Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016 NFL Week 16 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Week 16 Game Balls

Offense — Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers. Passed for 4 touchdowns and ran for another. In freezing weather, without Randall Cobb, against the 2nd-ranked defense in the NFL.

Defense —Malcolm Jenkins, DB, Philadelphia Eagles. Two interceptions, including a tone-setting 34-yard return for a touchdown. Teammate Brandon Graham also had a big game.

Special Teams — Matt Bryant, K, Atlanta Falcons. Made four field goals and three extra points, including three kicks from 48 yards or more. His only miss was blocked.

Rookie — Jalen Ramsey, DB, Jacksonville Jaguars. In the last two weeks, he has 9 passes defensed, 2 interceptions, a forced fumble, and a touchdown.

Honorable Mentions — QB Kirk Cousins, DB Malcolm Butler, P Brian Anger

Travis Kelce had 160 yards and a touchdown, his sixth 100-yard receiving game of 2016. That tied Tony Gonzalez (2000) and Tony Gonzalez (2004) for the single-season record by a tight end.

Five Quick Hits

* There have been four 200-yard rushing games in the NFL this season. Three of them are by Jay Ajayi. He joins O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell, and Tiki Barber as the only players with three 200-yard games in a season.

* The Bills and Dolphins combined for 533 rushing yards — the second-highest total since the 1970 AFL merger — and a 6.13 average.

* The AFC playoff teams are set. In the NFC, three of the four division champs have clinched, and the Giants are locked into the 5th seed, which just might determine the last wild card. If the Giants go easy on Sunday, and Washington beats them, Washington would make the playoffs, its first back-to-back appearances since the early 1990s.

* The injury to Bryce Petty forced the Jets to go back to Ryan Fitzpatrick for the third time since benching him (h/t Jeremy Bergman).

* Seahawks safety Earl Thomas tweeted this weekend that he'll "definitely be back next year." That's a gift to football fans everywhere (except Arizona, Los Angeles, and San Francisco).

Anyway, time for the Week Sixteen NFL Power Rankings. Brackets indicate last week's rank.

1. New England Patriots [1] — — Lead the NFL in fewest points allowed. They've allowed 6 points the last two weeks combined, and held five of their last six opponents under 20.

2. Atlanta Falcons [2] — — Became the 20th team in history to score at least 500 points, and the highest since the 2013 Denver Broncos. The 2016 Falcons aren't the '07 Patriots or the '99 Rams, but they've won their last three in a row by at least 17 points, scoring more than twice as many points as they allowed each time. They're peaking at the right time.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers [3] — — Foolishly risky on the game-winning play. I mean, I know it worked, but that easily could have cost them the game and a playoff spot. The Steelers trailed 27-24 with :13 and no timeouts. They had 2nd-and-goal at the Ravens' 4-yard line. That's enough time for two shots at the end zone, and a field goal on 4th down if you don't get the TD. But Ben Roethlisberger passed to Antonio Brown at the 1-yard line, with tacklers right there. Brown extended his arm and the ball crossed the plane of the goal line, but a couple inches short, and the clock's going to run out with the ball on the 1.

Tony Dungy was astonished by the risk: "I never thought they would do that, throw the ball short in the field of play, because that clock certainly could have run out." Mike Tirico, Doug Flutie, and Dungy did a great job in the booth, which is remarkable for a team that doesn't normally work together. I would love to see Tirico and Dungy, or all three, as a regular booth in the future.

4. Dallas Cowboys [4] — — Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith limped to the sideline in the fourth quarter and didn't return. Maybe he was just being careful, in a game the Cowboys had wrapped up and didn't need anyway. But Dallas needs Smith healthy for the playoffs.

5. Kansas City Chiefs [5] — — Swept the Broncos for the first time since 2000. Their fans were very classy about Kayvon Webster's injury. It's a shame that's so remarkable; every stadium should handle those situations the way they did in Arrowhead on Sunday night.

6. Green Bay Packers [10] — — During their five-game win streak, Jordy Nelson has 528 yards and 5 TDs. Nelson now has more yards (7,300), touchdowns (63), 100-yard games (25), and 1,000-yard seasons (4) than Antonio Freeman. Nelson is 31.

7. New York Giants [6] — — No Jason Pierre-Paul, no Janoris Jenkins. 63 pass attempts, three interceptions, including a pick-six. 1-for-5 in the red zone.

8. Seattle Seahawks [7] — — First home loss this season, and it will probably cost them a home game in the divisional round of the playoffs. None of their first 12 opponents scored 30 points, but in the last three weeks, they've allowed 38 to the Packers and 34 to the Cardinals.

9. Oakland Raiders [8] — — How far should they drop because of Derek Carr's broken fibula? This is probably a generous rank with Matt McGloin under center, but the Raiders are 12-3 and there's no one I want to move up.

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [9] — — Spots 8-11 are basically equal this week. The Seahawks (8th) and Bucs (10th) lost to teams ranked below them, and the Raiders (9th) lost their QB, but it's not obvious who else might be a top-10 team. After the top six or so, it's hard to feel good about anyone right now.

11. Washington [18] — — Second-year pass rusher Preston Smith's two best games both came in Week 16. Last year, he had three sacks and a forced fumble in Washington's playoff-clinching win. This year, a sack, a blocked field goal, and a hit that led directly to Josh Norman's interception.

