The Real Power Rankings
1. Indianapolis (14-0) Last Week: 1
Out of New Orleans and Indianapolis, most were picking Indy to lose before New Orleans would. Indy must be smiling now. This season has been about proving everybody wrong for the Colts. Sticking it to the man (AKA the media). Many so called "experts" were predicting this team's demise before the season started, now they are sitting on the longest regular season win streak of all time. Peyton Manning will likely win his second straight MVP award. And while Jim Caldwell might not ever move his face or talk, has been an extremely worthy successor to Tony Dungy. What a season for the Colts. Please don't rest your stars, Jim Caldwell. We want to see your team go for perfection.
2. New Orleans (13-1) Last Week: 2
Well, the perfect season is over. That was a game that the Saints have won several times this season. Down big, make it close, the other team makes a crucial mistake late. Everything was lining up for another Saints miracle. Alas, the miracle did not happen. The Saints learned that they can't win 'em all against a desperate Cowboys team, but they'll learn from their mistakes. With Minnesota's slip up, New Orleans still is the definitive favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
3. San Diego (11-3) Last Week: 3
This is San Diego's fourth consecutive season without losing in December. Now, if they can start a similar streak in January, then they will have something. Vincent Jackson has finally showed up once again, that is if scoring two touchdowns counts for showing up. The passing game is clicking on all cylinders for the Chargers and the run game is good enough to keep their opponents off balance. If there is a team that can knock the Colts off in the playoffs, it's the Chargers.
4. Philadelphia (10-4) Last Week: 5
The Eagles are the NFC's version of San Diego. They're a team who typically doesn't get out of the gates fast, but turns on the burners at the end of the year. This year is the same story. The Eagles offense is as dynamic as any in the NFL and their defense is one of the best at forcing turnovers. Against some teams (eg: New Orleans) their super aggressive schemes could cost them, but they also win some games because of their defense. Nobody wants to play these guys right now.
5. Minnesota (11-3) Last Week: 4
Minnesota better hope that they can lock up the number two seed in the playoffs, because they cannot beat a good team on the road. Arizona and Carolina have beaten up on the Vikings in two out of the past three weeks. In those games, the Vikings haven't just lost; they've been annihilated. In the Panthers game, even when they had a 7-6 lead, they were getting completely dominated. The key parts of this team are all underperforming right now. Favre, Peterson, and Harvin have all been extremely quiet in the past three weeks. They, like the Bengals in the AFC, might have peaked at the wrong time.
6. Cincinnati (9-5) Last Week: 7
The Bengals have been through maybe the two most tragic events in football this year. First, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's wife passed away suddenly and then Chris Henry, a key member of the offense when healthy, is killed in a freak accident. The Bengals will play for those two families whenever they take the field and that extra emotion can't hurt. It's too bad that they had the unfortunate happening of playing the Chargers this week. They would have beat any of the other 30 (or 29, the Colts might have beat them) teams this week, but they ran into the second hottest team in the NFL. The Bengals are not good enough to make it to the Super Bowl, but an AFC Championship birth would be a great stepping stone for this franchise.
7. Green Bay (9-5) Last Week: 6
Green Bay's defense was exposed on Sunday against the Steelers. Big Ben torched the secondary, although not necessarily star corner Charles Woodson. The injuries to guys like Al Harris are catching up to them now. Offensively they are about as explosive as any team in the NFL, but they haven't been able to stop the better offenses in the NFL. That will be a big problem in a couple weeks when the playoffs roll around.
8. Dallas (9-5) Last Week: 14
Nobody gave Dallas a chance going on the road against an undefeated Saints team late in the season. Maybe that's what gave them the extra boost to beat New Orleans. Tony Romo and Co. played as well as they have all year long in that Saturday Night game in the Superdome, which has quickly become one of the toughest places to play in the leagues. It was amazing that DeMarcus Ware went out there and played, and played well too. This is a much tougher Cowboys team than in years past.
