NFL Week 7 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* There was so much poor officiating this weekend that I don't want to single out any one crew, because that might imply that all the others did a good job. Horrendous officiating this weekend, and this season in general. Replay reviews have been better, and everything else has been worse.

* Wow, the Raiders gave up a fortune to get Carson Palmer out of retirement. I like Palmer, but it's hard to believe he's worth it. And as Boomer Esiason suggested, it's hard to believe a team with a GM would have made that deal. Nothing against Palmer, but that price tag was wildly inflated, and the Bengals almost certainly would have accepted less.

* I understand why the NFLPA doesn't want HGH testing, but it has to happen. Baseball lost a lot credibility by denying its steroid problem, and the NFL doesn't want to go down that path.

* Six teams debuted a new QB in Week 7, three by necessity and three by choice. The new guys went 1-5, with only Tommie Frazier Tim Tebow getting a win.

* Congratulations to Tony Gonzalez, who this weekend became the NFL's second-leading receiver of all-time, behind only Jerry Rice.


My colleague David Exum wrote an article last week arguing that Ken Stabler should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Certainly Stabler was a fine QB, but none of David's arguments for why Stabler should be in make any sense. He wrote, "One of the main reasons I truly believe that Stabler belongs in the Hall of Fame is because he guided his team to a Super Bowl victory." So did Jim Plunkett, Joe Theismann, Jim McMahon, Phil Simms, Doug Williams, Jeff Hostetler, Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, and Eli Manning. None of those guys are in the Hall of Fame, and none of them should be.

David apparently thinks it is a point in Stabler's favor that he ranks 47th in career passing yardage. 47th? Is that supposed to be impressive? Vinny Testaverde is 7th and Kerry Collins is 10th. I guess those guys must be mortal locks for Canton. Comparisons to HOF QBs from previous eras don't hold up. Seasons get longer, careers last longer thanks to modern training and medical care, rules and strategies change ... I could use stats to show that Jon Kitna was a better quarterback than Stabler, which is absurd. But so is using career passing yardage as a career barometer. Devoid of context, it's not a meaningful stat.

Stabler was selected to play in four Pro Bowls and was selected first-team All-Pro in 1974. Those are not Hall of Fame numbers. Other non-HOF QBs with at least four Pro Bowl selections or AFL All-Star Games: Kenny Anderson, Drew Bledsoe, Randall Cunningham, Boomer Esiason, Roman Gabriel, Rich Gannon, Jeff Garcia, John Hadl (6), Jim Hart, Jack Kemp (7), Daryle Lamonica (5), Donovan McNabb (6). First-team All-Pro? Johnny Lujack, Gabriel, Brodie, Earl Morrall, Hadl, Bert Jones, Brian Sipe, Ken Anderson, Theismann, Esiason, Cunningham, and Gannon twice. Those are not unique honors for Hall of Fame caliber players. They are common honors for very good ones.

David also cited Stabler winning 100 of his first 150 games, neglecting to mention Fred Biletnikoff, Cliff Branch, Willie Brown, Dave Casper, Ray Guy, Ted Hendricks, Jim Otto, Art Shell, Jack Tatum, Gene Upshaw, or Phil Villapiano. Come on, put Joey Harrington on that team and he'll make the playoffs every year. Stabler was a very good quarterback, but there are lots of very good quarterbacks. Matt Hasselbeck is a very good quarterback. Mark Brunell and Steve McNair were very good quarterbacks. So were Cunningham and Hadl and Brodie, and a dozen other players. It's the standouts who get enshrined in Canton. Stabler was probably something like the 8th-best QB of his own era, similar to someone like Esiason or Gannon. That's awfully impressive, and deserves to be remembered, but it's not worthy of the Hall of Fame.

On to the power rankings, brackets show last week's rank.

1. Green Bay Packers [1] — Thom Brennaman has been better as an announcer this year than in the past, but he still doesn't know the NFL. "You know, it's easy for a lot of us to forget about the pressure for Mike McCarthy when you're taking over for Mike Holmgren." McCarthy became the Packers' head coach in 2006, seven years after Holmgren left for Seattle. Both Ray Rhodes and Mike Sherman were head coaches in Green Bay between Holmgren and McCarthy. That's like saying that Holmgren had it rough taking over for Vince Lombardi. Aaron Rodgers took several unnecessary sacks this week. A coverage sack (which means the same thing as "quarterback's fault") loses yardage you could save by throwing the ball away, and that could have been important in an uncomfortably close 6-point win over the Vikings. More importantly, Rodgers absolutely must not get hurt. He can't let himself take unnecessary hits.

