NFL Week 16 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* Congratulations to all this year's first-time Pro Bowlers, especially Reggie Wayne, Aaron Schobel, and Rashean Mathis. Those guys have been waiting for this, and I'm glad they're finally being honored with trips to Hawaii.

* Pro Bowl snubs: Kelly Gregg, Bart Scott, Marco Rivera, and Pat Williams. I'm not just talking about good players who didn't make it, but guys who are at or near all-pro level and got passed over in favor of players who really don't belong in the Pro Bowl.

* Undeserving selections: DeAngelo Hall and the backup offensive linemen in the NFC. Matt Birk is nothing special, Larry Allen is past his prime, and I have no idea who votes for Chris Samuels. Hall is the most overrated defensive back in the NFL.

* Among this year's top 10 wireless vote-getters were Michael Vick (3rd), Rex Grossman (6th), Donovan McNabb (7th), Reggie Bush (9th), and Eli Manning (10th). Perhaps the NFL should consider not counting these votes in the future.

* Or maybe they already don't, since none of those guys — half of the top 10 — made it. Honestly, how is Vick ahead of LaDainian Tomlinson (5th)?

***

In Monday night's game, the Jets kicked the winning field goal with 14 seconds left, but they probably could have run the clock down so far that Miami wouldn't even get the ball back on a kickoff. Rather than running the clock down and calling timeout before the kick, the Jets could have committed a false start before their timeout, running an additional 10 seconds off the clock. You direct everyone to line up but not to move, except one person. That one person makes an obvious jump with one or two seconds left on the play clock.

League rules dictate that a false start at the end of either half results in a ten-second runoff on the game clock. You steal another ten seconds from the opponent. A field goal normally takes about four seconds, so in Monday's game, there would have been no time remaining after Mike Nugent's kick. Unless I'm misunderstanding the rules, this seems like a loophole that teams could exploit when they know they have an easy field goal at the end of a game.

On to the power rankings, brackets indicate last week's rank.

1. San Diego Chargers [1] — They have a league-high nine Pro Bowlers, and they're one win away from clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. I nearly moved the Ravens ahead of them, though, because San Diego's offense suddenly seems one-dimensional. Philip Rivers was one of those nine Chargers selected to the Pro Bowl, and I'm one of the people who voted for him, but he's been terrible the last two weeks, with a completion percentage under 34% and just 278 passing yards in both games combined. This is the wrong time for the passing game to start slumping.

2. Baltimore Ravens [2] — By far the NFL's best defense. The Ravens lead the NFL in points allowed, yards allowed, yards per play allowed, first downs allowed, sack yardage, interceptions, and defensive third down percentage. They're second in rushing defense, yards per carry allowed, opponents' completion percentage, and total takeaways. On the other side of the ball, the offense is good enough and seems to be getting better as the season goes on.

3. New Orleans Saints [3] — At least 30 points in four of their last five games, and six of the last eight. Drew Brees has struggled the last two weeks, but Reggie Bush continues to improve and may make a run at Offensive Rookie of the Year. Brees, meanwhile, is up against Peyton Manning for all-pro QB honors, and has even been mentioned as a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year. I know Brees injured his shoulder at the end of last season, but I don't think that alone qualifies him for CBPOY. He didn't miss any games, and he was terrific last season. The same argument applies to Carson Palmer. I'd rather see CBPOY go to someone who didn't play well or missed games, like Jeff Garcia or Deuce McAllister or Warren Sapp, or maybe even that receiver in Dallas.

4. Philadelphia Eagles [15] — This is probably the biggest jump in the rankings that any team has gotten this season, and I'm not happy about it, but I'd rather admit I was wrong than keep making the same mistake. The Eagles are on fire, and they've been playing better every week since Jeff Garcia became the starter. Both Donovan McNabb and Garcia defeated their former teammate — that Cowboy receiver I just mentioned — this season. Speaking of which, so much for the notion that Garcia can't win without him.

