NFL Week 6 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Players, coaches, and the league itself have done a great job of bringing attention to a good cause.

* In their first 31 years of regular season play, the Buccaneers had never returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Now they have one in each of the last three seasons.

* Either I have a very conservative definition of "indisputable visual evidence," or NFL referees have a very liberal one. I think too many on-field calls get reversed on maybe, probably, and I would prefer that. And yes, I am accusing referees of outright bias on certain calls.

* Did Tony Gonzalez bend the crossbar when he "dunked" the football after his second-quarter touchdown on Sunday night? That thing looked pretty crooked on the point after.

* Nice job by Mike Tirico on MNF, getting Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski to explain why Norv Turner uses so many screen passes and how they affect a defense.

***

The NFL's television rules do a disservice to fans. The league and its television partners deliberately restrict the amount of football fans can watch, and we sometimes miss the beginning or end of a game because of nonsensical rules. In other cases, we don't get to watch any of the games we want to see.

The ultimate result notwithstanding, the game of the week this Sunday was clearly Giants at Saints, a matchup of undefeated teams and a possible NFC Championship Game preview. But the game wasn't shown in my area, and I had to make special arrangements to watch it. The local team in my market was on CBS, so there was no reason FOX couldn't have carried Saints/Giants. But as that game was starting, FOX was airing a Seinfeld re-run. Things like this blunt fans' enthusiasm, and they need to be corrected. Flex scheduling in the second half of the season is a step in the right direction, and shows that the league and its broadcast partners recognize the problem. But when a game as highly-anticipated as this one is shelved in favor of a 15-year-old sitcom — and trust me, FOX would have preferred to show the game — there are obviously still some issues to work out.

As we move on to this week's Power Rankings, please remember that these rankings are for right now, and don't necessarily reflect a team's accomplishments over the whole season. Week 1 isn't exactly ancient history, but it's getting close. Brackets show last week's rank.

1. New Orleans Saints [2] — Smart people can differ on the proper rank for various teams, but I think you should be pretty skeptical of anyone who doesn't have the Saints number one this week. They're undefeated, all their wins are by at least two touchdowns, and Drew Brees passed for more yards in the first quarter than the Giants had been giving up per game.

2. Indianapolis Colts [3] — It's much too early in the season to speculate on potential Super Bowl matchups, but the Colts had a bye this week and I have to write something in this space, so I'll just put it out there: Peyton Manning and the Colts vs. Drew Brees and the Saints? That would be a QB matchup to rival Dan Marino and Joe Montana in 1984.

3. Denver Broncos [4] — Is it the player or the system? Kyle Orton has more yards per game and a better passer rating than Jay Cutler. Amazing what happens when the quality of your blockers and receivers change, isn't it? The AFC Pro Bowl race at quarterback is going to be very competitive this year. Can you really choose just three deserving players among Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Schaub, Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco, and Orton?

4. Minnesota Vikings [5] — Their opponents have a combined record of 11-23 (.324). Who is the best team they've beaten? The underachieving Packers? The overachieving 49ers? The three-game-losing-streak Ravens? And all of those wins came down to the last minute. Close victories are as much about luck as they are skill. It's apparent at this point that the Vikings are good, but they've also been lucky. That won't last all season. Quick, Vikings at Falcons, who would you bet on? The Vikings are 4-point underdogs in Pittsburgh this week.

5. New York Giants [1]Last week, I made a big deal out of how fans should be sure to watch their game against New Orleans, and it was a blowout from the beginning. I still think the game was worth watching, though, just to see how dominant Brees and the Saints' offense looked. I don't understand why the Giants never adjusted their defensive schemes, though. This team normally relies on its excellent front four to provide a pass rush, but Brees was never under any pressure, and he was so accurate in coverage that the game became a joke. The Giants needed to dial up some blitzes and change the rhythm of the game, but they never adjusted. Adding injury to insult, starting tackle Kareem McKenzie was carted off the field with what appeared to be a serious injury.

6. New England Patriots [6] — Went into halftime up 45-0, including a 35-point second quarter. That is the most points scored in a quarter in 22 years (Washington vs. Denver in Super Bowl XXII), and the 59-0 final was the largest margin of victory in a shutout since the 1940 NFL Championship Game (Bears over Washington, 73-0). Bill Belichick is mean.

7. Atlanta Falcons [7] — The big stars on offense get the hype, but Atlanta's defense won this week's game for them: two interceptions, superb run defense, and a goal-line stand in which they forced two fumbles from a guy who never fumbles. One thing I didn't like: John Abraham dropped into pass coverage a number of times on Sunday night. I understand trying to keep the opponent off-balance, but this guy led all defensive linemen in sacks last year — his value is as a pass rusher, and that's what he should be doing.

