Tuesday, September 12, 2017

2017 NFL Week 1 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Week 1 Game Balls

Offense — Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City Chiefs. Gained 148 rushing yards, 98 receiving yards, and scored 3 touchdowns, against last year's top-ranked scoring defense.

Defense — Calais Campbell, DL, Jacksonville Jaguars. Led the revitalization of the Jags' defense, recording 4 of the team's 10 sacks.

Special Teams — Giorgio Tavecchio, K, Oakland Raiders. Filling in for Sebastian Janikowski, he went 2/2 on extra points and 4/4 on field goals, including two 52-yarders.

Rookie — Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City Chiefs. Hunt set the all-time record for most yards from scrimmage in an NFL debut, 246.

Honorable Mentions — QB Alex Smith, ER Brandon Graham, P Jon Ryan

Five Quick Hits

* Congratulations to U.S. Open champions Sloane Stephens and Rafael Nadal.

* Best wishes to everyone affected by extreme weather, including Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The NFL is urging fans to help survivors by donating to the Red Cross, but that may not be a good choice if you want your money to reach the people who need it. Instead, donate using A Just Harvey Recovery, Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, Hurricane Irma Relief Fund, and Hurricane Irma Community Relief Fund. If you're an animal lover, consider supporting The Humane Society in its work to save pets left behind.

* In 2012, the NFL promised $30 million to NIH to fund concussion research. It has honored less than half of that pledge. The league is hoping people won't notice.

* I liked ESPN's B-Team of Beth Mowins and Rex Ryan. Mowins was professional and didn't say anything stupid, and she asked Ryan, "Why?", which announcers should do more often: you've got an expert in the box, get the most out of him. Ryan is charismatic and engaging and pointed out some things you don't usually hear, like how crowd noise affected the Chargers' two-minute drill.

* Whenever Mowins said C.J. Anderson's name, she sounded like Agent Smith from the Matrix calling Neo "Mr. Anderson."

On to the Week 1 NFL Power Rankings. Brackets show last week's preseason power rating.

1. Green Bay Packers [5] — Third home win against the Seahawks in three years. They have a lot of weapons on offense, and their defense gave Seattle all kinds of trouble, including just 12 first downs and no touchdowns. Mike Daniels took over the game in the third quarter. The Packers lead the NFL in time of possession by nearly five minutes.

2. Kansas City Chiefs [8] — I would have ranked them number one, except that All-Pro safety Eric Berry will miss the rest of the season with a ruptured Achilles. Alex Smith had the game of his life, Kareem Hunt was amazing, and the offensive line looked terrific. Justin Houston, who is still just 28, played like he did in 2014, when he was a first-team All-Pro with 22 sacks. Limited by injuries, Houston played only 16 games in the last two seasons combined. Other than Berry's injury, Thursday night couldn't have gone much better for KC.

3. New England Patriots [1] — Led 27-21 in the fourth quarter, then gave up 21 points in a row and lost by 15. The Chiefs gained 537 yards (the most ever allowed by a Bill Belichick defense) and scored 42 points (the most allowed by the Patriots since 1993). Cris Collinsworth declared the Patriots "not a defense right now." Tom Brady completed under half his passes, including 1-of-5 to Chris Hogan and 2-of-8 to his tight ends. Kansas City was flagged for 15 penalties for 139 yards, yet New England lost by double-digits. And this happened in a home game.

The Patriots have won the Super Bowl the last three times they opened 0-1, including a 31-0 shellacking in 2003; it's way, way too early to give up on them. But clearly, they have a lot of work to do.

4. Seattle Seahawks [4] — Lost to a good team, on the road, in a one-possession game that was, as Howie Long diplomatically put it, "oddly officiated." Their offensive line play remains an obvious problem, and it continues to astound me that they didn't take that deficiency seriously in the offseason, but I think they're going to be fine. Even if they're not, the rest of the NFC West is awful, so they'll probably make the playoffs anyway.

They also have a history of slow starts: in Russell Wilson's 6-year career, the Seahawks have lost and/or scored 12 or fewer points in five out of six Week 1 games (h/t Chase Stuart).

5. Oakland Raiders [9] — Sharp on both sides of the ball, on the road against a team many pegged for the playoffs. They're two-touchdown favorites over the Jets; I'll take the Raiders to win but the Jets against the line.

6. Atlanta Falcons [2] — Worryingly close win over the Bears, but it was one game, on the road, and Week 1 is always unpredictable. The things Atlanta did well last year, it mostly did well against Chicago. But they do need to tighten things up in a hurry; the Falcons don't play anyone who lost in Week 1 until late October ... and that's the Patriots.

