Another week, another Patriots win, another embarrassing pair of Cardinals and Chiefs losses, another reason to stay at home next weekend instead of going to the hobbit movie. So put on your letterman jackets and get ready for another edition of playoff power rankings.
1. New England Patriots (10-3; projected 13-3) In the words of Bart Scott, that win felt great (too soon? I think not.) In fact, I cannot think of a more impressive regular season victory since the Pats beat the Jets 45-3 on Monday night two years ago. This team is a juggernaut that looks superb on all sides of the ball – outside of Ryan Mallett’s interception with minutes left to go, there was not a single mistake made by New England in that entire game. Through 13 weeks, they’ve scored an unfathomable 472 points (36.3 per game). The only team to score more points was the 2007 Patriots. But the most impressive stat this week was holding Matt Schaub to 232 yards – especially impressive considering so much of the game took place in relative garbage time, when New England led by three touchdowns. Through 13 weeks, I’ve never felt more confident about the Patriots . . . 2007 included.
2. Houston Texans (11-2; projected 13-3) They’ve now allowed 11 passing touchdowns in the last four games, after allowing only one in their previous three games. Perhaps even more amazing is that in spite of the fact that Houston went 3-2 in nationally televised games this season (including an impressive road victory over the Bears), the only memory people will have of this team is Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady lighting the defense up. They now have to win out to guarantee the 1 seed. But let’s also remember that they’ve played five games in the last 30 days, four of which were on the road – with much-needed rest, this team may still be intimidating.
3. Denver Broncos (10-3; projected 13-3) A win in Baltimore would be their 8th straight victory – the franchise’s longest winning streak since 1998 – and the seventh time in ten games they’ve been on the road. Even more importantly, a win against the Ravens would virtually guarantee one of the AFC’s top three seeds. But most importantly, a win against Baltimore would assure the few doubters that remain (anyone?) that the Broncos can beat real opponents, rather than just the Chiefs and Raiders.
4. Baltimore Ravens (9-4; projected 10-6) Both of their losses the last two weeks could have easily been wins had they run the ball more effectively (last week I forgot to lam bast John Harbaugh for not running Ray Rice a single time in their loss to the Stealers). The Ravens once-vaunted defense now ranks 24th in yards allowed, and has given up more passing yards than the Packers, Bills, Chargers, and Lions. The combined record of their next three opponents is 25-14.
5. Indianapolis Colts (9-4; projected 11-5) Eight of the Colts’ nine wins have come by touchdown or less (interestingly, in Peyton Manning’s second season, he had nine wins by eight points or less). They haven’t beat an AFC team with a winning record, so the two upcoming games against the Texans will give us a good indication of how they play against quality opponents; but then again, their Week 17 home game against Houston may come at a time when the Texans opt to rest their starters. Therefore, this week in Houston will likely be their biggest remaining regular season game.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6; projected 9-7) Prior to last Sunday, the Steelers had lost only one home game by 10+ points in the last six years. A depleted Chargers team, with no playoff hopes, a horrible offensive line, and more likely than not a lame duck coach led by 24 points in in the 3rd Quarter. This team has deep and severe problems on both sides of the ball. So why do I still think they will get the 6 seed? Because they’re Shittsburgh. Dallas suddenly seems less threatening without Dez Bryant, Cincinnati has won in Pittsburgh once in five years, and the Browns are the Browns. But look at the bright side: The awe and ecstasy of Tebow beating them last year would not have happened had they missed the playoffs (I’m looking at you, Peyton Manning).
Cincinnati Bengals (7-6; projected 9-7) Don’t get me wrong, last Sunday’s Cowboys loss hurts, but even had the won, they would still need a victory in Pittsburgh in two weeks to clinch the wild card. The Bengals allowed 140 of the 288 total yards they gave up in the 4th Quarter alone, while they gained a total of 29 in the period. They will need to do better. Fortunately, the equivalent of a scrimmage game against hapless Philadelphia (the result of which has playoff implications) this week will give them good practice.
New York Jets (6-7; projected 7-9) The Jets need to win out and hope for some serious Steeler and Bengal self-destruction. But what they do have in their favor is a combined record of 14-25 for their next three opponents. The defense has allowed one 300-yard passer all year, and they are 5-0 when holding opponents to 20 points or under. The Titans, Chargers, and Bills have eight, four, and six games where they’ve scored 20 points or less, respectively. It’s possible.
|Gotta admit, the snow hat look this year has been a little weird, but effective.|
1. Atlanta Falcons (11-2; projected 13-3) The Mitt Romney of NFL teams – they love to talk the talk, but push comes to shove, they look like well-dressed phonies. According advanced metrics, the Falcons have had the easiest schedule in the NFC, and third-easiest in the league. It is very likely that this week’s game against the Giants will be their only regular season matchup against a playoff-bound team from the NFC. When they host the Seahawks in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, I’ll be spotted in Vegas (with Todd) sporting a neon green Russell Wilson jersey with giant wads of cash.
