Tuesday, October 30, 2012
NFL Week 8 Power Rankings
Five Quick Hits
* For the second time in the last three years, congratulations to the World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
* Speaking of the Giants, most NFL fans don't remember that the NFL's New York Giants are named after baseball's San Francisco Giants, who moved from New York in 1958. The NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers used to be called the Pirates, and the Washington Redskins began as the Boston Braves. Both the NFL and AAFC had teams called the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees.
* I'm all for honoring the past, but the 1934 Steelers jerseys are ridiculous. Might as well make Tom Brady and the Patriots wear powdered wigs.
* Cam Newton leads the Panthers in rushing, by 100 yards.
* This weekend, Matt Hasselbeck threw his 200th career touchdown pass, and Peyton Manning threw his 416th. There are only two active players, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, with half as many passing TDs as Peyton.
If you adore ESPN, or simply don't care about my ranting, please skip a few paragraphs down and proceed to the power rankings. Brackets indicate last week's rank. For the stout-hearted and grumpy, however...
I usually record Monday Night Football and pick it up late enough that I can fast-forward through commercials and Stuart Scott. This week, I watched in real time, and it was agonizing. ESPN has about a dozen commentators doing a job that only requires about three. Seriously, there's Chris Berman, Mike Ditka, Keyshawn Johnson, Cris Carter, Tom Jackson, Stuart Scott, Trent Dilfer, Steve Young, Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, and Lisa Salters. That would be overkill even if they all worked for free, but I suspect everyone except maybe Salters is pretty well compensated.
What was so painful this week wasn't the number of commentators, but the emptiness of their comments. A good sports broadcast entertains, educates viewers, and elevates the sophistication of public opinion. ESPN's broadcast just parrots public opinion. Once in a while, Young or Gruden accidentally provides insight or analysis, but it doesn't make up for having your IQ forcibly lowered by the rest of the crew.
I've come to peace with Berman, but the other four studio guys are clowns. Dilfer is okay, Salters is pointless, Tirico has become a hack, and Stuart Scott is an insult to everyone who understands anything about sports. Why not just use Berman, Adam Schefter and/or Chris Mortensen, and the two guys in the booth? That won't fix everything — Tirico and Gruden's booth will still be the Chamber of Conventional Wisdom — but at least it will streamline the nonsense. ESPN's NFL coverage would benefit from a lot more critical thinking. Fans can get more insight from fantasy football writers than highly-paid television analysts.
The one great aspect of MNF is the camera work and attention to replays. If it's not the best produced game of the week, it's close. It just needs a brain to go with all those mouths.
1. Houston Texans  — They're 6-1, and it's a strong 6-1. They've beaten the Broncos and Ravens, and four of the wins were by 20 points or more. The loss came against Green Bay. Houston and Atlanta are the only teams without a road loss this season.
2. Atlanta Falcons  — Explosive offense has created joyous fantasy owners, with Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez all among the top scorers at their positions. So would you believe the Falcons rank 8th in passing yards per game, and 13th in total offense? Those three receivers account for 66% of Atlanta's receptions, 77% of its receiving yards, and 76% of its receiving touchdowns. Ryan ranks 8th in passing yardage, but including a rushing TD, he's 3rd in scoring.
3. Denver Broncos  — The Broncos have improved with Peyton Manning. I don't mean just because he's better than Tim Tebow; the other players have improved. Willis McGahee is having a career year. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker have progressed from having potential to realizing it. The Broncos look better every time I see them. They're playing smart, and holding themselves to a very high standard. It's remarkable, really.
4. San Francisco 49ers  — The announcers gushed over Alex Smith's 18/19 passing stats — which was incredible after Jon Gruden complained that he doesn't like stats — and mentioned that Smith broke the record for ... most pass attempts in a game with only one incompletion. Wow, right there with Unitas' 47 in a row, isn't it? Smith had a fine game against a good defense, but San Francisco would have won with Jim Druckenmiller at QB. The Niner defense has kept four of its last five opponents out of the end zone.
5. Chicago Bears  — I'm just going to reprint last week's entry: Chicago is +12 in turnovers, but just 26th in offensive yards per game, while Jay Cutler ranks 23rd in passer rating (78.9). A great team forces turnovers, but it has to be able to win without them, too. I'm not sure the Bears can win when they don't get takeaways. Numbers updated (and even worse than last week).
6. Green Bay Packers  — Their victory over the lowly Jaguars was uncomfortably close, yes. But they did it without half a dozen starters, including impact players like Charles Woodson and Jordy Nelson. Woodson's out for a while, but most of the others are expected back on the field soon. Don't panic.
