2016 NFL Week 14 Power Rankings

Week 14 Game Balls

Offense — Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers. Gained 236 rushing yards, 298 yards from scrimmage, and scored 3 touchdowns. Ben Roethlisberger had a 37.8 passer rating, but the Steelers scored 27 and won because of Bell.

Defense — Vic Beasley, LB, Atlanta Falcons. Three sacks and a forced fumble, which he recovered and returned 21 yards for a touchdown. He had another sack and forced fumble nullified by a penalty on the Rams, which I have no idea why Atlanta accepted.

Special Teams — Walt Aikens, ST, Miami Dolphins. Downed a punt at the 1-yard line, returned a blocked kick for a two-point conversion, and had a solo tackle on a punt return.

Rookie — DeForest Buckner, DL, San Francisco 49ers. Ten solo tackles, 2 sacks, 4 hits on the quarterback. Along with Leonard Floyd (CHI) and Deion Jones (ATL), Buckner is a Defensive Rookie of the Year front-runner in a weak year.

Honorable Mentions — QB Aaron Rodgers, DB Keith Tandy, K Nick Novak

Today is the last day for Pro Bowl voting. Check out SC's picks here. And now, the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings! Brackets show last week's rank.

1. New England Patriots [3] — Special teams fumbles made the game closer than it should have been, but they were in control throughout. They gained the most yards (496) and scored the most points (30) that Baltimore has allowed all season.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers [7] — Four straight wins, none of them close. I don't understand why Mike Tomlin attempted to murder Le'Veon Bell, who carried 38 times. Thirty-eight. No NFL player has carried 38 times in a game since 2009, partly because game flow seldom permits it, but also because that shows reckless disregard for the player's health.

I would liken it to a pitch count in baseball. Most teams prefer for their pitchers not to throw much over 100 times per game. If they go a little over 100, it's probably not the end of the world, but you're keeping a close eye on things. For running backs, that number is probably 20 carries. A ball-carrier can go 22, maybe 24, and you're not happy but he can stay in the game. Thirty-eight is insane, especially because [1] Bell is injury-prone, [2] they don't really have a backup, and [3] they need Bell healthy for the playoffs. Giving Bell 38 rush attempts and 4 receptions on the road in freezing conditions was reckless and ill-advised: bad coaching, plain and simple. Perhaps Mike Tomlin's greatest weakness as a coach is that he doesn't take his players out of the game, as exemplified by the many times he's let a gimpy Ben Roethlisberger play injured.

Bell has 114 carries in the last four weeks, including three games carrying 28 times or more. He's going to get hurt, this year or early next year. Don't draft him in fantasy next season, and if you're in a dynasty league, trade him this offseason. There's no way of knowing, but I suspect that Bell's workload in the last month will shorten his career by at least a year.

3. Kansas City Chiefs [5] — I hate ranking them this high, but they've won three straight against teams with a combined record of 26-13, all of them 8-5 or better.

4. Atlanta Falcons [6] — Third game this year scoring over 40 points. They've scored at least 28 in six of their last seven. They're +83 in point differential, behind only the Patriots and Cowboys.

5. Dallas Cowboys [1] — With 3:14 remaining, they were down 10-7, with 4th-and-1 at their own 20-yard line. If you want to win the game, you go for it there. You can't count on getting the ball back, and if you do it will be with very limited time. You have the best offensive line in the NFL and a brilliant running back, and even if you don't make the yard, as long as your defense can hold the Giants to a field goal, it doesn't affect your chances of winning by very much.

By punting, you're basically praying for a turnover; the best-case scenario otherwise is get the ball back around the same place, but with less time. In fact, that's what happened: the Giants went three-and-out, including an incomplete pass that stopped the clock, and Dallas got the ball back at its own 24 with 2:39 and down two timeouts. I think the Cowboys would have lost anyway, but punting there basically conceded the game. That might be the right call if you don't want to get embarrassed in the media, but it's the wrong call if you want to win the game.

6. Oakland Raiders [4] — Derek Carr went 17-of-41, for 117 yards. He lost 8 yards on a sack and rushed twice for 3 yards. That's 112 yards on 44 plays, an average of 2.5 yards per play.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [9] — Tied with Detroit for longest active win streak (5). They've won 7 of their last 9; the losses were to Oakland in overtime and to Atlanta four days later.

8. Seattle Seahawks [2] — First loss by 11 or more in five years (October 2011). In the last three weeks, they lost to Tampa Bay, lost all-pro safety Earl Thomas for the rest of the season, and got blown out in Green Bay.

9. Detroit Lions [10] — Narrowly avoided a sweep by the Bears and suffered two potentially important injuries. Matthew Stafford tore ligaments on his throwing hand but will play through the problem. Pro Bowl DE Ziggy Ansah left Sunday's game with a shoulder injury; as of this writing, his status is unclear.

