Monthly Archives: November 2009

Fantasy Football Applaud or a Fraud – Week 12

Each week, we dive into the stat sheets to see which weekly performers fantasy owners should applaud and which fantasy owners should write off as frauds. You can read past applaud or a fraud analyses in the category listing. And you can also check out our fantasy football thoughts during the week via our Twitter feed here on the blog or here.

Quarterbacks

Kyle Boller, Rams – As you look for fantasy fill-ins, Boller is a name that tends to get overlooked. But after throwing for 282 yards and a score against the Seahawks, you should at least notice. Boller is going to have the Rams’ job for at least a couple more weeks, so if you’re desperate, Boller is worth a claim to be a backup. He’s not going to produce as much as Vince Young, but he will surpass guys like Dennis Dixon and Matt Leinart. Verdict: Applaud

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills – This is a bit of a strange call, but Fitzpatrick has provided a spark for the Bills since interim head coach Perry Fewell inserted him in the lineup two weeks ago. Fitzpatrick threw for a touchdown a ran for another this week, and he seems to be good for at least a score a week. That makes him definitely worth a claim and perhaps even worth a start in multi-QB leagues. Verdict: Applaud

Chris Redman, Falcons– Redman was pressed into action when Matt Ryan was hurt in the first quarter of Atlanta’s win over Tampa Bay. He responded with 243 passing yards and two touchdowns. If Ryan is out, Redman has enough weapons to be a top-18 fantasy quarterback on a weekly basis. He’s the fill-in you want, not Matt Leinart or Dennis Dixon. Verdict: Applaud

Vince Young, Titans– Young had a huge day with 387 passing yards, including a last-minute game-winning drive. But he only threw for one touchdown, which continues the pattern he’s established since he returned to the lineup. That lack of TD passes keeps Young from being a fantasy starter. He’s good depth, and if you’re missing a starter like Kurt Warner, Matt Ryan, or Ben Roethlisberger, Young can be an emergency option. But he’s not a guy you should be looking to start. Verdict: A fraud

Running Backs

Fred Jackson, Bills – With Marshawn Lynch out, Jackson blew up with 73 rushing yards, 43 receiving yards, and two touchdowns. But Lynch should return soon, and that means that Jackson simply won’t get the opportunities to remain a significant or consistent fantasy producer. Verdict: A fraud

Brandon Jacobs, Giants – In a week where Ahmad Bradshaw was out, against a Denver defense that had been gashed on the ground in recent weeks, Jacobs put up just 27 yards on 11 carries. He’s not a reliable fantasy starter at this point. We figure he’s outside the top 20 fantasy backs, which is a disappointment for a guy who was a first- or second-round pick in most leagues. But it’s time to deal with reality and be willing to put Jacobs on the bench when the matchup dictates. Verdict: A fraud

Larry Johnson, Bengals – Johnson rewarded the Bengals for his second chance by running for 107 yards on 22 carries against Cleveland. But even during the performance, Move the Sticks (a Twitter-based scout) was commenting on how slow Johnson looked. That means that Johnson isn’t worth a run against a better defense. That scouting report, plus the imminent return of Cedric Benson, means that Johnson isn’t a top-40 back going forward. Verdict: A fraud

Felix Jones, Cowboys – Jones broke a 46-yard touchdown this week against Oakland and finished with 68 rushing yards. That performance was a window into Jones for fantasy owners. While Jones is capable of busting a big play, he doesn’t do it often, and unless he does his fantasy value is extremely limited. He’s outside the top 35 at running back from a fantasy perspective and isn’t worth a roster spot in leagues of 10 teams or less. Verdict: A fraud

LaDanian Tomlinson, Chargers – If you were watching the ticker, you might have seen that Tomlinson scored twice against the Chiefs. But don’t miss the fact that he also averaged just 3.0 yards per carry on 13 totes. He also had just one five-yard catch. While LDT is starting to find the end zone more often, he’s far from the force he used to be. You should still beware. Verdict: A fraud

Wide Receivers

Miles Austin, Cowboys – Austin had yet another huge game on Thanksgiving, posting seven catches for 145 yards and a score. Consider that star turn a reminder that Austin is now a top-10 fantasy receiver. Verdict: Applaud

