Tuesday, December 15, 2015

2015 NFL Week 14 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Week 14 Game Balls

Offense — Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks. Second game ball in a row for Wilson, who passed for 292 yards and 5 touchdowns, with no sacks, no interceptions, and a 139.6 passer rating.

Defense — Khalil Mack, DL, Oakland Raiders. Five sacks, and a forced fumble that led to a safety. I decided at the last moment to leave Mack off my 2015 Pro Bowl ballot. Oops.

Special Teams — Johnny Hekker, P, St. Louis Rams. Six punts for 273 net yards (45.5), and four down inside the 20-yard line, including two inside the 5.

Rookie — Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams. Rushed for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 16 carries, against an opponent who had only allowed two 100-yard rushers all season, and none since Week 5.

Honorable Mentions — WR Odell Beckham, DL Kawann Short, P Matt Darr

Five Quick Hits

* Next week's color rush jerseys look really bad. Those things are ugly anyway, but why are the Rams wearing gold? If they emphasize one color — which they should not — it ought to be blue.

* I also hate the Browns' uniforms. They're reddish-orange. That's the wrong color, and that color is wrong.

* Russell Wilson's last four games: 17 TDs, no turnovers, 145.9 passer rating. His passer rating in those games: 138.5, 147.9, 146.0, 139.6. He's even hotter than Cam Newton.

* Since I mentioned Cam, his last four games: 14 TDs, 1 turnover, 127.2 passer rating. Not too shabby. That doesn't even include 114 rushing yards.

* This is the last week for Pro Bowl voting. Check out our selections here.

Week 14 Rant: Hall of Fame Memorabilia

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is clueless and tone-deaf. On Sunday, Matt Stafford set some made-up record that no one cares about. He was the fastest player in history to reach 25,000 career passing yards. You're gonna tell your kids about that one, right?

Timmy — are there still kids called Timmy? — Timmy, I was watching it live. I'd been counting down the yards of Stafford's approach to 25k, thinking to myself, "He's going to do it! He's going to be the fastest one, and break the record held by..."

My story breaks down there, because I have no idea who holds that record and I don't care enough to look it up.* This "record" doesn't matter even a little bit, and Andrew Luck will probably break it within the next three years anyway. It was such a historic moment that the Lions have absolutely no mention of it on their official website.

So yeah, there's this big record, and the Hall of Fame is there to get the ball that Stafford threw when he set the record. Except that Golden Tate, for some reason not understanding the enormous magnitude of the moment, gave the ball to a young fan in the stands. So naturally, the PFHOF decides to ask the kid to give the ball back, and they'll have Stafford send them some signed swag instead. Now, that's not a terrible trade, but how can you think this made-up record, that Marino probably didn't even knew he held, is so important that they have to tell this fan to return the ball so they can display it? No one's going to Canton to ooh and aah over the ball Stafford threw he went over 25,000 yards. I can't imagine anyone going to the Hall of Fame (which is a legitimately cool place to visit) and caring about that ball.

Something similar happened four years ago, when Cam Newton set a made-up record that no one cares about, and gave the ball to a young fan. The Panthers reclaimed the ball so they could send it to the HOF. But at least the Panthers didn't make a fan return the ball on Fan Appreciation Day, which is what happened with the Stafford ball on Sunday. Seriously.

Fastest to 25,000 yards. Honestly, does anyone even care?

* I accidentally found out: it was Dan Marino.

2015 Week 14 NFL Power Rankings

Brackets show previous rank.

1. Carolina Panthers [1] — Won 38-0, only the second shutout of the 2015 season (Seattle beat Chicago 26-0 in Week 3). But there were a lot of strong defensive performances this week, as the Chiefs, Patriots, Seahawks, Packers, and Jets also held their opponents to single-digit scoring. Even the Saints allowed season-lows in yardage and scoring. Losing teams in Week 15 scored an average of just 12.8 points. The highest-scoring loser was the Dolphins, with 24.

