Yup, bad puns are alive and well as we head into Week 14, and so is bad football. The NFC North comes to mind, as both the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bearscouldn't make a tackle (or even attempt one, in the former team's case) around their own goal line at crunch time. While the Bears are 8-4, they better get their act together if they're to stay with the Green Bay Packers in the division race. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings have gone from 5-1 & cruising to 6-6 & handily losing.
As for the Super Bowl race ...
Who pays you? Tom Coughlin and Ramses Barden? For the record, I think ADP pays ours, although I have a facsimile Roger Goodell autograph on my check. I also had a facsimile "autographed" baseball from the 1985 Texas Rangers. They went 62-99. It's worth about 35 cents. But I digress.
This just in: Eli Manning's New York Giants no longer reside in the top 10. The rationalization for the fall to 12th is below. With three quarters of the regular season in the books, we provided the reasoning for each team's specific ranking in this week's blurbs. And as always, the dropbox for your thoughts on such reasoning is @Harrison_NFL.
Until then, let the dissension commence ...
(Note: Arrows reflect change in standings from last week's Power Rankings.)
Nothing transpired during Week 13 that suggested the Houston Texans are not the best team in pro football. Of particular note were the limited carries for Arian Foster (14), and the strong play of Matt Schaub. Many of Schaub's throws were dinks, dunks and none-yard outs, but the key to his performance was the 2:1 TD-to-INT ratio. In fact, Houston had a plus-six turnover differential in Tennessee.
The Atlanta Falcons are No. 2 -- same as last week -- as they were the recipient of five giveaways (much like the top-seeded Texans). Atlanta gives teams no free passes. Mike Smith's club had one turnover and only 25 penalty yards. If you want to beat the Falcons, you have to block, tackle and not make mistakes. Other than Matt Ryan's five-pick mulligan versus the Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta doesn't do your team's heavy lifting.
The New England Patriots move up to No. 3 by virtue of losses from the Ravens and 49ers. In other news, A Few Good Men was on AMC the other night, and it made me think about these Patriots. There's an underrated scene where Lt. Weinberg lays it out for Demi Moore's character after she screws up in objecting too many times over an expert witness: "Don't worry about the doctor. This trial starts Monday." Well don't worry about the Dolphins game -- particularly the fact that the Pats didn't dominate -- New England's season starts Monday ... versus Houston. And then the following Sunday, versus San Francisco. That little two-week home stand will say a lot about this football team.
The Denver Broncos are fourth and climbing. They just handled Tampa in a game many thought would be more competitive. But before Broncos fans start hollerin' and fiddle-farting with their computer because they're not happy about their team's spot in the Power Rankings, take a look above. The Broncos lost to all three of those clubs.
The San Francisco 49ers sit at fifth, a potentially generous ranking considering they've lost to lesser teams in the Rams and Vikings. Amazing that Jim Harbaugh's group has essentially played two and a half games versus the Rams this season -- not to mention the fact that St. Louis is clearly an inferior team yet nearly swept the Niners. Part of the Rams' success against San Francisco involves what the latter simply can't do: Make stupid turnovers of the Kaepernick-Ginn variety. Weird play call there, and the biggest turn of the events in St. Louis on Sunday. San Francisco is built to run the football, play suffocating defense and win 20-10. Giving the ball away inside your own red zone doesn't fit into that equation.
Bad loss for the Baltimore Ravens, and some serious thought went into dropping them further. The Ravens lost at home to Charlie Batch with a chance to almost sew up the division. Given how easy a remaining schedule the Broncos have, the Ravens must beat Denver in Baltimore in Week 15, or any hope for a playoff bye is gone.
The Green Bay Packers are seventh, moving up slightly due to the Bears' home loss to Seattle. Kudos to Mike McCarthy for running the football 36 times for 152 yards. That lent a big assist to a passing attack devoid of Jordy Nelson and leaning on the services of Greg Jennings, who just returned from a groin injury. It was a pleasant surprise that the Packers suddenly developed a ground game -- not as amazeballs that Adrian Peterson is probably still running wild at Lambeau.
