Tuesday, December 20, 2016

2016 NFL Week 15 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Week 15 Game Balls

Offense — Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints. I hate Brandin Cooks. He's on my fantasy team, and this is the second time this season that he's scored like 500 points and I didn't play him. He's super inconsistent, sinking my team when he's in the lineup and burning the stadium down when he's on my bench. He had 186 yards and 2 touchdowns — more than the previous three games combined (176 yds, 0 TD) — against Arizona, a defense that hadn't allowed any receiver over 103 yards this season.

Defense — David Irving, DL, Dallas Cowboys. Two sacks, a pass deflection, and five hits on Jameis Winston. He totally disrupted Tampa Bay's offense in the second half.

Special Teams — Chris Boswell, K, Pittsburgh Steelers. Six-for-six on field goals, five of them 40 yards or more. That's the most 40+ yard field goals for any kicker in a game this season.

Rookie — Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys. Rushed for 159 yards, gained 188 yards from scrimmage, and scored a touchdown.

Honorable Mentions: RB Ty Montgomery, DB Jalen Ramsey, P Shane Lechler

Lechler pinned four of his five punts within the 10-yard line, including a gorgeous punt at the end of the game that bounced backward and settled at the 7. An additional special teams shout-out to Giants punter Brad Wing and rookie special teamer Roger Lewis, who downed two punts inside the 5-yard line.

Five Quick Hits

* UFC fighter Urijah Faber retired this weekend. Faber was a great bantamweight in the UFC, but before that he was a dominant featherweight in the WEC. He was an exciting fighter, a successful coach, and a wonderful ambassador for the sport of mixed martial arts. Congratulations on a great career, Urijah.

* With :38 left in the Saturday night game, the Jets were down 34-13 and called timeout to stop the clock. They've scored 13 points in the first 59:22, and now Todd Bowles thinks they're going to score 21 in :38. That's two onside kick recoveries and three Hail Marys, all in a row.

* Look, that's never going to happen. Best case scenario, you waste everybody's time. Worst case scenario, someone gets hurt because you're running three plays that can't possibly impact the result. Two years ago, I thought Todd Bowles was a good hire as head coach, but he's turned out to be not only a failure, but a joke. He's the most conservative head coach in the NFL, and apparently he can't tell time.

* The NFL has done a better job this season of removing players from the game to check for concussion symptoms, but there's a lot of progress that still needs to be made. We're talking about players' lives here, and there's just no excuse not to get this right every single time. It was disconcerting to see Vontaze Burfict lying on the ground after a helmet-to-helmet shot with a pulling lineman, described as "woozy" by the announcers, and back in the same game a little later.

* Burfict and Adam Jones both got 15-yard penalties on Sunday, echoing last year's wild card loss to Pittsburgh, when their combined 30 yards of penalties with :18 left gave the Steelers an easy 35-yard field goal to win the game.

Lack of discipline is a Cincinnati characteristic tracking back to 2006, when nine different Bengals were either arrested or suspended by the league. Either Marvin Lewis condones what his players are doing, or they don't respect what he tells them. Anyway, time for the Week Fifteen NFL Power Rankings. Brackets show previous rank.

1. New England Patriots [1] — Eighth straight AFC East title, a record for consecutive division titles. When I ranked The Best Coaches In NFL History five years ago, Bill Belichick was already 4th. He's obviously higher than that now, though he's still yet to surpass Paul Brown. But how on earth do you compare Belichick to George Halas, who coached from the 1920s to the 1960s? Halas went 318-148-31 (.671) and won 6 championships. Belichick is 235-115 (.671) with 4 championships. By the numbers, Halas is obviously ahead. But just as clearly, Belichick has coached under circumstances in which it is far more difficult to sustain success. I'd be lying if I said I could — with any confidence — compare a 40-year career in the pre-Super Bowl era to a 22-year career in the 2000s. To me, they're 2a and 2b. Gun to my head, I'll take Belichick.

2. Atlanta Falcons [4] — Back-to-back 28-point victories. That only happens about once a year, and this season, the Falcons are the only team with multiple 28-point wins, never mind consecutive.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers [2] — I hate sideline interviews with the head coach before halftime. But Mike Tomlin's was pretty interesting this week! He called out three major penalties by his team that impacted the score:

1] Face Mask on Stephon Tuitt. This was the first drive of the game. Andy Dalton got sacked on 3rd-and-7, but instead of 4th-and-15, Tuitt's penalty made it first down. The Bengals drove 52 yards and kicked a field goal.

