NFL Week 7 Power Rankings
October 26, 2010 by Brad Oremland • Print Story •
Five Quick Hits
* The AFC has won 7 of the last 10 Super Bowls. If I were a betting man, I'd like the chances for 8 of 11.
* The Green Bay Packers have the best fans in the NFL.
* Brett Favre is not going to retire before next season, or at least not permanently. Don't be gullible. This man has been teasing us with retirement since 2004. That's why the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers all those years ago, because Brett indicated that he wasn't going to play much longer. You think he's gone? He's not gone! That's the whole point! He's never gone!
* Randy Moss has got to hold the record for most offensive pass interference penalties. Does someone keep statistics on this?
* The Raiders are the most up-and-down, unpredictable team in the league. How do you score 9 points against San Francisco in Week 6, then explode for 59 in Denver the next game?
I'm hard on ESPN's Monday night announcing booth. I don't think it's as much because they're worse than other booths as because (1) I see them every week, (2) there are three people offering opinions instead of two, (3) they're opinionated, and (4) Jon Gruden doesn't care whether or not what he says makes sense.
But Gruden didn't really bother me this week. He did refer to Justin Tuck as "Jason Tuck" at least twice, but he only said "this guy" three times, and he tried to talk some sense into Ron Jaworski (more on that later). Gruden still doesn't understand punting, though: "Matt Dodge just can't win. He makes a great punt, and this is all rookie Dez Bryant." Dodge bombed a punt 63 yards, far beyond his coverage unit, and it predictably yielded a long return, in this case a touchdown by Bryant. That is not a great punt. It's not even a good punt. I don't know what percentage of 60+ yard punts get returned for touchdowns, but I bet it's high, maybe 4% (the average is about 0.5%). What matters on a punt is not where it's caught, but where the ball ends up, and you're never going to get a fair catch on a 63-yard punt, nor are you going to get an immediate hit on the returner or box the guy in. Almost always, he's got the open field to work with, and it takes amazing work from your coverage unit to prevent a long return.
At the beginning of the third quarter, Mike Tirico criticized Mat McBriar's punt as "only 42 yards", but it had tons of hang time and got an immediate hit for no yardage on the return. That is a very good punt, 42 net yards. It's 2010, guys. Gross yardage is to NFL punters as batting average is to MLB hitters: if that's the only thing you're looking at, you cannot properly judge the player. McBriar's 42-yard punt, which put his coverage team in position to prevent a return, was better than Dodge's 63-yard bomb that put a dangerous returner in the open field. This is easy to understand if you think about it.
Jaworski and Tirico got extremely fired up during the second half of Monday night's game, directing their ire at the Dallas coaching staff for a pair of gambles when the Cowboys were playing catch-up. With 8:19 remaining, Dallas was down 38-20 with fourth down at the 6-yard line. The Cowboys lined up to go for the touchdown, and Tirico and Jaws just lost it. They're acting like this is the stupidest decision in the history of coaching, with Jaworski unmistakably angry, literally shouting over Gruden when the latter suggested that it wasn't such a bad idea.
Let's look at this. If you kick the field goal, it's 38-23. You need to outscore the Giants by 15 points in the next eight minutes just to get to overtime. That's two touchdowns, and you haven't put together a drive longer than 21 yards all night. Honestly, you're not going to get to the 6-yard line two more times. If the Giants do so much as add a field goal, you need three scores, and that's definitely not happening. But 6 yards is a makable play, your offense has some momentum, and if you get in, it's an 11-point game. A touchdown and a field goal sounds much more realistic than two TDs, and now you're still only down two scores even if the Giants add another field goal.
It seems to me that Dallas made the right choice. If you're trying to win the game, you go for the touchdown. You have to take some chances when you're behind 18 with only half a quarter left. But why give yourself the best chance to win when you can play it safe and lose by slightly less? I swear Jaws would rather go 8-8 with a bunch of close losses than 10-6 with a couple embarrassments in there. I'd agree with him if the game was close or there was a bunch of time left, but you're down by a ton and the game is almost over; you've got to take some chances, and the odds really aren't so bad here. Even if you prefer the field goal, surely you can see why shooting for the end zone is a reasonable decision.
That attempt failed, but with 3:17 left in the game, Dallas scored a touchdown to make it 38-26. Tirico: "Dallas is lining up to go for two here. That two is a mistake. That's a mistake! They're doing the wrong thing!" At this point, Tirico seemed to remember that he was a professional and calmed down a little, but he was still very firm that Dallas was incorrect: "If you miss here, then you're down 12 and you need two touchdowns. If you kick the extra point, then you're down 11 and you need a field goal, a touchdown, and a two-point. You never go for two until you absolutely need to." Why not, Mike?
If you miss, you need two touchdowns. True. If you kick it, you still need an awful lot. What if you get a field goal and a touchdown, but you miss the two-point conversion you still need? Now there's no time left, and you just lost by two. If you miss it now, you already know you need two touchdowns. If you make it, 10-point game. I don't think going for two there was necessarily a better decision than the kick, but I'm certainly not convinced it was worse. Kicking the XP is just delaying the inevitable, and for Tirico to freak out the way he did makes me think he felt like the Cowboys were breaking a rule, doing something morally wrong, and that he hasn't given rational consideration to the reason for delaying a two-point try.
Life goes on, guys. I disagree with coaches all the time. But to be on a professional nationwide broadcast freaking out because a losing coach is taking bold steps to try to catch up is unbecoming of these guys. Tirico is the best play-by-play man in the business, and Jaws ... well, he works hard to do a good job. I just wish he would turn his insight toward his own beliefs and examine whether there's a legitimate reason for them.
Hey, Week 7 power rankings. Brackets indicate previous rank.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers  — The league's best defense lost a key player this weekend. Aaron Smith, who also missed most of last season, left the game with what is being reported as a torn triceps. Smith, one of the most underrated players of this generation, started every game for Pittsburgh's last two Super Bowl teams and earned a spot on my All-Decade Team. Earlier in the week, James Harrison, whom the NFL hit with a $75,000 fine last week as part of its crackdown on dangerous hits, acted like a huge crybaby and spent a day threatening to retire. Next week, he will refuse to eat anything except spaghetti and hold his breath until he turns blue.
2. New York Jets  — A lot of people like them at the top, ahead of Pittsburgh, and that's a reasonable position. But their last two wins, over the Broncos and Vikings, were uncomfortably close. Those clubs are a combined 4-9, and you expect a great team to dominate opponents like that. New York's immediate schedule doesn't look terribly threatening, and I expect the Jets to be 9-2 (maybe even 10-1) heading into their Week 13 matchup at New England.
3. Tennessee Titans  — Known primarily for their defense, the Titans actually lead the NFL in points scored (199) and point differential (+82). Tennessee's offense and defense are actually about average with respect to yardage, but all the intangibles — special teams, red zone play, etc. — have them among the league leaders in points scored and allowed. The Titans are one of only four teams with a current winning streak of at least three games, and they're 3-0 against the NFC East, including decisive wins over the Giants (29-10) and Eagles (37-19). Kenny Britt had a monster game (225 yards, 3 TD), one of the biggest receiving performances in years.
4. New England Patriots  — One of three one-loss teams, and I'm sure some people think it's sacrilege not to have them in the top three. But they were lucky to win their last two games, and they're incredibly one-dimensional. They can't run, and they don't play good defense. It's Tom Brady and special teams, with a dash of heads-up play and some plain luck. If the Chargers don't leave two balls sitting on the field, New England loses that game. It's not like the Patriots forced fumbles; Richard Goodman literally laid the ball on the field and walked away. I'm not saying the Pats didn't deserve to win — they earned the victory — but for a power ranking, where I'm evaluating how good a team really is, New England was not impressive this weekend. The Chargers gave them that game.
