Tuesday, November 27, 2012

NFL Week 12 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Five Quick Hits

* More on Jim Schwartz and the unreviewable play in Detroit's summary, but it's not just Lion fans who are mad about this stupid challenge rule. Houston's win — which might have happened anyway, but probably not — could also affect the Ravens, Patriots, and Broncos in playoff seeding.

* In Seattle's loss to Miami, Seahawks returner Leon Washington scored his 8th career kickoff return TD, tying the career record held by Josh Cribbs. Washington continues to move up the list of the greatest kick returners ever.

* The Toronto Argonauts defeated the Calgary Stampeders 35-22 for this year's Grey Cup. Congrats to the Argos on their first CFL championship since 2004.

* In the third quarter of Monday night's game, ESPN skipped a play to show a promo. Mike Tirico was on, talking about football, but instead of covering a 21-15 game in progress, he was talking about a game that hadn't started yet. C'mon, Man.

* The 49ers' special teams coach, Brad Seely, needs to start, you know, coaching his return men. Ted Ginn Jr. fumbled because he tried to return a ball he clearly needed to fair catch, and Kyle Williams fair caught a punt he clearly needed to let bounce (he was at the 5-yard line).

***

I'm a huge advocate of the NFL's player safety initiatives, and in many respects I believe the league isn't doing enough. But there has to be an element of common sense. On Monday night, Greg Hardy was called for a 15-yard roughness penalty. Jon Gruden disagreed with the flag: "They should throw that on the quarterback. You can't throw the ball late back into the middle of the field and expect anything else."

The league's goal is that players can expect something else, but Gruden is right that Nick Foles put his receiver at unnecessary risk. If your man is about to get lit up, throw it at his feet or over his head. I'm not excusing dangerous plays or illegal hits, but a passer needs to understand the situation. Hardy's hit probably merited a flag, though it's a harsh penalty for a borderline call. The player who clearly did something wrong on that play was Foles.

As always, brackets indicate last week's rank.

1. San Francisco 49ers [3] — Held the Saints to 290 yards and 3/11 on third downs. They sacked Drew Brees 5 times and scored on 2 interception returns. The game felt a little like last year's playoff win, with the Niners taking an early lead and then watching the clock, waiting for it to run out before the Saints could come back. Colin Kaepernick played well again, and I can't imagine anyone really believes the team might start Alex Smith in Week 13.

2. Denver Broncos [2] — Do you ever wonder if certain coaches deliberately screw with fantasy football owners? Everyone who handcuffed or wasted a waiver move on Ronnie Hillman, meet Knowshon Moreno. Matt Prater missed two field goals this week, one of them tough (47 yards) and the other a chip-shot (33).

3. New England Patriots [4] — Won by at least 30 points for the second week in a row, and the third time in their last four games. As long as we're listing ridiculous scoring accomplishments:

* The Thanksgiving Day Massacre was New England's fifth win of the season by more than 20 points.
* This week, the Patriots scored 35 points in the second quarter.
* That includes three TDs in 52 seconds.
* They've scored 5 return TDs in the last two games.
* The Patriots have 49 TDs this season. No one else has more than 40.
* New England has outscored its opponents by 169, most in the NFL. The 49ers are next, +121.

4. Houston Texans [1] — Won in overtime for the second week in a row. This was also the second consecutive game in which they came back from a double-digit second half deficit. The obvious stars were J.J. Watt and Andre Johnson. Watt finished with 5 solo tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 pass deflections. Johnson, already coming off his biggest game of the season, caught 9 passes for 188 yards. His 461 receiving yards the last two weeks are the highest two-game total in NFL history.

Despite dropping them three spots this week, I'm not reading much into Houston's problems on Thursday. They had a road game on a short week, and most of the trouble came from two bad matchups. Ndamukong Suh absolutely destroyed right guard Ben Jones, and with top corner Johnathan Joseph out (hamstring), Detroit's Calvin Johnson had 8 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown. Next week's opponent, Tennessee, won't be able to exploit those matchups.

5. Chicago Bears [7] — Up 25-3 at halftime, they took their foot off the gas pedal in the second half and coasted to an easy victory over the Vikings. Television analysts attributed the win to Jay Cutler (188 yards, 86.5 passer rating), but the offense did not play well this week. Cutler only got sacked once, but Brandon Marshall averaged just 7.7 yards per reception, and neither Matt Forte nor Michael Bush was efficient running the ball (combined 2.9 yds/att). The Bears didn't get any defensive or special teams scores on Sunday, but they did force three turnovers and a blocked field goal.

