Friday, October 23, 2015

2015 NFL Power Poll No. 1

That's the look of a man who knows his team isn't No. 1 in the Power Rankings
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

With just about a third of the season under our belt, we decided the time was ripe to do things the old fashioned way and just rank all 32 teams in the league (we will likely do this again in another five weeks, give or take, so stay tuned). However, being the long-winded and argumentative individuals that we are, we just couldn't decide on the order we wanted to use. So we settled it like men. We each made our own list and published them side-by-side. Jeremy's list is on the left, Joe's is on the right, and you can see that because they are labeled.

Keep in mind that we didn't devise any new metric for measuring success in the NFL. There is obviously some quantitative analysis (at the very least, we both looked at win-loss records, plus some other stuff), but for the most part, it's a purely qualitative set of rankings. We have arranged the league in tiers (some larger than others), and provided reasonings for a team's placement when necessary. Dig in:

Wet Hot American Garbage
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
30. Chicago Bears
29. Detroit Lions
28. Tennessee Titans
27. Houston Texans
We usually don’t see this many teams at the bottom. Usually one or two teams really establish themselves as conclusively the worst teams in the league. But make no mistake about it - all of these teams suck. I’d expect all of them to lose at least 11 games.
The Fallen Tyrants
26. San Francisco 49ers
25. Baltimore Ravens
24. Kansas City Chiefs
23. New Orleans Saints
Each of these four teams have multiple playoff appearances in the last half-dozen years, and three of them have made a Super Bowl. That stretch seems to be over, as none of them have been able to get out of their own way so far this season. The Saints are the only team with a semi-respectable win on their resume, and that was a fluky Thursday Night affair (as Thursday Night games often are). Don’t expect a late-season push from any of these guys.
Somehow These Teams Don’t Suck
22. Oakland Raiders
21. Cleveland Browns
Maybe it’s just a function of how abjectly horrific the AFC is this year (and thus, a few of the usually-terrible teams will seem not-so-terrible), but Cleveland and Oakland have appeared vaguely competitive.
The Good Bad Teams
20. Miami Dolphins
19. Washington Redskins
18. San Diego Chargers
17. St. Louis Rams
All four of these teams have losing records, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least one of them go on a shockingly impressive tear over the second half of the season to nab a playoff spot (or, in the case of Washington or maybe even St. Louis, a division title). I wouldn’t bet on any of them, but it’s certainly possible.
The NFC East
16. New York Giants
15. Dallas Cowboys
14. Philadelphia Eagles
I had absolutely no idea where to put the rest of the NFC East teams, so I put them right in the middle. I had even less of an idea of what to do with Dallas, with their injuries to Romo and Bryant, so I put them in the middle of the middle.
The Slightly-Better Bad Teams
13. Buffalo Bills
12. Minnesota Vikings
These teams will stay in the hunt for a playoff spot for most of the season, largely due to nothing of their own doing. The Bills get to play against the NFC East and AFC South, and the Vikings still have three games left against the Bears and Lions. Scheduling alone could put both of these teams in the playoffs.
The Bad Good Teams
11. Indianapolis Colts
10. Seattle Seahawks
I’m almost obligated to put these teams relatively high, purely on reputation. They haven’t really done much this year to prove they’re actually that good, but it’s more likely than not that they’ll both figure out their issues sooner rather than later.
AFC Fodder
9. Pittsburgh Steelers
8. New York Jets
Pittsburgh is going to ride its offense and hope that its defense holds up, while the Jets will ride their defense and hope that Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t suck for long enough to put them in the playoffs. Both are in tough divisions, so the smart money would be on these two teams locking up the AFC Wild Card spots.
NFC Fodder
7. Carolina Panthers
6. Arizona Cardinals
5. Atlanta Falcons
All three of these teams have potential. The last NFC team that we haven’t covered yet (Green Bay) has looked good but also has obvious flaws, and each of these teams have ways that they can exploit those flaws. Carolina can get pressure on Rodgers and theoretically bother him enough that their lack of downfield playmakers becomes a problem. Arizona, as insane as it sounds, might be in a position to win a drive-for-drive shootout with all their talent at the skill positions. Atlanta could possibly outside-zone Green Bay to death, keeping Aaron Rodgers off the field. Whether any of these things will happen remain to be seen.
The Contenders
4. Denver Broncos
3. Cincinnati Bengals
2. Green Bay Packers
Denver is hoping that Peyton Manning will suddenly stop being terrible. Cincinnati is hoping that Andy Dalton won’t all of a sudden become terrible. Green Bay is hoping that Aaron Rodgers remains a superhuman freak of nature all season. As the teams exist now, Green Bay has the easiest path to the Super Bowl (as they don’t have to go through New England), and Denver has the toughest (you know, with the whole Peyton-Manning-Is-Suddenly-Chad-Pennington), so I suppose Cincinnati belongs at No. 3
The Favorite
1. New England Patriots
Here’s the obvious one. You could perhaps make an argument for Green Bay being at No. 1 (as they’re the undefeated team from the superior conference), but as mentioned above, I think the fact that the AFC is so weak only strengthens New England’s case as the favorite - they just have an easier path to get to the Super Bowl. That, plus Football Outsiders, 538, and Pro-Football Reference all rank New England as the best team, and the Patriots have the highest average scoring margin since, well, the 16-0 2007 Patriots. They’re clearly the favorites.
Dead In The Water
