Tuesday, December 26, 2017

2017 NFL Week 16 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Week 16 Game Balls

Offense — Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams. Rushed for 118 yards, caught 10 passes for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns. He gained 108 yards from scrimmage more than any other player this week, and put himself firmly into the MVP conversation as the top QBs continue to underwhelm.

Defense — Kyle Fuller, DB, Chicago Bears. Matched up most of the day with Josh Gordon, Fuller had an unreal 6 passes defensed, including an interception. Per Pro Football Focus, Fuller allowed no catches on 9 targets into his coverage.

Special Teams — Damiere Byrd, KR, Carolina Panthers. Returned a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown in Carolina's 22-19 victory.

Rookie — Marshon Lattimore, DB, New Orleans Saints. Gave up some plays to Julio Jones, but he also defensed 4 throws and intercepted a pass with his butt.

Honorable Mentions — RB Giovani Bernard, DB Harrison Smith, ST Anthony Walker

Five Quick Hits

* Adam Vinatieri has missed two field goals in the same game twice in the last three weeks. Granted, one of the games was played in a near-blizzard, and the other game featured a block and missed 60-yard attempt as the half expired.

* Most outrageous Pro Bowl snubs: Alex Smith, Andrew Whitworth, Lavonte David, Telvin Smith, and Kevin Byard. Yes, Alex Smith. See the Chiefs section for more.

* About half the teams in the NFL use a base 3-4 defense, in which the outside linebackers are essentially pass rushers. But about half the teams use a 4-3 defense in which the OLBs mostly drop into coverage and play the run. All six Pro Bowl OLBs are pass rushers, even though David leads the league in fumble recoveries, while Smith has 5 takeaways, over 100 return yards, and 2 touchdowns.

* Worst selections: Trent Williams, Anthony Barr, Aqib Talib, Earl Thomas, Chris Boswell, and Brett Kern. Williams, Talib, and Thomas got picked on name recognition and reputation. Barr got in because of the bias against 4-3 OLBs, Boswell got in because of narrative, and Kern because people wildly misunderstand punting statistics.

* Kern's gross average is over 50, but gross average doesn't matter; it is inversely associated with team success. His net average is impressive (45.0), but he relies on the Titans' coverage team, since he has one of the lowest fair catch rates (12%) in the NFL, less than half the league average (26%). Kern has one of the worst ratios in the league of punts down inside the 20 to touchbacks, and he has more touchbacks (5) than punts down inside the 10 (3), with only one punt all season down closer than the 8-yard line. There are a dozen punters having better seasons than Kern.

Week 16 NFL Power Rankings

Brackets indicate previous rank.

1. Minnesota Vikings [1] — Lead the NFL in fewest points allowed and fewest yards allowed. These are the other teams in the eight-division era to lead the league in both categories:

2014 Seattle Seahawks (lost Super Bowl XLIX)
2013 Seattle Seahawks (won Super Bowl XLVIII)
2009 New York Jets (lost AFC Championship Game)
2008 Pittsburgh Steelers (won Super Bowl XLIII)
2006 Baltimore Ravens (lost divisional playoff)
2004 Pittsburgh Steelers (lost AFC Championship Game)
2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (won Super Bowl XXVII)

That's an encouraging record.

2. Philadelphia Eagles [2] — Clinched homefield advantage. The top two seeds in the NFC are both using quarterbacks who were backups in Week 1.

3. Los Angeles Rams [3] — With Pro Bowl kicker Greg Zuerlein on injured reserve, Sam Ficken missed a 36-yard field goal and an extra point. Zuerlein's absence could easily be the difference in a tight playoff game.

4. New England Patriots [4] — Lead the NFL in yards per game, but their only offensive Pro Bowlers are Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and fullback James Develin. No offensive linemen, really?

5. New Orleans Saints [8] — Beat the Falcons with defense, 23-13. They sacked Matt Ryan 5 times, with 12 hits on the quarterback, and held Atlanta to 2/13 on third downs, with two takeaways plus a turnover on downs.

6. Carolina Panthers [5] — Their passing game is so inconsistent (27th in yards, 20th in passer rating), it's hard to see them making a Super Bowl run. Cam Newton hasn't passed for 300 yards in a game since Week 5, and he's had a passer rating under 75 in seven of their last 10 games. He's been running great, but I don't think that will be enough in three or four straight games against playoff defenses.

7. Pittsburgh Steelers [9] — Dominated the Texans' outmatched QBs, taking a 27-0 lead into the fourth quarter despite limited offensive yardage.

