2016 NFL Week 8 Power Rankings

Week 8 Game Balls

Offense — Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots. Derek Carr had a better fantasy football game, but this isn't a fantasy football column. Carr passed for 500 yards and 4 TDs, but he threw 59 passes. Brady passed for 300 yards and 4 TDs, against a much better defense, and threw only 33 passes. If he'd thrown 59 times, Brady would have 500 yards too, and maybe 6 or 7 TDs.

There's a little more on this in the Patriots and Raiders sections, but here's something curious: this is the second year in a row in which Brady and Carr both passed for 300 yards and 4 TDs in Week 8. They did the same thing in Week 8 of 2015.

Defense — Star Lotulelei, DL, Carolina Panthers. Three sacks, and a forced fumble that Thomas Davis returned for a touchdown.

Special Teams — Wil Lutz, K, New Orleans Saints. Four-for-four on field goals, including a 53-yarder, in their 2-point win over the Seahawks.

Rookie — Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears. 153 rushing yards, and 202 yards from scrimmage, against a defense that hadn't allowed a 60-yard rusher all season.

Honorable Mentions — QB Aaron Rodgers, DB Bradley Roby, K Stephen Gostkowski

Five Quick Hits

* One week after former Houston Texan Arian Foster retired, Andre Johnson did the same on Monday. I wrote in depth about Johnson this summer, but he had four 1,400-yard seasons, and is the only player in history with three 1,550-yard receiving seasons. The Hall of Fame voting for receivers doesn't make any sense, but Johnson deserves a bust in Canton.

* With 3:32 remaining in the first half of Falcons/Packers, Datone Jones was called for roughing the passer. FOX showed a replay, and Thom Brennaman clucked at Jones, "Silly." Troy Aikman, responding to the same replay, immediately said that it didn't look like a penalty and he's not sure why it was called. I agree with Aikman.

* I like Troy Aikman as an announcer. He doesn't offer much insight or analysis, but he's pleasant to listen to. He seems like a nice guy, and he has the common sense that too many announcers lack. Right before halftime, the Falcons were flagged for roughness, and Aikman lamented how difficult it has become for defenders to avoid penalties: "I think the penalty was warranted, but I don't think Keanu Neal was trying to do anything malicious."

* I rag on announcers a lot, so let's fit in one more positive item while I'm being nice: Cris Collinsworth was on this week, and when he is, he's the best analyst in the sport. He notices and points out things that no other announcer picks up on. He's one of the very few announcers who can actually enhance my enjoyment of the game.

* I understand why the Patriots traded Jamie Collins. I don't understand why the Browns traded for him. They should be planning for the future, not sacrificing the future to add a guy for eight games.

As we proceed to the Week Eight NFL Power Rankings, brackets indicate previous rank. We're halfway through the season, so I'll remind readers that these ratings are for right now, not season-to-date. The 49ers won 28-0 in Week 1, for instance, and that's not reflective of how they're playing.

1. New England Patriots [1] — They played the Bills in Week 4 and got shut out, 16-0. With Tom Brady back and Rob Gronkowski healthy, they went to Buffalo and won 41-25. Brady and Gronk aren't really worth 41 points, but they're definitely difference-makers.

2. Dallas Cowboys [2] — It's common to criticize coaches who go for it on 4th down and don't get it. This week, Jason Garrett went for it and won the game. On the first possession of overtime, Dallas had 4th-and-1 at the Philadelphia 28-yard line. Rather than try a 46-yard field goal and give Philadelphia a chance to tie, the Cowboys went for it, got the first down, and scored a game-ending TD. A growing number of coaches are realizing that they should go for it more often.

3. Denver Broncos [4] — Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was taken to the hospital on Sunday after a scary collision with Melvin Gordon. Phillips is okay; he was released from the hospital on Sunday night and he's back to work.

4. Atlanta Falcons [8] — This is probably too high, but they lead the NFL in scoring and yardage, and they have three wins against opponents with winning records. That's tied (with Minnesota and Dallas) for most of any team, and it doesn't include double-digit wins over decent teams like the Panthers and Saints.

5. Philadelphia Eagles [9] — Carson Wentz looks like he's going to be a very good player, but the Eagles average just 208 passing yards per game, 29th in the NFL. They aren't exceeding expectations because they have a great QB, they're succeeding because they have a great defense.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers [7] — Longtime tight end Heath Miller retired this offseason, so now Steeler fans yell, "Heeeeeath," whenever tight end Jesse James makes a catch. Are they confused, or doing it on purpose?

7. Minnesota Vikings [3] — When they were getting special teams TDs and takeaways in the red zone, it didn't matter that the offense wasn't any good. When you don't have the best D/ST in the league, your terrible offense becomes a problem. There's no offensive position at which it's apparent that the Vikings are above-average.

