Tuesday, January 2, 2007
NFL Week 17 Power Rankings
Five Quick Hits
* Let's get this out of the way. I'm taking all the home teams next weekend.
* Top three announcers this season: Al Michaels, Troy Aikman, and Dick Vermeil.
* Super Bowl XLI: Ravens over Saints.
* In Week 17, Vinny Testaverde threw a touchdown pass to Troy Brown. Their combined age is 78.
* Home teams only went 136-120 this season, a .531 winning percentage. That wouldn't even make the playoffs in the AFC.
This is an NFL column, but if you have any affection for the game of football, or even drama in general, I hope you caught last night's Fiesta Bowl between the Boise State Broncos and the Oklahoma Sooners. Like most fans, I was pulling for the Broncos to pull off the upset. The official line was 7 or 7.5, depending on where you went, but this was a much bigger upset than that line would indicate. For a team from a non-BCS conference to beat a Big 12 champion with Oklahoma's tradition had no precedent.
This rivaled and probably even surpassed last year's Rose Bowl in excitement. With under three minutes remaining, Oklahoma drove down the field for a touchdown, then — after two tries aborted by penalty — made a two-point conversion to tie the game. On the next play from scrimmage, the Sooners returned an interception for a touchdown, and the game — which looked like Boise State's two minutes earlier — appeared over.
The Broncos, however, tied the game, with a perfectly executed hook-and-ladder on 4th-and-18. The Sooners scored on the first play of overtime, a 25-yard run by Adrian Peterson. Boise State answered with another fourth-down TD, followed by a successful two-point conversion to win the game. It was one of the most amazing conclusions to a football game that I have ever seen. Congratulations to Boise State, and to Oklahoma, too.
And now on to the last NFL power rankings of the season. Rankings are for right now, year-end strength, and may not reflect a team's performance over the entire season. Brackets show last week's rank.
1. Baltimore Ravens  — I'll draw some fire for moving them ahead of the Chargers, but this is the NFL's most dominant team right now. The Ravens are beating good teams and pounding bad ones, and no one is scoring against that defense. Baltimore has gone seven games without allowing more than 17 points. We were all horrified at the way the Titans treated Steve McNair last summer, but if he finally wins a Super Bowl as a result, that might take the sting off.
2. San Diego Chargers  — You can't accuse a team that's won ten in a row of backing into the playoffs, but they may be backing into the top seed. San Diego has slowed down the last two weeks, just squeaking by the Seahawks and Cardinals. Philip Rivers finished the season with a progressively lower passer rating every month, and the Chargers won't be able to beat Baltimore with a one-dimensional offense.
3. New Orleans Saints  — No one wants their best players to get injured, but I question the wisdom of resting players the week before a bye. Two weeks is plenty of time to get rusty, and Sean Payton's staff will have its hands full preparing for the Eagles. I'm not sure why I've picked the Saints to beat them, in fact.
4. Philadelphia Eagles  — On the off chance that Philadelphia wins the Super Bowl, I think this team has a legitimate quarterback controversy on its hands. Donovan McNabb seems to have trouble staying healthy, and he's struggled under pressure. Jeff Garcia is too old to build around, but the team probably has another run or two in it after this season, and Garcia might give the Eagles the best chance to win. I know McNabb's the guy, but Andy Reid could be in an awkward position if Garcia plays well this postseason. I think Philadelphia beats the Giants by at least two touchdowns.
5. New England Patriots  — Sacked Vince Young a career-high five times and intercepted him twice. The defense is rolling, and the overachieving Patriots could be very dangerous this postseason. The Jets won their last game at New England, though, and I am a little nervous about picking the Pats to win on Sunday. I'll say New England by a touchdown.
6. Chicago Bears  — When was the last time they looked really impressive? Rex Grossman is shakier than ever, and he clearly doesn't have the confidence you want from a playoff quarterback. Even if the Bears rise up and win a game or two in the postseason, there's no way they can string together three straight wins against good teams.
7. New York Jets  — Two years ago, they went on the road and upset San Diego in the playoffs, making me and Peter King look stupid. The Jets aren't the rags-to-riches miracle that the Saints are, or that some people have been making the Jets out to be. But they have overcome an injury-prone QB who looked finished after last season. They've gotten by without much of an identity in the running game. And they've been effective on defense in their first year running a 3-4. My Coach of the Year nod goes to Payton, but credit is due here, too.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers  — Won four of their last five, and six of the last eight, to finish .500. In fact, the Steelers haven't lost to anyone but Baltimore since Week 9. Ben Roethlisberger led the NFL in interceptions this season, throwing more (23) than in his first two years combined (20). Big Ben also took twice as many sacks as last season and had the lowest passer rating of his career by 23.7. If Roethlisberger can recover his old form and consistency, Pittsburgh should be a Super Bowl favorite next season.
