NFL Week 9 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* Election day in the United States is today, November 4th. If you're eligible to vote, please participate. There are a lot of people who fought for your right to cast a ballot.

* How much do penalties matter? New England has by far the most (79 for 699 yards), 100 yards more than any other team. The team with the least penalty yardage this year is the Jacksonville Jaguars (40 pen, 312 yds).

* Pet peeve: showing replays but pausing them at the critical moment, so we can't see what actually happened. NBC did this repeatedly on Sunday night. One pause is fine, but showing the same play four times and repeatedly pausing it is incredibly frustrating and not fan-friendly.

* Percy Harvin already has more receiving yards with the Jets (151), in two games, than he did with Seattle (133). I don't know much about the circumstances that led to Harvin's departure from the Seahawks, but I know the Jets are glad to have him.

* Five quarterbacks have a first down percentage over 40%: Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, and Alex Smith. Smith leads the league (42.7%).

Week 9 Rant: Give Up

"Baltimore takes a timeout, for whatever reason I have no idea."

There were 27 seconds left in a 43-23 game when Al Michaels said that. Two plays later, Joe Flacco spiked the ball to stop the clock with :02 remaining. This is an appropriate time to re-print a John Madden quote I've used half a dozen times: "In this situation it's silly to run plays. I mean, what are you going to do? Do you have a play that scores 20 points?"

The same sort of thing happened in New England, where Broncos coach John Fox used all three timeouts with under 2:20 left in the fourth quarter. His team was down 43-21 and the Patriots had the ball at midfield. I know Peyton Manning had that 21-points-in-three-minutes comeback against the Buccaneers in 2003, but you're not going to score three touchdowns and a two-point conversion in 1:54, without any timeouts.

Fox did the same thing six years ago in Carolina's playoff loss to the Cardinals. The Panthers were losing 33-7 with less than a minute left. At that point, you're not trying to win. It's impossible, and anyone old enough to do elementary math knows it's impossible. But Fox called timeouts, attempted a two-point conversion, and kicked off onside. The whole thing was disrespectful. Fox wasted everybody's time: he put the fans through 10 minutes of what should have taken 57 seconds, he put the Cardinals at risk of injury, and he prolonged his own team's misery. The final score was 33-13.

At that point, everyone wants the game to be over. The winning team wants to end the game before anyone gets hurt. The losing team wants to get this over with. The fans in the stadium want to go home. The fans at home want to move on. Extending the game in an unwinnable situation is childish and petty, but it's also disrespectful to everyone involved, and in some cases, it's dangerous. In 2009, the Browns were losing 16-0 with :20 left. The game is over. Run it once and let the clock run out. Instead, they ran three plays, including one of those with the crazy laterals. Even if it scored, that's not a 16-point play. You still lose. It didn't score, but team MVP Joshua Cribbs was injured on the play, carted off the field, and taken to a hospital.

On Sunday night, Flacco stopped the clock with two seconds left in a game his team was losing by 20 points. There's no such thing as a 20-point play. I wish I could have put Madden in John Harbaugh's ear at that point: "In this situation it's silly to run plays. I mean, what are you going to do? Do you have a play that scores 20 points?" I think coaches need to be reminded of that sometimes. It's irresponsible to call plays in that situation, and it's disrespectful to the players on both teams to risk their health when the outcome is clearly decided.

2014 Week Nine NFL Power Rankings

Brackets show last week's rank.

1. New England Patriots [3] — Rob Gronkowski is the highest-impact tight end since Kellen Winslow. He's a good blocker, and he's the most dangerous receiving tight end in the NFL. I believe Tony Gonzalez is the best TE in history, but Tony never had a season or a series of seasons that compares to Gronk from 2011-14. Tony's best four-year touchdown total was 33 (1999-2002), over 63 games. Since the start of the '11 season, Gronk has 40 TD receptions in 43 games. He's the fastest player to 50 TD catches since Randy Moss.

