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Saddling up to the top

Bucking the show horse, Broncos hit the wire first

Posted: Wednesday October 23, 2002 2:01 PM

 

Green Bay seems to be everybody's popular choice for the No. 1 spot. Sorry, but the Pack lost to the Saints by 15. No, I won't let it go. Not yet, anyway. San Diego is ahead of Denver on most charts, but there's the matter of Broncos 26, Chargers 9. Note to e-mailers: Please do not take the trouble to remind me that New Orleans lost to Detroit and Denver lost to Baltimore and Miami. Being a man of the world, I am fully aware of all three occurrences.

Dr. Z's Power Rankings
Rank  LW    Team 
1 2 Denver Broncos (5-2)
They can be had. K.C. set 'em on their heels Sunday. But they have the guns, both offensively and defensively, with which to fight their way back in any contest.
2 4 New Orleans Saints (6-1)
I know a personnel man whose primary factor in grading quarterbacks is their third-down conversion rate. Using this criterion, Aaron Brooks would be the best because the Saints lead the league. Plus they're on pace to break their all-time scoring record.
3 5 Green Bay Packers (6-1)
Here they are. Thought you'd never ask. They didn't lose a beat when Favre went down, but continued to collect turnovers and pile up points. They're tough and resilient, an emotional favorite of lots of people, whose emotions will now be turned on your faithful narrator for awarding them show money.
4 8 Philadelphia Eagles (4-2)
I didn't think the Bucs game would play out this way. I thought it would end with McNabb either scrambling around and pulling some fantastic stunts against a tiring defense, or McNabb scrambling around and coughing up the ball against a defense that had his number. Seeing the Bucs' D getting worn down by the Eagles' O-line and finally overrun by Duce Staley was a scenario that just didn't occur to me.
5 9 San Diego Chargers (6-1)
In this age of multiple you-name-its, I'm beginning to have very warm feelings for Marty Schottenheimer. He stayed in his base offense against the Raiders and ground away and stuck to his philosophy and came up with the victory. I thought what would beat San Diego, though, was the Raiders' defensive rush scheme, which concentrated on attacking the rookie right guard, Toniu Fonoti, with all their stunts and games and twists. He's a 349-pound monster, a serious drive blocker and very effective at pulling to his left on the power off tackle and adding weight to the argument on that side -- as the TV commentators and numerous isolated shots kept reinforcing. But what they didn't notice was that he couldn't handle the pass rush schemes directed at him. They were coming in so cleanly at Drew Brees that I thought the young QB wouldn't finish the game. But the kid was taking hits or somehow ducking the rush and making his plays. A very courageous day for him. Defense? Well, they didn't play much of it in the second half. The Raiders made it a bit easier by abandoning the run, but the Chargers couldn't stop anything; they could just hold down the size of the gains. Now they have the bye week to work on their pass rush and hopefully get Junior Seau back. This is an interesting team that I enjoy watching but honestly don't feel is better than the quartet I ranked higher.
6 3 Oakland Raiders (4-2)
They were beaten twice in a row by teams that simply were tougher on game day. Now they're visiting a place that will be wired to the eyeballs for their arrival, Kansas City, where they've won the last three games, each by three points, but prior to that lost to the Chiefs 11 straight times. I like the Raiders in this one because I think their defense will be able to execute more control over that high-scoring K.C. attack than the Chiefs' D will be able to exert on theirs.
7 6 San Francisco 49ers (4-2)
They had the Saints game, then they blew it on turnovers. Still, they had a shot at the end, after they had conceded the TD, a very wise and not completely understood move by Coach Mooch. If they were my children, I'd tell them to be careful against Arizona on a look-ahead Sunday with the Raiders coming up a week later. But I'm just a fat old handicapper who tries to make a little money for his ... check that ... who tries to provide an entertaining diversion for his readers.
8 11 Buffalo Bills (4-3)
OK, you can understand the secondary rising up against a Dolphins team minus its QB and wideouts. You can understand Drew Bledsoe functioning well, because he has all season. But Travis Henry? I mean, 132 yards rushing against a serious defense? The Bills have the Lions and Patriots, both at home, then the bye week. They could be sitting at 6-3. That's my problem. I always get ahead of myself, a tested formula for stumbling.
9 1 Miami Dolphins (5-2)
