NFL Week 11 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* Good luck with that ear, Leslie Smith.

* The Broncos, Eagles, and Packers are all 5-0 at home. They're all 2-3 on the road.

* It's not just you, Cris. NBC's Cris Collinsworth suggested this week that the (il)legal contact zone for defenders be extended from 5 yards to 10. It's a good idea. That would encourage deep passes (which are exciting), and it could help to make passing records meaningful again. It's tough to get excited about records when a new one is set every week.

* The 49ers intercepted Eli Manning five times and only won 16-10. When you get five INTs, you should win by more than 6.

* Quiz time! Can you identify the rushing stats of (1) Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and (2) the Oakland Raiders?

A: 630 yards, 2 touchdowns
B: 571 yards, 4 touchdowns

A is the Raiders and B is the quarterback. It's pretty close!

The AFC North, NFC South, and the Playoff Format

Everyone in the AFC North is at least two games over .500. Everyone in the NFC South is at least two games under .500. Someone from the NFC South is going to host a playoff game, and it's plausible that only one team from the AFC North will even make the playoffs.

There's some serious hand-wringing amongst fans right now, and proposals to prevent a 7-9 or 6-10 division champion from appearing in future postseasons. The various ideas include re-seeding the playoffs so division winners don't automatically host a playoff game, taking the top six teams in each conference regardless of division status, even taking the top 12 teams regardless of conference.

I don't think the NFL should radically change its postseason, and omitting any of the division winners is a radical change.

Bobby Thomson hit the "shot heard around the world" in 1951. The Giants weren't the best team in baseball that year, and they lost the World Series to the Yankees. But winning the National League, and winning it against the Brooklyn Dodgers, was important — this is one of the truly legendary moments in American sporting history. Competing every year against a small group of teams, knowing that a postseason spot is on the line, is part of the joy of sports and of rivalries. Beating rivals for your division's only playoff berth makes the sport more fun, enhances rivalries, and prevents the winner of a strong, balanced division from missing the postseason.

There are 10 teams in the AFC that are at least 6-4. Is it out of the question that the Patriots, Broncos, Chiefs, Colts, Dolphins, and Chargers could all finish with better records than anyone in the loaded AFC North? Could those four teams beat each up so much that none of them finish over 10-6? While you're trying to keep out Atlanta or New Orleans, you might just shut out the winner of the best division in football.

What does make sense is to seed the playoffs according to record, rather than automatically granting each division winner a home game. Winning the division gets you into the tournament, but you can still be a 16-seed. Once you're in, it's up to you to prove you belong.

2014 Week Eleven NFL Power Rankings

Brackets indicate last week's rank.

1. New England Patriots [1] — Thirty-three first downs on Sunday night, including 9/12 third down conversions. The Patriots scored touchdowns on every drive of the second half, except the final possession on which they ran out the clock. The enduring image of this game, for me, wasn't Jonas Gray or Rob Gronkowski — it was Darrelle Revis. Not only did Revis excel in coverage, he knocked down a pulling tackle. Early in the second quarter, on a run to the left, Revis took out Colts LT Anthony Castonzo. Revis is listed at 5-11, 198 lbs, Castonzo at 6-7, 311. Revis blew up the running lane, knocked Castonzo on his butt, and the play went for a 3-yard loss.

2. Green Bay Packers [4] — Eighth team since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to go over 50 points twice in the regular season. Last year's Broncos are the only team since 1969 with three 50-point games, and there are only three post-merger teams to score 50+ in back-to-back weeks: the 2012 Seahawks, 2013 Broncos, and 2014 Packers. This is true: no one did it for 42 seasons, and now it's happened three years in a row.

3. Arizona Cardinals [6] — Six-game win streak, longest in the NFL. During the streak, they've held every opponent to 20 points or less. In fact, only one opponent all season has scored over 20 points against Arizona (Broncos, 41-20 in Week 5).

