NFL Week 12 Power Rankings
December 1, 2009 by Brad Oremland • Print Story •
Five Quick Hits
* The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced this year's semifinalists over the weekend. My favorites (not predictions) to advance: Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Don Coryell, Terrell Davis, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman, Kevin Greene, Russ Grimm, John Randle, Jerry Rice, Shannon Sharpe, Emmitt Smith, Paul Tagliabue, Steve Tasker, Aeneas Williams.
* Not that this was the boldest prediction, or that I was the only one to make it, but just for the record, we called this Charlie Weis thing more than four years ago. Fired with six years left on his contract. Tip-top organization, Notre Dame.
* Longest active win streaks: Colts and Saints (11), Chargers (6), Titans (5), Vikings (4), Packers (3). Losing streaks: Browns (6), Bears (4), Bucs, Rams, Steelers, and Texans (3 each).
* Tiger Woods' personal life is not your business. Get one of your own.
* Everything is a joke at FOX, and sometimes their team has trouble getting away from that. Terry Bradshaw gave a sincere and impassioned plea for the league to do more to protect players from head injuries, citing his old friend and teammate, Mike Webster. Howie Long soberly agreed with Bradshaw, and then Michael Strahan made a joke about the whole thing. How tone-deaf are you to start laughing while a man is speaking about his dead friend and addressing an issue that's important to him? This isn't just Strahan, it's the whole culture there.
We all love getting to watch additional football games on Thanksgiving, but the downside is having to tolerate the announcers on a day when you're trying to concentrate on the positives in life. FOX's top announcing team is the worst. Joe Buck is enough to make me hate the holiday, and Pam Oliver seems insincere even when she's covering a story like Charles Woodson's charitable work with sick kids. Buck, who has always been obnoxious, is now openly rude. Troy Aikman isn't much of an analyst, but I don't have any major complaints with him. He at least seems interested in the game, and unlike Buck and Oliver, he comes across as a reasonably nice person.
CBS featured the least offensive team on Thanksgiving. They didn't do a good job, but they didn't do a terrible one, and that actually distinguished them by comparison. However, Jim Nance and Phil Simms spent several minutes on Thursday campaigning for Jim Plunkett, the only Hall-eligible QB to win two Super Bowls. Plunkett had terrible stats and never made a Pro Bowl. He had two HOF linemen, an HOF running back, an HOF tight end, and several HOF teammates on defense. Plunkett was a good quarterback, but he was in the right place at the right time. He's nowhere near a Hall of Famer.
If Thursday was your first experience with NFL Network, don't judge it based on that game. This station usually does a very good job, and Thursday's broadcast was probably the worst I've seen. The studio team was off its game, instant replays kept cutting off the beginning of the next play, and the announcing team was pathetic. Bob Papa, who was excellent last year, has been a huge disappointment this season. He doesn't know what he's talking about. Matt Millen occasionally points out something worthwhile, but you can tell why this guy failed as a GM.
Hopefully, you were all focused enough on the things you're thankful for to get past the foolishness we're forced to endure on these broadcasts. Let's move on to this week's rankings. Brackets indicate previous rank.
1. New Orleans Saints  — Best performances in their biggest games. They embarrassed the Giants in Week 6, and dominated the Patriots on Monday. Everyone on the team deserves praise after such an emphatic win, but I'd like to single out Sean Payton, Gregg Williams, Drew Brees, and the offensive line. Payton has done his best job when the stakes were highest. Williams, who failed as defensive coordinator in Washington and Jacksonville, kept the Patriots off-balance all game. He used a lot of three-man rushes with maximum coverage, but mixed it up with all-out blitzes. Having a couple of physical, veteran corners didn't hurt, either. Brees was magnificent, and the offensive line simply doesn't get enough credit. This is an offense, with no stars other than Brees, that is easily the best in the league. Whichever runners and receivers they put in there, the guys produce. That's a credit to the coaches, the quarterback, and the blockers.
2. Indianapolis Colts  — This team makes amazing comebacks routine. Most teams fall behind 17-0, and you think they're finished. The Colts go down 17, and you figure they're still probably going to win. Indianapolis has won five straight after trailing in the fourth quarter, and Peyton Manning has directed more 17-point comebacks than any other quarterback in history. It's worrisome, though, that Manning has thrown multiple interceptions in three straight games. Indianapolis has already clinched the AFC South, which might be the best division in football.
3. San Diego Chargers  — For the last five years, we've been arguing about the quarterback class of 2004: Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger. I know some people can't get past the Super Bowls, but I think that right now, Rivers is pretty clearly the best of those three. He's an elite passer and team leader, the standout player on the fourth-ranked scoring offense in the league. Rivers is among the NFL's top six in both passing yards and rating.
