The Real Power Rankings
1. Indianapolis (12-0) Last Week: 2
It's amazing that the downfall of the Colts was being predicted at the beginning of this season. This is the same old Colts team that wins 12 games every season. Manning is great, they have a good pass catching running back, no-name receivers stepping up, small linebackers wreaking havoc on opposing offenses.
They have a cake schedule the rest of the way. Jim Caldwell, please go for the undefeated season! How great would it be to see two 18-0 teams go at it in the Super Bowl. I'm salivating.
2. New Orleans (12-0) Last Week: 1
Maybe it's just meant to be. There's no way the Saints should have beaten Washington on Sunday. No stinkin' way! Robert Meachem got a lucky strip and run for a fluke TD that kept the Saints in the game, Sean Suisham misses a glorified extra point, and Meachem strikes again with a long touchdown as time is winding down.
Those are three miracle plays. The odds of any of those happening are very slight, how could all three happen within 30 minutes of football? Only four more for 16-0. Four more.
3. Minnesota (10-2) Last Week: 3
It's not everyday that Adrian Peterson averages 1.5 yards per carry and Brett Favre throws two interceptions. It's not everyday that a team has to go face a very good team on the road in prime time. Unfortunately for Minnesota, this was the week they had all of those things happen.
They have some tough games left on the schedule, but the Vikings will bounce back nicely and still finish as the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
4. San Diego (9-3) Last Week: 4
It's too bad for San Diego that there are two teams that are still undefeated, otherwise they would be the team that was getting all sorts of buzz. Actually, maybe it is not bad. San Diego thrives as more of an underdog team, so it is really ideal for Indy and New Orleans to keep winning so the spotlight isn't burning on them.
However, if they can win out against the likes of Cincinnati, Dallas, Tennessee, and Washington then the media will have no choice but pay attention to this dangerous and explosive Chargers team.
5. Cincinnati (9-3) Last Week: 5
It was clear Cincinnati was much better with Cedric Benson back as the centerpiece of their offense. He opens up the passing game much more than LJ or Bernard Scott did. Ochocinco finally took off, albeit against the woeful Lions D.
Although the Bengals won by only 10, they dominated Detroit in their game. That was the true Bengals team that we'll see the rest of the season and come playoff time. Not the team that lost to Oakland.
6. Arizona (8-4) Last Week: 7
Kurt Warner came back against the Vikings and he came back with a vengeance. He was spectacular against a good Vikings defense and the Cardinals followed an excellent game plan that makes them one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL. Pass, pass, pass.
Sure, running can keep the defense off balance, but Arizona's offense plays best in big games when the throw 40 times and run 20 times. Look at the playoffs last season. They were throwing to Fitz on seemingly every play. They're shaping up to be an extremely dangerously playoff team again. Beware, New Orleans.
7. Green Bay (8-4) Last Week: 8
Green Bay's season has turned around completely. When they had lost for the second time to the Vikings and allowed a boatload of sacks for the seventh straight week, most people left their playoff hopes for dead. Now they are 8-4 and are as red hot as any team in the league, especially offensively. Look out for a playoff run by these guys.
8. Philadelphia (8-4) Last Week: 13
Nothing is particular impressive about the Eagles. Yes, their defense is good. But it's hard to argue that they are a great unit. We all know what New Orleans did to them. However, they are a good all around team and can beat any team if they play well. If they can get healthy down the stretch, this is yet another dangerous team in the crowded NFC playoff picture.
9. Denver (8-4) Last Week: 14
What a case of Jekyl and Hyde with the Broncos. They win six in a row, mostly against good teams. They lose four in a row. Now they have won two in a row, both by more than 20 points. They play at Indy this week. We'll see if they can keep their new winning streak alive.
10. New England (7-5) Last Week: 6
Wasn't this team supposed to be the best team in the league. Instead they have one of the worst pass defenses in the league and are endangered of missing the playoffs. Even Tom Brady and Bill Belichick look mortal.
Trouble in New England is being a little overstated, but they certainly don't even look as good as last season, and that was with Matt Cassel calling the signals.
11. Tennessee Titans (5-7) Last Week: 12
Tennessee missed too many chances to get back in the game at Indy to save their season. They played them pretty tough, but just couldn't get it done. That's why they are 5-7 and Indy is 12-0.
