Tuesday, October 13, 2009
NFL Week 5 Power Rankings
Five Quick Hits
* It's nice to see that the NFL isn't treating Breast Cancer Awareness Month as a one-week publicity blitz. Many coaches and players wore pink again this week, and Breast Cancer Awareness Gear is available through the league site.
* The league did a nice job spotlighting Hispanic Heritage Month in this week's Monday night game, but it felt like lip service, squeezed into that one game.
* Hey Colts, up 31-9 with 5:50 left, I think it's appropriate to sub Jim Sorgi in for Peyton Manning. This isn't just a sportsmanship issue. I know Manning never gets hurt, but why take a chance?
* Tragic story in Cincinnati, with the shocking death of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's wife, Vikki, on Thursday. It was hard to root against the Bengals this week, and my best wishes go out to the Zimmers' family and friends, including the Bengals' defensive players and coaching staff.
* Last week, I praised NBC's camera work and use of replays. I take it back. This week's most professional broadcast was certainly the Monday night game, though someone should tell Jon Gruden not to speak over a referee's announcement.
The highlight of Week 5 was an exciting, back-and-forth duel between a pair of divisional rivals, showcasing the abilities of promising young quarterbacks Chad Henne and Mark Sanchez. Henne directed a last-minute, game-winning touchdown drive, and each QB made a perfect deep throw: Sanchez hit David Clowney on the sideline, and Henne connected with Ted Ginn in stride for a 53-yard gain. The newest Jet, Braylon Edwards, was another recipient of a great long ball from Sanchez, making an awesome catch early in the fourth quarter. Edwards looks like a good pickup for New York.
The hero, though, was Henne. No one knows how his career will play out. On Monday night, it looked like he has the tools to become a franchise quarterback, but sometimes promising players don't develop the way we expect. Whatever happens with Henne, you've got to be happy for him right now. I love this about sports. You can do something great, something that exceeds expectations, maybe even something that moves people. Whatever happens with Henne, he will always have this game, always have the way he feels right now. Even if Henne turns into Ryan Leaf, for one night he was Peyton Manning. I love this about sports.
On to this week's Power Rankings, brackets show previous rank.
1. New York Giants  — They seem like a college powerhouse, playing a schedule stacked with D-II lightweights. The Giants haven't played anyone good, unless you count Dallas (which you should not). But they're also winning games the way an elite college team like Florida treated Charleston Southern. This week, the Giants outgained the opponent 4:1 — their third straight week with an advantage over 200 yards, which must be getting close to a record — and made 20 more first downs. New York has outscored its opponents by +80 this season, the best point differential in the league and an average margin of better than two touchdowns.
2. New Orleans Saints  — Cursed with an early bye they didn't need, but that also means more time to prepare for the Giants in Week 6. If the game won't be televised in your area, you need to make some kind of plans to watch it. I don't care if that means missing your favorite team. It's not like they're going to win, anyway. If you enjoy professional football, next Sunday you'll be watching Giants at Saints at 1:00 Eastern. I don't know if it will be an exciting game, but it's a pretty big deal.
3. Indianapolis Colts  — Stayed with the run, even when it wasn't working. That's crucial, because it sets up play-action, and the Colts can get away with it because they're so good on third-and-long. They can afford to waste first down on a two-yard run. The announcers made a big deal out of two penalties that set up an Indianapolis touchdown before halftime. But the way the Colts were playing, I don't think the fouls made a difference. With :17 and a timeout, I suspect they make it the extra 30 yards and score anyway.
4. Denver Broncos  — Okay, okay, I believe. I'm still not sold on the offense, but it's apparent at this point that it won't be a liability. How did the Broncos go 8-8 against a weak (.457) schedule last season? Are Josh McDaniels and Mike Nolan that good, or were Mike Shanahan and Bob Slowik that bad? With all due respect to Kyle Orton, Knowshon Moreno, and Brian Dawkins, I think the turnaround here is obviously bigger than the players.
5. Minnesota Vikings  — Won big on the scoreboard, but didn't really dominate the Rams the way other teams have been doing. St. Louis had the edge in yardage, first downs, and time of possession. Minnesota won on turnovers, penalties, and red zone efficiency. Those are important parts of the game, but I would have more confidence if the Rams had been less successful between the 20s. The Vikings rank outside the top 10 in both offense (19th) and defense (14th) and still haven't played a top-10 team.
6. New England Patriots  — Tom Brady looks rusty. His play has been uneven this season, and his usual accuracy wasn't there against Denver this week. Randy Moss has only one touchdown this season, and needs to be more involved in the offense — though he did get in on defense in Week 5 and is the only player to intercept Orton this year. Seriously. The Patriots had some issues with bad tackling on Sunday, though we also saw the return of Jerod Mayo, who looked great in limited action.
