Christmastime is here! (Well, technically, it’s in a little less than a week, but, still.) And, as the NFL regular season reaches its conclusion in two weeks, I am in a yuletide mood. As such, I would like to present my annual Christmas wishes to each of the 32 teams in the league, in this latest edition of the MSR’s NFL Power Rankings:
1. San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1) – Last Week: 7
My Xmas Wish: For DE Justin Smith not to be injured. – – As impressive as the 49ers’ domination of the Patriots in the first half was, it went downhill in the third quarter, after Smith went down for the rest of the game with an apparent injury. If he is out for the season, SF’s chances to clinch the NFC West – let alone a Super Bowl run – are greatly diminished, especially with a huge divisional game in Seattle coming up next week.
2. Denver Broncos (11-3) – Last Week: 2
My Xmas Wish: For QB Peyton Manning to share the MVP / Comeback POY Awards. – – Let’s face it: the Broncos have won 9 straight, after starting 2-3, mainly because of what Manning has been able to do this year. While, in the case of their latest game vs. Baltimore, it was mainly their running game (163 total yards) and a 98-yard interception return for a TD by CB Chris Harris, Manning’s 51-yard TD strike to WR Eric Decker has been indicative of what they’ve been able to do this year on offense.
3. Atlanta Falcons (12-2) – Last Week: 4
My Xmas Wish: The Falcons winning a playoff game this year. (Unless it’s against the Niners.) – – Despite their numerous successes during the regular season (including this week’s dismantling of defending Super Bowl champion New York), they currently own an 0-3 record under head coach Mike Smith and QB Matt Ryan, dating back to 2008. That includes a 21-48 loss at home to Green Bay in 2009 – a year in which they also went 13-3. It would just be nice to see them get a W – that is, of course, they end up playing the 49ers.
4. New England Patriots (10-4) – Last Week: 1
My Xmas Wish: A rematch of their game with the 49ers … in the Super Bowl. – – After such an action-packed, unexpected game that featured an uncharacteristic 28-point deficit in the second half and a near-comeback in the second half, why wouldn’t football fans not want to see it again for the ultimate prize – more so, with Tom Brady’s fourth Lombardi Trophy to tie the great Joe Montana vs. the 49ers’ undefeated record of 6-0 in Super Bowls on the line?
5. Green Bay Packers (10-4) – Last Week: 3
My Xmas Wish: For the Packers to get that “replacement referee debacle” game back. – – Sure, the Packers clinched their division this past week with a relatively easy win over their longtime division foe in Chicago. But something still bothers me – as I’m sure it bothers most Packers fans – that the road to the division title, and a possible first-round bye, could have been decidedly easier had the referees had just gotten the call right against the Seahawks. If a do-over was ever appropriate in the NFL, this would be the case.
6. Seattle Seahawks (9-5) – Last Week: 6
My Xmas Wish: For the league to allow a three-way tie for Rookie of the Year. – – There’s no mistaking it – with the Seahawks having won three in a row, and with their second straight game with 50 points or more, QB Russell Wilson has proven that, as the third QB taken in last year’s draft, he has been as valuable to his team as Luck and RGIII have been to the Colts and Redskins, respectively. With that in mind, why NOT split the ROY Award three ways? Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures, I say.
7. Houston Texans (12-2) – Last Week: 8
My Xmas Wish: Wrapping up home-field advantage next week, without stopping Vikings RB Adrian Peterson. – – It was important to bounce back from their New England beatdown, especially against a division rival. Now, for the Texans’ sake, they will need to keep winning for home-field. But, with AD coming to town, and his rushing record attempt at full force, I, for one, want to see the pace continue. Is it a strange request? Sure. But it’s still something I want to see.
8. Indianapolis Colts (9-5) – Last Week: 5
My Xmas Wish: Wrapping up a playoff spot next week. – – With all the Colts have gone through this past year – letting go of Peyton Manning, drafting Andrew Luck and reinventing the team, in general – they are on the cusp of an unexpected postseason appearance. Despite losing to Houston, they face off against the lowly Chiefs next week, with another shot at the playoffs at stake. Considering it’s the Chiefs, though … Merry Christmas, Indy fans.
