Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Power Rankings: Top 15 Teams After Week Nine

With a couple of big upsets this past weekend, the top 15 list will certainly be looking a little different heading in to this week's slate of games.

Top 15:

15. Oakland Raiders

Record: 5-4
Victories: SD, DEN, SEA, KC,
Defeats: TEN, ARI, HOU, SF
Stock: Up

The Raiders are currently on the franchise's first three-game win streak since December of '02, the year they lost to Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl. It is also the first time they have had a winning record in November since that same season. As weird as this may sound, Oakland is the AFC's hottest team with a 4-1 record in the last five weeks. Just as surprising as Oakland's record may be the fact that they have scored the second-most points in the league, with 235 (behind only San Diego).

14. San Diego Chargers

Record: 4-5
Victories: JAC, ARI, TEN, HOU
Defeats: KC, SEA, OAK, STL, NE
Stock: Up

San Diego is the only team on the list with a losing record right now, at 4-5. San Diego has the league's best quarterback (as of week nine) in Philip Rivers and, despite being without last season's team leader in receiving--Vincent Jackson--the Bolts have had one of the league's top air attacks, and has put up a league-high 239 points in nine games. If they can get a healthy Ryan Mathews in the lineup and win a few games on the road they could break out in to the top 10 very quickly.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Record: 5-3
Victories: CLE, CAR, CIN, STL, ARI
Defeats: PIT, NO, ATL
Stock: Even

Tampa started out on fire but has since cooled down a bit, though they are still a team who is on the verge of breaking out to the next level, the playoffs. With a Ben Roethlisberger-esque quarterback in Josh Freeman, the Bucs have seemed to have found their franchise quarterback. All head coach Raheem Morris needs to do now is implement a consistent run game, and the addition of rookie rushing leader LeGarrette Blount may be step No. 1 in turning things around in Tampa.

12. Philadelphia Eagles

Record: 5-3
Victories: DET, JAC, SF, ATL, IND
Defeats: GB, WAS, TEN
Stock: Up

Mike Vick's return this past Sunday has given Philly fans plenty to cheer about, especially after he led them to a victory over Peyton Manning and the Colts, the first time Philadelphia has defeat Indianapolis since Manning arrived in '98. Despite not having a definite No. 1 quarterback throughout the first nine weeks of play, Philadelphia is ranked 10th in passing offense and got a solid game from the underachieving LeSean McCoy against Indy's run defense. There's no doubt they have a tough road ahead of them with five more NFC East matchups, but so far Philadelphia is well on its way to a possible playoff run in January.
11. Kansas City Chiefs

Record: 5-3
Victories: SD, CLE, SF, JAC, BUF
Defeats: IND, HOU, OAK
Stock: Even

Very uncharacteristic of the AFC West to have three teams in the top 15, but you better believe it this year, they are certainly playing like they belong. Kansas City's run game is second in the league, is averaging 5.0 yards per carry, and has fumbled the ball just five times this season. Arrowhead Stadium continues to be an extremely tough place for opponents to play as they are one of only five teams still undefeated at home (4-0), and two of the team's three defeats came against teams in the top 15.

10. New Orleans Saints

Record: 6-3
Victories: MIN, SF, CAR, TB, PIT, CAR
Defeats: ATL, ARI, CLE
Stock: Down

Super Bowl hangover? It is very possible, yet the Saints still managed to crack the top 10 after the first nine weeks. Brees looks to be more human than we originally thought, with 12 interceptions in his nine games played. He threw just 11 through all of last season. New Orleans has had some solid victories over teams such as Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, but the win over San Francisco and two wins over Carolina don't look all that impressive right now, and the losses to Arizona and Cleveland have surely hurt their status. Atlanta may beat them out for the NFC South title this year, but I would still expect them to be in the running for one of the two wild card spots.
9. Indianapolis Colts

Record: 5-3
Victories: NYG, DEN, KC, WAS, HOU
Defeats: HOU, JAC, PHI
Stock: Even

Still ahead of the Eagles even after this past Sunday's result. The one thing holding Indianapolis back is surely the injuries to the backfield. Joseph Addai hasn't played since Oct. 17 and may miss this week as well, while both his backups-Donald Brown and Mike Hart--have been banged up as well and rather ineffective lately. Just like Manning's pass-catchers, Anthony Gonzalez, TE Dallas Clark, Austin Collie (suffered concussion this past Sunday after just returning from a wrist injury), Indy's backfield was hit hard with the injury bug. In fact, if the Colts offense as a whole was healthy this year they would without a doubt be the scariest team in the league. Dwight Freeney, the anchor of Indy's fifth-ranked pass defense, is as scary as ever coming around the edge. All Indy needs to do to make a late-January run is overcome the injury bug.

