Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Week 14 Power Rankings

After a crazy week in the NFL and an awesome Monday night game it's time for the latest power rankings heading into week 14. Despite all the talk about how the NFC is superior the AFC is looking better at the moment.

#1 New England Patriots (9-3)

No, the Patriots don't have the league's best record. No, they didn't light up the Dolphins on Sunday. But they're on another late season run (6 in a row) and proved this week that they can win ugly games with defense and running even if Tom Brady doesn't light up the scoreboard. Game's against Houston and San Francisco coming up will tell us a lot about this New England team.

#2 Houston Texans (11-1)

We all over-reacted a bit about Houston's defensive struggles and near-losses to Jacksonville and Detroit. Well, the Texans re-asserted their dominance with a convincing win against the Titans on Sunday. They haven't had the toughest schedule but they've proved they can win games in a variety of ways. Monday night matchup with the Pats will determine next week's #1.

#3 Denver Broncos (9-3)

Should it come as any surprise that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are the top 2 in the MVP running and each have their teams thinking Super Bowl? Denver extended their win streak to 7 and rebounded from a poor showing in Kansas City by dominating a good Tampa Bay team. Peyton Manning has NEVER has a defense this good.

#4 San Francisco 49ers (8-3-1)

Colin Kaepernick struggled in the surprise OT loss to the Rams. Maybe Harbaugh should go to Alex Smith but regardless of who's at QB we shouldn't take to much away from this loss. The defense is still dominant, they run the ball as well as anyone, and there's a surprising number of weapons for QB x to throw to. They've looked like the most complete team in the NFC all year.

#5 Atlanta Falcons (11-1)

Even with Drew Brees throwing 5 INT's the Falcons still barely managed to beat the Saints. They haven't beat many quality opponents, have been squeaking by as of late, and Matt Ryan doesn't look like the MVP candidate he did in the first 10 weeks. Still, 11-1 is 11-1 and with the 49ers losing it's basically guaranteed the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC will go through Atlanta.

#6 Green Bay Packers (8-4)

How about that? Did anyone see the Packers two-headed running monster on Sunday. They re-captured the division lead after a critical win over the Vikings despite 210 yards from Adrian Peterson. They can't keep all their weapons as healthy and they don't seen as dynamic as they did last year (or on their 5 game winning streak this year for that matter) but the Pack are still one of the most talented teams in the NFL. The only real challenge remaining is a trip to Soldier Field. If this team finishes hot I would not want to see them in the playoffs.

#7 New York Giants (7-5)

Despite the loss last night it would be stupid to count the Giants out. These guys should still win the NFC Least. They basically handed the game to the Redskins by committing penalties and calling stupid plays in the second half. Big game against the surely motivated Saints coming up.

#8 Chicago Bears (8-4)

A lot of people are ranking the Bears below Seattle in wake of their collapse against them on Sunday. I am obviously not one of those people. Chicago surely has some issues to figure out (the O-line is still awful and they need to learn how to contain athletic QB's) but it finally appears that their offensive core (Cutler, Forte, Marshall) will be healthy down the stretch. The key for them is not to look ahead to the Packers game and let the Vikings sneak up on them this weekend.

#9 Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5)

Words cannot describe how huge Sunday's win against the Ravens with Charlie Batch at QB was for this team. Not only did it keep the Steelers alive in the division and out on front in the wild card hunt but it proved this team can play with anybody. Of course Big Ben needs to get healthy for them to do anything but Mike Tomlin once again has his team right in the hunt thanks to defense, James Harrison had his best game of the year on Sunday.

#10 Seattle Seahawks (7-5)

Everyone's favorite team at the moment responded to a bad loss to Miami with a huge road win against the Bears on Sunday. They can win a variety of different ways and proved they are still dangerous even if Lynch doesn't run for 100. They need to pray their starting CB's win their suspension appeals, that would cripple a defense that should be able to dominate their next two matchups (Arizona and Buffalo).

#11 Baltimore Ravens (9-3)

You might think I'm blowing their terrible loss to Charlie Batch out of proportion. I mean they are 9-3 and still 2 games up in the always competitive AFC North. But even the biggest Ravens fan can't deny this team doesn't deserve their 9-3 record. The refs gave them two wins against San Diego and New England, it's not even questionable. They're going to the playoffs but need to figure some things out these last 4 weeks if they don't want to be a one-and-done.

