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Green Zone League Articles

S2014Q01:: GZL Quarterly Power Rankings
By Anthony Fernandez
Special to gzl-football.com

S2014Q01:: GZL QUARTERLY POWER RANKINGS
The AFterman Edition
Tuesday, February 19th, 2013
AF, GreenZone Media Committee

WANT TO CATCH UP?
S2012Q01


A year ago (to the day) was the last installment, and due to popular demand, it's back. I have made a commitment to do 4 installments for the 2014 season, so count on it again after WK9! For those unaware, The Afterman is the new 2-part CD by rock band Coheed and Cambria. You can read a full album review I wrote for it HERE. Thanks!


THE DESTITUTE::
32. San Francisco 49ers ( LR #N/A )
31. Houston Texans ( LR #N/A)
30. Cincinnati Bengals ( LR #N/A)
29. Atlanta Falcons ( LR #N/A)
The Bengals stole an upset win from the sleeping Cleveland Browns, but otherwise this group would be a combined (0-16) at the turn of the first quarter. That is increasingly more difficult to understand when you consider the quad includes the Falcons – who nearly were NFC Champions last year, the Texans – who we’ve all come to accept as an annual playoff team, and the Bengals and 49ers – who have made strides thru the draft in recent years. It looks at this point like a sprint for the #1 pick, and with how dangerous these rosters already are, each team looks poised as a real bounce-back candidate for next season. That is if they mail it in, which I have a hard time seeing any of these teams doing just yet.


SUBTRACTION::
28. St. Louis Rams ( LR #N/A)
The Rams are quickly tallying up L’s, especially considering they were (10-6) just a year ago. While Bradford has been sporadic this year, I think the real issue is the loss of numbers in the secondary. The team has been ravaged by injuries, losing CB Stephon Gilmore for 10 weeks, S Patrick Chung for 5 weeks, and FS Eric Reid for 3 weeks. The offenses are just too good in GZL to lose ¾ of your secondary and not struggle. While their individual numbers are holding on with garbage time stats (7 sacks, 5 INTs, 2 FR, 40% Red Zone TDs – all on par with 2013 numbers), they are still allowing nearly 40 yards more per game, and they have fallen from 3rd in the league in points allowed to 7th. That might not sound like much, but they were (3-4) last year in games decided by 8 points or less, while they’re already (0-3) in those games this year after just 4 games have been played. The team we thought would take a step forward and win the close games against teams like the Buccaneers and Seahawks, has seemingly went the other way, perhaps in large part due to the roster subtractions via injury toll.


THE CRACKED::
27. Oakland Raiders ( LR #N/A)
26. Minnesota Vikings ( LR #N/A )
25. Detroit Lions ( LR #N/A)
Three teams here who were all above .500 last year, including the Raiders and Lions making deep playoff runs. While it’s still too early to rule any of these teams out, it certainly looks like there is something broken with each team thus far. The Raiders suddenly can’t score, and last year’s Comeback Player of the Year Michael Vick and GZL MVP Mark Ingram look like different players. Their 2nd quarter schedule is manageable, but they will need to begin turning it around right away. That poses a problem for the Minnesota Vikings, who host the Raiders next week and need a win equally bad. The top runners in these divisions, like the Packers and Chiefs, are not going to wait around while these teams struggle thru their identity crisis. That goes for the Detroit Lions too, who have now lost 3 of the first 4 and have to wonder if the black cloud has followed Tom from New York to Detroit. The Lions have the offensive firepower to compete every week, but unless they can muster the fortitude to beat tough teams like the Buccaneers, Saints, and Packers this quarter, it could be lights out for the defending NFC Champions.


NUMBER CITY::
24. Baltimore Ravens ( LR #N/A)
The numbers just don’t add up for this (1-2) Ravens squad. Despite allowing just a league-best 269 yards a game, they have two tacky road losses under their belt to the Raiders and Seahawks by a combined 8 points. The blowout wins over teams like the Bengals are nice, but they will not catch the Steelers if they don’t start winning the close ones again. The good news is they had the week 4 BYE, so they had plenty of time to think about what kind of team they want to be before they host the Bengals and Steelers the next two weeks. We will learn a lot about the Ravens in that span.


