As is the case with the QB and RB rankings, these reality rankings are a combination of eyeball evaluations and my work with the advanced stats at PFF. Since power rankings are pretty self-explanatory, I’ll just mention that the Strength of Schedule evaluation is based on prior schedule not future opponents.
Mike Holmgren Divison: Beyond Befuddlement
32. Kansas City Chiefs 1-7 SOS: Very Easy
K.C. plays three more very easy games, so keeping the current clowns in place is the next best thing to actively tanking games (although short of only fielding 10 players, it would be impossible to differentiate blatant tanking from what Kansas City is currently doing).
31. Jacksonville Jaguars 1-8 SOS: Difficult
Gene Smith has assembled a team that is just below average at every position. Although Kansas City is more embarrassing, Jacksonville is going to be harder to fix.
30. San Diego Chargers 4-4 SOS: Very Easy
San Diego only has four wins because they’ve beaten KC twice, Oakland, and Tennessee. A sign displayed late in last week’s game summed up the situation perfect. It read simply, “I’m Norvous.”
29. Tennessee Titans 3-5 SOS: Medium
Several teams have worse records but no one has been outscored by 128 points. Tennessee looks overmatched in all facets, and Bud Adams has already suggested he plans to clean house.
28. Cleveland Browns 2-7 SOS: Medium
I predicted a couple of weeks ago that Brandon Weeden would not be the quarterback in 2013. Now Joe Banner has insinuated the same thing.
27. Philadelphia Eagles 3-6 SOS: Medium
When you start making panic moves and scapegoating your best friends, you get fired even if you’re Andy Reid.
27. New York Jets 3-5 SOS: Difficult
Mike Tannenbaum’s fate was sealed in New York the moment he traded up for Mark Sanchez. His decision to give him a $40 million apology extension probably disqualified him from holding a significant management level position at the NFL level ever again.
26. Dallas Cowboys 3-5 SOS: Medium
This is a team with an elite quarterback, some talent at the skill positions, and two slightly better than average tackles, yet they can’t move the ball until they go no-huddle. That would be okay if the Cowboys ever went no huddle before the game was already lost.
24. Carolina Panthers 2-6 SOS: Medium
The scapegoat has already been slaughtered in Carolina with the dismissal of GM Marty Hurney. Ron Rivera began the campaign to save his job with an impressive victory over Washington.
23. Buffalo Bills 3-5 SOS: Medium
I’m a huge Ryan Fitzpatrick fan – after all, he did school Ruxin on the Wonderlic – but he’s just not any good. Chan Gailey may hold the world’s most ignominious Six Degrees chain (it doesn’t take too many firings to get back to Scott Pioli).
So that’s at least ten teams who will be under new direction next year. It’s a scary testament to job security in the NFL, but it’s somewhat difficult to feel sorry for an insulated group of decision-makers who thumb their nose at logic and analytics, preferring to ‘go by their gut’ to the guillotine. Perhaps one of these ten groups will rebound and save their coaches’ jobs, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Greg Schiano Divison: Let’s Focus on the Victory Formation
22. Washington Racial Slurs 3-6 SOS: Easy
I’ve seen Kyle Shanahan’s name on some lists of hot 2013 coaching candidates. I’ve got a potential job opening for him to consider: Washington. His dad’s current winning percentage in Washington is worse than that of Jim Zorn and Steve Spurrier.
21. Oakland Raiders 3-5 SOS: Easy
Oakland would perpetually exist in the ‘fire everybody’ group if that were actually an option. At some point you’ve got to give somebody a couple of consecutive years to see if they can get things turned in the right direction.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4-4 SOS: Very Easy
The Bucs benefitted greatly from Cleveland’s decision to outbid them for Minnesota’s No. 3 overall pick. Doug Martin may be considered the best back in the NFL by this time next year, and Tampa was able to select Mark Barron to help resuscitate a flagging defense.
19. St. Louis Rams 3-5 SOS: Difficult
Personnel men continue to suggest Sam Bradford is a star-in-the-making, but his statistical profile so far puts him in the bust category. What’s worse, he’s a Mark Sanchez type, just good enough to keep your franchise in a state of suspended animation.
