Tuesday, November 3, 2015

2015 NFL Week 8 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Week Eight Game Balls

Offense — Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders. Facing one of the best defenses in the NFL, Carr passed for 333 yards, with 4 touchdowns and no sacks or interceptions.

Defense — J.J. Watt, DL, Houston Texans. More on Houston's dominant defensive performance below, but Watt had 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and 9 hits on the quarterback. Nine. And this guy faces consistent double-teams.

Special Teams — Johnny Hekker, P, St. Louis Rams. Eight punts, with a net average of 49.8 yards, and four down inside 20. That includes a 60-yard punt downed at the 2-yard line, which set up a three-and-out, and a punt in the first quarter that led to a safety.

Rookie — Kwon Alexander, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Todd Gurley and Stefon Diggs will contend for this every week, but Alexander's 6 tackles, forced fumble, fumble recovery, and interception earn him this week's award.

Honorable Mentions: QB Tom Brady, DB Reggie Nelson, P Sam Koch

Five Quick Hits

* The NFL's trade deadline is today, Tuesday, November 3rd. It's much too early, less than halfway through the season.

* It's also election day in the United States. These are mostly local elections — the presidency and most of the other big races are next year — but don't forget to vote!

* Congratulations to the Kansas City Royals, who won the World Series for the first time since 1985.

* The University of Miami's 8-lateral TD to beat Duke was exciting, but it wasn't legal. The ACC has suspended the officiating crew for two games in response to multiple oversights.

* Football fans enjoy terrific camera work, so I don't want to sound ungrateful. But I really wish TV networks would give us the normal angle for live action, and save their "see behind the play but lose all depth perception" camera for replays.

Week 8 Injury Wrap-up

A number of prominent players suffered notable injuries on Sunday. I don't want that to overwhelm the summaries below, so here's a look at some of the key players affected:

* Keenan Allen left Sunday's game immediately following a TD reception. He suffered a kidney injury and is out indefinitely.

* After initially optimistic reports, it turns out Le'Veon Bell tore his MCL against Cincinnati. He won't play again this season. DeAngelo Williams could become an important RB2 in fantasy leagues. Coming into the season, Sports Injury Predictor listed Bell with an 88% injury probability, and sadly, they were on the mark.

* Larry Fitzgerald twisted an ankle, but returned to the game. He appears to be okay, and Arizona has a bye next week anyway.

* Ryan Fitzpatrick has torn ligaments in his left thumb. It's his non-throwing hand, but expect him to miss some time. Backup Geno Smith is dealing with a shoulder injury (also on the non-throwing side), but early indications are that Smith will play in Week 9.

* Matt Forte suffered an MCL injury. This is a multi-week issue, but probably not season-ending. Rookie RB Jeremy Langford appears to be the appropriate pick-up for fantasy owners. Langford is slight (28.2 BMI) but fast, a third-down-type back who should contribute in the passing game.

* Browns cornerback Joe Haden, who just returned from a concussion that caused him to miss two games, left this weekend's game with another concussion.

* Calvin Johnson left Sunday morning's game with an ankle issue, but it didn't appear to be serious. He might have returned to the field in a more competitive game, and the Lions have a bye coming up. There doesn't seem like any reason to worry.

* Brandon Marshall is dealing with ankle and toe injuries, and his status for Week 9 is uncertain.

* Josh McCown is dealing with injured ribs as he prepares for a Thursday night game at Cincinnati. For now it sounds like a coin flip whether Johnny Manziel or McCown will start in Week 9.

* Khiry Robinson was carted off the field with a broken leg, presumably ending his season.

* Steve Smith tore his Achilles, ending his season and possibly his career. Smith has indicated that this would be his last season.

* The scariest injury of the day was Ricardo Lockette's concussion while blocking on a punt return against Dallas. Lockette lay motionless on the field for a frightening length of time, and he needs surgery to repair ligament damage in his neck. His 2015 season is over, but Lockette appears to have avoided any injury that would threaten his mobility or his career.

Yikes. Hopefully we got all the bad juju out of the way, and now the rest of the season can be relatively healthy. Moving forward, we're halfway through the season, so I'd like to remind readers that these ratings are for right now, not a summary of the whole eight weeks. The 49ers' easy Week 1 victory against Minnesota, for instance, doesn't tell us anything useful about either of those teams today. Brackets show last week's rank.

1. New England Patriots [1] — Best offense in the NFL, even though their offensive line isn't very good. I don't see a Pro Bowler on that unit. I guess maybe Sebastian Vollmer if they switch him back to right tackle. But Tom Brady and their weapons in the short passing game are so effective, they score 30 points every week.

2. Denver Broncos [4] — Finally looked like a Super Bowl contender. They outgained the Packers 500-140 and nearly tripled their score. The defense is amazing — maybe one of the best ever — and the ceiling for this offense is very high.

3. Green Bay Packers [2] — Had some injury problems on defense, but the biggest problem is that their offense had nothing against the Broncos. Aaron Rodgers had 50 net passing yards on 22 attempts and 3 sacks: 2 NY/A. Next week's game, at Carolina, may not be a lot easier.