7. Atlanta Falcons  — Offensive explosion against a good 49er defense for their first road win of 2009. Despite the eye-popping fantasy football numbers posted by Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, and Roddy White on Sunday, don't overlook the defense. Atlanta was the first team all season to hold San Francisco below 20 points, and forced a career-low 45.7 passer rating from Shaun Hill. Going back to the beginning of last season, the Falcons are 11-1 when John Abraham has a sack, and 3-6 when he does not.
8. Philadelphia Eagles  — Third in total defense. Yeah, Donovan McNabb looked great, and we're all happy for him. But this team is winning the same way it always has under Andy Reid: with great defense, mistake-free and occasionally explosive play from McNabb, and absolutely no running game. That last part needs to change if the Eagles are to be taken seriously as a contender.
9. Chicago Bears  — Parity in the receiving corps. Jay Cutler may not have Brandon Marshall this year, but he has Earl Bennett, Johnny Knox, and Devin Hester. All three of those guys have 189-200 yards on 14 or 15 receptions. Cutler and his young receivers have given the Bears a downfield passing game that wasn't in the mix last season, when RB Matt Forte and TE Greg Olsen led the team in catches. This year, Forte and Olsen are the second read, not the first.
10. Cincinnati Bengals  — A fluke bounce away from 5-0, and they might deserve to be higher than this. However, they've won each of their last three games by only a field goal, and you can't keep winning all the close ones. Going to overtime with the Browns last week didn't exactly scream "top-10" to me, either. Special teams were a problem again this week, with another missed field goal and a badly botched long snap.
11. Baltimore Ravens  — The officiating crews hate them. After last week's controversy, this Sunday Jeff Triplette's crew cost the Ravens five yards by mis-spotting the ball, nullified a missed extra point by the Bengals, and assessed twice as much penalty yardage to Baltimore as Cincinnati. That said, the Ravens — not referee incompetence or bias — are to blame for Sunday's loss. Joe Flacco did not play well, and the team's legendary run defense allowed its first 100-yard rusher in 2½ years, with Cedric Benson dropping 120 and a touchdown on them.
12. Miami Dolphins  — I appreciate Jon Gruden's enthusiasm, but in what universe is Ricky Williams "off to the best start of his career?" Through 5 games, Williams has 316 rushing yards with a 5.2 average and 2 TDs. At this point in 2002 (when Williams led the NFL in rushing), he had 565 yards with a 4.8 average and 4 TDs. I think that's better.
13. New York Jets  — What happened to that suffocating defense? It was invisible against Miami, who controlled Rex Ryan's aggressive schemes with runs, screens, and lots of extra blockers. Not only did the Jets not get a sack, they seldom even put pressure on an opposing quarterback making just his second NFL start. The Dolphins deserve plenty of credit for their gameplan, but you just can't let that happen.
14. San Francisco 49ers  — In the NFL, it is very seldom a good sign when your leading passer and your leading rusher are the same person. In Week 4, Shaun Hill led the Niners in passing, which is no surprise. He also led them in rushing (53), which was not part of the gameplan. San Francisco's defensive meltdown is drawing the most attention, but the team was really dominated in every phase this weekend. They have a bye coming up, so that's two weeks for Mike Singletary to yell at the team and get it ready to bounce back in Week 7.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers  — Peyton Manning, of course, leads the NFL in passing yardage. Second place? Ben Roethlisberger. Add the re-emergence of Pittsburgh's running game, and the offense seems to be in top form. Defense remains a question mark until Troy Polamalu is back on the field, but the Steelers picked up seven sacks against Detroit, and that's definitely a good sign.
16. Green Bay Packers  — A team that may look substantially better after this week's bye, and not just because the next game is against Detroit. Injured left tackle Chad Clifton is expected to return to action, and this week the team signed longtime right tackle Mark Tauscher to compete for playing time with the struggling Allen Barbre. Last season, with Clifton and Tauscher as his tackles, Aaron Rodgers was sacked 34 times, about twice per game. This year, without them, it's 5 times per game.
17. Dallas Cowboys  — Lead the NFL in yards per game, but they're -4 in turnovers and only rank 11th in points per game. I have a modest proposal to help rectify this: less throwing, more running. The Cowboys are somehow averaging 5.9 yards per rush attempt, with three running backs averaging better than 5 yards per carry. Tony Romo is generally good but also very inconsistent. The team can and should take pressure off of Romo by taking advantage of its terrific ground game.
18. San Diego Chargers  — At the beginning of this season, I made a very foolish prediction that I suspect I am going to regret. For those too lazy to click through, it involved the Chargers winning their division and me eating shoes, because of my certainty in this forecast. San Diego has a chance to bail me out, next Monday night, with a home game against Denver. If the Chargers lose, the AFC West race is officially over. I know they came back from way down last season. It's not happening twice in a row. Last year's Broncos were lucky. This year's Broncos are good.