9. Dallas Cowboys (8-6) – Last Week: 11
My Xmas Wish: For the Cowboys to recover from the Jerry Brown tragedy … and make the playoffs. – – It hit the organization hard – one teammate dead, the other charged with his death. While the Cowboys can be considered one of the most hated teams in the league (or loved, depending on who you talk to), there is no denying that prayers for the victim and his loved ones – including the ‘Boys – are being sent from all over the country. If “haters” can set aside their disdain for Dallas and hope for a playoff berth for a grieving franchise, this would be the season.
10. Washington Redskins (8-6) – Last Week: 10
My Xmas Wish: A speedy recovery for QB Robert Griffin III. – – With the injury the rookie signal-caller sustained against the Ravens the week before, they were able to ride backup signal-caller Kirk Cousins’ 2 TD tosses past the Browns. But, if they expect to move forward – especially toward a playoff push – they need RGIII to be healthy enough to lead them. While they have a great battery (with RB Alfred Morris) for, perhaps, the next five years, their health will determine their success.
11. Minnesota Vikings (8-6) – Last Week: 18
My Xmas Wish: For RB Adrian Peterson to break the single-season rushing record. – – This wish couldn’t be simpler – I mean, this time last year, the perennial Vikings running back was questionable to even play at all in 2012. Fast forward to now, and he is on the cusp of a record as old as me (and yes, I have just dated myself). There are no words how amazing Peterson’s feat has been this season, and, personally, I would like to see it come to fruition, despite what Eric Dickerson wants.
12. Baltimore Ravens (9-5) – Last Week: 12
My Xmas Wish: That they stop playing like how QB Joe Flacco says the team feels – “like an 0-14 team.“ – – Let’s put this in perspective: defensive leader, LB Ray Lewis, is still out with torn triceps, and the Ravens have lost their third straight game – an anemic performance vs. Peyton Manning’s Broncos – in what may be an epic freefall. It’s a simple wish for a team that, a month ago, was considered an AFC favorite. They will have a chance to rectify their situation in a matchup vs. the Giants next week.
13. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) – Last Week: 14
My Xmas Wish: For QB Andy Dalton to give TCU fans some good news by leading his team to a playoff berth. – – As a current TCU student, it’s pained me to see what the Horned Frogs have been through this season – losing their starting QB to start the year and going on to a Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl loss, and a 7-6 record. I suppose it would be a little comforting (at least in this Horned Frog’s eyes) to see a TCU alum like Dalton lead his team to the postseason – he had 2 total TDs in a blowout win vs. the Eagles. Here’s hoping. Go Frogs!
14. New York Giants (8-6) – Last Week: 9
My Xmas Wish: Be the odd man out in the three-way race for the NFC East – just this once. – – This is kind of mean-spirited, and definitely biased (yes, I’m still bitter that they advanced to the Super Bowl over the 49ers), but their knack for doing just enough to get into the playoffs, only to unexpectedly blow through the competition all the way to the Super Bowl, is simultaneously commendable and irritating. All that I ask is that, for the sake of NFL fans outside of New York, the G-Men show that they cannot make the formula work two years in a row.
15. Chicago Bears (8-6) – Last Week: 13
My Xmas Wish: For fans in Chicago, despite their consternation for their team’s struggles, to cut the Bears a little slack. – – I only say this because the Bears have been constantly injured at key positions during their 1-5 freefall, and their fans are (understandably enough) flabbergasted. But something is wrong when Brian Urlacher is vocal in saying that he’s tired of the booing in the home stands. Sure, they lost the division to the Packers on Sunday in dramatic fashion, but they still have a shot at the playoffs. Give ’em a break.
16. New Orleans Saints (6-8) – Last Week: 20
My Xmas Wish: For the Bountygate scandal to never have happened. – – I may have thought that the Saints needed to be punished for last year’s Bountygate, but I also thought that the punishments handed down essentially wrecked the Saints’ 2012 season unnecessarily. Currently at 6-8, with a 41-0 drubbing of the Bucs behind them, this season could have potentially been much better. It’s just too bad, really.