2. New England Patriots [3] — Banged up on the defensive line, with four players on either injured reserve or the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. That includes Mike Wright, who last year led the Patriots in sacks. That means the rotation includes Gerard Warren, who was cut at the end of preseason, and second-year player Kyle Love. In addition to those two, there's Vince Wilfork, plus four established players in their first years with the team: Mark Anderson, Andre Carter, Shaun Ellis, and Albert Haynesworth. It will be interesting to see if the defense settles in or wears out as the season continues. My bet is wears out, but we'll see how things go.

3. New Orleans Saints [4] — Until their meaningless last drive, gained over 40 yards (and scored) on every possession of the game, finishing with 557 yards, 36 first downs, and 62 points. Even in an ugly blowout, you can still learn about a team. Did you notice that tight end Jimmy Graham didn't play a snap in the fourth quarter? It's because he doesn't block. Graham is having a great season, one that would earn serious Pro Bowl consideration at wide receiver, but he was only in the game for a handful of running plays on Sunday night. I don't know if he's a bad blocker, but for that reason or some other, the Saints use him almost exclusively as a receiver. Even famously one-dimensional "receiving tight ends" like Dallas Clark don't leave the field whenever there's a run called. Graham does.

4. Baltimore Ravens [2] — You could make a reasonable argument that the Week 2 loss to Tennessee was a fluke, and you could make a reasonable argument that this week's ugly loss to Jacksonville was a fluke. But if you have two fluke losses in only six games, are they really flukes? Add in the atrocious offense performance against the Jets, and it's hard not to conclude that Baltimore has serious problems moving the ball.

5. San Francisco 49ers [5] — They're obviously going to run away with the NFC West, and if they're as good as they appear, they'll probably get to 9-1 before their next really tough game. Three of the next four are at home, and only one of those is against a team with a winning record (the 4-2 Giants travel to San Francisco in Week 10).

6. Pittsburgh Steelers [8] — Placed longtime DE Aaron Smith on injured reserve for the third season in a row, fourth time in the last five years. Smith is 35 now, and you have to wonder how much longer he can play at this point. The Steelers didn't have much trouble against Arizona, but they have a nasty three-game stretch before the bye in Week 11: Patriots, Ravens, at Bengals. They could go 3-0 or 0-3 during that stretch, and neither one would be a huge surprise.

7. Chicago Bears [11] — Another terrible performance from Jay Cutler and the passing game, another great one from Matt Forte and the defense. With a questionable offensive line and non-descript receiving corps, it's tough to put all the blame on Cutler for his line against the Bucs in London: 218 yards, TD, 2 INT, 60.2 passer rating. But it's also pretty clear that Cutler wasn't the hero on Sunday. Forte (145 yds, 5.8 avg, TD) continues to have an amazing season, but this win was first and foremost about the defense that picked off Josh Freeman four times. Brian Urlacher got his third pick of the season, already tying the second-best mark of his career.

8. Buffalo Bills [10] — Move up two places during their bye, not because I especially have faith in them (I don't), but because of the injuries to Matthew Stafford and Jason Campbell.

9. Detroit Lions [6] — Went just 1/12 on third downs and lost time of possession by almost 10 minutes (9:54). This season, the Lions are an abysmal 26/94 on third downs, 31st in the NFL (only Miami is worse). This supposedly explosive offense is largely Calvin Johnson, who has scored 10 of the team's 21 touchdowns. In Week 7, Johnson accounted for 115 of Matthew Stafford's 183 passing yards (63%). Brandon Pettigrew is a pretty good tight end, but it would really help if the team could find another wide receiver to move the chains on third down and take advantage when opponents double-team Megatron. Stafford is day to day with an ankle injury, but the team has a bye in Week 9, so it might make sense to rest him next week and have him come back close to 100% in Week 10.

