Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Power Poll Rankings of the Best 32 NFL Teams In The Land: Week 1

For fans of the old days at Diminishing Skills (hi Matt), here's a real treat:  I've decided to bring back the Power Poll Rankings in lieu of an NFL recap.  The Power Poll has only one voter, but the identity of that voter may change from week-to-week.*  It doesn't really matter right now, but going forward, the Power Poll will take into account the entire season but will definitely place an emphasis on the previous week's performance.  Enjoy.

*No, it won't.

32. St. Louis Rams 0-1
Not only did the Rams get shut out 28-0 by the Seahawks, they looked like punks doing it (10 penalties, including 2 personal fouls on guard Richie Incognito).  The Shockmaster had a better debut than new coach Steve Spagnuolo.

31. Carolina Panthers 0-1
Jake Delhomme's day: 7-17, 73 yards, 0 TDs, 4 INTs, 1 fumble returned for a touchdown.  A.J. Feely was signed as a "back up," which is to say when he sits down on the bench at the start of Carolina's game at Atlanta this week, coach John Fox is going to be telling him to get "back up" by the 2nd quarter. (ZING!)

30. Houston Texans 0-1
Wow.  This has to be the quickest a preseason sleeper has emptied its bandwagon since last season's Texans had their home opener cancelled due to a hurricane.  Not only did the Texans defense make Mark Sanchez look like what Matt Leinart was supposed to be by now, but an offense that was supposed to be one of the league's best only mustered 183 total yards (38 rushing) and zero offensive TDs.

29. Denver Broncos 1-0
28. Cincinnati Bengals 0-1
I know, I know, Denver beat Cincinnati, but if the events of that game played out 100 more times, Cincinnati would win 100 times.  Beyond the miraculous Brandon Stokley play, Kyle Orton was lucky the play before, as well, when Bengals CB Jonathan Joseph picked Orton off but couldn't get his feet down inbounds.  (It was such a close play that I actually turned the game off, figuring the Bengals got the ball and the game.  Oops.)  Regardless of which team actually won, viewers of this game lost.  Gus Johnson, on the other hand, got about 50 seconds of pure nirvana out of it.

27. Cleveland Browns 0-1
Don't let the 20 points the Browns scored against the Vikings fool you; their offense was as inept as ever.  The Browns'  first 3 points came after they started the game at their own 49 (following Minnesota's bizarre onside kick-type thing to open the game), got to the Minnesota 37 after an 18-yard completion to Royal Roberts (Brian Billick's name for TE Robert Royal, which is such a superior name that I'm going to do my best to make it stick), and then decided that was good enough, as the next 3 plays were: incomplete pass to Royal Roberts, one yard run up the middle by James Davis, and one yard pass to James Davis.  Phil Dawson followed up that inspiring bit of play-calling with his first of many field goals this season.  The next 3 Cleveland points came after Braylon Edwards was interfered with on the Minnesota 6 (Edwards still made a great fingertip catch to score a touchdown on the play, but replay showed he never re-established  both feet inbounds after he was pushed out).  From the 6, the Browns play call included Jamaal Lewis up the middle to the 3, Josh Cribbs to the 1 out of the Wildcat, and then JOSH CRIBBS BACK TO THE 2 OUT OF THE WILDCAT AGAIN?!!!  Doesn't running a Wildcat play two times in a row kind of defeat the purpose of a Wildcat play?  At least have Cribbs throw it. So anyway, on 4th down, instead of trying to score their first offensive touchdown since November 17 of last year, the Browns settle for a Phil Dawson field goal.  Boo.  The next seven points came on the inevitable Josh Cribbs punt return for a touchdown, and at that point, with the Brownies up 13-10 and the defense doing a great bend-but-don't-break routine, it seemed like Cleveland might just steal one.  The second half, of course, became the Adrian Peterson show, but the Browns did finally get that offensive touchdown when Brady Quinn hit Royal Roberts in the end zone with 35 seconds left in the game.  The announcers for the game tried to spin the TD as a positive to build on, but there was nothing to build on here.  Quinn looked horrific, throwing an interception that only the defender could catch, fumbling in a very Tommy Maddox-esque manner, and looking about as comfortable in the pocket as Bob Costas looked interviewing Jay Leno at halftime Sunday night.  Beyond those obvious deficiencies and his Tim Couch-like checking down (notice how many times I typed Royal Roberts's name), Quinn showed absolutely no presence in the pocket.  Too often he would take the snap (often in shotgun, which was also strange), slump his shoulders, and hold the ball down around his nutsack.  How is he ever going to make a quick throw from there?  Wasn't he drafted in the first round due to his poise, his leadership, and his fantastic mechanics?  It's a little too soon to call the Brady Quinn-era a bust, but unless somebody coaches him up quickly, it's going to be Couch/Holcomb all over again in Cleveland.

