Tuesday, December 4, 2012
NFL Week 13 Power Rankings
Five Quick Hits
* Joe Posnanski is my favorite sportswriter. But whenever he writes about football, he's just ridiculous, not to be taken seriously.
* The Hall of Fame has announced this year's semifinalists, a good group. My preferences (not predictions) to advance: Larry Allen, Morten Andersen, Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Don Coryell, Terrell Davis, Kevin Greene, Joe Jacoby, Albert Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Will Shields, Michael Strahan, Paul Tagliabue, Aeneas Williams, George Young.
* In the last 2:30 of the first half in Monday night's game, ESPN took 7 commercial breaks. That's a slap in the face to viewers.
* More proof that Greg Gumbel thinks it's still 1985: mentioning rain in the weather forecast, Gumbel chortled, "And for a change, those forecasts were right!" Weather forecasts today are very accurate, and mocking weather forecasters is about as original as complaining about airline food. Hilarious, Gumbel.
* Last night, Washington got its first Monday night home win against the Giants since November 18, 1985. Also known as the game in which Lawrence Taylor ended Joe Theismann's career.
Question conventional wisdom. Following a Reggie Bush carry up the middle this weekend, Dan Dierdorf told viewers that between-the-tackles running backs are normally "at minimum, 220 [pounds]."
LaDainian Tomlinson was listed at 215 pounds. Emmitt Smith played most of his career between 205-210. Curtis Martin weighed 210. So did Terrell Davis. Priest Holmes played at 213. Adrian Peterson is listed at 217, Marshawn Lynch at 215, Maurice Jones-Drew at 210. Frank Gore's at 217. I'm sure much of the audience assumed Dierdorf was right, but the majority of successful between-the-tackles RBs weigh less than 220 lbs.
I'll also use this space to complain about the NFL's television package, the cornerstone of which is disrespect for fans. Because of rules that make no one happy, one of the networks cut away from the most exciting game of the day (Colts/Lions) to show pre-game fluff and a snore-inducing, non-scoring drive in Baltimore. That was a big game, but I don't live in Baltimore or Pittsburgh, and like most viewers, I didn't care nearly as much about the first 5:00 of that game as the last 5:00 of the other one. Certainly, I didn't need to catch Jim Nance and Phil Simms talking about a game that hadn't even started yet.
I actually got so disgusted I flipped to FOX and watched the UFC on FOX 5 edition of Road to the Octagon. Shogun Rua's wife is hot. As always, brackets show last week's rank.
1. Denver Broncos  — Clinched the AFC West. The 9-3 Broncos have won as many games as the rest of the division combined (9-27). Peyton Manning threw 3 TD passes, bringing his season total to 29 and breaking the single-season franchise record. It's stunning, in today's passing environment, to remember that John Elway never threw 30 TDs in a season.
2. New England Patriots  — Wes Welker caught 10 or more passes for the 17th time in his career, tying Jerry Rice for the all-time record. New England has an outside chance at the single-season scoring record. The 2007 Patriots scored 589 points (36.8 per game). This year's Pats have scored 430 (35.8/gm). The 1950 Rams averaged 38.8 ppg, but in a 12-game season.
3. Houston Texans  — Cornerback Johnathan Joseph sat out again this week, and against the Titans, it wasn't a big deal. But next week in New England, they're going to need him. Against Tennessee, the Texans were charged with 11 penalties for 97 yards and 3 first downs, and it wasn't a problem. In Week 14, they'll have to be more disciplined. That's a big game, and a potential playoff preview. The Patriots are favored by 4.
4. San Francisco 49ers  — I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt that the Rams give them problems other teams don't. Since the bye, San Francisco has pounded the Bears, beaten the Saints by double-digits, and gone 0-1-1 vs. St. Louis. Colin Kaepernik took a safety this week, but he also rushed for 84 yards. Frank Gore (58 yds, 2.5 avg) had more trouble.
5. Atlanta Falcons  — In Week 11, they were -5 in turnovers but beat the Cardinals. In Week 13, they were +5 in turnovers but got a win that was too close for comfort. How does a great team go +5 in turnovers and only score 23 points? It doesn't. The Falcons went 1/13 on third downs and were bailed out by sound defense — especially from the line — and Saints' mistakes. The 10-point win on Thursday was their largest margin of victory since October. Atlanta has clinched the NFC South.
6. Green Bay Packers  — Dominated time of possession against Minnesota (38:30), overcoming poor tackling and an apparent fear of Adrian Peterson by combining tight pass defense with Christian Ponder's inability to play quarterback at the NFL level. In Week 14, Green Bay hosts the Lions. The Packers have won 20 straight at home against Detroit. The last time the Lions won in Green Bay, Detroit QB Erik Kramer outplayed the Packers' Mike Tomczak, and Mel Gray's fourth quarter punt return TD proved to be the difference (box score at Pro Football Reference).
