The 2013 NFL season is winding down, and things are starting to get crazy. The NFL power rankings have been thrust into disarray with the Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Bengals all being upset on Sunday. Heading into Week 16 of the season, there are questions abound.
For one, the final AFC wild-card spot is far from determined. Division titles are up for grabs. Teams are emerging to try to steal away those last playoff spots. It is all shaping up for another wild finish in the NFL.
Here is my take on where each team stands with two weeks to play in 2013.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN.
There isn’t much to see here. The Texans have lost 12 consecutive games, soon to be 13 with their matchup against the Broncos next week.
It is hard to fathom just how low the Texans have sunk since they opened the season as Super Bowl contenders. Their only consolation should be they have all but guaranteed themselves the 2014 NFL draft’s top pick in May.
The Redskins really shot themselves in the foot with their seven turnovers in a game they could have easily won. They are safe from the bottom spot in the power rankings due only to the Texans’ dreadfulness.
Washington finishes the season with games against the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, at least giving them a legitimate opportunity to end on a high note in their final game.
Pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong in the Raiders’ loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. Their defense allowed 56 points, including five touchdowns to Jamaal Charles.
On offense, Matt McGloin and Terrelle Pryor combined to throw five interceptions. Oh, and they even lost a fumble on a kickoff return. Bad offense, defense and special teams…yikes.
You could debate whether the Redskins’ seven turnovers were due to their own mistakes or the Falcons’ playmaking ability, but a win is a win nonetheless.
The best the Falcons can do is go out on a high note in their disastrous season and at least give Matt Ryan and Co. some confidence going into 2014.
Just when the Jaguars were on a roll, they fell flat against the Buffalo Bills. Jacksonville was really victimized by a defensive lapse in the second quarter when it allowed 17 of the Bills’ 27 points.
Chad Henne was sacked five times, and the Jags turned the ball over four times overall. After they face the Tennessee Titans next week, they head to Indianapolis to face the Colts, a rough way to close out the season.
The Browns put up a solid losing effort to the Chicago Bears, but they ultimately lost a game they very conceivably could have won.
They can attribute a ranking this high to their Week 14 loss to the Patriots—one that probably should have been a win. That 3-2 start seems like it was ages ago; eight losses in nine games erased those memories pretty fast.
The Bucs were in the game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday until they tried to get too fancy for their own good.
A botched handoff on a kickoff return that the Niners returned for a touchdown did them in, and with that, Tampa Bay’s nice run of four wins in five games effectively ended. Mike Glennon’s passer rating of 75.5 in that game was his highest over the past three weeks; that says a great deal about the Bucs offense.
Don’t look now, but the Vikings have beaten the Bears and the Eagles since Week 13. In addition, only a freak ending to their loss against the Baltimore Ravens prevents the Vikings from currently holding a three-game winning streak.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, they face the Bengals and the Detroit Lions to close out their season. On a positive note, Matt Cassel threw for 382 yards, the most by a Minnesota quarterback since Brett Favre was under center, according to ESPN.
Eli Manning proved his season could in fact get even worse, throwing five interceptions while his offense was shut out at home. Granted, the game was against the NFL’s top defense, Seattle.
Even so, the Giants’ bid for a comeback this season is officially over if it wasn’t already. Is this the beginning of the end for Eli Manning?
The biggest win for the Bills in Sunday’s victory was the solid play of rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel. With recent lackluster performances, Manuel proved he still has the ability to win games.
The quarterback of the future for the Bills will be tested in his next two games, in which the Bills face the Miami Dolphins and the Patriots. If the Bills can build on some of the positives from Sunday’s game, namely red-zone efficiency and forcing turnovers, they should be just fine.
The Titans showed impressive resolve on Sunday, coming up with 17 unanswered points in the final 3:12 of the fourth quarter to force overtime. Their comeback bid fell just short, however, as the Arizona Cardinals won in overtime.
The loss was the third in a row for the Titans and their eighth defeat in their last 10 games. A consolation prize: They close the season with the Jaguars and the Texans.
The Jets put up a fight against the Carolina Panthers, and they trailed by a mere three points heading into the fourth quarter. Then, Geno Smith did what he does best, throwing a costly interception that effectively ended the game.
It could have been much worse for the Jets, but they still wasted a great opportunity to beat a top team. It was the fourth defeat in five weeks for the struggling Jets, who may just have to accept that Geno Smith is not the quarterback of the future that they thought he was.
The Rams aren’t quite a playoff-caliber team, but they showed they could beat one in Sunday’s win over New Orleans. Given the loss of Sam Bradford for the majority of the season, the Rams' 6-8 record is not all that bad. Jeff Fisher has worked wonders for this team.
On Sunday, the Rams recorded four sacks, two of which came from defensive end Robert Quinn, who applied pressure to Drew Brees on numerous occasions throughout the game. Now, if only Kellen Clemens could play like this every game…
The Steelers pulled off one of the more impressive wins this week, piling up 21 first-quarter points to beat the Bengals at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh might be out of playoff contention, but the Steelers can still head into 2014 on a positive note.
