Wednesday, September 18, 2013

NFL Power Rankings: Week Two

Blog revival continues with the first Power Rankings of the season. Many power polls give you a synopsis of how a certain team is playing. My goal will be to provide a stat that helps tell why a team is ranked where they are.

NFL Week Two ended with a snoozer of a Monday Night game in Cincinnati, but if you're a Bengals fan it wasn't so bad. The home team won on MNF for the first time since 2007, and it was just their second home win against Pittsburgh in the teams' last ten match ups at Paul Brown Stadium.

Despite the slow end, there was plenty of action in Week Two, and that leads into our Power Rankings.

1. Denver Broncos (2-0): The Stat: 40.5. All the praise is going to Peyton Manning and his bevy of offensive weapons, and rightfully so, but how about a round of applause for the defense so far. When the unit's top player, Von Miller, was suspended six games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy many thought the team would struggle. Instead, the defense is giving up only 40.5 rush ypg, tops in the league. And before you say the Ravens and Giants didn't run the ball because they were being blown out...Baltimore led at the half, and New York trailed by one with a minute left in the 3rd Quarter.

2. Seattle Seahawks (2-0): The Stat: 136.6. This one isn't too creative, but it's too impressive to ignore. The Seahawks' fans set a Guinness record Sunday night by hitting 136.6 decibels at CenturyLink Field. If Seattle finds a way to win homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs, it would be the biggest advantage in recent history. The problem? They have to win on the road too. Seattle struggled to a 12-7 win at Carolina in Week One, and under Pete Carroll they're just 10-17 away from the CLink.

3. San Francisco 49ers (1-1): The Stat: 17. In the Jim Harbaugh era, the Niners have been known as one of the healthiest teams in the NFL, a big reason why they've been so successful. This year? Not so much. San Fran enters Week Three with 17 players on the Injury Report. Out of those 17, Vernon Davis is the only one expected to play this week against Indianapolis.

4. Houston Texans (2-0): The Stat: 24. Before DeAndre "Nuk" Hopkins finished Sunday's game with 117 receiving yards, it had been 24 games since the Texans had a receiver not named Andre Johnson top the century mark. The last to do it? Tight End Owen Daniels with an even 100 yards through the air in Week 14 of the 2011 season.

5. New Orleans Saints (2-0): The Stat: 17. Drew Brees has always been surrounded by numbers. First it was that he's 6'0" and a six-footer could never succeed as an NFL quarterback. Now, it's the jaw dropping numbers he puts up. One of the most impressive things to me, though? In the last 18 games (spanning last season and the first two this year) Brees has completed passes to 17 different receivers. The fewest receivers hit in one game: 6. The most: 10. He spreads the wealth when it comes to receiving leader, too. Lance Moore and Marques Colston have both led the team five times with Jimmy Graham (4) and Darren Sproles (3) getting their fair share.

6. Green Bay Packers (1-1): The Stat: Never. I used this one in my Quick Hits column, but this is just too surprising. With quarterbacks like Brett Favre and Bart Starr, and running backs ranging from Paul Hornung to Edgar Bennett, Dorsey Levens, Ahman Green or Ryan Grant the Packers, in 95 years, somehow never had a game with a 400-yard passer and 100-yard rusher until Sunday against Washington. Aaron Rodgers tied Matt Flynn's (yes, believe it or not) franchise record with 480 yds through the air, and James Starks ran for 132 yds to complete the dual threat.

7. Chicago Bears (2-0): The Stat: 34.1. If you're a fan of the running back getting the football through the air, then you love Bears Head Coach Marc Trestman. That's because, in two games, Chicago's Matt Forte already has 15 receptions on 17 targets, tops in the NFL among backs. So where does the 34.1 come in? Forte already has 34.1% of last year's 44 receptions. So, if you're a Forte Fantasy Football owner, be very happy.

8. Atlanta Falcons (1-1): The Stat: 2-3. That's how many weeks new-Falcons Running Back Steven Jackson will sit out with a thigh bruise he suffered Sunday against St. Louis. Jackson turned 30 two months ago, which is usually followed by a trip to the retirement home for NFL backs. Why is it concerning? Jackson's only missed two total games the past four seasons, just furthering that narrative. Why should Falcons fans not fret quite yet? It's a bruise. A freak injury. If muscle strains start to become the issue, then it's time to cross the fingers in Atlanta.

