2011 NFL First Quarter Progress Report

The Graham Reaper. Read it and weep.

After a full month of "real" football, I thought it would be a fun exercise to compare my preseason power rankings - found here and here - to where teams stand today. The teams will be arranged by their current ranking -- or better yet, where I currently believe they will finish.  The current ranking is listed prior to the team's name, while the previous ranking (arranged six weeks ago after the second preseason game) will be listed in parentheses after. 

Every year it seems nearly six teams who missed the post-season the previous year make the playoffs, and vice versa.  We've come to expect a few teams to rise out of the ashes and go from worst to first.  Sometimes we can successfully predict the teams by analyzing their draft and other off-season moves, yet other times a team defies logic.  Make the jump to see how right (or wrong) I was in my earlier assumptions.

32. Miami Dolphins (prev. 32) - Miami has done little to move itself up the ladder in my book.  Thier best chance to salvage their fragile psyche came against the Browns in Week 3.  The inner turmoil between ownership, head coach, and quarterback doomed this team before the season started.  With everything on the line, the head coach and GM were the antithesis of someone with a sense of urgency, on the hot seat and making aggressive moves to stick around for the future. 

31. Kansas City Chiefs (prev. 17) - Todd Haley has a big ego that gets in the way of those who work under him.  There's a rotating door on his coaching staff and he reminds me a little of Josh McDaniels.  If Plan A doesn't pan out, oh well, Plan A was his way and there's no other.  The Chiefs were playing horrible before all the injuries -- I think this is the classic example of a coach who's lost his team.

30. Indianapolis Colts (prev. 14) - My preseason ranking was based on the assumption that Peyton Manning would get healthy for the opener or thereabouts.  I don't think the Colts are a horrible team; only that they are built around Peyton.  Their defense is built to rush the passer and defend a lead, not stop the run and grit it out week to week.  This is what happens when you pay one player 20% of your salary cap. This is what happens when you put all your eggs in one basket.  Bill Polian is an idiot for not having a back-up plan and spending too much on one player leaving the rest of the positions without quality depth.

29. St. Louis Rams (prev. 11) - The NFC West is a weak division.  I obviously swung and missed with my preseason ranking, but you have to go big or go home.  Looks like the Rams are still building and their depth is simply too young and inexperienced (with no OTA's) to overcome injury.  That said, they stunk it up the minute Steven Jackson went down against the Eagles, and the problems look to be more than just depth -- many starters just aren't cutting it either.

28. Minnesota Vikings (prev. 27) - The Chiefs beat the Vikings not one week ago, so why am I ranking them higher?  Because they can run the ball, because they've gone to halftime with the lead in all of their games (a double digiit lead in 3 out of 4), and they still have the ability to keep the lead if they remember to run the ball in the second half.  Oh, and because these rankings are where I am projecting teams to finish.

27. Cincinatti Bengals (prev. 30) - Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are coming along faster than I imagined.  The addition by subtraction theory seems to be working here, as this team is all effort and hunger and no drama.  Well, almost no drama (Jerome Simpson). But it's the Bengals, so the anomally is that he's the only one.

26. Denver Broncos (prev. 21) - I really thought Kyle Orton airing it out with a John Fox run game and nitty gritty scrappy defense would improve this team in quicker fashion than we've witnessed thus far.  Only John Elway screwed the pooch and added fuel to a controversy everyone in their right mind didn't see merit to.  Elway's not a lefty, but he wisened up so all is forgiven and forgotten, right?  Wrong.  Orton isn't playing with confidence and the band-aids at running back and defense aren't sticking.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (prev. 19) - There has got to be more to the David Garrard story than meets the eye.  Maybe he's just not healthy enough to play effectively.  Whatever it is, Jack Del Rio has to be happy with the play of his defense, because that's the only thing giving the Jags a chance to stay competitive while Blaine Gabbert learns.

24. Seattle Seahawks (prev. 20) - This team isn't devoid of talent or coaching, but what they lack is a pash rush and a running game.  Tarvares Jackson may be better with his old coordinator than we give him credit for, but until they get the ground game going, I'll keep them below Cleveland.

23. Cleveland Browns (prev. 22) - I thought Colt McCoy would progress much faster this year, but the changing of staff and coordinators along with a very young group of pass catchers is the culprit.  The Browns ought to be much improved by year's end.

22. Arizona Cardinals (prev. 25) - Kevin Kolb is learning the system faster than I expected and the Cards are starting to get a return on their Beanie Wells investment.  The defense (especially the secondary) is still under renovation while trying to replace the good players they've not paid the past few years.

