NFL Week 3 Picks: Early Playoff Power Rankings
With Week 3 of the NFL Season set to begin this Sunday, I felt it might be helpful to develop a ranking system of sorts to determine where each team stands. Still, the concept of power rankings is a bit tired, so I’m proposing a new twist. This week, and at a couple of points throughout the season, I’m going to give a ranking based on which teams I think will earn playoff spots (ranking based on expected seeding), and then rank the non-playoff teams in standard fashion:
1. Green Bay Packers: They’re the defending champions and the most balanced team in the conference. Cam Newton torched them last week, but I don’t think that’s indicative of their true ability to defend the pass. They’re just damn good.
2. New Orleans Saints: The Saints are the one team with the offensive firepower to match the Packers point for point. Unfortunately, their defense isn’t quite elite.
3. Washington Redskins: This is actually happening. This season is looking as if things are going to fall into place perfectly for the Redskins. The Eagles are the actual best team in the NFC East and the Cowboys are probably better than the Skins as well, but both those teams may end up digging themselves into early holes, leaving the door open for Washington to win the division. Given that the NFC West looks worse than cancer, that should be enough to give the Redskins a home playoff game. Yikes.
4. Arizona Cardinals: Have you seen the rest of the NFC West?
5. Philadelphia Sh*tbirds: I hate you Philly. You’ve never given us anything good, except for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and that’s filmed in LA and has really fallen off since the third season (Although last night’s Jersey Shore episode was decent).
6. Detroit Lions: Yup, they’re legit. The offense is explosive and the defense is ferocious. They have the best front in the league and it’s going to get scarier when Nick Fairley returns. Fear the Lions!
1. New England Patriots: They’re good, just like every year. I’m predicting 14 wins and a home playoff loss, followed by an offseason full of WEEI callers demanding that Ryan Mallet start over Tom Brady.
2. Baltimore Ravens: Don’t let last week’s trap game loss to Tennessee fool you, the Ravens are good. If they had a legitimately elite QB I’d feel better about their Super Bowl chances, but they’ll be dominant in the regular season.
3. San Diego Chargers: Philip Rivers is on the same level as Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees as one of the elite quarterbacks in the game. He also leads the QB douche rankings. If this team was coached by someone not named Norv Turner they’d be my Super Bowl favorite.
4. Houston Texans: Enjoy winning your division by default Houston. This wouldn’t be happening if Pey Pey hadn’t broken his neck.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers: I think that Baltimore is going to win the AFC North, but I think that Pittsburgh is the AFC Super Bowl favorite, if that makes sense. I know, it doesn’t, just go with it.
6. New York Jets: They just need a legitimate QB. I’m not convinced that Mark Sanchez is ever going to make the Leap.
13. Atlanta Falcons: Is there a way we can take away the NFC West’s playoff spot and give it to the Falcons or Buccaneers? Matt Ryan is the most underrated young quarterback in the NFL. People love to heap praise on Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman as the “Next Big Thing” but Ryan is better than both of them. He doesn’t put up huge passing stats because the Falcons’ offense is so run heavy.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: See above.
15. Dallas Cowboys: Romo will find some way to crush them, I just know it.
16. San Fransisco 49ers: They’re officially out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes, maybe they can land Matt Barkley or Landry Jones. Solid defense, some playmakers on offense. If they had anything resembling a QB, they’d be NFC West favorites easily.
17. New York Giants: *Hangs head, shuffles feet, Arrested Development sad music plays in background*
18. Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler will be out for the season by Week 5 at this rate. Maybe that will be enough to get Lovie Smith fired.
19. Buffalo Bills: One more year and they’re a playoff team.
20. Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton isn’t this good, but the Panthers are better than you think.
21. Oakland Raiders: I predict that the Raiders will finish 8-8. Hue Jackson will still get fired.
22. Tennessee Titans: They’re not very good, but they are capable of catching a team off guard.
23. Miami Dolphins: I don’t think they have the slightest clue what they’re doing. They’re still better than the following teams based on talent alone.
24. St. Louis Rams: Not quite there yet, but making progress.
25. Cleveland Browns: Your two best offensive players are white. I don’t care that they’re both pretty good, that’s just funny.
