NFL: Power Rankings Heading Down the Home Stretch

And then there was one.  Carolina stands alone as the league’s lone remaining undefeated team after starting the week with a Thanksgiving Day win.  Now that the calendar has flipped to December, the race for the postseason heats up.  Here is my look at the 10 best teams, and who the three worst teams are, as we march towards Superbowl 50.

Top 10 Teams Through Week 12

  1. Carolina Panthers (11-0): I would put them at the top even if New England had remained undefeated. Why? Because Carolina has gotten better every week dating back to late last season.  Early in the season they struggled on offense, but their defense has been on point all year, currently ranked second overall just behind the Broncos. Add a top five run game, an extremely confident QB and a balanced passing attack, and you’ve got the clear favorite to come out of the NFC right now.  There are more experienced teams vying to bring them down, but it’ll be hard to do it before the second round, as they will end the season with one of the two byes.
  2. New England Patriots (10-1):  They’ve been close to a loss for a few weeks, and it took overtime for them to finally get one.  But to write them off as some have after their loss to Denver on Sunday night is ridiculous.  They have suffered a lot of injuries on offense, which is why they have been on a bit of a “slide” of late.  But they still have their most important offense weapon in Tom Brady healthy, and Rob Gronkowski’s injury wasn’t as bad as previously thought.  They could lose a bye with the recent issues, but I wouldn’t put it past them to rally and hold on even with the injuries.  And with a huge lead in the AFC East, something catastrophic would have to happen for them not to make the playoffs. They were knocked down in week 12, but they are still the best team in the AFC until they get knocked out.
  3. Denver Broncos (9-2): It remains to be seen if Peyton Manning has been “Wally Pipped” by Brock Osweiler, but what I do know, is the Broncos offense is finally on par with the defense this season.  Sure the run game has picked up, but it doesn’t hurt when the QB isn’t turning the ball over as much as Manning was before he got hurt.  Not only was taking down the undefeated Patriots great for this team’s morale, it also means they still have a shot at the number 1 seed in the AFC.  They found a way to go 8-0 with a less than spectacular QB performance in the first half.  With a younger, hungry QB, this team could go very, very far this season.  
  4. Cincinnati Bengals (9-2): A week 12 loss helped turn the tide after a two-game skid ended their run at perfection.  Other than on loss which was due to poor offense, the other poor defense, Cincinnati has been consistently great on both sides of the ball.  They’ve shown the ability to absolutely dominate, and win the close games.  They have a shot a bye, with a game against their biggest competition, Denver, ahead of them.  Andy Dalton  is having the best season of his young career, something he and the organization need to continue through the playoffs after so many first round exits.  Despite being ranked ninth, the run game has been up and down, and they need it to be more consistent.  But they’ve shown they can play with anyone, and look primed to get the second round monkey off their back if they continue doing what they’ve been doing, and stay healthy and hungry.
  5. Arizona Cardinals (9-2): It’s amazing what this team has been the past two seasons with a healthy Carson Palmer.  15-2 as the Cardinals starter, with a TD-INT ratio of 38-12, the 13-year veteran is doing a great job leading this team. Larry Fitzgerald is having a renaissance.  Their two losses were the only two games where they really let down their guard and played down to their opponents, showing when on point, they can be and have beaten everybody.  Arizona boasts the top ranked total offense and fifth defense in the league, proving they are a legit title contender if they can stay healthy.
  6. Minnesota Vikings (8-3): It’s amazing the difference Adrian Peterson has made on this team.  A rejuvenated rushing attack has lessened the pressure on second year QB Teddy Bridgewater, who really hasn’t been impressive at all this season.  This team truly lives by the ground and pound mentality, relying heavily on it’s top ranked rushing offense, and it’s top 10 defense.  They’re better stopping the pass, which is key in the North with the likes of Matt Stafford and Aaron Rodgers.  They’re a game up in the division while currently holding a better division record than Green Bay.  Their last four games are tough, with two against the best of the NFC West, and a week 17 match-up that could determine the division against the Packers.  But if the run game can continue eating up clock, and Bridgewater can find a way to be even a bit better than mediocre, they are in the drivers seat in the North.
  7. Green Bay Packers (7-4): Despite their poor play of late, this team is still a force to be reckoned with.  A bright spot in their Thanksgiving Day loss was the return of Eddie Lacy, who had been a disappointment this season.  Aaron Rodgers found success early on without his favorite target in Jordy Nelson, throwing to the likes of James Jones.  But for some reason, things haven’t clicked on offense for late.  The Packers QB isn’t turning the ball over, but his completion percentage is down and with the absence of a consistent run game, the offense has become one dimensional.  They know how to win, but one big worry for this team right now is Rodgers health.  He said he lost feeling in his fingers against Chicago, so you have to wonder how that will manifest itself going forward.
  8. Kansas City Chiefs (6-5): They’ve won five straight, and are doing exactly what I said they needed to do when I looked ahead to the second half:

    Five of their final eight are against below .500 teams, and the three that aren’t, are the teams ahead of them in the West.  They can move up quickly if Alex Smith can continue to spread the wealth in the pass game and avoid the late turnovers that have plagued him.

