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Friday, 16 November 2012

November Power Rankings

With just a month and a half left of the regular season, we're starting to see a clear playoff picture emerge in one conference, though the race remains tight in the other. Much more important than potential seeding, however, is where we have them ranked in our monthly power rankings. A lot of the changes this month are relatively minor, often being a change of no more than three or four spots, but there are two hugely noticeable changes - the Colts, who jump a huge 16 spots, and the Redskins, who tumble 11. For the rest of the rankings, hit the jump.

1: Houston Texans (TD = 1, PG = 1, GS = 1)
Last month = 2nd

After going into a rainy Chicago and out Bears-ing the Bears, Houston move up to be our consensus number 1, why? Well we could talk about the continued success of their ground game, particularly behind the dominant left side of tackle Duane Brown and guard Wade Smith, or of Owen Daniels' resurgence to a being an upper echelon threat in the passing game. But mostly, it's their defense. Even with influential ILB Brian Cushing lost for the season, Houston are causing all kinds of problems for opposing offenses. From the monstrous play of DE JJ Watt, to the edge play of Connor Barwin and the coverage skills of both Jonathan Joseph and the improvednKareem Jackson, Houston have the ability to clamp down and crush almost any offense they face. And when you dominate the time of possession the way Houston's offense does, it really amps up the pressure on the opposition. (Toby Durant)

2: Atlanta Falcons (TD = 2, PG = 2, GS = 2)
Last month = 1st

Undefeated no more. It took 10 weeks, but finally the Falcons perfect season came to an end at the hands of their divisional rival New Orleans Saints. There's no shame in getting outscored by the prolific Saints offense, but against their porous D you'd hope an undefeated team might have more success moving the ball, especially on the ground. If Atlanta has real Superbowl aspirations they'll need to regain a balance on offense, as no matter how explosive the Ryan-White-Jones trio can be, it'll be seriously challenged if there are only 5 men in the box. (Phil Gaskin) 

3: Green Bay Packers (TD = 3, PG = 4, GS = 5)
Last month = 7th

After a sluggish start, the Packers finally found their groove, starting with a mid-October victory against the Texans where they put up over 40 points for the first, and so far only, time this season. They've won every game since, and are improving as they go along. After having a terrible year on defense last season, the Packers' D are having a more respectable season this year, disrupting passers with the second-most sacks on the year and ranking in the top 10 for interceptions, while allowing a 9th-best 4.0 yards per carry to opposing running backs. An improvement on defense is matched by much-of-the-same on offense as we've come to expect: an unproductive running game rendered largely irrelevant by Aaron Rodgers, who leads the league in throwing touchdowns on a whopping 7.6% of his passes – nearly a whole percent ahead of the next most productive QB – while he trails only Peyton Manning with his 107.4 QB rating. Of course, the lack of a run game, and therefore the means to control the clock, can be a serious Achilles' heel for this team (as the Colts can attest to), but with Rodgers and the offense now clicking, despite a considerably beat-up offensive line, Green Bay have positioned themselves well to make a strong playoff push as we enter the final seven weeks of the season. (Gur Samuel)

4: Chicago Bears (TD = 4, PG = 6, GS = 3)
Last month = 8th

If Chicago had won on Sunday night they would probably have been my number 1 team, but as it is they sit here at 4, and are once again starring a Jay Cutler injury in the face. After Cutler got laid out by Tim Dobbins in the 1st half of sunday's game he was diagnosed with a concussion, if he can make a speedy recovery then everything should be ok for Chicago. But if he misses multiple games there's a good chance that Green Bay can overtake them for the NFC North lead. In the off-season Chicago invested in Jason Campbell as a backup after seeing 2011 get ruined by Caleb Hanie. He's capable, but can he live behind the awful pass protection Chicago have? Can he have the same rapport with Brandon Marshall? Will that even matter if Chicago's defense continues it's historic scoring pace??? (TD)

