Puzzle Pieces: Page 2’s Thomas Neumann Puts Together the Ultimate NFL Power Rankings

I write this partly as a head-scratching Packers fan.

But, for ESPN, it’s more of the same short-sighted, self-serving work.

It’s a noble goal, to compile the performances of NFL teams and try to name some sort of “ultimate” team based on their performance to date in the league.

But ESPN’s asking this question specifically: “How should we rank the post AFL-NFL teams?”

To answer that question, Page 2 created power rankings on steroids — the ultimate power rankings. This study analyzes data since the AFL-NFL merger in the 1970 season through the 2007 season. This starting point eliminates any question of competitive disparity between the NFL and its former rival leagues, the AFL and the AAFC. Teams that joined the NFL after 1970 are admittedly at a disadvantage for scoring in some categories, but they have a consequent advantage in negative categories. Additionally, regular-season winning percentage is weighted heavily to give these teams a fair appraisal.

And those categories are here:

Winning percentage: One point per mill of a team’s regular-season winning percentage. For example, a .500 team gets 500 points. +1

Super Bowls: 50 points per win; 25 points per loss. +50/25

Playoff victories: 10 points per win (not including Super Bowls). +10

12-win season: 10 points for each season of 12 or more victories. +10

Four-win season: Minus-10 points for each season of four or fewer victories (not including the 1982 strike season). -10

All-Pros: Five points each for every time a player was named first team All-Pro. +5

“MNF”: To measure prestige, one point for each appearance on “Monday Night Football.” +1

Coaching changes: Minus-10 points for each coaching change (includes interim coaches). -10

Crushing postseason defeats: Minus-20 points for suffering one of the 25 most-crushing postseason defeats since the AFL-NFL merger (as selected by Page 2, see list below). -20

Busts: Minus-10 points for selecting one of the 50 biggest draft busts as selected by ESPN.com. (That list is here.) -10

Tiebreakers: 1, Super Bowl victories; 2, playoff victories.

Notes: Per NFL policy, Arizona includes the St. Louis and Phoenix Cardinals; Cleveland includes the old and new Browns; Indianapolis includes the Baltimore Colts; New England includes the Boston Patriots; Oakland includes the Los Angeles Raiders; St. Louis includes the Los Angeles Rams; Tennessee includes the Houston Oilers.

So this looks like it should make some sense, right? Nah. It’s ESPN.

Conundrum #1: The Minnesota Vikings outrank the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears.

Ultraconsistent Minnesota checks in as the highest-ranked team in our study without a Super Bowl title. The Vikings boast the highest winning percentage, the most playoff wins, the most “Monday Night Football” appearances and the most first-team All-Pro selections since 1970 of any team not to win the big game.

Somehow, the consistency involved in being consistently not good enough to win a championship gets rewarded here more not just than the Bears’ and Packers’ titles after periods of struggle in that time, but than the dynastic New England Patriots this decade, the Washington Redskins’ rise from mediocrity to dominance in the ’80s, and than the New York Giants’ three titles.

If there’s a “crushing postseason loss” category, shouldn’t a franchise’s repeated failures in the Super Bowl, ones that demoralize maybe-this-year fans — looking at you, Buffalo — more than one great season and a good game — say, the case of the Carolina Panthers — do?

I’m not knocking the Vikings’ consistency, but does anyone see the team in Minneapolis as higher-profile than their non-Detroit brethren? I’m thinking, outside of Drew Magary, the answer is no.

Conundrum #2: Could there have possibly been a more predictable top six?

Outside of Minnesota, the top ten is pretty much what you’d expect, going Dallas, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Miami, Denver, Oakland, Minny, Washington, the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, and New England.

In the 1970-2007 range, there are only three franchises with more than three Super Bowl victories: they go 1-2-3 here. There are five teams outside of those with four or more Super Bowl trips: they check in at 4, 5, 8, 10, and, in the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills, 11 and 18.

(Buffalo’s a special case with compounded crushing postseason losses, their low ranking partly a product of what should help put a hole in the Vikings’ ship, but before and after Jim Kelly, the Bills are nothing special.)

So there’s some good done here in putting together a rightful order. But it ruins that particular controversial aspect of a list like this: who’s fool enough to argue that an interloper could crack that top three?

Instead, I’m left to take issue with Minnesota being seventh, and…

Conundrum #3: …the Detroit Lions being 27th.

That means that there are five worse franchises in the NFL than the we-invented-the-term-sad-sack Lions.

Really?

The Cardinals must be down there because they’re soul-crushingly awful, too. The Saints deserve a low ranking, but lower than the Lions? The Texans at least have hope. The Browns spent a decade in the vicinity of the Super Bowl. The Jets are only lower than the Lions because of an asinine bit of work on the “coaching changes” category, where Bill Belichick’s one-day tenure cost the Jets ten points, and Barry Sanders.

But the Lions have one playoff win in their post-1970 history. The Falcons, one spot above them, went to a Super Bowl and another conference championship game; the Jets, below, have six wins, and even the Saints have more playoff wins than Detroit’s toothless team.

One transcendent player playing well against all odds does not a team elevate.

This brings me to:

Conundrum #4: Why are these power rankings not that subjective?

There’s a lot of statistical mumbo jumbo involved here, and that’s not like ESPN at all. I need Chris Berman bellowing about the Buffalo Bills circling the wagons to make the top 20, the fun little tweak at Giants fans that is the Patriots making the top 10 above them by a solid 56-point margin, and Emmitt Smith yapping about the Cowboys’ insurance and sustenance excrement. (You figure it out.)

No, instead, we’ve got a metric that can’t calculate the ups and downs and values of long stretches of dominance. I think a team with repeated losing seasons losing fans should be docked points; likewise, two Super Bowls back-to-back should be given a bonus to reflect that team’s dominance over that period.

If you’re going to use draft busts, you should use draft successes, too: the number of draft picks to become All-Pros with their drafted team should count for something.

And there are excitement and history factors missing, here: I don’t mean to say the San Diego Chargers are better than the Panthers, but Air Coryell and the Kellen Winslow Game don’t count for more than the team of Kevin Greene and Tim Biakabutuka? The Chargers are one of the flagship AFL teams, and represented that early post-merger era to many; the Panthers represent an island in the southern sea of NASCAR.

I could say, here, that cutting this off at the merger obviously erases the lion’s share of the history of the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cleveland Browns, the Packers, and the Bears, but, eh, what are non-Super Bowl titles, here?

And, as for prestige: why is “Monday Night Football,” which has been a product of Disney/ABC/ESPN since its inception, more important than, say, a Don Jenkins feature or a revealing book like Jeff Pearlman’s “Boys Will Be Boys”? Those games are on for four hours; the stories stay with teams.

It might be a more arduous task to put together an all-time power rankings that evenly balances pre- and post-merger performance and takes more things into consideration.

But it would be more worthwhile, too.

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1 Comment

Filed under ESPN, Journalism, Puzzle Pieces

One response to “Puzzle Pieces: Page 2’s Thomas Neumann Puts Together the Ultimate NFL Power Rankings

  1. Pingback: PM Roundup: More Like “Leave-land” | antiDNA.com

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