Tuesday, November 29, 2016

2016 NFL Week 12 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Week 12 Game Balls

Offense — Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints. Passed for 310 yards, 4 touchdowns, and a 139.6 rating, against a defense that held nine of its first 10 opponents under 300 yards and beneath a 100 rating.

Defense — Justin Houston, LB, Kansas City Chiefs. Just in the first half, he had 5 tackles, 3 sacks, and a forced fumble. It was the most dominant half of football I've seen from any player at any position, all season long. He was comparably quiet in the second half, but 5 more tackles and a deflected pass is pretty good for two quarters of football.

Special Teams — Justin Tucker, K, Baltimore Ravens. Made three field goals longer than 50 yards.

Rookie — Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs. Scored all three KC touchdowns in their 30-27 overtime win in Denver. Hill is the first player to score on a rush, reception, and kickoff return in the same game since Gale Sayers' famous 6-TD game in 1965.

The only other players to accomplish that feat were Bobby Mitchell, Abner Haynes, and Timmy Brown. That's two Hall of Famers (Mitchell and Sayers), two really good players (Brown and Haynes), and awfully impressive company for the rookie out of West Alabama.

Honorable Mentions — WR Davante Adams, LB Von Miller, P Brad Wing

Let's jump right into the Week Twelve NFL Power Rankings. Brackets indicate last week's rank.

1. Dallas Cowboys [3] — Won in the red zone. Washington out-gained them 505-353 and didn't commit any turnovers. But the Cowboys scored touchdowns every time they reached the red zone (4/4), while Washington made more red zone trips (5), but scored fewer points on them (28-20), with two field goals and a missed FG.

2. Seattle Seahawks [2] — Tony Dungy predicted their loss this week, and I believe it was an aberration, a confluence of circumstances, more than a revelation about the strength of the team. Plus, there's really no one else to move up.

3. New England Patriots [1] — Terrible in-game coaching this week. Near the end of the first half, the game was tied, 10-10. The Patriots took over at their own 46-yard line with 1:58 and 1 timeout. They drove into Jets territory, saving the timeout, until with :40 left Tom Brady completed a 14-yard pass to Chris Hogan at the Jets' 21. You've got to use the timeout there and give yourself time to run a few more plays. Instead, the clock ran down to :12, Brady threw an incomplete pass, and with :06 remaining, Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal on 2nd down. They went into halftime with no points and the timeout still in their pocket.

They also made a baffling mistake on the first drive of the game, getting a generous spot from the officials that gave them a first down, then calling timeout before they ran another play. The Jets used the extra time to look at the replay, they challenged, and the ref reversed the call. New England got 4th-and-1 instead of the first down, punting to set up the Jets' first score. Cincinnati did the same thing earlier in the day.

4. Atlanta Falcons [6] — They've played the hardest schedule of any team with a winning record. They beat the Raiders and Broncos, and they're the last team to beat Tampa Bay.

5. Oakland Raiders [5] — Let's be real: they easily could have lost three of their last four. They beat Tampa in overtime, the refs gifted them a win in Mexico City, and they edged Carolina on a late field goal. I'm sorry, but I don't think they're a great team.

6. Denver Broncos [4] — Gary Kubiak blew their best chance to win. With 3:12 remaining, they scored a touchdown to go up 23-16. You've got to go for two there. If you make it, you're up by 9, it's a two-possession game, and you win. If you miss, you're still up by 7, and even if the Chiefs score a touchdown (and successfully kick the extra point) you'll go to overtime. Instead, Kubiak went for 1. The Chiefs scored a TD and a two-point conversion and won in overtime.

I would have punted instead of trying the 62-yard field goal in overtime, but I don't blame Kubiak for that one. In fact, in hindsight, he may have been right. A tie probably isn't very valuable for the Broncos, who will likely get a wild card, but a win might have put them back in contention for the AFC West title and home field in the playoffs, and that field goal attempt was their last realistic chance to win. If you punt, you're playing defense, playing for the tie.

Going for the field goal instead of the punt in overtime was the difference between a loss and a tie, which — again — probably isn't that big a deal. But going for 1 instead of 2 in regulation was the difference between a win and overtime, which is a big deal.

