As I was looking at the NFL team records I became aware of a surprising fact…only 7 teams are assured of a winning season after completing 13 games of a 16 game season. 9 teams have fewer than 5 wins and are assured of a losing record for the season. What this means that half (16 of 32) of the teams in the NFL are fighting to be at least middle of the road.
When you look a little deeper, a second revelation reveals itself. Even the “elite” teams have not shown themselves to be powers in the traditional sense. Every team in this category has deficiencies. If the off-season without structured OTAs and/or players not having structured rehab is the cause may be a good topic of discussion but regardless, the end result has been a down performance year within the NFL.
I have identified the 7 teams that have assured themselves of a winning seasons and why I think they are deficient …
after the jump.
NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE (NFC) The NFC is devoid of a dominating team. Green Bay is undefeated but they certainly wouldn’t match up favorably with many of the powerhouses of the past. Here’s my take on the 3 NFC teams that are assured of winning records:
Green Bay Packers (13-0): (Offense: #3 / Defense: #31) Just a quick look will let you know why the Packers aren’t the equals to the top teams of the past. A defense ranked #31 out of 32 is amazing. The prolific offense and outstanding play of Aaron Rogers are what makes this team tough. If Rogers goes down…so goes the Packers. When you think about it, the Pack has already shown themselves vulnerable with their close wins over New York Giants (+3), Minnesota (+6), San Diego (+7) and Carolina (+7). I will say that all their close calls have come on the road and it seems the Packers are virtually assured of home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
San Francisco 49ers (10-3): (Offense: #26 / Defense: #5) The 49ers are the polar opposites of the Packers. Their offense is geared to control the clock and not make turnovers. Their strong defense is used to keep scoring down and to pressure the opponent into errors. The formula works well most of the time but with such a small margin of error you are prone to losing to any team that can hang tough. San Francisco has losses this year to Dallas, Baltimore, and Arizona.
New Orleans Saints (10-3): (Offense: #1 / Defense: #27) The Saints can make a Defensive Coordinator lose sleep at night. The case can be made that they are the best team in the NFC because of an unstoppable offense and a defense that is underrated and creates a lot of turnovers. Only the fact that you are what your record says you are is troubling. The shootout loss to Green Bay is understandable but how do the Saints lose to both Tampa Bay and St. Louis?
AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE (AFC): The AFC has some power. The troubles I see are the inconsistent performances and/or the personnel problems. Let’s take a look at the 4 AFC teams assured of winning records:
Baltimore Ravens (10-3): (Offense: #14 / Defense: #3) The Ravens have made a giant leap this year in beating the Steelers twice. The Steelers have always been an obstruction to the Raven’s aspirations. The Ravens are the AFC equivalent of the 49ers in the NFC. Having the strongest resume’ of any team we’re looking at. They have beaten the 49ers, Texans, the Steelers. The problems the Ravens have are twofold. Their offense is pedestrian and without a go-to playmaker. Their defense is strong but is aging. Additionally, the Ravens are susceptible to down performances as shown by losses to Tennessee, Jacksonville, and Seattle.
Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3): (Offense: #11 / Defense: #2) One of the traditional powers in the AFC, the Steelers are not flying high this season. Losing twice to Baltimore makes their winning their conference unlikely. Their season has been unusual in that their only other loss has been to a strong Houston team. The problems I see for the Steelers are more personnel related. Ben Roethlisberger has an ankle sprain, Troy Polamalu is among the walking wounded, and James Harrison is one step away from being suspended for the rest of the season. If the Steelers can survive the convoluted path of a wild card entrant into the playoffs, I think they would be considered a viable Champion.
New England Patriots (10-3): (Offense: #2 / Defense: #32) Again a comparison, the Patriots are the AFC’s version of the Packers. The Patriot offense led by Tom Brady is the rock this team is built upon. No lead is safe against them and their will to win is unquestioned. The problem they have is a defense ranked dead last in the entire NFL. Any opponent looking to knock off the Patriots will have to score early and often. The Patriots have no bad losses while losing to Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore but they have shown themselves beatable by lesser teams. Just last week against the Redskins victory wasn’t assured until the final play.
Houston Texans (10-3): (Offense: #9 / Defense: #1) Here is a team you could get behind except for a couple of problems. First they are untested in the playoffs, second they played 3 of the 10 win teams in the season and beat only Pittsburgh while losing to New Orleans and Baltimore, and finally they are down to their 3rd string QB. The Texans finally get their division title and lose their Pro Bowl QB prior to the playoffs. Bad juju or just happenstance, the Texans are hamstrung for the rest of the season.
Conclusion: When you consider that there may not have been any football this year because of CBA negotiations, one has to be happy to see the NFL playing each week. Still, the quality of the product hasn’t been up to par with seasons past. The reasons are debatable and assuredly a complex combination of many things. Whatever the reason, this year mediocrity has been the norm as shown by the number of games being determined by last minute heroics.
I’m not sure if my observations are valid or not but I have had this feeling since early on in the season. Feel free to agree or disagree but please provide feedback on why.