The New Orleans Saints led by their O-line (pictured OG Jahri Evans) thumped the New England Patriots, and now they are No. 1 in this week’s Power Rankings
With their comeback win over the Houston Texans in Week 12, the Indianapolis Colts clinched the AFC South crown, so now there are only 11 coveted NFL playoff berths left. In the next five weeks, we can expect the remaining 25 NFL teams with records ranging from 11-0 to 4-7 to continue to self-separate into “Contenders” and “Pretenders.”
The upcoming NFL schedule has some great match-ups that will surely make it easier to see which teams will survive the league’s regular season championship rounds (December and early January) to make the playoffs, so buckle up as the 2009 NFL regular season is almost ready to land.
A common trend that I will be interested in is the number of new teams making the playoffs after missing them the prior year. In 2008, for the 13th consecutive NFL season, five or more teams qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before (Arizona, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Minnesota, Miami, and Carolina).
This year the Bengals, Saints, Cowboys, Patriots, Packers, Broncos, and Jaguars are all strong contenders to make the playoffs after missing out on them in 2008.
In looking at the current NFL standings, here’s the breakdown:
Saints (11-0), Colts (11-0), Vikings (10-1), Bengals (8-3), Cowboys (8-3), and Chargers (8-3); “Stuck in the Middle” teams, who are caught in the NFL’s parity-filled middle and need to either join the playoff hunt or fall back—Cardinals (7-4), Patriots (7-4), Broncos (7-4), Eagles (7-4), Packers (7-4), Giants (6-5), Steelers (6-5), Jaguars (6-5), Ravens (6-5), Falcons (6-5), Dolphins (5-6), Texans (5-6), Jets (5-6), Titans (5-6), and Niners (5-6)
The “Pretenders”, who are trying to avoid their 8th loss which means they have joined the league’s bottom rung
Panthers (4-7), Bears (4-7), Bills (4-7), and Seahawks (4-7); and lastly the “Ugly” (See you at the 2010 NFL Draft)—Redskins (3-8), Raiders (3-8), Chiefs (3-8), Lions (2-9), Browns (1-10), Rams (1-10), and Buccaneers (1-10)
Now on to the rankings for this week.
1. Saints (11-0) —Wow, after their Monday Night Football dismantling of the Patriots, there is no denying Sean Payton’s team the top spot any longer. The Saints are explosive on offense, defense, and special teams, plus their quarterback, Drew Brees, is putting up some unbelievable stats.
New Orleans will look to continue their franchise best start and try to avoid a letdown as they travel to the nation’s capital for a game against the dangerous Redskins.
2. Colts (11-0) —Jim Caldwell’s team pulled out another “W” in a very close game against the Texans, but the Saints were more impressive. The Colts are now AFC South champs, and you have to wonder, if they lock up home field in the AFC, will they start “resting” some veterans?
In a clash of two miraculous streaks, the Colts will host the hard-charging Tennessee Titans (winners of five straight) and team-first QB Vince Young.
3. Vikings (10-1) —If the Saints were not around, everyone would be talking about comeback QB Brett Favre and the scary good Minnesota Vikings. It wasn’t even close as Favre almost put up career numbers in a rout of the Chicago Bears and their inconsistent quarterback, Jay Cutler.
Next up is a Sunday Night Football “flexed” game as the Vikes travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals in a potential playoff preview game.
4. Chargers (8-3) —The Bolts have now won six games in a row after throttling the KC Chiefs in Week 12. Surprisingly, the Chargers continue to fly under the NFL’s mainstream radar despite a MVP-type season from QB Philip Rivers.
Head coach Norv Turner’s squad continues their tour of the NFL’s underbelly as they travel to Cleveland to face the one-win Browns.
5. Bengals (8-3) —Marvin Lewis’ team rebounded from a bad road loss to the Oakland Raiders by thumping the Cleveland Browns to finish a perfect 6-0 in AFC North divisional games.
Another NFL cupcake awaits as the Bengals will gladly host the one-win Detroit Lions.
