Tuesday, October 24, 2017

2017 NFL Week 7 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Week 7 Game Balls

Offense — Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders. Passed for 417 yards and 3 touchdowns, with a 15-yard rush for a first down and no sacks. And he led a last-second, game-winning drive against the best team in the NFL — with a transverse process fracture in his back.

Defense — Eddie Jackson, DB, Chicago Bears. Recovered a fumble, intercepted a pass, gained 151 return yards — almost as much as the Bears' offense (153) — and scored 2 TDs.

Special Teams — Kai Forbath, K, Minnesota Vikings. Missed an extra point, but went 6/6 on field goals, including four from 43+ yards, two of them over 50 yards.

Rookie — Eddie Jackson, DB, Chicago Bears. A 4th-round pick from Alabama, he is the first defensive player in NFL history with two 75-yard TD returns in the same game.

Honorable Mentions — RB Ezekiel Elliott, DB Kevin Byard, K Chris Boswell

Five Quick Hits

* ESPN did the right thing by cancelling Barstool Van Talk, a show whose company confuses deliberate misogyny with outrageous comedy.

* I don't like Shaun King (the pompous progressive, not the former Buccaneer), but he's right on this. Goodell is pretty obviously speaking to only some NFL fans: the ones he thinks are important.

* Mike Florio wrote this about players and coaches not speaking to the media: "They get paid what they get paid primarily because people care about watching them do what they do. And the media covers them because people care about hearing more about what they do. And the league gets tremendous free exposure from that dynamic. It's a small price to pay for getting a huge price paid to play or coach football."

* I don't agree. Players and coaches should be able to compete at the highest level without wasting their time on pointless press conferences and interviews. Talk to the ones who want to talk to you; leave the others alone. I like Florio, but this is another example of media getting so self-important they think they're part of the game. Sorry, Mike, it's all about what happens on the field.

* I think I've made pretty clear over the last year and a half that I don't like Sean McDonough. I think he's a product of nepotism whose understanding of football is trapped in the 1970s. But I don't think I've ever liked McDonough less than when he turned Monday's Philly/Washington game into an evangelical sermon, praising the "faith" of the starting quarterbacks about a dozen times.

A Brief Rant

I support Black athletes protesting police brutality and racial injustice, but I am really tired of progressives who don't follow football quoting or retweeting statistics they don't understand. This week, for instance, well-meaning Adam Best tweeted this: "Kaepernick's '16 passer rating was 90.7. 20 starting QBs have been worse thru Week 6. Owner collusion, not talent, keeping Kap out of NFL."

It is true that Colin Kaepernick's 2016 passer rating was 90.7, versus a league average just under 90. But passer rating doesn't punish Kaepernick for his habit of holding on to the ball under pressure, resulting in sacks and fumbles. Kaepernick's 9.8% sack rate was the worst of any qualified player in the NFL last year, as was his pathetic 27.5% first down percentage. His net average of 5.5 yards per attempt was nearly a yard below league average. He fumbled nine times, one of the highest totals in the league, in only two-thirds of a season. He's a good rusher, though, and that's not part of the formula either.

Look, Colin Kaepernick is obviously better than some of the quarterbacks currently on NFL rosters, and he'd obviously be on a team if he weren't associated with the ongoing controversy over the national anthem. But when non-football people try to make football-based arguments, they aren't persuasive. There are numerous aspects of this issue that people without a football background are qualified to comment on — I wish they'd stick to those.

Week 7 NFL Power Rankings

Brackets show previous rank.

1. Philadelphia Eagles [2] — Great to hear classy Philadelphia fans chanting, "JA-son PE-ters," honoring the All-Pro left tackle as he was carted off the field on Monday night. The Eagles are the safest pick in Week 8 survivor pools, at home against the winless 49ers, but I've already used Philadelphia, so I'm going with the mighty Bengals of Cincinnati, who face the hapless Colts in the Queen City. If Vontaze Burfict gets suspended, I'll still bet against Indianapolis, but the Saints (hosting Chicago) might be a safer choice.

