Thursday, January 5, 2012

I use a set of 17 weighted statistics--some of them traditional and some of them custom--as the core basis of my ratings, but I adjust the rankings slightly based on various qualitative factors (coaching, injuries, opinion, strength of schedule, record in tough matchups, etc).

Power rankings are good to have, but they only tell you where teams sit in relation to one another in the overall scheme of things. A team lower in rank could easily defeat a team above it if they matchup well with them--something to keep in mind when evaluating weekend games.

Rank Contenders
As a team, GB is vulnerable. Rodgers compensates for a lot of weaknesses.
Good/great in most categories across the board. The only question remaining surrounds Flacco.
Solidified themselves as contenders down the stretch and remain the biggest threat to GB's quest to repeat.
Kept their spot at #4. Like GB and NO they will go as far as their offense takes them. None of their QB's can afford an average day because their defense will lose it for them.

As expected the cream eventually rose to the top. These four teams are the last teams to remain as true contenders heading into the playoffs based on their weighted regular season accomplishments. All of these teams not only had solid campaigns statistically, but won most of their big games during the season.

Rank (LW) Pretenders
It might appear like ATL is 5th in my power rankings, but there is a noticable dropoff once we get to the pretender category. ATL did everything well in 2011--except win their big games.
The fact that NY are still this high in the power rankings is a testament to how bad Sanchez really is. Given the opportunity that was in front of this team, the organization should cut the chord and find a QB who can actually perform as expected.
SF overperformed their stats more than any other team in the NFL this season. That is a tribute to the coaching staff. It also makes them tricky to handicap in the playoffs. Home field helps, but somewhere along the line their statistical shortcomings will come back to haunt them.
DET slipped a bit during the season due to injuries and schedule, but they rebounded nicely down the stretch. They had the potential to be a real contender this year, but their record in tough games indicates they are probably a year away.
After moving up a bit at the three-quarter mark, they've slipped back down to where they've been all season--a very good team, but not quite a true contender. They had an easy schedule, but losing record vs tough teams. Their playoff experience and success could be enough in a weak AFC though.
Injuries finally caught up to HOU as they drop down to pretender status. Gradually fell from a great team to a good team.
NY did enough to make the playoffs, but don't expect them to go very far. They are the definition of 'average' among this group.

The pretender group has doubled since last month as teams settle into their rightful positions. These teams have enough to pull off a big win, but you are playing with fire if you bet on any of these teams to win the Super Bowl. Among this group, SF is the only team with a winning record in tough games during the regular season.

Rank (LW) On the Bubble
TEN exceeded my expectations this year. Even with a mediocre CJ this team managed to stay pretty average in most key categories.
DAL had a great chance to get into the big dance and give themselves a chance, but at the end of the day is more of same-ole same-ole from Romo and company--losing big games in December.
One could make the case that PHI was the best team in the NFC East with their 5-1 record within the division. Reid kept his job thanks for a four game winning streak to end the season, but it was too little too late for the 'dream team'.
No team has had a bigger rise in the list than MIA. Give them a lot of credit for overcoming a horrendous start and finishing this high.
CIN might have made the playoffs, but they couldn't beat a single tough team all season long. Most of their key stats are average and that's not going to cut it with a schedule as easy as theirs. It would take a minor miracle to win more than 1 playoff game.
Like PHI, SD rebounded strong in the final month--when the pressure was off. They will spend most of the offseason figuring out how to improve a porous defense.
SEA not only jumped out of the basement this season, but they played well enough to be among the bubble teams. That's no small feat when you consider how much roster turnover and young players they have. The future could be bright if they ever found a good QB.

There were a lot of teams that moved in and out of this group to close out the year. All of these teams have the ability to make the playoffs next season if they can improve in key areas. Organizational stability and ability will be the difference between who rises and falls.


Rank (LW) "Suck for Luck" Sweepstakes
Not many people saw ARI this high in the power rankings after they saw what Kolb looked like in live game action, but their aggressive defense helped propel them in the second half.
KC finally began to forge an identity after acquiring Orton. It's just too bad their season ran out of time or they could have done some more damage. Next year should be better with new coaches and returning players from IR.
Not many teams fell as hard and as far as BUF did in the last half of the season. What started out as a promising start turned out to be a mirage. In the words of Dennis Green, "they are who we thought they are".
I had to eat some crow last month when Tebow and the boys went on an improbable winning streak, but the fall back to earth where they belong to close out the season. Making the playoffs could turn out to be Tebow's greatest professional accomplishment.
JAX have quietly worked their way out of the bottom tier of the league. They are still average in most areas, but that's a lot better than the teams below them can say.
Losing Cutler was a serious setback. With him they would have moved into contender status. Without him, they'll remain a step below the rest. Play on both O/D lines killed them.
Dreadful defense, promising offense. Could be this year's DET next season with the proper offseason moves.
Kudos for CLE for remaining a bubble team for half the year, but it was just a matter of time before the string snapped. They got beat by every top-half team in the league.
The wheels have flown right off this organization. They started the year with so much promise on defense, but once they become average you see what happens.
The biggest paper-tiger of the bunch. This team overperformed by a mile in 2011. They have a ton of problems to fix for next year...like usual.
Like CLE, they are winless against the top half of the NFL (0-9). Losing AP to a major knee injury just rubbed salt on the wound.
Brutal season ends with coach Spags getting fired. I have a feeling PHI was scrambling to contact him not long after. STL should be able to rebound next year with a lot of key core pieces to work with.
This team is in free fall. They are atrocious in most key areas and got blown out in almost every game in the second half of the year.
Defied the odds and got two wins within the division. Alas it was all for not as they still wind up with the #1 pick. Even with Luck, this organization is headed for serious growing pains if Manning is somewhere next year.

Not much to say about this group. The number of teams that finished in the bottom-third grew over the last month of the season. 16 games isn't a great sample size to evaluate teams, but it's pretty safe to say that none of these teams deserve a prime-time game next year.