The NFL season is reaching its conclusion, with many questions yet to be answered, from key playoff positioning, to key draft positioning. With the holidays well underway, The MSR has caught the spirit of the season. So, along with this week’s rankings, allow me to offer my Christmas Wish for every franchise.
1. Green Bay Packers (13-1) – Previous Ranking: 1
My Xmas Wish: A do-over for perfection. – – Green Bay is now another fallen contender for an undefeated season, with a 19-14 loss to KC – much to the chagrin of Don Shula, Mercury Morris and the 1972 Miami Dolphins. I would much rather have seen GB go 19-0 than suffer through another year of that obnoxious champagne celebration.
2. San Francisco 49ers (11-3) – Previous Ranking: 3
My Xmas Wish: A competent red-zone offense. – – They now have, arguably, the best defense in the league, led by defensive Rookie of the Year Candidate Aldon Smith. They haven’t allowed a rush TD all season. They are still in the running for home-field in the playoffs. Their one problem? Offense – mainly, their red-zone offense, ranked 30th in the NFL. With one, they may be 13-1 and tied with the Packers.
3. New Orleans Saints (11-3) – Previous Ranking: 4
My Xmas Wish: A 5,500-yard season from QB Drew Brees. – – Currently at 4,780 yards after 14 games, Brees has a chance to shatter Dan Marino’s all-time record for passing yards in a season (5,084). Also with a chance for, at least, a 2-seed in the playoffs, the Saints will need his passing game more than ever. 720 yards vs. average pass D’s isn’t too much to ask.
4. New England Patriots (11-3) – Previous Ranking: 6
My Xmas Wish: WR Wes Welker to catch 39 more passes. – – While an average of 19.5 catches per game is a little much, it would pull him into the record books. At 104 receptions for the season, Welker, as an unheralded dynamo at the WR position, has an outside shot of tying future Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison for the all-time record for receptions in a single season. For all he has done in the league in the last half-decade, it would be nice for the little guy to have the big accolades.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-4) – Previous Ranking: 5
My Xmas Wish: QB Ben Roethlisberger to get healthy for the rest of the regular season. – – Despite losing to the 49ers on Monday Night, the Steelers are still the class of the AFC … unless Big Ben isn’t under center (or not at 100%). If they want a seventh run at a Super Bowl title, their signal-caller must be healthy. Otherwise, it’s 37-year-old Charlie Batch leading a potential playoff run. Plus, it doesn’t bode well for their passing game, especially Mike Wallace, without Roethlisberger.
6. Baltimore Ravens (10-4) – Previous Ranking: 2
My Xmas Wish: RB Ray Rice to get 18 or more touches. – – It is maddening to watch this team, led by a head coach whose brother has one of the best rushing attacks in the league. John Harbaugh, for whatever reason, is completely under-utilizing RB Ray Rice, especially last week to San Diego (10 carries, 57 yds in a loss). Break it down: When Rice touches the ball 18 times or more, they are undefeated (9-0); they are 1-4 when he doesn’t.
7. Atlanta Falcons (9-5) – Previous Ranking: 11
My Xmas Wish: Revenge on New Orleans for their OT loss in Week 10. – – I’ll admit, I have selfish reasons for this; after all, if this happens, it helps the 49ers clinch a first-week bye. But, then again, if QB Matt Ryan can win a shootout vs. Brees’ all-world offense, it would give them a great confidence boost, and put them a step closer to clinching a playoff berth.
8. Houston Texans (10-4) – Previous Ranking: 7
My Xmas Wish: A better option at QB than T.J. Yates. – – It’s no secret that the Texans are having a great year, with a great defense and a great running game (like a couple of other teams in the top 10). But their QB situation has been a relative tragedy, losing both their starter (Matt Schaub) AND their backup (Matt Leinart). No offense to Yates; he did throw for 300 yds, 2 TDs vs. CAR, but may be 12-2 with starting-caliber QB.