9. Baltimore (8-6) Last Week: 10
The game against Chicago was a perfect example of how the Ravens have played all season long. Blow out the bad teams, but lose to the good ones. Chicago qualifies as a truly awful team this season. Cutler has been atrocious, making a run at a 30 interception season. The Ravens picked him off three times. No big surprise. The Ravens get a big test this weekend, going to Heinz Field to do battle with the Steelers, but if they can win that game, the playoffs will be well in their sight. Must win game this week.
10. Tennessee (7-7) Last Week: 11
It's amazing how much different of a team this is than the one that went 0-6 to start the season. They are 7-1 since their putrid start, with the only loss coming on the road to the undefeated Colts. Not exactly an easy game. Vince Young's turnaround has been just as remarkable as the team's. He was left for dead essentially before getting the job handed to him by the owner Bud Adams more than coach Jeff Fisher. Maybe Adams should start coaching the team because Young looks like one of the league's best quarterbacks right now. If Tennessee can somehow win in San Diego this week, then who knows what can happen. They've had some good breaks in the second half of the season, maybe the tiebreakers will work out in the Titans' favor.
11. New England (9-5) Last Week: 12
Talk about winning ugly. When Tom Brady only throws for 115 yards and throws an interception with the running game doing a whole lot of nothing, the Patriots should lose. Good thing they were facing Ryan Fitzpatrick. The defense finally showed up Sunday and saved the suddenly stagnant offense's butt. Brady's slew of injuries must be much worse than they are letting on, because he's been extremely underwhelming for the past couple of weeks. He didn't even complete half of his pass attempts against the Bills. That's not the Tom Brady who won an MVP and three Super Bowls.
12. Arizona (9-5) Last Week: 9
Arizona appears to be fading, but last year was the same story. They had the division essentially locked up about three quarters into the season. They are not playing their best football, but when this team shows up they are one of the best in NFL. The defense can shut down anybody with good corners like Rodgers-Cromartie and Rolle and with Pro Bowl caliber players in Dockett and Dansby in their front seven. Don't underestimate that offense either. While, they might be playing great at the moment, in January the Cards could end up as the NFC Champion again and I wouldn't be shocked at all.
13. Denver (8-6) Last Week: 8
Denver is the latest team to fall victim to the Oakland Raiders. Are teams just not taking them seriously or does Oakland present matchup problems to very particular types of teams in the NFL? I can't figure out why they beat those guys beat good teams. Denver's offense is about as bad an any in the NFL sometimes with Kyle Orton at the helm. Orton's been fairly solid this year, but in some games he just disappears, like Sunday at Invesco Field. That's an issue that coach McDaniels and the management need to address this offseason more than anything else. They wouldn't be better off with Cutler, but if they can somehow get a top QB in the draft to challenge Orton then that would be ideal.
14. New York Giants (8-6) Last Week: 13
There a million teams in the NFL this season that are impossible to predict and the G-Men are one of those teams. Eli Manning can be horrible one game and great in the next (although he's been very good in two straight now) or the defense can be awful one week and very good the next. One thing that is the same on a weekly basis is Brandon Jacob's incompetence. How does Ahmad Bradshaw continually get less carries than him? It's getting to the point of being ridiculous. Bradshaw better be the feature back next season or there will be some very angry Giants fans.
15. Miami (7-7) Last Week: 15
Chad Henne looks like he's going to be a very good quarterback. He still throws bad passes in important situations, a habit he has to get rid of, but he throws a terrific deep ball and possesses smarts for most of the game. He looks like a natural leader and walked into a very good situation in Miami where the running game is the focus of the offense. Most young quarterbacks develop into great QBs by facilitating the offense for a season or two, then leading it. That's what happened in Pittsburgh with Roethlisberger and in San Diego with Rivers. If Henne turns out like those two then Miami is in very good shape.
