ESPN had us at #3 last week and we fell to #4 despite a convincing win over the Giants, while the 49ers got pummeled by the Ravens but only fell to #3. Satch made a fan shot to complain about this, and I had to agree… but then I got to typing so much that it really is more of a fan post than a comment. And this is clearly a ludicrous vote. I could understand moving the Ravens up for their "quality win" (except was it really?) but jumping from 5 to 2 was ludicrous. Worse yet, the Ravens have had three utter stink-bombs this year, we’ve had only two, and we beat one of the teams the Ravens lost to already and probably will beat another shortly.
But despite all that, you know what really makes me laugh? That this is actually one of the HIGHER power rankings out there for the Saints.
PFT has us at 5, behind Ravens, Steelers, and Patriots, all of whom I think we could beat even on the road, and we definitely should handle in the Dome. At least they have the Patriots at 4, who have an atrocious enough defense that they make OURS look good, which is smarter than some other sites.
Billick / FOX sports has us at 6, behind the 49ers as well. Now in Candlestick the 49ers have a chance, maybe even a good chance… but in the dome we’d beat them 42-14 or worse. And he’s stupid enough to have the Pats at 2, who have fattened up their record of late with some easy wins over chumps… oh and who LOST to the Giants (in Foxborough no less), who we just finished pummeling.
Silvers rankings don’t come out until Wednesday, but he last had us at 6 and I doubt he moves us up or allows for any "correction" for the 49ers butter-soft schedule. He had the 49ers at 2 (ludicrous by ANY standard) and the other "big three" of the AFC above us with at least the Pats at 5, which is more logical than Billick at least.
What-if-sports finally has us back up to 6, from the ludicrous 10+ of some previous weeks, but still has COWBOYS of all teams above us (do I even need to explain how ludicrous this is?) plus the same Pats/Steelers/Ravens group that I think we take any of them 2 games out of 3 on a neutral field… and 7 out of 8 in the dome.
I understand why the 49ers are ranked high, they do have an extremely good record, but do they truly have a single "quality win"? Debatable. You might be able to call Lions or Giants one, but at best those teams are wild-card teams not division champs or true SB contenders. They also beat both of them by a combined total of 13 points. We just whipped up on the Giants by 25 and we have the Lions at home to chew on next Sunday. With or without Suh, I think we have a very good chance to win and a fairly good chance to win convincingly. Until the 49ers get a true win over a truly great team — regardless of where — I can’t agree with anybody who has them ranked above #8. They are very likely to end up being the worst #2 seed in the last decade or so.
I think part of the problem is historical memories of the traditional "balance" between the conferences. It was not that long ago in which the AFC was "clearly" the dominant conference, in which the AFC "top three" (Pats, Colts, and Steelers) were clearly head and shoulders above the rest of the AFC, and in which the NFC was a fairly wide-open conference (read: fairly high number of decent teams but nobody truly elite) competing for the honor to get pummeled by one of those three in the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, it’s exactly reversed now and many people still don’t see it. Right now you have the Saints and Packers who, while neither are without flaws, are clearly head and shoulders above everybody else right now. Now let's be honest, we do have flaws, and so do the Packers, but there truly is nobody else aside from the Patriots who is playing offense like we two are right now. And while all three of us have fairly poor defenses, the Patriots and Packers are both significantly worse in yardage, and only truly beat us in points per game (which is schedule and turnovers as much as anything else). Oh and despite the yardage, we're at #9 in 3rd down defensively, while the Patriots are #26 and the Pack is #29. That's ouch-worthy right there. And lest you think that's just because we're getting killed on 2nd down all the time (which we do to some degree but actually aren't THAT bad here) we give up 20.7 first downs a game. They give up 22.7 and 21.1 per game. We're still ahead by almost every measure except points per game and turnovers. The only real difference is we had two games in which our offense put up stink-bombs, and the Pack haven't made that mistake. (Patriots have, by the way, @ Buffalo and @ Steelers.)
Ravens and Steelers are good but they have competition even within their own division, much less conference, and are even more capable of laying stink-bombs than the Saints on the road and even without injury excuses. I mean the Steelers came within a tiny bit of luck of losing to the Chiefs of all teams, barely escaped against the Bengals, the Jaguars, and even the Colts of all teams... and DID lose to the Ravens twice plus Texans (who we beat, if not exactly easily, but at least we beat them at their best while the Steelers struggled even with Johnson hurt). This while the Ravens handle the good teams well but then laid utter stink-bombs against the Titans, Jaguars, and Seahawks, ALL of whom the Bengals beat… on the road no less… Pats are good on offense but have a defense that makes ours look at least pretty good, and there is pretty much nobody else in the AFC whose even very good, and few enough that are even really truly decent.
So the old AFC/NFC is completely flipped now. Whomever loses the NFC championship game this year will almost certainly be the second-best team in the NFL, not the third or fourth. I might make an exception if that turns out to be the 49ers, but otherwise I doubt it.
But let’s also face it, until and unless we go out and get a quality win on the road, or until either the 49ers or Packers or both collapse enough to give us a BYE and home-field for most/all of the playoffs, we’re going to have to face road games when it counts the most, and we are a better team at home. So far, at least. Maybe — yes until proven it’s still a maybe for all that I really do think it will happen — now that our OL is healthy and has had time to gel we’ll be just as good on the road as we should have been all along, but until proven with that "signature win" people are still going to think the Rams game shows our teams "hidden flaws" rather than merely the fact that the OL had a complete breakdown at a point in which SP couldn’t chew anybody’s butt and get them straightened out mid-game.
But if we go into Candlestick and win convincingly in the divisional round, that will help wake people up just a bit. And since we have an extremely good chance of having to play in the wild-card round and then having to do just that (assuming we win the wild-card, but we BETTER considering just how bleh most of the rest of the NFC is and the fact that we will likely be in the Dome) let's just hope we truly have managed to fix our OL and that we can pull it off when it truly counts out there.
Oh and of course let's not forget we've got five more "normal" games we NEED to win FIRST...