Halfway Highlights

With 8 weeks behind us, let’s re-assess the contenders and the pretenders in the NFL.  The criteria are the same: I rank teams based on how I think they’d fare against one another in a 10 game home-and-home series.

  1. Denver: I know their next four didn’t compare as favorably to their first four, but I still take them to beat any other team on a neutral field.  They’ve got the best point differential (PD), highest rating according to Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), and lead in Pro Football Reference’s Simple Rating System (SRS).  To me, that adds up to being the best team in the league.
  2. Seattle: If they played every game at home, they’d be the top team.  And they’re still a good road team.  But I’m not sure they’re good enough that I’d take them over Denver six times out of ten.
  3. New Orleans: They’re playing well in all phases of the game right now.
  4. San Francisco: They’ve rebounded well from some early bumps in the road.  If you wanted to put them ahead of the Saints, I wouldn’t fight you for it.  Those two teams are a coin-flip for me.
  5. Kansas City: I know, I know… they’re undefeated and have arguably the league’s best defense.  But I’m not sure they can play from behind, which they may have to do in the playoffs.
  6. Indianapolis: They beat three of the top four teams on this list and certainly have spit in the eye of regression-to-the-mean.  But the Wayne injury just kills them.
  7. Green Bay: Rodgers is playing like Rodgers AND they’re getting help in the running game.  Look out.
  8. Detroit: With Megatron back at full-health, this team is never out of it.  The question for them is: Can they play consistently enough for four quarters against good teams?
  9. Cincinnati: Is this the worst great team?  Or the best good team?  How much should shellacking a better-than-expected-but-possibly-still-bad Jets team count for?
  10. New England: Tom Brady is on pace for career worsts in just about every category.  And before you blame the receiving corps, watch a game: he is missing throws all on his own.
  11. Carolina: Good defense can hide bad coaching/offensive play calling.
  12. Dallas: Talented but underachieving.  Where have we heard that before?
  13. San Diego: Better than expected but still losing winnable games.  Their division does them no favors.
  14. Chicago: You can’t rely on your defense to score all your points for you.  Especially when that defense is boom-or-bust.
  15. Miami: Last time, I had them in this exact spot, with the following comment: “Are they for real?  I dunno, but they are definitely much improved.”  I feel it still holds.
  16. NY Jets: What do we make of this team?  The numbers say they’re bad… perhaps even very bad.  But they’re at .500 with a big win over the Patriots under their belt.  Only to follow that up with their best unit getting destroyed by Cinci.
  17. Baltimore: Just feels like an average team.  Neither great nor terrible in any phase of the game.
  18. Arizona: Boring.
  19. Tennessee: They’re on a 3 game losing streak, but all against elite teams.  Hard to judge.
  20. Cleveland: If they had even a decent quarterback, they’d be making noise.  They don’t.  So they aren’t.
  21. Buffalo: Surprisingly competitive despite being on their 14th string QB.
  22. Philadelphia:  They only reason they aren’t lower is because of how many bad teams we have going right now.  They haven’t scored an offensive touchdown in two games.  And this under the leadership of a supposed offensive genius.  Mark my words: Chip Kelly is not and will not be a good NFL coach.
  23. Houston: How the mighty have fallen.  Now the question is: Were they ever that mighty to begin with?
  24. Oakland: Pryor keeps it interesting, but this team is seriously talent-deprived.
  25. NY Giants: A mirror image of Oakland… plenty of talent, but they can’t outplay lesser competition most days. Looking better the past few weeks though…
  26. Washington: They haven’t put together four good quarters yet, but they’re getting closer.
  27. Atlanta: Injuries have ended whatever slim hopes they had of a turnaround.
  28. St. Louis: Last time, I asked: “Explain to me the difference between Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez.”  It seems Bradford and Sanchez’s fates are more closely aligned than we might have thought.
  29. Tampa Bay: Why does Schiano still have a job?
  30. Pittsburgh: Who cares?
  31. Minnesota: Not Josh Freeman, that’s who.
  32. Jacksonville:  This is getting embarassing.

What say thee?

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26 thoughts on “Halfway Highlights

  1. I disagree about Chip Kelly. He is being let down by appalling quarterback play and his last game was played largely with Matt Barkley who was horrible. There is a nice take about this over at Grantland this week.

    The Giants are in there twice – presumably Tampa Bay was supposed to go in one of those spots but, what the hell, the Giants are bad enough to be at the bottom twice.

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    • I watched the entire Giants/Eagles games and as much of the Eagles as I can this year (I’m a diehard Iggles fan). Chip Kelly’s play calling is atrocious. Why did he roll Barkley out to his off-side with a one-receiver read on 1st and goal with two timeouts and over a minute to go? That was appalling. Did he forget that Barkley throws right and therefore the play can’t run the same way as if Vick was in there? You don’t put a rookie QB in that situation.

      His playbook is incredibly shallow. His Oregon offense was never a complex one and relied on conditioning, speed, and exploiting mismatches with the no-huddle. That doesn’t work in the NFL. How many bubble screens for 4 yards is he going to call? Why are they running read-options with immobile QBs?

      The QB play has been bad, but Foles was fine versus TB and Vick was great the first three weeks. Did they suddenly become inept? Or has Kelly been figured out and has yet to adjust? My money is on the latter. Perhaps the Grantland piece will change my mind, but my eye test tells me their offense is bland, bland, bland. You can score points with bad QBs; you can’t score points with terrible play calling.

      Thanks for the note on TB; fixed it.

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      • I also don’t get how Matt Barkley is a fit for Kelly’s offense. It’s unfair to say that Chip Kelly was let down by Barkley. As you note, Kazzy, why are they running a Michael Vick offense with Matt Barkley? Much of that is on Kelly.

        I’m also surprised they haven’t brought back Dixon with all the injuries (or have they and did I miss it?).

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      • I’m a Chip Kelly fan, but I was skeptical from the beginning that his offensive approach would translate to the pros. I suppose it’s too early to make a definitive pronouncement about it, but I wouldn’t say I’m surprised so far.

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      • Kelly’s aceptance of the offer baffled me. The only plausible explanations I could think of were weariness of recruiting and just plain ol’ curiosity about whether against all odds he could make the system work in the pros.

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      • Isn’t Oregon facing NCAA punishment? He initially spurned the Eagles, who upped their offer but not considerably, and suddenly he came back with open arms. The theory at the time was that he got wind of what might be coming down the road and, oh, hey, extra money? Sure.

        Kelly’s offense obviously worked at Oregon. And elsewhere in the college ranks. There is no taking that away from him. But the pros are a different animal on a number of levels and he has not adjusted.

        It should also be pointed out that Kelly drafted Barkley. Any issues he has with him he needs to take some responsibility for.

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      • What, those piddly little penalties? Bah. I don’t buy it. Granted he accepted Philly’s offer before the penalties were made public, but based on what Oregon did there was no reason to expect more severe penalties.

        UO self imposed the loss of two scholarships. They’ve had a couple low-level recruiting violations before (assistant coaches who got overzealous, athletes selling stuff), and the school self-reported and self-punished before the NCAA got wind of it. They have a good idea of how to avoid getting hammered, and if they’d had reason to expect the hammer they would have been more vigorous in their self-punishment.

        I get why the timing supports that interpretation, but I don’t think anything else in the story supports it.

        I also understand why Oregon’s actions look like they deserve harsher sanctions, but the fact is they were dancing in the niches between the rules, not blatantly violating them. Too clever by half and I don’t like it one bit, but technically not a blatant violation. At least not yet.

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      • Will, you do remember that Oregon led Auburn with half a minute to go and even the ball carrier thought he had been tackled (until his sharp-eyed teammates on the sideline yelled at him to run)? Auburn won, and fair and square, but on something of a fluke play. That’s not much of a brick wall.

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      • I’m happy to defer to you on all things Oregon. It was actually just the other day that I was thinking, “Wait… I thought OU was in trouble… whatever happened to that?” Learning that the punishment was relatively minor puts the narrative I proposed into question. So, perhaps his interest in the NFL in general and the Eagles in particular was more genuine than initially suspected.

        Regardless… I know it has only been 8 games, but they have been a pretty brutal 8 games. Throw the record out… the offense is getting worse and worse and only part of that can be attributed to injuries. His decision making is suspect. And he has made zero adjustments as opponents have adjusted to him. That is not a recipe for success in today’s NFL.

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    • I loved the Rick Reilly column after week 1 that explained how Chip Kelly is going to redefine offensive play in the NFL, just like Bill Walsh did only more so. What I loved about it is that it removed any lingering doubt that Reilly is a low-grade moron.

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  2. Is Tom Brady the biggest disappointment of the season? Not just because he’s been without Gronk until recently and Amendola has been spotty. When Handsome Tom plays like himself, it isn’t super-important who’s catching the ball, as long as they can run kinda fast. Sort of like Manning (the Good One, not Eli), or the Best Quarterback On The Planet ™, or Brees. But instead, the Patriots are no more fun to watch this year than the Jets. Usually you can at least derive some visceral fantasy football thrill from the fact that the Pats cheat and run up the score. But not this year. This year, they look… kinda average. If anything your #10 rank is generous to New England, because the step down from the top eight teams to the next tier is so steep.

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  3. As I wrote to a fellow Chiefs fan on The Facebooks earlier today, KC is making the plays they have to make on both sides of the ball, but especially on defense. The offense is anemic and lacks star power outside of Charles, Bowe, and Smith and they won’t win a shootout. I don’t think they’re better than Denver or Seattle and I’d love to see head-to-head matchups against San Fran and New Orleans. I’ll settle for finishing the season 3-5, stealing one from Denver in Arrowhead, and capturing a Wildcard spot for the playoffs.

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  4. Your ranking of Denver and Kansas city is so ludicrous, the editors should put a tartan where the missing front page pic is.

    Denver’s opponents have been every bit the sorry lot that KCs has – with the exception of Indy, which of course was a loss. Furthermore, Denver underperformed against the worst of the bunch so far, Jax & Oak – and even against Wash, where Manning would have received Fark’s Jake Delhomme award were he not ineligible due to his team’s victory.

    Other than that, great list.

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    • denver is better just because of the manning. when alex smith, loser of starting spot mid season(to a rookie!) is your signal caller, it just limits you so much. peyton is not out of a game until the clock is over. smith is likely out in the second half if your down by 14.

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