Saturday, January 21, 2012

NFL Conference Predictions: January 22, 2012

For latest odds check out one of my trusted sportsbooks - 5 Dimes, Bodog or Intertops.

BALTIMORE @ NEW ENGLAND: When it comes to capping NE games you have to ask yourself a different question.  It's not whether or not there is value betting against them because on paper the books always inflate the line thanks to the fact that Belichick and Brady always overperform their stats.  The question is whether the inflation is justified?  In this case I don't think it is.

The inflation in this line has a lot to do with last week's performances.  BAL didn't look all that convincing vs HOU and NE smashed DEN into oblivion.  As a result the public is all over NE -7 this week with over 60% of bets coming in on that side.  Early sharp money came in on NE at -6.5, but more sharps prefer BAL +7.5.   Feel free to take BAL +7, but you can find the hook if you shop around.

In my final power rankings I had BAL slightly ahead of NE.  After factoring in home field advantage NE should be favored by 4 points.  BAL should completely own this game on the ground.  Don't expect a lot of rushing yards from NE.  If Harbaugh doesn't lose his composure then Rice should get the ball 20-25+ times and give them a chance at winning the time of possession.  Keeping Brady off the field for as long as possible is the obvious key here.  In the other key categories BAL is in the upper half in most categories while NE rank near the bottom.  One thing NE's defense has going for them is their points-to-yards ratio.  Only GB had a better ratio throughout the season.  This is not to say NE's defense is a top 10 unit inside the 20's, but they do tighten up and cause some turnovers when they are needed most.  The other significant advantage NE have is on special teams.  They ranked as a top half team this year while BAL toiled away near the bottom all season long. 

But is this enough to lay the points on the favorite?

Not at all.  Most of the confidence people have in NE comes solely from Belichick, Brady, and home field advantage.  Granted, it could also be people fading a guy like Joe Flacco.  He is one of those QB's that always make me nervous, but there's no denying what his supporting cast is capable of.  They are a much more balanced team than NE and if it stays close then they should be able to grind out a cover of +7.5.   Their D-line ranks near the top of the league and will give NE's O-line a much tougher test than DEN did last week.  They also rank high in red zone/third down defense.  The key for BAL will be to weather the early storm and be in the game by the 2nd quarter.  If they get down 10-14 points the momentum ball will get rolling and it could be an early walk to the showers.  I'm betting that they'll be able to hang in there in a highly competitive game and keep it within reach right until the 4th quarter. 

NEW YORK @ SAN FRANCISCO: For the most part I stayed away from SF games this season.  Like NE they've outperformed their stats all year long.  Alex Smith puts up mediocre numbers in the air, they rank low in time of possession and completed plays per game, and they are below average on both their O and D lines.  Nothing in this recipe indicates that they will even win half of their games, let alone most of them.  Last week I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to capitalize on this overperformance and ride NO -3 all the way to the bank.

In hindsight I would make the same play again because even with five turnovers NO was up by 3 with under two minutes to go.  Not many people would have banked on Smith driving down the field under pressure to score the go-ahead touchdown.  At the same time, when you look at how SF won you have to accept that it wasn't a fluke.  There is a reason why they are overperforming their stats this year.

SF rank near the top in special teams play, red zone defense, completed plays given up, points from long drives defense, points-to-yards ratio, and turnover ratio.  These stats are the hallmark of a well-coached team and collectively they are more than the sum of their parts.

Matchup-wise, they come out looking pretty good against NY as well.  Gore should be able to get things going on the ground and SF have the best run defense in the entire NFL.  NY have the leagues worst run offense despite their recent playoff success.  Add in the fact that this should be a weather affected game and NY's slight edge in the air could be nullified.  Advantage SF.  NY's only statistical advantages come from the O and D lines.  Usually this is a big red flag and cause for concern, but as I said SF have been overcoming this discrepancy all season long. 

When you consider this is NY's third playoff game and second straight on the road vs a rested SF team then this pick becomes a no-brainer.  The public are overwhelmingly on NY this week and that's no surprise after they took out the Super Bowl favorites in GB.  They are also evoking memories of their prior Super Bowl run and most people are banking on a rematch with NE.  All of this adds up to value on SF.  Home field is no joke come playoff time and I think it will come into play in this tightly contested affair.  I like SF at anything under a field goal despite my own disbelief in how they get it done.  It took a while but I'm finally hopping on the Harbaugh train.

Friday, January 13, 2012

NFL Divisional Predictions: January 14/15, 2012

For latest odds check out one of my trusted sportsbooks - 5 Dimes, Bodog or Intertops.

