Tuesday, October 9, 2012
NFL Week 5 Power Rankings
Five Quick Hits
* Amen, Clay Matthews: "If the NFL really wants to increase player safety, start protecting players on both sides of the ball."
* The Chiefs rank 32nd in turnover differential. What's stunning is that their -15 is worse than the 30th- and 31st-ranked teams combined (Dallas and Philadelphia, both -7).
* Alex Karras, the great Detroit Lions DT, is extremely ill with kidney disease. Karras was one of the best ever at his position, an entertainer on and off the field. Hopefully his family will see him enshrined in Canton one day.
* When Jordin Sparks sang the national anthem on Sunday night, at first I thought to myself, "Oh, she has a nice voice." But she sure doesn't have much range. Poor girl only hit about half the notes.
* The Bills spent this offseason bragging about their defense, upgraded with pass rushers Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. In Week 6, they'll face the 8-sacks-a-game Cardinals. If Williams and Anderson can't get it done against Arizona, they just aren't going to get it done.
I normally resist conspiracy theories, but on Sunday night, it sure looked like the Chargers got stuck in a good narrative. Several close calls in the fourth quarter had Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth joking that the replacement officials could do a better job. An uncalled offensive pass interference led to the Saints' go-ahead touchdown, and debatable calls against San Diego turned two 20+ yard gains into a pair of 10-yard penalties.
The Chargers had reached Saints territory at the two-minute warning, but the refs sent them back to their own 33 with only 1:32 left. They'd lost 22 yards and 1/4 of the time available to them. Ronnie Brown didn't help matters, by repeatedly refusing to run out of bounds, nor did Jared Gaither, by playing through an injury that basically prevented him from moving. But three questionable decisions by
Brian Stropolo's Carl Cheffers' officiating crew appeared to make a big difference in a game it was convenient for the Saints to win. Probably a coincidence, but ugly nonetheless. In this week's power rankings, brackets indicate previous rank.
1. Houston Texans  — It's too early for postseason predictions, but Matt Slauson may have cost Houston the Super Bowl on Monday night. Brian Cushing is the best inside linebacker in the NFL, and Slauson damaged his knee with an ugly chop block. The Texans are a great team, and they're used to dealing with injuries, but I don't believe you can lose a player of that caliber and win a championship. For his part, Slauson needs to realize you can end a player's season — or career — by diving at his knees like that. Not okay.
2. San Francisco 49ers  — Gained 621 yards against Buffalo, a team record. The 49ers had the Million Dollar Backfield, Montana and Craig, Young and Rice, even Garcia and T.O. Nope, the record belongs to Alex Smith and Michael Crabtree. San Francisco has won its last two games by a combined score of 79-3.
3. Atlanta Falcons  — That's their second or third uncomfortably close win, and for all the talent on this offense, you'd like to see more points on the board. But there's no complaining about Tony Gonzalez. This weekend, Gonzalez caught his 99th touchdown pass and went over 100 receiving yards for the 29th time. Tight ends with 20 or more 100-yard games:
1. Tony Gonzalez, 29
2. Kellen Winslow, 24
3. Jackie Smith, 22
Gonzalez leads the NFL in receptions (39) and receiving first downs (29).
4. New England Patriots  — Even outside of the two-minute drill, lots of teams use no-huddle offense. In Week 5, the Patriots used a true hurry-up offense, to devastating effect. New England leads the NFL in yards, points, and first downs. The team is also +10 in turnovers, tied with Atlanta for best in the NFL.
5. Baltimore Ravens  — One of nine teams with fewer than 20 third-down conversions this season. Four of the nine have already had a bye. Baltimore's 33% conversion rate ranks behind the Titans, Jets, and Dolphins, as well as most other teams. Kansas City was allowing 34 points a game, and all the Ravens managed was three field goals.
6. Chicago Bears  — For the second week in a row, both Lance Briggs and Peanut Tillman returned interceptions for touchdowns. Chicago now has 5 defensive TDs this season. The offense also came alive, topping 500 yards for the first time since 1989. Brandon Marshall caught 12 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown, his third game this season with 100+ yards and a score.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers  — Troy Polamalu aggravated his calf injury and will not play in Thursday night's matchup at Tennessee. Lamar Woodley injured his hamstring and might miss the game as well. Rashard Mendenhall, however, played well in his return to action. Pittsburgh leads the NFL in third down percentage (53%).