7. New England Patriots  — Scored 45 straight points in their rout of the Rams. Who needs Aaron Hernandez and Logan Mankins? The Patriots lead the NFL in scoring, yardage, first downs, third down conversions, third down percentage, turnover differential, and point differential.
8. New York Giants  — Second consecutive nail-biter. Washington and Dallas are decent teams, but if the Giants are really a top-5 team, they shouldn't need back-to-back miracles to keep their win streak alive. The Giants are tied with the Bears for most interceptions in the NFL (16), and no one else is close (next-best is 10).
9. Pittsburgh Steelers  — Fans were buzzing with excitement after Pittsburgh imprisoned RG3 and the offense broke out against Washington. There's been a lot of talk recently about new offensive coordinator Todd Haley and his "dink and dunk" offense. The chart below shows how Ben Roethlisberger's 2012 performance compares to his 2011 campaign and to league averages for the last season and a half.
Roethlisberger's net yards per attempt (which includes sacks) are virtually equal: 6.81 this year and 6.89 last season. But he's taking fewer hits, his interception percentage has been cut in half, and the Steelers are converting more third downs (52%, 2nd in NFL). Pittsburgh's offense hasn't looked this good since Swann and Stallworth. Call it dink and dunk, but it's working.
10. Baltimore Ravens  — As a whole, the AFC North is 10-4 at home (.714) and 4-11 away (.267) in 2012. Since John Harbaugh joined the team, Baltimore is unstoppable at home (31-5, .861) and just average on the road (18-17, .514). Three of the next four games are on the road. The Ravens are last in the NFL in time of possession, 26:06, a deficit of nearly 8 minutes per game.
11. Seattle Seahawks  — I didn't see this game. Was there a reason they stopped giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch (12 att, 105 yds, 8.8 avg, TD)? The 12 carries were a season-low for Lynch. Actually, after taking at least 20 handoffs in each of the first five games, Lynch has fewer than 20 in each of the last three. It's hard to say why; he's obviously their best player on offense, and all the games have been close.
12. Miami Dolphins  — Tremendous performance by their defense. The Jets' first-half drives: three-and-out, blocked punt, lost fumble, three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out, missed field goal. The second half was less dominant, but by that time it was 20-0. The Dolphins allow just 18 points per game, 5th-best in the NFL.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers  — Since the bye, they're 2-1, with both wins by 19+ points. In 2010, Josh Freeman looked like a rising star, a young QB every bit as promising as Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. In 2011, he looked like a mess. Now, he's hot again. In his last four games, Freeman has averaged 327 yards per game, with 10 TD and just 2 INT, a 105.5 passer rating.
14. Minnesota Vikings  — Lost two of their last three, and QB Christian Ponder has become a clear problem. Halfway through the season, he has only one 300-yard passing game, and no TD passes of 20 yards or more. He ranks near the bottom of the league in yards per attempt, yards per completion, and yards per game. After a promising start in the first three weeks (4 TD, 0 INT, 104.9 rating), Ponder has thrown an interception in four straight games, and passed for under 120 yards in two of the last five weeks (74.6 rating). The Vikings are last or tied for last in pass plays of 20+ and 40+ yards.
15. Philadelphia Eagles  — Two years ago, Michael Vick was an MVP candidate. Now, he may be benched for a rookie third-round draft pick who never won a bowl game. That's what he gets for messing up Andy Reid's 13-0 after-the-bye streak.
16. Washington Redskins  — The storyline coming out of their loss to the
Bumblebees Convicts Steelers was "at least 10" dropped passes. That's a high standard for catchable balls, though; about half of those were broken up by yellow-and-black-striped defenders. Santana Moss was inexplicably charged with a "drop" that was knocked down by Ike Taylor, and he scored a touchdown two plays later. His drop in the fourth quarter, on 4th-and-17, was short of a first down and had no impact on the result. Darrel Young's drop may have been intentional; the pass was made under pressure and he probably would have lost yardage if he caught it. Did the receivers miss some catchable passes? Yes. But this was a 27-12 loss, and drops weren't the difference. The biggest problem in Washington is pass defense. There's no pass rush, and the defensive backfield is terrible.