26. Detroit Lions 0-1
There's no shame in getting torched by Drew Brees (although 6 touchdown passes is a little ridiculous), but giving up 143 yards rushing to Mike Bell is a reason to keep those 0-16 bags over your head.  Managing only 33 rushing yards (Kevin Smith, you disappoint me) against a Saints defense that is anything but stout is also a cause for concern. 

25. Oakland Raiders 0-1
24. Buffalo Bills 0-1
Both of these teams played heavily-favored division rivals tough, and both snatched defeat out of the hands of sure victory.  Buffalo had a 24-13 lead with 5:32 left, and still led 24-19 after New England failed on a 2-point conversion attempt with 2:06 remaining.  Leodis McKelvin, however, decided first to bring the ensuing kickoff out of the end zone (he got to the 21, so not that bad of a choice since it ran some time off the clock) and then to refuse to go down after the first Patriot hit him.  He fumbled, of course, and Tom Brady got to be a hero (again).  Oakland needed a 4th-and-15 conversion to stay in the game vs. the Chargers, and not only did they convert, but they threw a bomb to rookie Louis Murphy to score the go-ahead touchdown with 2:34 left (it's nice to see someone in the NFL still has some balls).  Unfortunately, the Chargers had time to literally dink-and-dunk the ball to Darren Sproles 91 yard down the field and score the game-winner with 18 seconds left (but not before Norv Turner tried his best to screw things up, calling two straight draws inside the Raiders' 10, the first of which was stopped and allowed 25 seconds to tick off the clock, and the second which scored, but would have meant a mere field goal try for the Chargers had it been stuffed).  These are the kinds of losses teams that have lost 11 (now 12) straight to their rivals can expect.  When you lose that many games in  a row to the same team, they're not going to all be blowouts.  You have to expect a little heartbreak in there somewhere, too.  

23. Kansas City Chiefs 0-1
Something silly must have happened during the Chiefs' game vs. Baltimore that's not coming through in the box score, because I can't figure out how a team that was outgained 501-188 (including 198-29 on the ground) managed to not only score 24 points, but also be tied at 24 with only 5:21 to play.  At least things started to make sense at the end of the game, as Baltimore scored two touchdowns within 1:35 of each other.

22. Miami Dolphins 0-1
21. Washington Redskins 0-1
Neither of these teams are as bad as they seem (probably).  Miami moved the ball pretty effectively against the Falcons; the problem was the four turnovers that kept killing their drives, especially Anthony Fasano's fumble at the Atlanta 16.  Washington also had turnover problems (one interception, two fumbles, one of which was returned for a TD), while also dealing with a superior Giants team in the Meadowlands.  Both of these teams should perform better over the course of the season.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0-1
Perhaps the Bucs should go back to the cover-2, if only to prevent the deep ball that burned them so very, very badly on Sunday (Tony Romo's yardage on his 3 touchdown passes: 42, 66, 80).

19. Arizona Cardinals 0-1
18. San Francisco 49ers 1-0
In the upgrade package of the Bengals-Broncos game, San Francisco out-uglied the Cardinals for a still-impressive road win.  Kurt Warner looked old (2 INTs, 1 fumble, 3 sacks), and neither team could run the ball (61 yards rushing combined), which means these are either two of the better defensive squads in the league, or Frank Gore may be slowing down while Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells aren't exactly the second coming of Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack.

17. Chicago Bears 0-1
Jay Cutler has to be kicking himself for leaving the luxury of throwing prayers to Brandon Stokley behind for four interceptions and the scorn of NFL fans everywhere (including Chicago).  With Brian Urlacher's season-ending injury, it looks like Peter King's NFC Super Bowl representative won't be making that trip to Miami (although King's 2-14 prediction for the Browns is disappointingly looking right on the money).

16. Jacksonville Jaguars 0-1
I expected the Jags to hang tough with Indy, but I also expected David Garrard to show me a lot more than he did (14-28, 122 yards, 0 TDs).  If he doesn't pick it up, Jacksonville could be in for another long year.

15. Baltimore Ravens 1-0
Yes, the Ravens put up 501 yards of offense, and yes, their defense held Kansas City to only 188 yards of their own, but how on Earth was a team starting Brody Croyle at quarterback able to tie the game at 24 with just over 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter?  Is Rex Ryan missed already?

14. Atlanta Falcons 1-0
Only 65 yards on 22 carries for Michael Turner.  Is this The Curse of 370 rearing its ugly head?  Maybe.  Going forward, expect (or at least hope for) more than 2 carries for Jerious Norwood.