7. Kansas City Chiefs [8] — They were out-gained by almost 200 yards, 464-273, and the Broncos were called for 16 penalties (15 accepted). It was a big win, but they needed about half a dozen minor miracles to get there.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers [9] — Two straight road wins, and despite a current tie with Baltimore, they look like overwhelming favorites to win the AFC North.

9. Buffalo Bills [7] — Marcell Dareus has been back for three games and he already has 3.5 sacks.

10. Washington [10] — They had 89 hours (about 3½ days) between games. There's a broad consensus that Thursday night football kind of stinks. The quality of play is lower, the road team faces an increased challenge, and it's not really representative of each team's true strength. I believe teams should only play on Thursday night if they had a bye the previous week.

I'm not trying to get rid of Thanksgiving football, a tradition that stretches back nearly a century. But Washington just played on Sunday night, not Sunday afternoon, and on Thursday afternoon, not Thursday night. That's an additional 12 hours they lost compared to the normal Thursday night schedule, which is already too short. It was unreasonable and unfair for this team to play on Sunday night, and then fly halfway across the country and play again on Thursday afternoon. That game was close, and it's easy to imagine it might have gone the other way if Washington had more time in between games. This was a matchup with important playoff implications for both teams, and while it was a good game, it's a shame, and a loss for football fans everywhere, that it wasn't played straight up.

11. Carolina Panthers [11] — Missing three key starters — all-pro center Ryan Kalil, all-pro linebacker Luke Kuechly, and leading pass rusher Mario Addison — Carolina still gave the Raiders all they could handle. At 4-7, the Panthers aren't realistic playoff contenders, but they're 3-2 since the bye, with both losses by a field goal, against teams that are a combined 17-5. Other than Dallas, they might be the best team in the NFC right now.

12. Miami Dolphins [13] — Won their sixth straight — and scored at least 27 points for the fifth time in those six wins — despite missing three of their five starters on the offensive line. It doesn't sound like Mike Pouncey is ready to come back, but Laremy Tunsil and Branden Albert might be ready in time for the Ravens in Week 13.

13. San Diego Chargers [14] — Their last seven games have all been against teams at or above .500 (combined 49-29). San Diego went 4-3 in that stretch. A winning record against a .628 schedule? This is a pretty good team. I'll take the 5-6 Chargers over the 8-3 Giants.

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [21] — Started 1-3, but 5-2 since, including back-to-back wins over the 8-3 Chiefs and 7-3-1 Seahawks. Gerald McCoy was in a walking boot after the game, but it doesn't seem like anything serious.

15. New Orleans Saints [17] — Scored as many points (49) as the Rams' previous four opponents combined (50).

16. New York Giants [15] — Nine punts, including 6 three-and-outs, against Cleveland.

17. Detroit Lions [16] — Anquan Boldin is not having a particularly exceptional season. He's not in the NFL's top 50 in receiving yardage. But he is among the top 10 in receiving TDs, and he always seems to come up big in key situations. On Thanksgiving, he made five first downs, including the first touchdown of the game, and a critical 29-yard gain in the fourth quarter. He's a good blocker and a good teammate. He's 36, and he's still a valuable player. I doubt Boldin will ever generate much Hall of Fame support, because he spent six years trapped on low-potency, run-first offenses, and his stats aren't impressive compared to some of his peers. But he's been a good player for going on a decade and a half now.

18. Philadelphia Eagles [12] — I didn't like the officiating, either, but it didn't cost them the game. This was their third week in a row scoring 15 or less, and they haven't topped 23 points in a game since September.

19. Houston Texans [18] — It's unfair to hold Brock Osweiler's final interception, on a Hail Mary, against him. But what makes Osweiler's performance this season so disappointing is that there are no bright spots. He's been bad in every game. The stats below are his season highs:

Passing yards: 269
Passing TDs: 2
Passer rating: 90.7

He has two games (out of 11) this season without an interception. In one, he fumbled three times, the Texans didn't score a touchdown, they lost by 18, and Osweiler set a record for fewest yards with 40 or more pass attempts. In the other, he passed 27 times for 99 yards, with a sack for -7 yards. That's 92 yards on 28 plays, an average of 3.29 net yards.