2. Kansas City Chiefs [2] — Justin Houston had two more sacks this week, bringing his season total to 12. No one else has more than 9. Last year, Houston dislocated his elbow and missed the last five games, during which Kansas City went 2-3 (after a 9-2 start). Most multi-sack games, 2012-present:

1. J.J. Watt, 10,
2. Justin Houston, 9
t3. Von Miller, 8
t3. Robert Quinn, 8
t3. Aldon Smith, 8

Fellow Chief Tamba Hali is tied for 8th, with six multi-sack games in the last 2½ years. This is not a trivial statistic. When a player has multiple sacks, his team wins about two-thirds of the time. That's particularly true when it's a star pass-rusher. From 2012 to today, teams are 230-120-2 (.659) when one of their players has two or more sacks. But if you restrict that to players with two or more multi-sack games, their teams are 182-88-2 (.673) in those weeks. If you look just at the top 32 pass rushers, players with four or more multi-sack games since 2012, their teams are 118-52-2 (.692) when they get two or more sacks. By the time you get to the top 10, players with six or more multi-sack games, their teams have a .727 winning percentage in those games.

Why is this true? I'm guessing ... when a safety or an inside linebacker gets two sacks in a game, that means the team is blitzing, which is a boom-or-bust strategy. If you get a couple of sacks but give up a long bomb downfield, that's not a positive for your team. When guys like Houston and Hali get to the quarterback, though, that might indicate that you're getting pressure without blitzing. Maybe there's a matchup problem, the other team's left tackle can't block your guy, they have to slide extra protection to that side, the QB keeps getting hurried ... The stats above are probably a little off, because I'm double-counting games when two or more teammates had multiple sacks in the same game, but when a star pass rusher like Houston has a big game, his team will win about 70% of the time.

3. Denver Broncos [1] — In the last two games, Julius Thomas has four catches for 56 yards. Do the Broncos struggle when opponents shut down Orange Julius? I compared the results this year for Demaryius Thomas (DT), Julius Thomas (JT), and Emmanuel Sanders (ES). The Broncos are 6-2. Here are the average stats for their six wins:


And their two losses:


In DT's four best (statistical) games, the Broncos went 3-1 and outscored opponents 135-98. In JT's four best games, Denver went 4-0 and outscored opponents 127-78. For Sanders, 2-2 and they actually got outscored, 100-107.

There's not enough data here to draw conclusions we can have confidence in, but the available evidence suggests that teams should concentrate on shutting down the Thomases, especially Julius, and take their chances with Sanders.

4. Indianapolis Colts [4] — Andrew Luck is really good, but the hype for this kid is a little out of control. The Giants gave up in the second half, and that's when Luck put up his biggest numbers. In the first half, the Colts went 1/7 on third downs and their only TD came on sort of a flukey play, when the Giants tried to challenge, but didn't get the flag out in time.

I was more impressed by the Indianapolis defense. The Giants punted on their first five drives and didn't convert a third down until their sixth possession, almost halfway through the second quarter. New York's first-half drives yielded: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, field goal, punt, punt. If you wanted to sum up the game in one sentence, Jon Gruden probably had it right: "These Colt corners I think are better than these Giant receivers."

5. Green Bay Packers [5] — Aaron Rodgers' Week 8 hamstring injury is described as a mild tweak, so everyone expects him pretty close to 100% when the Packers return from bye in Week 10. This ranking assumes he's healthy.

6. Arizona Cardinals [7] — Best record in the NFL, 7-1. Most rankings will put them first or second this week. But the purpose of power rankings — literally the whole point — is to look beyond standings. Who have you beaten? How did you win? What's happened lately?

The Cardinals have beaten three pretty bad teams (Giants, Washington, Oakland), by an average of 11 points; none of the games were blowouts. That's fine; they did what they had to do. They also beat the the Chargers in Week 1 and the 49ers in Week 3, but (1) neither of those teams is as good we thought at the time, (2) both games were at home, (3) both games were close, and (4) that was two months ago.

More recently, the Cardinals beat the Eagles in a thrilling back-and-forth contest, and topped the Brandon Weeden-led Cowboys. The only really impressive victory was the one over Philadelphia, but that was a razor-close game that easily could have gone the other way. I believe Arizona will win the NFC West, and I think Bruce Arians is a pretty easy choice as Coach of the Year right now, but the Cardinals aren't a dominant team.

7. Miami Dolphins [12] — An announcer called this week's 37-0 blowout of San Diego a "career game" for Ryan Tannehill. It was a great game (288 yds, 3 TD, career-high 125.6 passer rating), but was it really his best? I found the top five games of Tannehill's career, by fantasy scoring. I used 25 pass yards per point, 10 rush yards per point, 6 points for rush TDs, 4 points for pass TDs, and -4 for interceptions and lost fumbles (because -1 is idiotic).

1. Nov 2, 2014, 37-0 vs SD: 28.2 — 335 net yd, 3 TD, 0 turnover
2. Dec 15, 2013, 24-20 vs NE: 24.4 — 288 net yd, 3 TD, 0 turnover
3. Oct 19, 2014, 27-14 at CHI: 23.9 — 304 net yd, 2 TD, 0 turnover
4. Dec 8, 2013, 34-28 at PIT: 21.6 — 242 net yd, 3 TD, 1 turnover
t5. Dec 1, 2013, 23-3 at NYJ: 19.4 — 350 net yd, 2 TD, 1 turnover
t5. Sep 16, 2012, 35-13 vs OAK: 19.4 — 203 net yd, 2 TD, 0 turnover

The announcer was right: statistically, this was the best game of Tannehill's career, and it's not particularly close.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers [18] — Another magnificent game for Ben Roethlisberger, the first player in history with back-to-back 6-TD performances. I suppose Big Ben and Steeler fans are okay with Todd Haley at this point? Not that there was anything wrong with Bruce Arians, who is COY front-runner in Arizona, but offensive coordinator Haley seems to be doing a pretty good job. Not only is Ben setting records, the Steelers rank 7th in points per game and 3rd in yards per game. That's the team's best rank in either category since 2001; to do better, you have to go back to 1979, the last Super Bowl year of the Steel Curtain dynasty with Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, and Lynn Swann.

9. Philadelphia Eagles [9] — With a healthy Nick Foles, they would rank eighth. But Foles has a broken collarbone, leaving Mark Sanchez as the quarterback, with Matt Barkley as the backup. Foles isn't exactly Peyton Manning, but Sanchez isn't even Eli Manning. It's hard for me to believe this is a top-10 team with Sanchez under center and DeMeco Ryans out for the season (torn Achilles), but there's really no one to move up.

10. Dallas Cowboys [6] — The Cowboys play in London's Wembley Stadium in Week 10. Since the London series began, teams are 7-15 the week before making the trip. Brandon Weeden was awful on Sunday (176 net yards, 55.5 rating), but with the Wembley curse at work, Dallas may have been fighting an uphill battle no matter who played QB. Tony Romo traveled with the team to England. It sounds about 50/50 whether Romo will play against the Jaguars, and even if he's on the field, he's unlikely to be anything near 100% — maybe more like we saw at the end of the Monday night game against Washington.

11. Detroit Lions [14] — My excuse for moving them up three spots in a bye week is the return of Megatron. Calvin Johnson is expected to play in Week 10, for the first time in over a month.

12. New Orleans Saints [17] — It always seemed weird to me that the Saints used a first-round draft pick on Mark Ingram and then stashed him in a three- or four-man backfield committee. The last two weeks, Ingram has delivered on the promise he showed in college. You hope Ingram will continue to get 15-20 carries a game even when the other running backs are healthy.

13. Baltimore Ravens [11] — The absence of cornerback Jimmy Smith (sprained left foot) played an obvious role in Sunday night's loss to Pittsburgh. I wanted to investigate something Cris Collinsworth mentioned during the broadcast: "I always thought the time you wanted to play these teams was right after this game." I checked the records for Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the weeks before and after their games against each other, for three time periods: the John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco era (2008-present), the Ben Roethlisberger era (2004-present), and from 2000-present, since the Ravens made the playoffs for the first time in 2000. The table below shows record and point differential (+/-) in the relevant weeks, along with the teams' overall records in those years (including all regular season games).


Same chart, winning percentage and average margin of victory per game:


This data suggests that Collinsworth was right — the Ravens and Steelers appear to suffer letdowns following their games against each other. But there are two other interesting ideas suggested by these numbers:

1. The rivalry has gotten more intense over time. The difference is all from the Harbaugh/Flacco era. From 2000-07, Baltimore and Pittsburgh were .603 overall and .680 after playing each other — better than their overall records. It's only over the last six or seven seasons that this has become such a draining rivalry.

2. I have no idea why, but both teams performed noticeably better in the week before they meet. I guess distraction and "looking ahead" don't play a role.