#12 Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)

Despite still being on the outside looking in thanks to the Steelers wining the young and fiery Bengals picked up a critical West Coast win against the Chargers. The Bengals weren't rolling on all cylinders like they were their previous 3 games but still bore down and pulled out a 4th quarter comeback win. They're finding their running game and at the moment have the most dynamic pass rush in the league. Their game against Pittsburgh in a few weeks will probably determine the final AFC playoff spot.

#13 Indianapolis Colts (8-4)

Despite having a better record than both the Bengals and Steelers I can't honestly rank the Colts ahead of either of them. That's not to take anything away from Andrew Luck's gritty performance in their incredible comeback win over Detroit. I'm rooting for this team and it would take a pretty epic collapse for them to miss the playoffs. I just don't think they're capable of doing anything once they get there.

#14 Washington Redskins (6-6)

That was a HUGE win for this exciting team. At this point RG3 has proven he is a stud so their playoff push will come down to the defense. Can they consistently play like they did last night against the Giants? That hasn't been the case most of this year. They'll host Baltimore this week in what could be another statement win for this team.

#15 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6)

Two straight losses to Atlanta and Denver have really put a dent in this solid teams playoff hopes. They are still a very competitive group but their inability to defend the pass came back to bite them in the butt the last 2 games and could be an issue going forward as they still have to play Drew Brees and Matt Ryan again.

#16 New Orleans Saints (5-7)

Drew Bress pretty much ended any chance at an improbable playoff run by throwing 5 INT's against the Falcons on Thursday night. The Saints were a hot pick heading into that game but the Falcons asserted their dominance in the division. Still, with a high-powered offense and an us-against-the-world attitude this team could close out the season on a tear and play serious spoiler.

#17 Dallas Cowboys (6-6)

One of the teams whose chances the Saints could spoil is the Cowboys. Dallas hasn't been pretty as of late; it took OT for them to beat the Browns, got beat by the 'Skins on Thanksgiving, and barely beat the Eagles B-squad on Sunday Night. But they're 6-6 and the Giants recent loss still gives them a legit shot at the division title if they can take care of business. But as always, taking care of business in Dallas is easier said than done.

#18 Detroit Lions (4-8)

It's sad that Calvin Johnson and Co. are 4-8. They've played at a much higher level than their record indicates this year. Some things just haven't gone their way. But the league's top ranked passing attack still has 2 prime time games left and I expect this team to put up a fight in both of those (against Green Bay and Atlanta).

#19 St. Louis Rams (5-6-1)

Jim Harbaugh's kryptonite are playing solid defense as of late and are really exciting their fan base for next year if they can find a few weapons for Sam Bradford. It's unfortunate this team has had such a tough schedule. They're playing as well as any of the wild card contenders in the league.

#20 Minnesota Vikings (6-6)

The Vikings are still in the hunt but recent division losses to the Bears and Packers hurt. Adrian Peterson is having perhaps the best season of his career but Christian Ponder and the defense aside from Jared Allen is just not getting it done yet again. Changes need to be made for this team to keep up with the rest of the NFC North.

#21 Miami Dolphins (5-7)

Some special teams gaffes and no one giving surprisingly good rookie QB Ryan Tannehill prevented the Dolphins from pulling what could have been a critical upset against the Patriots. Miami has lost 4 of 5 for one simple reason, they've lost the ability to run the ball. One has to wonder if Reggie Bush is a starting caliber RB, he's not doing what he was in the early weeks.

#22 Buffalo Bills (5-7)

Maybe the Bills could be ahead of the Dolphins, but does it really matter? The Bills have talented players on both sides of the ball but physically limited QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is really holding this team back. This team scored 34 points on Sunday despite having just 9 completed passes.

#23 Cleveland Browns (4-8)

If not for an 0-5 start the Brownies would be in the playoff hunt. This is a legit defense and Trent Richardson has been great despite teams treating him like Adrian Peterson and putting 100% of their efforts into stopping him. Rookie deep threat Josh Gordon has provided a spark as well. They're a few pieces away (including a QB) still but there's a lot more talent on this team than there 4-8 record indicates.

#24 Carolina Panthers (3-9)

Yes, losing to Kansas City is pretty bad. But most of the Panthers losses this year have been really close games. The defense and O-Line is giving Cam Newton no help. So while he is having a bit of a sophomore slump he's not to blame for their 3-9 record.

#25 San Diego (4-8)

Another week, another Chargers collapse. Instead of giving up a 4th & 29, this one came down to Norv Turner and Philip Rivers. Turner called way too conservative of a game and Rivers once again had multiple turnovers in the 4th quarter that allowed the Bengals to leave San Diego with a win. Norv and GM Smith NEED to go. Maybe Rivers too.