12. New Orleans Saints [20] — — Lead the NFL in yards (6,343) and second in scoring (437). They're 7-8.

13. Baltimore Ravens [13] — — Through Week 3, five teams were undefeated. One was the Patriots, who are Super Bowl favorites. The others were the Ravens, Broncos, Eagles, and Vikings, all of whom have been eliminated from playoff contention.

14. Miami Dolphins [17] — — They've won nine of their last 10 and clinched a playoff berth. Why aren't they ranked higher?

Because those nine wins came against teams with a combined record of 49-85-1 (.367), and they haven't beaten anyone with a winning record since Week 6. The Ravens embarrassed them three weeks ago (38-6), and that was with their starting quarterback. You can't control your schedule, but (1) the Dolphins haven't proven they can beat good teams, and (2) they aren't blowing the scrubs away. They only have two double-digit wins all season, with mostly one-possession victories over bad teams.

15. Carolina Panthers [12] — — Are the real Panthers the team that went 15-1 last season, or the one that finished a little under .500 the year before and after? I think last year was the fluke, everyone pretty healthy and guys having career years. With Josh Norman gone and some of their best players aging or injury-prone, their Super Bowl window may have closed.

16. Detroit Lions [14] — — I agree with Sean McDonough about tackling. I've written extensively about player protection, and I think I've made my position pretty clear, but A'Shawn Robinson didn't break any rule I'm aware of, and I don't believe the play was especially dangerous: it was just a great tackle.

17. Denver Broncos [15] — — For the first time since 2003, both defending conference champions will miss the playoffs.

18. Buffalo Bills [16] — — Probably their most painful wide right since Wide Right.

19. Arizona Cardinals [24] — — There's been some discussion that they might part ways with head coach Bruce Arians, who has won Coach of the Year two of the last four seasons. Arians is 40-22-1 (.643) with the Cardinals, their best record since Norman Barry went 16-8-2 from 1925-26.

20. Philadelphia Eagles [26] — — They had "nothing to play for." If Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette were Eagles, would they play hard in a game like that? Would they find an excuse not to play at all?

21. Houston Texans [22] — — Didn't cross midfield in the first half, and clinched the AFC South when the Bengals missed a 43-yard field goal. This is Houston's third consecutive season with a winning record. The team has started eight QBs in that time:

Brock Osweiler, 8-7
Ryan Fitzpatrick, 6-6
Brian Hoyer, 5-4
Ryan Mallett, 2-4
Case Keenum, 2-0
T.J. Yates, 2-0
Tom Savage, 1-0
Brandon Weeden , 1-0

22. Tennessee Titans [11] — — They were already down 25-10 when Marcus Mariota left with a season-ending injury. Matt Cassel will start against Houston next week, but they've been eliminated from playoff contention.

23. Cincinnati Bengals [19] — — Six penalties for five Houston first downs, including three by Adam Jones. You can stop calling him Pac-Man, but you can't take the Pac out of the man.

24. Indianapolis Colts [23] — — Andrew Luck had pretty blatant intentional grounding in the second quarter, but referee Ed Hochuli said a receiver was in the area. Announcer Phil Simms laughed at the idea that the receiver was in the area: "Well, he was in the stadium."

25. San Diego Chargers [21] — — Scored at least 21 points in nine of their first 10 games, 21 or less in each of their last five. Josh Lambo missed two field goals in the fourth quarter of their loss to Cleveland.

26. Chicago Bears [25] — — Tracy Porter is their best cornerback when he's healthy. He wasn't healthy on Saturday, and he wasn't up to covering DeSean Jackson.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars [28] — — Interim head coach Doug Marrone won his first game 38-17. Marrone miscalculated his departure from Buffalo, but if he can beat the Colts next week and go 2-0 with a team that started 2-12, you have to think he'll draw interest for head coaching vacancies this offseason — presumably including Jacksonville's.

28. Minnesota Vikings [27] — — Defense is collapsing: they gave up a season-high 34 points last week, then broke that mark by allowing 38 this week. But can we talk about their toothless 2-minute offense?

The Packers were up 38-19 in the fourth quarter. With 3:39 remaining, the Vikings got a good punt return and took over at the Green Bay 34-yard line. It's a tall order, but every team is looking for a quick comeback in that situation. Instead, Sam Bradford directed a 10-play drive with only one deep pass even attempted, using 3:07. The score was 38-25, but with only :32 remaining. Minnesota recovered an onside kick, and Bradford threw a three-yard pass — in bounds.

It's that disconnect that struck me. The onside kick is the ultimate expression of urgency, and Bradford can't get away from his preference to check it down. Chase Stuart recently wrote about Bradford and his high-completion-percentage, low-efficiency passing.

Bradford exemplifies the disagreement between modern analytics and traditional analysis. Traditionalists like tall white guys with strong arms and high completion percentage. Statheads like guys who generate yards and first downs efficiently, no matter how they do it or what they look like or whether they're friendly in interviews. The mainstream media loves Bradford, and analytics imply that he should be a backup.

29. Cleveland Browns [32] — — Won a game! Robert Griffin took seven sacks and left with a concussion. I don't believe RG3 can stay healthy, but I also don't believe the Browns should spend the first draft pick on a quarterback. They have a lot of needs, and no quarterback is going to survive long behind that offensive line.

30. San Francisco 49ers [30] — — They're 2-0 against the Rams, 0-13 against everyone else.

31. New York Jets [29] — — Lost by more than 20 for the third time in the last four weeks.

32. Los Angeles Rams [31] — — Started 3-1. Since then they're 1-10: they beat the Jets 9-6 a month and a half ago.

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