NFL Week 4 Power Rankings
October 4, 2011 by Brad Oremland • Print Story •
Five Quick Hits
* The Pro Football Hall of Fame released its list of nominees for the Class of 2012. My favorite 25 to advance: Gary Anderson, Steve Atwater, Tiki Barber, Bobby Beathard, Tim Brown, LeRoy Butler, Cris Carter, Todd Christensen, Don Coryell, Terrell Davis, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman, Kenny Easley, Kevin Greene, Joe Jacoby, Joe Klecko, Curtis Martin, Bill Parcells, Willie Roaf, Steve Sabol, Clark Shaughnessy, Will Shields, Paul Tagliabue, Steve Tasker, Herschel Walker.
* The NFL does a great job of promoting October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You can support the league's efforts at NFLShop.com, or you can go directly to charities like Breast Cancer Fund and The American Breast Cancer Foundation.
* Thank goodness ESPN finally dropped that pathetic Hank Williams Jr. opening from MNF. Now we just need Faith Hill to compare the president to Stalin or Pol Pot or somebody, and we'll be free of these galling, pointless, hour-long intros.
* PSA for the many television announcers who live a decade in the past and struggle with elementary math: on field goal attempts, the holder lines up eight yards back from the line of scrimmage, not seven. Add 18 yards to get the distance for the field goal. Not 17. Seriously. I can not believe you people get paid for this.
* Former Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger lost his battle with cancer, and will be widely missed by players, coaches, and fans.
I know that we're spoiled as television viewers. But broadcasters have the capability now to deliver a nearly perfect product, and it's not unreasonable to expect the networks to do things like show replays. ESPN failed that test on Monday night. Several times, replay reviews were obscured because the cameras simply didn't have any good angles. Really, in 2011? What's really unforgivable, though, from a fan's standpoint, is the decision not to show a replay even when one is available.
I understand why there was only one short replay of the hideous injury to Eric Foster's leg. But why didn't we ever get to see what drew Jamaal Anderson's 15-yard roughness penalty? A 15-yard penalty is a big deal. Speaking of which, when a receiver goes to the referee pleading for a facemask penalty, can we please get a replay to show whether or not the foul occurred? I'm not asking for the moon and stars here.
As we move on to the Week 4 power rankings, brackets indicate last week's rank.
1. Green Bay Packers  — I was initially annoyed with CBS for showing Packers/Broncos — which everyone knew was probably going to be a rout — instead of Patriots/Raiders or Chargers/Dolphins. But it was worth it to see Aaron Rodgers doing his John Unitas/Dan Marino/Peyton Manning impression. What a game. His passer rating through four games is an astronomical 124.6, and people often seem to forget what an effective runner Rodgers is. The only question for the Packers is whether they can stay relatively healthy all season.
2. Baltimore Ravens  — In the second and third quarters, Joe Flacco was 0-for-11 with a lost fumble and an interception returned for a touchdown. Altogether, Flacco and the Jets' Mark Sanchez were a combined 21-of-66 for 282 yards and 2 INTs. That's 31.8% completion percentage, 4.3 yards per attempt, and a 33.8 passer rating. In a game like that, why not throw more short passes to Ray Rice? He makes something out of nothing as often as anyone in the NFL. Rice, who is listed at 5-8, 212 lbs, also leveled one of the Jets with a pancake block in the first quarter.
3. New Orleans Saints  — Survived the first game of a brutal stretch: four road matches in five weeks. The Saints' only defeat this year is a close loss at Green Bay, and since then, New Orleans has blown out the Bears, beaten the high-flying Texans, and won by double digits on the road in Jacksonville. The Saints gained 503 yards and 30 first downs on Sunday, but did not have a great overall offensive game. Drew Brees threw 2 interceptions and got sacked 3 times, with John Kasay kicking 3 field goals under 40 yards. You'd like to see better red zone efficiency than that, but it didn't matter against Jacksonville. Will Smith (2 sacks) and Jabari Greer (3 passes defended) had nice games for a defense that held the Jags to 10 points.
