NFL Power Rankings: Final Regular Season Edition
1. Green Bay Packers (15-1)-The record-breaking success of backup quarterback Matt Flynn against the Lions can only hurt Aaron Rodger’s chances for an MVP, if only in that it creates a shadow of a doubt as to whether or not Rodgers deserves the nod over Drew Brees.
2. New Orleans Saints (13-3)-While the Packers may be the odd on favorites to win in Indianapolis, the Saints are probably the hottest team in the NFL right now. When Brees doesn’t throw picks, their offense is just as good as the Packers offense. Don’t be surprised if they win it all.
3. New England Patriots (13-3)-The Patriots victory over the Bills followed a very similar pattern as their win in week 16 against the Dolphins. They can’t continue to get out to such bad starts in the playoffs. Despite being winners of 8 in a row to close out the season, the Patriots still haven’t beat a single team that finished with a winning record. They’ll get their chance soon.
4. San Francisco 49ers (13-3)-No one doubts that the 49ers were one of the best teams of the regular season. What will become of them in the postseason, however, is an entirely different matter. Their defense is great, but its strength is stopping the run. The playoffs will likely mark the first time that they are forced to stop the passing attacks of either the Packers or the Saints.
5. Baltimore Ravens (12-4)-Sticking to their standard of usually consistent, albeit not dominant play, the Ravens did what they had to do Sunday in Cincinnati, defeating the Bengals 24-16. They had better hope that Ray Rice comes up big in the playoffs, because the passing attack has shown nothing all season to hint at being a different animal than in year’s past. If you can stop Ray Rice, you effectively stop the Ravens offense.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)-If any team could have used a first round bye heading into the playoffs, it was the banged up Steelers. However, with Ravens and Patriots wins, they will have to travel to Denver Sunday to take on the free falling Broncos. Even without Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Clark, and with Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, Mewelde Moore, and LaMarr Woodley all banged up, expect the Steelers to dominate in Denver. For this reason, if I were Mike Tomlin I would air on the conservative side win terms of his injured players, especially Ben Roethlisberger. If Roethlisberger can’t become more mobile, the Steelers can’t win the Super Bowl.
7. Detroit Lions (10-6)-The Lions get a tough draw early with the Saints. This should be the most entertaining of all the wild card weekend games. Expect nothing less than a shootout.
8. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)-These playoffs are big for the perception of Matt Ryan’s career thus far. He has still yet to win a playoff game, but I would be shocked if the Falcons can’t take care of business Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
9. Philadelphia Eagles (8-8)-Yes, I have them ranked ahead of three teams that are in the playoffs. This tells you two things; the lower seeds in the playoffs this year are fairly week, and the Eagles would have been a very dangerous team had they won the NFC East and slipped into the playoffs this year.
10. Houston Texans (10-6)-Certainly feeling the effects of Matt Schaub’s loss, the Texans carry a three game losing streak into the playoffs. This weekend’s game in Houston, pitting the third seeded Texans against the sixth seeded Bengals, is pretty tough to predict. My bet is on the Bengals.
11. San Diego Chargers (8-8)-The Chargers decision to keep Norv Turner around for another year is truly baffling.
12. New York Giants (9-7)-Despite a rocky season, the Giants appear to be legitimate playoff contenders as they’ve won three of their last four.
13. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)-No one is given the Bengals much of a chance heading into the playoffs, as they are only 1-5 this year against winning teams. This trend will have to change for their season to continue. It might, but only for another week before they run into a real contender.
14. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)-Another year, and another December meltdown in Dallas. Don’t be too shocked here. Eli Manning’s dominating performance to end the Cowboy’s disappointing 2011 season highlights just what they need to address in the offseason: a poor secondary.
15. Tennessee Titans (9-7)-Considering the talent on the roster, you’ve got to give the Titans credit for playing as well as they did in 2011. A little more help, and they would have edged out the Bengals for the final AFC seed.
16. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)-As impressive as the Cardinals were in finishing the season, Cardinal fans still have to disappointed in the fact that they did not come up with any answer at quarterback in 2011.
17. New York Jets (8-8)-This Jets offseason should be very, very entertaining. With so many chemistry issues, they could lose a lot of talent and still be a better team in 2012.
18. Seattle Seahawks (7-9)- Pete Carrol seems to be taking this team in the right direction, but like their NFC West rival Cardinals, they still have to address long-term quarterback concerns if they hope to see improvement continue.
19. Miami Dolphins (6-10)- Hats off to the Dolphins for finishing the season the way they did despite the unjust firing of Tony Sparano midway through the season.
20. Carolina Panthers (6-10)- The Panthers offense improved dramatically this year after being absolutely inept in 2010. I wonder what the difference could have been? I also wonder how far this difference maker (Cam Newton) will be able to take them in the future.
21. Oakland Raiders (8-8)-The Raiders set a record for penalty yards in a season in 2011, and Carson Palmer still stinks.
22. Denver Broncos (8-8)-The Broncos are in the top five worst playoff teams of all time in terms of regular season point differential. Considering that this point differential was -81, it’s remarkable that they even managed to finish 8-8. What happens when a struggling Tim Tebow squares off against Pittsburgh’s number one ranked defense which will finally have both LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison on the field for the first time since September? Bad things happen.
23. Chicago Bears (8-8)-Mike Martz is out in Chicago. Whether or not this was the right move remains to be seen. However, with Jay Cutler’s being the obvious cause of the Bears downfall this season, the move seems to be pretty short-sighted.
24. Buffalo Bills (6-10)-What happens when the Bills jump off to a 21 point lead in Foxboro? Their defense responds to the momentum provided by the offense and gives up 49 points unanswered in the remaining three quarters.
25. Kansas City Chiefs (7-9)-The early frontrunners for the Chiefs head coaching position in 2012 appear to be interim head coach Romeo Crennell, and current Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin.
26. Washington Redskins (5-11)-Mike Shanahan has not been close to the savior many expected in Washington. Still, he deserves a third year at the very least, even if Steve Spurrier and Jim Zorn were not afforded the very same opportunity.
27. Cleveland Browns (4-12)-The Browns lost an awful lot of close games in 2011; Eight by 10 points or less to be exact. Does this make them a good team? No. No wonder they can’t win the tight ones with how disappointing Colt McCoy has been thus far in his brief NFL career.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)-In an extremely tumultuous year for the entire Jaguar franchise, they were at least able to finish in a relatively strong fashion. Props to Maurice Jones-Drew on a monster year; he totaled 1606 yards rushing to lead the NFL.
29. Minnesota Vikings (3-13)-It seems like a long time ago now that the Vikings signed Donovan McNabb, in hopes that he had a little Favre in him.
30. Indianapolis Colts (2-14)-The Colts made one huge mistake in the firing of former Vice Chairman Bill Polian. It’s not his fault that Peyton Manning got injured. In his firing they have now lost one of the most well-respect front office minds in all of football. Hopefully for Colts fans they don’t do something equally rash with Manning in the offseason, as trade speculation has started to circulate. Why would you ever consider trading Peyton Manning until you absolutely know for a fact that he’s not the player that he once was. It doesn’t matter who is available in the upcoming draft. The odds of Andrew Luck becoming the next Peyton Manning are slim to none, no matter how promising a prospect he might be. Hopefully the Colts wise up and give one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time the proper respect and chance he’s due.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)-Although I am generally in favor of being patient with coaches, the Bucs clearly did what they had to do in firing Raheem Morris and the entire coaching staff, rather than kicking the can on down the road.
32. St. Louis Rams (2-14)-The Rams went a staggering 10-38 in the past three seasons under Steve Spagnuolo. No wonder he was just fired. The early word in St. Louis is that Jeff Fisher is the top candidate for Spagnuolo’s replacement.