Kenny Britt, Titans – Britt caught the game-winning touchdown for Tennessee against Arizona, and he also had his best game of his rookie season with seven catches for 128 yards. Britt has now scored two straight weeks, and he seems to have a pretty good rapport with Vince Young. Don’t get carried away, but if Britt is on your league’s waiver wire he’s now worth a claim. He seems to be emerging late in the season. Verdict: Applaud

Donald Driver, Packers – Driver is almost 35 years old, but he continues to post monster numbers year after year. His 142-yard performance against Detroit, which included a touchdown, goes to show that he’s still a top-15 fantasy wideout after all these years. He should be in your starting lineup in ink. Verdict: Applaud

Percy Harvin, Vikings – The star rookie had his first 100-yard game of the season against the Bears, notching 101 yards and a score on six catches. As Harvin becomes more a part of the offense, he becomes a starting-quality fantasy receiver. He’s moved within the top 30 of fantasy receivers, and his uphill climb might still have heights to attain. Verdict: Applaud

Calvin Johnson, Lions – Considering that most leagues saw Johnson drafted as a top-10 receiver (if not higher), it seems crazy to consider benching him. But with Matthew Stafford banged up and Johnson not at full strength either, right  now it’s foolish to consider Johnson as a legit top-10 fantasy wideout. His two-catch, 10-yard day against Green Bay was redeemed a bit by a touchdown grab, but it’s still a sign of trouble. Megatron is still in the top 20 of fantasy wideouts, but you have to at least look at your other options before starting him. So we can’t rate Johnson as a top-10 guy anymore. Verdict: A fraud

James Jones, Packers – Jones had four catches for 35 yards and a touchdown on Thanksgiving Day. It was his fourth touchdown of the year, all of which have come after Green Bay’s Week 5 bye. In large leagues (16 teams or more), Jones is not a bad fifth receiver, but he still doesn’t have much relevance for fantasy owners other than that. Verdict: A fraud

Terrell Owens, Bills – Don’t look now, but T.O. is on a roll in Buffalo. He has scored in two straight weeks and has at least 78 yards from scrimmage in his last four games. He’s finally back to being an every-week starter in just about every fantasy league. If you kept him, your patience is being rewarded, and if you claimed him or traded for him, your gamble is paying off. Verdict: Applaud

Tight Ends

Fred Davis, Redskins – With Chris Cooley’s significant injury now looking to be a season-ender, Davis is worth a second look. He had four catches and a touchdown against the Eagles, and he’s had at least four catches in three of the past five games. If you’re scrambling for a tight end, Davis is a decent option at this point in the season. Verdict: Applaud

Zach Miller, Raiders – The only redeemable thing about the Raiders’ offense from a fantasy perspective right now is Miller, who had five catches for 73 yards against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. Miller has had at least 50 yards receiving in five of his last seven games, which makes him a startable option in leagues of 12 teams or more. He doesn’t score enough to be an elite fantasy tight end, but he’s raised himself up to option status. Verdict: Applaud

Jason Witten, Cowboys – Witten has seen his production lag this year, but he busted out with a 107-yard game against Oakland on Thanksgiving despite being a game-time decision to play. That’s a positive sign for owners who were wavering about whether to keep starting the former fantasy stalwart. The answer is that yes, you should leave Witten in your weekly lineup. Verdict: Applaud

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Rise/Sink/Float Week 12

Each Monday, we’ll look at 3 teams that are rising, sinking, and floating in our Football Relativity comparison. We’ll update the full comparison tomorrow.

Rise – San Diego Chargers – The Chargers reeled off their sixth consecutive win, and for the second straight week they won in a blowout against a division rival by smashing the Chiefs 43-14. The defensive problems that plagued the Bolts early in the season have abated, and the running game is also starting to look better. And all the while, Philip Rivers maintains a high level of performance. Right now, the Chargers are a top-5 team in the league.

Sink – Miami Dolphins – Throughout the season, we’ve left the Dolphins in the realm of the fringe playoff contenders, but Sunday’s blowout 31-14 loss to the Bills in Buffalo might have been a death knell on their postseason hopes. Not only are they 5-6, but their remaining schedule has them facing New England, Houston, and Pittsburgh at home and Tennessee and Jacksonville on the road. Without a win over the Bills, that road won’t yield enough wins for Miami to return to the postseason.

