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Original 2016 NFL Power Rankings: Week Seventeen

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Matt Weston ranks all 32 teams, and specifically focuses on the Chargers, Saints, Titans, and Redskins.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

For every week until the end of the season, I will be ranking the NFL teams from 1-32, power rankings style. They will be arranged into four blocks.

The Worst

The Mediocre

Playoffs?

The Contenders

The biggest problem with traditional power rankings is they take too much in account of every week. Each game is exacerbated. Every loss is the end of the world. Every win is another stitch in a dream season. Part of it just goes along with football in general. These games happen only once a week. There are only sixteen of them. Exaggeration is just part of it. I'm going to try and remove that by looking at the big picture instead of bumping up and down based on one loss or one win. The rankings below are simply adjustments made based on what I thought heading into the season; in the future, they will be adjusted based on an entire body of work and trends, not because of a single HUGE win or one BAD loss.

The Worst:

32.) Cleveland Browns--Record: 1-14.  Point Differential: -185.  DVOA: -35.0% (31). Last Week: 32.

31.) New York Jets--Record: 4-11.  Point Differential: -154.  DVOA: -38.1% (32). Last Week: 30.

30.) San Francisco 49ers--Record: 2-13.  Point Differential: -169.  DVOA: -21.0% (28). Last Week: 31.

29.) Los Angeles Rams--Record: 4-11.  Point Differential: -132.  DVOA: -24.2% (30). Last Week: 29.

28.) Jacksonville Jaguars--Record: 3-12.  Point Differential: -78.  DVOA: -10.1% (26). Last Week: 28.

27.) Chicago Bears--Record: 3-12. Point Differential: -92. DVOA: -3.7% (22). Last Week: 27.

26.) Carolina Panthers--Record: 6-9.  Point Differential: -32.  DVOA: -5.5% (25). Last Week: 26.

The Mediocre:

25.) Indianapolis Colts--Record: 7-8.  Point Differential: +15.  DVOA: -4.9% (24). Last Week: 24.

24.) Cincinnati Bengals--Record: 5-9-1.  Point Differential: -7.  DVOA: -1.2% (20). Last Week: 23.

23.) Arizona Cardinals--Record: 6-8-1.  Point Differential: +18.  DVOA: -3.4% (21). Last Week: 25.

22.) San Diego Chargers--Record: 5-10.  Point Differential: -3.  DVOA: -0.4% (18). Last Week: 22.

After Week 12, the Chargers were 5-6 and one of the unluckier teams in the NFL. It was possible for their performance to catch up to their win-loss record and for them to make a run at the playoffs. Instead, they lost four games in a row and fell to 5-10.

The difference in their performance was that Melvin Gordon has yet to play since being injured at the beginning of their Week 14 loss to Carolina, and Philip Rivers was forced to be the sole provider of the offense. In the first eleven games, Rivers was 251-399 (62.9%), threw for 3,128 yards (284.36 yards a game), had a TD:INT ratio of 23:12, an average quarterback rating of 86.3, and averaged 7.98 adjusted yards an attempt. In the last four games, Rivers was 76-141 (53.9%), threw for 989 yards (247.25 yards a game), had a TD:INT ratio of 8:7, an average quarterback rating of 75.4, and averaged 5.98 adjusted yards an attempt. The only thing Rivers did better was complete passes farther down the field, increasing from 12.46 to 13.01 yards. Other than that, he was less efficient and was more inaccurate against teams sitting on the pass.

Rivers is 35 years old. A drop-off like this would be wary and worrisome. Everyone knows how older quarterbacks plop off the face of the earth. But Rivers is of the "elite" variety, and again, the biggest difference wasn't even him; it was the loss of Melvin Gordon to a hip injury.

