Tuesday, January 3, 2017
2016 NFL Week 17 Power Rankings
Week 17 Game Balls
Offense — Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers. Beat the Lions with his arm (300 yards, 4 touchdowns, 126.0 passer rating) and legs (42 yards).
Defense — Jordan Hicks, LB, Philadelphia Eagles. Led the team in tackles and intercepted 2 passes. He was one of only two players this season with 5 INTs and 5 tackles for loss.
Special Teams — Tyreek Hill, PR, Kansas City Chiefs. His 95-yard punt return for a touchdown was the biggest special teams play of Week 17.
Rookie — Tyreek Hill, WR/PR, Kansas City Chiefs. Gained 61 yards from scrimmage, plus a 95-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Honorable Mentions — QB Matt Ryan, DB Jahleel Addae, P Matt Darr
Five Quick Hits
* Best announcers this season: Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels.
* It's been several years since I've complained about SNF's interminable intro song, so let's do that now. I haven't sat through it once all season. I use that time to go the bathroom, make dinner, do my laundry, complete the Sunday crossword, read the collected works of James Joyce, vacation in India, and watch every episode of the Game of Thrones marathon that I DVR-ed last week.
* What's the point of having an intro, anyway? Are they afraid that if they go straight to the game I won't understand what's happening? I need a blonde to tell me in song?
* Every team in the NFC East outscored its opponents this year.
* Super Bowl LI: Patriots over ... I don't know, Falcons? More on this in the Dallas summary.
1. New England Patriots  — Best record in the NFL (14-2). They allowed the fewest points in the league, 250 (15.6/gm), and led by a mile in point differential (+191), 43% ahead of Atlanta's second-place +134.
2. Atlanta Falcons  — No great offense has ever slid so far under the radar. They scored 540 points, tied for the 8th-most all-time. Compare them to the Greatest Show on Turf:
2016 Falcons — 540
2000 Rams — 540
1999 Rams — 526
2001 Rams — 503
Atlanta outscored both of the GSOT's Super Bowl teams, but the media attention hasn't been there. The Falcons went all season without appearing on Sunday Night Football. They were on MNF in Week 3, and they scored 48 points, but that was against the Saints and no one gave them too much credit for it. They played on Thursday Night Football in Week 9, and scored 43, but who the hell cares about Thursday games? They didn't play on Thanksgiving or Christmas, and they haven't appeared on a national broadcast in two months. They're under the radar, but they've had an excellent season, and need to be taken seriously in the playoffs. The Falcons have a first-round bye, and it sounds like Vic Beasley's shoulder injury won't be a big deal.
3. Green Bay Packers  — Ran the table. Their six-game win streak includes three playoff teams.
4. Kansas City Chiefs  — Fourth winning season in four years under Andy Reid. They tied the Raiders for best turnover differential in the NFL, +16, and were the only team to sweep its division in 2016.
5. Dallas Cowboys  — Didn't look like a great team for the last month, and the Cowboys can expect a tough playoff schedule. Barring a massive upset, they'll get the Giants or Packers in the divisional round — both dangerous matchups. If they survive that, they'll have to beat Atlanta or Seattle the following week. Is this team good enough to win two really tough games in a row like that?
6. Pittsburgh Steelers  — Seven wins in a row, but they haven't been really impressive in a month. Their last four games, all against non-playoff teams, were all one-possession victories.
7. New York Giants  — Monsters at home, 7-1. But they went 4-4 on the road, including a Week 5 loss at Green Bay. The Giants haven't scored 20 points in any of their last five games, and there's no way they make a playoff run like 2007 or 2011. The Giants have a great defense, but I think the Packers win by 8 in a game that's not as close as the score implies.
8. Seattle Seahawks  — Finished the season cold. Their last four games included an easy win over the Rams, but also a 38-10 loss to Green Bay, a home loss to Arizona, and a near-loss to the 2-14 Niners. They didn't play well in the 2015-16 postseason, and it's hard to have much faith in them this year, either.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers  — Led the league in defensive third down percentage (34%).
10. New Orleans Saints  — For the third year in a row, led the NFL in third down percentage but finished 7-9. Turning a top-ranked offense into a losing record takes a special kind of awful in other areas, and the Saints desperately need cornerback help.
11. Arizona Cardinals  — Only team with multiple 30-point wins this season. They ranked 2nd in fewest yards allowed and led the NFL in sacks. They're the only team to beat the Seahawks in Seattle.