8. Kansas City Chiefs [14] — Alex Smith will probably make the Pro Bowl as a replacement, but he was not elected to the game. That's an unfortunate oversight. I get it: most of the voting was conducted during KC's 6-out-of-7 losing streak. But Smith leads the AFC in passer rating (104.7). He ranks 2nd in the AFC in net yards per attempt (7.1) and TD/INT differential (+21), behind only Tom Brady. Furthermore, Smith has rushed for 355 yards, 19 first downs, and a touchdown, better than the AFC Pro Bowl QBs — Brady, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger — combined (68 yds, 13 1stD, 0 TD). Brady, Rivers, and Ben have all fumbled at least 7 times this season, compared to 2 for Smith.

The Steelers rank 7th in scoring and 4th in yardage, compared to 6th in scoring and 5th in yardage for the Chiefs — basically the same. Pittsburgh has six offensive Pro Bowlers, while the Chiefs have two. Subbing in Smith for Roethlisberger would make the selections look a lot more reflective of how both teams have performed.

9. Atlanta Falcons [7] — Make the playoffs with a win over Carolina in Week 17, or a Seattle loss against Arizona. The Falcons have a tiebreaker advantage over the Seahawks thanks to their 34-31 Week 11 win in Seattle.

10. Jacksonville Jaguars [6] — This even-week, odd-week thing is ridiculous. In Weeks 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 15, the Jags went 8-0 and outscored their opponents by double-digits in every game, a combined total of 247-54. That's an average score of 31-7. Their average score in Weeks 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, and 16 is 23-28. That's an average swing of 29 points per game in odd/even weeks. They're 8-0 in odd-numbered weeks, 2-5 in even-numbered weeks.

11. Los Angeles Chargers [10] — Debuted their fourth kicker this season, Nick Rose, who missed his only field goal attempt. Melvin Gordon's status for Week 17 is in question, which could determine whether or not the Chargers make the playoffs. I didn't mention Gordon as a Pro Bowl snub, but I voted for him. Gordon's stats are limited by the offensive line, but he's a dynamic runner. His vision isn't exceptional, but everything else about his game is.

12. Baltimore Ravens [12] — Won five of their last six, but the teams they beat were the Browns (0-15), Colts (3-12), Texans (4-11), Brett Hundley Packers (3-6), and Lions (8-7). The Ravens are 0-5 against teams that can still make the playoffs.

13. San Francisco 49ers [18] — 4-0 with Jimmy Garoppolo. He is the most obvious and most significant difference between the Niners now and during their 0-9 start, but don't sleep on their rookies, either. Reuben Foster started playing regularly in Week 9 and has quickly become their best defender. Ahkello Witherspoon cracked the starting lineup in Week 8. George Kittle caught a touchdown pass on Sunday, and Solomon Thomas had a sack. It was unthinkable two months ago, but this looks like a team that could be competitive very soon and for a long time thereafter.

14. Seattle Seahawks [16] — Dallas gained 43 yards on a questionable pass interference in the third quarter. It was the longest play by either team in a game that saw only 419 yards of combined offense, a potentially pivotal call that was highly questionable. The NFL needs to cap pass interference at 15 yards, or make the penalty reviewable.

This is one of the places a yellow card system (similar to the one in soccer) would be especially helpful. A defender manhandles the receiver 50 yards downfield, it's a 15-yard penalty, but the defender gets a yellow card.

15. Dallas Cowboys [11] — Dez Bryant's reputation has cratered. Barring a monster Week 17, this will be Bryant's third consecutive season with single-digit touchdowns and under 1,000 yards. He creates nearly as much drama on the sidelines as he does in the end zone. The studio crew at NBC dismissed Dez as a number one receiver, but Troy Aikman was particularly blunt on Sunday night.

JOE BUCK: "The question, I guess, is Dez Bryant, you know, is he still the game-breaking threat that his bank account would tell you he is?"

AIKMAN: "Well, the answer to that question is no."

16. Arizona Cardinals [20] — Scored more points on defense than the Giants did on offense. In the last three games, Arizona has allowed an average of 9 points, 13 first downs, and 238 yards.

17. Detroit Lions [15] — Ziggy Ansah had 3 sacks, and Darius Slay had 3 passes defensed, but they couldn't stop Gio Bernard (178 yards from scrimmage) and their offense stuttered. It was a crushing loss against a 5-9 opponent coming off back-to-back blowout losses, and it eliminated the Lions from playoff contention. The Lions and Browns each extend their never-reach-the-Super-Bowl streak to 52 seasons.

