NFL Week 16 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* Passing yards are overrated. This week, Peyton Manning passed for a season-high 339 yards. That is the 58th-highest total this season. Chad Henne and Nick Foles have topped that mark twice each.

* If I could only pick one stat to judge QBs, and it had to be something pretty basic, I'd go with TD/INT differential. The current top five: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Manning, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan. That seems reasonable.

* Nice job by Michele Tafoya illustrating the magnitude of crowd noise in Seattle.

* My friend GG just won her 12-team fantasy league for the second time in three years. With Sam Bradford starting at QB. (By way of explanation, she also had Marshawn Lynch, Calvin Johnson, Roddy White, and Cincinnati's defense.) Bradford was a Week 16 free agency add, replacing the dynamic tandem of Carson Palmer and Philip Rivers.

* Super Bowl XLVII: Denver Broncos def. Green Bay Packers.

***

The last couple of years, I've written a lot about player safety in the NFL. It's a real and significant problem, and I applaud Roger Goodell for making it a priority. Commissioner Goodell has repeatedly called public attention to safety issues, and he's taken action with new rules and the Saints' bounty issue.

Fundamentally, though, the league's efforts still look more like public relations than an earnest effort to protect players. Flags and fines are okay for most illegal hits, but deliberate head-hunting needs to draw suspensions. Just as important as punishing dangerous play, though, is not penalizing clean play. On Sunday night, Kam Chancellor knocked Vernon Davis out of the game. The hit drew flags from three different officials, and Tafoya called it "brutal" about 80 times. But replays showed that Chancellor's hit was within the rules, exactly the way the league says it wants defenders to play.

The replay prompted Cris Collinsworth to wonder, "If that isn't legal, I don't know what is ... outstanding defensive football." Al Michaels observed, "All they see is that head snap back." A 15-yard penalty with an automatic first down is a huge play, and although it didn't affect the outcome in Seattle's runaway victory, the league has to protect legal hits like that. I know it's hard to judge in real time whether a defender hits his opponent in the head or the shoulder, but the NFL should make those plays reviewable.

Power rankings are for current strength, and brackets show Week 15 rank.

1. Denver Broncos [1] — Tenth win in a row. This is the 4th time in Peyton Manning's career he has been on a team that won 10 games in a row (1999, 2005, 2009). It's his 7th season on a team with a winning streak that lasted half the season (eight games or more).

2. Seattle Seahawks [4] — Since 2010, the 49ers have allowed a 100-yard rusher only five times. Three of those five are Marshawn Lynch.

3. Green Bay Packers [6] — Out-gained Tennessee 460 yards to 180, with 28 first downs to the Titans' 10. They were +2 in turnovers and scored touchdowns on six of their seven trips to the red zone. Ryan Grant, who had consecutive 1,200-yard rushing seasons in 2008-09, rushed for 80 yards and 2 TDs on Sunday.

4. San Francisco 49ers [2] — Not the same team without Justin Smith. Aldon Smith's 19.5 sacks have generated Defensive Player of the Year discussion, but I'm not convinced he's one of the top three defenders on his own team. The man was invisible Sunday night without Justin creating opportunities for him.

5. New England Patriots [3] — Ranking drops mostly because they're caught in San Francisco's tide, and the Niners are dropping. A close win over lowly Jacksonville shouldn't lead anyone to believe this rating is too low.

The Patriots, Packers, and Broncos all started the season 1-2, and all were 3-3. Some analysts even called them "average." Yeah, right.

6. Atlanta Falcons [7] — Out-gained by 178 yards, but won on turnovers and red zone efficiency. The Falcons have won five of their last six, but the only opponent in that stretch with a winning record was the reeling Giants. The Falcons are a good team and they perform well in the clutch, but against good teams in the playoffs, I don't think it will be enough.

7. Washington Redskins [8] — Tried to draw the Eagles offsides on 4th down, but it didn't work and they took the delay of game penalty before punting. It was their first delay penalty all season. That's incredible for a team that's played two rookie quarterbacks. If Washington and San Francisco both win in Week 17, we'll see rookie QBs face off in the postseason for the second year in a row. Last January, Houston's T.J. Yates topped Cincinnati's Andy Dalton. This season, we'd get a more prestigious matchup, featuring Offensive Rookie of the Year contenders Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson.

