Good times in the Bay Area. That's the storyline coming out of Week 5, with the Niners and Raiders producing huge wins. One was the biggest blowout of the year, while the other was the emotional let-out of 2011.
The deciding factor in both games was each organization using its blueprint to win: Jim Harbaugh running power plays with an appropriate mixture of Alex Smith passes, while the Raiders won with Exhibit A and B of Al Davis' oft-criticized draft strategy. Oakland simply doesn't win Sunday in Houston without Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sebastian Janikowski. Kudos to colleague Adam Rank for pointing that out on Monday's "NFL Fantasy Live."
While those franchises climb up the power rankings, everyone else shifts. It was difficult to keep the teams on a bye in place, try as I might. With four of the top 12 from last week losing, clubs like the Chargers moved up by default. The real mosh pit was the middle of the pack, the nine-hole through 18, where all sorts of jockeying took place.
Thus, let the dissension commence ...
The Packers learned what the Steelers already knew from last week: It's tough running an offense with two offensive linemen out. Aaron Rodgers' decision-making and mobility made all the difference, and the latter continues to be the difference between his game and other elite level quarterbacks. What a second half by Green Bay's corners Sunday night. Lights out.
Sitting in the makeup room at NFL West, where real football is talked about, Tom Waddle spun some yarn about tight ends, and specifically, how good Jimmy Graham is (eight catches, 129 yards against Carolina). That's the deal with Drew Brees and the offense: It's a new culprit every week. In Week 1, Darren Sproles was unstoppable (250 all-purpose yards); Week 2 was Devery Henderson (103 receiving yards); Week 3 was Graham (100 receiving yards); and Week 4 was Sproles again with 177 all-purpose yards. There's always a different guy to stop on this team.
Those throwback uniforms look awesome. I don't care if they remind you Pats fans of Tony Eason getting swarmed under by a guy who didn't want to attend President Obama's White House re-vite. Consider this an unusual comment after they allowed four sacks, but the most underrated aspect of the 2011 Patriots is the play of the offensive line. Considering how much Tom Brady throws, how little the Pats max-protect with their tight ends, and the fact that New England averages 4.7 yards per carry this season, the O-line deserves some love for the 4-1 start. The Pats and that front line racked up 152 yards rushing on Rex Ryan's defense.
Bye week in Baltimore. Bye week in Owings Mills, home of Ravens headquarters. I went to the mall once in Owings Mills. I was in town to interview Art Modell and had broken out like a 14-year old on steroids the night before. There was no one at the makeup counter, so I drove around town looking for something to do. Owings Mills in frigid December: Not awesome. By the way, interesting matchup Sunday: The Ravens' front seven vs. Arian Foster.
So many big plays Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. We had Marshall Faulk on "NFL Fantasy Live" on SirusXM Radio last Wednesday, and the former Rams great said there were two backs playing today who reminded him of his style of play: The Bears' Matt Forte and the Bills' Fred Jackson. Fast Freddie put up 196 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown vs. the Eagles, reprising his role as queen on Chan Gailey's chessboard.
San Diego squeezes by yet another team. A win is a win in the NFL, especially on the road, but it would be nice to see the Chargers put somebody away. Ryan Mathews racked up 125 yards rushing before hurting his calf. Even Jacob Hester provided 47 yards on only 11 carries, with several of those runs coming when Denver knew the Bolts would be running the football.
Geez, what do you say? The suddenly effective Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter combined for 190 yards on the ground. The defense gave up three measly points. If you're a Niners fan, you just have to be encouraged by Alex Smith, who had three touchdown passes in 19 pass attempts. That's a score every 6.3 throws. Coming into 2011, Smith had one touchdown pass every 29.7 attempts. Oh, and that's the second week in a row that Jim Harbaugh's passing attack has been surprisingly effective against a secondary that was supposed to be superior.
