NFL Week 17 Power Rankings

Welcome once again to the Princeton Sports Analytics NFL Power Rankings.

The rankings this week were compiled based on the votes of five of our writers: Julian HK, Jonathan Lack, Jay Hashop, Bruno Velloso, and Chad Horner.  For each team, we had the voter who was highest/lowest on that team give something good/not so good about them, to explain their decision.  Each team’s ranking from last week is in parentheses.  You can view last week’s rankings here.

Please don’t hesitate to comment and to share your thoughts on the overall rankings, or the individual opinions given by the voters.

2012 Power Rankings: Week 17
Rank Team / Record The Good The Not So Good
1 (2) Broncos The Broncos are 2nd in rush defense and 6th in pass defense, in terms of yards allowed, and 5th in the league in points allowed. The Broncos’ offense, meanwhile, is 2nd in points scored and 4th in total yards. It doesn’t get more well rounded then that. (Velloso) If you’re looking for flaws in a team on a 10-game win streak, they’re hard to find. But it’s worth mentioning that Denver is 2-3 in games against playoff teams, including losses to AFC rivals New England and Houston. (Lack)
12-3
2 (3) Patriots Last week’s poor performance against the Jags led to a fiery postgame speech by Tom Brady.  The Pats still boast the top ranked offense in terms of DVOA.  Sucks to be the Dolphins this week.  (HK) The close victory over the Jaguars shouldn’t have been too much of a shock – this is a team that lost to Arizona, and almost lost to both the Bills and the Jets at home.  (Horner)
11-4
3 (4) Packers Aaron Rodgers, who has reclaimed his usual spot at the top of the league in passer rating, hasn’t had a multi-interception game all year. He also has yet to have a game with a passer rating below 80.  (Horner) Apparently, by keeping the Packers at 4th, I am now lowest on them. The reason they stayed at 4? A 55-7 win over the Titans doesn’t really mean anything. Their offensive line struggles are still there, and until I see them beat a team with a good pass rush, that’s a huge concern. (Velloso)
11-4
4 (6) Seahawks With a 118 passer rating, Russell Wilson has been crazy good since Week 9. For perspective, over the same time period, Brady and Manning have managed 95.8 and 98.3 ratings respectively. With the number two rushing attack, number one scoring defense, and a top-3 pass defense to go along with Wilson, the Seahawks are thinking Super Bowl. (Velloso) The last three weeks were some of the strongest single-game performances ever, but the Seahawks will still likely need to win on the road in the playoffs without the “12th man”, unless the Cards knock off the Niners.  (HK)
10-5
5 (1) 49ers   It’s only one game, and the Niners won’t have to travel to Seattle in the playoffs unless they blow a gimme at Arizona. The return of Justin Smith would help buoy a defense that has allowed 70 points in the 1.5 games he has been off the field. (Lack) Perhaps losing Justin Smith was more significant than we anticipated. The 49ers defense simply couldn’t get off the field against Seattle on Sunday, allowing the Seahawks to convert on all 10 third downs with eight or fewer yards to go.  (Hashop)
10-4-1
6 (7) Falcons Roddy White had a typical monster game: 8 catches for 153 yards and 2 TDs.  (HK) Matt Ryan needs to keep up his strong performance in the playoffs, because the Falcons rushing offense, passing defense, and rushing defense are all below average.  (Horner)
13-2
7 (6) Texans The defense has still been performing at an elite level as of late, although the offense has slowed down.  Maybe some rest will be good for Arian Foster.  (Horner) Arian Foster simply isn’t the same player this year that he was last year. His yards per carry is down to 4.0 from 4.4, and he’s running for only 3.8 yards per carry since Week 9. His heavier workload (335 carries this year vs. 278 last year) may be causing him to wear down at the worst possible time. (Lack)
12-3
8 (10) Ravens With his best performance by QBR since week 1, the Flaccocoaster has shot right back to the top in a must-win game. Baltimore’s pass defense held Eli Manning to 150 yards through the air, extending their streak of not allowing a 300-yard passer to six games. (Hashop) Flacco will continue to be inconsistent. The key to the Ravens has been and always will be the defense. The performance against the Giants is promising, holding them to under 200 yards. Given how mediocre the defense has been this season, however, (only 20th in yards allowed), I am not optimistic. (Velloso)
10-5
9 (8) Redskins Currently, RGIII is on pace to become the only player in the history of the NFL to lead the league in both yards per pass attempt and yards per rush attempt.  (Horner) As good as RGIII has been, the Redskins still have the 5th worst defense in terms of yards allowed and the third worst pass defense in terms of yards allowed. Against elite quarterbacks, the Redskins will have their work cut out for them. (Velloso)