9. Detroit Lions (9-5) – Previous Ranking: 16
My Xmas Wish: DT Ndamukong Suh to calm the hell down. – – While it’s obvious that the Lions’ resurgence in recent weeks (two wins to put DET on the brink of the postseason) was mostly a result of QB Matt Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson, Suh’s big FG block to seal the win vs. Oakland definitely helped. With the home stretch in clear view, they cannot lose Suh to suspensions. He needs to chill out and keep up his defensive intensity if the Lions want to make a run.
10. Denver Broncos (8-6) – Previous Ranking: 9
My Xmas Wish: A de facto end to Tebowmania. – – I know, I know. All he does is win football games (7-2 with Tebow under center). He plays poorly for the majority of the games he wins. He has the Broncos on the brink of the playoffs. He’s polarizing. He’s religious. He’s a pop culture icon. But, this is no longer about him. Tebowmania has gotten out of control, and it’s not about his play on the field anymore. I just want the media coverage to STOP. I’m not a hater, but, for the love of all that is good, MAKE IT STOP.
11. Dallas Cowboys (8-6) – Previous Ranking: 15
My Xmas Wish: QB Tony Romo to shake his December curse. – – Romo is infamous for having a lackluster end to his regular seasons, with a career record in December of 7-12 (including this season). After losses this month to Arizona and the Giants, Romo looked great against struggling Tampa Bay. Can he keep it going against rival Philadelphia on Christmas Eve? Depends on which list Santa has Romo on.
12. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) – Previous Ranking: 12
My Xmas Wish: A tenth playoff season in franchise history. – – I realize that with both Baltimore (10-4) and Pittsburgh (10-4) are ahead of them in the AFC North, one can only hope. After all, what better way to end a stellar rookie season for former Horned Frog Andy Dalton? It would be a great comeback story for a team that, not long ago, was known more for its players’ criminal records than their NFL records.
13. Seattle Seahawks (7-7) – Previous Ranking: 19
My Xmas Wish: RB Marshawn Lynch to be recognized as a Top-5 RB. – – He’s best known for his “Beast Mode” (Which, in case you didn’t know, was from an obscure Transformers cartoon). Nonetheless, his massive production (1,011 rushing yards, TDs in 9 of last 10 games), leading his team to a .500 record, tells me he belongs in the same breath as Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson. As far as I’m concerned, he’s a Pro Bowl RB. The question is: will he be?
14. New York Jets (8-6) – Previous Ranking: 10
My Xmas Wish: More Bart Scott, less Rex Ryan. – – Like the Philadelphia Eagles, the Jets were in no shortage of both preseason hype and bravado, thanks to head coach Rex Ryan. While you cannot ignore his brashness, and even, in some cases, applaud it, it’s gotten old – especially with a disappointing record with two games left to play. I would much rather see more of LB Bart Scott, who has all the confidence, with none of the empty promises Ryan has offered. Plus, he’s entertaining as all get out.
15. Arizona Cardinals (7-7) – Previous Ranking: 20
My Xmas Wish: Another set of highlights from CB Patrick Peterson. – – I felt he was the guy to get in the 2011 NFL Draft, and was shocked that he fell to the Cardinals. Now, he’s a dynamo at the KR/PR position, already with four punt return touchdowns this season, including this game-winner against St. Louis. More of these exciting plays would definitely be welcomed for a league that loves its scoring highlights.
16. San Diego Chargers (7-7) – Previous Ranking: 22
My Xmas Wish: An unlikely playoff berth for the city of San Diego. – – Unfortunately, the Chargers have been known more for their disappointing outings over the past decade late in the season than anything else. This season has been no different – with a 7-7 record, San Diego knows that their talent has been underscored by their production. With two games left, they still have a shot at the AFC West. Can they get there? They will need to get past both Detroit and Oakland to do it.
