|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 13: Cowboys hold firm at No. 1, Patriots pass Seahawks for No. 2||11.30.16 at 5:52 pm ET|
The biggest upset of the week was when the Buccaneers shut down the Seahawks offense and held Russell Wilson and company to just five points. Other than that, you could say the Chiefs and Lions winning were upsets, but anything can happen in divisional games. So as a result, not a ton of movement here in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. As a result of Sunday’s loss, Seattle drops out of the top five, while the Chiefs sneak in after beating the Broncos. The defending Super Bowl champs really needed to win that game on Sunday night. They have five games left on their schedule, and three of them are against the Patriots, Chiefs and Raiders.
The NFC South saw big wins from everyone except the Panthers. Right now the Falcons have the inside track on winning the division, but Matt Ryan doesn’t exactly play up the to the “Matty Ice” moniker he earned in college, so the Saints and Bucs still stand a chance to get in.
The Giants and Dolphins both extended their winning streaks to six games, but they both played garbage opponents.
Holding up the rear, the Browns and 49ers have combined for 23 straight losses. Cleveland surely is keeping a close eye on college quarterbacks, but there is no sure-fire franchise guy like Cam Newton, Andrew Luck or even Jameis Winston. The 49ers are stuck with Colin Kaepernick, who is doing just enough to keep himself on the roster but doesn’t look like he’ll ever be as good as he was when Jim Harbaugh coached the team.
1. (1 last week) Cowboys (10-1) — Nothing new here. Dallas looked great on the national stage, and the only controversy about this team is WHICH rookie is more instrumental to the team’s success. The Cowboys can clinch a playoff spot this weekend.
2. (3) Patriots (9-2) — After going weeks without forcing a turnover, the defense came up with big plays twice to help the Pats win a predictably close game against an inferior opponent. Malcolm Butler and Chris Long each stripped the ball free and stopped a Jets drive that seemed destined for points. Tom Brady played well down the stretch but clearly was hobbled by a knee injury. Rob Gronkowski’s fragility reared its head again as he was sent to the locker room early. The team would be wise to limit his snaps down the stretch, or even leave him out against the Rams.
3. (4) Raiders (9-2) — Derek Carr stole the headlines when he stayed in the game and played well after dislocating his pinkie. However, Khalil Mack could be the real star going forward as he builds a case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. After getting just one sack in the first five games of the season, Mack has at least one in each of the last six. On Sunday, Mack strip-sacked Cam Newton, recovered the fumble and took it to the house.
|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 12: Seahawks jump past Patriots for No. 2 behind Cowboys||11.22.16 at 10:33 pm ET|
The Cowboys stay on top the WEEI NFL Power Rankings until they lose a game, but the Seahawks jumped over the Patriots with both teams winning on Sunday. In retrospect, the top three should have looked like this LAST week, but with Rob Gronkowski out, Jabaal Sheard being a healthy scratch, Alan Branch suspended and a general uneasiness about whether the Patriots defense has the chops to win it all, I felt that the Seahawks are a slightly better team as it stands today. Rounding out the top five, the Raiders did their job and beat an inferior opponent on a neutral field, and the Giants made their first jump into the pool of elite teams as they extended their winning streak.
In the middle of the pack, the Dolphins, Vikings, Bills, Buccaneers and Panthers all made big leaps with wins in Week 11. It’s hard to imagine the Dolphins maintaining this level of success for much longer, but only because it’s been so long since they’ve done just that. The Panthers made the biggest jump of the week, vaulting seven spots, but the loss of Luke Kuechly is huge.
Bringing up the rear, the bottom six teams all lost. Only the Bears lost in such a fashion that they were demoted (to 29th). As a result, the Jets moved up a bit, but in no way, shape or form, does that mean Jets have actually improved on the field. The saddest surprise this year has to be the underperforming Bengals. Since Andy Dalton was drafted the Bengals have waiting until wild card weekend to collapse, but Marvin Lewis has decided to speed things up a bit in 2016.
1. (1 last week) Cowboys (9-1) — Dak Prescott’s remarkable run continued Sunday with a convincing win over the Ravens. While he’s been able to rely on fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliot to shoulder the offensive load early in the season, Prescott has shown in recent weeks that he can distribute the ball to Jason Witten and Dez Bryant as well. Even at 9-1, Dallas still has to play well down the stretch to win the NFC East, but it’s hard to find a flaw with this team.
