Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Powerlines: Week 13 NFL Power Rankings

Sometimes life calls for earmuffs.

Another great weekend of NFL football is in the books, between the Raiders shocking the Steelers, the Saints almost tripping up in Washington, the Patriots falling yet again on the road in Miami, and the Giants and Cowboys putting on a great show, it was the kind of weekend that reminds you why you're a football fan. We're entering the point of the season where the rankings are somewhat easy to compile thanks to mountains of evidence from the season. Even ESPN almost gets it right at this point in the year! Here are this weeks rankings...Enjoy!

1. Colts
– Indianapolis ascends to the top of the heap with an impressive win over a surging Titans team. They have now won 21 straight regular season games, and number 22 seems likely with the Broncos coming to Indy. Peyton Manning has had himself a full career against Denver alone. I’m hoping my boys can put together their most impressive win of the season this coming Sunday, but the odds are squarely against them. It would be quite a feather in their cap if the Broncos can take down this high flying team, but I’m not expecting it. If there is any hope for Denver, it’s that the Colts may be starting to get complacent as they have pretty much already wrapped up the number 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. In fact, if they do win on Sunday, the Colts have the top seed wrapped up in the AFC officially.

2. Saints – It is impossible to overstate how lucky the Saints were on Sunday. They overcame a late 10 point deficit on the road, they were the beneficiary of a Redskin 23 yard field goal miss which would have iced it for Washington. They made their own luck by calling timeout at an opportune time in order to give the replay booth sufficient time to decide to review and overturn a play on which a fumble occurred but wasn’t caught. Oh, and they scored in the final minutes of the first half on a drive where their two best offensive plays were a punt and an interception. All of those bounces went their way, and they STILL almost lost to a 3-8 Redskins team. They’re an NFL force, to be sure, but I can’t keep them at number one when they struggled so mightily on Sunday against such a mediocre team.

3. Chargers – While their seven game win streak is not as impressive as the Colts and Saints twelve game streaks, the Chargers are soaring at the moment. Their final four games are far from easy, but they seem likely to get the number 2 seed in the AFC barring an unexpected stumble or two. The Chargers finish by going to Dallas, playing the Bengals at home, going to Tennessee, and finishing at home with the Redskins. All four could be tough games, but they should be favored in all of them.

4. Vikings – Minnesota fans experience their first ever moments of trepidation with Brett Favre on Sunday night against the Cardinals as for the first time in purple, he looked more like a 40 year old man, and less like the second coming of Johnny Unitas. Is this the beginning of the late season Favre swoon predicted in prophecy, or was it just a blip on the way to the Lombardi trophy? The final month of the season in Minnesota promises to be interesting either way.

5. Bengals – Forget all you know about teams with tiger stripes on their helmets. This team can play defense. The NFL average points allowed at this point in the season is 258, the Bengals have allowed a league low 187. The offense is a little sketchy in that it’s only scored 24 or more points twice all season, but no one is scoring on this team. At 9-3 they are in position to compete with the Chargers for a bye in the playoffs. I think people would take this team more seriously if we didn’t have so many memories of horrible Bengals teams from the past. These guys are becoming masters of winning low scoring close games, they have a two game lead with tie-break advantages over both the Ravens and Steelers and they could be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs. It still feels like they’re due to lose in the first round of the playoffs, but that is because it’s just hard to take them seriously as a contender due to their history. However, they are legitimately a contender.

6. Cardinals – With a three game lead over the competition, the Cards have the NFC West pretty much wrapped up. They’ll be hosting a playoff game, most likely in the opening weekend of the playoffs, but we’ve expected that from them. Can they match the crazy run of a year ago that landed them in the Super Bowl? It seems doubtful, but so much depends on the health of Kurt Warner. With Kurt, the Cards ceiling is the Sistine Chapel, with Matt Leinart their ceiling is a popcorn-ceiling at Waffle House. So much depends upon a fragile quarterback without much history of staying healthy.

7. Eagles – Andy Reid is a difficult NFL coach to understand. His teams routinely are devastating one week, and boneheaded the next. Although the Eagles consistently make the playoffs and find success, it’s hard to find a coach standing on a sideline that inspires less confidence. His offenses often seem well thought out and executed, although when he’s looking at the play sheet, he mostly just looks confused. And I’m pretty sure the NFL Coaches association would vote him “Coach most likely to be confused for a walrus” if they voted on such things. His Eagles chances are similarly difficult to figure. At 8-4, I should feel a lot better about the Eagles making the playoffs, but when I look at a schedule that includes At Giants, 49ers, Broncos, and at Cowboys, I can easily see them falling short. We’ll know a lot more about this years version of the Eagles after this coming weekend and their huge clash in New York. Win that, and I think they’re in.

8. Packers – Five weeks ago they looked abysmal in Tampa falling to 4-4 and I was ready to give up on the Pack. Now they have run off four straight victories including impressive wins over the Cowboys and Ravens. Now they look like a solid pick to snag a wild card, and if there is a football god, they will earn a rematch with the Vikings and knock Brett Favre out of the playoffs. Seeing as how I picked them to win it all, I’m definitely rooting for the Packers. I don’t think they have enough to make the Super Bowl, but if they could somehow knock Favre and the Vikes out, that’d be almost as good as a Super Bowl win to many of the Green Bay faithful.