4. Minnesota Vikings  — Everyone is banged up this time of year. Except the Vikings. They're missing Antoine Winfield, and that's not a small loss, but he's the only starter who's hurt. Healthy teams win games, and the Vikings are remarkably healthy. They've played their best football the last two weeks, utterly dominating the Seahawks and Bears. Those teams are both terrible, but you can't control your schedule, and this is the first time the Vikings have really dictated to their opposition. If I were going against Minnesota, I would play to stop the pass. Letting Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin carve up your secondary is a proven recipe for failure at this point, and Adrian Peterson has a fumble problem that can be taken advantage of if they're running the ball.
5. Tennessee Titans  — Vince Young followed his best running game of the season with the best passing game of his career, and no one wants to play this team right now. Young and Kenny Britt were fantastic on the game-winning 99-yard drive to beat Arizona, but the star of the show remains Chris Johnson, who is pretty clearly the best running back in the NFL. I don't know if Young has been secretly suiting up on defense, but since the QB switch, Tennessee's defense is allowing 18.2 points per game, down from 33.0 with Kerry Collins.
6. New England Patriots  — I don't have a problem with going for it on fourth down, but they need to quit wasting timeouts while they decide whether or not to do it. While we're on this topic, though, I would like to proclaim that everyone at ESPN is much, much smarter than Bill Belichick. Their opinions may contradict the greatest coach of this generation and even the constants of math itself, but they are very obviously correct. If your defense can't stop the opponent from scoring touchdowns, it is obviously crucial to settle for field goals, since failing to convert on fourth down could cause you to lose by 21 instead of 18. Trent Dilfer and Ron Jaworski are so conservative, they don't think teams should go for it on third down.
7. Cincinnati Bengals  — Lead the NFL in fewest points allowed, and they've given up more than 20 points just twice all season. Cincinnati used an old-fashioned running-and-defense formula to beat Cleveland this weekend, and completed a 6-0 sweep of the AFC North. It will be a couple of weeks before the Bengals can officially clinch the division title, but they appear to have it pretty well sewn up at this point. The Colts have already claimed the AFC South, while the Saints and Vikings can both clinch their divisions next week.
8. Dallas Cowboys  — Tashard Choice should be starting for someone. Every time this guy gets a chance to play, he does something good. I don't understand why the Cowboys don't call more plays for him. The Raiders aren't the most challenging opponent in the league, but NT Jay Ratliff played awfully well on Thursday. Dallas is 5-1 since its bye.
9. Baltimore Ravens  — They're a month and a half removed from their three-game losing streak, and 3-2 since the bye, against a murderous schedule (four of the five games against teams over .500). Michael Oher, who is the subject of a new movie, got more attention from the announcers during this game than I can ever recall for an offensive lineman. Unfortunately, he got schooled by Pittsburgh LB Lamar Woodley and was called for a couple of penalties. New kicker Billy Cundiff has endured a lot of drama since joining the team two weeks ago. Not only did both contests go down to the wire, he attempted 6 field goals in his first game with the team, and this week tried a 56-yard FG as time expired before hitting the game-winner in overtime.
10. Arizona Cardinals  — Made the right choice by resting Kurt Warner this week. Matt Leinart played fine and gave them a chance to win. The Cardinals still have a two-game lead in their division, and even if Warner misses another start, the Cardinals will remain heavy favorites to win the NFC West. Reports last year indicated that Warner considered retirement after witnessing a serious injury to teammate Anquan Boldin, and Warner is 38, so I wouldn't expect him to take risks with his health at this point. Leinart, who started his first game in more than two years, lost a last-minute heartbreaker to Vince Young for the second time. Most of us have seen LaRod Stephens-Howling's KR TD by now, but he also downed two punts inside the five-yard line. That's a pretty awesome performance on special teams.
11. Green Bay Packers  — Played against the Lions on Thanksgiving for the 19th time, and made a rout of it on the strength of standout performances by Aaron Rodgers (348 yards, 3 TDs), Donald Driver (142 yards, TD), and Charles Woodson (2 INTs, forced fumble, fumble recovery, sack). It's especially encouraging to see Rodgers throw the ball away instead of taking sacks. Everyone in green looked good on Thursday, though, with the much-maligned offensive line also playing notably well. The Packers have won three in a row since their loss to 1-10 Tampa Bay, and are 5-2 since the bye. Green Bay is +17 in turnovers this season, by far the best in the league.
12. Philadelphia Eagles  — Suffered a pair of potentially important injuries in Sunday's nailbiter win over Washington. DeSean Jackson got a concussion, and Brent Celek injured his left hand. Celek and Jackson are the team's top two receivers this season. On a day when Philadelphia's defense didn't play particularly well, a pair of big plays (interceptions by Asante Samuel) and success in the running game bailed them out.
13. Houston Texans  — Three straight losses, but two of them were to the Colts, and the other was against red-hot Tennessee. Those defeats, all close, were preceded by three pretty good wins. Houston obviously isn't an elite team, but it's clearly above average. Steve Slaton and Chris Brown ran effectively on Sunday, and I think it was a mistake to let Matt Schaub air things out so much after they built a big lead. Schaub had three second-half turnovers, one of them returned for a touchdown. You run to protect a lead. DE Antonio Smith had more 15-yard penalties (2) than tackles (1) this weekend. The Texans finished with 10 penalties for 129 yards. To be fair, 43 of them came on a bad call for pass interference. Nine for 86 yards is still a lot.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers  — Dennis Dixon's interception in overtime was a crucial mistake, but he played pretty well on Sunday night, acquitting himself admirably in a nationally-televised starting debut against a fierce rival. I realize Dixon was the third-string QB, but I was surprised by the coaching staff's lack of faith in him, not even trying to get into field goal range at the end of the first half. That's playing not to lose. This was a big game, and the defeat could cost the Steelers a playoff spot, but resting Ben Roethlisberger was the right move. Big Ben has frequently played hurt, and he usually has not performed well in those games. More importantly, head injuries can prematurely end careers and even lives. This game was important, but it wasn't worth Ben's whole future.
15. San Francisco 49ers  — With the Jaguars focused on containing Frank Gore (16 carries for 33 yards), Alex Smith had his best game since taking over as starter (232 yards, 2 TD, no sacks or interceptions). Fourth-year tight end Vernon Davis and rookie wideout Michael Crabtree continued to impress, and they give this team talent it can build around in the receiving game. The real story for San Francisco, though, was the play of its defense, which came up with six sacks and two turnovers, holding Jacksonville to just three 3rd-down conversions on 12 tries. Justin Smith is a playmaker.
16. Miami Dolphins  — Losing to the Bills is pretty bad, but this game wasn't the blowout it looked like on the scoreboard (31-14). The Dolphins were winning at the beginning of the fourth quarter (14-7), and they were only down by a field goal with 2:30 to play. Buffalo scored 24 points in the fourth quarter and 17 just in the last four minutes, but this was a close game. Chad Henne threw a career-high 3 interceptions, and Ricky Williams added a fourth, but the Dolphins are the same team they were a week ago.
17. New York Giants  — Five losses in their last six games and, man, they looked awful against Denver. Eli Manning's decision-making was terrible: throw the ball away! Don't risk throwing interceptions or getting your receivers killed. Brandon Jacobs looked incredibly slow, and the whole running game was punchless. Both the offensive and defensive lines were badly outplayed. This game wasn't even as close as the score indicates, and the Giants just flat-out didn't show up. You obviously blame the players for their performances, but this starts with the coaching staff.
18. Atlanta Falcons  — Matt Ryan will miss next week's game against Philadelphia with turf toe, but I'm not sure how big a deal that is. Ryan has struggled recently, and backup Chris Redman played well off the bench. Yeah, the Falcons are better with Ryan in the game, but I don't think the difference is a big one right now, and a week off might do him some good.
19. Denver Broncos  — Are the real Broncos the ones who started 6-0, or the ones who dropped four straight after that? This team invariably seems to defy expectations. Denver absolutely dominated the Giants in its Thanksgiving win, but how do you collect three false start penalties playing at home? Brandon Marshall made a pair of jaw-dropping catches on Thursday night.
20. Carolina Panthers  — Jake Delhomme vs. Mark Sanchez: the Interception Bowl. Delhomme, the veteran, won easily, throwing 4 picks to the rookie's 1 pick. He may have had an unfair advantage, though, in the form of a broken finger. Matt Moore will start next week if Delhomme is unable to go.
21. Jacksonville Jaguars  — Dispiriting loss after they looked ready to make a playoff push at 6-4. To give you an idea how well their record reflects their actual power, the Jaguars have played nine games in a row against teams with losing records. Kicker Josh Scobee is not having a good year.
22. New York Jets  — Darrelle Revis is an exceptional player, but if the Jets need 4 interceptions every week to win, it's going to be a long December. The Jets don't have effective quarterback play, and you can't win consistently without effective quarterback play. This team went 3-0 in September, then 1-3 in October and again in November. That's what I'd predict for December, too.