7. Cincinnati Bengals  — Rank in the top half of the league in points and points allowed, as well as yards and yards allowed. They're above average in rushing yards and rushing yards allowed. Also passing yards, and passing yards allowed. They've won four in a row, three of them blowouts.
8. Chicago Bears  — Lost three of their last four, and they're just 1-4 against teams with winning records (they beat the Colts in Week 1). Three of their four remaining games are on the road, and the other is against Green Bay. Even though most of their key players were in the lineup this week, health is a question going forward. This is their third straight year losing to Seattle at home.
9. Baltimore Ravens  — Ranked one spot ahead of a team that just beat them, in Baltimore, but the Ravens have won four of their last five and beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh two weeks ago. All the teams between 5-10 have flaws that make me nervous. Terrell Suggs tore his biceps this week. It's uncertain whether or not he'll return this season, but he certainly won't be on the field in Week 14.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers  — At the end of the first half, Charlie Batch overthrew a wide open Mike Wallace in the end zone, and Pittsburgh settled for a field goal. But Batch completed his last 8 passes in a row and the Steelers won a critical game on the road. Troy Polamalu finally returned to action, but standout cornerback Ike Taylor injured his ankle and reportedly will miss 2-6 weeks. Ben Roethlisberger's availability remains a question.
11. New Orleans Saints  — Played their best defensive game of the season, but scored a season-low 13 points. Drew Brees threw 5 INTs and had a 6th negated by penalty. Obviously, having the bus egged made the difference.
12. Seattle Seahawks  — Huge win in Chicago, despite an overturned TD by Braylon Edwards that looked good on replay. Someone has got to tell Mike Carey and Jeff Triplette about that "indisputable visual evidence" idea. Sidney Rice got knocked out as he crossed the goal line with the game-winning TD, but he apparently passed his concussion tests and will play in Week 14. It also appears likely that starting CBs Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner will play against Arizona. Both players were suspended after testing positive for Adderall, but their cases are under appeal.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers  — Two straight losses, both to teams that have already clinched division titles, and both by less than 10. Before that, they'd won four in a row. I suspect they'll get back on track next week, when they host the 3-9 Eagles.
14. Washington Redskins  — Huge vulnerabilities on pass defense — the almost complete lack of pass rush is troubling — but how can you not get excited about this offense? For years, we've been hearing that NFL teams can't win with the option. It turns out you can do just fine with the option if you have a QB who can throw. Mike Shanahan may have a tough time keeping his son Kyle on staff next season. As Washington's offensive coordinator, the younger Shanahan has designed a brilliant offense around his rookie QB. Following his success in the same position with Houston, it's hard to imagine Kyle won't get some head coaching offers in the near future.
Earlier this year, I wrote that Ben Roethlisberger's rookie record for passer rating (98.1) might last for a very long time. By "a very long time," I meant 10 months. Robert Griffin III is at 104.4, and Seattle's Russell Wilson at 95.2.
15. New York Giants  — Eli Manning made some dynamite throws on Monday night, but the Giants committed too many penalties (9 for 73 yards) and settled for too many field goals. In the first half, the Giants converted 80% of their third downs and had three 10-play drives, but went into the locker room with just 13 points to show for it. Holding Washington's explosive offense to 17 is not bad; this loss falls on the offense and special teams, the latter for penalties and a missed field goal.
16. Indianapolis Colts  — Only rookie QBs to pass for over 350 yards in a win: Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck, Andrew Luck, Andrew Luck, and Brandon Weeden. Luck obviously has a lot of promise, but he also tossed 3 picks this week, and I remain skeptical that he's already an above-average QB. Two sets of stats:
If you count rushing touchdowns and lost fumbles, QB-A has 22 TDs and 21 turnovers, compared to 21 TDs and 17 turnovers for QB-B. No one disputes that Luck is playing better than most rookie QBs, or that he's an upgrade over Curtis Painter and Kerry Collins. But this season, I'm not sure I'd take Luck over Carson Palmer (QB-B), much less Peyton Manning or RG3.
17. Dallas Cowboys  — Tony Romo, the thinking man's choker, led them to a 21-point fourth quarter and a comeback victory. This season, Romo has fared dramatically better in the second half:
His TD/INT differential goes from -5 to +9. Another way to look at it: in the first half, Romo is Ryan Tannehill. In the second half, he's Aaron Rodgers. Dallas has won three of its last four.