What a huge win for the Oakland Raiders. After Al Davis passed away Saturday, I popped in a DVD of the NBC broadcast of Raiders at Chiefs from 1983. Jim Plunkett led a big comeback in a game the team needed to have, the first in a string of wins that would lead to the franchise winning Super Bowl XVIII, Davis' last championship. I wondered if the current Raiders were capable of the kind of resilience that great '83 team maintained. I think the tough road win in Houston showed us all something.
The Texans came down to Earth without the strength of their team ( Andre Johnson and then Mario Williams for three quarters) and because of the strength of an emotionally charged team. Tommie Kelly, Richard Seymour, and the rest of the Raiders seemed to want it more than the Texans. Matt Schaub put up gobs of yards (416 yards), but didn't play particularly well with two big picks.
Oakland beat Houston, who beat Pittsburgh, who beat Tennessee. Thus you have much of the logic behind 10 through 14 on our list. After allowing the Titans to march down the field on the opening drive, Dick LeBeau's defense tightened up considerably. Every Steelers fan I know was worried about Chris Johnson gaining 2,000 yards Sunday. He came up only 1,949 yards short. Also, way to go, Jonathan Dwyer.
How do the Giants lose that game? Eli Manning made a few too many throws in traffic Sunday, including one he got away with on the electrifying touchdown pass to Victor Cruz. Part of the problem was the ground attack's inability to get it going. Uhh, 25 attempts for 69 yards isn't effective, and puts more pressure on No. 10 to make plays. Those feisty 4-1 Bills are next up on the sked.
That was more than a hiccup. Some Titans fans hammered these very rankings for the conservative placement of their team at 14 last week. Hey, there's still a lot to like about Tennessee, but allowing five touchdown passes to the opposing quarterback is not one of them.
I don't want to rub any salt in the wound. Then again, I don't want to rub Hydrogen Peroxide in there, either. So these words won't make things better. Tampa fans were fired up two weeks ago when their team sat under Pittsburgh, Dallas among others in the rankings. Some were even disappointed that the Bucs were below San Diego last week. I hesitated to put the Bucs as high as I did (ninth), but so many teams in the middle ground like the Steelers, Jets, Cowboys, and Eagles were dreadful, so I had little choice. But after a complete breakdown on offense and the run defense, the Bucs are the biggest droppers.
I started to write this blurb about the Bears, and then my hand jumped offsides. The offensive line was terrible Monday night in Detroit. But at least the safeties made up for it by taking bad angles. It would have been nice to see more draws and screens -- anything to slow down that pass rush of the Lions. The only things keeping the Bears over the Bengals in these rankings is Jay Cutler, and the fact that Chicago's three losses came against the Saints, Packers, and Lions, who are a combined 14-1.
Not to beat this point to hell and back, but Atlanta's ability to run the football has been the key to its success over the past three seasons. Falcons followers don't want to hear it, but while Matt Ryan doesn't throw Romo-like picks to lose games, he also doesn't make enough spectacular plays like a Roethlisberger, Rivers, or Romo does, either. He missed a couple of deep balls Sunday night that really hurt his team. Still, if Mike Smith can get Michael Turner (56 yards) and the ground game going, the Falcons will be playing in January again.
Philadelphia's pass rush didn't get many sacks Sunday, and the linebackers -- as a group -- produced nine solo tackles. Much-maligned coordinator Juan Castillo's defense didn't allow many big plays in the passing game, but produced only one turnover and continues to be hampered by general suckiness. Meanwhile, the offense was a giveaway machine with five turnovers. The Eagles are still good on paper, but you don't win too many games with a minus-four turnover differential. In fact, well below 10 percent since 1970.
Bye week in Cleveland. Boy, all those fantasy owners who pinned their hopes on Colt McCoy and Mohamed Massaquoi were stressing over whom to start in their stead. Or not. Pat Shurmur's goal during the bye week: How to get more production from the offense. The running game averages only 85.8 yards per game and 3.4 yards per pop. A healthy, rested Peyton Hillis would help.
