Tuesday, December 11, 2012
NFL Week 14 Power Rankings
Five Quick Hits
* Has a team ever won the Super Bowl after firing a coordinator this late in the season? I don't know, but I doubt it.
* The Vikings' outspoken punter, Chris Kluwe, wrote "Vote Ray Guy" over the Pro Football Hall of Fame patch on his jersey. I applaud the idea, but Kluwe's got the wrong guy (so to speak). The selectors most open to enshrining punters are probably also the ones most likely to be skeptical that Guy is the best choice available. The available statistics don't suggest that he was uniquely successful. Tommy Davis, for instance, doesn't share Guy's notoriety, but a case might be easier to make for voters who don't remember Guy hitting the gondola.
* Week 14 saw 5 interceptions returned for touchdowns. The worst offender this season is Andy Dalton (4), followed by Drew Brees, Blaine Gabbert, Matt Hasselbeck, Andrew Luck, and Tony Romo (3 each).
* That list has old players, young players, good players, and bad players. I don't think it's a real meaningful stat, just interesting.
* ESPN showed a graphic that the Patriots have won 60 straight (61 now) when they have a halftime lead at home, stretching back to November 2000. That means Tom Brady has never lost a home game when the team was up after two.
What is up with NBC's highlights show this year? Almost every "highlight" is ground level, where you lose depth perspective and it's very hard to tell what's going on. That's the worst seat in the house you're giving us, you peacocks. It's weird, because the production of Sunday Night Football is very good. On to this week's power rankings, brackets show previous rank.
1. New England Patriots  — The offense is always outstanding, but the defense showed up big time on Monday night. Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Rob Ninkovich all played at all-pro level. The Patriots are currently in line for the AFC's second seed in the playoffs, but if they win out and Houston loses one of its remaining three, the road to the Super Bowl goes through Foxborough.
2. Denver Broncos  — This is the first time all season they have dropped in my rankings. Naturally, it happens after a double-digit road win over a division opponent on a short week. The Broncos gained more than twice as many first downs as Oakland (30-14) and won time of possession by almost 15 minutes. What a bunch of bums.
3. San Francisco 49ers  — Converted just 2/10 third downs against Miami, and couldn't block Cameron Wake (3 sacks). They have a rough next two games, at New England and Seattle.
4. Houston Texans  — Embarrassing loss on national television, but they're 11-2. They've won six of their last seven, and they have wins over the Broncos, Ravens, and Bears. They got blown out by the Packers in Week 6 and rebounded with a 30-point romp over Baltimore. I'm not real worried. Matt Schaub was not at all sharp on Monday night, and I don't think Johnathan Joseph was totally healthy, but a couple bad breaks made the score look worse than it really was.
5. Green Bay Packers  — Seven wins in their last eight games. If Clay Matthews, Jordy Nelson, and Charles Woodson all come back healthy, this team could be a very serious threat in the postseason.
6. Cincinnati Bengals  — Looking at their playoff hopes, the loss to Dallas is obviously a huge disappointment. From a power ranking perspective, I'm not as concerned. The inconsistent Cowboys played one of their most focused games of the season, following the death of a teammate over the weekend. The Bengals even rise a spot based on the poor showings of teams like Atlanta, Baltimore, and Chicago.
7. Seattle Seahawks  — Set a franchise scoring record in their 58-0 win over the Cardinals. It was the 4th-biggest shutout win and 5th-largest margin of victory in NFL history. The Seahawks forced 8 turnovers and outgained Arizona by 339 yards. Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin each had over 100 rushing yards.
8. Baltimore Ravens  — Second straight loss, both on last-second or overtime field goals. The team responded by firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who was praised for his early handling of Joe Flacco in 2008, but whose offense had largely stagnated since. Former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell, the team's quarterbacks coach, replaces Cameron. The timing is surprising, given that (1) Baltimore has a two-game lead in the AFC North and is a virtual lock to win the division, and (2) the team scored 4 touchdowns on Sunday. How do you blame the offense after you lose 31-28? The Ravens are 0-2 without injured linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.
9. New York Giants  — Great week for David Wilson (100 rush yds, 227 KR yds, 3 TDs), but the Giants are 2-3 in November and December, with tough road games against the Falcons and Ravens the next two weeks. Those teams are a combined 11-1 at home this season.
10. Atlanta Falcons  — Prior to this week, I never ranked them lower than 6th. The Falcons started the season strong, with easy victories over the Chiefs and Chargers, plus a win against Denver. Since then, they've been eking out close wins over mediocre opponents and losing division games. Other than that Week 2 victory against the Broncos, Atlanta hasn't beaten any team currently in playoff position.
