Each week, we compare all 32 NFL teams using our Football Relativity tool. We’ll indicate as we go which teams are moving up and down from the Week 10 comparison.
And since we didn’t do our normal game thoughts this weekend, we’ll give some extended thoughts on what we saw.
10 – Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers – The top four in our comparison stay the same, although there’s little difference between this level and the 9 level. The Ravens handled the Panthers just as they should. This week, they’ll face a much sterner test in the Buccaneers. The Patriots beat the Colts 31-28 at home, and if their offense can score 31 points a game, they’ll be incredibly dangerous down the stretch. The Jets got another late win with a 30-27 victory over Houston. Winning ugly is still winning, and it’s a contagious trait that can keep things going down the stretch. The Steelers handled the Raiders easily, showing that despite their injury problems on both lines, they can still get the job done.
9 – Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers (UP A LEVEL), Philadelphia Eagles – The Falcons took care of business in St. Louis with the kind of road win that indicates a good team. They are far scarier indoors than out, but if they can seize NFC home-field advantage, they could stay inside all the way to the Super Bowl. The Packers had another convincing win, and their defense is playing even better than Aaron Rodgers right now. That’s saying something. The Eagles weren’t as dominating this week as last, but getting back-to-back division wins in the NFC East is always an accomplishment. These teams are the class of the NFC, and any of them can win the Super Bowl.
8 – Indianapolis Colts (DOWN A LEVEL), New Orleans Saints, New York Giants (DOWN A LEVEL) – As many teams move up the rankings, we pulled the Colts and Giants down despite narrow losses. Both teams are incredibly banged up right now, and that contributes to their decline. The Colts’ offense continues to put up pretty good points numbers, but injuries on defense – especially to Gary Brackett – have really hurt. But even though they have fallen out of first place in the AFC South via tiebreaker, they still should be able to make the playoffs even if they don’t keep their 12-win-season streak intact. The Giants are banged up at wide receiver, and their October hot streak has faded. They’re still threats, but they are now below the Eagles in the NFC East. The Saints had a solid win coming off the bye, and Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas are on the way back. They’re still going to have a say in what happens in the NFC in the playoffs.
7 – Chicago Bears (UP A LEVEL), Kansas City Chiefs (UP A LEVEL), San Diego Chargers (UP A LEVEL), Tampa Bay Buccaneers – We discussed the Chiefs’ promotion in Rise/Sink/Float. The Bears also rise, largely because their defense is playing at a terrific level. The Bears’ offense isn’t wonderful, but a good defense could well carry the Bears into the playoffs. The Chargers will have to ride their offense if they’re going to make the playoffs, but Philip Rivers continues to put up major numbers. Now he gets Vincent Jackson back, and Antonio Gates shouldn’t be far behind as he returns from injury, and that makes the Bolts incredibly dangerous. The Buccaneers had a very mature win in San Francisco, and the fact that they could win 21-0 on the road is a statement of just how real the Buccaneers are. Their game in Baltimore this week will be fascinating to watch.
6 – Jacksonville Jaguars (UP A LEVEL), Miami Dolphins (DOWN TWO LEVELS), Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans (DOWN A LEVEL) – The Jaguars move up to this level, which is just below what we believe to be playoff level, with another close win at home. Jacksonville still faces three road division games, which makes us skeptical that they can get to nine or 10 wins, but you have to admire the Jags’ moxie. We covered the Dolphins’ decline in Rise/Sink/Float. The Raiders got blown out in Pittsburgh, but we want to see if they can take care of business against the injury-plagued Dolphins this week before we start moving them down. The Titans lost QB Vince Young (at least physically and maybe mentally), and they’re not going to make a playoff run behind rookie Rusty Smith.
5 – Houston Texans (DOWN A LEVEL), St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins – We explained why the Redskins are staying put in Rise/Sink/Float. The Texans blew another lead late against the Jets and fell two games behind in the AFC South. It’s hard to see this team recovering to make a playoff push this year. The question is whether they can save Gary Kubiak’s job. The Rams were handled by the Falcons in a 34-17 home loss, showing that while St. Louis has potenial, it is far from contender level. Still, they remain just one game behind the Seahawks in the division after Seattle lost in New Orleans. Both teams need to take care of business at home to get to 8-8 and win the NFC West.
4 – Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys (UP A LEVEL) – The Browns lost on a last-second touchdown in Jacksonville. Cleveland has been competing, but they must start getting wins (starting this week vs. Carolina) if they really are going to start on an upswing. The Cowboys won their second straight game and seem to be reenergized under Jason Garrett. It may be too little, too late for 2010, but if Garrett starts to build a culture that players believe in, the second half of the season can still be a success.
3 – Buffalo Bills (UP A LEVEL), Denver Broncos (DOWN A LEVEL), Minnesota Vikings (DOWN A LEVEL), San Francisco 49ers (DOWN A LEVEL) – The Bills move up after their offense exploded for 35 second-half points in Cincinnati. Now that they have a couple of wins under their belt, they’re dangerous and could pull an upset or two down the stretch. The Broncos didn’t put up much of a fight in a 35-14 Monday-night loss to the Chargers. The ESPN crew did a good job of showing what Josh McDaniels does well – making the blocking on his play-action passes look just like the blocking on runs – but also showed how McDaniels is sometimes too clever by half in his play-calling. The example on which Shaun Phillips wasn’t blocked because the fullback Spencer Larsen couldn’t get across the formation to do so was an example. McDaniels has a sharp offensive mind, but he seems to be doing play-calling for a video-game, not for real players, and that’s a big reason that Denver’s big offensive numbers haven’t resulted in wins. The Vikings cut ties with head coach Brad Childress after a 31-3 loss to the Packers, and now Minnesota’s season seems to have gone down the toilet. It’ll be interesting to see if the Vikings can turn things around over the last six games, or if they have gotten too old on both the offensive and defensive lines to even approximate their 2009 performance. The 49ers were shut out at home by the Buccaneers in a clear sign of which team is ascending and which team is dead in the water.
2 – Arizona Cardinals (DOWN A LEVEL), Cincinnati Bengals (DOWN A LEVEL), Detroit Lions (DOWN A LEVEL) – We realigned this level by moving three struggling teams down. The Cardinals’ quarterback play has scuttled their season, and it’s not going to get better in 2010. Who knows if Matt Leinart would have been the answer, but by this point he would have gotten a shot just for lack of better ideas. The Bengals had a 21-point lead in the first half against Buffalo but ended up losing by 18. They put up some passing statistics, but that’s really just putting lipstick on a pig. The Bengals are horrible, and Marvin Lewis (whose contract is up) probably can’t wait to get away from this motley crew. The Lions are still competitive, but Matthew Stafford’s continued injuries have limited their upside. They just don’t have enough talent to play consistently for 60 minutes.
1 – Carolina Panthers – The Brian St. Pierre experiment wasn’t horrific, but it serves to show that the Panthers just don’t have the offensive werewithal to compete against even decent teams right now. John Fox’s career with the Panthers, which has been pretty good on the whole, is coming to an ugly end.