Float – Philadelphia Eagles – Sunday’s 27-24 win over Washington looked rough for the Eagles, but the bottom line is that they got a win over a division rival that has played much better of late. Philly is not a perfect team, but they are more dangerous than they have been lately because of their young receivers. That, plus the questions about the Giants, gives the Eagles a one-hurdle path to the NFC East title. That race should come down to the Week 17 battle in Jerry’s world.

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Thanksgiving leftovers

A few thoughts from the three Thanksgiving Day games, in which…
The Packers thumped the Lions 34-12
The Cowboys beat the Raiders 24-7
And the Broncos beat the Giants 26-6

*The Packers, who have now won three in a row, are a dangerous team. The Pack’s biggest shortcoming, the offensive line, seems to be improving a bit, and that allows a dangerous offense to show its explosiveness. Aaron Rodgers has premium targets in the ageless Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, and there is depth at receiver and tight end as well. If the Pack can protect – which will be a stern test against strong fronts like Minnesota has – it can put up enough points to pull an upset against a really good team. At 7-4, the Pack still has a chance to make some noise.
*On defense, Charles Woodson of Green Bay is still a premium player. It’s hard to believe he’s been a top corner for a decade already. His stat line on Thanksgiving – seven tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, two interceptions, and one fumble – should win him player of the week honors.
*Detroit doesn’t have many premium players, but rookie S Louis Delmas probably is going to end up being one. He and Brandon Pettigrew, who was hurt in this game, both look to be high-pick hits from this year’s draft. Detroit needs a bunch more of those to make up the talent gap left by the Matt Millen disaster.
*Dallas isn’t a great team, but it’s a very good team that has the potential to scare some people. The X-factor is Miles Austin, who is a reliable target with explosive ability. That’s something not even Terrell Owens brought to Dallas last year. With Austin emerging, Tony Romo has a chance to avoid the late-season collapse that has plagued him thus far in his career.
*Felix Jones had a long touchdown, but I still don’t believe in him as more than a bit player. Tashard Choice may be the best back Dallas has, because Marion Barber isn’t quite the barbarian he was two or three years ago. The bigger problem for Dallas is the offensive line, which is big but is slow and getting slower. Oakland’s front got some good pressure on Romo, especially from second-year defensive end Trevor Scott, who had two sacks.
*Oakland has some good players. TE Zach Miller is a big-time player, as is stud CB Nnamdi Asomugha. The linebacker crew is decent, as is the front seven. But there is no consistency from many of the consistent players, and the quarterback play is so subpar that the team really doesn’t have a chance. If Jeff Garcia had really gotten a shot to start this year, he could have gotten six or seven wins out of this supporting cast. But too many guys in Oakland aren’t willing to compete on the level that Garcia would. Still, there are guys on this roster I’d take on my team.
*The Broncos caught a huge break from the schedule makers by getting a home game on a short week. That kind of home-field advantage was just what they needed to break their four-game losing streak. Credit goes to them for taking advantage, but don’t think this win solves all their problems. They still need to perform better week to week to make a playoff run. But if Kyle Orton gets healthy with a few extra days off, and if the defense can play more like it did Thursday night instead of how it played the four previous games, Denver still has a shot.
*The Giants have serious problems. Like the Cowboys, the Giants’ offensive line is declining. This group of five used to be an asset, but the guys up front are either getting old or have just been too beaten up, because they simply aren’t a top group anymore. That unit is going to need an infusion of youth via the draft or free agency in the offseason, and it may end up being a critical flaw for the Giants’ playoff hopes this year.

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Pick ’em – Week 12

We skipped the picks last week because of vacation, and this week’s picks were done early in the week because of Thanksgiving travel. So if some of the lines look screwy, that’s why. We continue to gain on the pros and struggle in the colleges. Oh well.

Enjoy Thanksgiving today – not just for the football but for the thanks part too.