9. New England Patriots (2-0): The Stat: 7. If the Patriots want to reach their full potential in 2013, the young receiving corps will need to start catching the ball. The Pats have seven dropped passes through two games, worst in the NFL. The bright side? They don't have to worry about Tom Brady giving up on them. He doesn't have any other choice but to keep throwing them the ball.

10. Cincinnati Bengals (1-1): The Stat: 61. Andy Dalton completed a 61-yard pass to Tight End Tyler Eifert in Monday night's win, his longest since an 84-yarder to Jerome Simpson the second game of his career. Dalton's been criticized in his 2+ years for struggling to complete the deep ball, and that span of 34 games without a 60-yard pass fleshes out that argument.

11. Miami Dolphins (2-0): The Stat: 9. If you didn't notice, the Dolphins are pretty formidable on defense these days. If you also didn't notice. Miami's 2-0. That's no coincidence. The Dolphins are tied for the league lead with nine sacks. The leader in that: Cameron Wake with 3.5. If Miami's going to keep this run going and challenge New England for the AFC East crown, the defense will be the catalyst.

12. Philadelphia Eagles (1-1): The Stat: 148.5. When Jeremy Maclin tore his ACL in training camp, everyone knew DeSean Jackson would have to take a bigger role in the offense. No one knew if he would, though. Last year, an unhappy Jackson posted career lows in receptions, yards and touchdowns. Not the case anymore. Jackson leads the NFL with 148.5 ypg, an astronomical number that could remain if Chip Kelly's offense keeps humming along.

13. Kansas City Chiefs (2-0): The Stat: 0. Want to know why the Chiefs are a surprising 2-0? A big reason is because they haven't turned the ball over yet this season. Andy Reid has had high praise for Quarterback Alex Smith since he took the KC job, and the experienced West Coast signal caller is proving him right. Smith is one of just four starters without an interception.

14. Tennessee Titans (1-1): The Stat: 136.5. A look at the stats shows that the Titans are middle of the road in nearly every single way. One thing that needs a lot of work, though, is Quarterback Jake Locker. Locker hasn't been asked to do a lot as Tennessee continues to rely on its run game, but with Chris Johnson averaging only 3.3 yds/carry, Locker's 136.5 passing yds/game just aren't going to cut it.

15. Indianapolis Colts (1-1): The Stat: 8. 2nd year Quarterback Andrew Luck already has 8 game winning drives in his young career. Not only is that an impressive number, it's the best in the NFL in that span. Luck couldn't add another one to the resume in Week Two, but it's getting to a point where the Colts and their fans trust he'll get the job done in crunch time instead of just hoping for it.

16. Dallas Cowboys (1-1): The Stat: 72.5. That's Tony Romo's league leading completion percentage through two games. Yes, you read that right. The beleaguered Romo has the best percentage in the NFL so far. The problem is the running game isn't coming through for the 'Boys. DeMarco Murray's yards per carry is down from a career average of 4.8 to 3.5 in 2013, and Dallas has yet to score a touchdown on the ground. If Romo keeps up his ridiculous completion rate, though, the Cowboys might be able to overcome a lack in run game.

17. San Diego Chargers (1-1): The Stat: 5. This number is being tossed around a lot, but it's worth another mention. 6th year receiver Eddie Royal has five touchdown receptions in the season's first two games. In his first five years, Royal caught ten touchdowns, five of those coming in his stand out rookie season. Philip Rivers needed a replacement for top wide out Danario Alexander, and he may have found his man.

18. Detroit Lions (1-1): The Stat: 24. In Week One, Reggie Bush became the first Lions running back to total 190 yards in 24 games. The last to do it: Kevin Smith in Week Eleven of 2011. Why is that important? Bush left Sunday's game against Arizona with a knee injury that easily could keep him out this week or longer. With Bush in the lineup, this is a different team. After Bush left Detroit's drive chart looked like this: Punt, Punt, Blocked Field Goal, Punt, Turnover on Downs.

