Mid-season NFL Power Rankings

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Now that we’ve reached the mid-point of the NFL’s 2011 season, it seems an opportune time to take a look at where the teams stand.  Looking at the pre-season rankings, I haven’t done too badly.  Some of the teams near the top haven’t been as dominant as I expected, but they’re all still in the playoff mix.  I did drastically underrate the 49ers, Bengals, and Bills.  Also, I kind of screwed up on my Cam Newton is going to be an abject failure prediction.  Yeah, sorry about that.  (Record and pre-seaon rank in parentheses.)

1. Green Bay Packers (8-0; 1):  Aaron Rodgers has led both the defending Super Bowl Champs and my fantasy team to undefeated starts.  While the Packers pass defense might be a slight concern, the offense just has too many weapons for teams to contain.  1972 Dolphin alumni might have to keep that champagne on ice for a while.

2. San Francisco 49ers (7-1; 24):  Yeah, I definitely didn’t see this coming.  Even better for the 49ers, they still haven’t played any of their horribly weak division opponents, so they can pretty much coast the rest of the way.

3. New York Giants (6-2; 7):  Under Coach Tom Coughlin the Giants have been a team that has thrived under adversity, and this year has been no exception.  Written off by many because of injuries and free agent losses, the Giants have relied on their depth to maintain the lead in the NFC East.  Oh, and for all those who scoffed at Eli Manning dubbing himself elite before the season – if not for Rodgers, he’s the MVP.

4. Baltimore Ravens (6-2; 11): The Giants and Ravens have had similar seasons.  They’ve had impressive but close wins mixed in with some perplexing losses.  But the Ravens have beaten the Steelers twice now and hold the inside track on a division title as long as they can hold off the Bengals.

5. Detroit Lions (6-2; 14): Everybody’s sleeper team has exceeded even the rather optimistic projections.  They might be the only team left that can stop the Packers from finishing the season undefeated.

6. New Orleans Saints (5-3; 3): Here begins a run of good but very flawed teams.  At times the New Orleans offense looks as unstoppable as it did in its Super Bowl championship season.  At other times Drew Brees and company look unnerved out there.  Darren Sproles has been an essential cog in the offense, but they lack a reliable running game as rookie Mark Ingram has been a disappointment thus far.

7. Cincinnati Bengals (6-2; 32):  The team I picked for dead last in the NFL is tied for the best record in the AFC, led by a pair of outstanding rookies in Andy Dalton and AJ Green.  That said, they have yet to play either the Ravens or the Steelers and have benefited from a soft schedule.  Look for the Bengals to fade in the second half, but even if they do it’s been a very good season.

8. Houston Texans (6-3; 8): The Texans finally look like they’re going to take the next step and make the playoffs.  Of course there’s still plenty of time for them to blow it, but it’s hard to see any of their divisional rivals picking them off.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3; 2):  If they had held off the Ravens on Sunday night they’d be in the top five.  Two losses to the Ravens now means they have an uphill fight to win the division.  But Roethlisberger is having one of his best seasons, and he’s surrounded by a couple of great weapons now with Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace.  It’s almost shocking to see the Steelers become an air-oriented team.

10. New England Patriots (5-3; 5): The Patriots are on the verge of losing three straight for the first time since – when, exactly?  It must be at least a decade.  What’s worrisome for the Pats is that their major issue is that they simply can’t stop anybody.

11. New York Jets (5-3; 4): They have not looked well in any of their wins except over the Bills.  Of course, that is their most recent game, so that might be a sign that they are finally coming around.  Darrelle Revis is the defensive MVP, and it’s not particularly close.

12. Buffalo Bills (5-3; 30):  Bills have stumbled lately as their defensive weakness has been exposed.  Like the Bengals, I would expect them to fade a bit in the second half.

13. Chicago Bears (5-3; 16):  Jay Cutler has certainly made me look foolish.  He continues to mature as a quarterback and has the Bears primed for a playoff run.

14. Atlanta Falcons (5-3; 10):  The funny thing is I thought I was underrating them in the pre-season, but they’re even more mediocre than I thought they would be.

15. San Diego Chargers (4-4; 6):  At some point people are going to realize that Philip Rivers is just a tad overrated.  At least in previous years Rivers has been a clutch performer at the ends of games, but now he just looks like a quivering mess. He’s made Tony Romo look like the model of poise under pressure.  Speaking of which . . .