Carolina has scored at least 27 points for 12 games in a row, and has won four of its last five by at least 17.

2. Seattle Seahawks [5] — Back-to-back games scoring over 30 points and allowing under 10. Since the bye, they average 35 points a game, and they still have a top-three defense.

3. Arizona Cardinals [3] — Their offensive tackles, Jared Veldheer and Bobby Massie, really struggled on Thursday night. So did their defense, which allowed a season-best game to Teddy Bridgewater. But they clinched a playoff spot, and they still lead the NFL in yardage: 417.5 per game, more than 10 yards ahead of second-place Pittsburgh (404.8).

4. Kansas City Chiefs [2] — Not only did they sweep the Chargers — for the second year in a row — they held San Diego to a total of six points in two games. Justin Houston is expected back next week, but 2014 first-round draft choice Dee Ford has filled in ably. Ford led the team in tackles on Sunday, sacked Philip Rivers three times, and deflected a pass.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers [6] — Fifth consecutive game scoring at least 30 points, but this time they did it with four field goals and a defensive touchdown. Ben Roethlisberger had an interception and no touchdowns, DeAngelo Williams averaged 3.3 yards per carry, and the Bengals actually out-gained them by 31 yards — with A.J. McCarron at QB. This is weird to say about a game in which they scored 33 points, but the Steelers won with defense and special teams.

6. New England Patriots [8] — I don't want to overreact to one good game. This was the first time in a month that the Patriots looked like a Super Bowl contender. Even before their two-game losing streak, the Pats beat the Bills and Giants by a combined 8 points. Injuries continue to mount.

7. New York Jets [14] — Three wins in a row, two of them without Darrelle Revis. They're top-10 in yards, points, yards allowed, and points allowed.

8. Cincinnati Bengals [4] — Andy Dalton and Tyler Eifert both left the game in the first quarter. Eifert got a concussion and is week-to-week. Dalton broke his right (throwing) thumb, though the injury does not require surgery. Dalton is out next week, but it sounds like he'll be available for the playoffs. In the meantime, Brent Musberger will be a big Bengals fan.

9. Denver Broncos [7] — Brock Osweiler took 5 sacks and failed to reach the end zone. Comparing Manning and Osweiler, here's their: completion percentage, yards per completion, net yards per attempt, first down percentage, touchdown percentage, interception percentage, sack percentage, points per game started, and record as starter.

Chart

Peyton Manning has had a horrible season, but our biggest complaints with Manning were that [1] he wasn't throwing downfield, and [2] he was a turnover machine. But [1] Manning produces significantly more yards, on average, than Osweiler. And [2] Manning takes chances under pressure, and throws INTs, while Osweiler takes sacks, which I'm not sure is a whole lot better. The Broncos can win games with Osweiler, because their defense is so exceptional, but I don't think he can lead them to a championship. Manning might. I'd like to see Osweiler make one or two more starts, so Manning gets healthy, and then yield to Peyton for Week 17, so Manning can regain some rhythm before the playoffs.

10. Green Bay Packers [12] — Mike McCarthy resumed play-calling duties, whereupon they rushed for 230 yards and passed for 205. Aaron Rodgers has become a game manager. The Packers beat Dallas with their ground game and defense, and a quarterback who didn't turn the ball over. Rodgers only has three 300-yard passing games this season (he had 8 last year), and only three 3-TD games (he had 8 of those last year, too). He's on pace for career-lows in completion percentage, yards per attempt, net yards per attempt, yards per completion, and first down percentage. Rodgers is avoiding INTs, but he's not driving the offense.

11. Buffalo Bills [9] — Fifteen accepted penalties for 101 yards. Ten of their 12 offensive drives included a penalty, and six of the 10 stalled without producing another first down. It's hard to get anything going when you constantly have 15 or 20 yards for a first down. The Bills have 1,086 penalty yards this season, most in the NFL. The least-penalized team, Arizona, has 586. An extra 500 yards of penalties? Holy smokes.