I'm not going to get too in depth on the X's and O's of these games because the fundamental matchups are over-analyzed to death on every media outlet you can find.  Instead I'll summarize the reasons I like or don't like a side--or skip the game altogether.

NEW ORLEANS @ SAN FRANCISCO: This line went up on the board not long after the matchup was determined last Sunday.  I jumped all over -3 and it's clear that I wasn't the only one.  Sharps pounded this line and drove it off the 3.  It takes a lot to move a game off a key number like that so it should tell you how much support is out there for the Saints.  When you consider that SF is rested and playing at home, then it's quite apparent where the initial value was.  For those of you that missed out on that you can either find a place to buy the hook down or just take NO -3.5.  Not many pros out there have been scared off by the extra half point.

As for the game itself, I look at a few key factors that should tilt the game in NO's favor.  Beyond the obvious (Drew Brees),  NO have the clearcut edge with their O-line.  SF haven't been able to generate consistent pressure up front all year long and if they don't find a way to change that this weekend then they have virtually no chance to even compete in this game.  You cannot give a guy like Brees all day to survey the field and pick his spots.  Making matters worse is SF's O-line isn't that good either.  They rank near the bottom of the league in pass protection and they don't exactly have Joe Montana back there compensating for the weakness.  If you look back on all the Wild Card winners you'll see that the teams with the best line play won the game.

But this isn't late-breaking news.  SF have had these problems all year long, yet they continue to win game after game.  How are they doing it?   Well they rank near the very top in several key categories that determine winning (and covering) and losing.  This includes special teams, red zone defense, turnover differential, and points given up from long drives.  They also rank high in their yards-to-points ratio.  In other words, coach Harbaugh has got more value from the sum of the parts.

But can this continue in the playoffs when the big boys come out to play?  Will SF just be happy to be there?  Don't bother going back to their earlier matchup to figure out what will happen because SF won't be as susceptible to the NO blitz this time around.  But one recent matchup that I do consider is their MNF game from last season.  No one gave SF a chance in hell to cover that game, but they were so jacked up to be on prime-time that they played the game of their lives and almost beat NO straight up.

This is the lesson of home field advantage and if anyone doubts the impact that momentum train can have--then look no further to the recent set of games.  All home teams not only won, but covered the line as well.  Even when it appeared like PIT, CIN, ATL, and DET were well on their way to a solid road performance, one play in each game triggered a tidal wave that couldn't be stopped.

DEN scored 20 unanswered points in the 2nd quarter.
HOU never looked back after the pick-six.
NYG dominated the game after the stop on 4th and inches.
NO took over after halftime and never looked back.

This is the risk of picking a road team in the playoffs, especially in the divisional round.  Usually teams are sky-high satisfied with winning one playoff game, but once they have to go on the road and play a rested team things can get out of hand pretty quickly.

This is the only caveat that I have with taking NO this week because most of the critical categories favor the Saints.  They rank near the top in 3rd down conversions while SF rank near the bottom.  The same goes for points from long drives.  In fact, NO have almost three times as many.  They also have over 100 more completed plays throughout the season.  This is a team that dominates time of possession and that was on full display against DET.   NO own the edge in the air and that should prevent any kind of blowout by the home team.  Even if it's a tight game, SF don't have the personnel to stop Brees on a four-down drive.

DENVER @ NEW ENGLAND: Tim Tebow mania is in full swing.  He almost single-handedly knocked out my AFC representative for the Super Bow.  Having said that, I did indicate a lot will depend on the health of Big Ben's ankle and it was clear that he wasn't anywhere close to where he needed to be for a long playoff run.  At the same time, their defense should have been able to do enough to slow down Tebow, but give the kid credit for expoiting a very ballsy approach by Dick Lebeau.  If you would have told me that the "chosen one" would have won that battle a week ago I would have told you to seek professional mental help.

So does that mean DEN have value going up against a far more inferior defense this week?  Very, very unlikely.  Most of DEN's points came from the strong home-crowd momentum swing that I talked about earlier.  Once PIT punched back, DEN's offense stalled until the big play in OT.  This doesn't mean I don't think DEN can put up points.  They demonstrated earlier in the season that even Tebow can put up points on this sad-sack group of defenders.  The problem comes when Tebow has to match Brady drive for drive.  We all saw how that worked out in their prior meeting.