5: New England Patriots (TD = 5, PG = 3, GS = 7)
Last month = 6th
Will we see Brady to the Superbowl again this year?
(P: Mark Fletcher)

From 3-3 to 6-3, yet the Patriots only move up 1 position in our PR, such is the strength at the top of the NFL. A huge victory in London over the Rams was consolidated with a hard-fought victory over the Bills in week 10, and with the rest of the AFC East spluttering (or falling apart), the Pats look to have the division all but in their hands already. Their pass D is still poor, with Ryan Fitzpatrick managing to pick them apart for much on Sunday, but the addition of Aqib Talib, if he can get up to speed with the playbook quickly enough, should give a big boost that might be enough to see Patriots deep into the playoffs once again. (PG)

6: Baltimore Ravens (TD = 7, PG = 5, GS = 6)
Last month = 5th

This isn't the Ravens anyone was expecting. Ranking 26th on defense? Practically unthinkable. While from a leadership perspective, the loss of Ray Lewis was a blow, his increasingly-declining play hasn't been missed. Much more devastating was the loss of Ladarius Webb, but the biggest blow to this defense by FAR has been the injuries sustained by the D's motor, Haloti Ngata. Slowed down with an MCL sprain, Ngata didn't play a single snap last week. Luckily, Joe Flacco put in a heck of a performance, and while there have been games where he's looked like he sorely needs to have the ball taken out of his care and firmly into the arms of Ray Rice (the Chiefs and Texans games stand out in particular), as a generality Flacco is playing much better than he has previously – I'm sure the fact that it's a contract year for him plays a part in it too – and in a very weak AFC, that could be enough to land a first-week bye in the playoffs. (GS)

7: Denver Broncos (TD = 8, PG = 7, GS = 4)
Last month = 9th

Remember all those worries people had about Peyton Manning in the off season? Well they disappeared quickly. Even the issues people had just a month ago with Manning's arm strength has evaporated as he's gotten stronger every week. Ryan Clady has gotten back to his brick wall best and the Broncos lead the league is sacks for and have given up the fewest sacks themselves. Their running game still stumbles occasionally with Willis McGahee having a touch of fumblitis, and they can't defend the run well at all. Doesn't all this sound like the 2006 Colts who ended up winning it all? (TD)

8: San Francisco 49ers (TD = 6, PG = 8, GS = 8)
Last month = 4th

A tie with the Rams is not something to write home about, and a concussion to Alex Smith is a concern, so the 9ers see themselves fall to #8 despite their 6-2-1 record and remaining undefeated in the NFC West, putting them in poll position for a playoff spot. After not allowing a TD in their last 2 games, vs divisional opponents, the San Fran D looked susceptible this week, allowing the Rams to find the endzone on 3 occasions, and only being rescued from defeat by Ram penalties calling back an 80 yard pass and a game winning FG. They'll face an even sterner test this week as they welcome the Bears, another top team with QB injury worries. This matchup will be a true indication of where the 9ers are going this year. (PG)

9: Seattle Seahawks (TD = 10, PG = 9, GS = 10)
Last month = 10th

Toby was so very angry for 'denying' him the opportunity to wax lyrical on his favourite non-Patriot, but we decided to spare you a several thousand-word love letter to Russell Wilson. That said, the rookie QB has done incredibly well, making a real case to be considered a candidate for Rookie of the Year despite not being drafted until the third round. The story of this team's 2012 campaign, though, can be defined not by Wilson's journey, but by their schedule – specifically, their Jekyll/Hyde relationship with home and road games. In CenturyLink Field, Seattle have won every game this year; on the flipside, their only 'W' on the road has come against a pretty terrible Carolina Panthers, and even that was a narrow victory. The disparity between their home and away games has filtered through every level of the team. The aforementioned Wilson has thrown 8 picks on the road, but not a single one at home; likewise, he has been averaging a ridiculous passer rating of 120.5 at home, but a paltry 65.2 away from Seattle. The Seahawks' no. 10-ranked defense gives up 4.5 points a game more on the road than at home – an important stat, considering that half of this team's games so far has been decided by 4 or fewer points – while, as a team, the Seahawks have a +5 turnover record at home vs. a -1 turnover record on the road, and slightly better time of possession too (with Seattle holding the ball just under a minute more at home). While a top-10 defense and an exciting young signal caller play a large role in the Seahawks being on track for a post-season berth, the team need to bring some of the 12th man magic on the road to take the next step. (GS)

