Tuesday, October 13, 2015

2015 NFL Week 5 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Week Five Game Balls

Offense — Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons. Facing the top-ranked rush defense in the NFL, Freeman gained 153 yards, with a 5.7 average and a touchdown, plus 7 catches for another 44 yards.

Defense — Fletcher Cox, DL, Philadelphia Eagles. This week, Robert Alford and Quinten Rollins each had two interceptions and a touchdown. Rashad Johnson had two interceptions and a fumble recovery. But Cox made 6 tackles, with 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. That's a huge-impact game for a 5-technique defensive lineman.

Special Teams — Kevin Huber, P, Cincinnati Bengals. Twice pinned the Seahawks at their own 2-yard line, and he netted 44.2 yards per punt. Credit also to Darqueze Dennard, who downed both of the deep punts.

Rookie — Quinten Rollins, DB, Green Bay Packers. Todd Gurley rushed for 159 yards, but [1] he didn't catch any passes, [2] he didn't score any touchdowns, [3] I chose him last week, and [4] his Rams lost to Rollins' Packers, in part because Rollins intercepted two passes, and returned one of them 45 yards for a touchdown.

Honorable Mentions — TE Gary Barnidge, DB Chris Harris, P Sam Koch

Five Quick Hits

* It's time to get rid of the Calvin Johnson rule. Devonta Freeman's touchdown reception, overturned on a replay that was anything but indisputable, was a catch by any definition except the NFL's. This rule is utterly contrary to common sense, and it should be off the books before the 2016 season. A catch should be a catch.

* I like the new extra point rules. Some former players and coaches, insisting that kickers aren't really football players, dislike the increased importance of having a good kicker. But if field goals and extra points are going to be part of the game, shouldn't they be interesting? Placekicking is dramatic this season, edge-of-your-seat entertainment.

* On Thursday night, Arian Foster evaded the neurologist who monitors concussions and returned to the game — where he remained for multiple plays — without permission. If the NFL wants to assure fans that it is doing everything possible to protect players from life-altering brain trauma, it is failing colossally.

* The Houston defense features some big names, but it is less than the sum of its parts. Romeo Crennel is a respected defensive coordinator, but right now he's not getting the most out of his players.

* Jay Cutler has earned some unkind comments at his expense, but he has also delivered a clear spark to the offense. Chicago is 2-1 when Cutler plays the whole game, with the loss a respectable 31-23 opening-week defeat against the undefeated Packers.

Week 5 Rant: Thursday Night Commercials

I have no problem with advertisements during football games. But this season, one network — CBS — has been incredibly disrespectful to viewers in the way it handles those advertisements. CBS is the only network that routinely goes to commercial during :30 timeouts, a drama-killing slap in the face to viewers. And this is what happened beginning at 9:31 pm Eastern on Thursday night:

9:31 Nick Novak kicked a field goal, and CBS took a commercial break.

9:34 Novak kicked off, and the ball was returned to the 20-yard line. CBS took a commercial break.

9:37 Frank Gore rushed for three yards. CBS took a commercial break.

9:40 Matt Hasselbeck completed a 9-yard pass. Two-minute warning. CBS took a commercial break.

CBS showed three plays, one of which was a kickoff, in 12 minutes. Three plays in 12 minutes. During the same time, they showed a dozen commercials. Showing ads after a scoring play, or at the two-minute warning, I have no problem with. But following the kickoff was excessive, and following Gore's run, with the clock at 2:02 and the two-minute warning a play away, was unacceptable. Short of having Jim Nantz and Phil Simms moon the camera, with "We hate you, America" written on their buttocks, I can't think how CBS could more plainly communicate its disdain for viewers. None of the other networks do this.

Moving on to the Week 5 NFL Power Rankings, brackets indicate last week's rank.

1. New England Patriots [1] — I don't try to beat the Vegas oddsmakers, but if I were betting on one game in Week 6, I would take the Patriots (-7½) over the Colts. In the Andrew Luck era, these teams have met four times. The Pats won 59-24, 43-22, 42-20, and 45-7. They've scored over 40 points in every game and won by more than 20 each time, and this is the weakest Colts team they've faced.

I would also look to roster LeGarrette Blount and/or Dion Lewis in daily fantasy leagues. In their last three meetings, Blount rushed for 166 yards and 4 TDs, Jonas Gray rushed for 199 yards and 4 TDs, and Blount rushed for 148 yards and 3 TDs. The Colts can't stop New England's ground game.

2. Green Bay Packers [2] — Strong defensive performance on a day when their offense really struggled. Right now the difference between New England and Green Bay is that the Patriots have a ground game. Eddie Lacy is off to a disappointing start this season.