8. Chicago Bears [9] — Every team I had ranked 8th-14th lost or had a bye in Week 6, so Chicago actually moves up after a close defeat against a good team. The Bears played well for most of the game, but they made critical mistakes: turnovers and poor red zone play. If they avoid those problems, the Bears are a good team. If they can add a consistent running game, they might be a great team.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers [15] — Hines Ward leads the NFL in receiving yards. That's right, 33-year-old, almost-time-to-retire Hines Ward. He's also averaging 14.6 yards per reception, the highest since his rookie season and his best ever as a starter. Troy Polamalu returned to the lineup just in time to offset the loss of Aaron Smith. Casual fans may not believe this, but Smith is probably just as valuable to this team as Polamalu. He will miss the remainder of the season.

10. Arizona Cardinals [19] — Great defensive play and overwhelming time of possession (42:50) in an uncharacteristic win. The Cardinals, who rank 6th in passing but 31st in rushing, are probably the least-balanced offense in the league. With the top-ranked rush defense and 31st-ranked pass defense, they are certainly the least-balanced defense.

11. Philadelphia Eagles [8] — Bad coaching. In a game where your left tackle gets injured early, your quarterback gets sacked 6 times, and your lead running back averages 8.3 yards per carry, you simply cannot have a rush-pass ratio of 14 to 46. You have to keep the opposing pass rush honest with runs, and give your offensive line a chance to get in rhythm. Jason Peters, the aforementioned left tackle, has a knee contusion and an ankle sprain, but he might be able to play in Week 7.

12. Miami Dolphins [12] — Two wins in a row, both against division opponents, since Chad Henne became the starter. The Dolphins topped 30 points in both games, after averaging 14.3 in their first three matchups. Miami's recent prosperity is due more to its unique success with the Wildcat than to its passing game, but that's still an auspicious start for Henne.

13. San Francisco 49ers [14] — Finally signed holdout wide receiver Michael Crabtree last week. The Niners went 3-2 without this year's first-round pick, but they could certainly use a spark for the 29th-ranked offense in the league. Frank Gore is also expected to be on the field, returning from injury for this week's matchup with Houston.

14. Green Bay Packers [16] — Gave up five sacks against the Lions. Aaron Rodgers goes down an average of five times per game, by far the worst in the NFL (no one else even averages four). Green Bay still won easily this week, on the strength of a phenomenal defensive performance that included 5 sacks, 3 interceptions, and no third- or fourth-down conversions by Detroit.

15. Baltimore Ravens [11] — Six teams have active losing streaks of at least three games: St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Detroit, and ... the Ravens and Jets, both of whom ranked as top-10 teams a couple weeks ago. Baltimore isn't getting blown out, and it isn't losing to bad teams, but a "good loss" counts the same in the standings as a bad one, and the Ravens are now a .500 team. Substandard cornerback play has become an enormous problem.

16. Dallas Cowboys [17] — The only NFC East team not to lose in Week 6. If Tony Romo and Roy Williams still don't have any chemistry after the bye week, I think we can officially label Williams a bust in Dallas.

17. Cincinnati Bengals [10] — Statistically a middle-of-the-road team, and that caught up to them this week after three straight 3-point victories. More important than the loss to Houston was the loss of DE Antwan Odom, who blocked a field goal this weekend and was tied for the NFL lead in sacks. Odom, who tore his Achilles, has been placed on season-ending injured reserve. The Bengals are now ranked below two opponents they've beaten, but this isn't the same team without its best defensive player.

18. Houston Texans [22] — Matt Schaub ranks first in passing TDs, second in passing yards, and sixth in passer rating. Does anyone in Houston still wish the team had drafted Vince Young? So far this season, Young has 5 passes and 3 runs. The result? Five yards, 1 fumble, an interception, and no completions.

19. San Diego Chargers [18] — Allowed more than 30 points for the second game in a row, and now rank 28th in points allowed. They really miss defensive linemen Jamal Williams (who is injured) and Igor Olshansky (who left in free agency). On Monday night, Jon Gruden called Williams "a six- or seven-time Pro Bowler". Actual number of Pro Bowls for Williams: three. That kind of hyperbole needs to be corrected.

20. New York Jets [13] — Mark Sanchez now has twice as many interceptions (10) as touchdowns (5), and it's obvious that he still has some learning to do. An even bigger issue right now is that standout NT Kris Jenkins injured his knee in Sunday's loss and will miss the rest of the season. Jenkins was probably the Jets' most valuable player, and they're lower in the rankings because of his absence. On a separate note, Thomas Jones is 31 years old, and this is his 10th season in the NFL. Washington's Clinton Portis is 28, an eight-year veteran. This weekend, both Jones and Portis had the longest runs of their respective careers: 71 yards for Jones and 78 for Portis. The Jets had the most rushing yards by a losing team since 1944 (Cleveland Rams vs. Washington).

21. Seattle Seahawks [20] — Can't put together two good games in a row. In Weeks 1, 3, and 5, they went 2-1 and outscored their opponents 88-25. In even-numbered weeks, they're 0-3 and have lost by a combined margin of 84-30.

