The top teams in the league are starting to present themselves as such -- or so we think -- and thus, we'll see a little less spastic movement in the rankings.
No teams jumping 10 spots, although the little Buffalo Bills got a bump of some note, as did the Washington Redskins and New Orleans Saints. All three delivered big wins to their fan bases, but perhaps New Orleans' was the most impressive. One week after an emotional home win over the previously undefeated Atlanta Falcons, Drew Brees and company showed no letdown, travelling across the country to dominate the Oakland Raiders.
The key for the 5-5 Saints, and everyone else vying for a wild-card spot, is the conference record. You see, two of the Saints' losses came versus the AFC West, leaving their conference record -- a principal factor in the postseason tiebreaker process -- at three up, three down. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks -- all eyeing the final two playoff slots -- each have four conference losses already. And just like in baseball pennant races, it's all about the loss column. That's something to keep an eye on in the coming weeks.
Ahh, but we don't have to pull out our TI-81 graphing calculators to figure out playoff computations just yet. Let's see how teams stack up right now.
And per the usual, bring on the dissension.
(Note: Arrows reflect change in standings from last week's Power Rankings.)
Neither of the top two teams looked dominant in Week 11, but both survived to improve to 9-1. Sometimes that's what it takes in the modern NFL. The bright spot in the win was Andre Johnson, who looked like the guy who was once voted as the best wide receiver of the Y2K era. Fourteen catches, 273 yards and a walk-off touchdown. So much for being old and slow.
Big ups to the Atlanta Falcons' defense. Coordinator Mike Nolan's unit continually bailed out Matt Ryan, who threw five picks against the Arizona Cardinals. The defense has not been dominant, or even formidable, but it has been quite effective at limiting big plays in the passing game. The Falcons have allowed just 26 pass plays of 20-plus yards (tied for sixth in the NFL) and just aren't giving opposing offenses any gimmes down the field.
It has to make you ponder how much noise the San Francisco 49ers will make in the postseason when they win by multiple scores with their backup quarterback. Colin Kaepernick was fantastic Monday night. San Francisco now has head-to-head wins over the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, two of their three biggest competitors for home-field advantage. In case you're wondering, the 49ers do not play Atlanta in the regular season.
The Green Bay Packers drop a spot to make room in the top three for the 49ers, who absolutely dominated the Bears. Kicker Mason Crosby must have had so many Packer fans holding their breath right before his field goal to go up 24-20 with under a minute to play in Detroit on Sunday. His two early misses loomed large, but the play in the win had to be M.D. Jennings' 72-yard interception return for a touchdown. It was his second huge pick this season -- except this one counted.
Joe Flacco at home: 66.5 completion percentage, 322.4 yards per game, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Joe Flacco on the road: 54.2 completion percentage, 176.6 yards per game, three touchdowns and four interceptions.
If you can explain that trend, Baltimore Ravens fans, I'd love to hear it. @Harrison_NFL. Good luck.
All those people who flooded my Twitter inbox saying the Indianapolis Colts were gonna win? Crickets. Some might feel Denver is the best team in the AFC, but the Broncos have yet to pull off a 59-point demolition like the New England Patriots. Not to mention the fact that Denver was soundly beaten in New England earlier this season. Thus, the Pats get this spot, and the Broncos get ...
Who thought Brandon Stokley would give the Broncos this much production this season? Denver didn't exactly have to fight off a bunch of suitors for the 36-year-old slot receiver. I saw him on the field after February's Super Bowl, just walking around with his son, sporting a nondescript gray zip-up and jeans, looking at a bunch of confetti. Stokley had played two games for the New York Giants (catching one pass) and was at Lucas Oil Stadium to cheer on his teammates. How many people even knew he was in the NFL last year? But there he was Sunday, catching a 31-yard touchdown pass for his fifth score on the season. That's more than Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Larry Fitzgerald, Antonio Gates and Roddy White.
I was about to write something deep here, but the 49ers ran a stunt and pummeled my laptop.
Seattle finds itself in the wild-card mix at 6-4, with the primary issue being a middle-of-the-road conference record (4-4). The Seahawks have to take care of business against four remaining NFC opponents to fare well come tiebreaker time. Seattle faces the Cardinals, 49ers and Rams at home, with a game against the Bears at Soldier Field.
The New York Giants move up a spot after a bye, thanks to the Steelers' drop, as well as several Big Blue players getting an opportunity to get healthier ( Ahmad Bradshaw, Hakeem Nicks, etc.). Hopefully, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and quarterback Eli Manning put their heads together during the bye week to figure out the recent malaise afflicting the passing game. Over the last three contests, Manning has completed just 54.5 percent of his passes with zero touchdowns and four interceptions. He's also thrown for a grand total of 532 yards over that stretch. Considering he put up 510 in Week 2 alone ...
Sunday's win in Charlotte was absolutely ridiculous. The throw-and-catch from Josh Freeman to Vincent Jackson, when the Bucs were down, 21-13, with 15 ticks left, was unbelievable. Freeman's ball placement on the subsequent two-point conversion said a lot about his development from last season. Speaking of which ... the next couple games on the Bucs' docket should reveal much about the ilk of this team: vs. Falcons, at Broncos.
Injuries and a loss force a three-step drop. And expect a lot of those from Charlie Batch, too, because he ain't throwing it deep.
Would you believe that if the Falcons had not been able to pull out the win versus Arizona, we'd be talking about the Saints' chances at winning the division? A month ago, the playoffs seemed like a freaking pipe dream. A huge reason for the Saints' success is the recent play of the secondary, which competed its butt off in Oakland. Next week, New Orleans hosts the Niners in a rematch of the top game of 2011.
Let me deliberate on it for a moment. No.
@harrison_nfl really, honestly, sincerely, do you think vikings have any playoff options, please, be honestâ Mr. Shameless (@emanuelpazos) November 16, 2012
Another solid showing by Tony Romo, who avoided throwing an interception for the third straight week. Interesting that another NFC quarterback threw five picks this week, which inspired this tweet ...
Couldn't have said it better myself. On the other side of the ball, DeMarcus Ware is not enough to get consistent pressure. The more defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is forced to use the blitz, the larger the gaps in coverage on the back end.
@harrison_nfl Ryan throws 5 picks against a bad team: little attention paid to it. Romo throws 5 against a great team: national criticism.â Joe Walker (@SardonicSatire) November 18, 2012
The Detroit Lions are in serious trouble. Not only is Detroit last in the NFC North, but an 0-4 record in the division and a 3-5 conference mark means this team probably needs to run the table to make the playoffs. #Doubtful
Who the heck is Ryan Lindley? Guarantee you that question was asked in dorm rooms, Hooters and snazzy luxury suites at the Georgia Dome thousands of times. The third-stringer was pressed into service after John Skelton (another household name) was benched. Lindley was so-so at best. (Maybe that's even a stretch.) The Arizona Cardinals' offense couldn't generate much, particularly Lindley, who went 9-for-20 for 64 yards. Nonetheless, you have to hand a pound of respect to a Cardinals defense that generated six turnovers and held the Falcons' offense in check most of the day.
Some Tennessee Titans fans might be holding out hope for a late playoff push -- or a .500 push -- with a decent schedule down the back stretch. The best guess here would be a 7-9 finish, giving Mike Munchak a .500 record through two years. The jury is still out on the coach and Jake Locker as a tandem; they came in together, but Locker's early-season shoulder injury derailed a true evaluation process. Either way, this team has looked miles better than whatever that was early in the season, particularly with regard to Chris Johnson, who, amazingly enough, is averaging more than 5 yards per carry despite a horrid start.
Miami's wideouts struggle mightily to get any separation. I found myself feeling bad for both Ryan Tannehill and Dolphins fans everywhere. For all who follow the little mammal with a helmet ( don't change the logo!), there must be a certain sense of dread when this team falls behind by two scores, like it did in Buffalo. This is not an offense that takes shots down the field, nor is it built to come from behind.
The San Diego Chargers had an opportunity to be just one game behind the Broncos in the AFC West with a tie in the head-to-head department. Now the Bolts are three games back, though in reality, they're down by four, because of the 0-2 record versus Denver. Opportunity lost. Philip Rivers' uneven play continues to madden Chargers fans, but the guiltiest party in another underwhelming season is a subpar running game that averages 3.8 yards per carry, 24th in the NFL. On Sunday, the Chargers ran 23 times and gained all of 53 yards. That's brutal. That's 4-6 football.
Nice to see the New York Jets playing like a cohesive unit Sunday in St. Louis. Mark Sanchez played well. The defense wouldn't allow Sam Bradford to do the same. The Jets also ran the football a whopping 41 times, burning clock while not placing the hopes of an entire football team on Sanchez's shoulders. Looks like Tebowmania ain't happenin', folks.
At some point, Sam Bradford has to start playing ball. His career has a Rick Mirer arc to it, at least at this stage. On Sunday, he threw 44 passes ... for 170 yards. Talk about no gas mileage.
Brent Celek says he's "sick about this crap." He's sick of losing. He's also surely upset about his drop that led to an interception. Well, if he's back next season, he won't be sick of faces; many of the familiar ones could be gone. With Michael Vick due $15.5 million next season ... you get the point. Although, all those Philadelphia Eagles fans clamoring for the Nick Foles era got a trailer Sunday -- as in, a trailer for movies of quality, like Terminator Salvation, The Green Lantern and Alexander.
Of all the losses in the Ron Rivera era, the 27-21 debacle in Week 11 has to be the worst. I mean, from here, there's nowhere to go but up. The Carolina Panthers were winning, 21-10, with just over two minutes to play. The reality is Rivera has only won eight of 26 games. The general manager who hired him is gone. His quarterback has regressed. And the defense -- Rivera's side of the ball -- has struggled late in games. Ironically, next Monday night, Rivera's Panthers face a team in a tailspin of equal gravity: the Philadelphia Eagles.
Cleveland Browns fans have been forced to endure far too many close losses, starting all the way back in Week 1 versus the Eagles. Both Cleveland lines dominated the Cowboys, and yet, the team lost its eighth game of the season. That doesn't make sense. Defensive penalties absolutely killed Dick Jauron's unit, which sorely missed cornerback Joe Haden. Look for the Browns to address the secondary in the 2013 NFL Draft. We're already looking forward to the draft. Dude, is there any harder team to be a fan of than the Browns? Yes, the next team in the rankings ...
Is there any question now that the Jacksonville Jaguars' offense looks better with Chad Henne in there? It appeared that way in Oakland and against Indianapolis a few weeks ago. But after a huge day in Houston -- and a narrow loss to the class of the AFC -- it behooves Mike Mularkey to play Henne, irrespective of Blaine Gabbert's health. It's only fair to the players, who must earn their jobs. Time to make Gabbert earn his.
We moved the Kansas City Chiefs up a slot for playing Pittsburgh so tough two Mondays ago. Any momentum possibly gained there was lost in another blowout loss to Cincinnati. Make that a home blowout loss. The Chiefs have been demolished by the Falcons, Chargers, Raiders and Bengals in front of one of the most supportive fan bases in pro football. And to think their lone win came in overtime.