NFL Power Rankings: Week 14
Stop the presses. Green Bay had to win a game on the last possession for the first time all year. They still have yet to find themselves in a come-from-behind scenario. Elsewhere in the league, Houston jumped six spots, proving they belong atop the AFC South and in the playoffs with a tough win over playoff hopefuls the Atlanta Falcons. The Denver Tebows also made a nice jump four spots up to 10th, though their win over the woeful Vikings was less than convincing. The Titans and Jets placed themselves in position to battle for the final AFC playoff spot with wins, while all five NFC teams (Bears, Cowboys, Falcions, Giants, Lions) whose playoff status is still up in the air lost. In the bottom half of the rankings, Philadelphia and Buffalo continue rheir downward slides due to poor play.
1. Green Bay Packers (12-0); (Last week: 1)
Sunday’s tough win over the New York football Giants might be just what the Packers needed to remind themselves what parity in the playoffs feels like. What did Aaron Rodgers have to say for his team after leading a Tom Brady-esque 64 yard drive in under a minute toset up the game-winning field goal?: “Those are the fun ones when they end up like that.”
2. New Orleans Saints (9-3); (3)
As long as Drew Brees keeps setting records, New Orleans keeps winning. The Saints’ quarterback became the first to reach 4,000 passing yards in just 12 games. If it weren’t for Mr. Rodgers running things in the neighborhood, the MVP award would be Brees’ to lose.
3. New England Patriots (9-3); (2)
Imagine what critics would be saying if the Patriots were the team to spare Indianapolis the embarrassment of an 0-16 season. It almost happened as New England’s defense gave up 21 fourth-quarter points to the venerable Dan Orlovsky. Nonetheless, the Pats’ offensive juggernaut continues to chug along at a furious pace: Rob Gronkowski tied the single-season record for most TD receptions by a tight end (13), Wes Welker leads the NFL with 93 catches and Brady is now the sixth player to throw 30 touchdowns in three different seasons.
4. San Francisco 49ers (10-2); (5)
San Francisco returned to its winning ways, blanking the lowly Rams to clinch its first division title since 2002. The new and improved Alex Smith showed up after last week’s stinker against the Ravens, turning in an efficient effort with only six incomplete passes and no turnovers. Frank Gore etched his name in Niners’ history, becoming the franchise’s leading rusher.
5. Baltimore Ravens (9-3); (4)
Baltimore kept pace atop the AFC and within their own division by hammering the lowly Browns. Ray Rice exploded for 204 yards on the ground, nearly half of them coming after first contact. The question now becomes “which Ray is king in Baltimore?”: the Ravens are a perfect 8-0 when Rice carries the ball at least 14 times.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3); (7)
Pittsburgh reminded Cincinnati and the rest of the country who the reigning AFC champs are, putting the game away in the second quarter with 28 points. If all three phases of the Steelers’ game can play the way they did this week, things could get mighty scary for the rest of the league once Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley become healthy again.
7. Houston Texans (9-3); (13)
Houston is playing like a team that is used to persevering through adversity late in the season, which they are not used to. Rookie quarterback TJ Yates shocked everyone in his first NFL start by doing what Caleb Hanie could not: playing better than the quarterback on the other sideline. Not necessarily great, just better than the other guy. The defense held tight in the game’s final seconds with their backs to the end zone, holding a potent Atlanta offense that had been in a rhythm recently to only ten points. Though the return of Andre Johnson might have provided an initial confidence boost, his departure in the third quarter was not what the Texans were looking for.
8. Atlanta Falcons (7-5); (8)
Despite this week’s disheartening loss to a fifth-round draft pick that nobody except his own team had ever heard of, Atlanta is still in very solid position to make the playoffs. The Falcons currently sit sixth in the NFC behind Chicago and the four division leaders, though only the most devout of Bears fans can possibly maintain the belief that they will make the postseason. Holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over Detroit means that Atlanta could possibly avoid a first round match-up with the Saints and face a playoff-challenged Dallas.
9. Dallas Cowboys (7-5); (6)
Unable to ride the momentum of a four-game winning streak, Dallas missed an opportunity to increase its precious one game lead over the Giants. The manner in which the Cowboys lost might sting even more: coach Jason Garrett called a timeout on his own kicker right before the 49 yard attempt went through the uprights, only to have the ensuing attempt miss short and left.
10. Denver Broncos (7-5); (14)
It’s hard to argue with that 6-1 record the second coming of the Messiah has compiled, but I’m going to anyways. Sure a win is a win, but when you only muster 30 first half points in seven games, and only two of your six wins come against teams with even a remote shot at the playoffs, I’m going to maintain my skepticism. Tebow has a chance to convince me when the Broncos welcome New England to the Mile High City in two weeks.
11. Tennessee Titans (7-5); (16)
With each passing week it appears that Chris Johnson is back to his old self, this time putting the Titans on his back with 153 yards and two scores to give Tennessee the win over Buffalo and move them into a four-way tie for the AFC’s final playoff spot. This weekend will give Tennessee a chance to prove it belongs in the postseason with the red-hot Saints coming to town.
12. Cincinnati Bengals (7-5); (10)
Whatever slim shot the Bengals had at taking the AFC North title disappeared in the twelve minute span in which Pittsburgh found Cincinnati’s end zone four times. Andy Dalton needs to right the sinking ship quickly if he hopes to put the Bengals in the playoffs.
