After a Thanksgiving feast worth of games on Thursday, and another week of NFL in the books, let us take a fond look back, and see where I rank the teams around the league in this week’s Power Rankings.
1. Green Bay Packers (11-0) – Last Week: 1
After passing test in Thanksgiving showdown at Ford Field, the perfect Pack (with their best undefeated start in franchise history) are now eyeing 16-0 regular season. The real quest begins next week, vs. an angry Giants squad looking to stay afloat in NFC playoff race.
2. Baltimore Ravens (8-3) – Last Week: 6
Won “Harbaugh Bowl” on Thanksgiving, showing championship mettle. However, Baltimore continues to be one of the most maddening teams in the NFL: despite key victories vs. Pittsburgh – twice – and San Francisco, they have dropped games against Seattle (4-7) and Jacksonville (3-8) with anemic offensive play.
3. San Francisco 49ers (9-2) – Last Week: 2
Despite loss to Baltimore, the 49ers are still 4-1 in the Eastern Time Zone (wins at Detroit, Cleveland, Washington, and Philadelphia), and haven’t allowed rush TD all season (75.5 rush yards allowed per game). While banged up on offense, the Niners may find a salve in long break, matchup with lowly division rival St. Louis to clinch NFC West next week.
4. New Orleans Saints (8-3) – Last Week: 4
Annhiliated the Giants on Monday night to put QB Drew Brees (363 pass yards, 5 total TDs) in the running for NFL MVP. With their high-powered offense proving the Saints can compete in shootouts (judging by Week 1 vs. Green Bay), they are on the short list of teams that could compete with the defending champs in the playoffs. Though, their defensive game (namely giving up 31 points to a winless Rams team earlier this season) may beg to differ.
5. New England Patriots (8-3) – Last Week: 5
QB Tom Brady (361 yards, 3 TDs) and WR Wes Welker (115 yards, 2 TDs) continue to be most dynamic duo in the NFL, as they all but ended “Dream Team’s” playoff hopes. With softest schedule moving forward (including matchup vs. zero-win IND), NE has inside track for home-field in AFC playoffs.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3) – Last Week: 3
Had a hard time putting away Chiefs team that had lost three straight before Sunday, and was blown out the week before vs. New England. Their top-5 defensive team continues to play at high level, which always helps them down the stretch in the dead of winter, though Roethlisberger-to-Wallace connection stay consistent to keep pace with Baltimore, who hold division tie-breaker.
7. Houston Texans (8-3) – Last Week: 7
Despite their weak schedule (6-0 vs. teams below .500), the Texans continue to win – even with two quarterbacks gone for the year (lost Matt Leinart this week with collarbone injury). They will now rely on third-string rookie QB T.J. Yates to lead them next week – however, they just got insurance, reportedly signing Jake Delhomme on Tuesday.
8. Oakland Raiders (7-4) – Last Week: 14
While needing 6 FGs from K Sebastian Janikowski, the Raiders are now 3-1 since their bye week, and currently lead AFC West, knocking out playoff contender Chicago to do it. Must hold off Tim Tebow and the charging Denver Broncos to keep it. Unfortunately, December schedule isn’t kind, with games vs. Green Bay, Detroit looming.
9. Dallas Cowboys (7-4) – Last Week: 11
They needed a last-second FG to edge streaking Dolphins team on Thanksgiving, but the Cowboys have now won four straight, and are in control of NFC East. Look to take momentum into three games against teams under .500 (TB, ARI, PHI) in the month of December, as well as a division matchup with reeling New York Football Giants.
10. Atlanta Falcons (7-4) – Last Week: 12
The ATL are sitting behind Saints for playoff berth, having won five of six. During that stretch, their second-ranked defense against the run has held opposing rushers to 78.7 yards per game. May have to rely on that when they face off against the Texans’ third-ranked rushing game in Houston next week, if they hope to keep up with New Orleans.
11. Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) – Last Week: 10
While continuing to keep pace with their AFC North counterparts (Pittsburgh, Baltimore), one must wonder how they will fare in their second meeting with the Steelers in a month – especially after escaping with a win against lowly Cleveland. They will need to rely on their passing game – and rookie WR in A.J. Green (110 receiving yards vs. CLE) – to have a chance.
12. Chicago Bears (7-4) – Last week: 9
Can’t say they struggled offensively with QB Caleb Hanie at the helm (401 total yards vs. Oakland), but 3 INTs ultimately doomed team that needed a win to keep pace with Detroit for playoff hunt. They may need to win out to assure postseason, but may prove difficult with red-hot Denver and undefeated Green Bay on remaining schedule.
13. Denver Broncos (6-5) – Last Week: 15
Meanwhile, Tim Tebow did it again – the Broncos continue to win with the most scrutinized QB in the league, due to fourth-quarter clutch plays, and a defense led by Von Miller that keeps games close. Currently on Oakland’s heels in AFC West, could make a playoff run in final weeks.
14. Detroit Lions (7-4) – Last Week: 8
only did they get embarrassed – again – on Thanksgiving (this time to the World Champs), they lost all-world DT Ndamukong Suh to a two-game suspension for a vicious stomping incident during the game. With a red-hot Saints offense up next, things may get worse for a team that has lost 4 of 6 games.
15. New York Jets (6-5) – Last week: 17
Avoided an under-.500 record with a win against Buffalo. While QB Mark Sanchez showed flashes of a “clutch gene” with game-winning TD drive in final minutes, concerns are still abound about his consistency at the position. In the meantime, they have a winnable three-game stretch coming up (@ WSH, vs. KC, @ PHI).
