NFL Week 12 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* Jeff Feagles is the NFL's new iron man, having eclipsed Jim Marshall's record of 282 consecutive games. Having this mark held by a punter doesn't feel right.

* Hall of Fame semifinalists have been announced. My 13 choices to advance: Warren Moon, Thurman Thomas, Art Monk, Dermontti Dawson, Russ Grimm, Bob Kuechenberg, Reggie White, Harry Carson, Randy Gradishar, Derrick Thomas, Lester Hayes, Roger Wehrli, and George Young.

* It doesn't affect my view, but Michael Irvin's drug arrest probably ends his chances of induction this year. He still might be a finalist, but he won't get elected.

* Tom Jackson is definitely the talking head of the week, for having the "Chi-attle Bearhawks" fifth in his power rankings.

* The Rolling Stones are performing the halftime show at this year's Super Bowl. I might actually watch.

***

Monday morning, the Lions fired head coach Steve Mariucci, who was 15-28 in Detroit (.349), but has a winning record for his career and got fewer than three seasons to prove himself in the Motor City. And let's remember that .349 is actually an improvement over .156, the team's winning percentage in the two seasons before Mooch arrived.

Lions GM Matt Millen broke several unwritten rules by firing Mariucci. First, you don't fire a coach during the season. It's hard to see what Millen hopes to accomplish at this point in the season. Second, he violated the "three year rule." If a coach is good enough to hire in the first place, he deserves a minimum of three full seasons to show what he can do. Third, Millen canned his own hand-picked coach, the guy he broke the NFL's minority-hiring policies to get. A lot of league observers are wondering whether the Lions kept the wrong guy.

Mariucci's firing was precipitated by Thursday's 27-7 loss in front of a home crowd and a national television audience. Turnovers put Detroit in an early 17-0 hole, but the team was playing well, moving the ball and making plays on defense. At that point, though, Mooch pulled starting QB Joey Harrington, whom Troy Aikman usually calls Joey Galloway.

Aikman has the same problem with the Eagles' Brian Westbrook, who is usually misidentified as former Washington WR Michael Westbrook. I complain about the media a lot, but I find Aikman's name problems amusing, not bothersome. Besides, you have to go easy on guys who have been hit in the head as many times as Aikman.

Harrington was replaced by Jeff Garcia, who is still recovering from a broken leg. By the time the Falcons extended their lead to 27-0, it was clear that Detroit was out of the game, but Mariucci kept Garcia in, risking the health of his best quarterback because he didn't want to reinsert Harrington in front of a hostile home crowd or play the emergency third quarterback, rookie Dan Orlovsky, with over a quarter left to go.

The word is that personnel management was the deciding factor in management's decision to terminate Mariucci. Millen reportedly didn't feel that young players — in particular, Harrington and the team's young wide receivers — were being brought along. Interim head coach Dick Jauron has a defensive background, so it's unlikely that he'll spark their development, and a midseason reorganization like this probably rules out anything beyond the basics for the next few weeks. I can't say I agree with this firing.

On to the power rankings. As always, brackets indicate previous rank.

1. Indianapolis Colts [1] — Overcame a season-high in penalties, including five 15-yard personal fouls, to dominate the Steelers. Bob Sanders had a monster game, and the unheralded offensive line gave Edgerrin James holes to run and Peyton Manning time to pass. The crowd was way too loud when Indianapolis had the ball. I don't know if the fans didn't realize Manning needs quiet so he can make his calls at the line, or if there were just a lot of Steelers fans.

2. Denver Broncos [2] — Forget about their fluke loss to Miami in Week 1, and the Broncos have outscored their opponents 273-156. They'd have no games with fewer than 20 points, and none in which they allowed more than 24. Their victory at Dallas on Thursday was hardly decisive, but on the road against a good team, it was good enough. I still can't believe Ron Dayne played well.

3. San Diego Chargers [4] — I wanted Pittsburgh to win, so that I wouldn't have to rank San Diego this high. No team has a great case to be ranked third, but this week I'm taking the Chargers, who have won four straight. In Washington on Sunday, Antonio Gates was less than 100%, Nate Kaeding missed two field goals, and the Chargers lost the turnover battle, but they outplayed their opponent and still won.

4. Seattle Seahawks [3] — Shaun Alexander usually comes out of the game in obvious passing situations. When you bring in a third receiver, someone has to come out, and it makes sense to save Alexander for other downs, but he's a good blocker and receiver. Alexander only has 10 catches this year — less than one per game — but from 2001-2003, he had over 40 receptions every season, with a high of 59 for 460 yards and two touchdowns in 2002. I'd like to see the Seahawks use Alexander more like the Chargers use LaDainian Tomlinson, with short passes to get him into the open field, where he's just devastating.