13. New York Jets (7-5); (17)
Two weeks ago I had all but written off the Jets’ chances of making the playoffs. With their second straight comeback victory (the 10th of Mark Sanchez’s career), New York is right in the thick of the AFC wild card race. Normally I would say making the playoffs is irrelevant if a team has to come from behind against the Bills and Redskins, but these Jets are anything but normal.
14. Oakland Raiders (7-5); (9)
Oakland played an all-around woeful game against Miami, though it might not have mattered if they had played anything but perfect. The Dolphins ran the Raiders ragged, dropping the black and silver into a tie with Denver for the AFC West lead. The Raiders’ remaining divisional games against San Diego and Kansas City are now must-win.
15. Detroit Lions (7-5); (11)
It looks more and more each week like there is a fundamental attitude problem in Detroit that starts with coach Jim Schwartz. A week after the Suh Stomp, the Lions committed 11 penalties for 107 yards, which doesn’t include the big yardage lost on three offensive pass interference calls on Nate Burleson. Burleson was also flagged for a facemask, Titus Young for a dead-ball unnecessary roughness penalty and Stefan Logan for unsportsmanlike conduct. Can Schwartz capture the focus of a talented yet undisciplined team that has lost five of seven games?
16. New York Giants (6-6); (15)
It isn’t every year that a team can lose four straight games in the third quarter of the season and find itself only a game behind the division leader.
17. Chicago Bears (7-5); (12)
I was willing to give Caleb Hanie a mulligan after his performance against the Raiders, but this week’s stinker against the Chiefs was ugly. Putting together another three-pick game, Caleb Hanie is thanking his lucky stars that 1) Josh McCown has been so terrible in practice so far that he was inactive this week and 2) Matt Forte’s injury means that all of this is irrelevant. I ride with the Bears ’til I die, I bleed blue and orange, but you’d have to be delusional to think this season is anything but ready for a fork to be stuck in it.
18. Miami Dolphins (4-8); (19)
If the season started five weeks ago Miami would be tied for first at 4-1 with New England in the AFC East. In this stretch the Dolphins have outscored opponents 139-54. Reggie Bush is finally starting to look like the every-down back that New Orleans had hoped he would be. Even the defense got in the action against Oakland, producing a pick six. Tony Sparano has this time believing.
19. Seattle Seahawks (5-7); (25)
Marshawn Lynch is running like… a good running back, reaching the 100 yard mark for the fourth time in Seattle’s last five games. This feat is all the more impressive when you take into account the fact that he had never even had back-to-back 100-yard games until now.
20. Arizona Cardinals (5-7); (26)
Deja vu stat of the week: Arizona’s 19-13 overtime win over Dallas is their second such victory this season.
21. San Diego Chargers (5-7); (20)
A trouncing on prime time television like the one San Diego handed Jacksonville should feel good, right? This one has to feel bittersweet for the Chargers as they halt a six-game losing streak. Philip Rivers needs to set the tone in the final quarter of the season if he wants this team to carry any momentum into the off-season.
22. Buffalo Bills (5-7); (22)
As nicely surprising as Ryan Fitzpatrick’s resurgence earlier this season might have been, this week’s loss proves how much Buffalo misses Fred Jackson’s presence on the field.
23. Philadelphia Eagles (4-8); (18)
Andy Reid is slowly losing control of his team. Luckily for Reid, his job might be safe only because the front office should be hesitant to look for a new head coach with so much money invested in talented players in their prime. The Eagles defense made Marshawn Lynch look like a real running back.
24. Kansas City Chiefs (5-7); (29)
Kansas City barely beat a bumbling Bears team on a hail mary in the last seconds, not of the game, but of the first half. Tyler Palko sucked less than Hanie, managing to avoid any turnovers. As a Bears fan I’m not entirely sure how I am supposed to feel about Kyle Orton’s one-and-done KC debut.
25. Washington Redskins (4-8); (24)
Add insult to injury: Word around the league is that tight end Fred Davis and left tackle Trent Williams will be suspended for the rest for the season due to violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
26. Carolina Panthers (4-8); (27)
If there was any doubt going into this week’s games about who deserves the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, it went flying out the window. Cam Newton set the single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (13) with three more against the Bucs. He led three scoring drives of 80 or more yards, threw another touchdown and even caught a pass.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-8); (23)
There aren’t a whole lot positives to be taken from this latest blowout loss. Kicker Conor Barth hit four field goals from 40 or more yards out. That’s positive, right?
28. Cleveland Browns (4-8); (21)
What better way to recover from the pounding Cleveland took from Baltimore? Why, welcome the in-form Pittsburgh Steelers to town after just three days of preparation, of course.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-9); (28)
Next season will feature a new owner, a slew of new head coaches and better feature a new quarterback under center. I am sure Blaine Gabbert is a nice guy, but he does not look comfortable in the pocket and is far from ready to participate on the NFL level. Meanwhile, MojoD is quietly leading the NFL in rushing yards, wasting away his talents in Jacksonville.
30. Minnesota Vikings (2-10); (30)
The Vikings have to keep in mind that they were not just playing against the Denver Broncos, but were also facing some higher power. Quarterback Christian Ponder set a franchise single-game record with 381 passing yards while the defense was getting shredded by Timmy Tebow and Willis McGahee.
31. St. Louis Rams (2-10); (31)
The injury bug continues to plague St. Louis, not that it would really make a difference over the course of the season. Next week the Rams hand the ball to Tom Brandstater after A.J. Feeley fractured the thumb on his throwing hand this week.
32. Indianapolis Colts (0-12); (32)
The Colts may have found their backup of the future in Dan Orlovsky. Almost beating the Patriots almost feels good, except when you still face a winless season.