17. Miami Dolphins (6-8) – Last Week: 19
My Xmas Wish: To have more outings like the one they had vs. the Jags, in 2013. – – Against their old QB (Chad Henne), the Dolphins dominated the Jaguars with a career day by QB Ryan Tannehill (220 yards, 2 TDs, 90.3 QBR). Coupled with Reggie Bush’s 100-yard outing, it was a rare all-around good outing on offense. While it was against one of the worst teams in the league, I only hope that they can duplicate that on numerous occasions next season.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7) – Last Week: 15
My Xmas Wish: A healthy rest of the season for all of their starters, including QB Ben Roethlisberger. – – It’s one of the main reasons that Pittsburgh is at .500 with two games to go in the regular season – they haven’t been able to trot out a healthy team on a consistent basis. And with Big Ben (339 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT vs. Dallas) showing his worth, albeit in a losing effort, it’s clear that they could be in a much better position for the postseason, otherwise.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8) – Last Week: 16
My Xmas Wish: For Bucs fans to rally behind QB Josh Freeman (even after their embarrassing shutout loss to the Saints). – – Well, it seems the Saints shut the door to the Bucs’ slim playoff hopes, and slammed it hard, in a 41-0 blowout. Now some are questioning whether their signal-caller of four years is their QB of the future. After his four-INT performance, it’s not hard to see why – but he’s also closing in on 4,000 passing yards – the first to do so in franchise history. Right now, he’s the best Tampa Bay can hope for. I hope the fanbase can see that.
20. St. Louis Rams (6-7-1) – Last Week: 17
My Xmas Wish: For the Rams to figure out a way to keep franchise RB Steven Jackson in their backfield. – – The Rams have struggled at times this season, as has their franchise running back (909 rush yds through 14 games). But now he has the option to void his contract next season, and hit free agency. He still has legs, and will likely garner interest from a number of teams. If the STL knows what’s best for them, they will give him a reason to stay – whether that’s in the form of a big free agent, a good draft pick, or cold, hard cash.
21. Carolina Panthers (5-9) – Last Week: 26
My Xmas Wish: That QB Cam Newton can get back to his rookie production to help his team win … in 2013, that is. – – Remember when Cam Newton was the talk of the town? He stormed into the league with two straight 400-yard passing days, and had the potential to be a superstar both on and off the field. So far, however, it’s been more off-the-field stardom. He had good production in San Diego (231 yards, 2 TDs), but I just want to see consistency – something the Panthers can build on, starting next year.
22. Tennessee Titans (5-9) – Last Week: 28
My Xmas Wish: Revolve their offense more around RB Chris Johnson, like the Vikings did with Adrian Peterson. – – It may be wishful thinking, but Johnson’s explosive potential has been well-documented – after all, he has had three runs of over 80 yards for TDs this season, including his 94-yard scamper against the Jets on Monday night. Perhaps if he gains a few pounds (for wear-and-tear protection) and keeps his speed, they may have the makings of an every-down runner the likes of AD.
23. Arizona Cardinals (5-9) – Last Week: 29
My Xmas Wish: More of the 4-0 team that started the season, and less of the 1-9 team that’s finishing it. – – Let’s be clear: the Cardinals emphatically ended their nine-game losing streak with their blowout of the Lions, on the strength of three Beanie Wells TDs. But it doesn’t erase the losing streak in which they were outscored 231-95. There’s no doubt that injuries derailed their 2012 season, and once they find a QB not named Ryan Lindley (sorry, SDSU alums), they should recover for 2013.
24. Cleveland Browns (5-9) – Last Week: 21
My Xmas Wish: That they figure out how not to waste the young talent that they have. – – While their three-game winning streak was snapped in a blowout loss to the Redskins, their rookie talents – QB Brandon Weeden (244 yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs) and RB Trent Richardson (28 rush yds, 2 TDs) – have a potential to be good, if not great, in the years to come. All I hope for is that the Browns don’t screw it up like they did with high draft picks like WR Braylon Edwards or QB Brady Quinn. Don’t screw it up, Browns!
