First NFC Hierarchy/Obituary of 2013

In case you’re a new reader, we do a “Hierarchy/Obituary” post every week during the season 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… well, except in the Redskins’ case last year, when I killed them off at 3-6, and then they rattled off 7 straight wins and won the division. 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 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 this rare off-season version:

16. No quarterback. No offensive line. No running game. Oh, and they play in the same division as arguably the two best teams in the conference. Good luck, Cards.

15. The Vikings traded away talented headache Percy Harvin to the Seahawks this offseason, and while I believe that Harvin’s value has been ridiculously overrated by NFL pundits far and wide, his presence (or lack thereof) in the Vikings’ offense is going to be felt.

Last season, Christian Ponder threw the ball either behind the line of scrimmage or within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage on a whopping 73.6% of his pass attempts. He only threw the ball more than 20 yards down the field 32 times, or twice per game. The Vikings clearly did not feel comfortable allowing Ponder to take chances down the field, and it’s hard to blame them, considering his numbers when he did throw down the field further than 20 yards:

Ponder

As a result, Percy Harvin had ridiculously inflated “yards after the catch” numbers. Of Harvin’s 677 receiving yards last season, 531 of them were after the catch. More alarming is that it’s not as if Harvin had some kind of impressive yards per catch total. He averaged a mere 10.9 yards per catch, which means that he was catching the bulk of his passes near the line of scrimmage. That’s similar to what you would get out of pass catching RB like Darren Sproles. For a QB, those passes are a small step up from a handoff.

In other words, Ponder has difficulty getting the ball to his wide receivers running traditional patterns, and with Harvin gone, so is his “easy throw crutch.”

The Vikings’ offense is basically going to consist of handing the ball to Adrian Peterson and praying he doesn’t get hurt. I just don’t see how this team can score consistently unless Ponder improves drastically.

14. Here is where the Buccaneers finished in various pass defense metrics in 2012:

  • Passing yards per game: 297.4.  Dead last in the NFL.
  • Passing yards per attempt: 7.9.  4th worst in the NFL.
  • Passing TDs allowed: 30. 5th worst in the NFL.
  • Completion percentage allowed: 65.4%. 5th worst in the NFL.
  • Passing 1st downs allowed: 226. 3rd worst in the NFL.
  • Pass completions of 20+ yards allowed: 69. 2nd worst in the NFL.
  • Pass completions of 40+ yards allowed: 11. Tied for 5th worst in the NFL.

The Buccaneers went from the 32nd ranked rush D in the NFL in 2011 to the #1 ranked unit in 2012.  That was a wildly impressive turnaround, and rookie head coach Greg Schiano should be commended for that.  However, in today’s NFL, even with all the read option stuff that began to emerge last year, is still very much a passing league.

Shutting down the opponents’ run game is great and all, but if the Buccaneers have any hope of being serious contenders in 2013 and beyond, their defense is going to have to be more balanced. To be determined if they can land Darrelle Revis.

13. I’ve seen enough of Michael Vick. In fact, I had seen enough of Michael Vick last year when the the standings still looked like this:

NFC East standings

It’s all here. Those were my feelings on Vick back in October last year, and I have even less confidence in him now. He always had major flaws, but at least he had that breathtaking physical ability to make plays out of nothing. I’m not so sure he even has the dynamic ability anymore, or at least not on the level he was at as recently as 2 years ago.

In the NFL, you either have a QB, or you don’t. And if you don’t, you better have a historic defense like the 2000 Ravens or the 2002 Bucs. Otherwise, you don’t have a chance.

To be determined whether the Eagles will roll with Vick, Nick Foles, or some other surprise option on Week 1. No matter which of those 3 options they choose, it’s hard to imagine the Eagles being serious contenders this year.

On the plus side, I do see a number of reasons for optimism:

  • The defense will be tougher. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be better, but at least they’ll hit.
  • The offensive line should be monumentally improved.
  • They’ll likely play more to their strengths, and actually run the football, which will be a jarring/confusing sight at first, but one I think the fans can get on board with.
  • Chip Kelly’s offense should be exciting to watch.

But until the QB position is figured out, the Eagles will remain behind the other talented teams in the NFC.

12. The Panthers finished their 2012 season on a hot streak, winning their last 4 games, temporarily saving the job of their head coach.

Panthers

Hmmm… That sounds kind of familiar. Will the Panthers be the 2013 version of the 2012 Eagles? I like Cam Newton a whole lot more than I like Michael Vick, but I just don’t see much else that I like about the Panthers’ roster. They’ll be better than they were in their first 12 games last season when they were 3-9, but this is still a work in progress.

