Tuesday, November 21, 2017

2017 NFL Week 11 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Week 11 Game Balls

Offense — Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers. Twelve receptions for 159 yards and 2 touchdowns, against a defense that was on fire less than a month ago.

Defense — Casey Hayward, DB, Los Angeles Chargers. Two interceptions, 1 tackle for loss, and a 0.0 passer rating allowed on 8 targets.

Special Teams — Chris Boswell, K, Pittsburgh Steelers. Kicking in cold, windy conditions, Boswell went 8-for-8 on field goals and extra points, including a 50-yard field goal. The Titans started at or inside the 25 on eight of his nine kickoffs, including three inside the 20.

Rookie — Budda Baker, DB, Arizona Cardinals. A standout special teamer all season, Baker has really come on as a defensive back. Getting the first start of his pro career, Baker had 10 tackles, a sack, a pass defensed, 2 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery, plus he downed a punt at the 1-yard line on special teams.

Honorable Mentions — QB Case Keenum, DB Landon Collins, P Andy Lee

Five Quick Hits

* I thought I was going to hate the Sky Cam presentation on Thursday night. I didn't. I didn't like it, but I didn't hate it.

* I understand why people who value indigenous culture have mixed feelings about Thanksgiving, but the idea of a holiday devoted to giving thanks while celebrating with friends and family is a nice one. Destroying that holiday with Black Friday sales that begin Thanksgiving evening is the opposite of nice.

* I haven't heard anyone mention this, but did you notice that Mark Ingram had both hands on the ball, making sure he wouldn't fumble, on those runs in overtime? A little thing, but a smart one.

* The Browns are -17 in turnover differential. The Broncos are -16. No one else is in negative double digits.

* I was thinking recently about Michael Sam. When Sam, the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, was drafted 249th in 2014, I wrote that his draft position reflected institutional homophobia. As we continue to see the group mentality of NFL teams regarding Colin Kaepernick, I think it's more obvious than ever that Sam's effective exclusion from the NFL had little to do with football and a lot to do with Sam's sexuality.

Week 11 NFL Power Rankings

Brackets indicate last week's rank.

1. Philadelphia Eagles [1] — Lost kicker Jake Elliott to a concussion, so they went 3-of-4 on two-point conversions, and linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill was impressive on kickoffs; actually, Elliott's opening kickoff was the Eagles' worst, with Grugier-Hill even earning a touchback on his second attempt. Caleb Sturgis is eligible to return from injured reserve, so Philadelphia's kicking duties are unclear, but the Eagles showed on Sunday night that they don't need a placekicker to keep winning.

2. New England Patriots [4] — Won by 25 points in back-to-back weeks. They haven't lost since October 1st, and they're the last team to beat New Orleans.

3. Minnesota Vikings [6] — Held the league's most explosive offense to 254 yards, 15 first downs, and 7 points. The Rams went 3/11 on third downs and 0/1 on fourth down, 25%. Minnesota leads the NFL in third down defense, 29%. The Vikings' next three games are all on the road, against potential playoff teams: Detroit, Atlanta, and Carolina. I hate three-game road trips; NFL schedule-makers need to do a better job.

4. New Orleans Saints [2] — Lost Marshon Lattimore and suffered multiple breakdowns in coverage. They allowed 456 yards in Sunday's game, compared to an average of 255 during the seven-game win streak that preceded it. Lattimore's status is still unclear, but early indications are that he'll likely be available for next week's critical NFC matchup against the Rams. Alex Okafor tore his Achilles and is out for the season.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers [5] — They have held five opponents in a row below 20 points. On Thursday night, Marcus Mariota threw a career-worst 4 interceptions, plus he lost 42 yards on sacks, the second-worst total of his career.

6. Los Angeles Rams [3] — I'm not going to beat them up over a road loss to a very good team, but it doesn't get any easier. They play the Saints in Week 12, the Eagles in Week 14, and at Seattle in Week 15.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars [8] — Won an ugly game featuring 468 offensive yards, 26 first downs, 17 punts, 10 fumbles, and 1 offensive touchdown. Their defense is magnificent, but this isn't an offense you can win a championship with.

8. Carolina Panthers [9] — Offense leads the NFL in third down percentage (47%) and average time of possession (33:42). Defense ranks in the top five in fewest points allowed, yards allowed, rushing yards allowed, and passing yards allowed. All-pro tight end Greg Olsen is expected back for Week 12.

