NFL Week 15 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* Johnny Manziel's starting debut went about as badly as possible. He went 10-of-18 for 80 yards and 2 interceptions, with 3 sacks for -26 yards. Including rushes, his 26 plays produced 67 yards (2.58 avg) and 2 turnovers. The last QB whose starting debut produced under 100 yards, multiple INTs, and a shutout loss was the Bears' Henry Burris in the final week of the 2002 season, against the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers.

* I was impressed by Manziel's postgame press conference. He came across as mature (I know, right?) and took responsibility for his own mistakes.

* Are the Browns worse with Josh Gordon? During the star wideout's suspension, Cleveland went 6-3 and Brian Hoyer threw twice as many TDs (11) as INTs (5), with an 85.6 passer rating. With Gordon in the lineup, the Browns are 1-3, and Hoyer and Manziel have combined for 0 TDs, 9 INTs, and a 44.6 rating.

* In the last two weeks, the Buffalo Bills have held Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers to a combined 358 passing yards, zero TDs and five turnovers. (h/t Yahoo!)

* Announcer of the week: Al Michaels. When Brent Celek fumbled and landed on J.J. Wilcox, Michaels announced, "You've got Celek here. He goes down on Wilcox."

NFL Discipline

I don't know the ins-and-outs of the NFL's new personal conduct policy — that's not really what I want to write about.

Actually, I'm not entirely sure what I want to write about. Some of it is Adrian Peterson, whose indefinite suspension continues through the end of the 2014 season. Some of it is players like Andrew Hawkins, who have raised awareness against murder by police officers. To me, there's a common thread linking NFL decision-makers to recent failures of the legal process: both have justified wildly disproportionate punishments for young black men, on the basis that the victims were not perfect.

Adrian Peterson is not perfect. He seems like a pretty crappy dad. But I'm really uncomfortable with the NFL's involvement in off-field activity. We have a criminal justice system in this country, based on the principle of habeus corpus and ideals like Innocent Until Proven Guilty. According to its own rules, the NFL can discipline players who have been found not guilty in a court of law, or whom the legal system declined to prosecute. It feels inappropriate for Roger Goodell to impose his own punishments on players already going through the legal process, and it sometimes seems as though the league has a 'Guilty Until Proven Innocent' approach. What makes Commissioner Goodell more qualified than a judge or jury?

Suspending Adrian Peterson is not the same as murdering an unarmed victim. But at a time when young black men are not being protected by our legal system, the NFL is imposing its own wildly excessive discipline on players. What Adrian Peterson did to his son might make him an unfit father, but it doesn't make him unfit to play football. The way the league is handling these issues is wrong. Not just from a practical standpoint; it's morally wrong, it's unfair, and it's starting to look racist. The United States has an unfortunate history of powerful white men putting black men "in their place" and overreacting to real or perceived offenses. I wish the National Football League would be mindful of that the next time it's considering discipline for off-field conduct, and that decision-makers would consider their own motives and perspectives before taking action. Sports can be a powerful vessel for social progress, but right now the NFL's handling of these issues is regressive.

I do appreciate that the league hasn't tried to discipline players for wearing clothing that supports victims of police violence, but I wish the NFL would look to its own house, as well.

2014 Week Fifteen NFL Power Rankings

Brackets indicate previous rank.

1. Seattle Seahawks [3] — Troy Aikman said at the beginning of the game, "They're playing as well as any defense ever over the last seven weeks of the season." That's obviously not true, but in the past four games, the only opponent to reach double-digits against Seattle was the Eagles, who were held to 9 first downs and 139 yards.

The Seahawks are one of two teams this season without any losses by 14 or more. The other is, believe it or not, the Houston Texans.

2. New England Patriots [2] — Second field goal block for a touchdown this season. New England has clinched its sixth consecutive division title, the most of any team in the current eight-division format.