The Chicago Bears fall where many of the backseat power rankers wanted them to be all along: at the back end of the top 10. The Bears' offensive line is still bad, running game still inconsistent, but at least the defense made up for it by missing three tackles on Golden Tate's go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter. #brutal
The Cincinnati Bengals creeped into the top 10 last week, but they aren't able to climb any higher than ninth. They're just not quite there yet. The Bengals fumbled three times (losing one), Andy Dalton threw a bad pick and the team suffered through eight penalties. At 7-5, and trailing in the wild-card race, Cincy can't do that against the good teams. Next up: Dallas at Paul Brown Stadium. Fun game.
The Seattle Seahawks nip at Cincinnati's heels in the rankings this week. Drive of the week: Seattle's 13-play, 97-yard drive to take the lead in the waning moments at Soldier Field on Sunday. Then Russell Wilson led them on a 12-play, 80-yard march to win the game on the overtime's opening possession. Alas, the Seahawks only move up one spot with the suspensions to Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner hanging over the organization's head.
Mazel tov, Charlie Batch. The Pittsburgh Steelers reside in the 11-hole, behind the Seahawks, because of Ben Roethlisberger's health status. (And below the Bengals, too, given Cincy's four-game winning streak.) An argument certainly can be made for the Steelers over the Seahawks. Here's the deal: We don't know when Roethlisberger will be back, and whether Batch can exploit secondaries on a weekly basis.
Big Blue has been, if anything, true to form -- and for now, the 12th-best team in pro football. The New York Giants are up and down, and mostly down of late, losing three of four. And if you go back a week further, they almost blew a 23-point lead to the Cowboys in Week 8. Man, that Lawrence Tynes miss from 43 yards loomed large as Monday night wore on. Bad snap, but Steve Weatherford got the ball spotted. Tynes just missed it.
The Indianapolis Colts are 13th because they keep winning. They've been outscored this year 306-265 -- unheard of for an 8-4 team. But it doesn't matter to the allegedly under-talented group from Indy. "We've got a bunch of guys in the locker room ... maybe we don't know any better, we just keep playing," Andrew Luck said after the comeback win over Detroit. Love that quote. Keep on keepin' on, and to hell with the skeptics.
The Washington Redskins ascend two rungs from last week and deservedly reside in the 14th slot. The Redskins beat the 15th-ranked Bucs in Tampa back in September, offensively destroyed the 16th-ranked Cowboys on Turkey Day and put up 38 points on the 18th-ranked Vikings back in Week 6. All those teams are 6-6, but Washington is the leader of the pack.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers remain above Dallas, settling in at 15. Now, that's despite having the same record and despite the fact they lost at Jerryworld earlier this season. Why? Well, for starters, the Bucs have outscored opponents by 48 points and have been more consistent this season. (For more reasons, see the Cowboys, all the way down at 16th.) The Bucs are gonna need as many points as possible going forward, considering they have road games against the explosive Saints and Falcons on the horizon.
At 6-6, the Dallas Cowboys sit behind the equally .500 Bucs because of injuries on defense. Dallas' depleted unit is getting out-schemed, outperformed, and frankly, dismantled with Ernie Sims and Dan Connor starting at inside linebacker. Sims was probably hanging out at Medieval Times when the Cowboys signed him off the street. Connor, a former Panther, can't get off a block, but makes up for it by constantly being slow to the ball carrier. All this means Tony Romo must offer up more second-half performances like Sunday night's dandy: 10-for-10, 169 yards and three touchdown.
At 5-6-1 and coming off two straight wins, the St. Louis Rams deserve to be the best of the bottom half of the league. Last week in this space, we mentioned the Rams' prospects if they could get past San Francisco. They managed that. Now, with the Bills and Vikings up next, it's conceivable this ballclub could be 7-6-1 come Week 16 ... when they play in Tampa Bay in what could be a playoff elimination game. #justsayin'
The New Orleans Saints, who seem to be a better football team than the accounting here would indicate, come in at 20, sandwiched between the Vikings and Bills. They still can't decide on a running back, and the run defense is nothing short of awful (153.8 yards per game). Drew Brees can't mask all deficiencies, and when he tries ... five picks versus the Falcons.