#26 Tennessee Titans (4-8)

Titans fans are obviously extremely disappointed with the way this season has played out. Jake Locker has regressed since his rookie season so despite having some solid weapons in both the backfield and out wide the Titans offense has failed to scare anybody. Oh yeah, the entire defense is god-awful too.

#27 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)

The Jags have struggled across the board this year but at least some of that can be attributed to injuries. That's really all I can say about this team, MAJOR changes need to be made.

#28 New York Jets (5-7)

How the Jets are 5-7 I have no idea. They can't stop the run or move the ball to save their lives. I don't know who this team QB of the future is but I do know that man is currently not on the roster.

#29 Arizona Cardinals (4-8)

Poor Larry Fitzgerald. Arizona is perhaps the only team with a more laughable QB situation than the Jets. And what happened to that dominant defense that carried them to a 4-0 start.

#30 Kansas City Chiefs (2-10)

They aren't THAT BAD outside of the QB position. Jamaal Charles, Derrick Johnson, and Justin Houston are all impressive talents. The current holders of the #1 pick need to find a QB via free agency (Vick?) or in the draft (Smith? Barkley?).

#31 Philadelphia Eagles (3-9)

Doesn't matter who is at QB, what I feel is the worst offense in the league is hobbled by injuries and terrible line play. And that supposedly revamped defense looks like it should be playing on Friday nights. WORST SAFETY PLAY EVER.

#32 Oakland Raiders (3-9)

Sadly, on paper the Raiders are in NO WAY the worst team in the NFL. Back their lack of effort and discipline has lead to them getting blown out consistently.

Monday, December 3, 2012

15 Things We Learned on Sunday

It's kind of weird to kick off an NFL blog in week 13. But oh well, here are 15 things we learned from Sunday's slate of games. Be sure to click on the hyperlinks for additional content.

#1 Charlie Batch Is Not Just A Punchline For Our Jokes

I'm by no means jumping on the Charlie Batch bandwagon. The Steelers (7-5) desperately need Roethlisberger back, as much as any team needs any single player. But Batch has been a serviceable backup in this league for a long time. There's a reason he still has a contract at the age of 37. He completed about 70% of his throws and racked up 276 yards, every single one of which Pittsburgh needed to beat Baltimore on the road.

#2 The Ravens (9-3), At This Moment, Aren't A Legit Super Bowl Contender

Just like the Batch story, this is not something to over-react to. It's not something to be ignored either. The Ravens lost to a hobbled Steelers team playing a 3rd string QB. Consider this: the Ravens beat the Patriots on a blown field goal call. They beat the Chargers on a blown call as well (that 4th and 29 was incredible but Rice was short and the refs missed a block in the back). They also have 3 more wins by 3 points or less. Their only convincing win was when they blew out the Bengals in the opener. They need to get healthy, give the ball to Rice more, and Flacco needs to play at a more consistent level or this team is in trouble in the playoffs.

#3 Mark Sanchez SHOULD Be Done As The QB Of The Jets (5-7)

In the only notable storyline of perhaps the most boring NFL game in years, Mark Sanchez was pulled in the second half against the Cardinals (4-8). This move was long overdue. Sanchez left the game with a completion rate below 50% and 3 INT's. Former Alabama QB and 7th rounder Greg McElroy came in due to a rib injury to Tim Tebow and managed to not turn the ball over and hand it off enough times for the Jets to come away with a 7-6 victory. Rex Ryan hasn't announced his starter for next week. While McElroy isn't the answer for the future either is Mark Sanchez. Ryan should go with McElroy if Tebow is hurt. Sanchez is a lost cause. McElroy may not have the physical tools but at least he doesn't constantly turn it over.

#4 The Patriots (9-3) Are More Than Just A Dominant Aerial Attack

In what was a rare off day for Tom Brady the Patriots still managed to beat the Dolphin (5-7) and clinch the AFC East for the 9th time in the lat 10 years. Brady leaned on Wes Welker (12 grabs, 103 yards, TD) and Aaron Hernandez (8 grabs, 97 yards) but without a doubt had one of the worst game of the season. He got sacked 4 times and threw a pick, both rarities for the future Hall of Famer. But the Pats were able to get solid but unspectacular running from Stevan Ridley with nice relief from Danny Woodhead. The defense shut down a motivated Ryan Tannehill as well. Ye, the Dolphins basically beat themselves out of playoff contention with special team mistakes (a dropped snap on a punt and a roughing the kicker) but the Patriots proved they can win games even when Brady doesn't light up the scoreboard. This could be critical in potential bad weather playoff games.