10: New York Giants (TD = 9, PG = 12, GS = 9)
Last month = 3rd 

I see you Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning, don't think I can't see what you're doing. As the losses start to rack up for the Giants, and we enter a month that has historically been bad for Eli, so the "Giants repeat" talk has faded. THIS IS WHAT THEY WANT!! Under the radar is where the Giants thrive, they still sit 2 wins ahead in a weak NFC East and they haven't suddenly forgotten how to generate pressure on opposing QB's and make big plays late on. Come playoff time they'll be sat quietly in a 3 or 4 seed and ready to pounce. I see you New York, it's not going to work this time. (TD)

11: Pittsburgh Steelers (TD = 11, PG = 14, GS = 11)
Last month = 12th

The Steelers are one of the most difficult teams to place at the moment, because it all relies on just how bad Big Ben's injury is. According to Mike Tomlin he has an SC Joint separation, which is essentially a sprain of the ligament which holds the collarbone to the breastbone. If this is going to keep Roethlisberger out for a week or two, the Steelers will survive. They won't be good, but they might be able to eek out a win against the Browns next week, even if the Ravens this week might be a bit too tough. If the injury lasts more like 4-6, then the Steelers could be in trouble. 2 match-ups vs the Ravens, plus the Cowboys and Bengals in the next six weeks will all be very difficult to win with Byron Leftwich under centre. Even with the Ravens injury woes, you'd have to fancy them to take the North if Ben is out more than a month. (PG)

12: Indianapolis Colts (TD = 12, PG = 11, GS = 13)
Last month = 28th

The AFC is such a weak conference that, with Ben Roethlisberger out of commission for a few weeks, the Colts may as well start ordering the celebratory t-shirts to commemorate winning the no. 5 seed for that conference. It would be a huge mistake to write the Colts off as being mere beneficiaries of playing in the weaker conference – under the command of Andrew Luck, the Colts look like they can return to their status as “perennial contenders” much, much sooner than anyone expected. Of course, looking into the future, there's no telling how much longer they will have the services of the player (outside of Luck) who can claim the most credit for the team's surprising fortunes – 34-year-old Reggie Wayne, who is having a renaissance year with 931 yards, and is on pace to set career highs for both yards (103.4) and receptions (7.7) a game – but for now, Wayne has proven a valuable asset to young Andrew Luck, while rookies T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener have all shown encouraging flashes at points to give Luck weapons to grow with. Outside of Luck and the Colts' increasingly improving passing game, though, there isn't that much for Indianapolis fans to get excited about, ranking in the 13-20 range in almost every defensive category while having a below-average running game. The Colts will only go as far as Luck's arm will let them in 2012 – but so far, that's been enough to see them strongly on course for the playoffs. (GS)

13: Minnesota Vikings (TD = 14, PG = 10, GS = 14)
Last month = 14th 

The English language is a fantastic thing. But even it doesn't have the capability to fully explain Adrian Peterson. To put it simply, AP's 5.8 yards a carry and 112.8 yards a game are happening when most mere mortals would be MID-REHAB! Along side the mighty All Day, Percy Harvin has been having a fantastic year despite the up and down performances of Christian Ponder and the defense. Minnesota sit at 6-4 and would be a dark horse but for their remaining schedule which features a trip to Houston and 2 against Chicago and Green Bay. Ouch. (TD)

