Black Monday ... Gray Tuesday.
Gray area, at least for a lot of our teams in the Top 32 Countdown. With seven coaches getting fired Monday, not to mention a handful of general managers, ranking teams gets a bit difficult. Believe it or not, 21 and 22 were the hardest. Do you penalize the San Diego Chargers for losing a GM and head coach, or move them up after a win? Either way, hiring Ron Wolf as a consultant was a smooth move, enough to keep the Miami Dolphins at bay at 22. You probably think we don't care past the top 10. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.
Speaking of caring, we wanted to get you the Power Rankings on Tuesday, despite it being a holiday. That, of course, meant writing on a day not conducive to such matters ...
@harrison_nflwhatever you write, I'm sure it will get under someone's skin. Do your thing, man! Looking forward to it every Tues.— Tubbs (@fattymcturd) January 1, 2013
Yes, the Power Rankings upset a few of you this season, i.e., Broncos fans. Take a look below -- well done, Denver.
As for Nos. 2-32, hit us up with your take. @Harrison_NFL is the dropbox.
Until then, let the dissension commence ...
(Note: Arrows reflect change in standings from last week's Power Rankings.)
Well deserved. This space has been flooded with disgust, venom and vitriol because the Denver Broncos were not ranked No. 1 in previous weeks. I've been hearing regurgitated stats and receiving pie charts on Twitter reflecting this team's greatness. People have superimposed Sammy Winder jerseys on my Facebook profile picture. Thing is, Denver earned this lofty status by taking care of business, i.e., beating lesser teams handily. More importantly, the Broncos get the nod because of the development of a ground game; 593 yards rushing and six touchdowns over the past four games is no joke.
Sunday's loss to the Buccaneers was disturbing. Yes, the Atlanta Falcons had nothing to play for. But Mike Smith started his guys ... and they lost. I always say, if you're going to order a Sourdough Jack, go all the way -- don't get a diet soda. The loss to Tampa felt like a value meal and diet. (Which is better than a Malibu and diet, but I digress.) The Falcons must re-establish the killer instinct displayed in Weeks 15 and 16, because whoever they draw out of the wild-card round will be fully capable of taking them out. Thinking Seahawks here.
Seattle Seahawks can beat anyone in the tournament. Sure,
the Rams gave the 12th Man a panic attack late Sunday, but if you have watched that club this year, you know they come to play under
Back to Pete Carroll's squad ... Premium secondary + effective running attack + quarterback who doesn't pull any Sanchize's = Super Bowl threat.
Yes, the Green Bay Packers are a major player on the NFC side. But you can't tell me Lambeau faithful aren't a wee bit leery of the secondary these days. Christian Ponder completed some big passes on this group in the Vikings' victory on Sunday. On the game-winning drive, the Packers allowed Michael Jenkins -- Michael freaking Jenkins -- to be wide open on a third-and-11. M.D. Jennings takes terrible angles when he's not making game-ending interceptions scored as touchdowns.
Tough to place the San Francisco 49ers below Green Bay, considering the Niners won handily and the Pack lost. But the latter fell to a playoff team at their place. Also, as much as this writer loves the old school way the 49ers play football, there is just no getting around one simple fact: Colin Kaepernick has started seven games; Aaron Rodgers has started 84. Throw in the fact this team got blown out by the Seahawks two weeks ago, and you get the point. Boy, this is a ranking I'd love to be wrong about. With all of the rule changes assisting the passing game, it's remarkable that the 49ers play winning football with a ground attack and defense. Now, if David Akers could start making some kicks.
There was some thought to ranking the 10-6 Bengals ahead of the 12-4 Texans, given how terribly Houston performed down the stretch. It seems like ever since Chad Henne lit up the defense in Week 11, the Texans have been in a funk. Don't get me wrong, Henne has ruined teams' seasons before -- it's just always been his own.
This is a different 10-win ballclub rolling into Reliant than the one that got run over last year in the wild-card round. These Cincinnati Bengals have won seven of eight games, and quarterback Andy Dalton's numbers are up in almost every major category. Houston will need J.J. Watt to swat another ball and return it for a touchdown, like last year, or else Cincy will steal a game on the road.
What a play by reserve linebacker Rob Jackson the other night. Feigning a blitz -- the Washington Redskins blitzed about 177 times that game -- Brian Orakpo's replacement took two convincing steps toward Tony Romo before getting serious depth to make Week 17's biggest play. There is no overrating a play that was symbolic of the Redskins' NFC East title season, a campaign in which countless guys stepped up. Yes, including a couple of rookies in the backfield.
The Indianapolis Colts have suffered long enough in these rankings. They had never cracked the top 10 because of a negative point differential and a penchant for eking by in games. Yet, at some point, you must tip your cap to a club that consistently wins in the face of both adversity and injury. Hey, let's put it simply: 11-5 is 11-5, broham.
