Tuesday, September 15, 2015

2015 NFL Week 1 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Week 1 Game Balls

Offense — Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers. 168 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns, and a slick spin move.

Defense — J.J. Watt, DL, Houston Texans. Nine tackles, including 6 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. This despite double- and triple-teams.

Special Teams — Brandon McManus, K, Denver Broncos. Hit 56- and 57-yard field goals before the end of the first quarter. He finished with 13 points on four field goals, and five of his six kickoffs went for touchbacks, the exception being a squib kick before the half.

Honorable Mentions: WR Antonio Brown, DB Josh Norman, P Sam Koch

Five Quick Hits

* Congratulations to U.S. Open champions Novak Djokovic and Flavia Pennetta, the latter of whom won her first-ever Grand Slam, then retired at age 33.

* Marshawn Lynch getting stuffed on 4th-and-1 in overtime doesn't mean the Patriots would have done the same thing in the Super Bowl. But hopefully it does bring a sense of perspective to the morons who think passing at the goal line was the worst coaching decision in the history of football.

* The worst coaching decision in the history of football was the Giants on Sunday night, but maybe not for the reason you think. See below. Pretty far below, since the Giants are ranked quite low this week.

* Washington has cut kicker Kai Forbath, who missed a 46-yard field goal on Sunday. Talk about a scapegoat, I don't think the placekicker was the reason they lost. The punter, maybe, or the coaching staff, or the backup wide receivers. I'm pretty sure Forbath was innocent.

* It seemed like there were a lot of penalties this week. But in 2014, teams averaged 6.6 penalties for 55.5 yards. This week, they averaged 6.4 penalties for 52.1 yards.

Week 1 Rant: Commercials During 30-Second Timeouts

I think it was two years ago that I first noticed a tv network showing ads during 30-second timeouts. Now ESPN and NBC do it pretty regularly. This is the wrong way to broadcast football.

On Thursday night, with :13 left in the first half, Pittsburgh had 3rd-and-5 at the New England 26-yard line. This was immediately following the play on which Darius Heyward-Bey's toe slid over the line on an apparent touchdown catch, and Al Michaels was freaking out about the Steelers' mismanagement of the clock. And when Pittsburgh took timeout — perfectly meshing with Michaels' complaint — NBC showed a commercial. In an instant, the tension dissipated. It's the kind of clown move by a network that pulls you out of the football game and reminds you you're watching television.

I've got no problem with the networks making a buck, but fit in your advertising somewhere else. During a :30 timeout, stay with the game. Showing ads in that time makes for a poor show, and it's disrespectful to viewers.

Okay, on to the Week 1 NFL Power Rankings. Brackets show last week's preseason power ranking.

1. New England Patriots [4] — Tom Brady has always responded well to adversity. This is a guy who still has a chip on his shoulder about his draft status 15 years ago, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that after an offseason defined by scandal, he recovered from a rusty first quarter to finish with 4 TDs and a 143.8 passer rating. The young offensive line looked fine, and Rob Gronkowski is a monster. If there's a concern following Week 1, it has to be run defense, right? DeAngelo Williams averaged over 6 yards a carry.

2. Green Bay Packers [3] — They were losing at halftime, and they couldn't stop Matt Forte (141 rush yds, 5.9 avg, TD). The Bears had more yards, more first downs, and a higher third down percentage. The Packers won because they turned yards into touchdowns, scoring 4 TDs in five trips to the red zone. The offense did what we expected, but defense is a concern.

3. Cincinnati Bengals [9] — Took a 33-0 lead into the fourth quarter. The offense played well, the defense played well, and the special teams were actually kind of bad but it wasn't a big deal. Adam Jones reportedly will not be suspended for ripping off Amari Cooper's helmet and then slamming Cooper's head onto it. The NFL's intense interest in player's off-field lives, contrasted with its total indifference to premeditated violence during actual football games, baffles me completely.

4. Denver Broncos [1] — Won the Kubiak Bowl, with new head coach Gary Kubiak getting the win over the team whose offense he coordinated in 2014. Peyton Manning did not look good in Week 1, but let's calm down a little bit about one game. Denver's offensive line did not play well on Sunday, failing to open running lanes and putting Manning under pressure. But the Broncos ultimately did what they had to. They outplayed the Ravens in every offensive stat: yards (+46), first downs (+4), third down percentage (+29%), and time of possession (+14:34). Manning threw for 11 first downs in Week 1, more than Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson. Yeah, it was a rough game. It's premature to bury either the quarterback or the team.