3. Cincinnati Bengals [3] — At this same time last year, I wrote a pedantic 12-paragraph rant about the idiocy of returning kickoffs from deep in the end zone. The downsides are obvious: you'll probably lose yardage compared to a touchback, you dramatically increase your team's risk of an injury or penalty, and kickoff returners fumble three times as often as they score. That rant was inspired primarily by Cincinnati's Brandon Tate, who got stopped short of the 20 four times, and lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. This Sunday, Tate returned deep kickoffs to the 14, 11, and 14-yard lines. There was a smattering of boos after the opening kickoff, clearly audible boos after the second, and loud boos following the third.

Cincinnati has a special teams coordinator, Darrin Simmons, whose unit shined in every other aspect of Sunday's game. Adam Jones broke several long punt returns, Kevin Huber and the kick coverage team were exceptional — including Tate, who helped down a punt near the goal line — and most teams probably couldn't have shuttled the field goal team out for a game-tying kick the way Cincinnati did at the end of regulation. So I don't understand how Simmons and head coach Marvin Lewis still let Tate return kickoffs. This is a pattern for Tate. It's bad for your team and it's pissing off your fans. It should be pissing off the coaches, too, and the front office. Somebody in this organization needs to make sure that Brandon Tate stops returning kickoffs. Put someone else back there.

4. Arizona Cardinals [8] — Twenty-eight-point second quarter fueled an easy 42-17 win over the reeling Lions. The Cardinals went 5/5 in the red zone, averaged 7.5 yards per rush, and Carson Palmer had a 154.2 passer rating, but this win was really about aggressive defense. Arizona forced 6 turnovers and started four drives in Lion territory. If you want to find fault with a dominant victory, the Cardinals went 1/8 on third downs, against a pretty horrible defense.

5. Denver Broncos [4] — A comparison I never thought I'd make for a Peyton Manning team: if the 2000 Ravens can win a Super Bowl, so can the 2015 Broncos. Denver leads the NFL in sacks (22), takeaways (14), fewest yards per game (278), fewest yards per play (4.3), and opponents' third down percentage (30%). DeMarcus Ware was carted off from this week's game, but his back injury is not believed to be serious. Ware's status for Week 6 is in question, but it's not a season-threatening issue.

6. New York Jets [6] — They're 3-0 against AFC teams, with all three wins by double-digits, and they've already faced the part of their schedule that, in preseason, looked the hardest (Colts, Eagles, Dolphins). Ryan Fitzpatrick is playing competent quarterback, and Brandon Marshall gives this team an elite wide receiver for the first time since Keyshawn Johnson in his prime.

7. Seattle Seahawks [5] — For the past two weeks, the media has insisted that Seattle's defense played better due to the return of Kam Chancellor. While I don't deny Chancellor's skill or his importance to the unit, I think that explanation ignores two critical factors: location of game and quality of opponent. In Weeks 1 and 2, the Seahawks played on the road against good teams. In Weeks 3 and 4, they played at home against bad teams. This week's game, on the road against a good team, looked just like Weeks 1 and 2.

8. Atlanta Falcons [7] — Mismanaged their timeouts at the end of the first half. Down 7-3, the Falcons took over at the Washington 45-yard line with 1:39 and all three timeouts. They completed a pass in bounds for 8 yards, another for 8 yards, middle of the field for 7 yards ... tick, tick, tick ... at this point there are under :40 left, and they still have three timeouts. But the offense is hurrying, visibly nervous about the clock, and Matt Ryan gets sacked. Finally, they use a timeout. The Falcons settled for a field goal and went into the locker room with an extra timeout still on the board, wasted. In a game they were lucky to win, that could have been the difference.

9. Carolina Panthers [9] — You can't complain about a 4-0 start, but every team they've played has a losing record, with a combined mark of 5-15. The schedule gets harder immediately out of this week's bye, with a trip to Seattle, followed by home games against the Eagles, Colts, and Packers.

10. Buffalo Bills [11] — Missing their top two running backs and their best wide receiver, Tyrod Taylor had to provide the offense, and delivered enough for the win. There wasn't a lot of yardage, but Taylor passed for one TD and ran for another, with no turnovers. The Bills have some injuries and some uneven performances, but they're 3-2 and they gave New England its only tough game.

I think the Bills are a good team, but I also think they're going to lose, and look bad, in Week 6. They're playing a very tough Bengals team, and they travel to London in Week 7. Since the NFL's London series began, teams are 7-17 (.292) the week before making the trip to England.

11. New York Giants [12] — Larry Donnell's incredible catch saved them from Tom Coughlin's overly-conservative foolishness. In Week 1, Coughlin's poor decision-making probably cost the Giants a win. But this old dog doesn't have any new tricks, and in Week 5, he nearly did the same thing.

