2015 NFL Week 15 Power Rankings

Week 15 Game Balls

Offense — Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers. Threw 5 touchdowns, and became the second player in NFL history to pass for 300 yards and rush for 100 yards in the same game. Russell Wilson was the first, last October.

Defense — Marcus Peters, DB, Kansas City Chiefs. Got picked on at times, but made the Ravens pay, with 2 interceptions, one of them returned 90 yards for a touchdown.

Special Teams — Benny Cunningham, KR, St. Louis Rams. Long return on the opening kickoff, and his 102-yarder in the fourth quarter, crushing Tampa's momentum, might have been the play of the game.

Rookie — David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals. Tom Moore compared him to Franco Harris. Tony Dungy compared him to Edgerrin James. Not bad. Johnson had some huge holes to run through, but he also showcased his speed, made defenders miss, broke tackles when he had to, and consistently fell forward in short-yardage situations. Terrific performance.

Honorable Mentions — WR Antonio Brown, DL Geno Atkins, P Pat McAfee

Five Quick Hits

* Congratulations, Nike: the Steelers' bumblebee outfits aren't the worst uniforms in the NFL any more. Whoever decided to dress the Rams as bananas should have to play against Odell Beckham when he's angry.

* Beckham is suspended for next week's game. That was sort of a no-brainer, I think. Shame on Terry McAulay for not having the guts to throw Beckham out of the game.

* Interesting take by Ray Lewis, Trent Dilfer, and Steve Young: the Giants don't have the kind of team where someone could take Beckham aside, calm him down and tell him to knock it off, for the good of himself and the team.

* Most rushing TDs by a quarterback: Cam Newton, 7. Tied for second: Jameis Winston and — I kid you not — Kirk Cousins.

* Nice job by Monday night referee Pete Morelli (and others) responding to Glover Quin's concussion. That should be the procedure every time.

Ranking Punters

ESPN's Kevin Seifert recently posted a good article on Ravens punter Sam Koch. Longtime readers know how much attention I devote to punters. Here's my list of the league's current punters, divided into tiers of four. This is a rating of general skill and performance, not a ranking of the 2015 season specifically.

TIER 1 (best) — Dustin Colquitt, Johnny Hekker, Sam Koch, Pat McAfee

TIER 2 — Kevin Huber, Chris Jones, Marquette King, Thomas Morstead

TIER 3 — Jordan Berry, Brett Kern, Sam Martin, Colton Schmidt

TIER 4 — Ryan Allen, Matt Bosher, Donnie Jones, Brad Wing

TIER 5 — Andy Lee, Pat O'Donnell, Bradley Pinion, Jon Ryan

TIER 6 — Britton Colquitt, Tim Masthay, Ryan Quigley, Mike Scifres

TIER 7 — Matt Darr, Jeff Locke, Brad Nortman, Jacob Schum

TIER 8 — Bryan Anger, Drew Butler, Shane Lechler, Tress Way

Shane Lechler was not always a terrible punter. In his prime, he had the strongest leg in the league, and his excellent averages made up for his lack of strategic kicking. Now, though, he has a subpar average, with the most touchbacks and the most returned punts in the NFL. He kicks line drives to the middle of the field, and he can't pin opponents deep.

2015 Week 15 NFL Power Rankings

Brackets indicate previous rank.

1. Carolina Panthers [1] — As Cam Newton plays better and better, their defense is declining. They've allowed over 30 points in two of their last three games, and they rank 10th in points allowed.

2. Seattle Seahawks [2] — Out-gained Cleveland 423-230, with four drives of at least 10 plays, and six drives that went over 50 yards, all ending in scores. Their defense ranks second in the NFL, and they've scored at least 29 points in six straight games.

3. Kansas City Chiefs [4] — Scored their fifth and sixth defensive touchdowns of the season, most in the league. Marcus Peters is the front-runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers [5] — Won five of their last six. Ben Roethlisberger passed for 21 first downs this week, and Antonio Brown caught 16-of-18 targets.

5. Arizona Cardinals [3] — Tyrann Mathieu tore his ACL at the end of Sunday night's game, and will not play again this season. Mathieu was playing at all-pro level, and this is a huge loss.

6. New England Patriots [6] — Danny Amendola, Dont'a Hightower, and Patrick Chung all left this week's game with injuries. They can lock up home field next week, but are there enough men left standing for them to repeat as champions?

7. Cincinnati Bengals [8] — Missing Andy Dalton and Tyler Eifert, they had a quiet week on offense: only 14 first downs and 242 yards. But the defense came up big, with four takeaways and a blocked field goal. Geno Atkins, Vontaze Burfict, and Carlos Dunlap all had big games.

8. New York Jets [7] — A sloppy game that never should have been so close. The offense didn't convert on opportunities, and the defense was undisciplined on outside contain.

9. Green Bay Packers [10] — Scored 30 points with only 1 TD by Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers before the bye: 7.36 net yards per attempt, 115.9 passer rating
Rodgers since the bye: 5.09 net yards per attempt, 83.4 passer rating

10. Denver Broncos [9] — Blew a 27-10 halftime lead. This was their third consecutive game without scoring in the second half.

11. Minnesota Vikings [14] — Great game for Teddy Bridgewater, for the second week in a row. Adrian Peterson sprained his ankle in the second quarter of Sunday's game, but he returned to the field, and AP will play in Week 16.

12. Oakland Raiders [13] — In the last three weeks, they've faced the 9-5 Chiefs, 10-4 Broncos, and 10-4 Packers. Going 1-2 against that slate is pretty respectable. They face the Chargers at home in Week 16.

13. Detroit Lions [16] — They're 4-2 since the bye, and one of the losses was that heart-breaking Hail Mary by the Packers. Matthew Stafford passed for a career-high 148.6 rating this week.

14. Washington [18] — First win against Buffalo since Super Bowl XXVI, ending a six-game losing streak against the Bills. Washington went 6-2 at home this season, better than the previous two seasons (3-5, 2-6) combined. In fact, it's Washington's best home record since 2005, which was also the last year this team won a playoff game.

15. New York Giants [15] — Lost four of their last five, but all the losses were close, and all against teams in the playoff hunt. They lost to the Patriots and Panthers by a combined 4 points, lost to the Jets in overtime, lost by 6 at Washington. This is why we have power rankings: the Giants aren't playing badly, they're just playing a tough schedule.

Most losses by 3 points or less this season: Giants (5); Bears and Titans (4)

Most losses by 7 points or less this season: Giants and Ravens (7); Chargers, Cowboys, and Jaguars (6)

Margin of defeat in the Giants' eight losses: 1, 1, 3, 3, 3, 4, 6, 20. The Giants are seven plays from being 13-1 instead of 6-8. For that matter, they're three missed extra points from being 9-5.

16. Houston Texans [12] — Dropped four spots this week. I know they just won a big game, but they're down to their fourth QB. T.J. Yates tore his ACL.

17. Buffalo Bills [11] — Elite defense last year, ranked 4th in both yards allowed and points allowed. They ranked 3rd in takeaways and led the league in sacks. Head coach Doug Marrone opted out of his contract, and the team took a big chance bringing in Rex Ryan, rather than an offense-minded coach who would retain defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Right now, the Bills rank 17th in points allowed and 21st in yards allowed. They're middle of the pack in takeaways, and 30th in sacks. Some of the difference is injuries, some is regression to the mean, and some is Mario Williams being a baby. But it seems obvious now that replacing Schwartz with Ryan was a case of fixing something not broken. Well, now it's broken. The Bills get their best QB play in over a decade, and still lose more games than last year.

It sounds like LeSean McCoy's season is over. Karlos Williams and Mike Gillislee (who had a 60-yard TD run on Sunday) will finish out the year.

18. San Diego Chargers [26] — Surprisingly easy win. The Chargers outgained Miami 442-231 and 26 first downs to 13. They went 9/14 on third downs and 4/5 in the red zone, with 38:53 time of possession. San Diego has won two of the last four, with the losses against good teams (Broncos and Chiefs).

19. Philadelphia Eagles [19] — Third game this season allowing at least 40 points. They rank 27th in points allowed and 29th in yards allowed.

20. Dallas Cowboys [22] — A quarterback's most important job is to create positive plays, not to avoid negative ones. Kellen Moore is unpolished, but he played better than his stats imply, and gave the Cowboys an obvious spark. Jason Garrett has confirmed that Moore will start next week.

21. Chicago Bears [17] — Beat the Packers, then lost three in a row. In fact, the Bears were on a legit hot streak right before this three-game skid, winning three out of four, with the loss a nail-biter against the Broncos, and two of the wins pretty impressive. Pernell McPhee's injured knee is a contributing factor.

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [20] — I hate when television announcers make a big deal out of obscure, meaningless records. I heard on Sunday that someone — Carson Palmer, maybe? — has the fourth-longest streak of consecutive home games with a touchdown pass. Oooh. But on Thursday night, announcers repeatedly mentioned Jameis Winston setting passing records by a Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie. Here's how much you should care about those records: they were previously held by Mike Glennon. The records weren't worthy of one mention, neveral mind several.

23. New Orleans Saints [23] — Man, is their defense a mess.

24. St. Louis Rams [30] — Only team in the league that can look like a bad offense even when the QB has a 158.0 passer rating. They've won two in a row after a five-game losing streak.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars [21] — They're 5-9, and in the last month they've gone 1-3 against teams with a combined record of 20-36. They haven't been officially eliminated from contention to win the AFC South.

26. Atlanta Falcons [32] — Won with third-down defense: the Jaguars went 0-for-8 on third down conversions.

27. San Francisco 49ers [27] — Hardest schedule in the NFL, also the least effective offense in the NFL. They're last in the league in yards and points.

28. Miami Dolphins [24] — Lost four of their last five. Many people expected Ryan Tannehill to take the next step this season, emerging as a top-10 QB. Instead, he's regressed. The Dolphins have been held to 20 points or fewer in seven of their last eight games.

29. Baltimore Ravens [28] — Lost 34-14, and that includes a successful Hail Mary.

30. Tennessee Titans [29] — Marcus Mariota has a sprained MCL and will probably miss the final two games. Mike Mularkey was testy in asserting that Mariota might play Week 17, but why risk his health at this point?

31. Cleveland Browns [31] — If you score two touchdowns with two-point conversions, you can tie a 16-point deficit, so 17 is where things get really hopeless. The Browns just lost by at least 17 for the sixth time this season. No one else has more than four.

32. Indianapolis Colts [25] — Matt Hasselbeck's fountain of youth has dried up. The Colts only gained 190 yards of offense this week, and they've been held to 36 points in their last three games combined.

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