Week 15 brings a major shakeup in the top 10. No less than eight teams are on the move -- either up or down -- starting at the top.
The Houston Texans' four-week reign in the No. 1 spot is over. After that debacle in New England, the Texans had to cede the throne, despite the fact that they still have one less loss than the Patriots. Forget the records; Houston was dismantled on Monday night. Entering that contest, I considered keeping Houston at No. 1 no matter the outcome. That line of thinking quickly changed as the game played out.
It was ugly at Foxborough, which prompted this exchange ...
@harrison_nfl I like the punt with the punt being a close second— Jake McBee (@JakeMcBee_) December 11, 2012
The Texans certainly deserve a drop, as do the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears, who are both dangerously close to falling out of the top 10 for the first time all season. The upstart Indianapolis Colts are nipping at Chicago's heels, and if not for a 20-point loss at Soldier Field in Week 1, Andrew Luck and Co. would hold the Bears' 10 spot.
And then there's the middle of the rankings, where several clubs are climbing the rungs while fighting for a playoff spot.
As always, we eagerly await your complaints and wacked-out diatribes -- @Harrison_NFL is the dropbox.
Now, let the dissension commence ...
(Note: Arrows reflect change in standings from last week's Power Rankings.)
Quick, how many sports writers started their Monday Night Football reax column with, "Houston, we have a problem?" That line never gets old. (Except it does.) What also gets tiresome is seeing an elite quarterback laser in on man-coverage mismatches against the Houston Texans and exploit them all freaking night. Obviously, there is no shame in losing to Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. But when the two combine for more than 600 yards passing and 10 touchdowns, despite tapping (or slamming) the brakes in the fourth quarter, well ...
Atlanta Falcons didn't get to 11-1 by mistake, that's for sure, but the club's second loss --
a 30-20 result in Carolina -- was ugly. I sat in the Green Room at NFL Network watching the games with former
Bears wideout Tom Waddle.
"Why do the Falcons always mess around in their division games?" Waddle asked, with a puzzled look on his face.
It's a valid question. Atlanta is now 3-2 in the NFC South and 8-0 everywhere else. In those five divisional contests, they've actually been outscored, 125-124. Pretty surprising, considering the Panthers, Saints and Buccaneers are all playing sub-.500 ball. With the 49ers still a game-and-a-half back, facing road trips to New England and Seattle in the next two weeks, Atlanta should get home field. Yet, I'm sure Falcons Nation is concerned.
The Denver Broncos remain stuck at the cleanup spot, as neither the Texans nor the Falcons deserve a precipitous drop after each losing their second game. Not to mention, both teams beat Denver earlier in the season -- with Gary Kubiak's club dropping the Broncos on their own field -- and that can't be discounted in the top tier of the Power Rankings. Nice win in Oakland on a short week, but I can guarantee you the red-zone stalls on offense are a concern to Peyton Manning.
The San Francisco 49ers can wow you one week ... and puzzle you the next. The Niners lambasted the Buffalo Bills, 45-3, then lost to the Giants at home, 26-3. Two weeks later, they throttled the Cardinals in Arizona, only to lethargically tie the St. Louis Rams at The 'Stick their next time out. In Week 13, San Francisco fell to those pesky Rams, before completely handling the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. Head coach Jim Harbaugh must be looking for consistency right now. The guess is he'll find it by leaning on his wubby: an effective running game. San Francisco churned out 155 yards and three touchdowns on only 28 carries versus a pretty stout Miami run defense.
If the Green Bay Packers' running game (140 yards) and secondary can replicate what we saw on Sunday night in Lambeau, then look out, National Football League. No Cedric Benson or James Starks in the backfield, and no Charles Woodson in the defensive backfield. Less players, even less excuses for a team that's 9-4 and in control of its NFC North destiny. Oh, and let's not forget Green Bay's best pass rusher, Clay Matthews, has been on the shelf for more than a month.
The Seattle Seahawks' defense just scored another touchdown. Come back later.