16. Pittsburgh (7-7) Last Week: 17
The secondary was a big problem once again against the Packers. Green Bay had big play after big play against Pittsburgh's very average, at best, defensive backs. Rashard Mendenhall now looks like he forgot how to play running back, with his second straight bad game. He's not consistent enough for them to count on him on a weekly basis. Then again the main problem could be the line, which ranks among the worst on football. Roethlisberger is running around like a headless chicken on half of his dropbacks. It's amazing that this team is .500 with how bad their offensive line play and secondary play have been.
The Rest of the Pack
17. Jacksonville (7-7) Last Week: 20
18. Atlanta (7-7) Last Week: 19
19. New York Jets (7-7) Last Week: 16
20. Carolina (6-8) Last Week: 23
21. Houston (7-7) Last Week: 18
22. San Francisco (6-8) Last Week: 22
23. Washington (4-10) Last Week: 21
24. Chicago (5-9) Last Week: 24
25. Oakland (5-9) Last Week: 27
26. Buffalo (5-9) Last Week: 25
27. Cleveland (3-11) Last Week: 28
28. Seattle (5-9) Last Week: 26
29. Tampa Bay (2-12) Last Week: 2-12
30. Detroit (2-12) Last Week: 2-12
31. St. Louis (1-13) Last Week: 32
32. Kansas City (3-11) Last Week: 29
Five "WOW" performances
1. Jerome Harrison
Who would have thought that the guy who didn't even get the bulk of the work in a win last week against Pittsburgh would end up having the third best rushing day in NFL history? Only Adrian Peterson and Jamal Lewis have rushed for more yards in a single game than Harrison did against the lowly Chiefs. I think they've found a replacement for Jamal Lewis.
2. The Panthers offense
Jonathan Stewart filled in for DeAngelo Williams and then proceeded to be the first running back in 36 games to have a 100 yard rushing game against the Vikings stout run defense. The immortal Matt Moore threw for one yard short of 300 yards and found Steve Smith eight times for 157 yards and a long touchdown. Antoine Winfield couldn't slow down Smith at all. When Smith is involved in the offense, the Panthers succeed, it's clear why he gets so frustrated when he doesn't get the ball.
3. Philip Rivers
Peyton Manning is the best quarterback in the league at running the two minute drill, but Rivers is a close second (with Roethlisberger and Brady close behind him). He had one minute to drive 35-40 yards to get in Nate Kaeding's range, and there was never any doubt that he would do it. Rivers needs to be recognized on the same level as the very elite quarterbacks in the league (Manning, Brees, Brady, Roethlisberger) because he is clearly playing at the highest level that there is.
4. Ben Roethlisberger
Pittsburgh's defense has successfully completed the 180 degree spin from one of the most reliable defenses in the league to one of the least reliable. Coach Tomlin had so little faith in his defense, that he tried an onside kick late in the fourth quarter, WITH THE LEAD! He also had a great deal of confidence in Ben, who passed for 502 yards. He had the ball in his hands for most of the game and once again delivered when it mattered most.
5. DeSean Jackson
Jackson has been the most valuable player, that does not play quarterback, to his team in the league. It's close between him and Chris Johnson, but Jackson gets the edge because he can hurt his opponents in so many different ways. It's incredible to think that so many teams passed on him in the draft a couple of years ago. He ran a great time at the combine, it's incredible that nobody bit on a guy who was a fantastic playmaker in college as well. Football fans should be very glad he didn't end up on the Raiders and ruin his career. He's thrived in Eagles offense.
Five Surprises of the Weekend
1. Minnesota completely shutting down in a prime time game. Favre hasn't been the same for a few weeks now. Adrian Peterson has been very controlled as well, most of his big plays coming off of screen passes. I'd be worried if I were a Vikings fan.
2. Dallas going into the Superdome and ending New Orleans perfect season. Dallas is supposed to choke in December, instead they came out and totally dominated the Saints. And then there was one.
3. Jerome Harrison. Harrison was the third running back on the depth chart at the start of the season and he went out in his third start of the year and had the third highest rushing yards total in a single game of all time. Only Adrian Peterson and Jamal Lewis have had better days on the ground.