10. New York Giants [18] — It's easy to compare this to their 2007 and 2011 Super Bowl teams, average for most of the season but got hot at the end of the year and won the championship. I don't see that happening this season; their offense is bad. The defense can really play; they held Dallas to 7, and no one's scored 30 against them all season. Even without Jason Pierre-Paul, this is a serious defense. But they haven't scored 30 all season, either. They can't run at all, and Odell Beckham is their only threat on offense. Beckham is amazing, but a good defense and a great WR isn't enough to win a championship, even in a year like this when there are no great teams.

11. Denver Broncos [8] — Pass defense is impenetrable. They rank 2nd in sacks, 1st in fewest passing yards allowed, and 1st by a mile in opponents' passer rating. So opponents run on them. They rank 29th in rush defense. The Titans had 180 rushing yards and 73 net passing yards, with 11 rushing first downs and 4 passing. They miss Malik Jackson and Brandon Marshall.

12. Washington [12] — On the first drive of the second half, Washington went three-and-out, and Tress Way punted to Darren Sproles. It was the most dangerous kind of punt, deep but not high. Sproles caught it near the middle of the field, with no defenders nearby, just as play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt called the punt "a good one." Sproles returned the punt 72 yards for a touchdown, though the play was called back on a penalty, because all long returns are called back on penalties.

A punt is not "good" just because it is long. A 40-yard punt that forces a fair catch is better than a 50-yard line drive that puts a returner in the open field. Burkhardt is also one of those announcers who thinks completion percentage is a passer's most important statistic. Sigh. It's the least important of any remotely mainstream statistic, including yards per attempt, yards per completion, net yards per attempt, first down percentage, touchdown percentage, interception percentage, sack percentage, and passer rating.

Completion percentage is trivia. It's not that it doesn't matter at all — below a certain point, you just can't be effective — but anyone can complete a screen pass that doesn't go anywhere, or a four-yard slant on 3rd-and-10. Completions are not an end, in and of themselves. Yards, first downs, TDs — these are goals that materially make a difference. If you're going to be a good announcer, you owe it to your viewers (and yourself) not to call bad punts good or imply that meaningless stats are significant.

13. Green Bay Packers [21] — If they miss the playoffs by just one game, Packer fans should consider blaming this year's bizarre schedule. Following a road game in Minnesota on September 18, Green Bay didn't play on the road again until October 30, a month and a half later. They had four home games and a bye in the meantime. Green Bay was 4-2 at that time, including wins over the Lions and Giants. But now the schedule turned nasty: from Weeks 8-12, the Packers had four road games and only one at home. Maybe the constant travel wore them out, or maybe it was just a coincidence, but the team went 1-4 in that stretch, and dropped out of realistic playoff contention.

14. Carolina Panthers [14] — Cam Newton went 10-of-27 with 2 sacks, for just 146 net yards, 5.0 per attempt. He had a 54.6 passer rating, and his season rating is a career-low 78.9, compared to 99.4 last season.

15. Baltimore Ravens [15] — I thought Sean McDonough missed an opportunity on the MNF telecast. Jon Gruden was talking about Marshal Yanda, and how he'd like to have him on his team. I would have loved for McDonough to follow up that comment by asking Gruden who was the best lineman he ever had.

16. Buffalo Bills [11] — Lost five of their last seven, but all to teams that are 8-5 or better, and four of the five losses were close. Rex Ryan deserves a head coaching job; he is one of the 32 best head coaches in the NFL, probably top 20. The grass may look greener on the other side of the fence, but the Bills should hang on to Rex for at least another year.

17. Tennessee Titans [25] — Aqib Talib is right: Harry Douglas diving at Chris Harris' knees was a dirty play. Douglas should be suspended.

18. Miami Dolphins [16] — Careless clock management almost blew their shot to win in regulation. Ryan Tannehill sprained ligaments in his knee; Matt Moore takes over as QB.

19. Cincinnati Bengals [20] — Obviously we shouldn't read too much into beating Cleveland, but it was their second week in a row winning by double-digits.

20. San Diego Chargers [13] — Lost Melvin Gordon and Joey Bosa to injuries. That's arguably their best player on offense and their best player on defense, and if they're out next week, this rank might be about six spots too high. The Chargers already have 17 players on injured reserve, including two running backs.

21. New Orleans Saints [17] — We think of the Saints as having a terrible defense, but no one has scored 30 against them in two months. Drew Brees has 11 turnovers in the last five games.

