Week 15 is in the books, which means teams have two more weeks until they start looking at their books.QuickBooks, that is. Roughly a third of the NFL should be in full evaluation mode after a handful more clubs saw their scant playoff hopes fade into oblivion in the past few days. That means free agency/cap strategies are looming on the horizon. Meanwhile, two other organizations are left looking for answers ...
@Harrison_NFL I want to see Stafford fried tomorrow the way Romo was today. He deserves it way more.— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) December 17, 2013
That will never happen, RJ, and you know it. The Lions and Cowboys are alive -- but not well -- in the NFC North and East races, respectively. How these two 7-7 squads respond over the next two weeks will say much about their head coaches' futures, despite the fact that both should finish .500 or better.
As for the rest of the rankings below, feel free to share the thoughts percolating in your expansive football brain -- @Harrison_NFL is the dropbox, as always.
Let the dissension commence!
(Note: Arrows reflect change in standings from last week's Power Rankings.)
The secondary continues to be the weak link on a team that, at least on the surface, seems capable of beating anyone. Also of note: How the defense struggled versus the run in last Thursday's 27-20 loss to the Chargers. The Broncos allowed 177 rushing yards to San Diego, even though they knew it was coming. Ryan Mathews looked like a better version of Tatum Bell/Olandis Gary, gashing Denver for 127 yards and a score.
Drew Brees and the Saints have had their struggles against the Rams through the years. New Orleans is now 2-3 versus St. Louis with Brees under center -- and during his Charger days, the probable Hall of Fame quarterback lost his lone start against STL. Brees has thrown nine touchdown passes to 12 interceptions against a team that shouldn't give him so much trouble.
So you think Sunday's showdown in Charlotte is a big game? Call it the biggest home game for Carolina since the 2008 divisional round, when Jake Delhomme gift-wrapped a victory for the Arizona Cardinals. Or maybe it's the most important since the Panthers hosted -- and beat -- the Dallas Cowboys in the 1996 playoffs. Either way, Carolina can just smell the 2-hole. Wait, that sounded bad. You know what I mean.
Quality win on the road in Tampa for the 49ers, a team we're not sure anyone wants to play right now. That said, it would be nice to see Colin Kaepernick occasionally put air under a throw. He still misses open receivers by gunning everything. If there is one part of his game that is sorely lacking, it's touch.
Not sure you can blame their loss to the Dolphins on Rob Gronkowski's absence. The Patriots gained 453 yards without him, converting nine of 17 third-down attempts in the process. The secondary has to play a lot better -- those guys made Ryan Tannehill look like Tom Brady on Sunday. He's more of a Tony Eason type.
The play-calling is suspect, the injury-riddled secondary is full of unusual suspects, and most league observers suspect the Ravens are going to take the AFC North. Our two cents: All of these challenges are good for the Bengals. They either will overcome them over these last two games -- and win the division -- or they'll tank ... and the organization will take a long look at its coaching staff and quarterback. If you're a Bengals fan, either outcome is positive.
Sometimes pro football is a game of survival. That's what makes the run to the playoffs fun. That's why 16 games will always be superior to 18 ... or 82 or 162. Sunday in Tennessee was one of those deals for the Cardinals, but like it or not, Bruce Arians' ball club is 9-5. Now Arizona just needs some help.
It's not an exaggeration to say their win over the Patriots came on the shoulders of the best game of Ryan Tannehill's career -- 25-of-37 for 312 yards and three touchdowns (to zero interceptions), with a sparkling average of 8.43 yards per attempt. When the Texas A&M product got rid of the ball, the offense moved. Too often this season, the Dolphins did not accomplish that, with a less effective Tannehill under center. He came into the game averaging 6-plus yards per toss. Now, if we can just get the sack total down. Tannehill's been sacked a league-high 51 times this season -- that's getting hammered.
Two great signs for the
1) The defense stifled an opponent, holding the Texans under 250 yards of offense. (Yes, we realize it was the Texans.)
2) The offense ran the ball effectively, gaining 152 yards on 36 carries -- the team's best ground output at home this season. This took some weight off Andrew Luck's back -- though of course No. 12 himself was responsible for 29 of those yards.
Give Luck some help, man.
Where to put the Bears ... They got hammered in Detroit, hammered in St. Louis and have looked absolutely awful on defense this season. Yet they are 8-6, suddenly sitting in first place in the NFC North. Here's your Power Rankings question of the week: Who ranks second to the Broncos in points per game?
Can the Ravens do it again? You'll recall that last year, they lost four of their last five regular-season games ... and still won the AFC North before going on their Super Bowl run. Now Baltimore must beat the Gronkless Pats and then take down the Bengals in Week 17 (unless Matt Cassel impersonates Joe Montana again and leads the Vikings to a win in Cincinnati this Sunday).
For all the talk about
Tony Romo and the
Cowboys' horrific play-calling, how about some kudos to
Matt Flynn, who played his arse off
Power Rankings Trivia: Who was the last Packers QB to deliver a win over the Cowboys in Big D? (I was there on that day. We didn't have much "potluck" -- the toilets at Texas Stadium froze.) Hit me with your answer @Harrison_NFL.
We're five days removed from the 6-7 Chargers walking into Denver with little hope ... and leaving with plenty. Going beyond the playoff possibilities, the future looks bright in San Diego. Keenan Allen and Ryan Mathews looked like franchise cornerstones last Thursday. The latter pretty much told us all where we could stick questions about his toughness.