4. Oakland beating a playoff contending team...again. This season Oakland has five wins. Four of those wins have come against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New York (Jets), and Denver. Two of those wins were on the road. The follow up performance will likely be laying an egg next week against Cleveland. Also, just as surprising was Jamarcus Russell coming in for the final drive and leading his team to victory. For once, Oakland fans could cheer Jamarcus.
5. The amount of close games this weekend. Eleven of the sixteen games were decided by a touchdown or less. Also two the teams who won convincingly were Carolina and Tampa Bay. It was a great and weird weekend of football.
Top Five Games of the Weekend
1. Pittsburgh 37, Green Bay 36
Big Ben gave a great encore to his Super Bowl performance, even down to the great sideline throw. The only difference was that Mike Wallace made the toe tap catch instead of Santonio Holmes. Ben was sacked twice on the final drive as well, making it that much more of a great drive.
2. San Diego 27, Cincinnati 24
The Bengals played their hearts out with the loss of teammate Chris Henry still looming, but ultimately Rivers and his December streak won out. Rivers led a quick drive to get Nate Kaeding in range for a fairly long kick, and he drilled. it. It looked as if San Diego would cruise to the win, leading by 10 going into the fourth, but the Bengals made some timely plays and tied it with about a minute left. The defense however, was helpless as Rivers worked his late game magic.
3. Indianapolis 35, Jacksonville 31
I don't want to jinx the Colts (as I did to the Saints), but they are looking like a team of destiny right now. Jacksonville, never get into a shootout with Peyton Manning. It's like getting in a fight with Mike Tyson, you just don't do it. A loss is the predetermined outcome. The Jags fought hard, but beating this Colts team requires perfection on both sides of the ball, something that Jacksonville could not quite accomplish.
4. Oakland 20, Denver 19
Two weeks ago, Bruce Gradkowski led his team to a last minute victory over a good team on the road. On Sunday, it was Jamarcus Russell's turn. Playing his first series of the game, Russell came into the game and threw the game winner with barely any time left. Raiders fans must be frustrated. They are good enough to beat all of these good teams, but they get beaten by bad teams all the time. My heart goes out to you Raiders fans (just don't forget, you do have a few Super Bowl's, some fans don't have any).
5. Tennessee 27, Miami 24
It's amazing that this game barely made the top five games of the week. This one had playoff implications and it played out exactly like a quality playoff game. These teams were both very even. Chris Johnson and Ricky Williams both ran well, but not great (of course, Johnson had another 100 yard game, his ninth straight). Vince Young's revival continues to shock me. He looked great out there. The Titans would be one of football's top five teams if they hadn't started 0-6. What a shame.
Five Things to Watch for in Week 16
1. The football world gets a great Christmas present with a tasty Chargers-Titans matchup on Christmas day. Both teams are as red hot as a team can get. It should be a great one.
2. Pittsburgh and Baltimore collide in what should be another epic game between the bitter rivals. Playoff hopes for either team would probably be done with a loss.
3. Will Indy really rest their starters with an undefeated season on the line? I really doubt that they will, but we'll see. For goodness sake, resting starters has never worked for you Indianapolis!
4. How will Cincinnati play in their second game since the death of Chris Henry? They should win either way, but it will be interesting to see if the emotion is still as strong as it was last week.
5. How will the Saints rebound from their first loss? They play Tampa Bay, so things shouldn't be too difficult.
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: Jairus Byrd
Comeback Player of the Year: Vernon Davis
Coach of the Year: Jim Caldwell
AFC Divisional Champions (in seed order): Indianapolis, San Diego, Cincinnati, New England
AFC Wild Cards: Baltimore, Denver
NFC Divisional Champions: New Orleans, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Arizona
NFC Wild Cards: Green Bay, Dallas
AFC Champion: San Diego
NFC Champion: New Orleans
Super Bowl Champion (MVP): San Diego (Rivers)
That's all folks