Draft day is here and the NFL hype machine is in full force. Personally, since Seattle ostensibly took Percy Harvin I won’t be watching the draft coverage, but that doesn’t mean the writers here at 12th Man Rising haven’t put together their pre-draft power rankings.
The rankings have been updated as of yesterday so they account for all of the free agency acquisitions and releases that have taken place up to now. You will also see more daylight between teams’ highest and lowest rankings since there aren’t actually any games to help guide us.
The teams that have the biggest differences between their highest and lowest rank are:
- Rams (16) – David 9th, Micah 25th
- Vikings (13) – David 8th, Hanley 21st
- Steelers (12) – Nick 9th, Micah 21st
- Chiefs (12) – David 20th, Nick 32nd
- Falcons (11) – Diane 2nd, David 13th
- Colts (11) – Diane 8th, David 19th
- Giants (10) – Micah 8th, David 18th
- Buccaneers (10) – Hanley 12th, David 22nd
- Cardinals (10) – Hanley 19th, David 29th
As can be expected of a division that includes both San Francisco and Seattle, the NFC West had the highest average ranking in the NFL with 11.5. The NFC North is next with an average ranking of 12.75. The worst division in the NFL is, not surprisingly, the AFC West with an average ranking of 21. The highest ranked team in the AFC West is Denver (3rd overall), with the other three teams 24th or lower.
Obviously, these rankings are very preliminary and will change once the draft happens. Draft day is overall a bad predictor of how good a team will be the next season. There aren’t many teams that are a top five pick away from a Super Bowl or even division dominance. Draft picks are more of an investment in a player’s future potential that, if successful, will explode in a player’s second or third season. Teams like Seattle and San Francisco cut some dead weight, and reloaded for the following season without the need to change much. Other teams like Jacksonville, Kansas City, Oakland, and the New York Jets have further to go.
Until the next rankings are published in August, enjoy these for what their worth – conversation fodder. And if draft day is your gig, enjoy that as well. The first pick that matters to me is the 24th pick of the second round.
The Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl proving yet again that regular season records mean little in predicting the playoffs. By translating a 10-6 record in to a 4-0 playoff run, the Ravens have made history by becoming the first team in history to win a Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers.
When NFC West football coaches, players, and fans look back on this season, the biggest lesson might be, “Make sure to show up to play in the first half of playoff games.” While both the Seahawks and 49ers looked as talented as any team in football this year, their habit of digging themselves in to a hole and relying on perfect execution late in games backfired. Instead of the NFC West holding a Lombardi Trophy, the 49ers finish the season more closely resembling the team that couldn’t beat the Rams than the team that was predicted by many to win it all.
In my last article I predicted that the Ravens would pass to set up the run. As it would turn out, the Ravens rushing attack was never a factor at all. Luckily for them, they scored their three offensive touchdowns on pass plays. They ended the game with only 93 rushing yards, and averaged a measly 2.7 yards per carry. On a normal day, that would not be enough to move the chains.
However, especially for Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, this was not a normal day. His three first half touchdowns were enough to bury the 49ers in a deep hole. They were also enough to set a new NFL record with 11 touchdown passes in a single post season without an interception.
Flacco’s first pass was thrown to the middle of the end zone to Anquan Boldin who found a pocket between two defenders. The next touchdown was a 1-yard pass to Dennis Pitta who calmly spiked the ball. The body language of the Ravens squad exuded confidence. The third touchdown made people stop and look. It was a 56-yard completion to Jacoby Jones, who caught the ball in the air, fell down, and got up in time to elude San Francisco defenders on his way to the end zone.
With the possession of the ball to start the second half, the Ravens were in good position with a 21-6 lead at halftime. By the time Jacoby Jones returned the opening kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown, things were looking great.
It looked like a good old fashioned Super Bowl blowout, until, of all things, the power went out in the Super Dome. While the power outage delayed the game for 34 minutes, it is impossible to judge what effect it had on the two teams. Some say that the 49ers benefited by being allowed to regroup and kill Baltimore’s momentum.
It could be just as easily presumed that Baltimore benefited from the blackout, by being allowed to regain some energy that allowed them to withstand the onslaught that was soon to come. In the end, the real beneficiary of the power out was probably the bar owners across the world who kept their patrons drinking for an extra half hour. At the end of the unexpected intermission, the game really started to get competitive, and turned in to what many called an instant classic.
Colin Kaepernick, who was flustered and ineffective early, suddenly was able to connect with Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. Both receivers topped one hundred yards, and Crabtree hauled in a touchdown. The other two 49er touchdowns were run in by Frank Gore who ran for a game best 110 yards, and Kaepernick who celebrated his touchdown run with a highly predictable kiss of his tattoo.
While the touchdown brought the 49ers to within a field goal of the Ravens, perhaps Kaepernick’s celebration was a bit premature if not entirely unnecessary. The Ravens would go on to build their lead to 5 on a Justin Tucker field goal giving the 49ers time to take the lead.
However, Baltimore’s defense held tight on a four-down goal line stand that included one controversial non-call in the end zone on a ball thrown to Michael Crabtree. While Jimmy Smith clearly had a handful of jersey, Crabtree was also engaged in contact. Being that it’s a Super Bowl, I’m a big believer in letting the players play, and saving the flags for obvious penalties, like the illegal formation that stalled a promising opening drive by San Francisco.