3. Denver Broncos [4] — Peyton Manning briefly left Sunday's game — battling stomach flu, dehydration, and a thigh injury — but he should be fine going forward. Of more concern is the foot sprain for linebacker Brandon Marshall. The Broncos could really use a first-round bye, to make sure Marshall is available for their first playoff game.

4. Buffalo Bills [11] — Consider their last four games:

beat Jets, 38-3
beat Browns, 26-10
lost at Denver, 24-17
beat Packers, 21-13

That's two blowout wins, a close loss on the road against a great team (in which they broke Peyton Manning's TD streak), and a win over one of the best teams in the NFL. Based purely on that record, the Bills are probably one of the five best teams in the league right now.

5. Green Bay Packers [1] — Consider their last four games:

won at Minnesota, 24-21
beat Patriots, 26-21
beat Falcons, 43-37
lost at Buffalo, 21-13

There's one impressive game in there: the win over New England. Other than that, it's two close wins over mediocre teams, and a loss. I have real reservations about such a high ranking for a team that only plays well in half its games. The Packers are 3-4 on the road, no wins against opponents with a winning record, and two of the three by just a field goal. Green Bay is a great home team, not a great team.

6. Indianapolis Colts [5] — T.Y. Hilton played most of the game with a tweaked hamstring, but he stayed in the game and his MRI on Monday looked good, so he should be ready for Week 16. The Colts have clinched the AFC South, but they're still battling for playoff position. Indianapolis surely wants to secure at least the third seed, and avoid a trip to New England in the second week of the playoffs. The Patriots have had their number in recent meetings.

7. Dallas Cowboys [13] — DeMarco Murray broke a bone in his hand and had surgery Monday. He's expected to play against the Colts in Week 16, and the injury is to his non-ball carrying hand, so his occasional fumble problems are unlikely to worsen. Murray has 1,687 rushing yards, so even if he's close to 100%, a 2,000-yard season is unlikely. Murray would have to average 156.5 yards over the last two weeks, and he's only hit 150 twice all season.

8. Philadelphia Eagles [6] — LeSean McCoy ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing (1,132 yards). He accounts for over two-thirds of Philadelphia's rushing yardage this season, but McCoy has rushed for only 4 touchdowns, second on the team (Darren Sproles). McCoy has 67% of the team's rushing yardage and 29% of the rushing TDs. It's puzzling to see him get so few carries near the goal line.

9. St. Louis Rams [7] — Obviously, this rank requires some explanation. The Rams are 6-8, and they're ranked ahead of an 11-3 team that just swept them. They're ranked above the Cardinals solely because of Drew Stanton's injury, and because I don't believe Arizona can succeed with the quarterbacks it has healthy. The Rams lost an ugly game on Thursday night, but they didn't allow a touchdown — with that defense, St. Louis can compete with anyone. They won their previous two games by a combined 76-0, and they beat the Broncos by two touchdowns less than a month ago. Their offense was underwhelming in Week 15, but this team has played at a very high level recently, and remains a dangerous opponent.

10. Baltimore Ravens [10] — Pass rush has taken off in the absence of Pro Bowl DT Haloti Ngata. In their 12 games with Ngata — who was playing well before his suspension — the Ravens sacked opposing QBs 31 times (2.6 per game). In two games without Ngata, they've tallied 14 sacks.

11. Arizona Cardinals [8] — It's hard to know how to rate them following Drew Stanton's injury. We haven't seen much of Ryan Lindley (and even less of rookie Logan Thomas), but when Lindley started a few games in 2012, he did not perform at an NFL level. It's tough to come in cold off the bench, and the Rams have a good defense, but Lindley's limited action on Thursday night surely didn't reassure his doubters. The Cardinals have overcome injuries all season, plugging holes and continuing to win, but this might be the one that finally holds them back. You need a basic level of competence from your quarterback to be successful in this league, and right now that's a real question for Arizona. I rank teams on current strength, and with Lindley, I don't see the Cardinals as a top-10 team.