19. Arizona Cardinals  — Almost lost after going into halftime up 21-0. An offense that is all-pass, no-run leaves you vulnerable to that kind of comeback. The extreme example is the run-and-shoot teams of the early 1990s. The biggest comeback in NFL history saw the 1992 Houston Oilers squander a 35-3 third quarter lead because of bad defense and non-existent ball control. Without a running game, you can't burn the clock effectively, you're constantly at risk for a turnover, and your defense spends too much time on the field.
20. Seattle Seahawks  — What can you really say after an epic 41-0 beatdown? They did everything right. Now they need to do it again. This team has been a rollercoaster so far, great one week and embarrassing the next.
21. Jacksonville Jaguars  — Humiliating loss in Seattle, but the next game is at home vs. St. Louis. If that can't fix what ails them, nothing can. Torry Holt, who leads the team in receiving, is the only player in the NFL with at least 300 receiving yards but no touchdowns.
22. Houston Texans  — How awesome is Andre Johnson? On a fourth-quarter touchdown this week, Johnson knocked down three Arizona defenders for a game-tying score. He didn't elude them like Brandon Marshall, or even stiff-arm them like a running back; Johnson literally knocked down three defenders, put them on the ground. This is from a wide receiver. Johnson finished the game with 8 catches for 102 yards and 2 TDs.
23. Carolina Panthers  — Unimpressive in victory. If anything is encouraging, it's that the Panthers generated an effective pass rush (5 sacks) and Julius Peppers finally started to justify his contract.
24. Tennessee Titans  — Should they change quarterbacks? My instinct is to say that they should: Kerry Collins has played poorly, and Vince Young could provide a spark. Even if he doesn't, at least the team can learn more about Young and make educated decisions about the future based on his performance. Thinking about it, though, I can also see reasons to keep Young on the sidelines. It sounds like the team has faith in the old man, and not in Young. If they bench Collins, and Vince stinks it up, that could have a strong negative impact in the locker room. No one wants to become the Raiders.
25. Cleveland Browns  — Derek Anderson in Week 5: 2-for-17, 23 yards, no TD, 1 INT, 15.1 passer rating. He also ran once, for a 2-yard gain. Cleveland's 22 yards of net passing were the lowest for a winning team this decade, and the Browns have been held to 6 points or less in three of their five games this season.
26. Buffalo Bills  — It seems like they suffer devastating defensive injuries every season. Starting CB Leodis McKelvin is on IR, and this week he'll be joined by starting LB Kawika Mitchell and Marcus Buggs, who has started two games in place of the injured Paul Posluszny. Additionally, both starting safeties missed their second straight game this week. The Bills look worse every week, which is to be expected when you keep losing players.
27. Detroit Lions  — In 2008, the Lions went 0-16 behind a defense that gave up 517 points, the second-most in history (1981 Colts, 533). This year's team has picked up where last year's left off: Detroit has allowed 162 points this season, worst in the NFL. Opponents are averaging more than 30 points against them. There are 12 teams that have yet to allow 30 points against anyone this season.
28. Washington Redskins  — Rumor has it that Jim Zorn will be fired before the end of the season. I think Zorn is an inadequate head coach who was never qualified for the position, and he is a major reason that the team has performed so poorly this season. But can we stop firing coaches in the middle of the year, unless they're Tom Cable? And if someone was good enough to hire in the first place, he deserves more than a year and a half to prove it. What does the team have to gain by switching coaches in mid-season? It's not like they're making a playoff run.
29. Kansas City Chiefs  — Losing in overtime is always painful, but this is a team that could really use a win. The Chiefs haven't come out on top since last November, Week 13 against the Raiders. There really is nothing this team does particularly well, but may I suggest that the ineffective running game is particularly problematic? In five games this season, Larry Johnson has averaged 1.8, 3.3, 2.0, 2.9, and 1.8 yards per carry.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers  — Jimmy Wilkerson had 3 sacks in the loss this weekend. The rest of the defense stayed home and cheered him on from their sofas.
31. Oakland Raiders  — After looking like a real team in Weeks 1 and 2, the Raiders have utterly disintegrated. I know they're ranked below a winless team they've beaten. I don't care. The way the Raiders have played their last three games, they aren't going to beat anyone. Oakland ranks 32nd in total offense and 31st in total defense.
32. St. Louis Rams  — Outscored by 112 points this season, by far the worst in the league. The Rams are averaging 6.8 points per game, putting them on pace for 109 this season. The only team to average fewer than 10 ppg in a 16-game season was the 1992 Seattle Seahawks (140 points, 8.8 ppg). I think St. Louis will be better than that, but it's not a given. The Raiders (9.8 ppg) and Browns (11.0 ppg) have an outside shot at this kind of infamy, as well.