NCAA
Auburn +12.5 vs. Alabama
Pittsburgh E at West Virginia
Nevada +10 at Boise State
Clemson -2.5 at South Carolina
Oklahoma State +10 at Oklahoma
Florida State +21 at Florida
Miami E at South Florida
Utah +7.5 at Brigham Young
Arkansas +3.5 at LSU
Georgia +7.5 at Georgia Tech
Stanford -7 vs. Notre Dame

NFL
Denver +7 vs. New York Giants
Carolina +3 at New York Jets
Washington +9.5 at Philadelphia
Indianapolis E at Houston
Tennessee E vs. Arizona
Chicago +11 at Minnesota
Baltimore E vs. Pittsburgh
New England +3 at New Orleans

Two weeks ago 3-5 college, 4-2 pro
Season 38-65-1 college, 35-33-1 pro, 73-98-2 overall

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Jersey Numbers: Running Backs

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at several different positions (I can’t yet promise all) to identify the best players wearing each jersey number at each position. If this goes as planned, we’ll then compile a list of the best player wearing each jersey number in the league.

If you have quibbles, or want to add someone I forgot, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.

We started this project with wide receivers in this post and then with tight ends in this post and quarterbacks in this post. Now we move to running backs, who wear numbers between 20 and 49.

20 – Thomas Jones, Jets – It was surprising to hear during this week’s Jets/Patriots game that Jones had moved into the top 30 of all-time NFL rushers. That’s an impressive accomplishment, especially for a guy who struggled as a top-10 overall pick in his first stop in Arizona. But in subsequent stops in Tampa Bay, Chicago, and now New York Jones has proven he can produce. He’s an easy choice here over young whippersnappers Steve Slaton of Houston and Darren McFadden of Oakland. Other notable 20: Justin Forsett, Seahawks

21 – LaDanian Tomlinson, Chargers – LDT is no longer the dominant force he was in his prime years, but if one of the top 10 backs of all time is playing in the league, we have to give him the number nod, even over a stud like Frank Gore of San Francisco or a long-time producer like Fred Taylor of the Patriots. Other notable 21s: Mike Bell, Saints; Ryan Moats, Texans; Javon Ringer, Titans; Melwede Moore, Steelers

22 – Matt Forte, Bears – Forte had an outstanding rookie year last year, but this year he’s been stymied by a subpar offensive line. Still, he gets the nod at this point over Julius Jones of the Seahawks and Fred Jackson of the Bills. Other notable 22s: Peyton Hillis, Broncos; Jacob Hester, Chargers; Chris Brown, Texans; Clifton Smith, Buccaneers

23 – Ronnie Brown, Dolphins – Before suffering a season-ending injury, Brown was continuing to prove himself as one of the league’s top-10 backs. Throw in the fact that he can throw it out of the Wildcat, and Brown gets the nod over Marshawn Lynch of the Bills and Pierre Thomas of the Saints. Other notable 23s: Willis McGahee, Ravens; Shonn Greene, Jets

24 – Marion Barber, Cowboys – Marion the Barbarian isn’t having a dominant year, but he’s still a really good back. We have no choice but to give him the nod over comeback story extraordinare Cadillac Williams of Tampa Bay.

25 – Ryan Grant, Packers – While Reggie Bush’s 25 is a best selling jersey not just in New Orleans but league wide, Grant has been the more consistently productive back over the past three years. So we’ll give Grant the nod over Bush. Other notable 25s: Justin Fargas, Raiders; LenDale White, Titans; Garrett Wolfe, Bears; Jamaal Charles, Chiefs

26 – Clinton Portis, Redskins – Although he’s sidelined by a concussion at the home, Portis’ long and productive career makes him an easy choice here over promising rookie Beanie Wells of Arizona.

27 – Ray Rice, Ravens – Brandon Jacobs of the Giants has a bigger profile, and Larry Johnson of the Bengals has a longer career, but Rice is the best back wearing this number right now. Rice is a threat running and receiving, and he can move the chains as well as bust the big play. So he gets the nod over Jacobs, Johnson, and rookie Knowshon Moreno of the Broncos.

28 – Adrian Peterson, Vikings – This is a close call, because Peterson and Chris Johnson of the Titans – probably the two best backs in the league – both wear the same number. We’ll stick to conventional wisdom and lean toward Peterson in this close call. Otehr notable 28s: Jonathan Stewart, Panthers, Correll Buckhalter, Broncos; Felix Jones, Cowboys; Derrick Ward, Buccaneers; Maurice Morris, Lions

29 – Joseph Addai, Colts – Addai isn’t a great back, but he’s good both as a runner and a receiver when he’s healthy. With Leon Washington of the Jets hurt, Addai is an easy choice at this number. Other notable 29s: LeSean McCoy, Eagles; Michael Bush, Raiders; Glen Coffee, 49ers, Chester Taylor, Vikings

30 – John Kuhn, Packers – Green Bay’s fullback is the only notable back currently wearing 30. Thankfully, he has gotten into the end zone often enough to make this selection look respectable.

