NFL Week 12 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* Evidently, Jason Witten wasn't feeling the Thanksgiving spirit this year. Decking that cheerleader was an accident, but he didn't seem terribly contrite afterwards, and his cursing at a security guard standing at least 10 feet behind the sideline was uncalled for.

* I hope the Harbaugh family paid NFL Network for all the air time it got. Thursday night, I wasn't sure if I was watching a football game or an infomercial for the Harbaughs.

* What a play by Buffalo wideout Brad "One Shoe" Smith this weekend. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw an errant pass, so Smith made like a defensive back and stuck his hand out to break up the interception. When the ball bounced upward, Smith caught it over the defender's shoulder and ran in for a touchdown. He turned a pick into a TD.

* I love that ESPN shows a lot of replays, but please — not at the expense of missing the beginning of the next play.

* Look at the scoreboard, Brandon Jacobs. You can't do a minute-long touchdown dance when you're getting blown out. What a chump.


With several teams having lost their quarterbacks to injury, and none of the replacements looking particularly impressive so far, many fans and analysts expect teams like the Bears and Texans to coax an old warrior out of retirement. I suppose it's natural that the focus has so far fallen on Brett Favre. I mean, the guy clearly has no problem with un-retiring eight or nine times. But he's 42, he only had two good seasons in the last six, he was atrocious last year (69.9 passer rating), he's locker room poison, and the media attention is probably more trouble than he's worth. Here are some other ideas:

* Kurt Warner. He has a cushy job at NFL Network and has already proclaimed that he's not un-retiring, but this is a much more appealing avenue than Favre, right?

* Jeff Garcia. He's only a few months younger than Favre, but he was an effective game-manager who limited mistakes, and in his last real season (2008), he threw twice as many touchdowns as interceptions (12-6).

* Chad Pennington. Downright young, at 35, he's not playing because of injuries. But with only five games remaining, I think he makes a very appealing fit for a team like Chicago or Houston, with good running games and defenses. In his last full season (2008), Pennington passed for 3,600 yards and a 97.4 rating. He tore his ACL in March, so I suspect he needs more time, but otherwise, this is the first guy I would look at.

* Jake Delhomme. In the last two seasons, he threw 10 TDs and 25 picks, but he's a respected veteran with playoff experience.

* Trent Edwards. Just 28, and he had his moments with the Bills. I'm skeptical that he's any worse than T.J. Yates.

* David Garrard. Maybe the most obvious choice. He was cut on the eve of the season opener, and Jacksonville's offense — about average in 2010 — has gone down the toilet without him. Garrard's passer rating last season was 90.8. But he had back surgery recently and probably isn't available.

* JaMarcus Russell. Just kidding.

There are other guys out there — Marc Bulger, and a bunch of smaller names.

On to this week's power rankings, brackets show previous rank.

1. Green Bay Packers [1] — On pace to score 556 points, which would tie the second-highest total in history. The Packers have scored a league-high 47 touchdowns this season. That's more than the Browns, Chiefs, and Rams combined. Green Bay's much-maligned defense recorded its eighth multi-interception game of the season against Detroit. No one else has more than five multi-INT games this season. Player availability is a concern, however. Right guard Josh Sitton left Thursday's game with a knee injury, and both starting inside linebackers (A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop) are questionable for Week 13 with calf issues. Meanwhile, outside linebacker Erik Walden was arrested for battery on Friday morning — his status going forward is unclear.

2. New England Patriots [4] — Deion Branch and Wes Welker both gained over 100 receiving yards in their blowout win over the Eagles, and Tom Brady's 28 rushing yards were the 2nd-highest total of his career. On the other sideline, backup QB Vince Young passed for 400 yards, sinking New England's defense even deeper into a statistical black hole. The Patriots rank worst in the NFL in yards allowed — by a lot, almost 200 yards. But it's largely an illusion created by their powerful offense and style of defense. Most teams with dominant offense give up heavy yardage, and New England is among the NFL's top 10 in forcing turnovers. This isn't Bill Belichick's '03 or '04 defense, but it's not nearly the worst in the league.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers [3] — Everyone else ranks them behind Baltimore, since the Ravens swept the series. But the Steelers are 8-3 and have won six of their last seven. The Ravens are also 8-3, with recent losses to the 3-8 Jaguars and 4-7 Seahawks. Troy Polamalu left Sunday's game with an apparent concussion, which I'm sure the team will diagnose as a "stinger." Bob Costas this weekend described Hines Ward as a "perpetual" Pro Bowler. Ward's last Pro Bowl appearance was seven years ago.