A number of key players got hurt in the win, including Lance Briggs, Matt Forte, and Charles Tillman. As of this writing, their status going forward is unclear. Guard Lance Louis is out for the year.

6. Atlanta Falcons [6] — Big win, on the road, against a division opponent and fellow playoff contender. Already missing standout cornerback Brent Grimes, the Falcons also saw Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson leave Sunday's game with injuries.

7. Baltimore Ravens [8] — Let's talk about 4th-and-29. That's unmakeable. But the Ravens dumped a pass off to Ray Rice near the line of scrimmage, and from there it looked like a kickoff return, with Rice cutting all the way across the field en route to a 30-yard gain and a first down that set up the game-tying field goal. On the replay, it looked like Rice got a generous spot, like maybe he only gained 28 yards. But if you're San Diego, you can't let it come down to a measurement like that. 4th-and-29!

8. Green Bay Packers [5] — It's hard to rank this team without knowing when injured playmakers like Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson might return. Offensive line is obviously a problem here, but a lot of the sacks are on Aaron Rodgers. He has got to throw the ball away more often. It would also be nice to the see the coaches change up formations to keep some extra blockers in when the tackles are getting killed like that. It looked like the Packers gave up in the second quarter anyway, but Sunday night's game showed disappointing lapses in judgment on several levels.

9. New Orleans Saints [10] — Drew Brees got sacked a season-high five times, and threw multiple pick-sixes for the third time since he joined the Saints in 2006. Darren Sproles led the team in receptions (7) and receiving yards (65). It's weird to look at a Saints box score and see R.Bush listed.

10. Cincinnati Bengals [14] — Won by at least 18 for the third week in a row. Granted, pounding the Chiefs (28-6) and Raiders (34-10) is par for the course, but Cincinnati also dropped a nasty beatdown (31-13) on the Giants in Week 10.

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [11] — I know they lost, but can we talk for a moment about Ronde Barber? At 37 years old, he leads the team in interceptions (4) and he's 2nd in the NFL in INT return yardage (160). The Bucs' defense is pretty bad, and Barber obviously isn't the same player he was five or 10 years ago, but the old man can still play.

12. New York Giants [13] — Everything they've been doing badly for the last month, they did well against Green Bay. With the Cowboys seemingly incapable of consistent performance and allergic to winning their most important games, a Week 13 win in Washington would probably guarantee the Giants an NFC East title.

13. Seattle Seahawks [9] — Both starting cornerbacks, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, face four-game suspensions after testing positive for Adderall. The secondary is the strength of this team, so those suspensions matter quite a lot, though neither begins until after this week's game against Chicago.

14. Pittsburgh Steelers [12] — Charged with four turnovers against Cleveland ... in the fourth quarter alone. That includes a desperation play with laterals as time expired, but it's pretty sad to end a game with just 13 first downs, including 1/9 on third down, and 8 turnovers. Yes, eight. Two or three years ago, it wasn't a big deal for Charlie Batch to cover for Ben Roethlisberger while he recovered from a motorcycle crash or served suspension for crashing a frat party. But now, Batch is a week shy of his 38th birthday and playing behind a subpar offensive line. It sounds like there's about a 50% chance of Roethlisberger playing against the Ravens in Week 13, but it's unlikely he'll be in top form.

15. Washington Redskins [20] — Who is Washington's best receiver? Santana Moss? Pierre Garçon? What Robert Griffin III is doing with this receiving corps is stunning. He threw four TDs for the second week in a row — the first rookie ever to do so — and Washington scored 28 points in the second quarter alone.

16. Detroit Lions [17] — Boomer Esiason called it "the most punitive penalty in NFL history." Lions head coach Jim Schwartz threw the red challenge flag on a play that was subject to automatic review, which is a 15-yard penalty. But unbeknownst to most of us, it also negated the review, giving Houston an 81-yard touchdown. This is probably the stupidest rule in NFL history, and it sounds like it will be eliminated, either in the offseason or maybe sooner. Fifteen yards is harsh enough; the replay needs to happen.

