NFL Week 11 Recap and Power Rankings: PATs Aren’t Gimmes

The 2016 NFL season has been one full of excitement, and upsets at every corner.  A major talking point has been the lack of dominant teams, and many have even slighted the team with the best record in the league, the 9-1 Cowboys, for not having beaten any real competitors.  However, in a year full of turmoil, week 11 provided some clarity.  With the exception of the Chiefs’ 19-17 loss to the Buccaneers (which was, surprisingly, hardly talked about), all of the league’s best teams took care of business, cellar-dwellers racked up more losses, and teams in the middle clashed in close games.

The Vikings finally snapped their four-game skid thanks to 100-yard touchdowns from both the defense and special teams, while the Packers failed to snap their streak.  The Panthers kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a win over the Saints, while the Titans missed a huge opportunity to establish themselves as a serious postseason contender.

Most teams did little to change our previous notions of how good or bad they are, instead reaffirming some of what we already knew.  Instead, the biggest storyline from Sunday came from a play once considered to be the most irrelevant in all of football- the extra point.

The 2015 rule change moving extra points back from the 2 to the 15-yard line was intended to add some excitement to a play typically deemed automatic.  During the 2014 season, kickers made 99.3% of PATs, which was actually a drop from the 99.6% conversion rate of 2013.  The NFL saw a need for change to make things more difficult to kickers, add more strategy with regards to teams potentially going for two instead of attempting the kick, and convince fans to watch the point after instead of changing the channel or taking a bathroom break.

In the rule’s first season, the percentage of made extra points (as expected) dropped drastically to 94.2%, making the point after certainly not guaranteed.  Things had been going similarly this season, until Sunday, when kickers missed 12 extra points- an average of one per game, setting an NFL record for PATs missed on a single day.  With a conversion rate of under 79% on the day, kickers were missing extra points left and right (pun intended).

Missed extra points contributed heavily to the release of former Vikings kicker Blair Walsh, and with this new wave of missed tries, the pressure is on kickers to convert.  Bengals kicker Mike Nugent might be on a short leash after his two missed extra points last week meant a touchdown was required for Cincy at the end of the game in their 16-12 loss to the Bills rather than just a field goal (which they were in range for).

Going forward, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see more two-point conversions attempted.  The rate of these tries has increased drastically over the past two seasons and looks to be the mathematically optimal option given the current rate of missed PATs.

Incredibly, half the teams in the league remain in their same position in the power rankings this week, including the top three and bottom six.  Here are the full rankings.

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1. Cowboys (9-1, LW: 1) Nine straight wins have now set a Cowboys franchise record for most consecutive victories in a single regular season.  Dak Prescott had a field day with the AFC North this season, going 4-0 while throwing nine touchdowns, no interceptions, and posting a remarkable passer rating of 127.2.  The Ravens had no answer for Dez Bryant, and Prescott exploited the mismatch for two scores.

2. Patriots (8-2, LW: 2) Poor weather in San Francisco kept this game close until the fourth quarter, when Tom Brady led three scoring drives to extend New England’s lead to 30-10 in an eventual 30-17 win.  Rookie wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who entered with 95 receiving yards, had 98 on the day, including his first career touchdown on a 56-yard play.  The Patriots offense just became even more dynamic.

3. Seahawks (7-2-1, LW: 3) In case you had any doubts about the health of Russell Wilson, Pete Carroll saw an ambitious trick play call work perfectly when Doug Baldwin threw a touchdown pass to his quarterback in the third quarter.  Now with a three-game lead in the NFC West, the Seahawks are coasting to a playoff bye if they continue their positive momentum.

4. Raiders (8-2, LW: 5) Maybe it was the altitude, maybe the Texans’ defense, but the Raiders started really slow at Estadio Azteca Monday night.  However, Oakland bested their total yardage of the first three quarters combined in the fourth, and in true Derek Carr fashion, stormed back for a huge win to take possession of the #1 seed in the AFC, even with just 30 yards rushing in the game.  A trip to the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 Super Bowl season is looking inevitable.

5. Broncos (7-3, LW: 7) The Broncos get the Chiefs at home following their bye week in a game with huge playoff implications.  The Broncos need wins in over the next three weeks when they also play the Jaguars and Titans to put them in good shape entering a nightmarish final three weeks against the Patriots, Chiefs, and Raiders.