31 – Jamal Lewis, Browns – Lewis isn’t the back he once was, but the former 2,000-yard rusher has had a terrific career. He’s the clear choice at this number over rookie Donald Brown of the Colts. Other notable 31s: Rock Cartwright, Redskins; Jason Wright, Cardinals

32 – Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars – Jones-Drew has moved seamlessly from being a part-time back to a full-time guy this year while still producing big numbers in terms of yardage and touchdowns. That gives him the nod over Cedric Benson, who is having a terrific season with the Bengals. Other notable 32: Jerious Norwood, Falcons

33 – Michael Turner, Falcons – The Burner has been incredibly productive since joining the Falcons in 2008, and that makes him the best back wearing 33 over pass-catching specialist Kevin Faulk of New England and short-yardage specialist LeRon McClain of Baltimore. Other notable 33: Justin Griffith, Seahawks

34 – Ricky Williams, Dolphins – Ricky wins the battle of the Williamses over DeAngelo Williams of Carolina based on Ricky’s longer career track record of production. Both are outstandingly talented backs. Other notable 34s: Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers; Kevin Smith, Lions; Tim Hightower, Cardinals; Ovie Mughelli, Falcons; Sammy Morris, Patriots

35 – Jerome Harrison, Browns – It’s slim pickings at this number, so we have to give the nod to Harrison, who has had a moment or two as Jamal Lewis’ backup. Other notable 35s: Owen Schmitt, Seahawks; Dan Kreider, Cardinals; Chad Simpson, Colts

36 – Brian Westbrook, Eagles – Westbrook, who has been a terrific multipurpose back for many years now, is the easy choice at this number. He’s a truly great player. Other notable 36: LaRod Stephens-Howling, Cardinals

37 – Jason McKie, Bears – McKie, the Bears’ fullback, gets the nod here over recent Bengals signee Fui Vakapuna, another fullback. Neither will make fans forget a great fullback wearing 37 – Larry Centers of the Cardinals.

38 – Samkon Gado, Rams – Gado has had a few moments in the league, so although he’s just a backup in St. Louis now, we opt for him over Vikings fullback Naufahu Tahi and injured Dolphins back Patrick Cobbs.

39 – Steven Jackson, Rams – Jackson plays for a terrible team, but he remains a terrific bellweather back for St. Louis. He gets the nod over the declining Willie Parker of Pittsburgh and the inconsistent Laurence Maroney of the Patriots. Other notable 39: Madison Hedgecock, Giants

40 – Brian Leonard, Bengals – As we get into the 40s, we’ll have a harder time finding backs wearing these numbers. Leonard, the Bengals’ do-everything back is the only notable runner wearing 40.

41 – Lorenzo Neal, Raiders – Neal has long been one of the league’s best blocking fullbacks, but his career is winding to a conclusion, which is why he’s bounced around in recent years.

42 – BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots – The law firm, as Green-Ellis is called, has done a good job when called on by the Patriots. Other notable 42s: Tony Fiametta, Panthers; Mike Cox, Chiefs; DeShawn Wynn, Packers

43 – Darren Sproles, Chargers – Sproles, the mite-sized, dynamite-powered Chargers back, gets the nod here over underrated Eagles fullback Leonard Weaver.

44 – Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants – Bradshaw, once the speedy portion of the Giants’ RB trio, has emerged as the team’s best runner this season. He gets the nod over a batch of fullbacks here. Other notable 44s: Heath Evans, Saints; Luke Lawton, Raiders; Vonta Leach, Texans; Moran Norris, 49ers, Jason Snelling, Falcons; Mike Karney, Rams

45 – Mike Sellers, Redskins – In a batch of fullbacks, Washginton’s Sellers gets the nod because of his short-yardage acumen and special-teams impact. Other notable 45s: Ahmard Hall, Titans; Brad Hoover, Panthers; Jerome Felton, Lions

46 – Ladell Betts, Redskins – Betts is the only notable back wearing 46. Thankfully, he’s a solid player who has produced when he has gotten the chance to fill in for Clinton Portis.

