Tuesday, September 25, 2012
NFL Week 3 Power Rankings
Five Quick Hits
* Cheers for: CBS, for showing the end of Jets/Dolphins, Jaguars/Colts, and Chiefs/Saints.
* Boos for: FOX, for highlighting 3-4 stars instead of showing the starting lineups. It doesn't take that long to show the offensive line.
* Cheers for: NBC, for capturing individual Raven and Patriot reactions to Justin Tucker's inches-close game-winning field goal.
* Fantasy football players, the time to sell the Jets defense is now.
* Last week, the NFL lost one of the greatest people ever associated with the sport. I wrote last week about Steve Sabol, and it was wonderful to see people around the league honor him in Week 3.
Three biggest officiating mistakes in Monday's Seahawks/Packers game:
1. Letting players leave the field before final extra point
2. Phantom pass interference on Sam Shields
3. Missed pass interference on Golden Tate
The one call I don't think was a mistake, after about a dozen replays, was awarding possession to Tate on the final play. Simultaneous possession goes to the offense, and that was awfully close. There is no rule about whose chest is closer to the ball. Tate had both hands on the ball when he and M.D. Jennings hit the ground. That could have gone either way, with replacement refs or the regular guys. That call didn't bother me.
Maybe Seahawk fans and I are the only ones who feel that way, but it seemed to me that ESPN's commentators were extraordinarily unprofessional in their treatment of the situation. These guys are freaking out, in an echo chamber where everyone uncritically reinforces everyone else's opinion. They exaggerate and exacerbate the problem, and it doesn't help anyone. Bad calls on game-deciding plays happen all the time, even with the normal referees out there. The Tuck Rule. Ed Hochuli's blown fumble call. The Calvin Johnson rule. Last season, an officiating error changed who won the Super Bowl. Jerome Boger's "down by no contact" rule gave the Giants a win, the difference between a 9-7 team making the playoffs or an 8-8 team missing them. These things happen every year.
The pass interference call on Shields, critical to field position, was a major mistake, and really inexplicable. The replacement officials also seemed not to understand that Seattle needed to attempt an extra point at the end of regulation, which created a 10-minute delay and hugely increased the controversy, since the announcers spent the whole 10 minutes complaining that the call was wrong. Golden Tate clearly pushed off, and it should have been called as offensive pass interference, but the announcers admitted that regular refs probably wouldn't have called it, either. What they were really upset about was a very close, but ultimately reasonable, judgment call about whether or not Tate established simultaneous possession. It looked to me like he did, but it was a close call either way, and these guys acted like the sky was falling. If the exact same thing happened with a regular officiating crew, and the point after had been kicked immediately afterwards, there would be virtually no controversy. I blame ESPN for blowing the problem out of proportion more than I blame the officials for anything.
My expectations for Jon Gruden are so low that he bothers me the least. I've repeatedly called Mike Tirico the best play-by-play man in the NFL, but his unnuanced and extreme reaction was unforgivable. Gerry Austin, though, is a soulless shell of a human being. I understand why ESPN brought him in, to do what Mike Pereira does so well for FOX, and it was a good idea. But I really, really hope ESPN will take him off the air. Austin has got to be the most disagreeable person associated with NFL broadcasting today. He comes off as biased, bitter, closed-minded, and mean-spirited. He's upsetting to listen to. Linda Cohn, in the studio, was human hyperbole. She's supposed to be an anchor.
The sky is not falling, and Wayne Elliott's officiating crew actually did a better job this week on Monday night than they did last week for Rams/Washington. It was a tough call, and there are several reasons to believe the Packers should have won. But we've all seen worse, and it's time to move on. Brackets indicate Week 2 rank.
1. Houston Texans  — Three weeks, three amazing games from second-year DE J.J. Watt. This week, he made 4 tackles for a loss, including 2.5 sacks of Peyton Manning, who is maybe the best QB in history at avoiding sacks. Watt leads the Texans in tackles, plus he has 5.5 sacks, 5 passes defensed, and a fumble recovery. If you are still alive in a survivor pool and haven't used them already, this is your team in Week 4 (home vs. Titans). Otherwise, you're taking the...
2. Atlanta Falcons  — Matt Ryan leads the NFL in passer rating (114.0) and Atlanta leads the league in turnover differential (+10). Thomas DeCoud helped with the latter, grabbing two interceptions and a fumble recovery against San Diego. Two of the next three are at home, and all are against teams with losing records. Atlanta probably goes into its bye at 6-0.
3. Arizona Cardinals  — Going back to last November, they're 10-2. This season, the Cardinals rank 2nd in fewest points allowed (40), and quarterback Kevin Kolb ranks 3rd in the NFL in passer rating (108.6). Ken Whisenhunt this week passed Don Coryell as the team's all-time leader in coaching wins (43).
4. Green Bay Packers  — Haven't scored a point in the first quarter this season. Is this really the same offense that tore the league apart in 2011? Right tackle Brian Bulaga had an awful game, but the first-half play-calling (3 runs, 24 passes) didn't help.