2. (3) Seahawks (7-2-1) — Russell Wilson looks like he’s back to full strength after an ankle injury slowed him down for a few weeks earlier in the year. Wilson even caught a TD pass from Doug Baldwin in the third quarter on a WR reverse pass. Jimmy Graham is finally starting to heat up as well. The injury to promising RB C.J. Prosise has been about the only thing to go wrong for Seattle in the past month.
3. (2) Patriots (8-2) — Tom Brady continued his torrid pace with four more TDs on Sunday. Even with the game close at halftime, it never seemed in doubt for the Patriots. The return of Dion Lewis gives Brady yet another option to turn to, while Rob Gronkowski heals from a chest injury. The problems facing New England are on the defensive side of the ball. Through 10 games, the Pats have just nine takeaways, which puts them in a tie for 27th in the league. History has shown that at some point a championship team will have to rely on its defense to make some big plays.
|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 11: Dak Prescott leads Cowboys to No. 1 spot||11.16.16 at 9:25 am ET|
For the first time since the mid-’90s, Jerry Jones is starting to look like a qualified GM. Dallas has attained its position atop the WEEI NFL Power Rankings after an eighth consecutive win. New England takes a little tumble but nearly drove down the field to get a win in the closing seconds against one of the best defensive teams in the game. A semi-shocking development is that three of the six best teams in the league come from one division. The AFC West has three teams with seven wins, and all of those teams are poised to make the postseason.
The Titans make the biggest jump of the week, vaulting from 21 to 14. Marcus Mariota has been neck-and-neck with Jameis Winston since they were drafted 1-2 in the 2015 draft. Mariota holds the slight edge right now as the Titans have found myriad ways to put the ball in the end zone. Minnesota and Green Bay take big tumbles as they continues to struggle through injuries. Only three divisions involve a two-game gap between the first- and second-place teams. Most of these divisions will be decided in the final two weeks of the season.
1. (2 last week) Cowboys (8-1) — Winners of eight in a row, the Cowboys undoubtedly are the hottest team in the NFL. In his first comments on the matter, Tony Romo pledged his support for rookie QB Dak Prescott. That type of statement prevents the locker room from dividing and helps stymie any unnecessary distractions. Romo now is a reliable backup who can mentor Prescott as the pressures of being an NFL QB increase. Ezekiel Elliot is running away with the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
2. (1) Patriots (7-2) — Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks left fans in New England questioning whether or not this team has the personnel to make big plays on defense. The trade of Jamie Collins was staunchly defended by the disciples of Belichick, but the inability to turn the ball over or rush the QB is an alarming trend. Since four of the Patriots’ last six opponents have losing records, the AFC likely still runs through Foxboro, but Matt Patricia has a lot of work to do build a championship defense.
3. (5) Seahawks (6-2-1) — More of the same from Seattle, as Russell Wilson continues to roll out of the pocket and make big plays while the defense holds some of the best offenses in football in check. Thomas Rawls looks ready to go and could help develop some semblance of a running game as the weather turns cold.
|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 10: Patriots lead Cowboys, Raiders||11.09.16 at 1:54 am ET|
At the halfway point of the season, it looks like we’ve identified the handful of teams that could get to Houston for Super Bowl 51. Even if the Cowboys beat the Browns by 70 points, they weren’t going to usurp the Patriots for the No. 1 spot. The Pats will be favored in every game they play until Tom Brady retires. Unlike a lot of teams this year, the Cowboys trounced the Browns and played like one of the six best teams in the league, so they’re atop the “everybody else” category. The Raiders haven’t seen an offense like this since Rich Gannon was winning back-to-back MVPs. Atlanta is hanging around at the top, but unlike Oakland, we’ve seen this type of offense from the Falcons before, and it could disappear at any moment. Denver and Seattle are relying on their defenses to maintain a level of dominance, but both teams have questions on the other side of the ball.