26. Denver Broncos: Start Brady Quinn already! You know you want to John Fox… Just look at those muscles.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars: I can’t think of one interesting thing to say about Jacksonville. Blaine Gabbert has phenomenal hair.
28. Minnesota Vikings: How’s that brilliant Donovan McNabb acquisition working out?
29. Cincinatti Bengals: God, living in Ohio must be incredibly depressing.
30. Seattle Seahawks: The last three teams on this list are pretty much interchangeable.
31. Indianapolis Colts: HAHAHAHAHA, but seriously if the Colts get to give Andrew Luck the Aaron Rodgers treatment I might kick a puppy.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: I predict that Todd Haley will start giving Dexter McCluster a bunch of carries just to piss off fantasy owners who picked up Thomas Jones.
Picks follow after the jump, as always you can find Ryan here. Go to him for cogent analysis, then come here for fart jokes.
Ryan: Week 2: 4-10-2 (OUCH!); Season: 13-16-3
Asif: Week 2: 8-6-2 ; Season: 16-13-3
San Fransisco @ Cincinnati (-2.5)
Ryan: This game is gross and would somehow be even more gross if Alex Smith is out due to the concussion he suffered against the Cowboys and rookie Colin Kaepernik has to start. Vernon Davis is upset with his targets and overall production so far this season, so, despite what you may have previously thought, he and I do share *something* in common. Yes, I used my one nobody-cares-about-your-fantasy-team(s) gripe on the first pick but you do have to admit that this game is wholly uninteresting.
The Bengals had one of those games last week where they outgained the Broncos by 64 yards and forced two turnovers while not turning the ball over but still lost. Bad teams tend to do that but it is especially special to do so against another bad team. Because both of these teams are bad but are generally indistinguishable from each other in the degree of such so far, I am picking the Bengals to cover.
Asif: This is the football equivalent of a goiter. I don’t want to think about it, know it exists, or see any pictures of it. As Ryan mentioned, this might be the first time in NFL history that a game would actually be better if Alex Smith played.
This Bengals fan thinks that Andy Dalton deserves rookie of the year consideration over Cam Newton. This may be the most conclusive evidence yet that rooting for the Bengals actually causes brain damage. San Fransisco actually has a decent defense, so I’ll take the Niners and the points.
New England (-8.5) @ Buffalo
Ryan: I think that the 2-0 Bills are going to be one of this year’s “good bad teams” which means that they will beat inferior opponents and cover, but lose to, elite teams like the Patriots. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who as you may have heard once attended a quaint institution in Cambridge, MA, has been outstanding so far this year, throwing seven touchdowns and just one interception.
As Asif details below, the Patriots struggle defending the pass. They are going to need pressure from Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis on Sunday if they don’t want to hear Chris Berman jubilantly exclaim, “No one circles the wagons like the Bills!” on the endless Sportscenter loop Sunday night through Monday afternoon.
For the second straight week, I think that the Patriots line has backdoor cover written all over it. Hopefully, I am not wrong for the second straight week. Bills cover.
Asif: New England’s offense this season has largely been built around the two tight end set which is why the loss of Aaron Hernandez is such a big deal. That said, Buffalo doesn’t exactly have a great defense; they allowed the Raiders 35 points last week. I don’t think scoring will be the Pats main issue in this game.
New England’s real, glaring weakness is an inability to defend against the pass. Vincent Jackson ate their secondary alive last week. Buffalo doesn’t have a receiver of Jackson’s caliber, but Stevie Johnson is pretty good. Still, I think the lack of a real, consistent second option in the passing game is what does the Bills in here. New England covers.
Houston @ New Orleans (-4)
Ryan: Because holding the Colts and Dolphins to 20 points combined in two weeks isn’t wholly impressive, this game will be the first real litmus test as to whether Wade Philips has presided over a renaissance for the perennially awful Texans D.
The Saints looked quite impressive in dismantling the Bears last week and for that I salute them. I think that they are just a little bit better than the Texans. That, combined with home field advantage, means that Saints cover. This game is an extremely compelling match-up and should feature quite a few points.
