Week 12, in the books ...
... so what does that mean for the best teams in football? Well there is some shakeup in the top 10, although the first three stand pat. The Atlanta Falcons won on the road against what appears to be a quality team in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Per the norm, they made it interesting, ultimately taking a one-point win. The San Francisco 49ers looked dominant in New Orleans, but with two losses and a tie, Jim Harbaugh's troops have too many missteps to take top billing.
And then there's the Houston Texans, who, in a strange nod to Spaceballs, got a victory with the help of the Schwartz. Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz certainly won't prematurely chuck a challenge flag again.
As for the bottom of the order, this tweet says it all about how fans feel about the Kansas City Chiefs:
@harrison_nflis it safe to say the toronto argonauts deserve to join the power rankings nowâ Paul Onofrio (@impaulse76) November 27, 2012
As for the rest of the league, let the dissension commence ...
(Note: Arrows reflect change in standings from last week's Power Rankings.)
Gritty road win for the Atlanta Falcons in Tampa, and a particularly gritty performance from Julio Jones, who was questionable for Sunday. Nothing questionable about six catches for 147 yards and a touchdown. This team is primed for home field a la 2010 (with a different postseason result in mind, of course). At 10-1, it would take a pretty hefty fall from grace for Atlanta to not be playing January football in the Georgia Dome.
Only Jim Harbaugh would bench a quarterback with a 19-5-1 record as a starter over the last two seasons and the highest completion percentage (70.0) in 2012. Alex Smith, sit down. Enter Colin Kaepernick, who handled himself admirably in his second consecutive start and reminds this writer a lot of a good Randall Cunningham, particularly with those long strides. Of course, even Tim Rattay would've benefitted from two touchdowns turned in by the defense. Nice win.
Joe Flacco had maybe his best road game of his season, but the Baltimore Ravens only had 16 points to show for it after almost five full quarters. Baltimore did score the final 13 points of the game, though, not allowing the San Diego Chargers to get going in the second half. They also got a huge assist from Ray Rice, who saved the day in the fourth quarter. Watch here.
For all of you people who dropped Michael Bush in fantasy weeks ago ... me, too. In reality, the Chicago Bears are the walking wounded with health issues on both sides of the ball, starting with guard Lance Louis' season-ending knee injury. Another Lance (Briggs) is in a walking boot. Meanwhile, everyone's holding their breath on Matt Forte's ankle. Man, it feels like 2011 in Chicago.
Exhibit A of parity in the NFL: Eli Manning and the New York Giants. This is a team that hadn't played well in weeks, while Manning had been plum awful. He'd averaged 177 yards per game in his last three outings with no touchdowns and four interceptions. So what does Manning do on Sunday night? Throw three touchdown passes and dominate the Packers' defense. Last December, New York was 6-6, in a tailspin, with almost no hope for the playoffs. What did they do then? Win the Super Bowl. The chasm between the good and bad clubs is not a chasm at all, with the difference in quality often being razor thin. Don't forget: This Packers team absolutely demolished the Texans in Week 6 and brought a five-game winning streak into Sunday night. The NFL truly is week to week, but Big Blue knows what weeks to turn it on.
I don't make a habit of quoting Cris Collinsworth too often, but on Sunday's night broadcast, he quipped, "Every once in a while in the NFL, you have to burn the tape ..." Agreed, Cris. Burn it, Mike.
Tough road loss after a really long road trip to Miami for the Seattle Seahawks. Here's the most important thing I took away from this game (something that bodes well for this organization's future): fourth quarter, second down, ball at their own 2, with the Seahawks nursing a 14-7 lead. Again, the football was well within the five. How many teams turn around and hand off in that situation? Not Pete Carroll. That's trust in your rookie quarterback, and it tells you all you need to know about whether or not Russell Wilson is for real.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers can't move up in the rankings, or make the playoffs, or be considered a contender until they take care of bidness at home against quality teams. The Falcons were there for the taking, and Connor Barth's 56-yard miss is not the reason Tampa couldn't finish the job. The secondary is the biggest culprit. And now the Bucs are 6-5, as opposed to being in prime position for a wild-card slot.
Congratulations to the Indianapolis Colts, who seem to be on a crash course for an AFC wild-card berth. An issue looming for this club -- one that its fan base surely has noticed through 11 games -- is the glaring lack of takeaways. The minus-14 turnover differential is not as big an issue against the Bills and Jags of the world, but if Indy is forced to play in Denver in the opening round of the playoffs ... You get the picture. Either way, who would've thought Indy would be 7-4, much less win seven games all season?
The Niners dealt a heavy blow to the New Orleans Saints' playoff hopes on Sunday. At 5-6, the Saints are still in the mix, but with away games against the Falcons and and Giants coming up, the road ain't gonna be easy. That said, if the secondary can compete the way it has the last couple of weeks, there's a chance. Drew Brees was uncharacteristically off on several plays vs. the 49ers and paid for it with two pick-six's that changed the game. Fat chance that happens again.
Robert Griffin III followed up Week 11's 14-for-15 performance with a 20-for-28, four-touchdown showing on Thanksgiving. Give some serious kudos to the Washington Redskins receivers, who played like Mark Duper, Mark Clayton and John Taylor wrapped in an egg roll. Pierre Garcon looked like Taylor on his long touchdown. Certainly good to have him back in the fold. Santana Moss, quality. Redskins fans, did you even recognize your wideouts out there? Usually the balls go right through their hands.
At 6-5, the Minnesota Vikings look OK on paper. But the reality is, with Green Bay (twice) and Chicago (again) coming up on the schedule, the playoffs are far-fetched. The back-to-back mulligan performances in Week 8 ( loss to the Bucs) and Week 9 ( loss to the Seahawks) are the real culprits. Remember that when folks start talking about faint playoff hopes in a week or so.
The Turkey Day defeat in Dallas was easily the worst performance by the Cowboys' defense in 2012. We finally saw a unit that missed starting inside linebacker Sean Lee and safety Barry Church. (Especially Church, whom the secondary desperately needed.) And now Bruce Carter's done for the season, as well. Still, despite all the gloom and doom surrounding this team, bear in mind that the Cowboys are only two back with five games to play. They're in serious trouble, but not done. Yet.
Terrible loss in Detroit. At 4-7, the show is over, and you could see it all over the face of Matt Stafford (who, by the way, played pretty well against arguably the best defense in the AFC).
Is it unusual for a wide receiver to complain about play calling? Hardly. Is it unusual if that receiver just got targeted 15 times and had a 100-yard game? You bet. Nonetheless, Stevie Johnson said it's time for Chan Gailey to relinquish play-calling duties. He has since backed off, but I can tell you that the Buffalo Bills fans I've spoken to feel the same way. Would love to hear your thoughts at @Harrison_NFL. Either way, Buffalo's playoff hopes were doused Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Who can figure out these Miami Dolphins? The run defense was unbelievable early in the season, then got wasted by the St. Louis Rams and Buffalo Bills, only to come back and shut down Marshawn Lynch. The wideouts couldn't make a play in last week's loss to the Bills, yet the passing game was clutch in Sunday's win. Hey, but when you need a play, call Charles Clay.
In what essentially amounted to an elimination game for the St. Louis Rams, Jeff Fisher's club came through in Arizona, sweeping the Cardinals in the process. At 4-6-1, there's not much hope. But if the Rams can pull off the upset of the 49ers at home on Sunday, they have two winnable games vs. the Vikings and at the Bills. Don't snicker. They would've ousted the Niners in Week 10 if it wasn't for an illegal-formation call in overtime. #justsayin'
How about that Brownies defensive line? Cleveland limited Dallas to 21 carries for 63 yards in Week 11. On Sunday, the Steelers only gained 49 yards on 20 attempts. The Browns are forcing teams to be one-dimensional. When the opposing quarterback is Charlie Batch, the result is usually one-sided. Win.
Ryan Lindley wasn't the answer Sunday. Nor was Beanie Wells. No, the elixir for a team that has gone from 4-0 to 4-7 (and looked awful ugly in the process) is an offensive line that can at least play even. Instead, the Arizona Cardinals are getting whipped at the point of the attack. The running game only averaged 3.2 yards per carry versus the Rams. And even that figure was pumped up by an Andre Roberts scamper for 13 yards, the longest run of the afternoon; that's great, but he's a wide receiver. Too often this team can't pass protect. And even when it does, it makes up for it by getting blasted in the ground game.
Closing out a football game -- that's what the Carolina Panthers needed. Not a monster fantasy game from Cam Newton. Not 20 tackles from Defensive Rookie of the Year Luke Kuechly. Not another almost. After suffering six one-score losses this year, Carolina finally closed the door in the fourth quarter on Monday night. Kicker Graham Gano tried to make it interesting by missing an extra point to keep Philly in the game. That's a great way to make friends in the locker room in your first week with the team.
Jake Locker is back in the saddle, but it didn't translate into a win. The second-year man was outplayed by Chad Henne, of all people -- and this lopsided matchup made the difference in a five-point loss. The Tennessee Titans organization has some decisions to make on personnel, but given Locker's injuries and the weak draft class, quarterback likely won't be a focus area. Offensive coordinator already is.
Mark Sanchez's slip-fail-run-into-a-lineman's-butt-and-fumble debacle has been replayed so many times that we won't mention it here.
After watching Jason Campbell in Week 11 -- not to mention, Charlie Batch in Cleveland on Sunday -- it was nice to see a "backup" quarterback make some big throws down the field, as opposed to dinks and dunks and bunch of none-yard outs. Chad Henne has averaged over 10 yards per attempt for two straight weeks -- that's a first down every time the ball leaves his hand. How does it feel to see a real live pro offense, Jags fans? Pretty cool, huh?
Anyone have any ideas on what to write here? Looking for anything positive. The Oakland Raiders have lost 55-20, 38-17 and 34-10 in successive weeks. Carson Palmer can't get anything going early in games, when the contest is at least still in doubt, while the defense has been the worst in pro football. Oakland came into Week 12 allowing 32.2 points per game. This just in: That average didn't improve Sunday.
Much like the Week 10 loss in Pittsburgh, the Kansas City Chiefs competed against the Broncos on Sunday ... and did just enough to lose. Per the usual, quarterback play was at the center of another defeat. Brady Quinn got a taste of his own medicine when Peyton Hillis bounced a halfback pass at Quinn's feet. See what it feels like?