23. Washington Redskins  — Bingo jokes were all the rage a month ago, but it seems pretty clear at this point that the offense is better with Sherm Lewis calling the plays. Since he took over, the team has averaged 18.2 points per game, which isn't very good, but does represent an improvement from 13.7 — against weaker defenses — before that. Also, piece of advice to anyone playing Washington: don't start the game with an onside kick. That's high-risk, high-reward, but it's not worth taking a high risk against a team this weak, and the reward probably won't be necessary to beat them. If you really want, try it in the second half if you're tied or trailing.
24. Kansas City Chiefs  — The Chargers have their number: San Diego won their first meeting by 30 points, and this one by 29, a combined score of 80-21. Against everyone else, the Chiefs are 3-6 and have been outscored 202-162. That's still bad, but it's respectable. Jamaal Charles has played well and looks like a viable replacement for Larry Johnson.
25. Buffalo Bills  — New starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has the fourth-highest passer rating on the team, trailing the man he replaced, Trent Edwards, as well as RB Fred Jackson and punter Brian Moorman, who have one pass each. What Fitzpatrick has done is get Terrell Owens involved in the offense. In the two weeks with Fitzpatrick starting, Owens has his two highest yardage totals of the season, and has scored 2 of his 3 touchdowns. Buffalo's opportunistic defense, which ranks second in the league with 21 interceptions, was the difference this week. On Thursday, this team will be the Toronto Bills, hosting the Jets across the border.
26. Seattle Seahawks  — They're 2-0 against the Rams, 2-7 against everyone else. Remember when Matt Hasselbeck was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFC, if not the whole league? Only two years removed from his last Pro Bowl, Hasselbeck now appears average at best. The same thing happened to the Rams' Marc Bulger. I don't know if it's departed teammates, or injuries, or something else, but Hasselbeck — who ranks 22nd in passing yards and 19th in passer rating — doesn't appear to have a bright future at this point.
27. Chicago Bears  — A little worse every week, they're 1-6 since the bye, beating only the hopeless 1-10 Browns. Injuries are mounting on defense, and Jay Cutler laughs at any quarterback who tries to match his league lead for interceptions. A loss to the Rams next week is unlikely but definitely plausible. I say it happens if Steven Jackson plays the whole game and Cutler throws multiple picks. Bears fans have made much of the Jay Cutler trade yielding fifth-round draft pick Johnny Knox, and my question for those fans this week is: if you had to choose one, who would you rather have, Cutler or Knox?
28. Oakland Raiders  — They haven't quit, or at least didn't want to get embarrassed in front of a national television audience. It's hard to believe they've beaten two good teams, though. The Raiders just don't have the weapons to be consistently competitive. Oakland averages less than 1 touchdown per game.
29. St. Louis Rams  — Out-gained the Seahawks by 99 yards, made more first downs, averaged more yards per play, and still lost by double-digits. They were -1 in turnovers, failed two fourth-down conversions, missed a field goal, and lost field position on special teams. Good teams, like the Colts, find a way to win even when they make mistakes. Bad teams, like St. Louis, find a way to lose even when they do things right.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers  — In the last three months, they've fired both the offensive and defensive coordinators. The results speak for themselves. Some fans and analysts are actually patting Raheem Morris on the back for this week's defensive performance against a 32-year-old QB who got no reps in practice, has never been viewed as a starter, and hadn't played in almost two years. Pardon me if I'm not impressed.
31. Detroit Lions  — It's easy to criticize a quarterback after he throws four interceptions, and obviously Matthew Stafford made some mistakes this week. But all those mistakes are correctable, and I think he showed the potential to be a really good quarterback in this league. Third-year wide receiver Calvin Johnson is already really good, but he shouldn't have played on Thursday. He obviously wasn't anywhere near 100%, and his value as a decoy didn't justify setting back his healing by a week. Punter Nick Harris played very well this week and is having the best season of his nine-year career. Speaking of nines, the Lions this week clinched their ninth consecutive losing season.
32. Cleveland Browns  — Last year's winless Lions scored 268 points. The Browns are at 122 and would need to average 29.2 per game to match that. Detroit was held to less than 10 points twice last season. Cleveland has already been held to single-digits seven times. When the Browns (11.1 ppg) play Oakland (10.5 ppg) in Week 16, the game will end in a 0-0 tie. The last time this really happened was 1943, Giants vs. Lions.
Please check back tomorrow for Sports Central's 2009 Pro Bowl selections, as well as midseason awards including MVP, Coach of the Year, and Rookie of the Year.