14. Buffalo Bills [16] — Sammy Watkins leads all rookie receivers in yardage (590), first down receptions (29), and TDs (5, tied with three others). This was a highly anticipated class of rookie wideouts, featuring five first-round picks and another six second-rounders, plus Donte Moncrief and John Brown in the third round. They've lived up to the hype. Chase Stuart, of Football Perspective and the New York Times, reported last week that the class of 2014 has more receiving TDs than any other class of receivers in the NFL this year.

Kelvin Benjamin could be one of the best WRs in the NFL if he were more consistent, while Odell Beckham, John Brown, and Martavis Bryant have shown flashes of great potential, but right now, Watkins is the best rookie receiver and the front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

15. Seattle Seahawks [13] — After three quiet weeks (66 net yds/gm, 0 TD), Marshawn Lynch almost single-handedly delivered the offense Seattle needed in an uncomfortably close win over the Oakland Raiders. Lynch made an unbelievable three-yard Beast Mode TD run and a 39-yard reception down the sideline to power the offense on a day when Russell Wilson struggled badly.

16. San Diego Chargers [8] — Since their 31-0 shutout win over the Jets in Week 5, they're 1-3, with the victory by three points against the winless Raiders. Philip Rivers was a disaster against Miami, but the team's biggest problem is defensive third down percentage — a league-worst 49%. You can't expect to make the playoffs letting your opponents convert half their third downs. The Chargers again played without Jason Verrett, Manti Te'o, and Jeremiah Attaochu. Verrett has a torn labrum, but hopefully other players can use the bye in Week 10 to mend their injuries and return to the field.

17. San Francisco 49ers [10] — They have never lost more than four games under Jim Harbaugh, but will have to win their last eight in a row to continue that trend; the team is 4-4 now. In the Harbaugh era, they're 40-15-1 (.723) and the Rams are 19-36-1 (.348). But Harbaugh is just 5-2-1 (.688) against St. Louis, worse than his record against average teams. For some reason, the Rams give San Francisco trouble.

18. Cincinnati Bengals [15] — One of seven teams still undefeated at home. The others are Denver, New England, Arizona, Philadelphia, Green Bay, and New Orleans. Last year's home playoff loss looks stranger every week.

19. Cleveland Browns [20] — I love Rotoworld. It's a phenomenal resource for injury information and for fantasy football in particular. But sometimes a fantasy focus conflicts with a team's best interests. The site posted this on Saturday, about starting QB Brian Hoyer:

"Accuracy is a trait that rarely improves in the NFL. Hoyer has benefited from Kyle Shanahan's play-calling and a favorable schedule (.375 opponent winning percentage), but there remain concerns about his ball placement and arm strength ... A 29-year-old journeyman, Hoyer is in a contract year and not the long-term answer at quarterback. The Browns are going to need to make an evaluation on Johnny Manziel at some point." (emphasis mine)

The Browns used a first-round draft pick on Manziel six months ago. The idea that the team needs to see him over the last eight games — that they might make other plans and move on with a different QB if he struggles — is entirely beyond the realm of possibility. Manziel could play like JaMarcus Russell or Helpless Blaine Gabbert and it wouldn't change anything: he's their quarterback of the future. But sometimes young QBs, like Mark Sanchez and HBG, get thrown into the fire before they're ready, and it stunts their development. I think the Browns have a great plan, letting Hoyer play this year. Next season, someone else will pay Hoyer, and Manziel can have a full offseason working with the first team, hopefully including Josh Gordon and a healthy Jordan Cameron. Hoyer's not exciting in fantasy, and Manziel could be (rushing touchdowns!), but I believe it's in the team's long-term interests to let Hoyer play for now. The Browns are 5-3, with more wins than all of last season (4-12). It's pretty silly to suggest the starting quarterback should be benched.

20. St. Louis Rams [24] — They got a big win this week, but can we cool it with the Hall of Fame comparisons for Austin Davis?

21. Houston Texans [19] — Arian Foster left this week's game with a groin injury of unspecified severity. The team describes his status as "day to day", and with a Week 10 bye, there's reason for optimism about Foster's status going forward.

22. Washington [22] — A week after they beat the Cowboys with constant blitzing, they came into Minnesota with a strange, passive defensive gameplan for rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater. But you don't care about that. Let's discuss Robert Griffin III. He made some nice plays on Sunday, but overall, he did not look sharp. Griffin took five sacks, most or all of which were the result of his holding the ball too long. He didn't seem to sense the pressure or have a feel for his timing, and he didn't escape the pocket. It was probably just rust from a QB who hadn't played since Week 2, but it was not a triumphant comeback.