12. Houston Texans [10] — One series before a concussion knocked him out of the game, Brian Hoyer fumbled and seemed totally unconcerned about it. I've never seem a player so lazy in response to his own fumble. Right tackle Derek Newton had a disastrous game.

13. Oakland Raiders [20] — Offense tallied -12 yards in the first half. They committed five false starts in the second half. Amari Cooper went catchless on 8 targets. Their long snapper got hurt, and they missed an extra point and a field goal. They rushed 19 times for 31 yards (1.63 avg). They punted 10 times, and only gained 8 first downs. But they had a great day on defense and special teams, and they won.

14. Minnesota Vikings [15] — Valiant effort: undermanned, facing a good team, on the road, with a short week, they were in the game until the final minute. They should rebound as their injured players return to the lineup.

15. New York Giants [19] — I hate it — and I know I'm not alone on this — when announcers have an agenda. Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden repeated, over and over again, at least three times, that Odell Beckham and Eli Manning are the Giants' two best players. Viewers were even challenged to name anyone else on the team who can play a little. Manning and Beckham both played great on Monday night, but it's not at all obvious to me that Eli is one of the team's two best players. He's an above-average QB: top half of the league, but not top-10. Weston Richburg, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are all at least in the same neighborhood as Manning, and a few other Giants might be as well. Spreading misinformation is a disservice to viewers.

16. Detroit Lions [13] — Calvin Johnson caught 1 pass for 16 yards. Johnson's stats per game, in wins and losses:

Chart

Detroit is 4-3 when Johnson gains at least 80 yards, and 0-6 when he doesn't. Take away Megatron, and the Lions can't win. Golden Tate and Theo Riddick don't scare anyone.

17. Chicago Bears [11] — Robbie Gould missed a critical field goal for the second week in a row, but this one was from 50 yards, which is a tough kick. The Bears have lost nine of their last 10 home games, including back-to-back losses against opponents with the two longest road losing streaks in the league (SF and WAS), teams that had gone a combined 797 days without winning on the road.

18. Washington [18] — Let's start with the good: they won on the road for the first time in more than 13 months, and they're tied for the lead in the NFC East. Matt Jones, who's had a fumble problem, did a great job holding onto the ball when they were running out the clock.

But now the bad. Kirk Cousins is taking too many sacks, their ground game is abysmal, and the secondary is an exploitable weakness. DeSean Jackson is banged up, and Derek Carrier — their only tight end with dual-threat blocking-receiving credibility — is out for the year. They got an important win and they control their own destiny for the playoffs, but they still have a lot of problems.

19. Philadelphia Eagles [23] — Not an impressive win. They didn't pass well (77.4 rating), didn't run well (3.4 avg), and benefitted enormously from pre-snap penalties on Buffalo: four false starts, four neutral zone infractions, and an illegal motion. Those are mental errors by the Bills, not things the Eagles did well.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [17] — Let's cool the idea of Jameis Winston as Offensive Rookie of the Year. Facing the worst defense in the NFL, the Bucs only managed 291 yards and 17 points. Vincent Jackson sprained his MCL, and might or might not play again this season.

21. Jacksonville Jaguars [27] — Down 13-9 at halftime, the Jaguars scored touchdowns on each of their last five drives, their second week in a row with at least 6 TDs. Jacksonville has won three of its last five, though all against terrible opponents (Ravens, Titans, reeling Colts).

22. Dallas Cowboys [21] — Same thing I did with the Broncos, for Tony Romo, Brandon Weeden, and Matt Cassel.

Statistically, Cassel is by far the worst. Weeden wasn't that bad, and he never got to play with Dez Bryant. I agree with Jimmy Johnson: let's see if Kellen Moore can play. He's never thrown a regular-season pass, but he was so successful at Boise State, and it's hard to imagine he'd be significantly worse than Cassel.

