Tuesday, December 17, 2013

NFL Playoff Power Rankings: Week 16

            Can we just eliminate the NFC East from pro football?  It’s unquestionably the most annoying division, getting a staggering amount of airtime on national television, and the first thing the talking heads discuss on Monday morning is either Jerry Jones or RGIII.  After another woeful weekend in which football’s supposedly “toughest” division went 0-4 and gave up an average of 34 points per game, the NFC “Least” once again retains the crown of “Most Overrated” in all of sports, followed closely by Mel Kiper’s draft preview, Dwayne Wade’s likability, and professional sports in Los Angeles.  Here are playoff power rankings for Week 16:

AFC Playoffs

1. Denver Broncos (11-3; projected 13-3): They may have lost by only seven points last Thursday, but Broncos fans will tell you that the real effects of the San Diego game aren’t felt in the win-loss column.  The Chargers confirmed all every Denver skeptic’s strongest suspicions: That Peyton Manning can’t throw 15 yards or more downfield in the cold; that the running game cannot be trusted (18 total yards against a team giving up an AFC-worst 4.7 yards per carry); that Wes Welker’s absence is much more significant than anyone thought; and that the defense cannot get off the field in pressure situations (38:49 possession time for San Diego).  Defenders will say that Denver played on a short week against a hungry opponent, but realists will point to the fact that in January, every opponent is hungry (ask the 2012 Baltimore Ravens).  Trips to Oakland and Houston are the best presents anyone in Denver will receive this Christmas.

2. Cincinnati Bengals (9-5; projected 11-5): So the Broncos lose, the Patriots lose, the Dolphins and Ravens win huge games to move within a game of the Bengals, and what does Cincinnati promptly do?  Get blown out by the Stealers, naturally (and somehow move up a spot in my playoff power rankings?!)  Although Cincinnati typically doesn’t play well in Pittsburgh (without the help of God’s Kicker), going 2 for 10 on third downs and allowing 80 percent completions to Big Ben is inexcusable.  Andy Dalton now has a lower QBR (52.8) than any other QB of a team leading its division, and the Bengals finish 2013 going a paltry 3-5 on the road.  They have a favorable home schedule down the stretch (Minnesota hasn’t won in Cincinnati since 1992), but their long-term playoff prospects aren’t exactly solid.

3. New England Patriots (10-4; projected 11-5): The “glass half full” mentality says that the Pats were able to move the ball through the air without Gronk (453 total yards), and lord knows New England would much rather see the Dolphins in Foxboro in January than the Ravens.  I think.  We’ll know more next week when Patriots fans stock up on Melatonin from the drug store and watch Tom Brady have another 3 interception game against Baltimore.  At least the Ravens don’t have to worry about making season-ending hits since our best offensive weapon is already injured. Look, the wins against New Orleans, Denver and Cleveland were magical, but let’s get real: This team can’t win the Super Bowl.  There’s simply not enough talent, and no real potential for anyone other than Brady to step up and put the entire team on his shoulders.  Let’s just move on to January so when I get my heart broken for yet another year, it will at least be expected.

4. Indianapolis Colts (9-5; projected 10-6): The Colts’ 22-point win over the Texans was their first victory by more than 8 points since September 29 (not coincidentally, the last time they rushed for 150+ yards prior to Sunday).  It’s difficult to assess their performance because it wasn’t against exactly formidable competition, but it was nice to see Andrew Luck not lead his team in rushing for once, and the Colts’ secondary was superb in shutting Andre Johnson down (although the Texans kinda shot themselves in the foot with 14 penalties for 114 yards). We’ll see if any momentum can carry over to next Sunday’s trip to Kansas City, but at this point, Indianapolis has little to play for other than the 3 seed.