THE HOLLOW::
23. New England Patriots ( LR #N/A )
The Patriots have had some big wins in GZL the last few years, but for whatever reason they always feel like they’re underachieving in the end. Despite a convincing win over the Giants WK2, they also suffered tough losses to mediocre teams like the Jets and Redskins. They certainly have the tools to succeed, and while I felt they were still one year away, if they string together some wins they could compete in the AFC East this year. The bad news is the upcoming schedule includes the Chargers, Browns, Jaguars, Dolphins and Bills – none of which prepared to lie down. If the Patriots plan to compete, they’re going to have to reach inside their chest and make sure their heart is beating.


THE HARD SELL::
22. Denver Broncos ( LR #N/A)
21. Carolina Panthers ( LR N/A)
These are two teams that have played well, especially when you consider the Broncos basically gave one game away by starting a punter on accident. They followed that up by beating the defending Super Bowl Champion Chargers, and then competing with the division-leading Kansas City Chiefs. They have a tough schedule coming up, but you have to feel good about the direction of this franchise. You could argue that the Panthers are overachieving at this point, for the 2nd season in a row, as their only two losses have come to the Packers and Bears, who are a combined (7-1). How long they can stay afloat in the tough NFC South with their best offensive player injured remains to be seen, but with the Jaguars, Buccaneers, and Saints the next three weeks – we’ll surely find out. Despite the obvious – that both teams are clearly headed in the right direction – you’d have a hard time selling either of these franchises as a real threat for Super Bowl V, or even these tough divisions. With the weapons they’ve put in place though, and the bright young players under center, you can easily see a future where both teams are competing annually.


THE BUTCHER::
20. New York Jets ( LR #N/A )
New GM Corey Smith had a gargantuan task when he took over in the Big Apple, but he got right to work and systematically cut the fat off of a roster that all-of-a-sudden doesn’t look too bad. Most pundits felt this team was easily 3-4 years away from competing, but Corey seems to have the Bills set on a trajectory similar to when Breck took over the equally-helpless Bills. This season has already had ups and downs, but a 2nd quarter schedule that features the Dolphins, Giants and Chiefs will tell us if they are where Breck was LAST year in the rebuilding process, or if they leapfrogged a season and plan to compete in 2014.


RANDOM REALITY SHIFTS::
19. Cleveland Browns ( LR #N/A)
18. New Orleans Saints ( LR #N/A)
17. Indianapolis Colts ( LR #N/A)
16. New York Giants ( LR #N/A)
These four teams are a handful, because you never really know which team is going to show up. Each team has looked like a champion caliber squad, and also looked like a group of bums. The Browns were an early dark horse candidate in the AFC, but completely lied down for the Bengals, costing many GMs precious GZQ in Vegas. The Saints could probably stand to be ranked a little higher on record alone, and it’s risky business anytime you underrate your upcoming opponent Asleep play them next week), but they were smoked by the Jagaurs and their two wins came over the Falcons and 49ers, who are a combined (0-8). The Colts looked great upsetting the previously unbeaten Jaguars, and have played well collectively in the AFC South thus far this season, but how far can Locker actually take them? The Giants appeared to get back on course this week by handling the 49ers, but still have an uphill climb after digging themselves into an (0-2) hole to start the season.


GRAVITY’S UNION::
15. Philadelphia Eagles ( LR #N/A)
14. Washington Redskins ( LR #N/A)
The Eagles and Redskins have got off to impressive starts compared to recent years and are very much in the thick of the NFC East race. The problem is that collectively most GMs feel the Giants and Cowboys are severely underachieving right now, and I think the common thread of thought right now is that gravity will kick in eventually and bring these two squads back down to Earth. It’s not completely out of the question however that one of these teams could carry this momentum into a Wild Card bid.


THE FAITHFUL::
13. Dallas Cowboys ( LR #N/A)
12. San Diego Chargers ( LR #N/A)
11. Tennessee Titans ( LR #N/A)
10. Miami Dolphins ( LR #N/A)
These are four teams we faithfully count on to compete in the playoffs annually. While none of these teams are sprinting out ahead of the pack to start the season, you have to believe that if they can stick around in the midst of it that their playoff pedigree will kick in and guide them to playoff spots. What they do when they get there will be anyone’s guess. The Chargers are proof that anything can happen once you’re in, while the Cowboys, Dolphins, and Titans are proof you might need quite a few golden tickets to the tournament before you make any real noise.