19. Buffalo Bills (1-1): The Stat: 1:40. Rookie Quarterback EJ Manuel had 1:40 to drive his team 80 yards for a game winning touchdown his second career start...with no timeouts. First year Head Coach Doug Marrone rolled the dice that Manuel was the guy from the start, and the poise he showed on that drive will go a long way toward convincing the fans. On the nine play drive, Manuel was 6-8 for 71 yds and rushed once for 9 yds.

20. Baltimore Ravens (1-1): The Stat: 1 hour. Quarterback Joe Flacco became a father for the second time just before Noon on Sunday, an hour before Baltimore's game with Cleveland. Apparently his wife is pretty understanding because most new mothers probably wouldn't be so okay with calling the dad to tell him everything went okay, and oh yeah, good luck in the game today.

21. St. Louis Rams (1-1): The Stat: 68.0/325.5. It's a changing of the guard everyone saw coming in St. Louis. For years, the Rams revolved around workhorse Steven Jackson, but his departure opens the door for a new direction, and 68 rushing yds/game shows they're taking it. That total is 25th in the league, but Sam Bradford and the passing game are finding their way. The Rams are 4th in the NFL with 325.5 pass yds/game, and it could get even better as they figure out more ways to open up space for speedster Tavon Austin.

22. Minnesota Vikings (0-2): The Stat: 78. That was the length of Adrian Peterson's first carry of the season, a 78-yard touchdown run. That number is also more than the rushing totals, through two games, of both the Giants (73) and Steelers (75). Almost as shocking, though, are Peterson's numbers since that firecracker start. After that touchdown, AP has 115 yds on 43 carries, just 2.67 yards per rush.

23. Washington Redskins (0-2): The Stat: 64-7. The Redskins have faced a combined deficit of 64-7 in their two games before outscoring their opponents 40-7 in garbage time. People are asking what's wrong with RGIII. Facing deficits like that is the problem. The Redskins are a run first team, and if they are trailing by four touchdowns, it cuts the game plan to just a fraction of what this offense can do.

24. Oakland Raiders (1-1): The Stat: 198.5. The Raiders, with dual threat Terrelle Pryor leading the charge under center, lead the NFL with nearly 200 rushing yards per game. It's not tough to tell how that happened. Pryor and Darren McFadden are 7th and 4th, respectively in rushing yards. If Oakland can keep up that pace, Pryor won't be forced to use his arm to beat teams, and the Raiders might be able to grind out a few wins they otherwise wouldn't get.

25. Arizona Cardinals (1-1): The Stat: 286.5. Through two games, Carson Palmer is averaging 286.5 yards through the air. How much of a difference does that make for the formerly grounded Cardinals? Eight times last year, half of Arizona's games, the quarterback didn't even reach 150 yds through the air.

26. New York Giants (0-2): The Stat: 10-of-27. The Giants have turned the ball over 10 times in two games, but that league worst total isn't even the most alarming part. Big Blue has had 27 drives all season and have turned it over more than a third of the time. If the Giants can't clean up that total, it's going to be a long season in the Meadowlands. For a bonus stat courtesy of Sports Illustrated's Peter King: the 1990 Super Bowl champion Giants turned the ball over 14 times...the entire season.

27. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-2): The Stat: 5. The Steelers are 0-2 for just the fifth time in 25 years, another number pointing to the stability Pittsburgh fans count on with their football team. More surprising yet: The other four years they lost their first two games, they made the playoffs all four times. It is new territory for this regime, though. Mike Tomlin took over the team in 2007, and this is the first time his guys have been two games below .500 at any point in the season.

28. Carolina Panthers (0-2): The Stat: 2-14. The Cam Newton era has been a time of excitement, but mostly disappointment for Panthers fans. While Newton has put up huge stats, he and his team have struggled. Carolina's 13-21 since Newton was taken first overall in 2011, but it's not because they've been blown out. The Panthers are 2-14 in games decided by a touchdown or less in that span. When two-thirds of your losses come by seven or less, you assume it has to turn around at some point. The question is when that will be.

29. New York Jets (1-1): The Stat: 48.6. I didn't think I'd find a single good thing to say about the J-E-T-S, but there is something of merit so far with this team. New York is allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 48.6% of their passes, the only team in the NFL keeping teams under 50%. Will it hold up? Probably not, but so far so good.

