A few teams made claims to being the best in the league this past weekend. Atlanta and Houston are the only teams left undefeated; the 49ers put a ridiculous beating on the Bills; the ever-present Patriots beat longtime rival Peyton Manning, albeit on a new team; and a number of one-loss teams won with various degrees of impressiveness. How do they all stack up? We’ll take a look at the power rankings to find out.
The answer as to “who is the top team in the league right now?” appears to be the San Fran 49ers. Their only loss is to the 4-1 Vikings, they lead the league in point differential, and they’ve beaten two playoff teams from last year (although, fair enough, the Lions and Packers are a combined 3-6 so far this year). We’ll get a stronger sense of the quality of the 49ers next week when they play the Giants, but my guess is that they’ll win. Here are the rest of the rankings
Looking at a couple other powerhouses around the league: the Texans are number 2, which you might expect given that they aren’t number 1. They have the league’s third-best point differential and have had little scares from the Broncos and Jets but really haven’t even played a close game yet. The injury to Brian Cushing is going to be problematic, but my guess is that the Texans have enough to survive it. Who’s number two in point differential? The 4-1 Chicago Bears, who are essentially tied with the Patriots for third. The Bears haven’t exactly played a murderer’s row of teams, and they lost convincingly to the Packers, but all of their wins have been easy. Beating bad teams by a lot is as much a sign of quality as beating good teams by a little. The Bears’ schedule will pick up over the next month and a half when they play the (hopefully) frisky Lions, the Texans, and the 49ers.
At the other end of the spectrum we have the Jaguars and Titans well below the rest of the league. They bring up the rear in point differential and generally run a pretty ugly ship. The Jaguars do it on offense, where they are awful. They have played the Texans and Bears already, and lost another game in overtime, so maybe they can turn it around a bit going forward. Unfortunately, they have to play the Texans again as well as the Patriots and other quality (or quality-ish) teams like the Packers and Lions. The Titans, on the other hand, are atrocious on defense, having given up 30 points or more in every game so far. Their one win was the crazy overtime shoot-out with the Lions where they managed to score in a number of ridiculous ways. They’ve also had a tough run, playing the Chargers, Patriots, Texans, and Vikings. Perhaps fortunately for these two, they still get to play each other twice. If one happens to actually be a decent team (or at least not horrible), that could provide two wins going forward.
In my game predictions post I mentioned that Buffalo seemed to be tricking the models again. That seems to have fixed itself after they got bombed by the 49ers, as the Bills are now 26th in the rankings. We’ll get more of a sense of how good they are, believe it or not, when they travel to Arizona this weekend. Arizona is not very good despite their 4-1 record; they have a good but not great defense and an alright offense. If Buffalo is actually any good, they should be able to handle the Cardinals even on the road. As you would guess from the rankings, though, the Cardinals are expected to win.
I’ve made mention here and there of games happening later in the season, and those are just as important as what’s already happened if what you’re interested is where teams will end up. Sure, Arizona is 4-1 now and maybe they’ve tricked you into thinking they’re a quality team. But how far does that get you when you still have to play the 49ers twice, not to mention at Minnesota, at Green Bay, at Atlanta? I project every game going forward to make a guess at where teams will stand at the end of the season. It’s very fluid right now, when it’s still early in the season, but still interesting to look at.
The best teams are obviously expected to do well somewhat regardless of their schedule; they are good teams, after all. But you can also see some effects of luck and schedule in there. The Cardinals, for example, should probably be more like 2-3 or 3-2 instead of 4-1. They aren’t expected to win a lot going forward, about 4 games. But since they’ve already managed 4 wins that puts them at 8-8 or maybe even 9-7 at the end of the season. They’ll be behind the 49ers in all likelihood (they look like 10 or 11 game winners), but if something crazy happens maybe 9 wins is good for a wild card spot?
The Falcons are in a similar spot but further up the food chain. They’re 5-0 but should probably be more like 3-2 (it would be easy to point to the Carolina collapse and somewhat close wins over the Redskins and Broncos). They are a decent team though, and they don’t have too many tough games ahead, so they should win about 7 more games. That would put them at 10 wins and a playoff berth without any luck, but with those extra two wins they’re looking at more like 12 wins and maybe a bye.
I’m going to be heading out of town this weekend, so keep your eyes open for the picks a little early this week.