8. Tennessee Titans

Record: 5-3
Victories: OAK, NYG, DAL, JAC, PHI
Defeats: PIT, DEN, SD
Stock: Even

Tennessee has had some solid victories by beating the Raiders, Giants, Jags and Eagles, and the team's only three losses have come against top 15 teams. Vince Young may have lost Kenny Britt for several weeks, but the addition of All-Pro Randy Moss could pay dividends if he can get along with the guys in the locker room. Can't forget about the underrated Nate Washington opposite of Moss, in fact he could break out with some big games considering Moss will attract multiple defenders. When the offense is clicking, it's really clicking. Four of the team's victories came in blowout fashion and with a favorable remaining schedule, Tennessee will certainly at least give Indy a formidable competitor in the South.
7. New England Patriots

Record: 6-2
Victories: CIN, BUF, MIA, BAL, SD, MIN
Defeats: NYJ, CLE
Stock: Down

The only thing that persuaded me to list the Pats' stock as down was watching Cleveland's Peyton Hillis run all over New England's defense on Sunday. As scary as Tom Brady's offense is, New England can't win games while giving up 34 points. And, quite obviously, the defense is New England's biggest weakness. Belichick's defense is ranked 29th overall at the moment, and both the pass defense and run defense is below the league's average. Could be the fact that New England's defense is a bit over-aged, but either way they need to stop allowing 23.5 points/game.

6. Atlanta Falcons

Record: 6-2
Victories: ARI, NO, SF, CLE, CIN, TB
Defeats: PIT, PHI
Stock: Even

Matt Ryan continues to be one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the league, yet he produces week in and week out. Currently leading the South, Atlanta is undefeated at home (4-0) and within the division (2-0) with key victories over New Orleans and Tampa Bay. Ryan has been well protected--sacked just 13 times thus far--which allows him to protect the ball, throwing just five picks this season. Ryan has two Pro Bowl caliber targets to throw to, future Hall of Fame TE Tony Gonzalez and the speedy Roddy White, and Michael Turner is finally stepping his game up after an off 2009 campaign. Like many teams in today's game, the defense is Mike Smith's weakness in Atlanta, yet they still only allow 19.3 points/game. A favorable remaining schedule looks to be on Atlanta's side as well.
5. New York Jets

Record: 6-2
Victories: NE, MIA, BUF, MIN, DEN, DET
Defeats: BAL, GB
Stock: Even

With a more matured quarterback, Mark Sanchez, a top five rushing attack duo (Ladainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene), and a top five run defense, New York still looks to be a top five team in the league despite the slow start in the beginning of the season. A solid 28-14 victory over AFC East rival New England, and a 4-0 road record add to the depth of New York's solid resume. New York's only losses came to top five teams in Baltimore and Green Bay, and both were by a combined 10 points. Sanchez isn't the type to put up 30 touchdown seasons, but his five interceptions are pretty impressive, which leads me to believe he has learned from his rookie season. With continued maturity and experience from the signal caller, New York could make another run to the conference championship if everything goes right for them.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers

Record: 6-2
Victories: ATL, TEN, TB, CLE, MIA, CIN
Defeats: BAL, NO
Stock: Even

So called "experts" are still calling them the best in the game despite barely edging out Miami, 23-22, with a little bit of misfortune on Miami's side, and coming close to blowing a 20-point lead against the 2-5 Cincinnati Bengals. While, yes, the Steelers' offense will only improve with more games under Ben Roethlisberger's belt this season, and yes the defense is still one of the best in the game. But, Rashard Mendenhall's inconsistency towards the end of games has led me to believe that they are not as super human as many believe. They managed to come away with some great wins against teams such as Atlanta, Tennessee and Tampa Bay, but if they can't win the big ones against the likes of Baltimore and New Orleans then you can't expect to make a late run. Great team? Yes. Room for improvement? Yes, as well.
3. New York Giants

Record: 6-2
Victories: CAR, CHI, HOU, DET, DAL, SEA
Defeats: IND, TEN
Stock: Up

New York has really impressed me with four 31-plus point games. Eli Manning has shown he belongs with the elite with his 17 touchdown tosses, 2,000-plus yards and second consecutive season with a rating of 90 or more. Ahmad Bradshaw has stepped up nicely to replace the struggling Brandon Jacobs as well. With a 3-1 road record and 27 touchdowns, good enough for a tie for second in the league, the Giants are in line to beat out the Eagles for the East title. If they capture the division, it would not surprise me if the defense (first against pass, second against run) led them to a playoff win or two.

