I have a bunch of new readers since the end of the regular season last year, so for those of you that are new, we do a “Hierarchy/Obituary” post every week in which we kill off teams that I think have reached the point where they have almost no chance to make the playoffs. We then write their obituary and never speak of them again. We also rank the teams in terms of the hierarchy of the NFC, from least threatening to the king. The AFC gets completely ignored, because, well, I’m not going to pretend that I know the AFC teams anywhere close to the level that I know the NFC teams.
Anyway, it’s my hackneyed sell-out spin on the more traditional “Power Rankings,” but they’re fun to do and give me an excuse to poke fun at a whole new group of teams around the league, while also throwing out some random nuggets. Let’s just get right to it:
Adrian Peterson didn’t just tear his ACL on Christmas last year. He completely shredded his knee. Torn ACL, MCL, and meniscus. In 2005, Duante Culpepper tore his ACL, MCL, and PCL, and it wrecked his career. Tom Brady tore his ACL, MCL, and meniscus in 2008, and it took him two years to get back to where he was. Those are QBs, of course, and obviously healthy knees are less important to a QB than they are to a RB. Even if Peterson can get back on the field by Week 1, it’s totally unrealistic to expect him to be anywhere close to the player we’re used to seeing.
Minus a healthy Adrian Peterson, the Vikings offense doesn’t have much, nor do they have a good defense. In fact, there’s a decent chance they’ll be starting a pair of rookies at safety this season.
I think that the Vikings are probably better than the Rams, but the Vikes have the misfortune of playing in the same division as the Packers, Lions, and Bears.
The Rams fooled a lot of people last year. 5 of the 7 NFL.com experts picked the Rams to win the NFC West. 9 of the 12 ESPN experts picked the Rams as well. 4 of the 7 at FOX Sports. 7 of 8 at Sports Illustrated. And so on.
I get that the NFC West was supposed to absolutely suck last year, but why the Rams? I mean… What did people see in that garbage team? At the time (and remember, this was before Cam Newton and Andy Dalton went out and had legitimately impressive rookie seasons), it had been a long time since a great rookie QB played really well for a full season, and I think some people went a little overboard in proclaiming Bradford “the next great QB.” People convinced themselves that he was the best QB in that division, and rolled with it. However, the thinking that Sam Bradford had a good rookie season was very much a myth. The reality was that he had a nice 6-game stretch in the middle of the season, but was otherwise really bad:
|Sam Bradford 2010||Comp||Att||Yards||TD||INT||Rating|
In 2011, Bradford had no such impressive stretch. He was just bad from wire to wire, never throwing more than 1 TD pass in any game, and barely topping 6 yards per pass attempt.
I like some of the moves they made in free agency (Cortland Finnegan, Scott Wells, etc), and they had 4 of the top 50 picks in the 2012 draft. They’ll also of course have an extra 1st round pick in 2013 and 2014, courtesy of the Redskins, so this is certainly a team to look out for in the next 3 or 4 years. But this team, for now, is still junk.
Poor Steven Jackson:
Another 3000 or so words after the jump…
By the time the 2011 season was over, the Bucs were the worst team in the league, in my opinion. They were 27th in points scored and dead last (by a mile) in points allowed. They gave up at least 24 points in every single one of their last 10 games, all losses. Over their last 12 games, they gave up 417 points, or 34.75 per game. They were second worst in the league with a point differential of -207 (the aforementioned Rams were last at -214). That’s some serious awfulness.
This offseason, the Bucs finally spent some money. The big signings were Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright, and they added some other smaller pieces like Dallas Clark and Amobi Okoye.
They’ll be better in 2012 (not sure how they could possibly be worse), but this is still clearly the worst team in the NFC South.
This season is Washington is a honeymoon. Fans will marvel at the occasional big play by RG3, and they’ll roll with the inevitable growing pains. Mike Shanahan is in Year 3 of his “5 year plan.” So far, his record is 11-21. I would expect the gap between wins and losses to widen further this year, as this is not a team that is going to compete for the NFC East title in 2012. The Redskins will have to at the very least show that they have the look of a contender in 2013, or Shanahan could be gone.