4. Kansas City Chiefs [3] — Undefeated since the bye. The stats from their win over Seattle are very strange. The Seahawks had substantial advantages in offensive yardage (372-298), first downs (25-20), and third down percentage (42%-33%). The Seahawks rushed for more yards, they passed for more yards, and they were +2 in turnovers. They won time of possession by almost 12 minutes. What happened (besides Jamaal Charles)?

Early in the fourth quarter, Kansas City scored a go-ahead touchdown, making it 20-16. On the next possession, Seattle drove to the KC 2 but turned it over on downs. The Chiefs went three-and-out and Seattle got the ball back in Chiefs territory. Following a replay that negated first down, Seattle went for it on 4th-and-1 from the 36 and again the Chiefs stopped them. Kansas City went three-and-out again, but Seattle burned all its timeouts. Great special teams coverage pinned the Seahawks deep, and they took the ball at their own 4 with 2:47 to play. They picked up a first down, then Dontari Poe sacked Russell Wilson, setting up 3rd-and-18. Out of timeouts and down to 1:18, the Seahawks went for it on 4th-and-18, and for the third straight possession Kansas City stopped them on fourth down. Pretty clutch defense, in a game where their own passing offense was non-existent (108 yards).

5. Indianapolis Colts [5] — New England converted 11 of 18 third downs, rushed for 234 yards, and scored 6 rushing TDs. You can't fault anyone for game-planning around Tom Brady, but the Colts were clearly caught off-guard by New England's run game.

Oh, sorry. That's not this week's summary, it's what I wrote in January, when the Patriots beat Indianapolis 43-22 in a divisional playoff game. Apparently the Colts learned nothing from that experience, because Jonas Gray did the same thing to them (199 yards, 4 TDs) that LeGarrette Blount did a matter of months ago (166 yards, 4 TDs). If the coaching staff needed one game-plan for Week 11, it was how they would stop the run. You knew this matchup was coming; what have you been doing for the last 10 months?!

The Colts had a bye last week. With two weeks to prepare, it never occurred to them that the Patriots might test their not-improved-at-all run defense?

6. Denver Broncos [2] — This ranking might be too high. They've lost two of their last three, both by more than two touchdowns, and several key players left this week's game with injuries. Emmanuel Sanders got a concussion, on one of the nastiest hits I've ever seen, and Julius Thomas has an ankle sprain; it's not a major injury, but his status going forward is not yet clear.

7. Miami Dolphins [10] — Won four of their last five, with the loss a last-minute heartbreaker at Detroit. All the wins were by double-digits, including a 37-0 beatdown of the 6-4 Chargers.

8. Detroit Lions [8] — Lead the league in fewest yards allowed (290.3/gm) and fewest points allowed (15.6/gm). They have a very good defense. But not a great one. Here are the last five teams to lead the league in both total defense and scoring defense:

2004 PIT: 258 ypg, 15.7 ppg
2006 BAL: 264 ypg, 12.6 ppg
2008 PIT: 237 ypg, 13.9 ppg
2009 NYJ: 252 ypg, 14.8 ppg
2013 SEA: 274 ypg, 14.4 ppg

The Lions have allowed by far the most yardage, and are essentially tied for most points. They also don't force turnovers. Detroit is tied for 14th in the NFL in takeaways (17); all the teams above ranked in the top 10, except the '04 Steelers, who were 11th. Seattle led the league last season (39). The list of teams that have led the NFL in both total defense and scoring defense is mostly a list of the best defenses of all time — only 13 teams since the merger, including the 1972 Dolphins, 1976 Steelers, 1985 Bears, 2002 Buccaneers ... the Lions are probably the best defensive team in the NFL right now, but they're not of that historical caliber.

