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Midseason NFL Power Rankings

It’s hard to believe the NFL Regular Season is halfway through the books. Here is where how we would rank all 32 teams at the midpoint of the season. Keep in mind, each teams’ win/loss record is borderline irrelevant. Moreso, these are the rankings based on how good we think the teams are right now.

1. Philadelphia Eagles 8-1

The Eagles are the most complete team in the NFL. Carson Wentz is the odds-on favorite to win the MVP and the defensive front is playing at an elite level. Those two elements generally equate to great success on the football field. It is even more remarkable that Philadelphia is doing this with all of their injuries. (Casey Gillespie)

2. Pittsburgh Steelers 6-2

The Pittsburgh offense has struggled out of the gate and there have been questions about Ben Roethlisberger’s future. They looked to have snapped into gear lately and the defense is also starting to come together. The Steelers have all the talent and experience emerge from the AFC as the conference’s representative in the Super Bowl. (CG)

3. New England Patriots 6-2

The Patriots had a very rocky start on defense, but have somewhat stabilized over the past few weeks. The loss of Julian Edelman has been noticeable, but Tom Brady has had enough to work with on offense to be productive. New England is not the flawless team many of the prognosticators expected they would be, but they looked poised to return to the postseason for the 14th time in the last 15 years. (CG)

4. New Orleans Saints 6-2

Coming off a big win over the disappointing Bucs, New Orleans now sits atop the NFC South at 6-2. They won the first meeting against Carolina, who seems most likely to challenge them as division champs, with a rematch scheduled in the Superdome Week 13. They will also play the Falcons in two of their last four games, making it mandatory for them to keep up this momentum if they want a shot in the playoffs. (Chris Himes)

5. Kansas City Chiefs 6-3

Kansas City leads the AFC West as the only team over .500 and has the best chance of making the playoffs. Alex Smith is having a career year, and not many predicted Kareem Hunt to be Rookie of the Year. The biggest red flag is a bottom-5 defense, but their ability to cause turnovers and have Hill as a returner leaves them hope to go far in the playoffs. (CH)

6. Los Angeles Rams 6-2

The Rams are the most pleasant surprise of the season. New coach, Sean McVeigh has worked wonders to help Jared Goff make an enormous second-year jump. With the reemergence of Todd Gurley and additions in the passing game like Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, and rookie, Cooper Kupp. The defense has had pieces in place for the past few years, but it looks like the offense has caught up. (CG)

7. Carolina Panthers 6-2

The Panthers will play the Dolphins on Monday Night Football before a Week 11 bye. They’re coming off two division wins against the Falcons and Bucs, whom they will play again to close out the season. McCaffrey will play an even bigger role in the passing game now that Benjamin is gone, and Cam Newton needs to be smarter with the ball (11 interceptions, 5 fumbles). Many are still scratching their head at that Buffalo trade. (CH)

8. Seattle Seahawks 5-3

While the Seahawks are one of the better teams in the NFC, they don’t look like their usual dominant selves at the midpoint of the season. The defense has been great and has arguably played at their championship level of the past few years. Their limitations lie within their running game and offensive line. The line got a boost following the acquisition of Duane Brown before the trade deadline. (CG)

9. Jacksonville Jaguars 5-3

Things are finally coming together for the Jags this season. Behind a dominant defense, they seemed to have figured out their formula for success: control the ball with a run-heavy offensive attack, limit the chance for Blake Bortles to make big mistakes and ride a dominant defense. It’s nice to see all the high draft picks and big free agent signings start to translate to results on the field. (CG)

10. Dallas Cowboys 5-3

Dallas is coming off a convincing victory over Kansas City this past Sunday. Ezekiel Elliot is clearly the team MVP, and the Cowboys postseason hopes may rest on his ability to continually avoid a suspension. The defense is still very suspect, but if they can keep getting pressure up front on a consistent basis, they could cover up their liabilities on the back end. (CG)

11. Buffalo Bills 5-3

The Bills made moves in the preseason to suggest winning was not a priority in 2017. New head coach, Sean McDermott has done a tremendous job as the Bills miraculously find themselves at 5-3 at the halfway point. Buffalo is firmly entrenched in the playoff race and has a chance to return to the postseason for the first time since 1999. (CG)