From No. 1 they take the perilous plummet. It's not that I think they were so terrible last weekend, which, actually, they were. It's just that I rank teams on their current effectiveness, and with the injuries they have, they're just not that effective. What will Cris Carter mean to their operation? About four catches for 48 yards each Sunday.
10 7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-2)
An interesting phenomenon, which I call the Sapp Syndrome. If he's anywhere within smelling distance of a sack he's going to get credit for one, or a piece of one. He's not alone. Superstars always get that kind of treatment from the stat people who register the tackles and assists and sacks. That's why I always take notice and pencil in the name of an unknown who compiles high numbers when I'm poring through the T&A totals on Monday, because I know he has earned every one of them.
11 16 Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3)
I don't know how bad Jerome Bettis' knee is, but I do know they run more effectively with Amos Zereoue carrying the ball. It's the Emmitt rule, though. You simply do not bench a popular star.
12 13 Arizona Cardinals (4-2)
Yeah, I know, big game at San Francisco for the division lead. I haven't seen all their outings, but I did catch a couple, plus the end of Dallas, and I saw David Boston chickening out on his routes or trying to draw the flag. Tell me, please, Arizona e-mailers; Is this merely a one-game phenomenon or has it been happening all year? Jimmy, please allow entry to the more lucid e-mails from the desert.
13 12 Kansas City Chiefs (3-4)
I always thought of defensive coordinator Greg Robinson as one of the better ones in the NFL. He never had problems when he was in Denver, right? But now everything seems to be going wrong. They hadn't had much success blitzing or playing a deep zone, so against Denver they loaded up against the short stuff, because the Broncos had been doing so much of it. So Denver shredded their zone with intermediate routes and its tight end went into the record books. When your secondary isn't really suited to zone coverage, but then again has trouble playing man-to-man, what, exactly is left for you?
14 10 Indianapolis Colts (4-2)
I have them ranked higher than the Ravens only because they beat them fairly recently. Edgerrin James is playing, but his knee doesn't look right. He's a very ordinary back right now. Peyton looks like he has trouble stepping up and delivering in the face of the rush. The offense really looks out of whack. I heard a theory from a personnel man I know: When a new coach whose leanings are on one side of the ball (Tony Dungy, defense) takes over, and there's a veteran coordinator in place on the other side (Tom Moore, offense), it can take a while for the marriage to work. Now I know why my first marriage broke up.
15 17 Baltimore Ravens (3-3)
I'm hearing lots of noise for Brian Billick as coach of the year. Personally, I think this is an overreaction by people who feel guilty about ripping him so gleefully when he came down from Mount Olympus. Me, I stick to the middle ground, neither ripping nor praising, but, as Jets wideout Wayne Chrebet said a few years ago, "just coming to work every day, eating my tuna sandwich for lunch, minding my own business and going home."
16 14 Jacksonville Jaguars (3-3)
Whoops, here's another guy, Tom Coughlin, who was capturing some votes as darkhorse Coach of the Year. Then the Jags lost to Baltimore and the focus shifted. These things, you see, change in a hurry.
17 15 New England Patriots (3-3)
Could it be that I would treat so rudely a team that held my top spot for almost the entire month of September, dropping it two positions after a bye? Bye-dropping, you see, is an old psychological ploy to get people to play better.
18 20 Atlanta Falcons (3-3)
This is going to take a while, and anyone under the age of 60 doesn't have to bother with it. I had a dream Monday night. I dreamed that I lined up Michael Vick in a shotgun, with T.J. Duckett set as the running back slightly in front of him. Alge Crumpler was the second, or motion, tight end, cruising back and forth behind the line, and Warrick Dunn was out on the flank. What I had created was an almost perfect replica of the old single-wing formation, with Vick as the tailback, Duckett the fullback, Crumpler the blocking back and Dunn the wingback. I woke up and, my God, I couldn't get the idea out of my mind. What if they actually ran it for a series? Unbalance the line, put in some old Michigan fullback spinners for deception, and run out of a single-wing for a series or two. Their left guard, Travis Claridge, is mobile enough to be the pulling guard on the weak side. And all that power on the unbalanced side, combined with the blocking back ... they could practically double-team every hole. It would chew up NFL defenses. The idea kept bugging me, so finally I called Dan Reeves in Atlanta and laid out my scenario for him.