2. New Orleans Saints [3] — I didn't grab a screenshot, but FOX actually used the headline: "Brees Beats Packers." Drew Brees threw 2 interceptions and finished with an 84.4 passer rating, which is below average. The Saints' defense, however, held Brett Hundley to 79 net passing yards and only allowed one trip into the red zone. I just think that's so disrespectful. Not only did Brees not win single-handedly, he had a mediocre game and got bailed out by Mark Ingram and his defense, who get no credit.

3. Seattle Seahawks [4] — Lead the NFL in fewest points allowed. Seattle has held five of its six opponents to under 20 points, and three of the six to 10 points or less.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers [10] — Kudos to Jim Nantz for calling out the Steelers on the first play of the fourth quarter. On 4th-and-1, Pittsburgh subbed out Le'Veon Bell for 240-pound Terrell Watson. Watson plunged up the middle and failed to make the yard, turning the ball over to Cincinnati. Bell finished the game with 134 rushing yards and 192 total yards. It's nonsense, this ancient idea that you should sub out your best ball-carrier on the most critical downs in favor of some fat guy. A critical play like 4th-and-1 is when you're so grateful to have Le'Veon Bell, and instead you put him on the bench. Ridiculous.

5. New England Patriots [6] — Scored at least 30 points in each of their first four games. They've been held below 25 in each of the past three. They're not doing a good job of turning yards in points, and the defense isn't forcing turnovers.

6. Minnesota Vikings [8] — None of their last four opponents has gained 275 yards. The Vikings have been especially nasty against the pass, allowing fewer than 200 net passing yards in each of their last four games.

7. Kansas City Chiefs [1] — Allowed over 30 points for the second time in three weeks, and they rank 29th in fewest yards allowed. They're too reliant on takeaways.

8. Buffalo Bills [7] — Their Week 3 and 4 wins over the Broncos and Falcons look a lot less impressive now than they did at the time.

9. Los Angeles Rams [17] — In the final game of last season, the Cardinals beat them 44-6 and out-gained them 344 yards to 123. Seven games later, the Rams beat the Cardinals 33-0 and out-gained them 425 yards to 193. In half a season, that's a flip of 71 points and 453 yards.

10. Jacksonville Jaguars [18] — Second 10-sack game this season. They have more sacks than the combined total of the Buccaneers, Titans, and your choice of: 49ers, Bills, Browns, Cardinals, Chiefs, Colts, Dolphins, Falcons, Giants, Jets, Lions, Packers, Patriots, Raiders, Seahawks, and Texans. Calais Campbell leads the NFL with 10 sacks. Yannick Ngakoue has 6.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles.

11. Houston Texans [15] — Pro Bowl tackle Duane Brown has finally ended his lengthy holdout, and NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports that Brown will not be traded. Assuming he's in shape, Brown's return should mean an immediate boost for Houston's offense.

12. Washington [13] — Four of their five starting offensive linemen left the game with injuries at some point, including Pro Bowlers Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff. They need those guys healthy, and they need Josh Norman back.

13. Carolina Panthers [5] — Cam Newton's third game this season with 2 or more interceptions. In the last five weeks, his passer rating has been below 55 three times and above 130 the other two.

14. Detroit Lions [14] — Bye this week, but it looks like they'll be without Golden Tate (shoulder) for the next few games even after they come back.

15. Dallas Cowboys [19] — Thom Brennaman and Troy Aikman are ostensibly the top FOX announcing crew. This week, they were assigned to a matchup of teams that came in with a combined record of 2-9, and which was a blowout from the beginning, with a 20-3 halftime lead blossoming into a 40-10 annihilation.

There's been a lot of talk the past few years about declining NFL ratings, and one reason is that we see so little good football. Interest in baseball is largely regional, but football transcends team loyalties, and the TV stations don't seem to get it. Unless you're a Dallas fan, you don't want to see Cowboys/Niners, you want Saints/Packers. That's a fascinating look at the Packers' new quarterback, facing a team that had won three in a row. We want to see good teams in close games, not big-name teams in mismatches and low-impact snoozefests.