18. Buffalo Bills [17] — Kelvin Benjamin's second-quarter touchdown, which would have given them a halftime lead, was reversed on replay, on the basis that Al Riveron is a corrupt buffoon. Riveron's crooked replay reversals have become an every-week outrage. Even Sports Illustrated yes-man Peter King, who never met an authority he wouldn't kiss up to, complained on Twitter, "Ridiculous micromanaging overturn in New England. Replay is out of control." ESPN's Kevin Seifert observed, "The standard has changed. There is no way the NFL can say that replay reversals are based on 'clear and obvious' after that Bills TD overturned." Dean Blandino, who managed Riveron and tries to be diplomatic, conceded, "In New England, the issue is whether Benjamin had control with left foot down. Did not see anything clear & obvious to the contrary." Mike Pereira was less sanguine: "nothing more irritating to an official than to make a great call and then someone in a suit in an office in New York incorrectly reverses it. It is more and more obvious that there isn't a standard for staying with the call on the field."

The NFL's depraved rulebook enables Riveron's fraudulence, but he is the primary problem; there is no innocent explanation for his poisonous rulings, and he can't be allowed to continue making them, not even for one more week, and certainly not through the playoffs. He is rapidly and single-handedly destroying the credibility of NFL game results; the threat he poses to the NFL is akin to the threat posed to Major League Baseball by the 1919 World Series and the Black Sox Scandal.

19. Chicago Bears [25] — Won two of their last three games, both by at least 17 points. Their defense is for real, ranking in the top 10 in both yards and points, and holding three of their last four opponents to 15 points or below.

20. Oakland Raiders [19] — Blew a winnable game with five second-half turnovers.

21. Tennessee Titans [21] — If they had played the 49ers in October and the Texans in December, instead of the other way around, they'd probably be 10-5 and locked into a playoff spot.

22. Green Bay Packers [13] — They were ranked too high last week because Aaron Rodgers was still on the active roster. They've been shut out twice with Brett Hundley, as many times as the 25 years of Brett Favre (2 shutouts) and Rodgers (0) combined.

23. Washington [24] — Successful challenge turned an "incomplete pass" into a reception-and-fumble. I guess that's progress in the war between the NFL and sanity.

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [26] — Here's why you have to look beyond traditional passing stats (yards, TDs, INTs, rating) ... Jameis Winston went 21-of-27 for 367 yards, a TD, no picks, and a 131.1 rating. But he also got sacked 6 times for 41 yards and 3 lost fumbles. If you built the sacks and fumbles into his rating, it would be 68.5.

25. Cincinnati Bengals [27] — Giovani Bernard flashed real talent as a rookie in 2013; I've never understood why they used early draft picks on Jeremy Hill (2014) and Joe Mixon (2017). Bernard gained over 1,000 YFS and averaged over 4 yards per carry each of his first three seasons, only to be phased out of the offense, a phase-out that coincides with Cincinnati missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. I hope Bernard will get more opportunities under the new coach next year.

26. Miami Dolphins [22] — Went 0-for-8 on third down conversions and 0-for-2 on fourth down.

27. Denver Broncos [23] — Bonehead play by Isaiah McKenzie just before halftime probably cost them three points. With :16 remaining and no timeouts, McKenzie caught a pass on the sideline just inside Washington's 30-yard line. Rather than going out to set up a 45-yard field goal, McKenzie turned inside, got tackled, and the clock ran out before Denver was nearly able to set up a spike.

28. New York Jets [28] — Bilal Powell rushed for 145 yards and the defense forced 9 punts, but Bryce Petty showed why he's still a backup and they lost, 14-7.

29. Indianapolis Colts [31] — Sixth loss in a row, but mostly against average-or-better teams, and five of the six games were close. That's more than you can say about the bottom three.

30. Houston Texans [29] — Lost their last two games by a combined score of 89-13. They've lost by double-digits four weeks in a row and haven't scored 20 points in a game since Week 11.

31. New York Giants [30] — Eli Manning had 3 turnovers and they lost a shutout, 23-0. It was the sixth time this season that the Giants scored 10 points or fewer.

32. Cleveland Browns [32] — They're 16½-point underdogs at Pittsburgh. I feel less sympathetic toward the 2017 Browns than I did the 2008 Lions, and I've been trying to figure out why. It might just be because the Lions went 0-16 first, but I think it's because the Lions seemed to have so much bad luck, and I feel like the Browns' failures are of their own making.

Contents copyright © Sports Central 1998-2017