Hard to believe the 2012 regular season in the NFL is almost over.
This far into the season, the pro football community has learned that Adrian Peterson laughs at ACL tears, Calvin Johnson is very deserving of the Megatron moniker and you can lose your starting job to injury (sorry, Alex Smith).
We're also starting to see a few distinct teams separate themselves from the pack as true Super Bowl contenders. However, only one finds itself at the top of this week's power rankings.
Let's see who it is, and where the other 31 NFL teams fall on the list heading into the critical Week 16.
So much for a rejuvenated Chad Henne.
The former Dolphins quarterback certainly didn’t make Miami regret getting rid of him, as the Fish squished Henne and Jacksonville in Week 15. It certainly doesn’t get any easier for Henne and the Jags in Week 16.
They’ll face a fuming Patriots squad coming off a loss of its own to the 49ers.
In a season of many lows, perhaps the Chiefs finally hit rock bottom against the Raiders in Week 15.
How does Kansas City get shutout against a moribund defense like the Raiders’? With Brady Quinn and Matt Cassel performing so badly, there are rumblings that Ricky Stanzi may get the nod for the Chiefs against the Colts.
And maybe after that, Len Dawson can start Kansas City’s 2012 finale. He can’t be any worse than what the Chiefs have at quarterback right now.
What’s at the top of the to-do list for the Cardinals in the offseason?
Get a quality quarterback, of course. John Skelton isn’t the answer.
He lost his job to the rookie Ryan Lindley. And Lindley isn’t the answer. He still hasn’t thrown a touchdown in his NFL career.
This revelation comes despite the fact that the Cardinals scored 38 points in an easy Week 15 win over Detroit. Then again, the returning Beanie Wells stole some of Lindley’s thunder with three rushing touchdowns.
Many losing teams are giving their young backup quarterbacks a chance to show what they’re made of down the stretch.
Because the Raiders continue to make perplexing moves on and off the field.
When dissecting what went horribly wrong for the Eagles in 2012, look no further than the turnover differential.
Entering Week 16, Philly is tied with Kansas City for the league’s worst turnover margin, minus-22. The Eagles’ turnover party against the Bengals put that stat in clear perspective. Simply put, teams can’t win turning over the football at a pathetic rate like that.
That one statistic alone is enough to can Andy Reid—one of the league’s true class acts—after the season.
When the Bills play in Toronto, they’re technically the home team.
But they certainly have no home-field advantage at the Rogers Centre. Buffalo dropped to 1-4 in its last five games played in Toronto after an ugly 50-17 thrashing to the Seahawks.
Chan Gailey will likely sigh “Oh no, Canada,” when this game comes up on the schedule again.
Hopefully A.J. Smith and Norv Turner have those resumes polished.
They’ll be unemployed as soon as the Chargers’ season is mercifully over in two weeks. Turner’s downfall will be how he never could get his team to play to its potential. And Smith’s downfall will be bringing back Turner after 2011’s debacle of a season.
Better late than never for Cam Newton and the Panthers.
Despite falling out of the playoff chase long ago, Carolina stayed white hot with a cross-country whooping of San Diego in Week 15. It was a game Mike Tolbert certainly enjoyed.
The Panthers’ bruising back scored two touchdowns against his former team. Carolina fans must be frustrated knowing it took this long for the team to realize they should’ve utilized Tolbert awhile ago.
It’s gotten so bad for the Lions that they’re now taking it on the chin from quarterbacks like Ryan Lindley and teams like the Cardinals.
The only reason to pay attention to Detroit the last two games is Calvin Johnson. The Lions’ franchise player has a very legitimate chance to break one of Jerry Rice’s most coveted receiving records.
It will be a mega accomplishment when—not if—Megatron tops Rice.
The Browns hung with the Redskins pretty well for three quarters in Week 15.
Then the wheels fell off the bus.
If Cleveland struggled at home to stop a quarterback making his first pro start in Kirk Cousins, how is it going to fare against Peyton Manning in the Mile High City?
Tim Tebow just can’t catch a break in the Big Apple. Even with the Jets officially eliminated from the playoffs, it’s Greg McElroy—not Tebow—replacing the turnover machine that is Mark Sanchez in Week 16.
Tebow certainly won’t be back in Jets green next season. And after the debacle in Tennessee, Sanchez may join him out the door.
While they’re not going to the playoffs, 2012 has to be considered a pretty successful campaign for the 6-8 Dolphins, considering the circumstances.
Miami entered the year with a rookie head coach (Joe Philbin) and quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) and were pretty competitive most of the time. They clearly have a solid defense in place.
Now, if Dolphins brass can surround Tannehill with better skill players, Miami could be a team to keep an eye on in 2013.
Is anyone still doubting Chris Johnson now?
His 94-yard touchdown run against the Jets on Monday night was a thing of beauty. Sure, Johnson is nowhere close to another 2,000 yard campaign. But any notion that CJ2K simply packed it in after getting his handsome payday can finally be put to bed.
The same question that was presented to the Chiefs has to be posed to the Bucs.
How do you fail to score even a single point against an historically bad Saints defense? It was a surprisingly terrible outing for the Bucs against the Saints, a team who Tampa has matched up pretty well with the past few seasons. And talk about hitting that rookie wall.
Stud running back Doug Martin has flamed out after his record performance against Oakland a few weeks ago.
The Saints kept their faintest of playoff hopes alive in convincing 41-0 fashion over Tampa Bay.
It’s no secret that the Saints will only go as far as Drew Brees will take them. He struggled mightily in losses to San Francisco and Atlanta.
And he bounced back with a dominant home performance against the Bucs. If he plays at a high level the last two games, don’t put it past the Saints to sneak into the playoffs.
The Rams’ run defense and playoff hopes were gashed in Week 15, thanks to Adrian Peterson.
But Jeff Fisher’s crew shouldn’t feel so bad. It's not the first team to fall victim to AP’s memorable season.
The future certainly looks bright in St. Louis. Fisher has proven he’s one of the best in the business at coaching ‘em up.
A big offseason priority for the Rams will be getting more receiving help for quarterback Sam Bradford. Perhaps there’s a healthier version of Danny Amendola out there.
Yes, Adrian Peterson is still nearly 300 yards away from breaking Eric Dickerson’s unbreakable rushing record.
But after what the incredible Vikings running back did against St. Louis, it’s tough to bet against All Day right now. Whether or not he eclipses 2,105 rushing yards this season, Peterson has to get serious MVP votes.
Without AP’s efforts, there’s no way Minnesota is even sniffing the playoffs.
The surprise Colts suffered a tough setback in Houston this past weekend.
They can’t feel bad for themselves, though. Andrew Luck and his Chuckstrong buddies still have to go out there and wrap up one of the AFC Wild Card spots. Colts fans have to be concerned with the rash of injuries plaguing the offensive line.
Indy may not even get to the playoffs if the battered O-line can’t keep Luck upright.
The Steelers caught a big break when the Jets were eliminated from the playoffs on Monday night.
But it won’t matter if Pittsburgh can’t get the job done at home against division-rival Cincinnati. The Steelers have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the league this season.
They have two weeks to get on track, or they’ll be watching this year’s playoffs from home.
Another week, another tight win for the Dallas Cowboys.
The latest came against Pittsburgh in overtime. By this point, Jerry Jones might need to go on an aspirin regimen because 2012 has been quite the heart-stopping season in Big D. Dez Bryant has had his fair share of justified critics over the years.
However, those critics have to be impressed with Bryant’s emergence through a tough finger injury. Bryant is manning up and growing up before Cowboys fans’ eyes.
Lovie Smith and the Bears might as well start paying rent to the Packers, because Green Bay owns them right now.
After another loss to the Packers, the Bears are officially reeling. And once again, the problems lie with the offense.
Brandon Marshall is doing his job, but few of the other skill-position players are coming through for the Bears.
Maybe that’s why the loose-cannon Marshall nearly lost his composure at Chicago’s postgame press conference after the latest setback to the Packers. His frustration is understood.