11. Way back before the whole “handshake thing” between Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh occurred, the two head coaches had friction on a play that had happened in a previous meeting.  FOX’s Mike Pereira (the former official) wrote about Harbaugh and Schwartz’s initial spat, which was highlighted by Schwartz yelling “Know the rules!”

Detroit had the ball, third-and-10 from the San Francisco 16-yard line with 4:44 left in the first quarter. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw 16 yards to Brandon Pettigrew for a touchdown.

As he was being tackled by Patrick Willis, Willis stripped the ball out of Pettigrew’s hands, but Pettigrew was already down. Harbaugh tried to challenge the ruling, but was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.

While replay did its job on this play, confirming the ruling, Harbaugh attempted to challenge the ruling on the field and was hit with the penalty. Coaches are not allowed to challenge inside of two minutes if they are out of challenges, if they are out of timeouts or if a play is ruled a score.

Harbaugh deserved the penalty, but didn’t deserve the verbal abuse that came from the Lions coach on the other sideline. Schwartz was seen on television mocking Harbaugh by yelling something like, “Know the rules,” except with a little off-color language thrown in.

On Thanksgiving, the Texans were beneficiaries of a terrible call on the field against the Lions that was unquestionably going to be overturned by the automatic TD review, which was similar to the one that prompted Schwartz to insult Harbaugh.  In an act of anger (I’m guessing?), Schwartz threw his challenge flag.  The play then became unreviewable, and the TD stood… even though Schwartz supposedly already knew the rules.

The only reason Schwartz still has a job is because last June he received a contract extension that runs through the 2015 season. Paying a guy for 3 years is a tough pill to swallow for ownership, when they re-upped him so recently. The Lions are a talented but undisciplined football team. In the same way a team can only go as far as their QB will take them, I believe the same can be said of a head coach. I’m not sure Jim Schwartz is cut out to be a head coach at this level.

10. Broken record alert: 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 22-26 over the last three seasons.  They’ve been weak in the trenches and have lacked depth up and down the roster.  All sizzle, no steak.  In my opinion, this remains an average team whose stars continue to age.

9. I’ve picked on the Rams quite a bit, but I’m beginning to turn the corner on them. I really like what they are building on defense, particularly with Cortland Finnegan, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson at CB, in addition to their talented defensive line. Also, if free agent acquisition Jake Long pans out, the Rams will have a pair of good bookend offensive tackles (the other being Rodger Saffold) for the first time in Sam Bradford’s career.

8. In 2012, the Bears beat the teams they should have beaten.

In their 10 wins last season, the teams the Bears beat had a combined record of 64-95-1 (.400). Two of those wins came against the Colts and Vikings, a pair of teams who were not as good as their records would indicate. However, in their 6 losses, the teams the Bears lost to had a combined record of 66-29 (.695).

And so, I’ll place them just below the “good team demarcation.”

7. The Giants’ defense in 2012:

  • 31st in yards, 383.4 yards per game.
  • 31st in yards per play, 6.0.
  • 30th in 3rd down conversions, 42%.
  • 25th in rush yards, 129.1.
  • 28th in yards per carry, 4.6.
  • 28th in pass yards, 254.2.
  • 31st in yards per pass attempt, 8.1.

Gross.

And still, despite those numbers, the Giants only gave up 21.5 points per game, which tied them for 12th in the NFL with the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. Why? Because they were able to force 35 turnovers, which was good for 3rd in the NFL, and they only allowed TDs on 46% of opponents’ trips into the red zone, which was good for 4th in the NFL.

On NFL Network a few weeks ago, Osi Umenyiora was talking about the Giants’ disappointing season on defense last year, and the lack of pressure generated on opposing QBs. Umenyiora said that a major factor was that they weren’t able to stop the run effectively, and when you can’t stop the run, it makes it that much harder to get to the QB. He’s right. Last season, the Giants held opposing offenses to less than 125 rushing yards 7 times. They went 6-1 in those games. They went 3-6 in games they allowed more than 125. (See the graph to the right).

I have serious concerns about the following starters on the Giants’ D: Justin Tuck (Done?), Cullen Jenkins (Bad vs run), Dan Connor (Not a legit starter), Stevie Brown (INTs last year could be a mirage), and Corey Webster (What the hell happened last season?).

Eli Manning is a great QB, and the Giants have great weapons on offense. They’ve proven that if you have a great QB (or one that gets hot in the playoffs) to go along with a bigtime pass rush, you can win it all. The big question will be… Can they rush the passer like they did in 2011? If they can’t stop the run, they won’t be able to rush the passer.