After turning the ball over on downs, San Francisco’s defense was able to hold the Ravens to a three and out. The Ravens, who had faked a field goal earlier in the game, pulled another unorthodox special teams move. With twelve seconds left, the punter, Sam Koch, scrambled around in the end zone for eight seconds before running out of bounds giving the 49ers a safety and two points.
The score tightened to 3 points, but with four seconds left on the clock, a field goal was not a possibility. Instead of punting from the end zone with 12 seconds left, the Ravens were able to kick off with four seconds left. There were no repeats of the music city miracle as Baltimore’s kickoff team found the ball quickly, and made the winning tackle as time expired.
It was a fitting end to an exciting season of NFL football. The Ravens have some questions surrounding an aging defense, and a free agent quarterback, but have been consistently competitive over the years. The 49ers also look like they’re built to compete for years to come.
The Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots, and Denver Broncos all exited the playoffs with unfulfilled expectations. Expect them to be in the thick of the hunt next season. But, until then, The Baltimore Ravens deserve to hold their well-earned title of NFL Champions.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Baltimore Ravens, Colin Kaepernick, Dennis Pitta, Denver Broncos, featured, football, Frank Gore, Green Bay Packers, Jacoby Jones, Jimmy Smith, Joe Flacco, Justin Tucker, Michael Crabtree, NFC West, nfl, playoffs, Popular, power out, Sam Koch, San Francisco 49ers, Seahawks, Seattle Seahawks, St. Lois Rams, Super Bowl, super bowl mvp, Super Bowl XLVII, Super Dome, Vernon Davis
This Super Bowl was just plain weird. Not that I really cared who won, but I’m glad San Francisco lost. I don’t like Jim Harbaugh and I don’t like San Francisco fans, at least the ones I have had contact with, and you know who you are… Just kidding! Seriously! You’re great people, really…
Since the Seahawks got totally screwed by the NFL with that early morning game in Atlanta I didn’t really have a dog in this fight (so much for journalist impartiality). The way the 49ers fans thought they deserved to be in this game after the butt whoopin the Hawks handed them in Seattle was just ignoring the truth. The Niners backed into this game by not having to face Seattle and they know it. Sure they beat Atlanta…barely. Try doing that at 0-dark thirty west coast time. And if not for SF’s tie against the Rams the Hawks would have had your conference title and your bye week. But I digress…
Did anyone else go get a pedicure during the national anthem? MAN that was long! Well done, but tooooo looooong. And that whole halftime show was BOOOOORING. Sorry. Beyonce is a lovely and talented singer/dancer but I think she sang the same word for something like 15 minutes! Besides that, it was like watching a 30 minute Bud Light commercial. Where’s a good marching band when you need one?
The power outage was interesting. I’ve seen a QB change make a game turn. I’ve seen a snow storm make a game turn. But I’ve NEVER seen a power outage totally turn a game around like this. The Seahawks should remember that trick next time they find themselves down by 20 at home. In the end, the 49ers got screwed by the refs on that last non-call for holding; so welcome to Seattle’s world SF. One wonders if they might have gotten “Bettised”; you remember the love-fest the league and network was giving the retiring Jerome Bettis before the Seattle/Pittsburgh Super Bowl in which Seattle suffered a number of bad calls. It’s heart warming to think the refs might have been “letting them play” for Ray Lewis, a guy who plea bargained away a double homicide a few years back, getting 12 months probation instead of double life in prison. (There I go digressing again! Dang!) Yes, getting hosed by the refs in the Big Game is great fun, and now the Niners know how it feels. And so ends their 5-0 Superbowl streak.
Now it’s on to the NFL draft and next season. I fully expect it’ll be the Seahawks and Russell Wilson who will get it done next year. With his learning curve well in the past, Wilson will be unstoppable. I wish I could have seen him in this game, but next year will be even more incredible. Seattle was the team no one wanted to play the second half of the year. Next year, it will be that way from week one on because Russell is ready. As for the rest of the NFC West, don’t get too excited. You’re getting better, but as long as Wilson, Carroll, and Schneider are in the picture it’s going to be tough going to get past Seattle.
We have come to the end of the 2012 season. A season of which I hope includes the reemergence of a Seattle Seahawks football team that will last for many years. Seattle finished the 2012 season ranked second in the power polls, right behind Denver. The NFC West also finished as the strongest division despite a dismal season in Arizona. The Rams improved greatly and moved into the top half of the league.
In the final week of play many teams stayed ranked in the spot or just moved one spot up or down. The biggest move was by the Titans who jumped five places to finish at 23rd. The Steelers moved up three spots to 15th, and the Cowboys and Browns both fell three places to finish 17th and 26th, respectively.
The top twelve rankings all belong to playoff teams however the seeding is quite different.
The table above shows the order of how NFC and AFC teams would be seeded according to the final rankings. Of course, seeding is determined over an entire season so it’s just a demonstration of the current strength or weakness of a team and where they are in the playoffs. The AFC is nearly identical to the order of AFC teams ranked by 12thManRising’s writers.