The Baltimore Ravens' road woes could be a major factor come playoff time. The loss at Washington puts an injury-riddled defense in danger of having to stop somebody on foreign turf in January. That hasn't been easy to do, as evidenced by Sunday's result. Baltimore came into Week 14 ranked 30th in the NFL in time of possession, holding the football only 27 minutes per game. Once again, the Ravens lost the possession battle against the Redskins -- by nearly five minutes -- and ultimately lost the game. The defense must be able to get off the field. Will the dismissal of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron lead to more use of the running game, and inherently, increased time of possession? We'll see.
After some careful deliberation -- and an argument with Heath Evans during Monday night's "Total Access" -- I swapped the New York Giants and Chicago Bears. Chicago doesn't look good right now. For all intents and purposes, Sunday's game was lost after Adrian Peterson punched it in for the second time in the first quarter. The Bears came out flat in a 21-14 loss in Minnesota and can't afford to come out flat anymore. Good news: Jay Cutler should be OK to go this weekend.
The Cincinnati Bengals had plenty of chances Sunday, but still lost to an emotionally drained football team in the Dallas Cowboys. Moreover, the 'Boys were playing with only five starters on defense at one point during the game. The Bengals just couldn't capitalize. Andy Dalton had plenty of time to throw, but couldn't do anything with it.
Fun news for Pittsburgh Steelers fans: the Ravens and Bengals lost. Other than that, everything about Sunday pretty much sucked. Pittsburgh was losing 34-10 to a hapless San Diego Chargers team -- at home, no less -- before getting two garbage touchdowns. Remember: The Bolts had lost seven of its past eight games entering Sunday and reportedly have a lame duck head coach in Norv Turner (and GM, too). Allowing a team to convert 13 of its 23 third- and fourth-down attempts will get you beat in the NFL.
Everyone in Washington is holding their breath with the injury to Robert Griffin III, and with his uncertain status for Sunday, this club stays parked at 14th. We wondered aloud in this space how long it would be until the rookie phenom got hurt. Well, it happened. Even if RG3 has to miss some time, though, there might be some hope in Kirk Cousins, who sure has looked alright when given the opportunity to play.
This defense played most of the second half without its starting nose tackle, defensive end, inside linebacker, other inside linebacker, right cornerback, slot cornerback and strong safety. Yet Rob Ryan's unit held a team averaging 25.2 points per game under 20. Considering everything else this organization was dealing with, you have to tip your cap to the
Unfortunately, there is no respite for this organization. Dez Bryant, who came up a finger long against the Giants two months ago, might be a finger short of finishing the 2012 season.
We mentioned two weeks ago in this space that the St. Louis Rams (then 4-6-1) could get right back in the playoff mix with wins over the 49ers, Bills and Vikings. Guess what? They're almost there. The Bears' loss in Minnesota was great news, as the Rams control their own destiny with the 7-6 Vikings this week, while two other 7-6 teams (Washington and Dallas) still have to play each other. I originally picked the Rams to win in Buffalo, but changed my mind at the last second. Intuition is a whimsical mistress.
We can't stop talking about Adrian Peterson. Man, he looked explosive on that 51-yard run on the game's first play. How about rookie Harrison Smith, though? Not many safeties go high in the draft these days, and yet the kid from Notre Dame took an interception to the house for a 56-yard touchdown and is a lock on everyone's all-rookie team.
This club stomped the 17th-ranked Vikings earlier this season, but is falling apart at the worst possible time. Talk about blowing an opportunity. Not that Buccaneers fans needed to be reminded, but Tampa Bay could not afford to lose that game on Sunday. Once again, the Bucs' glaring hole was a gaping hole: the secondary. Nick Foles carved them up, and now Tampa will need a lot of help to sneak into the playoffs. A 3-6 conference record and head-to-head losses to the Cowboys, Redskins and Giants will do Greg Schiano's club no favors when NFL geeks break out the TI-81s to begin postseason computations.
Tough to get behind that New Orleans Saints defense right about now. While all the bounty nonsense presses on, the New Orleans defense pressures its own offense ... into scoring points. Think about it: Every time Drew Brees steps on the field, he knows he has to put up 30 points for his team to win. That's no joke; the Saints allow over 29 points per game, the highest average in the NFC. People can point to Brees' high interception total (18) all they want, but you simply must take riskier shots down the field to put up 30. #HOFer
Fred Jackson is done for the season. If Chan Gailey doesn't give C.J. Spiller 25 touches now -- i.e., make him a workhorse -- he never will. The explosive Spiller has received 20 carries once all season (in a Thursday night win over the Dolphins). The Seahawks are looming and are certainly a tough matchup. Nonetheless, what better way to keep your quarterback out of harm's way -- and out of interceptions -- than to put the ball in No. 28's gut. Do it.
