NFL Offseason Power Rankings: After the Pats’ Super Bowl Apocalypse
Ravens running back Ricky Williams has said he’s retiring from the game, and Jeremy Lin mania is sweeping the nation. It can only mean one thing. The Super Bowl is over and we are all very bored.
Big Blue will bask in its current glory for another week or two, but then the free agent market opens, the draft boards come out. I decided to take this time and look back at our NFL Training Camp Power Rankings, because, as a Redskins fan, I enjoy wallowing on my own mistakes, like that time I convinced Anthony that Steve Breaston would be a key piece in the Chiefs unrelenting passing attack.
The numbers in parenthesis are where the TFT staff thought these teams were in the preseason, and the numbers in front are where we think they are now.
1. Giants, 13-7 (10): Still not saying anything.
Just kidding. You’re not gonna be able to shut me up this time.
Now, I’m not one to over-dramatize the narrative of sports seasons, since 1) they’re generally dramatic enough as it is and 2) I think it’s kind of pretentious to narrate another guy’s life (especially an athlete’s, whose pain and struggles are often of the most private nature) with a storyline I cooked up in my head and ascribe it as fact. That said, there’s really no understating the amount of adversity these Giants went through to their second Lombardi Trophy in four years, and what their defining trait as winners (heart) says about this NFL season as a whole. Coming off a lockout (remember that?) the talent level is always going to take a dip. The team that guts it out the most will win. In simple terms, you have heart, you are the best. But that was never the intended narrative for this team, because everybody forgot to account for the heart. To put it in perspective: remember back in August, when “Sanchez or Eli?” was a legitimate question, G-Men were dropping like flies to torn ACLs and GM Jerry Reese had turned in what remains one of the more atrocious performances of his tenure — lest you’ve forgotten, which I can’t blame you, he released valued linemen Shaun O’Hara and Rich Seubert, while letting WR Steve Smith and TE Kevin Boss walk (to the Eagles and Raiders, respectively) and seemingly provoking the ire of DE Osi Umenyiora. And then there was that whole non-issue of Eli saying he was in the same class as Brady that everyone blew up into a travesty three years after he ruined Tom’s perfect season in the Super Bowl. This is a team that every sportswriter in America (and if that is an exaggeration, it’s a small one) wrote off before the season even began; the New York media in particular seemed eager to pay the Giants the bare minimum of attention in favor of another season of Rex Ryan jibber-jabber.
And yes, they played like garbage at some really inopportune moments and blew some gimme games (that second Eagles tilt and the unconscionable home loss to Clipboard Jesus stand out) and caught some big, big, BIG breaks to get there (Romo overthrowing Miles Austin to seal the Cowboys game in Week 14 must be mentioned: he makes that throw, the Giants stay home for the playoffs. But then again, if he had made that throw, he would never have been Tony Romo to begin with). But right around the Jets game (about the same time I started not saying anything during these previews) there was some kind of visible swagger about the Giants. They were coming to life and reclaiming the city that had left them for the scrap heap: Eli was hitting his stride; the lagging running game and iffy defense were tightening up, Victor Cruz was shaking his ass and they kept winning and winning and winning; it was the sort of thing where you knew they were going to do but didn’t quite believe they would because every time you read about football it’s all about numbers and everybody forgets to account for the motherfucking intagibles. Plus, they couldn’t possibly pull this off twice, right?
Enter the intangibles. To reiterate from a few weeks ago: that’s why Tim Tebow beat the Steelers in overtime in the playoffs, that’s why stacked teams like the Jets and Cowboys fell apart down the stretch, and that’s why Eli Manning kicked Tom Brady’s ass in two Super Bowls. That’s why “Sanchez or Eli” has now become “Eli or Peyton” and people are seriously considering the question before they answer (for the record: the case for Eli is a compelling one, especially if you measure by titles, the nature of those championships – 18-1 is a biggie – and the fact that a New York champion achieves greater stature in the public eye by default. But Eli doesn’t quite control the offense like Peyton at his peak, this season showed us that Peyton was clearly playing – and succeeding – with a worse team than Eli ever had, and – most important – Eli has never beaten Peyton. That said, Eli doesn’t seem to have hit his prime yet. For now, the answer’s still Peyton, but that will change very soon). That’s why people are saying Coughlin just punched his Canton ticket after they called for his head as early as two months ago. That’s why this ragamuffin team that nobody took seriously beat the golden coach-QB combo of the NFL and forced Tom Brady into survival mode when it mattered most. They made Gisele cry. Granted, the Super Bowl itself was pretty fucking ugly (it wouldn’t be the Giants if they didn’t play like dog shit for an extended period of time, hence two unanswered Brady drives of 96 and 74 yards for TDs), but the team with the most heart won. They didn’t have the numbers, didn’t necessarily have the stats, but they wanted it more, and that’s why the New York Giants are the Super Bowl champions. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: hardware don’t lie. Meet the best football team in the NFL.