32. Kansas City Chiefs
31. Tennessee Titans
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
29. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens have been decimated by injuries on their defense and in the receiving corps, while the Jaguars are suddenly putting up big passing numbers, but can do little else. Tennessee blew out Tampa Bay in week one, but has only played even decently once since then (a narrow loss to Indianapolis), and Kansas City just lost Jamaal Charles on a team built around Alex Smith not messing up and Jamaal Charles doing everything. Hmm….
Rebuilding Whether They Know It Or Not
28. Detroit Lions
27. Cleveland Browns
26. Houston Texans
25. Chicago Bears
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
23. San Francisco 49ers
22. New Orleans Saints
21. Washington Redskins
20. Miami Dolphins
19. St. Louis Rams
18. Oakland Raiders
All these teams are playing for future years. Some know it, like the Raiders, who are starting a ton of rookie and second-year players, including quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Amari Cooper, or the Bucs with rookie quarterback Jameis Winston. Some don't, like the Saints who are still trying to squeeze every bit out of Drew Brees, or the Browns who are throwing for a ton of yards each game behind Josh McCown, but can't stop anybody on defense.
The teams that know they're rebuilding are in far better shape. Then there are the teams that are basically rebuilding because of disappointing starts, like Miami, San Francisco and Houston, and of course those teams teams that seem to be in perpetual "rebuild mode," St. Louis and Washington.
The Enigmas
17. San Diego Chargers
16. Minnesota Vikings
15. Buffalo Bills
14. Seattle Seahawks
I don't know what's up with Seattle, but it better get its act together quick along the offensive line and (gasp) in the secondary, where teams are having a field day down the seam against the Legion of Boom. Buffalo seems to be a healthy Tyrod Taylor away from being pretty good, but are we REALLY sure about that? The Vikes have beaten some bad teams, and have the personnel to be decent… I guess. San Diego has thrown for million yards, but still found ways to lose games. At some point that will turn around, right?
They Might Be Giants
13. New York Giants
12. Dallas Cowboys
11. Indianapolis Colts
10. Philadelphia Eagles
9. New York Jets
These teams all could be good, but I'm just not ready to buy in yet. The Jets run the ball and defend, and Ryan Fitzpatrick has been better than most expected. I'll wait until this week's game against New England to crown them a contender though. Philly has bounced back nicely, and its defense has been better than its offense, a weird development for a Chip Kelly team. Suddenly, we have to worry if the Eagles can score points in the NFC East, where the Giants are up-and-down, and Dallas is just treading water until Tony Romo and Dez Bryant return.
Indianapolis showed well against New England for a half, but the Colts have some real issues along the offensive line and defense that were exposed in the second half. If Andrew Luck can limit the turnovers, the Colts could be a factor, and should at least win the horrible AFC South.
The “Contenders”
8. Arizona Cardinals
7. Atlanta Falcons
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Cardinals are coming off a letdown in Pittsburgh, where they lost to the Steelers' third-string quarterback, Landry Jones. Arizona still has a great receiving corps and defense, but has struggled to run the ball, and Carson Palmer has been streaky of late.
Still, it was a big win for the Steelers, who are now 2-1 without Ben Roethlisberger, and could welcome their franchise quarterback back this week. Pittsburgh has done a nice job of rebuilding its defense this year around defensive ends Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, but the secondary is still a major concern. If Roethlisberger is back, he'll have weapons aplenty as Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant have stepped up in his absence to complement Antonio Brown.
Then you have the Falcons, a team that boast one of the league's best offenses, but have started very slowly the last two weeks. Atlanta has shown cracks on defense, where only the Giants and 49ers have given up more yards through the air, but the Falcons have the firepower to hang around and make the postseason.
Unbeaten But Flawed
5. Carolina Panthers
4. Denver Broncos
3. Cincinnati Bengals
All three of these teams are undefeated, but I have reservations about each of them. The Panthers have no weapons on offense and Cam Newton has started games slowly. Denver has quietly become a team that wins in spite of its quarterback, as Peyton Manning has thrown 10 interceptions and looks like a shadow of himself.
The Bengals, well… They're just the Bengals. A franchise that hasn't won in the postseason since 1990, led by a coach and quarterback that have never won a playoff game. Statistically, there's nothing to worry about, but the jury will be out on Cincinnati until this team makes some playoff noise.
The Favorites
2. Green Bay Packers
1. New England Patriots
No team is perfect this year, but both New England and Green Bay have overpowering offenses led by Hall of Fame quarterbacks, and surprisingly good defenses. Patriots fans are already talking about an undefeated campaign due to the general lack of quality in the AFC, while Packers fans have to feel like their team is the heavy favorite in the NFC.
The only thing that might sink either team is health. The Patriots will be without starting left tackle Nate Solder the rest of the way, and backup Marcus Cannon is already dealing with a minor toe injury. Green Bay, meanwhile, began the year without star receiver Jordy Nelson, and have dealt with injuries to backups Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery.  
Still, them's the perks of having Brady and Rodgers. Even with a beat up supporting cast, you know those offenses are going to score points.

1 comment :

JoeBlake said...

Somehow "vaguely competitive" is exactly the phrase to describe oakland and cleveland right now. Good stuff.