8. Arizona Cardinals  — Their offensive line gave one of the worst performances I've ever seen in professional football, stunningly bad. Thursday night's loss was the second consecutive game in which they allowed 8 or more sacks, an ignominy last matched by the 2003 Arizona Cardinals. You don't hear this very often, but the Cardinals didn't hold enough against St. Louis. Have you ever seen the NFL Films clip where Boomer Esiason talks to his linemen about holding? "When it comes to holding, a hold or a sack, hold their ass." Offensive holding is a 10-yard penalty. But a sack loses about 6 yards, plus loss of down, and your quarterback can get hurt. On Thursday night, the Cardinals allowed 9 sacks, but were only flagged for holding twice (one of them declined), and not until late in the third quarter. When you're getting killed like that, you've got to try and get away with some holds.
At the same time, let's not pretend this was exclusively the line's fault. If you're Kevin Kolb, at some point you must get rid of the ball. It's a three-step drop, and you know their pass rush is beating your line. If no one's open, throw it away. Don't keep losing yardage and taking unnecessary hits. You've also got to blame the incredibly predictable offensive play-calling: run on first down, pass on second and third. Arizona didn't start running screens and draws until the fourth quarter. The team also ran almost exclusively from heavy formations and passed from multi-receiver sets. You can't telegraph your intentions like that and expect to win.
9. Minnesota Vikings  — Tough team to evaluate, because of their schedule. They've beaten the Jaguars, Lions, and Titans, who all appear to be pretty bad, and they lost to the Colts, who don't seem great. They also beat the 49ers, albeit in sort of a weird game. Anyway, they're 4-1, and here they are in the top 10.
10. Philadelphia Eagles  — Michael Vick lost another two fumbles this week, including one at the goal line. It's unfortunate, I think, that just when a seemingly penitent Vick returned to NFL action, he had that great 2010 season and everyone started telling him — again — how great he was. I don't know Mike Vick, but it seems like he views all criticism as unmerited, just haters doing their thing. Man, you lead the NFL in turnovers. You fumbled at the goal line and your team lost by two. Point the finger at yourself.
11. Denver Broncos  — Willis McGahee looks great this season. It sounds crazy to say a running back who's had four 1,000-yard seasons, and is about to turn 31, is the playing the best football of his career, but that may actually be the case. On Sunday, however, McGahee committed two critical errors that might have changed the outcome. He dropped a screen pass that would have given Denver a first down on 4th-and-1, and he lost a fourth-quarter fumble in the red zone.
12. Seattle Seahawks  — They've only scored 20 points once all season, but this defense is terrific. They abused Cam Newton and held Carolina to 190 yards of offense. The Panthers scored on a defensive touchdown, a safety, and one lonely field goal courtesy of the offense. Seattle ranks 2nd in the NFL in scoring defense (14 pts/gm).
13. New York Giants  — Fell behind 14-0, but doubled Cleveland's first downs (30-15) and came back to win 41-27. Victor Cruz has more catches (37) and more receiving TDs (5) than any two other Giants combined, with nearly as many receiving yards (438).
14. Green Bay Packers  — This business with the replacement refs has gone far enough. The roughness call on Nick Perry that nullified a red zone turnover was not merely questionable, it was clearly wrong. That was a great hit. We all know the officials are doing their best, but they're simply not qualified for this job. Let's get real refs like Walt Anderson back on the field, pronto.
15. San Diego Chargers  — What is wrong with Richard Goodman and Marcus Gilchrist? Here's which yard line the Chargers began their drives following Saints kickoffs: own 20, 6, 19, 29, 18, 15. They started inside their own 20 four times, including once at the six. All of those kickoffs were at least seven yards deep in the end zone. Goodman is nuts to run them out, and Gilchrist is just as bad for letting him do it. I wouldn't want guys like that on my roster.
16. Dallas Cowboys  — The Cowboys, who had a bye this week, were the first NFL team to use computers. So here's a computer-related PSA for NFL Network's Chris Rose (and many other people): you should never use the word "backslash" when reading a web address.
17. Cincinnati Bengals  — Contained Reggie Bush (48 yds, 2.5 avg) and Brian Hartline (59 yds), but their own offense struggled: 298 yards, 2/14 third down conversions, 3 turnovers. The Bengals scored at least 27 points in each of their three wins, and were held to 13 in both losses, less than half as many.
18. St. Louis Rams  — Already won more games (3) than all of last season (2-14), and they're over .500 for the first time since 2006. Their special teams look great, but Sam Bradford struggled badly on Thursday, going 7-of-21 and throwing 12 straight incompletions. Danny Amendola broke his clavicle in the second quarter, and will miss at least a month. St. Louis is one of two teams that hasn't scored a rushing touchdown this season (the other is Tennessee).
19. Miami Dolphins  — Only 2 passing TDs this season. Every other team has at least 4. The Saints, Falcons, Bills, Broncos, Packers, Bengals, and Giants all have five times as many passing TDs as Miami.
20. Washington Redskins  — Robert Griffin III suffered a totally unnecessary concussion on Sunday. When you can run out of bounds, or dive forward, gain half a yard, and sustain a head injury, you go out of bounds.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers  — If you own the Bucs defense in fantasy, start them in Week 6. The Chiefs are a gold mine.
22. New Orleans Saints  — Marques Colston caught 9 passes for 131 yards and 3 TDs. His 52 career touchdowns broke the franchise record held by Joe Horn (50). Against San Diego, they gained 19 first downs passing and 1 rushing. Early in the third quarter, Ben Grubbs and Zach Strief were called for false starts on consecutive plays. How does that happen in a home game?
23. Detroit Lions  — Seven starting QBs have thrown more interceptions this year than touchdowns. Among those seven, Detroit's Matthew Stafford has the highest passer rating, 81.6.
24. New York Jets  — I don't understand why they use Tim Tebow so seldom. I wouldn't want to see him as the full-time starting QB — Denver's offense was borderline unwatchable last year — but he has play-making ability and provides a spark that the offense otherwise lacks. Give him a series now and then.
25. Buffalo Bills  — Outgained by 417 yards this weekend. Three of their five opponents have scored at least 45 points.
26. Indianapolis Colts  — Won an emotional game for their absent head coach, Chuck Pagano, who is undergoing treatment for leukemia. It was a great win, and evidently Reggie Wayne (13 rec, career-high 212 yards, game-winning TD) still has it. But teams can't sustain that kind of emotional performance, and this roster still has a lot of holes.
27. Carolina Panthers  — In February, I wrote a column on the best rookie quarterbacks in NFL history. Of the top 10, one player's career was wrecked by a shoulder injury, one became a moderately successful wide receiver, one built a 15-year career as a backup, and five went on to very successful careers. The other two are Andy Dalton, who appears to be on the right track, and Cam Newton. It is basically unprecedented for a rookie QB as successful as Newton to fall off the rails the way he has so far in 2012.
28. Oakland Raiders  — Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who suffered a scary injury in Week 3, is expected to return to the field in Week 6.
29. Kansas City Chiefs  — Fans cheered the injury to quarterback Matt Cassel. That is seriously trashy.
Classless: [klas-lis, klahs-] adj., see Kansas City Chiefs fans.
30. Tennessee Titans  — They've allowed 30 points in every game this year. Andy Behrens reports that "Tennessee has now allowed 41 catches, 420 receiving yards and 7 TDs to opposing tight ends."
31. Cleveland Browns  — 23rd straight game committing a turnover. 11th straight loss. Call it The Enduring Curse of Art Modell: the Browns are 0-5 for the first time since they returned to Cleveland in 1999. Three defensive starters, including D'Qwell Jackson, left Sunday's game with injuries. On the bright side, CB Joe Haden returns from suspension in Week 6. Back to the negatives, Brandon Weeden has the worst passer rating (64.5) of any starting QB in the league.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars  — Last season, they had the worst offense in the NFL. This season, they already have more games of single-digit scoring than all of 2011. They also gave up 501 yards to Chicago, the most for the Bears since before this team existed.
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