6. Chiefs (7-3, LW: 4) Kansas City had this loss coming for a couple weeks following close wins over the Jaguars and Panthers.  The loss of star corner Marcus Peters proved huge in a game where Jameis Winston had his way.  Couple that with an end zone interception from Alex Smith and an inability to get stops on third down, and you can say goodbye to that 10-game home winning streak.

7. Giants (7-3, LW: 8) While Jay Cutler looked Pro-Bowl caliber in the first half, the Giants defense held the Bears scoreless in the second half to come from behind for their fifth straight victory.  For the second consecutive week, Big Blue eclipsed 100 yards rushing, but I’m not convinced the team will have prolonged success with a balanced attack.  Somehow, the Giants still haven’t won a game by more than seven points, but a matchup with the Browns this week might change that.

8. Falcons (6-4, LW: 6) Yes, the Falcons were passed on their bye week by the Broncos, who were also off for the week.  Consider it me correcting for last week’s error, where Atlanta should’ve dropped farther.  I still think Matt Ryan should be the MVP of the league, but his outstanding year will be overlooked if his defense can’t provide some stops and allow Matty Ice the comfort of knowing he doesn’t need to throw up 40 every week.

9. Redskins (6-3-1, LW: 12) “How do you like me now?”  Maybe it’s not as catchy as the famous “YOU LIKE THAT?!” but Kirk Cousins has every reason to feel a little cocky after thrashing the depleted Packers secondary for 375 yards and three touchdowns.  The Redskins put up over 500 total yards and 42 points on Green Bay, solidifying their spot as the current NFC 6-seed.  Despite a difficult (to put it lightly) matchup in Dallas on Thanksgiving, Washington will hold onto their playoff position for at least this week, as the Vikings and Lions also play on Turkey Day.

10. Lions (6-4, LW: 10) The Lions have a winning record despite trailing at some point in the fourth quarter in every game this season.  Winning easily would just be too boring, right?  A win is a win, and as long as Detroit leads the NFC North, they’ll take Ws any way they can get them.  Of course, you shouldn’t need to erase a late deficit at home against Jacksonville.  Has Matthew Stafford’s game benefitted from the retirement of Calvin Johnson?  It’s an interesting argument, for sure.

11. Eagles (5-5, LW: 9) Despite being the best 5-5 team in the league, the Eagles find themselves in the worst spot of any, save for maybe the Bills.  1.5 games behind the Redskins for third place in the NFC East and a wild card spot, Philly needs to beat a struggling Packers team to keep their hopes alive. After throwing just one interception in his first five games, Carson Wentz has tossed six in the last five.  Limiting turnovers and continuing to have success with a four-man running back committee will be critical to the Eagles’ success.

12. Texans (6-4, LW: 11) The Texans’ loss, as much as I hate to say it, was at least contributed to by questionable refereeing.  The out of bounds call on a DeAndre Hopkins play that would’ve resulted in a touchdown is at the least defendable upon further review, but the back-to-back horrible spots on third and fourth-down runs late in the game which should’ve given Houston a fresh set of downs in field goal range rather than amount to a turnover giving the Raiders possession in a tie game were just bad.  This isn’t to say the Texans would’ve won the game, but they certainly caught a couple tough breaks.

13. Steelers (5-5, LW: 13) Led by 201 total yards and a rushing touchdown by Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh had little problem getting past the Browns, a trap game that honestly it starting to feel like an insult to trap games.  The Steel Curtain also played their best game of the season, sacking Cody Kessler and Josh McCown four times EACH.  McCown was the leading Browns rusher with 11 yards.  ELEVEN.  Now tied for the division lead, I’m anticipating the Steelers to have a huge game against the Colts and assert themselves as the team to beat.

14. Vikings (6-4, LW: 14) Just when you thought the Vikings couldn’t win a game, they pick up a huge victory to keep pace with the Lions and take the Cardinals almost out of the wild card race.  Let’s be clear- the offense was still poor.  217 yards of offense will rarely cut it in this league, and while three yards per carry is somehow above their season average, they need to find a way to run the football until Adrian Peterson comes back (currently slated for week 15/16).  To their credit, however, the Vikings played to their strengths, and pick-six and kickoff return touchdowns did the job.