2] Defensive Pass Interference on Artie Burns. Next drive. Burns' 39-yard penalty gave the Bengals 1st-and-Goal at the 1-yard line, leading to a touchdown.

3] Chop Block on Le'Veon Bell. Nullified a touchdown pass to Antonio Brown and gave Pittsburgh 3rd-and-22. They settled for a field goal.

That could easily be 14 points worth of penalties.

4. Dallas Cowboys [5] — Completion percentage is not an important statistic. Dak Prescott went 32-for-36 — which Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth made a big deal about — for 279 yards, no TDs or INTs. That's a perfectly decent game, a little above average, but not really good, certainly not "magnificent," as Sean McDonough called it. Prescott went 32-of-36, but the Cowboys only scored two touchdowns. In the second half, when he went 11-of-11, the Cowboys scored no touchdowns. If Prescott was so unstoppable, how come the offense kept getting stopped?

In that "perfect" second half, Prescott went 11-for-11, with four first downs. The defense will give you a 1-yard pass on 3rd-and-12, or a 6-yard pass on 3rd-and-14. What you have to ask yourself is how much skill was required to complete those passes, and whether completing them helped the team or just padded the stats.

Prescott threw 36 passes, so I checked every game since 1950 with between 34-38 pass attempts. The list includes Matt Ryan earlier this year, 28-of-37 for 503 yards, 4 TDs, and 1 INT. That's 224 yards more than Prescott, with only one additional attempt. Ryan passed for 18 first downs, compared to 14 for Prescott. He threw 4 TDs, compared to none for Prescott.

By yardage, Prescott is tied for 1,079th among passers with 34-38 attempts. That's one-thousand seventy-ninth. He's not in the top 1,000.

But hey, let's look at completion percentage. What if we just take all the games where a passer completed at least 80% of his attempts, and organize by yardage? The list includes Ben Roethlisberger going 40-of-49 for 522 yards and 6 TDs. It has Aaron Rodgers passing for 480 yards and 4 TDs, Ken O'Brien with a perfect passer rating in 1986, Kirk Cousins' perfect passer rating against the Saints last season (324 yds, 4 TD). By yardage, Prescott is tied for 137th on this list. And remember, these are players with roughly the same completion percentage.

Prescott's stat — 87.5% completions — is misleading, because completions are usually productive. Prescott completed 32 passes for 14 first downs and no TDs. That's terrible. His high completion percentage salvaged the game and made it okay, but not truly a good game. Dallas won with rushing and defense. Prescott was nothing more than a game manager.

5. Kansas City Chiefs [3] — Seven touchdowns on defense or special teams, most in the league. Their offense has been comparably quiet, and the pass game in particular. The Bills, Eagles, and Chiefs are the only teams in the league on which pass TDs account for less than a third of scoring.

6. New York Giants [10] — The Giants had 6 three-and-outs, against a defense whose previous high was 3. The Giants also had 7 three-and-outs last week, and 6 against the Browns in Week 12. They rank 31st in third down percentage (34.4%), ahead of the Rams but behind everyone else.

7. Seattle Seahawks [8] — After some consideration, I don't think the puke-colored uniforms they wore on Thursday night were quite as bad as the Steelers' bumblebee jerseys.

8. Oakland Raiders [6] — They went 1-for-6 in the red zone: 1 touchdown, 3 field goals, and 2 turnovers. Technically it's 1-for-7, but that includes kneel-downs at the end of the game. Either way, you're not going to win playoff games if you can't capitalize on opportunities.

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [7] — With Demar Dotson out, they had no answer for David Irving at right tackle. The Saints, whom they play next week, don't have anyone quite like Irving, but if the Bucs plan on a playoff run, they've got to get that figured out.

10. Green Bay Packers [13] — Aaron Rodgers obviously isn't healthy, but he reportedly avoided setbacks despite the -4° wind chill in Chicago. The Packers have won four in a row, the longest winning streak in the NFC.

11. Tennessee Titans [17] — Icing the kicker is one of the more idiotic expressions of outdated conventional wisdom in the NFL, so it's glorious when it backfires as obviously as it did on Andy Reid this weekend. Ryan Succop explained that not only did Reid's timeout prevent his original miss on the game-winning field goal, it helped him understand what he needed to correct.