It’s funny how a few weeks in the NFL can change attitudes.
The Redskins have gone from coach Mike Shanahan throwing in the towel to sitting atop the NFC East with two games to go. Right now, the ‘Skins are in the driver’s seat to take the division.
Even if they have to go with Kirk Cousins for another game, Washington will be confident knowing it can win with two poised rookie quarterbacks.
Just as long as it doesn’t come down to third-stringer Rex Grossman.
It’s put up or shut up time for the Bengals.
Their last two games are against the Steelers and Ravens, AFC North rivals that Andy Dalton has yet to beat in his young career. Both opponents are pretty ripe for the picking right now.
If Dalton and company can beat both vulnerable foes, they certainly will have earned their way into the playoffs.
It’s hard to say a 9-5 team leading its division faces a must-win scenario this week.
Yet that’s exactly the case for the Ravens against the Giants. It’s harder to say which side of the ball is in more shambles for John Harbaugh’s team right now.
Joe Flacco and the offense have totally stalled, while the defense is getting shredded on the ground. That’s not good with the defending champs on deck.
It must be incredibly frustrating supporting the New York Giants on a weekly basis.
One week they look like the team to beat, like against the 49ers and Saints. Then there are games where they are totally outclassed, like against the Bengals and Falcons.
Maybe nobody agrees with this sentiment, but the Giants need Ahmad Bradshaw back in the lineup. New York’s offense simply flows better with an effective Bradshaw in the backfield.
Don’t scoff, but the Seattle Seahawks are the league’s hottest team at the moment.
They have the NFL’s best home advantage, boast a very stout defense and have the 2012 steal of the NFL draft—Russell Wilson—starting at quarterback. Wilson continues to progress with each passing week.
That’s why it’s not that unfathomable to picture the Seahawks perhaps winning the NFC title. And it’s not because of the Fail Mary against Green Bay.
Outside of the greatness of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the biggest reason for Green Bay’s continued success is its depth at wide receiver.
Last year, it was Jordy Nelson who came out of nowhere to dominate opposing pass defenses. This year, James Jones has become Rodgers’ big-play target. And the six interceptions from rookie cornerback Casey Hayward have certainly helped Green Bay’s cause.
It’s a rematch of two of the 1980s’ most exciting AFC Championship Games when the Broncos host the Browns in Week 16. This time, though, Denver won’t need a legendary touchdown drive or a goal-line fumble to overtake Cleveland.
Everyone raves about Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas and rightfully so. However, it’s the emergence of fellow receiver Eric Decker that has turned Denver’s passing attack into arguably the league’s most potent.
Make that two-straight AFC South titles for the Houston Texans.
On the docket this week is an intriguing matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. Everyone knows Adrian Peterson is knocking on history’s (and Eric Dickerson's) door.
However, with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs hanging in the balance, don’t be surprised if a motivated Arian Foster steals the show.
If the Falcons were trying to make a statement against the Giants, consider the message received.
After failing to score an offensive point against New York in last year’s playoff matchup, the Falcons returned the favor by shutting out Big Blue in Atlanta.
At this point in his promising Falcons career, is it too early to call Julio Jones the game’s best receiver?
He definitely looked the part against the Giants’ befuddled secondary.
It doesn’t look like the Pats will have that benefit this year. Not after their tough—albeit very thrilling—setback to the 49ers in Week 15. Even so, Brady proved against San Francisco that when he’s on the Patriots will be a very tough out in the postseason.
Maybe San Francisco’s defense isn’t as dominant as it was last season (although don’t tell Aldon Smith that).
After all, Tom Brady and New England looked downright untouchable at times against the 49ers. However, the 49ers offense is that much improved from last season, thanks to Colin Kaepernick.
It’s safe to say San Francisco fans have seen the last of Alex Smith under center in the Bay Area. Kaepernick simply gives the Niners offense an added explosion they lacked with Smith. That added explosion could blast San Fran to that elusive sixth Super Bowl this February.