5. New York Giants  — The only NFC team with more than two wins in a row, they're top-three in both yards gained and yards allowed. They've injured a lot of quarterbacks, five in six games: Matt Moore, Jay Cutler, Todd Collins, Shaun Hill, and Tony Romo all left games against the Giants with injuries. The team's renaissance (following a 1-2 start) has been about running and defense, especially the pass rush. But announcers — and not just the MNF guys — can't stop talking about the quarterback. Look, it's time to stop sucking Eli Manning's, uh, toes. He threw 3 interceptions on Monday night. He leads the NFL in interceptions. He has more INTs than Brett Favre, more than Alex Smith, more than Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen combined.
Eli is the year-in, year-out front-runner in the QB excitement statistic: TDs + INTs. Eli inspired this formula at least four seasons ago, I think more than that, though I couldn't find the original article. This is not a particularly good statistic for QBs to rank highly; it usually goes to a good QB having a bad year. Throughout his career, Eli has almost always ranked among the top 10. Starting in 2005, his first year as full-time starter: 3rd, 3rd, t-8th, 12th, t-5th, 1st. The league leaders each season: Brett Favre, 2005 (20 TD, 29 INT); Rex Grossman (23 TD, 20 INT) and Jon Kitna (21 TD, 22 INT), 2006; Tom Brady (50 TD, 8 INT), 2007; Drew Brees (34 TD, 17 INT), 2008; Jay Cutler (27 TD, 26 INT), 2009.
QB Excitement, Current Top 5: Eli Manning (25), Drew Brees (24), Aaron Rodgers (21), Philip Rivers (19), tie (Tony Romo and Alex Smith, 18 each)
Bottom 5, minimum 120 att: Derek Anderson (8), Josh Freeman and Kevin Kolb (10), Mark Sanchez (11), tie (Matt Cassel and Matt Hasselbeck, 12)
6. Baltimore Ravens  — Ed Reed, in his first game of the season, forced a fumble and intercepted two passes. I guess he's in game shape. Joe Flacco, who had a miserable start to the season, put together his fifth solid game in a row, his second straight with a passer rating of at least 110. But Ray Rice, awesome in '09, hasn't come around the way fans expected him to. He's been fine, but nothing special, and his diminished involvement in the passing game is surprising. During one stretch at the end of the first half and beginning of the second, Baltimore scored 17 points in 1:12 of game time.
7. Indianapolis Colts  — Used the bye week to get unhealthy, losing about half the receiving corps. All-pro tight end Dallas Clark is out for the year, and Austin Collie, who entered the weekend second in the NFL in receptions, is expected to miss the next several games. Even backup Blair White is banged up, though he might be ready to go for Week 8. Fantasy players looking for help to get through the bye weeks, Mike Hart and White are interesting pickup ideas who could post some numbers depending on the health of the guys in front of them. Pierre Garçon, if he's available, is definitely a good add.
8. Atlanta Falcons  — Up 24-3 at halftime, they almost gave the game away after getting blanked 22-0 in the third quarter. Roddy White (11 rec, 201 yds, 2 TD) looks more and more like the best receiver in the NFL, but Michael Turner (121 yards, 2 TD) had a big game, as well, and White lost a fumble this weekend. Poor show by Atlanta's defense, allowing the Bengals to score a season-high 32 points. After opponents averaged just 14 points the first five weeks, the Falcons gave up more than 30 for the second week in a row. If they keep playing defense like that, this isn't a top-10 team.
9. Washington Redskins  — Positioning themselves for a playoff run based on tie-breakers. They're 0-2 against the AFC, but 4-1 in conference and 2-0 in the division. The much-maligned Albert Haynesworth had a very good game against Chicago, driving a blocker into Jay Cutler for a sack, and later leaping over a pile at the goal-line to stop Cutler on the controversial play that probably should have been ruled a Chicago touchdown. DeAngelo Hall intercepted 4 passes in the game, returning one 92 yards for a touchdown. In the 1960 and '61 seasons, Cardinals DB Jerry Norton actually had two 4-INT games. Washington should cut return man Brandon Banks. He's good for one serious mistake every game.