When I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong. That's what my colleague Dave Dameshek always says on "NFL Fantasy Live" (except he almost never admits he's wrong). Weeks ago, I was asked about the Minnesota Vikings' playoff hopes when they were 6-5. Boy, talk about fail. Forgive me if I didn't realize Adrian Peterson would go through defenses like Johnny Rambo through a forest full of beer-bellied troopers. Don't sleep on a defense that has tightened its belt on third down over the past four weeks, allowing just 17 conversions on 54 attempts. Impressive, no?
The Baltimore Ravens have a classic case of the backing-ins. Does this mean John Harbaugh's squad will be one-and-done? Not necessarily. The 2008 Cardinals lost four of six entering the postseason. Then Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald got hot. In similar vein, can Joe Flacco dominate playoff secondaries? Torrey Smith compiled 156 yards in five December games. Yes, he sat some of the time, but bottom line is Flacco and Smith must rekindle their chemistry on Sunday, lest the game rest on the league's 17th-ranked defense. That's a 50-50 proposition.
Lovie, out. Playoffs, out. While Jay Cutler did say "change isn't always a bad thing," he also took a measure of responsibility for the Chicago Bears' offensive ineffectiveness. So, what now? General manager Phil Emery likely will direct his coaching search toward the offensive side of the ball. Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is a hot name. The intuition here is that Chicago is going to wow people with the hire. I'm not smelling a familiar coaching name in this NFL town. Stay tuned.
Can a 9-7 football team be a complete disappointment? When you're the defending champs and started the season 6-2, you bet. The New York Giants beat the 49ers 26-3 (on the road!), the Packers 38-10 and the Saints 52-27. They also stunk up the joint in Cincinnati, Atlanta and Baltimore. Call it strange, but it's not. This club has been inconsistent most of Tom Coughlin's tenure in New York. Hard to believe, but New York has missed the playoffs three of the past four seasons.
Where to begin? This was a season in which the defense was ravaged more than any club in pro football only to be bailed out by the quarterback time and again. But Sunday night certainly flipped the script. The depleted front seven competed enough to keep the Dallas Cowboys in the game, while some big mistakes by Tony Romo deep-sixed division title (and playoff) hopes. The question for the day: Would Norv Turner come back to North Texas as offensive coordinator?
The sky is falling in Pittsburgh when their beloved Steelers go 8-8. This .500 season felt much like 2009, when injuries and an inconsistent ground attack left the Steelers at 9-7 (and on the outside peering in at relevant January football). Linebacker James Harrison is probably on the outs with the organization. Free agent Mike Wallace could be gone, too. But if he holds onto contract offers the way he does footballs, don't you worry -- he'll be back in Pittsburgh.
It's tough to tell whether or not Carolina Panthers fans want Ron Rivera back, whether ownership wants him back, or whether he should be back. Nonetheless, there's no getting around the fact that this team won five of its last six -- with the lone loss coming against an emotionally charged team on its own field. Putting that game in Kansas City aside, Carolina was one of the most consistent clubs in the NFL from late November on.
The St. Louis Rams finished the 2012 campaign with much promise -- and heart. Maybe we shouldn't get all kittens and rainbows about a 7-8-1 record, but give these Rams some love. They hit Seattle ready to play on Sunday, losing on the final drive in the league's loudest stadium. Just a few more pieces, Jeff.
Well, Sean Payton won't be trying to get 1,000 yards out of Felix Jones next season after all. New Orleans, not Dallas, locked up the suspended head coach. But the question is, when will Payton return from said suspension? The Times-Picayune's Mike Triplett wrote a piece on Monday suggesting Payton should be allowed to return now, considering the 2013 season -- at least for this franchise -- begins now. I can see both sides of this deal, including Roger Goodell's. But there's no question the 2009 champions' issues must be addressed awfully soon, starting with the defense.
Closing out a disappointing 7-9 campaign on a positive note might be akin to shining a turd to some, but give the Tampa Bay Buccaneers credit for not packing early for vacation. They went into Atlanta and got a "W" with little to play for -- other than the facet of the human condition we all assume the modern athlete has left at the door: pride.
Evidently, Christmas came late for San Diego Chargers fans. All those barking for new management got what they wished for. Season ticket holders are already getting their 2013 lists ready for Santa. I briefly caught a glimpse of one that hit my windshield while driving to Legoland on the 5: "A running back with more touchdowns than broken clavicles, please," it read.