14: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (TD = 13, PG = 17, GS = 12)
Last month = 18th

One of the teams you can truly say are on the rise. It was an uncertain start to the season for Tampa, but things are starting to click now with big scores put up the past 5 weeks (38, 28, 36, 42, 34), and 4 wins since their bye giving them a 5-4 record and a chance to challenge the Falcons atop the division. Doug Martin looks like an OROY candidate if he keeps rumbling the way he has been, and Vincent Jackson has proven one of the best off-season acquisitions in the league. The only thing holding this team back is their pass defense, which let Oakland score 32 points and San Diego score 24 in the past two weeks. In a division that boasts Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Cam Newton as opposition QBs, the Bucs will need to put in some serious work if they want to stop these guys and make a push for the post-season. (PG)

15: Cincinnati Bengals (TD = 22, PG = 13, GS = 15)
Last month = 23rd

Despite coming off a game where they embarrassed the Giants, the Bengals don't seem to be the same promising team that made the playoffs last season. Before their home victory against Big Blue, Cincy had lost four straight. Nonetheless, Andy Dalton has improved in some respects, most markedly in his accuracy, his yards-per-game average and his touchdown percentage, and despite an incredibly unproductive running game (having, as a team, had more than 100 rushing yards in a game only twice), they are still putting up over 24 points a game, good for 11th in the league. More concerning is their issues with ball security – not having had a positive turnover record in a game until Week 7, and have given the ball away at least once in every game so far. Defensively, the team have shown the ability to rush the passer, generating sacks on 8% of drop backs (third in the league), but despite that, are not disrupting opposing aerial games, allowing a second-worst 67.5% completion rate; they're not faring that much better on the ground either, with the 4.4 yards-per-carry they give up being tied for fifth-worst. Crucially, their defense is shaky when it matters most, with the tied-6th worst red zone defense, letting teams score touchdowns on just under 63% of red zone opportunities. Despite all that, the Bengals' remaining schedule isn't too bad at all, especially when you consider that their final game of the season may come against a Ravens team in a position to rest most of their starters, and if the Steelers are unable to keep it together while Big Ben is recovering from a potentially life-threatening injury, you can't yet rule the Bengals out of a post-season push. (GS)

16: Dallas Cowboys (TD = 15, PG = 18, GS = 17)
Last month = 11th

Talk of Mike Holmgren taking over as Head Coach came out of no where, but at the same time you wouldn't be surprised if there was a change at the top in Dallas should they miss the playoffs. Jason Garrett has had enough brainfarts in clock management and in-game decisions, and the Cowboys have so many bad moments that go beyond Tony Romo's "gunslinger" nature that Cowboy fans everywhere, and probably Jerry Jones, have been rethinking him as a long term answer. Outside of the head coach, Dallas still have the potential to cause issues for teams if Romo can get past a truly awful season for interceptions and if Dez Bryant can keep his head screwed on. (TD)

17: New Orleans Saints (TD = 18, PG = 16, GS = 16)
Last month = 20th

The kings are dead. Long live the kings? They might have beaten the league leading Falcons, but the Saints still have a long way to go before we'll be moving them into the top half of the league. Their always prolific offense has been kept below 20 points only once this season, and with Darren Sproles missing with a broken hand their running game is being forced to contribute, Chris Ivory and Mark Ingram stepping up to fill the void. What has been truly awful this season is their D. They've only kept their opponents below 20 once this year, and have allowed a 100 yard rusher pretty much every week this year. The Saints have the ability to outscore any opponent in the NFL, but they just keep making it too hard on themselves to do consistently. (PG)  