8. Kansas City Chiefs [11] — I know Alex Smith supposedly passed the concussion protocol before returning to the game and suffering an "official" concussion, but that doesn't jive with the eye test or common sense. While I acknowledge the drawbacks, I endorse the John Madden/Tom Coughlin position, that anyone who needs to be tested for a head injury should be removed from the rest of the game, period. My own addition is that any player who improperly returns to the field after suffering a concussion would automatically be placed on season-ending injury reserve. It's a precautionary measure with the incidental benefit of creating a powerful disincentive for both teams and players to put someone at risk following a brain injury.

The Chiefs now claim that Smith didn't suffer any concussions this weekend, and they clearly intend for Smith to start next week, even though Nick Foles outplayed him in relief. Running back Spencer Ware's concussion has been acknowledged, and his status for Week 9 is unclear.

9. Buffalo Bills [6] — Lost NFL sack leader Lorenzo Alexander and still sacked Tom Brady a season-high four times, plus Jimmy Garoppolo on his only dropback. They're tied with Denver for most sacks (26) of any team. Pro Bowl DT Marcell Dareus, playing for the first time this season, had four tackles, including a sack.

10. Seattle Seahawks [5] — Both teams from last Sunday's late-night tie lost on Sunday. A couple years ago, I studied how the Ravens and Steelers did the week after facing each other in what, at the time, was the NFL's most heated rivalry. They played significantly worse, presumably because they were drained from the intensity of the previous week. I think the same thing happened to Seattle and Arizona.

11. Oakland Raiders [12] — Derek Carr had the third game in history with at least 500 passing yards, 4 pass TDs, and no interceptions. But, uh, here's the thing:

Y.A. Tittle, 1962: 27/39, 505 yds, 7 TDs, 151.4 rating
Ben Roethlisberger, 2014: 40/49, 522 yds, 6 TDs, 150.6 rating
Derek Carr, 2016: 40/59, 513 yds, 4 TDs, 117.4 rating

Tittle averaged 13 yards per pass; Carr averaged 8.7. Roethlisberger threw his fourth TD pass before his fourth incompletion; Carr threw his fourth TD pass in overtime. Carr had a great game, but it was normal-great, not historically significant. When you pass 60 times, you should gain close to 500 yards.

12. Green Bay Packers [15] — Rise three spots after a loss. But it was a close loss, on the road against a team that seems pretty good. They covered the spread, and the offense looked good. Aaron Rodgers seems more like Aaron Rodgers again.

13. Washington [13] — Josh Norman was flagged for illegal use of hands five times, got called for defensive pass interference, and he had a forced fumble overturned by a penalty on a teammate. After the game, Norman asked reporters who official 88 was (it's field judge Brad Freeman). Norman continued, "He sucked. He was terrible and I feel like he should be reprimanded."

The penalties on Norman looked legit, but a critical offensive pass interference call on Pierre Garçon did not. The CBS studio crew tried to dismiss Norman's complaints, but Tony Gonzalez accidentally agreed with him. Norman's argument essentially was that the officiating was capricious and inconsistent, that officials called some penalties but not others, and that perhaps they were deliberately selective. Gonzalez said Norman was wrong, then continued by saying that there could be a penalty on every play, so officials only call some of them, and it's just the nature of the beast. Basically, Gonzalez said that officiating was capricious and inconsistent, the same thing Norman was complaining about. Oops.

14. San Diego Chargers [14] — In the last four weeks, they've faced the 6-2 Raiders, the 6-2 Broncos, the 5-3 Falcons, and the Broncos again. Three of the four were on the road. They went 2-2 in that stretch, which is pretty impressive, and their next two games are both at home, against the Titans and Dolphins.

15. Cincinnati Bengals [17] — Mike Nugent missed an extra point, which may have contributed to the game reaching overtime, and Washington's Dustin Hopkins missed a 34-yard field goal to win in sudden death. Both kickers missed long field goals in the first half. I like that kickers are having sort of a rough time this year, even on kicks that might in the past have been considered automatic. Automatic isn't fun; there's no drama. Kickers missing extra points and short-range field goals makes the game more exciting.

16. Carolina Panthers [20] — There have been no accepted roughing penalties for hitting Cam Newton in 2015 and 2016, and he is definitely right about the uncalled penalty on Calais Campbell this week. "I coulda torn my ACL." It's tough to blame a guy for being upset about that.

17. Arizona Cardinals [10] — Lost last year's NFC Championship Game 49-15, largely as a result of 6 Carson Palmer turnovers. They also lost Sunday's rematch, largely due to eight sacks of Palmer, the most in his career. Only the Colts have allowed more sacks this season than Arizona. Tyrann Mathieu and Jared Veldheer both left Sunday's game with injuries. Veldheer's is the more serious; he's probably done for the season.