5. New York Giants [7] — Until this weekend, Jay Feely was having an awfully good season, and that's probably the only reason he still has a job today. Feely missed three field goals at the end of Sunday's game, any one of which would have given the Giants a win and a one-game lead in the NFC East. No one can fault Feely for missing a 54-yarder, but his missed 40-yard try at the end of regulation is harder to ignore. The Giants had 11 false start penalties, including five on the first series of the second quarter. New York had a ton of opportunities to put this game away.

6. Dallas Cowboys [8] — Normally, teams in the top 10 drop if they lose, but the Giants and Cowboys rose this week. Both took top teams to overtime, and Pitt and Carolina dropped behind them. Terence Newman sure brings his "A" game on Thanksgiving. He had a big interception last year, and against Denver he had a fumble recovery and another interception.

7. Chicago Bears [9] — We all know about the defense, but there is no way this team can win three postseason games against good teams. Kyle Orton's 62.3 passer rating is last in the NFL among qualifiers, behind Anthony Wright (71.7), Joey Harrington (66.5), and J.P. Losman (65.3). The Bears are being compared to the 2000 Ravens, but even Trent Dilfer had a 76.6 rating that season, and Baltimore's Super Bowl offense was solidly middle-of-the-pack, ranking 16th in yards and 14th in scoring. The Bears are 28th and 24th, respectively, and have scored more than 20 points only twice all season, the most recent coming seven weeks ago. You can't win without some kind of offense.

8. Carolina Panthers [6] — Nice defensive effort against the Bills, but still too close for comfort against a team they shouldn't have struggled with. They're averaging three yards per rush, last in the league. Huge matchups at home the next two weeks, against Atlanta and Tampa. If the Panthers win both, they'll probably take the NFC South. I say they go 1-1 and keep things interesting.

9. Cincinnati Bengals [10] — Took a 34-0 lead before Baltimore's comeback made the score respectable. Chad Johnson is starting to annoy me. I think he's fun, and frequently funny, but the contrived celebrations bother me. Not every TD needs an act to follow it. Couldn't his time be better spent preparing for the game itself?

10. Pittsburgh Steelers [5] — Haven't looked really impressive since Week 6, and I think they'll lose to Cincinnati at home next week, finish 10-6, and miss the playoffs. Early in the Monday night game, the Colts picked on Bryant McFadden the same way they did Roc Alexander in last year's playoff against Denver. Ike Taylor pulled his game together later on, but in the first period, he seemed badly overmatched against Marvin Harrison. ABC infuriated me by showing Ben Roethlisberger walking onto the field instead of replaying an important 15-yard penalty on the opening kickoff.

11. Jacksonville Jaguars [11] — Byron Leftwich probably won't play again in the 2005 regular season, but I can't see the Jags missing the postseason. They have a home game against the Colts, which isn't an automatic loss, plus four games against teams with a combined record of 10-34. Even if they drop one of those and lose to Indianapolis, that puts Jacksonville 11-5, with a tiebreaker over whoever places second in the AFC North. My guess is that the Jaguars travel to Foxborough this January.

12. Kansas City Chiefs [12] — Clearly the hardest remaining schedule of any playoff contender. None of their opponents is worse than 7-4, with a combined record of 38-17. So far this season, the Chiefs are 1-2 against teams over .500. Kansas City won't be a factor in the playoff race.

13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [13] — Allowed less than four yards per play and got a good game from Cadillac Williams, but couldn't pull out a victory at home. My faith in the Bucs is very limited, but the same is true of Carolina and Atlanta, and Tampa Bay has a favorable schedule down the stretch. The Buccaneers have as good a chance as anyone to win the NFC South.

14. Minnesota Vikings [20] — Defense has stepped up in a big way. After allowing 27.6 points per game during the team's 2-5 start, they've held the last four to an average of 16.0. That double-digit swing has been more important than anything the offense is doing. Minnesota has a winning record for the first time this season, but remains -59 in points for/against.

15. Atlanta Falcons [15] — Dominated the line against Detroit. Offensive guard Kynan Forney and defensive end Patrick Kerney, in particular, played well. FOX failed to show Kevin Jones' false start penalty or Forney's personal foul in the second quarter, when the game was still in question. Pam Oliver was pretty rude to Michael Vick when he tried to be gracious in his postgame interview.

16. New England Patriots [14] — Tom Brady's passer rating is 105.5 at home, but only 80.7 on the road. The lack of running game is just ruining the Patriots. New England is 28th in time of possession, which is probably part of why so many defensive players have gotten hurt.

