Tuesday, November 22, 2005
NFL Week 11 Power Rankings
Five Quick Hits
* In their first four road games, Minnesota went 0-4 and was outscored 133-34. Since Brad Johnson became the starter, they're 2-0 away from home.
* The Chargers finally retired Lance Alworth's No. 19. Better late than never.
* Washington's defense is overrated. Only three teams have fewer sacks, only two have fewer interceptions, and no one has fewer fumble recoveries or total takeaways.
* Brandon Jacobs went 0-for-3 from the one-yard line on Sunday. Goal-line situations should equal Tiki Time.
* My annual Pro Bowl column will be posted this week. There are some really close calls this year; check in for a mid-season evaluation of each conference's best performers.
In their first three games this season, the Indianapolis Colts scored an average of 15.7 points per game. Since then, they're averaging 36.9, far more than last year's Colts (32.6). Seldom, if ever, has the league seen such a collection of offensive firepower. Indianapolis is now second in total offense and first in scoring. The team has allowed by far the fewest sacks in the NFL and is converting over half of its third downs, giving it a wide lead in that category as well. Peyton Manning remains the best quarterback in the league and is currently second in passer rating.
With so much about the offense going right, there's enough credit to go around. Start with the offensive line. Tarik Glenn, Ryan Lilja, Jeff Saturday, Jake Scott, and Ryan Diem are all playing at or near Pro Bowl level, and Glenn is probably the best offensive tackle in the AFC right now. Tight end Dallas Clark is big enough to be effective as a blocker, and he creates matchup problems downfield for defenses.
Edgerrin James holds everything together. He can run inside and outside, he can pass-block, and he's a good receiver. James is a good short-yardage and goal-line back, but he also has moves and breakaway potential. Manning's play-fakes to James hold defenses and create opportunities in the passing game. The receiving corps of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Brandon Stokley is one of the best the league has ever seen. Harrison tallied his 900th career reception this week, becoming the fastest player ever to reach the mark.
The coaching staff is the final ingredient. Tony Dungy, of course, is the man at the top, but the offensive staff is headed by coordinator Tom Moore and assistant head coach/quarterbacks Jim Caldwell. This may not seem like news, but when you put all of these individual components together, the product is nearly unstoppable. It may be the most offensive talent on one team since Paul Brown's early Cleveland teams and Sid Gillman's 1950s Rams. I've said it before: enjoy this while you can. Units this good come along very rarely.
On to the power rankings. As always, brackets indicate previous rank.
1. Indianapolis Colts  — The 2005 Colts really aren't that different from the 2004 Colts. The defense is better, with some of last year's young players with potential having evolved into quality starters, and a stronger commitment to running the ball has helped keep the defense off the field. Dwight Freeney is the unquestioned star, but he's still inconsistent, drawing frequent double-teams early in games and wearing down late. If the Colts are still undefeated when they clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, I think you'll see the starters in the first half and mostly backups thereafter.
2. Denver Broncos  — This is their fourth week in a row in this position, and no one's close. In 1998, when the Broncos won their first 13 games and went on to a Super Bowl victory, the focus was on Denver and 15-1 Minnesota. In the NFC Championship Game, though, the Vikings were upset by 14-2 Atlanta, whom many had discounted. This year, everyone's talking about the Colts, and rightfully so, but the Broncos could easily finish 13-3, with the losses a Week 1 fluke against Miami, the last-minute one-point loss at the Giants, and a meaningless Week 17. Denver's excellence, like Atlanta's seven years ago, is flying beneath the radar.
3. Seattle Seahawks  — There's a large gap between second and third, and I'm not thrilled about having Seattle so high, but there's no one else to move up. The Seahawks have the best record in the NFC, and a 7-1 conference mark gives them the inside track to home field advantage in the playoffs. They have a big matchup this week at home against the Giants.
4. San Diego Chargers  — Antonio Gates is day-to-day with a foot injury, and he's an essential part of their offense. If the Chargers can get by Washington this week, they have should-win home games against Oakland and Miami that could put the team at 9-4 heading into a brutal three-game stretch against the Colts and Chiefs at home, followed by Denver on the road. If the Broncos sit their starters in Week 17, that could be the difference in whether or not San Diego makes the postseason.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers  — Embarrassing loss to Baltimore, but Ben Roethlisberger and James Farrior should be back next week. My rankings are based on how good teams are right now, and with those guys back, this is immediately a better team. Still, I don't see them beating the Colts, or even coming close, on Monday night. I know I said otherwise just two weeks ago, but the Steelers look pretty lost right now. The loss at Baltimore and the return of their quarterback should help them refocus, but not enough to knock off Indianapolis.
