|WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 13||11.29.11 at 9:58 am ET|
Which team do you think has the best shot to beat the top-ranked Packers? The Giants (14), Raiders (10), Chiefs (23), Bears (11), and Lions (9) are the five remaining teams standing in the way of the Packers’ quest for an undefeated season. Green Bay’s cushion for the top spot in the NFC got a little bigger as the 49ers (4) lost for just the second time this season.
The Patriots (6) and Cowboys (8) continued to gradually inch their way up the chart as both teams are enjoying winning streaks. Meanwhile, the Bears (11) slide out of the top 10 after a loss to the Raiders (10) and the Texans (12) stay put despite winning their fifth consecutive game.
The playoff picture is starting to unfold. Teams like the Bengals (15), Jets (13), Titans (16) and Broncos (18) are all fighting for the final wild card berth in the AFC. Meanwhile, the Giants (14), Falcons (7), Lions (9) and Bears (11) will battle for the two wild card spots in the NFC.
1. (1) Packers (11-0) — The Packers aren’t even giving teams a chance. The Vikings are the only opponent that hasn’t been beaten by a touchdown or more. They lost by six in Week 7. Aaron Rodgers and the defending champions look like an unstoppable train. Last year, they squeezed into the playoffs and won every playoff game on the road. Now, they’re just a few weeks away from clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC and home field throughout.
2. (3) Ravens (8-3) — The dominating defensive performance from the Ravens against the 49ers proved they are one of the elite teams in the league. Without defensive leader Ray Lewis, the Ravens D had nine sacks, held Frank Gore to just 39 yards, and went 10-for-12 on third-down stops. The Ravens are in an excellent position to lock up a first-round bye in the playoffs with four of their remaining five games coming against teams with a below .500 record.
3. (5) Saints (8-3) — Drew Brees and the Saints offense looked like a well-oiled machine during Monday Night Football. Brees has now thrown for 300-plus yards eight times this year. One of the biggest factors has been the production from the run game. Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram have provided a great balance to the offense.
4. (2) 49ers (9-2) — After being sacked nine times, Alex Smith shot up to No.3 on the quarterback sacks list. Nine sacks in one game is inexcusable; it doesn’t matter who the opponent is. The offensive line wasn’t the only one to blame. Smith held the ball too long at times and his receivers struggled to get open. Fortunately for the Niners, four of their remaining five games are against NFC West opponents.
5. (4) Steelers (8-3) — Injuries are starting to become a growing concern for the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and Maurkice Pouncey are all battling injuries. It’s extremely important Roethlisberger’s offensive line steps up the protection so he doesn’t suffer a setback to his injured thumb. The offensive line has been shaky all year and Big Ben has endured an endless amount of hits.
6. (7) Patriots (8-3) — The Pats defense needs to make stops on third down, cause turnovers and continue to stop the run in order to surmount the awful pass D. The Patriots have done that over the past three games and have shown signs of improvement. The only thing they can do now is continue to progress and get healthy as they play out their schedule against a group of inferior teams. There’s no reason why Tom Brady and the Pats shouldn’t be 13-3 when the season ends.
7. (6) Falcons (7-4) — The Falcons have won five of their last six games and are starting to get into a groove. Matt Ryan has played extremely well over the past few weeks. He’s protecting the football and has a high completion percentage. Ryan completed 79.4 percent of his passes and had a 128 QB rating in Sunday’s win over the Vikings.
8. (11) Cowboys (7-4) — The first-place Cowboys will face another below .500 opponent in Week 13 before their showdown in Dallas against the Giants. The G-Men, meanwhile, will face the undefeated Packers. The Cowboys could very possibly have a commanding two-game lead in the NFC East by the time Week 14 rolls around. The even-better news that came out of Dallas was that cornerback Mike Jenkins returned to practice and will likely play Sunday against the Cardinals after missing four straight games.
9. (9) Lions (7-4) — Ndamukong Suh and the Lions are very fortunate Jay Cutler is out for the rest of the regular season. If it wasn’t for the injury, the Bears would have cruised past Detroit in the NFC North standings. His suspension has yet to be announced, however Suh will unquestionably be unavailable to help his team this Sunday against Drew Brees and the dynamic Saints offense. In addition, running back Jahvid Best was placed on IR. That leaves Maurice Morris and Kevin Smith responsible for carrying the load.