5. Buffalo Bills [18] — Auspicious debut for Rex Ryan, as the Bills took a 24-0 lead before coasting to a 27-14 victory over the Colts. Pro Bowl defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, suspended for Week 1, returns for next week's game against New England. Most bookmakers have the game as pick 'em.

6. Seattle Seahawks [2] — Loved this exchange on NFL Network's Gameday Final:

Chris Rose: "Is it as simple as 'where's Kam Chancellor' or is there more to it with Seattle?"

Deion Sanders: "There's a lot more to it, but let's start right there."

The Rams converted 6/11 third downs (55%) and scored 34 points, more than Seattle allowed in any game last season. Nick Foles joined a select group of passers to attain a rating over 100 against the Seahawk defense. Chancellor, the Pro Bowl safety who is holding out for a better contract, sat out Week 1, and it's easy to believe his absence was the difference was between a win and a loss. The Seahawks are 3-point underdogs at Green Bay in Week 2.

7. Arizona Cardinals [7] — Carson Palmer passed for 307 yards, 3 TDs, no interceptions, no sacks, and a 122.8 passer rating. As long as Palmer stays healthy, the Cardinals should remain competitive. They're 2-point favorites at Chicago in Week 2, which is less than I expected. Andre Ellington has a PCL sprain, and will probably miss 2-3 weeks. His health is a constant question, and I don't think the Cardinals (or Ellington's fantasy owners) can count on his being consistently available.

8. Indianapolis Colts [5] — T.Y. Hilton's bruised knee is expected to keep him out for 1-2 weeks. On Monday, the team described his status as day-to-day. Fantasy owners, I wouldn't play him in Week 2; even if he starts the game, he's likely to be limited, maybe just a decoy. I'm reluctant to judge the Colts too harshly for their performance against a strong Buffalo defense.

9. Kansas City Chiefs [10] — Surprisingly easy win, as KC took 14-0 and 27-6 leads before a pair of late scores made it close. Who needs wide receivers when you've got Jamaal Charles and Travis Kelce?

10. St. Louis Rams [17] — 2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year Aaron Donald continued his rise toward stardom, with 5 tackles, 4 assists, 3 TFL, and 2 sacks. But the real surprise was their offense. Last year, the Seahawks never allowed 34 points in a game. Credit has to begin with new quarterback Nick Foles, who lost two fumbles, but finished with 276 net passing yards, 2 TDs (1 pass, 1 rush), and a 115.8 passer rating. Under Jeff Fisher, the Rams have won three of their four home games against the Seahawks.

11. New York Jets [15] — Lead the NFL in turnover differential, +4. A weak opponent and some good luck factored into the runaway 31-10 win, as the teams fumbled a combined five times, and New York recovered all five. Antonio Cromartie injured his knee, and although it's not clear at this writing, early indications are that he's out for the season.

12. San Diego Chargers [13] — Fell behind 21-3, then scored 30 straight points to win. Keenan Allen, although he tipped a pass that got intercepted, had a huge game, catching 15 of 17 targets for 166 yards. The Chargers outgained Detroit 483-302, converted 28 first downs, and dominated time of possession, 38:12 - 21:48 (+16:24).

13. Miami Dolphins [6] — Got a big play on special teams, and the defense held up reasonably well, though they had some trouble stopping the run. The offense was not sharp in Week 1, held to 256 yards and 10 offensive points. Tight end Jordan Cameron made a couple nice plays on Sunday, but he dropped like a quail after every catch. Cameron is listed at 6-5, 260. Why is he falling down when he gets hit by a cornerback he outweighs by 60 pounds? Cameron's willingness to be tackled was especially disturbing contrasted with 200-lb. Jarvis Landry fighting through three defenders.

14. Baltimore Ravens [14] — Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles tendon for the second time in the last 3½ years, and will miss the rest of the season. This game was poison for fantasy football owners, as both teams combined for 392 yards, 27 first downs, and no offensive touchdowns. Neither team even ran a play in the red zone until the final four minutes.

15. Houston Texans [12] — It turns out Brian Hoyer didn't get a very long leash as starting QB. Hoyer was hooked in the fourth quarter, and Ryan Mallett led the Texans to their best drives. It's not clear who will start in Week 2, but it's pretty obvious that the coaches don't have much confidence in either player.

16. Detroit Lions [11] — Last year's mighty defense begins the 2015 season ranked dead last, allowing 483 yards to San Diego. The Lions are also last in time of possession, 21:48. The Chargers took away Calvin Johnson, and secondary weapons like Golden Tate and Eric Ebron couldn't take advantage. Rookie RB Ameer Abdullah continues to impress, but Matthew Stafford just hasn't developed since his breakout 2011 season, and the Lions probably aren't a playoff team without an explosive passing game.