16. Dallas Cowboys (4-4; 15):  I pretty much nailed this one, so I’ll just copy what I wrote in the pre-season: How ’bout them Cowboys?  Meh.  Yeah, they upgraded at head coach in mid-season, mainly because any sentient being would have been an upgrade.  And now the backwards cap wearing idiot is back behind center.  And yet this team is still completely overrated and will be going nowhere again.

17. Oakland Raiders (4-4; 20): The spirit of Al Davis lives on, embodied by the preposterously bad trade for Carson Palmer.  On the bright side, it looks like they won’t be giving up that second number one pick.

18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4; 19):  As predicted, Josh Freeman has taken a bit of a step back this year.  They’re good enough to be in almost any game, but not good enough to win most.

19. Philadelphia Eagles (3-5; 9):  Oh sweet, sweet schadenfreude.  And to think I completely overrated this mess of a team in the pre-season.  What has to be the most satisfying thing about the Eagles’ implosion is how the “experts” thought this team was going to roll after beating two terrible division opponents.  Guess not.  Well, at least Philly has that World Series triumph to gloat about.  Oh.  Wait.  Awkward.

20. Tennessee Titans (4-4; 21): Is Jeff Fischer really gone?  This feels like a Jeff Fischer team – a team held together by duct tape and glue and still over-achieving somehow.  Imagine if Chris Johnson was remotely living up to his hype.

21. Carolina Panthers (2-6; 31):  As I said, I whiffed on Cam Newton.  He’s been brilliant, and he’s actually surrounded by quite a few weapons.  The Panthers record might be about what I thought it would be, but their performance has far exceeded expectations.

22. Washington Redskins (3-5; 23): Oh sweet, sweet schadenfreude, take two.  It was worth it to watch this team fluke its way to a 3-1 start just to see the delusional kool-aid drinkers in this city start hopping aboard the “best team in the east” express.  It made the inevitable collapse even more enjoyable to behold.  And yet there are still people clinging to this belief that Mike Shanahan is some kind of genius.  Am I  really the only one who notices that he hasn’t won jack squat since Elway retired?

23. Minnesota Vikings (2-6; 27): I was prepared to rank the Vikings much lower, but 1) there are a lot of truly awful teams, and 2) they’ve actually played fairly well.  They blew big leads in their first few games, and have remained competitive even after their season went down the toilet.

24. Cleveland Browns (3-5; 13): I think I mixed up the Browns and Bengals, because Cleveland was supposed to be the team to take a big step forward.  Their offense is just woeful, and it’s somewhat shocking to look up and see that they have somehow managed to win three games.  One of those was perhaps the most boring game in the history of the NFL.   And boring is an apt word when discussing the Browns.

25. Kansas City Chiefs (4-4; 18): They may be 4-4 but I have qualms about ranking them this high.  They have the third worst point-differential in the NFL, and have somehow managed to steal a few wins.  It wouldn’t shock me if their failed to win another game.  Unfortunately for them they’ve already taken themselves out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.

26. Miami Dolphins (1-7; 25): Even though the Dolphins only have one win, they’ve been in most of their games.  Reggie Bush is quietly having a very nice season, and Matt Moore is doing just enough to keep the offense afloat.

27. Denver Broncos (3-5; 26): You wanna know why people hate Tim Tebow?  After the Broncos beat the Raiders on Sunday I heard Jimmy Johnson lavishing praise upon Tebow.  Oh, sure, he wasn’t responsible for the punt return touchdown or for Carson Palmer’s interceptions or for Knowshon Moreno’s running, but he “inspires” his teammates.  Really?  I mean, really?  Tebow is a terrible quarterback who has produced two incredibly flukey wins.  Nice guy, and the subtle (or not so subtle) anti-Christian bias annoys me.  But let’s get real.

28. Arizona Cardinals (2-6: 22): It’s a sign of just how bad the teams behind them are that I’ve ranked them even this high.

29. Seattle Seahawks (2-6; 28):  I was going to make a crack about how I can’t figure out how they even have two wins, then realized that one of those wins was on the road against the third-ranked team.  Yeah.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6; 29): They play Indianapolis twice, so they still have a shot at Luck.  I suppose they’re content with Blaine Gabbert so that might not even be an issue., so they might actually be motivated to win those games.  I just pity the poor souls forced to watch those games.  They might make Browns-Seahawks look like Chargers-Packers.

31. St. Louis Rams (1-7; 12):  I was going to say that they’re not as bad as their record suggests, but then saw that they have a -111 point differential.  So yes, they are as bad as their record suggests.  Steven Jackson is having a very nice season, so at least they’ve got that going for them.