10. (13) Raiders (7-4) — The Raiders will have to cling on to first place with a difficult remaining schedule looming. The Dolphins, Packers, Lions, Chiefs, and Chargers are next. You know the Chargers will treat the last game of the season as their Super Bowl if they have a chance to eliminate their division rivals from playoff contention.
11. (8) Bears (7-4) — The offensive play-calling that had second-string QB Caleb Hanie throw 36 times is inexplicable. Can anyone explain why Lovie Smith and Mike Martz thought it was a good idea to put the backup quarterback in a position to lose the game and at the same time give Matt Forte just 12 carries? Going into the game, an educated football observer would think the pro-bowl running back would see an increase in touches after Cutler went down; however Forte saw his fewest carries since Week 3.
12. (12) Texans (8-3) —T.J. Yates has a great opportunity to become the Steamin’ Willie Beamen of the NFL. The third-string quarterback is next in line to take over for the first-place Texans. Houston is two games up with five to go. The team should be able to stagger into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history if they rely on Arian Foster to carry the load.
13. (14) Jets (6-5) — Mark Sanchez led the Jets to a season-saving victory on Sunday. He was inconsistent at times, but he finished the game with four touchdown passes for the first time in his career. All four of those passes came when the Jets were in the red zone.
14. (10) Giants (6-5) — Inconsistency has defined the season. The Giants seem to play with an extreme lack of urgency at times and it has cost them. They’ve made a habit of falling behind early in games. The defense looked completely confused and unmotivated against the Saints. After a big win in New England, the Giants have now lost three consecutive games, fallen out of first place, and play the undefeated Packers next week.
15. (15) Bengals (7-4) — Andy Dalton has made Bengals fans believe again. The rookie QB has shown tremendous composure in his first eleven games in the NFL. The young quarterback has already led four fourth-quarter comebacks this season. The Bengals are fighting to make the playoffs for just the third time in 21 seasons. They have a tough road ahead with games against the Ravens and Steelers remaining on their schedule.
16. (18) Titans (6-5) — Matt Hasselbeck has to play better in the next five games if he wants to help lead the Titans to a playoff berth. Against one of the worst defenses in the league, Hasselbeck threw a pair of interceptions and had a poor game passing the ball. Thankfully, Chris Johnson exploded for almost 200 yards. With the Texans trotting out their third-string quarterback, the Titans have a tremendous chance to gain ground in the division and perhaps play Houston for the AFC South on the last game of the season. Until then, a relatively easy schedule awaits with the Bills, Saints, Colts and Jaguars next.
17. (16) Eagles (4-7) — “Fire Andy” chants roared in Philadelphia as the Eagles lost their fifth game at home. It’s hard to believe the team that many experts picked to win the Super Bowl won’t even reach the playoffs. The Eagles have a laundry list of issues that they’ll have to address in the offseason. The list includes finding a way to keep Michael Vick healthy, deciding whether or not to fire Andy Reid, figuring out what to do with DeSean Jackson, improving the offensive line, and getting better defensive coaching.
18. (21) Broncos (6-5) — All the attention has been on Tim Tebow, but it’s taken a complete team effort to win four straight games. Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller have been a collective force. The two have a combined 12 sacks in the last four games. Denver’s defense is allowing just 15 points-per-game during that stretch.
19. (17) Buccaneers (4-7) — Tampa’s tumultuous year continued on Sunday. Brian Price injured his ankle resulting in another blow to the Bucs’ beleaguered defensive line. The box score proves how beat up they are defensively. Chris Johnson averaged 8.3 yards-per-carry while rushing for 190 yards.
20. (22) Dolphins (3-8) — The Dolphins had a great month of November after losing seven straight prior. Dating back to Week 7, their last three losses have been by three points or less. Matt Moore has played extremely well. He had a 113 QB rating in November. Miami could act as a spoiler for many teams trying to make the playoffs. The Raiders, Bills, Jets and Patriots all must face the rejuvenated Dolphins.