Unbelievable that the Lions gave up that third-and-15 on the Ravens' last drive. Unbelievable that the Lions fell behind on a 61-yard field goal. Unbelievable that on the first play of the ensuing possession -- with the game on the line and THREE timeouts -- Matthew Stafford let fly with a throw that risky. (Why not dump off and see if you can pick up a quick 10 yards? The Ravens would have allowed it.) Ugh. What a ridiculous loss.
Bill Callahan that it's OK to run the football. Oh, wait -- some people say it's not Callahan calling the plays? OK, someone tell
Jason Garrett it's OK to call a running play.
Yes, we know Tony Romo audibled out of a run on his first interception. We also know that about 29 quarterbacks would have been sacked on that play -- but the much-criticized Romo made Clay Matthews look absolutely silly. Secondly, if the Cowboys have the worst defense in the league, everyone wants Garrett fired and the play-calling is atrocious, then what -- or WHO -- has kept Dallas afloat at 7-7? Why aren't the Cowboys 3-11? Hmmm.
Kudos to the ATL crew for pointing out that the front office in Pittsburgh made a savvy move in extending Antonio Brown and bidding Mike Wallace adieu. There's no question this was the right decision. Brown, who has shown up every game, makes plays. His 95 catches are third-most in the NFL, four behind Andre Johnson's league-leading 99 -- and the Steelers wideout has been targeted 21 fewer times than A.J. Brown also has eight touchdowns and 60 first downs to his name. Nice season.
Just a thought here: If you're going to
open your mouth and belittle your opponent, putting
your teammates in the line of vengeance, you had better have yourself a heckuva day. Please,
Jets fans, tell me what
Santonio Holmes has brought to your football team besides a really fat contract.
Of all the offseason narratives, what happens in Tennessee could be the most intriguing -- something we briefly touched on in this space last week. Coming into 2013, most league observers felt the jury was out on Mike Munchak, especially with Jake Locker's shoulder injury stunting his development in 2012. Well, the quarterback's been indisposed for much of this year, and the Titans have gone from .500 at the midway point -- and in contention for an AFC wild-card spot -- to 5-9. What makes the environment around the club unique is the absence of recently deceased owner Bud Adams. Right now, we're not sure what that means for changes in Nashville. This club did stick with Jeff Fisher for 17 seasons, but he kept the franchise competitive through trying times in the mid-1990s before guiding the Titans to a Super Bowl in '99. We'll see how this situation, which is TOTALLY different, plays out.
Somebody tell me where this was in Kansas City. Look, if Matt Cassel wants to play like Tommy Kramer with a dash of Fran Tarkenton and a sprinkle of Warren Moon, we're fine with that. Sure does render the Josh Freeman acquisition ... well ... what does it render it? Useless? News-less? Who-cares-less? Exciting win for the Vikings, especially with the M.A.S.H. unit in the backfield. In fact, if Matt Asiata ever gets 30 carries in an NFL game again, we'll go streaking through Culver City with "Frank the Tank."
The Bucs climbed back into Sunday's game in the fourth quarter. But at the end of the day, you just can't win in the NFL with 183 total yards, much less while going 1-for-12 on third/fourth down. The bottom line is, the coaching staff will have to let Mike Glennon stretch his sea legs the rest of the season, sink or swim. Playing conservatively does not serve a 4-10 team well.
Bills fans saw what they needed to see on Sunday down in Jacksonville: EJ Manuel in a 20-all game, taking the offense right down the field for the go-ahead score. The franchise accounted for 57 of the 80 yards covered on the drive, completing every pass he threw. While Manuel's end-game numbers weren't huge (193 yards, two touchdowns, one pick) and he was far from perfect, his 105.0 passer rating and fourth-quarter savvy are what's important here.
Tough loss for the Jags, who clearly have turned it around in the second half of the season. Sure, it was a game the team could have won, and the city of Jacksonville would've enjoyed getting its fifth victory in a month and a half, but remember: It was just two months ago that people wondered if these Jags could be competitive in any contest, much less victorious. We'd like to see Gus Bradley audition as many young players as possible to determine what he has for 2014. If that comes to the detriment of winning, that's the way it goes.
Another tight home loss for the Browns, who moved a step closer to a very important offseason. Sunday saw Jason Campbell throw the ball all over the park again. Clearly, the running back position must be addressed, though it should be interesting to see how Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi go about doing so. Would the club make a move for a somewhat-proven commodity in Ben Tate? Doubtful. The guess here is that Cleveland will draft two running backs, perhaps on Day 2 and Day 3 -- like Green Bay did this past April in selecting Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin.
Much evaluating to do in Oakland over the next two weeks and this offseason. First of all, how patient will ownership be with Dennis Allen, who could potentially wind up with back-to-back 4-12 seasons? Secondly, what will the organizational strategy be at quarterback? The draft seems logical, but then again, will the front office take a longer look at Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin? While we're at it, will we have the same group of people in that front office? The guess here is that the front-office folk get to keep something the head coach does not. Is that fair?
Go on Game Rewind, rewatch Redskins at Falcons, and tell me Kirk Cousins isn't a better passer than Robert Griffin III. Tell me, is it even close? Cousins certainly wasn't perfect, but 29-of-45 for 381 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions isn't bad for a guy who's been thrust into a rough situation after taking minimal practice reps all season.
Another ugly loss by the Texans, marked by an absolutely abysmal passing game that could neither protect the quarterback nor get any bang for the buck when Case Keenum let fly. Houston "racked up" 132 net yards passing in a dismal performance at Indy. The Texans also racked up 114 penalty yards. What's next for this group? The No. 1 pick. Interim coach Wade Phillips admitted last week that he's "up to (his) rear in alligators." That, and the Loch Ness Monster, and the slimy thing squirming around in the trash compactor in "Star Wars."
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL.