NFL Power Rankings Week 8
by Robert Ferringo - 10/21/2014
Just take the ball at the goddamn 20.
Prior to the 2011 season, in an attempt make the public think it actually cared about the Concussion Crisis, the NFL decided to move the kickoff from the 30-yard-line up to the 35. The idea is that this would lead to less kickoff returns and thus less potential concussion-causing coverage hits. The ruse was a success, as the percentage of kickoffs resulting in a touchback increased from just 11 percent from 1994 to 2010 to a whopping 46 percent from 2011 to this year.
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However, I am a firm believer that the touchback percentage should be somewhere closer to 90 percent. And it has nothing to do with concussions.
Every week over the past two seasons I have had to endure a shocking level of stupidity from NFL kickoff returners. Most kickoff returners, in a wild and self-serving attempt to justify their position on the roster, have been making awful decisions regarding running out kickoffs from the middle and back of the end zone. The results range from comical to catastrophic, and I contend that teams would be better just taking a knee unless they absolutely have to run the ball out.
There is a surprisingly long list of things that can go wrong simply by returning the kickoff. At worst, running back the kick increases the risk of a fumble and game-changing turnover. On the other end of the spectrum, choosing to return the kick can result in a big hit for the coverage unit and that can be a momentum play for the defense. (And remember: the opponent is kicking off because they just scored, so they already have all the momentum.)
But more likely - and perhaps more important - a team could simply fail to run the ball back to the 20, costing itself key field position. The return team could also incur a penalty, again forcing them to start inside the 20 and costing them valuable yards.
How important is just five yards difference on the kickoff? Between 1999 and 2010 a drive starting at the 20-yard-line resulted in a score (touchdown or field goal) 24.1 percent of the time. Since the rule change that number has spiked to 27.1 percent.
Now, there were only seven kickoff returns for a touchdown in 2013, so the best-case scenario is a severe long shot. I would qualify a "good" return - one above the league's 23.4 yards per return median - as any kickoff that resulted with the ball on the 25-yard-line. However, that five-yard change in start position, from the 20 to the 25 only increases the scoring percentage for that drive from 27.1 to 27.6.
Conversely, teams that don't make it to the 16-yard-line - thanks to a poor return, strong coverage, or a penalty - the league-wide scoring percentage drops from 27.1 percent to 21.9 percent. That's a huge risk compared to the miniscule gain of going from the 20 to the 25. So when you compare the risk versus reward of returning the kickoff, it is not even close to being worth it.
We saw a perfect example of how a terrible decision on the kickoff can completely change a game on Monday Night Football.
Pittsburgh had just scored a touchdown to pull within 13-10 with 1:27 left in a half the Texans had controlled. The Steelers kicked off, and Houston's Daniel Manning, instead of just catching the ball and taking the touchback, tried an ill-advised return. He fumbled the ball and recovered. But Manning was smothered at the Houston 4-yard-line. Instead of taking it at the 20 and maybe trying to march down the field for a late field goal to steal back the momentum, the Texans were forced to try to just run out the clock. Two plays later they fumbled, and the Steelers recovered at the 3-yard-line.
The Steelers scored on the very next play to go up 17-13.
Houston received another kickoff (this time a touchback), but the damage was done. They were completely shell-shocked while the Steelers were going crazy with momentum on their side. Pittsburgh intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick's next pass and scored two plays later to take a 24-13 lead into the break.
Pittsburgh scored three touchdowns in under two minutes and completely deflated the Texans. And while it wasn't all because of Manning's decision, his poor choice got the ball rolling downhill. The Texans were forced to act defensively, and they allowed the Steelers to catch a rush of emotional momentum after the initial touchdown, the kickoff stop, and then the turnover. That one decision completely changed the game.
Don't believe me?
Notice it for yourself the next time you're watching a game. Make note of how many times a team returns a kickoff and what the results are. And for every one time that a returner busts one out to the 30, I guarantee you that there will be three times where he fails to make it back to the 20. And pay close attention to how that failure sustains momentum for the kicking team (who, again, probably just scored and already had momentum) and how it puts the offense in a guarded position to start its drive.
Here is Doc's Sports NFL Power Rankings for Week 8:
1. Denver Broncos (6-1) - The key for the Broncos this week will be overcoming the emotional letdown after Sunday night's maiming of San Francisco. That was really a peak performance and will be tough to replicate against a divisional foe. Home field has held no advantage in the Chargers series. The host is just 2-6 straight up in the last eight meetings, and the road team has covered the spread in eight straight and nine of 10. The road team is 13-4 ATS in this series, and the favorite is 1-5 ATS the last six times they've faced. Denver did enough to hang on for a 24-17 win in the playoffs last year. They actually led 17-0 going into the fourth quarter before letting the Chargers sneak in the back door in the last six minutes.
2. Dallas Cowboys (6-1) - The Cowboys are now on a 5-1 ATS run, and they have played 'over' in four of their last five games. They are singlehandedly destroying the sportsbooks because they are THE public team in the NFL. I couldn't believe that Dallas' spread opened below 10.0 this week. Even if the books were expecting to get hit by the sharps on Washington, I would've expected a spread closer to 12. The books have to know that everyone is on the Dallas bandwagon and everyone wants to bet the Monday night favorite anyway. I will be shocked if the spread holds at 9.5 or 10.0 by kickoff.
3. Philadelphia Eagles (5-1) - The main focus of the Eagles bye week was to get whole. They could be getting Evan Mathis and Jason Kelce back to help the offensive line, but those reinforcements won't come until Week 10 at the earliest. The Eagles have used 11 different starting lineups and four different starting combinations in six games. The Eagles faced the Cardinals out of their bye last year, winning 24-21 at home but failing to beat a 3.5-point line. Nick Foles threw three touchdown passes, all to tight ends, in that game, so look for the Cardinals to put more focus on defending that position this week.
4. Arizona Cardinals (5-1) - The Cardinals have quietly become the best team in football that no one is talking about. They have won and covered four of their last five games, and they have an opportunity this week to stake their claim in the NFC West. Arizona gets three of its next four games at home. But the lone road game is a trip to Dallas next week. I don't think the Cardinals are looking ahead. But you never can be sure. Arizona has won three of the last four meetings with the Eagles dating back to their NFC Championship matchup in January of 2009.
5. Indianapolis Colts (5-2) - Once again the Colts find themselves in their perfect number range this week. Indianapolis is a 3.0-point favorite this week at Pittsburgh. The Colts are 12-4 ATS the last 16 games where the spread has been between +/-3.0. That includes last week's laugher against the Bengals. The Colts have won five straight both SU and ATS and have posted an average margin of victory of 18 in those games. Granted, the competition hasn't been great. But Indy has outgained its last five opponents by an average of 212 yards per game. They are the only team in the NFL with a Top 5 offense and Top 5 defense, and this team has been a pure moneymaker.
6. Green Bay Packers (5-2) - Even I will admit that this seems a tad high for this team. But there's no doubt that they are hot right now. They have won four straight, and all but one win has come by at least three touchdowns. Aaron Rodgers outdueled Drew Brees in 2011 (42-34) and 2012 (28-27). But both of those games were at Lambeau, and the Packers were outgained in both. The 'over' is 7-0 in the last seven Saints-packers game and is 9-1 in the last 10 meetings going back to 1987. The public has obliged; 85 percent of the early betting in this game has come down on Green Bay, and 75 percent has been on the 'over'.
7. San Diego Chargers (5-2) - I still appreciate how well Philip Rivers has played and how well this team has executed. But it is time to start looking at their schedule as the primary reason they are 5-2. Their last four wins have come over the Raiders, Jets, Jaguars and Bills, and only one of those losses required a trip out of their home state. This is another team that is just getting crushed by injury. They are down four defensive starters, and their back seven has really started to crack. Derek Carr and Alex Smith have chewed them up the last two weeks. Now they have a short time to prepare for a trip to Denver to face Peyton Manning. Not good.
8. Seattle Seahawks (3-3) - This is a terrible situation for the Seahawks this week. This is their third road game in the last four weeks, including their second cross-country flight. Seattle is a West Coast team making the dreaded 1 p.m. EST start this week, and the Seahawks are disappointed after back-to-back losses. To make matters worse, the Panthers have revenge in this one. They have lost a pair of heartbreakers to the Seahawks in each of the past two seasons. Seattle is just 18-37 ATS in its last 55 games in October. They are 12-4 ATS on the road. But there is some clear dysfunction this team needs to work out.
9. Baltimore Ravens (5-2) - I'd have to say that was as unimpressive of a 22-point win as a team can possibly have. The Ravens turned the ball over three times, including twice in the end zone, and did everything they could to let a horrid Atlanta team hang around. But they have revenge against the Bengals for a Week 1 loss in Baltimore. Also, the Ravens have a technical edge this week against the Bengals, who are off a 27-0 defeat at Indianapolis: road teams against an opponent that was shutout the week prior have gone 14-5 ATS over the past decade.
10. New England Patriots (5-2) - I know for a fact that Chicago's feeble defense won't be able to slow down a Patriots offense that is averaging 35.7 points per game in its last three outings. New England's scoring eruption has come against the Bengals, Bills and Jets - three teams with much better defense than the Bears. However, the Patriots secondary has been extremely shaky, and New England was actually outgained by 100 yards in their 27-25 win over the Jets. The Patriots are 33-16 ATS in their last 39 October games, and they are now 8-3 ATS in their last 11 home games.
11. San Francisco 49ers (4-3) - Attrition is simply catching up with the 49ers. They are without three Pro Bowl linebackers, four offensive linemen, and a host of other key parts are banged up. They desperately needed this bye week and will spend the next two prepping for a rematch with St. Louis.
12. Cincinnati Bengals (3-2-1) - A.J. Green is going to be a game time decision this week for the Bengals, but I would be stunned if he played. The Bengals offense is now without three of its four leading receivers from last year as Green, Andrew Hawkins, and Marvin Jones are all MIA. Also, I judge a coach not by just the results he gets in his current position. But when a coach leaves a team I always gauge that coach's value based on how his unit does the following year when he's gone. By that logic, Mike Zimmer is a genius because the Bengals (No. 31 in total yards) look completely lost without him.
13. Kansas City Chiefs (3-3) - Dwayne Bowe is a guy that has disappeared a lot in his career. But he showed up with some crucial catches against the Chargers in a must-win game last Sunday. The Chiefs have dominated the few meetings with their Show-Me State brethren, the Rams. These two teams have only met six times in the past 20 years, and Kansas City is 5-1 SU and ATS in those games. The last meeting was a 27-13 win for the visiting Chiefs back in December of 2010.
14. Detroit Lions (5-2) - Credit where credit is due: the Lions would have not won that Saints game in seasons past. This team has been resilient without Calvin Johnson, and they have now won four of their last five outings. We will see how the Lions handle the distraction of playing overseas this week. The last four games played in England have all gone 'over' the total, with an average of 54.3 points scored per game. That includes Miami's 38-14 beat down of the Raiders on Sept. 28. The Lions are just 2-5 ATS following a win and just 3-7 ATS in their last 10 games on grass.
15. New York Giants (3-4) - It is back to the drawing board for the Giants offense. This team, and its attack, has been all over the map. Their bye week came at the perfect time for them after the loss at Dallas. This team has a lot of things to figure out, and they desperately need to get healthy in the secondary. That was supposed to be an area of supreme strength for this roster.
16. Miami Dolphins (3-3) - Unfortunately for the Fins, it is performances like last Sunday's from Ryan Tannehill - 25-for-32 for 277 yards and two touchdowns - that are going to doom this franchise to another year or two of him pretending to be a franchise quarterback. The fact is that Tannehill and the Dolphins took advantage of one of the worst secondaries in the league won't matter at the end of the season when people are evaluating his overall numbers. The favorite is 5-1 ATS in the last six meetings with the Jaguars, but the Fins will have to avoid a letdown after back-to-back grueling games with the Packers and Bears. Miami has gone 'under' the total in 33 of 48 road games, and the 'under' is 17-7 in Miami's last 24 conference games.
17. New Orleans Saints (2-4) - Once again, it is a red flag that a 2-5 team is favored over a 5-2 team this week. The Saints are 36-17 ATS in their last 53 home games and will have the power of a strong Sunday night crowd to back them. The favorite is 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings with the Packers, and this one looks like it could be a burial for the public.
18. Chicago Bears (3-4) - I have already written the post mortem on the Bears' underachieving 2014 season: Jay Cutler and Mel Tucker are losers. The end. The Bears continue to make bad (Ryan Tannehill) and mediocre (Cam Newton) quarterbacks look like All-Pros. And they just lost another player, Kyle Fuller, from their putrid secondary. Good luck stopping Tom Brady this week. Chicago is two sacks away from being No. 3 in the league. They are No. 3 in the league in INTs (8) and No. 1 in forced fumbles (12). The fact that despite all those big plays they are still allowing 26.4 points per game shows how bad their base defense is.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) - Let's not get too carried away with Pitt's big Monday night win. That game was more a Houston implosion - giving up 21 points in just under three minutes at the end of the first half - and some superhuman efforts from Antonio Brown than it was a sign that the Steelers are "back". Pittsburgh has not won or lost two straight games yet this year.
20. Carolina Panthers (3-3-1) - Hat-tip to PF Talk for this one, but the last five quarterbacks the Panthers have faced have completed 76.5 percent of their passes for 1,390 yards and 12 touchdowns to just four interceptions. I have said it before: the Cover-2 is dead in the NFL. It just does not work anymore unless a team is rolling with at least five Pro Bowlers on defense. And in that case any defense would work. Carolina fumbled at the Seattle 8-yard line with less than six minutes to play in a 12-7 game last year in Week 1 against Seattle. They will definitely want revenge.
21. Houston Texans (3-4) - This team continues to be an enigma. They have dumped three straight and four of five since their promising start. On one hand, the losses are somewhat forgivable. They were at Dallas, had the Colts on a short week after an overtime game, and then were at Pittsburgh on a Monday night. The average margin was just five points against three decent teams. But on the other side, the Texans were outgained by 250 total yards against the Cowboys and Colts and were behind 24-0 and 24-10 in the last two weeks. We should learn everything we need to about the Texans when they had to Tennessee this week.
22. Buffalo Bills (4-3) - I know that the Bills are 4-3, but I am really handicapping them as I would a 2-5 team. And, really, they should be 1-6. They beat Chicago in overtime, and two other wins, over Detroit and Minnesota, came in the final seconds. These guys are still losers. I think Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown will be fine filling in for the injured C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Dixon and Brown have been two of the better backup running backs around the past two seasons. The Bills have not been able to handle success at all. They are just 8-24 ATS in their last 32 games following a win, and they are just 4-9 ATS in their last 13 road games. The Bills have lost seven of their last nine against
23. Cleveland Browns (3-3) - I said it before last week's game: this team is garbage. I can't understand the Browns bandwagon at all, and this is not a good football team. Yet I actually heard one ESPN bobblehead proclaim last week that he thought the Browns were the best team in the AFC North. This is a 6-10 team. Their only salvo is a weak schedule, and the Browns get three of their next four games at home. If they are going to do something they better do it fast. Cleveland is 1-6 ATS in its last seven games against a below-.500 team, and they continue to play up or down to their level of competition.
24. Minnesota Vikings (2-5) - The Vikings and Bucs used to be NFC Central rivals before realignment. The Vikings haven't beaten Tampa Bay since those good old days (2001) and have lost six straight in the series SU and ATS. Minnesota has been a nice bounce back team, going 7-2 ATS in their last nine games after a loss. But their offense is so bad that you can see it starting to divide the team. The Vikings have topped 16 points just one time in the last six games, and they are 2-7 against the total this year dating back to the preseason. This is Mike Zimmer's first big test as a rookie head coach, and he has to be careful that his guys don't throw in the towel.
25. Washington Redskins (2-5) - I have to say that I'm moderately intrigued by Colt McCoy. I have been a fan of his for a bit. I always thought he threw a real nice ball, was accurate, and made pretty good decisions. He got a raw deal in the pathetic Cleveland organization and hasn't had a chance since. I think he can be a quality NFL starter and hope he gets a shot with the Redskins. Brian Orakpo is a huge loss going into the Cowboys game. But Washington should be used to playing without him at this point. The underdog is 24-8 ATS in the last 32 Cowboys-Redskins games. Washington is 6-1 ATS in its last seven trips to Big D, and they are 7-1 ATS in the last eight meetings overall.
