Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tripodi's Top Teams (Part 2 of 2)

17. Buffalo Bills (1-1): If Leodis McKelvin knew how to use at least one knee, the Bills would likely be 2-0 and on the cusp of a top-10 ranking. Instead, they are the best team in the bottom half of the league. That near-win against the Patriots looks less impressive after last weekend, but the Bills have turned a corner offensively. Fred Jackson will be much more than a change-of-pace back when Marshawn Lynch returns after 163 yards rushing against the Bucs and Trent Edwards has added the big play to his arsenal, with two touchdown passes of 30 yards or more last week. Paul Posluszny's injury will hurt the defense, but the Bills have an outside shot at a playoff run if Terrell Owens doesn't ruin Edwards by Week 5 (Owens has just five receptions and has been targeted only eight times in two games).

18. Houston Texans (1-1): It seems like every year more people jump on the Houston bandwagon, only to regret it by season's end. After being stifled by the Jets, the Texans proved why so many people had them pegged as a playoff team, running up 34 points on the Titans thanks to four Matt Schaub touchdown passes. Steve Slaton has struggled to get the running game going, but once he does this will again be one of the league's best offenses. Outside of a few playmakers the defense is still below average, allowing 55 points in two games without facing a truly explosive offense. Houston will be fun to watch, but another .500 season seems likely.

19. Green Bay Packers (1-1): Everyone loves Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay passing game, and I am no different. But outside of their aerial attack, the Packers are a flawed team. Their ground game with Ryan Grant is decent but their defense leaves much to be desired. This team should be able to score points but I don't see them winning more than seven or eight games this season.

20. Chicago Bears (1-1): What an enigma Jay Cutler is. He throws four interceptions against an average Green Bay secondary, followed by a two touchdown-no interception performance against the vaunted Steelers, who obviously missed Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu. Matt Forte is averaging 2.2 yards-per-carry and will face stacked boxes until Cutler can develop some down-field chemistry with his wide receivers. Their defense was nothing special before Brian Urlacher's season-ending injury, and this team will be a work in progress for at least a few more weeks. That equates to a sub-.500 season in my book.

21. Cincinnati Bengals (1-1): With the NFL's sack leader in Antwan Odom (with seven) and a solid group of linebackers, the Bengals' defense is looking better than it has in years. They were able to take down Green Bay in Lambeau and Chad Ochocinco got to leap into the arms of Bengals fans he paid to sit front row. Carson Palmer, like Tom Brady, will have to shake off some rust as the season wears on, but Cedric Benson has actually been solid on the ground, running for over 200 yards so far and dwarfing his career 3.7 yards-per-carry average. If Palmer stays healthy, Benson continues to run well and the defense can keep it up, Cincinnati can compete. Just seems like too many ifs to me.

22. Miami Dolphins (0-2): Miami has faced two of the league's unbeaten teams so far and the schedule gets no easier, as they wait until Week 10 against Tampa Bay to play a team ranked lower than them in these rankings. In fact, the Bills are the only team they play in that stretch outside the top 15 this week. The Dolphins are a team built to play with the lead, as evidenced by the deplorable two-minute drill they ran last week against the Colts and the super-glue hands shown by top receiver Ted Ginn. Another 10-6 season is out of the question for sure with their upcoming opponents, but could this team struggle to even reach 6-10? With their schedule, I wouldn't be surprised to see them finish closer to 1-15 again than 10-6.

23. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2): The Jags kept it close against Indy but couldn't do the same against the Cardinals, as they allowed Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner to go 52-for-64 passing, allowing a completion percentage a shade over 80 percent. Maurice Jones-Drew has been good in a feature role, but David Garrard is a much better quarterback on a winning football team, where he can let the game come to him. However, Jacksonville is not a winning football team and they need a quarterback who can make plays, which Garrard can't do with the likes of Torry Holt and Mike Sims-Walker at receiver. Sims-Walker could prove to be the team's best receiver if he stays healthy (big if), but this team isn't good enough defensively to hide their lack of offense explosiveness. After games with the Texans and Titans the next two weeks, the Jaguars could start 0-4 and drop even further in these rankings.