8. Cincinnati Bengals [9] — Six wins in their last seven games. This week's triumph in Pittsburgh clinched a playoff spot and knocked the Steelers out of contention. Andy Dalton (2 INT, 58.8 rating) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (14 yds, 0.9 avg) did nothing, and Cincinnati's defense generated more points (7) than its offense (6). Even the Bengals' two field goals both came on drives of under 25 yards, set up by the defense. DT Geno Atkins had 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

9. Houston Texans [5] — They've lost two of their last three, and neither loss was close. The Texans did a nice job of containing Adrian Peterson (86 yds, 3.4 avg), but Arian Foster left the game with an irregular heartbeat and their offense disappeared, going 1/11 on third downs and generating under 200 yards. Foster apparently is fine, and he's expected to play in Week 17.

10. Baltimore Ravens [12] — Dannell Ellerbe returned to the lineup as Baltimore broke a three-game losing streak.

With Ellerbe: 10-2, 19.4 ppg allowed
Without Ellerbe: 0-3, 29.3 ppg allowed

Both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce topped 100 rushing yards against the Giants. Anquan Boldin's injury is reportedly a shoulder bruise, so Ravens fans probably don't need to worry about his availability in the playoffs.

11. Minnesota Vikings [16] — Haven't lost since their Week 13 matchup with Green Bay, and now all they need to do to get in the playoffs is beat ... Green Bay. Peterson probably can't catch Eric Dickerson at this point, but he's 102 yards away from 2,000, and that is reachable.

12. New Orleans Saints [14] — Drew Brees and Tony Romo both passed for over 400 yards on Sunday. Their combined stat line was 63-of-96 for 862 yards, 7 TDs, no INTs, and only 2 sacks. Three receivers went over 100 yards, two went over 150, and Dez Bryant topped 200.

13. Dallas Cowboys [10] — They still win the NFC East if they win at Washington in Week 17. Some of the league's traditional rivalries have lost their ferocity in recent years. This should do nicely to reignite the classic Dallas/Washington conflict.

14. Chicago Bears [17] — Charles Tillman has 10 forced fumbles and 3 interception returns for touchdowns. If he'd done this last year, he probably would have been DPOY. This year, he might finish 4th in the voting.

15. Indianapolis Colts [13] — For the last month or so, I've been trying to explain why I see the Colts, now 10-5 and assured of a playoff spot, as a pretty average team. It's about who they've played and how they're winning. Indianapolis has faced the weakest strength of schedule in the league. This team has lost to the Jaguars and Jets, and hasn't beaten a team with a winning record since Week 5.

Over the last 10 games, the Colts have lost by double-digits to the Patriots and Texans, and their other opponents have a combined record of 35-85 (.292). You can't control your schedule, but against weak competition, a good team should win easily. This week's victory over Kansas City was only the third time all season the Colts have won by more than 4. The only team they beat by more than 7 was the Jaguars. Their other nine victories were one play from going the other way.

Even in this week's victory, the Colts allowed a 200-yard rusher (Jamaal Charles) and a 100-yard rusher (Peyton Hillis). Indianapolis averaged 3.5 yards per rush attempt, and Andrew Luck completed under half his passes. Facing the worst team in the NFL, they were out-gained by 219 yards and the game was tied with 5:00 left. This is a great story, not a great team. The 2012 Colts are the 2010 Chiefs.

16. Carolina Panthers [18] — Held both of their last two opponents to under 10 points, after allowing at least 16 in each of their first 13 games. They've won three in a row, all by double-digits.

17. Miami Dolphins [20] — Won three of their last five, and the losses were against the 49ers and Patriots. This season, NFL teams average 22.7 points per game. The Dolphins have scored 24 each of the last two weeks, the first time all season they've scored 22 or more in consecutive games.

18. New York Giants [11] — Out-gained 533-186. This notion that there are good teams who lose as many games as possible while still making the playoffs, then turn it on only when they absolutely must, is absurd. Good teams win most of their games and don't need help to qualify for the postseason.

19. Pittsburgh Steelers [15] — All season, I've had them ranked one or two spots higher than they probably deserved. We know the talent is there, and I keep expecting them to play up to their potential. It's not happening. And now, Heath Miller will miss the finale with a knee injury.

Shaun Suisham's had a pretty good year, but he missed a crucial 24-yard field goal this week.