4. Houston Texans  — Committed nine penalties for 64 yards and two first downs. Here they are, in order:
1. Holding on opening kickoff — drive starts at 5-yard line.
2. Offensive holding.
3. Offensive holding on 3rd-and-1.
5. Illegal contact — nullifies fumble recovery.
6. Offensive holding.
7. Holding on punt return.
8. Ilegal block above the waist — nullifies FG block returned for a touchdown.
9. Roughing the passer — nullifies INT returned for a touchdown.
One or two of those were pretty trivial, but 5, 8, and 9 were critical, and kept this week's game close. Andre Johnson collapsed in pain after making a catch on Sunday, with what is being reported as a hamstring injury. He'll likely miss some time, but Houston fans are just glad it wasn't his knee.
5. New England Patriots  — Following a fairly tame Week 4 (226 yds, 2 TD), Tom Brady is no longer on pace to pass for 7,000 yards. He's only set to get to 6,212 now. Wes Welker, however, is on pace for 160 receptions, 2,464 yards, and 20 TDs. DT Vince Wilfork (6-2, 325 lbs) is on pace for 8 INTs and 188 return yards. I think Brady throwing for 7,000 yards is more realistic. Linebacker Jerod Mayo, probably the team's best defensive player other than Wilfork, sprained his MCL on Sunday, and will likely miss several weeks.
6. Detroit Lions  — They're 4-0, including three road wins. But how much do wins over the 0-4 Vikings and 1-3 Chiefs really mean? I wrote in Week 2 that "we may have to wait until Week 5, when the Bears travel to Detroit for Monday Night Football, to really know whether the Lions are for real, or just the 2011 version of the 2010 Chiefs." Guess what's next week?
Going back to last season, the Lions have now won eight straight regular-season games. This has changed from being a team that couldn't hold leads to become a fourth-quarter monster, outscoring opponents 51-10 in the final frame this season, including 17-0 against Dallas in Week 4. Calvin Johnson, who for whatever reason has been getting dissed from some quarters, had another big game, with 8 catches for 96 yards and 2 TDs, first in triple coverage and then the game-winner. Guy's as good as any receiver in the league.
7. San Diego Chargers  — Missing two starting defensive linemen, their best cornerback, and the finest tight end in the NFL, they still managed a comfortable double-digit victory over the Dolphins. San Diego isn't blowing anybody away, but the team is 3-1 and hasn't lost to anyone but the Patriots. Ryan Mathews looks more like LaDainian Tomlinson every week; he's 5th in the NFL in yards from scrimmage, between Ray Rice and Darren McFadden. For all the criticism they've faced, the Chargers lead the NFL in third-down percentage (58.5%) and average time of possession (34:04). San Diego is 3-0 at home, but the next three games are all on the road.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers  — Pittsburgh is -10 in turnover differential, by far the worst in the league. The Steelers simply have too many injuries to be competitive at the highest level right now. It's the Super Bowl Curse — playing 19 or 20 games and trying to stay healthy when your offseason is a month shorter than everyone else's. The good news is that the Steelers are still 2-2, with both losses to very good teams. The bad news is that their bye isn't until Week 11. Four of the next five are at home, and that can't hurt.
9. Buffalo Bills  — Lost on a last-second field goal, true, but they were outplayed throughout the game. Cincinnati outgained them by 185 yards and picked up more than twice as many first downs (25-12). For the season, the Bills have fewer yards than their opponents, fewer first downs, and worse third down percentage, but they're +7 in turnover differential. If they can keep that up — which is a big if — they'll be competitive all season. If their luck with turnovers evens out, they're probably just another middle-of-the-pack team.
10. Oakland Raiders  — As an offensive coordinator, how do you let this happen? Darren McFadden, who has been lighting things up all season, averages 5.4 yards per carry in Week 4 — on 14 attempts, as compared to 43 dropbacks by Jason Campbell. Get the ball into the hands of your playmaker. You wonder how different things might have been if the Raiders still had Nnamdi Asomugha to cover Welker (9 rec, 158 yds, TD). Maybe not much; faced with an Oakland team geared toward stopping the pass, the Patriots ran effectively (183 yds, 6.1 avg, 2 TD).
11. New York Jets  — Lost their seventh straight to the Ravens, in a strange (and often ugly) game featuring an NFL-record five return TDs. Of the six TDs scored in the game, four came on defense, and one each on offense and special teams. Not to parrot Cris Collinsworth, but it's true: this team really misses Nick Mangold. Fans always underestimate the impact of injuries. It's sort of unthinkable for a Rex Ryan team to lose three in a row, but the Jets have another tough matchup next week, at New England.
12. Chicago Bears  — "Don't kick to Devin Hester." We've been getting it all wrong. What's really important is not to punt to Devin Hester. He's a good kickoff returner, but not really anything special. As a punt returner, he's as dangerous as anyone in history. Hester, easily one of the top 10 returners of all time after just five full seasons, scored his 11th PR TD on Sunday, and his timing was good. With Jay Cutler having an atrocious day (102 yds, INT, 46.7 rating), Hester, Matt Forte (205 rush yds), and D.J. Moore (INT TD) stepped up to help Chicago avoid an upset at home against Carolina.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers  — That was one of the most undisciplined games I have ever seen. From Ron Winter's officiating crew, I mean. Keep some flags in your pocket, you busybodies. You know how they say you could call holding on every play? That doesn't mean you have to do it. The Bucs were whistled for 14 penalties for 106 yards. Some of the highlights:
* Very close illegal touch call — nullified a 62-yard TD
* Chippy unnecessary roughness penalty — brought back a 31-yard gain
* Twelve men on the field flag — took three points off the board
* Pass interference — gave Indianapolis a first down instead of fourth
* Pair of penalties that wiped out 6-yard gains — set up 1st-and-31
Tampa also was on the wrong end of all three replay challenges, none of them really conclusive, but the Colts got called for some rough penalties, too, and the officials almost lost control of the game for a couple minutes there in the second half, when there was a fight breaking out after every play. I've seen this over and over again: when the referees call too many penalties, the game gets out of hand. Big games from their young offensive stars, 3rd-year QB Josh Freeman and 2nd-year RB LeGarrette Blount, saved the Bucs from Winter. Freeman made two big mistakes, though, that could have been costly against a better opponent or a more determined officiating crew: he took a sack at the end of the first half, with no time outs, and he drew a delay of game penalty on 3rd-and-1. Normally, a sack or a 5-yard penalty aren't the end of the world, but you've got to recognize the situation.
14. Tennessee Titans  — Three wins in a row, and they're the only team to defeat Baltimore this season. From 2008-10, Matt Hasselbeck threw 34 TDs and 44 INTs, with a 71.2 passer rating. This year (at age 36), 8 TDs, 3 picks, and career-highs in yards per attempt (8.7) and passer rating (104.7). The offensive line in Tennessee gives any QB a chance to be successful. Hasselbeck is the early front-runner for the pointless Comeback Player of the Year award.
15. Dallas Cowboys  — I know some people can't get past the late meltdowns, but this is a 2-2 team with a pair of close wins and two heart-breaking losses, against opponents with a combined record of 12-4. Battling a ton of injuries on offense, and facing the Lions, Jets, and a pair of 3-1 opponents, they're still .500. This actually looks like a pretty good team, certainly not below-average. The Cowboys have a Week 5 bye and should be better when they come back from it, most notably with the anticipated return of Miles Austin and some chemistry on the offensive line.
16. Atlanta Falcons  — Matt Ryan has a reputation, not unfairly, as a guy who plays much better at home. The same is true, though, of Joe Flacco (to whom Ryan is always compared):
The numbers above are their home stats. Road:
As with seemingly everything else in their careers, these numbers are fairly similar. Ryan has certainly been better at home, but so has Flacco, almost as dramatically. The Falcons' Week 5 matchup with Green Bay is at home, but I think the Packers are going to rip them apart — maybe not as badly as last January, but a double-digit win.
17. Washington Redskins  — Andy Behrens at Yahoo! publishes on an earlier schedule than I do, and he already pretty much wrote what I wanted to:
You can talk up Rex Grossman's friendly schedule all you like, but that guy is still astonishingly reckless, and brutally inaccurate at the worst times. Rex tossed a pair of picks on Sunday, and his late misfire on a third-down throw to Santana Moss was one of the day's worst incompletions — should have been a simple pitch-and-catch, but Grossman sailed it way too high. Luckily for 'Skins, they were only playing the Rams.