7. Dallas Cowboys [10] — Ezekiel Elliott's status is up in the air; this ranking assumes he'll play in Week 2. The Cowboys scored 19 points and 7 points in their two matchups with the Giants last season, so the low score in Week 1 isn't necessarily cause for concern. Holding the Giants to 3, though, is cause for optimism. In the first half, New York had 49 yards and 2 first downs and didn't cross its own 35-yard line.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers [3] — Le'Veon Bell had a quiet game (47 total yards) and the offense only generated 2 scoring drives. They gained only 16 first downs and 290 yards — against the Browns. What's going to happen when they face the Vikings next weekend?

9. Denver Broncos [7] — I think they got too comfortable in the fourth quarter, ahead 24-7, and made some sloppy mistakes. They outplayed the Chargers by more than the scoreboard implies.

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [6] — I understand why the NFL rescheduled their game with Miami instead of relocating it, but I think it was the wrong decision. Both teams are playoff contenders, and to play 16 games in a row without a bye isn't fair. That could have a material affect on the playoff race in both conferences.

11. Miami Dolphins [11] — Furthermore, let's be real: fantasy football is a big deal, and rescheduling the game screwed a lot of fantasy owners. I drafted Jay Ajayi and Mike Evans, and all of a sudden I'm without two critical players. Byes in the middle of the season allow fantasy players to drop drafted players who have underperformed and restock with free agents who've proven themselves, especially after the new pick-up's bye week, which fantasy owners anticipated from players with a Week 11 bye. What if you drafted Jameis Winston with Andrew Luck as your backup? This isn't as big a deal as real teams basically not getting a bye, but it should probably be a consideration.

That said, for many people, fantasy football is the last thing on their minds right now. Best wishes to everyone who lives in areas affected by extreme weather, and to everyone with loved ones in those areas.

12. Tennessee Titans [12] — Marcus Mariota rushed for their only touchdown. There are still questions about how many playmakers they have on offense, especially in a receiving corps led by the tight end.

13. Minnesota Vikings [22] — Sam Bradford played well on Monday night, but let's not get carried away about someone carving up the Saints' defense; that's a weekly occurence. New Orleans generated no pass rush, and most of Bradford's big plays were to wide open receivers on blown coverages. In the first quarter, ESPN announcer Jon Gruden called a 10-yard rush by Jerick McKinnon "all Sam Bradford." Fine, Bradford checked to a run, but all Sam did was hand off the ball. He didn't block on the play, and McKinnon is a fantastic athlete. The hype for Bradford will always exceed his play.

14. Philadelphia Eagles [18] — Generated four takeaways and a defensive touchdown, but lost cornerback Ronald Darby for at least a month. Per Pro Football Focus, Brandon Graham had 2 sacks and 4 hurries in 36 pass snaps, mostly against Morgan Moses, who was a solid right tackle last year.

15. Detroit Lions [21] — Matthew Stafford, fresh off his record-setting contract, passed for 292 yards, 4 TDs, and a 113.1 passer rating, against a defense that ranked 2nd in the NFL last year. But check out his second-half rally...

In the first half, Stafford gained 105 net passing yards on 26 plays (4.0 avg), with 1 TD, 1 INT, and a 74.1 rating.

In the second half, he gained 180 net passing yards on 16 plays (11.6 avg), with 3 TD, 0 INT, and a 151.0 rating.

16. Carolina Panthers [17] — Cam Newton looked rusty, but the rest of the team had little trouble against the 49ers. It's tough to draw many conclusions from an easy win over a team projected to be pretty awful.

17. Baltimore Ravens [20] — Danny Woodhead looked really good for 10 minutes, then left with a non-contact hamstring injury and, per the Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec, is expected to miss "a significant amount of time." Woodhead, who only played 10 minutes, was the Ravens' leading receiver.

I remain concerned about the Ravens' ability to score; that's likely to be a problem all season. They beat Cincinnati with defense, including 5 sacks, 4 interceptions, and 3 red zone stops. It was a good win, but not one that substantively alters my perception of this team.

18. New York Giants [13] — After they managed only three points on Sunday night, I understand why people would think Odell Beckham should be mentioned as the most valuable player in the league. But keep in mind, the Giants were held below 20 points in each of their last six games with OBJ. They just don't have a very good offense.

19. New Orleans Saints [15] — Terrible in the red zone. They had goal-to-go three times, and all three times settled for a field goal. That included the middle of the fourth quarter, when the Saints had 4th-and-goal at the 2-yard line, down 26-9. If you kick a field goal there, you're gambling that [1] you're not going to allow any more points, which would make it a three-possession game, and [2] you're going to score two touchdowns in half a quarter, even though you haven't scored any yet and you're about to kick off. If you have any interest at all in winning the game, you have to go for it on that down. Sean Payton was a great coach once, but he's losing his touch.

