Tuesday, December 1, 2015

2015 NFL Week 12 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Week 12 Game Balls

Offense — Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions. Passed for 337 yards, 22 first downs, 5 touchdowns, and a 137.8 passer rating. This was Detroit's sixth time scoring at least 45 points on Thanksgiving, but only the third in the last 60 years.

Defense — Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers. Intercepted two passes and scored a touchdown. Missed games notwithstanding, this is the best season of Kuechly's career.

Special Teams — Will Hill, ST, Baltimore Ravens. With an assist from Brent Urban, who blocked the field goal that Hill returned for the game-winning touchdown.

Rookie — Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders. He's played well all season, but this is the first time I've selected him. Cooper caught 7 passes for 115 yards against Tennessee.

Honorable Mentions: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, DL Ziggy Ansah, K Graham Gano

Five Quick Hits

* Congratulations to the Edmonton Eskimos, who won the Grey Cup on Sunday.

* Weather is starting to noticeably affect games now, including nationally televised games in Green Bay (rain) and Denver (snow). I like it. Football has a great tradition of players overcoming bad weather, from the Sneakers Game to the Ice Bowl, from Adam Vinatieri's snow kick to C.J. Anderson's overtime run on Sunday night.

* It's a nice tradition for the networks to feature their off-camera personnel on Thanksgiving. But did I miss something, or is everyone behind the scenes at FOX a white man?

* The Pro Football Hall of Fame has announced this year's semifinalists. My preferences to advance: Morten Andersen, Steve Atwater, Isaac Bruce, Don Coryell, Terrell Davis, Tony Dungy, Alan Faneca, Brett Favre, Kevin Greene, Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, Joe Jacoby, Kevin Mawae, Karl Mecklenburg, and Sam Mills.

* Whoever redesigned the PFHOF's website should be fired. It's ugly, it takes too long to load, and they've removed functionality.

Week 12 Rant: Give Up

"In this situation it's silly to run plays. I mean, what are you going to do? Do you have a play that scores 20 points?"

That quote is from a John Madden broadcast, probably 10 years ago. The losing team, down by three touchdowns with under a minute left, was stopping the clock and acting like they might still win. No team ever has, or ever will, make that kind of comeback.

On Thanksgiving, Dallas was losing 33-14 with 1:10 left and no timeouts, when Matt Cassel spiked the ball to stop the clock. The Cowboys have scored only 14 points in the first 59 minutes, and now they think they can score 20 in the final 70 seconds? You're going to score a touchdown on your next play, recover an onside kick, score another touchdown immediately, recover another onside kick, and then score your third TD of the final minute? That is completely, 100% out of the question.

Three plays and :15 later, Carolina's Mario Addison got hurt. That is the Cowboys' fault, a totally preventable injury which did not occur in the normal course of the game: it happened because Dallas was stopping the clock. The Cowboys had no chance to win, but they did have the opportunity to get someone hurt, and that's exactly what happened. If there were karma in the universe, Cassel would have gotten injured rather than Addison. Running plays in that situation is incredibly unsportsmanlike. It is disrespectful to players on both teams to risk their health when the outcome is clearly decided.

2015 Week 12 NFL Power Rankings

Brackets show last week's rank.

1. Carolina Panthers [1] — Three largest margins of victory (17, 28, 19) all in the last three weeks — they're still getting better. But let's talk about a mistake: early 2nd quarter, Panthers lead 10-3. Carolina has 4th-and-3 at the Dallas 38-yard line, and Ron Rivera opts to punt. What ever happened to Riverboat Ron? You have one of the league's worst punters, but you'd rather trust Brad Nortman to pin the Cowboys deep than trust your offense to pick up three yards, or let Graham Gano attempt a 56-yard field goal?

Nortman's punt was terrible — Jim Nantz called it a "pooch shank" — and the Cowboys took over at their own 16, a net of just 22 yards. You've got to go for the first down there, coach. Your offense is better than your punter — you've got a better chance of picking up the first down than pinning the opponent inside the 10 — and the first down is better than a good punt, anyway.

2. Kansas City Chiefs [5] — Five straight wins, by a combined 102 points, including a win over the Broncos and a 35-point beatdown of the Lions, who are 3-0 since. These rankings are for right now, and right now, no one wants to play Kansas City.

3. New England Patriots [2] — Several key penalties went against the Patriots, potentially changing the course of the game, but the long-term issue is injuries. Rob Gronkowski, although he was carted off late in the fourth quarter, appears to have avoided serious injury. He'll probably miss 1-2 games, but should return before the playoffs. Gronk isn't the only Patriot who's banged up, though. I've written this before: part of what makes it so hard for Super Bowl teams to repeat is the difficulty of staying healthy.