4. New Orleans Saints [5] — Won a blowout despite several bad calls going against them, including roughness penalties on Will Smith and Roman Harper. I think Gene Steratore's officiating crew would have been more comfortable reffing 8-year-olds playing two-hand touch. I agree with Jon Gruden's comment following the penalty on Harper: I don't recognize this game the way it's being called. Ron Jaworski said teams have to adapt, but this isn't just a tweak or a rule emphasis, it is a radical reinterpretation of tackle football, that you aren't allowed to hit a receiver until he has established full possession. This is the biggest rule change in more than 30 years, maybe the biggest since free substitution. I'm not exaggerating.

The Saints gained 577 yards against the Giants, boosting their season average to 449.6 per game. The NFL record, which has stood for 50 years, is 450.8, and only one team in recent history has really come close. Best totals since 2000:

1. 2000 St. Louis Rams, 442.2
2. 2004 Kansas City Chiefs, 418.4
3. 2001 St. Louis Rams, 418.1
4. 2007 New England Patriots, 411.3
5. 2008 New Orleans Saints, 410.7

That's the Greatest Show on Turf Rams, the 16-0 Patriots, the Saints a couple years ago, and the '04 Chiefs with at least three future Hall of Famers. This offense isn't scoring at a historic level, but it is poised to seriously challenge a record that I wrote several years ago might never fall.

5. Baltimore Ravens [7] — Tied a franchise single-game record by sacking Alex Smith 9 times. Ray Lewis is a legend, but he's 36 now. Does this defense really look any different when he's not on the field? Ray isn't a bad player, but he's not a difference-maker anymore. It happens to everyone. The Ravens are 6-0 at home, 2-3 away.

6. Atlanta Falcons [9] — Win over Minnesota was close on the scoreboard, but Atlanta gained 10 more first downs and over 100 more yards, with a 9-minute advantage in time of possession. Matt Ryan has come on strong since the Week 8 bye. After a slow first half of the season (222 net yds/gm, 9 TD, 8 INT, 79.5 rating), Ryan was great in November: 294 net yds/gm, 9 TD, 2 INT, 106.7 rating.

7. San Francisco 49ers [2] — They remind me of the 2009 Vikings, who went 12-4 against a very weak schedule (.441). The 49ers will obviously win the NFC West, and they'll probably earn a first-round bye in the playoffs, but they aren't battle-tested. The chop block penalty that nullified Ted Ginn's 75-yard touchdown looked pretty bogus, but San Francisco didn't deserve to win.

8. Dallas Cowboys [10] — Haven't played an opponent with a winning record since Week 6, but they've won four in a row. For the second straight week, though, Dallas escaped with an uncomfortably close victory. It's curious how the "Tony Romo is a choker" narrative persists without any real evidence that Romo plays worse than usual at key moments. Sure, he's blown some games, but he's also performed well with the pressure on. That's true for every quarterback. People just focus on the former because there was that one time he dropped the snap on a field goal in the playoffs. Children, that was six years ago. Let it go.

9. Houston Texans [6] — Matt Leinart reportedly broke his collarbone and will join Matt Schaub on injured reserve, leaving third-string T.J. Yates as the starter for a team with serious playoff aspirations. The Texans trail only Green Bay in point differential (+114), but the offense is handcuffed if Yates doesn't threaten defenses. Arian Foster broke a 43-yard run in the first quarter on Sunday, and his other 21 carries yielded 22 yards. The underrated defense turned in another great game, with 7 sacks, including 4 by Connor Barwin. Houston ranks 2nd in the NFL in sacks (35) and leads the league in passer rating allowed (62.1).

10. Denver Broncos [17] — Passer rating allowed, game by game:

Week 1: 86.4
Week 2: 107.0
Week 3: 119.1
Week 4: 120.5
Week 5: 86.9
Week 7: 92.6
Week 8: 126.0
Week 9: 79.7
Week 10: 73.2
Week 11: 67.9
Week 12: 77.1

Through Week 8, when the Broncos were 2-5, every opponent posted a rating over 85, averaging out to a league-worst 107.2. During Denver's four-game winning streak, no one has topped 80, with an average mark of just 74.3. This defense has undergone a radical turnaround in the last month. That's primarily independent of the offense, but it's not realistic to suggest that the dramatic improvement on defense has nothing to do with the dramatic style change on offense. The Broncos are running effectively and often, controlling time of possession, limiting turnovers. It ain't pretty, but it's working.