THE HOMECOMING::
9. Chicago Bears ( LR #N/A )
8. Jacksonville Jaguars ( LR #N/A)
7. Arizona Cardinals ( LR #N/A )
It’s been a homecoming for these three franchises, as each has returned to competitive conversation in 2014. The Bears literally have a homecoming, as GM Bryan Laurenson returns from hiatus to take over a Bears team that was once one of the most accomplished teams in GZL. The Jaguars surprised most the first few years of GZL’s existence by storming into the playoffs, but significantly fell off in recent years. Behind impressive rookie Bull Griggs, they appear poised to raise hell in the AFC South again. Cardinals GM Adarsh Patel has done an excellent job rebounding from a disappointing 2013 campaign, and is in firm control of the NFC West as we speak. While being ranked BELOW the Seahawks team that they lead in the standings (and on the scoreboard this week) might be particularly discouraging for the Cardinals, they will get a chance to make their mark in the 2nd Quarter with big games against the Cowboys, and two games against the Rams.


AWAY WE GO::
6. Kansas City Chiefs ( LR #N/A)
The Chiefs lost opening weekend to the defending Super Bowl Champion Chargers, but haven’t lost since. This has been a team in full ascension, having now won 9 of the last 11 games dating back to when they turned around their 2013 season, despite starting (2-7). The Chiefs are 4th in the league, averaging 32 points a game and rookie WR Terrance Williams has been exceptional. While 6 may be a little too high for the Chiefs, they are playing with an extraordinary amount of confidence right now, and their schedule looks soft enough that 10 or 11 wins should be the minimum expectation at this point. Bad news if you own the Chiefs 1st round pick.


THE DEFIANT::
5. Seattle Seahawks ( LR #N/A)
4. Buffalo Bills ( LR #N/A)
3. Green Bay Packers ( LR #N/A )
These three GMs have gone against the grain – starting a scrambler QB under center – and are experiencing great early returns. The Seahawks lost to the Division leading Cardinals this week, but they beat them earlier this season and their only other loss was to the undefeated Steelers. The Bills have looked great and must be thrilled to have this many wins at the 1st Quarter mark. RG3 has been up and down, but he appears to not turn the ball over, which is all you can ask from a scrambler. The Packers could surely be ranked a little higher than this, but the knowledge that QB Cassel will be sidelined for the next handful of games makes it tough to buy more Clausen stock than Freeman or Roethlisberger.


2’S MY FAVORITE 1::
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers ( LR #N/A)
1. Pittsburgh Steelers ( LR #N/A )
These Super Bowl 3 contestants are a combined (7-0), and most of the wins have come in very impressive fashion. When they met in Super Bowl 3, the story was the top two defenses in the league clashing. This year the Steelers remain ranked as the #1 defense in the league, allowing just 13.3 PPG, but the Buccaneers offense has been averaging a truly unconventional 37.5 PPG offensively. While the scoring offense of the Steelers would seem to have an edge (25.7ppg) on the Buccaneers scoring defense (24ppg) – the Bucs defense has been playing much better than the numbers would indicate, with a league best 17 sacks, and 9 takeaways (4th most in the league). The Buccaneers are also only allowing a TD in the red zone 27% of the time – an impressive number that seems to hint the Bucs D will be just fine if they can limit the big plays. At this juncture the edge must go to the Steelers, who have impressive wins over the Dolphins and Seahawks. The Buccaneers have played well but only boast wins over the Percy Harvin-less Vikings, the Christopher Henderson-less Titans, the secondary-less Rams, and the (0-4) Falcons. Until they get a staple win on their resume, I’d highly suggest refraining from crowning them. They play 7 of the last 9 on the road, and their last 4 games read @NO, vCHI, @GB, vJAX. Perhaps all of those teams will be resting by that point, but if the Bucs drop some of these winnable games coming up, they are a serious contender for a late season collapse.


Thanks for reading! This will be a QUARTERLY feature! Would love to hear your thoughts!


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