Ron Rivera said last week that his team needed to "grow up" after a tough loss to the Bears. Well, it didn't get any easier for the rookie head coach, who had to sit through yet another fail. Panthers fans were tortured by a final Saints drive that chewed 6 minutes of game clock and saw Drew Brees go 8 of 9 for 80 yards. Still, Carolina continues to impress league observers.
In 2010, the Giants had the game in Seattle won in the second quarter and rolled to a 41-7 victory. The Passion of the 'Hurst's entrance to a chorus of cheers was about the only thing memorable. What a difference a year makes. Seattle is 2-3, and has played surprisingly well the past three weeks. Give Pete Carroll some credit. Many fans wanted the Seahawks to play in NFL Europe after an 0-2 start, and that league hasn't existed since Blink 182 was relevant. Look for the offense to lean on Marshawn Lynch more on running downs when his ankle heals.
What happened to those cracks people were making about the Chiefs not winning a game after all their injuries? Kansas City could've beaten the Chargers in Week 3, then took down the Vikings and Colts the past two Sundays. Granted, Minnesota is 1-4, and the Colts are starting Curtis Painter, but it's hard not to be impressed with the fight in this club. Next up: The hated Raiders in two weeks in NoCal. If Matt Cassel plays like he did in Indy (21-29, four touchdowns), there's no reason Kansas City can't make it to .500.
Sunday's win had to feel pretty darn good. Of course, any enthusiasm was tempered Monday morning when they recalled that Donovan McNabb is still under center. Quarterback worries aside, Adrian Peterson was a monster in Week 5, and the defense shut down both the Cardinals' ground attack and passing game. The Vikings are in Chicago next week. Expect more of the same, with the burden of success falling on AP and Fred Pagac's defense. If you're not familiar with Pagac, the former linebackers coach took over running the defense after Leslie Frazier was named interim head coach in 2010. He also played two years in the NFL, the last as a tight end on the 0-14 Buccaneers expansion team of 1976. Thought you might like to know.
"Watching Kevin Kolb, it's almost as if he hasn't decided how good he is yet. Some plays he's decisive and a risk-taker, then suddenly he's indecisive and Craig Krenzel-like the next set of downs." That's what I wrote last week on the Cardinals. Well, let's just say he was more Krenzel and less Kolb on Sunday in Minnesota, which begs the question: What kind of player is he? Beanie Wells got his 20 carries, but the Vikings bottled him up, allowing only three yards per rush. It will be a long two weeks in Arizona with the bye coming up.
Jack Del Rio says it's a "pretty crappy feeling right now." With Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Houston coming up, it's going to be difficult not to have hope crushed by midseason. Maurice Jones-Drew is one prideful dude, and while he continues to play hard (95 yards rushing per game), there's just not enough offensive talent around him -- at least not until Blaine Gabbert develops. Defensively, the Jaguars only allowed the Bengals 239 yards and played well enough to win. Except they didn't.
Since I took a jab at NFL Europe, it should be noted that the Colts' Adam Vinatieri kicked for the Amsterdam Admirals, a team that could have given Indianapolis or Kansas City a good game Sunday. That was a tough loss to stomach for Colts fans, especially considering the Monday night loss in Tampa was more than winnable. I like what I'm seeing from Curtis Painter. Don't snicker. If you think Painter's hair looks Point Break-ish now, check out the Posh Spice-esque bob he's sporting on NFL.com.
NFL.com's homepage editor, an erudite Brit named Henry Hodgson, practically begged me to rank the Dolphins 32nd. I understand, he wants his favorite team to be good at something. You know things have gone awry when David Garrard says thanks, but no thanks. Is Sage Rosenfels or Matt Moore the answer with Chad Henne out? Was Jay Fiedler? Or Brian Griese? Or Daunte Culpepper? Trent Green? Here's a vote for Cleo Lemon.
We end with yet another team on a bye. Our 32nd and final ranking doesn't move, partially because the news only got worse for the Rams this week. The 49ers continue to pull away with the division, and now Sam Bradford's most reliable weapon -- Danny Amendola -- is out for the season. The Rams are at Green Bay on Sunday. Oh man, what an upset that ... would ... be ... nevermind.