule this year. On the other hand, they only beat the Browns by 3 so maybe they just suck. 

26. Tennessee Titans

The bad news for the Titans is that they're 4-5. The good news is that they might only need three more wins to take the division if those wins come against the Colts, Texans and Jags. The bad news for the rest of us is that those games will presumably be televised.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This was definitely going to be the year when the Bucs started to fulfill that potential that people liked to talk about but no one could really prove existed. They play the Bears this week in a game that could best be described as "pointless." 

28. Los Angeles Rams

Help us out with this one. The Rams traded-up to get the #1 pick so they could draft quarterback Jared Goff. Case Keenum has started every game at quarterback for the Rams this season. Keenum has the lowest QBR of any quarterback in the league. Goff has yet to see the field. This is Jeff Fisher's sixth season coaching the Rams. They have not made the playoffs in any of them. They probably won't make the playoffs this year. Fisher will probably coach the Rams next season.  

29. Chicago Bears

One of the hidden benefits of the Cubs' win for Chicago sports fans is that it concealed the fact that Jay Cutler returned to action two weeks ago. They're going to turn on the TV this Sunday and feel like you do on a Monday when you thought your in-laws were leaving on Tuesday and you find-out that they're not leaving until Thursday.     

30. Jacksonville Jaguars

Every three or four years the Jags pull a Rickon Stark (GOT reference and SPOILER ALERT) by sprinting far enough across the open field that you think this year is going to be the one where they actually make it and then BAM!!! . . . that arrow from Ramsey Bolton hits them and we're left to wonder how we could've been fooled into thinking any other outcome was possible. Last year was the sprinting part. This year is the arrow part.

31. San Francisco 49ers

If you click on the 49er homepage on ESPN.com, there is (or there was) a headline which reads "Arike Armstead's injury forces 49ers to reconfigure defensive line." The 49ers are allowing a league worst 32.5 points and 193 rushing yards per game (193!!!). Pretty sure they could reconfigure their defensive line with four grizzly bears and still give-up 125 yards and two touchdowns per game.  

32. Cleveland Browns

The Browns are scoring 18.7 points per game and allowing 30.3. You don't really need an offensive gameplan against them because they will be equally hospitable to your running backs (150 yards per game) and your quarterback (275 yards per game). They are on their fifth attempt in the last five years to find a worthy successor to Romeo Crennell who went 24-40 from 2005-08. Over that five years, their record is 33-87 and they've started sixteen different quarterbacks, most of whom are no longer in the league. And with all of that, I would not be the least bit surprised if they beat the Ravens in Baltimore tonight. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2016 NFL season!       

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