Imagine a baseball universe where the Minnesota Twins were not only competitive, but dominant, along with the Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres.
Hard to picture, isn't it? Yet all of those perennial, low-budget, no success baseball towns actually have something to cheer about when autumn comes.
The Vikings, Bengals, Steelers and Chargers all have Super Bowl dreams. So do our No. 1 and 2 teams and this week's Power Rankings, New Orleans and Indianapolis, who play in markets so small that the best they can manage is Triple-A baseball (Go Zephyrs
! Go Indians
!). Thanks to the salary cap and other efforts at producing a competitive environment in pro football, there is absolutely no correlation between market size and winning.
Of the top 16 teams in this week's rankings, eight are from smaller-than-average markets, eight are from larger-than-average markets.
Wouldn't it be nice for Steelers fans if their Pirates had a shot to win, too? Instead, they've gone two decades without even a winning record. It's a real shame.
However, life isn't good for all of the small-market teams. The Bills, Seahawks, Chiefs, Rams and Bucs are suffering, and our No. 32 team is a small market team that plays like one – Cleveland.
The Browns average 8.7 PPG. The lowest-scoring team of the Live Ball Era (1978-present), the 1992 Seahawks, averaged 8.8 PPG.
In addition, the Browns are about as bad as it gets play in and play out. Not only are they last in the NFL at 3.7 yards per play on offense, they are last in turnovers as well (25).
If you figure a turnover as being worth minus-45 yards, which is the industry standard among football stat geeks, Cleveland's offense averages 1.53 real yards per offensive play.
The 2006 Raiders, which had the worst offense in recent years, averaged 1.99 yards a play under that same formula. The 1992 Seahawks, the standard-setter for bad offense, had a better "real yardage" number, at 1.67 yards a play.
However, at least one team in the Live Ball Era can lay claim to being more inefficient. The 1978 49ers averaged a puny 3.8 yards per play and added 63 turnovers – still a league record. Figuring in the turnovers, they were good for 1.14 yards a play.
The good news for Browns fans? That 49ers team was in the Super Bowl three years later, and a dynasty thereafter.
Hey, it could happen! On to the rankings.
1. NEW ORLEANS (9-0). Last week: 28-23 win at St. Louis. Marques Colston has what seems to be a well-deserved rep for great hands, but he's tied for the league lead with seven drops this year (Terrell Owens, Tim Hightower, Santonio Holmes).
2. INDIANAPOLIS (9-0). Last week: 35-34 win vs. New England. Peyton Manning is 5-0 this year when asked to pass 40 or more times in a game. How good is that? Only one QB has gone 6-0 in a season passing 40 or more times and his name is John Elway (1985). Last we checked he was pretty good. Manning, with seven games still to play, is well on his way to smashing that record.
3. MINNESOTA (8-1). Last week: 27-10 win vs. Detroit. The Vikings are a great story and pretty clearly a good squad, but they're not perfect. All eight of their wins have come against teams with records of 5-4 or worse and they're pretty mediocre in scoring defense (12th) and total defense (15th).
4. NEW ENGLAND
(6-3). Last week: 35-34 loss at Indianapolis. The Defensive Hogs
are New England's Achilles' heel, both on the field and in the stat sheet. They are an un-Patriotic 25th on our Index, 21st in yards per rush allowed, 23rd in Negative Pass Plays forced and 21st in third-down defense.
5. CINCINNATI (7-2). Last week: 18-12 win at Pittsburgh. The Bengals are doing everything well except passing downfield; they're 27th in pass plays of 25+ yards, right between passing-game lightweights Carolina and Detroit.
6. PITTSBURGH (6-3). Last week: 18-12 loss vs. Cincinnati. Pittsburgh's defense failed to force a single turnover against the Bengals. It was the third time this year they didn't get a takeaway – all three of their losses. Under Mike Tomlin, the Steelers are 2-7 when forcing no turnovers, 29-7 when forcing at least one.
7. DALLAS (6-3). Last week: 17-7 loss at Green Bay. Wait, the Cowboys ran the ball how many times against Green Bay? 14? Three of those by Tony Romo? Impossible. Gotta be a misprint.
8. BALTIMORE (5-4). Last week: 16-0 win at Cleveland. If the Ravens and Browns replayed the Monday night game 1,000 times in 1,000 different but equal universes, the Browns would not win any of them.
9. SAN DIEGO (6-3). Last week: 31-23 win vs. Philadelphia. TE Antonio Gates hasn't had his usual nose for the end zone (two TDs this year), but he's on pace for 84 catches and 1,216 yards.
(6-3). Last week: 31-20 win vs. Seattle. There's no middle ground for Kurt Warner in 2009. He's got four terrible games (with passer ratings between 47.8 and 72.8) and five terrific games (ratings between 100.8 and 132.9). He's also got the worst looking beard
since Sylvester Stallone in "Nighthawks."
11. GREEN BAY
(5-4). Last week: 17-7 win vs. Dallas. It's fair to say that Dom Capers' switch to the 3-4 has worked well – the Packers are No. 1 on our Defensive Hog Index
, after placing 14th a year ago with their 4-3.
12. DENVER (6-3). Last week: 27-17 loss at Washington. The Broncos have had the most disturbing month in the Rockies since the camp-out scenes from "Brokeback Mountain." Too soon for another movie reference? Sorry. Movie references, we wish we knew how to quit you.