NE is 7-1 at home and very well rested and prepared.  DEN is coming off their biggest win in years.  That was also the first time this year they beat a quality opponent.  That won't happen this week, but the question is can they stay within two touchdowns?   I don't think so.  The main advantage DEN have is with their rushing attack.  NE have the edge in the passing game.  Unlike last week, DEN don't have an edge with their D-line this game.  NE have whipped their pass-protection into shape over the course of the season and Brady and Belichick know how to design a game-plan that minimizes pressure.  They will once again rely heavily on Welker and their young tight ends to exploit underneath coverage and aggressive upfield pass rushes/blitzes.  Brady came out and said earlier this week that none of the X's and O's will matter come kickoff--and that the only significant factor will be the level of execution.  That may sound like a typical cliche' response, but his latter comment couldn't be further from the truth.

Execution is what Brady knows best and while DEN's defense is semi-respectable, they aren't the NYJ unit of a year ago either.  This NE team ranks among the top in every meaningful offense category.   They also rank second in the NFL in yards-to-points ratio behind GB.  They are near the top in turnover differential while DEN sit near the bottom. 

Call me a square, but I'm laying the inflated line and riding NE in this game.  Once this game gets out of reach I see a blowout in the works.  The only caveat that I have is the fact that the line didn't get bet up to -14.  That's a clear sign that there could be some line movement coming the other way.  My suggestion is to wait as long as possible and get the best number you can.  At the end of the day I'll settle for anything under 14, but there's a chance we gain back another point or two before kickoff.

The last thing I'll say about this game is that I usually never touch a double-digit spread on the favorite thanks to the potential of a back-door cover, but as bad as NE's defense is, I think Tebow is just as awful--despite his heroics of a week ago.

HOUSTON @ BALTIMORE: Sharps liked the early line of -7 and bet it off the key number.  BAL can do what a lot of teams can't vs HOU--stop the run.  Limiting that lethal running attack is going to put too much pressure on TJ Yates on a stage as big as this.  It's one thing to cruise to a home win when you have an O-line like that, home crowd momentum, and a top-flight defense, but it's another thing to ask a third-string QB to go on the road and pull out a win against an equally devastating defense.  Yates is going to feel the full brunt of pressure coming his way on Sunday and I highly doubt he's seasoned enough to cope with it.

Earlier in the season I put HOU in a teaser against BAL and lost on a very late play.  If Schaub was still playing then I'd be picking them to win the game outright.  Unfortunately, we must deal with what we have and I have little choice but to ride the home team.  BAL pulled away from HOU in my power rankings down the stretch and when you throw in rest, extra prep time, and home field advantage then this pick is a no-brainer.

BAL is 8-0 at home, 6-0 in their division, and 3-0 vs tough teams in 2011.  I've never been a fan of Flacco, but those numbers don't lie.  They say to me that they are as ready as they'll ever be to make a serious run in the playoffs.  All Flacco has to do is not lose the game and BAL should pull this one out convincingly.  If he reverts back to his form from the JAX game or earlier playoff appearances, then we have a problem.  I'm banking on the former.  Buy BAL down to -7 or throw them in a teaser. 

NEW YORK @ GREEN BAY: Unlike the previous games, I don't see the major advantage for GB in the late Sunday matchup.  NYG will be able to throw in this one and GB doesn't have the pass rush necessary to put Eli on the ground.  The problem for NY is that Aaron Rodgers isn't Matt Ryan and Lambeau Field isn't New York Giant Stadium.

GB is prolific as they come on offense. While NY's defense is good, they also aren't great either.  Make no mistake, this is not the NYG Super Bowl winning defense of a few years ago.  Give Rodgers an extra week of rest and preparation and kiss your championship dreams goodbye.  Making matters worse for NY is the fact that GB leads the league in yards-to-points ratio and turnover differential.  Even if you manage to put up a handful of points on the board, sooner or later GB is going to make a few extra plays to cheat their lead and pull away. 

We all saw that NY can resurrect their running game when push comes to shove, but a lot of their success came against a deflated ATL team with home field momentum.  Those conditions won't exist on Sunday.  Don't be shocked if you see NY revert back to their earlier form and put up inconsistent numbers on the ground.  Like BAL, GB is 8-0 at home, 6-0 within their division, and 3-0 vs tough teams in 2011.  Despite their flaws, they rise to the occasion in big games.

I do think NY have the ability to cover the spread in a competitive game..and even in a back-door cover, but I don't see them winning outright either.  Teasing GB down to under a field goal is a must-play for the weekend.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

NFL Divisional Predictions

Wild Card weekend started off great when NO pounded DET, but ended with a thud as ATL came up short when it mattered most.  It's often a cliche when people say it's a game of inches, but that's exactly what it was when ATL couldn't convert on 4th down twice in scoring range.  They couldn't recover from that and got completely man-handled from that point on.  Legitimate questions need to be asked about Matt Ryan and coach Smith regarding their ability to perform and win the big games.

