The last week of the 2009 NFL regular season will either be a happy or forgettable event for some NFL teams. Though 10 of the NFL’s 12 coveted playoff berths have been claimed, there are several Week 17 storylines around the two remaining berths, plus the “Who” and the “Where” pieces of the playoff puzzle left to be decided.
The NFC playoff picture is pretty clear as all six playoff spots have been claimed (New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals, and Green Bay Packers). The Saints are the No. 1 seed, but the other five seeds need to be sorted out.
The AFC side of the ledger is a bit more complicated, and though the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers have clinched the top two seeds, there are seven teams vying for the conference’s last two wild card spots.
In looking at the current NFL standings one last time before the “real” games start, here’s the breakdown:
The “Elite”—Colts (14-1), Saints (13-2), Chargers (12-3), Eagles (11-4), Vikings (11-4), and Cardinals (10-5)
“In the Playoffs or on the Cusp”—Bengals (10-5), Packers (10-5), Cowboys (10-5), Patriots (10-5), Ravens (8-7), and Jets (8-7)
“Help Needed” teams that need help from others in their conference just to get in the playoffs —Texans (8-7), Steelers (8-7), Broncos (8-7), Jaguars (7-8), and Dolphins (7-8)
“Finishing Out the String” teams (See you at the 2010 NFL Draft)—Giants (8-7), Falcons (8-7), Titans (7-8), Niners (7-8), Panthers (7-8), Bears (6-9), Seahawks (5-10), Bills (5-10), Raiders (5-10), Browns (4-11), Redskins (4-11), Chiefs (3-12), Buccaneers (3-12), Lions (2-13), and Rams (1-13)
Now on to the rankings for this week.
1. Colts (14-1) –The champagne corks were flying for the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the Colts chose to “rest” key players in the second half of a disappointing loss to the “thankful” NY Jets. I will debate the point all day that the Colts’ management was wrong to rest players, but GM Bill Polian’s crew has stuck to their “Non-Perfection” stance and we will see how the playoffs turnout. Expect to see more of backup QB Curtis Painter and company as the Colts close out the regular season against the host Buffalo Bills.
2. Chargers (12-3) –The Chargers won their 10th game in a row as they thumped the host Tennessee Titans on Christmas Day. Don’t expect to see head coach Norv Turner to take his foot off the gas when San Diego hosts the Redskins in Week 17, as the Chargers want to go into the playoffs “hot”.
3. Saints (13-2) –Oh, the formerly “perfect” Saints appear to be leaking oil as they head to the playoffs. Though the Saints wrapped up the NFC’s No. 1 seed, they did not look good as they squandered a 17-point lead in a disappointing home overtime loss to the scrappy Tampa Bay Bucs. Even though the Saints shouldn’t have much to play for against the host Carolina Panthers, expect a strong effort from QB Drew Brees and company.
4. Eagles (11-4) -Don’t look now, but outside of the San Diego Chargers, the Birds are the hottest team in the NFL. In another tough, close victory, the Eagles put aside Brian Dawkins homecoming to pull-out a win over the reeling Denver Broncos. Somewhere former Eagles head coaches Dick Vermeil and Buddy Ryan are smiling as it will be Philly vs. Dallas for the NFC East division title in Week 17.
5. Cardinals (10-5) –As the playoffs approach, the Cards are getting better and have a running game. The 2008 NFL runner-ups looked good in pulling out a tougher than expected NFC West division win over the St. Louis Rams. With playoff seeding on the line, the Cardinals will host the Green Bay Packers and these two could possibly meet next week in the first round of the playoffs.
6. Vikings (11-4) –I don’t care what anyone says, the Vikings are on the wrong page at the wrong time of the season. QB Brett Favre and company continued to limp into the playoffs as they lost in overtime to the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football. With a shot at still claiming the NFC’s No. 2 seed (the Eagles need to lose), expect the Vikings to get back on track by thumping the Giants.
7. Patriots (10-5) –The Pats showed their veteran pedigree as they won their third straight game with a drubbing of the reeling Jacksonville Jaguars. You know Patriots head coach Bill Belichick would like nothing more than putting an end to the Houston Texans’ playoff hopes, so expect to see QB Tom Brady and WR Randy Moss in Week 17.
8. Cowboys (10-5) –The ‘Boys continued to answer the bell in December 2009 as they shutout the Washington Redskins. In a signature game, Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips and QB Tony Romo have a chance to wash away a long history of season ending woes by beating the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17 and claiming the NFC East crown.
9. Bengals (10-5) -The veteran group of head coach Marvin Lewis, QB Carson Palmer, and—dare I say it—Chad Ochocinco, willed the Bengals to a win over the Chiefs to claim the AFC North. With not much to play for by their late Sunday Night Football start, expect the Bengals to “rest” against the NY Jets who they could quite possibly see in the first round of the playoffs.
10. Packers (10-5) –Led by Pro Bowl CB Charles Woodson, the dangerous Packers destroyed the reeling Seattle Seahawks to claim one of the NFC’s wild card spots. Expect the Packers to go for a “momentum” win against the Cardinals in Week 17.
11. Ravens (8-7) –The Ravens lost a tough road game to the Pittsburgh Steelers (dropped passes, touchdowns negate by penalties, and not enough pressure on Big Ben), but they still are in the driver’s seat in the AFC wild card race. Expect to see Ravens head coach John Harbaugh pull out all the stops as Baltimore needs to get a win over the host Oakland Raiders to fulfill their playoff hopes.
12. Steelers (8-7) -You have to wonder how bad the Steelers are kicking themselves for their five-game losing streak that included losses to the Chiefs and Raiders. The Steelers kept their flickering playoff hopes alive by winning a thrilling game over the Ravens. The first order of business for the playoffs is for the Steelers to beat the host Miami Dolphins, and then hope for some help.