9. Los Angeles Chargers [13] — Won four of their last six, including a 21-0 shutout of the Broncos and this week's 30-point victory over the Bills. Their losses were one-possession games on the road against division-leading teams (the Pats and Jags) with a combined record of 15-5.

10. Detroit Lions [10] — The third quarter of their win at Chicago featured 6 punts and no points. The Lions continue to win unimpressively.

11. Atlanta Falcons [14] — Overcame their awful kickoff coverage and inability to stop Russell Wilson's rushing (86 yds, 6 first downs, TD). Atlanta has won three of its last four, and the next three games are all at home.

12. Washington [11] — Devastating loss, leading 31-16 with three minutes to go and losing in overtime. Kirk Cousins played the best I've seen him all season, and the play-calling was inspired ... until the most critical play of the game. With 2:38 left, Washington led by 8 and had 3rd-and-1 at its own 34-yard line, with New Orleans out of timeouts. If you get a first down, you kneel three times to run out the clock, and leave with a statement victory. After running effectively to the left all game long, they ran right on this game-clinching play and lost a yard. That set up 4th-and-2 at the 33. I understand why you punt there, but it's the wrong call. You have to go for it on 4th-and-2: Samaje Perine's averaging 5 yards per carry and Kirk Cousins is completing two-thirds of his passes. If you make it, you win the game, for certain. If you don't make it, the Saints still need a touchdown and a two-point conversion; field goal range doesn't matter, you count on your defense to keep them out of the end zone. Jay Gruden did a great job overall, but he blew it on those two plays.

I disagree with the intentional grounding call that prevented Nick Rose from attempting a game-winning 52-yard field goal; that was clearly a miscommunication, not a reaction to the pass rush.

13. Seattle Seahawks [12] — Lost back-to-back home games. Their once-impenetrable secondary, missing Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor with injuries, also lost Shaquill Griffin on the first drive. While injuries were clearly a factor, this was a winnable game that Seattle lost at the end of the first and second halves. I love aggressive play-calling and prioritizing touchdowns, but the fake field goal at the end of the first half was an awful decision; there are so many things that can go wrong on that play, and the downside was huge.

This will get less attention, but at the end of the game, Seattle had the opposite problem: a field goal mentality lacking in urgency. Seattle took over at its own 25-yard line, down 3 with 1:46 remaining and no timeouts. They had two short passes, a penalty on Atlanta, another short pass, a scramble by Russell Wilson, then three more short passes. Wilson spiked the ball with :07 remaining, and Blair Walsh's 52-yard field goal came up a yard or two short. The Seahawks never looked for the end zone, instead playing for overtime. That's a bad decision already — you can lose in overtime — but the 'Hawks were so conservative that they didn't even set up a makable field goal. It's a two-minute drill; you've got to take some chances.

14. Kansas City Chiefs [7] — Threw 3 interceptions, more than the previous nine games combined. But the most aggravating aspect of their shocking loss to the Giants was the Chiefs' field goal mentality. On three trips into the red zone, the Chiefs settled for three short field goals, and never attempted a pass to the end zone. It was the conservative, game-manager approach that KC seemed to have shed during its 5-0 start, and betrayed either overconfidence or lack of urgency.

Four of their next five games are at home, and they don't play anyone else with a winning record in the regular season.

15. Dallas Cowboys [15] — Ranking the Cowboys is really hard without knowing more about when Tyron Smith and Sean Lee are coming back, but it looks like they can manage without Ezekiel Elliott until his suspension ends. Alfred Morris rushed for 91 yards and a 5.4 average against Philadelphia's league-leading run defense.

16. Baltimore Ravens [22] — Magnificent defensive performance. Not only did they get a shutout, on the road, they tallied 5 takeaways and 3 fourth-down stops. Willie Henry, Matt Judon, and Terrell Suggs all had multiple sacks. Punter Sam Koch also had a nice game, pinning Green Bay inside the 10-yard line three times.

17. Tennessee Titans [17] — Concluded their tour of AFC North — four games in a row — with a blowout loss on Thursday night. Down 16-14 early in the third quarter, Tennessee was outscored 24-3 the rest of the way. This after beating the Browns by 3, the Ravens by 3, and the Bengals by 4.

18. Cincinnati Bengals [20] — Punted on six consecutive possessions, gained just 190 yards, and won. Vontaze Burfict, Carlos Dunlap, and Dre Kirkpatrick had impact games on defense.

