There weren’t many surprises in at the top of the rankings this week, at least in comparison to recent weeks. At the halfway point though, we are starting to get a little bit of clarity as it pertains to the playoff picture. A few divisions are shaping up like they’ll go down to the wire, and a few others look like no one wants to step up and win them. I’m guessing that we’ll see at least one 11-5, or 2, 10-6 teams left out in the NFC, and at least one 8-8, or maybe even 7-9 team get in from the AFC. It’s certainly bound to be interesting.
The caveats in the schedule are providing nice drama too. There are always hidden traps and benefits within the schedule. Two that I’ve been keeping an eye on this year are teams coming off of the bye, and teams traveling a long distance for road games. Teams coming off bye, typically win an inordinate percentage of their games, and teams traveling long distances tend to suffer in the loss column more often than not too.
I remember how tough the Ravens schedule was in 2003 and in 2007 with 3 trips to the west coast. I also remember in 2006, when the Ravens faced 3 teams who were coming off of their byes during the season. Obviously, the forced bye in week 2 for the Ravens and Texans may come back to hurt them, as the late bye may have hurt the Cowboys and/or Redskins and others.
Travel wise, the schedule has been brutal to the Chargers so far, who have had to weather 2 trips to the east coast and one to London already. The AFC East has it rough too, matching up with the AFC and NFC West. It looks like the Jets may have gotten the short end of the stick there. The Bills and Dolphins both get to go to mid western Denver, and Kansas City instead of Oakland and San Diego and also to St. Louis instead of San Francisco or Seattle. The Bills and Jets both travel to Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle. On the flip side of that, when Miami and Buffalo face those 4, all will have had to make the cross country trip themselves, and when New England and the Jets host their western division foes, only Arizona will have made a cross country trip to get there.
The reason why I think the Jets have it worse than the Patriots is because their trips out west are spread out over the season, where the Patriots have 2 sets of back-to-back games out west. For my money, I like the Pats situation better but it’s certainly debatable. As are the Power Rankings, give me your feedback or list your rankings here, or point out any “hidden” advantages or disadvantages that you think some teams may be getting from the schedule.
Week 10 NFL Power Rankings (last week’s rankings in parentheses)
1. Tennessee Titans (1) – 8-0 – Fault the Titans for their schedule if you’d like, but they certainly proved something coming off a short week after the Monday night showdown with the Colts and facing a Packers team coming off of their bye. Three of their next four games on the road should be a good test too. Next Week: @ CHI
2. New York Giants (2) – 7-1 – Aside from one mishap at Cleveland the Giants are doing a great job of taking care of business and making it look relatively easy. What may be worse is that the Giants look like a team that hasn’t yet played their best football. Next Week: @ PHI
3. Arizona Cardinals (5) – 5-3 – They may not be scaring people yet, but their revitalized offense is world class, and improving every week. And the defensive front seven is as talented and physical as nearly any in football, unfortunately the Cards’ tempo forces teams to open up against them and the secondary may be their weak point. Still, no team is in more control of their division than Arizona by a long shot. Next Week: vs. SF
4. Carolina Panthers (3) – 6-2 – Even at 6-2, they aren’t yet in control of this division by any means. Upcoming dates with Oakland and Detroit could go a long way toward putting them there though. Next Week: @ OAK
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (8) – 6-2 – The Steelers have done a remarkable job of dealing with injuries and a very tough schedule, and still find themselves in control for one of the top two seeds in the AFC at the halfway point. The schedule won’t be any easier in the second half, but they will enjoy 5 home games in their last 8. Next Week: vs. IND
6. Chicago Bears (7) – 5-3 – Just when it looked like the Bears and Kyle Orton were hitting their stride, along comes an injury and the return of Rex Grossman to action. Grossman played well, but there’s no chance he wrestles that job from him when Orton is ready to return. They’ll have a big test this week regardless of who’s at quarterback. Next Week: vs. TEN
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11) – 6-3 – The Bucs have survived 5 road games, numerous quarterback controversies, and three tough losses to bad defenses, yet still find themselves 6-3 and in great shape heading into the bye. The Bucs still have their work cut out for them though, 2 of their remaining 3 road games are in the division. Next Week: BYE
8. Washington Redskins (4) – 6-3 – Given the way that they looked in week 1 and most of week 2, the Skins have to be happy with where they are. An embarrassing home loss, and two interceptions from Jason Campbell may have been just what Jim Zorn needed to refocus this team going into the bye week and preparing for a divisional showdown with the Cowboys. Next Week: BYE
9. Denver Broncos (6) – 4-4 – Power is certainly relative, and the relative powerlessness of this division is the only reason why the Broncos are anywhere near the top ten. Still, when you look at the rest of the AFC West, it’s tough to discount Denver’s chances at being in the post season. There are probably quite a few, much better AFC teams who’ll be left out of the dance this year. We’ll see how they respond to the short week at Cleveland on Thursday. Next Week: @ CLE *thurs.