17. Philadelphia Eagles [8] — Punted on their first four possessions, and the offense looked out of sync. They need to run the ball more effectively, especially on early downs. DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews combined to carry 11 times for 13 yards. Murray scored an 8-yard TD, and other than that, his 8 attempts gained 1 yard. The Eagles went 3/12 on third downs, because they faced too many 3rd-and-long.

18. Dallas Cowboys [16] — Dez Bryant's broken foot isn't their only problem, as promising rookie Randy Gregory suffered a high-ankle sprain. Both players expect to miss 4-8 weeks; ESPN Dallas doesn't expect Bryant back until November. It's pretty rare to finish -3 in turnovers and still win, but the Cowboys outplayed New York more than the score and the dramatic finish implied. Dallas had 150 more yards, 50% more first downs, and a 14:20 edge in time of possession, basically a full quarter.

19. Pittsburgh Steelers [19] — I can't believe that, following an offseason defined by scandal and cheating accusations, the Patriots would deliberately tamper with opponents' communications in a nationally-televised season opener. Multiple coaches have pointed out that this problem occurs outside of New England, as well, and the league says that electrical problems and bad weather caused the interference experienced by the Steelers.

The Patriots won comfortably, but if new kicker Josh Scobee had made the 44- and 46-yard field goals he missed, Antonio Brown's last-minute TD might have led to a 28-26 game, with a two-point conversion to send the game into overtime. Last year, NFL kickers made 77% of their field goals between 40-49 yards, and injured Steeler kicker Shaun Suisham went 10/10. If Scobee hits those kicks, it could be a different game. Of course, you could just as easily blame a defense that lost coordinator Dick LeBeau and captain Troy Polamalu. The Steeler defense seemed confused on Thursday night, and several times failed to cover all-pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots' most dangerous offensive weapon.

20. Atlanta Falcons [24] — Seven teams have new head coaches this season. In Week 1, those seven teams went 5-2, with Todd Bowles (NYJ), Gary Kubiak (DEN), Dan Quinn (ATL), Rex Ryan (BUF), and Jim Tomsula (SF) all winning their debuts with the new club. Only Jack Del Rio (OAK) and John Fox (CHI) came up short, and both were facing pretty tough odds.

21. New Orleans Saints [22] — Both teams gained just over 400 yards, but Arizona went 3/3 in the red zone, while the Saints went 1/4, with three field goals. That's where they miss Jimmy Graham the most. Neither Mark Ingram (9 att, 24 yds) nor Khiry Robinson (8 att, 19 yds) ran effectively against the Cardinals. Despite the disappointing Week 1, New Orleans is my Week 2 choice in survivor pools. The Saints are 10-point favorites over the visiting Bucs.

22. Carolina Panthers [23] — With Kelvin Benjamin out for the year, the offense is going to struggle. But the defense dominated Jacksonville. Mario Addison had two sacks and a pass deflection. Thomas Davis made 7 tackles, a sack, and an interception. Josh Norman had a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown. All-pro linebacker Luke Kuechly left the game with a concussion. His status for Week 2 is unclear.

23. San Francisco 49ers [28] — Great defensive performance and an easy win. But their offense was very one-dimensional on Monday night. They rushed for 230 yards, 14 first downs, and 2 TDs. They passed for 165 yards, 8 first downs, and no TDs. Carlos Hyde averaged more yards per rush than Colin Kaepernick did as a passer. I don't necessarily blame Kaepernick: where are the weapons for him to throw to? Anquan Boldin's a player, but this is his 13th season. Vernon Davis seems to be past his years as a downfield threat. Torrey Smith has always been inconsistent. It was a nice start to the season, but plenty of questions remain.

Also, and I know this is important to you, I do not approve of San Francisco's black jerseys. Their colors are red and gold.

24. Chicago Bears [25] — Lead the NFL in third down percentage (11/17, 65%). They have more tough games the next two weeks, against the Cardinals and at Seattle.

25. Cleveland Browns [21] — Johnny Manziel and Josh McCown rushed 8 times for 58 yards (6.3 avg), but their running backs rushed 20 times for 46 yards (2.3 avg). The Browns aren't going to win a lot of shootouts this year, but they can do some good things if the offense takes care of the ball and the defense holds up. What they can't afford are mistakes: turnovers (1 INT, 4 lost fumbles) and penalties (12 for 109 yards) sunk the Browns on Sunday. McCown left the game with a concussion, and it's not clear whether he'll be available for Week 2.