In the NFC you can see that the teams that finished strongest are more mismatched when compared to their playoff seed. Seattle is arguably the hottest NFC team right now and they are seeded fifth with a game this Sunday at Washington. The Falcons have been somewhat inconsistent in the end of the season but have the ability. Of course Matt Ryan still needs to win his first playoff game. San Francisco also gets a bye but is battling some injuries and the loss of Mario Manningham following the game in Seattle. Both those teams have home field but are very beatable after a bye week. Seattle on the other hand will have win on the road in the playoffs which hasn’t been done since the ’90s. This is a big test for a very dynamic football team who will be playing a similarly hot Redskins team.
I’m going to breeze through some of the other highlights. The NFC West finished as the strongest division, followed by the NFC North, which makes sense since both divisions also sent two teams each to the postseason.
The weakest divisions were the AFC West and AFC East. Each of them had only one team above .500. The NFC West had two teams well over .500 and a third team that was just half of a game below due to a tie.
Here are charts showing the AFC West and East (the divisions with the least parity) followed by the NFC East (the division with the most parity).
I think that’s enough charts for now. I hope this was useful or at least entertaining for the 2012 season. That’s all until next September.
NBC just announced that the game in Seattle between the Seahawks and 49ers, a game that could very well determine the division winner, has been flexed into Sunday night’s time slot on December 23. Seattle’s only prime time games up to this point were a Monday night game against Green Bay, and a Thursday night game in San Francisco. This game is deserving of a national spot and has a lot riding on it.
Obviously, NBC realized how much could be riding on the rematch of one of the most underrated rivalries in the NFL. It was been discussed here and elsewhere that if Seattle beats buffalo, and San Francisco loses to the Patriots this coming weekend, then this game is for first place in the NFC West and possibly the number two playoff spot which guarantees a first round bye and home field in the second week.
It trends hold, San Francisco will look a bit different than the first time around. Colin Kaepernick is now the quarterback. Kyle Williams is out. Tedd Ginn is invisible. And this is two weeks away. A lot could change. My month has revolved around this date and my nerves are already starting to twitch. A win against San Francisco would be a giant freaking cherry on an already good season.
Niner fans might already be getting nervous as well. I’m starting to get some unsolicited tweets talking about Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner using “steroids” which if it helps them sleep at night that’s fine. Seattle will of course be without Browner, that’s the third of his four game suspension and a 23 second Google search would reveal that to anybody that might value talking accurate smack, and Richard Sherman is unknown due to his appeal date being moved.
If I had my druthers, I’d have loved to have put a 58-0 curb stomp down on San Francisco, but that isn’t going to happen. Instead, Seattle is going to have to play with a chip on its shoulder and just beat San Francisco at every aspect of the game. Kaepernick needs to be punished for thinking he can run against Seattle’s defense and be forced to throw the long ball to Vernon Davis who may be covered by Richard Sherman.
I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, I’ll just enjoy this rare moment that national media has realized what is going on out here in the west and put two of the best teams in the NFL on national television in prime time. GO HAWKS!
After a couple of weeks without power polls from the writers you love and trust most, they are back. It looks like it’s a case of “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Atlanta is still undefeated and sits at the top of the rankings. The Texans are still second overall, but Keith has the Bears in second and the Texans at third. The rest of us have the Bears at third so the difference is not that much. The Texans and Bears happen to play each other this week, and I think it’s safe to say the winner will decidedly be number two and possible crack into first even if they have a loss.
The Chiefs are decidedly the worst team in the NFL, placing last in all by one person’s rankings who had had the Jaguars in last. The rest of us had Jacksonville at 31st. The biggest difference in rankings is with the Chargers. Nick has them at 13th and Diane at 24th. The Cowboys are ranked as high as 15th by Micah, and as low as 25th by Keith. The Ravens have a difference of seven spots with Micah and Diane ranking them at 11th. Micah’s thoughts on the issue are that “injuries have hampered [the Ravens] this season and when they start playing good teams again it is going to be bad news.” The Ravens are ranked as high as 4th, by Keith.
The Seahawks come in at 11th overall. We all had them 9th, 10th, or 11th so the difference was very small. Losing winnable games, like the one against the Lions is a good way to slide down the list, even if you do beat the Vikings the following week. The 49ers are sitting at fourth where they were last week and up from 5th, two weeks ago. They were as high as second (week 2) and as low as 8th (preseason) and 6th (week 6). The Cardinals continue they’re downward slide and are now at 21st. The Rams also seem to have come back down to earth and now sit at 25th.
Here is a chart showing the rankings over the season of the Seahawks and their week ten opponents, the Jets. As you can see the Jets are not ranked very highly, but if their defense decides to show up they might surprise Seattle. This is without a doubt a game that Seattle cannot afford to lose.
After a few weeks with the same three teams at the top of the rankings, we have two new faces this week. After getting thoroughly demolished by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, the Texans dropped three places to fourth. The Niners also suffered a brutal defeat at the hands of the new number two, the Giants, and consequently fell three spots to sixth. The new top five are the Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Houston Texans, and Baltimore Ravens.
The Seahawks moved up three places to seventh, right behind the Niners (6th) and most certainly swap positions, if nothing else, after their matchup in San Francisco this Thursday. The Cardinals fell four spots to 12th, after an overtime defeat to Buffalo. The Rams also slipped four spots to 20th after losing 14-17 in Miami. The Rams have a better team than many think, but struggle putting up enough points. The Cardinals also face questions at QB going forward with the injury of Kevin Kolb.
