Tuesday, December 12, 2017
2017 NFL Week 14 Power Rankings
Week 14 Game Balls
Offense — Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers. Cris Collinsworth said of Brown's 57-yard gain in the fourth quarter, "That was great quarterback play ... I mean great quarterback play." Ben Roethlisberger identified a blitz and made a good pass, but Brown juked and outraced four defenders for about 30 extra yards. It was good QB play and an exceptional run after catch. Brown finished with 213 yards, over 42% of Ben's total.
Defense — Deion Jones, LB, Atlanta Falcons. Three tackles for loss, plus the game-clinching interception, as Atlanta held the Saints to a season-low 17 points.
Special Teams — Chris Boswell, K, Pittsburgh Steelers. Six-for-six, including a 52-yard bomb and the 46-yard game winner, in 23° wind chill at the league's toughest stadium for kickers.
Rookie — Eddie Jackson, DB, Chicago Bears. Intercepted a pass, forced and recovered a fumble, and ranked third on the team in tackles. Chicago held the Bengals to 234 yards and 7 points.
Honorable Mentions — RB Kenyan Drake, DB A.J. Bouye, PR Jaydon Mickens
I had Alex Collins pencilled in for an Honorable Mention before Monday night. Xavien Howard, who got a Game Ball last week, nearly repeated after intercepting Tom Brady twice.
Five Quick Hits
* Pro Bowl voting ends this Thursday night. Check out SC's 2017 Pro Bowl picks and cast your votes!
* LeSean McCoy had a legendary game in the snow four years ago, rushing for 217 yards on a field so heavily blanketed by snow that neither team successfully kicked a field goal or extra point. This Sunday, in conditions almost as bad, McCoy rushed for 156 yards. If the NFL ever puts a team in Alaska, that team needs to trade for Shady McCoy.
* Most losses by 3 or less this season: 49ers (5), Browns (5), Chargers (4). The Browns actually have 4, but I counted this week's 6-point overtime loss, since it was tied at the end of regulation. Losing by a field goal in regulation isn't any more heart-breaking than losing by a touchdown in OT.
* The Steelers have got to stop letting Martavis Bryant return kickoffs. He gave them possession at the 12, 25, 18, 19, 20, and 14.
* The Dolphins played great on Monday night; Adam Gase and his staff deserve a ton of credit. But they made one of those mistakes that drives me nuts. Early in the fourth quarter, Miami had 3rd-and-11 at its own 17-yard line, and with the play clock running out, Gase called timeout to prevent a delay of game penalty. That's a five-yard penalty. You're not going to get a first down anyway — the aborted play was a handoff — and you're not in field goal range. A second-half timeout is much more valuable than five yards.
Week 14 NFL Power Rankings
Brackets show previous rank.
1. New England Patriots  — I thought Miami played great more than New England played badly. Jay Cutler hasn't looked so sharp in years, Kenyan Drake was dynamic, Xavien Howard and Ndamukong Suh played great, and so on. Obviously, the Pats weren't just victimized by a team bringing its A-game, but these things happen sometimes, especially in division rivalries. Tom Brady is 7-9 all-time in Miami.
2. Philadelphia Eagles  — Carson Wentz tore his left ACL. Like NBC analysts Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison, I see that as a setback, but not one that removes Philadelphia as a Super Bowl contender. Maybe Tony and Rodney and I are wrong, but if not, everyone who has promoted the Wentz-as-MVP-frontrunner hype should refrain from expressing opinions about the NFL for at least a year. The idea that Wentz is more valuable to his team than Tom Brady, or Antonio Brown, or Russell Wilson, or Calais Campbell, or a dozen other players, seems ill-founded to me. Nick Foles isn't Wentz, but the Eagles remain a very potent team.
3. Minnesota Vikings  — Third road game in a row proved too much for their NFL-best 8-game win streak. The loss also broke Case Keenum's streak of four straight games with a passer rating over 100.
4. Los Angeles Rams  — Got out-snapped 85-45. The Eagles out-gained them by 148 yards, picked up 29 first downs, and controlled time of possession for nearly 40 minutes. I'm not too worried about the Rams, though. They won by 16 last week against a Cardinals team that is gathering momentum, and they beat the Saints the week before that.
5. Los Angeles Chargers  — They rank 5th in offensive yardage, 3rd in turnover differential, and 2nd in fewest points allowed. During their four-game win streak, they've outscored opponents 131-53, an average victory of 33-13.
6. New Orleans Saints  — Nine penalties that led to Atlanta first downs, which is unheard of. Head coach Sean Payton was understandably displeased with the officiating. The Saints are 16-point favorites against the Jets next week.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers  — The Ravens gained 245 yards in the first half — their most in any half of football this season — and 379 yards, a season high, before the end of the third quarter. They're not a top-five defense without Ryan Shazier, and maybe not an above-average defense.