Ben Roethlisberger completed 20 of 25 passes with a touchdown, and Antonio Brown had a beautiful 67-yard punt return for a touchdown in the win. The defense also came up big, allowing the Bengals to convert on just four of 14 third downs while holding Andy Dalton to 5.2 passing yards per attempt.
The Cowboys blew an incredible opportunity, failing to take advantage of the Eagles' loss to the Vikings. They held a 26-3 lead at halftime, then promptly coughed it up. Apparently allowing 20 fourth-quarter points makes winning pretty difficult.
This would be a completely different team if the defense was even a fraction better. The offense is not free of the blame for this loss, however. Tony Romo’s two fourth-quarter interceptions proved costly.
As for some positives from the game, DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant each eclipsed 130 yards, and Dan Bailey made all five of his field-goal attempts. The Cowboys' red-zone failures came back to haunt them in the end.
Turnovers have been the name of the game for the Lions this year, and they ended up ultimately costing Detroit the game on Monday. The Lions turned the ball over three times, all of which came on Matthew Stafford interceptions, and the Lions' playoff hopes have dimmed considerably.
Luckily for the Lions, they face the Giants and Vikings over the season's final two weeks, a pair of very winnable games. They trail the Bears by one game in the NFC North (and the Packers by half a game), so each game is a must-win from here on out. Could Jim Schwartz's days in Detroit be numbered?
Much analysis of this team for the past several weeks has begun with the phrase “When Aaron Rodgers is healthy…” Now, the Packers may finally see the return of their star quarterback next week.
Their incredible comeback on Sunday behind Eddie Lacy’s 141 yards proved they are a solid team with and without Rodgers. They could also conceivably find themselves much higher up in the rankings by the end of the season. For now, most importantly, a playoff spot is not out of reach.
In what was perhaps this week’s most mystifying result, the Eagles fell to the Vikings. The stage was set for an Eagles blowout; they were winners of five straight and the 3-9-1 Vikings were without Adrian Peterson.
Leave it to the Eagles’ 31st-ranked pass defense to allow Matt Cassel to throw for 382 yards. The Vikings took advantage of Philadelphia’s lackluster defense by converting on third down eight of 13 times. To make matters worse, the Eagles committed nine penalties that totaled 94 yards. That is akin to gifting the Vikings an extra offensive player.
Overall, just when the Eagles appeared to be making major strides, they suffered a tough loss. They must rebound against Chicago next week.
The Chargers beat the Broncos, and they get a couple of extra days of rest. Don’t forget, the Bolts have beaten the Chiefs, Colts and Broncos now. Whether you attribute their 7-7 record to bad luck (only one loss by more than one score) or poor pass defense (or both), the Chargers have compiled an impressive season considering what was expected of them.
Unfortunately for the Chargers, they will need a bit of luck to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Dolphins, who lead them by one game in the wild-card race, have an easy schedule to finish off the season.
Even if San Diego fails to reach the playoffs this season, to even be in their current position is a huge success considering their preseason expectations. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Philip Rivers is playing his best football since 2010.
The Dolphins were nearly victimized by Tom Brady’s comeback magic on Sunday, but Michael Thomas’ interception in the end zone sealed the victory with seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Looking ahead, Ryan Tannehill is heating up just when it matters most, and Miami certainly controls its own fate. They hold a one-game lead over San Diego for the AFC's sixth playoff position but could see themselves tied with the Ravens for that final wild-card spot if Baltimore wins on Monday Night Football.
However, the ‘Fins have the benefit of a light schedule to finish the season; they face the Bills and the Jets. If Tannehill can play like he did on Sunday, when he threw three touchdown passes, the Dolphins will earn themselves that final playoff spot.
Jay Cutler made a promising recovery after his early pick-six, showing impressive leadership in guiding the Bears to a comeback win. Granted, it was against the Browns, but the win gives Chicago sole possession of the NFC North lead.
Maintaining that lead will be far from easy with difficult games against the Eagles and Packers to finish up the season. However, Sunday’s win gives them a huge momentum boost going into those games. All that remains to be seen is whether Cutler can produce as Bears fans know he is capable of doing.
It wasn't pretty, but the Ravens somehow pulled out a gutsy victory over the Lions on Monday Night Football. It took a 61-yard field goal by kicker Justin Tucker, his sixth field goal of the game, to pull it out, but as the saying goes, a win is a win.
It goes without saying that the Ravens' offensive efficiency steadily dropped off once they found themselves on the Lions' side of the field. Red-zone efficiency has hindered the Ravens throughout the season, and it was nearly their undoing on Monday.
Joe Flacco will have to be at his absolute best in the season's final two games. The Ravens face the Patriots at home, followed by a matchup against the Bengals in Cincinnati to finish out the regular season. The road to the playoffs will not be easy, but Monday's win at least gives Baltimore a shot.