18. St. Louis Rams  — Greg Zuerlein had struggled a bit since the hot start that earned him nicknames like Legatron and Greg the Leg, but he was money on Sunday. Zuerlein hit a game-tying 53-yard field goal as time expired — no pressure — and then nailed a 54-yard game-winner with :26 left in overtime. Zuerlein leads the NFL in both field goals and field goal attempts of 50 yards or more (he's 7/11). The Rams rank 30th in offensive TDs (18).
19. Detroit Lions  — Lost three straight home games, but against opponents with a combined record of 27-9. All of those opponents are at least 8-4, and all the losses were by 4 or less. That doesn't lead me to believe this is a bad team.
20. Cleveland Browns  — Committed only 2 penalties, compared to 10 for Oakland. Up 13-10 in the fourth quarter, Cleveland sealed the game with a 14-play, 6-minute, 94-yard touchdown drive. Sheldon Brown had 4 passes defensed, including a red zone interception that set up the game-winning drive.
21. Buffalo Bills  — Three of their last four games are at home (including Week 15 in Toronto), and three are against teams with losing records. If they finish 3-1, that would mean an 8-8 record, the team's best since 2004, and it could earn Chan Gailey a fourth season.
22. New York Jets  — Mark Sanchez, first 10 passes:
2. 5 yards
3. 24 yards
5. 6 yards
6. 12 yards
7. 19 yards
There was also a sack in there. How did it take until the last drive of the third quarter to get Greg McElroy in the game? Game-winning touchdown notwithstanding, McElroy didn't look like anything special, but there's got to at least be a willingness to bench a player who won't stop turning the ball over. This is probably too high a rankings jump after a 7-6 home win against an opponent who's lost 8 straight, but I'm encouraged that the coaching staff may tie playing time to performance. When a QB is struggling like Sanchez did on Sunday, you get him out of there. I don't really care who starts next week (Tebow!), but you can't unconditionally commit to a player, especially when he kind of sucks.
23. Minnesota Vikings  — Since 1990, teams are 74-3 when they have a 200-yard rusher. That's how bad the Vikings' passing game is. The 2002 Dolphins (Ricky Williams) and '09 Jets (Thomas Jones) were the other underachievers. The Vikings, 5-1 at home, fell to 1-5 on the road.
24. San Diego Chargers  — Another last-minute loss. In Week 9, they pounded the Chiefs, 31-13. Since then, they're 0-4, but against a brutal schedule: at Buccaneers, at Broncos, Ravens, Bengals. Those teams are a combined 32-16. All the losses were by 10 or less. This is not a good team, but it's pretty good for a group that hasn't beaten anyone but the Chiefs since Week 2.
25. Carolina Panthers  — Ranked right behind San Diego. In a scheduling quirk, the Panthers played Tampa Bay in Week 10 and Denver in Week 11, while the Chargers faced Denver in Week 10 and Tampa in Week 11. The Panthers played both games at home and lost both, by a combined total of 28. The Chargers played both games on the road and lost by a total of 17. Thus, San Diego rates ahead. Other recent games don't offer much evidence either way.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars  — The continued production of Cecil Shorts in their useless offense is pretty amazing.
27. Miami Dolphins  — Second home game in a row. The official attendance for their game against the Seahawks was 51,295. Attendance for the Patriots was 72,114. Jake Long left this week's game with a triceps injury.
28. Tennessee Titans  — Swept by the Texans, and fell to 0-4 in the AFC South. They have never gone winless in the division since its creation in 2002.
29. Kansas City Chiefs  — First game this season with more touchdowns than turnovers. You all know about the Jovan Belcher tragedy. I credit the Chiefs organization for treating the incident as domestic violence and using the occasion to raise awareness of a problem that affects thousands of households in this country. Football fans everywhere wish the best to both families and to a little girl who will never know her parents.
30. Arizona Cardinals  — I know the offensive line is a mess, but there's just no way an NFL QB should go 10/31. Ryan Lindley gained 56 net yards on 33 dropbacks, and he threw an interception.
31. Philadelphia Eagles  — NBC pointed out that MLB's Phillies have won more recently than the Eagles, whose last victory came in September. Speaking of NBC, though, could someone tell them that the 1982 and 1987 seasons were strike-shortened? The Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware has already compiled a Hall of Fame résumé, but you can't compare his stats to Lawrence Taylor's without considering that Ware gets an extra 11 games because of the strikes.
32. Oakland Raiders  — Carson Palmer by quarter:
NFL.com also offers a stat line, "4th Quarter within 7," which allows us to look at clutch play versus garbage time:
People always talk about how Eli Manning is this great clutch quarterback, based on his fourth quarter stats. Eli's had some great moments, to be sure, but it's easy to put up big numbers at the end of a blowout. Here's Palmer in the last two minutes of each half: