2015 NFL Week 11 Power Rankings

Week Eleven Game Balls

Offense — Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers. 242 net yards, 5 touchdown passes, and no turnovers.

Defense — D'Qwell Jackson, LB, Indianapolis Colts. Had a sack, a fumble recovery, and the game-winning interception return for a touchdown.

Special Teams — Mason Crosby, K, Green Bay Packers. Bad on kickoffs, but he went 5/5 on field goals, all from 40 yards and beyond: 42, 47, 40, 42, 52.

Rookie — Thomas Rawls, RB, Seattle Seahawks. Amazing week for rookies, especially on offense. Jameis Winston threw 5 touchdown passes, while J.J. Nelson had 142 receiving yards and a touchdown. But Rawls had more total yardage (255) than Winston (238), with scores both on the ground and through the air.

Honorable Mentions — RB Thomas Rawls, LB Lavonte David, P Dustin Colquitt

Five Quick Hits

* Mike Tirico's summary at the end of MNF: "What a screwed-up night of plays and officiating this was. Wow."

* Todd Gurley's rushing average each week he's been the starter: 7.7, 5.3, 6.7, 6.6, 3.7, 3.8, 2.6. That's three weeks in a row under four yards per carry. The Rams can't pass, so defenses are selling out to stop the run.

* Gurley had no targets this week. I absolutely do not understand why the Rams aren't throwing to him.

* Thursday night color rush uniforms: better this week than last week. The Titans looked almost normal. The Jaguars looked ridiculous. At what point do the NFL and Nike just admit that this was a bad idea?

* Delanie Walker appeared to suffer a concussion on Thursday night, but he stayed in the game, never even appeared to get evaluated. That's not supposed to happen. More on this in the Rams section, with regard to Case Keenum.

Long Rant: State of the NFL, 2015

I think I'm slowly falling out of love with the NFL. Maybe it's just me, but there are things I see every week that make it hard to remain a fan. This Sunday, I watched Washington at Carolina early, followed by Green Bay at Minnesota, both of which drove me a little crazy. I think I've identified the three biggest factors: poor officiating, sub-standard television broadcasts, and the prevalence of short passing.

Poor Officiating

There are too many penalties in today's NFL, and in particular, there are too many penalties on big plays. Doesn't it seem like every long throw draws pass interference on someone? I feel like every good punt return gets called back for some reason. Trivial penalties wipe out touchdowns, turnovers, fourth down conversions, and failed fourth down conversions. When it's a close call on a big play, I want the refs to let it go. Penalties are not exciting, and they're wiping out too many plays that are exciting. It can suck the fun out of a game pretty quickly.

I also don't like how many close calls get overturned on replay reviews, and I think we all hate the policies about what constitutes a catch.

Example from Week 11 — The Monday night game was a disaster, and I don't even want to go into it. From Sunday afternoon ... Jerome Boger's crew has not been good this season, and called too many penalties in the Carolina game, which was close for most of the first half. The key play, the turning point in the game, was Chris Culliver's interception return for a touchdown, and a 21-14 Washington lead. A questionable penalty turned the pick-six into a 13-yard gain, and led to a Panthers touchdown. Man, that was a close call, on a huge play: you've got to let that go. There were other examples from the same game, against both teams, but that was the big one.

How to fix it — First of all, officials should be directed to err on the side of letting players play. Don't get involved on a maybe. I'd also like to see most or all penalties become reviewable, especially 15-yarders and pass interference. Speaking of which, pass interference should be capped at 15 yards. I know the league doesn't want judgement calls to be reviewable, but if you've hired good refs, they should have good judgement, and their calls would always stand unless there was clear and obvious evidence to the contrary.

I also think we could reduce the number of penalties by instituting an ejection system similar to the NBA's, or a card system like the one used in soccer. In basketball, six fouls means you're out. I'd like to see the NFL direct that two personal fouls in a game equals automatic ejection — if we prefer a soccer-style system, any personal foul draws a yellow card, and two yellow cards result in a red card and ejection. Furthermore, any player who draws over 30 yards of penalties in a game (not counting spot fouls) should be tossed. It would almost never affect a game, except that it would serve as a deterrent: players would commit fewer penalties that way. I would also be open to the idea of stiffer penalties on kick returns, which used to be exciting plays.

