NFL: No Fantastic Lineups

The Green Bay Packers are undefeated, but they also rank 31st in opponent passing yards. Every other NFL team has flaws just as glaring in an overall mediocre NFL season. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

Power rankings are really hard. That ESPN.com puts out multiple power rankings each week astounds me.

Picking firsts and lasts are usually pretty easy: there are always a few teams so obviously great or terrible that they need to be in the top- or bottom-five, and then a bit of research usually produces an arguable order. But what are the tangible differences between the 23rd- and 24th-ranked team?

That’s why you never see power rankings from me: They’re so darn time-consuming that I never want to do them.

I tried to do one recently for the NFL. The Colts are obviously last: hard to argue with an 0-10 record. I don’t know the Rams very well, but they seem somehow worse than the Dolphins, whose quarterback I think is secretly a zombie from “The Walking Dead.” So there’s your bottom three.

While trying to figure out the rest of the list, I came to a realization: this year’s NFL is filled with mediocrity! The Packers have the best record, but they can’t run the ball or stop the pass. Without likely MVP Aaron Rodgers – who is just itching for a concussion, given his porous offensive line – this team would be… the Colts.

The 49ers are really good, and they play in the God-awful NFC West (whose other three teams are a combined 8-19), but can they last? The Lions and the Bills started just as strong, but they’ve combined to go 2-6 since Week 6.

Are there any truly complete teams out there? Is there one team that can both score and prevent scores? The Patriots can score, but they can’t get stops. The Steelers get stops, but they don’t score much.

The only team that has both a top-five offense and defense are the Texans. Even before Matt Schaub‘s season-ending injury, I had trouble taking the Texans seriously. You can only be the media’s “sleeper” choice for so many years without being actually good before people stop believing.

With Schaub gone, I just don’t see Matt Leinart maintaining the Texans’ blistering offense. Leinart hasn’t played since 2009; he hasn’t thrown a touchdown since 2008.

NFL fans likely breathed a sigh of relief when the lockout ended before preseason games were lost. But the abbreviated training camps and lack off-season access to team training facilities has absolutely weakened the product. The result? The five winningest teams can only be described as “above-average, but inconsistent.”

Three-loss teams like the Giants, Saints and Ravens all have major flaws, and there are nine of them. Each one could just as easily win big or get their ass kicked. They could go deep into the playoffs or miss them entirely just as easily.

Next you have 10 teams hovering a game above or below .500, and then 10 teams that are each their own unique brand of garbage.

The last few seasons have been so punctuated by injuries that it’s hard to say whether this year’s crop have been more or less impactful. But injuries have helped the once-media-darling Eagles go 3-6, and with Michael Vick now suffering two broken ribs, their future looks bleak. And Peyton Manning‘s recovery from off-season neck surgery was absolutely hampered by the lockout.

I don’t bet on sports – my own predictive powers are too inconsistent to risk the few dollars a grad student/intern makes. But I’m betting (pun intended) that true sports gamblers have gone absolutely crazy over this NFL season. There’s been no rhyme or reason, no pattern, no sifting of the gold from the mud.

Teams may have saved money by preserving preseason games, but perhaps they should have canceled one or two to give teams more time to return to shape. By accelerating the preseason time table to save the preseason, the NFL may have done far more harm than good. No team began the season NFL-ready, and no such team has since emerged as leader of the pack.

Because of the NBA’s inept CBA negotiators, the NFL faces zero threats to their viewership and advertising revenue. But I deeply hope next year’s teams play a far higher caliber of football.

This NFL season may not have been lost. But what’s been found is far duller than we’d all expected.

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