NFL Power Rankings: Comparing Teams to Holiday Traditions
With more than half of the season gone and the holidays approaching quickly, it's that time of year where the NFL playoff picture starts to come into focus.
While there are some lingering pretending teams still around, there are really only a few legitimate contenders.
The upstart Buffalo Bills and, (while they still might sneak into the playoffs) the Cincinnati Bengals have been brought back down to reality.
The Green Bay Packers have proven to be the best team in the league while two perennial powers, the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots, have rounded back into form.
Then there are this season's surprise teams, the San Francisco 49ers and the Houston Texans.
While the Indianapolis Colts can be compared to the traditional worst Christmas gift you get, the Packers can be compared to...
1. Green Bay Packers
The Packers are undefeated and making it look easy. Aaron Rodgers is leading all QBs in completion percentage, TDs and has only thrown four interceptions this season.
Rodgers also leads all QBs in QB rating with 128.8, which is 26 points higher than Tom Brady's rating.
Due to Rodgers' play, the Packers lead the league with 35.5 points per game.
And for all the talk of their lackluster defense, Green Bay is plus-12 in turnovers, which only trails the San Francisco 49ers.
The Packers are better than just good this season. They are something special, different. They are a Thanksgiving turducken.
Not a lot of families have a turducken tradition yet, but Green Bay is not having a traditional season.
2. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers owe this season to new head coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh took over basically the same team with no major roster changes and transformed them from a 6-10 team to the 9-1 team they are now.
San Francisco ranks eighth overall in defense, is giving up the least amount of points per game and leads the league with a plus-17 turnover ratio.
They have already showed that they can beat winning teams with wins over the Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions and most recently, the New York Giants.
The 49ers are surprising. You never really thought much of them the past few seasons and then all of a sudden their coach comes in and switches up the recipe.
It's kind of like when your Mom, after cooking the Thanksgiving turkey in the traditional, same way, changes up the recipe and decides to fry it.
And frying the turkey actually worked out! The house wasn't set on fire or anything.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
Yes, even though the Baltimore Ravens beat them twice, I still have them two spots ahead of them in my rankings.
Pittsburgh is one of the most balanced teams in the league. They rank third in overall defense and ninth in overall offense.
Ben Roethlisberger is getting more and more comfortable with Mike Wallace, making them one of the most dangerous QB/WR duos in the league.
The Steelers remaining six-game schedule features only two teams with winning records. So, it is safe to say they will make the playoffs.
If Pittsburgh does make the playoffs, it would be their fourth appearance in the past six seasons.
The Steelers are usually always around at this time. Seeing them in the middle of yet another playoff run is like taking the kids to go see Santa. You know you're going to have to do it.
4. New Orleans Saints
Yes, Drew Brees and the Saints' offense is still that good. Their offense ranks first overall in the league.
While their defense does leave something to be desired, ranking 19th both in opponents' passing yards and opponents' rushing yards, their offense is good enough to guide them to a 7-3 record so far.
New Orleans' three losses came in the shootout against the Packers in Week 1, a very close six-point game against the Tampa Bay Buccanners and a very strange loss to the St. Louis Rams.
Since then, the Saints have gone on a two-game winning streak, beating Tampa Bay and the Atlanta Falcons.
New Orleans is the traditional Thanksgiving turkey this season. They're really good but nothing special. You've eaten better and you've eaten worse.
5. Baltimore Ravens
It looks like the Ravens are going to win the AFC North this season and possibly secure one of the top two playoff spots, thanks to beating the Steelers twice.
Baltimore's three losses, coming at the hands of weak teams, the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Seattle Seahawks, seem silly. Especially when you see that they beat Pittsburgh twice, the Houston Texans, the Bengals and the New York Jets.
The Ravens' defense ranks fourth overall in the league and if they focus their offensive game plan around their best player, Ray Rice, they should go deep in the playoffs.
Baltimore wins ugly but they are good. They remind me of when one of your relatives brings that real ugly-looking dish of whatever-it-is and your Mom forces you to eat it.
While the whatever-it-is dish looks nasty and doesn't seem like it's going to be any good, turns out, it's pretty good.