13. HOUSTON (5-4). Last week: bye. The Texans spent their bye week double checking to make sure they're really in the playoff hunt in late November for the first time since basically ever.
(5-4). Last week: 31-23 loss at San Diego. Last week against the Chargers, the Eagles' first three scoring drives were 77, 87 and 77 yards ... all resulting in David Akers chip shot field goals. Not good. BONUS FACT: According to our explorations into the pro-football-reference.com search engine
, teams that kick five or more field goals in a game have a record of 143-27 since 1960. Yep. This is how we spend our lives.
15. ATLANTA (5-4). Last week: 28-19 loss at Carolina. Despite their run-first tendencies, the Falcons have the fewest negative run plays (13) in the NFL. Detroit has the most (35).
16. N.Y. GIANTS
(5-4). Last week: bye. The Giants spent their week off wondering if their No. 32 rank in red zone defense (75.9 percent TDs against) might be a problem. It's all explained in our Quality Stats
, where the Giants are No. 32 in Bendability
. Offensively, the G-Men have been in the red zone more than anyone except New Orleans, but have failed to score at all in 16 of their 36 trips.
17. SAN FRANCISCO (4-5). Last week: 10-6 win vs. Chicago. The NFL would like to apologize for last Thursday's televised snoozefest between the 49ers and Bears. As a way of showing their appreciation for the fans, they offer Panthers vs. Dolphins this Thursday night. Are you ready for some "football"?!?
18. CAROLINA (4-5). Last week: 28-19 win vs. Atlanta. In 2008, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for 457 carries, 2,351 yards and 28 TDs. This year, they're on pace for 472 carries, 2,357 yards and 23 TDs. So apparently the running game is not the problem in Carolina.
(4-5). Last week: 25-23 win vs. Tampa. The Dolphins' offense is as efficient as their defense is inefficient. Miami is fourth in Scoreability
, 28th in Bendability
. Oh, and they're 0-5 vs. winning teams, 4-0 vs. losing teams. So there ya go.
20. JACKSONVILLE (5-4). Last week: 24-22 win at N.Y. Jets. Over their last 16 games, the Jaguars have been held to 17 points or fewer nine times.
21. N.Y. JETS (4-5). Last week: 24-22 loss vs. Jacksonville. From their 3-0 start, the Jets now can't even lay claim to being the best 4-5 team in the league ... how the mighty have fallen.
22. CHICAGO (4-5). Last week: 10-6 loss at San Francisco. The Bears have a league-low 229 rushing yards on first down, which isn't just bad, it's remarkable. The second-worst team (Tampa) has 372 yards. Note to the Bears: address your problems running on first down and maybe your quarterback won't throw interceptions every other play.
(3-6). Last week: 41-17 win vs. Buffalo. The Titans are riding Chris Johnson
, but when they get into the red zone it's WR Nate Washington's time to shine; he leads the NFL with 10 catches inside the 20 (out of only 25 catches overall).
24. BUFFALO (3-6). Last week: 41-17 loss at Tennessee. It seems unlikely that at 59, Dick Jauron will ever get another head coaching gig, but he's been an NFL man all the way. Eight years as a starting safety in the NFL (including one trip to the Pro Bowl), 16 years as an NFL assistant, and nine years as a head coach (including one Coach of the Year honor). That's 33 seasons in the big leagues ... unfortunately, without a single trip to the Super Bowl.
25. WASHINGTON (3-6). Last week: 27-17 win vs. Denver. The Redskins average 5.1 yards per play, yet they rank 28th in scoring (15.6 PPG). To put the 5.1 YPP number in perspective, it's better than the Super Bowl champions in 2008 (Steelers), 2007 (Giants), 2003 (Patriots) 2002 (Bucs), 2001 (Patriots) and 2000 (Ravens).
26. KANSAS CITY (2-7). Last week: 16-10 win at Oakland. The Chiefs are 1-15 in their last 16 home games. This week they host the Steelers. Expect 60,000+ red-and-yellow faces.
27. SEATTLE (3-6). Last week: 31-20 loss at Arizona. In a year of extremes, the 2009 Seahawks would rank very high on CHFF's still-in-development "Forgettability Index."
28. ST. LOUIS (1-8). Last week: 28-23 loss vs. New Orleans. Three strong games in four weeks for the Rams, but they were so bad in the first four weeks that they're still last in point differential (-149).
29. OAKLAND (2-7). Last week: 16-10 loss vs. Kansas City. Based on the salary numbers we can find, Raider QB JaMarcus Russell has made approximately $66,000 for every pass he's completed in the NFL. In a recession, shouldn't layoffs be considered here?
30. TAMPA BAY (1-8). Last week: 25-23 loss at Miami. They're 0-8 in pewter and gold, 1-0 in orange and white. You do the math.
(1-8). Last week: 27-10 loss at Minnesota. No one wants to pick on the Lions anymore, but we can't help noticing that they're still terrible. The Lions have allowed opposing passers to complete 71 percent of their passes
. Only one team in history has allowed opponents to complete more than 70 percent of their passes in a season: the 2007 Lions.
(1-8). Last week: 16-0 loss vs. Baltimore. Say this about the Browns – the schedule-makers didn't make it easy on them. They've faced a league-high seven Quality Opponents
and played only one game against a fellow bottom-10 opponent -- 6-3 win at Buffalo. The Browns are 2-16 in their last 18 games, with both wins over the Bills.