24. Carolina Panthers (0-2): After a four-interception performance in Week 1, Jake Delhomme bounced back against Atlanta in Week 2...sorta. He was able to utilize Steve Smith in the passing game to throw for 300 yards and was only intercepted once, but that turnover came while the Panthers were driving to potentially tie the game late in the fourth quarter. It's hard to trust Delhomme at the helm right now and their defense is not what it was even a year ago. As good as their running game is, it won't be enough to make up for the inevitable Delhomme decline.

25. Seattle Seahawks (1-1): Seattle might have landed higher in these rankings if it weren't for another injury to Matt Hasselbeck in just the season's second game. If Hasselbeck continues to get hurt, this team has no chance to compete with the 49ers and the Cardinals. Their running game is suspect (anyone can rush for over 100 yards against the Rams) and without Hasselbeck at the helm, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Nate Burleson and John Carlson will be underutilized if they have to catch passes from Seneca Wallace. Let's hope for their sake Hasselbeck can stay healthy, or else it will be another lost season for the Seahawks.

26. Oakland Raiders (1-1): It's rare to find a team ranked this low that could actually be 2-0. But bad teams blow leads late, and that's what Oakland did in their opener against San Diego. And that's what the Chiefs did the next week to allow the Raiders to get their first win. JaMarcus Russell has completed a whopping 35 percent of his passes and until he starts playing like a professional quarterback, this team will have no chance of being competitive. With a decent rushing attack and a defense that can hold their own, it's time for Russell to become consistent in his third season. If he can somehow find a way to complete 55 percent of his passes, the Raiders might have a shot at six wins.

27. Washington Redskins (1-1): Even the Seahawks ran up the score against St. Louis. Nine points?!? I know they won the game, but that was a pathetic showing from what has quickly turned into a pathetic team. Their defense is still solid, but their offense is completely devoid of playmakers. Clinton Portis gets older every year, Santana Moss disappears too often, and Jason Campbell is the absolute definition of mediocrity. If this team couldn't score a touchdown against the hapless Rams, there really is no hope. Especially playing in the NFC East.

28. Kansas City Chiefs (0-2): The Chiefs, like the Raiders, are a prime example of why some teams in the NFL are just bad. Bad teams don't get blown out every week, but when they play close games they just can't seem to pull them out. That was the case against Oakland last weekend, and I don't see things looking up for the Chiefs. Matt Cassel doesn't have the supporting cast he did with the Patriots last season and Larry Johnson is, well, Larry Johnson. Cassel-to-Dwayne Bowe might be the only thing this team has going for them, and it's sad that there are four more teams in worse shape than Kansas City.

29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-2): Tampa Bay can run the football with Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward in the backfield, and Byron Leftwich has proven to be the king of racking up big statistics in garbage time. But this defense can't stop anybody right now, on the ground (Fred Jackson ran for 163 yards) or through the air. This team will be behind often, rendering their effective running game almost useless and forcing Leftwich to win games with his arm. I like Leftwich, but he couldn't carry a team five years ago, let alone now.

30. Detroit Lions (0-2): Lions fans should just be happy they aren't last. Detroit is far from good, but they will win a game this season. It may even come this week against the Redskins. To nobody's surprise, rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford has struggled with just one touchdown and five interceptions. But he doesn't have even one-third of the supporting cast that fellow rookie Mark Sanchez has with the Jets. The Lions are awful on defense and Kevin Smith will find it difficult to run the ball with teams daring Stafford to beat them. Three wins would be a godsend.

31. Cleveland Browns (0-2): The Browns' one offensive touchdown this season came with 28 seconds to play against the Vikings, who were nursing a 21-point lead at the time. Jamal Lewis is old and Brady Quinn is inexperienced. Derek Anderson is the better quarterback right now, but he wouldn't make them a winner so they might as well see what they have in Quinn. Their defense doesn't even deserve mention, except to say that they allowed 27 points to the Broncos, who have their own issues despite being 2-0. If you play fantasy football and you have players who face the Browns, make sure they end up in your starting lineup.

32. St. Louis (0-2): Drum roll please...the most pathetic team in football right now? The St. Louis Rams, due to a total of seven points in two games against two teams outside the top 20 in my rankings. Steven Jackson is a great running back, but he's surrounding by absolutely nothing on offense and less than nothing on defense. Their first winnable game is Week 6 at Jacksonville, and they also travel to Detroit in Week 8 before a Week 9 bye. Frankly, this team will be lucky to win either of those games.

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