Rivers' performance down the stretch ripped them from a possible playoff appearance. But they shouldn't have needed to win four in a row to begin with. The Chargers had another miserable season when it comes to those pesky high variance and peripheral stats. Their point differential is -3. They are 5-10. They were expected to be 7.4 and 7.6 at this point of the season. They have won 2.4 less games than expected. Their turnover differential is -6 (26th in the NFL). They are 31st at recovering their own fumbles at 36.36%, but have recovered 58.82% of opponent's fumbles, which is 3rd. Their DVOA is -0.4% (18th). They are 7th in defensive DVOA and 19th in offensive DVOA, which has trailed off to end the season.

The big one is San Diego's win-loss record in one possession games. I go by eight points or less. By that measure, the Chargers have played thirteen one-possession games. They have won just four of them. Great teams don't find themselves in so many close games. The Chargers are good, but not great. These are the type of games they have to win to find the postseason in a tough division. When they don't, seasons like this happen.  Seasons where a culmination of end game errors find them at 5-10 instead of the 9-6 they could just as easily be.

The Chargers have lost games in every way imaginable. They fumbled on game-winning drives. They missed game-winning field goals. They failed to punch it in the red zone to tie. They given up enormous leads. They have turned games over with giveaways. In one to two sentences, here is how the Chargers lost each one of these one possession games:

Week 1, KC 27-33: They were up 27-10 with 13:24 left in the fourth quarter. They were outscored 23-0 from that point on and lost in overtime.

Week 2, IND 22-26: The defense held Andrew Luck in check for most of the game until he found T.Y. Hilton for a 63 yard touchdown pass when HIlton took a post route and broke multiple tackles on the way to the end zone. San Diego got the ball back with 1:17 remaining and two timeouts, only for Hunter Henry to fumble the ball after a 14 yard completion and Indy recover it.

Week 3, NO 34-35: They had a 98.2% win probability after being up 34-21 with 6:06 remaining. New Orleans scored back-to-back touchdowns after Melvin Gordon fumbled at San Diego's own 13.  Travis Benjamin fumbled at their own 31.  Then with a chance to lead a comeback of their own, Rivers faced 1st and 10, 2nd and 15, 3rd and 22, and 4th and 22 to seal the loss.

Week 4, OAK 31-34: On 4th and 1 with 2:07 left in the game, San Diego handed the ball off to Drew Kaser to pick up the first. He picked up nothing, fumbled, and the Raiders recovered.

Week 5, DEN 19-27: With 2:57 left, the Chargers were down by eight with the ball at Denver's two-yard line. They threw the ball four times.  Each was incomplete, and two of which were thrown away.

Week 10, MIA 24-31: Kiko Alonso picked off Rivers with 1:01 left in the fourth and ran 60 yards for the touchdown.

Week 13, TB 21-28: Phllip Rivers tried to hit Dontrelle Inman deep down the left side line. He was intercepted at the two yard line and the Chargers never got the ball back.

Week 15, OAK 16-10: Sebastian Janikowski made a 44 yard field goal to give the Raiders the lead. The Chargers faced 4th and 15, and Rivers threw an interception to Reggie Nelson.

Week 16, CLE 17-20: The penultimate conclusion. Josh Lambo had a 32 yard field goal blocked and missed a 45 yard field goal with 0:00 left on the clock that would have tied it.

If you wanted a better example of the frailty of close games, you couldn't find one. Imagine if San Diego didn't fumble, ran the ball three times, and punted against New Orleans? What if they picked up that 4th and 1 against Oakland? What if they ran the ball with one of the best red zone running backs against Denver? What if T.Y. Hilton was tackled?

These aren't extraordinary plays that needed to be made. These are just regular occurrences that usually happen, but didn't happen when San Diego needed them to. Because of that, the Chargers are 5-10.  They will have another high draft pick and slash the heads off of chickens to prepare for next season.

21.) Minnesota Vikings--Record: 7-8.  Point Differential: -8.  DVOA: -4.1% (23). Last Week: 20.

20.) New Orleans Saints--Record: 7-8.  Point Differential: +21.  DVOA: 2.0% (16). Last Week: 21.

The last three seasons, the Saints have existed only for Drew Brees to throw a lot of passes and for Saints fans to wallow in the nostalgia of 2009, 2010, and 2011. The previous two seasons, the Saints went 7-9.  This weekend at 7-8, New Orleans plays the Falcons in a game that will probably push them back to 7-9.