47 – Lawrence Vickers, Browns – Vickers, a fullback, is the only notable NFL back wearing 47 right now.

48 – None – Poor Stephen Davis. (We went to the same high school.) No current back is making his former number 48 proud.

49 – Tony Richardson, Jets – Richardson has long been one of the league’s better fullbacks, and he now plies his trade with the Jets after stints in K.C. and Minnesota. He’s the only back currently wearing 49.

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Suicide Pool Picks – Week 12

The Cardinals came through for us last week, and this week we’re putting our picks up early to keep the Thanksgiving Day games on the table.

1. Dallas over Oakland – This pick looks a little scary on the surface since the Cowboys have scored just 14 points in the last put forth good efforts on the road this year, and the Cowboys have a good recent history of taking care of business on Thanksgiving at home against bad teams. So we’ll use the Cowboys here and save some more powerful teams for the future.

2. Cincinnati over Cleveland – The Bengals are coming off a bad loss, but they’ll bounce back against the lowly Browns. But we’d prefer to save Cincy for next week’s home game against Detroit. Still, the Bengals are a solid pick this week.

3. Atlanta over Tampa Bay – The Falcons are just 5-5, but they’ve been really good at home this year. A home game against a sorry Bucs team that fired its defensive coordinator this week is a recipe for a win.

Traps to avoid: Green Bay at Detroit, Minnesota vs. Chicago – The Packers should win in Detroit, especially with Matthew Stafford hurt, but Green Bay has already shown they can struggle on the road against a terrible team in its loss at Tampa a few weeks back. On a short week, you should just stay away. The Vikings should roll the Bears, but I have a funny feeling the Bears have a bit of a get-well upset win coming soon. The fact that the Vikings haven’t played a team that is even halfway decent since Week 8 is another small red flag. We won’t pick the upset, but we won’t pick the Vikes in an eliminator challenge either.


Week 11: W Arizona (over St. Louis)
Week 10: W Miami (over Tampa Bay)
Week 9: W Atlanta (over Washington)
Week 8: W Chicago (over Cleveland)
Week 7: W Indianapolis (over St. Louis)
Week 6: L Jets (vs. Buffalo)
Week 5: W Philadelphia (over Tampa Bay)
Week 4: W San Francisco (over St. Louis)
Week 3: L Houston (vs. Jacksonville)
Week 2: L Jacksonville (vs. Arizona)
Week 1: W New Orleans (over Detroit)

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FR: Week 11

Here is our Football Relativity comparison after Week 11. We’ve noted where we have moved teams up or down from the Week 10 comparison.

10 – Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints – The Colts somehow pulled out a win in Baltimore, as we detailed in this post. It was Indy’s sixth win by four points or fewer this year, and their fourth in a row by such a narrow margin. It’s unlikely for a team to win all their close games like this, but then again Peyton Manning has a habit of accomplishing the unlikely. The Saints had a more conventional win in a 38-7 laugher in Tampa Bay, and now they gear up for a Monday-night clash with New England. That’ll be a great test for both teams.

9 – Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots – The Vikings beat down the Seahawks in a home game, once again showing a level of certainty against a bad team. Next week’s game against Chicago shouldn’t be a big test, but the Week 13 matchup in Arizona will be. New England exacted revenge against the Jets for an earlier loss with a convincing 31-14 win. New England hasn’t gotten major props, in part because of its three road losses, but a win in New Orleans next week will change that. And the Pats are capable of putting such a skin on their wall.

8 – Arizona Cardinals (UP A LEVEL), Cincinnati Bengals (DOWN A LEVEL), Pittsburgh Steelers (DOWN A LEVEL), San Diego Chargers – The Cardinals once again took care of business on the road with a win in St. Louis, but Kurt Warner’s concussion could put a real damper on their long-term hopes. If Warner can stay healthy, though, the Cards look to be a team no one wants to play – not even Minnesota or New Orleans. The Chargers took control of the AFC West by stomping the Broncos 32-3. San Diego has now won five straight and is in terrific form. With games against the Chiefs and Browns the next two weeks, the Bolts could quickly make that a seven-game win streak to put the division away. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati both had embarrassing losses to sorry teams, with the Steelers dropping a game at Arrowhead against the Chiefs and the Bengals blew a late lead in the Black Hole against the Raiders. Since both teams lost, it doesn’t affect the AFC North division race too much, but both teams must prove they can bounce back if they want to remain among the strong playoff contenders.