6. Cowboys (8-3) —As usual the ‘Boys rolled on Thanksgiving, this time beating up the hapless Oakland Raiders on national television.
In an NFC East grudge match, the Meadowlands will be rocking as the struggling New York Giants host the Cowboys with their season on the line.
7. Eagles (7-4) —The Birds made it two ugly wins in a row, as they outlasted the reeling and injured Washington Redskins in a knock-down-drag-out NFC East battle.
Hoping to continue their usual November/December playoff push (two-game winning streak), the Birds will travel to the Georgia Dome to face a very injured Falcons’ squad.
8. Packers (7-4) —While probably trying in vain to catch the red-hot Minnesota Vikings in the standings, the Pack continues to put themselves in playoff contention. The Packers dominated the terrible Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving.
In a great matchup of two teams looking to stay in the thick of the playoff hunt, the Baltimore Ravens led by future Hall of Famer LB Ray Lewis will look to get a tough road win at Lambeau Field on Monday Night Football.
9. Broncos (7-4) —It was pass the gravy time as the Broncos feasted on the reeling NY Giants on Thanksgiving.
Denver hopes to stay on the heels of the surging San Diego Chargers, but they cannot look past the host Kansas Chiefs, who are playing better since jettisoning malcontent Larry Johnson.
10. Patriots (7-4) —The Pats looked old and confused as they had no answer for the high-octane, undefeated Saints on Monday Night Football.
Looking to rebound from an embarrassing national TV loss, the Patriots and QB Tom Brady will look to jump all over the host Miami Dolphins in a key AFC East matchup.
11. Cardinals (7-4) —Even without starting QB Kurt Warner (concussion), the Cardinals were seconds away from a huge inter-conference win, but it was V.Y. to the rescue for the Titans in a thriller.
In a game that was “flexed” by NBC to Sunday Night Football, the Cardinals hope to get Warner back and match the offensive firepower of the visiting Minnesota Vikings.
12. Steelers (6-5) —P-Burgh had another tough loss in Week 12—their third in a row—this time to the hated Baltimore Ravens in overtime.
Head coach Mike Tomlin’s team should be prepared this week, and you have to feel sorry for the visiting Oakland Raiders, who are looking like a potential homecoming tomato can.
13. Jaguars (6-5) —Just when you want to move Jack Del Rio’s team higher in the rankings, they lay another stinker. This time it was the San Francisco 49ers who laid the smack down on the up-and-down Jags.
In a game that is sure to have a playoff feel, the Jaguars will travel to Houston for a “loser leaves town” match with the equally desperate Texans.
14. Falcons (6-5) —Mike Smith’s team showed their toughness—lost QB Matt Ryan (toe) and RB Michael Turner (ankle)—in a win over the scrappy Tampa Bay Bucs.
In a huge game that will definitely have NFC playoff implications, the Falcons will take on the Philadelphia Eagles in the Georgia Dome with backup QB Chris Redmon making the start.
15. Giants (6-5) —The G-Men continued to fall further behind the Eagles and Cowboys in the NFC East race, as they were soundly thumped by the Denver Broncos on Thanksgiving.
With QB Eli Manning trying to gut it out (foot injury), the Giants will look to save their season as they host the NFC East division leading Dallas Cowboys.
16. Ravens (6-5) —Baltimore continues to show their toughness, as this past week they beat the Steelers in overtime on Sunday Night Football.
With no room for error, the Ravens will travel to Lambeau to face the surging Packers on Monday Night Football.
17. Titans (5-6) —Titans QB Vince Young outdueled Matt Leinart again as he answered his critics with an incredible last second win over the Cardinals. With their season on the line, the Titans will look to stop record setting QB Peyton Manning and the host Indianapolis Colts in a huge AFC South game.
18. Texans (5-6) —It looks like the inconsistent Texans are headed toward another 8-8 season which could spell curtains for head coach Gary Kubiak.
The Colts came back from a 17-0 deficit to send the Texans to a tough home defeat.
If the Texans want to save their season and possibly their head coach’s job, they will need to take care of business in Jacksonville in an AFC South survival game against the Jaguars.