10. New York Jets (16) – 5-3 – For all of the talk about the NFC East, and AFC South, it seems that the AFC East may be the most competitive division in the NFL, and therefore the toughest to call. I’ll give the edge to the Jets because their losses are the easiest to excuse, 2 on west coast trips, and one to the Patriots early. Next Week: vs. ST.L
11. Baltimore Ravens (14) – 5-3 – The Ravens keep on beating the teams that they’re supposed to beat, which is what good teams do. In order to get into playoff contention, they’ll have to continue that and probably beat a few teams that they aren’t expected to beat too. The Ravens have found lots of “cute” ways to score so far, but have seemed to confuse themselves with some of those schemes too. If they’re going to be playoff caliber, they’d better figure out how to simply impose their will on offense occasionally. Next Week: @ HOU
12. New England Patriots (10) – 5-3 – The Patriots are holding serve in the division and staying relatively under the radar. This could be a scary proposition for the rest of the AFC at playoff time, if they look up and Bellichick and company are still in the hunt. Next Week: vs. BUF
13. Philadelphia Eagles (15) – 5-3 – The Eagles are much too talented to be ranked this low, but already this season, Brian Westbrook has reminded us why they can be so frustrating. On all cylinders, the Eagles are as dangerous as any team in football; the problem is that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing those cylinders blown before the race is over. A win this week will go a long way toward getting Philly some respect. Next Week: vs. NYG
14. Green Bay Packers (9) – 4-4 – The Packers had a big chance to make a statement this week, and nearly did it. Facing the Titans at Tennessee is no easy task, but coming off of their bye should have given the Packers an edge. Still, they nearly pulled it off. The Pack will get another chance starting this week, with two straight divisional games on tap. Next Week: @ MIN
15. Buffalo Bills (12) – 5-3 – Buffalo did a great job of setting a blistering pace for the division early, and then promptly handed it right back. By inviting everyone else back to the party, Buffalo may have sealed their own fate; two straight losses to open their divisional schedule could spell trouble for the Bills. Next Week: @ NE
16. San Diego Chargers (24) – 3-5 – Don’t get me wrong, the Chargers haven’t done themselves any favors this season, but neither has the schedule, with trips already to Miami, Buffalo and London. The officials haven’t been good to them either. As bad as things have been, the Chargers are one inadvertent whistle from being in front of their division, and have been in this position before. Next Week: vs. KC
17. Atlanta Falcons (17) – 5-3 – The only thing holding the Falcons down in the rankings is the relative power of the rest of their division and the unknown commodities that are their most important parts, Mike Smith and Matt Ryan. At 0-2 in the division though, it’ll be a tough road ahead. Next Week: vs. NO
18. Miami Dolphins (27) – 4-4 – The Dolphins have been more up and down than the stock market this season, if you bought low on this team you may see nice dividends soon. Sparano and this team have certainly made the league a little more interesting with their introduction of the wildcat offense. And by going 2-1 in the division so far, they’re making the AFC East just as interesting. Next Week: vs. SEA
19. Indianapolis Colts (20) – 4-4 – They’re down but not out. The AFC South crown may be out of the question given the hole that they’ve dug for themselves. A win against the Patriots though, showed that this team still has some life, and after a trip to Pittsburgh this week, the Colts could easily rip off six straight before finishing up against the Titans in week 17. Next Week: @ PIT
20. Minnesota Vikings (19) – 4-4 – The Vikings have proven that they can play with just about anyone, they’ve also proven that they will. There’s still time to get this team together for a stretch run, but with the upcoming schedule, they’d better get it together fast. Next Week: vs. GB