5. Kansas City Chiefs (11-3; projected 12-4): Two weeks ago, we were talking about this team being easy playoff fodder for the Colts in Indianapolis in the Wild Card Round.  It’s crazy how quickly things change, although that’s what consecutive weeks against the Redskins’ and Raiders’ defenses will do.  Like the Alex Smith’s 49ers team in 2011, the Chiefs lead the league in takeaways and giveaways, and although he somehow only rushed for 20 yards Sunday, Jamal Charles has to be considered the most dangerous runningback in football.  I could see a 2008 Larry Fitzgerald-like playoff run for Charles in an AFC playoff environment that suddenly looks wide open. They have an excellent opportunity to gain some playoff momentum with upcoming games against the Colts and Chiefs, and perhaps not having a playoff bye will keep the intensity and focus intact.  I’m buying into this team.

6. Baltimore Ravens (8-6; projected 9-7): Just how big was Justin Tucker’s game-saving leg Monday night?  The Ravens now have a reasonable chance of earning the AFC’s 2 seed… but could still miss the playoffs altogether.  Like last year, they are turning it on at the right time with their fourth straight win, and with victories in their next two weeks, their last three games will have been against playoff teams.  Reggie Bush’s 14-yard scamper in the first quarter was only the fourth rushing TD Baltimore has given up all year (an NFL-low).  Sunday’s game against the Patriots should be a classic, and there is little doubt in my pessimistic brain they will win on a last-second Hail Mary or something.  That leaves the season finale at Cincinnati, where the Bengals still have not lost all season.  If they win there, the only thing worse than being the AFC’s 3 seed is being forced to watch Home Alone 2 on repeat on the AMCnetwork.

In Contention

Miami Dolphins (8-6; projected 9-7): The Dolphins are the AFC’s version of the Cardinals – that surprising team that will miss the playoffs because of the stupid 8 and 9-win division leaders that will instead get in.  I suppose I should predict them to beat the Bills and the Jets (not exactly the league’s toughest teams) but it’s hard to favor the inevitably tragic Dolphins over the defending Super Bowl champs.  This leads to an interesting question: Who do the Dolphins root for in this Sunday’s Pats-Ravens game?  Maybe a tie?  Or Ray Lewis to indefinitely delay the game by stealing the mic from Jim Nantz?

San Diego Chargers (7-7; projected 9-7): On Thursday night, San Diego played the most impressive game of any NFL team in 2013.  They dominated the line of scrimmage.  They assaulted Peyton Manning and the Denver running game.  They did it in cold weather, on national TV, and against the league’s best team.  The cards are seriously stacked against them at this point – they basically need Miami and Baltimore to lose out.  But should those things somehow miraculously happen… again, the AFC’s 3 seed (which will probably be the team that rhymes with the word “Schnatriots”) may be screwed. 

Baltimore 23, New England 20
Kansas City 27, Indianapolis 17
Denver 34, Baltimore 14
Kansas City 17, Cincinnati 14
Denver 30, Kansas City 20

NFC Playoffs

1. Seattle Seahawks (12-2; projected 14-2): Eli Manning moved his record to 2-4 all-time against the Seahawks (don’t forget he’s still 2-0 against the Patriots in Super Bowls) and Seattle got its eighth win of the season against a team with five wins or fewer.  I love Todd’s idea for Pete Carroll to blow this week’s home game against the Cardinals just to make sure the 49ers do not make the playoffs.  Evil, diabolic, and perfectly fitting the Seahawks’ personality.  At this point, all I can root for is for Carroll to rest his starters in Week 17 so the Seahawks will be rusty in the divisional round (and perhaps give Russell Wilson enough spare time to suffer a baseball injury).  The real question: What music does Fox play leading into the Seahawks’ Lombardi Trophy ceremony after their Super Bowl 48 win?  Hendrix, Alice in Chains, Eddie Vedder, Dave Matthews, Soundgarden, Sir Mix-A-Lot . . . My choice would be “Black Hole Sun,” alongside images of angry WTO protestors burning things.

2. Carolina Panthers (10-4; projected 12-4): The Panthers control their own destiny, and since the Saints cannot win outside of the Bayou, Riverboat Ron and CAM! probably face a tougher challenge in their Week 17 trip to Atlanta than their home game this week.  The most promising sign for the Panthers was DeAngelo Williams’ 81 rushing yards (and 168 total yards) against the Jets, as well as the fact that Carolina now moves to 9-1 in games where the defense allows 20 points or fewer. 