17. Indianapolis Colts [18] — They're 5-1 at home, 2-3 on the road. It looks like they're going to get a wild card playoff entry, with a first-round game, outdoors in January, against someone like New England or Denver. I'll call it right now: Colts lose by at least two touchdowns. Given their history last decade, it would be appropriate for Peyton Manning to lead a rout in a Broncos/Colts playoff game.

18. Dallas Cowboys [15] — Decent second-half comeback after they trailed 28-3 at halftime. In the first half, Tony Romo threw 21 passes and handed off to running backs 7 times. That's awfully imbalanced, three times as many passes. In the second half, Romo dropped back 44 times and handed off zero times.

19. Cleveland Browns [24] — Started 0-5. Since then, they're 3-3. Brandon Weeden suffered a concussion on Sunday. Colt McCoy would play in Week 13 if Weeden can't go. McCoy's passer rating last season (74.6) was better than Weeden's this year (70.9), so this probably isn't a major concern.

20. San Diego Chargers [19] — Heart-breaking loss in overtime. The Chargers are 4-7, despite outscoring opponents this season (245-237). Demorrio Williams and Shareece Wright combined for 7 special teams tackles this week.

21. Carolina Panthers [26] — If Cam Newton plays like that again next week, they'll win back-to-back for the first time since last December.

22. Minnesota Vikings [16] — Christian Ponder passed for 159 yards with a 58.2 passer rating. It's not clear when Percy Harvin will be ready to play again, but so far it doesn't sound like he'll be ready in Week 13.

23. Jacksonville Jaguars [29] — Suppose you took a mediocre NFL team, bad but not terrible, and replaced their QB with a good high school senior. That team would have the worst offense in the NFL. If you restored a real NFL quarterback — not a standout, but someone like David Garrard or Chad Henne — you'd get a totally different team. Helpless Blaine Gabbert is not a high school senior, but that's pretty much where the Jags are right now: a totally different team.

24. Miami Dolphins [27] — Scored 17 fourth-quarter points to snap a three-game losing streak. The defense shut down Marshawn Lynch (46 yds, 2.6 avg), while Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas combined for 147 yards and 2 TDs, both averaging over 6 yards per attempt. Davone Bess finished with 129 receiving yards, and Brian Hartline with 17.

25. St. Louis Rams [25] — Janoris Jenkins scored on a pair on interception returns, Steven Jackson rushed for 139 yards, and Chris Givens gained 115 receiving, with the go-ahead touchdown. Unfortunately, the Rams went 3/11 on third downs (27%) and 0/3 in the red zone (FG, missed FG, INT). They won because they played against a bad team.

26. Tennessee Titans [21] — In every game they've played this season, the opponent's leading receiver has out-gained the Titans' leading receiver. Their only 100-yard receiver is Nate Washington (3 receptions for 113 yards in Week 3). Kenny Britt's season-high is 67 yards, in their blowout loss to the Bears.

27. Buffalo Bills [23] — Lost four of their last five, but Mario Williams had three sacks on Sunday, and C.J. Spiller continues to average 6.75 yards per attempt this season. He's on pace to break Jim Brown's single-season record for average per carry (6.40).

28. New York Jets [22] — All kinds of disaster on Thursday, but one preventable catastrophe stood out. Joe McKnight fielded a kickoff seven yards deep in his own end zone. He ran it out, fumbled it straight to Julian Edelman, and New England scored on the fumble return. Don't bring that one out of the end zone.

29. Arizona Cardinals [28] — They went 4-2 with Kevin Kolb. They're 0-5 since his injury. Beanie Wells scored 2 TDs this week, so you might assume that he averaged more than three yards per carry. LaRod Stephens-Howling rushed for 127 yards last week, so you might assume he touched the ball more than once on Sunday. You know what they say about when you assume.

30. Philadelphia Eagles [30] — Already without Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy, they also lost DeSean Jackson in the first half. Rookie RB Bryce Brown showed flashes of brilliance, but he also lost two fumbles. Steve Young called Philadelphia "a team that's going through the motions." I'm sure some other team will be happy to bring in Andy Reid as head coach, but it's probably best for both Reid and the Eagles that they part ways after this season.

31. Oakland Raiders [31] — Tommy Kelly and Lamarr Houston were ejected from their blowout loss to the Bengals. In the last three weeks, they've been outscored 127-47. All three losses were by more than 20 points.

32. Kansas City Chiefs [32] — Eighth loss in a row, and they've been outscored by a league-worst 140 points. They lose by an average of almost 2 touchdowns a game.

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