12.  Tennessee Titans 5-3

The Titans are starting to put together some wins as Marcus Mariota’s health has gradually improved. The offense has plenty of weapons and it should only get better with Corey Davis now healthy. The defense is still very suspect and the more they are exposed, the more their playoff chances will shrink. But if Tennessee can stay balanced on offense and play ball control, they have a good shot to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. (CG)

13. Minnesota Vikings 6-2

The Minnesota defense has been phenomenal and Case Keenum has essentially held down the fort and done enough not to lose. Despite being 6-2, it’s hard to get super optimistic about the ceiling for the Vikings if they make it to January and will need Keenum to keep pace with the top teams in the NFC. If Teddy Bridgewater can return and is effective, the ceiling could be much higher. (CG)

14. Washington Redskins 4-4

The Redskins are coming off the most shocking win of the weekend after winning at Seattle. Things were beginning to trend downward following consecutive losses to their division rivals. Kirk Cousins was impressive, despite playing behind only one regular starter on the offensive line. If Washington can get healthy, don’t rule them out for making a run at a wild-card spot. (CG)

15. Detroit Lions 4-4

The Lions clearly have the talent on both sides of the ball to return to the postseason. Matt Stafford is playing very well and the defense has been solid. The Lions have a very good secondary and the defense as a whole could be even better if they could generate more consistent pressure from their front four. (CG)

16. Atlanta Falcons 4-4

How have the Falcons followed up blowing the Super Bowl? By starting 4-4 despite decent team statistics. It would be crazy to expect Matt Ryan to repeat 2016, but what about Julio? He is on pace for just two receiving TDs, which would be tied for a career low when he only played 5 games in 2013. Playing against the Cowboys with Zeke before traveling to Seattle will be quite the challenge, but will be a solid measure to determine if this team has a legit shot at the big game again. (CH)

17. Oakland Raiders 4-5    

The addition of Marshawn Lynch had many thinking this team had an easy route to the Super Bowl; unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. They only have one division one in three games, which is worst in the West. So what needs to be fixed? Their defense. They are ranked 28th in the league, while the offense sits at 10. Mack has yet to force a turnover this season and only has four sacks. They will take this week off and look to make a second-half run. (CH)

18. Baltimore Ravens 4-5

There may not be another team in the NFL more impacted by injuries than the Ravens. Unfortunately, Baltimore has not been able to overcome those injuries. Joe Flacco’s mediocre play has kept the offense very limited and the defense has not been the dominant unit we have been accustomed to seeing over the past 10-15 years. The Ravens appear to have an 8-8 ceiling. (CG)

19. Arizona Cardinals 4-4

Despite being without David Johnson and Carson Palmer, the Cardinals are not completely dead…yet. They have enough talent on defense to remain competitive but look like a 7-9 team at best behind Drew Stanton. Many people thought this would be the last hurrah for the aging core in Arizona, but injuries are making it look like the championship window has closed. (CG)

20. Los Angeles Chargers 3-5

Despite sitting at 3-5, the Chargers have too much talent to count them out of the playoff picture. They have an offense capable of being very prolific and arguably field the best defensive end duo in the NFL, with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Getting constant pressure on the QB without blitzing usually leads to good things. Los Angeles has a handful of close, excruciating losses in the first half of the season. If they can get better at finishing games, don’t sleep on the Chargers going on a run. (CG)

21. New York Jets 4-5

The Jets may be the biggest overachievers of the season to date. Every move in the offseason indicated this was a throwaway season. Apparently, the coaches and players didn’t get the memo. The defense has been solid and Josh McCown has led what has been an adequate offense. (CG)

22. Houston Texans 3-5

Losing their Rookie of the Year quarterback is devastating for the Texans. Although they’re in the weakest division in football, it will be near impossible to make the playoffs with Tom Savage at the helm and Watt out until next season. While the present seems gloomy, the future appears bright for Houston. (CH)