10. Houston Texans [12] — Arian Foster did his best on Sunday to make sports fans forget about what Albert Pujols did on Saturday. Foster finished with 115 rushing yards, 119 receiving yards, and 3 touchdowns. Backup RB Ben Tate also rushed for over 100 yards, while Matt Schaub passed for 296 with 2 TDs and a 147.7 rating. Houston is one of seven teams averaging over 400 yards of offense, but it also has a top-10 defense. Difference-maker in 2011: former Bengal Johnathan Joseph, who is 5th on the team in tackles and tied for 5th in the NFL in pass knockdowns, with a team-leading 3 interceptions.

11. New York Jets [15] — Darrelle Revis knocked down three passes this week, including his fourth interception of the season. Revis trails only Kansas City's Brandon Flowers in passes defensed and only Charles Woodson in INTs. Not bad for somebody who doesn't get thrown at much. I'm trying to think of the last time a cornerback was as dominant as Revis has been the last three years or so. Everyone compares him to Deion Sanders, but I've always thought Deion was a little overrated, and the name I'm coming up with is Mel Blount. In the 1970s. The Jets are 4-0 at home, 0-3 on the road.

12. San Diego Chargers [7] — Outscored 17-0 in the second half. Part of me feels like Rex Ryan, that this is a tremendously talented team that consistently underachieves, giving away winnable games. In particular, Philip Rivers has more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (7), with the lowest passer rating of his career. But the Chargers are 4-2, undefeated at home, and leading the AFC West, including a 2-0 division record. The schedule is awfully tough over the next month, but for now, San Diego is still the team to beat in the AFC West.

13. Dallas Cowboys [16] — Let's start with DeMarco Murray, who rushed for 253 yards against the monstrously bad St. Louis defense. Murray's mark is the 9th-highest single-game total in NFL history, though that doesn't mean as much as it used to: eight of the top 10 have come in the 2000s. Tony Romo had a solid game (2 TD, 107.3 rating), while the defense got standout performances from Abram Elam and Mike Jenkins. Elam made three tackles behind the line of scrimmage, with a forced fumble and the recovery. Jenkins defended three passes, including his first interception of the season.

14. Atlanta Falcons [19] — On the CBS pregame show, Shannon Sharpe declared that the Falcons were 19-3 when Michael Turner rushes for 100 yards, and I'm sure I wasn't the only thinking, "Doesn't everyone win most of the time they rush for 100 yards?" Well, mostly. Since 2008, teams with a 100-yard rusher are 312-111 (.738). And some teams are even better than Atlanta, who rose to 20-3 this weekend. The Giants are 13-0 when Ahmad Bradshaw or Brandon Jacobs hits the century mark. The Bears are 10-1 when Matt Forte gets to 100, and the Panthers are 8-1 when Jonathan Stewart does. The Bengals are 12-2 when Cedric Benson hits triple figures, while the Packers with Ryan Grant and the Steelers with Rashard Mendenhall are both 6-1. So while Atlanta's figure with Turner is very good, it's hardly unique. The Falcons are also 2-0 when Jason Snelling reaches 100 subbing for Turner.

The worst marks? In 2008, the Bills went 0-3 when Marshawn Lynch rushed for 100 yards, compared to 7-6 when he didn't. Since '08, the Rams are 4-11 when Steven Jackson hits 100. Obviously, a lot of this is about the team. Do you run because you're ahead, or because you have no other way of moving the ball?

15. Kansas City Chiefs [25] — Three straight victories; moving up the rankings quickly now. Matt Cassel's two giveaways were overshadowed by the performance of his defense, which came away with 6 picks. Everyone saw the highlights of Brandon Flowers' pick-six, but Flowers now leads the NFL in passes defended (15), and he's tied for 2nd in INTs (4). Derrick Johnson added 12 solo tackles, and KC notched its first shutout win since 2006 (41-0 vs. San Francisco).

16. Oakland Raiders [9] — After years of mediocrity in Washington, who'd have thought Jason Campbell would be missed so much? Washington would love to have him back at this point, and Oakland just imploded without him this week. Kyle Boller and Carson Palmer threw three picks each, including a pair of interceptions returned for touchdowns, and the Raiders got shut out by Kansas City for the third time in the history of the rivalry. Darren McFadden sprained a foot this week, but early indications are that he'll be back in action after the Week 8 bye.