11. Chicago Bears [8] — I feel bad for the defense, which held Oakland to a 20% third-down conversion rate and one TD in five trips to the red zone. But I'm also sorry for Caleb Hanie, who finished with 3 interceptions, 4 sacks, a 56.9 passer rating, and a botched attempt to kill the clock. That guy feels worse than Bartman right now. Matt Forte is going to see a lot of eight-man fronts if Hanie doesn't improve. Speaking of which, Marion Barber (63 yards) outgained Forte (59) on the ground this weekend.

12. Cincinnati Bengals [13] — Coming off a 4-12 season and replacing Carson Palmer with a rookie, I expected the Bengals to be pretty awful in 2011. Andy Dalton has exceeded all but the most optimistic expectations. He has 16 TDs, as many as Matt Ryan threw his entire rookie season, and a respectable 81.8 passer rating (17th in the NFL). Even more than Dalton, though, I'm impressed with fellow rookie A.J. Green, whose 51-yard reception set up the game-winning field goal this weekend. Most impressive non-rookie: DT Geno Atkins, who finished Sunday's game with two pass deflections and a sack (he leads the team with 6.5).

13. Oakland Raiders [19] — Sebastian Janikowski booted six field goals for a total of 229 yards, and Shane Lechler bombed a punt 80 yards. The defense embarrassed Caleb Hanie and fullback Marcel Reece stepped up for an injury-depleted receiving corps, catching 5 passes for 92 yards. The Raiders have won three straight, and remain a game ahead of Denver in the AFC West. Every team in the division has been outscored by its opponents this year. Oakland's -14 point differential leads the division.

14. Detroit Lions [12] — I'd like to see Ndamukong Suh suspended at least one game for stomping on Evan Dietrich-Smith. This wasn't as bad as Albert Haynesworth stomping on Andre Gurode's unprotected face, but it has no place in the game. Suh, recently voted the dirtiest player in the league, has previously been fined for unnecessary roughness three times already.

I don't want to defend Suh, but the officials in this game were awful, with most (but not all) of the calls going against Detroit, many of them ticky-tack or imaginary. When the refs over-involve themselves in a game, it tends to get out of hand. Players get frustrated, and the situation escalates, frequently culminating in an ejection. The Lions have been held below 20 points in four of their last six games.

15. New York Jets [15] — Poor defensive performance against the reeling Bills, including an uncharacteristic game from shutdown corner Darrelle Revis. Nonetheless, New York improves to 6-5 and remains very much in the playoff race, just one game behind the Bengals. The Jets are now 5-1 at home this season. They're 1-4 on the road. It seems like more teams than usual show a major home/road disparity this season.

16. Tennessee Titans [16] — Capitalized on Chris Johnson's first 150-yard rushing performance since 2009, overcoming four turnovers and rough weather for their sixth win of the season. The Titans travel to Buffalo in Week 13. A win would knock the Bills out of realistic playoff contention, and keep Tennessee in the mix. With Houston's iffy quarterback situation, and a Week 17 matchup remaining, it's not inconceivable that the Titans could still challenge for a division title.

17. New York Giants [11] — Defensive line was no match for Drew Brees and the Saints' offensive line. When the Giants have been successful, it's been with a dominant D-line getting pressure without blitzes. This season, Barry Cofield is gone, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck have struggled with injuries, and the Giants just aren't consistently dictating to opposing offenses with their front four. I suspect Kenny Phillips will be fined for his hit on Jimmy Graham, which is crap. Phillips had no way of re-directing himself, in a split second, to adjust for the contact from another New York defender. His hit obviously wasn't malicious, and he tried to check on Graham and apologize immediately afterward. The NFL has to draw a distinction between intentionally injuring someone and accidentally hurting them in the course of the game. Phillips drew a roughness penalty, and I don't have a problem with that, but he doesn't deserve a fine.

18. Miami Dolphins [18] — Brandon Marshall has been fairly quiet as a Dolphin, but he's actually 9th in the NFL in receiving yards, and his 35-yard TD reception while being interfered with was a reminder of how amazing Marshall can be at his best. Jake Long was called for offensive holding and three false starts against Dallas. Come on, man, Flozell Adams thinks you're drawing too many flags. The Dolphins went 0/4 in the red zone this week, settling for four field goals and losing by 1. Miami is 3-7, but has outscored its opponents this season (+6).