23. Denver Broncos 3-5

The vaunted Denver defense got taken to the woodshed this past Sunday to the Eagles, giving up 51 points, the most since 2010. Even if that was just a bad day, the bigger concerns are on offense and specifically at the quarterback position. Paxton Lynch is looking like a bust, especially if he cannot beat out Trevor Semenian or Brock Osweiler. The Broncos are a great example of a team that can have talent in so many places but cannot be successful with a terrible quarterback situation. (CG)

24. Miami Dolphins 4-4

The Dolphins may be the worst 4-4 team in the NFL. Their wins have been hollow and Jay Cutler doesn’t look like he is up to lead Miami back to the playoffs. Outside of a couple of playmakers, the defense looks mediocre and incapable of keeping the better offenses in check. It looks like .500 may be the ceiling for the Dolphins this season. (CG)

25. Chicago Bears 3-5

The Bears defense has kept them competitive through the first half of the season as rookie QB, Mitchell Tributzky continues to get eased into the NFL. A lot of credit has to go to John Fox, who has done a lot with a team that looked destined to lose 12-13 games back in the preseason. (CG)

26. Cincinnati Bengals 3-5

The losses to the offensive line this past offseason have been glaring, as the Bengals have struggled mightily to move the ball. Cincinnati looks primed to miss out on the postseason for the second straight year and one has to wonder if major changes are coming at the end of the season. (CG)

27. Green Bay Packers 4-4

The Packers without Aaron Rodgers were on a national stage Monday Night and it was not a pretty site. Brett Hundley managed the game fine, but the emphasis needs to be put on the word “managed”. Assuming Rodgers doesn’t return this year, it looks like a lost year for Green Bay. (CG)

28. Indianapolis Colts 3-6

Statistically, Indianapolis has the worst defense in the league. Offensively, they’re really missing Luck. Much like other terrible teams who look forward to the future, the Colts have two future stars on each side of the ball: Marlon Mack is looking like a solid replacement for Gore, and Malik Hooker leads the team with three interceptions. Fans are keeping their fingers crossed that Luck will return to 100% next season. (CH)

29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2-6

The recent move by the Bucs won’t sit well with fans favoring instant gratification. It’s smart for the future, as they don’t want an Andrew Luck situation. It’s frustrating for the fans who had so much hope going into the season, and for the team who has so much talent, to be sitting at 2-6 halfway through the season. And what’s worse, they used up their bye in week 1. The rest of 2017 doesn’t look good for the pewter players. (CH)

30. New York Giants 1-7 

This is a completely lost season for the Giants, and all signs point to blowing things up at season’s end starting with the inevitable dismissal of Ben McAdoo. It may also be time for the front office to prioritize finding the replacement for Eli Manning. (CG)

31. San Francisco 49ers 0-9

Despite being winless at the midpoint of the season, the 49ers should get someone of a jolt following the acquisition of Jimmy Garoppolo last week. He is realistically another game or two away from taking the starting QB job away from the rookie, CJ Beathard. However, he should give the 49ers enough of a lift down the stretch to avoid a winless season. (CG)

32. Cleveland Browns 0-8

Much like last season, a major storyline of the season will be the question if the Browns will avoid going 0-16. Sadly, they may be even worse than last year. Passing up on Carson Wentz and most recently Deshaun Watson could haunt this franchise for as long as the NFL allows them to exist. (CG)

 

Source Credit: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/eagles/2017/11/05/carson-wentz-philadelphia-eagles-denver-broncos/834304001/

 

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The Perfect Season for an Expanded Playoff Field

Last November, I made the case for the College Football Playoff needing to expand the field to eight teams. This season is panning out to be one that could benefit from it more than ever. I’d like to think after the conclusion of conference championship games on the first Saturday of December, it may be a lot easier for the committee to come up with a consensus Top 4 then it was for the committee to release their first rankings Tuesday night.

There are a handful of championship-caliber teams that will likely be on the outside looking in thanks to this being a season in which the Big 10 and SEC both boasting multiple teams worthy of a spot. Don’t forget about the notable independent, Notre Dame who will be in the mix all the way to the end.

The initial Top 4 included Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson. This Top 4 significantly contrasted with the latest Associated Press Poll, which would have produced a bracket of Alabama and Georgia of the SEC and Wisconsin and Ohio State of the Big 10. Now we can assume that these schools likely squaring off in their conference’s respective championship games that the rankings will sort itself out. But is that really what is best for college football, assuming those conference runner-ups find themselves on the outside looking in? I’d say no.