Asif: Do you like scoring and hate defense? Then this is clearly the game for you. I’m with Ryan, the Texans haven’t done anything to convince me that they’re actually very good. I’ve got them rated as solidly mediocre, but they’ll win the AFC South by default because the rest of that conference is a Cormac McCarthy novel-esque badland hellscape of crappy football and broken dreams.
The Saints are on the short list of Super Bowl contenders. I think the Bears’ defense is slightly overrated, but New Orleans torched them without Marques Colston and with limited play from Lance Moore. The Texans’ pass defense is pretty suspect, so I’m comfortable with the Saints to cover.
NY Giants @ Philadelphia (-7)
Ryan: The battered Giants secondary gave up 258 passing yards to Rex Grossman and 308 to Sam Bradford. Michael Vick practiced Thursday and will presumably be ready to torch the Giants’ UFL-caliber cornerbacks.
If the Giants find themselves tied at the end of the game and punting, they should probably do their best not to punt to DeSean Jackson. I’ve heard that bad things happen (for Giants fans and players…Eagles supporters rather enjoy it when that happens) when they do that. Eagles cover.
Asif: The Giants were thoroughly unimpressive on Monday night against St.Louis. Eli Manning and the offense looked decidedly mediocre and although the defense came up with some big plays, but it’s hard to tell whether it was their own doing or just boneheadedness by the Rams. Losing Terrell Thomas in the preseason was the biggest blow among all the Giants’ injuries. Corey Webster is a good corner, but he’s much better suited to covering 2nd option receivers. Aaron Ross is terrible and I hate him.
There is no doubt in my mind that Michael Vick, who is never ever talked about on ESPN, will play in this game. There is doubt in my mind as to whether he’ll play the entire game. One thing that the Giants do have is a solid pass rush and with Vick’s style of play there is always a risk of injury. I still think that the Eagles are good, but they’re not nearly as impressive as I would have expected. You can argue that the Falcons wouldn’t have beaten Philly if Vick had stayed in the game, but Matt Ryan was spot on in the fourth quarter. That’s a bit concerning for an Eagles team that is supposed to completely shut down the passing game. Just going on a hunch here, but the Giants cover.
Miami @ Cleveland (-2.5)
Ryan: For what it’s worth, CBS’s Gameday ticker is dramatically superior to that of Fox. CBS’s ticker has relevant fantasy stats and highlights interesting tweets from its studio crew. It is always fun when TV people over the age of 50 promote Twitter features while simultaneously condescending its users because they haven’t bothered to learn how to use it right. I’ve seen Chris Berman do this multiple times. Fox’s ticker, meanwhile has NO stats and had the nerve last week to show BASEBALL scores. This is wholly unacceptable needs to be stop. Incidentally, both channels are way too slow at showing Gamebreak highlights. Several times last week, highlights of one touchdown were shown after another one had happened in the same game. Fox and CBS need to steal away some Red Zone Channel technicians and figure out a way to implement important highlights from other games on a more timely basis.
With Asif as my witness, I SWEAR that the preceding paragraph was written in our shared Google Doc before Deadspin published Drew Magary’s regularly excellent Jamboroo where the introduction had the same thesis written in MUCH funnier fashion. Cereally, I promise.
I feel sick to my stomach taking Chad Henne on the road but think the Dolphins cover.
Asif: When Cleveland is favored, take the points. Dolphins cover. I don’t want to think about this game so I’ll just post this picture of a Dolphins cheerleader, ok? The Browns don’t have cheerleaders, but would you want to see that anyways?
Denver @ Tennessee (-6.5)
Ryan: Like 49ers-Bengals and Dolphins-Browns, this is one of those games that is so nauseating that if for whatever reason it came on the Red Zone Channel, it would prompt me to change the channel.
Titans-Ravens was one of the only games I didn’t see last week so I have no idea how to (im)properly evaluate to what extent the Titans were great and the Ravens were awful. I DO know, however, that the Broncos are very bad and caused me great pain and discomfort when I bet on them against the Raiders in Week 1. Therefore, I am picking the Titans to cover on the basis that their talent must have had at least something to do with handily beating the Ravens last week.