17. Philadelphia Eagles [18] — Andy Reid is not in a position to bench Mike McMahon, but the Eagles won in spite of the quarterback's 12-of-28, 91 yards performance — not because of it. McMahon averaged 3.3 yards per attempt against Green Bay. Seven even is good, and six is about average. Three is almost unheard of.

18. Washington Redskins [17] — Rookie first-round pick Carlos Rogers had a big game and should take over the starting cornerback position from Walt Harris, who continues to underwhelm. Washington played from behind on the field position battle all day: Derrick Frost had nine punts, none of which went inside San Diego's 20-yard-line.

19. Oakland Raiders [16] — Shot themselves in the foot against Miami, with 13 penalties, three turnovers, and a safety. The Raiders are in prime time at San Diego next week, and a loss will drop them to 0-5 in their division.

20. St. Louis Rams [19] — Needing overtime to make up a 17-point deficit against Houston is like losing to anyone else. Ryan Fitzpatrick had a Kurt Warner-esque debut, but I don't think he'll do quite as well against Washington in Week 13.

21. Buffalo Bills [22] — Willis McGahee was ineffective — there's no passing game to open things up — but the defense stepped up. When you hold the opponent to 13 points, you should win. If you look down the defensive roster, there are a lot of playmakers there.

22. Cleveland Browns [25] — When someone loses to an average team, but rises three places in the rankings, it tells you that there are a lot of really bad teams this season. It also tells you that I had Cleveland too low last week.

23. Miami Dolphins [29] — Seven sacks against Oakland, plus a nice game from Ricky Williams. After being outscored 62-26 in their previous three games, including an embarrassing shutout against Cleveland, the Dolphins rebounded with 33 points, their highest since Week 1.

24. Green Bay Packers [23] — If Brett Favre starts for the Packers next season, he'll probably break Dan Marino's career record for touchdown passes and George Blanda's career record for interceptions. Favre's at 19 this season, putting him on pace for a career-high 28, the highest total by any player since Peyton Manning's rookie season in 1998. He's been picked in five straight games, averaging over two per game during that stretch.

25. Baltimore Ravens [24] — Haven't played a team under 7-4 since Week 6, when they beat Cleveland. Things ease up from here on, and a strong finish would probably guarantee Brian Billick another year in Baltimore.

26. Detroit Lions [21] — Obviously won't contend for the playoffs —they can be mathematically-eliminated from division contention as soon as next week — but do you remember when people were talking about the winner of the NFC North being 7-9? Now Minnesota is a wildcard contender, and many ESPN types are calling the Bears the best team in the conference.

27. Arizona Cardinals [26] — Combined with the Jaguars for 22 penalties and almost 200 penalty yards. For all the offense this team generates through the air, it doesn't seem to produce points. The Cardinals have topped 21 points only twice all season, against the 29th-ranked Rams and 32nd-ranked Niners.

28. New Orleans Saints [28] — Joe Theismann's assertion that Jim Haslett should be Coach of the Year was probably the most ridiculous thing he's said this season, which is a strong statement. His team was 2-8 and had the league's longest active losing streak. This was also shortly after Ernie Conwell admitted that the Saints are "tired." Would a team coached by Tony Dungy or Bill Belichick ever make excuses like that?

29. Tennessee Titans [27] — Potential trap game for Indianapolis, pinned between the Steelers and Jags, but the talent differential is just too big. The next week, though, Tennessee gets Houston at home, which could really hurt the Titans' draft position.

30. San Francisco 49ers [31] — Alex Smith, barring injury, will start the rest of the season. Not that it matters. Check this out, though: in Week 17, the 49ers play the Texans. That could be a legitimately exciting game, in a sad sort of way.

31. Houston Texans [32] — Their winning percentage is .091, but four of the last five games are against teams at or under 3-8. Dom Capers probably needs a couple wins in that stretch to save his job. I think Bob McNair would be willing to give him another year, but the fans will revolt if Capers sticks around after a 1-15 season.

32. New York Jets [30] — Had a rough night with the officials. Terry McAulay made a terrible replay reversal on Laveranues Coles' touchdown catch at the end of the first half, and his crew made an awful intentional grounding call against Brooks Bollinger with 3:31 remaining in the game. If either of those calls had gone New York's way, the Jets probably would have won.

Comments and Conversation

November 29, 2005

J.Green:

The Chiefs will be a factor in the playoffs and pull-off some big upsets… The running game is good, pass protection is improving with regulars like Will Roaf back in the lineup. The Defense is also improving each game and will be the difference this week against the Broncos. Don’t be suprise to see the Chiefs battling for the AFC West title… They have the toughest schedule from here on in… but there are starting to peak at the right time and will finish with a 11-5 record.

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