Sorry, I’ve been holding that in for a while. –Anthony
2. Packers, 15-2 (1): As long as they have Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews, they’ll be contenders. Jennings, Finley, and Nelson don’t hurt either. –Joe
3. Saints, 14-3 (tied at 5): Hey, if you have to go, losing one of the tightest, most exciting games in NFL history isn’t a bad way to do it. Right, Saints fans? Can I get a ‘Who Dat’? Just a soft one? No? I’ll leave you guys alone now. –Matt
4. Patriots, 14-4 (3): Brady and Belichick used the 2008 Super Bowl letdown as supreme motivation to scrape back to the big game. That duo will be a year older in 2012, and so will Vince Wilfork, Deion Branch and the offensive line. They’re always favorites to make the playoffs with B and B, but will awful recent drafts keep them from making a run? –Joe
5. 49ers, 15-3 (21): Was the NFL’s dirtiest secret in 2011 that Jim Harbaugh turned out to be, beneath all the rah-rah, kind of an asshole? I think so. Granted, an asshole with skills, as he singlehandedly revitalized football in San Fran and nearly got Alex Smith to a Super Bowl, but still: an asshole? I think it was. –Anthony
6. Ravens, 13-5 (4): What? They found the zombified remains of Billy Cundiff in an abandoned building covered in lye and a tarp? Quick, somebody get Major Crimes on this sh(eeeeeeeiiiiiii)it. –Anthony
7. Lions, 10-7 (15): Young, hungry and well-coached, the Lions will join the Giants, 49ers, Packers, Saints, and Eagles as the consensus 2012 NFC playoff picks. –Joe
8. Texans, 11-7 (16): Nearly every major player on their roster suffered a serious injury at some point in the season. Their best player on defense, Mario Williams, spent nearly a year on IR and they were still a top five unit, only dipping, briefly, after Wade Philips got surgery. Then they nearly beat the Ravens with a hobbled Andre Johnson and Fordham’s finest, TJ Yates, under center. –Matt
9. Bengals, 9-8 (31): They’ll get better. Too lazy to make a ginger joke. Deal with it. –Anthony
10. Steelers, 12-5 (tied at 5): Weird season that ended in the weirdest possible way. Could this be the beginning of Big Ben’s long, strange decline? In the same way that Belichick hasn’t won a Super Bowl since Spygate, Roethlisberger post-scandal has broken his nose quite magnificently, lost the big game to Rodgers, torqued his leg a full 180 degrees, and lost on the first play of the new overtime rules ever to Tim Tebow. Worth considering as we move into next year. –Anthony
11. Bears, 8-8 (13): They were damn good before Cutler and Forte went down. Can they get their groove back in a crowded NFC field? –Joe
12. Falcons, 10-7 (9): With the Andy Reid’s days in Philly numbered, another team must become too talented to miss the playoffs, but not talented enough to do anything once they get there. The Atlanta Falcons are that team. –Matt
13. Eagles, 8-8 (2): They didn’t get Spagnuolo, thank you Baby Jesus. Even so, it’s hard to imagine them not getting noticeably better with a proper offseason to gel. The mystique of Michael Vick seems to have worn off, but if the rest of the team operates at its peak they’re going to be very hard to stop. –Anthony
14. Chargers, 8-8 (11): The 7th Norv Turner sequel has Chargers fans demanding their money back. This is worse than Nicolas Cage franchise. –Joe
15. Jets, 8-8 (6): Will an 8-8 implosion and another Giants Super Bowl finally shut the Fat Boy up? Will it matter if they don’t find someone to replace Sanchez. –Joe
16. Titans, 9-7 (25): Every in Nashville has Manning-fever! Well, everyone except the Titans’ front office. –Matt
17. Cowboys, 8-8 (14): Something’s missing. Until they figure out what it is and fix it, expect more of the same. –Anthony