19. Philadelphia Eagles [14] — Maybe he was just trying to save DeSean Jackson from the humiliation of setting some sort of single-game record for dropped passes, but I don't get Andy Reid benching his star receiver in the fourth quarter. I don't especially like the way Reid handles personnel, but you can get away with that when you go 12-4 and make the NFC Championship Game every year. You can't when the home crowd is chanting, "Fire Andy!" The Eagles are 1-5 at home, 3-2 on the road, and I wonder if the home crowd's negativity doesn't play a role in that. I want Reid canned just because he was calling timeouts at the end of the game.

Reid used his final timeout with :36 left, down 38-13. "In this situation it's silly to run plays. I mean, what are you going to do? Do you have a play that scores 20 points?" That's what John Madden said five years ago in a Cowboys/Panthers game. Ron Jaworski expressed a similar sentiment at the end of Monday's Saints/Giants contest. Down by four scores with under a minute left, the Eagles obviously couldn't win at that point, but they could (1) waste a bunch of time, and (2) get somebody hurt. Two years ago, the Browns were down 16-0 with :20 left. Instead of running one play and letting the clock expire, they ran three plays, including one of those with the crazy laterals. Even if it scored, that's not a 16-point play. You still lose. It didn't score, but Joshua Cribbs was injured on the play, carted off the field, and taken to a hospital. Madden was right, but I'd go even farther. It's irresponsible for coaches to call plays in that situation, and it's disrespectful to the players on both teams to risk their health when the outcome is clearly decided. Fire Andy.

20. Arizona Cardinals [20] — This franchise has existed since 1920. The Cardinals and Bears are the only surviving teams from the original NFL. Actually, the Cardinals are even older than the Bears, tracing their roots back to the Morgan Athletic Club in 1899. The team has featured such stars as Ernie Nevers, Ollie Matson, and Ottis Anderson, John David Crow and Terry Metcalf and Stump Mitchell. And none of them ever did what Beanie Wells did against St. Louis in Week 12, rushing for 228 yards to break the club record held by (of all people) LeShon Johnson (214 at NO, 1996).

Beanie's breakout was well-timed, with QB John Skelton turning in a putrid performance (114 yds, 2 INT, 30.0 rating) that probably guarantees Kevin Kolb will get his job back when he returns from injury. Equally important, rookie Patrick Peterson burned the Rams again, returning a punt for a TD for the fourth time this year, tying the single-season record held by Jack Christiansen, Rick Upchurch, and Devin Hester. Peterson also scored a game-winning 99-yard TD against the Rams in overtime on November 6th. The Cardinals are 2-0 against St. Louis, 2-7 against everyone else.

21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [22] — Coming into this season, everyone was excited about young stars Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount, and Mike Williams. In Tennessee this weekend, they combined for five turnovers. Next week, they get Carolina at home, their first game since Week 4 against an opponent who doesn't currently have a winning record.

22. Buffalo Bills [21] — First quality performance in a month was ruined by poor red zone defense, with the Jets scoring touchdowns on all four of their trips inside the 20. With Fred Jackson now on injured reserve, Ryan Fitzpatrick was terrific this week, with 3 TDs and a 111.5 rating that could have been higher if Stevie Johnson had soft hands. Johnson reportedly will be fined for doing an impression of Plaxico Burress accidentally shooting himself. I'm the last person who wants to encourage lengthy touchdown dances, but this is why they call it the No Fun League. A dirty hit draws a $10,000 fine. But so do a tasteless TD celebration or wearing the wrong color shoes. Johnson got a 15-yard penalty that may have cost his team the game, he apologized, and Burress said they're cool. Enough already.

Besides, I mean, Plex did pop himself in the thigh, and it's not like he died. A lot of people have made fun of him in the last three years.

23. Washington Redskins [30] — The best interception percentage in the NFL this season, not surprisingly, belongs to Aaron Rodgers (1.1%). Worst INT%, qualifiers only:

28. Ryan Fitzpatrick, 3.8%
29. Josh Freeman, 3.9%
30. Tarvaris Jackson, 3.9%
31. Philip Rivers, 4.1%
32. Rex Grossman, 5.2%

Grossman is on another level. He's tied with Freeman for the worst TD/INT differential in the NFL this season (-4). He's been intercepted in seven of his eight starts, more than once in five of them. He's a turnover machine. But most weeks, he gives Washington a chance to win. John Beck's INT% is a pretty average 3.0%, but Beck didn't make many mistakes because he never took any chances. Grossman creates some positive plays, which I guess makes him a marginally better option. Graham Gano had his fourth and fifth kicks of the season blocked against Seattle.

