Downright insane things are happening in the NFL this season.
It’s my first year being a full-time gambling addict who tracks his predictions regularly, but I can’t think of a season that has played out like this in a while.
Through five weeks there isn’t one team in the NFL right now that stands out as the can’t miss Super Bowl contender.
Think of it this way: I’m setting the barometer for a truly dominant regular season team at 13-3. 2002 was the last year in which at least one team didn’t go 13-3. That year, the Tampa Bay Bucs, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles all went 12-4.
In the seven seasons since that year, 19 teams have gone 13-3 or better, including last season, where the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers finished 13-3 and the Indianapolis Colts went 14-2. Last year also saw the Minnesota Vikings start 11-2 before eventually finishing 12-4. Take a look at the best regular season records of the past eight seasons:
2009 – Saints, Chargers (13-3), Vikings (12-4, 11-2), Colts (14-2)
2008 – Titans (13-3)
2007 – Patriots (16-0), Colts, Packers, Cowboys (13-3)
2006 – Bears, Ravens (13-3), Chargers (14-2)
2005 – Colts (14-2), Broncos, Seahawks (13-3)
2004 – Steelers (15-1), Patriots (14-2), Eagles (13-3)
2003 – Patriots (14-2), Chiefs (13-3)
2002 – 12-4 (Bucs, Packers, Eagles)
Additionally, this year saw the last undefeated team fall in week 5. During the eight year run we referred to earlier, we had at least one undefeated team through eight weeks in every year except 2002, when the Oakland Raiders lost its undefeated run in week 6. Take a look:
2009 – Week 16 (Colts)
2008 – Week 12 (Titans)
2007 – Super Bowl (Patriots)
2006 – Week 11 (Colts)
2005 – Week 15 (Colts)
2004 – Week 9 (Eagles)
2003 – Week 11 (Chiefs)
2002 – Week 6 (Raiders)
What does this all mean? It means the NFL has been ruled by regular season dominance for quite some time now. Think about it. Every year, there was at least one team that made you say “Holy crap, this team COULD go 16-0.” Or “Maybe that team’s going to lose, but I really don’t know how.”
In 2009, we had three of them. In 2008 it was the Titans and in 2007 it actually happened (Patriots). This season? That obviously wasn’t the case. Even going into week 5, the only reason the Chiefs stood alone undefeated was because they had a bye in week 4.
So 2010 is shaping up to me the season that lacks domination. We’re more than a quarter of the way through the regular season and there is no team that stands out as a Super Bowl favorite. There’s not even a team that stands out as the favorite to win its respective conference. There are maybe five teams that stand out as being really good, another five that we think are better than they’ve played so far, and ANOTHER five that have exceeded expectations thus far, and we’re still not really sure how good they are.
Why do I bring this up? Because I feel like doing power rankings for the first time this season, and I thought that was a pretty good preface.
Let me note before I begin that these rankings are based on how good I think the team is through five games. That’s all. In reverse order:
32. Buffalo Bills (0-5) – The Bills have a legitimate chance to go 0-16. I thought the home game against Jacksonville last week was a chance to get a win. They didn’t. I count two more winnable games for the Bills this season (week 10 at home against Detroit and week 14 at home against Cleveland). If they don’t win those games, and don’t pull off a shocker, it’s hello 0-16.
31. Cleveland Browns (1-4) – I know there are two other winless teams out there, but this ranking speaks to just how bad this team is. Yes, I legitimately think every team in the NFL except the Bills should beat the Browns 9 times out of 10, and that includes the next two teams on this list.
30. Carolina Panthers (0-5) – A mini-rant about how teams treat coaches. Why is it that, no matter how successful a coach is throughout their career, a few losing seasons means changing coaches could somehow be the answer? John Fox hasn’t been wildly successful by any measure, but he’s shown over his 8+ years in Carolina that he can do a lot with mediocre talent. Aside from Steve Smith and Julius Peppers (and maybe DeAngelo Williams), Fox hasn’t had a lot of talent in Carolina, but has regularly produced contenders. Now, the organization decides to get rid of Peppers, refuse to bring in a franchise quarterback, and Fox’s team goes 0-5. So it’s his fault? Look, he’s a good coach, and sometimes a lack of talent catches up with you. Does the Carolina organization really think firing Fox would help the team? I don’t. There are only a few organizations I can think of who have recognized in recent years that the coach wasn’t the problem during struggles. The Titans went 9-23 over two seasons from 2004-2005 with Jeff Fisher, but recognized that it wasn’t the coaches fault and kept him, knowing he can put together a winner with enough talent. The Steelers did the same with Bill Cowher when he went 13-19 in 1998-1999. I’m not saying Fox is as good of a coach as Fisher or Cowher, but the point is that the coach often times isn’t the problem. I don’t think it’s the problem in Carolina.