13. Texans (8-7) –You know the upstart Texans would like nothing more than to end their 8-8 streak and sneak into the playoffs for the first time. In Week 16, the Texans went on a mission to South Florida and kept their playoff hopes alive while sending the Dolphins closer to next year. It will be “Put Up or Shut Up” time when the Texans host New England in Week 17, but Houston still will need some help to reach the playoffs for the first time.
14. Falcons (8-7) –Too bad QB Matt Ryan was hurt for some crucial games early in the season, as the Falcons are playing some of the best football in the NFL. Mike Smith’s team continued their season ending run by thumping the hap-hazard Buffalo Bills. In a pride of game that will mean a winning season, expect Ryan and the Falcons to go all out in Week 17 versus the surging host Tampa Bay Bucs.
15. Jets (8-7) –I know, the J-E-T-S are very close to securing one of the AFC’s wild card berths, but they have a lot of work to do. After Peyton and his crew handed the Colts’ backups a five-point lead, it didn’t take long for Rex Ryan’s team to secure Jim Caldwell’s gift basket of a victory. The Jets may get their second “gift” win in a row on the way to the playoffs, when they face the Bengals who may also be resting players.
16. Giants (8-7) –The G-Men never showed up in a terrible loss to the Carolina Panthers in the last game at the Meadowlands. It is player evaluation time for GM Jerry Reese and head coach Tom Coughlin as the G-Men travel to Minnesota in Week 17.
17. Broncos (8-7) –Not even the return of former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins could spur the reeling Broncos to a win in Philly. Hard to believe after their hot start, but the Broncos and energetic head coach Josh McDaniels are on the brink of missing the playoffs. In order to keep their flagging playoffs hopes alive, the Broncos must first win at home against the Chiefs.
18. 49ers (7-8) –Mike Singlegtary’s team is getting better, but 2010 maybe their season. The Niners hammered the ready-for-the-draft Detroit Lions last weekend. Looking to build something for next year, expect the Niners to try like crazy for 8-8 as they face the one-win Rams in Week 17.
19. Panthers (7-8) –Panthers head coach John Fox got the okay to return in 2010, but does he? Too bad Fox took so long to insert QB Matt Moore as the starter, because the youngster looked good again, this time in a win over the Giants. The Panthers will continue to play “spoiler” when they host the suddenly stumbling New Orleans Saints.
20. Titans (7-8) –Not even Santa could wrap-up a win for V.Y and the Titans against the red-hot Chargers on Christmas Day. With visions of V.Y producing again in 2010, the Titans will look to finish 8-8 when they face the Seattle Seahawks.
21. Dolphins (7-8) –Week 16’s “Desperation Bowl” against the Houston Texans did not produce a good result for Miami. The Dolphins will be looking to finish .500 and keep their flickering playoff hopes alive when they face the Steelers in Week 17.
22. Jaguars (7-8) –The Jags have limped home after being in the AFC wild card driver’s seat at (7-5) after 13 weeks. The New England Patriots showed no mercy as they pounded the Jags in a deflating loss. With their playoff hopes on life support, the Jags will try to get a win in Cleveland against the red-hot Browns.
23. Bears (6-9) –The real “Monsters of the Midway” finally showed up, as the Bears looked like a new team in producing a Monday Night Football overtime win against the Vikings. Maybe QB Jay Cutler can pull another win out of his magic hat as the Bears face the Detroit Lions in Week 17.
24. Browns (4-11) –You have to believe that the Browns are really starting to impress new football czar Mike Holmgren, as they dominated the Oakland Raiders last weekend. The Browns will try to save head coach Eric Mangini’s job as they host the playoff-hopeful Jacksonville Jaguars.
25. Raiders (5-10) –Oakland put up a fight, but the surging Cleveland Browns were too much for them. Could the Raiders play the role of spoiler for the second year in a row? They host the Ravens, who need to win to make the playoffs.
26. Bills (5-10) –It looks like the Perry Fewell head coaching experiment is about to end, as the Falcons bludgeoned the Bills in Week 16. It will be interesting to see how the Colts’ JV team does in a meaningless Week 17 game in Buffalo.
27. Seahawks (5-10) –The Seahawks didn’t even bother to show up at Lambeau in a horrible loss to the playoff hungry Packers. Expect to see plenty of young players when the Seahawks host the Titans in Week 17.
28. Redskins (4-11) -After the Redskins were shutout by the Cowboys, new GM Bruce Allen probably cannot wait for Black Monday to fire “Dead Man Walking” head coach Jim Zorn. Look for the ‘Skins to mail-it-in when they travel across the country to play the red-hot San Diego Chargers.
29. Buccaneers (3-12) –Head coach Raheem Morris’ team responded to the challenge of facing the 13-win Saints by beating them in overtime. The Bucs will look to keep fighting and learning when they host the Atlanta Falcons in Week 17.
30. Chiefs (3-12) –The Bengals pulled out a tough home win over KC to win the AFC North. With not much else to play for other than stats, the Chiefs travel to Denver for an old-time AFL battle with the Broncos.
31. Lions (2-13) –The Niners showed no mercy in thumping the Lions. In a game that will only have draft slotting implications, the Lions will host the Chicago Bears.
32. Rams (1-14) -The Cards piled up more offensive stats in a quality win over the Rams. It is time to “Just Lose, Baby” for the Rams, as they take on the Niners. With a loss, the Rams can claim the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, which will more than likely be Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh.
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)Posted in 2009 NFL Power Rankings, 2009 NFL Season, 2009 NFL Week 17 Tagged: 2009 NFL Power Rankings, 2009 NFL Season, 2009 NFL Week 17, Football, NFL, NFL Weekly Rankings, Sports