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Dr. Z's NFL Power Ratings

Click here for more on this story

Posted: Thursday December 31, 1998 10:44 AM

Sports Illustrated NFL writer Paul Zimmerman ranks all 30 teams each week, exclusively for CNN/SI. To send a question or comment to Dr. Z, click here.

Week 18 (Final)
Rank Team LW Comment
1. Minnesota Vikings
(15-1)
1 Is this the greatest scoring machine of all time? It is not. Sixteen games, 556 points, average 34.8. The 1950 L.A.Rams ( Bob Waterfield, Norm Van Brocklin, Tank Younger, Deacon Dan Towler, Glenn Davis, Crazylegs Hirsch, Tom Fears, Vitamin T. Smith ... surely you remember) scored 466 in 12 contests, average 38.8. That's more scoring by my estimate. But the Vikes can put the numbers up there, and now we'll find out how good that defense really is.
2. Denver Broncos
(14-2)
2 Things came together, whew, just in time vs. Seattle in a meaningless game coached by a guy who had his bags packed. This was a tired team down the stretch, and the one-week layoff will have great therapeutic effect.
3. Atlanta Falcons
(14-2)
3 In his last season in New York, Dan Reeves was accused by his QB, Dave Brown, of running a system so complicated that it could barely work. Don't want to knock Dave, who's a nice fella, but look where he is now, and look where Dan is. The big change on the '98 Falcons was in the secondary, which is now functional, thanks to Ray Buchanan and Eugene Robinson.
4. New York Jets
(12-4)
4 What kind of a price will Vegas give you on the Jetsies winning it all -- 8-1, 9-1? If I were into this kind of action I might consider a small investment. They're tough road warriors and they're innovative, still able to come up with new wrinkles on both sides of the ball at this stage of the season.
5. San Francisco 49ers
(12-4)
5 The drama goes on. Will Garrison Hearst be healthy enough to lead an offense now keyed by its ground game? Will Steve Mariucci be back? Is Mike Holmgren on the horizon? What's with the ownership situation? And when's the last time these guys drew a relaxed breath?
6. Green Bay Packers
(11-5)
7 A terrific coaching job by Holmgren this season, keeping his injury-wracked forces from submerging. They know how to beat the Niners -- and lose to the Vikes.
7. Buffalo Bills
(10-6)
10 Well, they slaughtered the Saints, thereby earning the right to face Dan Marino instead of Jonathan Quinn, or a limping Mark Brunell. They're tough and focused, and the unsung hero in the operation is pro personnel director A.J. Smith , who brought in Doug Flutie.
8. Jacksonvi lle Jaguars
(10-6)
9 The offense has been scaled way down for Quinn. The defense got shoved around by Pittsburgh. They beat Miami back in October, which is why I rate them one notch higher.
9. Miami Dolphins
(10-6)
6 Just how far the Dolphins go in the playoffs depends on the health of their offensive line. The running attack doesn't scare anybody, but the defense, led by the best cornerback tandem in the NFL (Terrell Buckley and Sam Madison) and the game's best cover MLB (Zach Thomas) can keep them alive.
10. New England Patriots
(9-7)
8 A courageous team led by an angry, swarming defense, which, unfortunately, is beginning to wear down.
11. Dallas Cowboys
(10-6)
12 I thought Emmitt Smith would be with the walking wounded at this stage of the season, but here he is, breaking tackles, picking up steam, as he leads the Chan Gailey forces into the postseason.
12. New York Giants
(8-8)
11 The only non-playoff team in the top dozen, but they arrived here via their five straight victories to close out the year. Their defensive front four ranks with Atlanta's as the best in football.
13. Tennessee Oilers
(8-8)
13 Can this team ever escape 8-8? Not until its defense finds a couple of big-play people.
14. Seattle Seahawks
(8-8)
14I think I've said this already: Dennis Erickson didn't deserve to get fired. Inconsistency was a problem, but that describes 70 percent of the league.
15. Arizona Cardinals
(9-7)
15 Love the QB and his wideouts, and LCB Aeneas Williams, and that's about it.
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(8-8)
18 Unsung hero -- blocking fullback Lorenzo Neal. The pass-catch game never came together, though, and if you can't throw the ball in this era of airmail football you're a dead duck.
17. Kansas City Chiefs
(7-9)
19 All season long they were on a record-setting pace for penalties, and by golly, they finally made it. Sorry, but their heads just weren't in the game this year.
18. Oakland Raiders
(8-8)
16 Right cornerback Eric Allen, having a career year, went down in game No.10 and the Raiders proceeded to go 1-5 the rest of the way. The Jeff George situation is too complicated to speculate about. Somehow I just can't see these guys rallying around him, if he gets another chance. Here's one factor that hasn't been mentioned too often: that heavy Coliseum turf, which is just murder on the legs.
19. Washingt on Redskins
(6-10)
17 I'll repeat myself here, too. Don't fire Norv Turner , Mr. New Owner, whoever you might be. With a full camp under his belt, and Norv once again calling plays, QB Trent Green will be terrific next season. Hey, Norv, a word of advice: Stun the world and put Michael Westbrook on your expansion list and let Cleveland worry about him.
20. Pittsbur gh Steelers
(7-9)
20 I am shocked, absolutely shocked, by the way the Steelers' defense mailed it in against Jacksonville. Billy Cowher didn't look very concerned, either. There are more problems here than a confused QB.
21. New Orleans Saints
(6-10)
21 Billy Joe Tolliver is the best QB on the roster. Kerry Collins is the worst. Pumping up Collins as the guy to lead the forces in '99 will be Mike Ditka 's greatest offseason challenge, assuming Mike is still chasing rainbows.
22. Baltimore Ravens
(6-10)
23 I could start listing areas of concern but it would take too long. Simply stated: this is a team that hasn't learned how to win.
23. Detroit Lions
(5-11)
22 What would I bring in? Offensive linemen. Before Barry Sanders goes into the negative yardage column. Before Charlie Batch becomes a basket case.
24. San Diego Chargers
(5-11)
24 If you're thinking of an award for Assistant Coach of the Year, how about defensive coordinator Joe Pascale ? This unit never cracked. It could have many times. Maybe they can make a linebacker out of Ryan Leaf.
25. Chicago Bears
(4-12)
25 Owner and president Mike McCaskey is the problem, and will continue to be so as long as he's empowered with any decisions relating to football.
26. Carolina Panthers
(4-12)
27 When Sam Mills 's name comes up in the Hall of Fame voting I will ask people to kindly notice what happened to the Panthers' defense when he was no longer around to hold it together. There was no one to lead it on the field. Ditto for the offense.
27. Indianapoli s Colts
(3-13)
26 Peyton Manning will cut down on the picks next year. The defense will play better. The result? Oh, about 6-10.
28. St.Louis Rams
(4-12)
28 They've decided that Dick Vermeil wasn't at fault this season, offensive coordinator Jerry Rhome was. Well, what happens if they bring in a guy who's an absolute whiz and they're still in the dumper? It could happen if they don't seriously address that disastrous offensive line.
29. Cincinnat i Bengals
(3-13)
29 I threw out the Tampa Bay finale because that was a bags-packed-and-ready-to-lam situation. And so, amidst muffled cheering, the Bengals hold onto their 29th position, as the Eagles gnash their teeth.
30. Philadelph ia Eagles
(3-13)
30 When I visited this team at camp last summer, the beat writers whom I knew told me, almost to a man, that this could be the worst team in football. Every phase of the operation declined, with the lone exception of running back Duce Staley.

Got a question or comment for Dr. Z? Click here.

 
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