Part of the issue is luck, and regression to the mean: keeping your best players healthy through the end of the season is dicey, and doing it twice in a row is nearly impossible. The risk of injury even rises, because playoff teams play extra games — in which players can get hurt — and have a shorter offseason. Super Bowl teams don't begin their offseason, healing and rehabbing, until a month after most other teams. New England began this year with a team that could go 19-0, but now every week is a challenge.

4. Cincinnati Bengals [4] — Scored exactly 31 points for the third time in four games. There is a ton of talent on this roster, and the Bengals are one of the healthier teams in the NFL. There's no reason they shouldn't make a serious Super Bowl push.

5. Arizona Cardinals [3] — Larry Fitzgerald caught 10 passes for 66 yards, with a long of 11. How does a wide receiver catch 10 balls, and only four of them go for first downs? How does his longest reception, out of 10, only gain 11 yards?

6. Seattle Seahawks [6] — Just wrapped up a three-game home stand, in which they went 2-1 but allowed 82 points. Both Arizona and Pittsburgh scored 30 at Seattle, and the Steelers set a record for most yards a Seahawk defense had ever given up.

This Seahawk defense, playing at home, got torched for 538 yards. Going into Seattle is not nearly as intimidating as it was from 2012-14. Fortunately, Russell Wilson passed for 5 TDs, his first 5-TD passing game. Most 5-TD games by active players:

t1. Drew Brees, 10
t1. Peyton Manning, 10
3. Tom Brady, 6
t4. Aaron Rodgers, 4
t4. Ben Roethlisberger, 4
t4. Matthew Stafford, 4

No one else has more than two. Most surprising zero: Philip Rivers.

Most 5-TD games by retired players:

1. Dan Marino, 6
2. George Blanda, 5
t3. Brett Favre, 4
t3. Joe Montana, 4
t3. Warren Moon, 4
t3. Kurt Warner, 4

Dan Marino was really good.

7. Denver Broncos [7] — Outgained New England 433-301 and forced 10 punts. The last two games, they're running the offense Gary Kubiak wants to run, although presumably, he'd like Demaryius Thomas to catch some more passes. Thomas caught 1 out of 13 targets, which Al Michaels and I have never seen before.

8. Minnesota Vikings [8] — Stefon Diggs, Weeks 4-8: 104.8 yds/gm, 0.5 TDs/gm. Diggs, Weeks 9-12: 46.3 yds/gm, 0 TDs. The Vikings continue to win with defense — six of their last seven opponents have scored 20 or less — but their impotent passing game limits how far this team can go in the playoffs.

9. Houston Texans [13] — Four wins in a row, and they held three of the four opponents to six points apiece. J.J. Watt had two sacks and seven hits on Drew Brees.

10. Indianapolis Colts [16] — Who needs Andrew Luck? Matt Hasselbeck is 4-0 as the starting quarterback, with a 94.4 passer rating, compared to Luck's 74.9. The Colts have won three in a row.

11. Chicago Bears [17] — Started the season 0-3, now 5-6, including wins in three of their last four. The defense is balling, holding the last four opponents to 20 points or less, with no opposing QB passing for 300 yards since Week 6.

12. Pittsburgh Steelers [9] — Ben Roethlisberger missed the end of the game with a concussion, though early indications are that he will be available for Week 13. Al Michaels seems confused about Big Ben. Last year, Michaels said "Roethlisberger has been an iron man ... this is only the third time he's played 16 games in a season [because] he's been hurt so much." On Thursday night, Michaels added, "I look at Roethlisberger, I mean he looks indestructible." Ben has missed part or all of seven games this season, and has played 16 games only three times in his 12-year career. He's one of the most oft-injured QBs in the league. Indestructible iron man? Al, that's not what those words mean.

13. Buffalo Bills [11] — Kickoff specialist Jordan Gay made three solo tackles this week. Who says kickers aren't football players?

14. Detroit Lions [23] — They're 3-0 with Jim Bob Cooter as offensive coordinator. Calvin Johnson now has 11 career touchdowns on Thanksgiving, moving past Tony Dorsett (9) and Barry Sanders (10) on the all-time list. Only Emmitt Smith (14) is still ahead of Megatron.

15. Green Bay Packers [10] — Rushed for 177 yards and a 6.3 average, including 105 and 6.2 by Eddie Lacy. But Aaron Rodgers had 188 net passing yards on 45 attempts: a 4.2 average, and a 62.4 passer rating. Davante Adams caught only 2 of his 11 targets, two weeks after he gained just 79 yards on 21 targets. Green Bay's receivers can't beat man-to-man coverage, and right now Adams is a black hole, from which nothing positive escapes.

Green Bay has lost four of its last five. It's not obvious that this is an above-average team right now.

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [15] — Jameis Winston is up-and-down, which is normal for rookie QBs. The Bucs scored more points against Philadelphia (45) than in their other three most recent games combined (40).

17. New York Jets [22] — Brandon Marshall had a grand game against one of his former teams, catching 9 of 11 targets for 131 yards and 2 TDs. I don't understand how a player as talented as Marshall has so many former teams (Broncos, Dolphins, Bears). I get that he's a bit of a live wire, and his mouth sometimes runs ahead of his judgement, but he's such a valuable player. He's got size, good route-runner, great hands. He's a good blocker and a passionate player who really cares about winning. He keeps getting traded, and he keeps doing good things for his new teams.

18. Washington [24] — 5-1 at home, 0-5 on the road. In home games, Kirk Cousins averages 263 net yards and a 113.0 rating, compared to 220 net yards and a 69.8 rating on the road. He has 14 TDs and 2 INTs at home, 5 TDs and 8 INTs away.

19. New York Giants [14] — Odell Beckham made another brilliant TD reception, but it was too little, too late, after the Giants were scoreless through three quarters (6 punts, 3 INTs). They're also worst in the NFL in yards allowed (419.6/gm).

20. Oakland Raiders [18] — The Titans' wide receivers combined for 6 catches and 70 yards on 20 targets, while Marcus Mariota struggled to a 69.4 passer rating. Raider cornerback David Amerson had 6 passes defensed, including an interception.

21. Dallas Cowboys [12] — Lost Tony Romo again, this time for the remainder of the season. Romo was having a terrible game even before the injury, with more interceptions to Luke Kuechly than completions to Dez Bryant. In the second quarter, the Cowboys' offense netted 4 yards and 2 pick-sixes for Carolina. Oh my goodness.

22. Miami Dolphins [19] — Nine rushes for 12 yards and zero first downs. Backup center Jamil Douglas had a rough day: he was charged with three fumbled snaps and a holding penalty. The Dolphins fired offensive coordinator Bill Lazor on Monday.

23. San Diego Chargers [28] — In this part of the rankings, any win moves you up a few spots.

24. Jacksonville Jaguars [25] — Settled for too many short field goals. They kicked on 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line, and Blake Bortles was flagged for two illegal forward passes from beyond the line of scrimmage, both on 3rd-and-goal, which forced them to settle for three points. They went 1/4 in the red zone and lost by 6.

25. St. Louis Rams [21] — In the last three weeks, they have two blowout losses, and a close loss to an awful team (Baltimore). Todd Gurley has become totally ineffective, and the Rams have gone four straight games without scoring 20 points. Change can wait until the end of the season, but I think this team has gone as far as Jeff Fisher can take it.

26. Philadelphia Eagles [20] — Allowed 45 points for the second week in a row, both against teams that have only topped 30 one other time this season. Incredibly, the Eagles' offense was just as bad as the defense. Five of Philadelphia's 10 drives produced negative yardage.

27. Atlanta Falcons [27] — I know they're dealing with injuries, but this was their fourth loss in a row. Atlanta scored at least 25 points in every game during its 5-0 start, and under 25 in every game since (1-5).

28. New Orleans Saints [26] — Three straight losses since their 'epic shootout' with the Giants in Week 8. They lost at home to the Titans, then lost to Washington and Houston by a combined 71-20.

29. Baltimore Ravens [29] — May have gotten away with a missed penalty on the game-winning play. Anthony Levine appeared to line up offside, jumped early, then returned to his original position, which was still offside. And was that a block in the back during the return? I guess it makes up for the Jacksonville game.

30. San Francisco 49ers [30] — Beat themselves with mistakes, including 13 penalties, the most wide-open dropped interception you could ever hope to see, and allowing Carson Palmer to slowly pick up an 8-yard touchdown run. Peter Morelli's officiating crew drew criticism from both teams.

31. Tennessee Titans [31] — Haven't won at home since October 12, 2014.

32. Cleveland Browns [32] — I've written many times before how much I hate when players return kickoffs more than halfway deep in the end zone. It creates so many potential problems: injuries, fumbles, penalties, bad field position. On Monday night, Justin Gilbert returned a kick 6 yards deep in the end zone. He made it out to the 34-yard line, but he also got a concussion. Take a knee on that one, son.

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