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Jesse Pantuosco

Power Rankings

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Week 14 Power Rankings

Wednesday, December 5, 2018


Last year, the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year debate was an open and shut case. Tre’Davious White made a late push, but fellow first-round cornerback Marshon Lattimore was always the clear frontrunner. Lattimore was a deserving winner, holding down PFF’s No. 7 coverage grade among cornerbacks while guiding New Orleans to its first playoff berth in four years.

 

This year, the field is much deeper. On a fantasy-specific site like Rotoworld, it’s easy for defensive players to fall through the cracks, but even with that in mind, I can’t help but be impressed by this year’s crop of first-year difference-makers. I posted a Twitter poll on this subject yesterday, because frankly, I’m not sure who I’d give the hardware to. Twitter’s character limit prevented me from putting down more than four options, but there are at least six candidates who could easily take home the top prize.

 

The opening round of this year’s draft was bursting at the seams with talent and so far, most of the chalk has hit. Many industry voices were critical of Cleveland for fading Bradley Chubb with the fourth overall pick, but in retrospect, it looks like the Browns got it right. Pairing Chubb (ironically, the Browns used a second-round pick on Bradley’s cousin, Georgia running back Nick Chubb) with Myles Garrett would have given Cleveland arguably the league’s top pass-rushing duo. But Denzel Ward has been a savior in the secondary, quickly emerging as one of the NFL’s elite corners and a matchup nightmare for opposing wideouts. Not that Chubb would have been a bad choice—he’s been just as dominant for Denver, leading all rookies with 10 quarterback takedowns.

 

In a draft that refused to go by the book, one of the bigger surprises took place when stud safety Derwin James dropped to the latter half of the first round after forecasters had consistently pegged him as a top-10 pick. Jaws dropped when the Chargers landed the former Florida State Seminole with the 17th overall pick. Many called it the steal of the draft and through the first 12 games of 2018, it’s hard to argue that notion. He’s been spectacular, frustrating quarterbacks to the tune of a hideous 54.9 quarterback rating while ranking second among rookies with three interceptions. Among safeties, only New York’s Jamal Adams has received higher marks from Pro Football Focus this year. Jaire Alexander, who went to the Packers one pick after Los Angeles ended James’ stunning fall, also deserves a mention for his standout play at cornerback. Brandin Cooks (three catches on eight targets), Marvin Jones (one catch for eight yards) and Allen Robinson (4-for-61 on seven targets) are a few of the many big names he’s silenced this year.

 

The talent pool at linebacker is just as rich. Leighton Vander Esch, who played his high school ball on whatever this is, already looks like the next Luke Kuechly, anchoring the Cowboys’ defense with 102 tackles and two interceptions (both returned for touchdowns). He’s been so dominant that Cowboys fans are beginning to forget Sean Lee even exists. The best nickname of the bunch (Greedy Williams already has a head start for the best name in next year’s rookie class) belongs to Darius Leonard, a second-round South Carolina State product who goes by “Maniac.” He’s played like one too, leading the entire NFL with 122 tackles while also contributing six sacks and four forced fumbles for the resurgent Colts.

 

I’m still torn about who I’d pick, so help me out by leaving your choice for Defensive Rookie of the Year in the comments below and also let me know if I forgot anyone. Now for the Week 14 Power Rankings featuring a new, old No. 1.

 

1. Los Angeles Rams

Record: 11-1

Last Week: 2

 

The Lions stymied Jared Goff, who looked rusty in his return from the Rams’ bye, but Todd Gurley (165 yards, two touchdowns) did more than enough to put L.A. over the top in Week 13. Gurley has already matched his career-high of 19 touchdowns with four games remaining. Brandin Cooks etched his name in the record books by becoming the first player in league history to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving three straight years for three different teams. Cooks and Robert Woods (971 yards) would give the Rams their first pair of 1,000-yard receivers since 2006.

 

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2. New Orleans Saints

Record: 10-2

Last Week: 1

 

Drew Brees (127 passing yards, one INT) and Michael Thomas (5-40-0) picked a curious time to go missing, abandoning fantasy owners in their time of need with horrible performances in Week 13. Brees’ 71.6 quarterback rating in Thursday night’s loss to Dallas was his lowest since Week 14 of 2016. On top of seeing its 10-game winning streak expire, New Orleans also lost ground to Los Angeles in the race for the NFC’s top seed. On the positive side, the Saints have been a defensive juggernaut, holding opponents to 48 points over their last four games.

 

3. New England Patriots

Record: 9-3

Last Week: 4

 

Going by the eye test, the Patriots don’t look as dominant this year, but you’d never know it by peeping their resume. The Pats boast big wins over Kansas City, Chicago, Houston and Minnesota and have absolutely crushed teams at home, outscoring their opponents 201-118 at Gillette Stadium. Tom Brady checked off two more milestones in Week 13, tying Brett Favre for third on the NFL’s all-time touchdown list while also reaching 1,000 yards rushing for his career. I’m guessing Bill Belichick won’t be friending Adam Thielen on MyFace anytime soon.

 

4. Kansas City Chiefs

Record: 10-2

Last Week: 3

 

It was a somber week in KC as the Chiefs waived Kareem Hunt after video surfaced of the running back shoving and kicking a woman outside a Cleveland hotel room. Hunt led the league in rushing yards as a rookie last year and was having an even better sophomore campaign before the scandal broke. Travis Kelce propped up the offense in his absence, destroying the Raiders for 168 yards and two touchdowns in Week 13. That puts Kelce on pace for 1,443 yards, which would blow away the tight end record of 1,327 currently held by Rob Gronkowski.

 

5. Houston Texans

Record: 9-3

Last Week: 8

 

Houston dialed up a little ground-and-pound in Week 13, burying the Browns for 187 yards on 39 carries. The Texans have racked up a franchise-record nine straight wins and Lamar Miller has been a huge part of their success. The 27-year-old has staged a remarkable turnaround, rushing for 100 yards in four of his last six games after failing to reach that mark all of last season. The Texans weren’t especially stingy with Baker Mayfield (397 passing yards), though they did goad the rookie into throwing a career-worst three interceptions including a pick-six.

 

6. Los Angeles Chargers

Record: 9-3

Last Week: 6

 

The Chargers have endured a depressing number of late-game collapses in their history (most of them with proud papa Philip Rivers under center). But all was forgiven Sunday night as the Bolts stunned Pittsburgh by erasing a 16-point half-time deficit. Keenan Allen gave the Steelers hell in Week 13, burning the black and yellow for 148 yards on 14 catches (both season-highs) while extending his touchdown streak to four games. Austin Ekeler was billed as the starter but Justin Jackson overshadowed him, stealing the show with 82 yards and a touchdown on nine touches.

 

7. Chicago Bears

Record: 8-4

Last Week: 5

 

Chicago’s five-game winning streak went down the tubes, but don’t blame Tarik Cohen for Sunday’s letdown against the Giants. The pint-sized back gave a Herculean effort in the loss to New York, setting career-highs in catches (12), receiving yards (156) and yards from scrimmage (186) while also chipping in with his second career touchdown pass. Among running backs, only Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey has put up more receiving yards (665) than Cohen (659) this year. Rookie coach Matt Nagy will have his work cut out for him when the NFC-leading Rams invade Chicago in Week 14.

 

8. Dallas Cowboys

Record: 7-5

Last Week: 13

 

Make that four in a row for the Cowboys, who stunned the Saints with a hard-fought victory in Week 13. Dallas did its best to keep Drew Brees off the field, holding the ball for 37 of the game’s 60 minutes. Amari Cooper continued his Dallas renaissance with another productive week, snagging all eight of his targets for 75 yards in the Thursday night win. Dak Prescott completed over 85 percent of his passes against New Orleans but also took seven sacks, bringing his season total to 45, which leads the league by a healthy margin.

 

9. Seattle Seahawks

Record: 7-5

Last Week: 10

 

The Seahawks took care of business on Sunday, extending their winning streak to three with a masterful showing against the Niners in Week 13. Russell Wilson flashed his signature efficiency, roasting San Fran for 185 yards and four touchdowns despite logging only 17 passing attempts. Tyler Lockett stayed on-brand by converting his lone catch for a 52-yard touchdown in the victory. Chris Carson, who I assume has a WebMD tab open on his computer at all times, dislocated his thumb on Sunday but should be a go for Week 14.

 

10. Pittsburgh Steelers

Record: 7-4-1

Last Week: 7

 

Even with Casey Hayward tailing him, Antonio Brown was still magnificent against the Chargers, biting and clawing his way to season-highs in both catches (10) and receiving yards (154) while securing his sixth-straight 1,000-yard season. Not bad for a guy who was chosen 195th overall in the 2010 draft. James Conner won’t be in uniform this week after limping off with an ankle sprain in Sunday night’s loss to the Bolts. That will open up carries for fifth-round rookie Jaylen Samuels, who holds tight end eligibility in Yahoo leagues.

 

11. Baltimore Ravens

Record: 7-5

Last Week: 12

 

John Harbaugh won’t show us his cards, but at this point it would be a surprise if the Ravens turned back to Joe Flacco now that Lamar Jackson has led the team to three straight victories. The ex-Heisman winner brought his racing shoes to Atlanta, burning the Falcons for 75 yards with his feet. Speaking of former Heisman winners, Robert Griffin III made a cameo in Week 13, seeing his first game action in nearly two years. John Brown has been erased completely, totaling two catches for 48 yards in Jackson’s three starts.

 

12. Minnesota Vikings

Record: 6-5-1

Last Week: 9

 

Kirk Cousins forgot to bring his A game to Foxboro, throwing two interceptions while contributing season-lows in both yards per attempt (4.57) and quarterback rating (70.4) as the Vikings fell at the hands of New England’s evil empire. Stefon Diggs gutted out a knee injury in Week 13 but with mixed results, watching his three-game touchdown streak go kaput while recording his fewest yards since Week 7. Now clinging to the sixth and final playoff position in the NFC, Monday’s game against the surging Seahawks will be a must-win for Minnesota.

 

13. Indianapolis Colts

Record: 6-6

Last Week: 11

 

The Colts’ offense vanished in Week 13, sputtering to 265 yards in a shutout loss to Jacksonville. Eric Ebron corralled 10 of his career-high 16 targets for a team-best 81 yards, but also lost a costly fumble as Indy waved goodbye to its five-game winning streak. Ebron averages just 3.7 targets when Jack Doyle plays, but without him, his workload rises to 11 targets per game. Andrew Luck had thrown for a touchdown in 34 straight games before Sunday’s debacle.

 

14. Denver Broncos

Record: 6-6

Last Week: 17

 

A week after bull-dozing his way to a career-high 110 rushing yards, Phillip Lindsay topped himself with a 157-yard masterpiece as Denver rattled off another victory in Week 13. Lindsay’s 937 rushing yards are the third-most ever by an undrafted rookie. The Broncos couldn’t get Emmanuel Sanders going in the win over Cincinnati (4-19-0), but fortunately teammate and fellow SMU alum Courtland Sutton picked up the slack, producing a career-high 85 yards while also erasing a four-game touchdown drought. Steady signal-caller Case Keenum hasn’t turned the ball over since Week 8.

 

15. Philadelphia Eagles

Record: 6-6

Last Week: 16

 

Golden Tate gave Eagles fans something to cheer about by delivering a robust 85 yards on seven catches in a Week 13 win over Washington. Tate’s touchdown (which ended a five-game first-quarter scoreless drought for the Eagles) was his first since arriving at the trade deadline. Darren Sproles only played a handful of snaps in his return from a 10-game absence, but he made them count, scoring for the first time since Week 16 of 2016. Will somebody wake up Alshon Jeffery? He’s been asleep at the wheel, averaging a sluggish 37.2 yards over his current five-game touchdown drought.

 

16. Carolina Panthers

Record: 6-6

Last Week: 14

 

Holy meltdown, the Panthers are falling apart. Sunday’s heartbreaker in Tampa stretched Carolina’s losing streak to four games. It also led to a coaching shakeup as assistants Brady Hoke and Jeff Imamura were both sent packing. Cam Newton’s four picks against the Bucs on Sunday were his most since Week 11 of his rookie year in 2011. With Greg Olsen lost to another season-ending foot injury, it’s fair to wonder if the aging tight end has played his final NFL snap. Did I mention two of Carolina’s last four games are against New Orleans?

 


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Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
Email :Jesse Pantuosco



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