Tuesday, November 25, 2014

NFL Week 12 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Five Quick Hits

* You know what I can't stand? That commercial where a family of Vikings fans ends up rooting for the Bengals, Cowboys, Steelers, and whoever else instead. I don't believe it. There's no way a family that grows up wearing Viking jerseys all end up switching their allegiance. I'm not sure why it bothers me so much, except that it's so implausible. Am I the only one who hates that ad?

* Jonas Gray is from Michigan, went to high school in Detroit. His first pro game in his hometown, Gray stood on the sidelines for three hours, never got into the game. Dude will never show up late again. Bill Belichick don't play.

* All-pro safety Eric Berry's season is over. Berry has a mass in his chest, believed to be lymphoma. Berry is 25 and in the last year of his contract. Obviously, fans around the league are hoping for good news after Berry meets with doctors this week.

* One of the Sunday highlight shows featured Josh Gordon warming up, but declined to show any of his 8 receptions. NBC also showed him warming up, and they favored viewers with one of those 8 catches. Man, who wants to see the dude stretching? Show us a play.

* The Pro Football Hall of Fame has announced this year's semifinalists. My preferences to advance: Morten Andersen, Steve Atwater, Tim Brown, Isaac Bruce, Don Coryell, Terrell Davis, Tony Dungy, Kevin Greene, Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, Joe Jacoby, Kevin Mawae, Orlando Pace, Junior Seau, and Will Shields.

Week 12 Rant: Ticket Prices

The Dallas Cowboys probably have more fans than any other team in the NFL. They're a truly national team, they have a proud history, and they're good right now, plus they're from a football-crazy part of the country. In Week 1, the season opener, the stands in Dallas were visibly full of red jerseys, and the 49er fans were loud. In Week 5, Tony Romo had to use a silent count for a home game against Houston. This week, the tables turned as Dallas fans made a ton of noise for a game against the Giants in New Jersey. What ever happened to home field advantage?

Here's my theory: ticket prices are too high. Home fans can't afford to spend thousands of dollars on the full slate of home games, so they sell their tickets. But in 2014, they don't sell their tickets to friends or neighbors or co-workers — they put them online. And many of the buyers — maybe most — are fans of the road team, who have a once-a-year (or less) opportunity to see their favorite team.

Furthermore, television has gotten so good, and crowds so nasty, that I suspect many fans don't want to go to every home game. At home, you sit on a comfy couch instead of a plastic chair, you can pee without standing in line, and the beers don't cost $10. You don't have to endure bad weather or opposing fans, you get to see all the replays, and you save a hundred bucks. Why not just pick the games you really want to see in person, and sell the rest?

It's happening in some cities faster than others, but it's a trend I expect will accelerate as time goes on.

2014 Week 12 NFL Power Rankings

Brackets indicate previous rank. Check back tomorrow for an in-depth look at this year's Pro Bowl ballot.

1. New England Patriots [1] — Sixth team in NFL history with at least 14 consecutive winning seasons. The others were the 1930-44 Chicago Bears, 1934-47 Green Bay Packers, 1965-80 Oakland Raiders, 1966-85 Dallas Cowboys, and 1983-98 San Francisco 49ers. Longest active streaks, not including 2014:

1. Patriots, 13
2. Packers, 5
t3. Bengals, 3
t3. 49ers, 3

What the Patriots are doing is special.

2. Green Bay Packers [2] — Eddie Lacy has rushed for 100 yards twice this season — both performances coming against the Minnesota Vikings. Boomer Esiason called next week's game the regular-season Super Bowl: Patriots at Packers. They should get Katy Perry Bruce Springsteen to do halftime of that one. The Packers are favored by 3, and the over/under is 58.5.