9-6
10 (12) Bengals Now 6-1 over their last 7 games, the Bengals are the hottest team in the AFC after the Broncos and Patriots, according to Football Outsiders’ Weighted DVOA metric. (Horner) Make that three straight games with a sub-40 QBR for Andy Dalton, and five straight since he averaged more than 7.0 yards per pass attempt.  The Bengals force plenty of turnovers, but defensive touchdowns are hard to count on.  (Hashop)
9-6
11 (14) Vikings The Vikings have rattled off three straight wins against solid teams with top-10 defenses by DVOA and have shown they can beat a good opponent on the road when Plans A, B, C, and D – Adrian Peterson – are not sufficient. (Hashop) Although the Vikings beat the Texans, it wasn’t thanks to Christian Ponder, who turned in another mediocre performance: 16/30, 174 yards, 1 TD.  (HK)
9-6
12 (11) Bears The formula for success for the Bears is to lean on their defense, which leads the league in takeaways and defensive scores. All that stands between them and the playoffs is a win against the underperforming Lions and a Vikings loss to Green Bay. (Velloso) The Bears are 0-6 in games when they fail to force three-plus turnovers and/or score a defensive touchdown. That kind of dependence on big plays won’t get the job done against good teams. (Hashop)
9-6
13 (13) Cowboys Tony Romo has a 111.9 passer rating in his last four games, a figure that improves to 116.2 in the fourth quarters of those games. This Cowboys team does not go away as easily the one that quit on Wade Phillips with a playoff berth at stake in 2008. (Hashop)  The Cowboys have been excellent on the blitz this season (opposing QBR of 32.9 with 5 or more rushers), but RGIII torched them in blitz packages in their first meeting (6-for-7 for 131 yards and 2 TDs). With the division on the line, the Cowboys must pressure Griffin effectively without allowing him to create big plays. (Lack)
8-7
14 (17) Saints If New Orleans could have pulled out wins against the Panthers and Chiefs in Weeks 2 and 3, they would be in the driver’s seat for the playoffs. With an offense that ranks 3rd in the league, and an improving defense, this team isn’t all that much worst than last year’s team. (Velloso) The Saints and their second-worse defensive DVOA are surely regretting their slow start to the season.  (HK)
7-8
15 (9) Giants Their playoff hopes are slim at best, but the Giants may have found a budding talent in 21-year old rookie David Wilson (5.1 yards per carry and a 6th-best 26.9 yards per kick return). If Hakeem Nicks gets healthy in the offseason, the Giants could have a potent offense once again next year. (Lack) How can a team that thrashed the 49ers, Packers, and Saints (and beat a lot of quality teams) look so bad? I honestly have no idea. But for those who ever said Eli was better than Peyton, they’re just wrong.  (Velloso)
8-7
16 (16) Colts The Colts have been lucky, but still have the number 5 seed locked in.  Luck was 6-7 for 49 yards on the game-winning TD drive.  (HK) Last week, the Colts were outgained by 219 yards, and Luck managed a 48% completion percentage. Against the Chiefs. They have been outscored by 42 points this year, which is on par with the Browns and Rams, 30 points worst than the Panthers and Bucs, and 55 points worst than the Saints. And this is a playoff team? (Velloso)
10-5
17 (20) Rams With a 7-7-1 record, the Rams have been very average. But they have played a tough schedule and have quality wins against playoff teams, including Washington, Seattle, and San Francisco. (Velloso) It’s hard to argue that the game against the Bucs shouldn’t have been closer – Tampa Bay turned the ball over on downs three times when they were less than 25 yards from the end zone.  (Horner)
7-7-1
18 (15) Steelers The Steelers defense is still above average (12th in defensive efficiency), but it has failed to generate turnovers. In 2011 their offense carried them to the postseason, but an injured Ben Roethlisberger couldn’t carry a team with a dismal 16 takeaways to the playoffs again. (Lack) Despite holding BenJarvus Green-Ellis to less than one yard per rush, sacking Andy Dalton six times, and forcing three turnovers, the Steelers couldn’t win to keep their playoff hopes alive. (Hashop)
7-8
19 (19) Panthers The underrated Panthers defense possesses the only pair of defensive ends in the league with double digit sacks – Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson. (Horner) Cam Newton must have been happy to be facing Matt Leinart.  It made his 170 yard, 1 TD/1 Int performance look good.  (HK)
6-9
20 (21) Dolphins The Dolphins have yet to lose a game in which they score at least 24 points, and they have converted at least 50% on third downs in both of the last two weeks. Ryan Tannehill has posted a QBR over 75 in back-to-back weeks for the second time this season. (Hashop) Ryan Tannehill and his below average DVOA is clearly this team’s biggest weakness. (HK)