With 5:00 left in the fourth quarter, the game was tied and New York had 4th-and-1 at the 49ers' 5-yard line. The smart play there is to go for it. If you pick up the one yard, you probably run some time off the clock, and — more importantly — you probably score a touchdown. Touchdowns are (literally) twice as valuable as field goals, more than twice as valuable if you can make the extra point (95%). Even if you don't get the yard, you pin San Francisco at its own 5-yard line. Instead, Coughlin opted for a field goal and San Francisco took over at its own 20-yard line. The Niners — like Dallas in Week 1 — drove for a go-ahead touchdown, leaving New York in need of a miraculous TD drive with Dwayne Harris and Myles White at wide receiver. Donnell delivered the miracle, but Coughlin made a mistake that could have and probably should have cost the Giants a win.

12. Minnesota Vikings [13] — Rebounded since an ugly opening-week loss at San Francisco, with double-digit wins against the Lions and Chargers, and a three-point loss at Denver. The biggest concerns are probably Teddy Bridgewater's uneven play (180 net yds/gm) and the run defense (125.5 yds/gm, 4.7 yds/att). Minnesota has been out-gained by over 200 yards, but is +4 in turnovers.

13. Philadelphia Eagles [20] — Maybe we've been underrating them all season. Two of their three losses were really close, and with Sam Bradford finally producing, this offense is dangerous. They have a huge NFC East matchup against the Giants this Monday night. The Eagles are favored by 3½.

14. St. Louis Rams [15] — Last year, the Rams started 1-4 before coming together later in the season. This year's Rams are 2-3, but they've got a new weapon in Todd Gurley, and they've already faced the hardest part of their schedule. I think St. Louis will be favored in seven or eight of the remaining 11 games.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers [18] — I know the game-winning touchdown came out of the Wildcat, but why are they using that formation? With the greatest running quarterback in the history of football, a player uniquely suited to an option offense, they're snapping the ball to a guy who can't pass? I'll admit, though, that I would love to see a Michael Vick offense line up in the single wing. I don't think opponents would know what to do.

There are reports that Ben Roethlisberger may play in Week 6. If he does, fade the Steelers and use Arizona's defense in fantasy. Big Ben always, always plays terrribly when he rushes back from injury.

16. San Diego Chargers [14] — Despite limited action in his return from suspension, Antonio Gates looks like a difference-maker. He caught 9 of 11 targets for 92 yards and 2 TDs.

17. Washington [19] — Both starting cornerbacks missed the game with injuries, but they limited Matt Ryan to his worst game of the season. Deep threat DeSean Jackson and leading receiver Jordan Reed missed the game, too, but they still took the Falcons to overtime, in Atlanta. If this team gets healthy, I don't think anyone wants to play against them.

18. Cleveland Browns [24] — I guess Josh McCown has temporarily silenced the yahoos who think one decent game meant that Johnny Manziel was the best QB on the roster. The Manziel hype was based on a game, against the woeful Tennessee Titans, in which Johnny Football completed only 8 passes, got sacked on 12% of his attempts, fumbled twice, and rushed for 1 yard.

The Browns are a play away from 3-2, and it turns out that play involved a mistake by officials. It looked like Tramon Williams was clearly offside on Josh Lambo's missed field goal attempt last week. In reality, Williams timed his jump to perfection, and Lambo shouldn't have gotten a second try. With much less fanfare than the batted ball in Seattle, this is more evidence to support [1] expanding replay, and [2] admitting that the replacement officials in 2012 weren't that bad. The "real" refs miss calls all the time.

19. Baltimore Ravens [16] — Led in the fourth quarter of every game this season, except the game they won.

20. Indianapolis Colts [21] — This was an important win, on the road in a short week, and it gave Indianapolis a solid lead in the punchless AFC South. Matt Hasselbeck managed the offense, they ran effectively, and they neutralized J.J. Watt. But they also benefitted tremendously from penalties, got outgained by 100 yards, and could not contain DeAndre Hopkins. They didn't look like a good team on Thursday night, they were just the team with fewer disasters.

21. Kansas City Chiefs [10] — Jamaal Charles tore his ACL on the first drive of the third quarter. Kansas City was leading 17-3 and the Chiefs had 2nd-and-goal at the Chicago 9-yard line. Charles already had 84 yards from scrimmage. The injury totally derailed their offense, with only 2 more first downs, and no more points, the rest of the game. I believed in the Chiefs, because their 1-3 start came against three undefeated opponents, but they are a bad team without Charles. Charcandrick West, not Knile Davis, looks to be the handcuff for JC's fantasy owners.

22. Houston Texans [22] — For the second week in a row, Brian Hoyer replaced Ryan Mallett and sparked the Texans' offense. Despite an atrocious game-ending interception, Hoyer will start next week. But this team, if it's going to win at all, needs to win with defense. And facing a mediocre offensive line, a 32-year-old running back, a wide receiver they didn't want, and a backup quarterback who wasn't quite literally on his deathbed, but who was pretty sick and questionable to play — facing a unit in disarray and lacking weapons, Houston managed no sacks and no turnovers. DeAndre Hopkins and Arian Foster can't win the games by themselves.

