Tuesday, November 7, 2017
2017 NFL Week 9 Power Rankings
Week 9 Game Balls
Offense — T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts. Gained 175 yards and scored touchdowns of 45 and 80 yards. If Tyreek Hill was a great route-runner with soft hands, he'd be T.Y. Hilton.
Defense — Aaron Donald, DL, Los Angeles Rams. Constant pressure in the Giants' backfield, including a tone-setting strip-sack on the first series, plus a fumble recovery later.
Special Teams — Justin Hardee, ST, New Orleans Saints. Blocked a punt, recovered the ball, and returned it for a touchdown.
Rookie — Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints. Gained 152 yards from scrimmage and scored 2 touchdowns, edging his teammate Hardee for this game ball.
Honorable Mentions — QB Carson Wentz, LB Bobby Wagner, P Shane Lechler
Five Quick Hits
* Congratulations to the NFL Players of the Month for October: Deshaun Watson, Micah Hyde, Harrison Butker (AFC); Carson Wentz, Everson Griffen, Greg Zuerlein (NFC).
* Congratulations also the World Series champion Houston Astros. In this year of unnatural disasters, we celebrate any bright spot for the victims of Hurricane Harvey.
* What a surprise: the pizza company that only hires white spokespeople doesn't like protests for racial justice.
* Mad props to Demarcus Robinson for blocking two defenders on Tyreek Hill's run-after-catch Hail Mary on the final play of the first half.
* While we're at it, how about Green Bay getting their field goal unit onto the field for a successful kick as time expired in the first half of their MNF loss to Detroit? Even though both teams lost, those were slick plays.
Week Nine NFL Power Rankings
Brackets indicate previous rank. Since we're halfway through the season, I'll remind readers that rankings are for right now, not an indication of season-long performance. The Packers without Aaron Rodgers are a significantly different team, for instance, than the Packers with Aaron Rodgers.
1. Philadelphia Eagles  — Denver hadn't allowed 30 points all season; the Eagles dropped 51 on them. It's the first time Denver has allowed 50 points in a game since 2010, before Von Miller was drafted.
2. New Orleans Saints  — Six wins in a row, holding five of the six opponents under 20 points. Last year, the Saints only held two opponents under 20 points all season — and lost both of those games.
3. Los Angeles Rams  — Second game in a row winning by more than 30. They lead the NFL in point differential (+108), points per game (32.9), and they've won five of their last six, including road wins against Dallas and Jacksonville.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers  — Held five of their eight opponents, including three in a row, to 15 points or less. Their defense ranks 2nd in points allowed and 5th in yards allowed. Ryan Shazier leads the team in tackles, forced fumbles, passes defensed, and interceptions.
5. Dallas Cowboys  — Moving them up this high probably guarantees that Ezekiel Elliott's suspension will kick in by next weekend. Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith apparently are "day to day" with lower-body injuries.
6. New England Patriots  — They had home games the last two weeks, and a bye this past week. Five of their next six games are on the road, including games in Denver and Mexico City. That seems like bad (and unfair) scheduling by the league.
7. Minnesota Vikings  — None of their past six opponents have winning records. I think they're a good team, but it's hard to know until they face tougher challenges.
8. Kansas City Chiefs  — Lost three of their last four: the sky is falling! I don't buy it. Look at those three losses:
1) Lost to Pittsburgh, 19-13. The Steelers are very good, and they always give Kansas City trouble — KC has lost three in a row, and six of the last seven, against Pittsburgh.
2) Lost at Oakland, 31-30. A one-point loss, on the road, against a division rival who made the playoffs last season.
3) Lost at Dallas, 28-17. The Cowboys are a good team, the game was in Dallas, and it was close until the last four minutes.
I don't see any individual loss that's particularly troubling. Are the Chiefs the best team in football? No. But they're still pretty good, and Andy Reid always seems to get things figured out during the bye. Look at the Chiefs' remaining schedule and tell me which games they'll be an underdog; I don't see any. They're going to win the AFC West, and probably get a first-round bye.
9. Seattle Seahawks  — During the FOX broadcast, Kevin Burkhardt said — not once but twice — that Blair Walsh was "having a great year" before he went 0-for-3 on field goals this weekend. Walsh came in 12-of-13, but with a miss from 37 yards, a missed extra point, and a season-long of 49 yards. That was a great season 30 years ago, not today.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars  — Second straight game without Leonard Fournette, second straight easy win. Here's my concern: who have they beaten? The Jags are 5-3, but they only have one win against a quality opponent, the Steelers in Week 5. Their other wins are over the Tom Savage Texans, the Ravens, the Colts, and the Bengals. I don't see this being a team that's likely to advance in the postseason.
11. Detroit Lions  — Won two of their last three games at Lambeau Field, after losing 23 in a row from 1992-2014. Only one of their eight remaining opponents has a winning record. The Lions are my Week 10 selection in survivor pools, hosting the Browns.
12. Buffalo Bills  — The Jets' defense recorded 11 sacks in its first eight games, and 5 in the first half against Buffalo — seven times the previous rate. The Bills, who had three turnovers in their first seven games combined, had three more on Thursday.
13. Carolina Panthers  — Defense leads the NFL in fewest yards allowed per game, and only the Jaguars have more sacks. 37-year-old Julius Peppers leads the team in sacks (7.5) and forced fumbles (2).
14. Washington  — Since 2012, the Seahawks are 42-7 at CenturyLink Field. For Washington to win missing so many of its offensive regulars is incredibly impressive. The team needs to get healthy if it's going to compete for a playoff spot, but wins over the Rams and Seahawks could help in potential tie-breakers.
15. Los Angeles Chargers  — Last in the NFL in field goals (6) and field goal percentage (54%). Their kickers are 1-of-6 from 40 yards and beyond, with a season-long of 41.
16. Cincinnati Bengals  — A.J. Green will not be suspended for his fight with Jalen Ramsey. Cincinnati has the fewest yards in the NFL, and needs all the help it can get. Looking at the Rams and the Bengals, you wonder just how valuable Andrew Whitworth is.
17. Oakland Raiders  — Won two of their last three, and came a missed extra point from sending a fourth into overtime.
18. Atlanta Falcons  — Halfway through the fourth quarter, on a do-or-die 4th-and-7, a wide open Julio Jones dropped a pass in the end zone. Atlanta lost by three. It's been that kind of year. The Falcons are not realistic playoff contenders in the tough NFC.
19. Houston Texans  — With Deshaun Watson on injured reserve because of a torn ACL, their offense fell apart, scoring just 14 against the league's worst-ranked scoring defense. The Colts allow an average of 28.9 points, and Houston's 14 was the lowest they've allowed all season.
20. Chicago Bears  — 2-0 against the AFC North, and they haven't played the Browns yet.
21. Tennessee Titans  — Another lackluster offensive performance. They're not the same with DeMarco Murray hurting, Taylor Lewan had a rough day against Terrell Suggs, and they still need a true No. 1 receiver.
22. Green Bay Packers  — 0-3 without Aaron Rodgers. They had a meaningless 75-yard touchdown drive in the final two minutes and down by 20, but their offense looked desperate all night; there's no rhythm.
Over and over this season, we've seen teams put too much faith in their backup QBs and quickly fall out of contention. Teams like the Packers, Texans, and Broncos could have signed Colin Kaepernick, or maybe even Tony Romo, and positioned themselves as playoff — if not Super Bowl — contenders. Now, that ship appears to have sailed.
23. New York Jets  — Scored 34 points against the Bills, their most since Week 2 of 2016, when they scored 37 against the Bills. They led 34-7 with five minutes left, but a garbage time comeback made the final margin look respectable.
24. Baltimore Ravens  — They're 4-5, but the teams they've beaten are a combined 11-22, and none has a winning record. All of their wins are by double-digits; they're 0-3 in close games.
25. Miami Dolphins  — Facing a beaten-up defense, Jay Cutler had his best game of the season: 34-of-42 for 311 yards, 3 touchdowns, and a 121.3 passer rating. But if Cutler was so great, why did the Dolphins lose? Maybe their run game was ineffective? No, they out-rushed the Raiders and averaged 5 yards per carry. Maybe their defense got blown out? The defense was okay, generating two turnovers. Perhaps special teams was the problem? Not especially: Miami recovered an onside kick.
So maybe Cutler wasn't as effective as his stats imply. In the first half, when Cutler went 16-of-17, those 16 completions only produced 7 first downs, and the Dolphins only scored 10 points. One touchdown in four drives is nowhere in the vicinity of perfection. For the game, Miami only had 15 passing first downs — out of 34 completions. It's not that Cutler played a bad game — he didn't — but it wasn't as outstanding as a superficial look at the stats might imply.
26. Arizona Cardinals  — Karlos Dansby became the fifth player since 1982 with at least 40 sacks and 20 interceptions, joining Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Wilber Marshall, and Seth Joyner. The Cardinals, like the Dolphins, are 4-4 but have been outscored by more than 60 points this season.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers  — Jameis Winston's shoulder injury continues to worsen, and he reportedly will miss at least two games. The Bucs have a capable backup in Ryan Fitzpatrick, but the team is reeling, especially on defense. They've allowed at least 30 points in three of the last four weeks, and they're 0-3 without Brent Grimes. Fitzpatrick will be without receiver Mike Evans, suspended for his cheap shot on Marshon Lattimore.
28. Denver Broncos  — 0-4 since the bye, with each loss by double-digits.
29. Indianapolis Colts  — They're 24-7 all-time against the Houston Texans. Sunday's win broke a three-game losing streak against Houston.
30. New York Giants  — Last year, they ranked 10th in total defense and 2nd in fewest points allowed. This year, they rank 28th in run defense, 29th in pass defense, 30th in total defense, and 29th in scoring defense. People are blaming Eli Manning and the offensive line, and they're not wrong, but those guys aren't really doing anything different than last year, especially considering the absence of Odell Beckham. The difference between last year's team and this year's is a very good defense turning into a very bad defense.
31. Cleveland Browns  — They're -12 in turnover differential and 64% on field goals, but other than that they're mostly okay. The Browns have gained 154 first downs and given up 155. They have more rushing first downs (42) than their opponents (37), as well as more rushing yards (761-674) and touchdowns (6-5), and a better rushing average (4.1 - 2.9).
32. San Francisco 49ers  — Leading receiver Pierre Garcon will miss the remainder of the season with a neck injury. I don't know who Jimmy Garoppolo is going to throw to.