3. Denver Broncos [6] — Peyton Manning has thrown for more yards than the opposing quarterback for nine games in a row, and he threw 4 TDs against Miami. Most 4-TD games this season:

1. Peyton Manning, 4
t2. Tom Brady, 3
t2. Andrew Luck, 3
t4. Aaron Rodgers, 2
t4. Ben Roethlisberger, 2

Most 4-TD games, career:

1. Peyton Manning, 35
2. Drew Brees, 25
3. Brett Favre, 23
4. Tom Brady, 22
5. Dan Marino, 21

4. Indianapolis Colts [5] — Andrew Luck took 5 sacks against Jacksonville, tying a career-high. But Luck has taken a big step forward this season; his performance has nearly caught up to the hype. Luck threw more TDs in his first nine games this season (26) than in either of his first two years, and his passer rating has jumped from 76.5 as a rookie to 87.0 in 2013 to 99.4 this season. It's frustrating that so many analysts spent two years talking about Luck like he was already the player he was going to become, but Luck is smart, talented, mature, and a hard worker — he'll likely continue to improve.

I wrote the section above, including "nearly caught up to the hype," before I heard Chris Berman, on Monday Night Countdown, tell viewers, "Andrew's gonna win about three, four Super Bowls." There are a dozen Hall of Famers who didn't win two Super Bowls, to say nothing of three or four. I'd give five-to-one odds that Luck retires with fewer than three Super Bowl rings, and that's nothing against Luck. Football is a team sport, and being a great quarterback doesn't assure any championships.

So, I take it back. Luck's performance is still nowhere near the hype. And it's not Luck's fault. He's a great quarterback and a humble guy. But assuring viewers that Luck will do what Dan Marino and Brett Favre and John Elway and company did not, that's just a near-impossible standard.

5. Arizona Cardinals [3] — Sacked Russell Wilson seven times, blocked a field goal, and held Marshawn Lynch to 39 yards on 15 attempts. But their own offense produced just 12 first downs and 204 yards. The Seahawks have a good defense, and they're tough in Seattle, so I don't think it's fair to pin this on Drew Stanton, but Cardinal fans are surely nervous after a pair of mediocre games from their substitute QB.

6. Kansas City Chiefs [4] — There are a million excuses for what happened on Thursday night. Pouring rain. A road game on a short week. A fluke loss to a division rival. Okay, three excuses, not a million. But I don't believe that performance was indicative of this team's skill. They'd won five in a row before that — against average opponents (combined 26-29, .473), not beating up on the Jaguars and Bucs every week.

7. Miami Dolphins [7] — A 3-point loss in Denver doesn't make you think this is a weak team. But the Dolphins have traditionally struggled in cold weather, and two of the next three are outdoors, against the Jets and Patriots.

8. Seattle Seahawks [13] — After a 3-3 start, they've won four of their last five. They play at San Francisco on Thanksgiving, a critical game in a nasty rivalry. The Niners are slight favorites, about ½-point at this writing.

DeShawn Shead blocked a punt with his face on Sunday.

9. Philadelphia Eagles [10] — Three different Eagles have scored on some form of kick return this year: Darren Sproles, Chris Polk, and Josh Huff have combined for four return TDs. No other team has more than 1 KR TD in 2014.

10. Dallas Cowboys [9] — Two of their next three games are against the Eagles. That's bad scheduling, and it seems like it happens more often every season. It's more interesting, and more aesthetically pleasing, when those games are spread out.

11. Pittsburgh Steelers [11] — Eleven of the AFC's 16 teams have winning records. Nine of them are at least 7-4, including everyone in the AFC North. Conversely, everyone in the NFC South is 4-7 or below, with a combined record of 13-30-1. Excluding their wins against each other, the NFC South is a collective 6-23-1 (.217). The AFC North teams are 10-1-1 against the NFC South; the lone loser? Pittsburgh, who lost 27-24 at home (!) against Tampa Bay in Week 4.

12. Buffalo Bills [14] — Largest margin of victory since 1992. Maybe they should play all their home games in Detroit.

13. Baltimore Ravens [12] — That was a nasty horse-collar tackle by Lardarius Webb on the opening drive. It paid off: that play absolutely saved a touchdown, and the Saints turned the ball over without scoring. The Ravens have to be a little worried about what happened to their defense on Monday night. They gave up 525 yards, and that banged-up secondary looked really vulnerable. If Justin Forsett doesn't have the game of his life, that's a loss.