18. New Orleans Saints [23] — I'm not a neutral source on whether they should have been called for offensive pass interference against Seattle, because I believe offensive pass interference is routinely and systematically ignored, especially near the line of scrimmage. Did the Saints get a cheap, undeserved victory, or did they just wisely take advantage of a flaw in the system? Or maybe those are the same thing?

19. Houston Texans [18] — They're 5-0 at home, 0-3 on the road, but that's probably about scheduling more than home-field advantage. Their road opponents were New England, Minnesota, and Denver. Only one of the teams they played at home has a winning record (Chiefs).

20. Detroit Lions [16] — All eight of their games were decided by 7 points or less: +4, -1, -7, -3, +1, +3, +3, -7.

21. Miami Dolphins [19] — They have no away games between September 29 and November 13. That's a month and a half. Then they have back-to-back games on the West Coast. Some of the team schedules this year are just ridiculous.

22. New York Giants [21] — Bye this week, then three straight home games. That's over a month without going on the road.

23. Los Angeles Rams [22] — Bye sandwiched by home games. That's slightly more reasonable than the Giants and Dolphins, but still not ideal scheduling. Later this year, they have three East Coast road trips in four weeks.

24. New York Jets [24] — Check out Riverboat Todd! The NFL's most conservative coach finally went for it on 4th down, and Matt Forte scored a go-ahead touchdown from the 4-yard line.

25. Tennessee Titans [27] — Took a 27-0 lead into halftime and scored a touchdown on their first drive of the second half. They took it easy the rest of the game, with only two first downs on their last four drives. They've won three of their last four.

26. Baltimore Ravens [26] — They have 87 first downs passing, out of 309 attempts, a 28.2% success rate. That is dead last in the NFL. The problem is that all their passes are underneath. Joe Flacco has completed 189 passes, but only 87 of them produced first downs (46%). That's ridiculous. How does a professional offense engineer so many useless completions? Baltimore is the only team below 50% first downs on pass completions.

27. Chicago Bears [30] — Pernell McPhee missed the first six games, but he's a difference-maker for their defense. Against Minnesota, he had 4 hits on Sam Bradford, with a sack and a forced fumble.

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [28] — Out-gained by 356 yards, 626-270. It's the most yardage allowed in franchise history, and the Bucs have a pretty ugly history.

29. Indianapolis Colts [25] — Offensive line is a mess. Coming into this season, Andrew Luck's career sack rate was 5.2%, which is a little better than average. This season it's 9.1%, and the Colts have by far the most sacks allowed in the NFL. Luck's career high was 41 sacks, as a rookie, but this year he has already been sacked 31 times in half a season. No other team has allowed more than 25.

30. Cleveland Browns [31] — Only two games left against teams with losing records: at Baltimore (3-4) and home against San Diego (3-5). I don't think they'll go 0-16, but they'll be underdogs in every game.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars [29] — Fantasy football scoring is stupid, especially for quarterbacks. The Jaguars trailed 27-0 at halftime, and Blake Bortles had 8 completions for 64 yards, plus a sack for -9 yards. His passer rating was 60.4 and Jacksonville had more punts (5) than first downs (3). In the second half, Bortles went 25-of-38 for 273 meaningless yards and 3 meaningless touchdowns. He also had 22 rushing yards. The Jags lost 36-22 and it would have been worse except that Tennessee took its foot off the gas pedal. In standard fantasy leagues, Bortles scored 27.7 points, an excellent week.

In most fantasy scoring systems, good QBs don't reliably score any more than average QBs. If you want your fantasy league to reflect skill, penalize sacks (-1) and attempts (-0.1), and count interceptions and lost fumbles the same value as passing TDs.

32. San Francisco 49ers [32] — Most rushing yards allowed (1,296) of any team, by over 100, even though half the league hasn't had the bye yet. They also have the worst average per carry allowed, 5.1.

Comments and Conversation

November 1, 2016

Jeffrey Bryant:

The Titans are rated by Sports focus as 15th overall based on stats. They have the 11th overall offense. Its funny that this list still shows them hanging out with the bottom feeders and under two teams they beat, one of which was in a blowout. They are listed bellow several teams with losing records. They are 4-4 and were never out of games. Two of their loses were to teams rated in the top 5 statistically. This far into the season you can’t keep them in the mid to low 20s if they are performing as well as they are statistically.

November 1, 2016

Brad Oremland:

The Titans might be a little too low, but in the last three weeks, they’ve lost to the Colts (who look awful) and barely beat the Browns (who are definitely awful). They dominated Jacksonville, but the Jags are terrible and I don’t think Thursday night games are indicative of very much. They’re one of only four teams to have played 5 home games already.

They’re closer to the Lions than to the Browns, but I’m not sold yet. If they beat the Chargers or Packers the next two weeks, I’ll give them a significant boost.

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