6. Last year was the honeymoon season in Washington. It was a time to get RG3 on the field and let him go through his growing pains. As long as the Redskins showed some kind of improvement and it looked like the Skins were headed in the right direction, Mike Shanahan’s job would be safe. After starting 3-6, the Skins rattled off 7 straight wins to close the season, won the NFC East, and exceeded all reasonable expectations. Then this happened on the Redskins’ green dirt field:

Obviously, so much of the Skins’ success will hinge on when RG3 will be able to return to the field, and if he’s the same physically as he was in 2013. Whether he’s a superman, as his doctor suggests, or something closer to a mere mortal, is an unknown. Kirk Cousins is a promising QB and a player I really like, but let’s be real. It’s not close to the same team without RG3. Still, given the option to bet on RG3 or against him, I’ll choose the former.

5. Scroll up and look at the Giants’ defensive team stats last season. See how gross they were? The Saints’ D was worse in every single one of those categories, except 3rd down conversions:

  • Dead last in yards, 440.1 yards per game.
  • Dead last in yards per play, 6.5.
  • Dead last in rush yards, 147.6.
  • Dead last in yards per carry, 5.2.
  • 31st in pass yards, 292.6.
  • Dead last in yards per pass attempt, 8.1.

OK, now scroll up again and check out my write-up on the Lions above, specifically this line:

In the same way a team can only go as far as their QB will take them, I believe the same can be said of a head coach.

That’s exactly what I think we saw last season with the Sean Payton-less Saints.

It’s not like the Saints’ defense is going to suddenly be good next season just because their head coach is back, not to mention the hiring of the absurdly overrated Rob Ryan to be the defensive coordinator, so I still think that the defense will remain an enormous issue. However, this QB, paired with that head coach, and the weapons they have in that offense… not to mention the huge home field advantage? This Saints team just scares the hell out of me, almost illogically.

4. 32 nerds like myself (although not including me) have been drafting NFL players 1-32, with the intent of fielding a starting 11 on O, and a starting 11 on D. The #1 overall pick? An absolute no-brainer. Seriously, would anybody pick somebody other than Aaron Rodgers, unless you were just trying to be “different?” The Packers have the best player in the NFL, and as long as they do, they’ll be a serious contender. But clearly, QBs aside, the Niners’ and Seahawks’ rosters are much better.

3. Hey hey! Matt Ryan finally won a playoff game! That has to be a huge monkey off his back, even if the team fell short of the Super Bowl despite securing home field advantage. Steven Jackson is an upgrade over Michael Turner, Osi Umenyiora is an upgrade over John Abraham, and otherwise, the team pretty much stayed together. The Falcons are clearly the best team in the NFC South. Barring injury, we should be seeing the Falcons playing at home again at some point during the 2013 playoffs.

2. Here are some key team stats from the Seahawks’ 2012 season:

  • #1 ranked defense (points).
  • #4 ranked defense (yards).
  • #3 ranked rush offense (yards).
  • Lowest pass:ratio in the NFL: 42% pass, 58% run.
  • Tied for 5th best turnover differential, at +13.

All very impressive. The Seahawks were an amazing team last season, and Russell Wilson had an incredible rookie season. However, because the defense was so good, because the running game was so effective, because they ran the ball 58% of the time, and because they were able to take the ball away significantly more than they turned it over, Wilson also probably had the easiest QB situation in the NFL.

Even when Wilson was asked to throw, the Seahawks seemingly tried to make it easy on him. Note the following chart which shows the tendencies of the 5 rookie QBs who started for their respective teams from Week 1:

Wilson tendency

If you’ll notice, Russell Wilson threw to the right side on 53.7% of his attempts, and only 27.7% of the time to his left. That is emblematic of a QB who is throwing to his first read… a lot, even for a rookie.

What if the defense isn’t as effective without Gus Bradley running the show? What if the running game isn’t as effective? What if the Seahawks aren’t able to generate as many turnovers? What if they are forced to pass more often than they’d prefer? What if opposing defenses are able to adjust to the Seahawks’ style of play, and Wilson will have to cycle through his reads with more regularity?

Will Russell Wilson still be as good as he was his rookie season without all of those things falling into place? We’ll see.

1. The reigning NFC champs lost a few key pieces, but they have a staggering 14 draft picks. The Niners own picks 31, 34, 61, 74, 93, 128, 131, 157, 164, 180, 227, 237, 246, and 252. That’s ridiculous. And not only that, they had 7 draft picks in 2012 who played a combined 211 total snaps, by far the lowest total in the NFL. This team isn’t just stacked with talent. It’s also going to be loaded with youth to fill in behind the veteran stars. I know a lot of people are intrigued by the Seahawks, but for my money, this team is even more loaded.