Chris Johnson had a normal CJ game, he just couldn't break the long touchdown run that Tennessee needed. Tennessee could still very easily win the rest of their games, even with a spirit breaking loss to the Colts. Vince Young won't have to play another big game like that and Johnson has some soft defenses he can torch coming up. The future is bright, Titans fans.
12. Dallas (8-4) Last Week: 10
For Dallas, December is by far the worst month of the year. Last season, they choked down the stretch and missed the playoffs. It wouldn't be shocking if the same thing happened this year. Dallas plays San Diego, New Orleans, Washington (on the road), and Philadelphia in the rest of their games.
It's very easy to see a 1-3 finish there, possibly 0-4. Washington is no gimme with the way they are playing. With the way the Cowboys play every other Dec. 9-7 looks the most likely.
13. New York Giants (7-5) Last Week: 18
The G-Men might have beaten the Cowboys on Sunday, but their season doesn't provide much hope none the less. Eli Manning and Brandon Jacobs, the centerpieces of their offense are both playing bad.
The defense can be passed on very easily and look at the teams that New York might have to play in the playoffs: New Orleans, Minnesota, Arizona, Philadelphia, Green Bay, Dallas. All primarily passing teams.
14. Baltimore (6-6) Last Week: 9
Joe Flacco is playing as bad as any quarterback in the league right now. The defense is as pedestrian as any other in the NFL. The Ravens are a very pedestrian team. It's Ray Rice and a bunch of average players.
15. Pittsburgh (6-6) Last Week: 11
Who would have thought that Pittsburgh would lose four straight games, especially when two of those came against Kansas City and Oakland. Polamalu's absence is worse than anybody could have imagined. He announced he could miss the rest of the year as well. That only spells bad news for the defending Super Bowl champion's playoff hopes.
16. Miami (6-6) Last Week: 20
There is nothing particularly impressive about the Dolphins, except that they find ways to win. The Patriots should have been on their way to a blowout, instead Miami forced Tom Brady to make mistakes and they took advantage of those mistakes. Miami is about the same team that they were last season. They take advantage of opportunities.
The Rest of the Pack
17. Jacksonville (7-5) Last Week: 19
18. New York Jets (6-6) Last Week: 21
19. Atlanta Falcons (6-6) Last Week: 16
20. Washington Redskins (3-9) Last Week: 24
21. Houston (5-7) Last Week: 15
22. San Francisco (5-7) Last Week: 17
23. Carolina (5-7) Last Week: 22
24. Seattle (5-7) Last Week: 26
25. Buffalo (4-8) Last Week: 23
26. Oakland (4-8) Last Week: 30
27. Chicago (5-7) Last Week: 25
28. Tampa Bay (1-11) Last Week: 29
29. Kansas City (3-9) Last Week: 27
30. Detroit (2-10) Last Week: 31
31. St. Louis (1-11) Last Week: 28
32. Cleveland (1-11) Last Week: 32
Biggest Riser: +5, Green Bay, Philadelphia, New York Giants
Biggest Faller: -6, Houston
Five "WOW" performance
1. Robert Meachem (8 catches, 142 yards, 1 TD, 44 yard fumble return)
Meachem started the season as the fourth string receiver on the New Orleans depth chart. On Sunday, he saved their season. He's been a huge cog in their offense lately, scoring (((five))) touchdowns in the past four games. He's evolved into Drew Brees second favorite target. What a play on that strip and run. Never seen anything like it.
2. Bruce Gradkowski (20/33, 308 yards, 3 TD, 0 int)
I wonder how many people have thrown for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter at Pittsburgh in NFL history. It can't very many, if there are any. What's more amazing is that an Oakland RAIDERS quarterback was the one to do it.
The Pittsburgh native son must have caused many pains to some of his childhood friends as he was plunging the dagger into the Steelers heart and perhaps mortally wounding their playoff hopes. So far Gradkowski has been 2-1 as the Raiders starter, throwing game winning touchdowns in both wins. The combined record of the teams he's faced? 23-13.
3. Michael Vick (2/2, 46 yards passing, 1 TD, 0 int, 4 carries, 17 yards, 1 TD)
Vick was greeted by boos when he ran onto the turf of the Georgia Dome to play the Falcons. By the time he had scored two touchdowns, he was receiving a resounding cheer from his former fans.
The big question is, why hasn't been Philly been using Vick more like he was used in the Atlanta more often? He was clearly a matchup problem when he was out there. He's clearly still talented as well. Maybe he can somehow be the wild card for Philly's season.