I understand and endorse showing the local team. I unflinchingly oppose showing the Cowboys and Giants on national TV every week, while ignoring teams like last year's Falcons and this year's Saints.

16. Cincinnati Bengals [12] — Their game:

First Half: 10 first downs, 160 yards, 14 points. Andy Dalton 11-of-18, 107 total yards, 2 TD, 114.6 rating, 0 sacks

Second Half: 1 first down, 19 yards, 0 points. Andy Dalton 6-of-12, 8 total yards, 2 INT, 16.7 rating, 4 sacks

Andy Dalton had an 8-yard scramble in the second half. His other 17 plays (12 passes, 4 sacks, 1 kneel-down) gained a combined total of zero yards, and produced two turnovers.

17. Los Angeles Chargers [26] — There were as many shutouts on Sunday (3) as in the entire 2016 season. There have been five shutouts in the NFL this season. The last time there were five shutouts before November was in 2009.

18. Miami Dolphins [20] — Jay Cutler was injured early in the second half. He's expected to miss at least two weeks with cracked ribs; Matt Moore fills in during his absence, and perhaps beyond. The Dolphins rank 30th in passing yards per game, 31st in points per game, and 32nd — dead last — in offensive yardage per game. They failed to top 20 points in any of their first five games, and Moore led them to 17 points in less than a half. It's not an entirely fair comparison, because the Jets kind of stink and Cutler was doing pretty well against them, too, but I don't think anyone expects a significant setback with Moore starting in Cutler's place.

19. Green Bay Packers [16] — With Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Ty Montgomery, and Martellus Bennett at his disposal, Brett Hundley completed fewer than half his passes, for under 100 yards, with an INT and a 39.9 passer rating.

20. Oakland Raiders [25] — Finishes like that are why we watch football. At one point, Tony Romo exclaimed, "This game is never going to end!" An announcer can say that in a good way or a bad way; this was the good kind.

21. Atlanta Falcons [11] — I'm not sure which gave me the headache: the fog, or Atlanta's offense. Dan Quinn's choice to replace offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan with Steve Sarkisian, rather than someone from Shanahan's staff — like quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, now the coordinator for the Rams' league-leading offense — looks worse every week, and increasingly inexplicable.

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [21] — I share T.J. Ward's confusion about his limited role on the defense: "I came here to be an impact player. I can't do that if I'm not out on the field." Last year, Ward led the Broncos in tackles — and that's a pretty good defense — while tying for the team lead in forced fumbles (3) and fumble recoveries (2). He's made three of the last four Pro Bowls.

The Bucs have allowed 30 points in back-to-back weeks, season-highs for both the Cardinals and Bills. They have proven talent in veterans like Chris Baker and Ward, and they're keeping them on the bench. It's hard to understand.

23. Denver Broncos [9] — Held below 17 points for the fourth game in a row. Their first 10 possessions produced four first downs, eight punts, and two lost fumbles.

24. Chicago Bears [27] — Mitchell Trubisky had as many sacks (4) as pass completions. This was the fewest attempts (7) or completions in a victory since 2006, the Panthers with Chris Weinke. Chicago's offense only produced 153 yards and 3 points, with more three-and-outs (6) than first downs (5).

Trubisky has just 296 net passing yards in three starts, under 100 per game, and a 16% sack rate that is more than double league average — and roughly triple Mike Glennon's 5.4%. The Bears obviously do some things well, but they're not going to win consistently without some kind of passing game.

25. Tennessee Titans [22] — All I saw of this game was overtime, but I heard both CBS announcers say outrageously stupid things.

With 4:05 left in overtime, Tennessee had 1st-and-10 at the Cleveland 34-yard-line. Spero Dedes proclaimed that "well within the field goal range of Ryan Succop." That's a 52-yard field goal. Succop is 1-for-3 from beyond 50 yards, including a 53-yard miss earlier in the same game. He's 16-of-30 from that range in his career, basically a coin flip, and his career long is 54 yards. Two yards shy of his career long, a range he misses as often as he makes, is hardly "well within" Succop's range. Three plays later, Succop made a 47-yarder that really was well within his range.

Dedes' partner Adam Archuleta, meanwhile, declared that the situation was not too big for Cody Kessler, and that the Browns "know he's a winner." Kessler is 0-8 as a starter, and that doesn't include this week' loss, in which Kessler averaged under 5 yards per pass, with a 50.5 rating, and led the Browns to 6 points in a little over two quarters. How do the Browns know he's a winner? Maybe they've been watching highlights of the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl instead of studying opponents' game film? Actually, that could explain a lot about their performance.

26. New York Jets [24] — Led 28-14 in the fourth quarter, but snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. They had five fourth-quarter possessions, which produced -22 yards, 1 first down, 3 punts, and 2 turnovers.

Penalties were a problem all day. The Jets were charged with 12 penalties for 124 yards and 6 Miami first downs, including four penalties of 15 yards or more, plus an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that would have been 15 yards but was reduced to half-the-distance-to-goal.

27. Baltimore Ravens [23] — Had a 14-play, 68-yard touchdown drive when the Vikings were happy to let them dink-and-dunk down the field, running out the clock. Take out that meaningless final drive, and they had 11 first downs, 140 yards, and 9 points.

28. New York Giants [29] — I guess changing play-callers didn't solve all their problems. Eli Manning went 19-of-39 for just 134 yards and 8 first downs, with a sacks for -3 yards. Let's break that down:

* 19 completions in 40 dropbacks (47.5%)
* 8 first downs in 40 dropbacks (20%)
* 131 yards in 40 dropbacks (3.3 net yards per attempt)
* 134 yards on 19 completions (7.1 yards per completion)
* 8 first downs on 19 completions (42%)

He also lost a fumble. I know this isn't entirely Eli's fault: the line sucks, all the receivers are hurt, etc. Let's get away from who's to blame and marvel at the magnitude of inefficiency. Seven yards per completion? Barely three net yards per attempt? The Browns think that's pathetic.

29. Arizona Cardinals [28] — Carson Palmer broke his arm on Sunday, possibly ending his season. Palmer turns 38 in December and hasn't played well this year, following up a disappointing 2016, so it wouldn't be surprising if this injury ends more than just his season.

Drew Stanton takes over, and head coach Bruce Arians wants you to know that he is definitely not interested in Colin Kaepernick. Stanton, in his 10th NFL season, has a career passer rating of 65.0. Over the last 2½ seasons, he's 35-of-87 for 358 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions, with 5 sacks for -21 yards. That's a 31.7 rating and 3.66 NY/A. Over that time, he also has negative rushing yardage and a fumble. Noooope, no interest in Colin Kaepernick.

30. Indianapolis Colts [30] — Outscored by 103 points this season. For comparison, the Browns are -66 and the 49ers are -63.

31. San Francisco 49ers [31] — An average sack loses about 6.5 yards, and about one out of every 10 sacks results in a lost fumble. Against Dallas, C.J. Beathard took 5 sacks for 48 yards (9.6) and two lost fumbles. Three times, he was sacked for a loss of 12 or more.

32. Cleveland Browns [32] — The injury to Joe Thomas is a season-ending torn triceps. This already-awful team just lost its best player. This week's sad entry in Joe Posnanski's Browns log is worth a read, just to understand the team's depths of incompetence, and the holy misery of Browns fandom. Joe highlights amateur penalties, unforgivably bad coaching, and the nature of Cleveland's destiny: "They do not have the decency to just blow the game while you are bracing yourself for it. Instead, you have to endure 66 minutes of awfulness, boredom and garbage truck crashes before the Browns lose in an entirely unsatisfying way."

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