The Steelers made a stupid but common mistake at the end of the first half. An 18-yard gain put them at Baltimore's 25-yard line with about :23 left and one timeout. They hurried to the line and spiked the ball with :12 left. After an incomplete pass, with :06 left, Chris Boswell made a 43-yard field goal, and they went into halftime with the timeout still in their pocket. They wasted 11 seconds — probably two plays — to save a timeout they never used. Call the timeout first; spike it later. The Patriots did the same thing last year.
8. Atlanta Falcons  — Held six of their last seven opponents to 20 points or less. They rank 7th in total defense and 9th in scoring defense.
9. Carolina Panthers  — Greg Olsen didn't have any catches on Sunday, but he's getting healthy at the right time. Carolina's 28th-ranked passing game could certainly use him. The Panthers have won five of their last six, including victories over the Falcons and Vikings.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars  — Combined with Seattle for 3 points in the first half and 51 in the second half. The Jags have scored 30 points in back-to-back games, and now rank 7th in the NFL in points per game.
11. Green Bay Packers  — Back-to-back overtime wins. Brett Hundley went 3-4 as starter, but Aaron Rodgers is expected to return in Week 15, giving them a substantial boost.
12. Seattle Seahawks  — Bobby Wagner got injured on Sunday, and his status remains unclear as of Monday night. Already down Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, the Seahawks can't afford to lose their DPOY contender in the middle.
13. Baltimore Ravens  — Hadn't allowed a 300-yard passer all season, and Ben Roethlisberger torched them for 506. They're not the same defense without Jimmy Smith, who will miss the remainder of the season.
14. Dallas Cowboys  — Is Dan Patrick the new agent for Dak Prescott? Following a game against a 2-11 team with the last-ranked defense in the NFL, which was tied 10-10 with eight minutes left, Patrick raved, "Dak Prescott was unbelievable today." Later, Patrick brought up the QB again: "Dak Prescott was great." Prescott played mistake-free and made some critical throws in the fourth quarter, but I don't get the swoon over a guy who had 10 points on the board, and his team in position to lose to the Giants, halfway through the fourth quarter.
15. Arizona Cardinals  — Blaine Gabbert got sacked eight times, but they won with defense, allowing just 204 yards and 7 points, with no drives over 50 yards. Karlos Dansby made 8 tackles, Chandler Jones had 3 tackles for loss (including a sack), and Tramon Williams had 3 passes defensed (including a pick). Rookie safety Budda Baker continues to impress.
16. Detroit Lions  — Drop three spots after a victory mostly because the Packers (Aaron Rodgers), Cowboys (Sean Lee), and Cardinals are rising. Detroit ranks 32nd in rushing.
17. Tennessee Titans  — Valiant defensive effort, allowing no touchdowns, wasted by an offense that struggled with Marcus Mariota at something significantly less than 100%. They're 2-point underdogs in San Francisco next week.
18. Buffalo Bills  — I love football in the snow. Not usually that much snow, but it's fun once every couple of years. The Bills rushed 51 times for 227 yards.
19. Miami Dolphins  — Opponents have gone 1-for-24 on third down conversions the last two games. They held the Patriots to 0/11, their first 0-fer since 1991.
20. Kansas City Chiefs  — Kareem Hunt had his first 20-carry game since October, and his first 100-yard rushing game since Week 5. Hunt is now over 1,000 yards, and closing in on Kansas City's rookie record of 1,121, set by Joe Delaney in 1981.
21. Oakland Raiders  — Held to 17 points or less for the 7th time this season. The Raiders have lost six of their last seven matchups with the Chiefs, and five in a row at Arrowhead Stadium.
22. San Francisco 49ers  — Won two in a row and three of their last four. QB comparison:
The Niners have been trending up as their rookies get involved, but the acquisition of Garoppolo has made an obvious difference. This isn't the same team that started 0-9.
23. Washington  — They've given up. In their uninspired loss to the Chargers, Washington gained only 9 first downs, got out-gained by 287 yards and a 2.4-to-1 ratio, and punted on seven drives in a row.
24. Cincinnati Bengals  — Both the Bengals and Steelers underachieved following their brutal MNF contest last week. The Bengals were without Vontaze Burfict, Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Joe Mixon, with Geno Atkins very limited (no tackles, no assists). Cincinnati is 5-3 with Burfict, 0-5 without him (including his first-half ejection in Week 10 as "without"). Jones is done for the season.