12. Carolina Panthers [14] — It was stupid of Cam Newton to toss the ball at Trent Murphy, earning a 15-yard penalty, but I don't know what Cam has to do to get a call. He was sliding, and Murphy dove and hit him in the head. That should be a penalty on Murphy.

13. Baltimore Ravens [15] — A game behind the Steelers. They can even the score and clinch a tiebreaker if they win in Pittsburgh next week, but a loss would probably drop them out of the playoff picture entirely. The Steelers are 4½-point favorites.

14. Detroit Lions [9] — None of the teams they beat during their five-game winning streak is over .500. Those teams have a combined record of 25-45 (.357). The Lions took care of business, but there's only one impressive win (28-13 at New Orleans) in the streak. The last two times they faced an opponent with a winning record, the Lions lost the game.

15. Denver Broncos [11] — Got a first down with 7:00 left in the second quarter. Their next first down came with 8:00 left in the fourth quarter. They went half the game without picking up a first down. The Broncos have the most three-and-outs of any team this season, including the Rams.

16. Buffalo Bills [16] — I think they're trying to be like the Cubs, and go 100 years in between championships.

News broke indicating that Rex Ryan would be let go at the end of the season, on the same day the Bills won by 20 points and evened their record at .500. That's totally consistent with Buffalo's incompetent organization, which has the longest playoff drought in the league (18 years). No Bills coach has lasted four seasons since Marv Levy retired in 1997. Wade Phillips (29-19), Gregg Williams (17-31), Mike Mularkey (14-18), Dick Jauron (24-33), Perry Fewell (3-4), Chan Gailey (16-32), and Doug Marrone (15-17) all resigned or got fired prior to completing a fourth season.

If the Bills win either of their last two games, Ryan will deliver their first back-to-back non-losing seasons in 16 years (1999-2000). Ryan is 15-15, the team's most successful coach since the '90s; obviously they need to fire him so the Bills can have more years in the wilderness and build to a wonderful story when they finally win the Lombardi Trophy in 2065.

The Bills are one of the bottom five franchises in the NFL, along with teams like the Browns and 49ers. Their front office is destructively impatient for immediate gratification. I can't imagine who would want to set his career back by coaching here.

17. Miami Dolphins [18] — With the Jets defense focused on stopping the run, Matt Moore threw four touchdowns in just 18 attempts, a 22.2 TD%. The record for fewest attempts generating 4+ TDs is 12, by Steve Tensi in the AFL (1966) and Hall of Famer Len Dawson in 1970. The most impressive is probably former Browns QB Frank Ryan, who went 12-of-13 for 202 yards and 5 TDs against the Giants in 1964. The most recent perforance like Moore's was Marcus Mariota in the first game of his NFL career (September 13, 2015), when he threw 4 TDs in 15 attempts against Tampa Bay.

In 1958, Cardinals QB Lamar McHan tossed 4 TDs in 18 attempts, but also threw 2 INTs, and the Cardinals lost to Washington, 45-31. That's the only time a passer with 4 TDs in fewer than 20 attempts lost the game.

18. Washington [12] — Lost three of their last four. Washington has only held an opponent below 20 points once all season (Ravens in Week 5), but this loss was on the offense, which went 2/12 on third down.

19. Cincinnati Bengals [19] — Led 17-3, and 20-9 at halftime. With 9:08 remaining, the Bengals were hanging on to a 20-18 lead, and Pittsburgh had 3rd-and-1 at the Cincinnati 48-yard line. The Bengals then committed penalties on the next four plays in a row, each of which resulted in a Steelers first down. Following the penalties — which nullified three incomplete passes and a run for no gain — Pittsburgh had 1st-and-10 at the Cincinnati 18-yard line. Two plays later, Ben Roethlisberger threw the winning touchdown. Cincinnati had 8 penalties, which is about average, but 7 of them resulted in Pittsburgh first downs, which is unheard of.

20. New Orleans Saints [21] — In the last four weeks, they scored: 49, 13, 11, 48. That's two games of 48+, and two of less than 14. It's all or nothing. You try to predict what this team will do in a given week.

21. San Diego Chargers [20] — First time holding an opponent under 20 points since the Jaguars in Week 2, but they blew a fourth-quarter lead for the seventh time this season. The Chargers have scored exactly as many points as they've allowed (366), but they're 5-9.