    Smith hasn’t been reckless with the football and the team is scoring points in a major way.  When they started 1-5, the most points they’d managed to score were 28 against Green Bay, but they then allowed 38.  During their five-game winning streak, Kansas City has score no fewer than 23 points, while allowing a total of 61 points.  And with the schedule still in their favor down the stretch, and a struggling AFC, this team is primed for a wildcard spot.

  9. Seattle Seahawks (6-5): They’re finally starting to look like the back-to-back NFC Champs that they are.  Russell Wilson had one of his best performances in week 11, throwing for five touchdowns. The defense still wasn’t what it’s been, but if the offense can look even close to what it did last week for the stretch run, they’ll make it to the playoffs in this season’s NFC.  At this point, they’re only competing with two teams for the wild card (Atlanta and Green Bay).
  10. Houston Texans (6-5):  After making the Dolphins look like an offensive juggernaut in week seven, the defense has gotten back on track in a big way.  This team was built around their defense and run game, but the loss of Arian Foster meant the passing game needed to step up.  And after many changes at quarterback, Brian Hoyer has done enough to lock up the job for now.  Four straight wins have put them in a position not only to make the playoffs, but to win the AFC South.  And we’ve seen what JJ Watt can do in the playoffs, so the AFC should be nervous.

Three Fighting for Number 1

30. Tennessee Titans (2-9)

31. San Francisco 49ers (3-8)

32. Cleveland Browns (2-8)

 

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NFL: Week 15 Picks

One week closer to the playoffs, and we still don’t have any spots clinched! Which means it’s unofficially the start of the playoffs, and is a testament to parody in the game today, with how even teams are.  Of course there are standouts, with two teams in the NFC (Packers, Cardinals) and two teams in the AFC (Patriots, Broncos) who all have 10 wins apiece.  Add to that 5 other squads with 9 and 3 others with 8, and we have the makings of a very entertaining final 3 weeks of the regular season.

One of my best weeks picking in week 14, going 13-3 to bring my season total up to 131-76. Take a look at my week 15 predictions, and tell me where I am wrong and why I am right!

But first, answer the polls on who you think finish with the top seed in each conference!

Thursday Night Football

  • Cardinals @ Rams: St. Louis has a chance to play spoiler, and with the ins they have on their resume this season, they are very capable of doing so.  Not only that, with the inconsistency of the 49ers, the Rams have a chance to not finish last in the powerhouse West, which would be huge for a young team.  As for Arizona, this is a must win game.  A loss and Seahawks win would mean a tie atop the division with a week 16 matchup in Seattle awaiting the.  The Cardinals have already lost to the champs, so a loss here and a loss next week could mean no playoffs at all, despite an early season head start that had them looking like a shoo in for a top 2 seed.  After a couple rocky games after losing Carson Palmer, the Cardinals got back on track last week, and I think they do secure the win to keep a hold of the West before heading into 12th man territory. ARIZONA WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Steelers @ Falcons: It’s a game of teams in very different divisions.  Pittsburgh is in the most competitive division in the league, while Atlanta is in the only division where no team will finish above .500.   The Falcon’s offense isn’t the problem, which we saw in the 2nd half on Monday night against the Packers, it’s defense is.  The Steelers have shown flashes of dominance on offense, but are pretty balanced and can run you out of the stadium with Le’Veon Bell in the backfield. I think the consistency on both side of the football, and ability to control the time of possession will get the Steelers the crucial road win to keep the AFC North that much more up for grabs in the final 2 weeks of the season. PITTSBURGH WINS
  • Redskins @ Giants: Washington is terrible, while New York is less so.  The Giants snapped their 7-game slide with a dominating performance against Tennessee on the road.  The Redskins losing skid grew to 5, despite benching RGIII.  While both teams would benefit from losing out at this point, barring a tie, someone has to win, and I think the Giants at home can have another week 14 type performance to pick up their 5th win of the season. NEW YORK WINS
  • Dolphins @ Patriots: Without a win in New England, the Dolphins are out of the playoff picture.  Too many teams already have 8 wins to put the math in their favor.  Miami saw a lot of good things from their QB Ryan Tannehill to make them think next year is the year to make a run, but I think they’ve run out of steam.  The Patriots at home are always tough, but it’s December and it’s Tom Brady.  So give me the home team to get win number 11 and stay in the conversation for a 1st round bye and home-field throughout. NEW ENGLAND WINS
  • Raiders @ Chiefs: Oakland has two wins… I know I’m shocked too.  They upset the 49ers a week ago for that 2nd win, but I don’t see them getting their 3rd win this week. Maybe the Chiefs will finally throw a TD to a wide-receiver this week.  I won’t hold my breath. But I do think they will get  the win, and I expect another nice day for Jamaal Charles. KANSAS CITY WINS
  • Texans @ Colts: The AFC South was a two team race from week 1, and it comes down to this game in Indianapolis.  A Colts win gives them their 2nd straight division crown.  A Texans win keeps the crack in the door open for another week.  Andrew Luck wasn’t  great in their win over the Browns last week, and face another tough defensive test in the one and only JJ Watt.  I love Luck and the Colts as a whole, so give me the home team to lock up their playoff spot this week. INDIANAPOLIS WINS
  • Bengals @ Browns: It’s officially time for Johnny Football in Cleveland.  Brian Hoyer has been benched for this pivotal game for the Browns, who must beat the Bengals to have a shot at the playoffs.  It’s been a great season for Cleveland no matter what, but a loss would almost guarantee no postseason.  As for the Bengals, they laid an egg a week ago, giving everyone else a shot at overtaking them in the AFC North.  But they hold the edge, and seem to follow up bad losses with wins, so I think they overcome the QB controversy on the road. CINCINNATI WINS
  • Jaguars @ Ravens: Jacksonville has quite the defense to grow with next season.  But they are still a young and growing team.  Baltimore has been in this position before, in a playoff push.  They’ve had some good stretches, that have been halted by bad losses.  I think they continue to keep their postseason hopes alive at home.  Look for a big game from Joe Flacco. BALTIMORE WINS
  • Packers @ Bills: Let’s be honest, the Packers are the best team in the NFL right now.  Sure they aren’t as dominant on the road as they are at home, but they’re still pretty darn good away from Lambeau.  And playing in cold weather of Buffalo will be almost like being home, so I expect good things for Green Bay this week.  As I’ve said all season, the Bills have been very impressive, and have kept themselves in the playoff conversation all season.  But I think that comes to an end here.  Aaron Rodgers is just too good. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Buccaneers @ Panthers: Cam Newton is OUT after suffering back fractures (similar to Tony Romo) in his car accident earlier in the week. So Derek Anderson gets the start.  So that means an easier time for the Bucs, but the Panthers are still better than Tampa, even in a down year for them.  They broke out a week ago thanks to a big performance from the usually quiet Jonathan Stewart.  So look for the running game to be big and the defense to be brought to life at home. CAROLINA WINS