25. Houston Texans  — The NFL obviously does not take head injuries seriously. It doesn't matter to them how many beloved Hall of Famers struggle with Alzheimer's or dementia. It doesn't matter to them when Junior Seau can't attend his Hall of Fame induction, or when Chris Henry's brain shows signs of CTE, or when head trauma is revealed as possibly playing a role in the Aaron Hernandez tragedies.
On Sunday, Tom Savage suffered a concussion that was apparent to television viewers and announcers, as well as at least one official who saw him rigid and convulsing on the field. Savage continued to play before he was officially ruled out with a concussion. If the NFL genuinely cared about player safety or thought this was an important issue, it would have people with access to TV play a mandatory role in decision-making, and no player would be permitted to return to action without their clearance, upon penalty of immediate ejection and a one-game suspension, or — if the player is found to have improperly continued playing with a concussion — immediate placement on season-ending Injured Reserve.
That simple, intuitive policy would prevent someone like Savage from unduly endangering his health, and it would represent a massive P.R. boon for the league as it attempts to pretend it cares about players. Such a policy would also prevent what happened in Week 10, when the Colts' Jacoby Brissett continued to play after a concussion, and the Seahawks' Russell Wilson faked a concussion evaluation and immediately returned to play.
There is no excuse to get this wrong, ever. It's an important issue and it's not difficult to handle properly. It won't solve the issue of head trauma, but it's a big step in the right direction.
26. Chicago Bears  — Broke a 5-game losing streak and won by 26, their best point differential since Lovie Smith was head coach. In nine seasons with the Bears, Smith went 81-63 and never finished worse than 7-9 after his first season. Under Smith, the Bears won three division titles and played in two NFC Championship Games. Chicago was a combined 29-19 in his last three seasons. Since firing Smith, the Bears are 26-51 and have gone five years in a row without a winning record.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers  — Gerald McCoy is believed to have torn his biceps for the third time, ending his season. Buccaneers' 2017 record with and without:
Kwon Alexander (missed Wks 3-6) — with 3-6, 22.0 ppg allowed — without 1-3, 28.5 ppg allowed
Lavonte David (missed Wks 4-5) — with 3-8, 24.5 ppg allowed — without 1-1, 21.0 ppg allowed
Brent Grimes (missed Wks 3, 8, 9) — with 4-6, 23.1 ppg allowed — without 0-3, 27.0 ppg allowed
When the Bucs have Alexander, David, and Grimes, they're 3-4, allowing 21.6 points per game. When missing at least one of them, they're 1-5, allowing 26.8 ppg. You have to think McCoy, who leads the team in sacks, is at least as impactful a loss.
28. Denver Broncos  — Shut out the Jets for their first win in more than two months. Their defense leads the NFL in fewest yards allowed, fewest first downs allowed, and most three-and-outs.
29. Indianapolis Colts  — They've lost four in a row and seven of the last eight, but only two — both against Jacksonville — were really blowouts. Frank Gore on Sunday became the oldest player to carry 36 times in an NFL game.
30. New York Jets  — Finished with 100 yards, 6 first downs, and 0 points. Josh McCown broke his left (non-throwing) hand, but the injury will likely end his season, putting Bryce Petty in control of the offense. 2016 second-round pick Christian Hackenberg, who still can't crack the lineup, must look really bad in practice.
31. New York Giants  — In his less-than-triumphant return from a pointless but essentially justified benching, Eli Manning passed 46 times for just 228 yards (4.96 yds/att), with 1 TD, 2 INT, and a 68.0 rating. With Odell Beckham out, no Giants QB is likely to post great numbers, but Eli has done nothing to justify the idea that he's still an average quarterback. Here, Eli vs. the great Jacoby Brissett:
That looks about equal, except that Brissett has rushed for 216 yards and 3 TDs, compared to 25 yards and 1 TD for Eli. It's hard for me to see how Eli has been better, and this isn't exactly Aaron Rodgers I'm comparing him to. I don't advocate benching Manning, because I don't believe that Geno Smith or Davis Webb is the future, and I like when teams try their hardest to win games. But other than honoring a long-serving QB whose best days are behind him, I'm not sure what the Giants gain from sticking with a below-average QB on the downside of his career rather than trying out Smith (who just turned 27) or Webb (a third-round rookie out of Cal). I guess, as a non-Giants fan, it's hard for me to understand why people have strong feelings either way.
Related note: check out this shocking statistic from Chase Stuart via Twitter.
32. Cleveland Browns  — Let's talk about 0-16; I think it's going to happen. The Browns host Baltimore in Week 15, they travel to Chicago for a game on Christmas Eve, and they're at Pittsburgh on the last day of 2017. Even though it's plausible that the Steelers would rest their starters in Week 17, I think the road game in Chicago is their best chance. If the Browns play even just a little better than usual, and the Bears even just a little worse than usual, Cleveland could win that game.