2. Green Bay Packers (9-4; projected 11-5) They eked out a win Sunday night because of crucial turnovers and Aaron Rodgers’ legs. Suddenly, only two seasons after their Super Bowl win, they look a little like the 2008-2010 Colts, relying solely on the raw talent of their quarterback to overcome a mediocre defense, inconsistent running game, and rotten luck. Their next three games are manageable, but don’t be fooled into buying into this offense in the playoffs: through the first 13 games of last year, the Pack scored 31+ points in eight games, while this year’s team has only done so once.
3. San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1; projected 10-5-1) Jim Harbaugh decided to go with Colin Kaepernick as his quarterback to create a more dynamic and dangerous offense, but Niners looked Alex Smith-led for the majority of the Dolphins game. The next two games are big tests for this team, and we’ll found out a lot about Kaepernick’s abilities in big games. But for now, Aldon Smith is the best linebacker in the league, the defense is unshakeable, and unlike the Falcons (and like the Giants last season) the tough schedule could pay dividends in the playoffs.
4. New York Giants (8-5; projected 10-6) My apologies for last week when I preemptively stated the Giants had begun their annual mid-season collapse; they seem to have past that hurdle with last Sunday’s win, although their next two road games are big tests. No team in the NFC is as multi-dimensional and dynamic as the Giants; they can beat you 7-3 or 52-27. If David Wilson and the return game can play like they did against the Saints, they may be unbeatable. Is it possible that a round one matchup with the Seahawks (featuring two teams seeded no higher than 4) would be a battle of the NFC's best two teams?
5. Seattle Seahawks (8-5; projected 10-6) After winning 58-0, the Seahawks are no longer the NFC’s best-kept secret: They now rank second in points allowed, and a respectable 15th in points scored. And speaking of the offense, through the first five weeks, Seattle averaged 17.2 points per game; in their past five games, the offense has averaged 32. They haven’t allowed an offensive touchdown at home in the last 161 minutes, 46 seconds. That’s almost as long as the new Hobbit movie. However, classic letdown game at Buffalo coming up.
6. Washington Redskins (7-6; projected 9-7) Like the Colts, the Redskins are currently experiencing a Very Special Season with a Very Special Quarterback who, in spite of his injury, may just have enough good mojo to give Kirk Cousins good shots to win against (wait for it) the Browns, Eagles, and Dez Bryant-less Cowboys. Interesting subplot: Is it possible that, in spite of his fumble issues, Alfred Morris is the second-best runningback in the NFC? He’s on pace for 1,500 yards, 8 touchdowns, and is averaging five yards per carry. All this on a team which finished in the bottom 10 in rushing yards the last three years.
Chicago Bears (8-5; projected 9-7) Urlacher’s hamstring adds insult to injury (literally) for a team quickly spiraling out of control. In their last five games since their 7-1 start, the offense has turned the ball over 10 times and scored over 17 points only once. Sunday’s home game against the Packers is a must-win if they have any hope of staying in playoff contention. Interesting statistic: Five different players on the Bears have between 210 and 256 receiving yards.
Dallas Cowboys (7-6; projected 9-7) The Dez Bryant injury predictably comes right before the Pittsburgh game, but the good news is that if Dallas wins out, they actually have a pretty decent shot at making the playoffs. Sunday’s win was an emotional one, and their sixth victory by a touchdown or less. Depending on your point of view, that’s either an illustration of their good fortune or grace under pressure. I choose the latter.
Minnesota Vikings (7-6; projected 8-8) Adrian Peterson is on pace for 1,969 rushing yards. Interestingly, no one in 32 years has gained between exactly 1,900 and 2,000 yards; maybe the logic is that by Week 17, you’ve either already eclipsed the 2,000 yard barrier or need a 200-yard game just to reach 1,800 (like Ahman Green in 2003 or Tiki Barber in 2006). In any event, he needs to average 134 yards in the next three games to reach 2,000; he’s had 134 or more rushing yards in five of his last seven games.
Thoughts? Disagreements? Want to join me and Todd in Vegas when we win lots of money on the Seahawks but blow it at the Party Pit at the Excalibur? Let me know below.