What a brutal way to close out 2012 for a Miami Dolphins team that surpassed many expectations over the course of the first 16 weeks. Putting aside the 28-nuthin' drubbing at the hands of the Pats, this organization can at least look forward to a quiet offseason. No lockout like 2011, no coaching change like 2012. The Dolphins have head coach and quarterback in place. It appears GM, too. Time to acquire some talent on the outside, with apologies to Brian Hartline, of course.
An all-too-familiar story resides in Buffalo again. No, not 6-10, although that little guy is a familiar face around Ralph Wilson Stadium. While the Bills have finished 6-10 or 7-9 in six of the past seven seasons, once again this organization is hunting for a new head coach that can bring it a postseason berth for the first time since Y2K. The Bills will feature their seventh lead dog since Wade Phillips departed after the 2000 season. Turnovers lose football games. So does turnover.
Will NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi be running the Cleveland Browns soon? Not sure how close my colleague is to landing the gig, but what I can tell you is that Mike is extremely knowledgeable about the product while having respect for the game. Whoever becomes general manager in Cleveland must hire a head coach who can develop all of that young talent on offense, or at least bring in an offensive coordinator that will. Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson, Joe Thomas, Josh Gordon, Greg Little ... those are the ingredients of a viable nucleus.
Seven head coaches lost their jobs on Black Monday. Rex Ryan was not one of the unlucky ones. He's not exactly lucky, either. The team is financially tied to Mark Sanchez, for now. The offensive line must be retooled. Shonn Greene is what he is. Getting Darrelle Revis back healthy is huge. Make no mistake, however, Ryan has a stiff challenge getting this team back to AFC Championship level again.
More Black Monday bidness to sort out. Both GM Rod Graves and Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt were let go. The latter had what is now considered a long look at Head Coach, what with six full years at the helm. Hard to call it a failure, as Kurt Warner - as great of player as he was - isn't the only reason the Cards made it to the Super Bowl in Whisenhunt's second year. Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton could be tasked with getting Arizona there again, should the organization go that direction. From the in-case-you're-wondering department, the Cardinals' defense finished 12th in 2012 - not bad for a unit forced to compensate for a Headless Horseman offense.
Does anyone outside of Nashville realize this team finished with six wins? The Titans felt like a 3-13 or 4-12 club, given how poorly they played in Houston, San Diego, Minnesota, and Green Bay, plus the blowouts suffered at home. Tennessee was outscored by 141 points. A mulligan? We'll find out, as Mike Munchak will be back in 2013 it appears. Now, what to do at quarterback ...
Closing the 2012 campaign with an eight-game slide and finishing 4-12? Yeah, that was on anyone's radar. The club couldn't even get Megatron his 2,000 yards. (Though 81 certainly didn't help his own cause by dropping a few catchable balls.) If you have anything interesting to say about the Detroit Lions right now, by all means: _______________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________ (You're still here?)
OK, let's table the Chip Kelly convo for a moment. What happens to LeSean McCoy? I've been watching pro football for 30 years, covering it professionally for seven, and this guy is as talented as they come. He has heart, too. McCoy's lack of use this season was a football tragedy, compounded by the heavy workload Bryce Brown received upon taking his place in the lineup. There are, oh, about 25 teams that would love to have McCoy. And run him.
Dennis Allen wasn't fired, despite some speculation and fan's wishful thinking otherwise. Winning seasons are getting harder to collect in Oakland than pieces in the Civil War chess set. Allen didn't fare well in that category, like his predecessors, but the most disturbing aspect is how poorly the defense played ALL year. That side of the ball is Allen's side of the ball. Ownership anticipated seeing a D that gave up fewer than 27.7 points per game. Oakland sacked opposing passers only 25 times, while allowing them a 97.5 passer rating. The Raiders were outscored by 153 points. It's rare to say this, but honestly, this club was lucky to be 4-12.
If ever a new GM could come in and endear himself to the masses, it has to be in Jacksonville. Develop some talent outside and produce a pass rush. Fill those two holes, and the rest is cake. OK, quarterback is a big issue. But for now, that blunder (if Blaine Gabbert is indeed a failed pick) is on the departed Gene Smith. Whereas wide receiver and pass rush are Issues A and B every year for the Jaguars organization.
An awful campaign for the Kansas City Chiefs came to a merciful conclusion in Denver on Sunday. Romeo Crennel led a 2-14 team, so the firing doesn't come as a shock. Of course, the 65-year-old has been through plenty, including the Jovan Belcher tragedy. While Chiefs fans are probably happy to have a change at head coach, there is no doubt that people equate Crennel with class. The same hasn't always been said of general manager Scott Pioli, who could be keeping his office. Interesting, perhaps only to me, that the new head coach won't be reporting to that office. Why consider keeping a guy only to lessen his power over a team? Would love Chiefs fandom feedback here ... as in, @Harrison_NFL.