10. Miami Dolphins  — The Dolphins are 3-3, but their losses came against the Steelers, Jets, and Patriots, arguably the three best teams in the NFL. If Miami had eked out the heartbreaker against Pittsburgh, DB Chris Clemons would have been the star. Clemons was in on 9 tackles, including a sack, and forced 2 fumbles, one of them the controversial goal-line play that has sparked discussion of a rule overhaul. I don't believe Miami was robbed, but that game easily could have gone the other way.
11. Philadelphia Eagles  — Probably should have covered Kenny Britt. I hate to say this, because I love dogs and I think Michael Vick's crime against them was despicable, but I believe he's the right choice as Philadelphia's quarterback right now. Kevin Kolb obviously can play, and the Eagles can win games with him. But the offense just didn't offer anything against Tennessee this weekend. With DeSean Jackson sidelined, and facing a good defense, it was LeSean McCoy and not much else. Vick's athleticism forces defenses to compromise their coverage and opens up opportunities that otherwise might not exist, and Vick seems to do a better job of keeping his eye on the prize and taking shots downfield.
12. Kansas City Chiefs  — Overcame 92 penalty yards for an easy win against the overmatched Jaguars. Kansas City's wins have come against teams with a combined record of 8-20 (.286). The Chiefs lead the NFL in rushing. Jamaal Charles (489 yards, 6.0 average) and Thomas Jones (461, 4.7) are both on pace for 1,200-yard seasons.
13. Green Bay Packers  — Lost two more players to injured reserve, but they're poised to return defensive backs Al Harris and Atari Bigby, both of whom began the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list. I wish the NFL kept a "holding penalties drawn" statistic, so we could tally how often guys like Clay Matthews III and Washington's Brian Orakpo make big plays for their teams, even when they don't actually make the play. Green Bay's last five games (2 wins, 3 losses) have all been decided by four points or less.
14. Minnesota Vikings  — "Tar-var-is! Tar-var-is!" That's what Minnesota fans should be chanting. Or maybe just "Jackson," since Tarvaris is sort of an unwieldy name to chant. In 2008, the Vikings went 11-5 and won the NFC North with Gus Frerotte and Jackson starting at quarterback. This team has Adrian Peterson and a good defense. Brett Favre is giving away games, and the Vikings have to prefer their chances with someone else under center. Favre's ankle is fractured in two places, and his holy consecutive start streak is in jeopardy. I think he'll sit. Favre wants more than anything else to be talked about, and to be celebrated, and if he ends the streak with something other than retirement, that will buy him a ton of fawning headlines, plus he can pre-emptively ward off a possible benching.
15. Houston Texans  — They rank fourth in offense, 32nd in defense. Houston plays at Indianapolis next Monday night, with a chance to sweep the Colts. This is the only team to lose to the Cowboys this season.
16. Seattle Seahawks  — Extraordinarily weak strength of schedule. The Seahawks are 4-2 (3-0 at home) against opponents with a collective record of 15-26 (.366), and that includes a couple of teams (4-3 Chicago, 3-3 Arizona) that are clearly worse than their record suggests. Seattle is probably the favorite to win the NFC West, which is a truly sad reflection on the NFC West. The Cardinals are an easy win, but this weekend's game was not all smooth sailing. The 'Hawks committed 10 penalties for 95 yards, scored only 1 TD in seven trips to the red zone, and converted just 33% of their third downs.
17. San Diego Chargers  — Antwan Applewhite, Donald Strickland, Steve Crosby, Norv Turner. Those are the guys we should be celebrating now, the ones who almost won Sunday's game for San Diego. Applewhite stuffed the fourth-down play that could have sealed the game for New England. Strickland delivered the block that allowed Richard Goodman to recover Kris Brown's onside kick. Crosby is the special teams coach who designed that play. I suspect that everyone who reads my column already knows who Turner is.