32. Indianapolis Colts (0-9; 17): We all knew they would be bad without Manning, but this bad?  Could this be like the 1996-97 Spurs?  David Robinson missed most of the season and the Spurs wound up with the number one overall pick, which they used on Tim Duncan.  They went on to win four NBA championships.  Now Manning and Luck couldn’t play together a la Robinson and Duncan, but of all the seasons for the Colts to be without Manning, they couldn’t have picked a better one.

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  1. Paul, how do you have the Eagle at 19 and Broncos at 27 when both have same record? Also, where does it say there’s only one way to win a football game and only one style? The wishbone/wildcat/option may be passe but still works when executed properly. Tebow is 3-3 as a starter and is excoriated because the MSM doesn’t like his religious views and otherwise sings from the same hackneyed page about QB play. Given time and with a few more offensive weapons and a better defense, Tim could lead a team to the playoffs.

  2. how do you have the Eagle at 19 and Broncos at 27

    The Eagles, as overrated as they are, do have a net point differential in their favor. In other words, they’ve been more impressive in defeat than the Broncos have in victory.

    Tim could lead a team to the playoffs

    I’m sure he could, but unfortunately for him the UFL just disbanded.

    Long story short, he’s the NFL version of David Eckstein, only not as good at the game.

  3. Paul,
    Regarding the Bears, I don’t think the Cutler has made you look foolish at all. You simply underestimated how bad his offensive line was last year. It is no great shakes this year either, but it is gradually improving from awful to mediocre, especially in support of the running game. The combination of re-establishing a running game plus some improvement in pass protection (which follows in part from the improvement in the running game) allows Cutler display his skills. The biggest rap on Cutler is his demeanor. He is hard on himself and hard on his teammates, and because he hides neither he is not the poster child for sportsmanship. Fair enough, but neither was Johnny Unitas if you are old enough to recall.
    The Bears are still pretty doggone good on defense and special teams. While I concede a fan’s bias, I expect they’ll be in the thick of things at the end as I predicted.

  4. The Giants are right where they want to be just in time for their usual mid-to-late-season meltdown. Fortunately for them, 8-8 or 9-7 is good enough to win the NFC East this year.

    As for the team you have at #16, their biggest claim to fame at this point is that they play across the street from the Texas Rangers.

  5. The fact that it’s considered enough of a trend that someone felt the need to address it sorta speaks for itself.

    It’s happened, and it’s happened multiple times, in the Coughlin era. Still, even with a meltdown, the Giants ought to be good enough to win the East.

  6. True, but I think it’s one of those things that gets a bit exaggerated, like the fact that Romo is a choker.

    On second thought, that’s pretty much true.

    By the way, how weird is it that the Cowboys are basically the fourth best (read: worst) team in Dallas? Everyone else is doing so well, including the Stars, that the Cowboys are kind of an afterthought.

  7. I agree with you. Although you’re right about it being exaggerated like Romo being a “choker” – he’s a choker … except when he’s not. He’s had lots of late-game heroics as well as late-game meltdowns. The Coughlin-era Giants have been the same way – lots of late-season heroics and some late-season meltdowns. But at least they have a Super Bowl ring to show for it, unlike Romo.

    And, yeah, the Cowboys have pretty much become an afterthought. I think they’re still ahead of the Stars in the hearts of the people (although certainly not on the playing surface), but they’ve fallen behind the Rangers and Mavs in terms of popularity. Something I would have never believed could happen when I was a kid. But there it is. I know in my own loyalty rankings I have the Rangers far ahead of everyone else, then the Mavs, then the Cowboys (hockey is a yankee/canuck sport, so who cares?) – again, something I would have NEVER considered a possibility as a kid. But Tony Romo ain’t Roger Staubach; Dez Bryant ain’t Drew Pearson; and Felix Jones ain’t Tony Dorsett.

  8. And Jerry Jones sure as hell ain’t Tex Schramm! Until the Cowboys fire the current GM, they’ll never put a consistent winner on the field. Unfortunately, the owner (Jerry) has a vested interest in not firing the GM (again, Jerry).

  9. Tony Romo is often the best player for the Cowboys’ O. Other times, he’s the 12th man for the opposing team. Jekyl and Hyde. I agree with Jay… fire Jerry! I do take some solace in that the recent success of the Mavericks and Rangers has to be eating him alive.

  10. As long as Danny Snyder owns the Redskins, a 6-10 season is almost inevitable. How they get to 6-10 is the only question, and as you point out, it has been especially entertaining this year after a hugely sucessful preseason and a 3-1 start.

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