9. Dallas Cowboys [9] — DeMarco Murray's insane workload has eased a little, with three straight games of 19 carries. He still has 24% more rush attempts (244) than second-place LeSean McCoy (196), and Murray leads the league in what Jason Lisk identified as increased risk games (25+ att); Murray has four and no one else has more than two. Murray also had two games with 24 rush attempts. He's on pace for 390 rushes, which seems positively reasonable compared to his early pace, but remains dangerously high. There have been 10 seasons in which a player carried 390 times or more:

Eric Dickerson, 1983: Rookie season. Went on to a Hall of Fame career.

James Wilder, 1984: Played six more seasons. No obvious ill effects.

Gerald Riggs, 1985: His best season, but no obvious ill effects.

Eric Dickerson, 1986: Had two more excellent seasons, 1987-88.

Barry Foster, 1992: Never healthy again. Retired two years later.

Jamal Anderson, 1998: Injured the next season; never the same.

Terrell Davis, 1998: Injured the next season; never the same.

Eddie George, 2000: Never the same. 1996-2000: 6,874 yds, 3.9 avg, 42 TD. 2001-04: 3,567 yds, 3.2 avg, 26 TD. Maybe it was just the Madden Curse.

Ricky Williams, 2003: Retired following the season. 334 carries in the next five years combined.

Larry Johnson, 2006: Couldn't stay healthy and played poorly for the rest of his career.

I would posit that running backs take a worse beating now than from 1983-86, and furthermore that there's no reason to believe Murray is as durable as Eric Dickerson. Over the last quarter-century, every running back with at least 370 carries has declined the following season, and never returned to his previous level of play, or anything near it. I'm not saying Murray can't finish out this season, but I understand why the Cowboys are planning to use the franchise tag on Dez Bryant instead of Murray, and I wouldn't use a 2015 top draft pick on Murray in fantasy.

10. Philadelphia Eagles [7] — FOX held the broadcasting rights to both Packers/Eagles and Cardinals/Lions. I get making Green Bay and Philly the national game, because those are marquee teams with national followings, and both are having good seasons. But this was a blowout before halftime. The Cardinals and Lions had the two best records in the NFC, and that game was competitive throughout. Why not switch to the good game?

11. Pittsburgh Steelers [11] — Sloppy first half had them trailing the lowly Titans, 17-13. Le'Veon Bell took over in the second half, rushing 18 times for 132 yards and a touchdown. Bell has been sensational this season, and never more than on Monday night, but why grind him down with 33 carries and keep LeGarrette Blount on the bench? You don't want to risk injury by overusing a player as valuable as Bell.

12. Baltimore Ravens [12] — Who needs Ray Rice? Justin Forsett has led all rushers in seven of their 10 games, including the last five in a row, and he has more long runs (20+ yards) than anyone but DeMarco Murray.

13. Seattle Seahawks [15] — Pro Bowl center Max Unger, who missed a month with a foot injury and returned in Week 10, is out another 3-4 weeks with a high-ankle sprain. Jay Glazer stated three weeks ago, "Marshawn Lynch will not be a Seattle Seahawk next year." That seems increasingly likely after Lynch remained on the field at halftime, rather than returning to the locker room with his team, and called the kettle black made comments to the media about Seattle's front office and his future with the team.

14. Buffalo Bills [13] — During the Thursday night game, Phil Simms compared Sammy Watkins and this year's rookie WR class to the famous QB class of 1983. A better comparison is the wide receiver class of 1996, which included Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Keyshawn Johnson, Muhsin Muhammad, Eric Moulds, Joe Horn, Amani Toomer, and Terry Glenn, among others.

15. St. Louis Rams [18] — Triumphant return for Shaun Hill, but when you hold a Peyton Manning offense to 7 points, you won with defense. The Rams defensed 12 passes against Denver, including three by T.J. McDonald, and interceptions by Alec Ogletree and Trumaine Johnson.

