Who is the best club in pro football?
Week 12 is in the rearview mirror, Week 13 is upon us, but determining 2013's top-flight team hasn't gotten much clearer. Is it the Broncos, who blew a 24-point lead in suffering their second road loss? Maybe it's the Saints, who are 9-2 and also have lost two road games (but seem unbeatable at home). Or the Patriots, the one team that has beaten them both. How about the Chiefs, who are dealing with injuries to two of the best defenders in the AFC? And, of course, you have to consider the Seahawks, who were off last week.
All right, we know you already looked. If you have any thoughts on Nos. 2 through 30, let us know ... @Harrison_NFL is the place. As for Nos. 31 and 32, those teams have earned their spots.
Let the dissension commence ...
(Note: Arrows reflect change in standings from last week's Power Rankings.)
You knew it was just a matter of time for the Saints last Thursday night. This team is capable of putting up ridiculous totals on offense, or winning with defense, as we saw in Atlanta. Make no mistake, though: New Orleans will continue to miss Jabari Greer. On another note, "A Football Life: Steve Gleason" airs on NFL Network on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET, and it's awesome. Watch it, DVR it, VHS it ... whatever. There is more to this story than you think -- so much more.
If I told you before the Patriots game that, at halftime, Eric Decker and Wes Welker would have 5 receiving yards apiece, Demaryius Thomas would have nada, and the Broncos would lead 24-zip, you never would've believed me. If I told you the defense would give up 31 unanswered points in the second half, you probably would've believed me. What a crazy game. Tell you what, though: Welker cost that team. Forget the indecision on the punt. If Welker catches that third-down ball on the Broncos' previous possession, Denver wouldn't have punted the ball back to New England in the first place. Matt Prater would have come on to try a game-winning field goal or the Broncos would have gone for it.
The Carolina Panthers looked more like Steel Panther during the first half. Give Ron Rivera and that coaching staff a lot of credit for righting the ship at the break. ( Cam Newton, too.) Lastly, Carolina might not use Mike Tolbert much, but Panthers fans must notice what a boost the 245-pounder gives this club when he gets going. Those were some clutch runs Tolbert delivered to set up Newton's game-winning strike to Greg Olsen.
What motivated the
Patriots in that second half? We heard it was all
Bill Belichick's halftime speech ...
"We're not playing well. They're playing better. We got to do better in the second half."
What a comeback in New England. We received a lot of grief for keeping the Patriots high on this totem pole back when they were struggling. Now you know there indeed is a method to our perceived madness.
Sorry, Chiefs fans: With Justin Houston and Tamba Hali ailing, Kansas City drops ... for now. Going back to Sunday, Sean Smith can't get beat on that game-clinching play. Your safety has to honor the inside receiver. No matter what, Smith must keep that wideout in front or blanket him, not allow him to race beyond the coverage. Not to mention, he didn't exactly get beat by Charlie Joiner, did he? Let's see how Kansas City does with its edge rushers hurting.
After watching Aldon Smith hurry RGIII, sack RGIII and kick RGIII in an unfortunate place ... After watching San Francisco go up 24-6 in the third quarter, reestablishing itself as a serious threat in the NFC ... I switched down one channel to a John F. Kennedy documentary. Did you know Jack Ruby was in the Dallas police station two nights before he shot Lee Harvey Oswald in the station's parking garage?
The Bengals were off last week, giving us a chance to look ahead. Here's their remaining sked: at Chargers, vs. Colts, at Steelers, vs. Vikings, vs. Ravens. I see Cincinnati going 3-2. Those two road games will be very tough. Still, Marvin Lewis' group should take the last two games, which would give Cincinnati nine wins at the very least. That probably will be enough to clinch the AFC North. If the Bengals can split those two roadies and beat the Colts, though, it should be enough to not only take the division but also claim the AFC's No. 3 playoff seed.