6. Houston Texans
Even with Matt Schaub going out with an injury, the Texans should be able to keep pace and ultimately win the AFC South, finally.
Houston has been winning behind the strong play of their two running backs, Arian Foster and Ben Tate.
Both are on pace to have 1,000-yard rushing seasons and both are a threat to go over 100 rushing yards in any game.
Matt Leinart coming into replace Schaub should not change the running game or stop the Texans' defense, which ranks first overall in the league.
It still feels weird that the Texans are this good, are probably going to win their division and are possibly headed to their first playoff appearance.
Houston is like one of those really unexpectedly good gifts that you get when playing Secret Santa.
7. New England Patriots
The New England Patriots' offense ranks second overall in the league. Their defense ranks last in the league.
This strange formula has worked, producing a 7-3 record and putting them atop the AFC East.
Their defense has gotten better the past few games. While still giving up a lot of yards, they have not been giving up a lot of points.
In their last two games, the Patriots' defense has been dominating, with five sacks and two interceptions, returning one for a TD, against the New York Jets, and three sacks three interceptions while only allowing a field goal, against the Kansas City Chiefs.
I compare the Patriots to egg nog. Like egg nog, the Pats are interesting and good for a short while. But after a few weeks, you realize it's just not that good and is living off its reputation of being good.
So just like egg nog, the Pats will go away quickly, just like they have been going away quickly once the playoffs started for the past few seasons.
8. Chicago Bears
With news coming out of Chicago that Jay Cutler may be out for the rest of the regular season, the Bears may be in trouble.
It's a different situation than the Texans are, though. The Bears rely more on Cutler than Houston does on Schaub, and they are in a much tougher division.
Chicago should be able to finish strong because of their easy remaining schedule. Only two of their next six opponents have a winning record.
The Bears are like that old wooden sled that's been in the family for years. You're familiar with it being there, just like Chicago, because they are always hovering around the playoffs, but that sled, while still useful, like the Bears it can break or be replaced at anytime.
9. Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions are actually good this season. With their last winning season coming in 2000, the Lions just might have one again.
Detroit ranks ninth overall in total defense and 11th overall in total offense.
QB Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson are one of the top QB/WR duos in the game and DT Ndamukong Suh is a beast.
During last week's game against the Carolina Panthers they may have finally found a threat for their running game in Kevin Smith.
With Jay Cutler out for a while, the Lions may be able to surpass the Bears and make it to the playoffs.
Detroit is like every little child's Christmas wish. A Christmas miracle even. If they do make the playoffs, it should warm everybody's heart.
10. Dallas Cowboys
After an embarrassing loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8 that left them with a 3-4 record, the Cowboys were able to go on a three-game winning streak.
Now at 6-4, Dallas is in first place in the NFC East.
During the three-game winning streak, the once-struggling Tony Romo threw for eight TDs, no interceptions and had a QB rating of well over 100 in each game.
Also in those three games, DeMarco Murray rushed for 347 yards and a TD.
The Cowboys are like the traditional Thanksgiving turkey leftover sandwich.
While the Thanksgiving meal may have been through a lot and a little beat up, just like Dallas, the ingredients and the team all come together nicely for a good meal/season.
11. New York Giants
Eli Manning is having the best season of his career, ranking fifth in the league among QBs. The Giants' passing offense is also fifth overall.
New York's problem is their running game, which ranks next to last in the league, averaging a measly 83 yards per game.
With their remaining schedule including the Saints, Packers, the Cowboys twice, New York Jets and Washington Redskins, the Giants have a tough road ahead.
They remind me of one of those toys that you really begged for and were so happy when you got it, but then it disappointed.
The toy just breaks or it really is not as good as you thought, just like this season's Giants.
12. Atlanta Falcons
At 6-4, the Falcons are having a very respectable season. They rank second in defending the run and have the league's 12th-ranked overall offense.
That fourth down call against the Saints really hurt their playoff hopes. Coming off a win against the Tennessee Titans, Atlanta is one spot away from the postseason.
The Falcons are a bubble team.
They're kind of like the annual fruit cake that you always get around Christmas time. Most of the time you know what to expect but sometimes, maybe after too much egg nog, that fruitcake, perhaps like Atlanta, really surprises you and turns out much better than expected.
13. New York Jets
After their loss to the Denver Broncos that basically left them for dead with a 5-5 record, the Jets need a lot of help to reach the playoffs.
QB Mark Sanchez has been disappointing, the rushing game has been disappointing and even the defense has been disappointing.
With any hope of the postseason, it looks like the Jets are going to have to win out and pray the Bengals and Bills lose.
Because Rex Ryan makes so much noise, the Jets are similar to Christmas carolers.
One can deal with all the Jets talk just like one can deal with the carolers' singing, but after a while of nothing going on, you can't take it anymore and it needs to be stopped.
14. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are definitely this season's surprise team. Nothing was expected from them, especially with a rookie QB behind center.
At 6-4, Cincinnati remains very much in contention. While getting most of their wins against inferior opponents, the Bengals were able to show that they are just a step away from the elite with back-to-back losses against the Steelers and Ravens.
Although they lost both games, the Bengals didn't lose by much. They face both the Ravens and the Steelers again this season, and if they were able to learn from their mistakes and come away with wins this time, the Bengals will be on their way to the playoffs.
Cincinnati is like that tradition when you make the mutual agreement with someone about no presents. You decide not to get the person any present and they decide the same.
Only that person gets you a really good present. The only similarity missing with the Bengals is that you don't feel like such a jerk because you didn't get that person anything in return.
15. Oakland Raiders
Seeing that they had a shot at the division title and the playoffs earlier this season, the Raiders went all-in and traded two first-round picks to get Carson Palmer.
It just may have been worth the gamble. Palmer is playing better and better with each game and even with their top running back, Darren McFadden, out with injury, Michael Bush has stepped up his game to help the Raiders remain one of the league's top rushing offenses.
At 6-4, Oakland is in first place in the weak AFC West. But, they still have to face the Bears, Packers and Lions, which might crush their playoff hopes.
The Raiders are like setting up Christmas lights. A bunch of work goes into putting all the lights and decorations up so you can have only a few weeks of pleasure.
Carson Palmer was this year's new decoration, that new display that should've made your house the best on the block. But, after a few days someone on your block gets something better just to top you.
16. Denver Broncos
Can Tim Tebow really do it? It appears he can.
After starting 1-4, Tebow was inserted as the starting QB and the Broncos went 4-1.
Denver ranks fourth in the league in rushing and their defense has been much improved behind the play of rookie Von Miller, who already has 9.5 sacks.
Their defense has been keeping them in games.
With games remaining against the Bears and the Patriots, though, this season may not end well.
The Broncos remind me of a dysfunctional family's Thanksgiving dinner that is filled with arguments, ups-and-downs and then ends in unexpected fashion.
Tebow is the peacemaker at the dinner but even he can't stop all of the fighting.
17. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles came into the season dubbed the dream team by Vince Young, who is now their starting QB.
Since it was his dream, maybe he needs to be the one to save them.
While Young did throw two interceptions against the Giants, he also threw two TDs, one that proved to be the game-winner.
RB LeSean McCoy ran for over 100 yards again and the Philly defense had its best game of the season, intercepting Eli Manning once and sacking him three times, all while holding New York to 29 total rushing yards.
If only every game was against the Giants, because at 4-6, the Eagles appear to be out of the playoff picture.
Philly is comparable to that really expensive Christmas present you get. Maybe like a PS3 or Microsoft X-Box that never really worked right from the start.
You deal with it for a little while though, because sometimes it works/plays just fine, like the Eagles, but ultimately it breaks and you have to return it.
18. Buffalo Bills
The Bills started this season as one of the hottest teams in the league. Since their 5-3 start, though, they have lost three straight and have looked horrible in each one.
Buffalo's worst loss came last week when they got blown out by the then two-win Miami Dolphins.
They could not even get into the end zone.
Everything is going bad for the Bills these days. Ryan Fitzpatrick's play has really regressed in the last six games, a span in which he's thrown 11 interceptions. Also, the once-steady RB, Fred Jackson, rushed for only 17 yards against the Dolphins.
The Bills don't really remind me of a holiday tradition but they do remind me of a Thanksgiving dinner gone wrong.