9. Broncos – The good version of the Broncos showed up for the second straight week as Denver rolled to an easy victory over the Chiefs. Now, armed with a reborn sense of confidence that comes from steamrolling two straight opponents, the Broncos have an opportunity to make a gigantic statement to the NFL this weekend against the Colts. I don’t think they’ve got the talent put a halt to the Colts massive regular season streak, but I will be watching this battle of horses and anxiously hoping to be wrong.

10. Giants – Putting the hurt on the Cowboys and potentially starting their annual late season collapse had to feel good to a New York team that had been painfully short on wins over the last month and a half. Now the question remains, can they parlay that momentum into a playoff spot, or possibly even a division title?

11. Cowboys – Their December failure is starting to feel like a sports curse. Much like the Red Sox for years tightened up and fell apart in the playoffs, the Cowboys and their fans are starting to look like they expect things to go wrong in the twelfth month of the year. It’s becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy. The NFL schedule maker did them no favors, either, as they have quite a tough final month with the Chargers, at the Saints, at the Redskins, and home against the Eagles. I foresee yet another December collapse followed by hand wringing in Dallas and Jerry Jones having security escort Wade Phillips from the building at the end of the year. All of these reasons make this weekend’s game with the Chargers hugely important to them, they need to get it. (It wouldn’t hurt my Broncos if they won, either.)

12. Patriots – Thus far the Patriots have only won in places that have England in the name: Six home games in New England and one game in Jolly Old England. Not a good sign for a team that will almost certainly have to travel and win on the road in order to make the Super Bowl, which was what their fans were expecting at the beginning of the season.

13. Dolphins – It’s a tough road, but not impossible for the Dolphins to make the playoffs. Their schedule is full of teams that should be better, but have underachieved, which is completely opposite of the overachieving Dolphins who have no business being at .500 with their talent. The final month sees the Phins playing the Titans, Jaguars, Texans, and Steelers. I could easily see them going 3-1 or even 4-4 in this stretch…or they could get swept. I have no feel for what to expect from the Dolphins game to game.

14. Jaguars – I refuse to believe that this team will qualify for the playoffs…even as they keep winning. I look at their schedule and see a three game losing skid approaching, with games against the Dolphins, Colts, and Patriots. They should win their finale against the Browns, but 8-8 won’t be enough for them to make the playoffs.

15. Ravens – Joe Flacco has regressed from where he was at last year, or even earlier in the season. The defense has been unable to make up for it, and they have had several hard luck losses. At 6-6 things look bleak for Baltimore, but if you’re a Ravens fan, I have hope for you…The remaining schedule: Lions, Bears, at Steelers, at Raiders. Don’t give up Baltimore faithful, everything is not yet lost.

16. Steelers – A show of hands of everyone who figured that with Pittsburgh playing the AFC West that they would lose to the Chiefs and Raider, but thump the Broncos and Chargers…put your hands down, liars. Since trouncing Denver in the Mile High City, this team has completely fallen apart. Losing to the Raiders at Heinz Field either signals the end of the line or the ashes from which the phoenix of their rises. I’m guessing it’s the end of the line for the champs. I’m guessing the Steelers miss the playoffs entirely.

17. Titans – No one wants to play the Titans right now, but trying to climb out of an 0-6 hole may prove to be too much for this plucky group who appear to have righted the ship too late in the season to be able to sail to the playoffs. Still, I’m sure the Chargers and Dolphins are none too excited about the prospect of having to face this team in the critical final month when they have absolutely nothing to lose.

18. Jets – At 6-6 in the AFC, you need to be special to make it all the way. The Jets have not been special this year other than the one time they beat the Patriots. With a rookie quarterback ending the season with the Colts and Bengals, I’m guessing they remain non-special. Looks like all that sliding practice that Mark Sanchez got in with Joe Girardi didn’t do a lick of good as he showed on Thursday night that he still has a desire to dive head first…even if he’s going to get himself killed in the process. FEET FIRST, Mark.

19. Falcons – Who knew Chris Redman was still alive? With Matt Ryan battling turf toe, Redman subbed in for him and threw for only 235 yards and a couple of interceptions. The Falcons need to get Ryan and stud running back Michael Turner back right away to have any postseason shot, but they’re reeling so badly I think they’re done. They were run out of the Georgia Dome to the point that the fans started cheering for Michael Vick, only problem is that Vick was playing for the Eagles. Yikes.

20. Panthers – For those who think that a quarterback doesn’t matter much in the league anymore, I present the Carolina Panthers. Jake Delhomme had been terrible up until the point that he broke his finger, and despite having a solid team around him, the Cats have become irrelevant in the NFL. How lousy was the quarterbacking matchup on Sunday in the Panthers-Buccaneers game? Matt Moore of the Panthers made his first NFL start, threw for 161 yards on 14-20 passing with no touchdowns and an interception and he was far and away the better quarterback in the game. Josh Freeman of the Bucs threw for 321 yards, but also had a dreadful 5 interceptions on the day. File that game under “One I’m glad I didn’t see.”