5. New England Patriots [7] — In the second half of the season, no division has been as tough as the AFC East. Since their byes, AFC East teams are a combined 16-6 against non-division opponents. Those six losses came against the Colts (twice), Bears, Chargers, Titans, and Jaguars, so this isn't a just a product of beating up on the NFC North. With a win at Tennessee and a little help from their division foes in Miami, the Patriots can get the third seed in the AFC playoffs.

6. Chicago Bears [6] — I won't go into depth on this for the third straight week, but this defense is not the same without Tommie Harris, and Chicago can't simply rely on its defense any more. Houston's DeMeco Ryans will probably win Defensive Rookie of the Year, but Mark Anderson, who had two sacks and a forced fumble this week, has had a heck of a season.

7. Tennessee Titans [11] — Some people won't like seeing a team that's effectively been eliminated from playoff contention ranked here, but the Titans have won six straight, two more than any team that's not the Chargers. You could make a decent argument for ranking them as high as third. During the streak, Tennessee has beaten the Eagles, Colts, Jaguars, and Bills. Vince Young seems to be in one of those zones where a player just won't let his team lose. If that holds up against the Patriots in Week 17, the Titans, whom I ranked 32nd for several weeks early in the season, will finish with a winning record.

8. Buffalo Bills [9] — Couldn't finish the job against Tennessee, settling for five field goals — three of them under 30 yards — and blowing a 10-point fourth quarter lead. Buffalo should probably use more of Willis McGahee and less of J.P. Losman in goal-to-go situations. The Bills' defense allowed 30 points for only the second time this season. Everyone is having trouble stopping Vince Young right now, but they probably could have held Travis Henry under 135 yards.

9. Jacksonville Jaguars [10] — I don't like inconsistent teams, and I don't like to move someone up after a loss, but I'll take the Jags, who on their best days are great, over a team like the Jets, who on their best days are pretty darn good. Next season, with Maurice Jones-Drew and their young receiving corps, plus a healthy Mike Peterson, the Jaguars figure to have a real chance at winning the AFC South. The bet here is that Jacksonville wins at Kansas City in Week 17.

10. New York Jets [14] — Tony Kornheiser's announcing has gotten a little better during the season, but he's still terrible. Kornheiser should not assume that just because he doesn't know any players on the Jets, that actual fans don't, either. One name every fan should know is Leon Washington's. After a few big games in the middle of the season, Washington saw fewer carries and his production dropped, but he looked great against Miami.

11. Cincinnati Bengals [5] — Outplayed the Broncos for most of the game, but they gave too much to Jay Cutler early, and too much to Denver's running backs late. Cincinnati was also -2 in turnovers, including two interceptions by Palmer. Part of the reason for Cincinnati's mini-slump is that Palmer's production has dropped sharply the last three games, during which he has averaged 30 fewer passing yards per game, with more interceptions than touchdowns and a 71.6 passer rating.

12. Dallas Cowboys [4] — There's a lot of potential here, but they're ice-cold. Dallas has two embarrassing losses in its last three games, along with an unimpressive victory over a mediocre Atlanta team. Tony Romo has a 68.3 passer rating for December, including seven interceptions and just four TDs. The Cowboys won't have a first-round bye, so Bill Parcells had better get things figured out quickly.

13. Indianapolis Colts [8] — Four straight road losses. The Colts started 9-0, but have dropped to 11-4. Indianapolis is 7-0 at home, so a first-round playoff win seems likely, but if Indy has to travel to San Diego or Baltimore in the divisional round, it's tough to see the Colts advancing. This run defense has allowed almost 400 yards more than the 31st-ranked team, including a career-high 153 for Ron Dayne this week.

14. Pittsburgh Steelers [13] — While the Browns struggle to rebuild, Baltimore is their biggest rival, and getting swept (by a combined margin of over 50 points) stings. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked a combined 14 times in those two losses. Roethlisberger also led the Steelers in rushing on Sunday, which isn't supposed to happen when you have a Pro Bowl running back. Pittsburgh should probably re-work its aging offensive line this offseason.