16. San Francisco 49ers [16] — NaVorro Bowman is expected to resume practice this week, after missing the first 10 games rehabbing a knee injury. Rookie Chris Borland (Wisconsin) has excelled in the absence of his all-pro teammates, Patrick Willis and Bowman. Borland leads San Francisco in tackles, and this week he just ruined the Giants: 8 tackles, including 2 for a loss, plus two INTs and a deflection, including the game-clinching interception.

The NFL's Ian Rapoport reported that Ahmad Brooks took himself out of the game to pout about his playing time. Man, how do you just refuse to play? That's the kind of guy who deserves Richie Incognito as a teammate.

17. New Orleans Saints [14] — Last season, the Saints and Bengals had identical records: 8-0 at home, 3-5 on the road. New Orleans went 23 months without a home loss, stretching from December 2012 to this month, but has now lost two in a row at home, including an overtime loss to a tough 49ers team, but also a comfortable 27-10 victory by an opponent who struggles on the road.

18. Houston Texans [20] — Major props to former Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallett ... when asked about this week's victory in his first-ever NFL start, he answered, "We got the win but now we're on to Cincinnati."

19. Cleveland Browns [17] — Brian Hoyer and his Texans counterpart Mallett both completed 20 passes. But Hoyer threw the ball 50 times and Mallett only 30. Linebacker Karlos Dansby reportedly has a sprained MCL and is likely to miss at least a month — most or all of the remaining season.

20. Cincinnati Bengals [21] — I guess A.J. Green's toe is fine now.

21. San Diego Chargers [19] — Haven't beaten anyone but the 0-10 Raiders in a month and a half (Oct 5, Week 5). In the first quarter, Mike Scifres came onto the field for his second punt of the afternoon. Spero Dedes called it for CBS: "Here's Mike Scifres, eight punts inside the 10 this season, and is tied for the NFL lead." The ball bounced straight up at the 6-yard line, allowing Dedes to continue, "And once again he pins it inside the 10, he has been masterful this season."

Scifres later had punts downed at the 4-yard line, the 8-yard line, and the 2-yard line. When his last punt went 48 yards to the Oakland 12-yard line, Dedes marveled, "Scifres with another one inside the 15. He's got our vote for the MVP of this game." Solomon Wilcots concurred, "It's almost no fair to Derek Carr. Scifres is just gonna keep him backed up." Scifres had a similar performance in a January 2009 playoff win. When has anyone ever suggested that Shane Lechler or Andy Lee might be the MVP of a game? Scifres is the best punter of this generation, and it's not close.

22. Atlanta Falcons [28] — I don't know how anyone can argue that special teams don't matter, or that specialists aren't impact players. The Falcons won 19-17 this week, with their kicker (Matt Bryant) going 4-for-4, and Carolina's Graham Gano going 1-for-3. Gano attempted tougher kicks, so it's not a totally fair comparison, but one miss for Bryant or one more between the uprights for Gano, and it's a different game.

Also, Atlanta's Eric Weems was credited with 4 special teams tackles and 2 assists. Weems made the tackle on every Carolina punt return, holding Philly Brown to 4 returns for 16 yards. That's a hell of an afternoon for one of the downfield wackos. Weems is having a very nice season. He should probably go to the Pro Bowl.

23. New York Jets [23] — About once a year, my mom asks me if there are Jets fans; she seems pretty convinced that the Giants are the "real" New York team. I always assure her that New York is large enough to support more than one team, but I've never gotten around to telling her that even Fireman Ed quit a couple years ago.

24. Minnesota Vikings [24] — They ran only 46 offensive plays, compared to 74 for Chicago. The Vikings went 2/11 (18%) on third downs; the Bears were 10/17 (59%).

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [31] — Rookie WR Mike Evans had a huge game, obviously (7 rec, 209 yds, 2 TD), his third straight game with at least 7 catches, 120 yards, and a touchdown. But when you hold the other team to 7 points, some credit has to go the defense, too. Gerald McCoy is incredibly disruptive, one of the best defensive tackles in football.