I saw many comments over the last few days that the Falcons are not the best team in the NFL right now. While you might be able to create hypothetical games that the Falcons may lose, they can only play the schedule they are given, and it would require evidence that currently doesn’t exist to drop them out of first place. A one loss team could potentially move into first, but because the Texans were beat so soundly (and are seriously missing Brian Cushing) it’d be very hard to keep them in first place. The Falcons also have the weakest strength of schedule (.353) for the rest of the season. Consequently, all six writers had the Falcons at number one this week.
There were six teams that generated a difference of opinion of at least nine spots.
Chiefs (13): 19th by Scott , 32nd by Keith.
Vikings (11): 4th by Keith, 15th by Scott.
Lions (11): 12th by Scott, 23rd by Jason.
Jets (10): 18th by Keith, 28th by Scott.
Ravens (9): 2nd by Keith and Nick, 11th by Scott.
Steelers (9): 11th by Nick, 20th by Keith.
The Bears were ranked third by two of us, and third by the other four.
Teams that fell were the Vikings (-1), Raiders (-2), Saints (-2), Cowboys (-2), Bengals (-2), Chiefs (-3), Chargers (-3), Steelers (-3), 49ers (-3), Texans (-3), Panthers (-4), Colts (-4), Rams (-4), Cardinals (-4), and Patriots (-5).
Teams that gained in the rankings were the Jets (+7), Giants (+5), Redskins (+5), Packers (+4), Bills (+4), Bears (+3), Seahawks (+3), Broncos (+3), Dolphins (+3), Lions (+3), Titans (+3), Falcons (+1), Buccaneers (+1).
The Ravens, Eagles, Browns, Jaguars all maintained their positions.
*If people would like to see charts of other divisions or any other sort of charting please let me know in the comments section.
I apologize for the two week hiatus on posting 12th Man Rising’s writer power poll rankings. I do have Week Five’s rankings however, so let’s get to it.
Generally speaking, there wasn’t a lot of significant upward movement. The biggest climb was the Dolphins who rose six places to 20th, following their win over Bengals. Three teams gained five places, the Steelers, Colts, and Raiders to 11th, 22nd, and 26th, respectively. The Steelers beat the Eagles and the Colts upset the Packers. The Raiders had a bye but moved up by virtue of the Chiefs, Bills, Jets, Titans, Browns, and Jaguars all losing. Having a bye was probably the best think Oakland could have done for this week.
Six teams jumped four places (Patriots, Giants, Seahawks, Vikings, and Rams) all following victories in week five. The Rams defeated one of three remaining undefeated teams in the Cardinals and demonstrated that they are no longer going to be kicked around and taken for a guaranteed two wins every season.
Falling eight spots to 15th were the Eagles who got beat by the Steelers in a close game. The Eagles have failed to show any offensive consistency and Vick seems to have lost some of his explosive play-making ability. The Bills dropped seven places to 28th after getting destroyed by the third ranked 49ers. The Bengals slipped five places to 17th, and the Cardinals and Jets both fell four places after losing in week five to 8th and 29th, respectively.
Five of the six contributors had the Texans, Falcons, and 49ers ranked in order as the top three teams in the NFL which is hard to argue with considering the Texans and Falcons are the last two undefeated teams remaining. Both teams are also very balanced on offense and defense and preseason picks by many to win their divisions.
The Seahawks were ranked as high as 9th and as low as 15th while averaging out to tenth. This largely has to do with Seattle’s defensive dominance and ability to prevent teams from scoring touchdowns which allows the floundering offense to win close games. If the Seahawks can develop any sort of offensive production in the red zone it wouldn’t be hard for them to quickly move up the list. The next two games are against the top five Patriots (4th) and the 49ers (3rd) which would undoubtedly reorganize the top of the rankings if Seattle were to win them and (hopefully) get its first division win.
After a whirlwind of a weekend in the NFL, the dust has finally settled. And while teams are developing game plans for this week’s opponent, I’d like to shed some light on a quiet, yet growing line of thought regarding, not only the Seattle Seahawks, but the entire NFC West.
Entering into the 2012 NFL season, it was widely believed that the class of the NFC as a whole, and most certainly for the NFC West, was the San Francisco 49ers. And with a 13-3 record in 2011, who’s to argue that? Returning all 11 of its defensive starters, while adding depth on the offensive line, as well as speed to its receiving corps, one would be remised to not entertain the thought that the 49ers were a shoe-in for a return to the NFC’s elite, and a deep playoff run. And while that’s all very well and good, entering Week 4 of the 2012 season has most experts scratching their head as to the resurgence of this once afterthought of a division.
Week 1 started off with a rare inter-division matchup, as the ‘Hawks travelled down to Glendale and lost out in a defensive battle, 20-16. Many looked at this as a disappointing effort on the Seahawks part- as most gave Arizona, and its Quarterback carousel, little respect. However, sitting at 3-0, and in most publications Top 10, this team is the epitome of what has become a defensively dominant, offensively efficient division. Many look to the Baltimore Ravens of old as a blueprint for this style of football, and since they won a Super Bowl utilizing it, why not? Kevin Kolb seems to be on the road to redemption, while the Arizona run game sorts itself out, the defense has kept this team undefeated, even beating New England AT HOME. A statement win that helped spark the conversation regarding the new NFC West. The NFC “Worst”, no longer my friends.