It seems like every analyst on television is dying to tell us what a good quarterback Grossman is. He's not good. As a starting quarterback, he is terrible. Washington is 3-1 because of its defense and an easy schedule, not because Grossman is a different player than he was four years ago. He's 25th in passer rating, trailing Jason Campbell, Chad Henne, Tarvaris Jackson, Colt McCoy, Donovan McNabb, Kyle Orton, and Alex Smith. Rex has the worst decision-making of any veteran quarterback in the league. He holds the ball too long, he throws gimme interceptions, and he can't read defenses. Don't tell me this guy is a good quarterback. He obviously, obviously is not.
You know who else is not very good? Tim Hightower. He's the third-best RB on the team. Your job as an analyst is not to feed me propaganda from the Shanahans, it's to point out the vast improvements in Washington's offensive line and front seven. Don't get too caught up in 3-1; Washington hasn't played anyone good yet.
18. New York Giants  — Tom Jackson brought a serious element to C'mon Man this week. Citing Plaxico Burress against the Jaguars in 2000, Marvin Harrison against the Broncos in '03, and Richard Goodman against New England just last year, Jackson demonstrated that the league has always viewed an untouched player falling forward as live. Then Jackson noted, "They made up a new rule where the offense now gets the ball back." Jackson is absolutely right: this is a new rule, and it has never been applied before. C'mon, man.
19. San Francisco 49ers  — Tied with Detroit for best turnover differential in the league, +8. No one has ever questioned Frank Gore's talent, only his health and durability. Gore sent notice, with 127 yards on 15 carries (8.5 avg) that he's not done yet. The Niners' defense had an incredible game in the red zone this week. They did give up two red zone TDs, but they also forced four field goal attempts (two of which missed) and recovered a fumble. San Francisco has an interesting matchup with fellow 3-1 Tampa Bay in Week 5.
20. Philadelphia Eagles  — Tied with Washington for most sacks in the NFL (15), but opposing passers have registered a 106.7 passer rating against their much-vaunted defense. Free agent acquisition Jason Babin leads the NFL with 7 sacks, but free agent departure David Akers was on the wrong sideline this weekend. His replacement, rookie Alex Henery, missed two field goals from under 40 yards, in a 24-23 game. As the losses pile up, Michael Vick is getting more and more combative with the media. This happened in Atlanta, too, and it did not end well. Trent Cole was injured in the loss to San Francisco, and will reportedly miss at least two games.
21. Cincinnati Bengals  — Lead the NFL in fewest yards allowed. Their offense is going to be up and down all season with Andy Dalton, and they'll miss Cedric Benson if his suspension stands up, but some of the young receievers (A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham) are coming on, and the defense is playing at a high level. Second-year DT Geno Atkins has 2.5 sacks, one of six Bengals with at least one sack.
22. Cleveland Browns  — Colt McCoy threw 61 passes this weekend. He's second in the NFL in attempts (172), trailing only Drew Brees. That's right, McCoy has thrown more often than Tom Brady or Cam Newton or Matthew Stafford. Is that really a good idea? I realize the Browns were playing catch-up in the second half, but this is an unproven QB with a weak receiving corps, and the team's only consistent offensive success the last two years has come on the ground. McCoy actually dropped back 66 times (including 3 sacks and 2 scrambles), and that seems like the Browns' play-callers panicked at halftime.
23. Denver Broncos  — They're 1-3, but against a tough schedule: those four opponents are a combined 11-5, none with a losing record. The Broncos obviously aren't a good team, but I don't think it's at all clear that they're a bad one, either. Rookie LB Von Miller looks like the real deal, and the receiving corps continues to show promise. In the backfield, though, veteran Willis McGahee clearly looks like a superior option compared to Knowshon Moreno. A YouTube user called "urnfndbag" (no, you are) has uploaded Sunday's video of Moreno falling off a stationary bike.