Once you get down to the next level of teams, there’s about 20 jumbled together with records at or near .500 that just aren’t seen as a viable contenders for a championship. Some of them could go on a run here in the second half and emerge as candidates, but there’s only a few QBs left who are able to put a team on their back. Drew Brees could do it if his defense game him some semblance of effort. Aaron Rodgers could do it, but that team has looked panicked all season. Ben Roethlisberger clearly has the abilities and weapons to be elite, but he’s playing like old quarterbacks are supposed to.
Not a lot of turnover at the bottom. Brian Billick’s preseason prediction that the Browns would go 0-16 is looking pretty good. The Bears are down at the bottom for the second year in a row, and I wonder if Jay Cutler will be shopped in the offseason. The Jets would make a good trade partner, and it would reunite Cutler with Brandon Marshall. It’s likely the Bears can get Woody Johnson to overpay.
1. (1 last week) Patriots (7-1) — Eight weeks into the season and the Patriots have not thrown a pick. Tom Brady could throw for 4,000 yards despite missing a quarter of the season. His numbers are through the roof, his targets all are healthy, and Dion Lewis is expected to return in two weeks. The Pats have 14 days to prepare for a home game against the Seahawks in what should be an epic rematch of Super Bowl 49.
2. (2) Cowboys (7-1) — A dominant performance over the Browns in what some thought was a trap game helps keep the Cowboys in the No. 2 spot behind the Pats. Jason Witten has been quiet all year, but his eight-catch, 134-yard performance gives Dak Prescott another weapon. Ezekiel Elliott still is running all over the NFL at a record pace. One can only assume Dez Bryant could complain about touches and cause problems for the best Cowboys team since the early ‘90s.
3. (4) Raiders (7-2) — Sunday night’s win over the Broncos gives Oakland the confidence it needs to earn a bye in the playoffs. At 7-2, the Raiders are in the driver’s seat for the 2 seed, but they need to mature quickly on defense if they expect to make any noise. Derek Carr is throwing himself into the MVP conversation. A Week 17 rematch with the Broncos likely will decide the AFC West.
|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 8: Patriots hold on to No. 1, Cowboys up to 2||10.26.16 at 12:41 pm ET|
The Patriots keep the top spot, and a quick look at their schedule shows they’ll likely remain here for the rest of the season. Dallas took the week off but still moved up to No. 2 because the Vikings were on the losing end of a sloppy game in Philly. Denver creeps back into the top five because the defense is so good and the Broncos play so well at home.
The game of the week was the Seahawks-Cardinals 6-6 tie on Sunday night. If you had the fortune of staying awake through the whole game, you got to experience TWO spectacular shanks with the game on the line. The look on Pete Carroll’s face was worth the 75-minute wait and reminded Patriots fans of another Seahawks collapse in the waning moments of a big game. In the five years since the NFL modified it’s overtime rules, this is the fourth time we’ve seen a tie game.
The most interesting division in the AFC is the West, with the Raiders and Broncos tied at 5-2. They have yet to play each other, so there’s a lot of time for things to shuffle around. Kansas City and San Diego are within striking distance, so the winner of the division likely won’t be decided until Week 17. In the NFC, the storylines are coming out of the East with a pair of rookie QBs leading the way. Dak Prescott can rely on an incredible running game in Dallas, and Carson Wentz can lean on a great defense in Philadelphia.
1. (1 last week) Patriots (6-1) — Third down defense is about the only issue this team has. Despite some struggles on the defensive side of the ball, New England still ranks fourth in the league in allowing only 15.3 points per game. LeGarrette Blount is having the best year of his career. Rob Gronkowski finally is healthy and now is reeling in 100 yards per game. Most importantly, Tom Brady has eight TDs and no picks.
2. (3) Cowboys (5-1) — The Cowboys lead the league in rushing with 161 yards per game behind the efforts of Ezekiel Elliot. The rookie RB is on target to bring home a slew of postseason awards, including Offensive Rookie of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year and quite possibly MVP. Dez Bryant is set to return from a knee injury this week. Like Minnesota, Dallas hit the bye on a five-game winning streak and returns with a game against the Eagles. The Cowboys hope they’ll have a better results than the Vikings did.