Divisional week already has some lines up and NO -3 is a game I'm all over.  If you're stuck with the hook at -3.5 you should have the option to buy the half point, but if not I think NO win by more than a field goal in SF.  I'll have the rest of the games covered once all the lines are posted.

UPDATE: I'm glad I didn't add PIT as an official play because I think Tim Tebow put a serious dent in people's bankrolls tonight.  I thought if DEN were to win that game it would be in spite of him, not because of him.  Give the kid credit. 

Looking ahead to the overnight lines for the divisional games...there is a lot of over-inflation for the favorites.  That's nothing new, but given how much home field advantage helped the home teams this week it's not a total surprise.

Friday, January 6, 2012

2011 NFL Super Bowl Prediction

These picks are more intended for fun rather than recommended plays because futures bets are usually restricted for the squares.  With that said, here are my updates picks for the final dance.


New Orleans Saints defeat Pittsburgh Steelers
Much of this prediction rests on Big Ben's ankle, but assuming he can play through it and get healthy enough to do his thing in the AFC Championship game then I see them advancing to the end.  This might seem a little contradictory given that they are in the 'pretender' category of my final power rankings, but this is an example of matchups trumping rankings.  In order to make it to the final show, PIT will likely need to go through NE and BAL.  I really like how Dick Lebeau played Tom Brady this season and the man-to-man coverage worked much better than their traditional zone blitz scheme.  NE's defense is just too terrible to trust in such a big game.  I also think it's incredibly hard to beat a team three times in one year--especially when it's a divisional foe, so I like PIT to come out on top against a suspect Joe Flacco.  If Ben can't regain his mobility in time for these latter games then I don't see anyone upsetting NE in their backyard. 

The Saints also have a long way to go before they get to the big stage, but after a win in DET they will get SF and then GB. Despite SF's record this year I don't like them in a showdown with Brees, Payton, and Williams. There won't be a coaching advantage there.  I've run the game through my system and NO should actually be the team favored in that one--even after accounting for home field advantage.  Beyond that we'll have a showdown of the two titans in the NFL.  I think the game between GB and NO is the real Super Bowl thanks to a weak AFC this season.  NO will have the advantage in the running game and GB's pass rush has not been good this year.  Brees should have no problems keeping up with Rodgers much like he did in the opening game of the season.  If you recall, NO could have won that game in the final minute and that was after they turned the ball over a couple of times giving GB some free points.  Cobb also ran one back for a score in that matchup.  It's never smart picking against Aaron Rodgers, but if that is the showdown in a few weeks I'll likely have my money on NO.

NFL Wild Card Predictions: January 7/8, 2012

For latest odds check out one of my trusted sportsbooks - 5 Dimes, Bodog or Intertops.

I'm not going to get too in depth on the X's and O's of these games because the fundamental matchups are over-analyzed to death on every media outlet you can find.  Instead I'll summarize the reasons I like or don't like a side--or skip the game altogether.



CINCINNATI @ HOUSTON: At first glance my initial instinct was to ride the underdog in this one.  TJ Yates has shown us what a 3rd string rookie QB looks like in December and I wasn't impressed.  Theoretically, there should be value on HOU at -3.  They should have the advantage both running the ball and stopping the run.  This HOU O-line is used to facing 8 and 9 man fronts and still get the job done.  Foster and Tate are well-suited for a smash mouth knock-down drag-out game.  Both passing defenses are going to dominate the air and Dalton has apparently been dealing with the flu.  I don't expect that to be an issue whatsoever on Sunday, but either way he'll have his work cut out for him.

There aren't many other mismatches in any other key areas except for two and both favor HOU.  CIN is -39 in points from long drives this year while HOU is +52.  HOU also average 3.7 extra completed plays per game.  That might not sound like a lot, but let me tell you that teams that win that category--usually win the game. The caveat here is that HOU's offense is significantly different with Yates than with Schaub so these numbers need to be weighted and adjusted a bit.  The Vegas line is exactly where it should be which is why I'm taking a pass on it.  HOU's key injuries have balanced out the matchup and it's anyone's guess how this is going to play out.  Home field advantage in the playoffs counts for a bit more than the regular season, so those on the fence could make the argument that HOU can do enough in the run and on defense at home for the win.  Others could argue that CIN's advantage at QB is enough to make the difference in what has become a pass-heavy league.  Personally I think too much rests on Yates shoulders and I want nothing to do with it. Also, CIN is 0-5 against tough teams in 2011.  The public are split at 52-48 and sharps are waiting to pounce on a move off the 3.

