Week 8 NFL Picks & Rapid Fire Power Rankings

nfl-in-fall

All the usual signs that we’ve reached the midway point of the NFL season are just about here. The leaves are turning, the league has royally botched another domestic violence situation (during “we care about women & breast cancer month”, no less), everyone’s complaining about the awful product that the NFL is marching out on the field each and every week, and quarterbacks all over the country are ruining the hopes & dreams of millions of fans.

It feels like an appropriate time to give you some rapid fire Power Rankings since we have a decent sample size of games to work with. I really don’t feel like trying to make sense out of who’s slightly better between the Jaguars, Rams and Bucs, so I’m going to stick with my top 15 teams here. 

  1. New England
  2. Minnesota
  3. Denver
  4. Dallas
  5. Seattle
  6. Atlanta
  7. Pittsburgh
  8. Kansas City
  9. Philadelphia
  10. Arizona
  11. Green Bay
  12. Buffalo
  13. Oakland
  14. Washington
  15. San Diego

Detroit gets an honorable mention as the only team I left out that might be deserving of a playoff spot by season’s end. You notice I said deserving. Yes, one of the putrid AFC South teams has to make the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean any of them are even in the top 20 at this point.

Let’s move on to the week 8 picks.

Teams on Bye: Baltimore, Los Angeles, Miami, NY Giants, Pittsburgh, San Francisco

Jacksonville at Tennessee (-3) | over/under 44

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: Tennessee 22, Jacksonville 17

The Bets: None

SuperContest: No

I said last week that any AFC South head-to-head “battle” should be an automatic gambling stay away. Add in the Thursday night wackiness potential, and I’m sticking to that rule.

Listen, this exact same game was played on a Thursday night a little later into last season, and the Jaguars beat the Titans to move to 4-6 and they were suddenly only a game out of a playoff spot. This division sucks right now, it sucked last year, and it’ll suck for the foreseeable future. Take a look around the AFC South. Not one of these teams seems to have found its long-term head coach, and only one could confidently say they have their QB of the future (and even with the gift of Andrew Luck, the Colts are completely failing at putting together a competitive football team).

Washington vs Cincinnati (-3) | over/under 47.5 (in London)

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 27, Cincinnati 24 (OT)

The Bets: Over (37.5) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: No

It would definitely boost my confidence in Washington if Jordan Reed and Josh Norman get the OK to play, but the Skins are a better team than Cincy regardless.

Before I even saw the over/under on this game, I knew I’d love the over. Washington is a scoring machine, and Cincy is sneaky mediocre on defense. They would have gladly given up a ton of points to Cleveland last week had the Browns been playing with an NFL caliber quarterback. Lock in the over teased down to 37.

Kansas City (-3) at Indianapolis | over/under 50

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Kansas City 29, Indianapolis 24

The Bets: Over (40) in a 3-way tease / Kansas City (+7) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: No

For some reason, I’m expecting this game to play out similarly to the Chiefs’ road win in Oakland a couple weeks back, only with more scoring from both teams. You gotta give the Colts credit. Offensively they’re faring reasonably well and haven’t had a very easy schedule. Over their last five games, they haven’t faced a defense ranked lower than 15th. And they’re putting up 28 points per game during that span.

I’m reasonably confident in the Chiefs covering, but I’m ridiculously confident in the over and teased over hitting in this matchup.

Arizona at Carolina (-3) | over/under 47

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 23, Carolina 21

The Bets: Under (57) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: No

I instinctively loved Arizona as soon as I saw this line. The spread actually opened as a pick, but obviously lots of Carolina money came pouring in.

I get that Arizona’s offense looked completely inept on a very large national stage on Sunday night. And Carolina is coming off their bye.

But Carolina’s 21st ranked defense is a much different situation than going up against Seattle.

I’m particularly surprised that Carolina’s expected to score 25.5 points. I think that’s severely overrating their offense, and underrating Arizona’s 4th overall defense.

Oakland at Tampa Bay (pick) | over/under 49.5

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 28, Tampa Bay 26

The Bets: Over (39.5) in a 3-way tease / Oakland (+11) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: No

After this game, Oakland is home for four straight games (and a bye). They don’t go on the road again until December 8th. But that might not be as appealing to them as you’d think because the Raiders are only 1-2 at home, but 4-0 on the road. I think they make it 5-0 on the road with a textbook Oakland style game…close & a little lucky.

I think if Tampa plays its best game and Oakland only plays OK, then the Bucs could keep it close.

Seattle (-3) at New Orleans | over/under 48

The Pick: New Orleans

The Score: New Orleans 28, Seattle 24

The Bets: Over (48) / Over (38) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: Yes with New Orleans (+3)

The over bets come from a very logical line of thinking. Here it is:

  • Seattle has the 3rd best defense in football, according to the FootballOutsider.com DVOA rankings.
  • In the past four years, New Orleans has played nine home games against teams in the top ten of that year’s defensive DVOA rankings. And while the Saints have lost more than they’ve won in those matchups, they are still averaging 31.9 points per game.
  • For whatever reason, they’re expected to score just 22.25 points this weekend.
  • Meanwhile, Seattle was able to put up 27 points at the Jets earlier this season and they’ve looked fine offensively at home.
  • I’m throwing out the awful Seattle/Arizona 6-6 tie because that division just plays ugly games against each other.
  • So I think Seattle scores in the mid 20s and obviously New Orleans is putting up high 20s.
  • Done and done.

You gotta ask yourself: Are the Seahawks really capable of putting up 28-33 points? Because that’s what it might come down to for them to win. I don’t think the Seahawks are playing good enough football yet to go into New Orleans and outlast the Saints.

Detroit at Houston (-2.5) | over/under 45.5

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 23, Detroit 20

The Bets: None

SuperContest: Yes with Houston (-2.5)

I know it seems outrageous to have any faith in Houston, but they play semi-decent at home. And Detroit plays noticeably worse on the road.

Houston is 4-0 at home, winning by 9, 7, 7, and 3 points. Sure, they probably won’t win by much, but you gotta assume they’ll win.

Be careful with your overconfidence in Detroit. They just played three home games, and like I said, they’re a different team on the road. I’m expecting the “Is Matt Stafford the best QB in football?” hot takes to cool down after this week.

New England (-6.5) at Buffalo | over/under 46.5

The Pick: Buffalo

The Score: New England 26, Buffalo 23

The Bets: None

SuperContest: No

Bottomline on this game: The LeSean McCoy health uncertainty makes this pick impossible while I’m writing this on Thursday morning. The Bills offense could be completely different depending on his availability.

Speaking of that offense, the Bills have had a really good offensive team this year. Earlier this season, they put up 33 points against Arizona (the 3rd best defense in the league), and 45 points on San Francisco (the 20th best defense). Why do I bring up that San Francisco defense? Because it is currently ranked only a couple spots lower than New England.

There’s also Rex Ryan’s history against New England. Obviously his 5-11 record in 16 games against the Patriots isn’t anything special (though it kinda is since it’s the Pats). But I’m talking specifically about the Post-Buttfumble Era. In eight games since Rex, Mark Sanchez and the whole Jets organization hit rock bottom, the Patriots have only outscored Ryan’s teams by five total points. And in three home games against New England since #buttfumble, Rex has won by three, lost by one and lost by 8.

My point is that he may not win a majority of games against Belichick, but Rex can be counted on to throw off the Patriots offense enough to keep the game close.

NY Jets (-3) at Cleveland | over/under 43.5

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 19, NY Jets 16

The Bets: None

SuperContest: No

There’s really nothing statistically that makes the Jets a better team than the Browns. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that the Browns—regardless of their QB situation—are going to keep it to a one-score game as long as they’re playing a garbage team, which the Jets are.

I have a feeling this is Cleveland’s one win on the season.

San Diego at Denver (-5) | over/under 43.5

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: Denver 24, San Diego 23

The Bets: None

SuperContest: No

San Diego’s a perfect team to pull off an upset in Denver. It’s mostly because Rivers and that offense finds a way to put up points no matter who they’re playing or where. Pencil them in for 22-25 points.

I would stay away from gambling this game if I were you. The Chargers just beat the Broncos two weeks ago so it’s a distinct possibility again. The AFC West is by far the best division in football (if you think it’s the NFC East, you’re wrong). It’s still tough to get a read on who’s at the top and who’s not.

Green Bay at Atlanta (-3) | over/under 53

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 30, Green Bay 26

The Bets: Atlanta (+7) in a 3-way tease / Over (43) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: Yes with Atlanta (-3)

I can’t believe this line is as low as it is. Is it just because of Green Bay’s reputation with the public? Look at the way the Packers struggled against the Bears in Lambeau just a week ago. Or is it because everyone thinks the Atlanta fade has begun? They started off hot last year and made a bunch of us look like fools so we’re already jumping off them this year?

To realize how much better the Falcons are than the Packers, think about what would happen if Green Bay played the Broncos in Denver right now. The Packers offense would get ragdolled up and down the field. It wouldn’t even be funny.

And yet, the Falcons have a win in Denver. And they’ve faced much harder competition than Green Bay. Don’t sleep on them.

The fact that Atlanta allows everyone to put up at least four touchdowns on them, I can’t predict a blowout, but I can tell you that the teased over is also a great play.

Philadelphia at Dallas (-4.5) | over/under 43.5

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 24, Philadelphia 17

The Bets: Dallas (+5.5) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: Yes with Dallas (-4.5)

Well I’ll be damned. This game features the #1 offense in all of football (Cowboys) against the #1 defense (Eagles). That sentence is stunning when you really think about it.

If there’s any angle here, it’s that the Eagles are only middle-of-the-road in rushing defense and Dallas has the top rushing unit in the league.

Neither team really has the complete package since the Eagles complement their top-ranked defense with the #24 offense. And the Cowboys pair their #1 offense with the #20 defense.

This Philly offense might really struggle. They only scored two offensive touchdowns against the Vikings at home last week, but the week before was worse…at Washington, their offense only put up six points while facing the 22nd ranked defense.

I think Dallas is a true contender while the Eagles will slowly fade into the pack of mediocrity.

Minnesota (-6) at Chicago | over/under 40.5

The Pick: Minnesota

The Score: Minnesota 24, Chicago 16

The Bets: Minnesota (-6) / Minnesota (pick or +4) in a 2-way or 3-way tease

SuperContest: Yes with Minnesota (-6)

I don’t think Chicago’s pass rush / quarterback pressure skills are anything to worry about, which is the only thing that seems to be able to slow the Vikings down right now.

The Bears have scored more than 17 points one time this season, in a game against the awful Colts. Even at home, I can’t see them cracking 20 points. Jay Cutler coming back does nothing to improve this team.

And I’m not too worried about the Vikings. They may have just had a rusty week coming off their bye. I expect them to get back to doing what they do, and this is the perfect matchup for them to reestablish their scariness.

Here are the season-long stats I’m tracking:

  • Favorites are 42-62-3 against the spread (including a 7-8 record in week 7)
  • The point total has landed on Over 55 times, Under 50 times and Pushed 2 times
  • I’m 56-48-3 against the spread

Enjoy week 8.

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NFL Power Rankings: Sorting Out Each Team’s Playoff Candidacy

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at San Diego Chargers

At the conclusion of week 6 last year, my against the spread record sat at 37-51-4 and I wrote the following week how my year picking games most closely resembled the New York Giants. That Giants team was 0-6, and Eli Manning was trying to rewrite the part of the record books that focuses on interceptions.

For this young 2014 season, I just suffered my worst week. I went 6-9 against the spread, bringing my season record to 42-47-2. Sure, it’s not a smelly trash fire of a season, but it’s not good. It looks fine compared to 2013, but it’s been a season of “one step forward, two steps back” for me.

So which 2014 NFL team does my current season best compare to? It’s gotta be a team under .500. One that has looked great at times and awful at times. One who you can’t write off just yet, but they better do something soon to restore your faith. And one who probably won’t bottom out, but also won’t go on to win 10+ games. We’re looking for a team in that 7-9 to 9-7 range.

Crazy enough, the Giants might be the best comparison once again! Another option is Miami. But the one I like best (and it works well because I really haven’t been able to get a read on them this year) is the Chicago Bears.

They look great on paper. They have all the talent in the world. You fully expect them to be good and compete with the big boys of the NFC. But something causes them to hover near that .500 range, and they’ll likely need some luck to make the playoffs.

And I’m depressed.

Oh, and just for that extra kick to the sack, I also went 0-3 in fantasy football this week, lost my hold on 1st or 2nd place in my Pick ‘Em leagues, and maybe most frustrating of all, I’m out of my Suicide Pool thanks to Seattle’s antics against the Cowboys.

One horrible week.

You know what I’m going to do? Take a page out of Tony Sparano’s book—a page he apparently borrowed from Rex Ryan’s book—and bury week 6 in the ground. That’s right. I’m going to pull up my Week 6 picks blog on a computer, throw that computer into a hole and cover it with dirt. That should make everything better.

Now that every team has played at least five games, it feels like the right time to step back and see what the NFL landscape looks like. I personally think it’s pointless to assign power rankings every single week, but every six weeks or so feels about right.

My power rankings divide the teams into four distinct categories. Unlike some other rankings that purely focus on how a team is playing at this exact moment, I’m putting a lot of weight on the teams that are best positioned to get into the playoffs.

Let’s dive in.

Teams that are already out of playoff contention

32. Oakland

31. Jacksonville

  • Ahh, the two teams keeping my longest of long shot bets alive (will any team go 0/16?). And yet, both showed lots of life on Sunday as the Raiders nearly beat division-leading San Diego at home while the Jags came up just short of embarrassing the Titans right out of the league in Tennessee (more on that in a second).
  • Jacksonville gets the slight edge despite having lost one more game than the Raiders because they play in an easier division and Oakland’s schedule is brutal going forward.
  • But at least both of these teams have to feel decent about their young starting quarterbacks. All you can ask for is to not be writing those guys off as busts yet. With QBs like JaMarcus Russell, Blaine Gabbert, Brady Quinn and EJ Manuel (seriously), you kinda knew within the first couple games. Maybe even the first couple throws. But for the first time in about 10 years, there’s hope for both franchises.

30. Tampa Bay

  • Readers of this blog who have a memory good enough to recall something from five whole days ago will remember that I wasted their time discussing the Bucs’ chances to make the playoffs. I even went and put a bet down on the 25/1 odds that said they would.
  • I’m over it already. One embarrassing no-show per year for each team is acceptable, but a second one just three weeks later?
  • The hesitation to put them in this category is based off their seemingly subpar division and the fact that after a bye in week 7, three of their next four games are against Minnesota, Atlanta and Washington.
  • But we can probably safely say they’re not going 8-2 the rest of the way.

29. Tennessee

  • The only two-win team in this group, but I feel confident they’re done.
  • Their quarterback situation is a mess (in fact, it might be the biggest mess of any team whose name doesn’t rhyme with “the Schmets”).
  • They play in a division with two teams who are clearly better than them.
  • And before you get all excited about that second win this past Sunday, keep this in mind: At home, the Titans got two turnovers from the Jaguars, were up by nine points with 38 seconds left, allowed Jacksonville to recover an onside kick in an obvious onside kick situation, and only escaped with a win because Gus Bradley decided a 55-yard field goal attempt was a better option than gaining an extra 10 yards and trying a makeable game-winning kick.

28. St. Louis

  • The Rams have actually been better than their 1-4 record. Three of those four losses were very competitive, and in two of them, they had a double-digit lead during the game.
  • But this ranking is all about playoff viability, and unfortunately the Rams play in the NFL’s toughest division. If it was a case where Seattle was a powerhouse but the other two teams were bad, I’d keep the Rams around a bit longer.

27. NY Jets

  • It still wouldn’t shock me to see the Jets get to 7-9 or 8-8 by the end of the year because historically that’s exactly what they do. But they still have two games against the Patriots, and six of 10 on the road.
  • You also may have heard that their quarterback situation is bad.
  • You might have even heard that their defensive back situation is possibly worse than their quarterback situation. I’m reluctant to say it, but maybe, finally, this is the year that the Jets go 4-12.

26. Washington

  • To paraphrase legendary Washington coach Mike Shanahan, I think it’s time the PotatoSkins evaluate players for next season. Specifically the quarterbacks.
  • Despite 10-point losses in each one, their last two games really haven’t been that bad. And those were losses to Seattle and Arizona, currently two of the NFC’s best.
  • The problem, of course, is that the ‘Skins no longer play in the NFC Least. They play in the NFC…Beast?
  • Two teams in that division are 5-1, and the Giants at 3-3 still have a chance. It’s just a numbers game and Washington’s on the losing side.

Teams that could be out of playoff contention after week 7

25. Kansas City

  • This category has only four teams, all of whom are on the road in week 7, strengthening the chances that they lose and effectively fall into the only category that’s worse than theirs.
  • Not only are the Chiefs not good, but they also could be three games back of two other teams in their division. The math just doesn’t work in their favor.

24. Atlanta

  • After their 2-1 start, I abandoned my preseason notion that Mike Smith could be fired during the season. But if they drop to 2-5, suddenly it’s not that inconceivable. And if they were to lose a home game in week 8 to Detroit, falling to 2-6 at their bye, does Arthur Blank make me look like a genius?
  • The NFC South has only one team at .500 or better, the Panthers. But a loss this week would put Atlanta in a big hole, and quite honestly they might be legitimately bad. Their two wins—an overtime home win against the can’t-play-on-the-road Saints and a blowout of a Tampa team that appears disinterested in football—seem less impressive with each passing week.

23. Miami

  • This one gives me the most pause because I think their floor and their ceiling are both in that 7-9 to 9-7 range.
  • But a loss at Chicago in week 7 would likely put them two-and-a-half back of the Patriots. And it appears the Chargers or Broncos are going to grab one of the wildcard spots. In that case the Dolphins are competing with the entire AFC North for that second wildcard entry.
  • If they don’t win at Chicago, what confidence do you have that they can win at Detroit, at Denver or at New England? They can’t go 0-4 in those games and still have a chance.

22. Minnesota

  • Teddy Bridgewater looked bad enough last week that I probably could have stuck them in the “already out” category.
  • But we still don’t know if their division’s three other teams are all good or all mediocre.
  • Considering they play Buffalo, I’m giving them the best chance out of the four teams in this category of winning this week, and therefore staving off elimination for at least another week.

Teams that likely won’t decide if they’re in or out until the final month of the season

21. Buffalo

  • Even with Kyle Orton being by far the best quarterback on their roster, the Bills have a good chance to be 4-3 after week 7.
  • And their next five games are all winnable. Brace yourself for Buffalo to be 7-5 at the start of December only to see them finish 7-9.

20. Houston

  • Even with the Colts looking like a lock to win this division, the Texans will probably hover close enough to .500 that they’ll always be one Andrew Luck injury away from being the new AFC South favorites.
  • There’s also the J.J. Watt factor. I love watching him play, but you can’t convince me he’s an MVP candidate. There’s no way you could say, “J.J. Watt might put this team on his back and carry them to the playoffs,” much like Adrian Peterson did for the Vikings in 2012. A defensive player just can’t swing a game that much.

19. NY Giants

  • In the suddenly scary NFC East, it’s not good to see four division games still remaining on the Giants’ schedule. They also have Indy, Seattle and San Francisco.
  • So far the Giants have lost by double digits to three teams with winning records (Detroit, Arizona and Philadelphia), and have won by double digits against three .500 or under teams (Houston, Washington and Atlanta).
  • It feels like we’re heading for 8-8.

18. Cleveland

  • Well looky here, the Browns are 3-2, AND, more importantly they could be 5-0 if it wasn’t for last second losses to Pittsburgh and Baltimore in September.
  • Here’s what we’ve come to with the Browns: Football Night in America put up a graphic that said “Browns face QB dilemma” and for once it wasn’t in the context of picking the lesser of two evils such as Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn. It was because their veteran who was only supposed to be keeping the seat warm for the rookie 1st round pick is suddenly on fire!
  • Cleveland gets Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay next. Could they go into Cincinnati on Thursday in week 10 with a 6-2 record?
  • Because it’s the Browns.
  • For those of us who still consider LeBron James to be a giant ass, wouldn’t it be fantastic for the Browns to win a Super Bowl before he can deliver them an NBA Championship?

17. New Orleans

  • Worst division in football + a possible 8-0 home record = Can’t write them off yet no matter how enticing it is to do so.
  • But then again, they are looking at 2-4 if they can’t beat the Lions in Detroit this weekend.
  • Of course that 2-4 record could still leave them only a game-and-a-half back in the South.

16. Pittsburgh

  • I just realized the Steelers have neither won nor lost consecutive games yet. Beware of the win-loss-win-loss rhythm to their season. Some team always seems to follow that exact blueprint to an 8-8 record.
  • Their next five games could result in four wins, but their final five could be the exact opposite.
  • They’re probably going to have to get some help from a stumbling Ravens or Bengals team to make the playoffs.

15. Carolina

  • The lowest-ranked of the current division leaders.
  • On the plus side they’ve played well against good competition so far this year.
  • Unfortunately their next four games are: @Green Bay, vs Seattle, vs New Orleans and @Philadelphia.
  • This is one of those divisions where tiebreakers could be huge because it’s likely that two or more teams finish at 9-7.

14. Chicago

  • One interesting observation from this column: Every time I look at a team’s schedule and see the Cowboys, I have to consciously force myself to consider them to be one of the better teams. It’s unnatural.
  • The Bears have a lot of difficult games left. I’m guessing they’ll be 8-7 heading into week 17 at Minnesota.

13. Arizona

  • How in the hell does a team that’s already used three different quarterbacks for a significant amount of time over just five games lead the NFL’s hardest division?
  • For one, the Seahawks have slipped up enough to open the door.
  • And secondly…magic.
  • I don’t expect the Cardinals to hang on and win the West, but the wildcard’s in play.
  • I’d love to see Arizona at San Francisco in week 17 mean a lot to both teams.

12. Detroit

  • The Lions are 4-2, have already beaten the Packers once and boast the NFL’s best defense through six weeks. For once maybe the Lions are for real?
  • You’ll notice they’re ranked lower than Green Bay even with that game in hand. That’s because of nervousness over Calvin Johnson’s injury and the Lions’ less-than-stellar track record.
  • Unless they run away with the division making December’s schedule irrelevant, Detroit ends the season with key road games against Chicago and Green Bay.

11. San Francisco

  • You’re going to notice that with the 49ers and the Seahawks, even though they’re not currently leading the division or looking like a lock for the playoffs, we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt.
  • But the 49ers aren’t going to have an easy time going forward. For one, they haven’t even looked great in any of their home games.
  • They’re in Denver on Sunday night and have to deal with the weekly Peyton Manning LoveFest (With Manning’s assault on Brett Favre’s touchdown record, you can expect a Jeter-level Media Frenzy surrounding him for the rest of the year).
  • They still have to travel to the Eastern Time Zone in back-to-back weeks to face the Saints and the Giants.
  • And of course they still face Seattle twice.
  • For those of you who agreed with me on the 9ers finally missing the playoffs, don’t worry, it’s still looking OK.

10. Baltimore

  • They’ve gotta be the odds-on favorite to be the #6 seed in the AFC Playoffs.
  • It’s certainly important that they win a home game against the 2-4 Falcons this weekend, but the following Sunday should determine if they’ll even have a chance to win the AFC North. That’s when they face the Bengals for a second time. They’d need a win in Cincy to have a realistic chance at the division title.

9. Green Bay

  • If I had to make a bet on any of these first 24 teams I’ve mentioned in this column to win the Super Bowl, I’d have to go with Green Bay. This is still a QB-centric league, and they’ve got the best one.
  • But we could still be in for a very good battle among the Packers, Bears and Lions. The Packers’ deficiencies on defense and at head coach will cause them to struggle a lot more than they should. Sure, they’ll sprinkle in a 42-10 beatdown of the Vikings every now and then, but they’ll probably have to scratch & claw their way to 10 wins.
  • If the Lions can live up to their side of the deal, we might be in for a great finish between these two teams in Detroit on December 28th.

Teams that look like playoff locks…at least for now

8. Dallas

7. Philadelphia

  • Both teams seem to be doing it with a little bit of smoke & mirrors. The Eagles have had a number of defensive and special teams touchdowns. They’ve also won three games by the skin of their teeth.
  • I don’t know what the smoke & mirrors are with Dallas, but I refuse to believe they’re this good. They’ve also won three of their games by a touchdown or less. It feels like each team could just as easily be 3-3 as 5-1.
  • The Cowboys get three home games and then they’re at Jacksonville. Expect them to be 8-2 at worst going into their week 11 bye.
  • The Eagles seem a bit realer because they’re getting some key guys back from injury soon.
  • These two teams play twice in 17 days in November and December.

6. Cincinnati

  • It really bothers me to have to take ties into account when looking at NFL standings.
  • Could we see a three game winless streak out of the Bengals? They lost to the Patriots two weeks ago, then tied the Panthers last week, and now they’re at Indy in week 7. What looked like the AFC’s best team after three weeks now looks like a team that might get swallowed up in the AFC North’s clusterfuck of mediocrity.
  • Note to my future self: Don’t put so much stock in “team X is coming off a bye so I’m giving them an edge over the team that’s not coming off a bye.” The Bengals have looked horrible since their week 3 bye and that has specifically hurt my bets.
  • With five home games remaining and an eventual return of A.J. Green, they still feel like a near certainty to win the North and get bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Ravens.

5. Seattle

  • Hey, Seattle fans, I don’t make the rules. In its last three games, your team allowed the Broncos to mount a big comeback in Seattle, then you let the PotatoSkins hang around on Monday Night Football, and this past week you lost at home to the Cowboys.
  • I can’t knock the Seahawks down too far, and I’ve got to put them above the Cardinals and 49ers even with the current standings how they are. I hope we’ve learned with the Patriots (among others) that teams can struggle a bit early on and still turn into the contender they’re supposed to be. The Seahawks’ track record says they’ll be fine.
  • This will be their gauntlet to conquer later in the year: vs Arizona, @San Francisco, @Philadelphia, vs San Francisco, @Arizona. Good luck.

4. New England

  • Before you get mad about how highly ranked I have the Patriots, keep in mind that they’re a much more sure thing for the playoffs right now than Seattle, and they already beat Cincinnati. I think this spot is a perfect fit for them.
  • Of course we already know that even if their talent doesn’t add up to a top playoff seed, the division they play in will certainly give them a great chance at securing a first round bye.
  • They’ve yet to reach the hard part of their schedule. Starting in week 8, it goes like this: vs Chicago, vs Denver, BYE, @Indianapolis, vs Detroit, @Green Bay, @San Diego.
  • It’s very possible they only go 3-3 in that stretch, and that would mean 10-6 is probably their best bet. You’ll see the final three teams on my list may all have a leg up on the Patriots in the AFC.

3. Indianapolis

  • Andrew Luck has already turned into someone you never want to bet against, and it just so happens his Colts pretty much have the AFC South by the balls. Sure, the Texans are only one game back, but we all know those three wins by Houston were an aberration. The Colts spotted the division a nice head start when they began the season 0-2, and already they’ve made up the ground.
  • Even with a tricky few games in weeks 7-11, it’s hard to picture them winning less than 10. Even if they don’t secure a first round bye, it appears as though Luck has matured enough that he should be feared in January.

2. Denver

  • If you’re tracking them against the two other teams they’ve played in the top five, I have them ahead of the Colts because they beat Indy in week 1 (possibly an important tiebreaker), and I have them in front of the Seahawks because the NFC, and particularly the NFC West, is a lot murkier than the AFC, where the Broncos will at worst get the #5 seed.
  • A lot will be learned about Denver and some of its competition in the next three weeks. The Broncos host San Francisco in week 7 and San Diego in week 8. They follow that with a week 9 game in New England. By then we’ll probably know if Denver is once again head & shoulders above the rest of the AFC, if they’re still the best but barely, or if they might have to slug it out for a wildcard spot. Of course, that only happens if the #1 team in my power rankings can beat the Broncos at least once this year…

1. San Diego

  • The Chargers host the Chiefs this week and the Broncos host the 49ers. At worst, San Diego is going to be a half-game better when they face Denver in week 8.
  • The Chargers get the nod in the #1 slot because quite frankly they’ve been the most impressive team in the NFL. They appear to be unstoppable at home, and with one lucky break in week 1 they’d be the last undefeated team right now.
  • I know that the Seahawks, Patriots and Broncos have more of a track record with delivering over a full season, but the Chargers just look too good right now.
  • With their schedule being a lot easier than Denver and New England’s the rest of the way, it’s possible they get the #1 seed. But soon we won’t be wondering if the Chargers are going to make the playoffs, but rather what they can do against the perennial contenders when they get there.

Interestingly enough, AFC teams occupied five of my top six power ranking spots. Don’t mistake that for me thinking the AFC is much more loaded than the NFC. This was an exercise in figuring out which teams are most likely to get into the playoffs. The NFC is a lot more competitive from top to bottom than the AFC.

Back with week 7 picks on Thursday.

Week 9 NFL Non-Recap (Power Rankings Are Here!)

nfl power rankings

The week 9 recap is coming to you about 48 hours later than it usually does because my life is an absolute mess right now.

Instead of working no jobs, which is my preference, I’m now working two jobs and interviewing for more while trying to keep up with my writing schedule.

Instead of spending this past Sunday in the confines of my own home surrounded by TVs and nothing else, I was up in San Francisco…still watching football all day but not nearly as locked in and focused as I usually am.

And now that I don’t live in San Francisco, every time I return it’s an event. I party with my friends harder and stretch myself thinner than I normally would because I only have a couple nights to spend there. This past weekend also coincided with the going away party for one of my friends who’s moving back to the East Coast from the Bay Area. So there was even more beer chugging, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey swigging and general buffoonery than usual.

I guess “my life is an absolute mess” is the wrong way to say it. I think “I’m busy” is more appropriate. So that’s why you’re getting a late recap blog.

The sad part about the friend who’s leaving California is that he was the definition of “wildcard” when it comes to my sports gambling group of friends. He was the guy who’d burst into the man cave three minutes before kickoff on Sunday mornings with all 65 of his bets written down on a piece of a Triscuit box that he decided would make for a good piece of scrap paper. He was the guy who would make futures bets during our Vegas trip (picking the winner of the upcoming Super Bowl, college basketball & football national titles, World Series, etc) and then lose the bet slips in his apartment two months later. He was the guy who would make a bet on Sunday morning, not remembering that he made a bet during an Ambien stupor on Tuesday night that directly contradicts this new bet.

While the rest of us would plod away with small, conservative bets, just trying to grind out a little profit over the course of the NFL season, this guy would have weekly swings so drastic that if we were talking about a bank account instead of a gambling account, that bank would put a hold on all of his assets due to suspicious activity.

For a group of degenerate gamblers, he was the life of the party. He will be missed. And we will be holding tryouts for the rest of the football season for anyone who would like to take a stab at replacing him.

 

At this point in the week, I see no need to dig into the details of each individual week 9 game. Instead let’s take a step back and look at the season as a whole…the half that’s been played and the half that’s still to come. Let’s go team by team and try to figure out who’s in the best position for a Super Bowl run, who should just be happy to be in the playoff hunt, and who should be looking at the 2014 draft as the next relevant moment on their team’s schedule. Call it Power Rankings if you want. But unlike other power rankings, I’m putting a ton of stock in injuries and each team’s upcoming schedule. I’m trying to predict who will finish in the best position for that Super Bowl run.

In the interest of saving you time, the bottom 12 teams come with no explanation. These teams are already eliminated from playoff contention in my mind (which means at least one of them will definitely make it). And then from #20 through #1, I’ll try to give some reasoning on why this team is in the position it’s in. Here we go:

32 Jacksonville

31 Tampa Bay

30 Minnesota

29 St. Louis

28 Atlanta

27 Houston

26 Pittsburgh

25 NY Giants

24 Buffalo

23 Oakland

22 Cleveland

21 Philadelphia

 

20 Baltimore

You could argue some other teams deserve to be in the top 20 over the Ravens (Philly and Cleveland come to mind), but with five home games remaining (including the Jets, Steelers and Vikings in consecutive weeks) this team could still make a little run. They may also get the benefit of facing a Bengals team that’s locked into its playoff position in week 17. Marvin Lewis has a history of resting his starters. So despite their best efforts, the Ravens aren’t dead yet.

19 Miami

We all know the Dolphins aren’t making the playoffs at this point so let’s instead consider this now-realistic scenario that I would have never thought possible just one week ago: On Monday night, the Dolphins will travel to Tampa Bay for a nationally-televised game. But instead of Greg Schiano getting fired the following day after a loss, what if Miami loses and more stories continue to trickle out about the environment that Joe Philbin has allowed the Dolphins’ locker room to become, and HE GETS FIRED INSTEAD? That would be the biggest reversal of coaching fortunes I’ve ever seen. I’m now rooting for this to happen.

18 Tennessee

We won’t know anything about this team until they host the Colts in week 11. Since his return, Jake Locker has lost to San Francisco and beaten St. Louis. Now he gets Jacksonville at home in week 10. They will officially be in the playoff mix if they can beat Indy in two weeks.

17 San Diego

Just know this: For at least the past seven years, the team to finish dead last in Football Outsiders’ defensive efficiency rankings has not made the playoffs. And that’s where the Chargers sit right now. Not to mention they still face Denver twice, Kansas City twice, Cincinnati, the Giants, Oakland and Miami. They’ll need at least five wins in there to make the playoffs. When passing is your only weapon, things usually fall apart in November and December.

16 Washington

This seems aggressive for the Redskins, I agree. But when I look at all four NFC East teams’ remaining schedules, Washington actually has it pretty easy. They face two teams with a winning record (San Francisco, Kansas City) at home and don’t have any difficult road games. If they can win on Thursday at Minnesota and then 10 days later at Philly (where the Eagles still haven’t won a home game in approximately 17 years), they’re 5-5 and suddenly the playoffs become a possibility. It’s not probable, but it’s possible.

15 Dallas

Incredible that the “best team” in a division sits outside the top 12. The only reason I have the Cowboys ranked highest among its divisional brethren is because of the quarterback. Tony Romo is easily the best quarterback in the division and when everything else involved among the four teams is an absolute crapshoot, you gotta give the edge to the team with the most stability at that position. The Cowboys’ remaining schedule is not friendly: @New Orleans, @Giants, home Oakland, @Chicago, home Green Bay, @Washington and home Philly. I still think there’s a chance all four NFC East teams finish 7-9 (fingers crossed).

14 NY Jets

It makes me queasy to pencil the Jets in as a peripheral playoff team, but at 5-4, I can’t deny that they’re at least average. Aren’t the Jets essentially a less-disciplined version of the Chiefs? Very solid defense, tries to run the ball to avoid exposing its passing deficiencies, has a QB you’re unsure about if he has to lead the team to a big comeback. The only differences are the Jets lead the league in penalties, they have a -10 turnover differential compared to the Chiefs’ +15, and they’ve actually had a harder schedule. But the schedule softens for New York the rest of the way and it looks like 9-7 is very doable.

13 Arizona

Several weeks ago I predicted that the Cardinals would be 6-4 after week 11. Their next two games are home against Houston and @Jacksonville. Those are winnable games that would make me look like a genius. Whether this team can get to 9-7 and battle Carolina for the one up-for-grabs wildcard spot will all hinge on either beating Indianapolis at home or winning at Tennessee in week 16. And if the 49ers rest their starters in week 17, this Cardinals team could amazingly get to 10 wins. By the way, I’d rather be the #6 seed in the NFC and have to travel to Chicago, Detroit or Green Bay than be the #4 seed and “get” to host San Francisco or Seattle. That’s why the Cardinals are ranked higher than the best NFC East team.

12 Kansas City

Well since the 9-0 Chiefs are very likely to make the playoffs, I have no choice but to rank them in the top 12. But I’ll continue to patiently wait for their inevitable demise. Teams that can’t occasionally win a shootout or come back from a 14-point deficit should be very concerned. Some of the best defensive teams in 2012 (Seattle and San Francisco come to mind) had to get the offense going in the playoffs in order to advance. The same challenge will present itself to KC eventually (for instance, what if they get the #5 seed and travel to New England in the 1st or 2nd round of the playoffs). I have no faith in them.

Side Note: In 2012, I gave this exact same treatment to Baltimore. From about week 4 on, I constantly picked against them, noting how they weren’t very good and were getting luckier than any team. I bitched about their schedule being too easy and that they’d be one-and-done in the playoffs. So if you’re still looking for that Super Bowl bet, I’d go big on the Chiefs. My recent history almost guarantees that they win it all.

11 Green Bay

10 Detroit

9 Chicago

Let’s go ahead and group all these teams together since the fate of each of them depends on one man: Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay drops to the back of this pack because Rodgers is out probably a month. And let’s not forget they’re also missing key guys like Randall Cobb, Clay Matthews and Jermichael Finley. Oh, and the F word’s been floating around with this team…Flynn. As in Matt. As in “Matt Flynn might be the best option to start at QB while Rodgers is out.” They might be in serious trouble.

Chicago gets the nod over Detroit because their defense is better and the Lions lack that second reliable receiver that Alshon Jeffrey has become for the Bears.

8 Carolina

I don’t think the Panthers are a worse team than their NFC South rival who happens to be one spot ahead of them on these rankings. I just think their current situation is worse. They already have three losses and they have upcoming games at San Francisco, home New England and home & away New Orleans. Football Outsiders actually has Carolina ranked as the 3rd best team in all of football. My preseason Super Bowl bet on them has me irrationally invested in their success. I think they make the playoffs for the first time in the Ron Rivera-Cam Newton era. But the #6 seed would mean a likely trip to New Orleans for the inexperienced team. Don’t see them getting farther than that.

7 New Orleans

It’s no secret this team struggles on the road. And it really doesn’t feel like they’re getting home-field advantage in the NFC. If they’re the #3 seed, they’ll get to host one playoff game before going on the road for two possible games. I still don’t buy into the defense entirely, and it seems like every week an important offensive player is getting hurt. First it was Jimmy Graham, then Marques Colston and now Darren Sproles. If everything breaks right, they’re a contender. I just don’t see everything going their way.

6 Cincinnati

The Bengals are at a fork in the road. Now that we know they might be playing in the second worst division in football, it’s up to them to pull away from those sub-.500 lurkers or end up in a dog fight to see if they can beat out the Ravens or Browns for that elusive 9-7 division-winning record. The reason I stuck them a spot below New England, despite having beaten the Patriots already, is because of the two enormous defensive injuries that they haven’t had to really deal with yet. Leon Hall and Geno Atkins are out for the year and unless Andy Dalton plays the rest of the season like he did in the month of October, chances are they’re heading towards 10-6 and a 2nd round playoff game at Denver.

5 New England

As a devout Patriots fan, it was great seeing a healthy Gronk and Amendola doing what they’re supposed to do while Tom Brady finally looked like his usual self. That was fun. But it’s not the reason I’m so bullish on this team. The defense is the reason. Yes, the defense that lost Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly (Wilfork’s replacement) to season-ending injuries. And really it all rests on one player: Aqib Talib. I know the Pats are suddenly susceptible to the inside running game, but please tell me which team is going to march up and down the field ever-so slowly against New England by running for 4-5 yards at a time. This isn’t a league where a run-only team wins. You’ve gotta be able to throw, and if Talib’s healthy, this team is tough to throw on. And if that offense really is rounding into form, any team that wants to beat New England in January will have to throw a lot. Good luck to them.

4 Indianapolis

An astute observer will notice that the Colts have beaten the top three teams in my rankings, and yet here they sit at #4. Why? It’s not because I think their second half schedule’s tough or they’re due for much of a drop off (I see 11-5 as their worst case). It’s because they beat all those contenders with a healthy Reggie Wayne. I know they won in their first try without Wayne, but eventually they’re going to miss him. And once they do get to the playoffs, we’re talking about a very young team that has little to no experience playing multiple games in January/February. For that reason I have to put them as the worst of the final four.

3 Seattle

If I’m saying the NFC West juggernauts are the top teams in the conference, it would make sense to have the Seahawks ranked over the 49ers. But I’ve gone the opposite way. Seattle scares me just a tiny bit. They are very beatable on the road, and what the hell was their problem at home against Tampa Bay last week? Maybe they peaked a little early and we all just assumed they’d roll to the Super Bowl? I’ll admit that if they find a way to stay ahead of San Francisco for the division (and likely the top seed in the NFC), it’s going to be tough to beat them in January. But they won’t stay ahead of the 49ers because…

2 San Francisco

The 49ers are going to win the rest of their games! That’s right, a 13-game win streak to close out the season for San Francisco. If that happens, it’ll mean getting revenge on the Seahawks for their week 2 shellacking in San Francisco on December 8th, and a big road win in two weeks at New Orleans. The 49ers might sneaky be the best team in football. They’re getting fully healthy at the right time and they’ve just been flying under the radar, handling their business (if handling their business = winning each of their last five games by an average of 22.6 points).

1 Denver

They’re the best bet to be playing in February because they are relatively healthy compared to their closest contenders, they have more offensive weapons than almost any other team and their schedule is easy enough that 12-4 is their worst case scenario. They have road games against San Diego, New England and Kansas City coming up. Those are the only three possible losses. They’ll likely have the #1 seed in the AFC.

(Stands back, admires his work)

And that’s how you nail a power rankings column.

Week 10 picks coming up on Thursday.

Midseason NFL Power Rankings (Part 2): The Top 8

In case you missed it, I posted Part One of the Midseason Power Rankings earlier this week where I counted down from 17 to nine. Now we’re on to the final eight. A competent blogger would have saved the Broncos at #9 for part two because I’m lumping them in with the final eight as the only teams with a shot at winning the Super Bowl. And just like I struggled in part one with ranking the bottom of the group (Minnesota, Tampa, San Diego, Detroit), it was no easy task to choose who was better between the top teams (Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, New York). I will say that the NFC looks extremely powerful compared to the AFC at this point.

Anyway, enjoy the best of the best.

8). Pittsburgh

Record: 5-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 11-5

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 10-6

Point Differential: +27

Record Against the Spread: 4-4

Season Highlight: Repeatedly throwing it in my face every time I write that their defense is too old and too injured. These guys just won’t die already.

Season Lowlight: Take your pick: a three-point loss to Oakland, a three-point loss to Tennessee, or rushing Troy Polamalu back in week 5 only to have him re-injure his calf and miss the last four games.

Direction They’re Heading: Just like Elijah Wood does as the character North in the movie North, the Steelers are heading north.

The Steelers may have screwed themselves in the long run with those losses to Oakland and Tennessee. They’re not completely unforgivable losses considering they were both on the road, but it hurts them big time with the conference record tiebreaker against a team like New England. Consider that their third loss was to Denver, another three-loss team, and you get the feeling that even if the Steelers win their division, they’re not getting a bye. With how well they play at home, they’d have a much better shot in the playoffs if Denver or New England had to go to them instead of the other way around. The counter argument is that Pittsburgh has a crazy easy schedule the rest of the way—five home games, and only two tilts against Baltimore as “challenging games.” But if you’re like me and believe Baltimore’s due for a big fall, those games don’t seem so tough either. If the Steelers run the table, they’re getting a bye. If not, they’ll have to settle for going on the road in round two.

7). Green Bay

Record: 6-3* (legitimately 7-2, but we already established in part one of this blog that legitimacy doesn’t matter in the NFL)

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 13-3 (If their record says 12-4 at the end of the year, I’m counting this as a win for me)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 11-5 (thought they’d have a shot at chasing an undefeated season…oops)

Point Differential: +52

Record Against the Spread: 4-5 (should be 5-5)

Season Highlight: Their season-saving beatdown of Houston in week 6.

Season Lowlight: The Seattle debacle is obvious (and may yet come into play at the end of the regular season), but I’d go with the injuries that seem to have happened to every key player except Aaron Rodgers.

Direction They’re Heading: North, but directly into a stiff wind.

On the surface all seems well with the Packers. They’re 6-3, they’ve won four in a row, they’ve got their bye week coming up to get some guys healthy, and their franchise QB is back to leading the NFL in touchdowns like he’s supposed to be. But there are a few reasons to worry. First of all, the injuries. They’re still missing Nick Perry and Greg Jennings, and now they might lose Clay Matthews for a couple weeks. Starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga could be out for a while, and Jordy Nelson is also banged up. Eventually this will catch up to them. Second, they face a pretty tough schedule in their final seven games: two against Detroit, two against Minnesota, one against the Giants and one against Chicago (Tennessee is the other opponent if you’re curious). That’s six of their final seven games against teams that are currently .500 or better. Assuming they don’t jump the Bears and have to settle for the 5th seed in the NFC, that means they’re playing wildcard weekend at either San Francisco, Chicago or New York. Not ideal at all.

6). New England

Record: 5-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 15-1 (yeah, yeah, total homer prediction)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 13-3 (not as big of a homer prediction, and still an outside chance of happening)

Point Differential: +92

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

Season Highlight: Tricking people in the preseason into thinking their offensive line was going to be the biggest area of concern, which totally deflected attention away from their secondary for about two weeks.

Season Lowlight: Two losses to the NFC West. Specifically losing at home to Arizona, who by season’s end will be a 5-11 team…or…Making Mark Sanchez look like an NFL quarterback.

Direction They’re Heading: Holding steady

It’s too bad that the Patriots’ 5th-ranked passing offense, 4th-ranked rushing offense and 8th-ranked rushing defense is being completely overshadowed by their 28th-ranked passing D. But that’s life in the NFL. Patriot fans are freaking a little because the team “already has three losses,” but it still seems like a worst-case scenario has them 11-5 at the end of the regular season. I’m trying my hardest not to be one of those spoiled Patriots fans who throws a tantrum if they don’t get one of the top two seeds in the AFC, but they really have conditioned us to expect as much. I’m committing to being happy as long as they make the playoffs because as we’ve all learned over the past five years, you just gotta get there and then anything can happen.

5). San Francisco

Record: 6-2

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 10-6

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 9-7 (I also happen to know he named one of his Pick ‘em League team names “NoPlayoffsFor9ers.” Not too smart.)

Point Differential: +86

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

Season Highlight: Out-Tebowing the Jets with their own version of Tebow, Colin Kaepernick (I kinda feel like Jim Harbaugh would vote for his over-thinking of the end of the Seattle game as the season highlight (aka my personal season lowlight)).

Season Lowlight: The recurring disaster that their offense becomes if they fall behind by two touchdowns. It happened in Minnesota and it happened against the Giants. They can’t play catch up very well.

Direction They’re Heading: They’re flying a little too close to the sun right now. Probably heading slightly south.

Sometimes it’s so simple you feel crazy for thinking it’s as simple as it is. If the 49ers get to play their type of game every week from now through the Super Bowl, they can win it all (“Alex Smith, Super Bowl Champion” has a weird, uneasy ring to it). But they’re not really able to adapt and play a different kind of game. Basically, like I mentioned above, if they fall down early by 14 or so to a competent opponent, they’re not getting an Alex Smith comeback. They can only grind it out and hope the other team’s offense slows down. During my preseason predictions, I wrote that San Francisco would struggle against the “elite offenses of the NFL.” I cited Green Bay, Detroit, the Giants, New Orleans and New England as the tough games for them. They’ve handled two out of three so far, with New Orleans and New England remaining. They could see three of those five in the playoffs if they make it to the Super Bowl. My picking against them when facing those teams could still look wise.

4). NY Giants

Record: 6-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 11-5

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 8-8 (if Nkilla gets this right, someone’s getting fired in New York by week 17)

Point Differential: +69

Record Against the Spread: 4-4-1

Season Highlight: Officially wrapping up the NFC East on November 5th with Philly’s loss to New Orleans (random realization: All four NFC East teams lost last week, so technically, the Giants backed their way into the division title in week 9. Wow.)

Season Lowlight: The depressing possibility that two incompetent head coaches in their division (Jason Garrett of Dallas, Andy Reid of Philadelphia) may not be around for Tom Coughlin to coach circles around in 2013.

Direction They’re Heading: Swirling in the lingering hurricane winds

I’ll give you another random realization: the Giants lead the NFL in “number of wide receivers who have been owned in fantasy leagues.” I’ve got six for the Giants. Does any team have more? I doubt it. Anyway, they seem to be humming along, not drawing too much attention to themselves…every unit pretty much having an average-too-above-average year. They’re like the Patriots of the NFC, complete with their very own questionable passing defense and embarrassing early-season losses. They get the nod over the 49ers because they crushed the 9ers in San Francisco…and because I’m forever scared shitless of them.

3). Chicago

Record: 7-1

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 11 (can’t believe I’m gonna be wrong on the low end)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 10 (loved their offense, but was concerned about their aging defense)

Point Differential: +116

Record Against the Spread: 5-2-1

Season Highlight: Amazing that Brandon Marshall being on pace for nearly 1,600 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns (he currently ranks second in both categories) can be overlooked because of a defense. The entire year’s been a highlight for Marshall and the D.

Season Lowlight: Hasn’t happened yet, but the epiphany for Bears fans coming up in week 15 that their 2012 team is no different than their 2006 team (in that their offense stinks), is still pending.

Direction They’re Heading: Tough to go up after a 7-1 start, especially with games against Houston, San Francisco and Green Bay looming.

Not much negative you can say about the Bears, but let’s try. If they had just a regular above average defense, they’d be 5-3 right now. It’s worrisome for any team to think they have to rely on defense for a big chunk of their points. After a sneaky-easy first half schedule (starting in week 3, their last six opponents have combined for a 16-33 record), they’ll get to see where they stack up with their peers during back-to-back prime-time games starting this weekend—vs Houston and then at San Francisco. Their second half schedule checks in with their opponents’ current combined record at 47-23. Lucky for us gamblers, we should know everything we need to know about the real Chicago Bears by the time playoff betting rolls around.

2). Atlanta

Record: 8-0

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 9-7 (thinking I’m gonna be slightly off on this)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 10-6 (ditto)

Point Differential: +77

Record Against the Spread: 6-2

Season Highlight: I don’t have a good joke here. They’re 8-0, what more do you want?

Season Lowlight: I guess you could nitpick that five of their eight games have been decided by a touchdown or less.

Direction They’re Heading: About 472 miles southwest to New Orleans? I’m not talking just about their road game in week 10, but possibly their final destination in February.

I agonized over Chicago vs Atlanta in the second and third spot. Ultimately, I decided that what Atlanta does exceptionally well (pass the ball) is more sustainable than what Chicago does exceptionally well (cause turnovers and return them for touchdowns). The Falcons can also guarantee they don’t have to play outdoors at all in the playoffs if they can get the 1-seed over the Bears. With a four-game lead over their closest challenger for the NFC South, do the Falcons accidentally have a letdown game or two? Definitely possible.

1). Houston

Record: 7-1

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 13-3 (in case they only lose one game this year, I just want everyone to know that I told one of my college friends, while sitting in the Austin Airport three months ago, that I was having trouble finding even two losses on the Texans’ schedule)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 9-7

Point Differential: +100

Record Against the Spread: 6-2

Season Highlight: Realizing the Colts’ surprising 5-3 record would push them to keep their foot on the gas. In the preseason, the Texans were supposed to be in a division with Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker and a rookie. You can’t blame them for expecting to have the division wrapped up by week 9 and be bored for the rest of the season.

Season Lowlight: Getting absolutely demolished by a Packers team they should have had no problem getting motivated for.

Direction They’re Heading: When you’re on top, there’s only one way to go. The question is whether they’ll grab a shiny new trophy while they’re up here or not.

Isn’t it interesting that I have all NFC teams in numbers 2-6 in the power rankings? And since several of them have to play each other, and presumably a much harder conference than the AFC, you’d think maybe an NFC team should be at the top. I totally get your point, but I’m choosing to ignore it. When you really look closely at this Texans team, you see excellence in all phases of the game. Can’t really find a weakness. They run nearly as good as the 49ers, but if needed, they could dial up the passing game while still being able to rely on their defense most weeks. Gary Kubiak must feel like he’s on cruise control this season after dealing with four different starting quarterbacks last year. If they stay healthy, they’re the team to beat until further notice.

I can’t wait to see four of my top five teams lose in week 10 just to make these power ranking posts completely obsolete. Enjoy week 10, especially a legit potential Super Bowl preview with Houston at Chicago on Sunday night.

Midseason NFL Power Rankings: Ignoring the Worst 15 Teams and Writing Too Much About the Best 17 Teams

In my week 9 NFL picks blog, I said we were looking at the most difficult week of the season in terms of picking against the spread. Sadly, my record for the week reflected that. I didn’t break the .500 mark for the first time this year. I finished 7-7 for the week, and the disturbing trend of picking the primetime games incorrectly continues as I went 0-3 in the Thursday, Sunday and Monday night games. My overall record on the season is still a solid 74-53-5, but I can’t stand for mediocrity. I noticed that four of my seven incorrect picks from week 9 were games that featured a team we should consider a “contender” versus a team we know for sure is not a “contender.” In those four games, the contender covered the spread, leaving me scratching my head and wondering why I didn’t see this coming. At the halfway point of the season, I should have expected the legit teams to be pulling away from the teams that are “already preparing for next year” (Mike Shanahan’s words, not mine).

Since it’s basically the midpoint of the season and I seem to be losing my way when it comes to filtering out the good teams from the riff raff, I wanted to take a stab at a Power Rankings post. But this particular post is going to ignore the 15 teams who are effectively eliminated from postseason contention. Basically, any team that has a negative point differential or has at least five losses is out. There are actually 16 teams with a positive point differential, and all of them have four losses or less. The one team who’s record is .500 or better but has a negative point differential will be included in the power rankings—that would be the Indianapolis Colts, who potentially have larger forces working in their favor. (Side note: In 2011, two teams finished the regular season with a negative point differential and made the playoffs: the Broncos had a -81 differential, but had God on their side, and the Giants had a -6 differential, but had Satan on their side. In 2010 the Seahawks finished with a -97 differential and made the playoffs, but they had the worst division in football history on their side. The point is the Colts could absolutely make the playoffs without having the stats to back it up.)

So we have 17 teams in contention. Of course a few of these teams will be dropping out of this category by season’s end since only 12 teams can make the playoffs. But for the rest of the season, when I’m considering my weekly picks, I’m going to remember that these 17 teams are worthy of playoff and possibly Super Bowl consideration. No longer will I stupidly pick Cincinnati to play a close game against Denver just because I’m not sure how well Denver plays on the road.

If you’re upset that I’m ignoring 15 teams entirely, there are plenty of websites you can visit that debate the merits of the Titans versus the Rams and which one should be 24th in the Power Rankings.

Let’s look at the (fill in catchy name here like “Slick 17” “Sexy 17” or something even more creative) from “most likely to follow the Arizona Cardinals’ path of crashing & burning” to “most likely to give Roger Goodell a ‘fuck you’ handshake on February 3rd.”

The format is pretty random, but I’ve included the following: the team’s actual record, the predictions that Nkilla and I made for their record before the season started, the team’s point differential (often a better indicator of how good a team is than their win-loss record), their record against the spread (because it always comes back to gambling), a season highlight and lowlight, and whether they’re on the rise (heading north) or fading (heading south).

This is part one of the power rankings. Part two will follow shortly. Enjoy.

17). Minnesota

Record: 5-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 7-9

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 6-10

Point Differential: +7

Record Against the Spread: 3-5-1

Season Highlight: Beating the 49ers by 11 during their 4-1 start

Season Lowlight: Any one of Christian Ponder’s last five games

Direction They’re Heading: Way South

As decent as the Vikings have looked through their first nine games, they really needed to put up a spotless record over that time to have a shot at the playoffs. That’s because their schedule gets brutal in the second half—two games against Green Bay, two against Chicago, one against Houston and only three of seven games at home. At 5-4, it’ll take a miracle for them to stay in contention. This team is a perfect example of how important a good quarterback really is in the NFL. They have arguably the best RB in football, the best all-purpose player in football (Percy Harvin), a top-10 passing defense and a middle-of-the-road running defense. What are they missing? A QB worthy of starting in pro football is the answer.

16). San Diego

Record: 4-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 8-8 (right on track)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 6-10

Point Differential: +28

Record Against the Spread: 4-4

Season Highlight: Hearing the media constantly refer to them as “the Cowboys of the AFC.” Norv Turner is honored to be compared to America’s Team and aspires to be as competent as Jason Garrett someday.

Season Lowlight: Having to deal with two challengers for the title of “most self-destructive team” —the Cowboys and the Eagles. Or I guess scoring only six points in a 7-6 loss at Cleveland would qualify.

Direction They’re Heading: East because they have three more games on the east coast and because they’re likely going to stay the course with a .500 record.

A competent coach and quarterback tandem would be able to get this team to 9-7 based on the remaining schedule. But remember who we’re dealing with here. The Chargers will go 8-8. But when Norv Turner has to answer to his superiors in the offseason, he’ll likely point to a 4-2 divisional record as the way to judge the success of his season.

15). Tampa Bay

Record: 4-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 3-13 (oops…I thought they were playing in a “tough” NFC South)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 7-9 (probably nailed it)

Point Differential: +41

Record Against the Spread: 5-2-1

Season Highlight: The honor of being the talk of the NFL after week 2, even if it was because of their overly aggressive handling of the Giants’ kneel downs at the end of their game.

Season Lowlight: Having the only black quarterback that the media doesn’t refer to as a “scrambling quarterback.” Josh Freeman is offended by that, apparently.

Direction They’re Heading: Slightly North, maybe Northwest?

The Bucs gotta feel good about 4-4 after starting the season 1-3. While it’s great that they have the best rushing defense in the NFL, the problem is their last-ranked pass defense and the fact that they still have to face Matt Ryan (twice), Peyton Manning and Drew Brees in the second half. The only way I see them sneaking into the playoffs is if they go into week 17 with a 9-6 record and are fortunate enough to be playing a Falcons team that already has the top spot in the NFC locked up. Then they could get that 10th win and possibly beat out a Seattle or Detroit for the final wildcard spot.

14). Miami

Record: 4-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 4-12 (crossing my fingers that they lose the rest of their gams)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 5-11 (predicted Dolphins to get 1st pick in 2012 draft)

Point Differential: +21

Record Against the Spread: 4-3-1

Season Highlight: Being able to say “If we had just won our two overtime games, we’d be 6-2 right now.”

Season Lowlight: Losing all three of their games that were decided by three points—two of which were to the Jets and the Cardinals. How embarrassing!

Direction They’re Heading: Slightly south, maybe all the way to Cuba?

It’s a fun story: football team that everyone pegged to be at the bottom of their division and possibly the bottom of the entire league rides a rookie QB and a group of unheralded players to the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Dolphins we already have one of those stories (with an added dose of playing inspired football for a sick coach) later on in this post. The Dolphins are going to regret all three of their close losses from the first half, but none more so than last week’s loss at Indy, considering that’s one of the teams they’re competing against for a wildcard spot in the AFC. Just like the Bucs, the Dolphins have a great rush defense and a horrid pass defense. The reason they get the nod over the Bucs is because they don’t play nearly as many good passing teams the rest of the season as the Bucs do.

13). Detroit

Record: 4-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 9-7

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 8-8

Point Differential: +4

Record Against the Spread: 3-4-1

Season Highlight: Setting the unofficial record for playing in the most consecutive games determined by one score to start a season with seven (unofficial because I made it up).

Season Lowlight: Losing four of those seven one-score games.

Direction They’re Heading: South by Southwest?

Give Detroit some credit for hanging around. They’ve played five of their first eight games on the road, including at San Francisco and at Chicago. They were also the preseason popular pick to take the big slide from a 2011 playoff team to a 2012 also-ran (turns out the Saints would have been the right pick there). They’re still in the hunt even though they’ve had to give a significant amount of carries to a running back named Joique Bell. On the one hand, they do play five of their final eight games at home, but on the other hand, they still have to face Green Bay (twice), Chicago, Atlanta and Houston. The home games probably won’t offset the stiff competition, but if they can get to 9-7, at least they can feel good about putting up a winning record in the hardest division in football.

12). Indianapolis

Record: 5-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 4-12 (underestimated the Luck factor)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 6-10 (probably underestimated the Luck factor)

Point Differential: -32

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

Season Highlight: Getting Andrew Luck, clearly a franchise QB, for only $6 in the auction draft…oops, I crossed over to my fantasy team for a second…But choosing Luck in the real NFL draft and already overachieving against projections that most people had for them this year has to be the highlights so far for the Colts.

Season Lowlight: If this was a normal year, it would clearly be allowing Mark Sanchez and the Jets to drop 35 points on them. But this isn’t a normal year for them. Obviously their coach getting diagnosed with leukemia is probably the right answer.

Direction They’re Heading: Slightly North?

I might have the Colts a little higher up on this list than people think they should be, but that’s for two reason: 1). Andrew Luck just might be even better than we thought, and we can’t rule out the possibility of Luck carrying the Colts singlehandedly to 10 wins, and 2). this Chuck Pagano thing is really giving them a boost. I’m not afraid to admit that if the Patriots were one of those 15 teams already out of playoff contention, I’d be 100% in on rooting for the Colts. For now, I’ll continue to hope for my dream scenario of the Colts getting the 6-seed in the AFC and playing in Denver against Peyton Manning in the wildcard round. The biggest thing working against the Colts’ playoff chances is the tough games remaining on their schedule: at New England, at Detroit and two against Houston. Even the boost they get from Pagano being at the games will be limited because they’ve only got three more home games. Doubtful that he’ll be traveling with this team anytime soon. But the sentimental part of me says they claw their way to 10 wins and get that final playoff spot. Go Colts! (except on November 18th when they play New England)

11). Seattle

Record: 5-4* (legitimately 4-5, but I guess legitimacy doesn’t matter in the NFL)

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 7-9

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 8-8 (predicted them to win the NFC West)

Point Differential: +16

Record Against the Spread: 6-3 (again, should be 5-4)

Season Highlight: They said it themselves: beating the Patriots was their Super Bowl. But I have a feeling if they sneak into the playoffs by one win, or by the conference record tiebreaker, they’ll be considering the replacement referees’ debacle of September 24th as their season highlight.

Season Lowlight: Every time Pete Carroll celebrates a marginally-important touchdown by acting like he just got elected Prom Queen.

Direction They’re Heading: Not sure, this directional gimmick seemed a lot better when I thought of it after my third joint last night.

Since we pretty much know there are five locks to make the NFC playoffs—Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, the Giants and Green Bay—that means one spot is up for grabs between Seattle, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Minnesota. Does nine wins get it? Or do you need 10? All I know is Seattle got a complimentary win from the NFL that those other three teams didn’t get. When the Seahawks only get to nine wins and fall just short, at least they’ll always have that Super Bowl win over New England from earlier this year.

10). Baltimore

Record: 6-2

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 9-7

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 10-6

Point Differential: +23

Record Against the Spread: 3-5

Season Highlight: I guess beating the Patriots in week 3? (interesting that multiple teams consider beating New England to be the greatest thing that could happen to them)

Season Lowlight: Dropping a cool nine points on the Chiefs’ vaunted 30th-ranked scoring defense.

Direction They’re Heading: Just as a Raven is known to do in the winter, they’re heading south quickly.

I haven’t given the Ravens much respect this year, and I still won’t even if their record says 6-2. Other than beating the Patriots, did you know the combined record of the other four teams they’ve beaten (they beat Cleveland twice) is 9-24? And everyone knows they’re going to be short on defense the rest of the season due to injuries. We also know Joe Flacco is the definition of “average,” and that the Ravens still have to play the Steeler twice. Yes, they’re almost a lock to make the playoffs because they just have to go 4-4 the rest of the way to get there. But they’re starting to look like the worst team of all the playoff locks.

9). Denver

Record: 5-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 10-6 (was completely sold on Manning’s health)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 8-8 (wasn’t sold on Manning’s health)

Point Differential: +60

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

Season Highlight: Getting to play in the AFC West.

Season Lowlight: When Peyton Manning kept being mistaken for Tim Tebow earlier in the season because of the similarity between their spirals.

Direction They’re Heading: North

Before the season began, I had the Broncos pegged for a playoff spot, but I certainly didn’t think they’d be in the discussion of who the top two seeds in the AFC are. But that’s where they find themselves now. And it’s not just because of the Peyton Manning renaissance. Their defense is playing at a higher level than 2011, and they also have a pretty soft schedule in the second half of the season. That schedule is the reason they can’t be higher than 9th right now. By the way, when I come out with my MVP rankings (tentatively scheduled for next week or the week after), where do you think Manning will rank? I’m not even sure, but considering the guy’s got the highest QB rating in the NFL, he’s gotta be in the top three, right?

Tune in to the blog sometime later today or tomorrow for part two, where we’ll count down from #8 to #1.