NFL Power Rankings Week 14: Stock Up, Stock Down
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The third quarter of the NFL season is in the books, and now teams have just four games remaining before the postseason.
Some teams have made that "leap" to the league's elite teams, while others have fallen off the face of the NFL universe. In my rankings this week there is a new team at the bottom, while there is a fresh, new face boasting the No. 1 spot.
A lot can change over these next four weeks, but the playoff picture is starting to take shape. Let's take a closer look at which teams' stocks are up, and which ones are down.
32: Jacksonville Jaguars
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Most teams in the NFL have some hope for the future, but the Jaguars don't have much outside of some flashes of potential from a few players, like Justin Blackmon. When your quarterback of the future is Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne, though, you could be in trouble.
When healthy, Maurice Jones-Drew remains one of the best running backs in football. But with him out of the lineup, this team is just flat-out bad. But hey, at least they have Cecil Shorts.
31. Arizona Cardinals
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Arizona was one of the best stories of this season's first quarter. The Cardinals won their first four games, but they've since dropped eight straight.
Whether it's John Skelton, Kevin Kolb or Ryan Lindley under center, Arizona's quarterback play has been pathetic this season. The Cardinals have one of the best wide receivers in football, in Larry Fitzgerald, but they simply have no one to get him the ball. This week's 7-6 loss to the Jets was a sight for sore eyes.
30. Carolina Panthers
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Cam Newton has been much better in his last three games, but the Panthers are just a bad football team right now. Carolina ran into an emotional Kansas City Chiefs team this week and lost its ninth game of the season.
This team has no identity for the future. The franchise is built around Newton, but management also gave out huge contracts to running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. It will be interesting to see what changes they make in the offseason.
29. Kansas City Chiefs
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Following the tragic murder-suicide of linebacker Jovan Belcher, the Chiefs played well and defeated the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Still, one win doesn't change the fact that Kansas City is a really, really poor football team.
The Chiefs need a quarterback, plain and simple. Neither Matt Cassel nor Brady Quinn is a starting-caliber quarterback in the NFL. Matt Barkley or Geno Smith could very well be in a Kansas City uniform next season.
28. Oakland Raiders
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The Oakland Raiders flat-out bad. Carson Palmer has enjoyed a solid season statistically, mostly because the defense has allowed so many points that Palmer has been throwing nearly all game. But still, the defense is atrocious and the offense isn't much better.
Losing at home to the Cleveland Browns is never an encouraging thing. It's safe to say there will be many changes made in Oakland this offseason. It may take a while, but general manager Reggie McKenzie has a plan in place.
27. New York Jets
Greg McElroy saves the day for the Jets. After Mark Sanchez turned in yet another disappointing performance against the slumping Arizona Cardinals, McElroy came in and threw the most wide-open touchdown pass you'll ever see.
The Jets currently sit at 5-7 and are all but out of the playoff race this season. Significant changes will be made in the offseason, without a doubt.
26. Philadelphia Eagles
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Philadelphia is rolling the dice with rookie quarterback Nick Foles for the rest of the season. And by all accounts, Foles played very well against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.
Rookie running back Bryce Brown, with the exception of a few lost fumbles, has been sensational in the absence of LeSean McCoy. Whoever the head coach is in Philadelphia next season will definitely be sure to give Brown some touches. For the most part, the Eagles played well this week. But they're still one of the worst football teams in the league right now.
25. Tennessee Titans
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After losing to the first-place Houston Texans this week, Tennessee carries a 4-8 record in to Week 14. Jake Locker threw three interceptions this week, which is incredibly difficult for an offense to overcome.
If there's a bright spot for the Titans this season, it's been the play of their young players. Locker has shown flashes, while Kendall Wright has been one of the best rookie wide receivers in football.
24. Cleveland Browns
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Cleveland carved up the Oakland Raiders for 475 total yards this week. But I can only imagine what the Oregon Ducks would do to that current Raiders defense.
Josh Gordon caught six passes for 116 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. Gordon may be playing the best football of any rookie wide receiver this season. Between Gordon, quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson, this offense at least has some hope for the future.
23. Detroit Lions
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Ugh. The Detroit Lions just find ways to lose football games. Detroit had the Indianapolis Colts on the ropes, but the Lions were unable to find an answer for Andrew Luck with the game on the line.
Now, the Lions sit at 4-8 and will surely be sitting on the outside looking in when the playoffs come around. Ndamukong Suh's morality was called into question once again, and Detroit's defense continued to struggle. This is not a good football team right now.