23. New Orleans Saints [28] — Dannell Ellerbe played for the first time since October, and the Saints allowed season-lows in yardage (291) and scoring (17), the first time all season they held an opponent under 20 points. New Orleans is 4-1 when Ellerbe plays, compared to 1-7 without him — and they allowed 49 points in the one win. Ellerbe led the Saints in tackles on Sunday.

24. Miami Dolphins [22] — I don't understand why Ryan Tannehill (85.0 rating, 5.6 NY/A) dropped back 42 times, and Lamar Miller (7.4 avg, 2 TD) only carried 12 times. The Dolphins won their first two games with the new coaching regime, but since then they're 2-5, including three losses in the last four weeks.

On Monday night, Miami had 12 penalties for 123 yards and four Giant first downs. The Dolphins lost 15 yards on penalties on three separate drives. It was probably the difference in the game.

25. Indianapolis Colts [16] — Back-to-back 35-point losses. As much hand-wringing as there's been about the NFC East, the Colts still being serious contenders in the AFC South is even worse. The critical game in the AFC South, Houston at Indy next weekend, is likely to feature Matt Hasselbeck and T.J. Yates at quarterback.

Hasselbeck missed the end of Sunday's game with an injury, for the second straight week, but it sounds like he'll play in Week 15. I guess that's better than the alternative, but this offense is really bad right now. Facing one of the worst defenses in the NFL, the Colts went 4/16 on third downs and 0/3 in the red zone. Their only touchdown came on defense.

26. San Diego Chargers [26] — Held to three points in three of their last four games. At least they were facing tough defenses (Broncos, and Chiefs twice).

27. San Francisco 49ers [24] — Embarrassing loss. Not only did they break Cleveland's seven-game losing streak, they got outgained 481-221 and lost by two touchdowns. Blaine Gabbert got sacked nine times. By the Brooooowns.

28. Baltimore Ravens [30] — Your power ranking isn't supposed to move up after losing 35-6. I had them too low last week.

29. Tennessee Titans [25] — Down 27-0 at halftime, they ran a trick play and scored on a pass to Marcus Mariota late in the third quarter. Why show that in a game you have no hope of winning? Save it for a big moment in a competitive game.

30. St. Louis Rams [31] — Fired their offensive coordinator and scored their most points in a month and a half. They rushed for 203 yards and passed for 114, though, and that's not a sustainable formula for success. The Rams desperately need to find some receivers and offensive linemen this offseason. A better QB would be nice, too, but that's not a priority until he's in a position to succeed.

31. Cleveland Browns [32] — They faced the 30th-ranked defense in the NFL, Isaiah Crowell rushed for 145 yards, and the defense only allowed 10 points. But go ahead and credit Johnny Manziel for the victory, if you want.

32. Atlanta Falcons [29] — We expected this to be a rebuilding season for Atlanta, but their 5-0 start built expectations that make 6-7 seem crushing. They've dropped six in a row, and their 38-0 loss this week was hard to stomach. Most embarrassing losses of the 2015 NFL season:

1. Week 14: Panthers 38, Falcons 0
424 yards to 230; 28-0 at halftime

2. Week 3: Cardinals 47, 49ers 7
446 yards to 156; 31-7 at halftime

3. Week 13: Seahawks 38, Vikings 7
433 yards to 125; 21-0 at halftime

4. Week 7: Dolphins 44, Texans 26
503 yards to 322; 41-0 at halftime

5. Week 12: Lions 45, Eagles 14
430 yards to 227; 24-7 at halftime

6. Week 13: Steelers 45, Colts 10
522 yards to 240; 21-10 at halftime

7. Week 3: Patriots 51, Jaguars 17
471 yards to 293; 20-3 at halftime

8. Week 3: Seahawks 26, Bears 0
371 yards to 146; 6-0 at halftime

9. Week 8: Broncos 29, Packers 10
500 yards to 140; 17-7 at halftime

10. Week 13: Cardinals 27, Rams 3
524 yards to 212; 10-0 at halftime

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