The turkey started out cooking well but there were problems with the stove that left it undercooked. The mashed potatoes turned out watery and the stuffing got burned.
19. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers are in trouble. They lost five straight games and at 4-6 are in third place in a very weak division.
How do they always find themselves in the same position every season?
San Diego's passing game is still strong, ranking fourth overall in the league. Their pass defense is strong also, ranking eighth overall in the league.
They are not horrible stopping the run. And their rushing game is decent with Ryan Matthews and Mike Tolbert.
The Chargers remind me of my grandmother's Christmas presents. Every year, she would get me the same thing, tighty-whitey underwear. Did something similar happen to anyone else?
Anyways, just like those tighty-whities, San Diego is usually always predictably sucky.
20. Tennessee Titans
The Titans are 5-5 and are in a better position to make the playoffs than the Jets or the Bills. Has anyone really noticed?
They are an overlooked team with all the focus on their one, used-to-be star player Chris Johnson.
Even with Johnson's terrible performance this season, the Titans are finding ways to keep afloat.
In Week 2, they beat the Ravens and in their last game, they narrowly lost to the Falcons in Atlanta with their rookie QB Jake Locker passing for 140 yards and two TDs in limited time.
Tennessee reminds me of when one family member hosts their first Thanksgiving. The food is good enough but not great, some things go wrong yet there are some highlights.
But, hey, it's their first time and like Jake Locker, it will only get better.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay is 4-6 and are on a four-game winning streak.
They don't do anything particularly well. They do keep themselves in games.
They're 13th overall in passing yards and 24th in rushing. On defense, they rank 29th stopping the pass and 26th stuffing the run.
Overall, the Bucs are disappointing because of the surprising success they had last season.
The Bucs are the pumpkin pie that tasted so good last year but this year is just okay.
22. Carolina Panthers
It's clear to see that behind their dynamic rookie QB Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers are going to be good. And their time is coming sooner rather than later.
Their offense ranks ninth overall in passing and seventh overall in rushing, so it's clear that the offense is not the problem.
The defense is 30th against the run and a respectable 17th against the pass.
Five of their eight losses were one-score games.
The Panthers showed last week what they are capable of and what they aren't capable of against the Lions when they took a 24-7 lead to only lose in the end by 14. In the game, they gave up 140 rushing yards and two TDs to little-used Kevin Smith.
Carolina compares to that variety of Christmas cookies that one of your relatives brings over every year. There will be six different kinds of cookies but only two are really good.
The Panthers only have two good cookies right now, Newton and Steve Smith.
23. Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City started the season looking like one of the worst teams in the league, losing three straight.
They then teased their fan base and everyone else by winning four straight.
Following the four-game winning streak, the Chiefs got blown out by the then-winless Dolphins, lost to the Broncos and lost their starting QB for the season. Most recently, they got beat up by the Pats.
For the rest of the season, the Chiefs are left with journeyman QB Tyler Palko as their starter.
With four of their remaining six games against the Steelers, Bears, Jets and Packers, Kansas City compares to that poor kid getting pelted repeatedly by snowballs.
The Chiefs, like that little kid, were outnumbered in the snowball fight/season and while the kid was able to get away a few hits/four wins, they went down hard in the end.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars are in rebuilding mode. While rookie QB Blaine Gabbert has shown some flashes of potential, they rank last in the league in passing yards per game.
Their defense ranks third overall in yards allowed per game and their running game, behind the steady Maurice Jones-Drew, remains solid, ranking 12th overall.
Jacksonville is like watching A Christmas Story. Like the Jaguars, you already know the whole movie so you're not really surprised when anything happens.
Like A Christmas Story, the Jaguars are exactly what they are, a decent defensive team with a rookie QB.
25. Washington Redskins
Washington started the season 3-1. Since then, they lost their top RB, Tim Hightower, top WR, Santonio Holmes and one of their top TEs, Chris Cooley.
They also switched starting QBs from Rex Grossman to John Beck and then back to Grossman again.
During this time, the Redskins lost six straight games.
Washington is in desperate need of a new QB and a new direction.
The Redskins are like that marshmallow-covered yams dish. The thing is, no matter how much you try to cover up the yams on top, they're still just yams.