3. Chicago Bears (8-6; projected 10-6): I’m convinced the Bears horrid rushing defense finally stood up last weekend as a direct result of my starting Chris Ogbonnaya in multiple playoff fantasy leagues.  No matter; the 2006 Colts own the record for the NFL’s worst rush defense since 1985, and we all know how their season ended.  Also that year, the Colts finished second in the NFL in scoring; so guess who’s second in scoring right now?  If you guessed the Bears, you’re (unbelievably) correct!  The Bears do have to travel to Philadelphia next weekend before hosting Aaron Rodgers (potentially) and the Packers in the season finale.  The real losers for the Bears are those 6,000 starting quarterbacks for Chicago between 1988 and 2004 wondering why Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall couldn’t have come along sooner.

4. Dallas Cowboys (8-6; projected 10-6): Go ahead.  Make fun of me.  Do it.  But watch who laughs when they beat the pitiful Redskins, take care of the Eagles in Big D, beat the Saints at home (which most high school JV teams could probably do) and shock the world by winning in Seattle in the playoffs.  And then watch as I cash in my winnings from their 66-1 odds to win the Super Bowl.  But in all likelihood, I’ll shut up next week after they blow another 23-point lead when they refuse to run the ball.

5. New Orleans Saints (10-4; projected 11-5): Top three things an NFL team can do to annoy Zach Saltz: (1) Win all the time at home and look terrible on the road, (2) Permanently screw up any fantasy football owner like myself stupid enough to take Darren Sproles as their second runningback, and (3) Get blown out by the Seahawks.  The funny thing is, I’ve always loved the Saints, but this year, all they’ve ever done is frustrate me.  It’s not really a good thing when the highlight of New Orleans’ season (for me) was losing to the Patriots in the final seconds.  At least there, they did what they were supposed to do.  And at least if Todd and I had been in Vegas on Sunday, we would have won some money betting against them in St. Louis (the -6.5 line now looks outrageous).  Should the Saints lose Sunday, the 5 seed looms large, which will mean an early playoff exit on the road (sound familiar?)

6. San Francisco 49ers (10-4; projected 11-5): After this season ends, the NFL rules committee should remember the 2013 49ers.  They are probably the NFC’s second-best team (and the league’s third-best), but would have to go on the road if they played Chicago or Dallas in the playoffs.  But that probably won’t even happen since, as the 6 seed, they would go to Seattle in the divisional round.  So potentially, the only really great matchup in the playoffs could happen in mid-January.  Anyway, 49er fans have to be excited at Michael Crabtree’s successful return, along with Kendell Hunter and LaMichael James putting in some valuable playing time off the bench.  In spite of losing by a combined 71-16 in their last two games in Seattle, San Francisco has to be considered the Seahawks’ biggest threat in the NFC.  As Todd suggested, we need to remember what happened after the Patriots beat the Jets 45-3?  Jesus, this week’s column is depressing.

Cue the music: "BLACK HOLE SUN, WON'T YOU COME..."

In Contention

Arizona Cardinals (9-5; projected 10-6): In its first full game without Tyrann Mathieu, the Cardinals surrendered 34 points and 460 yards of offense to the Tennessee Titans.  They were incredibly fortunate to get out of Nashville with a win.  Now it comes down to matchups with the two teams that have plagued them the last few seasons: The Seahawks and the 49ers.  In other news, it still boggles my mind why Bruce Arians continues to go to Rashard Mendenhall (186 carries, 577 yards, 121 receiving yards, 3 fumbles) over Andre Ellington (94 carries, 558 yards, 351 receiving yards, 1 fumble).  Maybe he’s been getting advice from Jason Garrett.

Philadelphia Eagles (8-6; projected 8-8): I’m not totally sure why I’m going against the NFL’s number 2 offense when their remaining games are against the Bears’ and Cowboys’ so-called defenses.  But then again, you shouldn’t be allowed to make the playoffs if you give up 382 yards to Matt Cassel and 48 points to an Adrian Peterson-less Vikings team.

Detroit Lions (7-7; projected 8-8): By virtue of their season sweep of the Bears, they still have a chance.  But like the Eagles, 23 turnovers in their last seven games should make them exempt from any potential playoff discussion.