Sub-Standard TV Broadcasts

Televised football is so good, we hold it to a very high standard. But there are some basics, things that are so fundamental to a broadcast that it's irresponsible, and rude to viewers, to mess them up — and they're repeatedly getting messed up.

1. Show every play, from beginning to end, using a camera angle where fans can tell what is happening.

Worst offender — ESPN misses the beginning of a play, and sometimes the whole play, at least once a week.

2. Show replays of big plays and penalties. Don't let announcers speak over a referee's announcement.

Worst offender — CBS does the worst job of clarifying what happens on interesting/unusual plays.

3. Show the starting lineups. This takes a few seconds; it's a simple courtesy for fans.

Worst offender — FOX, for reasons I can't begin to guess, shows abbreviated lineups featuring only the biggest stars — for its featured afternoon games only. The non-marquee games get a full lineup.

There are plenty of other items to complain about — I won't get into commercials during 30-second timeouts again — but these are fundamentals of a professional broadcast, and they're routinely mishandled.

Example from Week 11 — In the Packers/Vikings game, FOX showed a kickoff from a ground-level, opposite end zone camera. That's the worst seat in the house on a kickoff; you couldn't choose a worse camera without leaving the stadium. The kickoff was strange, and fielded at the 13 by a player other than the designated returner, then brought back to the 36-yard line. But with no depth perception, it was very hard to tell what was happening. Please, save that angle for field goals and replays.

During Chiefs/Chargers, on a very close call of whether a player gained a first down, CBS showed two replays ... from behind the play, where you can't see the line to gain and you can't tell whether the ball got there. I'd much rather have one replay from the correct angle.

How to fix it — Do your damn job.

Too Much Short Passing

The game has changed so much over the past three decades, but the last 10 years especially, to emphasize high-percentage short passes and minimize risky downfield throws. Here's the problem: high-percentage plays are boring, and risky plays are exciting. Short passing is drowning out both the ground game and the deep game, which doesn't feel like football to me, and which reduces excitement largely to scoring plays and turnovers. Everything's station to station, five yards at a time, unless you get a big run after the catch. An incomplete pass 30 yards downfield is more exciting than a five-yard completion.

And while more efficient passing is a net benefit for the offense, I think this is becoming so common that it's actually counter-productive. Teams are throwing four-yard passes on 3rd-and-7, which is ridiculous, and short passes, when they get intercepted, get returned for touchdowns. INT rates continue to drop, but INT TDs are as common as ever. Longer passes yield big INT returns less frequently.

Example from Week 11 — During the first quarter of Packers/Vikings, Green Bay had 3rd-and-10, and Aaron Rodgers completed a 1-yard pass. Why the hell are you [1] running a one-yard pattern on 3rd-and-10, [2] throwing to the guy who's running a one-yard pattern, and [3] throwing to him even though he's covered and clearly about to be tackled?

How to fix it — Some of this is on the coach/player level, but I think there are changes the NFL could make at the rules level that would help. I'd like to see the illegal contact zone begin at 10 yards, rather than 5. That will create more press coverage, which discourages short passing and opens up big-play opportunities downfield. I'd also like to see more emphasis on offensive pass interference, especially pick plays and wideouts blocking downfield. If we need an extra official — maybe upstairs? — let's make that happen.

To some extent, the short passes are a function of necessity, because pass rushers are so good now. I'd like to explore small, subtle changes that might help blockers relative to defenders. My annual Pro Bowl column is coming up, and I'm really dissatisfied with the level of offensive line play, across the league, right now. It wasn't that long ago that Kevin Mawae, Alan Faneca, Steve Hutchinson, Jonathan Ogden, and Walter Jones seemed like an impenetrable wall, but there's no one of that caliber playing offensive line right now. I think the balance has shifted too far in the defense's favor, and I'd like to see a tweak that evens the field a little. Strategically, I wonder if six-man lines (with a tackle playing tight end) shouldn't be more common.