#5 Alex Smith Should Be The 49ers (8-3-1) QB

I'm not just saying this because of the Niners loss this week to the Rams (5-6-1). I said it three weeks ago when the issue was first brought up, the 49ers have a better chance at winning it all THIS YEAR if Alex Smith is their quarterback. Yes, David Akers missed a field goal in OT. Yes, Delanie Walker dropped what should have been the winning TD. Yes, Harbaugh made some bad calls. But there's no denying that the main reason San Francisco lost was because of Colin Kaepernick's mistakes. His flashy 50 yard scramble and impressive completion rate need to take a backseat to his stupid intentional grounding play in the end zone (safety) and terrible decision and attempted pitch that was recovered by Janoris Jenkin of the Rams and brought in the end zone for the game tying TD. Side Note: the Rams appear to be a thorn in Harbaugh's side and rookie CB Jenkins has played great as of late. Watch out for them next season if they can find some firepower.

#6 Cam Newton Is Not To Blame For The Panthers (3-9) Struggles

The story in Kansas City was the Chief (2-10) getting a much deserved victory in the wake of tragedy. But on the gridiron it was clear the Panther problem go much deeper than Newton's sophomore slump. They've played a lot of close game this year and could easily be better than 3-9. The O-Line can't block and the defense can't tackle or cover anybody. Cam's never going to be in the high 60's in terms of completion %. But throwing for 232 yards and 3 TD's and chipping in 78 rushing yards should be enough to win most games, especially against the Chiefs. Newton still needs to mature a bit and obviously he's not having as good of a year as he did as a rookie. But blaming him for the Panthers record, child please!

#7 Calm Down, The Texans (11-1) Still Have An Elite Defense

After getting picked apart by Chad Henne and Matthew Stafford and nearly losing the last two weekss the Texans defense came back strong in their 24-10 win over the Titans (4-8). Additionally, the Titans only TD was scored late in the game when Houston was up 24-3 and playing extremely conservative on defense. J.J. Watt is a man playing against boys out there and is the clear frontrunner for Defensive POY and even in MVP talks. They've also been playing without their top cover guy Johnathan Joseph for a while now. With Baltimore losing the Texans appear destined to get home field advantage in the AFC. I would not want to go against this defense on the road.

#8 The Vikings (6-6) Might Be The League' Worst Team If Not For Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson dominated against the Packers (8-4). 210 yards and a TD on 21 carries is incredible. AP has been on a tear all year and is over 1,400 yard with 4 games left. With Arian Foster's off day, he basically locked up the rushing title. What's even more amazing is he's less than a year removed from a torn ACL. Sadly for him, the Viking are a mess offensively without Percy Harvin and Jared Allen seems to be the only impact player on the other side of the ball. I know it was just a year ago where they spent a first round pick on QB Christian Ponder. Ponder started off strong but his recent struggle and high number of pick has to make you wonder if he's the QB of the future.

#9 Every Team Could Use A Little (Andrew) Luck

What was that? The Colts (8-4) won another nail-biter. Andre Luck threw for over 100 yards and 2 TD's in the final 3 minutes to lead his club to victory over the Lions (4-8). Luck struggled through most of the game. At one point he had completed less than 33% of his passes and had 3 INT's. But none of that matters. Luck stepped up in the clutch and finished with a crazy 391 yards and 4 TD's. Yes, he needs to cut down on his INT's but he's only a rookie. He's carried virtually the same roster that won 2 games last year to the brink of the playoff. He also has 5 game-winning TD drives in the 4th quarter or OT already. The Colts are winning games on his arm that is likely to have over 4,300 yards this season. And he can run. And how about on the winning TD after he flipped the ball to Avery where he sprinted in front of him trying to make a block? Something tells me we wouldn't have seen RG3 or any other QB for that matter put in that effort. I'm all-in on this kid. The Colts could not have asked for a more talented and headstrong (or chuckstrong?) kid to hand their franchise to.

