The NFL Power Poll makes its 2011 debut… same game (music for each team/group of teams that exemplifies where they are at this point in the season)… Starting at the top!
Green Bay Packers
“All the other kids, with their pumped up kicks, better run, better run, outrun my gun!”
– “Pumped up Kicks” by Foster the People
Can enough be said about how sick Aaron Rodgers has been this season? (So much so that I’ve now abandoned my Jake Gyllenhal jokes… Consequently, I’m devoting that energy into a “Forrest Griffin looks like Josh Hartnett” campaign) Good gracious… Jermichael Finley has the NFL’s Best Tight End Championship belt (Good run, Antonio Gates… though, Jimmy Graham is the #1 Contender). Clay Matthews has the NFL Best Outside Linebacker Championship belt (Good run, James Harrison)… not to mention the fact that Greg Jennings has a credible claim on a share of the Best Wide Receiver Championship belt (Larry Fitzgerald is a decent QB away from owning it outright… let’s just say that Fitzy has the WBO and WBC belts), B.J. Raji singlehandedly dominating games, and Mason Crosby making field goals from 32947823748 yards out. This team may not lose.
New England Patriots
“When you gotta job to do, you gotta do it well… and give the other guy hell”
– “Live and let die” by Paul McCartney
In honor of Sir McCartney’s third marriage, I had to throw out a song lyric of his. Though, who better to the timeless Beatle than the timeless machine that is the Patriots’ offense? Wes Welker may be in the midst of one of the greatest WR seasons ever. Their defense is slowly rounding in to form and, with the vanquishing of their nemesis, the Jets, their path to the AFC East crown is pretty wide open save for one surprising challenger.
Baltimore Ravens and San Diego Chargers
“I went to the store and found that talk is still cheap.”
– “She will” by Lil’ Wayne
These teams have just been coming out and beating down their opponents, save for one game. While the Ravens’ slip-up was a shocking misstep against an up-and-down Titans teams, the Chargers can take solace in their lone loss coming against the Patriots. While each have done it differently (Ravens, defense; Chargers, offense), the results can’t be disputed. These three teams were lost in a lot of the off-season hype and talk, but they’ve proved that they’re viable candidates for the Super Bowl.
Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints, and San Francisco 49ers
“Sooner or later, it comes down to fate… I might as well be the one.”
– “Only the Good Die young” by Billy Joel
Three franchises that can’t win for losing the past few seasons… Matt Schaub use to be a whizz kid but that was five seasons ago. He’s looking more Matt Hasselback than Tom Brady these days as he and his absent minded professor coach, Gary Kubiak, find new ways to disappoint their fan base each season. Things aren’t much better in the city by the Bay. The Saints can only ride Drew Brees’ wizardry for so long… The Singletary years built a great foundation (unfortunately, that foundation didn’t come with an offense), that didn’t result in anything other than great moral character. Jim Harbaugh has them all believing, but he still has Alex Smith at Quarterback… The Texans and 49ers have seemingly had “the goods” for years (The Saints at least got a Lombardi), but haven’t been able to breakthrough. Maybe, in the end, the last two play-off teams in and out come down to luck. Could this be the year that the Texans and 49ers luck changes?
Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills
“I’m just doin’ better than what everyone projected, I knew that I’d be here, if you ask me how it feel, Imma say it’s everything that I expected.”
– “My Last” by Big Sean
No one (not even those hearty citizens of the Motor and Queen City) expected their teams to be doing this well at this point in the season. They could each lose out the rest of the way (not likely, but just saying) and this season will already be looked upon as an improvement over anything in recent history (Justin Verlander is sitting distraught in a quiet room somewhere right now). Whether it’s Fitzmagic in Western NY or Chaos N. Suh in Eastern Michigan, we can all agree that something special is happening (and will continue to happen until the inevitable Matt Stafford injury and the NFL realizes the Bills have no front seven).
“They sayin’ I fell off, ooh, I needed that.”
– “Headlines” by Drake
Yes, we were all ready to call the Steelers as good as dead after they caught a good, ol’ fashion, passionate butt whippin’ in Week 1 (I even believe they had their shoes, coat, and hat taken), had a few sluggish wins, and were lambasted by Houston (Had I put this out two weeks ago like I originally wanted, they would’ve been a few rungs lower). Though, just like always, Ben rubbed some dirt on his face, fake limped (look, I’m not saying he isn’t in pain, but even Tiny Tim tweeted for Roethlisberger to stop milking it) and gritted his teeth to a dominant performance of the Titans. The AFC’s top two seeds won’t be decided until Week 16.
Washington Redskins, New York Giants, and Tennessee Titans
“O.g. is one who standin’ on his own feet./A boss is one who guarantee we gone eat…
dawg … one day we gone meet.”
– “I’m a Boss” by MMG
These teams have been down for a few seasons (well, some longer than others… See: Snyder, Mr.) for various different reasons (Hi, Daniel; Eli + no pass rush; Fisher and VY had worn out their stays three seasons ago), but that’s all ancient news now. Much like William Leonard Roberts II (aka Ricky Rosay, who in his own right was a decent football prospect), a few big hits can erase even the most dubious past and give credence to whatever you’re shouting about now. Granted, shouting over six weeks isn’t the same as doing it for 17… two of these teams are about to go in to free fall
Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, New York Jets, and Oakland Raiders
“We all have a weakness, but some of ours are easy to identify… Remind me that we’ll always have each other, when everything else is gone.”
– “Dig” by Incubus
These teams, while capable of putting together impressive wins (not talking about that Vikings laugher, Chicago… Adrian Peterson deserves better), are clearly a step below the previously mentioned teams. However, it’s not quite as severe as what many news outlets are reporting them to be. Matt Ryan, maybe not the savior he was proclaimed to be, is still a top ten QB in this league (I’m sure the Ravens, Redskins, Titans, and 49ers would take him over their current signal callers in a nanosecond). Jay Cutler isn’t the same guy who sulked his way out of Denver (much in how Steve Young became a man when he came to San Francisco ). The Jets can still do enough well that ten wins is pretty conceivable (that defense and their wide receivers are well above the league average). Oakland may have lost Jason Campbell for the season, but they have the “win it for Al”, Carson trying to prove the haters wrong, and the awful AFC West advantage that these other teams lack. All these large fan bases should take solace, most of these team’s cores are young and under contract for some time… there’s no where to go but up.
Tampa Bay Bucs, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Dallas Romos
“I don’t need to be reminded that this is how it was. I moved on, I passed a billboard down my block, that asks if I’ve had enough, and aloud I say “I’ve had too much” when the truth is, I’m just getting started.”
– “Barlights” by Fun.
All these teams are probably done with the season all ready, yet, they still have to play the rest of their games. In fact, they probably all want to hit the “reset” button and try to have a better showing. Alas, that isn’t the case which means that their fans are already looking to next year. Unfortunately, many of these teams are in tenuous positions with some solid, young players (Josh Freeman and LaGarette Blount, Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, Colt McCoy and Greg Little, Dez Bryant and… Miles Austin is still youngish), but a lot more older and unreliable ones ( Does Tampa Bay ’s defense have a starter under 27 not named Gerald McCoy? Can you name any of the journeymen that comprise the Bengals’ and Browns’ offensive lines? Don’t even bother to ask about the Cowboy’s offensive line). Is it too early to start cheering for the 2013 versions of these teams?
“You’d kill yourself for recognition,
Kill yourself to never ever stop
You broke another mirror,
You’re turning into something you are not.”
– “High and Dry” by Radiohead
Poor, poor Mike Vick. After all the accolades and big contract, he wanted nothing more than to put the Eagles back on his back and carry them through another torrid season while disproving all his haters (believe me, there’s a lot of them still… its like they just mutated! In fact, I was at a party last weekend where a guy steadfastly asserted that Vick would “never be a viable QB” because “he was always looking to run”. The guy was a Packers fan and failed to realize that Vick season high in passing yards in a game exceeded Aaron Rodgers, to whom Vick had only eight less passing attempts.). The more deadest on being the “pocket Vick” this Eagles team becomes, the more they lose their identity (as well as their “scary to defend” essence). It’s all about finding a balance, which was on display this past Sunday. The rest of the league should hope that was just an aberration and not the new modus operandi.
Carolina Fightin’ Cam Newtons
“Hold up, before we end this campaign,
As you can see, we done bodied the damn lames,
Lord, please let them accept the things they can’t change,
And pray that all of their pain be champagne,”
– “Otis” by Kanye West and Jay-Z
Juxtapose to the distraught plight of Michael Vick is the unflappable, untouchable Cam Newton (Elliot Ness, and the other NFL rookies, have nothing on him!). Whether its dropping three hundred yard passing games like its nothing (really, Cam… back-to-back 400 yard games!?!) or shrugging off the NCAA investigations ( Auburn allegedly spent $120k to land Newton … what a bargain! Don’t believe me? Ask tOSU boosters how much they shelled out on Pryor). Newton hasn’t just changed the game for the time being, he’s given the Panthers their first legitimate superstar QB (Sorry, Delhomme and Collins… no apologies to Chris Weinke) and resurrected the career of Steve Smith (who may be the happiest person in the Carolinas not named Dabo Swinney).
Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, and Arizona Cardinals
“Maybe sometimes, we feel afraid, but it’s alright,
The more you stay the same, the more they seem to change…
Just go ahead, let your hair down…You’re gonna find yourself somewhere, somehow.”
– “Put Your Records on” by Corinne Bailey Rae
These teams are bad. Though, it isn’t quite as dismal as it looks (even for you, Tarvaris Jackson). They’re not that bad, talent-wise (well, maybe you are, Kevin Kolb); they’re just bad, identity-wise. If Dennis Green were faced with scheming against them, he’d look quizzically and shrug (why this could be for a variety of reasons, the one I was looking for is that they couldn’t be who we thought they were because they are nothing). Maybe the promotion of Tebow and jettison of Lloyd (the loudest pro-Orton supporter, btw) is the spark plug this team needs (I can tell you as an Eric Decker fantasy owner, I’m pretty excited). Maybe Sidney Rice FINALLY being healthy will right the Seahawks ship (granted, that ship is more rowboat than battleship, but it’s the NFC West… we take what we can get). Maybe Larry Fitzgerald will repeatedly defy double and triple teams to allow the Cardinals offense to resemble… well, an offense. I don’t know. I do know that one of these teams is about to rocket up the standings… stay tuned.
Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins, and St. Louis Rams
“Your classicisms and history don’t impress me… I was born for today and the day after, year after year”
– “The Future is now” by The Boo Radleys
These teams are bad. Though, again, it isn’t quite as dismal as it looks (well, except for you, Matt Moore). Youth rules these teams and, much like the teams a few rungs up, its all about tomorrow. Unfortunately, its still today… The Vikings have finally realized (or maybe not) that going with the grizzled, veteran QB isn’t always the best solution (one out of three isn’t bad). The Christian Ponder era has officially begun (though, it looks strangely like the dawn of the Joe Webb era). Miami has done everything except for starting to sell Andrew Luck jerseys to make it clear that they’re packing it in and hoping to land the superstar QB. With the electric Reggie Bush, the enigmatic Brandon Marshall, the incendiary Daniel Thomas, the productive Anthony Fasano, a underrated defense (hi, Cameron Wake!) and well, whatever it is Brian Hartline brings to the table, its not exactly like the cupboard is bare. Sam Bradford is good and now he finally has a receiver to accompany Stephen Jackson.
Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs
“We get wasted, then I taste it, then I waste it again… and we’re doin’ it again”
– “Another again” by John Legend
These teams are bad. Like, really bad. It is as dismal as it looks. In fact, it’s worse. The Jaguars have underwhelming Rookie QB Blaine Gabbert as the Red Riffle (Andy Dalton) continues to dazzle in Cincinatti, their coach is as good as fired, and the LA has done everything except hiring the moving company to bring the Jaguars to the City of Angels. Poor Mauriece Jones-Drew. You deserve better than this, my friend. On the opposite end, you have the Chiefs. Last year’s winners of the AFC West by virtue of taking advantage of a weak schedule and being merely competent (How the Chargers were Norv Turner’d out of a dynasty should be one of the biggest shortcomings ever… fortunately, San Diego is such an awesome place that their fans have plenty of distractions). This season has seen them freefall, wasting all of last year’s momentum… The Chargers seemingly have their act together and playing the first place teams from the other divisions isn’t quite as easy. They’re an old, veteran team so the rebuilding phase hasn’t even started yet. Worse still, they don’t even have the light of the tunnel of moving to a sunny locale… Arrowhead has seen the last playoff game it’ll probably see for a long time.
“Home, lemme go home! Home is whenever I’m with you.”
– “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes
The song here sums up how Colt’s fans feel about their broken leader, Peyton Manning. Curtis Painter hasn’t made anyone forget about Jim Sorgi (which, in itself, may be the worst feeling outside of Manning’s neck right now). The defense is old and hurt and the offense… well, they count the fact that Painter hasn’t completely messed himself a positive. Colts’ fans don’t have to be worrying about home… seems they’ll be there for at least the next two postseasons. Manning is 36 and if he’s unable to return near his pre-injury form and they miss on Luck, the Colts could be home for much, much longer.