13.  Green Bay Packers 1-0
Everyone's feeling good about the way the Packers beat the Bears, but it has to worry coach Mike McCarthy that his team needed Aaron Rodgers's late-game heroics to beat a Chicago team that had lost its defensive leader, had a quarterback who couldn't stop throwing the ball to Green Bay defensive backs, and had a running game that wasn't doing anything (Matt Forte: 25 carries, 55 yards). 

12. Dallas Cowboys 1-0
The passing game was flying high in Tampa Bay (a career high 353 yards for Tony Romo), but the defense looked a bit shaky (450 total yards for Tampa, including 174 yards on the ground).  Especially disturbing is the inability of any Cowboys defender to sack the statute in the Buccaneers backfield.

11. Minnesota Vikings 1-0
10. New Orleans Saints 1-0
The Vikings and Saints both beat up on teams they were supposed to (Cleveland and Detroit, respectively), but in completely different ways.  Minnesota let Adrian Peterson run all over the Browns (180 yards, 3 TDs) while New Orleans had Drew Brees throw the ball anywhere he wanted against the Lions.  If Minnesota wants to beat a good team, they're going to have to improve greatly on special teams (Josh Cribbs returned a punt for a TD, and the Vikes opened the game with a strange onside kick that nobody was lined up to recover).  the Saints, meanwhile, can't expect to win a game in which they give up 27 points (or can they?)
BONUS: Adrian Peterson looked like a dude playing football with his stepson that he hates and his stepson's friends against the Browns.

9. Tennessee Titans 0-1
The highest ranked loser on the board, the Titans played the Steelers tough, and actually may have won the game had Rob Bironas not missed two field goals. 

8. New England  Patriots
7. San Diego Chargers
Both the Patriots and the Chargers struggled mightily to beat inferior teams Monday night, with New England needing a fumbled kick return to eventually win and San Diego needing the Raiders to play like the Raiders to come back.  New England should be more concerned, since their defense struggled somewhat with what should be a fairly inept Buffalo offense and Tom Brady and the O didn't look as dominant as even the Matt Cassel-led attack of last season.  The Chargers merely had to overcome the weekly struggle of being coached by Norv Turner, which their talent should allow them to do most weeks.

6. Seattle Seahawks 1-0
Qwest Field was rocking as the 'Hawks stormed out of the gate and seized early control of the NFC West.  The best news out of this game was the performance of Matt Hasselbeck (25-36, 279, 3 TDs, 2 early INTs), who appeared to show no effects of the back pain that plagued him last year.

5. NY Jets 1-0
I caught an interview with Matt Sanchez after the Jets' thorough thrashing of the Texans, and goddammit if he doesn't make me regret the Browns trading him to the Jets.  Beyond his solid play (18-31, 272 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), Sanchez just seems to have that "it" that can turn a team around and really make guys believe they're going to win every single game.  Brady Quinn hasn't shown "it" yet, and I'm not even sure Derek Anderson even talks to his teammates (unless he's grabbing Lawrence Vickers by the jersey and pushing him into the spot where he's supposed to line up or getting into shouting matches with Braylon Edwards on the sideline).  Alex Mack better be the next coming of Dermontti Dawson, or I have a feeling that trade is going to be looking pretty stupid in a few years.

4. Indianapolis Colts 1-0
While the Colts got a big win vs. Jacksonville, the continued lack of a running game (71 yards rushing) has to be a cause for concern, especially since the Colts have spent two first round picks on running backs in the past four years (Joseph Addai and rookie Donald Brown).

3. New York Giants 1-0
The Giants stick to their winning formula of spreading the ball around amongst their no-name receivers, pounding the ball with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw once they have a lead, and basically doing everything they can to prevent the offense from getting in the way of their defensive line winning the game for them.      

2. Philadelphia Eagles 1-0
The big question, of course, is if the Eagles are this good, or if the Panthers (Jake Delhomme, really) are that bad.  This ranking may be short-lived, as Donovan McNabb may miss some time due to a rib that was fractured during a TD run.  Jeff Garcia and his crisp passes were signed to fill in if necessary. (I guess Kevin Kolb is no longer in the Eagles' plans.)

1. Pittsburgh Steelers
Sure, they won ugly, and actually could have lost to the Titans a few times, but what makes this close, ugly win any different than all of those close, ugly wins last season?  We may just have to accept the fact that the Steelers (and especially their quarterback) are going to look like shit for three-and-a-half quarters before they turn it on and win at the end of the game.  Fortunately for America, they only have four prime-time games left.

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