Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers played, perhaps, their best game of the 2012 season Monday Night against Chicago.
Another wild week of football has come to a close, and many familiar faces seem to be making a mid-season push towards the top. This development is evident in the newest edition of the NFL Power Rankings.
New England, San Francisco and Denver gave us dominating performances, while the fixtures atop the 2012 NFL Power Rankings—Houston and Atlanta—narrowly avoiding what would have been a pair of shocking upsets.
The Eagles continue to spiral out of control, as do their fellow birds, the Cardinals.
Do any of the 4-6 AFC teams have a shot at catching Pittsburgh or Indianapolis? On the flip side, can any of the 6-4 NFC teams hold off New Orleans?
Here are the current NFL Power Rankings, as well as the direction each team is headed.
The only relatively positive thing one could say about the Chiefs is that they have a pretty talented team outside of the all-so-important quarterback position. Of course, that makes the fact that they have just one win all the more troubling.
The Chiefs have been in free fall since the opening kick of 2012. They take on Denver next week, which—if not for the unpredictable nature of the current NFL season—pretty much guarantees the calamity will continue.
The only relatively positive thing about the Panthers is that they will more than likely obtain a Top Five pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Of course, they find themselves in this position once again after landing the top selection just two drafts ago, which is a real problem.
DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were once believed to be one of the best running back pairs in the NFL. They have been terrible (3.6 per carry for Stewart, 3.4 for Williams).
Outside of the 33-year-old Steve Smith, the Panthers have had mediocre at best performances from the rest of their wide receivers.
The Jaguars could only go up—so there's that.
Chad Henne may have played himself into a starting role. Justin Blackmon’s 236 yards were just 14 fewer than he had accumulated all year prior to the game against Houston.
First the positive—I could be a productive member of the Raiders’ backfield. Marcel Reece, who was No. 3 on the depth chart at the start of the season, has 297 total yards over the past two games.
That’s really where it ends.
The defense has been abysmal over the last three weeks, allowing an average of 45 points. After shocking Pittsburgh in Week 3, the Raiders only two wins have been over Jacksonville and Kansas City.
Down doesn’t really do the Eagles justice.
The Eagles have lost six straight games, but here’s the thing: They played one impressive game all season.
The Eagles farted out a win against the Browns and beat the Ravens, despite four turnovers. The victory over the Giants was Philadelphia’s only redeeming performance.
So…are the Browns better than their 2-8 record?
I don’t think so. The seven sacks against Dallas were impressive, but Cleveland cannot put together a full game—even when the same can be said of its opponents.
I wrote last week that I still believed in the Cardinals, so long as they could start winning immediately.
Well, they didn’t.
If five interceptions off an MVP candidate (not so much anymore) and a 13-point cushion to start the second quarter is still not enough to stop a one-and-a-half month skid after starting the year 4-0, it is only natural that fingers start to point at the head coach.
It is not Ken Whisenhunt’s fault that his quarterback options are John Skelton and Kevin Kolb, but he needs to be held responsible for this colossal nosedive.
New York’s win over St. Louis was not without its share of typical issues (i.e. questionable usage of Tim Tebow, feeble pass rush).
Still, when a team has lost five of its last six and three in a row, any win—regardless of opponent quality—is a good thing.
Mark Sanchez was efficient, which becomes more likely when he only has 20 attempts.
The Jets accumulated 124 yards on the ground, but it came on 41 carries. Since they won, we can chalk that up as a committed performance, rather than a terrible one.
Not only did Miami fall to the Bills, but ex-Dolphin Chad Henne tossed for 350 yards and four touchdowns in a near-win over the Texans.
Meanwhile, Ryan Tannehill has thrown just one touchdown with five interceptions over his last two games.
The discussion from three weeks ago about Miami’s surprising playoff contention seems absurd.
If C.J. Spiller’s postgame interview was the first thing you saw from Buffalo’s Thursday night win over Miami, you probably would have thought he pumped out 125-plus rushing yards and a few touchdowns.
Spiller didn’t exactly have a monster performance, but 130 total yards on 25 touches is the mark of a reliable, every-down back. In an age of split backfields and situational backs, having two complete runners is a luxury found on very few teams.
While enjoying their bye, the Tennessee Titans were hit by an imperfect storm.
Jacksonville flashed signs of competency, but still did not harm the division leader.
Tennessee’s most recent victory over Miami now seems a whole lot less impressive.
The Jets and Bengals both won.
The Chargers are so mediocre that nobody even seems to care about their struggles anymore.
Offensively, San Diego is average. Actually, average is a compliment. The Chargers have the No. 25 offense.
The defense is not quite as bad (No. 6 total defense), but 22 giveaways make matters worse.