4. Kurt Warner (22/32, 285 yards, 3 TD, 0 int)
I thought Brett Favre was supposed to be the old quarterback that was having the great season. Warner is dying his hair to make him appear younger. Maybe the dye helped him play younger too.
He got it to Boldin and Fitzgerald all day long, which he hadn't really done this season yet. Not both in the same game. If he keeps playing like that, here come the Cards once again.
5. Devin Thomas (7 catches, 100 yards, 2 TD)
Had anybody heard of Devin Thomas before this game? The Redskins have to have some unknowns step up with all of the injuries that they've suffered and Thomas was that guy this week. Jason Campbell found him open quite a bit (he caught all of his targets) and Thomas showed good ability after the catch as well.
It might have been more of a fluke than anything, but Thomas looked good out there against the Saints.
Five Surprises of the Weekend
1. Pittsburgh falling apart on defense in the fourth quarter, yet again. They just can't stop anybody in the final 15 minutes.
2. Denver's demolition of Kansas City. Didn't they get the memo that they were finished?
3. Washington playing New Orleans so tough for the entire game, and then subsequently blowing the game. Their luck switched 180 degrees in a second.
4. Arizona beating up on Minnesota. It just proves that Arizona is a good as anybody in the league.
5. Chicago scoring only 16 points on the Lions. Wasn't Jay Cutler supposed to bring life to the offense?
Top Five Games of the Weekend
1. New Orleans 33, Washington 30
Up by seven, one-and-a-half minutes left and the field goal kicker is coming out. Redskins fans had t be feeling pretty good about an upset by then. Or maybe a Redskins fan would be expecting something unlucky to a happen to their luckless team. Well, we all know Suisham missed the kick and the Saints won. 12-0.
2. Oakland 27, Pittsburgh 24
Ben Roethlisberger is clearly not the franchise played in Pittsburgh. It's Troy Polamalu. No way does Oakland score three passing touchdowns in the fourth with Polamalu out there. Hey Troy, how about not being on the cover of Madden next year. Just to be safe.
3. Miami 22, New England 21
It looked like New England was on their way to a blowout in a third quarter. They just couldn't put the pesky Fins away. Brady's picks were inexcusable and both probably cost them the game. Still, when 7-5 is tough times, it's a good sign for your franchise. Stop whining Pats fans.
4. New York Giants 31, Dallas 24
This isn't what's called a pretty game. The quarterback that completes almost 75 percent of his passes and throws three touchdowns without a pick, loses to the quarterback that completes 11 passes.
The Giants got lucky and scored on a fluky screen pass TD to Brandon Jacobs, and a highlight reel punt return. Geez, Dallas can't catch a break in December.
5. Seattle 20, San Francisco 17
Okay, nobody watched this game and nobody cared about it, but it came down to a game winning field goal, so I am obligated to put it on here.
Five Things to Watch in Week 14
1. Will the undefeated seasons of Indy and New Orleans live on? Both are looking at fairly tough tests this week.
2. Which AFC teams will rise to the top of the wild card race? Baltimore and Pittsburgh both have easy games, but Jacksonville will still be ahead of them if they can pull another win out of the hat. We'll see how these events unfold.
3. Can the AFC powerhouses of the decade, Pittsburgh and New England, bounce back against very mediocre to bad team? They have a combined six straight games.
4. Can Houston break their horrible losing streak? They've played well enough to win, only to choke late in games. Why does Chris Brown throw that pass?
5. Cincinnati and San Diego both face tough tests two weeks before they clash. We'll see which team can take the upper hand in the race for the first round bye.
End of the Year...If I Had to Pick
MVP: Peyton Manning
Offensive Player of the Year: Chris Johnson
Defensive Player of the Year: Darren Sharper
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Percy Harvin
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Brian Cushing
Comeback Player of the Year: Tom Brady
Coach of the Year: Jim Caldwell
AFC Divisional Champions (in seed order): Indianapolis, San Diego, Cincinnati, New England
AFC Wild Cards: Denver, Pittsburgh
NFC Divisional Champions: New Orleans, Minnesota, Arizona, Philadelphia
NFC Wild Cards: Green Bay, NY Giants
AFC Champion: San Diego
NFC Champion: New Orleans
Super Bowl Champion (MVP): New Orleans (Brees)
Thursday Game Prediction: Steelers 28, Cleveland 10