Tuesday, October 6, 2015

2015 NFL Week 4 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

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Week 4 Game Balls

Offense — Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons. Gained 149 yards from scrimmage and scored 3 touchdowns. He left in the third quarter to stay healthy and avoid running up the score, or the numbers would be even greater. Freeman had 44-yard, 24-yard, 23-yard, and 16-yard plays, the latter two both touchdowns.

Defense — Josh Norman, DB, Carolina Panthers. The first-month-of-the-season Defensive Player of the Year. This week, he had two interceptions, one of them returned 80 yards for a touchdown. For the 2015 season, he already has 8 passes defensed, 4 INTs, over 100 return yards, and 2 TDs. Add in a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, and that's five takeaways in four games.

Special Teams — Cairo Santos, K, Kansas City Chiefs. Made seven field goals, including two 51-yarders, to account for all 21 points in the Chiefs' loss to Cincinnati.

Rookie — Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams. In his second game back from injury, and his first extended action, Gurley carried 19 times for 146 yards (7.7 avg). He also slid in bounds to run out the clock and clinch the win, on a play when he probably could have scored a touchdown.

Honorable Mentions: QB Philip Rivers, DB T.J. Ward, P Brad Wing

Five Quick Hits

* Alex Smith passed for a career-high 386 yards against Cincinnati. This is his 11th season, and since he entered the league, there have been 115 400-yard passing games. Thirty-six different passers have hit that mark, and 20 have more than one. Smith has zero.

* Kudos to FOX for showing the end of Broncos/Vikings and Rams/Cardinals. I would have loved for them to cut away from the Packers/49ers game even sooner to show the more competitive contests, but this still shows an interest in making viewers happy. CBS would never do that.

* Players who began the season with four-game suspensions return next week. Notably, that includes Martavis Bryant, Antonio Gates, Greg Hardy, and Sheldon Richardson.

* Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal was only 27 yards, but his 54-yard field goal in the first quarter turned out to be critical. It was Vinatieri's longest field goal since 2002.

* In more kicker news, Arizona's Chandler Catanzaro and San Diego's Josh Lambo combined for four tackles on Sunday. Kickers! With multiple tackles!

Okay, Week 4 NFL Power Rankings. Brackets show previous rank.

1. New England Patriots [1] — Lead the NFL in points per game, yards per game, passing yards per game, and third down percentage. Tom Brady spent an offseason dealing with doubters and haters, and this is how he handles doubters and haters.

2. Green Bay Packers [2] — Broke a four-game losing streak against the 49ers. Aaron Rodgers is the only quarterback to start four games this season without throwing an interception (Tom Brady could tie him next week). Rodgers also leads the league in touchdown passes. Best TD/INT +/- in the NFL:

1. Rodgers, +11
2. Brady, +9
3. Andy Dalton, +8
4. Carson Palmer, +7
5. tie, +6

3. Cincinnati Bengals [3] — Top-10 in rushing, passing, and scoring. Cornerbacks Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick both had injuries this weekend, but early indications are that both will play in Week 5, a marquee game against the visiting Seahawks. The Bengals haven't begun 5-0 since 1988.

4. Denver Broncos [5] — Peyton Manning continues to struggle, but the run game showed some life, and they sacked Teddy Bridgewater seven times. Credit to Wade Phillips, who blitzed on the game-clinching sack. So many coaches try to play it safe there, play not to lose. Phillips coached to win. The Broncos lead the NFL in sacks (18). That's on pace to tie the 1984 Bears' single-season record (72).

5. Seattle Seahawks [6] — I don't understand the Jimmy Graham trade at all. They traded a high draft pick and their best offensive lineman, center Max Unger, to acquire him. The offensive line, missing Unger, is terrible. And they're not using Graham! Jimmy Graham spent five years in the league without throwing a block; you knew what you were getting when you made the trade. The Seahawks are a distinctly worse team because of the trade; their blocking is abysmal.

6. New York Jets [8] — Could have given this game away with mistakes. They had 14 penalties for 163 yards and 5 Miami first downs. Nick Folk missed a 40-yard field goal. Devin Smith gave up a 38-yard INT return because he was complaining to the officials, without touching the returner first. Ryan Quigley punted line drives and the coverage team left holes (other than Marcus Williams, who was great). It was a nice win, over a hated rival, but there's a lot of room for improvement.

7. Atlanta Falcons [10] — Led 42-0 in the fourth quarter before a meaningless comeback made the score respectable. Atlanta defenders were credited with 10 passes defensed, and the Falcons proved they can win big even without superhuman performances from Julio Jones (4 rec, 38 yds).

8. Arizona Cardinals [4] — Outgained the Rams, 447 yards to 328, with twice as many first downs (26-13). They lost on turnovers and red zone play. Carson Palmer threw an INT for the third straight week, and they lost two fumbles, including the opening kickoff. The team repeatedly settled for short field goals, three under 30 yards and another under 40. In a game decided by two points, even one more touchdown instead of a field goal might have won the game.