9. Tennessee Titans  — Here's why they're ranked ahead of Indianapolis. The Titans have won six of their last seven games. The Colts have won three of their last seven. Two weeks ago, the Titans beat Jacksonville by seven. Three weeks ago, the Colts lost to Jacksonville by 27. And the week before that, Tennessee beat Indianapolis head-to-head. The Titans are a hip pick for next season, but Young needs to improve his passing accuracy, and it will hurt if they lose Norm Chow.
10. Indianapolis Colts  — Kansas City is a terrible first-round matchup for them, and Larry Johnson will probably rush for about 150 yards, but Indianapolis was one of two teams to go undefeated at home this season (San Diego was the other), and I'll take the Colts to win a shootout on Saturday.
11. Buffalo Bills  — Made some real progress this year, especially with their passing game. J.P. Losman looks like a viable starting quarterback, and Lee Evans like a legit star. Injuries hurt the defense, but there's a very good group in place, and the Bills could really go places in 2007. Offensive line, receivers, and defensive depth will probably be the priorities this offseason.
12. Kansas City Chiefs  — The weakest team in the AFC playoffs, and there's a lot working against them. The Chiefs won twice as many games at home as on the road, but they have to travel to Indianapolis, where the Colts went 8-0, for their wildcard game. Kansas City went 4-0 this season against NFC teams, 4-2 against AFC West teams, and 1-5 against the rest of the conference.
13. Jacksonville Jaguars  — Quinn Gray nearly led the Jags to a comeback victory against Kansas City. Say hello to a three-way quarterback controversy.
14. Cincinnati Bengals  — That back-and-forth loss in Pittsburgh was an appropriate finish to their up-and-down season. Cincinnati had two win streaks of three games or more and two losing streaks of three games or more. Carson Palmer struggled in the last month of the season, and it really hurt them. Palmer's recovery from offseason surgery was impressive, but maybe the 16-game season just wore him down.
15. New York Giants  — Tiki Barber is going out in style. Barber pretty much single-handedly beat Washington on Saturday night, rushing for a team-record 234 yards, scoring three touchdowns, and leading the team in receptions. Barber did the same thing last season, rushing for over 200 yards in two of the last three weeks, to help the Giants make the playoffs.
16. Miami Dolphins  — Finished 6-10, losing four of their last five, but those losses were to two playoff teams, plus the Jaguars and the streaking Bills, both of whom barely missed qualifying for the postseason. If Jason Taylor elects not to retire, the Dolphins have a lot of talent in place, and they might make a serious postseason run next year if Daunte Culpepper plays well.
17. Seattle Seahawks  — Lost three of their last four and haven't beaten a playoff team since Week 3, but they're decent at home and the Cowboys are in a tailspin, so I'm taking the Seahawks. Let's say by four.
18. Dallas Cowboys  — No team limped into the playoffs like Dallas. When the Cowboys were hot, Tony Romo was tearing the league apart and the defense was shutting people down. Now Romo is struggling and the defense is a wreck, allowing at least 20 points in each of the last five games.
19. Denver Broncos  — The shooting death of Darrent Williams, who was just 24, is the most shocking event in the NFL this season. I don't know what else to say.
20. Green Bay Packers  — Four straight wins, and they should probably be ranked higher, but those wins came against a a trio of chumps and a Bears team with nothing to play for. Despite his emotion on Sunday, I don't expect Brett Favre to retire this year. Going out with a New Year's Eve win against his biggest rival would be a storybook way for Favre to leave the game, and I hope he does retire, but I don't think he can walk away.
21. St. Louis Rams  — Paul Brown, the father of the modern NFL game, once said, "When you've got the biggest cannon, you shoot it." Steven Jackson is a big cannon, and on Sunday, Scott Linehan used him in every phase of the game. Jackson had three rushing TDs, a receiving TD, and a 58-yard kickoff return. It's still a stretch to compare Jackson with Marshall Faulk, but he's playing a similar role.