24. Seattle Seahawks [24] — Speaking of Gano's blocked kicks, both came courtesy of Red Bryant, who now has four blocks this season. The Seahawks, like Philadelphia, dropped out of realistic playoff contention with this week's loss. The teams meet in Seattle on Thursday.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars [25] — Blaine Gabbert apparently remains the starter, but it's sort of magnificent how bad he has been. He dropped back 36 times against Houston, yielding 102 yards — less than three per play — and an interception. For the season, Gabbert ranks last among qualifiers in yards per game (137) and passer rating (62.2).

Update: Apparently the Jaguars have fired Jack Del Rio. Coach signed his walking papers when the team spent its first-round pick on Gabbert instead of someone who could contribute right away.

26. San Diego Chargers [23] — I was going to put them 30th following a sixth straight loss. The team seems philosophically opposed to winning. But all of the losses have been close, and all but one against a team with a winning record. The Chargers aren't getting humiliated, or losing to poor opponents, they just aren't winning. A lot of the blame has to fall on Norv Turner. I've defended him in the past, but this team is obviously in a funk psychologically, and it's the coach's responsibility to reverse that. In overtime against Denver, the Chargers were rolling, driving the ball 45 yards in seven plays. And Turner decided to play for the long field goal. A pair of runs set up 3rd-and-6 at the 31-yard line. That's a 49-yard field goal, no chip shot. Rather than go for the first down, the Chargers ran again. They lost four yards, then missed a kick from 53.

Afterward, Dan Patrick asked the NBC studio analysts what was wrong in San Diego. Tony Dungy launched into a detailed explanation, but Rodney Harrison answered in two words, "Soft, Dan."

27. Cleveland Browns [28] — Scored 20 points on Cincinnati, their highest total since Week 2 against the hapless Colts. Four of Cleveland's last five games are against the Ravens or Steelers.

28. Minnesota Vikings [26] — Toby Gerhart averaged 2.6 yards per carry in place of injured Adrian Peterson. Minnesota's defense, which last year ranked 8th in yardage and 18th in scoring, is allowing a 104.5 rating to opposing passers. It's a horrible commentary on the defensive backfield that a team with such a good pass rush remains so vulnerable through the air. Only Indianapolis has a worse record than the 2-9 Vikings.

29. Carolina Panthers [27] — Steve Smith has slowed down a lot (47 yds/gm the last three weeks), which was probably inevitable, but the Panthers need to develop some secondary targets. Olindo Mare had his third kick of the season blocked against Indianapolis, but he's not going to catch Graham Gano.

30. Kansas City Chiefs [29] — It feels wrong to drop them after a close loss to Pittsburgh, but the Chiefs are one of only three teams outscored by at least 100 points this season (-112), and they've dropped four in a row. You don't want to read too much into Tyler Palko's struggles against a good Steeler defense (3 INT, 40.9 rating), especially since many QBs struggle in their first start. But I suspect we'll see Kyle Orton at some point in Week 13, and it will be interesting to see what he can do.

31. St. Louis Rams [31] — Stop punting to Patrick Peterson already.

32. Indianapolis Colts [32] — I know a lot of people are excited about Andrew Luck's pro potential, but it is stunning to me that people are talking seriously about the Colts trading or cutting Peyton Manning even if he plays next season. Luck has potential, whereas Manning provides proven production. The Colts went 11-5 and won their division last year with a team that was not substantially different than this year's — a group that could go down as one of the worst in history — except for Manning at QB. If the guy wants to play, how do you tell someone who immediately makes you a playoff contender that you'd rather go with an unproven rookie? And how do you let a legend like Manning play for somebody else? That's the wrong move.

Comments and Conversation

December 1, 2011

Anthony Brancato:

Since you chose not to pan Sam Bradford in this week’s column, I’ll fill that void for you here.

You were right, Brad - I tap out. Bradford is a bust - so much so that if the Colts somehow repeat their collapse-in-reverse of 1986 (when they won their last three games after starting 0-13) and the Rams get the top pick, they absolutely, positively have to select Andrew Luck.

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