These last three iterations of the Saints have been the same--agreat offense, Brees leading the league in passing attempts, and an awful defense.

Year Record PF PA Off DVOA Def DVOA
2013 7-9 437 (9th) 416 (28th) 10.6% (7th) 13.1% (31st)
2014 7-9 408 (8th) 476 (32nd) 10.5% (7th) 26.1% (32nd)
2015 7-8 401 (2nd) 424 (30th) 17.3% (5th) 12.6% (29th)

Each year has been nearly identical. It's the same thing. It's the same thing. It's the same thing. The problem is that they invested heavily in their defense after 2013, which is what they should have done, only to have one of the worst defenses of all time and the worst passing defense of all time. They also had a cap hit of $30 million owed to Brees last season. This year, after cutting up the players they signed that never contributed, the Saints were left in cap hell.

This season, the Saints owed $45,361,083 in dead money This was thanks to contracts given to Junior Galette ($12,100,00), Keenan Lewis ($6,350,000), Jahri Evans ($5,100,000), C.J. Spiller ($4,500,000), Brandon Browner ($4,050,000), Marques Coltson ($2,700,000), David Hawthorne ($2,260,0000), and owed seven other players $2 million or less. Because of this, the Saints couldn't patch together a new defense.  They were forced to play through the exact same set of circumstances.

It's such a shame, too. Brees has been incredible in each of these defensive-plagued seasons. As he's shown before, all Brees needs is a mediocre defense for the Saints to be a successful team. They haven't had that, yet Brees has played just the same, putting up close to 5,000 yard seasons and throwing 30+ touchdowns like a listless summer teenager sinking free throws in the dirveway.

Year Cmp Att Cmp% Yards TD INT Y/A DVOA DYAR
2014 456 659 69.2% 4,952 33 17 7.5 15.7% 1225
2015 428 627 68.3% 4,870 32 11 7.8 15.8% 1111
2016 442 623 70.9% 4,858 35 14 7.8 24.7% 1504

There is good news. The end is here. Next season, the Saints will only owe $9,116,656 in dead money. They are going to have $23,598,284 in cap space.  They can cut Kenny Vaccaro if they choose to to save five million more. This, plus another mid teens draft pick, puts them in a good spot to invest in their defense again.

At age 37, there are maybe, what, one, two or three good seasons left in Drew Brees? It's one of those things that we will never know until it starts to happen. If Brees continues to do what he does and this defense can be mediocre, the Saints are a playoff team.  They could possibly contend again, making the Saints not just some black and gold nostalgia, but a vehicle for new memories twisted in actual good football.

19.) Buffalo Bills--Record: 7-8.  Point Differential: +41.  DVOA: 4.3% (13). Last Week: 19.

18.) Philadelphia Eagles--Record: 6-9.  Point Differential: +22.  DVOA: 13.1% (5). Last Week: 18.

17.) Tennessee Titans--Record: 8-7.  Point Differential: -4.  DVOA: 3.6% (14). Last Week: 17.

Here's the thing. The Titans played the best football of any team in the AFC South this year. The Texans won the division because they are 5-0 in it and went 8-3 in one score games, letting the rest of their team flop around behind their defense. The Titans played good football throughout the season. As you can see above, they had an almost even point differential and a DVOA of 3.6% (14th). But the Titans didn't make it, because teams are measured based on their wins, not their performance.

They were so close to making the playoffs for the first time since 2008. This weekend, they should have at least given themselves a chance. Instead, they lost to a two-win Jacksonville team. They should be ashamed and disgraced. They should hate themselves,  not Randy Bullock for missing a gimme game-winning field goal. The Titans suck. They blew it.