The Chargers have lost three in a row, and probably won't make the playoffs at this point, but they remind me a little of the '09 Jets, '08 Chargers, and '07 Giants. The Jets were 4-6, later 7-7, but finished the season strong and made a run to the AFC Championship Game. Two years ago, San Diego opened 4-8 before winning five in a row and knocking Indianapolis out of the playoffs. The '07 Giants were never in that much trouble — they rebounded nicely from an 0-2 start — but that's the outfit I'm really thinking about today. Facing a potent Patriots team, the Giants went out guns-a-blazing ... and lost. But they proved to themselves they could hang with the best team in the NFL, and when the two rematched a month later, New York earned the Lombardi Trophy. This year's Chargers probably won't make the playoffs, much less win the Super Bowl, but they gave New England a hell of a game on Sunday, and I wonder if it might not be the kick they needed.
18. Cleveland Browns  — On a day when third-string QB Colt McCoy went 9-of-16 for 74 yards, the defense earned a win against New Orleans. Scott Fujita had 10 solo tackles, a sack, and an interception, while 33-year-old, 265-pound David Bowens returned 2 interceptions for touchdowns. The offense still stinks. Tony Dungy suggested on Sunday that Peyton Hillis should go to the Pro Bowl. He's certainly having a nice season, but can we wait until he's played more than seven games to suggest someone who ranks 17th in rushing yards should make the trip to Hawaii?
19. New Orleans Saints  — Lost three of their last five. The loss this weekend was really about Drew Brees throwing four interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns. Apart from those four plays, the Saints were unspectacular, but not horrible. Reggie Bush is expected back next week, but he's not the player they've really been missing. Last season, Bush started 8 games, rushed for 390 yards, gained 335 receiving, scored 8 touchdowns, and lost 2 fumbles. That's not a high-impact player, the difference between a good team and a bad one. They miss Pierre Thomas more.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers  — Committed 12 penalties, but Connor Barth connected on four field goals, including a 53-yarder in the third quarter, and they edged out an 18-17 win over the Rams. Josh Freeman ranks 22nd in passer rating (82.8), between Jay Cutler and Shaun Hill, and Tampa is 30th in the NFL in scoring. The Bucs are also last in the NFL in sacks (5). They've won three close games and lost a pair of blowouts (plus a 13-point win over Carolina that doesn't really fall into either category). Winning the close ones is great, but that includes an element of luck, and I'd feel better if they were really putting people away. Their losses have been decisive; the wins have not been.
21. St. Louis Rams  — Above-average defense, but the offense is still just Steven Jackson, who this weekend led the team in rushing (110) and receiving (35) yards. Jackson is now the all-time leading rusher for a franchise with immense tradition at running back. The Rams have won three in a row at home, but they're 0-3 on the road.
22. Dallas Cowboys  — Tony Romo fractured his left clavicle, and is probably out for at least six weeks, maybe the whole season. After leading 10-0 and 20-7, the Cowboys gave up 38 unanswered points and lost the game. How do you lose when you're +3 in turnovers? I guess you get out-gained by 243 yards, go 0-of-10 on third down, and lose time of possession by 15 minutes. This is not the Chargers, giving away a game they could have won or getting bad breaks and losing a close one to a strong opponent. If luck had treated the Giants and Cowboys equally this week, Dallas would have lost by at least 20 points. Biggest problems: pass defense, including an inconsistent rush that doesn't even seem to exist outside of DeMarcus Ware, and offensive play selection. Run the ball. Run the ball. Seriously, run the ball.
23. Chicago Bears  — In the last year and a half, how many games has Jay Cutler given away? This was his eighth multi-interception game as a Bear. Dan Patrick on Chicago's underwhelming receiving corps and DeAngelo Hall's four-INT day: "Jay Cutler has finally found his go-to guy." If Hall was a wide receiver, he would have had a huge fantasy day this weekend, with 4 catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. In PPR leagues, that's 19 points. This season, the Bears have converted 15 third downs and given up 31 sacks. Chicago ranks 30th in total offense.