30. Cleveland Browns (0-2): The Stat: 6. That's the jersey number of the Browns' new starting Quarterback Brian Hoyer. Brandon Weeden injured his thumb in the Week Two loss against Baltimore, and, perhaps luckily for first year Coach Rob Chudzinski, the oft questioned signal caller takes a seat this week. The interesting part, though: Hoyer starts over veteran Jason Campbell even though Campbell was the only one to take a snap after Weeden left Sunday's game. This is Cleveland. This is the Browns.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-2): The Stat: 33. Out of all 33 quarterbacks to start a game this year, the Bucs' Josh Freeman is dead last in completion percentage (45.3%). Much of the talk so far in Tampa has been about the rocky relationship with Freeman and his team, and he's doing himself no favors so far. Along with being last in completion rate, he's 30th in both yards per game and QB rating.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2): The Stat: 23. This easily could've been 11, as in the miserable 11 points Jacksonville has scored in 2013, but a more interesting number is 23. That's the largest estimate of how many fans showed up this week for a "Sign Tim Tebow" rally at EverBank Field. If there were less than two dozen people there, you'd think there would be a definitive total, but numbers aren't exactly all the rage when talking about the Jaguars these days. Unless, of course, you're talking about one, the number they'll draft next year.

Monday, September 16, 2013

NFL Quick Hits: Week Two

It's been a long, long time since the Legends blog has been active, but I'm back and hoping to have a few more continuous features from here on. First, I know everyone's a fan of quick hit thoughts on our biggest pro sports league, the NFL, so here are mine for Week Two.