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29 Comments

  1. Compass Rosy says:

    “If you’ll notice, Russell Wilson threw to the right side on 53.7% of his attempts, and only 27.7% of the time to his left. That is emblematic of a QB who is throwing to his first read… a lot, even for a rookie.”

    It would be interesting to see a breakdown between first half and second half…
    might give a better indication of whether this was a true tendency and/or if any adjustments were made.

  2. Ian says:

    Where did you find the data on which side of the field QBs throw too? I’d be interested in seeing that for all starting QBs.

  3. @D3Keith says:

    And the 49ers just added Colt McCoy and Nnamdi, so it’s o-vah!

    In all honesty, they are loaded.

    Also I’d be good if I never saw that RGIII on bended knee pic again.

  4. Greg says:

    What I find interesting is that before each of the last 2 seasons many people had the eagles as one of the most likely teams to win the super bowl. Then something goes wrong (possibly system and team chemistry) and most people act like the team is awful. Aside from the issue at quarterback, i see no reason why the eagles couldn’t be competitive again. In fact I expect them to be competitive again. The only big issue seems to be quarterback. I don’t see vick thriving in kelly’s system. I’d rather give dixon a try. Kelly’s system is designed around the player, not necessarily top-end talent. I believe foles would be better than dixon if given the opportunity. Will be interesting to see which of the qbs end up with the job (or even on the roster, as they seem interested in drafting a qb)

    1. DerfDiggy says:

      You’re either underrating the qb position…or not and your definition of competitive is different.

      As a wise man once said…”its the qb stupid”. Many teams have the pieces to be competitive…Chiefs, Eagles, Vikings, Titans, all have a decent teams. The redskins are a perfect example of the difference a qb makes. If Foles or Vick aren’t the answer…there is going to be questions….there is no “qb aside” in the NFL.

      1. Greg says:

        The first point I’m making is that the last 2 years our team only got better in terms of the perceived talent we had on the team. (dawkins being one major loss but we are talking about overall personal talent, not leadership). That’s why the so-called “experts” had us as one of the most likely teams to win the super bowl. Some of those players didn’t work out but from a talent standpoint I don’t believe the team is too far off from where it was 3 or 4 years ago when we were competative every year. They’ve actually done a good job filling in the holes (moreso than reid used to) and so at this point it’s back down to system and chemistry in my opinion. McNabb wasnt a to qb in his later years, but the team had enough talent and the system worked enough to be competitive. By competitive I mean a team that has a decent chance against good teams. In my opinion they will not be 13th this year, but as we saw the last 2 years having good players isn’t everything.

        I think our disagreement really comes down to quarterback. I believe foles has the ability to be a too qb in this leauge. Just ask chip kelly and he says foles used to always find weeknesses in his defense in college. Foles did the same thing on his game winning drive asking reid to change the play. I could go on. The point is I believe in his ability. I also beleive kellys systen doesnt require a too-end qb talent. We’ll see. In my opinion our success this year really depends on system and chemistry, not players.

        1. Greg says:

          Wow, lots of typing mistakes. *top qb. the rest are more readable

    2. Brian says:

      For the Eagles to be competitive this year they need at least 4 of their free agent signings to pan out. That’s not something you want to bet on as a prognosticator.

  5. Imp says:

    The Saints started off 0-4 last season. They lost to the Redskins, Panthers, Chiefs (!!), and Packers and none of them by more than 8 points. If Sean Payton wasn’t suspended, do they start off 0-4?

    Falcons will do their regular “we’ll win 12-14 games and win 0-1 games in playoffs.” They’re very Colts-like from ’99 to ’05. They’ll be a tough team in the regular season, but something happen where the team’s play just completely regresses when playoff starts.
    (Though I disagree with the implication that Steven Jackson is a good back. Dude is turning 30 with 2800 career touches. He’s done.)

    Predicting the victor of the NFC East is hard and not for the right reasons. The Cowboys are the textbook definition of mediocre, having back to back 8-8 season and not particularly improving. Giants just confuse me with their consistent inconsistencies and 18-14 regular. They’ll beat the Saints by 52-27 and then lose to the Falcons 0-34 the following week. Redskins are bit on the overrated side; that 7 game win streak include the Eagles (4-12) x2, Cowboys (8-8) x2, Giants (9-7), Browns (5-11), and Ravens (10-6). Only the Raven were a playoff team, and even then, they weren’t all that great before playoffs. I’m expecting some regression for next year; nothing drastic (like 9-7 or 8-8) but enough to allow Cowboys and Giants to keep up with them.

    No, Eagles do not count as a potential NFC East victor. Anyone who tries to say otherwise is lying.

  6. David_Does_Dallas says:

    I like your list. I would put Dallas higher, but that is probably just homerism. I think you have Washington too high, they have an injured franchise QB, they do not have a first round pick, and they were even less active than the Cowboys in free agency. Good points about Seattle.

    1. Washington returns multiple starters they lost to injury last season on both sides of the ball. Fred Davis and Pierre Garcon on offense will be healthy. Brian Orakpo, Brandon Merriweather, and Adam Carriker will all be back and healthy on defense. Thats 5 starters they are returning from injury to a team who won the NFCE without them. This alone makes up for a “dull” free agency that still was a better free agency then the Cowboys with three times the cap penalties.

      1. David_Does_Dallas says:

        Cowboys are returning more starters from injury, didn’t lose any talent in FA unlike the ‘skins, and we have a first round pick.

        1. Who’d the Skins lose that’ll really hurt them?

          1. David_Does_Dallas says:

            I know your baiting me, but Deangelo Hall is a loss of talent.

            1. Ha, I wasn’t trying to bait you. Technically, the only player they lost was Lorenzo Alexander. Hall is still unemployed, and to my knowledge he hasn’t been linked with anyone yet, which should tell you what teams think of him.

              1. David_Does_Dallas says:

                This may be true, but who do they have at corner back now? Hall did have 4 interceptions last year, even if he did give up big plays. He also played Bryant well in the season clincher.

              2. I’ve always thought of Hall as a bad starter. Addition by subtraction. And you’re right – He was great last season vs Dez. That’s his M.O. Four terrible games, one great one. They’re better off with E.J. Biggers.

            2. Hope says:

              Redskins resigned DeAngelo Hall for a 1 year deal

              1. David_Does_Dallas says:

                I saw that. Good move by the Redskins.

    2. OlSkool1972 says:

      Hall just resigned so we basically only lost Lorenzo Alexander. If the Cowboys stay completely healthy since they have no peth to speak of and if RG3 misses the majority of the season and if the Cowboys can actually run an effective 4-3 Defense and if Tony Romo stops choking games away well then the Cowboys might have a chance. And if IFS were fifths we’d all be drunk.

      1. OlSkool1972 says:

        since they have no depth to speak of

      2. David_Does_Dallas says:

        It’s nice to have the Redskins relevant again, I enjoy their cockiness. Much better then listening to this garbage from Philly fans that is for sure.

  7. Tim says:

    It’s amazing that the Seahawks were the #1 defense in points allowed despite being in the bottom third of the league is QB pressure/pass rush rankings. For all the attention paid to getting after the QB (and rightfully so), you do see a defense every few years that limits opposing offenses via other means. Mike Zimmer’s Cowboys’ defense ranked #1 in points allowed one season with a below-average pass rush as well. And I believe Rex Ryan’s Jets have actually done it recently, despite his blitzing reputation.

    Small note on the Falcons– I wouldn’t call Osi an upgrade over Abraham. I get the forced fumble thing, but Abraham has been a much better pass rusher each of the last 3 seasons.

  8. deg0ey says:

    “Also, if free agent acquisition Jake Long pans out, the Rams will have a pair of good bookend offensive tackles (the other being Rodger Saffold) for the first time in Sam Bradford’s career.”

    That’s assuming they can get Saffold on board. He’s only got one year left on his contract, isn’t happy about moving to RT and won’t return Jeff Fisher’s calls. Wouldn’t surprise me to see him traded to a team that will use him at LT.

    In a bizarre move that sees them owning all four NFC East 2013 first round picks at some point, the Giants move Beatty to RT and trade #19 for Saffold. The Rams then decide to address their two biggest needs (RT and WR) by trading #16, #22 and #46 to Philly in exchange for #4 (Fisher) and Maclin.

    That last part won’t happen, but it could be kinda funny if it did :-)

    1. mandmeisterx says:

      How does that encompass Dallas’ 2013 1? 2012, sure. But I’m not catching your drift.

      1. deg0ey says:

        Oh yeah, I forgot that Dallas have a team too…

  9. brisulph says:

    Agreed on the top 5, though I am not sold on the Seahawks at 2, as I expect them to regress a bit. The 49ers look like they have the potential for a Patriots like run of play-off appearances and SB title shots in the next decade.

    1. DerfDiggy says:

      Seahawks will play in the NFC championship game…and lose to the cowboys.

  10. Eaglesadvocate says:

    Ha! Nice use of “headache” to describe Percy Harvin.

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