15. Denver Broncos [19] — Walt Coleman, the NFL's worst referee not named Jeff Triplette, did a nice job when he upheld Brandon Marshall's second-quarter sideline reception in the absence of indisputable visual evidence to the contrary. Later in the game, though, Coleman erred in upholding the spot of a punt ruled down at the one-yard-line, which should have been a touchback. Coleman's crew also called a questionable offside penalty to negate the onside kick recovered by Cincinnati, a potentially game-changing play. Officiating is a difficult job, but with regard to the replay system in particular, we have a right to expect that referees will get the calls right.

16. Kansas City Chiefs [17] — Bryant Gumbel is a refreshingly professional play-by-play announcer, but he's just not much of a football guy. On Saturday night, Gumbel assumed that Dick Vermeil, while he coached the Eagles, must have faced Christian Okoye during the latter's brief career in Kansas City. But Vermeil left coaching after the 1982 season, and Okoye didn't play in the NFL until 1987. That's like saying that Jimmy Johnson must have coached against Roethlisberger. Vermeil is a great analyst, but NFL Network might want to be careful about having him cover the Chiefs, whom he coached last season and is obviously still attached to.

17. Miami Dolphins [12] — Normally, pulling Joey Harrington is not a controversial decision. But with a lot of AFC teams rooting for Miami to beat the Jets, Nick Saban's half-time decision to replace Harrington with Cleo Lemon probably attracted some attention around the conference. Harrington, who had been 5-5 as a starter in Miami, may have played himself out of a job the last two weeks, but I'm not sure Saban would have yanked him if the Dolphins had still been alive for a playoff spot.

18. New York Giants [16] — Eli Manning had a terrible game by any measure, including his stats. But if you take away his 55-yard completion to Plaxico Burress, Little Manning was 8-of-24 for 19 yards and an interception. That'll make Giant fans nostalgic for the Danny Kanell Era. Insult to injury, this week all three players the Chargers drafted with the picks they got in exchange for Manning were selected to the Pro Bowl.

19. Seattle Seahawks [20] — Three straight losses, but at least they played with some heart this week, nearly upsetting the Chargers in Seattle. The Seahawks clinched their division despite the loss, and in the playoffs, it would probably be helpful if they protect Matt Hasselbeck, who has been sacked at least three times in every game of their current losing streak.

20. Atlanta Falcons [18] — Call it the curse of the dirty birds. Since Michael Vick flipped both of them to his home fans, the Falcons haven't won a game in Atlanta, going 3-5 there this season. Vick has played pretty well on the road, but in home games this year, Vick was worse in every major statistical category related to passing. His home passer rating of 67.2 is abysmal. I'm not a big fan of booing your own guys, but I can understand the frustration of Falcon fans with their quarterback.

21. Washington Redskins [21] — Probably should drop after they allowed 579 yards in an overtime loss to the Rams, but there's no one to move up, including St. Louis, which hasn't beaten a team with more than six wins since Week 1. Washington has somehow beaten the Cowboys, Panthers, and Saints in the last eight weeks. The first-quarter injury to Shawn Springs was probably the difference in this week's game.

22. Arizona Cardinals [24] — Won three of the last four, all against division opponents. The NFC West is like Conference USA in college football, where there are decent teams, but no one that's going to beat your conference champion, and they won't win a lot of games that aren't against each other. Matt Leinart suffered a minor injury in the win against San Francisco, so Kurt Warner will start at San Diego in the season finale.

23. St. Louis Rams [26] — There's been a bit of an outcry about Brian Westbrook not making the Pro Bowl, and while Westbrook is a great player, I don't think he was one of the top three running backs in the NFC this season. Frank Gore was a no-brainer, and it's tough to argue against Tiki Barber. The third spot went to the Rams' Steven Jackson, who has more rushing yards, more receiving yards, and more touchdowns than Westbrook. Jackson has become a pretty special player, and he's earned his spot in Hawaii.

