Like weekly Power Rankings in the NFL, trying to rank the position groups of the eight remaining NFL playoff teams is sure to generate some heated discussions and disagreements. Yet that’s the task Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News took on yesterday in this article. He ranked the Cowboys, Falcons, Packers and Seahawks in the NFC, and the Steelers, Patriots, Chiefs, and Texans in the AFC in the following categories:
- Running back
- Special Teams
He scored each team from one to eight, and put them in the following two tables, where the lowest score yielded the highest ranking. First, the NFC.
|NFC Team||QB||RB||Receivers||O-Line||D-Line||LB||DB||Special Teams||Coach||Total|
Now the AFC.
|AFC Team||QB||RB||Receivers||O-Line||D-Line||LB||DB||Special Teams||Coach||Total|
It’s a good article, and a tough subject, but how close did Gosselin come to getting it right?
What were his criteria?
Before delving into the different position groups, the first question to be asked is what criteria is being used to make these evaluations? Unfortunately, Mr. Gosselin is largely silent on this subject. In most categories, it appears that he’s relying on stats from this year, rather than historic achievements in making his rankings. But when it comes to coaching, all he talks about is how many Super Bowls has that coach led his team in, which may or may not have any bearing on their coaching prowess this year.
The other tricky positions to evaluate by team are defensive line and linebackers, because several teams play 4-3 fronts - Dallas, Atlanta, and Seattle - while the rest play 3-4 fronts. Thus, the 4-3 teams rank first, second, and third for the D-line, while the 3-4 teams have the edge at linebacker.
With that aside, let’s delve into his rankings.
Quarterback - Cowboys ranked 6th - should be 3rd or 4th.
Dak Prescott may be a rookie, but if these rankings are based on 2016, there’s no way that he should rank sixth, behind: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, and Russell Wilson.
Certainly a strong case can be made for Matt Ryan and Tom Brady being ahead of Prescott, with Aaron Rodgers close by. In the traditional passer rating, Matt Ryan led the field with a 117.1 rating, followed by Brady 112.2, Prescott 104.9, and Rodgers 104.2. No other playoff quarterback is in the top 10. In ESPN’s QBR rankings, it was Ryan, Brady, Prescott essentially tied until Prescott was given only two series in the season’s finale. Rodgers finished fourth, Roethlisberger 10th, Alex Smith 11th, Russell Wilson 15th, and Brock Osweiler 22nd. In QBR points added, it’s Ryan, Rodgers, then Prescott, followed by Brady. Big Ben and Russell Wilson are far behind.
If you look at ANY/A - adjusted net yards per pass attempt, which factors in touchdowns, interceptions, and sacks - Prescott finishes third again behind Ryan and Brady, with Rodgers 6th, Roethlisberger 9th, and Wilson, Smith, and Osweiler out of the top 10. Football Outsiders had Dak third behind Ryan and Brady in DVOA, and second to Ryan in DYAR. The former measures value per play, the latter total value.
Rodgers won the passing TD record with 40, followed closely by Ryan, with Big Ben 6th and Brady 7th. But this number gets factored into quarterback rating and ANY/A, and it still doesn’t elevate Rodgers or Big Ben above Dak. Plus, Dak gets no credit for his six rushing TDs.
At the worst, Dak should rank third or fourth on this list, and Matt Ryan should be first. Aaron Rodgers may be smoking hot now, but he was not very good through the season’s first ten games. There’s no way that Roethlisberger or Wilson have had better seasons than Dak.
Running Back - Cowboys ranked 1st - should be 1st
Pretty hard to argue with this ranking, as Ezekiel Elliott ran away with the rushing title, and the Cowboys finished second in the NFL in rushing. His 1,631 rushing yards in 14-1/2 games won that title by 318 yards over Jordan Howard of the Bears. However, the Pittsburgh Steelers should not be second. Atlanta ranked 5th in rushing, followed by New England 7th, Houston 8th, Pittsburgh 14th, Kansas City 15th, Green Bay 20th, and Seattle 25th. Granted, Le’Veon Bell had an awesome game against Miami last week, but Thomas Rawls of Seattle also tore up Detroit. Is it a seasonal ranking, or one that’s based on a single game?
