Tuesday, October 27, 2015

2015 NFL Week 7 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Week 7 Game Balls

Offense — Lamar Miller, RB, Miami Dolphins. Just in the first half, Miller carried 14 times for 175 yards and a touchdown, with 3 receptions for 61 yards and another touchdown.

Defense — Kawann Short, DL, Carolina Panthers. Short made plenty of plays himself — including 3 sacks — but he also was part of a line that consistently kept Philadelphia's blockers from getting to the second level, leaving Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly free to make plays.

Special Teams — Dwayne Harris, KR, New York Giants. His 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown won the game, and created a minor meltdown on the Cowboys' sideline.

Rookie — Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams. I think Gurley is the best running back in football right now.

Honorable Mentions: QB Kirk Cousins, DL Michael Bennett, P Colton Schmidt

Five Quick Hits

* Last week, I wrote about Houston Texans owner Bob McNair donating $10,000 to oppose the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. McNair has since withdrawn the donation and issued a statement which read, in part, "I do not believe in or tolerate personal or professional discrimination of any kind."

* Jay Gruden surprised the Buccaneers with an onside kick in the third quarter, with Washington becoming the first team this season to officially recover an onside kick. The team's long-standing special teams problems seem to be trending in the right direction, with the successful onside kick following a punt block for a touchdown in Week 6.

* Maybe my least favorite thing about football today is the prevalence of short passing. When I was learning the game, no one would have thrown a 4-yard pass on 3rd-and-7. Go for the first down! For that matter, why do you have someone running a 4-yard route?

* It is time to stop stumbling over and joking about Michael Hoomanawanui's last name. This is his sixth season in the NFL, and his name is pronounced phonetically. Hoh-oh-mah-nah-wah-noo-ee. It's disrespectful and culturally insensitive to still be making fun of this guy's name after more than five years. If you had a co-worker whose name you hadn't learned to pronounce after that long, and you made jokes about his name every week, everyone in your office would think you were a jerk. Really, the situation reminds me of Samir from Office Space.

* The NFC wild card race should be really good this year. The Packers seem like a lock to win the NFC Central, and I don't see a wild card coming out of the East. But for the remaining four spots, you've got the Falcons, Panthers, Cardinals, Rams, Seahawks, and Vikings. Two of those teams aren't getting in.

Yahoo! NFL Stream

Apparently viewers had disparate experiences with the live stream of Bills/Jaguars from London. I was surprised to learn that many viewers had a perfect picture, but evidently just as many shared my experience. Video lagged behind the audio, the picture quality varied from crystal clear to extremely pixelated, and worst of all, the video was choppy. I reduced my stream quality to low, and at one point did see a play smoothly, but eventually I turned the game off — my streaming experience was unwatchable.

Despite the positive experiences of many fans — from what I read on Twitter, it seems like mobile users had the most luck — it is clear that Yahoo! was not prepared for this event. I don't know what percentage of viewers have to get a poor-quality stream before we declare the broadcast a disaster, but this definitely crossed the disaster threshold.

In theory, no one lost anything. The game was shown on CBS in Buffalo and Jacksonville, and for the rest of the world, it was gravy, an extra game that we don't usually get to see. In practice, that's not how it worked out. Anyone who got up early to watch the game, only to find an unwatchable stream, was unhappy. Fans with DirecTV's Sunday Ticket still had to watch on Yahoo!, and many were unable to watch the game smoothly. And when the league and its partners hype an event like this and (at an estimate) half the viewers get poor video or constant buffering, that's a massive failure. You have to deliver what you promise, and in this case Yahoo! and the NFL made a promise they couldn't keep.

The Yahoo! stream from London was an okay idea, but poorly executed, with predictable problems. As we continue to the Week 7 NFL Power Rankings, brackets indicate last week's rank.

1. New England Patriots [1] — Scored 30 points against a Jets defense that came in allowing an average of 15, with a previous high of 24. The Patriots don't mind an unbalanced attack against defenses with an obvious strength or weakness, so this was a passing game. Tom Brady had 57 dropbacks, and 15 of the Pats' 16 rushing yards.

2. Green Bay Packers [2] — Already played the easiest part of their schedule: four home games, compared to two road games against opponents (Bears and 49ers) who are a combined 4-9 (.308). They return from the bye with games at Denver and Carolina.

3. Cincinnati Bengals [3] — Two months ago, if someone had told you that Andy Dalton and Peyton Manning would have passer ratings of 116.1 and 72.5, and asked you to guess which was which, there is no chance you would have answered correctly.

4. Denver Broncos [4] — Even after the bye, Peyton Manning still leads the NFL in interceptions (10). If the Broncos beat Green Bay next week — a big if and a major test of two undefeated teams — Manning will tie Brett Favre for the most wins in history as a starting quarterback (186).

5. Carolina Panthers [6] — My football wish for 2016 is that the NFL will restore some sanity to its rules and definitions. Cam Newton's pass to Ted Ginn, which was ripped away by Nolan Carroll, was a confusing play, but the one thing it definitely was not was an interception. Ginn took four steps with sole possession of the ball. So naturally, the officials ruled it an interception.