As harsh of a Marlboro red that is, there is still room to grow and improve. The Titans should be happy about what they created and what they can build on for future seasons. The first is their philosophy. Exotic Methmouth works.  It is good. The Titans have a top ten offense. They have a versatile offensive line, with one of the best tackle pairings in the league, that can run every type of play. They can run outside zone, inside zone, power, and they use Marcus Mariota as a runner really well, too. It's a version of what Buffalo does, but not as well. Because of this philosophy and this vertical run style, DeMarco Murray became a threat again. As a team, Tennessee scored 357 points (13th), averaged 4.7 Y/C (4th), punched in 15 touchdowns on the ground (8th), ran for 2,084 yards (3rd), and had a run DVOA of 3.1% (6th).

Over the first three weeks of the season, this offense was stagnant. They scored just 16, 16, and 10 points to start the year. It wasn't until Marcus Mariota started throwing passes deep that they really took off. Tennessee attempted 106 passes down field, good for 9th. On these throws, Mariota was 43-102 (42.2%) for 1,207 yards, throwing 7 touchdowns to 4 interceptions. Entering the pros, Mariota was known as a quick, short efficient thrower with incredible accuracy. As a pro, he's already shown he's much more than this. He can put the ball in every section of the field.

This is even more impressive when you consider who his receivers are. Fifth round pick Tajae Sharpe had 30 of these deep targets, Rishard Matthews 28, and Delanie Walker 23. Even without "deep threats," Mariota was still one of the better deep passers in the league. This is a part of the field where Tennessee can improve. They need to bring in receiving talent that can create separation so they can keep pushing this passing offense to further levels and give them something to fall back on if the run game isn't bashing skulls and devouring yards.

The biggest problem with the Titans is their secondary. They had the 26th ranked passing defense with a DVOA of 18.4%. They gave up 4,064 passing yards (31st), 24 passing touchdowns (19th), and allowed 6.5 net yards an attempt (20th). They did this all while having an above average pass rush. The problem was Tennessee's pass coverage. The Titans were 9th against team's #1 receivers, but were 32nd against WR#2s and 13th against other receivers according to DVOA. They were also 27th in DVOA at covering short passes.

Brice McCain had a surprisingly good season with a success rate of 67% (35th) on 51 targets as the team's slot corner. Devin McCourty stuck to number one receivers really well, as seen in the previous paragraph. LeShaun Sims had a good success rate but faced only 28 targets. The rest were atrocious. Perrish Cox, Antwon Blake, and Quinten Rollins all were targeted at least 45 times.  Each was among the worst in the league at allowing yards after the catch, success rate, and yards allowed per pass.

Heading into this season, this was my biggest worry for this team. That their passing defense would put them in big holes and they wouldn't be able to stick to the ground game, forcing them to throw a nauseating amount of passes to subpar receivers. With a top ten offense, the Titans were able to keep up and win games, but if you want to point to why Tennessee didn't end up being a ten or even an eleven win team with the offense playing the way they did, this is why.

This coming offseason, Tennessee has $48 million in cap space. They currently have fifth overall draft pick from St. Louis, have their own 16th overall pick too, no second round picks, and three third round selections. The Colts will have around $60 million in cap space if they make expected cuts and will have another opportunity to build a good team around Andrew Luck. The Jaguars have a Top 15 defense, may move on from Blake Bortles, and will have a top five draft pick. The Texans will be getting J.J. Watt back to add to one of the league's best defenses, though they need better quarterback play next season.

The AFC South was fun this year. Next year it should actually be good.  If Tennessee gets better receivers and fixes their hail damaged roof, they are going to be the favorites to win this division and to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Playoffs?

16.) Denver Broncos--Record: 8-7.  Point Differential: +18.  DVOA: 1.9% (17) Last Week: 12.

15.) Baltimore Ravens--Record: 8-7.  Point Differential: +39.  DVOA: 9.1% (11) Last Week: 11.

14.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers--Record: 8-7.  Point Differential: -16.  DVOA: -0.5% (19). Last Week: 14.

13.) Detroit Lions--Record: 9-6.  Point Differential: -5.  DVOA: -15.5% (27). Last Week: 9.

12.) Houston Texans--Record: 9-6.  Point Differential: -42.  DVOA: -23.1% (29). Last Week: 16.