Maybe all this stuff is just me — but I doubt it. I'm not proposing huge changes: fan-friendly, hands-off officiating; viewers-first tv broadcasts; a little more downfield passing, and a lot less short passing. I think that's a crisper, more exciting game, and a better experience for fans. The sport is moving in the wrong direction right now, and I'm confident I'm not the only longtime fan who's becoming disenchanted.

Moving on with the power ratings, brackets show previous rank.

1. Carolina Panthers [2] — Only the 10th 28-point victory in franchise history, and their first this season. Devin Funchess led the Panthers in receiving yards against Washington (64), and if he emerges as any kind of serious threat, Carolina becomes even more intimidating.

2. New England Patriots [1] — Lead the NFL in fewest points allowed, and their injury-decimated offense is now the concern. New England's last three games are its three lowest scores of the season.

3. Arizona Cardinals [4] — They remind me of the 2001 St. Louis Rams. Explosive, almost unstoppable offense. Pretty good defense. And they commit too many turnovers to win the Super Bowl.

4. Cincinnati Bengals [3] — Playing without cornerback Adam Jones, allowed a season-high 34 points, double-digits worse than the previous mark. Backup CB Darqueze Dennard left the game, too, with a season-ending shoulder injury. Giovani Bernard had a fantastic game (128 receiving yards, five double-digit gains), and Andy Dalton led three fourth-quarter scoring drives, tying the game with just 1:03 left and no Arizona timeouts. The defense couldn't hold on, but Cincinnati played well against a tough opponent. The Cardinals are 17-4 (.810) at home under Bruce Arians.

5. Kansas City Chiefs [6] — You could make a reasonable argument that Kansas City is the best team in the NFL right now. The team has won four straight games by double-digits. They beat the Steelers by 10, Lions by 35, Broncos by 19, and Chargers by 30. The Chiefs are beating good teams comfortably, and they're embarrassing bad teams.

6. Seattle Seahawks [7] — 49ers/Seahawks has vanished from the list of great NFL rivalries as quickly as it arrived. Seattle pounded San Francisco this year, 20-3 and 29-13, after 19-3 and 17-7 wins last year. Seattle has won five straight against the Niners, with the last four by double digits, a combined 85-26.

7. Denver Broncos [8] — Overcame penalties — 8 for 118 yards, and 5 Chicago first downs — to win Brock Osweiler's first start. Osweiler played well (223 yards, no turnovers, 127.1 rating), and he'll start against New England on Sunday night.

8. Minnesota Vikings [5] — I use a lot of stats in my writing and analysis, so I've learned a lot from the analytics community, and analytics has informed my understanding of and passion for football, baseball, and basketball.

However, there are some people in the analytics movement who question, dismiss, or outright deny the existence of intangible factors like momentum, team chemistry, locker room atmosphere, and mindset. This week's Viking game was another data point showing that idea to be wrong. Minnesota has spent the last month outplaying Green Bay, but this was a big game against the big bad wolf of the NFC North, and the Vikings seemed intimidated, from the opening kickoff. By halftime, the game was still close (16-6, Packers), but it was a formality: the Vikings were beat mentally. They came in as slight favorites (-1), but they expected to lose, and they played flat. They're a good team, and they're going to the playoffs, but they're a year or two away. At the beginning of this season, they just wanted to win. Next year, they'll want to win it all.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers [10] — Despite the bye, they had a good week in the playoff hunt. Cincinnati lost, so the Steelers still have an outside shot at the AFC North title. The Bills and Jets lost, too, keeping Pittsburgh one game ahead of everyone in the AFC wild card picture.