17. Dallas Cowboys  — Came within a fingertip of winning. Literally. Jason Witten broke his own single-game record for receptions by a tight end, and tied Brandon Marshall for third-most at any position. Top six single-game reception totals in Cowboy history:
1. Jason Witten, 18 (Week 8)
2. Jason Witten, 15 (2007)
3. Jason Witten, 14 (2009)
t4. Jason Witten, 13 (Week 4)
t4. Dez Bryant, 13 (Week 6)
t4. Lance Rentzel, 13 (1967)
18. Detroit Lions  — Finally found some secondary targets and got the offense going, converting 12/16 third downs and scoring 4 touchdowns. Placekicker Jason Hanson hasn't attempted a field goal in two weeks.
19. New Orleans Saints  — This team has so many different leaders, it doesn't have any leadership. Who's running the show? Is it new interim coach Joe Vitt? Previous interim coach Aaron Kromer? Quarterback Drew Brees? Head coach in absentia Sean Payton? Owner Tom Benson? The defense is a mess, and the offense is just Brees throwing a lot, without any cohesive strategy apparent. I question whether there's anyone on this team whom Brees answers to.
20. San Diego Chargers  — They've now lost three in a row, and they're under .500. The AFC is not deep this year, and there's no reason San Diego shouldn't challenge for a wild card, but I doubt it will happen. The loss in Cleveland was seriously demoralizing. As Dan Patrick noted, "You should be able to accidentally score a touchdown against Cleveland."
21. New York Jets  — If you're a fantasy football player, Mark Sanchez had a decent game on Sunday: 283 yards, TD, INT. If you're a Jets fan, though, Sanchez dropped back 59 times, with 264 yards (under 4.5 per play) and 2 turnovers. And even if you're a fantasy owner, why the hell is Mark Sanchez on your team?
22. Indianapolis Colts  — Beat the Titans with red zone defense, a nice play in overtime, and Reggie Wayne. Wayne leads the NFL in receiving yards (757) and first downs (38). The Colts defense has only 2 interceptions this season, fewest in the league.
23. Cincinnati Bengals  — Two tough games coming up (Broncos and Giants), but they're in the middle of a really cushy travel schedule. From Weeks 7-12, the Bengals have one road game, four home games, and a bye. That's one road game in a month and a half.
24. St. Louis Rams  — The Patriots scored touchdowns on each of their first five possessions. Meanwhile, St. Louis ranks 31st in points per game, and hasn't topped 20 in any game since September 16 (Week 2).
25. Oakland Raiders  — Won in Kansas City for the sixth year in a row. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have won 8 of their last 9 in Oakland. In one of the league's fiercest rivalries, the away team has won 11 of the last 12.
26. Cleveland Browns  — Won two of their last three, no thanks to the passing game. Against San Diego, Brandon Weeden's 29 pass attempts resulted in 11 completions, 16 incompletions, and 2 sacks, for a total of 117 yards, 4.0 per play. The Browns punted on nine consecutive possessions this week.
27. Tennessee Titans  — Allowed 30 first downs against the Colts, and they're among the bottom five in every major defensive category.
28. Arizona Cardinals  — It's difficult to evaluate John Skelton and LaRod Stephens-Howling behind such an atrocious offensive line. I've probably seen a team with a worse line at some point, but I can't think of one.
29. Carolina Panthers  — Out-gained the Bears by over 200 yards (416-210), destroyed them in third down percentage (53%-25%), won the turnover battle (3-2), committed fewer penalties (3-5), won time of possession by nearly a whole quarter (36:38-23:22), and lost. They went 1/4 in the red zone, and punter Brad Nortman had one of the worst games in memory. His three kicks netted 25, 35, and 6 yards. Ron Rivera's disastrous prevent defense ("We were trying to keep the ball in front of us ... We were trying to make them systematically beat us.") merits a Dishonorable Mention. The Observer's Scott Fowler notes that Rivera is now 1-10 in games decided by seven points or fewer.
30. Buffalo Bills  — Their Achilles heel is run defense; their saving grace is red zone offense. The Bills have more than four times as many touchdowns (22) as field goals (5), by far the best ratio in the league, 4.40 to 1. The Saints are 2nd (3.43:1), the Packers 3rd (2.89), and the Broncos 4th (2.78). Fine company.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars  — Just 9 touchdowns this season, the only team still in single-digits. 16 teams — half the league — have at least twice as many TDs as the Jags. But they've had two close losses since the bye, with two winnable home games (Lions and Colts) coming up.
32. Kansas City Chiefs  — Their Week 3 overtime win stopped the clock, so technically, they haven't led for a single second this season. The Chiefs are -18 in turnover differential, by far the worst mark in the league.
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