17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [13] — Lost to the Bears at their home field ... Wembley Stadium. The Buccaneers are 3-1 in Tampa, and it's not at all unrealistic to think their 24-18 loss in London might have been a 24-18 victory in a true home game. Insult to injury, their head-to-head loss to the 4-3 Bears could have playoff tiebreaker implications in January. Speaking of injuries, RB Earnest Graham tore his Achilles at Wembley and will miss the remainder of the season. Josh Freeman, who threw 6 INTs all of last season, already has 10 this year, most in the NFL.

18. Cincinnati Bengals [17] — Statistically elite defense, 4th in points allowed and 2nd in yards allowed, has feasted on weak opposition. The Browns (23), Broncos (25), 49ers (27), Bills (10), Jaguars (32), and Colts (30) boast five of the worst offenses in the league. AFC North defenses get an easy ride this season, but tell me Cincinnati has a great defense when they can shut down the Packers, Saints, or Patriots.

19. New York Giants [18] — First place in the NFC East, but does that really mean anything right now? The Giants lost to Seattle by double-digits, would have lost to Arizona if the ref knew the rules, and lost to Washington when Rex Grossman was still the quarterback. The Giants have done some things right, but the second half of their schedule is much nastier than the first half, and I suspect they'll fade.

20. Philadelphia Eagles [20] — This season, teams coming off the bye are 3-9. If that's the bad news, the good is that the Eagles now have three games in a row at home, and four of the next five. A win over Dallas in Week 8 would put Philadelphia right back into the NFC East race after their 1-4 start. A loss would leave the 2-5 Eagles very unlikely to reach the postseason.

21. Tennessee Titans [14] — Second straight blowout loss after they opened 3-1. Chris Johnson fantasy owners, it is time to accept that CJ2K is not an every-week starter. The Titans are the worst rushing team in the league, by a huge margin. They average 64.3 yards per game, 20% worse than 31st-place Seattle (80 yds/gm). There are actually 11 teams averaging more than twice as many rushing yards as Tennessee. The Titans average 3.04 yards per carry, ¼-yard worse than the 31st-place Giants (3.28). Nineteen teams average at least a yard more than Tennessee, and four average at least 2 yards better. Johnson owners can leave him in waiting for the real C.J. to please stand up, but it's more likely that you're going to keep getting burned.

22. Carolina Panthers [26] — Did anyone else notice that play-by-play announcer Chris Myers said Greg Olsen was "split out to the right" on a play when he was lined up tight to the left? Or that Tim Ryan called Cam Newton a triple-threat? Okay: running, passing, and ... what? Receiving? Tackling? I bet he'd be a decent return man, actually. Newton still has more INTs (9) than passing TDs (8), but his combined rushing + passing TD total (15) ranks 5th in the NFL, behind only Rodgers, Brees, Tom Brady, and Stafford. Steve Smith (143 rec yds) continues to have a terrific season.

23. Washington Redskins [21] — Injuries continue to mount. A week after losing two offensive linemen and tight end Chris Cooley, the team also watched Tim Hightower, Santana Moss, and London Fletcher go down. Of those losses, Hightower is probably the least problematic, while Kory Lichtensteiger and Moss are the most. Trent Williams and Fletcher should be back soon, but Lichtensteiger is out for the year, and Moss for 1-2 months. Moss' absence leaves tight end Fred Davis as probably the team's best receiver, followed by ... Jabar Gaffney, maybe? The injuries don't leave new QB John Beck in an easy position to succeed.

24. Cleveland Browns [23] — On a day when Montario Hardesty proved he can run just as inefficiently as Peyton Hillis (2.9 avg) and Colt McCoy probably would have helped the team by faking an injury so Seneca Wallace could play, the defense delivered a victory, holding Seattle to 9 first downs, 137 yards, and 3 points. Cleveland had a staggering 25:52 edge in time of possession, and yet only won by a field goal. The Browns have scored 20 points in a game only once this season, Week 2 against the Colts.

25. Denver Broncos [24] — At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Charlie Ward Tim Tebow was 3-of-8 for 24 yards, with 4 sacks for 22 yards. That's 2 yards. He did have 6 rushes for 48 yards. That's 18 plays, 50 yards, which is still terrible. I know he "just wins games", but I'm not at all sold that this guy can play quarterback in the NFL. If Tebow weren't white, he'd be a running back or a safety or something. I don't think beating the winless Dolphins proves anything.