10. Green Bay Packers [18] — Held Adrian Peterson to 45 yards and a 3.5 average, with a lost fumble, and sacked Teddy Bridgewater 6 times. Datone Jones had a big game, and Mike Daniels is having an exceptional season. His stats aren't eye-popping and he doesn't have name recognition, so I doubt he'll make the Pro Bowl, but he'll be on my ballot. This was the best game I've seen all year from Josh Sitton. I feel like Sitton, an all-pro guard, always plays better late in the season.

11. Buffalo Bills [9] — Their two best receivers, Sammy Watkins and Charles Clay, combined for 9 targets, 4 receptions, and 53 yards. Part of that is good coverage by the underrated Patriots' defense, but part of it is poor play-calling and/or game management. On the other side of the ball, you've got to credit Rex Ryan. The Bills disguised their schemes masterfully to keep Tom Brady off-balance, and limited New England to a season-low 20 points, at home.

12. Dallas Cowboys [23] — They're a different team with Tony Romo back. Romo and Dez Bryant broke the team record for quarterback-to-receiver TD passes (50), surpassing the mark previously held by Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin (49). Romo to Jason Witten (37) is farther back than I expected, but they could catch Aikman and Irvin, too.

13. Houston Texans [20] — T.J. Yates, starting his first game in nearly four years, wasn't even on the roster opening day. Yates was okay: 220 yards, no turnovers, 89.0 rating. But the Texans also had 6 three-and-outs (including four in a row), and Yates completed less than half his passes. But DeAndre Hopkins (118 yds, 2 TD) and J.J. Watt (5 TFL, 2 sacks) can carry this team with QB play that is just okay. Brian Hoyer returns as the starter next week, though I'm not sure it's a big deal either way.

14. New York Giants [15] — Something to work on during the bye: covering tight ends. Opposing TEs have combined for 51 receptions, 677 yards, and 5 TDs. If "TE facing the Giants" was a player, he'd rank 2nd among NFL tight ends in receptions, 3rd in yards, tied for 6th in TDs. He'd basically be Greg Olsen.

15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [22] — Jameis Winston threw 5 TDs, Doug Martin rushed for 235 yards, Lavonte David had 2 interceptions and a touchdown. Tampa has won two in a row and four of the last six. I think the Vikings and Seahawks will get the NFC wild cards, but the Bucs have an easy schedule, and they are a playoff contender. Rookie LB Kwon Alexander, who led the team in tackles this week, reportedly could be facing a four-game PED suspension.

16. Indianapolis Colts [17] — Every team in the AFC South is at or below .500. Every team in the AFC South has been outscored this season. They're a combined 16-24, with a -152 point differential. That includes a 10-18 (.357) non-division record. But the Colts and Texans are both 5-5, tied for the last wild card in the AFC, and the Jaguars are 4-6. Given their easy schedules, it's entirely realistic that two teams from the worst division in football might make the playoffs.

17. Chicago Bears [19] — Lost to Denver, but held their opponent under 20 points for the third week in a row. Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte will likely return to the lineup this week.

18. Oakland Raiders [11] — A tightly packed set of teams dropped as a group this week: Raiders, Dolphins, Eagles, Rams, Jets. All five, I think, are pretty even right now. They're all teams that were playing well a few weeks ago, and struggling badly now. Oakland's problem is offense. Weeks 7-9: 37 points, 34 points, 35 points. Weeks 10-11: 14 points, 13 points.

19. Miami Dolphins [12] — Defense held up okay, especially early. They intercepted Tony Romo twice, and in the first half, Darren McFadden carried 12 times for 33 yards (2.8 avg). But Miami's offense was atrocious. The Dolphins only gained 9 first downs, including 1/10 third-down conversions and 0/1 on fourth down. They only gained 210 yards, and one of the Cowboys' three touchdowns came on a pick-six.

20. Philadelphia Eagles [13] — Worst loss, and most points allowed, in over a year: November 16th, 2014, the Packers trounced Philly, 53-20, in a game that was even less competitive than the score implies. Mark Sanchez was the quarterback for that game, too. Sam Bradford is expected to start against Detroit on Thanksgiving.

21. St. Louis Rams [14] — Let's talk about the end of the game. With 1:13 remaining and the game tied, Justin Tucker missed a 51-yard field goal, so St. Louis took over at its own 41. After an incomplete pass, Case Keenum got sacked. An offside penalty negated the play (2nd-and-5, 46-yard line), but Keenum hit his head and was visibly woozy, enough that Nick Foles was warming up on the sideline. Keenum inexplicably stayed in the game. He threw an incomplete pass, followed by a sack-fumble that put Baltimore back in field goal position and set up the game-winning kick.

Following the game, Keenum was diagnosed with a concussion. The NFL has repeatedly claimed that players are monitored for concussions, to prevent (or at least minimize) the type of career-ending, life-altering head injuries that have drawn so much attention in recent years. It's not true, and this was not an isolated incident: players routinely stay on the field following obvious head trauma. That's not okay.

My proposal would be this: a concussed player who improperly continues to play is automatically placed on injured reserve. That's a strong precaution, and it creates a disincentive, for both team and player, for the injured party to remain in the game following a head injury.

22. New York Jets [16] — Lost four of their last five, and the win (28-23 over Jacksonville) was not impressive. They're not playing terribly, but they're losing on little things. This week, they couldn't convert third downs (3/14) and the defense gave up too many big plays. The latter is not a new problem. Darrelle Revis got a concussion this week, which could exacerbate the issue.

23. Detroit Lions [28] — Two straight wins, both against teams in the playoff hunt. The Lions scored exactly 18 points in both wins, which is an unusual figure, but also speaks to how Detroit is winning: with defense. They held the Raiders to 13 first downs and 214 yards. Ziggy Ansah (8 sacks, 3 FF) is the standout.

24. Washington [21] — Embarrassing blowout defeat. They got shut out after the first quarter. They rushed 12 times for 14 yards. They only gained 9 first downs, and 186 yards. They lost four fumbles. The defense went offside five times. At least their special teams played well!

25. Jacksonville Jaguars [24] — Back-to-back unimpressive wins.

26. New Orleans Saints [26] — Last week, the firing of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan took precedence, but with a bye this week, let's discuss their weird usage of Mark Ingram against Washington. That's one of the worst run defenses in the league, so many people projected a big day for Ingram. Sure enough, he had a 70-yard run in the first quarter. Ingram finished the game with 5 carries, compared to 8 for C.J. Spiller and 11 for Tim Hightower. I don't understand why they got away from him.

27. Atlanta Falcons [27] — Coming off a bye, playing at home, and facing a mediocre opponent starting its 40-year-old backup quarterback, they committed four turnovers and lost. Devonta Freeman got off to a good start (39-yard run on his first play), but left in the first quarter with a concussion. His status for Week 12 is uncertain.

28. San Diego Chargers [25] — Six-game losing streak, longest in the league. They didn't even play well in garbage time this week.

29. Baltimore Ravens [29] — Won the game, but lost their starting quarterback (Joe Flacco tore his ACL) and top running back (Justin Forsett broke his arm) for the remainder of the season. Matt Schaub and Buck Allen, respectively, appear to be the new starters. Neither is likely to be fantasy-relevant.

30. San Francisco 49ers [30] — The post-mortem on Colin Kaepernick's season: 6 TD, 5 INT, a rushing touchdown and a lost fumble, 5.3 net yards per attempt and a 78.5 passer rating. Blaine Gabbert was okay in a tough road game against Seattle (269 net yds, no turnovers, 98.2 rating).

31. Tennessee Titans [31] — Here's something weird: they've scored 14 points or less in 7 games, and 33 or more in the other three games.

32. Cleveland Browns [32] — Announced Johnny Manziel as their starter for the rest of the season. Manziel is coming off a game in which he passed for 372 yards, and led his team to 9 points. Manziel had 6 sacks and 2 turnovers, and the Browns went 0/3 on goal-to-go: field goal, interception, turnover on downs. I understand why Manziel is getting a chance, but I don't think he makes them a better team.

UPDATE: Manziel has been benched and demoted to third-string for an off-field incident.

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