22. San Diego Chargers
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Much like the Detroit Lions, the San Diego Chargers have become experts at giving away football games. San Diego was in position to knock off the red-hot Cincinnati Bengals before Andy Dalton led Cincinnati to 10 points in the final 4:11 of the game.
Now at 4-8, the Chargers have handed the AFC West to the Denver Broncos. There simply isn't a more top-heavy division in football. The Broncos are good, and all three other teams are flat-out bad.
21. Miami Dolphins
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The Dolphins put up a fight against the New England Patriots this week, but Tom Brady was simply too much. Now, Miami will need to win out and get help if it has any hope of qualifying for the playoffs.
Several weeks ago, the Dolphins were 4-3 coming off a blowout win over the New York Jets. Now, their 2012 season is all but over. On the bright side, Ryan Tannehill has shown some promise in his rookie season and this team has some key pieces in place moving forward.
20. Buffalo Bills
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The Buffalo Bills are coming off an impressive win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Ryan Fitzpatrick played well, and the running game powered the offense toward the Bills' fifth win of the season.
Looking at their remaining schedule, the Bills have a legitimate shot at finishing .500 or better. Buffalo's defense has played poorly this season, but the defensive line is flooded with talented players and the running game is one of the best in football.
19. Minnesota Vikings
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Minnesota gave the Green Bay Packers all they could handle in Week 13. At one point on Sunday, Adrian Peterson had just broken off a 48-yard run down to the Packers' 12-yard line. With a chance to go up 21-10 in the third quarter, Christian Ponder threw the ball into the end zone—directly into the hands of Packers safety Morgan Burnett.
Ponder's mishaps closed the book on the Vikings' potential upset of the Packers. Now, Minnesota sits at 6-6 and is likely out of the playoffs. The Vikings have little room for error from here on out.
18. New Orleans Saints
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The New Orleans Saints looked like they had some life a couple weeks ago. That is until they lost to the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons. Now, New Orleans sits at 5-7 on the season and likely needs to win out and get a lot of help to make the playoffs.
Drew Brees and this Saints offense remains one of the most potent in football, but you're not going to win many games turning the ball over five times like Brees did last week. This team is a work in progress.
17. St. Louis Rams
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This Rams defense is for real. With a couple relentless pass-rushers in Chris Long and Robert Quinn and a talented secondary led by Cortland Finnegan and rookie Janoris Jenkins, the Rams now boast a 1-0-1 record against the San Francisco 49ers this year—one of the better teams in the NFC.
If the offense were more consistent, the Rams would be a playoff team. They likely won't make the postseason this year, but keep an eye on Jeff Fisher's team in the near future.
16. Dallas Cowboys
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Dallas got what it needed on Sunday—a win over the Philadelphia Eagles' B-team. And the Washington Redskins gave the Cowboys a gift by defeating the New York Giants. Now both Dallas and Washington are just one game behind the Giants atop the NFC East.
If the Cowboys win their last four games, they'll likely sneak into the postseason. However, whether or not they'll do that remains to be seen. This team has struggled mightily in close games.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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After a four-game winning streak, the Bucs were feeling pretty good about themselves at 6-4. However, Tampa Bay has now dropped two games in a row and needs help to crack the NFC playoff field as a wild card.
Josh Freeman has been much better than he was last season, Doug Martin may be the rookie of the year and Vincent Jackson is likely the best free-agent acquisition of the season. If the defense can hold up, this team could sneak into the postseason.
14. Washington Redskins
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There have been a handful of great rookies this season. Andrew Luck and Doug Martin have both made a case to be the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. But to me, Robert Griffin III should be the favorite to win the award.
Griffin has single-handedly injected hope into the Redskins' franchise, and coming off a much-needed win over the New York Giants, Washington is now very much in contention to win the NFC East. Despite being a rookie, Griffin is one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league to scheme against.
13. Cincinnati Bengals
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The Bengals are the definition of an up-and-down team. After starting 3-1, Cincinnati went on a four-game losing streak. Now the Bengals are riding a four-game winning streak and sitting at 7-5 on the season.
Andy Dalton has been great in his sophomore season, as has wide receiver A.J. Green. But what makes this team a threat to make the playoffs is its stout defense. The Indianapolis Colts are a great story, but the Bengals could sneak up and steal their playoff spot.
12. Indianapolis Colts
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Newsflash—Andrew Luck is special. Luck led an incredible comeback for the Colts to beat the Detroit Lions this week, and now Indianapolis is 8-4 and looking like a Wild Card in the AFC.