15. Bills (5-5, LW: 15) Credit Dan Carpenter for being the difference maker in this one.  As each team struggled to put points on the board, it was Carpenter who made his extra point attempt and three field goals (including a 54-yarder), while Bengals kicker Mike Nugent missed two extra points.  LeSean McCoy left the game due to injury, but Mike Gillislee filled in nicely and is averaging nearly six yards per carry on the year.  It was an important win, and to keep in the race the Bills must beat the Jaguars this week as well.

16. Dolphins (6-4, LW: 16) After four straight impressive victories, Miami almost blew it against Jared Goff in his first ever start.  Down 10-0 midway through the fourth quarter, Ryan Tannehill led two huge drives that led to a 14-10 win.  The Rams defense is no joke- it’s one of the five best in the league, so the way the Dolphins made their last two drives look so easy, especially considering their extreme struggles to that point, was surprising.  Still, when the Rams’ offense is as bad as it is, you’ve got to look better than that.

17. Buccaneers (5-5, LW: 25) The Bucs move up eight spots this week, my biggest jump for any team in the rankings since week 2, when we were still trying to figure out who was any good.  Simply put, there might not have been a better team over the last two weeks than the Bucs.  Tampa followed up a massive 36-10 win over the Bears with a huge road win against the Chiefs, victors of five straight and 10 consecutive home games.  It was a textbook display of how to win a road matchup with a better team.  The Bucs ate up clock, shortened the game so the Chiefs only got seven drives on offense instead of the 10-12 NFL teams average, and converted on 11 of 16 third downs.  Great performance.

18. Cardinals (4-5-1, LW: 18) Carson Palmer averaged just 3.8 yards per attempt, and threw two interceptions, including one taken back for a touchdown.  He managed to add two touchdowns, but you have to play efficiently without making mistakes against the Vikings.  This season, Arizona is wasting a ridiculous season from David Johnson, and one more loss should be enough to sink them.  I don’t like their odds on the road in Atlanta.

19. Ravens (5-5, LW: 20) Sure, it was a 10-point loss, but this was a good showing from the Ravens against the league’s best team.  Unfortunately, the Cowboys were able to milk clock while putting points on the board for the whole second half  but Baltimore did lead for a good portion of the first half.  Ezekiel Elliott still had a good game, but never gashed the Ravens for a big play.  You get the feeling things could’ve been different if cornerback Jimmy Smith was healthy.

20. Colts (5-5, LW: 24) It was a complete 180 from a typical Indy performance.  The Colts actually rocketed to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter and needed to hold off the determined Titans instead of making the comeback themselves.  A crucial fourth-down stop of DeMarco Murray did the job for the Colts, who needed the win to stay in the AFC South picture.  Now just one game behind Houston, the Colts get the Steelers on Thanksgiving.  However, will Andrew Luck be cleared from concussion protocol in time?  I don’t think Indy stands much of a chance with Scott Tolzien at QB.

21. Titans (5-6, LW: 19) The Titans were sleepwalking for most of the first half against their division rivals and will be kicking themselves for blowing an opportunity to go over .500.  Have no fear, however.  I have all the confidence in the world of Tennessee turning things around against the Bears this week.  Why?  Because Mike Mularkey’s squad has alternated wins and losses now six weeks in a row and must win to continue the pattern.  Also, the Bears will likely start Matt Barkley this week, who might be the worst quarterback in the NFL.  Seriously, check the career stats.

22. Chargers (4-6, LW: 22) The Chargers have had a week off to silently cry about being trapped in arguably the league’s best division.  All three other teams have at least seven wins, meaning the Chargers will need some sort of miracle to make the postseason.  With all their close games early in the season, they have only themselves to blame.  However, I do like them to upset the Texans this week, so maybe they can begin to pick up momentum.

23. Packers (4-6, LW: 17) It just doesn’t feel right putting the Packers this low, but what choice do I have?  Let’s face reality: the Packers are losers of four straight and have allowed over 38 points per game over the stretch.  They’ve suffered numerous injuries everywhere, including at running back, offensive line, and in the secondary.  You can say all you want about trusting Aaron Rodgers, but unless the 2-time MVP also plans on playing defense, he really won’t have much of a say in bringing the team back to life.

