Week 14 is in the books and the playoff picture is beginning to take form. The Patriots continued rolling, while the Packers could be without star quarterback Aaron Rodgers for next week’s big game against New England.
Division showdowns in the AFC South and the NFC East could end up deciding the title races for those teams. Where do we stand heading into the final three weeks of the season?
1. New England Patriots (11-2) – Whoever lit a fire under Tom Brady and the New England Patriots ought to put it out before they start humiliating the entire league again. In all honesty, this team is playing the best football of any team in the NFL, and has to be a favorite to wind up in Dallas. The same question marks tend to linger about the defense, but they have answered the call in recent weeks and seem to be ready make a deep postseason run.
2. Atlanta Falcons (11-2) – The Falcons turned in a dominating performance against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. The biggest thing to take away from that game was the performance of Atlanta’s no-huddle offense, which could be a weapon for them down the stretch.
3. New Orleans Saints (10-3) – The Saints, much like last season, are hitting stride at the right time. Drew Brees is having an MVP-type year, and has the offense operating as efficiently as ever. The showdown against the Falcons should be one for the ages.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3) – The Steelers are banged up, but fighting through it right until the finish. They will not be an easy out in the playoffs as a battle-tested, tough, playoff-ready football team.
5. Philadelphia Eagles (9-4) – The Eagles are still not playing their best football, which is scary. It is looking highly likely that we could see Michael Vick return to Atlanta in the NFC Championship game. What a story that would be.
6. Baltimore Ravens (9-4) – The Ravens were able to get things turned around against the Texans. It remains to be seen if Joe Flacco is ready to take the next step in his development, and start beating the league’s elite teams.
7. San Diego Chargers (7-6) – The Chargers handled the Chiefs on Sunday. They shut down the running game and out-gained the Chiefs 426 to 67. Matt Cassel’s noodle arm would not have done much to close that gap.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-5) – The Jaguars are playing outstanding football at the moment. They have absolutely punished teams on the ground in recent weeks. Maurice Jones-Drew has led the way with a franchise-record six straight 100 yard rushing games. It will all be on the line this Sunday as the Jaguars head to Indianapolis seeking their first AFC South Title in franchise and division history.
9. New York Jets (9-4) – The Jets were in a tough situation heading into the game against the Miami Dolphins. After the physical and emotional beating they took against the Patriots, there was no way they would be able to muster a full effort against the Dolphins. The Jets will find a way to get it turned around before the postseason begins.
10. New York Giants (9-4) – Despite the mess of a weekend, the Giants took care of business. Their season could be on the line against the Eagles next weekend.
11. Green Bay Packers (8-5) – If Aaron Rodgers is out for an extended period of time, Green Bay’s season could be over.
12. Chicago Bears (9-4) – If you want to be the best you’ve got to beat the best. The Bears had the Patriots in their own building and got humiliated. They proved that they cannot play cold weather football, as Jay Cutler just makes too many mistakes.
13. Indianapolis Colts (7-6) – Despite all of their injuries, the Colts still find themselves playing in a meaningful football game at home at crunch time. This one is for all of the marbles. Jags/Colts: Winner moves on, loser goes home.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) – The Bucs will likely be on the outside looking in when things are all said and done, however, they have a bright future. Josh Freeman will lead a talented offense for years to come.
15. St. Louis Rams (6-7) – Sam Bradford had a rough go in his first trip to the Superdome. He was put into an early 14-0 hole, and was never able to battle back. I’m not ready to count these guys out, they were just over matched on the road on Sunday.
16. Kansas City Chiefs (8-5) – The season is slowly slipping away from the Chiefs. If the Chiefs want to get into the playoffs, the running game will need to pick it up.
17. Oakland Raiders (6-7) – I was astounded by the Raiders effort on Sunday after traveling coast to coast. Darren McFadden was phenomenal against the Jaguars busting off a number of huge runs. Oakland has plenty of pieces to work with in the future.
18. Dallas Cowboys (4-9) – Jason Garrett is quite the head football coach for the Cowboys.
19. Houston Texans (5-8) – Another season of “yeah, but…” for the Houston Texans.
20. Minnesota Vikings (5-8) – The Metrodome’s roof caving in was both incredibly sad, and disturbingly symbolic of the Vikings’ season. The NFL is lucky that the roof did not cave in during a game.
21. San Francisco 49ers (5-8) – It’s going to come down to the Rams and Seahawks in the NFC West…NOT SO FAST, SWEETHEART! Here come the 49ers, playing like they should have been all along. A Thursday night showdown with the Chargers could bury them for good though.
22. Miami Dolphins (7-6) – The Miami Dolphins are a good team with a bad quarterback.
23. Seattle Seahawks (6-7) – Matt Hasselbeck is officially over-the-hill, ladies and gentlemen—and he is not coming back.
24. Detroit Lions (4-9) – With Drew Stanton at the helm, the Lions upset the Packers. If they stay healthy next season, which is a big if, they could be a playoff team.
25. Washington Redskins (5-8) – The Redskins are one of the best teams in the business at finding ways to lose ball games. Graham Gano needs to be cut after his disgraceful performance this week.
26. Buffalo Bills (3-10) – Hooray! The Bills won and now have no chance at Andrew Luck. What a complete and total fail.
27. Cleveland Browns (5-8) – How can the Browns not realize how much worse off they are with Jake Delhomme under center.
28. Arizona Cardinals (4-9) – John Skelton was definitely an upgrade under center. Then again, a parking cone may have been an upgrade from the inept Derek Anderson.
29. Cincinnati Bengals (2-11) – Stick a fork in Carson Palmer, he’s cooked.
30. Tennessee Titans (5-8) – Who’s it going to be, Jeff Fisher or Vince Young?
31. Denver Broncos (3-10) – Kyle Orton is horrendous without the magic of McDaniels’s system.
32. Carolina Panthers (1-11) – Jimmy Clausen is running out of chances to prove his worth.