17. New York Giants (7-7) – Previous Ranking: 17
My Xmas Wish: Stop playing second fiddle to the Jets … in the trash-talking department. – – I get that, with Rex Ryan, Bart Scott and Darrelle Revis in New York, it’s hard to get a word in when you’re a member of the Giants. But, they have something that the Jets don’t have – Super Bowl championships (including one as recent as 2008). If anything, they should be the ones pounding their chests in Gotham – and, while I understand that it isn’t their style, maybe – just maybe – it would help them win out and make the playoffs this season.
18. Philadelphia Eagles (6-8) – Previous Ranking: 25
My Xmas Wish: Their preseason hype to finally mean something. – – With all the turmoil the Eagles have suffered – from their “Dream Team” proclamations to their nightmarish start to their season, to their QB moves between Michael Vick and Vince Young – they are now two games out for the suddenly-pedestrian NFC East. If they win out (and get some help), their 8-8 record would get the red-hot Eagles into the postseason, where anything could happen, and they could turn their season back into a dream.
19. Tennessee Titans (7-7) – Previous Ranking: 8
My Xmas Wish: A strong finish by RB Chris Johnson. – – All the problems the Titans have faced – including a brutal loss to the winless Colts in Week 15 – it seems to have reflected the production of their mercurial RB, Chris Johnson. With CJ2K 70 yards away from a 1K-yard season, he has had two sub-par games in what has been a sub-par season. While facing Jacksonville (14th in rush yds allowed) and Houston (5th), good outings will go a long way in having confidence as a Top-5 RB for 2012.
20. Kansas City Chiefs (6-8) – Previous Ranking: 18
My Xmas Wish: Secure a job for interim head coach Romeo Crennel. – – With former head coach Todd Haley at the helm this season, the Chiefs looked like they were going nowhere fast (despite not having starting QB Matt Cassel for the majority of that stretch). With interim coach Romeo Crennel, they beat the unbeaten Green Bay Packers. While it may be considered a “Mike Singletary/Jim Tomsula” effect, the familiarity Crennel has with the Chiefs should have him on staff for the foreseeable future.
21. Oakland Raiders (7-7) – Previous Ranking: 14
My Xmas Wish: Catch the Denver Broncos for the AFC West title. – – They may have blown a game-winning field goal against the Lions last week, but the Raiders – like their other AFC West brethren – have a shot for the division. With two divisional showdowns to end the season, it will be interesting to see what Hue Jackson’s team can do. Hopefully, when the dust settles, it’s the Raiders honoring the late Al Davis with a playoff berth.
22. Chicago Bears (7-7) – Previous Ranking: 13
My Xmas Wish: QB Josh McCown to play more like Jay Cutler and less like Caleb Hanie. – – It really is too bad. After starting the season 7-3, QB Jay Cutler broke his thumb. Since then, their offense has looked horrible, averaging less than 12 points per game in a four-game losing streak. With the playoffs increasingly out of reach, they now have to rely on new QB Josh McCown to keep them afloat. For their sake – and their defense’s – I hope the Bears O can finish strong.
23. Miami Dolphins (6-8) – Previous Ranking: 23
My Xmas Wish: For former head coach Tony Sparano to get his job back. – – Everyone knows that incumbent head coach Tony Sparano was a dead man walking, especially after their failed courtship of current 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh this offseason. Despite the fact that, after starting 0-7, they surged for three straight wins, the higher-ups eventually let Sparano go. At the very least, they should have let him finish the season – especially with QB Matt Moore doing as well as he has lately.
24. Carolina Panthers (5-9) – Previous Ranking: 24
My Xmas Wish: For QB Cam Newton’s production to translate to more wins. – – One of the debates I have heard all season was which quarterback would a franchise rather have: Tim Tebow or Cam Newton? Though the majority of experts would say Cam Newton, one flaw sticks out more than most: despite his impressive stats (3,722 yds, 17 TDs through 14 games), he had started the season at a paltry 2-8. Perhaps he needs Tebow’s Denver defense to get more W’s.