Bruce Arians must've spent all week telling defensive coordinator Todd Bowles every last detail about every Colts offensive player -- who can run, who can't pick up the blitz, who has bad breath -- because that was total domination. If Carson Palmer continues to play like this, who knows what Arizona will do? Check out this beauty from Palmer to Larry Fitzgerald.
Need any more proof that the Colts miss the heck out of Reggie Wayne? Let's see: Andrew Luck went 20-of-39 passing, no wide receiver had more than 38 yards and the offense converted just five of 15 third- and fourth-down attempts. So, no would be the answer. Saw that Trent Richardson recently said he was "playing good." Yes, we can't think of a slicker fast track to Canton than seven carries for 15 yards.
What a devastating loss in Detroit. The Lions needed the "W" vs. Tampa Bay. The Bucs came in with a scant two wins. (And don't tell me they've been playing better of late -- it simply doesn't matter.) This is the kind of game, at home, that the Lions are supposed to win. Instead, they let the injury-riddled Bears and Packers hang right in the NFC North race. Week 12 games usually are forgotten by Week 17, but if Green Bay and a healthy Aaron Rodgers eventually take the division, this unforgivable Detroit loss is the one that opened the door.
If Tony Romo hasn't answered at least some critics this season, he never will. He's led two game-winning drives in the Cowboys' last two wins. For the season, this so-called "turnover machine" has 23 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He certainly isn't the top quarterback in football, but he's creeping toward the top five.
Philadelphia was off in Week 12, leaving millions to lament the fact that they couldn't play LeSean McCoy in fantasy. Your friendly writer took much grief for placing him on this list over C.J. Spiller. Hopefully someone will back us up on that now. McCoy this season: 1,009 rushing yards, 399 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He's also fumbled once in nearly 250 touches.
Injuries in the middle of the defense are just destroying the Bears' season. In a 42-21 shellacking of Chicago, the Rams rang up 258 rushing yards. That is a huge number in this era of pass, run, pass. Even the Jags' run defense is better this season. (Dude, that is saying something.) The Bears now have allowed 1,597 yards on the ground in 2013. That is a HUGE number. Still, at 6-5, Chicago is right there in the NFC North race.
Nice to see Ryan Tannehill finally hit some throws down the field -- something he hasn't been able to do much of this year -- and he darn near completed a game-winner to Mike Wallace on the penultimate play of the contest. While Miami is 5-6, and this was a tough loss to Carolina, fans should be encouraged. The Dolphins gave the streaking Panthers all they could handle, and they're still in the heart of the AFC wild-card race.
Nice to see Matt Flynn getting an opportunity back in Green Bay. He's gone from being a highly sought-after free agent (or so we thought), to losing out to a third-round draft pick ( Russell Wilson) in Seattle, to being released by Oakland in favor of Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin. In relief of an ineffective Scott Tolzien in Sunday's tie, Flynn completed 21 of his 36 passes for 218 yards and one touchdown. Not incredible, but Green Bay loses without him.
That was a clutch deep ball heaved by Joe Flacco to a streaking Jacoby Jones, as it put Baltimore in the driver's seat Sunday. For all the hubbub about Jones, his big day against the Jets (103 receiving yards) wasn't too far off his production for the rest of the season (160 yards). The Ravens still can't run the rock, with 31 attempts for just 67 yards. But if the defense can keep this up, Baltimore can't be ruled out of that sixth spot in the AFC -- especially if Flacco picks it up. Put another way, it's difficult to ever count out this team. In fact, that No. 6 seed will be a dogfight between the Ravens, Chargers, Dolphins, Jets and Steelers. Titans, too.
Fitzmagic. And just like that, Tennessee throws its playoff hat back in the ring. Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 30 of 42 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. The veteran quarterback out of Harvard led the Titans on a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to win the day in Oakland. The craziest part? His sparkling in-game passer rating of 109.2 actually was his lowest mark in the past three weeks. Like I said ... Fitzmagic.
Another big win, delivered by Antonio, Emmanuel and William. Whatever happened to Joe, Bob and Steve? William Gay's strip-sack of Jason Campbell, courtesy of Dick LeBeau's scheme, was the play of the game. That set up an Emmanuel Sanders touchdown that staked the Steelers to a 20-3 lead, thus putting away the offensively challenged Browns. For his part, Gay played some great corner, too, getting a pick-six later in the game.
You have to feel for the Jets' defense. Send those guys a plate of deviled eggs or something. How in the world is this team supposed to compete for the wild card when the offense gains 220 total yards, goes 1 of 12 on third-down conversions and Geno Smith simply throws the ball up for grabs? Where the heck is Ken O'Brien?
It might be hard to believe, but the Rams are back in the NFC wild-card race. At 5-6, the Rams realistically would have to win at least four of five against the 49ers, Cardinals, Saints, Buccaneers and Seahawks. At the very least, for the Rams to have any shot, they must win at San Francisco and at Arizona over the next two weeks, as those are the front-runners for the No. 6 seed. Yes, we realize 10-6 and a playoff berth is a pipe dream, but come on ... you write 32 of these.
Forget the Eli face. The Coughlin look, a genuine cocktail of constipation and consternation, was at full bore Sunday afternoon in the Meadowlands. Who could blame him? The Giants were penalized 11 times for 81 yards, some guys weren't running out of bounds when they were supposed to (hello, Andre Brown), and other guys weren't running under some of Eli Manning's passes (see: Jerrel Jernigan). New York could've won the game, but all the mistakes and miscommunication between Eli and his receivers halted the four-game win streak.
Another viable showing by the Browns' defense, holding the Steelers to 4 of 14 on third-down conversions and 2.5 yards per carry. That said, the offense is stuck in neutral, and the Browns appear destined for a top-10 draft pick. Of course, the Colts losing again only makes the pick acquired in the Trent Richardson trade that much more valuable. In a similar vein, how glad are Cleveland fans that Josh Gordon wasn't dealt. He was a MONSTER on Sunday (14 catches for 237 yards and one touchdown).
Unusual suspects are keeping the Raiders in football games these days. Matt McGloin looked solid once again. And the offense also received a boost (again) from Rashad Jennings, who had 20 touches for 122 yards. Basically, we're saying that there is something to build on in Oakland, despite the tough loss.
Where do we even begin with this team's ineptitude? The Redskins went an abysmal 4 of 15 on third-down conversions, gained 190 total yards and played the whole game from behind -- kind of like last week in Philadelphia ... kind of like all season. To go from 10-6 to 3-8 -- and not even be in a home game on the Monday night stage -- has to be tough on fans in Washington. Next up: the Giants.
I really thought about calling a tie in the picks column, and this game came to mind. Oh, the missed opportunities ... While it's hard to feel positive after a tie, there were some positive things to glean, like a) Adrian Peterson rushing for 146 yards, b) no Vikings quarterback throwing a pick, and c) Minnesota not losing.
How about Maurice Jones-Drew? Feels like 2011 again: 84 rushing yards, 60 receiving yards and, perhaps most importantly, he didn't need 30 touches to achieve that production. The second-best running back in franchise history ran 14 times and hauled in six passes, giving the offense a nice shot in the arm and leading the Jags to their second win.
The Falcons came out with a lot of fight Thursday night and even got Steven Jackson going. Yet the same problems reared their ugly heads again, and here Atlanta sits with two wins to its name. Still, could this be a situation like the 2011 Colts, who dropped to 2-14 sans Peyton Manning, earned the top pick in the draft and you know the rest? Atlanta still has a ton of talent on the roster and is en route to a top-three pick in May.
Oh, man. This is what we've come to? Case Keenum struggled again, completing just 18 of 34 passes for 169 yards and no touchdowns with one interception. A colleague of mine whose name rhymes with Spaniel Sheremiah said it only was a matter of time with Keenum. Appears he was right on, seeing the results in Houston over the past two weeks.
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL.