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Milwaukee-based musings on books and sports
Instead of Power Rankings, I think teams (and players for that matter) are better ranked in tiers. Using tiers eliminates some of the false certainty present in ranking teams in number order from 1-30. You know, arguing about why is my team number 7, I think they should be number 5, that kind of thing. By grouping teams by tiers relative to their chances for making the playoffs, I think we get a better picture of where the teams in the NFL are relative to one another.
Green Bay Packers – Super Bowl champions in January. The Packers are explosive on offense and defense and only slightly below average on special teams, a big improvement over previous years (and possibly less important with teams now kicking off from the 35-yard line). The Packers still have room to improve on offense (the running game, dropped passes by the wide receivers) and on defense (pass rush from someone other than Clay Matthews and the departed Cullen Jenkins).
New England Patriots – Same old, same old. Expect Brady to be outstanding and to make his teammates look better than they are (especially Chad Ochocinco). Expect Belichick to be cocky and unlikable but to come up with the right defensive schemes to stymie that day’s opponent.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Same old, same old. A punishing 3-4 defense that thinks it talks tough in the media, but comes off as a bunch of whiners. It will be interesting to see which Troy Polamalu shows up this year. The slow, conservative, banged-up and possibly aging version last seen in the Super Bowl or the healthy, risk-taking, slightly overrated (but big-play making) version that we have seen since he entered the NFL.
Definite Playoff Teams
New Orleans Saints – Why all the love for the Saints? It seems like Vince Young’s “Dream Team” comment (innocuous as it was when taken in context), has turned public opinion against the Eagles as the trendy NFC Super Bowl pick and it seems boring (or at least lazy) to pick the Packers to repeat. Still, I don’t get it. I understand the love for Drew Brees and Sean Payton and the rest of the Saint’s offense. But why isn’t the defense being questioned? This is the unit that no-showed against the Seahawks in the playoffs last year. The Saints have added some intriguing players, especially Aubrayo Franklin, but I want to see how this version of the Saints defense plays before moving them up to Elite status.
New York Jets – A team can’t be elite without an elite quarterback… and Mark Sanchez isn’t an elite quarterback. Barring a change at QB, I think the Jets peaked last year. They are worse off at wide receiver without Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith. Rex Ryan is the best defensive coordinator in football, but I can’t see a defense (even a Rex coached one) leading a team to Super Bowl with an average QB.
Baltimore Ravens A team can’t be elite without an elite quarterback… and Joe Flacco isn’t an elite quarterback. The defense just keeps getting older. Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs are good, but they aren’t Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in their primes… and Lewis (especially) and Reed (mostly due to healthy) aren’t in their primes anymore. Would you trust Flacco to beat Brady, Roethlisberger, or even Rivers in a playoff game? Me neither.
Atlanta Falcons – Seems like it could all come apart for the Falcons with a few bad breaks. Tony Gonzalez isn’t getting any younger and Michael Turner isn’t the type of running back (workload and running style) to age well. And did anyone watch the Falcons playoff loss to the Packers and think, boy they need to trade their entire 2011 draft to get a wide receiver? Sure seemed that the defense was where the Falcons should have been spending their draft picks and free agent dollars. I think Ray Edwards will look like just a guy when he isn’t playing opposite Jared Allen and with Kevin Williams and Pat Williams between the two of them. And I’m not a Matt Ryan believer. His “Matty Ice” nickname is a thinly-veiled (at least to the media) reference to Natty Ice. I refuse to believe that a guy drafted in 2008 was nicknamed “Matty Ice” by his college teammates in reference to him being cool under pressure rather than because it rhymes with the college house-party beverage of choice. I have no reason to not believe in him other than the nickname, but I just can’t get over it and the fact that we as a country seem to have bought into the cool under pressure origin story. Seems much more likely that he went out with his offensive lineman and drank a case of Natty Ice by himself, but see if a story like that ever gets told by Jaws and Gruden on Monday Night Football.
Philadelphia Eagles – Michael Vick will be spectacular for 12-14 games. Vince Young should be adequate for the other ones. But I want to see if Jeremy Maclin and Steve Smith are healthy enough to contribute and where DeSean Jackson’s head is at after his brief holdout. Apparently, the defense has added some playmakers. Did you hear about this? A cornerback with a name I can’t spell? Guy by the name of Nnamdi Asomugha But new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo was previously the offensive line coach… I think I’ll wait and see how the defense comes together before considering the Eagles elite.
Dallas Cowboys – They were on many pre-season Super Bowl short lists last year, lost a bunch of close games, had Tony Romo get hurt, and were coached by Wade Phillips. Romo’s healthy, Felix Jones has lost weight, DeMarcus Ware is a beast, and they are no longer coached by Wade Phillips. My gut says they end up winning the NFC East, but my head says that they are another Romo injury away from 8-8.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Young team on the rise that has built itself through the draft and is led by a young quarterback. Sounds like the Packers of a few years ago. I like how the Bucs are willing to let the young guys learn together on the job. The schedule will be harder than last year, so their record may be worse, but this is team building for the long term. Give me the Bucs over the Lions as the NFC to emerge every day of the week.
Houston Texans – The AFC South is rapidly turning into one of the western divisions. First to 10 wins takes the division. I think taking Mario Williams hand off the ground to make him a 3-4 outside linebacker is a mistake. He was disruptive as a 4-3 end, why mess with a good thing? Reminds me of what the Packers did with Aaron Kampman a few years ago. It didn’t work then either.