24. Oakland Raiders  — Following this week's rout of the Broncos, Oakland actually ranks fifth in the NFL in points per game. Last year, the Raiders placed 31st in the same category. Darren McFadden led the charge, with 165 rushing yards and 4 TDs, but it's hard to overstate the dominance of a 59-14 win, out-gaining the opponent 508-240. If Mike Shanahan were dead, he would be turning in his grave: this was the third year in a row the Raiders have won in Denver.
25. Denver Broncos  — Embarrassing loss against their biggest rival dropped the Broncos to 2-5, including three losses in a row. Denver is 30th in run defense and dead last in rushing offense. The team has to travel overseas this week for a game against the 49ers in Wembley Stadium. At least this year we don't have to worry about potential playoff teams being affected by the trip across the Atlantic.
26. Detroit Lions  — Five close losses and a 38-point win. The Lions are 0-4 on the road, but they have six home games remaining. There's a good chance they'll upset Washington in Week 8. This team is on the way up. You heard it here first: the Lions will be the Chiefs of 2011.
27. Cincinnati Bengals  — Missing a lot of defensive personnel for their game with Atlanta, and it showed. Roddy White proclaimed that he didn't know the names of Cincinnati's DBs, but he was going to burn them, and he backed it up. The Bengals actually have a pair of very good cornerbacks, Johnathon Joseph and Leon Hall. Joseph missed the game with an injury, and Hall intercepted a pass but didn't do much else. Cincinnati has lost three straight. Last year, this team made the playoffs relying on its run game and defense. This year, Carson Palmer is averaging 41 pass attempts per game, compared to 29 last season. I know they're excited about the receivers, and Terrell Owens has exceeded expectations, but why depart so radically from a strategy that was successful? The Bengals have a brutal schedule the next few weeks, and will be lucky to make it to mid-November with a record of 3-6.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars  — Fourth 20-point loss of the season. Six opponents in a row have scored at least 26 points against them. The Jaguars are worst in the NFL in point differential (-79) and turnover margin (-10). This is a generous ranking.
29. Carolina Panthers  — Matt Moore played well, John Kasay had a great game, and they got their first win of the season. Kasay connected on two long field goals (47 and 55 yards), plus the game-winner with :43 left. DeAngelo Williams reportedly is day-to-day, so keep an eye on Jonathan Stewart as the man getting carries in his place.
30. San Francisco 49ers  — Alex Smith injured his shoulder on Sunday, and it's unclear who will start at quarterback in Week 8. The 49ers have the worst record in the NFC (1-6), and they're about to lose a home game — London isn't exactly a hotbed of rabid Niners fans. Frank Gore is having a terrific season; no one else on the team is.
31. Arizona Cardinals  — Lost five turnovers against Seattle, including four fumbles. The defense actually made some plays, including 5 sacks, but you can't win when you're giving the ball away like that. It's incredible how much this team misses Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin. Alan Branch had 2 sacks and a forced fumble this weekend.
32. Buffalo Bills  — Sunday afternoon, I got stuck with the three Bs: Baltimore, Buffalo, and Brennaman. My local CBS affiliate, for reasons completely beyond my understanding, chose to show Ravens/Bills. I'm pretty sure there are more Steeler fans than Raven fans where I live, but heaven forbid we get a hugely important game like Pittsburgh/Miami rather than an expected blowout involving the worst team in the league (Buffalo) and the most boring, unwatchable good team (Baltimore). FOX showed Washington/Chicago, with Thom Brennaman behind the mic. He actually was far better than usual this week, but I spend the whole first month of the season looking forward to the MLB playoffs, when I won't have to tolerate Joe Buck, and they replace him with the only play-by-play man worse. Buck is a corporate shill and a prick, but at least he's basically competent, or can be when he wants to. Brennaman usually has no idea what's going on.