Conference Imbalance?

It can be argued that this is a down year for the other three Power 5 Conferences. While Clemson landed at #4 in the initial rankings, the ACC is not a lock to have a representative.

The Big 12 has the 5th, 8th and 11th ranked teams in Oklahoma, TCU and Oklahoma State, respectively. While the Big 12 added a conference championship game that has the potential to improve the resume of its champion, the risk of an upset by a two-loss team could lead to the conference failing to field a team in the bracket for the third time in four years.

The Pac 12 is the most in-flux, with the highest ranked team being the Washington Huskies sitting at #12. For the Pac 12 to send a team to the Playoff, Washington is their best chance and they would need the Huskies to win out and for a lot of teams ahead of them to lose. Even if that happens, is that a good scenario for college football: a team that is outside the Top 10 leaping 9-10 spots thanks to the slip-ups of better teams? Again, I’d say no.

The question of these three conferences has to be asked – Are these teams being penalized for facing tougher competition at the top of their conference than the undefeated teams in the SEC and Big 10. Through Week 9, both Alabama and Wisconsin have not played a single ranked opponent. On the other hand, one-loss teams such as Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Penn State, TCU, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and even Memphis all have wins over ranked opponents.

What’s the point? Most, if not all, of the teams I just mentioned, should still be in the running to compete for the National Championship. Theoretically, just about all of those teams still have a chance. However, most need teams ahead of them in the rankings to lose in order to reach the Top 4. In a world with a Top 8, all of those teams would be able to control their own destiny to secure a spot in the Playoff.

Untested Unbeatens 

Then you have the undefeated teams that arguably have not been tested to the degree in which the previously mentioned teams have been to this point in the season. While Wisconsin, Miami, and UCF have simply taken care of business by beating everyone on their respective schedules, they don’t have quite the resume to be considered Top 4 teams. Should that preclude them from at least getting a shot against the best in the country to compete for a National Championship? Absolutely not.

I’m not naive enough to suggest they would beat or even are at the same level as the undefeated teams at the top. But I don’t think they should miss out on the opportunity to play them just because their schedule wasn’t strong enough. Fortunately for Miami and Wisconsin, both will have the opportunity down the stretch to strengthen their resume. Miami has games scheduled against Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and potentially a highly-ranked opponent in the ACC Championship Game while Wisconsin will likely have an opportunity against a top-ranked opponent in the Big 10 Championship Game.

UCF will not have that same chance, especially after USF fell out of the Top 25 following their first loss of the season to Houston. At the same time, it would be fun to at least give the top Group of 5 team a shot, and in this case UCF a chance to see if they belong with the big boys.

The bottom line is that there are several, high-caliber teams that may technically still be in the mix to make the College Football Playoff, but realistically will not be able to get into that position solely based on their own merits the rest of the season. This is why this season would have been the ideal year to have an expanded playoff field.

Top 8

My proposal that I lined out last November would award would the eight spots as follows: five Power 5 Champs, two at-large and the highest-ranked Group of 5 team. If we followed this formula, following the initial CFP Rankings, we would currently have seedings and first-round matchups that looked like this:

  1. Georgia (SEC)
  2. Alabama (At-Large 1)
  3. Notre Dame (At-Large 2)
  4. Clemson (ACC) 
  5. Oklahoma (Big 12)
  6. Ohio State (Big 10)
  7. Washington (Pac 12)
  8. UCF (Group of 5)

In the Hunt: Penn State, TCU, Wisconsin, Miami

First Round

Georgia vs. UCF, Alabama vs. Washington, Notre Dame vs. Ohio State, and Clemson vs. Oklahoma.

What college football fan wouldn’t want to watch that? The move to eight teams is on the horizon, and hopefully, this season pushes the needle closer to it happening. The best part of this system may be that subjectively will be limited and earning a spot in “the dance” will have a much clearer path.

 

Source Credit: http://www.houstonpress.com/news/what-would-an-8-team-college-football-playoff-race-look-like-this-season-8926518