"Well, some of the formations Michael's run from might actually look like what you're talking about," he said. I know, I know, but I mean a pure single-wing, with the unbalanced line and the spinners.

"What are spinners?" Reeves asked, and I realized that I needed to wait for a coach a little more desperate or a little crazier before I bounced these kinds of ideas off him. Tommy Prothro, maybe, would have gone for it, or Lou Holtz when he was with the Jets.

"Hey, by the way, have you ever seen a quarterback who could run like my guy?" Reeves asked. I told him I'd seen some deceptive ones, but never with that burst of pure speed.

"He's really going to be something," Reeves said. But not out of a single-wing.

19 22 St. Louis Rams (2-5)
Here they come, folks. Am I ranking them too high? Probably, but name a team below them you wouldn't rather face, if you were a coach.
20 26 Cleveland Browns (3-4)
It was 7-7 at the half against Houston, 24-17, Browns, after three quarters, and somehow they parlayed their meager statistics into a comfortable victory because they didn't turn the ball over. So why did I raise them six notches? Only because everyone else in their neighborhood either lost or byed.
21 23 Tennessee Titans (2-4)
Bye. Upward mobility by two places. No logical reason except that in their quiet hour they couldn't experience the turmoil that befell other teams. It ain't easy in the lower middle class of the chart society.
22 21 Carolina Panthers (3-4)
The count is oh-and-two and the batter is Randy Fasani, the Stanford rookie who threw his first NFL pass last weekend, actually threw 18 of them, completing six to the Panthers and one to the Falcons. Now he'll have a chance to test the Tampa Bay receivers. Oh hell, why am I being so cruel? This is no laughing matter for a decent Panthers outfit whose season now faces ruination because quarterbacks keep going down. In the offseason someone's going to propose a rule in the Competition Committee -- no hitting the quarterback. If you touch him with two hands he's ruled down. But the giveback is that he can't take off downfield. Vick will say forget it. So will Jeff Garcia and Donovan McNabb. A hundred other NFL QBs will say, "What a great idea."
23 25 New York Giants (3-3)
Still another team that benefited from its bye week, and now I have them above the Cowboys, where they belonged in the first place, before all those people from Dallas phoned in and got me to change my vote, for shame.
24 18 Dallas Cowboys (3-4)
Another ex-Stanford QB gets his first start, and I wonder if Chad Hutchinson and Fasani will be talking to each other this week. I didn't know Quincy Carter was being benched until Monday, but the guys in Vegas knew, you betcha. They knew it right away. On Sunday night I set my own lines for the following week's games. I made Dallas a six-point favorite over Seattle. Then, later that night, when the number came out of Vegas, it was Cowboys by 2 1/2. I mean, very seldom am I that far off. What did that tell me? That they're begging for Cowboys money. So I made Seattle my choice to win. A formula pick.
25 24 Washington Redskins (2-4)
Shane Matthews is now Spurrier's choice for the rest of the season, which was what he said about Patrick Ramsey two weeks ago. You've read all this before. "If you've got nothing new to add, why bother?" the Flaming Redhead wisely points out. Because, as I explained, I'm simply marking time before I get to my next contestant, which is ... uh, which are ... the ...
26 29 Detroit Lions (2-4)
Matt Millen became everybody's weekend sound bite when he singled out a "devout coward," on his squad. Oh gosh, how demoralizing, surely the Bears will defeat a team in such disarray. Didn't happen, did it? Here's how I read it. One guy was upset, if he were sure he was the one Millen meant. So were a couple of his buddies. The rest of the squad either didn't care, or knew darn well the GM was telling the truth, and were glad he said it. The proof of the pudding -- Lions 23, Bears 20.
27 19 Chicago Bears (2-4)
Preseason, I felt that Chris Chandler was the guy to lead the Bears deep into the playoffs because, under him, they'd air out the passing game. This is a guy whose career yards-per-completion average was 12.5, going into this year, putting him among the top down-the-field throwers in the NFL. In the Falcons' Super Bowl season of 1998, Chandler's YPC was 16.6, an astounding figure for the modern era. On Sunday against Detroit, it was slightly over 10. He now belongs to the system, which, as you might guess by now, I hate and always will.
28 31 New York Jets (2-4)
Chad Pennington is a yes-but. Yes, he appears as the young savior at this point, but why did it take them so long to get to him? If he's for real, they have the ideal situation at QB right now -- an established No. 1 backed up by an old pro who isn't upset about the idea of coming into a contest in relief. Especially for what they're paying him.
29 28 Seattle Seahawks (1-5)
They've been trying, unsuccessfully, to stop the run for as long as I can remember. Here's an idea: Run live scrimmages during the week, using their premier ball carrier, Shaun Alexander. They'll lose a runner but gain valuable tackling experience.
30 27 Minnesota Vikings (1-5)
Bad news. Out of their next 10 games, only two of them are against foes who have a losing record at this point, Detroit in the finale and Chicago this weekend, the Bears, I'm told, being greatly upset by last week's upsetting upset by the Lions. Great word, upset. Can be a used as a noun or a verb. Can apply to a stomach condition or a football game or a state of mind. This calls for further study.
31 30 Houston Texans (1-5)
They had two turnovers against the Browns. Coaches are always saying, "You can't turn the ball over and win." Sure you can. If you want to see what's on the other side of it. No, just being a wiseass, but I'm so tired of hearing that. Everybody turns the ball over. It's just a convenient coaching excuse that seems to impress TV sideline reporters.
32 32 Cincinnati Bengals (0-6)
I'm writing a sad ballad in Cincinnati's honor called, "By and by we must say bye-bye to the bye."
 

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