29. San Francisco 49ers (0-5) – I have a friend named Reid who is the biggest Bears fan I know amongst people my age. He knows more about the 1985 Bears than anyone I know who wasn’t alive when that season happened. He’s also more biased toward the Bears organization than anyone I know, and bets on them to win every week, no matter what, just because. Why do I bring this up? When I asked him why he thought the 49ers were so bad, he answered, completely sure of himself, with seven simple words: “Because Mike Singletary sucks as a coach.”
28. Detroit Lions (1-4) – If I weren’t a fan of an NFC North team, I’d regularly root for the Lions. I think they’re going to break the record this year for most losses in games they legitimately had a chance to win in the final five minutes.
27. Oakland Raiders (2-3) – The Raiders have two wins this season because they had a home game against the Rams and Norv Turner is retarded. Remember everyone who thought Jason Campbell was going to revitalize the quarterback position for this franchise? How’s that working out?
26. St. Louis Rams (2-3) – So I’m stuck in West-Central Illinois and the Rams are my default regional team for all broadcasts. I’ve watched way more of the Rams this season than I’m proud of. But I have to tell you, I’m impressed with what they’re doing. The defense isn’t horrible, the receivers are making plays for Sam Bradford, and Bradford can hit enough throws to get the job done. It’s a little sad/cool to think that, because the NFC West is so bad, this team can legitimately compete for a playoff spot this year.
25-24. Dallas Cowboys/Minnesota Vikings (1-3/1-3) – I combine these two teams because they are so similar. Incredibly high expectations. Incredibly low results. It may be obvious, and it may be what every stupid analyst is saying, but I really believe that the winner of this Sunday’s game will at least COMPETE for a playoff spot, the loser will have a top 10 draft pick.
23. Arizona Cardinals (3-2) – I have a goofy notion that is almost 100 percent certain to NOT come true. What if the Cardinals, under Max Hall, pull a Steelers under Ben Roethlisberger, a Rams under Kurt Warner, or even a Patriots under Tom Brady? What if he’s the next cinderella story? Wouldn’t that be cool? I think it would. Also, that’s definitely NOT going to happen.
22. Seattle Seahawks (2-2) – I’ve come to dislike the Seahawks a lot. I don’t know why. It has nothing to do with Pete Carroll, who I’ve always been indifferent toward. The Seahawks are just a miserable team to watch. Unfortunately, they MIGHT be the best team in that wretched division. That’s right… we’re at No. 22 and every NFC West team has already been listed.
21. Denver Broncos (2-3) – I can never quite figure out what the Broncos are trying to do, but I know a couple of things for certain: Their running game is likely the worst in the NFL. Their defense isn’t any good because they have no pass rush without Elvis Dumervil. Kyle Orton is a far better quarterback than any of us ever would have expected and I don’t know why.
20. Cincinnati Bengals (2-3) – Can we all finally just come to grips with the fact that Carson Palmer sucks? He really just isn’t that good of a quarterback anymore.
19. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-2) – The AFC South is like the bizarro NFC West. Every team in this division is 3-2 right now, but I think the Jags are the worst despite their victory over the Colts. I think Jack Del Rio is a good coach and is saving his job/keeping them competitive, but the Texans, Titans and Colts will eventually surpass them and they’re still destined to no better than a 7-9 record.
18. San Diego Chargers (2-3) – I can almost guarantee that in two months this team will be 10-6 at worst. Their early season struggles are inexplicable.
17. New York Giants (3-2) – Last week’s win over the Texans makes me question if the Giants aren’t as bad as I thought or if the Texans aren’t as good as I thought. These middle-of-the-road teams are so tough to predict.
16/15. Kansas City Chiefs/Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-1/3-1) – I said these rankings would be based on how good said team is right now, and I truly believe that the 14 teams that rank ahead of Kansas City and Tampa Bay on this list would beat the Chiefs and Buccaneers on most occasions. It’s about as simple as that.