22. Houston Texans [22] — In the NFL this season, there have been 151 games with a passer rating of at least 100, about 5 per team. None of those were by Brock Osweiler. In 14 starts, he had zero good games. Bill O'Brien was right to give Tom Savage a shot on Sunday, and it's no surprise that Savage will start in Week 16. The Texans are fighting for a playoff spot; they can't afford to play salary-politics with the starting QB.

23. Indianapolis Colts [26] — Frank Gore rushed for 101 yards, the 41st 100-yard game of his career. That ties Marshall Faulk for 17th-most in history. Gore also passed Tony Dorsett for 10th all-time in yards from scrimmage (16,332). Frank Gore isn't a Hall of Famer in the Jim Brown-Walter Payton-Barry Sanders mode, but he is in the Tony Dorsett-Curtis Martin mode. Five years after he retires, Gore will have my support for the HOF.

24. Arizona Cardinals [23] — Rank top-10 in both yards gained (9th) and yards allowed (4th). They out-gain opponents by an average of 56 yards per game, best in the NFL. The Patriots are second (+53.9) and the Browns and 49ers are last; this isn't a meaningless statistic. The Cardinals are only -1 in turnover differential, so that doesn't explain their modest (+15) point differential or subpar record (5-8-1). They have bad special teams, bad play in the red zone, and bad luck.

25. Chicago Bears [27] — Outscored their opponents over the last month, 107-105. Four of those five opponents have winning records. It's tough to move the Bears up while they keep losing, but I suspect that if their strength of schedule were more balanced, they'd be ranked higher than this, maybe top-20.

26. Philadelphia Eagles [24] — The two-point attempt to win the game didn't work, but I think it was a good idea. Extra point percentage this season is just under 94%, while the two-point conversion rate is a tick under 48%. But the Eagles were going against the wind, and they have a new long snapper after last week's injuries.

If the Eagles kicked, they had a 94% chance to get to overtime, probably a little lower because of the weather, maybe 90%. The new snapper might drop that another point or two. In overtime, they'd have about a 50% chance to win, probably a little lower because [1] the Ravens are better than them, [2] the game was in Baltimore, and [3] the possibility of a tie. So let's say the Eagles had an 89% chance of getting to overtime and a 40% chance of winning in overtime. That's about a 35% chance of winning if they kicked the XP. But their offense was rolling, with multiple first downs on each of the last five drives, and their chance of winning with the 2XP was definitely higher than 35%. And don't forget that no team wants to play overtime if they don't have to, getting worn down, risking injury, and delaying the flight home and the chance to rest.

The attempt didn't work out, but the process that led to the decision made sense.

27. Minnesota Vikings [25] — Got Adrian Peterson back and immediately had their worst game of the season, including a season-low 6 points against a bottom-10 defense. They trailed 27-0 at halftime. Peterson had six carries for 22 yards (3.7 avg), 1 catch for 1 yard, and a lost fumble.

28. Jacksonville Jaguars [28] — Fired head coach Gus Bradley immediately after the game, reportedly because they wanted to begin the search for his replacement and felt that would be disrespectful while he still had the job. I'm not sure what was respectful about firing him before the flight home, though. They couldn't have waited until that evening?

29. New York Jets [29] — More yards and more first downs than Miami, but they were -2 in turnovers and went 0/4 in the red zone, so they lost by 21. That -2 in turnovers doesn't count Ryan Fitzpatrick's pointless INT on the last play of the game, which technically made it -3, and brought New York's season total to -19, worst in the NFL. Last year, the Jets were +6 in turnovers.

30. San Francisco 49ers [31] — The Falcons rushed for 248 yards, with a 6.2 average and 3 TDs. The Niners' rush defense ranks worst in the league in every major category, including Rushing Yards Allowed (176 per game), Yards Per Carry Allowed (5.00), Rushing Touchdowns Allowed (22), Rushing First Downs Allowed (129), and Percentage of Rushes For First Down (26.1). Maybe the York family can find a way to blame this on Jim Tomsula.

31. Los Angeles Rams [30] — Last four losses all by at least 16 points, a combined 141-48. Over the last month, they've lost by an average of 35 to 12.

32. Cleveland Browns [32] — Sixth straight double-digit loss. They're the first such team since the 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars, who lost their first eight games by a combined 264-86.

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