22. Houston Texans [22] — Swept the Colts for the first time in franchise history. They're 4-0 in the AFC South, compared to 1-3 for the Titans. If they finish in a tie for the division lead, they're guaranteed to win any tiebreaker.

23. Arizona Cardinals [19] — Calais Campbell is one of the best defensive players in football. I've chosen him for my all-pro team three times, and I endorsed him for the Pro Bowl this year. A couple more good seasons, he's a Hall of Famer. But Campbell has a problem with going low and injuring opponents.

On Sunday, his low hit on Ryan Tannehill ended Tannehill's season and possibly Miami's playoff hopes. In Week 8, he went low on Cam Newton, who was fortunate to escape without a significant injury. I don't think Campbell is a dirty player, but I think he's careless. A couple years ago, Campbell himself was the victim of a nasty block by Julius Thomas, so hopefully he can empathize with Newton and Tannehill and work to make himself a cleaner player. Campbell probably isn't a dirty player per sé, but his play is dirty.

24. Philadelphia Eagles [26] — The injury to Brent Celek attracted attention because it resulted in emergency long snapper tryouts on the sideline, but it probably didn't affect the score — as opposed to the wrist injury suffered by original long snapper (and Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee) Jon Dorenbos. When Celek came in for Dorenbos, he blew the snap, and Washington swarmed the ball for a turnover. That field goal might have swung the game, allowing Philly to kick a game-winning field goal on the final drive instead of going for a TD. But even with Dorenbos and a perfect snap, that outcome was never a guarantee. It would have been a 50-yard attempt, in 35° weather, and Sturgis isn't especially accurate on long kicks.

25. Minnesota Vikings [23] — Manageable remaining schedule means they still have a path to the playoffs, but they're 2-6 since the bye. Their offense is really bad.

26. Indianapolis Colts [24] — The NFL is sick right now. It has a disease. The disease is short passing. Short passes aren't just boring, they're counter-productive. When you have 4th-and-1, throwing a screen to someone behind the line of scrimmage is too clever by half. At least throw a pass that will definitely pick up the first down if you complete it.

27. Chicago Bears [28] — Charged with 11 penalties for 139 yards and 5 Lions first downs, probably the difference in the game. Alshon Jeffery returned from suspension on Monday and should be active against the Packers in Week 15.

28. Jacksonville Jaguars [27] — Started 2-3; they've lost eight in a row.

29. New York Jets [30] — Bryce Petty got his first win, but he also got sacked six times, with an interception and no touchdowns.

30. Los Angeles Rams [29] — Fired head coach Jeff Fisher and named special teams coordinator John Fassel interim head coach. Their 42-14 loss was even worse than the final score and stats imply. They have, as running back Todd Gurley put it, a middle school offense. Let's talk about rookie QB Jared Goff.

It is obviously way too early to give up on Goff, but he has been awful so far. In four starts, he has 637 net passing yards, about 160 per game. He has 4 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He has an atrocious 65.3 passer rating that doesn't account for his 7.5% sack rate and 2 lost fumbles. As poorly as Case Keenum played (225 net yds/gm, 76.8 rating), you understand why the coaches kept Goff hidden on the bench: he's not ready for NFL competition.

When the Rams drafted Goff, I wrote: "The Rams think all their quarterbacks fail because the QBs aren't any good. I think all their quarterbacks fail because their offensive line sucks and they don't have receivers who get open." Goff is in this situation because:

1] Their offensive line sucks and they don't have receivers who get open.

2] Which means their offense sucks.

3] Which is why they have a bad record and Keenum had a sub-80 passer rating.

4] Which is why after nine games, the Rams had to play Goff, even though he's not ready.

5] His unreadiness is exacerbated by an offensive line that sucks and receivers who can't get open.

6] His self-confidence is probably pretty low, and his first impression on Rams fans is that he can't play.

Sometimes rookie quarterbacks flourish, like Dak Prescott. Sometimes they use the season to adjust and develop, like Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. Sometimes they get thrown into the fire and it irreparably damages their careers. Again, it's much too early to give up on Goff. But I think the team has misused him in a way that puts his entire career in jeopardy. I really believe that there are QBs who could play well if they're given time to learn and put into a good situation, but fail because their teams play them before they're ready and don't support them with teammates who can help them succeed. Goff is primed to be the poster boy for that situation.

The Rams really do have mediocre-and-worse quarterbacks, but at a certain point they need to stop blaming the passers and give them some weapons and professional coaching.

31. San Francisco 49ers [31] — Missed two field goals in the first half (44 yards and 48 yards) and lost in overtime.

32. Cleveland Browns [32] — Robert Griffin III had a 38.4 passer rating and they got shut out in the first half. It was Griffin's first week back from a serious injury, and the team around him isn't really any good. Let's give RG3 a break for now.

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