18: Detroit Lions (TD = 19, PG = 15, GS = 21)
Last month = 17th

There's no such thing as the 'Madden' curse. It's useful to remind yourself of that fact when you look at how Calvin Johnson has fared since gracing the cover of the video game. While he is still leading the league in yards, he hasn't been the guaranteed home-run threat he appeared to be last season, catching only two touchdowns all season. The rest of the offense has fallen far short of expectations – after throwing 41 touchdowns in 2011, his first full season, Matthew Stafford has thrown only 11 through the first nine games of the year, having as many games throwing multiple touchdowns (two) as he's had games where he hasn't thrown any. Where Stafford has struggled, a previously ineffective rushing game has picked up some (but far from all) of the slack, and while they're hardly setting the world on fire on the ground, by their own standards they've definitely improved, slightly improving their yards-per-game while having already run in more touchdowns this year than they did in all of 2012, and against the Jaguars, scoring more than two rushing touchdowns for the first time since their opening game of 2010. The defense is actually better than many assume, ranking 9th in yards allowed and really tightening up in the money zone with the 4th-best redzone D. Of course, the special teams spectacularly failed in two eventual losses early in the season, allowing both a punt and a kickoff to be returned for a touchdown in back-to-back games. Struggling early in the year, Detroit have been steadily improving as the season's gone on; but as the only team in the NFC North with a losing record, it's looking like too little, far too late for 2012. (GS)

19: San Diego Chargers (TD = 16, PG = 23, GS = 18)
Last month = 16th TD

Norv Turner is still gainfully employed in the NFL, but maybe not for long. His outburst in a recent press conference is a classic indicator of a coach hanging on by a string. Phil Rivers' game has nose dived and without Vincent Jackson the offense looks tame. Outside of Eric Weddle, who is perhaps the best safety in football, the Chargers defense is nothing to write home about either. Their "window", which seemed wide open in 2010, looks pretty firmly closed now. (TD)

21: St Louis Rams (TD = 17, PG = 22, GS = 22)
Last month = 22nd

Protecting Bradford is the key moving forward
(P: Mark Fletcher)
Thanks to the events of last week, the Rams are now one of two teams that necessitate the use of the oft-ignored third column when quoting their record. Yes, the Rams have a tie to their names, making life that tiny bit more annoying for playoff prognosticators, but putting aside the debates about whether should be ties in the NFL, or the humour derived from their players not realising that ties even exist in the NFL – it's OK Danny, you can blame it on the distress caused by that nasty collar-bone break a few weeks ago – the biggest takeaway from that game is that the Rams were able to hang with a high-quality time like the 49ers. St Louis are only seven points away from having been in the playoff hunt (the combined margins of their losses to the Lions and the Dolphins), and despite being humiliated on an international scale by the Patriots in London, rebounded to tie one of top teams in the NFL. One of the most visible improvements in this team has been the run defense, which has gone from 31st in 2011 to a much more respectable 16th this year, which has been complemented by some other less-stark defensive improvements, improving both their interception rate and their rate of allowing touchdowns through the air. Unfortunately, these modest improvements haven't been matched by much offensive production at all, having scored over 20 points only twice all season (bear in mind that the 23 points they put up on the Lions includes a pick-six from Cortland Finnegan). Without question, the inability to put up points on offense have been the biggest struggle for the Rams, and though Sam Bradford is having a much better season than in 2011, the offense has been hampered by a lack of aerial playmakers (with only Danny Amendola and Chris Givens doing much of anything) and an offensive line that, once again, has been more cobbled together than put together, allowing Sam Bradford to get sacked on a too-high 8.0% of drop backs. Still, the Rams aren't as far away as their record looks – the defense is slowly but steadily improving, and there's reasons for optimism for the future; less so, the rest of this season. (GS)

20: Miami Dolphins (TD = 20, PG = 21, GS = 20)
Last month = 19th

Week 10 was pretty embarrassing if you're a Dolphins fan. The Titans, fresh off a thumping from Chicago, ran up 37 points and only allowed a single FG to Miami, blowing the Fins out the water. At 4-5, they still hold 2nd place in the AFC East, but their chances of grabbing a Wildcard spot took a huge hit with that defeat. Tannehill's 3 INTs in the game don't fill anyone with confidence going forward, and games against the Seahawks, Patriots and 49ers in the next 4 weeks is certainly not an easy path to the post-season. Before this week, their defensive front 7 would have got a mention here as a real positive. After the way the Titans bossed them on Sunday, they don't. (PG) 

22: Tennessee Titans (TD = 26, PG = 20, GS = 19)
Last month = 29th 

A big win against Miami somewhat dulls the pain of an OT loss to Indy and an utter beat-down from Chicago. But the brightest sign for all of Tennessee is that the old Chris Johnson seems to be back. He's gone over 90 yards rushing (with at least 4.7 yards/carry) in his last 5 games, including longs of 83 and 80 yards. A lot of this has to do with the vastly improved play of their offensive line, and with Jake Locker back under centre and once again ready to be the future of the franchise maybe the Titans can find themselves finishing up around .500, which is where most expected them to be in August. (TD)

23: Buffalo Bills (TD = 25, PG = 19, GS = 24)
Last month = 25th

Every year the Bills push the Patriots close. Last year, they won an early shootout against their AFC East rivals, and this year were within a score at Foxboro before a Ryan Fitzpatrick interception ended their chances. Their offense has played well all year, with the OL a real strength early on, Cordy Glenn making the step up to OT in the NFL with seeming ease. At 3-6, they look unlike to make a post-season push, but their remaining schedule could be one of the easiest in the league: Dolphins (x2), Colts, Jaguars, Rams, Seahawks, Jets. It's easy enough to pick 5 wins from that schedule, and at 8-8 there's always a chance of grabbing that #6 seed in the AFC. (PG)

24: Washington Redskins (TD = 21, PG = 24, GS = 23)
Last month = 13th

After a blisteringly-hot start, RG3 has come back down to earth with a bit of a bump. Putting up some silly-good stats through his first seven weeks, Griffin seemed to have had his confidence rocked a little after some penultimate-second heroics against the Giants failed to secure a win, thanks to the last-second heroics (see what I did there?) of Eli Manning, responding to that narrow loss with efforts where he completed under 60% of his passes for the first times of his young career (something, mind you, which in any other rookie would not be noticeable, but after his obscene level of play through the first two months of the season, he is, fairly or unfairly, being measured against a stingier yardstick than a other rooks). Not helped has been something of an under-utilisation, as of late, of the other wonder-rookie, Alfred Morris, who had just 13 touches in each of the previous two games, despite averaging 4.54 and 5.85 yards a carry in those contests. Unsurprisingly, those two games have seen the team's poorest offensive showing of 2012, scoring just 12 points against the Steelers and 13 against the Panthers. Of greater concern, though, is Jim Haslett's defense, one which came into this season with high expectations after improving from 31st in 2010 to 13th in 2011. Instead of continuing on this trajectory, Washington's D is currently 27th in total, mostly because of their 30th-ranked passing defense. In fact, the Skins have allowed all but three passers to throw for over 300 yards, and one of those was only 7 yards shy of that three-century mark. Of course, it didn't help losing two key cogs in the front seven early in the year in Adam Carriker and Brian Orakpo, but for whatever reason, the Redskins are simply allowing teams to have their way with them through the air, getting the QB down on a third-worst 3.8% of drop backs, while no team has allowed more TDs through the air than they have. With a run defense allowing the exact league average of 4.2 yards-per-carry, Washington isn't exactly a threat to shut down opposing offenses, and if Griffin, Morris et al failed to rediscover their offensive groove during their bye, then it's going to be a long remainder of the season for the 'Skins. (GS)