Tennessee Titans – If Matt Hasselbeck stays healthy enough to start 14 games, I think they win the AFC South. Chris Johnson is the best player in this division and I think he has something to prove coming off a disappointing (for him) season.
Indianapolis Colts – If only because the rich Ewing theory potential in a Peyton Manning-less season. Manning has a rich history of regular season success with playoff disappointments. Remember, his Super Bowl win came against the Bears starting Rex Grossman at quarterback. Not exactly Rodgers outdueling Roethlisberger last year. I’ve always thought that Manning’s teammates have been underrated because of the focus on Manning’s greatness. This is the year guys like Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark can prove that they are great players in their own right.
In the Playoffs because each division “champion” gets in
Kansas City Chiefs – Mostly because I think this is the year the Chargers finally quit on Norv Turner.
St. Louis Rams – Entirely because I think Sam Bradford is the only quarterback in the division with a chance to approach league average. Bradford can do much better than average, but average is something Kevin Kolb, Alex Smith, and Tavaris Jackson can only dream of.
Just Missing the Playoffs
Detroit Lions – Matt Stafford has never completed passes at a high enough percentage (even at Georgia) to lead a team to the playoffs. When he gets his completion percentage closer to 60, I’ll start to buy into the hype. Until then, a great defensive line in front of a suspect linebacker corps and secondary is not enough to get the Lions into the playoffs.
Cleveland Browns – Now, if the Lions had Colt McCoy, I’d move them way up the list. The Browns will be improved and could makes things in the AFC North interesting, but passing the Steelers and the Ravens is a tall order without more playmakers on both sides of the ball.
Minnesota Vikings – If not for Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson would be the best player in his division. Donovan McNabb should at least be adequate, which is several orders of magnitude better than Tavaris. However, the offensive line has gotten old (and fat and released in the case of former tackle Bryant McKinnie) and the defense will struggle with out Kevin Williams (finally serving his suspension for using StarCaps… why was everyone so willing to believe that he was using the diuretic to lose weight and not to mask steriod use?) and Pat Williams (not resigned). This is a team that missed its window and is moving backwards.
Buffalo Bills – Until the Bills can put together a better offensive line (why did they trade Jason Peters again?), they won’t improve, no matter who is under center.
Western Divisions Second – Fourth Places
Denver Broncos – The Broncos are just a shade behind the Chiefs in my book. Kyle Orton is an above-average starter. Elvis Dumervil returns from injury and now has Von Miller opposite him. In the AFC West, that might be enough for 9-7 and 9-7 could win that division.
San Diego Chargers – The Chargers are a perennially overhyped videogame team. They are great to control in Madden, but all that talent underachieves in the real world. They are soft, have been soft through the Norv Turner era, and will remain soft. The players have to hate playing here for GM A.J. Smith (think he’s on Vincent Jackson or Marcus McNeil’s Christmas card lists?) who sabotaged the good of the team last year to make an example of the two free agents. I think the Chargers fall apart, end up at 8-8 or worse, and have a new GM and coach this time next year.
Arizona Cardinals – Unless Kevin Kolb is Kurt Warner in disguise, it’s more mediocrity in the desert this year.
Oakland Raiders – What a mess. I thought the Raiders were building something interesting Tom Cable, instead they let him go and shuffle the deck again. This team cannot succeed as long as Al Davis continues to pull the strings.
San Francisco 49ers – Could Jim Harbaugh be a player/coach? No? Andrew Luck here they come.
Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks don’t even seem to have a plan for building the team. Other than the great home-field advantage, what do they have going for them?
Playing for Next Year (non-Andrew Luck Division)
New York Giants – Too many season-ending injuries before the season has even started. Maybe they should be in the Andrew Luck Division. If Eli Manning keeps throwing picks like he did last year, it won’t matter what his last name is.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Cutting your starting quarterback the week before the season starts cannot be a good sign. And the presence of Blaine Gabbert means they won’t be looking to draft Luck next year.
Chicago Bears – Jay Cutler can’t help that his face looks like that. He always looks disinterested and mopey. And he’ll probably look injured playing behind the Bears offensive line. I think the Mike Martz orchestrated offensive will put up points, but I don’t think the defense can repeat last year’s performance.
Carolina Panthers – Patience should pay off for the Panthers. They need to take the time to see what they have in Cam Newton and draft well the next year years. This is a team that hit bottom last year, but should have a slight bounce-back year.
Playing for Next Year (Andrew Luck Division)
Miami Dolphins – Reggie Bush as a feature back? I wish the Dolphins luck. Chad Henne has to play better (or at least change the narrative, I don’t think he was as bad as he was made out to be last year) or he’ll be gone next year.
Washington Redskins – Mike Shanahan is a genius? Because he had John Elway and Alex Gibbs developed the Broncos signature zone-blocking and single cut running game that Shanahan gets credit for? Would a genius humiliate a temperamental star like Albert Haynesworth with petty conditioning drill b.s. like Shanahan did last year? Way to alienate one of the guys you absolutely need to play well before the first week of training camp is over, Mike. Coaches should work with the players they have and make use of the players strengths, not try to fit square pegs into round holes like Shanahan did with Haynesworth (and McNabb for that matter) last year.
Cincinnati Bengals – They are going to be awful. And I can see Mike Brown drafting Luck even after taking Andy Dalton in the second round this year, which could even end up being the right move, if we were talking about a different team. Only this is the Bengals we’re talking about, a team that can’t help but always make the wrong moves.