Green Bay Packers (7-6-1; projected 8-7-1): We’ll know more after Wednesday, when Aaron Rodgers is expected to return to the practice field once again. But I think deep down, Packers fans know that Sunday’s remarkable comeback in Dallas was their greatest moment of 2013.

Engine 5 (14-1; projected 15-1): Terry’s fantasy team can sense victory in the horizon in the Almost Sideways fantasy league’s championship. He’s an underdog to Cali Neva Doggies with their fearsome combination of Peyton Manning and Bobby Rainey, but every move Terry makes seems to be the correct one.  I predict a 40-point week for Ace Sanders.

San Francisco 27, Chicago 10
Dallas 37, New Orleans 33
Seattle 24, San Francisco 7
Carolina 30, Dallas 13
Seattle 26, Carolina 18

Seattle 35, Denver 17

            Thoughts?  Comments?  More Nirvana songs and pictures of depressed Patriots fans to share?  Let me know below.


  1. Why the random hate for "Home Alone 2"? Gotta love Brenda Fricker as the bird lady.

    Way to take credit for the 45-3 Pats-Jets comparison to Hawks-9ers that I brought up weeks ago... They are really similar situations, but even more so if we hadn't dropped that one in SF last week. The Hawks are unbeatable at home because of the 12th Man and because they are a dominant team (best road team in the NFL, 6-2). The Pats home win streaks back then were because they were just so dominant and, in general, basically all NFL teams are relatively lousy on the road. Their home field advantage was simply not as impressive as the one in the Pacific Northwest, which is why losing to SF at home is even more unthinkable.

    I also love how everyone still says SF is a top 3 team, despite losing at home to one of the other candidates and on the road against one of the others. And they have had losing streaks twice. The refusal to admit that they are simply loaded with talent but not great is ludicrous.

    You betting on the Cowboys is just you finding a way to hold out hope that we won't win it all. Your hatred for the Seahawks is way off-base and confusing (like mine of the Texans, I suppose), and just because we beat every other relevant team in the conference, you have to jump on a bandwagon that we haven't played yet. Just making outlandish predictions is nothing without reason, just like your prediction that NO would beat us on Monday night...yeah that worked out well. You make these bold statements like Skip Bayless, knowing that everyone will forget when you are wrong, but if your most random ass blind stab is right, you will not let anyone forget it. Ever. Good plan... Dallas will be lucky to rebound from that blown lead. They cannot win at home, so I couldn't see them getting out of the wild card round anyway. Over the last 15 or whatever years, they are .500 exactly. And they will continue that amazing trend this year.

    The Ravens seem to have a bit of 2013 Auburn "team of destiny" thing going on, but they just can't win again, right? At this moment, I still have the Patriots in the Super Bowl, but anyone could come out of that conference. Pats should get home field at least.

    I am sure they will have exhausted most of the usual Seattle music by the end of the game, but Soundgarden would be a cool change of pace.
    Prediction (assuming they don't choose the obvious "Can't Hold Us" by Macklemore: "The Fixer" by Pearl Jam
    My preference: "Lithium" by Nirvana or "Even Flow" by Pearl Jam

  2. You're right about the Seahawks, Todd. I will back off. Being compared to Skip Bayless is about as low as it can get, but it's totally deserved. They are having a special season, they've never won a Super Bowl, they have great fans, and the city of Seattle needs something to be happy about sports-wise. My hatred of them is irrational (although in all fairness, I've hated them since the Jon Kitna 1999 team, so it's not really recent.) Carroll and the defense have bad personalities, but Belichick has his dick moments too. Love Russell Wilson. Usually my hatred of the Seahawks takes a backseat to the Steelers, but since Seattle has been so dominant this year, they are easy to pick on. They are having an exceptional year, have played tough opponents (in by far the toughest division in football), and if they win the Super Bowl, it will be completely deserved. I predict them to win the Super Bowl for a reason. I'll shut up about it.