22. Carolina Panthers [23] — Won their second in a row after an 0-3 start, but Carolina's 2-3 record is only slightly more impressive than Washington's 2-4. Carolina had a great day running the ball, but one game doesn't mean the ground attack is back on track, and Jake Delhomme continues to throw an alarming number of interceptions. The league suspended DB Dante Wesley for one game after his vicious hit on Tampa returner Clifton Smith.

23. Jacksonville Jaguars [21] — After spending the first 10 years of his career with St. Louis, Torry Holt lit up his old team for 101 yards on 5 receptions. Jacksonville outplayed the Rams in a way that the 3-point overtime victory doesn't reflect, but nearly lost because of turnovers. Maurice Jones-Drew is having a great season, but the team should divide his workload more carefully. Backup Rashad Jennings only averages 2.5 carries per game.

24. Cleveland Browns [25] — This is almost certainly too high. The Browns rank 31st in offense and 32nd in defense. They're basically the same team as Washington, except with a worse defense. But they won at Buffalo last week and lost to a good team on Sunday, so here they are. To be fair, the Browns have played a pretty nasty schedule.

25. Buffalo Bills [26] — Finally pulled out a close game, intercepting Mark Sanchez five times and knocking off a division rival. But the Bills' locker room looks like an E.R. This team leads the league in significant injuries, and I just don't see how they can be competitive without getting five or six interceptions every week.

26. Oakland Raiders [31] — Terrific blocking by rookie receiver Louis Murphy on Zach Miller's 86-yard touchdown. The absolute highlight of this game, though, was a silver-and-black pigeon accompanying the Raiders' kickoff team the whole length of the field and looking for all the world like part of the coverage unit. It even stayed in its lane!

27. Kansas City Chiefs [29] — How embarrassing for the franchise that several players dumped a cooler on Todd Haley after the win. I realize it had been a long time, but a celebratory bath for the head coach when you're 1-5? Have some pride.

28. Detroit Lions [27] — Offense looked lost without playmaker Calvin Johnson. The defense had its moments, with free agent acquisition Julian Peterson picking up 2.5 sacks and forcing a pair of fumbles.

29. Washington Redskins [28] — Still ranked ahead of both teams they've beaten. Both of those teams are winless, and all four teams that have beaten Washington got their first win of the season by doing so. Head coach Jim Zorn has been relieved of play-calling duties, which isn't necessarily a bad idea, but it's not going to fix anything, either.

30. Tennessee Titans [24] — How does an NFL pass defense give up 432 yards and 6 touchdowns in the snow? Tennessee's opponents have combined for a 117.5 passer rating this season, with a league-high 19 TDs. In fact, "league-high" doesn't do this number justice; 27 of the league's 32 teams have allowed less than half as many passing touchdowns as Tennessee.

31. St. Louis Rams [32] — Gave up 33 first downs against Jacksonville, which, if it's not the most in the league this year, has to be close.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [30] — Tanard Jackson, recently back from suspension, returned an interception for a touchdown, and rookie receiver Sammie Stroughter had a breakout game, or at least what qualifies as one in Tampa. But it's not a player, or even a coach, whom I want to single out for praise. I frequently criticize referees, but John Parry's crew did a great job of handling Wesley's hit on Clifton Smith.

Comments and Conversation

October 21, 2009

DARWITHABAR:

I dont think it was prideless to dump Gatorade on todd Haley. He is a young coach and they are a young team. Of course they were happy to beat any team on the road. You sound like a Redskin or a Raider homer. No wonder nobody but me has posted on here obviously hardly anyone has read it. Man im actualkly embarrassed for you and me.

October 21, 2009

Larry:

I read this column every week, every year. Just because this isn’t ESPN doesn’t mean Brad doesn’t have it going on. Many times the ex pro analysts aren’t as interesting to me.

October 22, 2009

Marc James:

Larry, thanks for being a loyal reader. We appreciate it!

October 23, 2009

Anthony Brancato:

Brad is the man!

But ho hum, the Eagles lose another close game, making them 1-7-1 this year and last combined in games decided by seven points or less; and I say so long as they continue to lack both a power running offense and a power running defense (how long did the Raiders manage to keep the ball on that final possession?), this trend will continue - and with a remaining schedule that contains virtually no team they can plausibly blow out, my pre-season prediction that they would finish 7-9 this season may turn out to have been made while wearing rose-colored glasses.

October 25, 2009

Kevin Beane:

Hey Brad,

There is a special reason (although I do not say good reason), your Fox affiliate showed Seinfeld while your local team played on CBS. From the506.com:

“Stations in the 32 team markets are not allowed to air a game if the other network has a local team’s home game at the same time. Instead, they have to air one in the other timeslot. The rule does not specifically apply if the local team is on the road, but if that’s on the doubleheader network, the singleheader network usually airs a game in the opposite timeslot. This is usually how those Raiders-Texans duds end up on the air in Cleveland.”

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