2. Baltimore Ravens

Record: 6-2
Victories: NYJ, CLE, PIT, DEN, BUF, MIA
Defeats: CIN, NE
Stock: Up

Ray Rice hasn't been quite as effective as he was last season, but he still creates a dynamic threat and is one of the best pass-catchers coming out of the backfield. With the combination of his dual threat and the red zone presence of the 228 pound Willis McGahee balances Baltimore's offense out a bit. Quarterback Joe Flacco has already hooked up with Anquan Boldin for over 500 yards and five touchdowns. Just like every other year, Baltimore's defense is top five in the league, led by future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis. Baltimore's pass defense was lacking a bit from the beginning as All-Pro free safety Ed Reed was on the PUP (physically unable to perform lis), but he returned two weeks ago and already has three INTs in his two games played. The 32-year old has certainly showed his presence, and with him back in the lineup Baltimore's defense improves greatly. They are No. 2 in the league right now, but they still have a tough road ahead of them (@ATL, TB, PIT, @HOU, NO being their toughest opponents) and will need to stay healthy to keep up with the rest of the league.
1. Green Bay Packers

Record: 6-3
Victories: PHI, BUF, DET, MIN, NYJ, DAL
Defeats: CHI, WAS, MIA
Stock: Up

Of course that last win over Dallas isn't quite as impressive as the score, 45-7, shows us, but Green Bay's  ball-hawking defense is at the top of its game. Led by second-year linebacker Clay Matthews III, Green Bay has allowed just 143 points and forced 19 turnovers. Aaron Rodgers has shown some inconsistency at times this season, but when he's in the zone he's been pretty spot on. It's pretty impressive for Rodgers to carry this offense and average 24.5 points/game despite being without Pro Bowl running back Ryan Grant for every game after suffering a season-ending ankle injury in the team's first game of the season. Rodgers looks to lead the league's fourth highest scoring offense to another playoff appearance come January.

Bottom Five:

28. Denver Broncos 2-6

Not only did head coach Josh McDaniels drive Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler out of town just before last season kicked off, but him and Denver's front office also happened to take a huge risk in drafting Tim Tebow in the first round of April's draft and pull the trigger on this offseason's worst trade: gave up Peyton Hillis and draft picks for career benchwarmer Brady Quinn. What I would do if I was in Denver? Fire Josh McDaniels.
29. San Francisco 49ers 2-6

San Franciso has had a shot at winning three or four games but Mike Singletary's crew just hasn't been able to finish games strong. Inconsistency at the quarterback position may be where most of the blame falls. With Alex Smith still not being cleared to play, Troy Smith has gotten most of the first team reps and looks to make another start this week against the Rams.

30. Dallas Cowboys 1-7

The latest news in the 'Boys' shocking 1-7 start? The firing of Wade Phillips. This really has been a disappointing season in Big D, but Jason Garrett seems to be poised to turn this season around despite very little chance of even coming close to a playoff appearance. Looks like a rare rebuilding season in Dallas for owner Jerry Jones.

31. Carolina Panthers 1-7

First, and still the only, win of the season came against the struggling 2-6 Niners who, you've already figured out, are 29th-best in the league. Just like a lot of the struggling teams this season, starting quarterback Matt Moore looks to be done for the season, meaning Carolina is back to starting rookie Jimmy Clausen. What's even more shocking than the quarterback situation may be the running game, who was one of the best in the league last season with the dynamic duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Williams (foot) and Stewart (head) both missed practice today and Carolina expects to start second-year back Mike Goodson in place of them. Goodson has run the ball just 16 times for 50 yards this season.
32. Buffalo Bills 0-8

What can I say? Buffalo, the only team yet to win a game in eight tries, was the only team to cut its starting quarterback (Trent Edwards) in the middle of the season. Although they now have a consistent starting quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick, the rest of the Bills' roster needs some adjusting. On the defensive side of the ball they have added a veteran leader in Shawne Merriman, who will make his Bills debut this Sunday. Regardless of the pickup, it's obvious that the only reason anyone would watch a Bills game at this point is because they want to get a nice laugh.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments, thanks.

Here's how ESPN ranks the team's at this point in the season:

(Note: ESPN's rankings had zero effect on how I made my list. In fact, I did my rankings before I even looked/read ESPN's).

Photo Credit
Antonio Gates: AP Photo/Gregory Bull
Michael Vick: AP Photo/Michael Perez
Lance Moore: AP Photo/Dave Martin
Vince Young, Chris Johnson: AP Photo/Gregory Bull
Falcons Defense: AP Photo/John Bazemore
Troy Polamalu: AP Photo/Gene Puskar
Aaron Rodgers: AP Photo/Mike Roemer
Tim Tebow: AP Photo/Joe Mahoney
Steve Johnson: AP Photo/David Duprey

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