14. Detroit Lions [8] — Not an explosive offense. They haven't scored 30 points in a game since Week 1, and haven't scored a touchdown in the last two games. The offensive performance against New England was horrific: under 3 yards per carry by their running backs, and 18-of-46 passing with 2 sacks and an interception.

15. Cincinnati Bengals [20] — I hate when people base their rankings on head-to-head results any later than Week 2 or so.

Week 10: Browns 24, Bengals 3
Week 11: Texans 23, Browns 7
Week 12: Bengals 22, Texans 13

If you use a strict head-to-head system, this creates a paradox, an endless loop of Bengals > Texans > Browns > Bengals.

16. San Francisco 49ers [16] — Uninspired win, at home against a struggling opponent. They did a nice job against RG3, but got gashed by Alfred Morris (season-high 125 yds), never got their run game going, and committed three turnovers. Anquan Boldin powered the offense (9 rec, 137 yds, TD). I feel like he's been underrated for about the last five years.

17. St. Louis Rams [15] — Since the bye, they're 3-5. All eight games were against teams that are 7-4 or better, with a combined record of 60-28 (.682). They also faced the 8-3 Cowboys in Week 3.

Johnny Hekker is now 2-for-2 passing on fake punts. Maybe they should try him at quarterback.

18. San Diego Chargers [21] — This rank seems low for a 7-4 team, but half the league is 7-4 (literally, there are 16 teams with at least seven wins), and I grade on current strength. The Chargers haven't had an impressive victory since Week 5. You have to think this is a better team with Ryan Mathews — if he stays healthy.

19. New Orleans Saints [17] — It didn't affect the final outcome, but what a horrible decision by Nick Toon at the end of the game. With :52 remaining and New Orleans trying to tie, Toon caught the ball about a yard from the sideline and dove upfield instead of out of bounds. He gained two yards, but cost his team its last timeout. Nick Toon should stick to showing SpongeBob SquarePants and Power Rangers.

Most losses by 7 or less this season: Saints (5), Buccaneers (5), Raiders (5), many tied (3)

Most losses by 3 or less this season: Saints (4), Titans (3), many tied (2)

20. Houston Texans [18] — Ryan Mallett tore his right pectoral muscle during warmups, but played through it ... badly. Mallett went 21-of-45 for just 189 yards (4.2/att) and an interception (49.2 rating). We talk sometimes about the difference between being injured and being hurt. The latter you can sometimes gut through, but when you're too banged up to play, you have a responsibility to your teammates and coaches to take yourself out of the game. Going out there and playing like crap doesn't make me think Mallett is tough and a leader; it makes me think he's more interested in proving himself than helping the team. This is a season-ending injury, so Ryan Fitzpatrick is back in at QB, with a chance of seeing rookie Tom Savage at some point.

21. Cleveland Browns [19] — A week after they lost Karlos Dansby (sprained MCL), safety Tashaun Gipson tore an MCL, and is done for the regular season. They've lost two of their three best defensive players. Don't walk under any ladders, Joe Haden.

22. Atlanta Falcons [22] — Defense played great this weekend, intercepting Brian Hoyer (who came in with only 5 picks all season) three times and repeatedly forcing the Browns to settle for field goals. They mishandled the clock with a chance to win.

23. Minnesota Vikings [24] — Among the four rookie QBs who have started this season — Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, and Zach Mettenberger — Bridgewater ranks 2nd in completion percentage, 3rd in yards per attempt and net yards per attempt, 3rd in yards per completion, last in TD percentage, 2nd-best in INT percentage and sack percentage, 2nd in first down percentage, and 3rd in passer rating. He has the 2nd-best rushing stats, and the fewest fumbles.

He's not committing a lot of turnovers, so the main improvement you'd like to see from Teddy at this point is big plays: touchdowns and long completions. It's great he's not making too many mistakes, but you'd like to see him open things up and take a few chances as he becomes more comfortable at the pro level.

24. Chicago Bears [27] — They've won two in a row. I have trouble moving them up, because: (1) they beat bad teams, with a combined record of 6-16; (2) both games were at home; (3) they didn't win impressively; and (4) their previous two games were embarrassing losses. Jay Cutler seems to be getting worse as the season goes on. How do you face the 27th-ranked defense in the NFL — missing one of its best players — with weapons like Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Martellus Bennett at your disposal, and only pass for 112 net yards on 30 attempts?