21. Carolina Panthers (prev. 29) - I wasn't on the Cam Newton bandwagon before. I am now. That guy is scary, and Steve Smith is proving that with a reliable quarterback, he's still as dangerous as ever.  Too bad the run game and run defense isn't anywhere near what was expected.  This will be a dangerous and scrappy team.  They've been in every game so far and to tell you the truth, I'm more scared playing the Panthers than anyone else in the NFC South.

20. Chicago Bears (prev. 18) - Fire Mike Martz and promote Mike Tice to offensive coordinator.  It won't solve all the problems, but it will give Cutler and the offensive line a chance to look competent.  That is all.

19. Dallas Cowboys (prev. 13) Tony Romo is related to Aaron Brooks.  Just sayin'.

18. Tennesee Titans (prev. 23) - Hasselback has surprised me.  To think the Titans are winning without Chris Johnson being a factor is very surprising.  I would rank them a little higher if Kenny Britt wasn't lost for the year.

17. Washington Redskins (prev. 28) - Except for when he's calling three consecutive all-out blitzes, Jim Haslett is doing a good job with the square peg in round hole defense.  Mike Shannahan just discovered the run game again, so maybe they don't ask Rex Grossman to step out of his comfort zone too much.

16. Oakland Raiders (prev. 26) - The Raiders have the talent to compete with any team, any day.  They only lack discipline and urgency.  Their head coach is a perfect fit and I believe he'll be giving teams a perfect fit in the second half of this season.

15. New York Jets (prev. 7) - Mark Sanchez is like a Chad Henne who doesn't have to look over his shoulder.  He's got skills, and he can stink it up for three quarters yet have the mental toughness to forget about it and make something happen late.  Only thing is that the Jets are having an identity crisis right now.  They used to be a run team with a run first mentality and that has changed.  Currently, they can't do either well, and the defense isn't there to bail them out.  Time to shut up.

14. New York Giants (prev. 10) - Injuries have hit this team hard, but Coughlin has them playing just as hard.  They'll have to rely on Eli Manning, because they're yet another team who can not run the ball as well as was expected.

13. San Francisco Fortyniners (prev. 31) - I hate putting the Niners here, but someone has to win that division.  I missed with the Rams, so it looks like the Niners make the post-season with a 9-7 finish as division champs.

12. Atlanta Falcons (prev. 8) - It doesn't appear the early gambles have paid off.  Julio Jones will be a good wide receiver for years to come and Ray Edwards gives help where it was needed, but this team ignored many other pressing needs to go all in on these two.

11. Pittsburgh Steelers (prev. 12) - I predict the Steelers will continue to drop because of their offensive line issues and lack of a run game.

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (prev. 16) - Tampa lacks that explosive piece, but they're too young to know they aren't supposed to be this good.  They don't get intimidated, and play through the whistle. 

9. Philadelphia Eagles (prev. 5) - The Eagles still have explosive players.  They're just forcing the issue.  Time to think 4 and get 40. 

8. Houston Texans (prev. 9) - I thought the Texans would make the post-season this year even if Manning was healthy.  I just think the Texans are more complete.  I rank them at No. 8 because I believe their offense is not as potent as it was last year.  Too many questions at the WR position, but Kubiak has done well calling more runs than just about everyone else.

7. Buffalo Bills (prev. 24) - I've been on record saying I love Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chan Gailey and wanted to rank the Bills higher; I just didn't believe in the defense or the offensive line.  It seems the Bills have gotten many young players to perform like vets, and they're staff is the envy (or toast) of the league right now.  Happy for them.

6. San Diego Chargers (prev. 6) - It's scary to think how good this team will be when that offense finally starts to click.  I'd really like to see what they'd look like with a dependable run game.

5. Detroit Lions (prev. 15) - A healthy Stafford, that defensive line, and Megatron. Can you imagine how good they could be if their rookie running back hadn't torn his achilles?  Scary.

4. New Orleans Saints (prev. 3) - The running game is starting to come around.  I wish I could say the same about the defense.  I'll take New Orleans' secondary over Detroit's.  The linebackers are a wash, and Detroit has the best defensive line in the NFL.  However, the Saints' healthy stable of running backs puts them ahead of the Lions.

3. Baltimore Ravens (prev. 4) - They still have work to do on offense but this team is for real.  They made more than a few "under the radar" moves, and it's paid off.

2. New England Patriots (prev. 1) - Don't let the loss to Buffalo fool you.  New England just broke out Stevan Ridley and with balance, this team will be the scariest offense in the NFL.  Could we be headed for a Packers/Patriots Super Bowl rematch?

1. Green Bay Packers (prev. 2) - What can I say?  The Packers faced the toughest offense they'll see all year in Week 1 and prevailed.  If they stay healthy, there's no reason they shouldn't repeat as Super Bowl champions.  Let's just hope that by the time they face off against the Saints on Championship Sunday, Mark Ingram and company have the ground game going and Gregg Williams remembers the difference between zone and man coverage.

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