25. Washington Redskins (5-9) – Previous Ranking: 26
My Xmas Wish: Play more games the way they played against the Giants. – – They aren’t going to wow anyone with their offense. Or their defense. But their performance against the Giants – who are currently fighting for their playoff lives – can’t be seen as anything short of impressive. Perhaps if they played like that through the majority of the season, it may be an unprecedented four-way battle for the NFC East title.
26. Buffalo Bills (5-9) – Previous Ranking: 21
My Xmas Wish: Travel back in time to Halloween. – – Like I have said earlier – a guy can wish, right? Now, we have to remember, back on October 30, this was a team that was 5-2, coming off a shutout win against Washington, and a big win vs. rival New England in Week 3. Seven losses later – four of which came on blowouts – their season is in pieces on the floor. If the team can remember how they won before they hit their winter slump, they might have a chance against a Denver team that suffered their first loss in more than a month.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10) – Previous Ranking: 29
My Xmas Wish: QB Blaine Gabbert to emulate fellow rookie Andy Dalton. – – If there was one thing I remembered back in the 2011 NFL Draft (besides Patrick Peterson going to Arizona), it’s QB Blaine Gabbert being passed by the 49ers for potential Defensive ROY Aldon Smith. In passing on Gabbert, they missed out on … well … a not-very-good quarterback. Though, coming out of Missouri, he was still considered the top QB prospect. Even still, Gabbert should take notes from another fellow QB from his draft class: Bengals QB Andy Dalton.
28. Cleveland Browns (4-10) – Previous Ranking: 27
My Xmas Wish: RB Peyton Hillis to return to prominence, and shatter the Madden Curse. – – He had 1,177 yards and 11 TDs in 2010. For his efforts, he was rewarded by NFL fans to be on the cover of Madden ’11. For those of you who know the Madden curse well, you probably already know what happened next: he missed six games, and has not hit 100 yards rushing thus far this season. Nonetheless, he had his best game last week (99 yds, 1 TD). For Browns fans, it might be a sign of things to come.
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10) – Previous Ranking: 28
My Xmas Wish: Travel back in time to October 17. – – Much like the Bills, the Bucs were riding high with a big win vs. the Saints on October 16, with a record of 4-2. Since then, they haven’t won once – a record of 0-8. It’s a surprise that head coach Raheem Morris hasn’t been let go yet. They need to find what they lost in their win against New Orleans, if they want to finish the season strong against division rivals Carolina and Atlanta.
30. Minnesota Vikings (2-12) – Previous Ranking: 30
My Xmas Wish: RB Adrian Peterson to reach 1200 yards this season. – – There isn’t much to celebrate in the Metrodome these days (except, maybe, a shot at the Andrew Luck sweepstakes). But the lone bright spot seems to be their all-world RB Adrian Peterson – despite missing three games, he has 932 yards and 11 TDs. Despite having nothing to play for, it would be a shame for Peterson to stop now.
31. St. Louis Rams (2-12) – Previous Ranking: 31
My Xmas Wish: For STL to inexplicably get the NFL’s worst record. – – While it would be piling on to root against the Rams for the rest of the season, it would be an interesting proposition to see the Lou face a tough decision, in what to do with the first pick: would they draft Andrew Luck, with a franchise QB in Sam Bradford already in the fold, trade it away, or draft another talent at another position? The possibilities – and ensuing drama – would be quite intriguing.
32. Indianapolis Colts (1-13) – Previous Ranking: 32
My Xmas Wish: Don’t screw things up now, for the “Suck For Luck” Sweepstakes. – – after going 0-13, they inexplicably won a game against division rival Tennessee. They face Houston tonight and the Jaguars next week. If things roll their way, they could finish 3-13 – something Colts fans probably don’t want, what with Peyton Manning’s iffy status and the need for a QB-in-waiting, at the very least. I know pride is at stake, but, at the same time, listen to the experts, guys – don’t start a winning streak now.