7-8
21 (18) Buccaneers Tampa Bay still has a top-10 offense, ranking 10th in yards per game and 7th in yards per play. The last two games, 10 turnovers have made them look a lot worst then they actually are. When Freeman plays mistake-free, this team is competitive. (Velloso) Josh Freeman racked up a bunch of yardage once again – 30/54 for 372 yards – but threw 4 interceptions along the way.  (HK)
6-9
22 (23) Chargers The season will not be a total failure in San Diego.  Norv Turner will finally be fired, and the Chargers discovered Danario Alexander – 624 yards and 6 TDs in 7 games played.  (Horner) Phillip Rivers remains 31st in QBR this season. The key for the Chargers going forward is whether he can become what he was just two years ago. A better offensive line should help too. (Velloso)
6-9
23 (22) Browns Thaddeus Lewis. Hey, at least there’s an excuse now if the Browns lose, possibly being without their top 2 QBs and Trent Richardson. (Velloso)  It’ll be tough for the Browns to beat the Steelers again without their two first round picks from this year, but their odds didn’t look great anyway considering they barely won last time despite a +7 turnover margin, including 5 fumbles recovered.  (Horner)
5-10
24 (24) Bills It’s been another tough year for Buffalo. But the lone bright spot is CJ Spiller, who has established himself as an elite running back. Spiller’s 6.48 yards per carry on 183 carries is an NFL record for that many carries; if he continues that pace in Week 17, he will break Jim Brown’s record of 6.40. (Lack) I haven’t done any formal research on this, but I would wager that having a defensive back lead the team in tackles correlates pretty strongly with losing. Buffalo’s leading tackler over the past two weeks: safety George Wilson. (Hashop)
5-10
25 (26) Lions If it wasn’t for two untimely fumbles in Falcons territory in the first half which Atlanta converted into touchdowns, the Lions might have made good on Bruno’s call for an upset. (Horner) Lions GM Martin Mayhew ought to give Austin Jackson a call about starting at wideout opposite Calvin Johnson next Sunday. Despite nearly knocking off multiple contenders in November, the Lions have lost seven straight, and a minus-six turnover margin over the past two weeks is, as always, a bad sign. (Hashop)
4-11
26 (29) Eagles With two very good running backs, and a QB that has held his own, things should get better next year. If the Eagles can avoid the extremely untimely turnovers (which they didn’t against the Redskins), and patch up the offensive line, I don’t see why they can’t bounce back from this season. (Velloso) If you look at the passer rating charts, you’ll see Nick Foles at number 25, with a 79.1 rating, one spot below Vick, who has a 79.2.  There is no good option in Philadelphia.  (Horner)
4-11
27 (25) Titans In the course of their being lambasted at Lambeau Field, the Titans held a Packers team that had converted 42% of its third downs before Sunday to only 2-of-11. It’s a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. (Hashop) The Titans have been outscored by a total of 107 points in 4 games against Houston, New England, and Green Bay.  They’re nowhere close to competing, as owner Bud Adams has figured out. (Horner)
5-10
28 (27) Jets The Jets defense did its job once again, holding San Diego to only 223 yards.  But about that offense…  (Horner) Well, McElroy does not appear to be the answer. (Velloso)
6-9
29 Cardinals Larry Fitzgerald’s first 100-yard performance with Not Kevin Kolb at quarterback this season almost sufficed to get #FreeFitz off the board of trending Twitter topics. Almost. (Hashop) Ryan Lindley has a 9.8 QBR (out of 100!) – and he won the QB starting job. Factor in the fact that Arizona has the worst rushing attack in the league and you have the worst offense in football. Guess it should have been a red flag when Lindley completed only 53% of his passes at San Diego St. (Lack)
5-10
30 Raiders The Raiders have a positive point differential over their past two games even though they have failed to score a touchdown. That’s a good thing, right? (Hashop) Oh hey, it’s Matt Leinart!  He looks better in red.  (HK)
4-11
31 Jaguars By expressing interest in Tim Tebow, the Jaguars have essentially given up on winning through competent personnel moves, player development, and cap management. As far as good news goes…the Colts went 2-14 last year, so I guess anything’s possible. If you can’t get Andrew Luck, why not turn to faith? (Lack) I don’t think even Tebow can save this team. But at least there is something to look forward to next year. (Velloso)
2-13
32 Chiefs Although their pathetic passing game doomed them in the end, the Chiefs did outgain the Colts: 507 yards to 288.  (Horner) Tank much?  Down 7 with 4 minutes to play, the Chiefs ran the ball on 2nd and 3rd and long from their own red zone.  They aren’t even trying anymore.  (HK)
2-13

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