#10 The Bears (8-4) Might Be Falling Apart And It's Not Because Of The O-Line Or Injuries

What happened to that dominant Bears defense that was scoring more point than the Jets' and Eagles' offense early in the year? After crumbling down the stretch against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks (7-5) questions about the defensive scheme and personnel cannot be ignored. Cutler, Forte, and Marshall are doing their share on the offensive side. In 3 of the Bears 4 losses the defensive struggles can be attributed to their inability to keep athletic quarterbacks in the pocket. Aaron Rodgers, Colin Kaepernick, and Russell Wilson all got outside and made plays when the coverage broke down. Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are great but they cannot be expected to be defending both their men and the QB every play. The linebackers seem slow (especially washed-up Brian Urlacher). Maybe they should run more contain plays because it appears offenses have figured out how to beat the Cover 2 with the Bears current personnel.

#11 HE IS WHO WE THOUGHT HE WAS!!! Chad Henne Edition

Chad Henne light it up in his first 2 games in relief of injured and incumbent Blaine Gabbert for the Jaguars (2-10). He played so well that some were wondering if the Jags would even need to address the QB spot in the offseason. Well he came back down to earth in their 34-18 loss to the Bills (5-7). Henne was just 18-41.  Sadly, he had to throw it 41 times because the Jags were behind big and early once again (this team really needs MJD). Chad Henne is better than Gabbert, and he's better than a few other guys starting in the NFL currently but in no way is he the answer at QB. The Jaguars desperately need to draft someone (they're gonna pick in the top 3) or bring in a veteran to hold down the fort. Start the Michael Vick rumors now.

#12 Norv Turner Is As Dead As Dillinger

I hate to beat a dead horse, but Norv Turner will not be back as the head coach of the Chargers (4-8) next season. While Philip Rivers turned it over twice in the 4th quarter again Turner deserves just as much of the blame for the Bolts loss to the Bengals (7-5). Twice he had 4th and goal from inside the 2 yard line. His team was 4-7 with nothing to lose except everyone's job. Every other coach in the NFL would wisely have gone for 6 in that situation. But nope, Norv sent on the kicker and the result was the supposedly high-powered offense failing to score a TD against a Bengals D that was letting Rivers move the ball all over the field in the 1st half. The Chargers only TD came on a pick six due to a brain fart from Andy Dalton. San Diego needs to clean house. Norv needs to go. GM A.J. Smith needs to go. As for Rivers, I'll leave that decision to smarter minds than mine. Assuming they hire some.

#13 Don't Laugh, The Browns (4-8) Aren't That Bad

After starting 0-5 everyones favorite punching bag the Browns have gone over .500 since. Yes, Sunday's win against the Raiders (3-9) doesn't say much because the Raiders might be the worst team in the league but still, give some credit when it's due. The defense in Cleveland is legit. D'Qwell Jackson is a stud and ever since Joe Haden came back the secondary has played at another level. Trent Richardson has been as good as advertised and Josh Gordon has emerged as a dynamic deep threat. We're even starting to warm up to the thought of Brandon Wheeden as a QB.

#14 The Broncos (9-3) Are As Dangerous As Anyone In The AFC

Ignore the closeness of the box score in the Broncos 31-23 victory over Tampa Bay (6-6). The Bucs scored 10 points in garbage time. The game was over when Von Miller brought that INT back for 6. It feels like Peyton Manning (my MVP pick) can throw for 250 and 3 TD's in his sleep. Demaryius Thomas is developing into and elite WR. Even Jacob Tamme seems unstoppable with Manning throwing to him. And we all know how dominant the defense lead by the aforementioned Miller and still-elite Champ Bailey is. With the Raiders, Ravens, Browns, and Chiefs remaining on the schedule this team should roll into the postseason at 13-3 with an 11 game winning streak and possibly a first round bye (if they beat the Ravens they should get it as New England still has Houston and San Francisco on the schedule).

#15 The Cowboys (6-6) Do Not Belong In The Playoffs.

Congratulations Dallas, you beat the Eagles (3-9). And it wasn't even sealed until you recovered an onside kick. If not for Bryce Brown carrying the ball like a Pee-Wee player and coughing it up for a Morris Claiborne TD Jason Garrett might have been under more fire than even Andy Reid this week. It's nice to see DeMarco Murray back. And now with Dez Bryant finally figuring it out Tony Romo has plenty of weapons. But the team can't block and can't consistently stop anybody. Dallas has a brutal late of games left (Bengals, Steelers, Saints, Redskins) and it wouldn't surprise me to see them finish 6-10.

That's all for my Sunday lessons. Check back tomorrow after the Monday Night game for power rankings.

Follow me on Twitter @ZakKondratenko