There are certainly some glaring holes on the Colts' defense, but Luck and the offense has been able to put up enough points to mask those weaknesses. Between the success of these rookies and Chuck Pagano's battle with leukemia, the Colts have been the story of the 2012 season.
11. Seattle Seahawks
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Wow. What a game from Russell Wilson. The Seahawks rookie quarterback threw for 293 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions against a tough Chicago defense. Oh, and he ran for 71 yards too.
Wilson hasn't thrown an interception since week eight at Detroit, and he has the Seahawks in the driver's seat for a playoff berth. If cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are forced to serve four-game suspensions, this team is definitely not as strong. But for now, this is a dangerous team.
10. Chicago Bears
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The Chicago Bears are coming off a heart-breaking home loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle had been struggling on the road, until quarterback Russell Wilson led his Seahawks to an overtime win this weekend at Soldier Field.
Still, the Bears remain one of the better teams in the NFC despite a porous offensive line. Between a strong front seven and a talented secondary, this defense can contain some of the better offenses in football. But if cornerback Tim Jennings is out for an extended period of time, the defense will suffer.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers
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Pittsburgh is coming off its biggest win of the season against the first-place Baltimore Ravens. After the offense turned the ball over eight times against Cleveland last week, quarterback Charlie Batch bounced back and played admirably against a tough Ravens defense.
This team is always dangerous when Ben Roethlisberger is in the lineup, so when he gets back, don't be surprised if the Steelers go on a winning streak over these last few weeks. Pittsburgh is always a threat in January.
8. Baltimore Ravens
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Baltimore is coming off a tough loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It wouldn't be such a hard loss to swallow if Charlie Batch weren't the Steelers' starting quarterback.
But still, the Ravens are still two games ahead of the Steelers and Bengals, and they're in position to walk away with the AFC North. This remains a dangerous team, but the Ravens don't look as strong as they did in the beginning of the season.
7. Green Bay Packers
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The Packers have dealt with injuries to key players all season. And this week, after getting Greg Jennings back in the lineup, they lost Jordy Nelson again. The Packers can't catch a break, and yet they're 8-4 and in first place in the NFC North.
Once Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and Jordy Nelson return to the field, the Packers could be as dangerous as anyone in the league. They could be at full strength for their Week 15 showdown against the Chicago Bears. And if so, look out for the Packers.
6. New York Giants
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The New York Giants are the same old New York Giants. Sure, they lost to the Redskins this week, but they get great quarterback play from Eli Manning, and they have a dominant defensive front. That's a definite recipe for success, as evidenced by their two Super Bowls.
As the playoffs draw near, the Giants will be at their best. There aren't many more dangerous teams than the Giants in December and January.
5. Atlanta Falcons
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Atlanta is tied with Houston at 11-1—the best record in the NFL. The Falcons are coming off perhaps their most impressive performance of the season on the defensive side of the ball.
But still, people will have questions about Atlanta until the Falcons prove they can win in the playoffs. They're in the conversation as being the best team in the NFC, but right now, my eyes tell me there are several teams better than Atlanta.
4. San Francisco 49ers
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San Francisco was dangerously close to playing to yet another tie with the St. Louis Rams. But instead, the 49ers lost their third game of the season and their first of the Colin Kaepernick era.
The 49ers continue to play at an elite level on defense, but the question for the rest of the season is whether or not Kaepernick can continue to play at a high level. Despite losing this week, the 49ers remain a very dangerous team in the NFC.
3. Houston Texans
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The Houston Texans took it to the Tennessee Titans this week and pushed their season record to 11-1. With a steady, consistent offense and a physical defense, Houston is perhaps the most complete team in the NFL.
Houston hasn't lost since mid-October, and now they'll hit the road to play the Patriots on Monday Night. With a win on the road, Houston could challenge for the No. 1 spot in these rankings.
2. New England Patriots
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New England has been the most consistent offense in the NFL all season. If not for a few close losses early in the season, we'd all be talking about the undefeated Patriots' chase for perfection.
This team will be in the thick of the conversation for yet another Super Bowl berth. The only real tests remaining on the schedule is a date with Houston this week and a game against the 49ers next week.
1. Denver Broncos
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To me, the Denver Broncos look like the best team in football. Peyton Manning is playing as well as anyone in the NFL, and the defense has been terrific the past few weeks.
Led by Von Miller, perhaps the most disruptive defensive player in football, Denver has a great chance at getting through the AFC this year. Keep an eye on the Broncos as they chase a first-round bye in the playoffs.