21. Dallas Cowboys (13) – 5-4 – We’ll see if the bye week, and the probable return of Tony Romo is enough to get this team right. It’s worth noting though, that things began going wrong when Romo was still at the helm. Whether they wind up in the thick of the race, or out of contention, one thing’s for certain, things will be interesting to watch the rest of the way for Jerry Jones and ‘Dem Cowboys. Next Week: BYE
22. New Orleans Saints (22) – 4-4 – A slow start has certainly put the Saints up against it as far as getting back into the race goes. They’ll have to deal with 5 road games in the second half too. Sadly, this team never got much of a chance to see what they could do at full strength, and probably won’t this season. Next Week: @ ATL
23. Houston Texans (25) – 3-5 – In a season where it looks like certain teams may have elected to unofficially call an end to their season early, and others look like they’ve yet to start, these “no quit” Texans are both refreshing and entertaining. Their resolve will be further tested this week, as they try to deal with Matt Schaub’s injury now too. Next Week: vs. BAL
24. Cleveland Browns (21) – 3-5 – Brady Quinn may spark a little life into this team, or he may find out what Derek Anderson has been dealing with all season. The Browns are not the same offense without a consistent #2 wide receiver, and it looks like the rest of the offense may have already cashed it in. Next Week: vs. DEN * thurs.
25. St. Louis Rams (23) – 2-6 – The Rams have come back to Earth a bit, but even in defeat they still look worlds better than they did before the insertion of Jim Haslett. If the Cardinals don’t do the Rams any favors though, there just won’t be enough games left to catch them. Next Week: @ NYJ
26. Jacksonville Jaguars (18) – 3-5 – They may be better than half of the teams ahead of them on this list, but the Jags just look to be flat, lethargic and at times totally disinterested. The Lions may be licking their chops to get a hold of this team. Next Week: @ DET
27. San Francisco 49ers (28) – 2-6 – Am I the only one that felt like at least part of “Samurai” Mike’s antics were at least partially intended to send a message to offensive coordinator Mike Martz? It’s likely that Singletary has shaken up that locker room, whether they go north or south from here though is yet to be seen. Next Week: @ AZ
28. Kansas City Chiefs (30) – 1-7 – They showed some resiliency last week, and looked like they were having fun too. We’ll see if the come from behind victory that they allowed the Bucs to get dampens their enthusiasm, or if we’ll see more performances like last week going forward. Next Week: @ SD
29. Seattle Seahawks (26) – 2-6 – Is it safe to say that having your future head coach, already in place and on the staff of your current, lame duck, head coach isn’t an ideal situation? It looks like Holmgren may have checked out early and is just going through the motions at this point. Next Week: @ MIA
30. Cincinnati Bengals (31) – 1-8 – The Bengals probably haven’t been quite as bad as their 0-8 record entering last week indicated. They’d been really, really bad, but probably not 0-8 bad. And now that the Bengals have momentum on their side, they’ll have to find a way to sustain it through their bye week. Next Week: BYE
31. Oakland Raiders (29) – 2-6 – It looks like their inspired effort against the Jets was nothing more than a “dead cat bounce”. From the outside looking in, it’s getting harder and harder to buy into this team. From the inside looking out, it must feel like the NFL version of purgatory. Next Week: vs. CAR
32. Detroit Lions (32) – 0-8 – The Lions may be running out of chances to pick up their elusive first win, and their schedule looks like they may face some desperate playoff hopefuls down the stretch. Maybe it’s time for the Lions to start fielding offers for that first pick, or time for them to start scouting more wide receivers. (couldn’t resist) Next Week: vs. JAX