24. Green Bay Packers [27] — Through 13 games, hadn't held anyone under 14 points. Now they've done it two weeks in a row, against division opponents Detroit and Minnesota. The story of Thursday's game was the domination of both defensive lines over the opposing offensive lines, and no one was more dominant than Aaron Kampman. After a quiet November, Kampman has put himself back into all-pro discussions.

25. Carolina Panthers [28] — Protected Chris Weinke with run after run after run on offense. Carolina finished with 52 rushing attempts and only 10 pass plays, three of which resulted in sacks. Weinke ended the contest with only four completions for 32 yards, but Carolina running backs added 188 on the ground, and the Panthers broke a four-game losing streak.

26. Cleveland Browns [23] — Derek Anderson's four interceptions were actually a strategic move dictated by management. After what may have seemed a disappointing loss against the wretched Buccaneers, Cleveland now has a real shot at the third pick in April's draft. Sneaky Browns!

27. Minnesota Vikings [22] — Tarvaris Jackson may not be the answer Minnesota was looking for. Against Green Bay, Jackson was 10-of-20 for 50 yards and an interception (35.4 passer rating). He was also sacked three times. The Vikings managed only three first downs and 104 yards of offense. Their only points came on an interception return. That's about as badly as an NFL offense can perform.

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [29] — Tim Rattay may not have played gloriously against Cleveland, but at least his team won, breaking a four-game skid and giving Tampa just its second victory in the last nine games. Linebacker Derrick Brooks, who had made nine consecutive Pro Bowls, will miss out this year for the first time in a decade.

29. Houston Texans [30] — Defeated the division rival Colts for the first time in franchise history, and didn't allow a sack for only the second time all season. Pass protection remains a problem here, but the Texans have actually allowed fewer sacks than seven teams this year.

30. San Francisco 49ers [25] — Four losses in their last five games, and if the Seahawks had come to play last Thursday, it would probably be five in a row. The extra rest — nine days instead of six — couldn't get the 49ers over the hump against Arizona. It's probably the first time all season that the Niners have lost a game they should have won. There are some decent young players here, but it's amazing how much this team has overachieved in 2006.

31. Detroit Lions [32] — As terrible as Detroit's season has been, there finally seems to be some progress in establishing the passing game. Jon Kitna has played well considering the circumstances, while Roy Williams and Mike Furrey give the Lions a nice pair of starting receivers, and a healthy Kevin Jones gives Detroit a viable running back. Now all the Lions need to fix is everything else.

32. Oakland Raiders [31] — Moved the ball more than usual on offense, but kept committing turnovers or settling for field goals. If they lose to the Jets by more than three touchdowns, the Raiders risk allowing twice as many points as they score this season. It would be a mistake — and a totally classless, unfair move — to fire Art Shell after just one season.

Comments and Conversation

December 26, 2006

Ryan Hansen:

Pretty sure the replay showed Marshall dragged his foot while having the ball in one hand and firmly having the other foot down in bounds. Denver at number 15? You have to be kidding me. Who runs this site?

December 26, 2006

Polar Star:

Hey moron, the run off doesn’t occur on a play when a clock is stopped because of the penalty. Which is what would happen on an offensive false start.

December 26, 2006

Polar Star:

Crap that didn’t come out right. The clock was stopped. A penalty committed when the clock was already stopped doesn’t result in the 10 second runoff.

December 27, 2006

Anthony Brancato:

Totally disagree with you regarding Art Shell - and I live in the Bay Area and thus have access to the local media. His childish, spiteful grudge against Jerry Porter was inexcusable, and his ranting about how a member of the front office was plotting against him raises further doubts as to his mental stability and/or maturity.

Shell should be booted out of the door - and if I were Al Davis I’d have a Cheshire-cat grin on my face as I announced the firing.

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