25: Arizona Cardinals (TD = 23, PG = 26, GS = 26)
Last month = 21st TD

Remember when the Cardinals were good? 5 straight losses have seen them plummet from their September high of 14 right back to where we had them in the pre-season. While the defense continues to play at a high level, the offense has been a disaster. They've been starting the 2 worst tackles in the league in D'Anthony Batiste (now benched) and rookie Bobby Massie, they've had injuries to their starting running backs and quarterbacks, and all the while Larry Fitzgerald is sitting there wondering if that big pay day was really worth staying out in the desert. Arizona better rebuild their offensive line before they even think about drafting a rookie QB. (TD)

26: Philadelphia Eagles (TD = 24, PG = 28, GS = 25)
Last month = 15th

All hail the saviour that is Nick Foles. After Michael Vick finally went down injured after his one hundred and somethingth sack of the year, Foles stepped in and led the Eagles to a 38-23 defeat to Dallas. Now admittedly much of that defeat wasn't Foles' fault, as the defense couldn't do much to stop the Cowboys in the game, but when you throw a pick 6 and lose a fumble on your own 1 yard line, which is recovered for a TD, you do take some of the blame. But in his first regular season outing, Foles did ok. His offensive line is a mess though, missing both starting OTs, and starting C, as well as their RG still recovering from an ankle injury. When you have LeSean McCoy you always have a chance to win, but when you lose 5 games on the trot AND your starting QB, you drop 11 spots in our ranking. (PG)

27: Carolina Panthers (TD = 30, PG = 25, GS = 27)
Last month = 27th

I warned anyone and everyone who would listen that Cam Newton would slump very hard this year. People laughed, explaining why Newton would dispel the myth of the 'sophomore slump', and were already talking about how the 'next step' for this team would be making the playoffs, despite not having a winning record since 2008. Now, I'm not going to say “I told you so”, but...

In all seriousness, though, it's not fair to put all of the blame on Newton's shoulders – in the same way that people considerably over-inflated what he did last year, people have gone too far the other way. I suppose part of the problem was that many within the Panthers organisation bought into the hype when it didn't necessarily match up to reality; the most obvious example of this is in how Rob Chudzinski uses – or rather, fails to use – what on paper should be the most talented backfield in the NFL. The addition of Mike Tolbert should, in theory, give defenses three legitimate ball carriers to worry about on any given play (for those keeping count, that's Newton, Tolbert and either DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart), but in reality, 'Chud' has chosen consistently to keep the ball with Newton and use the others in the backfield merely as fakes and distractions – which are fooling nobody. Now, it's certainly not all bad in Carolina – Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy might be the best pair of pass rushers in the league this year, and after a slow start at an unfamiliar position, Luke Kuechly is now living up to pre-draft billing back at his more natural inside linebacking – but outside of that, there really isn't a terrible amount for Panthers fans to be excited about. With rumours swirling about an imminent house-clearing – the dumping of special teams co-ordinator Brian Murphy shortly after the firing of general manager Marty Hurney does not bode well for HC Ron Rivera's long-term prospects – this team is only another loss or two away from packing up for the season and turning their attention to 2013. (GS)

28: Oakland Raiders (TD = 27, PG = 29, GS = 28)
Last month = 26th 

First, the Raiders allow a rookie running back to rip them up when running behind 2 backup guards, and then they give a struggling Ravens offense the confidence boost it needed. They had been left in a huge hole thanks to some truly awful cap management, and while their offseason moves were all defensible and actually fairly savvy, they just don't have the depth or the starting talent to compete. But, perhaps their biggest fault is the switch to a zone blocking scheme, which has ruined Darren McFadden's productivity. Yes, it works great in Houston, but it's just not taking in Oakland, when (if) McFadden returns this year, they need to dust off the old man scheme and let McFadden do his thing. (TD)
Yes, yes he is...

