NFL Week 1 Perspective: The Reason Why Preseason Power Rankings Stink

by on February 14th, 2015
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Take a look at the Preseason and/or Week 1 NFL power rankings lists (ESPN, Fox Sports, CBS Sports). On any given one of them, one notes that at least seven teams (eight in the case of CBS Sports) of the supposed best teams (making the assumption, as compilers of the lists do, that the Top 16 teams are the best in the NFL at this particular moment of the season) lost during Week 1. Although upsets are nothing new and some of those Top 16 teams played each other (guaranteeing some Top 16 losses), it is still a rare occasion to see half or nearly half go down to defeat during the first week of regular season play. And that is why Preseason (or Week 1, if one prefers) power rankings lists are worthless — but only for a few weeks.

The NFL power rankings lists for 2011 are even more worthless than in preceding years due lockout and the shortened training camps, the decreased practice time (including preseason play) and the massive shake-ups in squads as free agents scrambled to find teams and teams scrambled to find free agents or trade for players in positions deemed wanting. Although some teams came out of the situation looking stronger than ever (already having a firm foundation helped) — like the Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, and a few others — other teams did not fare as well.

And then there are the first few games of each season that sometimes give an indication of where the teams are headed. The highly touted Dallas Cowboys, picked by many to at least make it to the Super Bowl last season, shot off to a 1-7 start, losing their first two games but never bouncing back. They seem to be off to a similar start in 2011, but joining them could be the highly touted Pittsburgh Steelers, who were crushed by the Ravens in Game 1, and the Indianapolis Colts, who were equally annihilated by the Houston Texans. Conversely, the shellacking handed out by the Ravens against the Steelers is a good indicator that Baltimore will see post-season play. Several others, like Green Bay, made a strong showing as well against the New Orleans Saints, which makes them look like prime contenders to repeat their Super Bowl appearance. At the same time, the Steelers and the Saints’ losses do not necessarily mean they will have poor seasons, given their histories (much the same as the Buffalo Bills trouncing of the Kansas City Chiefs might not be indicative of the path those teams will ultimately take throughout the season).

But preseason power rankings of NFL teams usually aren’t the greatest of indicators where teams will be by mid-season or at the end of the year. The reason? The teams are basically practicing during preseason, looking for the defensive and offensive line-ups and systems to gel, choosing and cut ballplayers in an attempt to get the squads down to what the teams hope will be contenders for the playoffs at season’s end.

And then some teams get off to a great start and fizzle. Like the Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals in 2009. Some get off to a bad start, like the San Diego Chargers seem to make a habit of doing, but generally finish the year going to the playoffs.

So give the NFL power rankings a few weeks and the Top 16 will more or less settle into what it will remain for much of the season. Yes, the preseason NFL power rankings lists are nearly worthless, but — unless there are several teams like the Dallas Cowboys in the picture — their worth comes in the fact that any NFL prognosticator can pick at least the ten best teams (with a few outliers), and those teams will, barring team injuries and morale deflating losses, generally remain in the power rankings’ Top 16 for much (if not all) of the season. They will just need a few weeks to settle.

Flashback listings and how the teams fared for Week 1:

Fox Sports NFL Power Rankings Week 1

1. Green Bay Packers (W)
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (L)
3. San Diego Chargers (W)
4. New England Patriots (W)
5. Atlanta Falcons (L)
6. New Orleans Saints (L)
7. Philadelphia Eagles (W)
8. Baltimore Ravens (W)
9. New York Jets (W)
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (L)
11. Houston Texans (W)
12. Chicago Bears (W)
13. Indianapolis Colts (L)
14. Dallas Cowboys (L)
15. Detroit Lions (W)
16. New York Giants (L)

CBS Sports NFL Power Rankings Week 1

1. Green Bay Packers (W)
2. New England Patriots (W)
3. Atlanta Falcons (L)
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (L)
5. San Diego Chargers (W)
6. New Orleans Saints (L)
7. Dallas Cowboys (L)
8. Philadelphia Eagles (W)
9. Baltimore Ravens (W)
10. New York Jets (W)
11. New York Giants (L)
12. Indianapolis Colts (L)
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (L)
14. Houston Texans (W)
15. St. Louis Rams (L)
16. Chicago Bears (W)

ESPN NFL Power Rankings: Week 1

1. Green Bay Packers (W)
2. New England Patriots (W)
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (L)
4. Philadelphia Eagles (W)
5. New Orleans Saints (L)
6. Atlanta Falcons (L)
7. New York Jets (W)
8. Baltimore Ravens (W)
9. Indianapolis Colts (L)
10. San Diego Chargers (W)
11. Houston Texans (W)
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (L)
13. Chicago Bears (W)
14. Dallas Cowboys (L)
15. New York Giants (L)
16. Detroit Lions (W)



“2011 ESPN NFL Power Rankings: Week 1,”

Pete Prisco, “Power Rankings: Catch your breath, there’s 15 to go,”

Brian Billick, “Brian Billick’s Preseason Power Rankings,”

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