26. Tennessee Titans [31] — Marcus Mariota posted the maximum 158.3 passer rating on 16 attempts in his NFL debut, and the Titans coasted to a 42-14 victory over Tampa. This was the only game of the weekend with no field goals attempted by either team. Mariota and the Titans looked great against the hapless Bucs, but one game against a bad opponent doesn't prove much, and Tennessee remains a 2-point underdog at Cleveland in Week 2.

27. New York Giants [27] — Three mistakes at the end of the game:

1. Rashad Jennings told ESPN's Dan Graziano that he was told not to score on first and second down. Apparently the Giants misunderstood that Dallas had two timeouts, not one.

2. I actually don't have a problem with calling a pass on third down, but when no one came open, Eli Manning needed to slide. Ten yards isn't a big deal in that situation — Josh Brown can handle a 30-yard field goal — but it was important to keep the clock running.

3. When Eli threw the ball away, the Giants should have gone for the touchdown. Kicking the 19-yard field goal, with 1:34 left, was a loser's move. Here's an exchange from the postgame press conference:

Reporter: "Did you think on fourth down, was there thoughts of going for it?"

Tom Coughlin: "There was, but, I mean, why would you let them get to midfield and kick a field goal to tie? That was my only thought there, I mean, was to come away with some points."

Every year, two-point conversion percentage is just under 50%, and that's a play from the two-yard line. New York was at the 1-yard line, and probably had a better than 50% opportunity to win outright on a single play. The Giants were already ahead by three, so a successful TD would have iced the game. Even if the play failed, you leave the Cowboys pinned at their own 1 with 1:30 to go. That's probably at least 60 yards for a realistic shot at the game-tying field goal. Instead, the Giants expanded their lead to 6, but gave Dallas 72 yards for a game-winning TD. I'd rather give up the 12-yard advantage than risk losing in regulation.

Summed up, here's why going for the TD was the proper call:

1. The odds of scoring the TD are over 50%, and that wins the game.

2. Even if you miss the TD, you have a better chance of winning, because:

3. Kicking off gave the Cowboys about the same chance of scoring a TD, as possession at the 1 relative gave them of scoring a field goal.

4. A Dallas field goal sends the game to overtime. A Dallas touchdown means you lose.

Statistically, teams lose more often when they're up by 4-6 points in the last minute than when they're up by only three. If you're ahead by a field goal, your opponent tries to tie, and you can still win in overtime. When you're up by 4-6, your opponent has to — and often does — drive for a game-winning touchdown. The Cowboys' victory, after Brown's field goal, was so predictable. The mind-boggling don't-score directive was compounded by Eli's bad decision, which in turn was compounded by even worse coaching from Coughlin. He coached like a loser, and deserved to lose. Man, Marty Schottenheimer thinks you were too conservative.

28. Minnesota Vikings [20] — Last in the NFL in run defense, by over 40 yards. And yet, their offense (248 yards, 3 points) was even worse. Teddy Bridgewater averaged 4.8 net yards per attempt, while Adrian Peterson rushed 10 times for 31 yards. Minnesota went 1/11 on third- and fourth-down conversion attempts.

29. Washington [29] — DeSean Jackson strained his left hamstring on the first series, and it clearly disrupted their offensive gameplan. Washington also had 11 accepted penalties, including 40 yards against the offense on back-to-back drives in the second half. Washington was leading 10-7, with 3rd-and-5 at the Miami 23-yard line. Three consecutive penalties made it 3rd-and-29 at the 47, pushing the team out of field goal range. Miami scored a tying field goal, and on the next drive a series of penalties backed Washington up to its own 6-yard line. The ensuing punt was returned a for a game-winning touchdown.

Washington's special teams have been awful ever since the departure of longtime special teams coordinator Danny Smith. I don't think the current coaching staff understands that special teams are important. It's not apparent that the players practice anything other than maybe blocking for punts and field goals. Badly-coached teams lose games on special teams and penalties. Washington has some talented players, but there's no one steering the ship.

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [26] — No one should give up on Jameis Winston after one game, but you've got to be disappointed in their defense, which made Marcus Mariota and Bishop Sankey look like superstars. The Bucs also had way too many penalties, 12 for 97 yards.

31. Oakland Raiders [30] — Both starting safeties are injured. Charles Woodson dislocated his shoulder and Nate Allen tore his ACL. In the offseason, I set the over/under for Jack Del Rio's tenure at 2.25 seasons. That may have been optimistic.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars [32] — Blake Bortles had 5 sacks, 2 INTs, and a 54.5 passer rating. You just can't go wrong betting against the Jacksonville offense. Paul Posluszny played well against Carolina, with 8 tackles and an interception.

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