However, I certainly don’t expect the Skins to be a pushover. This is a team that didn’t just sweep the Super Bowl Champions last season – They manhandled them. They have a really solid front 7 and some young up-and-comers at the offensive skill positions. The major worries will be the offensive line and the defensive secondary.
If the Skins can somehow win 7 games and RG3 shows progression throughout the season, 2012 should be viewed as a success.
The Cardinals are very quietly building an impressive, young defense (ages as of today’s date):
- DE: Calais Campbell – 25
- NT: Dan Williams – 25
- DE: Darnell Dockett – 31
- LOLB: O’Brien Schofield – 25
- LILB: Daryl Washington – 25
- RILB: Paris Lenon – 34
- ROLB: Sam Acho – 25
- LCB: Patrick Peterson – 21
- SS: Adrian Wilson -32
- FS: Kerry Rhodes -29
- RCB: A.J. Jefferson – 24
Calais Campbell is one of the best defensive players in the league. In fact, he made my world famous Marklar team. That’s when you know you’ve arrived. It’s my understanding that Campbell broke down and cried when he learned that he made it. Campbell, Darnell Dockett, and Dan Williams may be the best 3-4 DL in the league. But it doesn’t end there. Daryl Washington is an absolute stud at ILB, and Sam Acho closed the season with 4 sacks and 3 FF in his last 6 games as a rookie. Meanwhile, Patrick Peterson stunk last season (return ability aside), but he’ll only get better, and the Cards have a good veteran duo in Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson. It’s not complete, but they’re on their way.
The offense, meanwhile, may once again have a really scary WR duo in Larry Fitzgerald and rookie Michael Floyd. Unfortunately, Kevin Kolb got worse last season. I’m still a believer in #4, but my confidence is waning.
The Panthers’ rushing attack:
In a league that is building defenses designed to stop the pass, the Panthers are going to be very difficult to match up with for some teams.
On a side note, Carolina drafted three of my favorite players in this year’s draft: Luke Keuchly, Amini Silotolu, who has just a comical college highlight reel against weaker competition (video has since been made private), and WR Joe Adams, who was my favorite player at the Senior Bowl.
I think the Seahawks are going to have difficulty scoring, but I love this defense. They’re light on name recognition, but they’re fast and and they swarm to the football. A lot of people dumped on the Seahawks for their draft, especially for taking DE Bruce Irvin in the 1st and QB Russell Wilson in the 3rd, but after digesting it a little I kind of liked what they did.
Pre-draft, there was an interesting little nugget from DCFanatic Radio, who did an interview with DE/OLB Bruce Irvin from West Virginia. Irvin was widely projected as a pass rushing 3-4 OLB at the next level, but they asked Irvin if any 4-3 teams have talked to him. Apparently, the Eagles and Lions had shown interest. The commonality of the Eagles and Lions? They both run the wide 9. In college, Irvin was used in a position that didn’t play to his strengths. West Virginia ran a weird 3-3-5 defense with Irvin playing DE in that scheme, and he still found a way to get to the QB 22.5 times the last 2 seasons. Here’s what their 3-3-5 defense looks like:
The other interesting thing from Irvin’s interview was when he said he’s never been taught how to pass rush.
I feel like, to be honest with you, I’ve never been taught how to pass rush. The last two years, the 23 sacks that I got, it was all natural ability. Not to knock my coaches, but they emphasized stopping the run, and that’s what we did. We never did any pass rushing drills. I feel like, with the proper coaching and the right people around me I feel like I can be a very productive player in this league.
That sounds crazy to me that a football school like WVU wouldn’t have pass rushing drills, but you can kind of see it in the film above. You don’t see a variety of pass rushing moves at all. It’s basically a repertoire of 3 moves: Speed around the corner with a little dip, speed around the corner with a quick stop and rip underneath, and the bull rush. As Irvin noted, it appears that whenever he was getting to the QB, it was just on raw ability. Irvin ran a 4.50 at the Combine. DE’s with that kind of speed don’t grow on trees. Very intriguing player with a lot of upside, and he fits in perfectly with the speedy Seahawk D.
I’m going to go out on a limb here a little – I think if I had to pick a DROY this season, I’d go with Luke Keuchly, but I think Irvin can be right in that mix.
Also like the Bobby Wagner pick in the 2nd, by the way. This defense is going to make plays.
