Tuesday, November 28, 2017

2017 NFL Week 12 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Week 12 Game Balls

Offense — Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons. Five players had over 140 receiving yards this week, but Julio had 253. He also gained 15 yards on an end-around and scored 2 touchdowns.

Defense — Chandler Jones, ER, Arizona Cardinals. Five tackles for loss, including two sacks for 20 yards, and a tipped pass.

Special Teams — Phil Dawson, K, Arizona Cardinals. Hit a career-long 57-yard field goal to win the game with :01 left. Dawson also connected from 34, 42, and 48.

Rookie — Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints. Five carries for 87 yards and a touchdown, 6 receptions for 101 yards and another touchdown.

Honorable Mentions — WR Antonio Brown, LB Bobby Wagner, P Marquette King

Five Quick Hits

* Congratulations to the CFL champion Toronto Argonauts, who won the 105th Grey Cup last weekend.

* The Pro Football Hall of Fame has released its list of semifinalists, 15 of whom will become finalists. My preferences to advance: Steve Atwater, Ronde Barber, Isaac Bruce, LeRoy Butler, Don Coryell, Brian Dawkins, Alan Faneca, Torry Holt, Steve Hutchinson, Joe Jacoby, Ray Lewis, Kevin Mawae, Randy Moss, Richard Seymour, and Brian Urlacher.

* I'm disappointed that Jeff Saturday isn't a semifinalist, but it's a pleasant surprise to see LeRoy Butler, the best safety of the 1990s, finally advance beyond the first round of voting. Of the four safeties on the 1990s All-Decade Team, only second-teamer Ronnie Lott — a sentimental choice whose best years were in the '80s — is in the PFHOF.

* Nine of the 11 defensive starters from the 1990s All-Decade Team are in the HOF already; the only exceptions are first-team safeties Atwater and Butler. The notion that there are no HOF-worthy safeties from that era is difficult to support.

* Coby Fleener returned to the field following a hard hit, only to be ruled out later when he was diagnosed with a concussion. Why wasn't he diagnosed correctly before returning to play? It's hard to give the NFL any credit for caring about player safety or recognizing the seriousness of head injuries when Jim Nantz is doing a better job diagnosing them than the "professionals" do.

Week 12 NFL Power Rankings

Brackets show last week's rank.

1. Philadelphia Eagles [1] — Third straight week winning by exactly 28. They lead the NFL in scoring, with over 30 points in each of their last five games. The Eagles have scored more points in the last month than the Bears, Browns, Dolphins, or Giants have all season.

2. New England Patriots [2] — Since the bye, they're 3-0, they've scored at least 33 points in each game, and none of their opponents has scored more than 17. Special teams standout Nate Ebner suffered a season-ending knee injury on a successful punt fake against Miami.

3. Minnesota Vikings [3] — Case Keenum has passed for more yards than the opposing QB in nine of their last 10 games.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers [5] — Play down to the level of their opponents, and Mike Tomlin admitted that he's looking ahead to the Patriots in Week 15. Brett Hundley came into Sunday night with 2 TDs, 7 interceptions, and a 63.3 passer rating. Against Pittsburgh, Hundley lit up for 245 yards, 3 TDs, no turnovers, and a 134.3 rating. That's hard to explain without overconfidence or lack of preparation.

5. Los Angeles Rams [6] — I know they won a big game, and Sean McVay is probably the front-runner for Coach of the Year, but McVay made a mistake at the end of the game. With 2:31 remaining, the Rams led 23-13 and had 4th-and-5 at the Saints' 8-yard line. McVay opted for a field goal, which made the lead 13 points.

There's only 2:31 left and the Saints are out of timeouts. What the hell is the difference between leading by 10 and 13? Go for it. If you score a touchdown, you're up three scores and the game is over. If you get a first down, you kneel three times and the game is over. If you come up short, the Saints take over at their own 8-yard line, instead of the 25.

The Rams played a great game, and McVay has done a good job, but that decision was a mistake.

6. New Orleans Saints [4] — Not the same team without Marshon Lattimore. Near the end of the first half, the announcers were raving about the Saints' excellent run game, and how it's taken pressure off of Drew Brees to be productive, praising Brees' performance of 6-of-6 for 45 yards and no TDs. They apparently didn't notice that the Saints had 1 touchdown and 3 punts and were losing by double-digits.