12. Denver Broncos  — Head coach Gary Kubiak is retiring. If you're a head coaching prospect, this has to be the job you want. The Broncos' defense allowed a 69.7 passer rating this season, best in the league. For context, Ryan Fitzpatrick had a 69.6 rating this season. So basically, everyone who passed against Denver performed like Ryan Fitzpatrick.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Detroit allowed a league-worst 106.5 rating, which is between Dak Prescott (104.9) and Tom Brady (112.2).
13. Oakland Raiders  — Without Derek Carr, the offense managed just 11 first downs, 221 yards, and 6 points. That was against Denver, you'll point out, and Denver has a great defense. But Saturday's playoff game is against Houston, which led the league in fewest yards allowed. Matt McGloin got knocked out of Week 17 with a shoulder injury, and it's not clear whether he or Connor Cook will start against the Texans. It's also not clear that either of them will be able to do anything in that matchup. If the Raiders win, they'll need to do it mostly with defense.
14. Baltimore Ravens  — Lost six of their last seven games against the Bengals. They allowed a 100-yard rusher in each of their last three games: Ryan Mathews (128), Le'Veon Bell (122), and Rex Burkhead (119).
15. Detroit Lions  — Lost their last three in a row. Those were all against playoff teams, and two of three were on the road, but it doesn't bode well for next week's playoff game on the road. Seattle by a touchdown.
16. Washington  — If they let Kirk Cousins go, he'll be the most sought-after free agent QB at least since Peyton Manning's return from neck surgery, maybe longer. Cousins has obviously earned the starting job, but depending on his salary demands, the smart choice might not be obvious. When Cousins is under pressure in the pocket, he throws airballs to the middle of the field — like the one that ended Washington's comeback attempt on Sunday.
17. Philadelphia Eagles  — Led the NFL in average time of possession (32:31). They were the only team to average more than 32 minutes.
18. Miami Dolphins  — They've faced a team that finished .500 or better twice in the last two months. They lost those two games by more than 20 points each, a combined 73-20. It's expected to be about 30° in Pittsburgh next weekend. The Steelers are healthy and the Dolphins aren't positive who their QB will be. Steelers by 10.
19. Cincinnati Bengals  — In last year's playoff loss to Pittsburgh, Jeremy Hill lost a late fumble when the Bengals just needed to run out the clock. This year, Hill didn't fumble at all. Maybe that's a fluke, but I suspect Hill worked pretty hard to improve that aspect of his game.
20. Carolina Panthers  — Ranked 29th in passing yards allowed and gave up 40 or more points three times. I'd like to see them improve the offensive line and look for a dynamic running back in the offseason, but the top priority has to be the secondary.
21. Tennessee Titans  — Terrific first season for head coach Mike Mularkey, dramatically exceeding expectations. It's their first winning season since 2011, Mike Munchak's first year.
Let's review their trade out of the first pick in the draft. The Rams moved up to select Jared Goff — who was the least effective QB in the league this year, and already looks like a bust — giving Tennessee two 1st-round picks, two 2nd-round picks, and two 3rd-round picks. So far, that top pick the Titans traded away has yielded Jack Conklin, Austin Johnson, Derrick Henry, and the 5th pick in next year's draft, with a drop later of about 20 spots (from Tennessee's 2nd to L.A.'s 3rd). Conklin and Henry already look good, and they've got a high 1st-round pick in addition to their own (18th) pick in May. That's a hell of a deal. The Rams are idiots.
22. Buffalo Bills  — Got swept by the Jets. Interim head coach Anthony Lynn reportedly is the favorite to be the team's head coach in 2017. Per Adam Schefter, former Jaguars HC and Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley will be Lynn's defensive coordinator, regardless of where Lynn lands — assuming Lynn is still a hot commodity after the Bills' embarrassing performance in Week 17.
23. Houston Texans  — Tom Savage got injured on a QB sneak, which is extremely rare. It sounds like Brock Osweiler will start their playoff game on Saturday. That's the hardest game of the week to pick.
The Texans were 7-1 at home this season, compared to 2-6 on the road. They played the Raiders in Mexico City in Week 11, that game Tony Corrente's officiating crew gave to Oakland. That was when the Raiders still had Derek Carr. I don't really have any faith in Houston, but with the game in Houston and the Raiders' QB situation unsettled, I'll say the Texans by 3.