The Cowboys almost lost to the Cleveland Browns—but, hey, they didn’t!
Dallas lost three one-score games from Week 6 to Week 9. Despite all the madness and criticism, consecutive wins have put the Cowboys on the brink of the playoffs.
Many were critical of Tony Romo during the slide, so it is only fair that we recognize his success over the last two games. Romo has completed 71 percent of his passes for 522 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Losing to the Jets will hurt the perception of any team. Getting dominated at home hurts even more.
Sam Bradford has been inconsistent. Steven Jackson has been consistent—consistently poor.
I’ve always been a Jackson sympathizer. It takes a certain type of person to spend an entire career in St. Louis, despite having the talent to be, at least for a chunk of those years, one of the 20 best players in the NFL.
For whatever reason (wear and tear, predictable offense, streaky quarterback play), Jackson has just not been able to get it going in 2012. He has rushed for 100 yards once. Even more surprisingly, Jackson hasn’t totaled 30 receiving yards since Week 1.
The Detroit Lions cannot win in the NFC North. When you can't defeat teams in your division, you can't make the playoffs.
Calvin Johnson is the most dangerous receiver in the NFL, which is especially true in the red zone. Despite this fact, the Lions continue to struggle inside their opponents’ 20-yard line.
Part of this is because teams triple Johnson. The more significant reason, however, is that the Lions cannot run the ball consistently.
Wow, Robert Griffin III, wow.
I named RG3 the greatest rookie in Redskins history last week, which I admitted was slightly premature considering he had only played nine games. Then he turned in the performance of his lifetime (a perfect 158.3 rating).
It was the kind of midseason game that can change a franchise, a performance that you’ll remember 25 years from now.
Griffin’s two bombs, especially the second one to Santana Moss, may be his most spectacular thus far.
A.J. Green has now caught a touchdown in nine consecutive games, which is just one less than Carl Pickens’ overall team record of 10 straight games.
It’s hard to look bad against the Kansas City Chiefs. Still, the Bengals have now won back-to-back games for the first time since September and are in contention for an AFC wild card spot.
The Buccaneers made a lot of moves this offseason and Greg Schiano has made it work.
Vincent Jackson, who I used to think of as a product of Philip Rivers’ downfield chuck, is well on his way to what figures to be his best season by a mile.
Josh Freeman has very quietly put together a 100-plus quarterback rating in five of his last six games.
Tampa may have the No. 32 pass defense, but this is a byproduct of their top-rated ground D. Besides, the average of 312 yards per game that the Bucs allow through the air is only 37.5 fewer than the average of last year’s Super Bowl teams.
There’s no shame in losing to the Patriots in Foxborough.
The Colts started hot, scoring touchdowns on their first two drives. Ultimately, Indianapolis just couldn’t keep up with New England—the Pats scored touchdowns on four of their six second half drives.
Indianapolis should bounce back next week when it hosts the Bills.
Minnesota had a lovely bye week.
After defeating the Lions in Week 10, the Vikings got to watch the Packers barely do the same. Even better, the Bears were absolutely whooped by the 49ers. Minnesota must feel it is, at worst, the second best team in the division.
Adrian Peterson has rushed for 629 yards over the last four games. This bye gives him some much-needed rest before Minnesota begins its daunting home stretch.
The Steelers offense is not the same without Ben Roethlisberger (and Antonio Brown). Luckily, they will get a test run against Cleveland in Week 12.
However, should Pittsburgh lose, its postseason will be in serious jeopardy.
The defense will continue to allow minimal yardage, but there is still the whole nagging issue of takeaways. Indianapolis is the only team in football with less than Pittsburgh’s measly nine.
The Giants remain atop the NFC East, but there are a few problems.
First off, the loss to Philadelphia could really come back to haunt them. It’s hard to imagine that anyone in the NFC East loses to the Eagles again. This could be a tiebreaker come Week 17.
Second, going into Washington on Monday, December 3 is going to be very interesting. Something tells me Robert Griffin III is going to be, uh, hyped-up.
Green Bay and New Orleans are the two hottest teams in the conference—the Giants play them in Weeks 12 and 14, respectively.
Eli Manning needs to become the 2011 version again or the defending champs will not make the playoffs.
The Seattle Seahawks are trending upward on the basis of their remaining schedule, specifically concerning who they play at home and who they play on the road.
Everyone knows the Seahawks are dominant at home—they haven’t lost in Seattle this season. The Seahawks have played every team in the NFC West once and all three games were on the road. Their only remaining home games are against Arizona, San Francisco and St. Louis.
Seattle has won just one road game in 2012 (at Carolina), but its remaining hosts are relatively underwhelming. The Seahawks will travel to Miami in Week 12, suddenly-beatable Chicago in Week 13 and Buffalo in Week 15.
Things look pretty good.
And everyone’s least favorite opponent right now is…
Toss away the record-breaking defensive woes. In fact, forget about Drew Brees.
The Saints have recovered from the disastrous start by accumulating 441 yards on the ground over the last three weeks.
It’s no surprise that Chris Ivory (6.3 yards per carry over last three), Mark Ingram (5.1 yards per carry over last three) and Pierre Thomas (5.3 yards per carry over last three) have opened things up for the tight end.
Jimmy Graham has 247 yards and four touchdowns since Week 9 against Philadelphia.
Jay Cutler is one of the most common goats in the NFL, so why is it that whenever he goes down everything goes to Hell in Chicago? Interesting.
The Bears have one win against a team that is currently over .500—and that team is the Colts, who they defeated in Andrew Luck’s debut.
On the flip side, their three losses came to Green Bay, Houston and San Francisco.
The offense seems to be a mess, and when the defense is not generating turnovers, things do not come easily in Chicago.
The Ravens seem to have found a way to remedy their injuries. Maybe the team just sat around doing some Voodoo magic to direct the situation to Pittsburgh.
In either case, the Ravens appear to be in control of the AFC North.
Not to focus on the negatives and downplay the remarkable road victory, but I’m a little perturbed by Ray Rice’s recent struggles—and this has nothing to do with the tank-job he’s trying to pull for one of my fantasy teams.
Sunday night marked the sixth consecutive game Rice failed to hit 100 rushing yards.
It’s no surprise that Bill Belichick devised a way to harass a rookie quarterback—even one as talented as Andrew Luck. The Patriots easy victory proved that the young and reinvented Colts still have a lot of work to do before they can be taken seriously in the AFC.
Tom Brady—in terms of QBR—is having the best year of his career (81.6).
New England has not lost a regular-season game after Week 9 since January 3, 2009.
The injury to Rob Gronkowski hurts, but if the New England offense has exhibited just one trait during the Belichick-Brady era, it is the ability to seamlessly adapt from one week to another.
Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos are the hottest team in football. They’re also in complete control of the division.
Manning’s physical attributes were not on full display against San Diego, but his intelligence certainly was. His distribution and reads were exceptional—six different Broncos logged over 20 receiving yards.
Once again, the defense turned in a fine performance. San Diego was held to just 277 yards of offense. Philip Rivers had three fumbles and two interceptions. Ryan Matthews gained 47 yards on the ground.
The Broncos have now scored 30 or more points in seven of their last eight games.
Biggest not surprise of the 2012 NFL season? The Packers. They control their destiny after starting 1-2 (let’s not forget how that second loss occurred anyway), and Aaron Rodgers is playing like an MVP.
I have to give some respect to the NFL executives who created the back-loaded NFC North schedule. Four of Green Bay’s final six games are within the division.
If somebody wants to win the NFC North, they will need to very literally take it.
I am writing this sentence at 12:38 p.m. ET. My television was turned off long ago because there’s only so much Trent Dilfer condescension I can take in one sitting. However, I did manage to catch Jim Harbaugh’s postgame interview on ESPN.
When asked about next week’s quarterback, Harbaugh mentioned something about a “hot hand.” To me, that sounded like it was the beginning of a—duh, duh DUHM—quarterback controversy.
Sound the alarm! Warm up the printing press! We have a front-page story!
(I assume that by the time you are reading this, others will have reacted as such. If this is not the case, just skip on right ahead to the next slide.)
But here’s the thing: Why is it bad to have two competent quarterbacks? And I mean truly competent, as opposed to whatever you want to call the situation in New York.
Competition? Difficult opponent game-planning? Peace of mind in the event of injury? These sound like good things.
A win is a win, and difficult wins build valuable experience, but five Matt Ryan interceptions and a near-loss to the hapless Cardinals are not good things—no matter how you try to spin it.
Are they bad enough things to knock them off the top spot in the NFC? No.
Are they a possible cause for concern? Maybe.
Atlanta’s Week-11 dud is exacerbated by the strong showings from San Francisco, Tampa Bay and New Orleans.
Everything I just said about the Falcons applies to the Texans.
Houston was the No. 1 team heading into Week 11, so, technically, the only direction is down. Of course, an easy win against arguably the league’s worst team would have left little doubt as to who is the best in football.
The Texans game with Jacksonville was anything but routine. An optimistic Houston supporter would say the nail-biter “was good experience” or “showed that Andre Johnson is still one of the NFL’s best receivers.”
I would argue similar points, except the Texans defense allowed a normally anemic offense to gain 458 yards.