Week 11 NFL Wrap-up: More Quasi-Substantiated Team Rankings
Editor’s note: This fall, Sam Ennis and Nathan Schiller will cover the 2012 NFL season with a blog called “Vinatieri, Back to Kick It Off.” (If you don’t know why we’re calling it this, you obviously didn’t play excessive amounts of Madden ‘98.) Each week, they’ll exchange thoughts on the previous week’s games, examine developing and ongoing league trends, bring in guest writers to irrationally breakdown their favorite teams, and unravel many more features. Imagine the format to be like a radio show, except written. (In other words, not like a radio show at all.) The blog will run every Tuesday at Construction.
SAM: This was probably the worst possible week to do power rankings, given that a significant number of teams in the NFL were forced to rely on a series of generally abhorrent backup quarterbacks: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago, Arizona, and Jacksonville. How can you tell if the Steelers are legit when they’re starting a sixty-eight-year-old Byron Leftwich, who apparently managed to break his ribs running untouched into the endzone and then falling down? What about the Bears, whose backup, Jason Campbell, at one point had nine passing yards, a fumble, three sacks, and an interception?
Weeks like these emphasize that there are three types of NFL backups. The first is the unknown young guy: your Ryan Malletts, Brock Osweilers, and even Colin Kaepernicks. Whether they’re being groomed for the future or are simply seen as a developmental project, at the very least, there’s always a sense of optimism that you’re about to uncork the next Tom Brady. Second are the not-quite-good-enough drifters: think Chad Henne or Drew Stanton. They’ve seemingly played on every team in the league at one point and are clearly not starter quality, but you hope to God that when they come in, they’re going to limit their mistakes and at least leave open the possibility of connecting on a play action at some point. Third are the completely washed up veterans who wear knit caps no matter the weather: a.k.a. Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch. They weren’t good enough to begin with, and their already minimal physical gifts are long gone. Why are these guys even on the roster to begin with? Why are they seemingly all on the Steelers?
NATHAN: Because of the number-one rule to which an outstanding and competent professional American football organizations like the Steelers must adhere: when you have a franchise quarterback who’s broken everything in his body at least once and misses almost two games every season but is guaranteed to come back from those injuries during the season for a playoff run, and the only thing that will ensure the playoff run will happen is to make sure you have a quality backup who can eke out a midseason game or two, make sure one of your backups takes 15 minutes to wind up to throw and the other is guy who last started for 2001 Lions and went 0-9.
Seriously, though, backups should not be fucked with; look what happened to the Steelers in 2005. That was the season Roethlisberger started his trend of missing as many games as possible. He didn’t play in Week 6, and backup Tommy Maddox lost to the Jaguars in overtime. Ben starts and wins the next two games, but then gets hurt again. So now the Steelers, dissatisfied with the G-Gun’s three INTs and overtime fumble on the play before they would have attempted the game-winning field goal, turn to Charlie Batch, their third string QB. What happens? He makes just few enough mistakes to ride the defense to two straight victories. But in that second game he gets hurt, so the T-Gun starts the next game at Baltimore, completes 52.7 percent of his passes, throws a pick, loses a fumble, and the Steelers lose in OT to Baltimore. The following week, Big Ben returns for good.
Well . . . remember how that season turned out? The Steelers got the final playoff spot (with an 11-5 record; that’s how good the AFC was that year). Had they not had had a reliable game manager like Batch to take over when a mistake-prone Maddox was intentionally trying to win lose games, they probably would have dropped another game and not made the playoffs. Instead, they rolled off four-straight victories to win the Super Bowl.
Charles D’Onte Batch’s siblings’ names are Vernon Settles and Danyl Settles. I like those names, and I’m confident in Batch’s ability to help the Steelers split in games where Roethlisberger’s out.
Also, yes, you and I got screwed with the QB backup situation, but Week 11’s actually the perfect time for rankings, because the bye weeks are over. You know?
SAM: Whatever you say. Let’s get on with it. I’ll start our quasi-substantiated (which I compiled by watching NFL RedZone most weekends) power rankings. This time I’m doing the NFC, and you’re taking the AFC.
1. Atlanta Falcons (9-1). The Falcons are the Mitt Romney-in-the-Republican-primaries of NFL teams. They’re nominally the front runner, no one likes or believes in them, everyone keeps trying to come up with an argument about why they’re going to lose, and yet they chug along until they get demolished by President Obama . . . or the Green Bay Packers . . . in the playoffs. Their only loss was by a nose to a fired up Saints team playing at home to save their season, and last week they managed to win despite Matty Ice’s zero TD-five INT Mark Sanchez impersonation. Have to respect that.
2. San Francisco 49ers (7-2-1). Last night’s demolition of the Bears was a reminder that even though these guys will have off nights every now and then, their defense is absurd (Aldon Smith is on pace for about eighty sacks despite having been stabbed at a party in the offseason), and they boast a surprising array of weapons on offense. It’ll be interesting to monitor their quarterback situation moving forward: will they go with the young guy with the incredible arm and awesome tattoos, or the crafty veteran who is “a lifelong practicing Mormon, a loving father and husband who does not drink alcohol, shoot people in strip clubs, or shoot himself in strip clubs.” Live dangerously, Niners.
3. Green Bay Packers (7-3). If I see one more Discount Doublecheck commercial, I’m going to have a complete mental collapse. Do these guys even have a running back on their roster?
4. Chicago Bears (7-3). As a lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I’ve seen some reprehensibly bad offensive lines in my time, and I knew that the Bears’ O-line was up there in terms of suckitude. But against the 49ers, it was like watching a high school team. Literally as soon as the ball was snapped, the pocket would just immediately collapse and the entire line would fall down in a heap. The Bears would shade three guys and a tight end toward whatever side Aldon Smith was lined up, and he still had five-and-a-half sacks! It’s probably not a good sign when your left tackle’s Wikipedia page lists him as being known as the worst in the NFL. With Cutler concussed, and with a record that’s based almost entirely on an unsustainable level of forced turnovers and defensive/special team scores, I could see the Bears slipping in a hurry.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-4). Another team that keeps finding a way to win, and to rush the ball like hell despite having both of their starting guards (arguably the best two in football) out for the season with injury. They’ve been close in all of their losses and could easily have a better record.
6. Seattle Seahawks (6-4). You hear a lot about how Matt Flynn didn’t sign that big contract to sit on the bench behind Russell Wilson. Granted, I’m not a professional athlete and I’m sure these guys are incredibly competitive, but if someone offered me $10 million in guaranteed money to not put myself at risk of getting killed every play, I’d ask if they wanted anything else in addition to my soul and sign on the dotted line in blood.
7. New York Giants (6-4). They’ve looked terrible for weeks now. I’d bet my firstborn child to Rumpelstiltskin that they win the Super Bowl anyway.
8. New Orleans Saint (5-5). Long before the Superdome, where the Saints of football play, lived a city that the damned call home. Hear their hellish roundelay . . . New Or-le-ans, home of pirates, drunks, and whores, New Or-le-ans, tacky overpriced souvenir stores. If you want to go to Hell, you should take a trip to the Sodom and Gomorra on the Mississip: New Or-le-ans! Stinky, rotten, vomiting, vile, New Or-le-ans, putrid, brackish, maggoty, foul. New Or-le-ans, crummy, lousy, rancid, and rank, New Or-le-ans!
9. Minnesota Vikings (6-4). I have three or four friends who tore their ACLs. They went through months of therapy, have ridiculous scars, have to wear knee braces to do any physical activity other than walking, and gloomily acknowledge that they’re going to have knee replacements at some point. Adrian Peterson’s blew out his ACL eleven months ago and is currently on pace to have the best season of his career. I’ll have what she’s having.
10. Washington Redskins (4-6). I firmly believe that if not for injuries having decimated this team, they’d be winning the NFC East. As mentioned before in this column, my girlfriend is a diehard Redskins fan. The previous two sentences were wholly unrelated.
11. Dallas Cowboys (5-5). Despite having not drafted anyone good in two decades, longtime general manager and post-Al-Davis resident league megalomaniac Jerry Jones insists he’s never hiring a non-Jerry Jones GM. In other news, his own team recently locked him out of the locker room. Well, hey, at least Felix Jones sucks.
12. Detroit Lions (4-6). When I taught English in France a few years back, my roommate had approximately a thousand American DVDs, which helped pass the time, given that French law prohibited me from working more than twelve hours a week. One of the movies was called Dagon, this crazy film based on an H.P. Lovecraft short story about a race of fish-people who live off the coast of Spain and eat passerby who wander into their town. Jim Schwartz looks just like a fish-people. This team sucks.
13. Arizona Cardinals (4-6). Here’s a montage of what Larry Fitzgerald does in the locker room after games.
14. St. Louis Rams (3-6). Granted, their offensive line might be almost as bad as Chicago’s, but excuses aside, it must be an awkward reality for the Rams that Sam Bradford actually isn’t good. Zero playoff appearances, has regressed every year since a semi-competent rookie season . . . wouldn’t they have been better off keeping the #2 overall pick in this year’s draft, taking Robert Griffin III, and just trading Bradford? God knows they probably could’ve gotten 17 first-rounders from the Cardinals.
15. Carolina Panthers (2-8). Based on last year’s “offense is good, defense is horrible” dynamic, my aforementioned girlfriend loaded up on Carolina players on her fantasy team. She’s in last place. To be fair, she also drafted Matthew Stafford.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (3-7). Feh.
1. Houston Texans (9-1). We won’t know anything about the Texans until their first playoff game. If they lose—or if they win but then get handily beaten in the AFC Championship—we’ll consider them one of those regular season teams whose record was inflated by a weak division. If they win their two playoff games, then we live in a world where the Texans made the Super Bowl, and we’ll be forced to ask ourselves, What have they figured out in 12 years that the Browns haven’t figured out in 66? (That concludes my obligatory Steelers fan cheap shot at the Browns.)
2. New England Patriots (7-3). If they make the Super Bowl, Brady will have played in an unprecedented six title games. But can they get there on offensive power alone? Remember the playoffs following the Pats’ historic 16-0 season, during which Brady threw 50 TDs? First they beat the David Garrard-led Jaguars by 11 (and didn’t take the definitive lead until the middle of the third quarter, on a trick play). Then they beat the Chargers 21-12, though LaDainian Tomlinson was hurt all game and Phil Rivers played on a shredded knee. Then they lost to the Giants. It’s fun to score 59 at home when you get a punt return TD and two pick-sixes off a rookie QB, but does that tell us anything other than what we already knew about them? This is sports. Defense matters more than anything.
3. Denver Broncos (7-3). The last time Peyton Manning was in the playoffs, he engineered a single TD drive, and his Colts lost a one-point Wild Card home game to the Jets. The time before that, he threw a pick-six to lose the Super Bowl. The thing with Manning is that, despite his mediocre playoff record (9-10), teams are always terrified to play against him. His legacy is already as one of the best and most important QBs to ever play, but if he wins a Super Bowl with the Broncos, and Tom Brady doesn’t win another, then Manning will be considered not only the greatest QB to ever play but perhaps the greatest pure football player of all-time.
4. Baltimore Ravens (8-2). This is a strange team. Great record, no sign of slowing down, but their offense was disastrous Sunday night against the Steelers. I think they’re a slighty-better-than-average team that benefits from the fact that there’s no transcendent team in their conference. The Steelers have an ancient D and injured QB. The Patriots have a diverse offense but their D can’t hold a lead. The Texans are unproven in the playoffs. The Broncos are new and mysterious. The Ravens are going to win the AFC North, and probably get a bye week, but they could run into problems if they see the Steelers in the Divisional round . . .
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4). Of course, the Steelers’ problem is that, by blowing last-second road games against Oakland and Tennessee, they left themselves no margin for error for the inevitable Ben Roethlisberger injury. But even with him, they’re a classic “play to the opponent’s level” team: they’ve won only two games by more than a touchdown, and one was when the Redskins’ receivers dropped a pass on every drive. Their schedule is favorable—just one more opponent currently with a winning record (Baltimore, in two weeks)—and, crazily enough, if they could manage to go 3-3, 9-7 probably makes the playoffs. And if they can win that Wild Card game, and play the Ravens in the second round, with a healthy Big Ben . . . okay, enough Steelers fan delusions.
6. Indianapolis Colts (6-4). Andrew Luck has just played the first 10 games of his NFL career. Stats: 57 completion percentage, 297 yards per game, 7.2 yards per attempt 12-12 TD-INT, 77.2 rating. Peyton Manning’s rookie year, in 16 games: 57 completion percentage, 234 yards per game, 6.5 yards per attempt, 26-28 TD-INT, 71.2 rating. We have no idea of knowing what this means. What we do know, however, is this: the next year, Manning’s stats jumped HIGH: 61 completion percentage, 258 yards per game, 7.8 yards per attempt, 26-15 TD-INT, 90.7 rating. Andrew Luck can play. But let’s wait until next year to see what he’s all about.
7. Cincinnati Bengals (5-5). Marvin Lewis won a Super Bowl coordinating the Baltimore Ravens defense and in 10 seasons as head coach of the Bengals has a .477 winning percentage.
8. San Diego Chargers (4-6). Norv Turner won two Super Bowls coordinating the Dallas Cowboys offense and in 15 seasons as head coach of the Redskins, Raiders, and Chargers has a .485 winning percentage.
9. New York Jets (4-6). I used to root for the Jets to show up the Brady-Belichick Patriots. Those games were fun, capped by the Bart Scott “Can’t wait!” playoff game, because it seemed like the Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez really did have a chance to end the Pats’ AFC East reign. Four years later, Brady and Belichick are gearing up for another Super Bowl run, Rex is out of motivational tactics, and Sanchez is headed the Matt Leinart route. The jig is up; the Jets need to try something new.
10. Miami Dolphins (4-6). When they were 4-3, having just beaten the Jets 30-9, people were talking playoffs. Now they’ve lost three straight . . . and they still have to play the Patriots twice and the 49ers in San Francisco. So, at best, they’ll finish 7-9. More proof of how silly it is to get excited before Thanksgiving.
11. Tennessee Titans (4-6). Matt Hasselbeck is 37. His best year was 2005, when the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl, when his 98.2 rating was exactly 10 points higher than his career average (82.2, for those who forget how to subtract). The dream is over.
12. Buffalo Bills (4-6). In the early ’90s, it was the team that tortured the fans, by losing four straight Super Bowls. Now it’s the management, which gave Ryan Fitzpatrick a 6-year, $59 million contract after 2010. I know he played much of last year with broken ribs, but that doesn’t change that he has a career rating of 76.9. If it takes Mario Williams and the defense 10 games to play to their potential, and that potential is reached against a rookie QB, it’s over.
13. Oakland Raiders (3-7). Carson Palmer is only 32, but he seems like he’s a washed-up 40-year-old. Is he one of the greatest “What Ifs”? Yes. Played no snaps his first season (which would not happen now). Promising season in his second year; in his third he leads the Bengals to an 11-5 record, behind a 67.8 completion percentage, 240 yards per game, 32-12 TD-INT, and a 101.1 rating. First passing play of the Wild Card game against the Steelers, Kimo von Oelhoffen rolls on his knee, tearing his ACL (according to Wikipedia, Kimo “dove at Palmer’s left leg, violently wrenching Palmer’s knee”). Now he’s just prolonging Raiders’ fans misery.
14. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9). The day after he turned 25, Chad Henne married a girl he’d been with since he was 14. This is the reason I ranked them here. The reason is not because I think they’d beat the Browns on a neutral field in Wichita.
15. Cleveland Browns (2-8). This list of Browns starting QBs says everything. The best QB? Otto Graham (1946-1955). The last good QB? Bernie Kosar (1993). The last QB to start 16 games? Tim Couch (2001). The total number of quarterbacks since 1999? 18. The most incredible stretch during that time? 2003-2006, when seven different QBs started: Kelly Holcombe, Tim Couch, Luke McCown, Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson. The most incredible year during that time? 2008, when four different QBs started: Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey, Bruce Gradkowski. All right, that covers it.
16. Kansas City Chiefs (1-9). The reason Matt Cassel’s the starting quarterback of an NFL team is because, after starting zero games in college, he led the Patriots to the playoffs the year Brady tore his knee, and then Scott Pioli, the Pats old general manager who believed he was responsible for Cassel’s success, thought he could replicate the game management system in Kansas City. The only problem is that Cassel’s jittery in the pocket, misses wide-open receivers, and can’t sustain any momentum after making a play or two. Another fun marriage fact: Cassel and his older brother Jack married a set of USC roommates and volleyball teammates. Matt’s best man? Carson Palmer.