18. Cincinnati Bengals 3-5 SOS: Easy
The Bengals have a lot of good young defenders and A.J. Green, but the recent four game losing streak would be trouble if the owner was one to hold his charges accountable. The offseason decision to sign BenJarvus Green-Ellis as the lone RB upgrade qualifies as managerial misconduct.
17. Minnesota Vikings 5-4 SOS: Medium
The Vikes seemed to have turned the corner after apparent franchise-altering wins over San Francisco and Detroit, but the last two weeks have been crushing. Christian Ponder no longer looks like the solution at quarterback.
16. Arizona Cardinals 4-5 SOS: Difficult
The Cardinals started the season with consecutive wins over Seattle, New England, Philadelphia, and Miami before collapsing under the failings of the worst offensive line in NFL history.
Sean Payton Division: Absentee Landlords
15. New Orleans Saints 3-5 SOS: Easy
The Saints are 3-1 in their last four which helps cover the stench of losses to Kansas City, Washington, and Carolina and the reek of a defense even Scott Pioli looks down his nose at.
14. New York Giants 6-3 SOS: Easy
The best argument ever for the BCS.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers 5-3 SOS: Easy
Losing to Oakland or Tennessee would be excusable but not losing to Oakland and Tennessee.
12. Denver Broncos 5-3 SOS: Medium
Who would have guessed Peyton Manning would be a Top 5 quarterback again in 2012 and yet folks in Indy would be ecstatic that he’s gone?
Andrew Luck Divison: The Coming Thing
11. Seattle Seahawks 5-4 SOS: Difficult
The Seahawks are a throwback team with a twist – a defense built to slow the blitzkrieg passing offenses in their tracks. I’m an avowed Pete Carroll skeptic, but the vision for this team has largely been realized and it’s pretty intriguing. Russell Wilson and company present a problem for everybody as Green Bay and New England can attest.
10. Miami Dolphins 4-4 SOS: Medium
The snakebitten Fins were a couple plays from 6-2. Ryan Tannehill suddenly has more promise than anyone in the upcoming draft.
9. Indianapolis Colts 6-3 SOS: Easy
The Colts didn’t even have a lottery to worry about in Paintering their way to Andrew Luck. Suddenly they have Peyton Manning Part II. This version may be an upgraded model: more mobile and more likable.
8. Detroit Lions 4-4 SOS: Medium
Bill Belichick Divison: The Contenders
7. Baltimore Ravens 6-2 SOS: Medium
This team is +23 in scoring margin.
6. Atlanta Falcons 8-0 SOS: Easy
People like to say you can only play the schedule you’ve got, but you’re permitted to do it with some style. The first half of their Week 9 win over Dallas was eerily reminiscent of last year’s Wild Card loss. For all the supposed changes in the past 20 months, Atlanta is indistinguishable from the team that got eviscerated on their home field in the 2010 playoffs.
5. Chicago Bears 7-1 SOS: Medium
Adjusted for offensive era, the Bears may have their best defense ever, which, when you consider Lovie’s charges and the larger-than-life 1985 squad, probably means I’m engaged in hyperbole.
4. San Francisco 49ers 6-2 SOS: Difficult
If not for Alex Smith’s finger injury, San Francisco would probably be sitting at No. 1.
3. Houston Texans 7-1 SOS: Easy
Houston has really only played one elite opponent and that team beat the living daylights out of them. If being the best team was only about being the best team on average then I think the Texans would qualify, but Houston hasn’t proven they have the same top level as the two teams ahead of them.
2. Green Bay Packers 6-3 SOS: Difficult
There’s a sense that the Packers are having an off year, but they’re 6-3 against a brutal schedule and would be 7-2 if not for the Hail Mary. Dig a little deeper and this team looks like a mix of the strengths from the 2010 Super Bowl squad and last year’s 15-2 unit.
1. New England Patriots 5-3 SOS: Medium
The Pats own three losses by four points and five victories by 96 points. The offense hasn’t been quite as theatrical as 2007 or 2011, but it might be better. This current club is No. 1 in the NFL in both yards and scoring, is the most innovative in terms of applying the tempo and formations that are sweeping college football, and is the best at managing pressure against their aging quarterback.