7. Los Angeles Chargers [9] — Anthony Lynn really hates two-point conversions. With kicker Nick Novak injured, the Chargers went 1-for-4 on extra points. Man, your chance of making the 1-point kick is worse than your chance of making the 2-point conversion that's twice as valuable! Why are you still kicking?

The Chargers scored a defensive touchdown, went the whole game without punting, and only scored 28.

8. Carolina Panthers [8] — Cam Newton was held below 175 passing yards for the third time in the last four games. He's had a passer rating of 71.0 or lower in five of the last six.

9. Atlanta Falcons [11] — Gained 516 yards — 88 over their previous season-high — and converted 11/14 third downs.. This is their second three-game winning streak this year. They went 1-4 in between.

10. Jacksonville Jaguars [7] — They're still undefeated in odd-numbered weeks. In fact, in Weeks 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11, the Jags went 6-0 and outscored their opponents by double-digits in every game, a combined total of 172-37. That's an average score of 29-6. Their average score in Weeks 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 is 16-22. That's an average swing of 29 points per game in odd/even weeks.

11. Detroit Lions [10] — On Thursday, FOX showed how thankful it is for its audience by showing brief commercials in between plays. It was tacky and crass, and to debut this policy on Thanksgiving was insulting to viewers.

12. Washington [12] — Here's why I wouldn't sign Kirk Cousins to a long-term contract that pays him like a top-10 QB. It's a sequence that began at 4:35 of the third quarter on Thanksgiving. On 1st-and-10 from the Giants' 45-yard line, Cousins dropped back to pass, held the ball too long, and then took a 6-yard sack instead of throwing the ball away. On 2nd-and-16, he threw a 3-yard pass. That sets up 3rd-and-13 — you need to gain back yardage a lot more aggressively than that, and you're at midfield, where three yards is absolutely worthless. On 3rd down, Cousins took a delay of game penalty, then threw an interception that got returned for a touchdown.

Now, sure, I'm cherry-picking a bad sequence. But Cousins took unnecessary sacks throughout the game. His movement in the pocket is non-existent, and he refuses to throw the ball away when he's under pressure. I don't know if he's worried about getting picked, or he's trying to protect his passer rating, or what, but it's a terrible habit that consistently costs his team yardage and puts them in bad down-and-distance situations. Despite playing most of the season behind a very good offensive line, Cousins has lost the most sack yardage (269) in the NFL. Moreover, the sacks lead directly to Cousins' NFL-worst 10 fumbles, and sooner or later, taking so many unnecessary hits is going to get him hurt. No one wants to pay $25 million for a quarterback to stand on the sideline in jeans and a cap.

Cousins is a good quarterback, and it seems like his worst habits should be correctable, but I wouldn't trust him with the kind of money he's looking for on his next contract.

13. Baltimore Ravens [16] — Fake punt in the second quarter totally changed the momentum. About to punt for the fourth time in four possessions, they pulled off a fake to set up their first touchdown. Credit to John Harbaugh, Jerry Rosburg, and punter Sam Koch, who completed a pass on the fake and had five of his six punts down inside the 20.

14. Seattle Seahawks [13] — Kam Chancellor is done for the season, reducing the Legion of Boom to just Earl Thomas. Chancellor's neck injury is serious enough that there are questions about whether he'll be back next year.

15. Tennessee Titans [17] — Kevin Byard, who leads the NFL with 6 interceptions, also recovered his second fumble of the season, bringing him to 8 takeaways this year. Byard is a breakout player on a Titans squad that is about as disappointing as you can be when you're 7-4 and leading your division.

16. Cincinnati Bengals [18] — Swept the Browns for the third year in a row. Andy Dalton has multiple TDs, no INTs, and a passer rating over 100 in four of the last five games.

17. Buffalo Bills [20] — Haven't made the playoffs since 1999, but they're 6-5 in the shallow AFC, with three straight home games coming up, including the Colts (who have lost five of their last six) and the Dolphins (who have lost five in a row).

18. Kansas City Chiefs [14] — Alex Smith:

Games 1-5: 5-0, 258 net yds/gm, 11 TD, 0 INT, 41.1 first down percentage, 125.8 rating
Games 6-11: 1-5, 236 net yds/gm, 8 TD, 4 INT, 30.3 first down percentage, 88.6 rating

Kareem Hunt:

Games 1-5: 97 att, 609 yds, 6.28 avg, 6 total TD
Games 6-11: 87 att, 281 yds, 3.23 avg, 0 total TD

19. Oakland Raiders [19] — Amari Cooper got a concussion and a sprained ankle, while Michael Crabtree got ejected for fighting with Aqib Talib. The league suspended Crabtree, a repeat offender, for two games, so if Cooper needs some time to recover, Derek Carr won't have many targets against the Giants next week.