25. New York Jets [23] — This is bigger than Geno Smith and Michael Vick. Neither one has played well, but it's not entirely their fault. There's just not a lot of talent on this team (except on the defensive line).

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [25] — Played without Lavonte David (hamstring). Should have played without Josh McCown (inaccuracy).

27. Washington [26] — Robert Griffin III leads the NFL in sack percentage, 14.4%, but let's a take a week off from RGIII ... here's where I believe the game was lost. It was a 10-10 tie with about 8:00 left in the fourth quarter. Washington had 4th-and-2 at the San Francisco 28-yard line. When you're facing a superior opponent — and I think everyone agrees that the 49ers are better than Washington — you have to take some chances. In a conservative game, the better team almost always wins. The coaching staff knows this, because they approached the Monday night game against Dallas very aggressively. Anyway, Jay Gruden chose to attempt a long field goal on 4th-and-2. The kick was good, but San Francisco got the ball back and scored a touchdown, eventually winning 17-13. Earlier in the game, Gruden had chosen a field goal on 4th-and-3 from the SF 9. Man, your team is not very good. Take some chances.

28. New York Giants [28] — Odell Beckham is really, really good.

29. Tennessee Titans [29] — Run defense got burned for the second week in a row. The Titan defense ranks 32nd in rush yards allowed, 25th in rush average, tied for second-to-last in rush TDs, dead last in rushing first downs ... the biggest problem is their linebacking corps. Safety Michael Griffin leads the team, by far, in tackles. They signed Wesley Woodyard in free agency and thought he'd patrol the middle for them. Woodyard probably is the best run-stopper on the team, but he's not contributing the way they hoped. It's not too early for a 2-9 team to be thinking about next year's draft, and the Titans should target a play-making LB or strong safety in the first or second round.

The other priority is wide receiver. In May, Tennessee drafted Taylor Lewan (who left this week's game with an ankle injury) one spot before the Giants drafted Odell Beckham, and traded out of the slot Philadelphia used to select Jordan Matthews. How this team went through a draft loaded with a position they desperately needed, and failed to draft any of those dudes, boggles the mind.

30. Carolina Panthers [30] — It's very likely that a wide receiver will be named Offensive Rookie of the Year. Quite a few are playing well, but the realistic contenders for the award are probably Odell Beckham, Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans, and Sammy Watkins. Beckham missed four games at the beginning of the season, but he's a phenomenal talent, and just played a sensational game in front of a national audience. Benjamin might have the most potential in the group. It's unfair to compare anyone to Calvin Johnson, but if Benjamin's hands improve, he is the kind of guy whose size and athleticism make him nearly impossible to cover. Even when he's not open, he's open. Evans has a similar profile, actually. He's been on fire recently, and he has the best stats in the group, which could make him the OROY front-runner. Watkins has been dealing with a groin injury just as Beckham and Evans are hitting their stride, but Watkins got off to the hottest start, and he's the only one whose team is in the playoff hunt.

31. Oakland Raiders [32] — They should probably rank a couple spots higher than this. I base these ratings on current strength, not the entire season to date, and since the Week 5 bye, the Raiders only have two losses by more than 10 points: 24-13 to Arizona, and 41-17 to Denver. In this part of the rankings, there tend to be more blowouts, and the Raiders have been competitive most weeks.

I wish that announcers would get over themselves about Khalil Mack, though. On Thursday night, Jim Nantz and Phils Simms raved about Mack almost recovering a fumble. They sounded like fanboys. Have some dignity.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars [31] — Are the Jaguars doing the same thing to Blake Bortles that they did to Helpless Blaine Gabbert? Bortles had a brutal game against the Colts, and only one of his nine appearances this year has produced more TDs than INTs. He's not making obvious improvement, and I'm not sure what the team hopes to gain by playing him before he's ready.

Check back tomorrow for Sports Central's analysis and votes on this year's Pro Bowl ballot.

Contents copyright © Sports Central 1998-2017