21. (20) Bills (5-6) — Three straight wins in September has quickly turned to four straight losses in November. Stupid penalties, bad mistakes, and turnovers have highlighted how immature the Bills are. Stevie Johnson‘s dumb decision to excessively celebrate a touchdown reception demonstrated that the team lacks discipline. The loss of Fred Jackson and the crippling November losing streak has put the Bills chances of a playoff berth on life support.
22. (19) Chargers (4-7) — Zero wins in November, six straight losses, and last place in a terrible division is making it extremely tough for Norv Turner to make an argument that he should keep his job. The Chargers had a shot to win each week. In six of their losses, five have been by seven points or less.
23. (24) Chiefs (4-7) — Mercifully, the Tyler Palko era looks to be coming to an end in Kansas City. The backup quarterback has throw six interceptions in two games since replacing Matt Cassel. The Chiefs claimed Kyle Orton off waivers. He’ll take over duties behind center for the remainder of the Chiefs roller-coaster 2011 season. Kansas City started the season losing three straight, then won four in a row, and now has lost four straight.
24. (29) Redskins (4-7) — When the option at quarterback is either John Beck or Rex Grossman, it’s not surprising that the run game gives the Redskins the best chance to win. Roy Helu roared past a good Seahawks run defense for 108 yards and a touchdown. Three of the Redskins’ four wins have come when the team has rushed for 100 yards or more.
25. (25) Cardinals (4-7) — The most impressive first-year Cardinal isn’t Kevin Kolb. The emergence of rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson has been the silver lining to the Cardinals otherwise, dismal season. In just his first season in the NFL, Peterson has returned four punts for touchdowns, tying the league record.
26. (23) Seahawks (4-7) — The Seahawks allowed 16 fourth-quarter points against a team that had lost six straight and was averaging less than 13 points per game during that time. Pete Carroll will have his work cut out for him this offseason. Tarvaris Jackson has proven he is not a playoff-caliber quarterback.
27. (26) Browns (4-7) — What did the Browns do to deserve this? Cleveland will close out the season playing the Steelers and Ravens twice in the final five games of the season. Looks like a lock for the Browns to own a top-10 selection in the NFL draft. Whether they decide to trade it again, well that’s Mike Holmgren‘s decision.
28. (28) Vikings (2-9) — Christian Ponder has added a nice spark to the Vikings offense, but it’s clear the team needs an offensive line upgrade in the offseason. The rookie QB has been sacked 12 times over the last three games. As it stands now, the Vikings will be selecting third in the draft. Quality additions to the offensive line and defensive secondary could put the Vikings in a position to fight for a playoff spot next season.
29. (27) Jaguars (3-8) — The news of the firing of Jack Del Rio comes as no surprise. The Jags are in shambles. Offensive woes have plagued the team all year. The offense is averaging 12 points per game and scored just 138 points all year. It took the Packers just four games to score 148. The problems on offense are result of a lack of play making receivers and a struggling rookie quarterback. Blaine Gabbert has stammered while under pressure. If you’re ranking the four rookie starting quarterbacks in the league, Gabbert would be last. Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Christian Ponder have all shown more poise.
30. (31) Panthers (3-8) — The Panthers officially proved they are no longer the worst team in the NFL. Cam Newton has given his team a chance to win almost every week. In Sunday’s victory over the Colts, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were major parts in the offensive game plan. They racked up close to 140 yards rushing. Coach Ron Rivera needs to continue to find ways to get those two running backs touches.
31. (30) Rams (2-8) — No team has defended the run worse than the Rams. St. Louis has given up 200 or more yards on the ground three times this season. The depleted offensive line has been equally as bad. The pass protection for Sam Bradford has been appalling. The second-year QB has played in just nine games but leads the league in sacks.
32. (32) Colts (0-11) — The Colts are losing by an average of 16 points per game. It has been shocking to see how hard this team has fallen because of the loss of just one player. Nine straight seasons with a playoff appearance was a remarkable accomplishment. However, the way the Colts have collapsed in such a short period of time says a lot about the whole organization. The players, coaches, front office and ownership are all responsible.
Which NFL teams are in your top 10? Leave your opinions/comments below or e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can send comments via Twitter to @JoeytheFishWEEI.
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