Cold, Hard Football Facts factologist of factology
Crowning a regular-season champion with our final power rankings of the year is no easy task.
All of our top four teams (San Diego, Indianapolis, New Orleans and Minnesota) had approximately equal seasons based on our secret recipe of 11 stats and spices. Some had more wins, some had better stats, some had more charisma, some had a crispier crust. But all generally deserved the No. 1 spot as much as they deserved the No. 4 spot.
There was little question less than a month ago that the Saints and Colts were the two best teams in the league. But New Orleans' collapse and Indy's no mas! took the bloom of the roses.
And so, it's the Chargers that end up on top. (Hey, who said Norv Turner couldn't coach? Oh yeah, we did
The Chargers have been the best team over the past eight games, and they didn't play so poorly in the early going that they don't deserve the regular-season trophy – "The Schottenheimer Award," we'll call it, after our favorite ex-coach who annually made the mostly pointless regular season his bitch.
It's a heck of a comeback story for Marty's former team in 2009.
In Week 5, they were three full games behind Denver in the AFC West – with a loss to the Broncos under their belt. At midseason, San Diego was only 14th in our Power Rankings. And now, thanks to an 11-game win streak and some good play by the reserves in a Week 17 win, the Chargers are No. 1.
So, will this regular-season 2009 honor, one shared by most national ranksters, matter here in 2010?
San Diego also ended the 2006 season No. 1 on our rankings, and lost in the first round to New England. In 2007, the Patriots ended No. 1 and they lost in the Super Bowl. And in 2008, the Giants won "Schottenheimer" honors and also lost in the opening round.
Strike one, strike two, strike three.
Anyway, on to the rankings: The playoff teams occupy the top 12 spots, and we offer CHFFs on why each of the 12 teams in the playoffs will win the Super Bowl ... and also why they won't. For the non-playoff teams, it's a look at why they might have made the postseason ... and why they actually didn't.
1. SAN DIEGO (13-3). Preseason rank, 6; midseason rank, 14
Why they will win the Super Bowl: They don't turn the ball over (17, No. 2 in NFL) and they have the most consistent offense in the league (16 games of 20+ points, 15 games of 300+ yards). Oh, and Philip Rivers hasn't had a bad game all year.
Why they won't win the Super Bowl: Their 26th-ranked Defensive Hogs allow 4.45 YPA (24th) and the defense surrenders 5.3 yards per play (17th).
2. INDIANAPOLIS (14-2). Preseason rank, 9; midseason rank, 2
Why they will win the Super Bowl: Because Peyton Manning's playoff struggles are behind him. Dating back to 2003, he has 21 touchdown passes to 15 interceptions in 12 games and has played only two real clunkers.
Why they won't win the Super Bowl: Too many wins. The Colts have been 13-3 or 14-2 three times with Peyton Manning, and lost their openers in all three years (1999, 2005, 2007).
3. MINNESOTA (12-4). Preseason rank 11; midseason rank 3
Why they will win the Super Bowl: Because it has to happen sometime. This is Minnesota's 26th trip to the playoffs in the SB era, easily the highest of any team yet to actually win a championship.
Why they won't win the Super Bowl: They allowed 24.5 PPG against Quality Opponents (17th) posted a 92.5 Defensive Passer Rating (27th), putting a big bullseye on the defense's collective back.
4. NEW ORLEANS (13-3). Preseason rank 13; midseason rank 1
Why they will win the Super Bowl: They field the No. 1 Offensive Hogs and stand No. 1 in the all-important Passer Rating Differential. Teams that pass well and stop the pass well win playoff games.
Why they won't win the Super Bowl: Their No. 20 rank in scoring defense is scary, but the fact that they haven't won a game by more than a field goal since November (the win over the Patriots) is scarier.
5. GREEN BAY (11-5). Preseason rank, 14; midseason rank, 17
Why they will win the Super Bowl: They lead the NFL in turnover differential (+24), interceptions (30), Defensive Hog Index and Negative Pass Plays (11.6%) and they're the only team in the league ranked in the top seven in total offense, scoring offense, total defense and scoring defense.
Why they won't win the Super Bowl: The Packers aren't road warriors in the playoffs. In the Super Bowl era, they're 3-8 at someone else's house.
6. DALLAS (11-5). Preseason rank, 21; midseason rank, 6
Why they will win the Super Bowl: Because the defense has held eight of the team's last 10 opponents to 17 points or fewer, including a franchise-first back-to-back shutouts heading into the playoffs.
Why they won't win the Super Bowl: They squander too many opportunities. Dallas ranked 25th on the Scoreability Index, easily the worst of any playoff team (Cincy, 19th).