11.) Miami Dolphins--Record: 10-5.  Point Differential: +4.  DVOA: 2.2% (15). Last Week: 15.

10.) Washington Redskins--Record: 8-6-1.  Point Differential: +22.  DVOA: 10.4% (9). Last Week: 13.

Even after losing to Carolina, the Redskins should still find their way into the NFL playoffs. The only thing keeping them out is a tie between Detroit and Green Bay, which could happen if both those teams find their way into overtime on Sunday night, or if they make a backdoor deal to kneel and punt back and forth until the world ended. This would be the second year in a row Washington would have made it.  Not coincidentally, this will be the second straight season Kirk Cousins has been a fringe top five quarterback.

This past offseason, the team and Cousins couldn't reach a deal. He wanted more money. The Redskins didn't match because it was his first season as a starter and his first good season. So they tagged him and bagged him for one year at $19,953,000. Cousins bet on himself. He brought it. This season, he is 3rd in DVOA at 23.3% and 3rd in DYAR at 1,332, compared to a DVOA of 16.9% (6th) and a DYAR of 1,023 (7th) last season.

For the past two seasons, Cousins has been one of the best quarterbacks in the game. He has thrown 1,114 passes (3rd), completed 763 (3rd), has a completion percentage of 68.5% (2nd), picked up 8,821 yards (9th), has averaged 7.9 Y/A (6th), picked up 418 first downs (6th), has a quarterback rating of 100.2 (6th), and has thrown 53 touchdowns (T-12) to 21 interceptions (15th).

The biggest difference between Cousins' spot starts and the five games he started for a Mr. Robert Griffin III at the end of 2014 and what he's done the last two years has been his interception rate. His career interception rates are 6.3%, 4.5%, 4.4%, 2.0%, and 1.8%. That's the reason for Cousins' growth. By improving on last season's rate, he's shown this isn't just some one year fluke. This is now a really good quarterback who has improved on his mistakes.

After this season, Cousins is going to be the most coveted free agent in the league because quarterbacks. The Redskins are in a perfect position to re-sign him. They have $47,367,578 in cap space after this season. Last year, Andrew Luck raised the bar and set the market in a league with a rising salary cap and a continuous importance on the position. Luck signed a five year contract worth $122,970,000 with a $32 million signing bonus and $47 million guaranteed at the time of signing. Numerically and in a better environment, Cousins has been better than Luck. This offseason, Cousins is going to get paid at least this much if that's what he wants from either the Redskins or another team.

This will continue to happen. As the salary cap rises and the league keeps snorting out money, players are going to see their contracts increase, just as they should. It's simply going to take time for our brains to get used to it. To get used to Cousins being a $125 million quarterback and the highest paid quarterback in the league.  Until the next one hits free agency.

9.) Oakland Raiders--Record: 12-3.  Point Differential: +49.  DVOA: 10.6% (8). Last Week: 7.

The Contenders:

8.) Green Bay Packers--Record: 9-6.  Point Differential: +37.  DVOA: 12.4% (6). Last Week: 10.

7.) New York Giants--Record: 10-5.  Point Differential: +17.  DVOA: 7.7% (12). Last Week: 8.

6.) Pittsburgh Steelers--Record: 10-5.  Point Differential: +69.  DVOA: 19.2% (3) Last Week: 6.

5.) Kansas City Chiefs--Record: 11-4.  Point Differential: +68.  DVOA: 11.9% (7). Last Week: 5.

4.) Seattle Seahawks--Record: 9-5-1.  Point Differential: +60.  DVOA: 9.4% (10). Last Week: 3.

3.) Atlanta Falcons--Record: 10-5.  Point Differential: +128.  DVOA: 18.1% (4). Last Week: 4.

2.) New England Patriots--Record: 13-2.  Point Differential: +170.  DVOA: 23.4% (2). Last Week: 2.

1.) Dallas Cowboys--Record: 13-2.  Point Differential: +129.  DVOA: 23.7% (1). Last Week: 1.

Check back next Wednesday for the final installment that includes a summary, end of year awards, and playoff picks.

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