The Seattle Seahawks are 4th in Total Defense (yards per game), Arizona is 10th, the 49ers 11th, and even St. Louis is 19th. The Seahawks also lead the NFL in Scoring Defense, at 13 Points Per Game. The Cardinals are 2nd at 13.3, and the 49ers 11th at 21.7. 3 out of the 4 teams in this division boast top 15 defenses. The Rams, while sitting at 1-2 have been in all of their games, playing right alongside the Lions at home, beating the Redskins, and losing to a tough Chicago team at home. One play goes their way at the end of that Lions game, and you’ve got a one 3-0, and three 2-1 teams. I don’t know about you, but that’s something to be proud of. Talk about transforming an image that just a few years ago was reliant on West Coast Offenses, and “Greatest Shows on Turf”. Most called this division “soft”. And while these philosophies took the Seahawks, Cardinals, and Rams to Super Bowls, the general feeling I gather from the collective NFL is that this new physically dominant, brute force identity is definitely more roundly respected, if not borderline feared.
The NFL Power Pendulum is a-swingin’ 12th Man. The NFL is no longer shouting from their posts that we’re part of the NFC Worst. Rather, they’re whispering the idea that this could be the NFC BEST. It’s still early in the season, but if the returns are any indication, they might be right.
Once again there was a lot of movement in the 12 Man Rising’s power poll. The Houston Texans moved up a spot and claimed first place by only one point over the San Francisco 49ers, who moved up two spots to second. The Patriots slid four spots to fifth after losing at home to the Cardinals who are currently sitting at ninth after moving up nine spots. The Eagles also moved up nine spots after winning a close game against the Ravens, who are now seventh after falling four places.
The biggest movers this week were the Eagles, Seahawks, Bills, and Cardinals all moving up nine spots. The Chargers jumped eight places to 11th. The Panthers also moved up six places to 20th.
The losers in the second week were the Bears and Jets, both sliding down nine places to 17th and 19th respectively. The Chiefs dropped eight after losing to the Bills and now sit at 29th after going 0-2 on the season. The Broncos and Cowboys both suffered hard losses and fell seven places to 14th and 16th, respectively.
Another thing that stands out to me is that there is still a lot of movement week-to-week. This should settle out after teams settle into their “range” and the preseason expectations are met or missed. The NFC West went 4-0 last weekend for the first time in several years and that is reflected in the rankings with each team moving up at least two spots. The NFC West has a much tougher week three schedule with Rams @ Bears, Seahawks vs. Packers, Cardinals vs. Eagles. The 49ers play the Vikings and have the easiest match-up by far. The Vikings rank 30th, while the Eagles and Patriots are top ten, and the Bears are 19th.
If the Seahawks and Cardinals can manage to win this week, I would expect to see them keep climbing, while the Packers would almost certainly slide out of the top ten, after going 0-2 against the NFC West.
With many surprising events taking place during training camp and the preseason, I thought it would be a good idea to update the predictions that I made back in May. I also have some more insight into what the Seahawks will look like in the regular season and how tough their opponents are in the first half of their schedule. Without any more delay, let’s get started.
Week 1 September 9, 2012 Seahawks @ Cardinals
This is a game the Seahawks can’t afford to lose. With Arizona’s offensive line in disarray and inexperience at quarterback, the Seahawks defense needs to make a big statement. While the Seahawks often struggle in opening games play away, they have a solid chance to win this one. This game will swing heavily on the two defenses, and if Marshawn Lynch is unable to play due to back spasms, Seattle will be starting rookies at quarterback and running back. This will be a test for Russell Wilson since he will be playing against a good defense that has actually prepared for him. His arm and speed will be put to the test. I believe Seattle will win 21-17.
Week 2 September 16, 2012 Seahawks vs. Cowboys
The Seahawks have had bad luck playing in Dallas the last few years, but as everyone remembers, the last time Romo visited the 12th Man, he squashed a hold and got chased down by Babineaux on a play that would have won Big D the game. Dallas has potential to do big things have struggled to live up to the much publicized potential. This is another game Seattle should win. It’s the home opener and Seattle can’t afford to give away close games if it plans to make the playoffs. I predict the Seahawks secondary making life tough for Romo as the 12th Man’s noise gets inside his head. That, matched with an inconsistent Dallas running game and Lynch feasting on Skittles, has Seattle starting the season 2-0 in a 28-24 victory.
Week 3 September 24, 2012 Seahawks vs. Packers (Monday Night)
This will be the Seahawks’ first big chance to force some recognition from the rest of the country that they are not to be taken lightly. There is a friendly rivalry between the two franchises, due to shared front office and key player lineage, and everyone remembers Hasselbeck’s ill-fated OT prediction in 2003. This game will be a big test for Seattle’s defense. Whether or not they can keep up with Green Bay’s high-speed, high-efficiency offense will say a lot about how much they’ve developed. Russell Wilson will also have to play flawlessly if Seattle wants to stay close. Green Bay’s defense also looks improved since last season and we know Aaron Rodger’s will likely capitalize on the majority of possessions. Green Bay’s ground game will be the biggest question in this game. (Seahawks lose 30-24.)