#8 Was the beloved backup to #7.

21. Texans – As a career backup quarterback to John Elway, on the few chances that Gary Kubiak had to play in games, he won a lot of fans here in Denver. Due to those days of old, I cheer for him to do well as the head coach of the Texans. However, with the talent that team possesses, he’s going to need to start winning games and soon if he wants to remain the head coach. Rumors say that Texans ownership is still happy to have Gary running things, but how much longer can they stick with him if his teams continue to under produce? There is enough talent on that team to make the NFL playoffs, but yet again, they likely will fall short barring a miraculous finish.

22. Redskins – I bumped the Skins up several spots this week despite a loss. Few times in NFL history has a poor team like the Redskins played a juggernaut opponent as well as Washington played the Saints on Sunday. If kicker Shaun Suisham (who has since been cut by Washington) can make a chip shot 23 yarder, Washington becomes the first team this season to defeat New Orleans. Bad teams find a way to lose games they should win, which is just as much what happened as the Saints finding a way to win the game, but even in defeat, the Redskins have nothing to hang their head over regarding their effort. Washington may be a bad team, but they have the ability to take down good teams on the right day.

23. Seahawks – Congrats to Seattle for finally winning an interesting game on Sunday. Fans in the Northwest haven’t seen a lot of tense exciting football, so it must have been nice to have a play come down to the last play and have their team win it. The win was basically meaningless other than ending any shred of hope the Niners had to make the playoffs, but it was a nice step for a team that is in the midst of its second disappointing season in a row.

24. Bears – I’m sure it felt nice for the Bears faithful to finally get a win after losing for a month, but beating the Rams at Soldier Field proves nothing other than that the Rams are a very bad football team.

25. 49ers – A season that started with such promise for Mike Singletary and his 49ers has crashed and burned. Singletary hasn’t even been interesting lately. A very disappointing season by the Bay.

26. Raiders – Huge win for the Raiders, no one was expecting Oakland to put up much of a fight against the desperate Steelers in Pittsburgh, but Bruce Gradkowski wanted to show the town where he grew up a thing or two. The Pittsburgh native led the Raider offense on three fourth quarter touchdown drives to take care of the reeling Steelers. With the leadership he has shown, Gradkowski deserves a shot next year at the starting job in Oakland as he has shown infinitely more poise and drive behind center than JaMarcus Russell. Russell was highly drafted but is now generally regarded by NFL types as a massive bust. (Both literally and figuratively…that dude is huge)

27. Bills – You can take the Bills out of Buffalo, but you can’t take the ineptitude out of the Bills. If the Bills plan on moving to Toronto in the future, they may want to rethink that plan unless they can somehow take their passionate fans with them. To say the Bills don’t move the needle much in Toronto is a massive understatement, it was almost like the people in Canada didn’t understand the rules of football, and they definitely don’t care about the Bills. The Rogers Centre was like a morgue, you could hear a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass drop in that place.

28. Chiefs – Just a hunch, but I don’t think Todd Hailey is going to last very long as the Head Coach of the Chiefs. Both he and his team looked miserable on Sunday against the Chiefs, and that team stinks. If you’re supposed to get better as a season progresses, no one has told Kansas City who looks just as dreadful today as they did to start the season. It’s a testament to how many horrible teams there are that I think there are four teams worse than KC.

29. Lions – Three quarters of the way through the season, the Lions have already made a tremendous 2 win improvement on their previous campaign’s total with a chance to get as many as four more on top of that! See, it’s all in how you look at things! For what it’s worth, I started trying to name NFL head coaches off the top of my head, and I was able to name every single one save for the Head Coach of Detroit. I didn’t have the foggiest clue who he was or what he looked like. As a public service…his name is Jim Schwartz and he looks like this…

He is strong in the Schwartz.

Although a quick Google search shows that Schwartz apparently flaunts NFL convention by hardly ever wearing a ball cap. I could not find a single photo of him wearing a Lions hat. Here I thought that wearing a ball-cap was a league requirement so that they can sell more merchandise, and really, who WOULDN’T want to look like an NFL Head Coach?

30. Rams – My heart bleeds for Steven Jackson, the only real football player in Saint Louis. He is second in the league in rushing yards despite the fact that his team likely won’t win two games all year. Can’t we stage some sort of NFL intervention and get this guy onto a real NFL team? It’s in the best interest of everyone.

Is this not a perfect color for an NFL uniform?

31. Buccaneers – It’s hard to be optimistic if you’re a fan of the Buccaneers when the quarterback they are pinning their hopes for the future upon throws five interceptions in one game against the Panthers. Can the Bucs please go back to the creamsicle jerseys? They are undefeated in those uniforms this year and winless in their regular duds. Seems like a no brainer!

32. Browns – I’m so sorry Cleveland. At least you DEFINITELY have LeBron for the next few months and possibly longer. I’m guessing few in Ohio are referring to their head coach as “The Man Genius.” Even trying to think of something to write about the Browns is depressing, I can’t imagine being one of their fans right now.

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