Ruminating on Rankings
Popular numbers games don’t add up for Saints, LSU
It’s been a helluva season for the New Orleans Saints and LSU Tigers. The Black & Gold is 8-2 and is in position to win the NFC South on Thanksgiving. They’ve had to do it with their starting quarterback, running back, tight end, and, arguably, their best defensive back out for multiple games. Meanwhile, the Purple & Gold are 10-0. With just two games left in their regular season, the Tigers are poised to win the SEC West and play in the SEC Championship. They’ve done it with a quarterback who has re-written the Tigers’ record book and is the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
Yet listening to national experts this week, it seems neither team is getting the due it should.
Let’s start with the Saints.
ESPN and NBC Sports have New Orleans ranked sixth in their NFL Power Rankings. CBS Sports and NFL.com have them a spot higher at fifth. The Sporting News has them as the fourth best team in the NFL. Sports Illustrated has them at No. 8! EIGHT? YES, EIGHT!
SI has the (T-1) Baltimore Ravens (8-2), (T-1) New England Patriots (9-1), (3) San Francisco 49ers (9-1), (4) Seattle Seahawks (8-2), (T-5) Green Bay Packers (8-2), (T-5) Kansas City Chiefs (7-4), and (7) Minnesota Vikings (8-3) ranked ahead of the Saints.
As John McEnroe would famously say when chastising an official, “You can’t be serious!”
Look, I’ll give the Patriots and 49ers props. They’re both playing at a high level and deserve the esteem. Baltimore is playing well and quarterback Lamar Jackson is a fun player to watch, but I think there might be a bit too much hype surrounding this team right now. Same with the Chiefs. Viewers are, rightly, mystified by the play of Patrick Mahomes, but they’re not winning enough to claim their position. The Seahawks are rising, but the Saints stomped them earlier this season, in their house, with a back-up quarterback. The Packers and Vikings are also doing well, but is either better than New Orleans?
Call me a homer, but I don’t think they are.
If these rankings are supposed to be a snap-shot of the team’s abilities right now, the dip for the Saints can be a bit better explained. Their unexpected loss to the Atlanta Falcons a week ago was shocking. But the Saints returned with a huge win over Tampa Bay, and Atlanta won its second straight with a victory over Carolina last weekend.
With six games left in the regular season and the nature of the NFL playoffs, pro football rankings like these really don’t matter. In fact, ranking pro teams really only matters when it’s time to determine which draft order the teams will select new players the following season.
At this time of year, these rankings give talking heads and sports writers fodder to fill air time and pages.
I don’t think any of us in the Who Dat? Nation believe the Saints are the fifth best team in the NFC, as SI does. And we know the playoff positioning at the end of the season will look nothing like how the rankings are currently displayed.
Don’t be surprised if San Francisco fades down the stretch. They have to play the Packers at home this weekend and still have matchups on the road with the Ravens, Saints, and Seahawks. If the 49ers make it through on top, they deserve the accolades they’ve been given.
Seattle still has Philadelphia, Minnesota, the LA Rams, and the 49ers. Rough.
The Vikings are off this week, but games at Seattle and against Green Bay remain on their schedule.
As aforementioned, if the Saints beat Carolina in the Superdome on Sunday and come home with a Thanksgiving night win over Atlanta, they will be division champs and qualify for the post season.
There’s still a lot to play for over the last four games – a first-round bye and home field advantage. Those are the only rankings that truly matter in pro football.
That brings me to the cacophony around the college football rankings and talk that Ohio State might jump LSU as the top-ranked team in the country.
This boarders on the incredulous, yet, as anyone who has watched ESPN’s fantastic series on the history of SEC football, Saturdays in the South, can tell you there is historical precedence behind this train of thought. In fact, it dates back to the Civil War era. The North has a greater population, concentration of urban areas, and pride. They’ve seen themselves as wealthier, better educated, and generally better than their stereotyped Southern countrymen.
LSU is undefeated. In their 10 wins this season, the Tigers have beaten four teams who were ranked in the Top 10 at the time of their games – (9) Texas, (7) Florida, (9) Auburn, and (3) Alabama.
Ohio State has not yet played a Top 10 team, however, they have beaten two Top 25 teams – (25) Michigan State and (13) Wisconsin.
LSU closes the season against Arkansas and Texas A&M. Neither are ranked.
Ohio State finishes against (8) Penn State and (13) Michigan.
If both teams win out the regular season and their resumes are placed side-by-side, there’s no way an objective person would believe the Buckeyes have matched, much less surpassed, what the Tigers have done this season. If the SEC Championship game is included, a Tiger victory would seemingly lock them in as the best team in the country.
Of course, an undefeated regular season and SEC Championships are goals, but the National Championship will be decided on the field.
Maybe (hopefully) both teams win out and meet in the National Championship Game. There’d be plenty of hype surrounding Joe Burrow transferring from Columbus to Baton Rouge and facing his former team for a title. But I’d be willing to bet the Tigers would look forward to that. They’ve got a coach who wants to prove himself. And LSU has sweet memories of the last time they faced “THE” OSU in the Superdome with a title on the line.