5. Baltimore Ravens  — The replacement refs have made a lot of mistakes, and the worst crews are interfering with and undermining the game. But I think we've forgotten how much we used to complain about the standard officials, and we're often too hard on the new guys, seeing every mistake as one the usual refs would catch. That said, the Ravens have been in two really poorly officiated games, this week prompting what Al Michaels diplomatically called, "The loudest manure chant I've ever heard." Yes, and the clearest. Congratulations, Baltimore, on synchronizing the audio of your displeasure.
6. San Francisco 49ers  — I suspect the loss to Minnesota was mostly a fluke. This team thrives on great defense and mistake-free offense. In Week 3, the Niners had two lost fumbles, an interception, and a blocked field goal. They gave the Vikings four first downs via penalty, and they allowed touchdowns every time Minnesota got close. Those things won't happen most weeks, or at least not all together.
7. New England Patriots  — Played well on the road against the NFL's best home team, and didn't seem to miss Aaron Hernandez in the passing game. Vince Wilfork looked amazing in the first half, and tired in the second half. The Patriots are 1-2 for the first time since 2001, before Tom Brady became the starting quarterback.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers  — Lost to the winless Raiders, and normally I might drop them further than this, but they've been playing without James Harrison and Troy Polamalu. Both players, and RB Rashard Mendenhall, are expected to return after the Week 4 bye, and this is a different team with that kind of talent on the field. Also, the Steelers lost fair and square in Week 3, but they looked like the superior team.
9. Seattle Seahawks  — Don't take this the wrong way, but Russell Wilson reminds me of Tim Tebow. Do nothing for most of the game, then take advantage of your heroic defense and make a couple of big plays to win the game. If you doubled Wilson's passing yardage, he would still rank 8th. Seattle's defensive line and secondary were awfully impressive on Monday, with Chris Clemons sacking Aaron Rodgers four times in the first half.
10. Philadelphia Eagles  — Since the advent of the 16-game schedule, 22 teams have committed 12 or more turnovers in the first three weeks of the season, going a combined 14-52. Of the previous 21 teams, only four made the playoffs (19%). Three of the four lost their first playoff game; the '83 Rams won their first playoff before losing the next 51-7. A 2-1 start gives the Eagles a chance, but they really need to stop beating themselves. Michael Vick leads the NFL in fumbles (5), fumbles lost (3), and interceptions (6).
11. Chicago Bears  — Won 23-7, in spite of another disappointing game from the offense, and Jay Cutler in particular (183 yds, 58.9 rating). The defense looked great, though. Highlights:
* Sacked Sam Bradford 6 times, including 2.5 from Israel Idonije
* 2 interceptions, including a pick-six by Major Wright and a league-leading 4th INT by Tim Jennings
* Lance Briggs had 2 passes defensed and 7 solo tackles, including three straight plays in the third quarter (3 runs, 6 yards)
That kind of defensive performance will win a lot of games. Against better teams than the Rams, though, offensive play like Cutler's will lose just as many. Cutler ranks 25th in passing yards, 2nd-to-last in passer rating (58.6), and tied for last in TD/INT differential (-3). He passed for more yards in Week 1 (333) than Weeks 2 and 3 combined (309).
12. Denver Broncos  — Peyton Manning ranks 20th in passer rating (85.6), between Blaine Gabbert and Sam Bradford. He's also getting sacked at the highest rate (6.5%) of his career (5.0%, 2001) and more than double his career average (3.1%).
13. Dallas Cowboys  — Tony Romo lost two fumbles and threw an interception. DeMarco Murray averaged 2.1 yards per carry and the team rushed for a total of 38 yards. The team gained only 14 first downs and went 1/5 in the red zone. And Dallas was charged with 13 penalties, for 105 yards and 3 Buccaneer first downs. Tampa's offense isn't any good, so the Cowboys won anyway, but their offense is dragging, and other than the second half against the Giants in Week 1, the team has not looked strong.
14. New York Giants  — Totally outclassed the Panthers. On offense, it looked like the Giants could do whatever they wanted, just totally different levels, like an NFL team against a good college team.
15. San Diego Chargers  — Philip Rivers (2 INT, 45.2 rating) was a disaster against the opportunistic Atlanta defense. He threw no interceptions in Week 1, one INT in Week 2, and now two. If he keeps adding one a week, he'll end the season with an NFL-record 120 INTs. He'll also tie the single-game record, then break it seven times.
16. Buffalo Bills  — Got their first road victory in over a year, and won by double-digits for the second consecutive game. Tashard Choice rushed for 91 yards in relief of injured C.J. Spiller, and Ryan Fitzpatrick tossed 3 TDs, but most of the credit should go to Dave Wannstedt's defense, which forced 8 punts, including 4 three-and-outs, and got two late takeaways to seal the win.
17. Cincinnati Bengals  — Three touchdowns of over 40 yards, featuring two different passers and three different receivers. Defensively, though, they're one of four teams that has allowed over 100 points this season (New Orleans, Tennessee, Washington). The Bengals have a forgiving schedule that makes it easy to imagine them going into the bye at 5-2.