12. San Diego Chargers [9] — Philip Rivers in 2014...

First seven games: 271 net pass yds/gm, 17 TD, 3 INT, 113.0 rating
Past seven games: 229 net pass yds/gm, 10 TD, 10 INT, 83.1 rating

Rivers has gone from MVP front-runner to pretty average, but this isn't necessarily a huge drop in performance. It's at least partially a leap in competition. San Diego's second-half schedule is tougher than the first half.

13. Detroit Lions [12] — Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush are back, but they're not making a huge impact. Johnson has been Megatron in three of his six games since returning, but has been held under 60 yards, with no TDs, in the other three. Bush has a combined 51 yards from scrimmage in two games since his own return from injury. His lack of involvement in the offense this season is hard to understand. But the Lions continue to win with defense. Since the bye, five of their six opponents have scored under 20 points, granted that they haven't faced a murderer's row of offenses during that time.

14. Kansas City Chiefs [14] — Rookie kicker Cairo Santos, who had only missed two field goals all season, missed two more against Oakland on Sunday. Neither were chip shots, but both were inside 50 yards, which you expect to convert. Santos is only 5/8 from 40-49 yards. The 8-6 Chiefs have critical games the next two weeks, against fellow playoff contenders Pittsburgh and San Diego. Wins in both would virtually guarantee a playoff appearance, while a loss in either one — especially the Steelers in Week 16 — would be devastating.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers [16] — Lead the NFL in total offense, 425 yards per game. Ben Roethlisberger already has the most passing yards of his career (4,415), and he has out-passed the opposing QB in 12 of their 14 games this season.

16. Cincinnati Bengals [17] — Fourth shutout victory in the last 30 years. All four were against the Browns, the most recent being December 2008. The Bengals have won four of their last five, and six of the last eight. They're 2-3 against teams with winning records, sweeping the Ravens but losing to the Patriots, Colts, and Steelers by a combined 112-38. The last two games are against Denver and Pittsburgh. A win in either one would probably get Cincinnati into the playoffs, for the fourth straight season.

17. Miami Dolphins [15] — Followed a close first half (down 14-13) with a blowout second half (27-0), and allowed a season-high 41 points. Third-year head coach Joe Philbin apparently will be fired at the end of the season. Evidently players don't like him, so perhaps a change is necessary, but his on-field results merit another year.

18. Atlanta Falcons [19] — Kept it close against Pittsburgh, even without Julio Jones. Head coach Mike Smith says he expects Julio back for this week's critical matchup against New Orleans. The Falcons are 5-9 and third place in the NFC South, but they control their own destiny, with remaining games against both the Saints and Panthers. Win both, and they're division champs.

19. Minnesota Vikings [20] — Out-gained the Lions 360-233, and 21 first downs to 11. They lost on turnovers and missed field goals, including a 68-yarder as time expired.

20. New Orleans Saints [23] — Third straight road win. With three takeaways and seven sacks, the lowly New Orleans D/ST scored 14 points in most fantasy leagues this week, though I don't expect a lot of owners used the Saints in the fantasy playoffs.

21. San Francisco 49ers [22] — It's not fair to blame their loss on injuries and poor officiating. But there's some truth to both ideas. Running back Frank Gore left with a concussion, backup Carlos Hyde left with an injury, and linebacker Chris Borland missed most of the second half with an ankle injury.

The 49ers were also on the wrong end of a terrible roughing the passer penalty, which turned a likely field goal for Seattle into a touchdown. Rodney Harrison was livid on NBC: "The worst call of the day ... A clean hit. That is garbage." It was a textbook tackle, and if the NFL is really going to make progress on player safety, it needs to protect clean hits just as much as it needs to penalize dirty ones. Head of officiating Dean Blandino has conceded that it was the wrong call. The 49ers have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

22. Houston Texans [18] — Down to their fourth QB. They'd rank 17th with either of the Ryans (Fitzpatrick and Mallett), but not with fourth-round rookie Tom Savage, and certainly not with newly-signed Thad Lewis and Case Keenum.