23. Chicago Bears [28] — Pernell McPhee had a critical field goal block in the win over Kansas City. McPhee, a free agent acquired from Baltimore, leads the Bears in tackles and sacks, and he's tied for the team lead in interceptions.

24. Dallas Cowboys [17] — On a day when their defense sacked Tom Brady five times in the first half, bad tackling and ineffective offense sunk the Cowboys. Say what you will about Greg Hardy as a human being, he gave a spark to the Dallas defense, with 5 hits on Brady, 2 sacks, and a forced fumble. Despite a strong defensive first half, Dallas went into the locker room down 13-3, because six of their seven possessions went three-and-out. The Cowboys don't have a ton of receiving weapons without Dez Bryant, but Brandon Weeden has not created enough positive plays for them to win consistently. It sounds like recently acquired Matt Cassel will take the starting job when Dallas returns from its Week 6 bye.

25. Oakland Raiders [27] — Charles Woodson spoke this week about wanting to intercept Peyton Manning, whom he had never picked off before. Woodson got his wish, intercepting Manning twice. Charles Woodson is 39, this is his 18th season in the NFL, and he dislocated his shoulder in Week 1. Yet Woodson is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions (4). He has the most career interceptions of any active player (64), and is tied for 6th all-time. No active player is within 20 INTs of Woodson (DeAngelo Hall, 43).

26. Miami Dolphins [26] — Fired head coach Joe Philbin after last week's loss, and this week they dropped unpopular defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. Defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo was promoted to Coyle's position. Bad teams often rebound following a coaching change, and I expect to see that from Miami. Plus, there is genuine talent on this team, and there's nowhere to go but up. The Dolphins are 3-point underdogs at Tennessee in Week 6.

27. Tennessee Titans [29] — Defense did its job, with 4 sacks, a turnover, and only 209 yards allowed. There aren't a lot of weapons on the Tennessee offense.

28. New Orleans Saints [23] — Maybe the worst pass defense in the league. The stats aren't too terrible, because they've faced Jameis Winston, the no-receivers Panthers, and Brandon Weeden. But the Saints allow 8.4 net yards per attempt, which is about the same as Andy Dalton or Tom Brady.

29. Detroit Lions [25] — You can't commit 6 turnovers and expect to win. The Lions out-gained Arizona by over 100 yards, had twice as many first downs (29-15), and won time of possession by more than 13 minutes. But they kept turning the ball over. DeAndre Levy, in his first game back from a hip injury, aggravated the problem during the first half and left the game. With the Lions 0-5, putting Levy on injured reserve, to get him fully healed before next season, might make sense at this point.

30. San Francisco 49ers [31] — During Sunday night's game, Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth tried to think of the last wide receiver to come into the NFL with an impact like Odell Beckham. The obvious answer is Randy Moss, and Michaels mentioned Jerry Rice and Torry Holt, though neither of them really emerged as an elite player as quickly as ODB. An alternative answer, however, was on the field as they spoke. Anquan Boldin broke a 50-year-old record with 217 yards in his first game, and finished the season with 101 receptions, 1377 yards, and 8 of the Cardinals' 18 receiving TDs. He won Offensive Rookie of the Year and made the Pro Bowl. Boldin has been trapped in conservative offenses so long, the announcers missed an answer that was right in front of them.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [32] — Aggressive defense gave up some big plays, but also created 6 sacks, 2 takeaways, and a touchdown. The Bucs' defense has the third-most sack yardage in the NFL, behind only the Broncos and Packers.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars [30] — Chase Stuart published a piece Monday supposing that Jacksonville could be the NFL's next great offense. The Jaguars have a lot of young (under 25) players at the "skill" positions, and some of those players have shown good things this year. I have a longstanding "no Jags" policy in fantasy, and it's served me well, but I think it can officially be retired.

I'm going to disagree with Chase, though. I think the Jags could be a good offense in a year or two, but the comparisons Chase turned up for the Jaguars were pretty uninspiring. The closest comparison was the 2007 Cleveland Browns, not the 2007 Patriots. I perked up when I saw a comparison to Kellen Winslow, and then I realized it was K2, not the original who played for the Air Coryell Chargers. Youth can indicate potential for growth, but the best indication of future excellence is present excellence. Blake Bortles has an 87.2 passer rating, and T.J. Yeldon averages 3.6 yards per carry. I think "great offense" is a pretty big leap for this group. Bortles has a Grade 1 AC joint sprain, but it seems like he'll probably play in Week 6.

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