24. Miami Dolphins  — Including 2010, Miami has lost seven straight regular-season games. Maybe this is too generous for a team that's 0-4 and just lost its starting QB. But the Dolphins' opponents are a collective 11-5, and they didn't get routed in any of the losses. Plus, let's be realistic: Chad Henne isn't exactly Dan Marino back there, and his injury might not represent a major setback for the team. Vontae Davis, Daniel Thomas, and Koa Misi all missed the game in San Diego, and those players might be more valuable than Henne. Yeremiah Bell was credited with 14 solo tackles in the loss.
25. Indianapolis Colts  — Peyton Manning. Gary Brackett. Melvin Bullitt. Manning again. It's only been a month, and already the Colts are reeling from injuries. I feel bad for the veterans — guys like Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis, Dwight Freeney, Jeff Saturday — because this is a wasted season. A team like this would benefit from a Sean Payton or Rex Ryan-type coach who will do things like run a fake punt on 4th-and-1 from midfield. It must be a tremendous comfort to opponents knowing Jim Caldwell would never call a play like that. Caldwell's calm, conservative approach can benefit a great team, but it's detrimental for a bad one, and the Colts are pretty bad. Indianapolis is losing time of possession by a staggering average of 12 minutes per game: 36:04 - 23:56.
26. Seattle Seahawks  — A completely different team at home. On the road, they lost by 16 to San Francisco and got shut out by the Steelers. At home, they beat Arizona and nearly upset the Falcons. The Seahawks lost time of possession by more than 2:1 this weekend (40:10 - 19:50). I won't pretend that Tarvaris Jackson is a good quarterback — you wouldn't want him to be your starter — but I think he gets ripped much more than he deserves. Playing with a team that in 2010 made Matt Hasselbeck look washed up (-5 TD/INT, 73.2 rating), Jackson is having a decent year (+1 TD/INT, 80.0 rating, 61 rush yds, rush TD). He's not any worse than half a dozen other starters, and he's better than some.
27. Carolina Panthers  — They're 1-3, but all the losses were by a touchdown or less. Adding a viable QB, even a rookie, vastly improved this team compared to 2010. The Panthers out-gained Chicago by over 200 yards this weekend, but went 2/12 on third down, missed two field goals, and gave up two return TDs. Steve Smith continued his resurgence, with 181 yards. He is second in the NFL in receiving yards (530), far behind Wes Welker but far ahead of everyone else.
28. Arizona Cardinals  — They lost to Washington by 1, Seattle by 3, and the Giants by 4. Apart from the quality of competition, those aren't bad losses. The defense shut down New York's run game, and kept Eli Manning pretty quiet until the fourth quarter. Beanie Wells' continuing emergence threatens to give the Cardinals their first good running back since, what, Ottis Anderson and Stump Mitchell in the '80s? Past-his-prime Edgerrin James is the team's only 1,000-yard rusher since Adrian Murrell in 1998. Wells is on pace for 1,284, the club's most in 40 years.
29. Kansas City Chiefs  — Is Ryan Succop already the greatest Mr. Irrelevant in NFL history? In Week 4, Succop went 5/5 on field goals, including two from over 50 yards. After a horrific first two weeks, in which they lost by a combined total of 89-10 and suffered several key injuries, the Chiefs have rebounded with a close loss to a good team and their first win of the season. They obviously won't repeat as divisional champs, but maybe they won't have to spend all season answering questions about Andrew Luck. Tamba Hali had a monster game against Minnesota.
30. Minnesota Vikings  — They remind me of the 2008-09 Lions. Those teams lost a ton of games, but they were always competitive, lots of close defeats, lots of lost leads and last-minute heart-breakers. The 2011 Vikings have lost by 7, 4, 3, and 5 points. They're competitive, including against some pretty good teams. But they seem to have a pathological aversion to actually winning.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars  — I don't remember ever seeing this before: the Jaguars turned the ball over on downs four times against New Orleans. Rookie QB Blaine Gabbert put on a miserable show in Week 4: 38.1 comp%, 4.7 yds/att, 51.3 rating, 3 sacks for 26 yards. The Jags edged Tennessee in Week 1, but since then they've lost three straight. Jacksonville has scored a league-low three TDs, and desperately needs some QB help. I hear David Garrard is available.
32. St. Louis Rams  — They rank 31st in points (11.5/gm) and point differential (-67), and they're 0-4, with none of the games particularly close. They have a bye in Week 5, then four of the next five on the road.
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