In this case, the 3-1 start worked like the marshmallows but in the end, just like yams are yams, the Redskins are the Redskins.
26. Seattle Seahawks
Seattle is a strange team. One week they lose to the Cleveland Browns 6-3, then two weeks later, they beat the Ravens 22-17.
Tarvaris Jackson is not a good QB and Marshawn Lynch, while very capable of big games, is too inconsistent.
In most years, their 4-6 record would have put them in contention to win the terrible NFC West. Not this year though, due to the 49ers surprising play.
Head coach Pete Carroll runs the Seahawks like a college team and it's not working.
Seattle is like taking the grown-up kids ice skating. The older kids don't really want to go ice skating but are forced to go because their parents are so used to taking them ice skating.
It's just like the way Carroll coaches this team, the only way he knows how, the college way. But this style, just like ice skating, has passed the players/kids by.
27. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins are not the league's worst team anymore after winning three straight.
In the three wins, Reggie Bush is having somewhat of a resurgence, with four TDs. QB Matt Moore has been solid, throwing six TDs and one interception and their defense has not given up a touchdown.
Miami is similar to that present that you really hate at first but in time you grow to appreciate because of the thought behind it.
The thought behind the gift is like the Dolphins' will. No matter how bad it looked, they didn't give up, so you grow to appreciate them, just like the hated gift.
28. St. Louis Rams
The Rams have won just two games this season. Their first win came in Week 8 against the Saints, their second in Week 10 against the Browns.
They rank last in the league in stopping the run, 26th in passing yards per game and 18th in rushing yards per game. The only thing the Rams have done well this season is stop the pass, where they rank ninth.
This season, though, St. Louis was able to finally get their young QB Sam Bradford a weapon in WR Brandon Lloyd.
The Rams are like one of those Christmas presents that you didn't like for some reason, something you were never going to wear or use and you exchanged it for something useful.
This is how St. Louis is using their season, they're just going to exchange it for Brandon Lloyd and a high pick.
29. Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota is good at two things, rushing the ball and stopping the rush.
With their rookie QB Christian Ponder, they rank 29th in the league in passing yards per game.
Their defense gives up 260 passing yards per game.
Now, with RB Adrian Peterson out with a high ankle sprain, their season may have just gotten worse.
The Vikings are a New Year's Eve wish. With their QB of the future, a great RB and a decent defense in place, a few draft picks and the new year can make a big difference.
30. Arizona Cardinals
Arizona is a bad 3-7 team that seems to find new ways to lose each week.
Their offense ranks 25th overall and their defense ranks 28th overall.
Kevin Kolb, who they gave up a lot for, has been a disappointment even before going out due to turf toe.
Most recently, against the 49ers, the Cards were held to one score, a fourth quarter TD, on their way to getting outplayed 23-7.
The Cards remind me of the ugliest Christmas sweater at an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party. Am I the only one who has been to one of these?
Arizona looks ugly each week whether they lose or win.
31. Cleveland Browns
At 4-6, the Browns had a better record than I thought they had.
Their pass defense actually ranks first in the league, allowing just 166 yards per game. This stat may be skewed, though, since their run defense ranks 29th in the league, so teams tend to concentrate on the ground game.
On the offensive side, they rank 29th overall. They have no real threat at any of the skill positions.
With their remaining schedule featuring two games against the Steelers, two games against the Ravens and the other two against the Cardinals and Bengals, Cleveland may have already won their last game of this season.
For me, the Browns are like that nasty, green bean casserole. I'm obviously not a fan, others are.
That casserole looks unappealing, just like the Browns.
32. Indianapolis Colts
I know it's obvious to say, but the winless Colts are the NFL's worst team. Everyone knew Peyton Manning was really good, but this good?
With the absence of Manning, Indianapolis ranks 31st in the league in total offense and 29th in total defense.
If Manning does come back next season, the team has a lot of glaring needs.
Every year during the Christmas season, Home Alone is on and every year I watch it. Home Alone has become a tradition.
The movie reminds me of this season's Colts, and not in a good way. The Colts, like the son, are left by his family, Manning, to fend for themselves/himself.
While the son was able to succeed on his own, the Colts definitely are not.