Who loves lists?
Everybody, that’s whom! Newspapers, the American Film Institute, Oskar Schindler, everybody.
So I thought it would be fun to take a break from the film writing and do a weekly NFL Power ranking, because why let the actual players determine the true hierarchy of the league when a writer whose never played the game beyond backyard competitions in his youth can make assumptions based on conjecture!
What’s the over/under bet on how long I will keep this up? My bet is two weeks.
Here we go:
1. New York Giants (1-0): I have a simple theory: in a thousand years, mastodons will replace humans as the dominant species on earth. I have another theory, one that relates to football: the team that wins the Super Bowl should be ranked first in these things until they lose. For one half, the Giants looked very much the team that had the improbable run to the championship. Eli Manning looked strong and the defense held up without Strahan and Umenyiora. In the second half, however, Manning looked like the 2004-November 2007 model.
2. Dallas Cowboys (1-0): I don’t know what it is, but as a 49er fan, I don’t find this Cowboy squad nearly as hateable as I did in the 90’s, despite a roster that feature T.O, Tank Johnson, and Q-Bert Jones. Maybe that's due to the fact the Niners suck, but I also think it’s Wade Phillips, he’s like your thrice divorced, alcoholic recovering uncle, you kind of want him to succeed for once.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0): Two of last year’s AFC division winners lost their first games; the other lost their franchise quarterback for the year. It’s early, but it looks like everything’s coming up Steelers!
4. New England Patriots (1-0): Tom Brady's injury may be considered a bit of schadenfreude for Pat haters, but pour one out for the people truly affected by this loss, Brady's fantasy owners, of which I was one. This team is too talented not to at least challenge for a wild-card, but a lot depends on a quarterback who has not started a game on any level since 1999. I wonder if Drew Bledsoe’s waiting by his phone.
5. Philadelphia Eagles (1-0): After an 8-8 year, the Eagles look to be back in playoff form, however, let's hold on until we see them take on stiffer competition than the St. Louis Rams. The Eagles have made a routine of improving their self-image by beating up on lower competition, the Rams this week, the Lions last year, the Niners a few years ago. Monday's night game versus Dallas should be a true sign of their progress (or lack there of).
6. Green Bay Packers (1-0): Brett who?
7. San Diego Chargers (0-1): While they did lose a game at home to a team they were heavily favored to beat, the silver lining is the quarterback of the team that eliminated them from the playoffs the last two years will not do it to them again (somebody else will have to do it).
8. Indianapolis Colts (0-1): They looked stiff and were outplayed, let’s chalk that up this week to Manning not being in training camp or playing at all in pre-season due to an injury. Although I am sure it didn't keep Manning from his busy commercial shooting schedule.
9. New Orleans Saints (1-0): They showed flourishes of the 2006 offense, but to match that season's run, they will need to be a little more consistent.
10. Tennessee Titans (1-0): Running and defense, it ain’t pretty, but it’s been winning games for the Titans the last few years. Vince Young who continually wins while being criticized for not being the type of quarterback he clearly never was, will be out for 2-4 weeks.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1): Many people’s dark-horse Super Bowl pick (including your humble author) has lost one starting offensive lineman to a shooting incident, another is out for the year with an injury and yet another is out for 6-8 weeks. Not promising for a team whose strongest offense weapon is its ground attack
12. New York Jets (1-0): With one or two exceptions, Favre didn’t look as impressive as the highlights would lead you to believe, but considering he will only become more comfortable during the season, and of course Brady’s injury, the AFC East title is a real possibility.
13. Arizona Cardinals (1-0): The Cardinals have not had a winning season or made the playoffs since the 1998 season. Things looking the way they do now, they can accomplish the latter by winning the NFC West without having to accomplish the former.
14. Buffalo Bills (1-0): The Bills looked impressive in all three aspects of the game on Sunday and might be able to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999, failing that, seeing how they are playing some games in Toronto now, they may qualify for the CFL playoffs. Hope they’ve been practicing their la rouges!
15. Denver Broncos (1-0): True they looked great on Monday, but a.) it was against the Raiders and b.) really, the Raiders looked truly awful.
16. Chicago Bears (1-0): You think Kyle Orton may have come into Lovie Smith’s office after the Sunday Night victory against the Colts and passive aggressively remarked: “You know, I had a funny thought, perhaps if I wasn’t the third string quarterback in 2007, behind Rex Grossman and Brian Griese, maybe we would have, you know, won the Super Bowl. Like I said, just a funny thought.”
17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1): Like Peyton Manning, Jeff Garcia looked a little rusty after missing the entire pre-season and now may miss a few games with an injury. Fortunately, Coach Jon Gruden kept 27 quarterbacks on the roster.
18. Minnesota Vikings (0-1): If the Vikes want to accomplish their goal of winning the division Tarvaris Jackson (or someone else) will need to improve the quarterback play, or teams will continually put eight in the box to stifle Adrian Peterson and the running attack
19. Carolina Panthers (1-0): After proving their adeptness at beating each other up, the Panthers beat the Chargers in San Diego with a last second touchdown toss, of course, if they scored touchdowns when they got in San Diego territory more, instead of settling for 4 John Kasay field goals, the ending heroics would not have been necessary.
20. Cleveland Browns (0-1): You kind of got the feeling that the Browns would fall short of the playoff prognosis predicted following last year’s surprising 10-6 season, seeing how they are the Cleveland Browns and all.
21. Seattle Seahawks (0-1): Your leading rusher is injured, four of your receivers are injured, your quarterback is suffering back spasms...good thing you came back for one more year, Mike Holmgren
22. Washington Redskins (0-1): The Jim Zorn era gets off to an inauspicious start. On the bright side, the Redskins kept the Giants scoreless for the second half, the down side, they didn’t score in the second half either.
23. Houston Texans (0-1): Happily I never wrote a NFL season prediction list, or else I’d have to justify picking the Texans as a wild-card team.
24. Baltimore Ravens (1-0): Both quarterbacks picked in the first round of this year's draft started and won their debut games. Of course, that’s tempered a bit by the fact the teams they beat were the Lions and Bengals.
25. Atlanta Falcons (1-0): If Matt Ryan can be consistent and tone down inevitable rookie mistakes, the Falcons can surprise, remember that during the Mike Vick years the Falcons succeeded by having the game’s best running attack, judging from one game, albeit versus the Lions, Michael Turner and Jarious Norwood can form a tandem similar to Warrick Dunn and TJ Duckett.
26. Miami Dolphins (0-1): While he looked really bad in the first half, Chad Pennington slowly gained confidence in his young receivers and the Dolphins were in the game until the last minute. In the bad luck department, consider this, if Jets' kicker Mike Nugent is not injured, the Jets don’t go for it on fourth and fifteen and don’t get their second touchdown, instead settling for a field goal attempt. Then the Dolphins who drove to the Jets red zone in their last series, only need to kick a field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime.
27. Kansas City Chiefs (0-1): The Fantasy drafters of America have a few choice words for you Mr. Pollard
28. San Francisco 49ers (0-1): Okay, this will take a while, if you don’t care for the 49ers (congratulations to you), please skip down.
For all you fans who would like to place the blame primarily on Alex Smith for the 49ers woes the last couple of years, let’s do a little comparison between Smith and JT O’Sullivan’s opening day numbers versus the Cardinals this year and last year:
J.T. O’Sullivan (08) 14-20, 195 yards, 0 Touchdowns, 1 Interception, Sacked 4 times, 2 rushes for 1 yard, 2 fumbles, the 49ers lose 23-13
Alex Smith (07—and might I add with a less talented offensive supporting cast and coordinator) 15-31, 126 yards, 0 Touchdowns, Sacked 3 times, 3 rushes for 36 yards, 1 fumble, the 49ers win 20-17.