4. Cincinnati Bengals [3] — On the day when linebacker Vontaze Burfict returned from injury, fellow LBs Rey Maualuga and Vincent Rey both left with injuries, of thus-unspecified severity. Team sack leader Carlos Dunlap also left with a late injury. Bad timing, since the Bengals had their bye last week.

5. Carolina Panthers [5] — Overcame dropped passes, a missed extra point, and questionable officiating for a dramatic overtime win. In hindsight, how critical were those two fourth-down conversions on their second drive of the game? Settle for a field goal there, and this could have had a different ending.

6. Arizona Cardinals [8] — Four turnovers, and they still won by two touchdowns. But this is the second time in the last three weeks that they've committed four turnovers. You can get away with that against the Browns, but in the playoffs, you've got to take care of the football. It's hard to take Arizona seriously as a Super Bowl contender.

7. St. Louis Rams [12] — This was Todd Gurley's fourth game in a row rushing for over 125 yards. The rookie record for 125-yard games is six, by Eric Dickerson in 1983. Speaking of Dickerson, did Gurley's 71-yard TD run, in the Rams' throwback uniforms, remind anyone else of Dickerson? Most rushing yards in a four-game span (not counting overlapping spans) by Ram RBs:

1. Eric Dickerson, 687 [1984, Gms 12-15]

2. Eric Dickerson, 608 [1983, Gms 3-6]

3. Marshall Faulk, 592 [2002, Gms 5-8]

4. Jerome Bettis, 584 [1993, Gms 11-14]

5. Eric Dickerson, 580 [1986, Gms 5-8]

6. Todd Gurley, 566 [2015, Gms 5-8]

7. Charles White, 564 [1987, Gms 9-12]

8. Eric Dickerson, 547 [1984, Gms 5-8]

9. Marshall Faulk, 542 [2001, Gms 13-16]

10. Steven Jackson, 530 [2009, Gms 7-10]

Gurley has a run of at least 48 yards in all four games, and he's averaging 6.4 yards per attempt.

8. Seattle Seahawks [7] — Second game in a row without allowing a touchdown; they still have a great defense. But the offense has struggled, especially in the red zone. They're one of only six teams with more field goals than touchdowns, and Steven Hauschka is tied for most field goal attempts (6) under 30 yards. Their next three games are all at home.

9. Minnesota Vikings [9] — One of four teams with a 3-0 record in its division (Colts, Patriots, Rams). The emergence of rookie WR Stefon Diggs (332 yards in three starts) has energized their offense, but what makes Minnesota a playoff contender is a defense that ranks 2nd in the NFL in points allowed. That's buoyed by a weak schedule, and I'd like to see the Vikings force more turnovers, but it's still impressive, and it's winning games. The Vikings are 5-2, a full game ahead of St. Louis for the last wild card in the NFC.

10. Philadelphia Eagles [11] — The Giants have scored at least 20 points in seven of their eight games. They scored 7 against Philadelphia. The Saints scored a season-low 17 against Philadelphia. I have no faith in their offense, but a strong defense makes the 3-4 Eagles the current favorite to win the NFC East.

11. New York Jets [6] — Allowed season-worsts in yardage (451) and points (34). Rodney Harrison deemed them "not ready" for the Raiders. They also suffered injuries to their top two QBs. Ryan Fitzpatrick has played well this season, and could be a significant loss for a team that expects to make the playoffs.

12. Pittsburgh Steelers [10] — You're supposed to wear scary costumes on Halloween, not the day after.

I noted after Week 5 that Ben Roethlisberger plays poorly when he rushes back from injury. Over Ben's career, the Steelers are 2-5 in his first game back, compared to 106-49 in his other games. In those seven games, Roethlisberger averaged just 186 net passing yards, threw more INTs than TDs, and had a passer rating of 73.3.

It's a small sample, but this doesn't even count Roethlisberger's poor performances when he played through an ankle injury in 2011, including an upset loss to the Tim Tebow-led Broncos in the playoffs. I don't believe the Steelers lost because of Big Ben's play on Sunday — it's unlikely they would have done any better with Landry Jones or Michael Vick — but he did toss 3 INTs and finish with a 57.8 rating. In the future, both quarterback and team would be better served by Roethlisberger getting healthy before he returns to the field.

13. Oakland Raiders [18] — Top-10 in the NFL in yards per game (365) and points per game (25.4). The Raiders are 4-3, and two of the teams they've lost to are undefeated (Bengals and Broncos).

14. Buffalo Bills [16] — With Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, they went 3-2, including a close loss to the Patriots. With E.J. Manuel, they went 0-2, including a loss to the Jaguars. Taylor is expected back this week.

15. Kansas City Chiefs [23] — Fourth straight week holding their opponent under 20 points. Five different Chiefs have at least 2 sacks this season.