20. Arizona Cardinals [26] — Won the first of three consecutive home games. Blaine Gabbert is an upgrade at quarterback, but Arizona beat the Jaguars with defense, holding Jacksonville to 219 yards and 1/12 on third downs.

21. Green Bay Packers [23] — Lost on a last-second field goal, but when you're +3 in turnovers, you're supposed to win. The Steelers gained at least 20 yards on all 11 of their possessions, and Brett Hundley generated only 8 first downs on 17 completions.

22. Houston Texans [22] — Tom Savage committed three critical turnovers in their 7-point loss to Baltimore. If he's auditioning to be a starter somewhere next year, I hope the Montreal Alouettes are watching.

23. Dallas Cowboys [15] — Since Ezekiel Elliott's suspension, they've gone 0-3, lost every game by at least 20 points, and haven't scored 10 points in any game. They're the only team this season to go three straight games scoring in single-digits.

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [24] — Worst in the NFL in yards allowed and passing yards allowed.

25. New York Jets [25] — Three factors combined to cheat them out of a touchdown on Sunday: (1) the NFL's ridiculous "catch is not a catch" rule, (2) the odious Alberto Riveron's corrupt abuse of the replay system, and (3) Todd Bowles' cowardice and idiocy.

The more time passes, the more I hate the policy about what constitutes a catch. I thought this might fade with time, that I'd get used to it, but it's the other way around: this policy is so stupid, it's more and more infuriating every time it affects a game. Riveron's brazen abuse of replay is even worse, threatening the integrity of the game. How the NFL decided to put one person in charge of all replays, without first checking to see if he can be trusted, defies belief.

But let's talk about Todd Bowles. It's the early fourth quarter, Jets down 18-17. They've just been robbed of a touchdown, and it's 4th-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Bowles opts for the field goal, because — as he's proven over 2½ years as head coach — he hates scoring touchdowns. A touchdown, on average, is worth 7 points. A field goal is always worth 3. Seven is 233% of three. By opting to kick there, Bowles is judging that his team has less than a 43% chance of picking up a yard. But it's worse than that — even if you go for it and fail, you've pinned the Panthers at their own 1-yard line. That's a much better position for the Jets than defending from the 25-yard line. From the 1, you've got a good chance to force a three-and-out and take over near midfield, already close to field goal range anyway. If there were under 5:00 left, or maybe even 10:00, I could understand doing anything to take the lead. But there's 14:03! The Panthers scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, and New York lost, 35-27.

26. Chicago Bears [21] — No first downs in the first half, compared to 16 for Philadelphia. The brutal final tally:

Score: 35-3
First downs: 24-8
Offensive yardage: 420-140

That's exactly three times as many yards and first downs as Chicago.

27. Miami Dolphins [27] — Got out-gained 417-221, went 2/11 on third downs, and allowed the Patriots to score a touchdown every time they reached the red zone (5/5). Miami has lost five in a row, four of them by double-digits.

28. Indianapolis Colts [28] — Jacoby Brissett took 8 sacks, raising his already-league-high total to 43, and fumbled twice. They went three-and-out on their first two drives and their last two drives, totaling -8 net yards on those series.

29. San Francisco 49ers [30] — This is the highest I've ranked them all season. They're 1-10 for the second year in a row and have been officially eliminated from playoff contention.

30. New York Giants [31] — Seven three-and-outs against Washington, the most by any team in any game this year. Seven is also the number of first downs the Giants gained in four quarters of play. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that their best cornerback, Janoris Jenkins, could undergo season-ending ankle surgery.

31. Denver Broncos [29] — Facing the worst pass defense in the NFL, Paxton Lynch went 9-of-14 for 41 yards and an interception, with 4 sacks for 23 yards and two scrambles for 20 yards. That's 20 plays, 38 yards, and a turnover. After three quarters, the Broncos had 48 net yards, 3 first downs, no points, and a turnover. They've lost seven straight.

32. Cleveland Browns [32] — Officially eliminated from playoff contention. They lose by an average of more than 11 points per game.

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