26. Jacksonville Jaguars [28] — On a night when Maurice Jones-Drew fumbled 18 times (not really) and Blaine Gabbert completed just 9 passes (yes really) for 93 yards (yes, really), they won with great defense — especially in the secondary — and four field goals from Josh Scobee, including three from beyond 50 yards. Scobee has become one of the elite kickers in the NFL.

27. Seattle Seahawks [22] — Offense was missing QB Tarvaris Jackson and RB Marshawn Lynch. Like, actually missing them. I know those guys aren't exactly Aaron Rodgers and Arian Foster, but Seattle's offense was awful this weekend. DE Chris Clemons, who last year recorded 11 sacks in his first season as a full-time starter, already has 6 this year, including 4 in the last two games.

28. Minnesota Vikings [29] — Last week, I wrote that Adrian Peterson hasn't earned comparisons to Jim Brown, Walter Payton, O.J. Simpson, and Eric Dickerson. I stand by that, but man, what a run on the last play of the third quarter this week. Not being Brown or Simpson doesn't mean you're not a special player. Peterson has been one of the three or four best RBs in the NFL every year of his career, and if that sounds more like Tony Dorsett or Ricky Watters than Eric Dickerson, it's still pretty damn good. Christian Ponder appeared to provide a spark for the offense.

29. Arizona Cardinals [31] — From 2008-09, Kurt Warner passed for 8,336 yards — about 265 per game — with 56 TDs and 28 INTs. In the year and a half since Warner retired, Arizona QBs have thrown for 4,839 yards — about 220 per game — with 17 TDs and 27 picks. It's too early to cast judgment on Kevin Kolb, but certainly he's been a disappointment so far. Beanie Wells is expected to miss two games following his injury this week.

30. Miami Dolphins [27] — Gave up a 15-0 lead in the last three minutes and lost in overtime. Miami sacked Tebow 7 times this week, went 3-for-3 on field goals, and only committed two penalties, but couldn't put enough points on the board to win. Fewest TDs this season: Rams (5), Jags (6), Dolphins (7). No one else is below 10.

31. Indianapolis Colts [30] — On Jimmy Graham's first TD reception, four Colts backed off at the last second to let him make the catch. Very strange play. I appreciate Michele Tafoya's professionalism: even with the Colts down 55 in the fourth quarter, she interrupted her report from the sideline so she wouldn't talk over the play. Less than halfway through the season, the Colts have more losses than in any of the previous nine seasons.

32. St. Louis Rams [32] — Hard to imagine anyone being worse than the Colts after Sunday night's humiliating beatdown, but the Rams are a special kind of awful. They've been outscored 171-56, and they just gave up 253 yards to a guy who had 71 career rushing yards before that. Not to be mean, but I'm kind of rooting for the Rams to have the worst record this year so we can see if they'll draft Andrew Luck in 2012. If he's as good as the hype, it's not too early to give up on Sam Bradford.

Comments and Conversation

October 26, 2011

Andrew Jones:

Agreed on Stabler. Winning a (yes that means one) Super Bowl with that many other Hall of Famers around him is actually underachieving in my mind.
Of the teams at 0-6 or 0-7, only the Dolphins would certainly draft Luck and keep him. Both the Rams and the Colts would be put to rather difficult decisions if they had the number one pick. How much would a team like the Redskins or the Titans give up to have Luck on their team and be playoff caliber almost immediately?

October 27, 2011

Anthony Brancato:

Please, give it a rest with Seneca Wallace. Not since Eddie LeBaron has an NFL quarterback had a weaker arm.

And I’d love to see the Eagles get rid of Andy Reid and bring in Bill Cowher, or at least Rob Ryan. I have to endure “Brokeback Mountain” jokes about the Eagles from 49er fans!

October 28, 2011

Brad Oremland:

Give what a rest? This is the first time all year I’ve mentioned Wallace.

McCoy was terrible on Sunday, and almost any NFL QB could have outperformed him, but I think you’ve read too much into a sentence that pretty clearly was a joke. I mean, obviously I’m not suggesting that McCoy really should have faked an injury. This is football, not soccer.

LeBaron was a 4-time Pro Bowler and Wallace has been successful every time he’s gotten a chance to play. If you’d rather have Kevin Kolb and Jeff George, good luck.

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