6. New York Jets [5] — Led 20-16 halfway through the fourth quarter. I would have loved to see the Jets go for a touchdown on 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line in the first quarter. The stats say that's the smart move, and against a good team like New England, you've got to be aggressive and make the most of your opportunities. The Jets only have two remaining games against teams with winning records, the Giants in Week 13 and a home rematch with the Patriots in Week 16. Barring some epic collapse, the Jets will make the playoffs, probably as the top wild card.

7. Seattle Seahawks [8] — Marshawn Lynch is back, Kam Chancellor is back, and their defensive front dominated the 49ers. Seattle's only real problem right now is the offensive line. But make no mistake: it is a problem. Russell Wilson has always taken more sacks than average; he's not great at reading blitzes and setting protection, and his mobile style facilitates a high sack percentage. But Wilson's 13.2% sack rate this year is by far the highest figure of his career, with a previous career average of 8.7%. That's not random variation or a change in Wilson's style of play, it's poor blocking.

8. Arizona Cardinals [7] — Frustrating victory. The Cardinals should have won a blowout on Monday night, but overly conservative coaching — including a pair of field goals from the 3-yard line, and predictable fourth-quarter play-calling aimed at running the clock rather than picking up first downs — took the game down to the final seconds. It felt like the Cardinals played away from their strengths on offense.

9. Minnesota Vikings [12] — Fell behind 17-6, then scored 22 in a row for a comfortable win. Teddy Bridgewater had his best game of the season, rookie Stefon Diggs looks like a weapon, and Adrian Peterson rushed for 98 yards and a 5.2 average. But they're winning with defense. They sacked Matthew Stafford 7 times, and the Lions went 1/12 on third and fourth downs. I haven't heard any Pro Bowl buzz for rookie LB Eric Kendricks, but he's made a huge difference. Kendricks leads the team in tackles, and he has 4 sacks.

Peterson broke a 75-yard run on Sunday, but other than that, had 18 attempts for 23 yards (1.28 avg).

10. Pittsburgh Steelers [10] — Ben Roethlisberger is expected back next week, and with Ben replacing the ineffective QB play of Mike Vick and Landry Jones, this is a top-10 team. Roethlisberger and Le'Veon Bell have yet to play a complete game together in 2015.

11. Philadelphia Eagles [11] — Defense can keep them in the game against anyone, and they're dangerous in the mediocre NFC East. But their offense is actually unpleasant to watch. It's certainly not apparent that Sam Bradford is an upgrade over Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez.

12. St. Louis Rams [14] — Went 1/9 on third downs and still won 24-6, largely because they recovered four Cleveland fumbles and returned one for a touchdown. It was nice to see Todd Gurley involved in the passing game. After three targets — all caught — in his first three games combined, Gurley caught four of five targets in Week 7. After the game, head coach Jeff Fisher compared Gurley favorably to star RBs with whom he's worked in the past, Eddie George and Chris Johnson. Let's just hope Fisher is more judicious about Gurley's workload than he was with his previous lead backs, whom he ran into the ground. Gurley had 19 carries and 5 receiving targets this week, which seems about right to me.

13. Atlanta Falcons [9] — Haven't really played well for three weeks, and in particular, Matt Ryan hasn't played well in the last three games. This was his third multi-INT game of the season, and second in the last three weeks.

14. Miami Dolphins [19] — Sprinted to a 41-0 halftime lead, with 50-yard TD receptions by Rishard Matthews, Jarvis Landry, and Lamar Miller. Ryan Tannehill went 18-of-19 for the maximum 158.3 passer rating, the first perfect passer rating of his career. He also took four sacks, though, which is absurd with only 19 attempts.

15. New York Giants [15] — In Week 1, they had three takeaways (compared to none for the Cowboys) but still lost. This week, they had four takeaways (compared to none for the Cowboys) and just held on to win, with as many points from their defense and special teams as their offense (2 touchdowns each). Dallas had more yards (460-289), more first downs (27-13), and more time of possession (38:04 - 21:56). The Giants are +10 in turnover differential, by far the best in the league, and +6 of that is just from the Cowboys. Dallas is last in turnover differential, -9.

16. Buffalo Bills [13] — Facing an opponent which forced only three turnovers in the first six games combined, E.J. Manuel committed three turnovers in three minutes in the early second quarter. Manuel finished the game with 20.72 fantasy points, more than winning QBs like Teddy Bridgewater (19.74), Cam Newton (16.88), and Drew Brees (12.80). Manuel actually tripled the fantasy score of winning QBs Eli Manning (6.40) and Nick Foles (6.32), who threw no interceptions but also no touchdowns.

Of course, even Manuel didn't score as many fantasy points as Andrew Luck, who tossed two first-half INTs and helped put his team in a 27-0 hole against the 30th-ranked defense in the NFL. The Colts went nuts in garbage time, and Luck finished with 26.02 fantasy points, the 4th-highest total of any QB in Week 7. I would love to see fantasy scoring reflect skill more and volume less, and this is possible with two simple steps: INTs -4 and sacks -1. It's not perfect, but it's a big step in the right direction.