Week 4 September 30, 2012 Seahawks vs. Rams
The Rams have been the NFC West’s red-headed stepchild for the last ten years or so, and there isn’t much to make me think that that will be any different this season. The Rams have a solid new head coach in Jeff Fisher, and have made some good moves in the offseason so far. However, with Gregg Williams being banned for life, it leaves the Rams in a bit of a bind. The Seahawks did a terrific job shutting down the Rams offense last season – which was basically Steven Jackson who had 61 combined yards on 11/20, and 123 combined yards and the only Ram TD on 12/13. That was partially due to a decimated Rams receiving corps, however which should be healthier and improved with the addition of Steve Smith and return of Danny Amendola. Expect a bit more of a fight from a Rams team that is looking to garner whatever tiny amount of dignity it can, aided by the newly signed Cortland Finnegan, but not being able to overcome a dominant home Seahawks defense. Seattle wins (32-16) and moves to 3-1 on the season.
Week 5 October 7, 2012 Seahawks @ Carolina
The Seahawks haven’t played in Carolina since 2007 where the Hawks lost a close 13-10 game. Of course, everyone also remembers the time before that – the 2006 NCF championship game. Seattle had a top 10 run defense in 2011 and should pose a challenge for Cam Newton. Steve Smith, if he is healthy, is always a threat, as well as the only remaining Panther from the 2006 team. Greg Olsen, the new tight end, is an underrated target that should be respected by Seattle’s secondary. It will be fun to see Seattle’s new pass rushers and linebackers take on Cam Newton. In the end, though, I think that the lack of Panther receivers and a stifling run defense gives Seattle the edge in a game that the Seahawks will probably make more difficult than necessary. Seahawks win 27-24.
Week 6 October 14, 2012 Seahawks vs. Patriots
This is the beginning of the end of Seattle’s very hard first half of the schedule and would be a huge win for morale and momentum if the Seahawks are able to steal this one away from the Hoody. It will be interesting to see if Brady is able to command his offense in the noise and could be a huge different. If the Seahawks hang tough and the crowd stays energized, I would lean towards the Seahawks winning. However, gun-to-my head, I have to go with the Patriots. Seeing what Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski did to teams last year was amazing. Until the Pats are shown to have reliably exploitable weaknesses, and the refs stop listening to Brady’s whining, they have the edge. The Seahawks suffer their second loss on the season (and at home) to one of the best teams of the last ten years. Seahawks lose 21-17.
Week 7 October 18, 2012 Seahawks @ 49ers
Depending on the outcome of the previous game, the Seahawks will have a short week to either lick their wounds from a second home loss of the season or maintain a high level of energy spawned by defeating a storied dynasty. Either way, going into Candlestick and playing in one of the most underrated current NFL rivalries will have all players on high alert. The Niners will have just played the visiting Giants, who did not look very intimidating against Dallas, and will be looking to maintain NFC West dominance.
The Seahawks will be out for some revenge and trying not to repeat their “death by a thousand field goals” like they did against the Niners last season – aided in the first meeting by a David Akers flop. The Niners have added weapons at receiver (Moss and Manningham) and running back (Brandon Jacobs). What better way to salve a recent wound (if they lose to the Patriots) or keep riding high on momentum (if the Hawks beat the Pats) then by going down to the Bay Area and wishing Harbaugh and company an early Merry Christmas? In a pick where I will acknowledge bias due to my total hatred of the 49ers, Seattle wins a huge knock-down, drag-out fight 23-18.
Note: I see this game as a total toss-up. Depending on how Seattle has looked in the first games, this will be a big test since they will need to beat San Francisco at least once in order to make the playoffs. I still don’t know how good Russell Wilson will be and this is one defense that will be looking to welcome him to the NFL.
Week 8 October 28, 2012 Seahawks @ Lions
This is the team that Matt Flynn threw six TDs against to finish the 2011 season. The only problem is, if all goes according to plan, he won’t be starting. Detroit is a team that is looking to return to the playoffs after missing them for forever and a day. If Stafford can stay healthy, they are not a team to take lightly and, if firing on all cylinders, can hang with the best of them. Seattle’s secondary is going to have to work hard to cover the best receiver in the game, Calvin Johnson. Detroit has suffered from chronic injuries at running back and quarterback. A large factor in this game will be who on Detroit is healthy and who isn’t. I’ve given the Seahawks a win in most of the close games so far (one two which could swing the other way) so I am going to have to say the Seahawks lose to the Lions in Detroit and finish the first half of the season 5-3.
This is a marked improvement over the slow starts from the last two seasons, and if the Seahawks can start out 4-4, they will still be very much in the playoff hunt seeing as the second half of their schedule is much easier with games against Miami, Minnesota and home rematches with the Cardinals and Rams. This is a season where Seattle needs to win the games it is supposed to win and hopefully steal a couple of upsets along the way. They also need to split the series with San Francisco in order to hopefully win the division which, I believe, is the only way Seattle makes the playoffs in 2012. Seattle also has depth issues at receiver and continuity issues on the offensive line.
If Seattle is unable to finish 9-7, then I think the scrutiny will pick up a lot, and deservedly so. I am feeling good about the Seahawks’ chances and excited to see if Wilson lives up to expectations and leads the Seahawks back to the playoffs.