23. New York Giants [21] — A terrible game, obviously, just going through the motions. And — I know the expression is "adding insult to injury", but in this case it's really the other way around — they lost Prince Amukamara to a torn biceps, presumably ending his season. But let's look on the bright side, as best we're able. Odell Beckham had a great second half (7 rec, 137 yds) and looks like he can become an outstanding player. The even bigger breakout star of Monday's game was defensive lineman Robert Ayers. The final stats aren't overwhelming: 3 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble. Good game, but not mind-blowing. The stats don't tell the story here — Ayers was mind-blowing. He's credited with 7 hits on Andrew Luck, which is amazing (okay, I guess that is a stat), and he was incredibly disruptive for the first three quarters (he kind of disappeared after that). Ayers played at a really, really high level against the league's top-ranked offense. This is his sixth season (the first five were in Denver), and he's never been a star, but Ayers flashed genuine talent on Monday night.

24. Carolina Panthers [23] — Bad games from their two biggest stars, Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly. Newton repeatedly missed his receivers, and consistently misjudged his touch on the ball. He went 10-of-28 for 151 yards and an interception. Including sacks and rushing, Newton had 39 plays for 165 yards, a TD, and 2 turnovers. Those are very poor numbers, and Newton was at least as bad as they suggest. Kuechly finished the game with two solo tackles and six assists. The "assists" stat is almost meaningless; on a couple of those plays, the runner was down and Kuechly jumped in at the end. He bit on every fake and was rarely in position to make a play.

A lot of people are hard on Newton, but I've never heard a bad word about Kuechly, who is the most overrated player in the NFL right now. I don't know why announcers have decided to convince everyone that Kuechly is the new Ray Lewis. Kuechly is not a big-play defender. This season, he has four tackles for loss, and no takeaways. He is not a great linebacker. This is his worst season — every team has the scouting report; they know he'll run himself out of position — but it's his third year in the league, and I've never seen him have a great game. Kuechly is above average. His fame is a product of statistical carelessness and TV hype.

25. Minnesota Vikings [26] — Everson Griffen is quietly tied for second in the NFL in sacks (9). It's not a fluke. Griffen looks like a legitimately excellent player. Matt Asiata scored three short-yardage TDs but did none of the work to set them up; Griffen was the clear standout performer in Sunday's victory over Washington.

26. Chicago Bears [25] — Matt Forte has 562 rushing yards and 490 receiving yards. He's nearly on pace to join Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk as the only players to gain 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 receiving in the same season.

27. New York Jets [27] — They've lost eight in a row, could easily rank lower than this. But the problem is obvious and fixable: the Jets are -15 in turnover differential, by far the worst in the NFL (the Eagles and Raiders are next, -10). If the Jets take better care of the football, or start generating takeaways, they could be something like average.

The Jets have the worst pass defense in the NFL. They're 12th-best in yards per game, but last in passer rating allowed: 112.8. That's a higher passer rating than Peyton Manning (112.0); basically, every QB who plays against the Jets performs like Peyton Manning. The Jets have allowed 24 passing TDs and have generated only one interception. That's by far the most TDs allowed (next-worst is 18) and the fewest INTs (next-worst is 3).

28. Atlanta Falcons [28] — With six teams on bye, this was a devastating week for many fantasy football owners. The hardest-hit positions were QB and WR, in part because Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Roddy White were all inactive. Atlanta is having a bad season, but still ranks 7th in the NFL in passing yards per game.

29. Tennessee Titans [30] — The bye week is an opportunity to address problems, and Tennessee's biggest problem is third down percentage. The Titans convert only 30% of their third down opportunities, the lowest figure in the NFL. There's no reason a team with an even turnover differential should be 2-6 in the weakest division in the league.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars [31] — Third straight season they've been 1-8. Think about that for a moment. That's nuts.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [29] — Can they break the blowout cycle? Every third game, the Bucs have been humiliated: 56-14 at Atlanta and 48-17 against the Ravens, with both games even worse than the score implies. Those were Game 3 and Game 6 ... next week brings Game 9, a home rematch with the Falcons. Oddsmakers have the game as pick 'em.

32. Oakland Raiders [32] — Only team in the NFL averaging under 300 yards per game (288.6). Five teams average over 400 yards a game.

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