The Detroit Lions are the 21st-best team in football, at least according to this list. Have they been in more games than Buffalo? Yes. Have they blown more games than almost any team in the league? Si. On that last note, I'd love to hear the conversation between those three Lions defensive backs as they stared at each other while Indy's Donnie Avery walked into the end zone ... with no time left. "Wait, Donnie Avery is still in the league?"
Despite having one more win than the Lions, the Miami Dolphins sit back mostly based on quarterback play. Ryan Tannehill has generally acquitted himself well, considering he's a rookie. But with seven touchdown passes, Tannehill easily trails fellow rooks Russell Wilson (19), Andrew Luck (17), Robert Griffin III (16) and Brandon Weeden (13). Meanwhile, his 12 interceptions have led to a scant 72.3 passer rating. Look, the Dolphins' passing game has plenty of problems -- starting with the lack of talent outside -- but until the team's investment in Tannehill matures, 22nd is where Miami sits.
Two wins in a row, and the 23rd spot in the Power Rankings for the Cleveland Browns. This team can't climb any higher, as it isn't getting enough plays in the passing game to keep up with Detroit, while Miami has managed to pull out one more win.
The San Diego Chargers remain at No. 24 because Arizona, Carolina, Tennessee, Philadelphia and Jacksonville all lost. The Bolts are staying in games long enough to stay one-dimensional, put the entire game on Philip Rivers, verify that Ryan Mathews and the run game suck this year and lose by one score. San Diego Chargers football: Just good enough to get ya beat.
At this point, 26th might be generous for the club with the worst offensive line in football, the second-worst starting quarterback situation and the best wide receiver that no one can get the ball to. #8milelosingstreak.
The Carolina Panthers organization was obviously mired in a difficult situation after what transpired in Kansas City on Saturday. It's hard to play a game as the visitor under a cloud of tragedy for the home team. The defense struggled, while the emotionally charged Arrowhead crowd was a big boost to a Chiefs team that had the will to win no matter what.
The Tennessee Titans can call 28 home as long as their wideouts get zero separation, putting any comeback attempt behind the eight-ball while simultaneously legislating Chris Johnson and the ground attack out of the game. Forget their six giveaways for a moment. Jake Locker simply is not an accurate enough quarterback to complete passes to covered receivers. Hate to go all Mark Twain here, but that 55.4 career completion percentage does not fall into the "damned lies and statistics" category.
Does 29th seem harsh? Would the Philadelphia Eagles complain? Probably not. This group does enough to hang around, stay tied, get a small lead ... before seemingly always having a breakdown in coverage at the worst possible time or a turnover that changes the course of a contest. What can Brown do for you? Sunday night, Bryce Brown fumbled -- again. Down four, with plenty of time to go, the Eagles were moving on the Dallas defense again before Brown delivered ... for the other team. Just like the previous Monday night.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have season tickets to the 30-hole, or at least the general vicinity. A road game in Buffalo would seem like a contest in which Jacksonville could at least hold its own. Not when Chad Henne averages five yards per throw, the running game averages less than three yards per carry and the defense gets zero sacks. Hey, what a surprise! The Jags had no pass rush! Cookies!
The Kansas City Chiefs deserve a reprieve from the cellar in the NFL rankings, that's for sure. After what this team went through over the weekend, what a performance. Especially by the much-maligned Brady Quinn, who went 19-for-23 with two touchdown passes and zero turnovers. He was only sacked once.
Let's face it: The Oakland Raiders deserve to be last. Yes, it was a one-score game, but that's because the Raiders got the definition of a "garbage-time touchdown" with one tick left. Honestly, it's all garbage there in the East Bay, though. On the bright side, Brandon Myers scored about 100 fantasy points for people in PPR leagues (14 catches, 130 yards, TD). #thinkingpositive