6. Carolina Panthers  — The offense is all Steve Smith, and the lack of a running game is really starting to hurt them. No one on the roster is averaging four yards per carry. Smith has almost as many catches (72) as the rest of the team combined (96). Jake Delhomme is on pace for a career-high 19 interceptions. Teams like this can win, but they can't consistently beat top competition. Just ask last year's Colts.
7. New York Giants  — Their two best offensive linemen were injured against Philadelphia, and Eli Manning was sacked five times, fumbling twice (although both were recovered by the Giants). Luke Petitgout's injury apparently wasn't serious, but Shaun O'Hara is scheduled for an MRI and could miss some time. Little Manning's 52.1 completion percentage is 28th out of the 29 quarterbacks with at least 150 passing attempts this season. He's throwing the ball to playmakers — Tiki Barber, Plaxico Burress, and Jeremy Shockey will probably play with their quarterback in Honolulu this February — but he's got to do a better job of getting it to them. Michael Vick (57.3) and Joey Harrington (57.5) are significantly more accurate than Little Manning right now.
8. Dallas Cowboys  — They've won three in a row and five of their last six, but Thursday brings a matchup against 8-2 Denver. The Cowboys are good at home, and the Broncos are only 2-2 on the road this season, but this is a crucial game for Dallas. The head coaching matchup between Bill Parcells and Mike Shanahan should be interesting. Denver by six.
9. Chicago Bears  — After their Week 1 loss to Washington, I ranked the Bears last, and I've had them in the bottom half of the rankings almost all season, but please don't count me among those shocked by Chicago's victory over Carolina this week. The Bears haven't allowed an opponent to score more than 20 points since Week 3, when Kyle Orton threw five interceptions against Cincinnati.
10. Cincinnati Bengals  — Their game against the Colts was a lot like Notre Dame's loss to USC this fall, validating the Bengals even in defeat. Chad Johnson backed up his guarantee of a big game and topped it off with a funny celebration, but the real stars were the Cincinnati offensive linemen. I've always hated his work in the past, and I never thought I would say this, but Phil Simms did a great job working this game for CBS. Someone asked me this week which booth announcers I like, and Simms was the only one I could come up with. He's worlds better now that Greg Gumbel is on the other side of the country.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars  — Averaged 1.6 yards per carry against Tennessee, and that includes backup QB David Garrard's 12-yard scramble, their only run over five yards. Byron Leftwich had a nice game against the youngest team in the league, but the Titans' 11 penalties (to Jacksonville's three) may have been the difference in a 31-28 shootout.
12. Kansas City Chiefs  — They stomped Houston without him, but this is a much different team with Willie Roaf. A perennial all-pro, Roaf may well be the most valuable player on the team. An OT the MVP? It's not crazy.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers  — When I don't get to see a game, I try to figure out what happened by watching highlights, listening to analysis, and examining the statistics. In the highlights, I saw a nice run by Cadillac Williams, some nice throws by Michael Vick, and defensive pressure on Vick. I heard an analyst say that Atlanta has the better team, but the Bucs wanted it more. And the stats seem to indicate that the Falcons dominated the game, and I'm still trying to figure out how they lost. Tampa has stolen two in a row.
14. New England Patriots  — Likely to win the AFC East, but these aren't the '03 or '04 Patriots. This year's group is 31st in total defense, ahead of only the 49ers. They're up to 26th in scoring defense, but that's still the worst of any team with a winning record.
15. Atlanta Falcons  — I said this last week, too, but the defense has become a liability, and the Falcons need it to be a strength. Atlanta still controls its own destiny in the NFC South, but if the defense can't pick things up, these guys will be watching the playoffs from their couches.
16. Oakland Raiders  — Norv Turner got a win against his former team. The Raiders didn't play a great game, but they came up with big plays when they had to and took advantage of Washington's weaknesses. Oakland's downfield passing attack matches up well against a weak pass rush and vulnerabilities in the secondary.
17. Washington Redskins  — Went into half-time up 13-3 and didn't lose the lead until 1:13 remained, but in the second half, Joe Gibbs called 20 passes and just 7 runs, including 12 and one in the fourth quarter. Mark Brunell completed just 44% of his passes, with a miserable 4.8 yards per attempt. Gibbs is too caught up in the passing game — this is the second week in a row he's neglected the run in a close game and possibly cost his team the game.
18. Philadelphia Eagles  — Donovan McNabb and Lito Sheppard are done for the season. The Eagles went 5-1 without McNabb in 2002, but that defense was much better than this year's. If Philadelphia is going to remain even an average team for the remainder of this season, the defense will have to pick things up.