3. (2) Vikings (5-1) — Sam Bradford was exposed in a loss to the Eagles. The Vikings defense is good, but it will have to maintain greatness week in and week out to mask the utter mediocrity that comes with Bradford under center. Mike Zimmer called out the O-line after Bradford was sacked six times and hit 12 times.
|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 6: Vikings vault into top spot, Patriots hold at No. 2||10.11.16 at 10:24 pm ET|
Not a lot of dramatic changes in this week’s edition of the NFL Power Rankings. The undefeated Vikings take the top spot, with wins over quality teams. The Vikings are one of three teams that have not thrown an interception this season. (The Patriots and Cowboys are the other two.) New England played well in Tom Brady’s return from his suspension, but then again, a win over the Browns can only count for so much.
Aside from Minnesota and Philadelphia, the other big surprise is the emergence of Atlanta as the best offense in the league. Dan Quinn came from Seattle with a defensive pedigree, but he’s got Matt Ryan playing like the QB who led the Falcons to a 14-2 record just a few years ago. Denver takes a big hit with the uncertainty at the QB position. Paxton Lynch may be a first-rounder, but he’ll need some time to develop.
The Cowboys are off to a fast start under Dak Prescott, and if he steals the job away from Tony Romo the NFC East could see Prescott and Carson Wentz battling for the division title for the next 10 years.
1. (2 last week) Vikings (5-0) — After five wins to open the season, get ready for a reality check. Sam Bradford will turn into a pumpkin soon, but the Vikings only have a handful of “tough” games left on the schedule. They lead the league in turnover differential at plus-11.
2. (5) Patriots (4-1) — The return of the G.O.A.T. is only slightly overshadowed by the emergence of Martellus Bennett. If Bennett and Rob Gronkowski stay healthy (tall order, I know) then this is by far the toughest Patriots offense to defend since the ’07 team. There’s also a possibility that Dion Lewis will return next month.
3. (6) Falcons (4-1) — In back-to-back weeks, Atlanta beat the two teams that were in Super Bowl 50. Matt Ryan leads the league in passing with over 333 yards per game, and the team leads the league in points with 35 per game.
|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 5: Broncos hold at No. 1, Patriots drop to 5||10.04.16 at 3:50 pm ET|
The Pats were poised to take over the top spot in this week’s edition of the WEEI NFL Power Rankings, but a poor showing by the defense and a shutout loss to the Bills derailed those plans. The Broncos continue to play defense reminiscent of the Seahawks from the early part of this decade and the mid-2000s Ravens. The Vikings and Eagles are, by far, the biggest surprises of the season’s first quarter. The Raiders are playing well, but a lot of people predicted that this could be the year Derek Carr shows enough composure to win games on the road, and in the fourth quarter.
The Cardinals and Panthers faced off in last year’s NFC championship game, and now both are tied for last place in their divisions. One of these two teams won’t make the playoffs, and with injuries to their QBs, it could be both. The biggest shock in the NFC is the emergence of the first-place L.A. Rams. They currently hold the tiebreaker over the Seahawks, but it’s nearly impossible to fathom a Case Keenum and Jeff Fisher-led team making the playoffs, let alone winning the NFC West.
1. (1) Broncos (4-0) — The best team in football through the first three weeks experienced its first chink in the armor on Sunday when Trevor Siemian went down with a shoulder injury. Fortunately for the Broncos, it was a non-throwing AC joint sprain, and Gary Kubiak is confident his QB will be ready to go against the Bucs this Sunday. But, just like last year, it’s guys like Von Miller, Aqib Talib (2 more picks) and T.J. Ward who have pushed this team to an undefeated record.
2. (4) Vikings (4-0) — We all laughed at the Vikings when they traded a first and fourth for Sam Bradford. Now, at 4-0, Minnesota is on top of the NFC. Bradford hasn’t been lights-out, but he’s done enough to get the team down the field and hasn’t turned the ball over. The Vikings lead the league with a plus-10 turnover ratio. Only Philadelphia is allowing less points per game.
3. (3) Eagles (3-0) — The other half of the Sam Bradford trade is doing just as well. Carson Wentz is playing better than any rookie QB (and most veterans) with five TDs, no picks and a 103.8 passer rating. A bye in Week 4 probably is the worst thing that could happen to this team, since it is rolling. Jim Schwartz is another guy, like Wade Phillips and Rex Ryan, who should realize that his career is best suited in the coordinator role. Schwartz’s defense is leading the NFL, allowing only nine points per game.
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