  • The Thursday night game was an absolute mess if you're New England's Tom Brady. The guy known to turn any wide receiver into a quality NFL talent is being put to the test in a huge way. First, he lost 360 of last year's 402 receptions. Think about that. The loss of 89.5% of your completions cannot be understated, and it's playing out in the flesh early on. Brady struggled against the Jets to his first game in four years with a completion percentage under 50%. Rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson have had more than their fair share of misses, and as long as the "new Welker," Danny Amendola sits out injured, it won't get much better. The lone bright spot? Former Kent State Quarterback Julian Edelman is doing work, ringing up 13 receptions against the Jets.
  • Moving on to Sunday...Packers-Redskins was expected to be the second in Green Bay's meat grinder start to the season, but Robert Griffin III's comeback tour is still stuck in neutral. After trailing 33-7 in Week One, Washington went down 31-0 at Green Bay before the stat padding began. Griffin was gracious in defeat, taking credit for the team's slow start, but if he can't get back to his dual threat ways under center, the 'Skins are in big trouble.
  •  On the other hand, what a job by Green Bay to show they weren't brought down by the tough opening loss at San Francisco. The Packers lost Eddie Lacy on his first carry of the game to a concussion, so what do they do? Post a 400-yard passer (Aaron Rodgers: 34-42, 480 yd, 4 TD, 0 INT) and 100-yard rusher (James Starks: 20 car, 132 yd, TD) for the first time in the franchise's 95-year history. 
  •  Staying in the NFC North, it was interesting (and nice for Bears fans) to see a little fight out of Jay Cutler. The man known by many to come up small at the biggest times led a 10-play drive capped off with a game winning touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett in the final 10 seconds against Minnesota. Speaking of Bennett, it seems Cutler finally has the security blanket tight end he wanted. The former Texas A&M star has had a ho hum career, but in two weeks his line (10 rec, 125 yd, 3 TD) shows a big season ahead.
  • There's plenty to say about the Bills' 24-23 win at home against Carolina. On the positive side, EJ Manuel might just be the guy for this team. In only his second start, (and after watching his team lose in the final five seconds a week ago) the 23-year-old outgunned Cam Newton and threw the game winning TD with just two seconds to go. 
  • On the other sideline, it's the same old Panthers. In Newton's three seasons, the quarterback has put up Pro Bowl-type numbers, but two other numbers stick out: 13-21 overall, 2-14 in games decided by a touchdown or less. In many of those, Carolina led in the 4th Quarter, including both so far in 2013.
  • Speaking of "same old," how 'bout those Cowboys? Dallas showed some life against the Giants last week, beating New York for the first time ever at Jerry World, but then they went ahead and gave up that momentum against the resurgent Chiefs. Even with a lost fumble, it wasn't Tony Romo that was the problem this time. In my eyes, the real concern lies with running back savior DeMarco Murray. When healthy, Murray's been a force so far in his young career. This year, though: 32 car, 111 yd, 0 TD. That's just 3.5 yards per carry, well below his 4.8 ypc average leading up to this year. Something to keep an eye on in Big D.
  • The Chiefs are a surprising 2-0, and so are the Miami Dolphins after denying comeback artist Andrew Luck another 4th Quarter masterpiece in Indy. Joe Philbin has committed to Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, and the 2nd-year signal caller is making him look good so far. Think about this: The top three quarterbacks from the Class of 2012 are (in no given order): RG3, Russell Wilson and Luck. This season, Tannehill has a better completion percentage than any of them, has thrown a single interception, and has more passing yards than Wilson and Luck. Not bad at all for the forgotten member of the draft class.
  • Texans' fans have no fingernails left, but their team is 2-0 after a second Overtime win. The takeaway here, and something Clemson fans already knew: DeAndre Hopkins is a star. When Andre Johnson left the game after he was shaken up, Hopkins stepped up and showed out to the tune of 7 receptions for 117 yds and the game-winning TD. "Nuk" made big plays routine last year at Clemson, and Houston just might finally have its second receiver threat to help out the often double covered Johnson.
  • Houston denied San Diego an opening win a week ago, but it was the Chargers this week slowing down the breakneck Eagles and getting in the winning column, 33-30. Mike Vick was masterful again in Philly, (23-36, 428 yd, 2 TD; 6 car, 23 yd, TD) but Philip Rivers was slightly better in the QB Redemption Bowl (36-47, 419 yd, 3 TD). The problem here isn't the fast paced Eagles offense. It's the Philadelphia defense's inability to keep up. That unit is 30th in yards per game and 28th in points per contest. If the Eagles will win in 2013, it's going to take a lot of 33-30 type games to do it.
  • Manning Bowl III was the marquee of the afternoon, and it played out like it for a little bit. Then, in a matter of 6:00 spanning the 3rd and 4th Quarters, the Broncos increased their lead from 17-16 to 38-16, and the game was over. It was the same narrative. Big brother Peyton was great (30-43, 307 yd, 2 TD), and little brother Eli was not (28-49, 362 yd, TD, 4 INT). 
  • On Sunday Night Football, Carrie Underwood continued to prove that Faith Hill isn't the only one who can make us wait all day for Sunday night...and there was also a game to be played.
  • First, a shout out to the Seattle fans at Century Link Field. At 136.6 decibels, the CLink is now Guinness recognized as the loudest stadium ever. It's incredible to hear that sound coming over the TV, let alone being there in person. As for the game, a defensive slug fest turned into the Marshawn Lynch show. "Beast Mode" totaled 135 yds of offense and 3 TDs, most of that in the 2nd half to wrap an easy Seahawks win. 
  • Fun fact: the Seahawks have won the last two meetings with the 49ers: the first on San Fran Head Coach Jim Harbaugh's 49th birthday, this one on Seattle Head Coach Pete Carroll's 62nd birthday.
  • Injury concerns: The Falcons better hope Steven Jackson's thigh bruise isn't an issue because if he's out, they're just a worse version of last year's team. The same can be said about Reggie Bush missing some time for the Lions against Arizona. If Bush is out, it's bad times in Detroit.
  • Stat Watch: The most talked about stat this week: Peyton Manning leads the NFL with 9 TD passes. Eli leads the NFL with 7 INTs. The most interesting stat to me though comes from the receiving column. San Diego's Eddie Royal already has 5 TD catches in two games. No one quite knew what to expect from the Chargers' receiving corps this year. Top wide out Danario Alexander tore his ACL in August, and most thought the combination of Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates and Vincent Brown would do the work (with Brown having the most upside to emerge as a star). In steps Royal. In five seasons before 2013, he caught 10 TD passes. He's halfway to that total two games into 2013.