23. New York Giants [27] — Eli Manning targeted Odell Beckham on 15 of his 34 passes, but maybe he should just throw to Beckham exclusively. The rookie phenom caught 12 passes for 143 yards and 3 TDs. He also drew 40 yards worth of pass interference penalties and had an impressive 30-yard TD nullified by a holding penalty.

24. Cleveland Browns [21] — Comments on Manziel and Gordon at the top... Cleveland's defensive backfield is really banged up. Joe Haden left this week's game with a shoulder injury, and Justin Gilbert got a concussion. They were already missing K'Waun Williams, Robert Nelson, and Tashaun Gipson.

25. New York Jets [25] — Last two games are against the Patriots and Dolphins. The Jets are 0-4 against the AFC East, one of four teams winless in its own division. The others are the Jaguars (0-4) and the Buccaneers and Vikings (both 0-5).

26. Carolina Panthers [29] — Derek Anderson has passed for 5 TDs, no interceptions, and a 105.2 passer rating. The Panthers are 2-0 when Anderson starts, compared to 3-8-1 with Cam Newton. Maybe that's just because both of Anderson's start came against Tampa Bay, but I don't see any reason for Newton to rush his recovery from that car crash. Anderson has been effective in this offense, and there's even an argument to be made that he got a raw deal in Cleveland.

27. Oakland Raiders [24] — I find it hard to believe that Derek Carr gives them a better chance to win than Matt Schaub. His play might be an acceptable fit on a team with a strong run game and good defense, because Carr has not made a lot of negative plays this season. He hasn't thrown a lot of interceptions, and he's among the best in the league at avoiding sacks. But bad teams — and the Raiders are quite bad — need playmakers. Carr just doesn't create positive plays. His average yardage is the worst in the NFL.

28. Chicago Bears [28] — I love bad Monday night games. It's worth sitting through three hours of booing to hear Steve Young and Trent Dilfer freaking out after the really awful performances. Their frustration with Jay Cutler was more entertaining than the game itself. His recent extension remains the most mind-boggling decision of the offseason.

29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [26] — Last two games are both at home. They're 0-6 in Tampa this season, the only team without a home win. The Bucs and Jets are both double-digit underdogs at home in Week 16 (against the Packers and Patriots, respectively).

30. Jacksonville Jaguars [30] — Eighth game this season scoring 14 or fewer. They rank last in the NFL in points per game (15.1).

31. Washington [31] — The league has been good this year about requiring "indisputable visual evidence" to overturn the call on replay reviews. Of course, with Jeff Triplette, the legendary King of Incompetence, the normal rules don't apply. On the last play of the first half, Robert Griffin rushed for a touchdown, but following a replay, Triplette ruled that Griffin had lost possession before crossing the plane, and never regained it.

Veteran wideout Santana Moss was so infuriated with Triplette that he drew two unsportmanslike conduct penalties and got ejected from the game. Instead of a 17-7 halftime lead, with momentum and the first possession of the second half, Washington went in up 3, and the Giants kicked off from so far down the field (due to the penalties on Moss) that they tried — and recovered — an onside kick, setting up a game-tying field goal and setting the tone for the second half.

In the FOX studio, Michael Strahan was sympathetic to Moss: "He had a legitimate argument. I don't know what a touchdown is if that isn't a touchdown." Griffin said after the game, "It's a touchdown in every game I've ever seen. They decided that it wasn't today." He did appear to briefly lose possession of the ball, but nothing about that call was indisputable. Triplette is proof that the NFL has no performance standards for its referees. Once you're selected for that position, nothing can get you fired.

32. Tennessee Titans [32] — They're three-point underdogs to the Jaguars in Week 16. Charlie Whitehurst will start at quarterback.

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