Arizona Cardinals 27 @ Tennessee Titans 32
Arizona entered this game with a huge question mark at quarterback and on offensive line struggling to impose itself on opposing defenses. John Skelton started the game out with a sack for a loss and promptly followed it up with an interception. Skelton made some decent throws across the middle but he had trouble overall. Kolb started the second half with a pick-six due to a “rookie” mistake – throwing late over the middle, across the body. He honestly should know better. Arizona’s issues at offensive tackle can’t be understated, either. It is going to make the whole offense that much harder to run. Fitzgerald, of course, looked like the ridiculous stud that he is. I can’t think of a team that wouldn’t love to see him in their uniforms. If there isn’t significant improvement on the offensive line and at quarterback, it’s going to be a long season for Fitzgerald and the Cardinals organization.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt has a tough decision ahead of him since neither quarterback played well enough, or even consistently enough, to have the job outright.
The loss of Levi Brown poses another large question for Arizona. He injured his triceps in last week’s game against the Raiders and required surgery. Does Arizona put him on the IR in which case he is out for the whole season? Or do they take up a roster spot with a player than won’t be able to play until the second half of the season?
All in all, Arizona’s defense is definitely the better of the two units but it still didn’t look stellar tonight. It’s a defense that can really rough up receivers and play strong on the line, but it also faces a consistency issue. I don’t think Arizona is going to get walked over by teams, but I think they are going to have a rough season until some of these injury and consistency issues iron themselves out.
Arizona Cardinals @ Kansas City Chiefs
The latest news out of Arizona following their 27-17 defeat in their second preseason game is that John Skelton is now the favored quarterback. This should be considered an upset since the Cardinals gave up top cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 pick to get Kevin Kolb before the 2011 season where he was largely considered the starting QB of the future for the organization. It also doesn’t speak that much for Skelton’s abilities, since it is largely due to Kolb’s complete ineffectualness.
There were a lot of missed opportunities and connections on offense for Arizona which might spell trouble. They have stud-receiver Larry Fitzgerald but without a quarterback to throw to him, it could mitigate his threat to opposing secondaries. The Cards also made a move at right tackle by moving D’Anthony Batiste to the starting lineup.
Arizona’s next game is Friday, August 17th at 7:00pm versus Oakland. I’ll have better insights on Arizona after this week’s game.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Tennessee Titans
I’m not going to spend a lot of time here since there are plenty of articles on this site already covering the game from various perspectives. Some macro-level analysis is that the defense is ferocious. (I realize I’ve been using odd adjectives lately in describing Seattle’s defense, but I promise it’s not hyperbole.) Seattle has the type of defense that will keep the Hawks in the game no matter what the score is. They are ball-hawking much more and just looking to lay hits on receivers. It will be a lot of fun to watch. Seattle beat the Titans 27-17.
Both Russell Wilson and Matt Flynn played well. Both had one pick. At this point, my guess is that Flynn will start, but if Wilson can continue to improve, he could be Seattle’s future starter and make Flynn’s resigning anything but certain. Rookie running back Robert Turbin showed potential but still had trouble finding some gaps. The offensive line also needs to cohere much more. It looked like five really good players playing separately instead of one awesome unit which will hopefully happen after a few more games.
The Seahawks also had no penalties on either side of the ball in the first half. Alex Barron broke the streak in the third quarter with a false start penalty. This is not acceptable at home and considering he has a history of drawing penalties it probably hurt his standing in making the team.
Seattle’s next game is Saturday, August 18th at 6:00pm at Denver.
St. Louis Rams @ Indianapolis Colts
Admittedly, all I saw of this game were the highlights which basically meant a lot of Andrew Luck. The Rams got shellacked by a score of 38-3. That being said, the Rams are a very young team and have a lot of experience to gain. They have a new coaching staff and will most likely be a lot better during the season, especially later, than they are right now. There isn’t a lot of insight to be garnered from the game, good or bad. Sam Bradford is the starting quarterback and the Rams’ receivers will at least start the season healthy. There was also little to gain by give Steven Jackson a lot of touches since he has nothing to gain and a lot to lose.
The Rams play next on Saturday, August 18th at 5:00 pm vs. Kansas City.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Minnesota Vikings
The Niners beat the Vikings 17-6 but are providing good evidence to anybody that believes in a bell curve or mean-regression theory. The Niners have just signed two more tight ends following Delanie Walker hurting his knee. The news on Aldon Smith is all but positive and it could be a while before we the Niners see him on the field which is hurting them at linebacker. Quarterback Scott Tolzien has made himself part of the conversation for backup and is competing with Colin Kaepernick. Brandon Jacobs went 4-for-4 on carries and first downs and looks to be a solid companion to Frank Gore during the season.
The 49ers hope to build on last season but will face a much tougher schedule and division. They have brought in players that bolster their smash-mouth style but will almost certainly be affected by injuries more than they were last season. The linebackers are already facing several, and this will make imposing death-by-fieldgoal on opponents that much harder. I’m not convinced Moss will be a factor since Alex Smith does not have a very strong deep throw. The will need to figure out a way to score more touchdowns in 2012 if they hope to win the division.
The Niners play next at Houston on Saturday, August 18th at 5:00pm.
Outside of working through my list of twenty things to do before training camp, I have been attempting to rank NFL divisions by difficulty. You often hear owners, managers, coaches, and fans use the excuse of “playing in a tough division” for a bad season. This carries some weight, but there are still ten games played outside of a team’s division and not every division can be the toughest.