This team simply finds ways to win in spite of their glaring weaknesses. Their running game is still a legitimate concern, and Andrew Luck has not been his usual self for the past several weeks, excluding the Cincinnati game.
Indianapolis was actually being outscored prior to Week 15, 316-313, and the Colts defense had mastered the bend-don’t-break mentality. The team ranked 18th and 29th, respectively, in opponent passing and receiving yards yet allowed the 17th-fewest points per game.
My point is that just about everything indicates the Colts should have a worse record than 9-5. What matters, however, is that they are in the playoffs, and they have a huge matchup against Kansas City next weekend.
Also of note is that the Colts are now 12-0 all-time at home against the Texans following their win on Sunday. Not bad.
After that 6-2 start, the Bengals have lost three of their past six games. Even so, the dominant defense (seventh in opponent passing yards, fourth in opponent rushing yards) will always keep Cincinnati in the game.
Andy Dalton has played better as of late after a rough patch of games, but he still has plenty of room for improvement. His performance is the key to the Bengals making a playoff run this year.
The Cardinals survived an overtime scare in Tennessee and most importantly are still in the playoff picture. They remain only one game behind the 49ers, potentially setting up a huge Week 17 matchup.
Quarterback Carson Palmer, who had another solid performance on Sunday, exceeded a passer rating of 100 for the fourth time in five games.
I am confident in the Patriots as long as they have Tom Brady behind center. At first, I hesitated to penalize them too greatly in the power rankings for a narrow defeat to a talented team (the Dolphins), but wins by the Chiefs, Panthers and 49ers mean the Patriots are no longer a top-five team.
For the Pats to seriously contend this year, Brady must be at his best throughout the game. Continuously attempting fourth-quarter comebacks will not cut it, as we saw on Sunday.
With that being said, it’s also worth noting that, while a loss is a loss, all four of the Patriots’ defeats this year have come by a touchdown or less.
The Saints suffered a surprising loss to the Rams, but that does not mean they aren’t still one of the top teams in the NFC. The offensive line had an uncharacteristically difficult time stopping the pass rush, which was their primary undoing in the game.
Drew Brees had been sacked only 26 times going into Sunday’s game, yet the Rams got to him four times. If the line can step it up going forward, the Saints should be just fine. Brees will take care of the rest.
Offensive explosions by Jamaal Charles (NFL-record four receiving TDs by a running back) and Alex Smith (five TDs and a perfect 158.3 rating), combined with the defense’s seven forced turnovers, earn the Chiefs a spot in the top five.
The Chiefs were also helped by the Saints and Patriots losing, as I couldn’t bring myself to put those two above the Chiefs in the power rankings. After all, a performance like Kansas City’s on Sunday deserves a high ranking.
How the Chiefs perform in the final two weeks of the season, against the Colts and Chargers, will show just how ready this team is for playoff action.
The Panthers beat the Jets unconvincingly, and their offense remains a question mark. Cam Newton appears to be a different quarterback each week, fluctuating wildly in his levels of performance. Fortunately, he showed up to play on Sunday, and the Panthers’ top-notch defense took care of the rest.
How the D performs in the playoffs against top offenses will be interesting, but with wins against the 49ers, Patriots and Dolphins, the Panthers have proved their ability to compete against the NFL’s best. It's hard to argue with nine wins in 10 games. In addition, Ron Rivera must be a candidate for the Coach of the Year Award.
Ninety-three. That's how many points the 49ers have allowed in their past seven games, an average of just 13.3 per game. They have also allowed more than 20 points in a game just once since doing so in each of the first three weeks of the season.
Colin Kaepernick’s solid performance this week and the offense’s overall revival thanks to Michael Crabtree’s return point to the Niners heading into the playoffs on a huge run. However, they must not overlook next week’s game against the Falcons. With that being said, their Week 17 matchup against the Cardinals could be one of the most exciting games of the year.
If the 49ers play their cards right, they could be in prime position to make a deep run in the playoffs this year. The offense, which has been mediocre this season, will be the key.
The Broncos had a tough game offensively against the Chargers, as they were shut out in the second and third quarter. However, despite Peyton Manning’s recent struggles, this offense is still top-notch. In fact, the team has scored 535 points, 129 more than the second-ranked Bears. The main problem lies in the defense.
The Broncos have allowed their opponents to average 29.3 points per game in the past four weeks. If they want to solidify their Super Bowl chances, their defense must improve.
With that being said, as long as Manning and his offensive weapons are a part of this team, it will take more than one loss to the Chargers to take them out of the second spot in the power rankings.
The Seahawks rebounded nicely after their loss to the 49ers in Week 14, asserting their defensive dominance in a 23-0 win over the Giants. It was Seattle's eighth win in their last nine games.
While the defense was top-notch was usual, the offense did not have a great day, the second consecutive game in which it struggled. Russell Wilson was sacked four times, and Marshawn Lynch was held to 47 yards on 16 carries. Luckily, with a defense like Seattle’s, which intercepted Eli Manning five times on Sunday, a top offense is not necessary.
The Seahawks are still the team to beat.