9. Carolina Panthers [11] — Cam Newton and Jameis Winston illustrate why fantasy scoring is stupid, and at no position is it worse than QB. Newton passed for 124 yards and 2 touchdowns, good for a 97.5 passer rating. He also had a lost fumble and 51 rushing yards. In standard fantasy scoring, that's 17 points. Winston threw twice as many passes, for 287 yards and 2 TDs, but 4 interceptions and a 57.0 rating. He rushed for 12 yards. That's 16.5 points, basically the same as Newton.

Cam had a good game and his team won easily, Winston threw four picks and lost by two touchdowns. A system that scores INTs as -1 ranks them even. Touchdowns are not four times as important as interceptions. Any football fan knows that. In my primary league, TDs and INTs are equal. I think that's a better system.

10. Kansas City Chiefs [9] — All of their losses are to teams who are 4-0 (Broncos, Packers, Bengals). In my preseason power rankings, I wrote, "They have a really tough first month of the season, so I'm not worried if they start 2-2, and only a little worried about 1-3." I'm a little worried. The offensive line can't pass block. It's tough to tell whether they can run block okay, or if Jamaal Charles just makes all his blockers look good. The Chiefs are last in the NFL in third down percentage (26.1%), and tied for worst in points allowed (31.3/gm), but they're double-digit favorites against Chicago next week.

11. Buffalo Bills [7] — Lost a game defined by defense and penalties, as they and the Giants combined for 6/31 on third downs, 1/5 in the red zone, and 28 penalties for 220 yards. The Bills were charged with 17 penalties for 135 yards and 7 Giant first downs. Yeah, seven first downs. Already this season, Buffalo has 47 penalties for 428 yards. They average over 100 penalty yards. The next-worst totals are 38 penalties and 336 yards. Buffalo is all by itself in this category.

12. New York Giants [22] — Top-ranked rush defense in the NFL, allowing 3.13 yards per carry and under 70 yards per game. That's especially impressive considering that all four of their opponents rank in the top half of the league in rushing, including Washington, which leads the NFL. The Giants are a couple plays away from being 4-0, and they've faced a tough schedule. At this moment, I think they're the best team in the NFC East, and the favorites to win the division.

13. Minnesota Vikings [13] — Another poor day from Teddy Bridgewater. Granted that he was facing a great defense, but Bridgewater averaged 4.4 net yards per attempt, which is really low, and he lost a fumble to seal the game. With the attention paid to Adrian Peterson, Bridgewater should be making more positive plays. Peterson had a 48-yard touchdown run in Week 4, but other than that he had 15 carries for 33 yards.

14. San Diego Chargers [15] — With an offensive line missing three starters, they still scored 30 points and edged out a win at home. Tight end Antonio Gates returns from suspension this week.

15. St. Louis Rams [20] — If Todd Gurley and Tavon Austin keep this up, they're a team to be reckoned with. The Rams are 2-0 in the NFC West, and they haven't played the 49ers yet. Linebacker Alec Ogletree left Sunday's game with an ankle injury that will require surgery.

16. Baltimore Ravens [14] — A Thursday road win against a division rival, and you can never take those for granted. But they didn't look impressive against the short-handed Steelers, and their only competent offensive player (Steve Smith) broke four bones. Smith is not expected to play in Week 5.

17. Dallas Cowboys [17] — Brandon Weeden has a 108.8 passer rating, but against a New Orleans defense that is among the worst in the NFL, and stacked the box to stop the run, Weeden led the Cowboys to just 20 points. This isn't a dynamic offense without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, and defensive captain Sean Lee can't stay healthy.

18. Pittsburgh Steelers [18] — Remedial offense without Ben Roethlisberger, as Michael Vick had 96 net passing yards on 30 dropbacks. Vick has already taken more sacks this season than Big Ben. The Steelers traded for kicker Josh Scobee, only to watch him go 3/7 from 40 yards and beyond. He missed from 41 and 49 yards against Baltimore. Those aren't chip shots, but if he'd made either one, Pittsburgh probably could have avoided overtime. Scobee was cut this weekend, replaced by Chris Boswell.

19. Washington [23] — Lead the NFL in rushing offense (558) and average time of possession (36:19).

20. Philadelphia Eagles [16] — Lost time of possession by more than 22 minutes. I know Chip Kelly doesn't care about TOP, but the Eagles average just 22:48, basically a quarter of the game less than their opponents. That is outrageous, and not a sustainable formula for success. The Eagles have a bunch of injuries, and new kicker Caleb Sturgis had a really bad day, but this team just isn't playing good football.

21. Indianapolis Colts [19] — Won without Andrew Luck, but the result wasn't any different than last week: a close, comeback win over a division opponent they should have run out of the building. It sounds like Luck will play in the Week 5 Thursday night game, but he remains day-to-day.

22. Houston Texans [12] — Brian Hoyer replaced Ryan Mallett in the third quarter and led a garbage-time comeback. Mallett threw an interception on the first drive, and the Texans lost two fumbles in the first half. They were -4 in turnovers against the Falcons, and they're -6 for the season, second-worst in the NFL. Vince Wilfork got a solo tackle this weekend, his first of the season. DeAndre Hopkins has more tackles (2) than Wilfork.