20. Jacksonville Jaguars [25] — There were eight defensive touchdowns in Week 1, more than twice the rate of defensive TDs last season. The Jaguars already have more (2) than all of last season (1).

21. Houston Texans [16] — Five players in the concussion protocol, including all their tight ends. J.J. Watt has a dislocated finger, and only the Colts' miserable QB situation is saving them from endless, "Why didn't you sign Colin Kaepernick?" nagging. They need to pay Duane Brown, in a hurry.

22. Cincinnati Bengals [19] — They get Adam Jones back this week, but their real problem in Week 1 was turnover-prone offense. It began up front, with the Bengals' glaring failure to replace their two best linemen, Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. Even CBS announcer Andrew Catalon noticed, "[Jake] Fisher and [Cedric] Ogbuehi have really struggled."

23. Arizona Cardinals [14] — David Johnson (wrist) will at least miss Week 2, and probably more. It's hard to link his injury to the Lions scoring touchdowns on three consecutive drives, though, and that was the obvious problem on Sunday. Arizona's defense lost four of its top five tacklers this offseason, and the fifth, Deone Bucannon, is still recovering from injury. That doesn't even include Calais Campbell, who moved to Jacksonville and had a monster game in Week 1. If Johnson needs surgery, this could be a lost season already.

24. Buffalo Bills [24] — Sole possession of first place in the AFC East, and they begin this season where they left off last year, leading the NFL in rushing.

25. Los Angeles Chargers [26] — Here's something you won't hear about much, that might have cost them the game. With 1:56 remaining in the first half, L.A. had 4th-and-5 at the Denver 39-yard line. There are three choices there:

1. Go for it. You're an underdog, on the road, and you're already down by 7. You need to take some chances, and if you can complete a 5-yard pass — Philip Rivers has completed over 60% of his passes every year of his starting career — you'll probably score, at least a field goal and maybe a touchdown.

2. Try a field goal. It's 57 yards, but that's reasonable in Denver.

3. Punt. You can't gain very much yardage this way — a 40-yard punt would be a touchback — and even the best punters don't consistently pin opponents inside the 10.

The obvious play is the first one, to go for it. It's too far for a field goal — your chances of picking up the first down are probably better than your chances of making the kick — and it's too close to punt. If you go for it and don't make it, the Broncos have to drive 60 yards in under 2 minutes, and probably 25 yards just to get into field goal range. That's a risk worth taking, especially for an underdog. The Chargers punted, and Denver took over at the 18-yard line, a 21-yard net punt. The Broncos didn't score before halftime, but they didn't need to; the Chargers did. Playing it safe in that situation is playing to lose.

26. Washington [23] — Fifth straight year losing their season opener, including 0-4 under Jay Gruden. Four of those five losses were at home. Obviously the Fletcher Cox fumble return TD was critical, and it was close enough that FOX analysts expected it to overturn on replay. But it was also close enough to justify the call standing. Mike Pereira explained, "I think it was close; if you think that's not enough to overturn."

Washington will be underdogs in its next three games at least; 0-4 is a distinct possibility.

27. Chicago Bears [27] — Placed WR Kevin White on injured reserve with a broken shoulder blade. White was a first-round draft pick in 2015. This is his third season, and he has played 5 games. He has 193 receiving yards and no touchdowns.

28. Los Angeles Rams [30] — If you score your most points in a game since 2014, and no one is there to see it, does it still make a sound? They held the Colts to 0/11 on third and fourth downs.

29. Cleveland Browns [29] — Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer took 7 sacks, and their RBs averaged 2.0 yards per carry. But the defense played well, and they came three points from beating the Steelers.

30. New York Jets [31] — Outgained 408-214 and 23 first downs to 11. They averaged 2.5 yards per rush, and Josh McCown, who had 0 TDs, 2 INTs, and a 56.2 passer rating, probably is the best QB on the roster.

31. San Francisco 49ers [32] — Held to 13 first downs, and lost first-round draft choice Reuben Foster to a high ankle sprain. They're +13 at Seattle in Week 2; the Seahawks are my pick in survivor pools. I know some people will want to save Seattle for later in the season, but this is as close to a lock as you can find early in the season.

32. Indianapolis Colts [28] — Even Adam Vinatieri had a bad game, missing a 38-yard field goal and an extra point. The media's favorite story this offseason was why QB-needy teams aren't signing Colin Kaepernick. Here's Exhibit A. Of course, the problems here go significantly beyond Scott Tolzien, as enumerated in a scathing column by the Indianapolis Star's Gregg Doyel, who concludes, "The people who run this team, from the owner on down, have no idea what they're seeing, saying or doing."

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