14. Miami Dolphins (2-2) – I really like the Dolphins, but think they’re stuck in a division with two teams that are clearly better than them. Consequently, those are Miami’s only two losses thus far.
13. Philadelphia Eagles (3-2) – I think it’s obvious that they’re a better team with Michael Vick. But how much will they get to play with him going forward?
12. Green Bay Packers (3-2) – After Sunday’s loss to Washington, I posted on my Facebook that the Packers are the most underachieving team in NFL and that injuries are no excuse. While that may have been a bit of an overstatement (see: Vikings/Cowboys), it doesn’t discount the fact that being a Packers fan this season is incredibly frustrating, knowing that this team is squandering so much talent.
11. Chicago Bears (4-1) – I may be called biased, but I still don’t think the Bears are as good as their record. That said, they’re undoubtedly better than the other surprise one loss teams (Chiefs and Bucs), and their defense will keep them in most games. I also think Mike Martz has learned how to utilize Matt Forte perfectly.
10. Washington Redskins (3-2) – I was sold on the Redskins before the season, and wins over the Packers and Eagles show they can contend, but a loss to the Rams leaves question marks.
9. Houston Texans (3-2) – The horrible loss to the Giants is room to worry, as is the 32nd ranked pass defense, but the Texans’s offense, complete with a running game they’ve never had before, means they’ll contend in the AFC South all season.
8. New Orleans Saints (3-2) – Can you believe the Saints are in THIRD place in the NFC South right now? Their next two games are against Cleveland and Tampa Bay, though, meaning they should get back on track. Hopefully.
7. Tennessee Titans (3-2) – What can I say? I’m sold on the Titans. Betting on them +4.5 against Dallas last week was the easiest of the season.
6. New England Patriots (3-1) – I can’t wait for consecutive losses to Baltimore and San Diego in the next two weeks, followed by a slew of “The Pats are doomed after trading Moss!” headlines.
5. Indianapolis Colts (3-2) – Remember how I said there was no dominant team in the NFL this season? Disregard that after the Colts go on an 11-game winning streak.
4. New York Jets (4-1) – It’s amazing how quickly the Jets have learned to utilize Mark Sanchez and turn around their offensive game. I think there are four really good teams in the NFL this season. (I hypothesized five earlier, I think. Sue me). The Jets are one of them, followed by the next three teams.
3. Atlanta Falcons (4-1) – I wrote before the season that the Falcons had a legitimate shot at competing with the Saints for the NFC South crown. That couldn’t be more true. A statement win IN New Orleans a few weeks a go proved it, and this defense is the most underrated in football. Right now, they’re the best team in the entire NFC.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1) – Not many people would have predicted the Steelers would go 3-1 without Ben Roethlisberger, but that’s what makes this team so good. The defense makes the team go, and the rest is just complimentary parts. The only problem is that there’s one defense that’s a little better right now…
1. Baltimore Ravens (4-1) – These guys. They’re the Super Bowl favorites right now, but not by much. Can you see any of these top four teams going 9-2 the rest of the season to finish 13-3? Maybe… but it’s not likely. Let the parity begin.
Picks for Week 6:
Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles (-3) – Falcons to win outright.
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots (-3) – Ravens to win; Patriots to beat spread.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers (-13) – Steelers to win and cover.
Detroit Lions at New York Giants (-10) – Giants to win; Lions to beat spread.
Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans (-4.5) – Texans to win and cover.
Miami Dolphins at Green Bay Packers (pick ’em) – Packers to win outright.
New Orleans Saints (-4.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Saints to win and cover.
San Diego Chargers (-9) at St. Louis Rams – Chargers to win; Rams to beat spread.
Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears (-7) – Bears to win; Seahawks to beat spread.
New York Jets (-3) at Denver Broncos – Jets to win and cover.
Oakland Raiders at San Francisco 49ers (-6.5) – 49ers to win; Raiders to beat spread.
Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings (-1.5) – Vikings to win and cover.
Indianapolis Colts (-3.5) at Washington Redskins – Colts to win; Redskins to beat spread.
Tennessee Titans (-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars – Titans to win and cover.
Week 5 – 5-9 (7-7 against spread)
Overall: 37-38 (31-43-1 against spread)