Sunday 4/4:25PM Games

  • Jets @ Titans: Neither of these teams want to win this week, let’s be honest.  They’re two of the teams in the running for the number 1 draft pick.  But someone is going to win, and I think it’s going to be the Jets.  The run game has a chance to do damage, and the Titans have no real threats on offense to contest with time of possession battle New York should win. NEW YORK WINS
  • Broncos @ Chargers: This is a better game than I thought it would be while the Chargers were losing 3 straight including 2 in the division.  One of those losses came the Broncos, who were unable to runaway with the AFC West, though it’s just a formality at this point.  CJ Anderson is taking the Broncos to another level and it’s made Denver that much more dangerous.  A win locks up the division, and you know Peyton Manning and company want that as soon as possible. DENVER WINS
  • Vikings @ Lions: Calvin Johnson is heating up at the right time, and boy did the Lions need it. They’d been struggling offensively, letting the Packers take control of the division.  Minnesota has been up and down all year, but must be commended for playing .500 football without their starting QB and starting running back all season.  That being said, I think Detroit keeps their wild card hopes alive with a home victory over their NFC North foes.  DETROIT WINS
  • 49ers @ Seahawks: The loser of this match-up is out of the running for the NFC West crown.  If the Niners lose, they’d also be in jeopardy of missing out on the playoffs all together. The Legion of Boom is back in full force and after San Francisco was shutdown by the lowly Raiders a week ago, there’s little faith that they can go into Seattle and outscore the defending Superbowl champions. SEATTLE WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Cowboys @ Eagles: How big is this game?  Well, both teams enter action with identical 9-4 records, with Philly just ahead of Dallas in the NFC East by virtue of their Thanksgiving day beat down of the Cowboys.  Philly all but ensures a second straight division crown with a victory, while big D would be in a tough battle for a wild card spot.  We know a good team is going to be left out of the NFC playoffs because of the NFC South winner getting a spot with a .500 or lower record.  The loser of this game could be that team that is left out if push comes to shove.  If Philly can limit the turnovers, I think they take this game at home.   PHILADELPHIA WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Saints @ Bears: I liked both of these teams heading into the season, but both have been huge disappointments.  Drew Brees just doesn’t look like the guy of the past few, Jimmy Graham has been shut down, and with no run game, they’ve been very one dimensional.  Jay Cutler’s big off-season deal looks like a bigger mistake than I thought it was when it happened.  He’s got two of the best receivers in the game, but hasn’t used them efficiently all season.  And neither team’s defense is anything to write home about. So who wins?  New Orleans still has a shot at the playoffs, which is is just disgusting.  The bears haven’t been great at home.  So despite the strange showing by the Saints this season, I think they see a chance with Carolina losing Cam Newton, and knowing that the Falcons tend to shoot themselves in the foot, that this division is still very much up for grabs.  Expect Brees to play like that this week.  NEW ORLEANS WINS