PITTSBURGH @ DENVER: If you've followed this blog over the last couple months you'll know my thoughts on Tim Tebow.  It's not that I'm a hater, but I call it like I see it and this guy just can't play QB in the NFL.  Hitching your wagon to a college option-style running QB isn't going to get you very far in the playoffs--especially against a defense like PIT.  Sure losing Mendenhall hurts--especially when you're thin at the position--but this game will be won and lost by what is done in the air. The saving grace for DEN backers is the ankle of Big Ben.  High ankle sprains don't go away anytime soon and he'll undoubtedly be dealing with more mobility problems in this game.  If you want a recent case of reference look no further than Sam Bradford.  This could make +9 appealing to some.

I much prefer to shop around for a -8.5 or -8 and tease PIT down under a field goal.  Playoff football is a lot about who can sustain drives in critical situations.  PIT is +90 in points from long drives this year while DEN is -34.   If Ben is healthy enough to stand up, deliver a ball from the pocket, and not turn the ball over this game could be a blowout.  The only reason why I'm not taking them straight on the spread is due to the DEN pass rush.  This is going to be the Broncos biggest edge in the game and could give their putrid offense a chance if they can harass Ben out of the pocket (or even out of the game).   Spotting this many points on the road is a lot, but then again it's Tebow.  His bubble burst over a month ago.  64% of the public is on PIT, and early money came in on PIT as well.  Though we don't know how much of that was positioning from the sharps and how much of it was true steam (probably both).  I expect teasers to be the heaviest play here from the sharps.

DETROIT @ NEW ORLEANS: I am a little bummed out that DET had to travel to NO for the first week of the wild card round.  I was hoping to get some value on them after the rest of the betting universe jumped ship on them over a month ago.  But no matter how much I try to twist the numbers, I can't justify a play on DET in the Superdome.   NO should be able to have their way on offense whether it is on the ground or in the air.  When you give Payton and Brees that much flexibility then you know you're in for a long day.  Suh hasn't been the unstoppable force that he was last year, but some of that also has to do with extra attention going his way.   

NO also have the advantage with special teams.  Don't be surprised if Sproles has a big impact in this game and his returns could be a devastating blow to DET morale.  They won't admit they are "just happy to be here", but they are.  The only chance they have is if they can keep up with Brees in a shootout.  It's not entirely out of the question because NO give up a ton of yards in the air and don't keep many teams out of the end zone once they get inside the 20 either.  If DET can get some breaks early on and establish a lead--we could have a ball game.  This is the playoffs and anything can happen.  For this reason I prefer to tease down NO to under a touchdown.  A double digit spread for NO is scary when you consider how easily Stafford and company can move the ball.  That has backdoor cover written all over it.  Realistically though, no team has been able to go into NO and come away with a win this year.  When you combine NO's 8-0 record at home and DET's 0-5 record against tough teams then this play becomes a no-brainer.   59% of the public are on NO and some early sharp money came in on the opening line of -10. 

ATLANTA @ NEW YORK: This is the one game where I feel good about taking a side straight up.  I'll take the +3 from the books in case it's a close game, but I think ATL win this game and advance.  I will say up front that handicap either of these teams has been a nightmare this season thanks to incredible inconsistency, but when push comes to shove I like how ATL matchup in this situation.

Both Ryan and Manning will have plenty of opportunities in the air to get some points on the board, but NY haven't been able to find their running game all season long.  Advantage Turner and the Falcons.  ATL is also 4-4 on the road in 2011 while NY is 4-4 at home.  Granted, the fans are always crazy in NY come playoff time, but it's not the slam-dunk home field advantage that one would expect come January.  Both teams matchup pretty evenly in most other areas, but ATL's O-line does have it's work cut out for them with that NY pass rush.  As long as ATL sticks with a balanced attack and doesn't revert to their early season philosophy they should be fine.  Overall, ATL's defense has been the more efficient unit of the two over the course of the season.  Both teams have losing records against tough teams this year.  Right now 60% of the public disagree with me and are riding the home team, but late money from the sharps has come in on ATL.  I also like ATL in a teaser option just in case this comes down to who has the better kicker.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

NFL Wild Card Predictions

It's taken a long time to get to the real party, but alas we are here.  Four Wild Card games kick things off this weekend.  I have my early picks up and I may or may not add another pick or two before Saturday.   I will have write-ups posted soon and my final power rankings will be up mid-week.   I will also include some summaries for the games I skipped.

Analysis and write-ups

2011 NFL Final Power Rankings

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.