17. New Orleans Saints [21] — Second strong defensive performance in a row, with three second-quarter takeaways fueling a 27-0 lead. Cameron Jordan (2 sacks, 2 pass deflections) starred once again; he's having a Pro Bowl-quality season.

18. Oakland Raiders [25] — 14 penalties for 136 yards, but that was a really poorly-officiated game (Jerome Boger's crew). They somehow missed Corey Liuget kicking Donald Penn, they called a phantom interference on Keenan Allen's fourth-quarter TD reception, they couldn't figure out whether a penalty resulted in 3rd-and-19 or 4th-and-19 ... if this had happened three years ago with the replacement refs, fans would be freaking out. The difference from the "real" officials wasn't nearly as big as people tried to make it.

19. Washington [20] — This franchise has existed since 1932, and won five NFL Championships. Sunday's 24-point comeback over Tampa Bay was the largest in team history, and the second last-minute comeback led by Kirk Cousins this season. In Week 4, Cousins led an 80-yard drive and threw a game-winning touchdown pass to Pierre Garçon with :26 remaining.

20. Indianapolis Colts [18] — Worst defense, by yards allowed, in the NFL (409/gm). Andrew Luck may or may not be healthy right now, but Matt Hasselbeck has clearly outplayed him.

Chart

Luck's stats are buoyed by a garbage-time second half in which he went 14-of-25 for 254 yards and 3 TDs (at least one of which was a little flukey), after a first half with 79 yards and 2 INTs. Hasselbeck played well in limited action last year, as well, with a 102.6 passer rating on 44 attempts.

21. San Diego Chargers [16] — Three 80-yard TD drives in the fourth quarter, but they've got to play a complete game. Philip Rivers has passed for more yards than the opposing quarterback in every game this season.

22. Cleveland Browns [17] — Third straight game allowing a 100-yard rusher. The Browns allowed the most rushing yards in the NFL last year (142/gm, 4.5/att), and their revamped defensive line, featuring 340-lb. rookie nose tackle Danny Shelton, was supposed to shore things up. So far, it hasn't worked out that way. Opponents average 151 yards per game and 5.1 per carry against Cleveland. The Browns have lost four of their last five, and only one opponent in that stretch has a winning record.

23. Kansas City Chiefs [29] — Missing both Jamaal Charles and Jeremy Maclin, scored their most points (23) since Week 3. Charcandrick West rushed for 110 yards, with a 5.0 average and a touchdown, while Alex Smith posted a 99.9 passer rating. Eric Berry, who missed most of last season after a Hodgkins Lymphoma diagnosis, got one of KC's two interceptions, his first since 2013, when Berry was named first-team all-pro.

24. Baltimore Ravens [23] — NFL schedule-makers did a weird job this season. The Ravens had back-to-back Western road trips twice already, while the remaining 10 weeks feature six home games and a bye. Couldn't have blended those a little more smoothly?

25. Dallas Cowboys [24] — Jimmy Johnson was right: "This is the best the offensive line and the running game has looked for Dallas." If Tony Romo and Dez Bryant come back close to 100%, Dallas has the most complete team in the NFC East.

26. Houston Texans [22] — Five straight three-and-outs to begin the game, followed by an interception, then another three-and-out. If Ryan Mallett hadn't missed the team flight, the Texans' first-half performance might have earned him another shot at the field. Mallett seems petulant and self-centered, not committed to his team. To make matters worse, Arian Foster tore his Achilles and is out for the year.

Houston's defense was just as bad as its offense, maybe worse. Rodney Harrison called them "scared to tackle" and Tony Dungy characterized it as "touch football." Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel oversaw J.J. Watt's historic 2014, but his unit is dramatically underperforming this season.

27. Chicago Bears [26] — The return of Alshon Jeffery should help, but Chicago's red zone offense is atrocious. The Bears are one of a handful of teams with more field goals than touchdowns, and they have the fewest extra points (7) in the NFL.

28. Jacksonville Jaguars [32] — I haven't written about Telvin Smith, who returned an interception for a touchdown against Buffalo. Smith also has 53 tackles this season, tied for 2nd-most in the NFL. The Jaguars aren't a good team, but they have young talent — Smith is 24 — on both sides of the ball. For the first time in years, they appear to be moving in the right direction. The Jags are 2-5, making this the first time in four years that they won't begin the season 1-9.

29. Detroit Lions [28] — Fired three offensive coaches, including coordinator Joe Lombardi. This week, Matthew Stafford got sacked 7 times out of 34 dropbacks, and the Lions went 1/12 on third and fourth downs. Head coach Jim Caldwell is expected to take over offensive playcalling.

30. Tennessee Titans [30] — Five straight losses since beating Tampa in Week 1, including 0-4 at home.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [31] — Committed 16 accepted penalties for 142 yards and 7 Washington first downs, including 6 unnecessary roughness penalties. The Bucs took a 24-0 lead, but their defense fell apart in the second half. Their last three opponents have all scored over 30 points.

32. San Francisco 49ers [27] — More punts (9) than first downs (8). As if they needed another problem, Pro Bowl safety Antoine Bethea is out for the year with a shoulder injury.

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