By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts arbiter of decorum and rankery
Ah yes. Parity.
It tears the NFL asunder year from year, leaving nothing but shock and awe in its wake. Why, look at our top two teams in this week's power rankings, Pittsburgh and Chicago.
Came from nowhere! Weren't even in the playoffs last year! Parity!
The Bears and Steelers have both played in Super Bowls over the last half-decade, so they're not exactly newcomers. And both lost the heart of their defense a year ago, keeping them out of contention but comfortably around .500.
Brian Urlacher and Troy Polamalu, welcome back. The league wasn't the same without you.
Back to the non-existent concept of parity. In our top 12 as of this moment (thanks to a secret formula that doesn't take 2009 into account), we have:
- Ten teams that finished .500 or better last year
- Seven playoff teams from 2009
- Three other teams that made the playoffs in 2008
- Ten of the last 14 Super Bowl teams
And in our bottom 12, we have:
- One team that made the playoffs in 2009
- One team with a winning record from 2009
- Six of the nine teams that lost 10+ games a year ago.
In other words, for every Kansas City or Chicago there are five Detroits. Good franchises stay competitive, year in and year out, and battle it out with the other competitive squads. Bad ones don't.
Don't say we never told you so. Two or three hundred times.
1. PITTSBURGH (3-0)
Last week: 38-13 win at Tampa.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: What a difference a Polamalu makes. Without Troy to shore up the holes in last year's secondary, the Steelers were a so-so 83.45 in Defensive Passer Rating (15th). This year it's 68.1 (fifth), and PPG allowed against has dropped from 20.2 (12th) to 11.0 (first).
2. CHICAGO (3-0)
Last week: 20-17 win vs. Green Bay
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Back-to-back wins against popular NFC preseason picks for the Super Bowl (Dallas, Green Bay) will get you noticed in a hurry. So will 24 solo tackles apiece in three games for LBs Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, leaving them tied for fifth in the NFL.
3. INDIANAPOLIS (2-1)
Last week: 27-13 win at Denver
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: It's probably not even worth arguing anymore whether or not Peyton Manning is the greatest regular-season QB of all time. Three games, all with exactly three TDs and exactly zero INTs. Over his career he's had 34 of these games (3+ TDs, no INTs), two behind Brett Favre in 100+ fewer games (thanks to the pro-football-reference search engine).
4. N.Y. JETS (2-1)
Last week: 31-23 win at Miami
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Jets' defense has looked a bit worse with each week – they allow 5.0 yards per play, way up from 4.2 YPP in their great 2009 season. The most shocking number? They've allowed 51 percent success on third downs, up from 32 percent in 2009.
5. PHILADELPHIA (2-1)
Last week: 28-3 win at Jacksonville
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: While everyone keeps talking about a different Michael Vick, perhaps it's worth noting that he didn't exactly stink up the joint in Atlanta. His career INT percentage of 2.9 percent is in the top 30 all time, and over his six years with the Falcons he didn't have a single offensive lineman or receiver make the Pro Bowl.
6. GREEN BAY (2-1)
Last week: 20-17 loss at Chicago.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: When you commit 17 penalties, allow a punt return for a TD, fumble with the score tied in the fourth quarter and have a field-goal blocked, that's tough to overcome. But Aaron Rodgers sure did his part (34 of 45, 316 yards, 1 TD pass, 1 TD run, 1 Hail Mary interception).
7. NEW ORLEANS (2-1)
Last week: 27-24 loss vs. Atlanta (OT)
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: That's three games in a row for New Orleans in which the winner was in doubt late in the fourth quarter (or beyond). In 2009, the Saints won 11 of their 19 games by 10+ points.
8. TENNESSEE (2-1)
Last week: 29-10 win at NY Giants
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: You think defenses are keying on CJ2K? He's already been hit for a loss 10 times, most in the NFL, and his nine receptions have gone for just 27 yards. He has only five carries of 10+ yards, fewer than Peyton Hillis, Mike Tolbert and even LaDainian Tomlinson (V. 2.0)
9. KANSAS CITY (3-0)
Last week: 31-10 win vs. San Francisco
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Chiefs have 29 players on the roster currently playing in their first, second or third seasons. Compare that with San Diego's 17. If the Chiefs are for real, they're going to be for real for a long time, and Philip Rivers has a new rival.
10. ATLANTA (2-1)
Last week: 27-24 win at New Orleans (OT)
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Atlanta's defense has been pretty poor (6.2 yards per play against), but it's never on the field – Atlanta is best in the league with an average 38:31 time of possession. It's still early, but that's an incredible number.
11. NEW ENGLAND (2-1)
Last week: 38-30 win vs. Buffalo
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Randy Moss in 2010? Nine catches and three drops, but three touchdowns and one of the best highlight grabs of the year. Guess you take the good with the bad.
12. CINCINNATI (2-1)
Last week: 20-7 win at Carolina
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Cincinnati unofficially leads the Cool Name Index, with players named Roddrick, Chinedum, Jumpy, Dhani, Domata, Frostee, Tank, Quan and Pacman.
