Tuesday, October 16, 2012

NFL Week 6 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Five Quick Hits

* In a world of fierce competition, Thom Brennaman is the worst NFL announcer on television. He parrots some basic conventional wisdom, with the occasional absurd inanity thrown in. It's like listening to the random drunk guy on the barstool next to you, if that guy was unbearably self-righteous and stated all his opinions as facts.

* Officials are calling too many pass interference penalties, on both sides of the ball. Let the men play. I'd also like to see defensive PI capped at 15 yards. It's not fair for games to turn on non-reviewable 50-yard penalties.

* I think Jeff Triplette is prejudiced ... in favor of other people named Jeff. His officiating crew includes umpire Jeff Rice, line judge Jeff Bergman, and side judge Jeff Lambert. That's 4 Jeffs, a Barry, a Phil, and — delightfully — an Al and a Steve.

* Calvin Johnson admits that he returned to the field after a concussion in Week 4. The NFL needs to step up its concussion monitoring. That should never happen. Ever.

* You know who's gotten way, way better as an analyst? Trent Dilfer. Even if he doesn't know what ebullient means. Self-deprecation suits him better than self-defense, as does being a bit further removed from his playing career.

***

Peyton Manning is the best comeback QB in the history of professional football. Monday night represented his 47th game-winning drive in the 4th quarter or overtime, tying Dan Marino for the most ever. But it's not just his quantity of comebacks that makes Manning special — it's the quality. Manning's résumé now includes:

* The largest comeback ever by a road team (24 points)
* The biggest comeback in Conference Championship Game history (18 points)
* One of the two 17-point comebacks in the last 5:00 of a game
* The other one
* Five straight wins after trailing in the fourth quarter
* A 15-point second-half comeback
* A 17-point fourth quarter to come back from 10 down
* The game when Bill Belichick was so scared of Manning that he went for it on 4th-and-2 from his own 28-yard line.

There are dozens more. But how many quarterbacks have more than two or three really memorable comebacks? If you're talking about comebacks that are memorable not just for fans of the team, but fans across the league, I'd argue that Peyton is the only one, ever. The 21-points-in-3-minutes MNF against the Bucs in '03, the AFC Championship against the Patriots, the 4th-and-2 game on Sunday night in '09, the biggest comeback in MNF history this week ... Manning has 47 fourth-quarter comebacks, and that's great, but what really distinguishes him is that those comebacks came in big games, against good teams, and from big deficits, not just 3 or 7 points down. I've believed for several years now that Manning is the greatest quarterback who ever lived, but even his critics should acknowledge that when we talk about comebacks, Peyton stands alone.

On to power rankings ... brackets show previous rank.

1. Atlanta Falcons [3] — Point of view No. 1: The Falcons have been lucky to win for three weeks in a row, and haven't looked really impressive in almost a month.

Point of view No. 2: The Falcons can win when Matt Ryan gets sacked 7 times, they can win when they only score 7 points in the first three quarters, and they can win when Ryan tosses 3 interceptions. Atlanta has made a lot of mistakes the past few weeks, things they probably couldn't get away with against better teams, but they've overcome them each time.

2. Houston Texans [1] — No one else is going to throw 6 TDs against them, but don't underestimate the loss of Brian Cushing. This isn't the same defense without him. Bryan Braman had a pretty great night on special teams, with a jarring solo tackle, an assist, and a blocked punt. Houston is favored by anywhere from 4½-7 points against Baltimore next week. I say the Texans win by double-digits.

3. Chicago Bears [6] — They rank 20th in yards per game, but they've scored five defensive TDs and are tied for 2nd in points per game. They topped 30 in three of their five games, and scored 41 twice. Chicago leads the NFL in point differential (+78).

4. San Francisco 49ers [2] — Maybe they got too caught up in their own hype. Maybe they spent the week looking forward to getting revenge for last year's NFC Championship Game, instead of staying focused on the preparation that would help them win. The Niners haven't played any division games yet, but all of their next three are against NFC West opponents.

5. New York Giants [13] — Exposed a secret formula for beating the 49ers: get an early lead, intercept Alex Smith three times, get David Akers to miss two field goals, and commit only two penalties all game. See? Simple.

The Giants were sensational in Weeks 3 and 6, embarrassing their opponents, but pretty blah the other four games. Even in the blowouts, though, they're not converting on red zone opportunities consistently. The Giants lead the NFL in field goals (17), but more importantly, they lead the NFL in field goals of under 40 yards. New York has 14, and no one else has more than 10. In tough games, you can't settle for three.