16. Tennessee Titans (6-5) – Last Week: 16
Reports of RB Chris Johnson’s statistical demise were greatly exaggerated – at least for Week 12: 190 rushing yards in a win over Tampa Bay. If this was a real sign of improvement for Titans’ run game, they may stay in contention for AFC South crown, should Houston stumble with their QB troubles.
17. New York Giants (6-5) – Last Week: 13
Dominated by the Saints on Monday, the tables have turned for a team in the NFC East’s driver’s seat this time three weeks ago. Now scrambling for a playoff spot, they must face the undefeated Packers next week. They will need a repeat of Eli Manning’s 406-yard performance if they will have any chance of winning.
18. Buffalo Bills (5-6) – Last Week: 18
WR Steve Johnson (*Bad Pun Alert*) shot his team in the foot, dropping a game-winning TD catch vs. NYJ on Sunday, as Buffalo continues their freefall. Their only hope may be to win out – but don’t count on it, with games against Tim Tebow’s Broncos and Tom Brady’s Patriots waiting for them at the end of the season.
19. Philadelphia Eagles (4-7) – Last Week: 19
While there is little doubt that Vince Young is perfectly capable of leading a flailing Eagles offense (400 yards passing on Sunday), he couldn’t save their dwindling playoff hopes against New England. Can VY lead the Eagles to five straight victories? The answer will begin to unfold against Seattle on Thursday.
20. Seattle Seahawks (4-7) – Last Week: 20
The Seahawks – with two impressive victories vs. Baltimore and St. Louis – were probably hoping to carry the momentum into a winning streak. That was emphatically halted against the Redskins’ subpar offense (31st in rushing). Despite Marshawn Lynch’s recent impressive stretch (three 100-yd games in last four), one more loss will knock them out of playoff contention.
21. Washington Redskins (4-7) – Last Week: 26
Washington’s horrific running game finally got going under RB Roy Helu, who, surprisingly, has averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry six of his 10 games played. Having snapped a six-game losing streak, what can the run game do against a Jets team allowing 100.4 rush yards per game?
22. Arizona Cardinals (4-7) – Last Week: 27
One must wonder where the Cardinals would be without rookie sensation Patrick Peterson on the return team: Arizona is 3-1 when Peterson scores on a kick or punt return. Additionally, two of his four run-backs were game-winning touchdowns. We’ll see if that magic continues against strong special teams defenses in Dallas and San Francisco.
23. Cleveland Browns (4-7) – Last Week: 21
Could not hold on to a three-point lead against the Bengals on Sunday, despite the return of RB Peyton Hillis, and Colt McCoy’s two-TD performance. They have now lost four of five, and with the two-headed divisional monster known as the Steelers and Ravens coming in the next two weeks, things just got that much bleaker.
24. Kansas City Chiefs (4-7) – Last Week: 23
Valiant efforts put them in a position to win against one of the best teams in the league, but came up short in one last fourth-quarter drive. Obviously QB Tyler Palko’s 3 INTs didn’t help. It isn’t inconceivable that they don’t win another game all season, with their upcoming schedule.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) – Last Week: 22
Like Buffalo, the Bucs showed promise with a 4-2 start and a win over New Orleans in October. Since then, their losing streak has hit five, despite a run game averaging over 100 yards per game. Their 30th-ranked run defense continues to hamper them, as illustrated by Titans RB Chris Johnson’s 190-yard effort – despite averaging 50.9 yards coming into Sunday.
26. San Diego Chargers (4-7) – Last Week: 24
As if losing six straight overall wasn’t enough, they lost in overtime to Tim Tebow’s Broncos after controlling most of the game, while shanking a game-winning FG attempt. It is the fifth time this season they lost by seven points or less – each loss heralding a larger call to fire head coach Norv Turner.
27. Miami Dolphins (3-8) – Last Week: 25
Had the Dolphins won their game vs. the Cowboys, the momentum might have taken them to a potential wild card spot in the playoffs. A last-second Dan Bailey FG on Thanksgiving Day changed that. Now, Miami might now be playing for pride – with a suddenly dangerous offense spearheaded by QB Matt Moore and RB Reggie Bush.
28. Carolina Panthers (3-8) – Last Week: 30
QB Cam Newton’s impressive passing stats gave way to the two-headed running game of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, which led to three rushing TDs and a rare win (albeit against Indianapolis). Can they keep it going against a free-falling Tampa Bay team next week?
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8) – Last Week: 28
Despite dominating the Texans last week in most statistical categories on offense, the Jags only managed 17 points and 255 total yards. Their deplorable offensive game, headed by QB Blaine Gabbert (130 yards, 1 INT on Sunday), continues to be the major storyline. Or, at least, it was: head coach Jack Del Rio was fired on Tuesday, as the team was also sold.
30. Minnesota Vikings (2-9) – Last Week: 29
Despite having the fifth-best rushing offense in the league – thanks mostly to a RB in Adrian Peterson that missed last week’s game with a high ankle sprain – their defense continues to give up an average of 26.8 points per game – good for 30th in the league. It’s so bad in Minnesota, local news has found it more interesting to discuss stadium talks.
31. St. Louis Rams (2-9) – Last Week: 31
Any hope in wins over New Orleans and Cleveland were somewhat dashed with two straight division losses – and neither were to the division-leading 49ers. They are dead-last against the run, and guess which team – who has the seventh-best rush offense in the league – the hapless Rams play next?
32. Indianapolis Colts (0-11) – Last Week: 32
You know it’s bad when your emergency plan at QB is Dan Orlovsky. Then again, you know it’s bad when you’re winless with five games to go. Perhaps the change in QB – and in defensive coordinators, apparently – will give the struggling team some sort of spark against the Patriots. Then again, perhaps Peyton Manning will come walking through that door next week. Fat chance.