13. BALTIMORE (2-1)
Last week: 24-17 win vs. Cleveland
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Ravens are getting abused on special teams. They're being out-punted by 5.7 yards per boot, out-kick-returned by 8.6 yards a try, out-punt-returned by 4.7 yards per try, and opponents have hit all nine of their field goal attempts.
14. DALLAS (1-2)
Last week: 27-13 win at Houston
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Over his last 16 regular season games, Miles Austin has 101 catches for 1,548 yards and 12 TDs. That's Jerry Rice territory, folks.
15. HOUSTON (2-1)
Last week: 27-13 loss vs. Dallas
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: It's been noted before, but WR Andre Johnson can't have the title of BRIG (Best Receiver In Game) until he has 10 TDs in a season. He's got just one in three games so far.
16. MIAMI (2-1)
Last week: 31-23 loss vs. NY Jets
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Dolphins have two wins, but four offensive TDs in three games isn't going to cut it for long.
17. MINNESOTA (1-2)
Last week: 24-10 win vs. Detroit
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Vikings have run Adrian Peterson 43 times on first down – most in the league – and he's responded with a tremendous 6.6 YPA.
18. SAN DIEGO (1-2)
Last week: 27-20 loss at Seattle
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Chargers averaging two full yards more per play than their opponents (6.7 vs 4.7), easily the widest gap in the NFL. And they're 1-2. Gotta be September.
19. SEATTLE (2-1)
Last week: 27-20 win vs. San Diego
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: With three seasons less than 80 in passer rating in his last four years, and a 75.4 rating so far this year, it's probably time to strike Matt Hasselbeck from MVP watch.
20. WASHINGTON (1-2)
30-16 loss at St. Louis
The Cold, Hard Football Facts:
Mike Shanahan was always about balance in Denver, so where is it in D.C.? The Redskins have called 53 run plays and 110 pass plays: a big reason they've converted a horrific 18.2 percent of third downs, dead last in the NFL
, and by a wide margin.
21. TAMPA BAY (2-1)
Last week: 38-13 loss vs. Pittsburgh
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Reality, thy name is "Pittsburgh." The Steelers in Tampa were the most unfriendly visitors since we invited our Aunt Gertrude to the CHFF headquarters last fall. Jeez, you'd think she'd never seen a deep-fried Hustler before.
22. ARIZONA (2-1)
Last week: 24-23 win vs. Oakland
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Derek Anderson-to-Larry Fitzgerald connection is about as good as cell service in Death Valley. They've tried to hook up 34 times, only 12 of them actually successful. Ouch.
23. DENVER (1-2)
Last week: 27-13 loss vs. Indianapolis
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: At his current pace, WR Brandon Lloyd will finish the season with 75 catches for 1,808 yards (an incredible 24.2 YPC). Seems like a fair estimate given his average performance of 24 catches and 339 yards (14.1 YPC) from 2003-09.
24. N.Y. GIANTS (1-2)
Last week: 29-10 loss vs. Tennessee
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Giants in Week 3 committed more personal fouls (5) in one game than any team in recent memory not playing basketball.
25. OAKLAND (1-2)
Last week: 24-23 loss at Arizona
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Former Raiders legend George Blanda, who died Monday at 83, played until he was 48 in 1975. That's older than four of the last six Oakland coaches when Al Davis canned them (Jon Gruden, 38; Bill Callahan, 47; Lane Kiffin, 33; and the yet-to-be-canned Tom Cable, who is 45). Blanda was also older than coach John Madden, for whom he played from 1969-1975 (Madden was 39 in 1975).
26. ST. LOUIS (1-2)
Last week: 30-16 win vs. Washington
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Being No. 26 is rarified air for the Rammies. They haven't been this high since Week 3 all the way back in 2007. That's a long time to be among the absolute worst teams in the NFL.
27. CLEVELAND (0-3)
Last week: 24-17 loss at Baltimore
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Silver lining for Cleveland? RB Peyton Hillis is No. 9 in the NFL with 220 yards on the ground. He also averages an Adrian Peterson-esque 5.6 YPA and has scored two TDs. Not bad, especially when Brady Quinn is all you had to give up for him.
28. JACKSONVILLE (1-2)
Last week: 28-3 loss vs. Philadelphia
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Jaguars look like a cellar dweller for many reasons. No gain longer than 18 yards for Maurice Jones-Drew is certainly one of them.
29. DETROIT (0-3)
Last week: 24-10 loss at Minnesota
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: For the second straight year, we're talking about the "improved" Lions even though they're 0-3. Sweet lord, that's a low bar in Detroit.
30. SAN FRANCISCO (0-3)
Last week: 31-10 loss at Kansas City
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: If Frank Gore stays on his current pace, he'll go over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving. And his team will go 0-16.
31. BUFFALO (0-3)
Last week: 38-30 loss at New England
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Trent Edwards, we hardly knew ye. Over his last six full starts, his passer ratings read 56.4, 51.0, 52.1, 80.2, 73.0, 37.0.
32. CAROLINA (0-3)
Last week: 20-7 loss vs. Cincinnati
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Take heart, Panthers. At this same point in the 2007 season, the Saints were No. 32 in our Power Rankings, and look what they did just two years later. Yep. It could happen.