26. Tennessee Titans (2-5) - It would be one thing if the Titans were losing but forging an identity under a new coaching regime. But this team just looks lost and rudderless. They are the only team in the Top 10 in turnover differential (plus-3) that is below .500. Their offensive line, which was supposed to be a strength, has really hurt this offense with penalties and blown assignments the last few weeks. The Titans are going up against former backup Ryan Fitzpatrick this week, and it will be interesting to see which side gets the better of that rendezvous matchup. Well, maybe "interesting" isn't the right word.
27. St. Louis Rams (2-4) - That was a nice bounce-back win for the Rams and really an important victory for the Jeff Fisher regime. Everything I had read coming out of the Rams locker room just reeked of frustration and desperation. This team has no illusions about who they are. But they at least expect to compete. St. Louis is just 2-5 ATS in its last seven games and 1-4 ATS in its last five road games.
28. New York Jets (1-6) - Stats lie. If you don't believe that then how about if I told you the Jets had a Top 10 defense? They are No. 9 in the league in total yards at just 326.6 per game. But the Jets have allowed at least 27 points in five of their last six games and an average of 30 per game in their last three. I think it is a huge red flag this week that the 1-6 Jets are favored over the 4-3 Bills. I also think that the Percy Harvin trade may just inject a little bit of life into a team that was ready to throw in the towel.
29. Atlanta Falcons (2-5) - Things are getting ugly in Atlanta and heads are settling into the guillotine. It is a broken record at this point: the Falcons just don't have an NFL-caliber roster. Their offensive line is the worst in the NFL. Their linebackers are not NFL-caliber players. Their pass rush is the worst in the NFL. Their secondary is bad. They can't run the ball. And now they get to take that long flight over to London after getting rocked by the Ravens and get up for a "home" game against the Lions. The Falcons don't play in the Georgia Dome again for another month, and if they didn't have Matt Ryan this would be the worst team in football.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-5) - For the life of me I have no idea how the Bucs are favored this week, even against a sagging Vikings team. Tampa Bay is No. 30 in total offense and No. 32 in total defense, and in their two previous stints laying points they lost outright to Carolina and St. Louis in the first two weeks of the season. We'll see what adjustments they made during the bye week, but I wouldn't expect any miracles. The Bucs are 6-2 ATS in their last eight games after a bye week, but Lovie Smith is 2-6 ATS in his last eight games after an extra week of rest.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6) - It is not easy to win by 18 points when your quarterback throws three interceptions to just one touchdown, but that's what the Jaguars did. The pendulum is swinging back for the Jags a bit, as that's three competitive games in a row after being a non-entity through the first month of the season. Jacksonville's deep defensive line rotation is wearing teams down. The Jags are just 16-34 ATS in their last 50 home games and just 2-8 ATS in their last 10 games overall. They are 3-9 ATS after a win, which is a rare situation they find themselves in this week.
32. Oakland Raiders (0-6) - It is bad when even the veterans in the locker room are saying that they have no idea how to get this season turned around. Oakland's roster is split in two parts: one part is past-their-prime veterans who fattened up on free agent contracts and the other is young or overmatched guys that are fringe NFL players. That's not a great dynamic in the locker room. Oakland has to play four of its next six games on the road, and the two home games are against Denver and Kansas City. If they lose at Cleveland this Sunday we really have to start to wonder where their first win of the season will come from.
Throughout the season I will have my NFL Power Rankings every Tuesday. My next ones will be released on Tuesday, Oct. 28.
Robert Ferringo is a lead writer for Doc's Sport and he has posted four of five winning NFL weekends and back-to-back winning football months. Robert demolished the books for $3,600 in football profit the last four weeks alone and has produced more cash for his clients than any handicapper in the country the past two years ($10,600 profit). Robert has 9 of 11 winning football months and 15 of 21 winning NFL weeks and he is going to build on that sensational resume again this week with more. He is one of the best in the business and will be back with more this week. CLICK HERE for $60 absolutely free!
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