Seemingly every year, you’ll hear NFL analysts refer to the Cowboys as one of the most talented teams in the league, and it’s easy to see why. With players like DeMarcus Ware, Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Jay Ratliff, and Sean Lee, the Cowboys don’t lack star power. And again, seemingly every year, the very same analysts call the Cowboys “underachievers” or “disappointments” for either failing to qualify for the playoffs, or getting knocked out early.
But it really shouldn’t come as a huge surprise why the Cowboys are 14-18 over the last two seasons. They’ve been weak in the trenches, their other starters and/or role players have underperformed, and they have lacked depth up and down the roster. All sizzle, no steak. In my opinion, this is an average team, and is pretty clearly behind the Eagles and Giants in the NFC East (bracing for onslaught).
Matty Ice in the playoffs:
|Matty Ice in the playoffs||Comp||Att||Yards||YPA||TD||INT||Rating||Result|
|Vs Giants, 2011||24||41||199||4.85||0||0||71.1||L (24-2)|
|Vs Packers, 2010||20||29||186||6.41||1||2||69||L (48-21)|
|Vs Cardinals, 2009||26||40||199||4.98||2||2||72.8||L (30-24)|
If Ryan played in a bigger market that cared more about sports, he would be getting destroyed.
The Bears with Jay Cutler and Matt Forte last year:
The Bears without Jay Cutler and Matt Forte last season:
Cutler and Forte will be back.
This time last year, I did not believe in the Lions, and said so, in emphatic fashion:
A funny thing happens with traditionally good teams and traditionally bad teams. People try to poke holes in the good teams’ rosters and try to make arguments why they won’t be good, ignoring their strengths. Conversely, they try to point out the strengths of the bad teams and try to make an argument why they’ll be good, while ignoring the mountain of weaknesses. The Lions are Exhibit A. Peter King has them going 10-6. Really? 10-6? A few points:
- Complete lack of a running game in 2010 that didn’t get any better.
- The QB has missed 19 games the past two seasons, and has a career passer rating of 67.1. Let’s not pretend that he’s suddenly going to be a major upgrade to Shaun Hill. Obviously, Stafford is the long term answer and hopefully becomes the face of the franchise, but Hill-to-Stafford is probably a downgrade in the short term, at least early in the season.
- Major holes in the secondary.
- Major holes along the OL.
- Despite that really good DL, they still couldn’t stop the run last season (24th in the league).
So go ahead and waste your 7th round pick in your fantasy league on Stafford, or go ahead and predict they’re going to go 10-6. It’s fun, I get it. And I should note here that I reeeeaaaally like what the Lions are doing and have 100% faith in Jim Schwartz. But you’re wasting your time. Maybe in 2012.
Wow, OK, so not only was I wildly wrong (especially in making fun of Peter King), but I managed to sound like an arrogant prick in the process. While I was kind of right on 4 out of 5 of those bullet points, Matthew Stafford was awesome last season.
On a side fantasy football note regarding Stafford, one major thing to note on him:
That lead the league in 2011:
That probably won’t change much, seeing as the Lions still don’t have any kind of running game, as long as Stafford stays healthy.
And one last thing, courtesy of Evan Silva:
Is this the best defense in the NFL? I think so. Having four guys like the incredible Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman, and Aldon Smith all on one defense is almost unfair. I’m not sure how Eli Manning survived the NFC Championship Game, frankly, but I think we all saw how tough that guy really is.
It’s just that… Alex Smith. I just can’t get myself to buy in there yet.
In 2011, Alex Smith had career bests in all of the following categories:
Kudos to Smith and head coach Jim Harbaugh for the season he had in 2011. However, it the number of INTs that give me pause on Smith. He had just 5 in 2012. And it’s not like they didn’t throw the ball. 445 pass attempts is a legitimate amount. The extremely low INT total is very impressive, but it is also unsustainable. Expect that number to at least double in 2012.
The talent on this offense rivals that of the Saints and the Packers, and in my opinion, this defense is much better. The major difference, however, is that I have full confidence that Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers will be great every week, whereas Michael Vick’s greatness is more sporadic, and occasionally absent.
But the real strength of this team is the defensive line, which is beyond stacked. A day or two ago, I peeked in on Osi Umenyiora’s Rotoworld page to see if they had any details on his contract yet, and happened to stumble upon this analysis:
Giants DE Osi Umenyiora’s restructured deal with the Giants is for just one season.
Financial details are forthcoming, but NFL Network’s Albert Breer has reported that the deal is likely to be worth roughly $7.5 million in 2012, with a voidable year in 2013 to spread out the salary cap hit. It’s believed Umenyiora will receive a $3 million signing bonus. He’ll hit unrestricted free agency next year at age 31, seeking one last mega-contract. For 2012, the Giants will keep intact the NFL’s most ferocious defensive line east of Detroit.
Wait a second. On that last sentence… most ferocious D Line “east of Detroit?” What does that mean? That Detroit’s DL is better than the Giants’ DL, and the Eagles’ as well? Is that a joke?
|LDE||Jason Babin||Brandon Graham||Phillip Hunt|
|LDT||Cullen Jenkins||Fletcher Cox||Cedric Thornton|
|RDT||Mike Patterson||Antonio Dixon||Derek Landri|
|RDE||Trent Cole||Vinny Curry||Darryl Tapp|
|LDE||Justin Tuck||Justin Trattou||Adrian Tracy|
|LDT||Linval Joseph||Shaun Rogers||Rocky Bernard|
|RDT||Chris Canty||Marvin Austin||Markus Kuhn|
|RDE||Jason Pierre-Paul||Osi Umenyiora|
|LDE||Cliff Avril||Lawrence Jackson||Everette Brown|
|LDT||Ndamukong Suh||Nick Fairley|
|RDT||Corey Williams||Sammie Lee Hill||Andre Fluellen|
|RDE||Kyle Vanden-Bosch||Willie Young||Ronnell Lewis|
I think there’s a great debate between the Eagles and Giants, but the Lions aren’t even in the conversation.
“Wildcard, bitches! YEEEEEHHHHHHAAAAAA!“ When does Drew Brees sign a contract and join his teammates? Until we know that, I don’t really think I can comment on this team. Obviously, distractions are going to follow the Saints around the entire season, but I think they’ll be fine as long as their true leader is in the fold. But if Drew’s absence lingers on into training camp, they could be in deep trouble.
Still an awesome team, but far from perfect. Here are the major deficiencies that would scare me if I were a Packers fan:
- Marshall Newhouse is likely to start the season as the LT. Newhouse was affected by the lack of an offseason last year and had to deal with the death of his grandmother in the middle of the season, but he was horrid in 2011.
- Scott Wells is out at center. Wells is one of the best centers on the league, and he left to join the Rams. The Packers filled that hole with Jeff Saturday, who turns 37 in a few weeks. Saturday played well last year on a terrible Colts team, but how much can he reasonably have left in the tank?
- The Packers secondary was horrid last year. At this time last year, the secondary was perceived as a major strength, with Charles Woodson, breakout star Tramon Williams, and rookie surprise Sam Shields at CB. Woodson made a few plays, but the group as a whole got shredded to the tune of 299.8 passing yards per game. Only one another team (the Saints) were within 40 yards of that average. In fairness, the Packers often held leads on their opponents, who were forced to throw more than normal, but 300 yards per game is still an unacceptable total, any way you slice it. The loss of Nick Collins to a severe neck injury last season really hurt them. His replacement, Charlie Peprah, is not a legitimate NFL starting safety.
- B.J. Raji is a big name, but he stunk in 2011. NT is such an important position in the 3-4, and if the Packers can’t jump out to big leads regularly like they did in 2011, they can’t afford to have Raji pushed around in the run game like he was last season. He needs to be much better in 2012.
Now, as I mentioned above:
A funny thing happens with traditionally good teams and traditionally bad teams. People try to poke holes in the good teams’ rosters and try to make arguments why they won’t be good, ignoring their strengths. Conversely, they try to point out the strengths of the bad teams and try to make an argument why they’ll be good, while ignoring the mountain of weaknesses.
I don’t want to be the guy that does that. Despite the above bullet points, Aaron Rodgers remains the best player in the game, and that offense as a whole is almost impossible to defend when it’s clicking. This is still the best team in the league, in my opinion.