11. Washington Redskins  — 4-0 since the bye, including three straight against teams in the playoff hunt. They would rank higher than this if I knew for sure that a healthy Robert Griffin III would play in Week 15. Griffin sprained his right knee in the fourth quarter of Sunday's overtime win, though he might play next weekend against the Browns. If RG3 can't go, Kirk Cousins would become the eighth rookie QB to start in the NFL this season. Cousins played well in very limited action against Baltimore, with a last-minute touchdown pass and a successful quarterback draw for the game-tying two-point conversion.
If I were Washington, I'd probably sit Griffin out a week. Get your star healthy and let the Browns try to gameplan for a QB with 11 career pass attempts. They'll need RG3 more in January than they will in Week 15.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers  — In Ben Roethlisberger's first game back from injuries, the Steelers are 2-4. Big Ben averages 192 yards and a 76.4 passer rating. Pittsburgh's failures this week fell largely on a defense missing Ike Taylor and Lamarr Woodley, but I believe his coaches let Roethlisberger play when he's too hurt to perform.
13. Indianapolis Colts  — Three wins in a row, and seven of their last eight. None of the seven wins was against a team better than 5-9, and only one was by more than a touchdown. The Simple Ranking System at Pro Football Reference (based exclusively on strength of schedule and margin of victory) rates Indianapolis as the 25th-best team in the NFL.
They got hosed on this week's pick-six — Andrew Luck's knee was clearly down, and I don't understand how that call stood after replay — but Luck holds some unfortunate league leads: most games with 3 or more INTs (3), and most multi-interception games (5, tied with Drew Brees and Brandon Weeden).
14. Dallas Cowboys  — Won four of their last five, including two close, comeback wins in a row. Last week, the Chiefs seemed to play better in the aftermath of the Jovan Belcher tragedy. This week, the same thing happened to Dallas after the DUI incident that sent Josh Brent to jail and took the life of 25-year-old Jerry Brown, Jr. In a perverse way, incidents like that may benefit struggling teams. Maybe when your worries and stress are focused on something outside the game, you don't overthink — you just go out and perform.
Dez Bryant's finger injury will probably mean the end of his season. I've dropped them below Indianapolis on that assumption.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers  — Second three-game losing streak of the season, on the heels of a four-game win streak. Vincent Jackson had 131 receiving yards this week. The rest of the team combined had 58.
16. New Orleans Saints  — Hard to believe the same defense that smothered Atlanta in Week 13 gave up 52 to the Giants in Week 14. The Saints' offense committed four turnovers, the defense couldn't get a stop in the red zone, and the special teams coverage got humiliated. When they short-kicked to stay away from David Wilson, Jernel Jernigan returned a kickoff 60 yards to the New Orleans 25-yard line.
17. Chicago Bears  — This ranking is wrong. I'm just not sure yet whether it's too low or too high. All rankings in this column are current: Week 14-15 strength, not a summary of the season. Jay Cutler left Sunday's game with a neck injury and is considered day-to-day. We've seen pretty clearly that the Bears are not a good team without Cutler. If he doesn't play in Week 15, this ranking could look downright generous. Even with Cutler (mostly), they've dropped four of the last five, including a loss to the one team they defeated. In Week 12, the Bears beat Minnesota easily, 28-10. Two weeks later, in Minnesota, the Vikings won 21-14, but a late Chicago touchdown makes that look closer than it was.
18. Cleveland Browns  — First three-game winning streak since the 2009 season, when they won their last four in a row. Under Eric Mangini!
19. New York Jets  — Still in the playoff hunt. All their remaining opponents are 5-8 or worse, and they're only one game behind in the race for the last wild card.
The Jets didn't score until the second half this week, but Jacksonville went 2/16 on third downs and Mark Sanchez didn't have to do much. I don't know that Sanchez is any worse than he was when they went to the AFC Championship Game. It's just that this year, the run game and especially the defense have not been as strong. Against an awful team like Jacksonville, you saw the way the Jets would like to operate.
20. Minnesota Vikings  — Adrian Peterson has rushed for 100 yards in seven straight games, over 150 in five of them. He averaged over 5 yards per carry in all seven, scored a touchdown in six of them, and had a run over 50 yards in five of the seven. Peterson says he's shooting for Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record (2,105), which would mean 505 yards over the last three games, 169 per week. Even to hit 2,000, he'll need a touch over 133. That's not easy, even for a runner as gifted as Peterson.