    I take full responsibility for the Cowboys, and if they lose next week, I'll be happy to share that I thought they would win the Super Bowl. I think they have a favorable schedule, and 66-1 odds is appealing. It's just a feeling. At the beginning of the season, I predicted the Falcons to make the Super Bowl and I thought the Packers wouldn't make it past the first round of the 2010 playoffs. I'm stupid.

    I will not apologize for "Home Alone 2." This may be the worst movie ever made. Except, oh wait, it couldn't be the worst movie ever made because it's an exact replica of "Home Alone" and "Home Alone" was a good movie.

    I don't know how anyone can pick the Patriots when (a) they can't stop the run, (b) they can't defend the pass, (c) they can't score in the red zone, (d) they can't stop teams on 3rd down, and (e) Brady can't throw the game-winning TD in the last minute every week. But then again, maybe that's why they should be picked. No one believed in your Ravens last year, right?

    I think the song could depend on the opponent. If they beat the Ravens, it could be Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze." Or against Peyton Manning, it could be "Not for You" by Nirvana.

    1. I am glad to hear that you realize how unrealistic you sound sometimes. I just hear these same types of things by the national media all the time and I never get the platform to stick up for my team...this works.

      66/1 is nice, but it just seems like throwing away money. They are lucky their division is horrible...they are going to beat the 2012 Saints for worst defense ever and still might make the playoffs? Fluke. Romo will never win a playoff game under Garrett.

      The Patriots won enough without Gronk earlier, so they will get it going by playoff time. They are going to be a tough out, which makes them as close to a favorite as there is in the conference. Home field might be the key. After that brutal performance, I can't see Cincy getting a bye, despite their tie breakers. Or maybe it could still be the Colts, like I predicted preseason...against, yes, the Falcons also. The Colts appear a bit like Baltimore last year...struggling and bored down the stretch heading into an already clinched playoffs.

      I like your thinking on those songs! Maybe they will go off the board and go with Foo Fighters or Heart or something. If it was somehow Pittsburgh, it would obviously be "Rape Me" in honor of Big Ben...to soon?

  3. Not too soon. That's what Auburn fans should be playing after they beat the Seminoles next month.

    I actually thought of another thing I liked about "Home Alone 2": When the family has to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" in Spanish. Clever. What would be your dream cast for the modern-day remake of "Angels With Filthy Souls?" Here's what it would look like for me:

    Johnny: Ed Harris
    Snakes: Michael Fassbender
    Acey: John Travolta
    Johnny's Girlfriend: Amy Adams
    Johnny's brother: Viggo Mortensen
    Snuffy, Al, and Little Mo with the gimpy leg: Peter Dinklage, Verne Troyer, and Linda Hunt.
    Directed by: Brian De Palma

    Or, if we went another route:

    Johnny: Omar Epps
    Snakes: Larenz Tate
    Acey: Samuel L. Jackson
    Johnny's girlfriend: Kerry Washington
    Johnny's brother: Mike Tomlin
    Snuffy, Al, and Little Mo with the gimpy leg: The 36 Mafia
    Directed by: John Singleton

    1. You can't forget about Leo, Pete, Boney Bob, and Cliff! I did go into this a bit in my "Fake Movies We Wish Were Real" article (http://almostsideways.blogspot.com/2012/07/power-rankings-fake-movies-we-wish-were.html), but I didn't pick a cast. I still think Matthew Weiner would be the perfect writer/director or the job. But your De Palma flick would be badass. The 36 Mafia should be in it regardless.

  4. I was also thinking of David Cronenberg as director of the Harris/Mortensen version. The only requirement would be that it would have to be insanely violent and over-the-top. And probably some scenes where Johnny mutilates Snakes' body. But that excess would almost have to necessitate the involvement of Nicolas Cage on the project. Perhaps he could play Leo, Pete, Boney Bob, etc. in multiple roles (like Alec Guiness in "Kind Hearts in Coronets"). But here is the inevitable direction this project would go:

    Johnny: Christian Bale
    Acey: George Clooney
    Snakes: Mark Wahlberg
    Johnny's girlfriend: Jennifer Lawrence
    Johnny's brother: Bradley Cooper
    Little Mo with the gimpy leg: Robert De Niro
    Directed by David O. Russell