24. Indianapolis Colts  — Steve Smith was a great player, but it's a shame that his impending retirement got so much more attention than Robert Mathis, who received the game ball following Indy's Week 17 victory at home. Mathis spent 14 seasons with the Colts, including five years with double-digit sacks, and another three with 9.5. He retires with 123 regular-season sacks, 52 forced fumbles, and a Super Bowl ring. He made six Pro Bowls, and in 2013 he got 49 of 50 all-pro votes, placing 2nd in Defensive Player of the Year voting. He had more tackles, more sacks, and more forced fumbles than longtime teammate Dwight Freeney, and I know I'm in the minority on this, but I think he's a better candidate for the Hall of Fame.
25. Minnesota Vikings  — Worst rushing offense in the NFL, with 1205 yards and a 3.2 average. Offensive line is a clear need heading into the offseason. It's too bad they don't have a first-round draft pick.
26. San Diego Chargers  — Fired head coach Mike McCoy after four seasons and a 27-37 record, including 9-23 the last two seasons. They went 4-4 with Melvin Gordon and Joey Bosa in the lineup, 1-7 otherwise.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars  — Finished 5-11 or worse for the sixth year in a row. They're 22-74 (.229) since cutting David Garrard.
28. Chicago Bears  — Finished 0-8 on the road, the only team besides Cleveland, and tied the Jets for worst turnover differential (-20).
29. New York Jets  — Ryan Fitzpatrick didn't have a good year, but he outplayed Bryce Petty.
Fitz — 240 yds/gm, 56.6 comp%, 6.7 yds/att, 30.3 1st-D%, 3.0 TD%, 4.2 INT%, 69.6 rating, 4.5 sack%, 6.2 NY/A
Petty — 187 yds/gm, 56.4 comp%, 6.1 yds/att, 24.0 1st-D%, 2.3 TD%, 5.3 INT%, 60.0 rating, 8.9 sack%, 5.0 NY/A
Petty is worse in every stat. Let's go deeper. Fitzpatrick started 11 games, Petty started 4, and Geno Smith started in Week 7. Giving Fitzpatrick half-credit for Week 7 (when he played more than half the game and threw twice as many passes as Smith) and Week 16 (when he played almost three quarters), and Petty half-credit in Week 13 (when he played the whole second half and threw twice as many passes as Fitzpatrick) — with Fitz at QB, the Jets went 3.5 - 8 (.304) and averaged 18.7 points per game. With Petty, they went 1-3 (.250) and averaged 12.1. The offense scored 55% more with Fitz and won 22% more often. Some of that is probably strength of schedule, but it's a massive difference.
I think the Jets — or any other team — would be a lot more comfortable with Fitzpatrick as their backup in 2017 than the starter. But I wonder if anyone would even feel comfortable with Petty as the backup in 2017?
30. San Francisco 49ers  — Fired the head coach for the third season in a row. This is a disastrous organization.
31. Cleveland Browns  — Most sacks taken since realignment:
1. 2002 Houston Texans, 76
2. 2006 Oakland Raiders, 72
3. 2014 Jacksonville Jaguars, 71
4. 2005 Houston Texans, 68
t5. 2004 Chicago Bears, 66
t5. 2016 Cleveland Browns, 66
7. 2006 Detroit Lions, 63
t8. 2012 Arizona Cardinals, 58
t8. 2013 Miami Dolphins, 58
10. 2010 Chicago Bears, 56
The average is 34.9, about 2 per game. The Browns were a standard deviation below the 31st-ranked team, and three standard deviations below average. This wasn't just bad, it was abnormal. Only about 1% of NFL teams take so many sacks.
32. Los Angeles Rams  — There were 15 28-point losses in the NFL this season. Four of them were by the Rams, and three of those in the last six weeks. They won't have a first-round draft pick this year, because of the Jared Goff trade. Among the top 40 passers in the league, Goff ranked second-to-last in completion percentage (54.6%), sack percentage (11.3%), and passer rating (63.6). He was dead last in yards per attempt (5.3), yards per completion (9.7), net yards per attempt (3.8), first down percentage (20.3%), and first downs per completion (42%), which I suspect — and I haven't looked this up — is the lowest mark in the history of professional football.
Statistically, it might be the worst season since JaMarcus Russell in 2009.