24. Saints (4-6, LW: 21) You can put the Saints and Panthers in whichever order you choose.  Each won by three points at home against the other, is 4-6, and has lost five games by less than a touchdown.  The Saints have a point differential of -1, while the Panthers are -2.  I give the Saints a slight edge because I believe the Saints have more weapons and an easier schedule down the stretch.  Again, take your pick.

25. Panthers (4-6, LW: 26) The Panthers aren’t quite done yet.  However, with their next two games coming on the road against the Raiders and Seahawks, it’s likely they’ll be done sooner rather than later.  Especially with Luke Kuechly currently sidelined with a concussion, the Panthers will need to play their best to continue to salvage their 1-5 start.

26. Bengals (3-6-1, LW: 23) A.J. Green is likely done for the season, and the Bengals’ playoff chances probably went down with him.  Cincy’s only win since September came against the Browns, and at 3-6-1 the wild card is no longer in play.  Technically, the Bengals have four games remaining against division opponents, but they’ll probably need all of them.  Running back Giovani Bernard is also done for the season, and without one of the league’s best receivers and their change-of-pace back, the offense should lack the firepower to send the team on a winning streak.

27. Rams (4-6, LW: 27) And here’s where things get ugly.  I’ll be surprised if any of these final six teams manages to make it out of the bottom six by the end of the year.  First off are the Rams, who are averaging fewer than 15 points per game, last in the NFL.  Yes, the defense is scary, but when the offense is punting on almost every drive, the D is put under extreme pressure to perform, and naturally will give up some points.  #1 overall pick Jared Goff got his first start against the Dolphins, and did just about nothing all game long, save a couple of nice throws where he extended the play enough for someone to get open for a first down.  There’s no reason to believe the Goff Rams will be any different from the Keenum Rams.

28. Jaguars (2-8. LW: 28) At least the Jags have tried keeping their losses close over the past three weeks, even at times giving the impression that they could win.  On the year, the Jacksonville has a turnover differential of -15 in just 10 games, eight giveaways worse than any team besides the Jets, who clock in at -12.  Looking at their upcoming schedule, I can’t even pinpoint a game where I’d consider picking them.  Maybe they get some luck against a divisional opponent in one of their last three games?

29. Bears (2-8, LW: 29) The Bears raced to a 16-7 lead over the Giants at MetLife Stadium, surprising everyone by actually showing up with an offense who appeared hungry.  Steve Spagnuolo must’ve knocked some sense into his defense, however, and in the second half, the Bears struggled to pick up even a single first down.  After Chicago loses to the Titans and Matt Barkley throws a couple picks, they should be eliminated from the playoffs.  This team is in desperate need for a QB in the upcoming draft.

30. Jets (3-7, LW: 30) J-E-T-S, Jets! Jets! Jets!  Here’s another word: J-E-T-S-A-M.  Instead of playing like a team to be feared, New York’s worst team instead looks like an island of misfit toys, players that no other teams would want.  Luckily, they do play the 49ers in week 14, which means someone gets to win that game.

31. 49ers (1-9, LW: 31) Colin Kaepernick actually played another solid game, throwing for 206 yards and two touchdowns without turning the ball over.  He’s definitely proven himself to be at least the temporary solution at quarterback.  However, the 49ers have lost their last nine games by an average of over 15 points per.  A large part of this has to do with one of the worst run defenses we’ve ever seen.  Miraculously, the 49ers did manage to slow down the Cardinals’ David Johnson two weeks ago.  Can they do the same against the Dolphins’ Jay Ajayi this week?

32. Browns (0-11, LW: 32) Cody Kessler, who seemed (at least to me) to be the best quarterback on the Browns roster, went down with his second concussion of the season last week, leaving backup Josh McCown to enter the game.  McCown gets the start against the Giants next week, where he’ll try, and likely fail, to give Cleveland their first win.  After that game, the Browns finally reach their bye, the last one in the league (alongside the Titans).  Honestly, they could’ve used it a month ago.

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