19. Oakland Raiders [16] — Unlike last year's trip to Mexico City, the refs couldn't save them. Oakland has allowed at least 30 points in four of its last six games.

20. Buffalo Bills [18] — Decided they'd rather go 5-11 with a white quarterback than 8-8 with a black one. Nathan Peterman was pulled at halftime with 6 completions and 5 interceptions. He threw as many interceptions in the first quarter (3) as Tyrod Taylor has all year.

21. Chicago Bears [21] — Waived placekicker Connor Barth after he missed a 46-yard field goal that would have sent the game to overtime. He's replaced by former Chief Cairo Santos. Leonard Floyd's knee injury may not be season-ending, but he certainly will not play next week.

22. Houston Texans [23] — Making his first start for the Cardinals, Blaine Gabbert set a career-high with 3 touchdown passes. Last year, the Texans led the NFL in total defense. This year, they rank 20th in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed.

23. Green Bay Packers [19] — Brett Hundley has passed for 2 TDs, 7 INT, and a 63.3 rating. Since he took over as quarterback, the Packers have fallen from 4-1 to 5-5, granted that they've faced a tough schedule. With Hundley at the controls, here's how Green Bay's 53 offensive possessions break down:

* 13 three-and-outs
* 8 other punts
* 7 touchdowns
* 7 interceptions
* 6 turnovers on downs
* 6 field goals
* 3 missed field goals
* 2 lost fumbles
* 1 end of half

That's 13 scoring drives — equal to the number of three-and-outs — and 15 turnovers. The Packers average under 14 points per game with Hundley at quarterback, almost exactly half as much as they scored with Aaron Rodgers. You can't just replace A-Rod, but that's an unacceptable drop-off. Hundley isn't an NFL-level QB right now, and he shouldn't be on the field for anyone.

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [24] — Finally played that game in Miami, re-scheduled from Week 1 because of Hurricane Irma. The Bucs have the worst third down defense in the NFL, over 46%.

25. New York Jets [25] — In the 11-week span from Weeks 3-13, the Jets only have three road games. Surely that could have been arranged differently.

26. Arizona Cardinals [27] — In Tom Savage's first three starts for the Texans this year, Houston scored a total of 28 points, and went 0-3. Against Arizona, Savage set a season-high for yardage, tied his career-high for touchdowns, and led the Texans to 31 points and a victory. The Cardinals miss Calais Campbell unspeakably, but they still have way too much talent for their defense to be so bad.

27. Miami Dolphins [26] — Thanks to Sean McDermott, Jay Cutler didn't have the worst first half of any QB this week, but he left the game with 83 yards, 3 INTs, and his second concussion in the last month. In the second quarter, Miami's five possessions produced zero first downs, -21 yards, and three turnovers. Matt Moore relieved Cutler in the second half and led a minor comeback, with 282 yards, 1 TD, and no turnovers. The Dolphins have lost four in a row. I wish we could see what this team would look like with Ryan Tannehill.

28. Indianapolis Colts [29] — This is the highest I've ranked them since preseason.

29. Denver Broncos [28] — Fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and promoted quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave. Because their quarterbacks have played so well! The vaunted No-Fly Zone has allowed 22 passing TDs, tied for most in the NFL. If they still had a great defense, you wouldn't notice the offensive problems nearly so much. It seems obvious at this point that Vance Joseph made a bad decision firing Wade Phillips.

30. San Francisco 49ers [30] — In four years with Jim Harbaugh, they went 44-19-1, made the second round of the playoffs three times, and never had a losing record. In 2½ seasons since firing Harbaugh — doesn't it seem like longer than that? — they're 8-34 and have a losing record in three straight years.

The three playoff years with Harbaugh are their only winning seasons since 2002.

31. New York Giants [31] — I'm surprised there hasn't been more discussion about the overtime penalty on Kansas City's Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. The flag turned 3rd-and-1 at the KC 44 into 2nd-and-12 at the 33, essentially killing the drive and giving New York the ball. The call, holding, was a little ticky-tack but essentially legitimate, and a terrible decision by Duvernay-Tardif. It was eight yards down the field and away from the play, where you shouldn't grab anybody.

My sense is that all but the most casual Giant fans were unimpressed by this win, which saw the Giants punt six times and score only one touchdown — with the help of a 26-yard short field.

32. Cleveland Browns [32] — Committed five turnovers, and DeShone Kizer lost 45 yards on sacks, compared to 28 rushing yards by their RBs.

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