25. New York Jets (6-8) – Last Week: 23
My Xmas Wish: That, once and for all, they use Tim Tebow at QB. – – After another ineffective start by QB Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense in a loss to the Titans, I’m simply dumbfounded that they keep trotting him out there. I may be on the side of Tim Tebow’s many naysayers, but I still want to see what he can do with this team, now that they have been knocked out of the playoff chase. Message to Tannenbaum and Ryan: put your poster boy in – at this point, I don’t care what anyone says. You’ve got nothing to lose.
26. Buffalo Bills (5-9) – Last Week: 24
My Xmas Wish: That the Bills (and their fans) never experience a loss like the one they suffered to the Seahawks again. – – Look, I’ve teed off on the Bills in past Power Rankings. But I know how passionate Bills fans are, and it hurts to see them get blown out, as they have in four games this season (@ NYJ, vs NE, @ SF, vs. SEA). This week’s embarrassing loss to the Seahawks, I hope, was the last time – and, moving forward, I only hope for the best for Buffalo.
27. Detroit Lions (4-10) – Last Week: 25
My Xmas Wish: For WR Calvin Johnson to tie, but not break, Jerry Rice’s all-time record for yards in a season. – – I’ll admit, this once again goes back to my 49ers bias, and it’s nearly impossible to hope for an exact match in yards caught for a season (1,848), but I guess that’s why it’s wishful thinking. After all, Megatron has 1,667 receiving yards after his 121-yard performance in a loss to Arizona. Will he be held to 181 yards in his next two games? I’m hoping so.
28. San Diego Chargers (5-9) – Last Week: 22
My Xmas Wish: For the Chargers to get LaDainian Tomlinson (or, at least, a RB like him) back. Honestly, in the years since they basically gave up on our generation’s LT, San Diego hasn’t been great in the running department. Not that RB Ryan Mathews isn’t the RB of the future – he had 1,546 total yards in 2011 – but the Chargers didn’t have a runner over 800 yards this season. I just want to see them experience a running back renaissance in ’13.
29. Oakland Raiders (4-10) – Last Week: 30
My Xmas Wish: That, in the likely event of a coaching change, they turn to a familiar face. (Hint: his name is Jon Gruden.) – – Ah, yes. You see, ever since their Super Bowl season of 2002, the Raiders haven’t seen a season over .500 since, and have gone through eight coaches. With another sub-.500 season staring them in the face, another coaching change is inevitable. So, why not former Raiders coach Jon Gruden? He’s on the market, and the potential headlines/success that would come to the silver-and-black could be epic.
30. Philadelphia Eagles (4-10) – Last Week: 27
My Xmas Wish: That they put head coach Andy Reid out of his misery sooner rather than later. – – At this point in the season, the Eagles are a franchise in disarray. While injuries to some of their key players (including RB LeSean McCoy) contributed to the freefall of a season, Reid’s voice has fallen on deaf ears. And, no matter how you slice it, it seems that the embattled head coach’s time has come in Philly. It may be best for both sides to part ways.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12) – Last Week: 32
My Xmas Wish: That owner Shad Khan can put his fortune into a franchise that can win. – – Considering how bad the Jags have been this year (partly due to RB Maurice Jones-Drew being out), I assumed that new owner Shad Khan would have wanted to make an impact. Unfortunately, that fell flat – at least for this season. Perhaps if he scraps the current regime and starts fresh – all while investing some of his $2.5 billion net worth into a team that can win – he can help turn a franchise around that hasn’t seen the postseason since 2007.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (2-12) – Last Week: 31
My Xmas Wish: That, in the wake of a dismal record and unspeakable tragedy, a No. 1 pick (and possibly a new head coach) can turn 2013 into a season of hope. – – Unless something drastic happens, there’s a good chance that the Chiefs will end the season with a 2-14 record. Furthermore, the franchise isn’t very far removed from the horrific murder-suicide by a member of the team. In comparison, a No. 1 overall pick for next year’s draft may not help heal the organization, but it could be a modest, if not fresh, start.