21. St. Louis Rams  — I think I had the Rams overrated last week. It's not normal for a team in this part of the rankings to drop three spots following a win, even an unimpressive one.
22. San Diego Chargers  — They signed Danario Alexander on October 22. Over the last five weeks, he has 30 catches for 494 yards and 5 TDs. In most fantasy scoring systems, he's behind only Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant during that stretch. Johnson, for what it's worth, has 779 yards in the last five games, 156 per game.
23. Carolina Panthers  — Cam Newton has three straight games with multiple passing TDs, no interceptions, passer ratings over 110, and at least 50 rushing yards. On the FOX pregame show, Howie Long spoke about how Newton and RG3 have changed the way teams evaluate quarterbacks. Griffin has more rushing yards (748) than Michael Turner or Ryan Matthews. Newton has exactly as many rushing yards (640) and touchdowns (7) as Mikel Leshoure. You could probably put the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick in the same category, though I'm not sure if he's more cause or effect.
24. Detroit Lions  — Fifth loss in a row. They were all against teams with winning records, and none were blowouts, but to stay in the top 20, you need to win at least once a month.
25. Buffalo Bills  — Fred Jackson injured a knee in the loss to St. Louis and will probably miss the rest of the season, which likely translates to increased touches for C.J. Spiller. Meaning no disrespect to Jackson, I doubt Bills fans are worried about a drop-off in the team's performance. Their Week 15 matchup, which counts as a home game, will be played at Toronto's Rogers Centre.
26. Philadelphia Eagles  — Won for the first time since September (they beat the Giants!), and Nick Foles had a nice game. But when you throw 51 times and take 6 sacks, you damn well better pass for 381 yards and 2 TDs, especially if the defense loads up to stop the run (Bryce Brown had 12 carries for 6 yards). Let's also keep in mind that Tampa Bay ranks last in the NFL in pass defense.
27. Miami Dolphins  — Five losses in their last six games. The Dolphins scored 20 points or fewer in all five defeats.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars  — Last month, I praised the move to Chad Henne (and Gabbert is on IR now anyway), but he has not played well. Henne has seen significant action in six games this season. In four of those six, Henne's completion percentage was under 50%. Sure, it's an overrated stat, but in today's NFL, completing half your passes is a basic standard of competence. Only three players all season have four or more games under 50%, with at least 15 pass attempts: Mark Sanchez (6), Andrew Luck (4), and Henne (4). Sanchez and Luck have started every game.
29. Tennessee Titans  — Jake Locker outrushed Chris Johnson this week, 51-44.
30. Kansas City Chiefs  — Jamaal Charles rushed for 165 yards in their 30-7 loss. How often does a player rush for 165 yards and his team loses? How often do they lose by 23? How often do they only score 7 points?
(1) Historically, not a whole lot. Since realignment, teams are 144-26 (.847) when they have a 165-yard rusher. This year, though, 165-yard rushers are 7-6.
(2) Almost never. It's only happened four other times in NFL history:
1. 1976: Bills at Colts. O.J. Simpson rushed for 171 yards but Colts won 58-20.
2. 1978: Browns at Bengals. Greg Pruitt rushed for 182 yards but Bengals won 48-16.
3. 1985: Falcons at Chiefs. Gerald Riggs rushed for 197 yards but Chiefs won 38-10.
4. 2001: Patriots at Panthers. Richard Huntley rushed for 168 yards but Pats won 38-6.
(3) Almost never. It's only happened four other times in NFL history:
1. 1982: Saints at Cowboys. Dallas won 21-7 despite George Rogers' 167 rushing yards.
2. 1998: Chargers at Chiefs. Chiefs won 23-7 despite Natrone Means' 165 rushing yards.
3. 1999: Steelers at 49ers. Steelers won 27-6 despite Charlie Garner's 166 rushing yards.
4. Huntley again.
31. Arizona Cardinals  — If you really want a summary of how badly they were beaten down, scroll up and read the Seahawks entry. The quarterback play is not NFL level. Arizona ranks last in the NFL in completion percentage, yards per attempt, passer rating, sack percentage, sacks, and sack yardage. I don't know if Vince Young specifically is the answer, but it is stunning to me that guys like Young are available in free agency and the team is playing John Skelton and Ryan Lindley. The trade deadline has passed, but how did they not make a move for Matt Flynn or David Garrard or Kyle Orton or someone?
32. Oakland Raiders  — On the bright side, they sacked Peyton Manning three times, tying his season high.