6. New England Patriots [4] — Lead the NFL in points, yards, and first downs. The Patriots actually have 59 first downs more than their opponents, by far the best mark in the league (49ers, +35). They out-gained the Seahawks by over 100 yards, but went 1/6 in the red zone. They kicked three short field goals, with one interception, and let the clock run out from Seattle's 3-yard line at the end of the first half. They lost by 1. One-point road losses against great home teams like the Ravens and Seahawks don't scare me, and New England is tied for the division lead; 3-3 or not, this is a very good team. The Patriots have lost three games by a combined four points.

7. Green Bay Packers [14] — Aaron Rodgers threw 6 touchdown passes, the most by any player since ... his backup, Matt Flynn, in Week 17 of last season. Active QBs with a 6-TD game: Rodgers, Flynn, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning twice each. Given their Week 6 breakout, it's obvious the Packers were being held back by Cedric Benson, Greg Jennings, and B.J. Raji. The Packers are the only team to beat the Texans, and the only team to beat the Bears.

8. Baltimore Ravens [5] — Haven't won by more than 7 since Week 1, and they rank 26th in total defense. No team has allowed more first downs this season than the Ravens (148). The Cowboys gained 30 first downs, held 40:03 time of possession, and rushed for 227 yards, the most ever allowed by the Ravens. In franchise history, the team has allowed 200 rushing yards just six times, but that includes each of the last two weeks. The secondary is a problem, too. Ed Reed doesn't look like himself, and their best cornerback, Lardarius Webb, will miss the rest of the season with an ACL injury.

9. Seattle Seahawks [12] — Ranked behind two teams they've beaten at home (NE, GB), but ranked way ahead of two teams they lost to on the road (ARI, STL). The Seahawks are a totally different team at home. Well, maybe not totally: Marshawn Lynch has out-gained the opponent's leading rusher in every game.

10. Denver Broncos [11] — The Broncos have outscored their opponents 79-6 in the fourth quarter this season. The 6 came against Pittsburgh in Week 1. For the last 89 minutes of fourth quarter play, Denver hasn't allowed a point.

11. Pittsburgh Steelers [7] — I keep expecting them to get healthy, and it keeps not happening. Ben Roethlisberger is getting sacked at by far the lowest rate of his career (4.8%), and Pittsburgh leads the NFL in third down percentage (52%), but the defense is almost as bad (49% conversions allowed) as the offense is good, 31st in the NFL. The run game is just absent, averaging a league-worst 3.0 yards per carry. James Harrison didn't play like he's healthy, and Ike Taylor is getting killed at corner.

I'm prepared to give the Steelers a partial pass for this week's game, though, because this Thursday night game is screwing things up. Since NFL Network began airing Thursday games, the home team is 29-13 on Thursday nights. The road team has lost 11 of the past 12 Thursday night games. Games in the middle of the week just are not a true reflection of either team's power, and their impact on power rankings should be minimal.

12. Philadelphia Eagles [10] — There are obvious problems (turnovers), but they're 3-3, with wins over the Ravens and Giants. They lost to the Steelers by two in Pittsburgh, and to the Lions in overtime. They're 11th in offensive yards per game, and 31st in points per game. If Michael Vick can hold on to the ball and the defense can start generating a pass rush, this can be an elite team.

13. Minnesota Vikings [9] — Seven red zone possessions produced only two touchdowns, with four short field goals and an interception. Percy Harvin had a great game (11 rec, 133 yds), but they need to start throwing deep. Christian Ponder is tied with Blaine Gabbert for 31st in yards per completion (10.0). He ranks 30th in passes of 20+ yards, and he's the only full-time starter without a completion of 40+. Against a vulnerable pass defense like Washington's, he should have had a field day. Instead, the Vikings dinked and dunked into the red zone, stalled, and settled for field goals.

14. San Diego Chargers [15] — For about three years — I'm thinking 2008-10 — Philip Rivers was one of the very best QBs in the league, maybe even the best. Including sacks and rushing:

Chart

Tom Brady was hurt in '08, and no one else is really close. This isn't just about numbers; Rivers looked good. Fiery leader, big arm, throwing guys open and fitting the ball into tight spaces. Then last year, he played so badly that everyone thought he was hiding an injury. If so, he's still not recovered. Rivers is not having a good season, and he did not look good against the Broncos.

1st half: 11/17, 131 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 0 sacks, 102.8 rating
2nd half: 14/24, 111 yds, 0 TD, 3 INT, 4 sacks, 30.4 rating

15. Dallas Cowboys [16] — The Cowboys have out-gained their opponents by 511 yards, 2nd-best in the NFL (49ers), but they've been outscored by 25 points, mostly because they're -8 in turnovers, tied for third-worst. They overcame a really horrendous chop block call on their final touchdown drive. This replacement officials thing has gone too far; the real refs never would have called that. It's time for the NFL to end the lockout and get qualified officials like Mike Carey back on the field.

16. Arizona Cardinals [8] — Most intriguing game of Week 7: The Pretender Bowl, Cardinals at Vikings. Both teams are 4-2, but it's hard to believe they're for real. Kevin Kolb, with his unreal sack percentage of 12.9%, finally got injured, and John Skelton finished this week's game with a passer rating of 6.2. Kolb's sack percentage is 38% higher than next-worst, Helpless Blaine Gabbert (9.3%).

17. Washington Redskins [20] — Great defensive game by special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander, who finished with 1.5 sacks, 4 quarterback hits, and a fumble recovery. Washington is +9 in turnover differential. Five rookie QBs are starting this season, and all have played well at times, but Robert Griffin III is clearly the best right now. He has 6 rushing touchdowns and leads the NFL in completion percentage (70.2).

18. Miami Dolphins [19] — Out-gained 462-192. That doesn't include penalty yardage (+54) or net punting (+148), which makes it 469-401. Add Miami's +1 turnover advantage, and the Rams' five field goal attempts — only two successful — in lieu of touchdowns, and it's kind of surprising that Miami only won by 3.

Reggie Bush, first three weeks: 302 yds, 6.0 avg, 2 TD, 72 rec yds
Reggie Bush, past three weeks: 132 yds, 2.8 avg, 1 TD, 68 rec yds

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [21] — Ronde Barber scored on a 78-yard interception return. It's too bad he doesn't have a cool name like Champ Bailey.

Chart

Including fumbles, Barber has more takeaways, twice as many return yards, and three times as many touchdowns. Barber is also a better tackler and more disciplined in coverage than Bailey (he's been burned less). Ronde has had a far better career.

20. New York Jets [24] — Overcame devastating defensive penalties to win 35-9.

* Pass interference, 28 yards
* Roughing the passer, 1st down instead of 3rd
* Roughing the passer, nullified INT TD
* Pass interference, nullified INT TD
* Illegal contact, 1st down instead of 3rd
* Face mask, 15-yard penalty instead of 14-yard sack
* Pass interference, 20 yards, 1st down instead of 4th

Referee Bill Leavy is from San Jose, not Indianapolis.

21. New Orleans Saints [22] — Byes are helpful
Players get rest
When they come back
They can give it their best

22. St. Louis Rams [18] — Rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein (aka Greg the Leg, aka Legatron) finally came up short, going 2/5 in a three-point loss. Misses from 52 and 66 are understandable, but wide left from 37 isn't supposed to happen to a kicker with a nickname. The Rams are 3-0 at home, 0-3 on the road.

23. Cincinnati Bengals [17] — Two straight losses, but in the next four weeks, they have three home games and a bye. The Bengals have the worst third-down percentage (27%) in the NFL.

24. Detroit Lions [23] — Jason Hanson kicked four field goals, including the game-winner in overtime. Hanson tied Jason Elam for most overtime field goals in history (9) and moved into third place on the NFL's all-time scoring list (2,074). He already led the NFL in career field goals of 50 yards or more.

25. Buffalo Bills [25] — I had them ranked too high last week, so they stay 25th despite a road win over a decent team. Mario Williams finally showed up (2 sacks).

26. Carolina Panthers [27] — Starting center Ryan Kalil was placed on injured reserve Wednesday. This team, already struggling, just lost its best offensive lineman.

27. Oakland Raiders [28] — Mike Goodson, who has 11 rush attempts, has as many 10-yard runs (2) as Darren McFadden, who has 59 rush attempts. Here's how McFadden's carries break down:

Chart

That's 16 carries for more than four yards, and 31 carries for less than three. Overall, McFadden is averaging 3.2 yards per attempt.

28. Tennessee Titans [30] — Worst in the NFL in point differential (-90) and first down differential (-46), but 31st in yardage differential (-647). They also rank 32nd in opponents' passer rating (107.9).

29. Indianapolis Colts [26] — Adam Vinatieri kicked his third 50-yard field goal of the season, a career-high. During his career in New England, Vinatieri kicked two 50-yarders in a season only once. As a Colt, he's done so three times.

30. Cleveland Browns [31] — Nice game from Joe Haden in his return from suspension: 6 solo tackles and 3 passes broken up, including an interception. Rookie RB Trent Richardson injured his ribs on Sunday and his status for Week 7 is unclear.

31. Kansas City Chiefs [29] — Lost by more than two touchdowns for the fourth time this season. They rank 31st in point differential (-79).

32. Jacksonville Jaguars [32] — They've been outgained this year by 914 yards, 183 per game. That's the worst by 75 yds/gm (Titans, -108).

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