18. Broncos, 9-9 (26): The way John Elway is talking, Tebow might need a phone call from Dad to just make it out of training camp the starter. –Joe
19. Raiders, 8-8 (18): If they were smart, they’d cut Carson Palmer and go after someone else. Anyone else, really. –Joe
20. Seahawks, 7-9 (29): It could have been worse, all things considered. Oh, by the way, Joe and Matt? Now that there’s no Giants bad karma for me to evoke left in the season, here’s something else I never said: HIS NAME IS TARVARIS. WITH TWO R’S. GOD DAMN. Sorry. All better now. (I’ll spell his name right the moment his career QB rating breaks 80. –Matt) But yeah, these guys seem like they’re headed for an upswing. –Anthony
21. Panthers, 6-10 (30): Remember Jimmy Clausen? I think he’s their fourth string QB now, and their 3rd string is DeAngelo Williams in the wildcat. Carolina’s defense sucked before Jon Beason got injured, and without him, it was ugly. Nearly everyone over them in the draft is going offense, so they’ll be able to snatch up the best defensive player in the draft without giving anything up. Also, I know this isn’t the right time, but Cam Newton, you had me at hello. –Matt
22. Cardinals, 8-8 (20): Bullshit, these guys finished at .500? Who is this team’s quarterback again? I legitimately can’t remember. I know they had Kevin Kolb at one point, but given that Larry Fitzgerald is still roaming the earth at night muttering to himself about God and puppies, it seems like they’re still in the market. Although, 8-8? Really? Fuck me. –Anthony
23. Dolphins, 6-10 (28): Who’s their QB? Matt Flynn? Peyton Manning? Two darn good options. Someone would be smart to send the Dolphins a mid-round pick for Matt Moore. –Joe
24. Redskins, 6-10 (23): They need a quarterback. Literally, that is all they need to become competitive. That, and Dan Synder to spontaneously combust. But a quarterback is a good start. –Anthony
25. Bills, 6-10 (27): Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t the answer, but since they gave him 60 million dollars, he’ll have to be. Will this team ever be relevant? –Joe
26. Chiefs, 7-9 (8): Romeo Crennel knows how to win over a locker room with his “fat Herman Cain” impression. –Joe
27. Vikings, 3-13 (17): Adrian Peterson won’t be 100 percent until 2013 and the receivers and defense are awful, but at least Christian Ponder is a handsome young man! –Joe
28. Browns, 4-12 (22): Who in the fuck is Pat Shurmur? I still don’t know. –Anthony
29. Jaguars, 5-11 (24): Reports are less conclusive, but, as I understand it, Jacksonville has also had an outbreak of Manning-fever, though it could also be serious case of please-don’t-say-Blaine-Gabbert-is-the-future-itis. –Matt
30. Bucs, 4-12 (12): Quarterback position seems to be okay, Blount is a beast, and they’ve got Ronde Barber locking down the left side of the defense, so if they just get a wide receiver, a tight end, some safeties, a strong side linebacker, a weak side linebacker, a middle linebacker, a nickel linebacker, a right corner, a nickel corner, a right tackle, a left tackle, a defensive tackle, offensive guards, defensive ends, a punter, a kicker, and a return specialist, they might finish 3rd in the NFC South next year. –Matt
31. Rams, 2-14 (19): They have the power of the ‘stache behind them now (even if Miami was the better choice for Fisher), but a good coach does not a good team make. Bradford will have to rebound quick from a crappy season and all those pieces St. Louis has been collecting will have to gel, and fast, for this to be worth it. –Anthony
32. Colts, 2-14 (7): Watching the Manningless Colts implode was fun for a little while, well, okay, a really long while, but I’m glad they’ll have a game-changing prospect whose will to win crumbles when it matters most waiting in the wings. –Matt
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