23. New Orleans Saints [31] — Got back a number of players who were inactive in Week 3, most notably Drew Brees, who played an efficient game but also caught some breaks. Cowboy defenders twice dropped interceptions, and another INT was nullified by a penalty away from the play. Sean Lee's concussion, which removed the Cowboys' best defensive player, probably aided the Saints' victory.

24. Cleveland Browns [26] — Heart-breaking way to lose a game, with Tramon Williams' offside penalty nullifying a missed field goal that would have sent the game to overtime. Philip Rivers shredded their injury-depleted pass defense (347 yds, 3 TDs, 118.1 rating). By the end of the game, Cleveland had lost five of its 11 season-opening defensive starters, including three defensive backs. Defensive lineman Desmond Bryant, linebacker Scott Solomon, and defensive backs Joe Haden and K'Waun Williams all missed the game, while DB Tashaun Gipson, who missed practice time this week with a groin issue, injured his ankle in the third quarter and did not return.

25. Detroit Lions [25] — Only winless team in the NFL. Will Monday night's botched officiating make rule 12.4.1 famous? I'm having a hard time getting fired up about this one; it violated the letter of the law, but not the spirit. K.J. Wright could have grabbed the ball just as easily as he swatted it out of the end zone. It's like the opposite of the (original) Calvin Johnson rule, which met the letter of the law but violated the spirit.

26. Miami Dolphins [21] — Fired head coach Joe Philbin, and — because both coordinators have been disastrous — named tight ends coach Dan Campbell the interim HC. Five amazing and mildly horrifying facts about the Dolphins' offensive ineptitude, both in Week 4 and for the season as a whole:

* Six of their seven drives in the first half lasted only three plays. The Dolphins are 14/52 on third downs this year (27%), third-worst in the NFL. But they're also 1/10 on fourth downs, for an abysmal combined figure of 24%. Against the Jets, they were 0/12 on third downs and 0/4 on fourth downs.

* Here's the breakdown of Miami's offensive possessions in Week Four: 6 three-and-outs, 2 interceptions, 2 turnovers on downs, 2 touchdowns, 1 five-play drive ending in a punt.

* Their lack of offensive balance — and specifically, their disinterest in the ground game — is unbelievable. Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had more rushing attempts in Week Four (9) than every Dolphin RB combined (8).

* Miami's first touchdown drive, in the middle of the second quarter, was built on 58 yards worth of penalties. That was more yardage than the Dolphin offense had gained to that point.

* The Jets gained 400 yards of offense before the Dolphins gained 100.

27. Oakland Raiders [24] — They're only 5½-point underdogs against Denver in Week 5, but I think that says more about the Broncos than the Raiders. According to pro-football-reference, the Raiders have the worst defense in the NFL. 49% of opponents' possession have resulted in points.

28. Chicago Bears [32] — Jay Cutler sparked the offense, which went 11/18 on third and fourth downs, and they outgained the Raiders by 50%. Robbie Gould got off to a horrible start, with a blocked extra point and a kickoff out of bounds, but he made a 54-yard go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter, then — after Oakland regained the lead — a game-winning 49-yard field goal on the final play.

29. Tennessee Titans [28] — Three straight home games coming out of the bye, against the Bills, Dolphins, and Falcons. There has to be a better way to set the schedule. A bye followed by three home games? Shouldn't the non-travel weeks be spread out a little more? Also, Week 4 is too early for byes.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars [29] — I'm reluctant to blame the loss on kicker Jason Myers. With the score tied and :06 left, Myers set up for a game-winning 53-yard field goal. He shanked the kick, but Colts coach Chuck Pagano idiotically called a timeout, so Myers got another chance, and missed again. That's okay, 53 yards is a tough kick. In overtime, Myers attempted a 48-yard field goal that would have won the game, and he missed that, too.

You'd like to see Myers make at least one of those three field goals (especially the two that counted), but they weren't chip shots, and Myers was a hero in the Week 2 win over Miami. You could just as easily blame this loss on the Jags' 13 penalties, for 96 yards and 5 Indianapolis first downs. You could blame an offense that didn't reach the red zone in the second half, or the coach who decided to kick a field goal from the 2-yard line instead of going for it. You could blame the ankle injury suffered by Paul Posluszny, or a dozen other things. Ultimately, this is the type of game that good teams win, and bad teams lose, and the Jaguars are a bad team.

31. San Francisco 49ers [27] — During the Jim Harbaugh era, the Niners were 4-0 vs. Green Bay, including two road games and two playoff games. They averaged 34 points in those games. They scored 3 on Sunday. Colin Kaepernick is playing terribly — he's worst in the NFL in TD/INT differential, -3, and he's taking a ton of sacks — and the 49ers are last in the league in touchdowns (5). They also have the worst point differential in the NFL, -62.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [30] — Last week, I mentioned the struggles of kicker Kyle Brindza. This week, he missed two more field goals (neither terribly long) and an extra point. The Bucs have waived Brindza, and will sign a new kicker this week.

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