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 Sports Central Power Rankings 
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Tuesday, September 6, 2005
NFL Preseason Power Rankings

***

Welcome to the fourth year of NFL power rankings at Sports Central! On the Internet, four years is a long time for columns that don't run at ESPN or Sports Illustrated, and it's your support that makes this possible. My thanks.

Let's jump right into the rankings, with a quick explanation for newcomers. My power rankings are always based on how I rank a team right now, not necessarily how they're going to finish. I may rank a team I picked to win its division lower than another team within that same division, if I think one will improve or drop off significantly during the season. The number in brackets is my prediction for that team's regular-season record in 2005.

1. Indianapolis Colts [12-4] ? I rank them here without enthusiasm, by process of elimination. A lot people are putting the Patriots at the top, and you really can't go wrong with that, but if you think New England is going to slip this year, you need to pick someone else number one. I don't think the Colts are going to be any better than last season, but I do believe that the Patriots, Eagles, and Steelers will all be worse. The offense should remain among the league's best, but there is some reason to question the offensive line, which lost Rick DeMulling in the offseason and let Peyton Manning hit the ground with alarming frequency this preseason. The defense, as always, will be hard-pressed to keep up with the offense.

2. Philadelphia Eagles [12-4] ? Last season, I thought I was very clever ranking them eighth, since Philadelphia usually started slowly under Andy Reid. They've lost four of six season openers and are 13-11 in the first quarter of the season. But last season, they opened 7-0, and this year, I'm not going to overthink things: the Eagles, holdouts, surprising cuts, Super Bowl hangovers, and all, are the second-best team in the NFL.

3. Carolina Panthers [11-5] ? The team was ravaged by early-season injuries last year (most notably Steve Smith and Kris Jenkins), but finished strong and had a decent offseason. I like the Panthers to win the NFC's strongest division, but even if they don't, the Panthers should start strong. I thought this was a pretty daring pick until I saw that SI has them winning the Super Bowl.

4. New England Patriots [11-5] ? Half of you probably think I'm insane for having New England anywhere other than first, and the other half think this is too high and wonder when I'll get to the Steelers, Falcons, and Jets. On the one hand, picking against the Pats has been a recipe for disaster the last couple of years; one the other hand, this team overachieved last year and may have finally lost enough pieces to crumble. I'm picking New England to win the AFC East, but mostly just because I'm scared not to.

5. Baltimore Ravens [11-5] ? The defense gets a little weaker every year (just a little, though), and gambling on the offense to do anything is risky, to say the least. I don't believe Kyle Boller will ever be a good NFL quarterback even if he can stay healthy, which I'm also not sure about. I also think Jamal Lewis is overrated, Jonathan Ogden may be getting too old to stay healthy, and Todd Heap is a piece of glass. But Derrick Mason gives the Ravens their best wide receiver in team history, and the pieces are in place for Baltimore to make a serious run this season.

6. Minnesota Vikings [10-6] ? On paper, the best team in the league, by far. In real life, though, I'm not sure they'll win their own division, and I definitely don't buy the Super Bowl talk. Daunte Culpepper will be fine without Randy Moss and Scott Linehan, but I'm not sold on the receiving corps; expect Jermaine Wiggins to catch a lot of balls this season. The defense should be exponentially improved, but may take a while to gel.

7. New York Jets [10-6] ? I worry about injuries as the season goes on, but for now, everyone is healthy and the Jets should be able to play with anybody. Derrick Blaylock was a nice pickup to replace Lamont Jordan, but he doesn't have Jordan's short-yardage capabilities. I wouldn't be surprised if the Jets take the AFC East this season.

8. Kansas City Chiefs [10-6] ? I'll say this: they made an earnest effort to improve the defensive personnel this offseason. Kansas City could even be a Super Bowl sleeper if all the new guys work out. But I worry about chemistry, and I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop on an offense built basically on the offensive line.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers [10-6] ? Jerome Bettis is 80 and Duce Staley was overworked last year. Plaxico Burress is gone. Ben Roethlisberger is the real deal, but he's going to have a challenging sophomore year in the NFL, throwing a lot more passes and a lot more interceptions. I like the defense if it can stay healthy, but two years in a row might be asking too much. If the Steelers win the AFC North again this season, expect at least one assistant coach ? Russ Grimm, Dick LeBeau, and Ken Whisenhunt ? to leave for a head-coaching job in 2006.

10. Atlanta Falcons [9-7] ? Michael Vick's accuracy hasn't come around the way people expected, and the miserable failure that was the "Peerless Price as top receiver" experiment is finally over. Last year's Falcons rode their defense to the NFC Championship Game, and the team's hopes rest with the defense this year, too. If Vick can come around, which isn't likely with this offensive line and receiving corps, Atlanta will immediately be one of the NFL's elite teams. He'll have his moments, of course ? assuming he can stay healthy, which is not a given ? but I don't see a Steve Young kind of season. Honestly, Vick reminds me of Kordell Stewart in 1997.

11. San Diego Chargers [9-7] ? Lots of football fans wonder whether Drew Brees was a one-year wonder. The same can be said of his team in general. My inclination is to say yes, but the Chargers, a young team that continues to come together, have cause for optimism as the season opens. The team was lucky with injuries last year, and I'll be surprised if San Diego wins the AFC West, but for now, with some misgivings, I've got them in the top half of the field.

12. Detroit Lions [9-7] ? Accounting for both offseason additions and players returning from injury, the 2005 Lions have added two stud offensive linemen (Damien Woody from New England and DeMulling from Indianapolis), two first-round receivers (Charles Rogers and Mike Williams), and a reliable tight end (Marcus Pollard). That's just the offense. Betting on the Lions has historically been a losing gamble, but this team has a huge upside. I wouldn't be surprised if they miss the playoffs, but I wouldn't be surprised if they win the NFC Championship Game, either.

13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [8-8] ? The team's getting a little old on defense, but there's a dynamic young offense in place. Brian Griese has struggled with consistency throughout his pro career, but he looked very good last season. Cadillac Williams is an exciting prospect who can be spelled with Michael Pittman, and Michael Clayton probably would have won Offensive Rookie of the Year last season if Tommy Maddox had stayed healthy. The Bucs underachieved last year, but a couple early wins could give them momentum that might lead to the playoffs.

14. Buffalo Bills [9-7] ? The defense is special, and everything starts there. Head coach Mike Mularkey is an offense guy, but his years of service with Bill Cowher indicate that he'll be comfortable with a conservative, run-first offense centered on Willis McGahee. If the key guys can stay healthy, the Bills will be playoff contenders, causing headaches for everyone on their schedule.

15. Denver Broncos [8-8] ? Few things are reliable in today's NFL, but Bronco running backs seem to be an exception. Jake Plummer will probably throw for 3,500+ yards again this season, and Rod Smith and Ashley Lelie will both catch for about 1,000. Champ Bailey can't possibly be as bad in '05 as he was in '04, and maybe the ex-Cleveland defensive linemen will invigorate the team. The potential's there, but upper-middle of the pack sounds about right.

16. Cincinnati Bengals [8-8] ? Slowly, steadily getting better. If Carson Palmer can play the way Jon Kitna did two years ago, Cincy could challenge for the division title. Palmer is one question mark, and a young defense is the other, but Marvin Lewis has exceeded expectations in his first two seasons as head coach, and I'm not going to underestimate him in the third.

17. Jacksonville Jaguars [9-7] ? Defense is the strength, keyed by the interior line and hard-hitting safety Donovin Darius. QB Byron Leftwich leads an offense that should play it safe and hope Fred Taylor can stay healthy and productive. Jimmy Smith is getting close to the "ageless" label, producing year after year. Rookie first-round choice Matt Jones is one of the most intriguing young players in the league, a physical marvel converted to wide receiver, where coaches hope he'll perform opposite Smith.

18. Seattle Seahawks [8-8] ? The first representative of the NFC West. This team is fantastic on paper, but that was true last season, too, and Seattle played without any heart in 2004. Sometimes little things can make a difference ? if Grant Wistrom stays healthy and Matt Hasselbeck plays with some confidence, that could be the difference between 9-7 and 12-4. I don't see things coming together, though: the Seahawks are less than the sum of their parts.

19. Dallas Cowboys [8-8] ? This is basically on faith in Bill Parcells. Jason Ferguson, Marco Rivera, and Anthony Henry were nice offseason pickups, while Drew Bledsoe is a clear upgrade at quarterback ? although I have doubts about what he can do with the 'Boys' receiving corps. Tight end Jason Witten should have a very strong season. I anticipate watching Dallas on the bubble of the wildcard picture, but if anyone overtakes Philly for the NFC East title in 2005, this would be the team.

20. Houston Texans [7-9] ? The defense is coming together, and the offensive 'skill' positions are there, but I don't see an offensive line to bring the thing together. Houston signed Tony Boselli years ago and still doesn't seem to have realized that he's done. The team has potential, but I don't see it being able to overcome the tough AFC South.

21. Green Bay Packers [8-8] ? Really, this is probably too low. There's a ton of talent on offense, and getting Jim Bates to run the defense was a coup. But the secondary may be even worse than last year's, and Brett Favre has become a decided liability in clutch situations. The tools are still there, but his decision-making isn't what it used to be. And of course, there's always the remote possibility that his health will give out.

22. St. Louis Rams [8-8] ? They slip a little more every year. The aging offensive line should be excellent if it can stay healthy, and that's the strongest unit on the team. Torry Holt may be the best wide receiver in the NFL, but honestly, the problem isn't the players on the field, it's the coaching from the sidelines. They underachieved against everyone but the Seahawks last year, and they got embarrassed out of the playoffs.

23. New Orleans Saints [6-10] ? I liked their chances a lot better when they had a home stadium. The Saints have a staggering psychological burden to deal with this season, and I think it ruins their chances at what could have been a very good season. Defense is the weak point, and I believe this will be Jim Haslett's last season as the team's head coach.

24. Arizona Cardinals [6-10] ? I've been trying very hard to resist the hype that says Arizona will win the NFC West this season. It's hard, since I have so little faith in Seattle and St. Louis, but I have equally little faith in Kurt Warner, especially behind a mediocre offensive line; Warner needs about a year and half to throw the ball, and anything less means a sack or an interception. A good receiving corps should help, but I don't think it's enough.

25. Tennessee Titans [6-10] ? I wanted to put them higher than this. I love the coaching staff, and I'm not ready to give up on young RB Chris Brown or old QB Steve McNair. Even if Brown underperforms, I'm a Travis Henry believer. But I don't like Drew Bennett as the first guy you look to throw to, and I don't think the defense ? which is awfully green ? is up to the challenge this season.

26. Oakland Raiders [6-10] ? I think everyone would feel better if the team had a defense, but every football fan in North America is excited about seeing what Norv Turner can do with Randy Moss and Jerry Porter. Kerry Collins has the arm to get his receivers the ball, and although I feel Lamont Jordan is overrated, he represents a legitimate running back for Turner to give some carries. The old Oakland/K.C. rivalry is going to produce some ridiculous over-unders this season.

27. Miami Dolphins [5-11] ? A tough AFC East may mask the truth, but the Dolphins should be much improved in 2005. I don't have high hopes for the offense, but the defense should be among the league's best, even if some of the big names are past their primes.

28. New York Giants [6-10] ? Plaxico Burress will be to the Giants what Peerless Price was to the Falcons, but Eli Manning will probably suck less in his second season than he did in the first, so the Giants might be okay this season. They do get an extra home game.

29. Washington Redskins [6-10] ? If you think this team is going anywhere this season, you obviously have a great deal of faith in Joe Gibbs. The preseason seemed to indicate that the defense may be able to replicate last year's magic, but the offense is a wreck. Gibbs has no faith in his quarterback, the receivers are terrible, and Clinton Portis is useless in such a weak offense, especially if it's as conservative as last season.

30. Cleveland Browns [4-12] ? Any bad team that adds Romeo Crennel, Joe Andruzzi, Jason Fisk, Trent Dilfer, and Reuben Droughns has to improve at least a little, right? 2005 is the first step of a rebuilding process, but Cleveland will be better than last season.

31. Chicago Bears [3-13] ? There's real talent on defense, especially in the secondary. But defense wasn't the problem last season: the Bears had the worst offense in the league. Cedric Benson and Muhsin Muhammad could help, and if one or two of the quarterbacks stay healthy you never know what could happen, but I see Chicago solidly last in its division.

32. San Francisco 49ers [3-13] ? Last year, Julian Peterson missed most of the season ? if he's healthy this time around, that could make a difference. The 49ers play in such an awful division that I'm tempted to slip in something clever about them being a playoff sleeper, but it just isn't true. They're going to be really bad.


September 8th, 2005, 2:04 am
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I'm sorry but I hate power rankings. I think they are dumb and just give sports fans something to argue about.

But this line...

Quote:
Betting on the Lions has historically been a losing gamble, but this team has a huge upside. I wouldn't be surprised if they miss the playoffs, but I wouldn't be surprised if they win the NFC Championship Game, either.



...is the ultimate in hedging your bet!

Talk about stating your position without taking a position!!


Unfortunately, this is how most Lions fans have felt for years. :?

Yikes!!

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September 8th, 2005, 8:00 am
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This is the highest Ive seen the Lions ranked anywhere. I read these rankings the other day.

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September 8th, 2005, 8:05 am
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I agree that power rankings are dumb, but this guys comment is dumber :

Quote:
I wouldn't be surprised if they miss the playoffs, but I wouldn't be surprised if they win the NFC Championship Game, either.


I mean come on, go out on a limb. Make a bold prediction. Putting them at 12 shows you have faith in the team, but then you pull all credibility back with this comment. Seriously, I could say this comment about half the teams in the NFC. But I guess this is the writers hard stance :roll:

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September 8th, 2005, 2:06 pm
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Joined: March 22nd, 2005, 8:42 pm
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"I'm sorry but I hate power rankings. I think they are dumb and just give sports fans something to argue about. " :idea:

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September 8th, 2005, 3:16 pm
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He sums up the Lions chances pretty well. Or did he sum up about every team in the NFL with that line? Six teams have gone onto the SuperBowl after a 6-10 or worse record the season before since 1981. 15 teams have reached the SuperBowl after not having a winning record the prior season (including 9 in the last 11 years).

I hate Power Rankings as well, except for Lionbacker's of course. :wink:

We live in a society where it is important to rank everything, better get used to it...

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September 8th, 2005, 3:30 pm
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