29: New York Jets (TD = 28, PG = 27, GS = 29)
Last month = 24th 

Another AFC East team that fell from 3-3 to 3-6, but they've done it in a much more convincingly awful fashion than the Bills. The Jets offense is just awful. The O put up exactly zero points against the Seahawks this week, and managed just 9 vs the Dolphins before their bye. In fact they've failed to get over 10 points in 4 games this year. The Tebow experiment has proven, well, nothing, seeing as he's hardly seen the field - 132 all purpose yards in 9 games. The traditionally strong D that has supported the Sanchize in recent years is weak and inconsistent now. Few positives to find for the Jetropolitans. (PG)

30: Cleveland Browns (TD = 29, PG = 30, GS = 30)
Last month = 30th

All quarterbacks need some time in the league to develop, and those taken in the first round usually are granted greater leeway than others. Brandon Weeden might not get so lucky. As it stands right now, the only starting rookie QB Weeden might be better than at the end of the season could be Nick Foles; but having turned 29 in October, can Cleveland really afford to give him too much time to develop? Let's put it in context. Ignoring the other rookies, this is how many seasons starting quarterbacks around the NFL, all currently younger than Weeden, will have played by the time they will have reached the same age Weeden will be at the end of his rookie year:

  • Sam Bradford: seven seasons
  • Andy Dalton: six seasons
  • Joe Flacco: seven seasons
  • Josh Freeman: nine seasons
  • Blaine Gabbert: eight seasons
  • Kevin Kolb: seven seasons
  • Jake Locker: seven seasons
  • Cam Newton: eight seasons
  • Christian Ponder: seven seasons
  • Aaron Rodgers: eight seasons
  • Matt Ryan: seven seasons
  • Mark Sanchez: seven seasons
  • Alex Smith: nine seasons
  • Matthew Stafford: nine seasons

How is Weeden meant to develop into a top-flight quarterback? How much time does he have to reach those high levels before his body plateaus? On that above list, bear this in mind: three quarterbacks – Freeman, Smith and Stafford – will have played almost an entire decade by the time they reach Weeden's age; and one quarterback on that list was born two months after Weeden: Aaron Rodgers. He has reached the pinnacle of his profession; in the same time frame, Weeden has all of nine games under his belt. The Browns gave Weeden allegedly the greatest running back since Adrian Peterson or even LaDainian Tomlinson, they put up a high pick from next year in the supplementary draft to get him Josh Gordon to go with another one-time second round receiver, Gerg Little, and he inherited a decent offensive line with two very good players (Joe Thomas, of course, and Alex Mack). Yet, how long of a leash will Weeden have to use these weapons? His play has been uninspiring so far, and with a much smaller window to develop than a younger QB, the Browns may have put themselves a season or two behind where they should be with that pick. It should be no surprise, therefore, that the Browns have been in the mix for last in our power rankings throughout 2012, and there is no reason to believe they'll be much better any time in the forseeable future. (GS)

31: Jacksonville Jaguars (TD = 31, PG = 32, GS = 31)
Last month = 31st 

You know the Blaine Gabbert era is over when Chad Henne comes into the game and makes Jacksonville look better. This team is flat out unwatchable without Maurice Jones-Drew, and the half-empty stands don't help either. And joy of joy's they host a game in London for the next 4 years, thanks a bunch NFL. (TD)

32: Kansas City Chiefs (TD = 32, PG = 31, GS = 32)
Last month = 32nd

Poor KC. I didn't have them at 32 thanks to their decent showing on MNF against the Steelers, a game they could, and perhaps should, have won. One thing is absolutely for certain, they need a QB in the worst way. Cassel is a turnover waiting to happen, and although Brady Quinn is still yet to be given a real chance at any team to prove his worth, the fact a former first rounder is so quick to be passed over by so many should say something about his chances of success in the NFL. In just as concerning news, Romeo Crennel, a defensive co-ordinator who finds himself as HC again in his career, has now given up the defensive play calling again. Concerning. Jamaal Charles is still running well when his OL show up, and they have some real assets in the defensive backfield in Brandon Flowers and Eric Berry, all of which makes it more surprising just how awful this team, tipped for the AFC West title in the off-season, is playing. (PG)

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