Would you believe the Cleveland Browns are still alive in the playoff race? The Brownies have a decent shot if they win out: vs. Washington, at Denver, at Pittsburgh. Yep, it probably won't happen. OK, OK, it won't happen. Still, taking into account the early rash of injuries, as well as Joe Haden's suspension, Pat Shurmur has done a nice job keeping this team competitive and relevant. The Browns might get a break this weekend, too, with RG3's status in limbo.
Remember how "Pearl Harbor" dragged on for an hour and a half, fueled by a half-cocked love triangle that involved Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett? Then finally, after 90 minutes of mostly irrelevant crap, the movie got good. That was the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. After convincing their suffering fan base they were awful (which they had been), and making those fans believe there would finally be a new GM and head coach in place (quit wishing), the Bolts dismantled the Steelers -- on the road, to boot. So here's what's going to happen: San Diego will beat the Panthers, Jets and Raiders to finish 8-8, and Charger Nation will get another year of A.J. Smith and Norv Turner.
Thanks to the Revis-less defense, the New York Jets have won two straight games to remain in playoff contention. They've also managed just two touchdown drives over 50 yards in those wins. Outscored by 61 points this season -- with the 34th-rated quarterback in the NFL -- the Jets are soaring toward the postseason.
Offensive struggles are the story of this football team through 13 games. The Miami Dolphins are near the bottom of the league in red-zone drives, 10-play drives, yards per game, plays of 10-plus yards, passer rating ... shall I go on? The Dolphins were 28th or worst in each of those categories entering Sunday's game versus San Francisco, and then promptly laid an egg on the Candlestick turf: 227 total yards, no wideouts over 50 and an absolutely awful 3.8 yards per pass play. Sorry, Fin fans, but you can't shine a turd.
Cam Newton's numbers the past two weeks: 275 passing yards per game, 7:0 TD-to-INT ratio and a 118.1 passer rating. Oh, don't forget 246 rushing yards with three touchdowns. Goooood night.
The Detroit Lions can't seem to pull out a close contest in 2012. Sunday night, however, was a bit different in that the defense was completely bullied on the Packers' go-ahead possession in the fourth quarter; seven Green Bay runs for 59 yards, with the Lions' defense merely catching blocks the entire drive.
To quote a colleague: "Holy Nick Foles!" How's this stat line: 32 of 51 for 381 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and rushing score? Don't forget the game-winning TD pass to Jeremy Maclin with no time remaining. #helluvajob
The Jacksonville Jaguars only move up because the Arizona Cardinals got steamrolled. Another lost season in Jacksonville, and yet another winnable matchup that wasn't winnable for this woeful ballclub. Chad Henne, who looked so promising just a couple weeks ago, reverted back to the artist formerly known as Chad Henne. Meanwhile, the lack of defensive playmakers hampers a team that struggles often on offense. Jacksonville's defense isn't terrible by any stretch. Nonetheless, there aren't any impact players on that side of the ball. Case in point: Thirteen team sacks in 13 games. Aldon Smith, J.J. Watt and Von Miller all have more -- by themselves.
One week after the huge emotional win came the inevitable letdown in Cleveland. While Jamaal Charles is producing, hardly anyone else is. Charles accounted for 165 of the Chiefs' 310 yards of offense. Going 1-for-12 on third and fourth down was the brightest -- or not-so-brightest? -- beacon of the offensive ineptitude that's prevailed in Kansas City this season. It also spelled another loss for the 2-11 Chiefs.
What's next for this team? Darren McFadden came back, then promptly got hurt again. (Although he did score a touchdown!!) The defense got scorched (again). So, at 3-10, is it safe to say there's not much downside to giving Terrelle Pryor a shot? We're not suggesting Carson Palmer is the problem with this football team, but unless the club is so concerned about the development of its young receiving corps that it doesn't want to take a veteran like Palmer out of the lineup, there's no reason not to put Pryor in it.