19. Jets (5-6) —The J-E-T-S, led by CB Darrell Revis, shutdown the pitiful Carolina Panthers as rookie QB Mark Sanchez outplayed struggling Panthers QB Jake Delhomme.
In an NFL Network Thursday Night special, head coach Rex Ryan will need his team to take care of business against the equally desperate Buffalo Bills.
20. 49ers (5-6) —The Niners continued their climb back to .500 as they beat-up on the inconsistent Jacksonville Jaguars.
If Niners head coach Mike Singletary’s team wants to climb all the way into playoff contention, they will have to avoid a letdown in Seattle against the Seahawks.
21. Dolphins (5-6) —Buffalo Bills receiver Terrell Owens got his revenge on Miami Dolphins czar Bill Parcells as the Bills led by QB Ryan Fitzpatrick dominated the Dolphins.
If the ‘Phins are going to show the NFL that they belong in the playoffs, they will need to defend their home turf against the angry New England Patriots.
22. Seahawks (4-7) —The Hawks finally found someone that they could beat-up on, and the one-win Rams were the willing victims.
In an NFC West statement game, the Seahawks will host the Niners in a game that will end someone’s season.
23. Bills (4-7) —Despite the best efforts of the NFL’s new fantasy football combo, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and WR Terrell Owens, the Bills came up short to Jacksonville in Perry Fewell’s head coaching debut.
In the annual AFC East grudge match, the Bills will host the surging Dolphins and new Wildcat/former Toronto Argonaut RB Ricky Williams.
24. Panthers (4-7) —It looks like Panthers head coach John Fox is going to go down with struggling QB Jake Delhomme. The NY Jets capitalized on many Panthers’ mistakes to produce an easy win.
With their season on the line, the Panthers will host the 1-win Bucs in an NFC South basement special.
25. Bears (4-7) —When the Bears traded for Jay Cutler, they thought they had the missing piece to competing with the Vikings for the top of the NFC North…Man, were they wrong. Cutler struggled again as Minnesota and 40-year-old QB Brett Favre picked the Bears apart.
In a game they have to win to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive, the Bears will host the one-win St. Louis Rams in a must-win sitiuation.
26. Chiefs (3-8) —KC had no answer for the surging Chargers, who won going away.
With their season basically over, the Chiefs will now try to play spoiler as they host the Denver Broncos, who are in the thick of the AFC West race.
27. Redskins (3-8) —The injured ‘Skins and beleaguered head coach Jim Zorn couldn’t even capitalize on the sloppy Philadelphia Eagles mistakes in a loss that basically ended their season.
After the Saints huge win over the Patriots, could they be primed for a letdown game against the Redskins? Probably not.
28. Raiders (3-8) —Al Davis’ boys served as the turkeys for Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving day.
The season can’t end any faster for embattled head coach Tom Cable’s team, and I am sure it will get even worse as the Raiders play the angry Steelers in Pittsburgh.
29. Lions (2-9) —Once again the Lions were stuffed and cooked on Thanksgiving, this time by the surging Green Bay Packers. The road to the NFL Draft got even more tough for the Lions as they face the host Bengals, who want to keep their lead in the AFC North.
30. Browns (1-10) —QB Brady Quinn struggled badly as the Browns were spanked by the Bengals as they lost “The Battle for Ohio” badly.
Browns head coach Eric Mangini is on the hot seat after only 11 games, and it may get even worse as the surging San Diego Chargers come to town.
31. Rams (1-10) —If nothing else, Steve Spagnuolo’s team will fight till the end. Unfortunately, for the scrappy Rams, the Seahawks had too many offensive weapons in their lopsided win.
Look for the Rams to hand the ball off to powerback Steven Jackson when they travel to Chicago to face the inconsistent Bears.
32. Buccaneers (1-10) – The Bucs are young, but improving, and it showed in their effort against the Atlanta Falcons last week.
In a battle for the NFC South basement, the still hopeful Carolina Panthers will need to keep an eye on emerging rookie QB Josh Freeman.
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)