The league average for yards per attempt is about 7.3. In 11 starts, Osweiler has hit that number once. Even a turd of a quarterback should fluke into an average performance more often than that. Last year, defenses went crazy trying to figure out how they could stop DeAndre Hopkins. It turns out the answer was to pair him with Osweiler. I'm not around the Texans; I don't know what's wrong. But something is obviously wrong, and on a team with playoff aspirations, it has to be fixed. If Houston had average quarterback play, it would be a top-10 team and a Super Bowl contender.

20. Baltimore Ravens [26] — They're 3-1 since the bye, 6-5 overall, and first place in the AFC North. They're also worst in the NFL in third down percentage (33%), and their only wins over opponents with winning records are the 6-5 Steelers in a rivalry game and the 6-5 Bills all the way back in Week 1. I think they pick up another next Sunday. They're 3-point favorites against the Dolphins, who have won six straight, and that doesn't make any sense. When the oddsmakers set a line that doesn't make any sense, they know something you don't. Take the Ravens and the points.

21. Minnesota Vikings [19] — Like their division rivals, the Packers, they're torn apart by injuries. If they'd had Stefon Diggs or Terence Newman — or, you know, Adrian Peterson — it's easy to believe that might have made the difference in their last-second loss to Detroit.

22. Tennessee Titans [24] — If Josh Bellamy doesn't drop a touchdown pass with :45 left, they lose that game. The Titans released cornerback Perrish Cox on Monday.

23. Green Bay Packers [25] — Aaron Rodgers' first no-sack, no-interception game since Week 1 of last year, a span of 27 games. He's the first passer all season to top 300 yards against Philadelphia.

24. Cincinnati Bengals [22] — Let's walk through their massive screw-up in the second quarter. The Bengals had 3rd-and-4 at their own 13-yard line. James Wright inexplicably ran a 3-yard route — why do you run a 3-yard route on 3rd-and-4? — and Andy Dalton inexplicably threw to him. Wright got tackled short of the marker, but the officials inexplicably gave him a first down. Then the Bengals inexplicably let the play clock run all the way down and called timeout, which gave Baltimore time to see the replay, challenge, and force Cincinnati to punt.

You've got to run a play there. Run a dive up the middle. Throw an incomplete pass. Whatever. 2nd-and-10 is better than 4th down at your own 16. There are so many layers of screw-up from just that one play. Seriously, why not have Wright run his route one yard deeper so you can get the first down?

25. Arizona Cardinals [20] — Beat the Bucs in Week 2, but since then their only wins are over the 49ers (twice) and the Jets. Their defense leads the NFL in fewest yards allowed and the offense ranks 3rd in time of possession.

26. Indianapolis Colts [23] — A matchup of a 5-5 AFC North team vs. a 5-5 AFC South team, demonstrating the weakness of the latter division. Andrew Luck didn't play, and obviously that makes a difference, but the Colts were simply outmatched. They wouldn't have won with Johnny Unitas at quarterback.

27. New York Jets [28] — Ryan Fitzpatrick obviously gives them a better chance to win than Bryce Petty does. The players know it, the coaches know it, and most fans know it. I understand why some people want to see more of Petty, or get him some more experience, in what looks like a wasted season. But it's tough to tell players and coaches (and most fans) they have to go with the QB who clearly doesn't give them the best chance to win. No one wants to go 3-13.

28. Jacksonville Jaguars [30] — There's been some discussion recently about what a strong 2-8 (now 2-9) team they are, but they keep getting outscored. Their only two wins were by 3 points against the woeful Colts, and by 1 point against the hopeless Bears. They don't just have a bad record, they have a bad record against a relatively weak strength of schedule.

29. Los Angeles Rams [27] — Sixth loss in their last seven games.

30. San Francisco 49ers [31] — Still playing with pride, and Colin Kaepernick continues to rebound. On Sunday, he became the sixth player in history with at least 100 rushing yards and 3 pass TDs in the same game.

31. Chicago Bears [29] — Rank 30th in point differential (-86). Only the 49ers and Browns are worse. They gave the Titans a fight.

32. Cleveland Browns [32] — Playing for the Browns probably fuels desperation, but against the Giants on Sunday, Josh McCown was as bad under pressure as any quarterback I've seen all year.

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