22. Arizona Cardinals  — I understand why they fired Dennis Green, and this organization has certainly made worse decisions, but I would have given him another year. The Cardinals have a lot of young talent that's finally starting to come together, and Green didn't get much time to work with that, but Arizona went 4-4 after the bye this year. I do like the team's list of potential replacements for Green, any of whom could probably help this team continue the upward trend it seems to be on.
23. Carolina Panthers  — Clearly a different team when Jake Delhomme is playing, but it's hard to get excited about a victory over a team playing its backups. That does give them a leg up on the Falcons, though.
24. Atlanta Falcons  — Only two coaches got the axe on Monday, but one of them went 26-22 in three seasons. Longtime readers know that I've never thought highly of Jim Mora, Jr., and advocated his dismissal as early as last season. There's a lot of talent here, so expect the Falcons to improve under a new coaching staff. It will be interesting to see what the team does with talented backup QB Matt Schaub this offseason.
25. Washington Redskins  — I don't know if it's too many cooks in the kitchen, or something as simple as bad quarterback play, or just bad luck, but I don't know if any team— and this includes Carolina — underachieved so dramatically this season. If Joe Gibbs comes back and Jason Campbell gets a full offseason of reps with the first team, Washington could be a force in 2007.
26. Houston Texans  — Had no running game this year, but next season, Domanick Williams — the artist formerly known as Domanick Davis — should be back. In addition to changing his name, Williams is also changing his uniform number and apparently has a new haircut. Seriously.
27. San Francisco 49ers  — What a game by Walt Harris, who had two interceptions and a fumble recovery against Denver. The 49ers made real progress this season, and if the cards fall right, they could contend for the NFC West next year.
28. Detroit Lions  — Give Rod Marinelli credit. The Lions played with a lot of heart on Sunday, and they were fired up to the end. Did you see Detroit's sideline when the game was over? Everyone was jumping and cheering. It's a step in the right direction, getting players who are used to losing to start caring about winning again.
29. Minnesota Vikings  — With all the talent here, it is amazing that the Vikings went 6-10. A new quarterback could go a long way towards addressing their problems, but Minnesota also needs to address its pass defense, which tied for the worst in the NFL. If the Vikings can find a QB in free agency, they might want to use their first draft pick on a pass rusher.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers  — Lost at least three games in a row three separate times this season. A year after winning the NFC South, Tampa went 0-6 in the division and 4-12 overall. If Jon Gruden doesn't get things turned around next season, he'll probably be coaching somewhere else in 2008.
31. Cleveland Browns  — It seems very unlikely that Brady Quinn will still be available when Cleveland drafts this April, but Charlie Frye really didn't play well this season, and the Browns should consider using Frye as a good backup rather than a bad starter. They may be in a position to draft Quinn, or to trade up and get him.
32. Oakland Raiders  — Warren Sapp had double-digit sacks for the first time since 2000, when he was named Defensive Player of the Year. Sapp should probably win Comeback Player of the Year this season, and if he miraculously does, remember that you read it here first. The Raiders have the top pick in April's draft, and while they could really use a quarterback, there are other positions they really need to address. I'd try to trade down.
The All-Loser Team
Finally, an annual tradition at Sports Central, the All-Loser Team is an all-star team comprised entirely of players whose teams missed the playoffs. Please check back tomorrow for my actual all-pro team.
QB Carson Palmer, CIN
RB Frank Gore, SF
FB Dan Kreider, PIT
WR Roy Williams, DET
WR Steve Smith, CAR
TE Kellen Winslow, Jr., CLE
C Brad Meester, JAC
G Alan Faneca, PIT
G Ben Hamilton, DEN
OT Willie Anderson, CIN
OT Chad Clifton, GB
DT Pat Williams, MIN
DT Warren Sapp, OAK
DE Jason Taylor, MIA
DE Aaron Kampman, GB
OLB Clark Haggans, PIT
OLB Keith Bulluck, TEN
ILB Zach Thomas, MIA
CB Champ Bailey, DEN
CB Rashean Mathis, JAC
FS John Lynch, DEN
SS Adrian Wilson, ARI
K John Kasay, CAR
P Brian Moorman, BUF
KR Pacman Jones, TEN
Honorable Mentions: Steven Jackson (RB, STL); Lee Evans (WR, BUF); Donald Driver (WR, GB); Kevin Williams (DT, MIN); Aaron Schobel (DE, BUF); Derrick Burgess (DE, OAK)
Happy New Year, everyone. I hope you enjoy the upcoming all-pro column and next weekend's playoff games.