Now, both of them statistically look below average, and I am not blind to the fact that thus far Smith has been a bit of a disappointment, but let’s not make him the sole scapegoat, the problem is much more systematic. From the moment he was drafted, he was put in a position to fail, so why fault him when he doesn't succeed? The real problem begins at the top with an owner who has no idea how to run a franchise, who put a coach with no head coaching experience in charge and gave him general managers duties on top of that. A coach who has a petty vindictive side dumping players (Tim Rattay, Jamie Winborn, Kevan Barlow, et cetera) mid-season who rub him the wrong way no matter whether they could contribute to the team in backup roles or not and ultimately called out his quarterback who was recovering from a severe shoulder injury.
There were five turnovers in Sunday's game, that’s speaks ill of the players true, but turnovers have been an issue throughout the Nolan era, the coach should teach basic discipline like ball control. Apparently (the game was thankfully not aired in Los Angeles) the Cardinals pooched kicked once which lead to a fumble recovery, and repeated it resulting in another fumble, again that lack of discipline starts with the coach, not the quarterback.
Okay, to further my point, one more comparison, here are Alex Smith’s numbers for his career with the 49ers:
435-800, 4679 yards, 19 touchdowns, 31 interceptions, 11-19 record as a starter
Now, here is a quarterback whom we are all familiar with early career numbers:
267-501, 3217 yards, 11 touchdowns, 21 interceptions, 3-16 as a starter
Any guesses who posted those awful numbers above? Why, those are Steve Young’s stats from his two seasons with Tampa Bay in 1985-86. I am not trying to imply that Smith is anywhere near the player Young was, but the point is that if Steve Young stayed in Tampa, which was at the time an awful franchise mired in losing, he never becomes a Hall-of-Famer. Again, that’s not to say Smith is a Hall-of-Famer in the waiting, but he showed steady (if slow in developing) improvement the one season that the offense was catered to him (2006). It wasn’t Alex Smith who failed the 49ers, it was the 49ers who failed Alex Smith. And depressing as it may be to consider, the John York ran 49ers of the 2000's are the modern day equivalent of the Tampa Bay Bucs of the 1980’s. I know it's simpler to place the blame on Smith, the number one draft pick of 2005/promised franchise savior, but it's time to face facts Niner fans, until either the franchise is sold or a better, more experienced coach is put in charge and teamed with a smart general manager, the rebuilding process we be going on for decades.
Obviously, as a fan I want to see JT O’Sullivan lead us to an improbable playoff season, but the cynic in me knows that the system is broken beyond repair at this point. On the positive side, Frank Gore looked good and we were in the game for about three quarters!
29. Cincinati Bengals (0-1): Chad Ocho Cinco's team looks like it could go cero dieciseis.
30. Detroit Lions (0-1): In Matt Millen’s seven seasons as GM, the Lions have not once finished above 500 and their only season with less than 10 loses was last year. While this doesn’t explain why Millen is still running the team, his experience and results do explain why John McCain vetted him as a possible Vice Presidential candidate.
31. Oakland Raiders (0-1): It appeared that the Raiders would be improved this year with JaMarcus Russell and Darren McFadden, but then you remember the off-season where Lane Kiffin wanted to fire defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, which lead Al Davis to ask Kiffin to resign, to which Kiffin replied, “fire me, bitch” to which Davis reneged, to which now you have a team with an owner who doesn't want the coach there and a coach who doesn't want his defensive coordinator there. I know it’s only been one game, but the off-season trade for cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who was torched by Eddie Royal, an undersized rookie, looks like another in the long line of Raiders acquisitions busts. I do give the team and Kiffin credit for going for it on fourth down when in scoring position while trailing by thirty plus points, unlike the….
32. St. Louis Rams (0-1): Seriously, kicking a field goal while down 38 points? Did Scott Linehan think there was a 34 point spread he needed to cover?