16. New Orleans Saints [17] — I'm probably alone on this, but I found their "epic shootout" against the Giants unwatchable. Literally, I switched to a different game and never went back. Dan Patrick and the NBC crew likened it to Arena Football, which uses a 50-yard field, no punting, and other rules which facilitate offensive numbers that look silly in the NFL. I agree: that didn't look like an NFL game. It was bad defense more than great offense, and I wasn't impressed by either team.

17. Miami Dolphins [14] — Defense performed fine against a dangerous opponent, but offense was absent. The Dolphins didn't cross midfield until the second half. Cameron Wake tore his Achilles and will miss the rest of the season.

18. Washington [19] — Held their first two opponents to a combined 27 points, but they've allowed an average of 28.2 since then. Run defense is a particular concern: in the last three weeks, Devonta Freeman rushed for 153 yards against them, Chris Ivory rushed for 146, and Doug Martin hit them for 136.

19. Indianapolis Colts [20] — Strange game, with a slow, sloppy first half defined by pouring rain, then a thrilling finish in the fourth quarter and overtime. That's a decent description of the Colts' season, too: ugly and disappointing, but with flashes of brilliance. The Colts are inconsistent, and in particular, Andrew Luck is inconsistent. Maybe he has fractured ribs, maybe he's trying too hard, maybe it's something else. They've lost three in a row, and they haven't beaten anyone outside the putrid AFC South.

20. Atlanta Falcons [13] — First four games: 4-0, outscored opponents 137-89 (+48). Last four games: 2-2, been outscored 80-76 (-4). How do you lose a game when you have 496 yards of offense (compared to 290 for your opponent) and 37 minutes of possession in regulation, a 13:54 advantage? How do you lose a game when you have two 100-yard receivers (Julio Jones and Jacob Tamme) and you don't punt all game?

1. You commit four turnovers, and force none.

2. You commit 11 penalties, for 124 yards and 5 Tampa Bay first downs.

3. You suck in the red zone. You turn three possessions inside the 5-yard line into two field goals and a lost fumble.

The only element missing is some sort of special teams disaster. Seriously, how do you lose a game in which you never punt?

21. New York Giants [15] — In the last four weeks, they've lost to two teams at or below .500, barely beaten the awful 49ers, and barely beaten a Cowboys team that has now lost five straight. Even in this week's shootout in New Orleans, they got outgained by 200 yards and went 1/8 on third downs.

22. Baltimore Ravens [24] — Remarkably even game. The Ravens had 365 yards, the Chargers 371. Baltimore gained 23 first downs, San Diego 22. The Ravens won 29-26, on the final play of the game. Baltimore's offense has been non-existent outside of Steve Smith, and now he's out for the remainder of the season, so this rank may be too high.

23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [31] — It's strange, after a game in which they allowed 496 yards and didn't force any punts, to say they won with defense. But the key to the game was Atlanta's four turnovers. Rookie Kwon Alexander, a fourth-round pick from LSU, intercepted his second pass of the season, and on the Falcons' second drive, he simply took the ball from Julio Jones.

24. San Diego Chargers [21] — Four straight losses, but all by one possession (8 points or less), and mostly against pretty good teams.

25. Houston Texans [26] — Sacked Zach Mettenberger 7 times. Whitney Mercilus had 3.5 sacks, J.J. Watt had 2.5 and a forced fumble, Jared Crick recovered the fumble and added a sack of his own. Rookie safety Kevin Johnson intercepted a pass and made two tackles for loss. The Titans went 1/13 on third and fourth downs, with 6 points and no TDs.

26. Dallas Cowboys [25] — Didn't calling two timeouts in a row used to be a penalty? Why did they get rid of that?

The Cowboys have been held without a touchdown in two of their last three games, and they're 0-5 without Tony Romo, after a 2-0 start with him. Matt Cassel had 91 net passing yards against the Seahawks.

27. Chicago Bears [27] — Last four games all decided by 3 points or less. They lost this week on a last-second field goal, lost their previous game in overtime, beat the Chiefs with a last-minute TD, and edged the Raiders on a field goal with :02 left.

The famous Kardiac Kids, the 1980 Cleveland Browns, only had six games decided by three or less all season, though they also won a number of late comebacks, which is more memorable than losing them.

28. Cleveland Browns [22] — Took a 20-7 lead, then blew it and lost 34-20. They got out-gained 491-254, allowed 13/16 third down conversions, and didn't score in the second half. Josh McCown led the Browns in rushing (18 yds).

29. Jacksonville Jaguars [28] — I don't understand why the NFL still gives a bye to teams the week after they play in London. It's well-established at this point that West-to-East travel is harder on athletes than East-to-West, and teams are 8-20 (.286) the week before making the trip to England. The bye should come the week before traveling to London, not the week after.

30. Detroit Lions [29] — Maybe they should fire the defensive coordinator, too.

31. Tennessee Titans [30] — 36 points in the last four games combined, and under 14 in all four (13, 10, 7, 6).

32. San Francisco 49ers [32] — Traded Vernon Davis and benched Colin Kaepernick. You know things are grim when you're really hoping Blaine Gabbert can give your offense a spark.

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