7. NEW ENGLAND (10-6). Preseason rank, 5; midseason rank, 4
Why they will win the Super Bowl: Tom Brady is 14-3 all-time in the playoffs. And over 28 playoff games as a defensive coordinator or head coach, Bill Belichick is 22-6.
Why they won't win the Super Bowl: They don't have Wes Welker, who picked up 71 first downs in 14 games (5.1 per game, most since Torry Holt in 2003, 5.2). The defense has squandered fourth-quarter leads in several recent playoff games.
8. PHILADELPHIA (11-5). Preseason rank, 3, midseason rank 9
Why they will win the Super Bowl: They forced 3+ turnovers seven times this year, and Donovan McNabb is the least intercepted QB in the NFL (2.12 per 100 passes all-time, second only to Neil O'Donnell).
Why they won't win the Super Bowl: Philly was a pathetic 1-4 vs. Quality Opponents, outscored by an average margin of 7 points (19-26).
9. BALTIMORE (9-7). Preseason rank, 2; midseason rank, 10
Why they will win the Super Bowl: Over their last 10 games, the Ravens have yielded only 13.1 PPG. And despite their 9-7 record, they're the top-rated team in the AFC when measured by our Quality Stats.
Why they won't win the Super Bowl: They'll have to win three games on the road to get there, which would match their regular-season total (3-5 away from Baltimore in the regular season, all five losses vs. Quality Opponents).
10. CINCINNATI (10-6). Preseason rank, 27; midseason rank, 7
Why they will win the Super Bowl: They are the most battle-tested team in the playoffs, having played nine games vs. Quality Opponents, with a league-leading five wins.
Why they won't win the Super Bowl: They were outscored by those Quality Opponents by an average score of 22.1-17.4, and haven't topped 24 points on offense since October.
11. ARIZONA (10-6). Preseason rank, 8; midseason rank 12
Why they will win the Super Bowl: Kurt Warner's career postseason passer rating of 98.9 is the second best in history, just behind Bart Starr (104.8) and just ahead of Joe Montana (95.6). His playoff performance includes 26 TD and 13 INT in 11 games (8-3).
Why they won't win the Super Bowl: Despite only three games against teams with winning records, the Cardinals were just 12th in point differential (+50) during the regular season.
12. N.Y. JETS (9-7). Preseason rank, 18; midseason rank, 15
Why they will win the Super Bowl: New York has the best defense in football, hands down. They allowed a league-best 4.2 yards per play (more than a half-yard better than No. 2 Green Bay, and better than the legendary 2000 Ravens). They surrendered just 19 offensive touchdowns (seven fewer than No. 2 Dallas).
Why they won't win the Super Bowl: Their Offensive Passer Rating of 62.0 was tied with Oakland's and better than only Tampa, Detroit and Cleveland.
13. HOUSTON (9-7). Preseason rank, 22, midseason rank 13.
Why they could have made the playoffs: They topped 400 yards of offense in eight of 16 games and were just a few yards away from the milestone in three other games.
Why they missed the playoffs: Kicker Kris Brown, who had been 38-for-42 from under 40 yards the past three seasons, missed a whopping five this year alone, many in clutch situations. It was the worst year for a kicker since they used to just throw linemen out there and hope for the best.
14. SAN FRANCISCO (8-8). Preseason rank, 25; midseason rank 19
Why they could have made the playoffs: They held seven opponents to 10 points or fewer, forced 2.9 turnovers per game in the second half, and finished with the No. 4 scoring defense (17.6 PPG).
Why they missed the playoffs: They went 2-6 in games decided by a touchdown or less.
15. ATLANTA (9-7). Preseason rank, 15, midseason rank 11
Why they could have made the playoffs: Atlanta's run defense unexpectedly came of age down the stretch, allowing just 75.0 YPG over the last seven outings.
Why they missed the playoffs: That same run defense allowed 130.3 YPG over the first nine games, four of them decisive road loasses.
16. PITTSBURGH (9-7). Preseason rank 1; midseason rank 5
Why they could have made the playoffs: The defending champs finished 8th in yards per play (5.9) 10th in yards per play allowed (5.1), 12th in scoring offense (23.0 PPG) and 13th in scoring defense (20.2 PPG.
Why they missed the playoffs: They tied the Rams for league worst by allowing eight touchdowns on returns (4 kick, 4 defense). Worse? All seven losses were by a TD or less. That's the worst year by any dynasty since the Romanovs in 1918.
17. CAROLINA (8-8). Preseason rank, 10; midseason rank 21
Why they could have made the playoffs: RBs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams became the first tandem in league history to each top 1,100 yards on the ground. They also both topped 5.0 YPA.
Why they missed the playoffs: QB Jake Delhomme tossed 18 interceptions in his 11 starts (backup turned QB-of-the-future Matt Moore threw two in his five starts).
18. TENNESSEE (8-8). Preseason rank, 7; midseason rank, 25
Why they could have made the playoffs: Well, having the most productive running back in NFL history (Chris Johnson, record 2,509 yards from scrimmage) should have been enough.
Why they missed the playoffs: An unexpectedly bad defense (28th in scoring, 25th in yards per play) made the odds of a miracle comeback too long.
19. MIAMI (7-9). Preseason rank, 17; midseason rank, 20
Why they could have made the playoffs: Great Hogs (tied for 5th on the Defensive Index, tied for 4th on the Offensive Index).
Why they missed the playoffs: Weak skill players (23rd in Passing YPA, 19th in Defensive Passer Rating).
20. DENVER (8-8). Preseason rank, 30; midseason rank, 8
Why they could have made the playoffs: They allowed only 11 PPG allowed in the first six games of the season, and by golly they won all six.
Why they missed the playoffs: They gave up 26 PPG over the last 10, and by golly they lost eight of them.
21. N.Y. GIANTS (8-8). Preseason rank, 4; midseason rank, 16
Why they could have made the playoffs: In a season with new targets everywhere, Eli Manning turned in a career best 93.1 passer rating.
Why they missed the playoffs: They were dead last in Bendability: 13th in yards allowed but somehow finishing 30th in points allowed. Their ratio of 12.13 Yards Per Point Allowed was the worst in the five years we've tracked the stat.
22. JACKSONVILLE (7-9). Preseason rank, 23; midseason rank, 22
Why they could have made the playoffs: Maurice Jones-Drew's 1,765 yards from scrimmage and 16 TDs was a good place to start.
Why they missed the playoffs: 2-6 record on the road, 350+ yards allowed in nine of 16 games.
23. CHICAGO (7-9). Preseason rank, 12; midseason rank, 18
Why they could have made the playoffs: Da Bears were first in the NFL with 15 fumble recoveries, and they didn't allow a return TD all season.
Why they missed the playoffs: Hello, Mr. Cutler. They ranked 30th in interceptions (27).
24. BUFFALO (6-10). Preseason rank, 20; midseason rank, 23
Why they could have made the playoffs: No. 2 rank in Defensive Passer Rating (61.1), with 28 picks, second only to Green Bay (30).
Why they missed the playoffs: Fewest offensive first downs in football (14.6 per game).
25. OAKLAND (5-11). Preseason rank, 29; midseason rank, 26
Why they could have made the playoffs: As silver Supermen, they produced league-shocking wins over Pittsburgh, Denver, Philadelphia and Cincinnati.
Why they missed the playoffs: As colorless Clark Kents, they managed 20-plus-point losses to the Redskins, Browns, Texans, Jets and Giants.
26. WASHINGTON (4-12). Preseason rank, 19; midseason rank, 28
Why they could have made the playoffs: Somehow, they averaged more yards per play (5.2) than their opponents (5.1)
Why they missed the playoffs: They lost close games (3-9 record in games decided by 10 or fewer points).
27. CLEVELAND (5-11). Preseason rank, 26; midseason rank, 32
Why they could have made the playoffs: If every month was the last month, they were in – only Cleveland, San Diego and Houston finished 4-0.
Why they missed the playoffs: It might have had something to do with their four total offensive touchdowns through Week 10.
28. TAMPA BAY (3-13). Preseason rank, 16; midseason rank, 30
Why they could have made the playoffs: Well, the season could have started in Week 15 (2-1 to close)
Why they missed the playoffs: Reality. The Bucs were outgained in each of their first 10 games and lost nine of them.
29. KANSAS CITY (4-12). Preseason rank, 28; midseason rank, 27
Why they could have made the playoffs: QB Matt Cassel had more fourth-quarter touchdown passes than anyone in the NFL (10).
Why they missed the playoffs: Cassel threw only six TDs in the opening three quarters; it also didn't help that the defense allowed 2,504 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing.
30. SEATTLE (5-11). Preseason rank, 24; midseason rank, 24
Why they could have made the playoffs: Well, they did win five games.
Why they missed the playoffs: Nine of their 11 losses came by 11 points or more.
31. DETROIT (2-14). Preseason rank, 32; midseason rank, 31
Why they could have made the playoffs: The rest of league could have folded.
Why they missed the playoffs: The Lions finished with the same ranks in scoring (27th) and scoring defense (32nd) as they did in their 0-16 season.
32. ST. LOUIS (1-15). Preseason rank, 31; midseason rank, 29
Why they could have made the playoffs: Stephen Jackson could have been cloned 21 times and taught to play the other positions.
Why they missed the playoffs: They topped 20 points in a game only once, went 0-4 in games where they won the turnover battle, and allowed 400+ yards eight times. Other than that, it was smooth sailing.