Without further ado, I’ll explain my methodology and break down the top four divisions in the NFL. (I’ll do five through eight, next time.) This might be a little bit mathematically thick, but nothing too complicated. To start, I calculated the standard deviation of wins for the entire NFL. This came out to 3.27 which indicated a fairly normal distribution around the obvious average of 8 wins per season. I then used each team’s 2011 record to calculate how many deviations they were from the mean. Teams that were 8-8 were right on the mean and therefore 0 deviations away, while the biggest deviations went to Green Bay, Indianapolis, St. Louis, New England and San Francisco. I then did some math to indicate whether teams were to the right of the mean (indicating a winning record) or to the left (a losing record) and ranked teams by conference and then ranked the entire league.
Next, I looked at opponent’s records and win percentage (OWP). This is often used as a predictive (forward looking) indicator which I think is completely useless. There is so much offseason movement and general parity in the NFL that using the prior season’s record of your current season’s opponents is next to meaningless. In other words, strength of schedule rankings are a joke; however, using OWP to look backwards and analyze the previous season is much more useful and meaningful. A team that had an easy “strength of schedule” initially could have had a nightmare schedule when all was said and done.
Finally, I used these numbers to create a weighted composite score which allowed me to assign rankings. I used individual team scores to get an average rank for the division. The rank score was weighted 70% for rank of standard deviation. 25% of that 70% was each team’s rank in the entire NFL since 25% of a team’s schedule is cross-conference with the other 52.5% being the standard deviation rank in each team’s home conference. The final 30% of the composite score was the record of each team’s 2011 opponents.
I admit there are many other factors which can play roles in how tough a team is and therefore how good a division is. Factors such as key injuries, home-away scheduling, distance travelled, etc. can all play a role. That being said, I do think that this break down can offer some interesting insights.
According to my calculations, here are the top four divisions in the NFL.
1. The AFC North with an “average composite rank” (ACR) of 8. This should come as little surprise since the AFC North sent three teams to the playoffs last season, all three with an above .500 record. This boosted their standard deviation score. The AFC North also had the best average ranking of OWP (9), with Baltimore having the fourth most difficult schedule overall, and Cleveland the third. The combined OWP for the AFC North in 2011 was .513, tying it with the AFC West for second in the NFL.
2. The NFC East comes in second with a 2011 ACR of 12. I have to admit that I was surprised at this. One of things that started me on this project was listening to an obnoxious Cowboys fan explain why the self-declared “America’s Team” perennially underperforms. The NFC East is home to two of the most meddlesome owners in the NFL (Jones and Snyder) and I enjoy seeing their teams routinely fail. All that being said, the NFC East is also home the 2011 Super Bowl champion New York Football Giants, who had the toughest schedule last season, facing an OWP of .547. The NFC East had the highest OWP (.514), just beating out the AFC North and West.
The NFC East came in second due to unimpressive overall team records. The division winning Giants had a 9-7 record, with Philly and Dallas at 8-8, and lowly Washington at 5-7. This put their division deviation at -0.61 with an average conference rank of 9, and NFL rank of 16.
3. In third place is the AFC West. The AFC West had three teams with records of 8-8. The only outsider was Kansas City at 7-9. The AFC West actually had the same difficulty of schedule as the AFC North, but a much worse overall division record of 31-33, compared to the North’s 31-27. The division deviation was -0.31, with the Kansas City Chiefs being the only reason it dropped below zero. They had a division OWP of .513 with Denver facing the second hardest schedule in the NFL with an OWP of .543. I don’t mean to give the AFC West short shrift, but it essentially got third place by being completely unremarkable which still managed to make it better than five other NFL divisions.
4. Fourth place goes to the NFC West. The NFC West actually tied in ACR with the AFC West with 13, but had slightly worse deviation and OWP with two teams hovering at or near .500 (Arizona and Seattle, respectively) and one runaway team, the 49ers. The Rams came in with the second worst record in the NFL but the fifth hardest schedule.
The NFC West had the same total deviation as the NFC East with -0.61, but as a division, faced a slightly easier schedule with a combined OWP of .507. San Francisco actually had only the 24th hardest 2011 schedule by OWP and was the only NFC West team with overall sub-.500 competition. That pushed their individual composite rank to 17, last in the division. Arizona had the highest with a composite rank of 8. Overall, the NFC West was helped by a total deviation close to zero and generally high OWP ranks of 5 (Rams), 8 (Cardinals), and 13 (Seahawks).
A quick final note: I know that people are going to argue and disagree with my results. I am far from a professional mathematician and admit this is only amateur level analysis. However, any good analyst, no matter what level they are, tells the story that the data provides and doesn’t make the data fit the story they want. I started out with the intention of disproving the idea that the NFC East was a tough division. I was wrong. Manipulating the data to make my desired conclusion true would have made me dishonest and unworthy of being read by you.
I have no doubt people will be surprised to not see the NFC North or AFC East in the top half, but that’s just the way the results came out based on my analysis. As you will see when I post the bottom four divisions, having one great team doesn’t make a division great. As can be seen with the NFC East and AFC West, parity within a division is a much better indicator of difficulty.
I also intend to post all my raw data and calculations on a Google doc and provide the link after my next post. I hope this was at least minimally enlightening and, if you’re a numbers and Excel geek like me, enjoyable.
With the draft now firmly in our rear view mirror, I thought it was time to begin looking around the division and see how the other teams in the NFC West did with their picks. The results are clearly mixed. The Rams managed to get a lot better over … [visit site to read more]