20. St. Louis Rams [21] — Won four of their last five, and held the opponent to 17 points or less in each of the four wins. This team has made real progress since "earning" the 2nd overall pick last year, and it has more extra draft choices coming because of Washington's trade to get RG3.

21. Cleveland Browns [19] — Pat Shurmur is a jackass. Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson both got hurt near the end of Sunday's blowout loss. Media questioned Shurmur's decision to keep his young stars in the game, and the coach answered, "What do we do, just stop playing?" Shurmur is right that you don't stop trying (You play to win the game! Hello!), but he's wrong for calling timeouts at the end of a blowout.

In a game that was never competitive, the Broncos led 31-12 with under 4:00 left and the ball in Cleveland territory. A three-TD comeback in under 4:00, with the other team having a first down on your side of the field? That has never happened in the NFL, and the Browns have a terrible offense, not one that can set scoring records. The game's over. But Shurmur deliberately prolonged the game, and that means people can get hurt. Trent Richardson is the only good player on this offense, and he was injured with 1:24 left because Shurmur wouldn't let Denver run out the clock. I'm not talking about giving up, just acknowledging reality.

22. San Diego Chargers [24] — Sacked Greg McElroy 11 times. Rookie Kendall Reyes tallied 3.5, Shaun Phillips added 2.5, and Corey Liuget nabbed 2, with the others shared among various teammates. The Chargers have won two of their last three, both on the road, and they now have a better record away (4-4) than at home (2-5).

23. Philadelphia Eagles [25] — Three 10-play drives and four trips to the red zone yielded only one touchdown. They have a ton of injuries.

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [22] — It is awful that I cannot get them into the bottom eight. They've lost five in a row, including a combined 69-13 the last two weeks. But I still think they're probably better than the Jets.

25. New York Jets [23] — Starting Greg McElroy was probably the right decision at this point, but 11 sacks later, it's pretty clear he's not ready. What's amazing is that this team knew, in the offseason, it needed a backup QB. Instead of bringing in someone who could play, they acquired Tim Tebow, who reportedly refused to play in the Wildcat this week. Despite his limited playing time, Tebow may be the most disastrous free agency acquisition since Albert Haynesworth.

26. Buffalo Bills [26] — With one game left, C.J. Spiller has 183 rush attempts for 1,185 yards. That's an average of 6.48 yards per attempt. The single-season record is 6.40 by Jim Brown in 1963 (291 attempts for 1,863 yards). I think Spiller's going to break the record, though probably in under 200 carries.

27. Tennessee Titans [27] — They're 1-4 since the bye, including a massacre by Green Bay and a loss to the Jaguars. The win was last week's depressing affair against the Jets. Jake Locker's passer rating was under 80 in all five games, and he threw more INTs than TDs in every game except the Jets (zero of each).

28. Arizona Cardinals [28] — This team started 4-0, including wins over the Patriots and Seahawks.

29. Detroit Lions [29] — It's too early in Calvin Johnson's career to say he's the best receiver I've ever seen. But he gets double-teamed on almost every play, and he keeps getting open. It's a shame there's not more talent around him. Yeah, his stats would be even more impressive if he was compiling them on a winning team, but that works both ways. Jerry Rice's opponents also had to worry about great running backs (Roger Craig, Ricky Watters, Garrison Hearst, Charlie Garner), complementary receivers (Dwight Clark, John Taylor, Brent Jones, Tim Brown), and good running QBs (Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jeff Garcia, Rich Gannon). Those guys could throw a little bit, too. I wonder if Matt Stafford would even look average without Megatron.

30. Oakland Raiders [30] — Carson Palmer started 3-for-3, then left the game after a roughing penalty on Greg Hardy. DT Tommy Kelly foolishly admitted after the game that he tried to injure Cam Newton in retaliation. Do you smell that? Smells like a fine from the league. Palmer apparently will not play in Week 17.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars [31] — From an economic point of view, I understand the appeal of Tim Tebow. If you're serious about building a football team, not so much. The available evidence suggests that he can't play, and he's disruptive in the locker room, like Brett Favre without the talent. Here's something weird: Chad Henne has thrown for more yards than the opposing QB for five games in a row.

32. Kansas City Chiefs [32] — 200-yard rusher (Jamaal Charles) and a 100-yard rusher (Peyton Hillis). Charles, who turns 26 this week, is over 1,400 yards for the second time. Next year, the Chiefs need a quarterback. I hear Tim Tebow might be available.

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