Asif: I would rather be repeatedly poked in the eye with a sharp stick than watch a minute of this game. I really want John Fox to start Brady Quinn just to troll the idiotic Broncos fans calling for Tim Tebow. Last week’s Titans win over the Ravens was a classic trap game that I somehow missed when making my picks. I don’t want to think about this game anymore so I’ll take the Broncos to cover because I don’t think Tennessee is actually a touchdown better than Denver.
Detroit (-3.5) @ Minnesota
Ryan: Last week, with the Vikings up 20-17 on the Buccaneers and facing 2nd and 10 on their own 22-yard line with 5:08, I bet my buddy Dean a dollar that the Vikings would not score any points and that the Bucs would get the ball back with more than two minutes remaining. This was the easiest dollar I’ve ever made in my life although I lost it back a couple minutes later on a bet that I no longer remember. I imagine that this anecdote is riveting to readers who both do and don’t know me.
Lions pretty good, Vikings very bad, blah blah blah – Lions cover.
Asif: The Vikings suck and I can’t think of anything to say about them. They aren’t even remotely interesting. When does Christian Ponder take the starting quarterback job from the bloated corpse of Donovan McNabb? I say Week 8.
I don’t have much hope left for the Giants so I’m considering adopting the Lions as my temporary favorite team for the rest of the 2011 season. I expect to be completely disappointed as usual. Lions Cover.
Jacksonville @ Carolina (-3.5)
Ryan: I would be fascinated to know how many times rookie quarterbacks have faced each other as early as Week 3 as Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton will do this week. I didn’t see any of the Luke McCown debacle last week versus the Jets that paved the way for this match-up but it was apparently historically dreadful. Despite the fact that I feel that Cam Newton’s two-week performance has been a little bit overrated, I think the Panthers cover easily.
Asif: Blaine Gabbert and his awesome hair are starting this week, presumably because Jack Del Rio realized that Luke McCown has no business being a starting NFL quarterback. Anyone who has ever watched football could have told him that before the season even started, but then again no one cares about the Jaguars enough to go through the trouble of actually looking at their roster.
Cam Newton is good, but like Ryan says, he’s probably a little overrated right now. The Panthers are just better than the Jaguars, so I’ll go with Carolina to cover.
Kansas City @ San Diego (-14.5)
Ryan: The Chiefs are so bad that this line could not possibly be high enough for me to even consider picking them. They lost by 45 (45!!!) last week AND lost their best player, Jamaal Charles, for the season with a torn ACL. On the bright side for noted egomaniac Todd Haley, there is at least now a legitimate reason to give the guy who used to be Thomas Jones carries. San Diego covers and I continue to revel Haley’s misfortunes.
Asif: Holy crap, the Chiefs blow. I’m with Ryan, this line could be 30 points and I’d still go with the Chargers. Normally, I’d be apprehensive about a possible Norv Turnering that allows KC to cover, but I’ve actually watched the Chiefs play football this season. My prediction of Todd Haley’s being the first coach axed is looking better by the hour. San Diego covers.
NY Jets (-3.5) @ Oakland
Ryan: Last week, Jason Campbell came in second in ESPN’s total QBR rankings (Tony Romo was first). When the methodology for these rankings was unveiled, I would have bet a lot of money that this would never happen. I would have thought that Sunday would go by without reference to the Heidi game before Jason Campbell had a week that was quantitatively valued that highly.
On the basis that I think the Raiders are a little better and the Jets a little worse than the public believes, Oakland covers.
Asif: The Raiders have a sneaky explosive offense. That’s what happens when you draft entirely based on 40 times. I don’t think that it will help them this week because the Jets are an excellent defensive team, more than capable of shutting down good passing attacks. At what point do we acknowledge that Al Davis may well be a zombie? He’s decaying in front of us and all his decisions seem to be based on some type of reptile-brain instinct.
Is there a luckier quarterback than Mark Sanchez? He’s not demonstrably better than Chad Henne by any objective measure yet we constantly hear about his upside and his big game ability. I’m pretty convinced that this is a result of selective memory, the flukiness of small sample sizes and the fact that the Jets have a good running game and defense.
Baltimore (-3.5) @ St. Louis
Ryan: I am not going to let what I didn’t see of the Ravens’ stunning collapse last week affect my view of this game. The Ravens got themselves hugely hyped up to beat the Steelers in Week 1 and let their guard down against the Titans in Week 2. I would imagine that they were sufficiently humbled by the experience and think that loss could end up having a very positive impact on the rest of their season as the coaches and team leaders preach focus and energy.
The Rams are still figuring out their identity and will struggle to win games like this one for the next year or so. Baltimore covers.
Asif: Coming into this season I thought that the Rams were capable of making good teams sweat. After watching them in the first two weeks of the season, I’m revising that prediction. The Rams have shown some ability to move the ball and a middle of the road defense enhanced by Steve Spagnuolo’s ability to scheme blitzes, but right now they make too many mistakes to be considered good. They had a legitimate chance to take control against the Giants in the first half of last Monday’s game, but boneheaded turnovers cost them the opportunity.
Baltimore got caught in a classic trap game last weekend, so I won’t hold it against them too much. Still, Joe Flacco hasn’t really improved much since his rookie season. He picks a receiver pre-snap and stares him down. That inability to adjust is the Ravens’ biggest weakness. I think they’re capable of making a Super Bowl run even with such a glaring flaw because their defense is really good, but it would help them out a lot if Flacco learned to go through his progressions. Ravens cover.
Atlanta @ Tampa Bay (-1.5)
Ryan: The funniest running subplot in my life for the past year has been the Cousin Sal fake voicemails about Jaaaaaaaaaaash Freeman on the BS Report. I actively look forward to hearing these “voicemails.” I don’t know if this means that my life is inextricably devoid of humor but it’s an absolute fact. Also, you either 100% agree with that statement or have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about and I’m cool with that.
I feel like Atlanta is going to be one of those teams this season that takes care of business at home and versus bad teams on the road but struggles on the road against good teams. On one hand, the Buccaneers got beaten 27-20 by the Lions in Week 1 in a game where the score was much closer than the teams looked matched and found themselves down 17-0 last week in Minnesota. On the other hand, they erased the deficit against the Vikings to win the game and ultimately only lost to the Lions by one score. That was a long way of saying that, like with many (most?) teams, the jury is still out on the 2011 Buccaneers. That being said, I will go with my gut feeling coming into the season that they are pretty good. Buccaneers cover.
Asif: Tampa is going to have to do more than beat Minnesota to convince me that they’re legit. Many have argued that the Falcons wouldn’t have won last week if Michael Vick had remained in the game. I guess that’s fair, but I do think it cheapens the fact that Matt Ryan made some nice adjustments in the fourth quarter to avoid pressure.
I think the Falcons are a more balanced team on both offense and defense than the Bucs. Atlanta covers.
Arizona (-3.5) @ Seattle
Ryan: The NFC West is complete dog crap and it is an affront to our supposedly civilized society that a team from that division has to make the playoffs even if it goes 8-8. If you cannot go over .500 when you are at the very least GUARANTEED to be playing six of your 16 games against teams that are .500 or less, maybe you don’t deserve to make it to the next level. You certainly don’t deserve a home game. Deserve’s got nothing to do with it though (+5 if you get that reference).
Seattle historically plays very well at home but Tarvaris Jackson has not historically been their quarterback. There is not a real basis to evaluate Arizona on yet. They took care of business against the Panthers in Week 1 and, um, didn’t against the Redskins in Week 2. Because the NFC West is so awful, I am not going to overthink any of their intra-divisional match-ups. For the rest of the year, I am picking the home team in these games to cover. Seahawks cover.
Asif: I’m not picking Seattle again this season. Tarvaris Jackson is awful. Arizona will win the NFC West by default and then promptly be blown out in the first round of the playoffs. Patrick Peterson is awesome and the rest of the Cardinals’ secondary is awful. Fortunately for them, you don’t actually have to defend against the pass when your opponent is quarterbacked by Tarvaris Jackson. Arizona covers.
Green Bay (-3.5) @ Chicago
Ryan: Last week against the Panthers, the Packers played with fire but didn’t get burned. Out of the gate, they fell behind 13-0. Prior to the second half of last season, the Packers would have gone on to lose that game and in the process of doing so create untold amounts anxiety for yours truly. It is OK to come out flat when you are playing against a rookie quarterback and a team that went 2-14 last season but not OK when you are playing your blood rival that won your division last season. Here’s HOPING that the Packers were sufficiently humbled by their early struggles last week and are prepared for this game to the extent that MY personal bragging rights and vanity remain firmly intact as a citizen of Chicago next week.
The Bears’ offensively dismal offensive line took a hit last week when they lost rookie Wisconsin alum/native/BearJew Gabe Carimi to injury last week. If they don’t figure out a way to better protect Jay Cutler, and fast, he is going to end up flatly impaled like Wile E Coyote after the perfectly planned trap involving a pulley and a boulder somehow goes horribly wrong. I may or may not enjoy it if/when that happens. The lesson, as always, is that I’m a horrible person that takes immense pleasure in the smiting of my real and/or perceived enemies. Bears cover because this game means so much more to them than it does to the Packers. To the best of your knowledge, this is not a reverse jinx.
Asif: Last week, I predicted that the Bears’ terrible offensive line would be their downfall and since I love saying I told you so…I TOLD YOU SO! I think the Saints might have beaten the eff-you mode out of Jay Cutler. I don’t understand why Lovie Smith hasn’t been reamed in the media for letting Cutler stay in the fourth quarter of last week’s game against the Saints. Cutler was clearly out on his feet, like a worn down fighter totally unable to protect himself.
Things aren’t going to get easier against the Packers with Gabe Carimi out, especially since Clay Matthews typically lines up on Carimi’s side of the field. Expect a ton of blitzes from Green Bay, sulking from Cutler and blank stares from Lovie as the Packers cover easily.
Pittsburgh (-10.5) @ Indianapolis
Ryan: If you haven’t already, read my Peyton Manning column from yesterday. I HAVE GREAT INSIGHT. Last week, Cris Collinsworth marveled that both Sunday Night games had come down to the final play. I would venture to guess that that will NOT be the case this week. Steelers cover. Free money.*
*This column is for entertainment purposes only. If you take MY (or Asif’s for that matter) gambling advice, please seek immediate medical attention**
**Re-read that last sentence in tone of the disclaimer announcer in erection pill commercials.
Asif: I see fat people on my teevee! I think Peyton Manning’s neck injury has given stem cell research proponents the ammo we need to get red states on board. You think if Landry Jones had the same injury, the state of Oklahoma wouldn’t legalize stem cell research the next day? I’m not advocating hurting anyone on purpose, just suppose a few choice spots on fields in certain cities were extra slippery… We might have a cure for Alzheimers in the next year.
On a more serious note, without Peyton Manning, the Colts are rivaled in suck by only the Chiefs and Seahawks. The Steelers are aging, but the Colts probably couldn’t beat an SEC team right now. Pittsburgh covers.
Washington @ Dallas (-5.5)
Ryan: Are there intra-game or full season over/unders for number of times the camera mistakenly shows Jerry Jones going bottoms up on his drink during particularly nervous moments? He does this more than anyone in professional sports. In fact, he might be the only person I’ve ever seen this happen with during football telecasts and I’ve witnessed it several times. Couldn’t possibly happen to a more humble guy.
I can’t imagine that we are possibly about to be living in a world where the Redskins are good. It’s been far too long since that has happened and I can only imagine that Daniel Snyder and Mike Shanahan are getting built up to be knocked down. The world is supposed to be just, right? God (or the Eternal One as I have seen Him/Her/It referred to in contemporary prayer books) wouldn’t let children starve in Africa while this unholy combination basks in glory, right? My only conclusion is that the Redskins have not yet ascended to the heights they need to such that their inevitable downfall will be appropriately precipitous. THEREFORE, Redskins cover.
Asif: It’s looking less and less likely that Tony Romo will play this Sunday with news that he had a CT scan on Thursday. Jon Kitna says he expects Romo to play, but I’m a bit skeptical. The Redskins look like this year’s bad playoff team. I’ve got a feeling that things are going to fall their way and that they’ll win either the NFC East or a Wild Card spot. They will subsequently be blown out in the first round.
I’m unsure how to read the Cowboys. They’re certainly talented, but I have no confidence in their winning close games when push comes to shove. I’ll go with Washington to cover and reevaluate how I feel about both these teams after this game. I realize that this is extremely wishy washy and I apologize.