19. St. Louis Rams  — The offensive line allowed five sacks, and Marc Bulger is injured again. He's out for at least two games, probably more, and maybe even the rest of the season. At least he's not taking Torry Holt with him this time.
20. Minnesota Vikings  — I really like their interior defensive line, and the offensive line looked great in the second half, following a rough start. Most analysts picked against Minnesota this week, and a lot of people still cite Brett Favre's record in cold weather, but the Packers were really good every year he was compiling that record. They're 2-8 this season, and when you're that bad, the temperature won't save you.
21. Detroit Lions  — The Lions won't make the playoffs this year, but they can affect who else does when the Falcons come to Detroit on Thursday. The team has filed a $10 million grievance against former first-round draft choice Charles Rogers, which means his career with the team is probably over. Rogers will probably get another chance from someone else this season, but the odds are against his ever being anything but a headache for his employer.
22. Buffalo Bills  — Humiliation is: losing by 38 points. The Bills are 0-5 on the road this season, outscored 145-53. The Bills' road opponents are scoring nearly three times as many points as Buffalo.
23. Green Bay Packers  — Brett Favre has 17 interceptions, 31% more than anyone else (Aaron Brooks has 13). Favre's interception percentage this season is a career-high 4.62%, and his passer rating of 82.3 is his lowest since his thumb injury in 1999 and 2000. He's still a playmaker, incredible at the top of his game, but we see the bottom — the bad decisions, the forced throws — more often these days. I don't think Favre will retire at the end of the season. He enjoys playing, and he wants to break Dan Marino's touchdown record and put his own consecutive games streak well out of reach. Favre did give the Packer organization an out if they want to start rebuilding, when he declared that he would retire if Mike Sherman is fired. I think that's the only way he leaves, though.
24. Baltimore Ravens  — They play lights-out against Pittsburgh, but the Ravens can't sustain that kind of production on a week-to-week basis. They're last in the NFL in points, and haven't scored 20 in a game all season. Baltimore is 0-5 on the road, and this week the team goes to Cincinnati. The Ravens' 96 penalties are second-most in the league (Oakland, 100).
25. Cleveland Browns  — Two wins in their last three. Everyone in the AFC North is 3-2 at home. Reuben Droughns has really come on lately, and he and Braylon Edwards give the team a nice offensive base to build around. The defense shut out an opponent for only the second time since the Browns returned to Cleveland.
26. Arizona Cardinals  — Allowed at least 28 points for the fourth game in a row. Maybe Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald can play defense for them. Heck, get Neil Rackers out there, too.
27. Tennessee Titans  — Beat Baltimore at home in Week 2 and Houston on the road in Week 5. Since, they've lost five in a row. Tennessee has shown potential, and it's not getting blown out — none of those five losses were by more than 10 points — but the wins just aren't there. The remaining schedule, though, features San Francisco and Houston at home. If the Titans lose this weekend, I swear they will be in the 30s next week.
28. New Orleans Saints  — One of four teams to be outscored by over 100 points this season (the others are the Jets, 49ers, and Texans). The Saints have an NFL-worst six-game losing streak.
29. Miami Dolphins  — Nick Saban is cracking. This is the second week in a row that he's been edgy and weird at his Monday press conference, and this time he even insisted that it doesn't matter whether or not his team wins. It's one thing to be realistic about your team's potential and long-term goals, but it's another to say you don't care whether or not you win.
30. New York Jets  — It's hard to find words to express how utterly dominated the Jets were in Week 11. The last two weeks, the team has been outscored 60-3. The offense is totally broken, and the defense has yielded at least 27 points in five consecutive contests. The Jets have used five quarterbacks this year, and they're last in the NFL in passing TDs. The team is 30th in yards, 31st in scoring — only five points ahead of the Ravens — and 32nd in time of possession. The Jets aren't just last in time of possession, though: they're last by almost a full minute. This team is a disaster.
31. San Francisco 49ers  — Ken Dorsey looked slightly less lost than Alex Smith and Cody Pickett. Brandon Lloyd may have the best hands in the NFL. Those are bright points. This is only the fourth week, including preseason, that I haven't had the 49ers last in the power rankings. They've yet to go higher than 30th. I have never had a team spend an entire season in the 30s.
32. Houston Texans  — The first team officially eliminated from playoff contention. They were 1-for-11 on third downs Sunday night. Someone needs to tell Domanick Davis that you don't dance when your team is losing 31-13.
Remember to check in later this week for my Pro Bowl selections. Enjoy the holiday and the Thursday football!