7 – Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles – The Falcons lost an overtime game at the Giants, which was a desperately needed win for Big Blue. The Giants aren’t a perfect team, but they have enough going to remain a strong NFC East contender. Atlanta lost again to fall to 5-5, but they have four home games in the next five, and the Falcons have been much better in the Dirty South than on the road this year. Dallas played poorly but pulled out a win against Washington to stay ahead in the NFC East, while Philly kept pace with a road win in Chicago. Dallas, Philly, and the Giants will take this race all the way to the end of the season. The Giants need a win on the road in Denver on Thanksgiving night to keep up with the Cowboys, who have the Raiders at home, and the Eagles, who host the Redskins.

6 – Baltimore Ravens (DOWN A LEVEL), Denver Broncos (DOWN A LEVEL), Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans (DOWN A LEVEL), Jacksonville Jaguars (UP A LEVEL), Miami Dolphins – The Ravens suffered a crushing loss against the Colts. The loss was crushing because the Ravens did so many things well but were in the end stifled by a few mistakes. The Broncos are plummeting after their fourth straight loss, a blowout vs. San Diego. Denver needs a win on Thanksgiving night against the Giants to stem the tide and remain playoff-relevant. At least for the Broncos’ sake, they’re at home. The Packers won their second straight game by beating the Niners at home. Green Bay isn’t a great team, but there is talent there, and if the Packers continue to improve they are a little scary. Houston blew a golden opportunity on Monday Night Football to jump headlong into the playoff hunt. Now they’re at .500, which is a mark the franchise just can’t seem to jump. The Jaguars pulled one out against the Bills to move to 6-4. Although Jacksonville isn’t a perfect team, the Jags are capable of winning most weeks, and if they can gain consistency they are a threat to at least make the playoffs. Miami won at Carolina in a Thursday-night affair to even their record at 5-5 and get in playoff position. They’ll have a hard time jumping New England in the division, but the Dolphins are squarely in the playoff hunt.

5 – Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans (UP A LEVEL) – The Titans were the only team in this bunch who won. It was Tennessee’s fourth straight win, and the Titans now have something to play for despite their horrific 0-6 start. Carolina lost a tight game against Miami, but the Panthers continue to show that they’re no pushover. The Bears played close, but they continue to make critical mistakes in prime-time games. Chicago fans are apoplectic, but the Bears still could make a run to 8-8. The Jets got stomped in New England, and Mark Sanchez continued to show rookie growing pains. But the bigger problem is that Rex Ryan’s vaunted defensive scheme seems to have been solved to some degree in the last month or so. San Francisco tried to rally in Green Bay, which is a positive sign of not giving up, but they just don’t have enough talent to keep up with the Cardinals in their division.

4 – Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins (UP A LEVEL) – We moved the Redskins up despite their loss in Dallas because they finally look like a team that’s at least competitive. Seattle has a hard time competing against top teams like Minnesota, but the Seahawks have done a good job of beating inferior teams this year.

3 – Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs (UP A LEVEL) – The Chiefs won at home against Pittsburgh, and they’re starting to establish a home-field advantage that makes them a threat even against good teams. That’s a positive step. Buffalo played valiantly in Jacksonville, but ultimately fell short. That team competes, but it doesn’t have enough on the offensive or defensive line to be a real contender.

2 – Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders (UP A LEVEL), Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The Lions got their second win against the Browns, and Matthew Stafford showed both toughness and talent. That’s something to build on. Tampa Bay got shellacked after two solid performances, but we’ll leave them in place now as we see if the Bucs can return to competitives. Oakland got a surpising last-minute win against Cincinnati, marking the Raiders’ third win of the year. When the Raiders don’t care, they play terribly, but they have the talent to compete when they’re in the mood to do so.

1 – Cleveland Browns, St. Louis Rams (DOWN A LEVEL) – The Browns lost to the Lions, which was one of their few good shots at a win left. The Rams lost at home to Arizona, and now the Rams look like the leading contender for the No. 1 overall pick.

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