18. Detroit Lions  — Led 27-20 with under 7:00 to play, before losing 44-41. Yes, they allowed 20 points in the first 53 minutes, then 24 more at the end. Calvin Johnson leads the NFL in receiving yardage (369). That's amazing for someone who faces constant double-coverage.
19. New York Jets  — Beat the Dolphins in overtime, but lost their best player when Darrelle Revis tore his ACL. Goodbye, season.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers  — Defense has performed admirably, giving problems to Cam Newton, Eli Manning, and Tony Romo. They're allowing 2.3 yards per carry and have eight takeaways, behind only the Falcons and Bears. But the offense is a mess, worst in the NFL in several major categories: yards, yards per play, first downs, third down conversions and conversion percentage. They're near the bottom in most other categories, and Josh Freeman needs to show — soon — that he is still an NFL-caliber quarterback.
21. Oakland Raiders  — Pass defense was a disaster, and they trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter, but a few big plays earned them the win. Through Week 3, the Raiders have 14 penalties for 102 yards. Their opponents have 22 penalties for 180 yards.
22. St. Louis Rams  — Only team to lose to the Lions this year, and they got embarrassed by the Bears. When an opponent shuts down your passing game like Chicago did, you should be able to run, but Steven Jackson only gained 29 yards, with a 2.6 average. Sam Bradford has gotten sacked 12 times this season, tied for most in the NFL.
23. Tennessee Titans  — Crazy game featured a 72-yard fumble return TD, a 105-yard kickoff return TD, a replay of the Music City Miracle (65-yard punt return TD on a lateral), 46 fourth-quarter points, a successful Hail Mary on the final play of regulation, a game-ending fourth-down stand in overtime, and multiple instances of replacement ref mayhem. In a game that featured 1,020 yards of total offense, Chris Johnson accounted for just 29, getting out-rushed by Jake Locker for the second time in three games. The Titans are worst in the NFL in points allowed (113) and point differential (-46).
24. Carolina Panthers  — The Giants kicked five field goals, three of them from the red zone. The 36-7 score doesn't even reflect how poorly Carolina played. Cam Newton (3 INT, 40.6 rating) looked lost, but I blame the coaches first and foremost. Maybe they forgot they had to get a gameplan in before Sunday.
25. Kansas City Chiefs  — Lead the NFL in offensive yardage (442/gm) and in worst turnover differential (-8). Ryan Succop made six field goals this week, including the tying score with :03 left, and the game-winner in overtime. Jamaal Charles carried 33 times — shattering his previous high of 25 — for 233 yards, and now leads the league in rushing (323).
26. Minnesota Vikings  — Christian Ponder had a charmed day against the oft-praised 49er defense, throwing two TD passes to tight end Kyle Rudolph, and scrambling 23 yards for another TD. Percy Harvin has yet to score this season, but he's gained over 80 receiving yards each week and leads the NFL in receptions (27). For the third straight game, rookie kicker Blair Walsh made a field goal of over 50 yards. He has yet to miss at any distance.
27. Miami Dolphins  — Randy Starks blocked a potential game-winning field goal in overtime, but rookie head coach Joe Philbin iced him, so the play didn't count. The Jets made the next one, and Miami lost. Icing the kicker backfires again. Good one, Philbin.
28. Washington Redskins  — Lead the NFL in scoring (99), but at the expense of RG3's body. Rookie QB Robert Griffin III, like Michael Vick in Philadelphia, is taking an awful lot of hits. In Week 3, the Bengals hit him 13 times in the pocket, and on most of his 12 rushing attempts. If this keeps up, he won't last the season. The defensive front seven looked okay on Sunday — Rob Jackson, filling in for the injured Brian Orakpo, made several nice plays — but the secondary repeatedly got burned, and every opponent has passed for over 300 yards. Washington has lost seven straight home games.
29. New Orleans Saints  — Drew Brees said this week that they were not "prepared to be in this situation ... it's pretty horrendous and it's an embarrassment to the league." Apparently, though, he was talking about the replacement refs, not the Saints. I don't think anyone on this team should be taking shots at someone else's preparation right now. Last season, they were 8-0 at home. This year, they're 0-2. Andy Behrens points out that the three teams that have beaten New Orleans (WAS, CAR, KC) are 0-6 against the rest of the NFL. The Saints aren't just losing, they're losing to bad teams — and they're doing it at home.
Since last season, the Saints have lost head coach Sean Payton, assistant head coach Joe Vitt, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, defensive captain Jonathan Vilma, and all-pro guard Carl Nicks.
30. Cleveland Browns  — Start the season 0-3, for the sixth time since the return of the Browns in 1999 — basically every other season. The Ravens have never started 0-3. Art Modell, your legacy lives on in Cleveland.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars  — Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 177 yards — and they almost lost. Blaine Gabbert passed for more yards on his last play (80) than in the rest of the game combined (75). Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson have not energized this team the way they hoped, and Jacksonville's defense is last in the NFL in sacks (2), getting to Andrew Luck zero times in 46 attempts.
32. Indianapolis Colts  — Reggie Wayne (294 yards) and Robert Mathis (4 sacks) are still performing. The rest of the roster mostly is not.
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