Receivers - Cowboys ranked 5th - should be 3rd
Gosselin puts Dallas behind the Steelers, Falcons, Packers, and Patriots, and ahead of the Seahawks, Chiefs, and Texans. If you look at passing yards, Atlanta should be first, as they out-passed New England by 417 yards. The Steelers were third, another 100 yards back, essentially tied with Green Bay. The Seahawks were 10th, Chiefs 19th, Cowboys 23rd, and Texans 29th. On that score, Dallas would rank 7th.
But if you looked at Football Outsiders DYAR, Cole Beasley ranks 5th with 340, Terrance Williams ranks 17th with 215, Dez Bryant ranks 33rd with 153, and Jason Witten comes in at -1, for a total of 707. Atlanta would lead with five ranked players scoring 903, followed by Green Bay (713), Dallas (707), New England (632), Seattle (467), KC (440), Pittsburgh (439), and Houston (38). That seems like a fairer ranking for the season. With Jordy Nelson (373) and Rob Gronkowski (156) missing for the playoffs, that would elevate Dallas to second.
Offensive Line - Cowboys ranked 1st - should be 1st
Here’s another area where there can be little to quibble about as far as the Cowboys are concerned, as three of their starters were voted All-Pro - Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin. All are young, and only Smith missed any snaps this season. When you add in Ron Leary and Doug Free, it’s a tremendous group, and the foundation for Dallas’ success. Football Outsiders ranks Pittsburgh’s line better at some run blocking stats, and in pass protection.
Defensive Line - Cowboys ranked 2nd - should be 2nd
This may seem like a surprising result, but it’s fair when you factor in that Dallas is one of three teams to play a 4-3 front most of the time. Seattle’s line has the only two Pro-Bowlers in Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, and overall their line combined for 26 sacks. Dallas didn’t have gaudy sack numbers, but came on strong at the end of the season, and led the league in rush defense.
Linebackers - Cowboys ranked 7th - should be 7th
This is also a bit surprising given Sean Lee’s selection as All-Pro, but when you consider most of the competition runs a 3-4 defense, it’s hard to dispute. Lee is fabulous, and his running mates are competent, but they can’t compete with the sacks and interceptions amassed by the other groups.
Secondary - Cowboys ranked 8th - PFF ranked them 1st
Other than quarterback, this is the player group where Gosselin seems to be off the most when it comes to the Cowboys. While they don’t have the interception totals, and didn’t get selected to the Pro-Bowl or All-Pro teams, they did their jobs. As mentioned in the headline, PFF actually ranked them first in the NFL. This may be high, but the Cowboys should be no worse than somewhere in the middle.
Special Teams - Cowboys ranked 3rd - should be 3rd
The Cowboys didn’t have any game-changing plays on special teams, but they are also the only team left that didn’t have any turnovers, blocked kicks, or touchdowns allowed. They also have the best kicker left, and a punter that can both run for first downs and knock out uppity return men. Football Outsiders has them third as well.
Coaching - Cowboys ranked 6th - should be 2nd
As mentioned at the outset, how is this being graded? Gosselin seems to abandon any discussion of this year and focuses instead on the playoff records of the remaining staffs. If that’s the criteria, then his ranking is fair. But if we are looking at this season, then Jason Garrett is the front runner for coach of the year, and Scott Linehan isn’t far behind Kyle Shanahan for assistant coaching honors. Plus, Rod Marinelli has done wonders with a no-name defense. The Cowboys have also beaten Green Bay and Pittsburgh this season, and were the first team to clinch a playoff spot and first conference seed. Only New England should be ranked ahead of Dallas this season.
These types of rankings are always challenging, and Gosselin seems to have gotten several of his Cowboys’ rankings about right. But at quarterback, receivers, secondary, and coaching, he has undervalued the Cowboys.