26. Washington [22] — Robert Griffin III has not played well since returning from injury. He's tentative, he's not seeing the field well, and he's too willing to take sacks — this was his second week in a row getting dropped at least five times. Griffin told the Washington Post, "All of the sacks are on me," which is not entirely true, but he's holding the ball much too long. He doesn't move well within the pocket, and he's waiting for contact before trying to escape and roll outside.

Griffin did not look like this when he was being coached by Mike and Kyle Shanahan. He looks like he's trying to be something he's not: a pocket passer. Griffin looks uncomfortable in the pocket. He's indecisive, looks like he's overthinking and trying too hard not to make a mistake, and I'm not sure he can see over the linemen. The team should design boots and roll-outs for RG3. He's most dangerous when he threatens an opponent with his legs. Put him in space, where he can escape pass rushers and force the rest of the defense to abandon their assignments or let him run. The rationale for keeping Griffin in the pocket is that he'll get hurt if he's running, but he's going to get hurt if he's being sacked five times a game, too, and at least if he's running he might play well.

I don't understand how you get a QB like Robert Griffin or Cam Newton, who's been a successful football player his whole life, and then tell him to play differently. Let these guys do what they do.

27. Chicago Bears [26] — I ranked them too high last week. The Bears were humiliated in two of their last three games. Most embarrassing losses of the 2014 NFL season:

1. Week 3: Falcons 56, Buccaneers 14
488 yards to 217; 35-0 at halftime

2. Week 10: Packers 55, Bears 14
451 yards to 311; 42-0 at halftime

3. Week 6: Ravens 48, Buccaneers 17
475 yards to 264; 38-0 at halftime

4. Week 9: Dolphins 37, Chargers 0
441 yards to 178; 20-0 at halftime

5. Week 5: Chargers 31, Jets 0
439 yards to 151; 21-0 at halftime

6. Week 2: Washington 41, Jacksonville 10
449 yards to 148; 21-7 at halftime

7. Week 8: Patriots 51, Bears 23
487 yards to 384; 38-7 at halftime

8. Week 11: Packers 53, Eagles 20
475 yards to 429; 30-6 at halftime

9. Week 10: Eagles 45, Panthers 21
365 yards to 317; 31-7 at halftime

10. Week 6: Eagles 27, Giants 0
448 yards to 253; 20-0 at halftime

28. New York Giants [27] — Marshall Faulk had this to say on NFL Network: "That secondary for the Giants, for real, I'd play the scout team before I'd play them cats, man."

29. Tennessee Titans [29] — So, I think maybe they should work on their run defense.

30. Carolina Panthers [25] — Smart play by rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who got wrapped up in bounds and lateralled to Greg Olsen, who stepped out to stop the clock with :01 left and set up a potential game-winning field goal. The kick missed, though, and Carolina is tied with the Giants for the second-longest losing streak in the NFL, 5 straight. Oakland, 0-10, obviously has the longest active streak.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars [30] — Since cutting David Garrard, the Jaguars are 12-46 (.207). Here are my weekly power rankings for the Jaguars, from preseason of 2011 to present: 20, 22, 27, 31, 31, 31, 28, 26, 24, 24, 22, 25, 25, 29, 25, 27, 30, 27; 30, 31, 32, 31, 31, 32, 32, 32, 31, 31, 32, 29, 23, 26, 28, 31, 31, 31; 31, 32, 32, 32, 32, 32, 32, 32, 32, 32, 32, 32, **, **, **, **, **, **; 32, 32, 32, 32, 32, 32, 32, 31, 31, 30, 30, 31...

** In 2013, I didn't rank all 32 teams, only the top 10 and the bottom three. From Weeks 12-17, Jacksonville no longer appeared on either list, so there are no entries for those weeks. It's safe to assume they're in the mid-to-high 20s.

32. Oakland Raiders [32] — It has been a calendar year since their last win (Nov. 17, 2013, 28-23 at HOU), and they have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

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