NFL Power Rankings Week 15: Grades for Every Team

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterDecember 12, 2011

NFL Power Rankings Week 15: Grades for Every Team

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    We have division champs to update, playoff seeds to change and hopes and dreams to kill in this week's edition of the NFL Power Rankings.

    We're once again taking a look at each team to see just how it's done this season. We'll give you an overall grade, as well as the best and worst from each team.

    Will your team make the grade and live up to preseason hopes?

32. Indianapolis Colts

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    This Week

    The Colts hold steady at No. 32 after losing (again) and running their record to 0-13.

     

    Best: No. 1 Draft Pick

    The good news in Indianapolis is that the team is two weeks away from securing the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Once the Colts get to 14 losses they are guaranteed at least a tie with the 2-11 Minnesota Vikings and 2-10 St. Louis Rams. But if the Colts reach magic No. 15, they are assured the first pick in the 2012 NFL draft and the chance to select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

     

    Worst: Everything

    What hasn't gone wrong in Indianapolis this season? The loss of Peyton Manning for the season definitely hurt the team, but Manning alone isn't responsible for 13 losses. Real reflection is needed by owner Jim Irsay as he looks at the reasons for the poor effort from all 53 players this season.

    Overall Grade: F

31. St. Louis Rams

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    This Week

    The Rams lost one of the uglier football games in recent memory, falling to 2-12 on the season and coming closer to clinching a Top 3 draft pick.

     

    Best: Chris Long

    The good news in St. Louis is that defensive Chris Long has officially become a legitimate threat at defensive end. Long is becoming one of the best left defensive ends in the NFL, and his ability as a run stopper and pass rusher gives the St. Louis defense a true keystone player to build around. Many questioned the Rams when Long didn't play like the No. 2 overall pick early in his career, but he's been very solid the last two seasons.

     

    Worst: Injuries

    What hasn't gone wrong in St. Louis this season when you look at player health? It's impossible to get a true read on second-year quarterback Sam Bradford when both tackles are hurt and he had no threats at wide receiver until mid-way through the season. The defense has been even more banged up, losing cornerback Ron Bartell set the team back considerably.

    Overall Grade: F


30. Minnesota Vikings

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    This Week

    The Minnesota Vikings lost 34-28 to the Detroit Lions, but they almost came back at the end. Comeback or not, almost doesn't count in the NFL, and the Vikings are tied for the second-worst record in the NFL.

     

    Best: Christian Ponder, Jared Allen

    The Vikings may not be close to the playoffs, but they have building blocks. The team made the right choice in drafting Christian Ponder in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft. He's showing the skills and moxie to be a longtime leader in the Minnesota clubhouse.

    Jared Allen has been great on his side of the ball, notching a league-best 17.5 sacks.

     

    Worst: Offensive Line, Donovan McNabb

    The front office's decision to sign Donovan McNabb looks foolish now that he's been cut. McNabb was a bust, but at least the team has Ponder to build around.

    The trouble for the future is plugging massive holes on the offensive line. The Vikings could reasonably try to replace every starter on their offensive line this offseason. In a league where continuity up front breeds success, the Vikings are starting from scratch.

    Overall Grade: D+

29. Cleveland Browns

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    This Week

    The Browns lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night and may have lost quarterback Colt McCoy for some time due to a concussion. 


    Best: Defensive Line

    The move to a 4-3 defense this season was supposed to be harder, but the Browns did so with little trouble up front. Their new four-man front, featuring draft picks Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard, has been the strength of the team. 

    As an addition to this, D'Qwell Jackson at middle linebacker has been amazing. Re-signing Jackson is a must for the Browns this summer.

     

    Worst: Offensive Skill Players

    The Browns should have realized by now that Greg Little, Benjamin Watson and Joshua Cribbs aren't getting it done as weapons for McCoy and the passing game. Even Peyton Hillis, Mr. Madden cover himself, has been a disappointment this season.

    The Browns will have two picks in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft. They would be wise to spend both fixing their problems on the offensive side of the ball.

    Overall Grade: D+

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    This Week

    Tampa Bay lost a shocker to the Jacksonville Jaguars, allowing Jacksonville to score 41 points in a blowout victory.

     

    Best: Defensive Line

    The Buccaneers spent two draft picks on defensive ends in the 2011 draft—Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers—and both are playing very well early on. The duo have combined for eight sacks and show the potential to grow into elite players at their positions. 

    Bowers has just 1.5 sacks on his own, but he's showing the speed and strength that had some talking about him as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft before issues with a knee injury pushed him to the second round.

     

    Worst: Josh Freeman

    During the 2010 season, Josh Freeman looked like the next great NFL quarterback. So far this season, Freeman's future with the team has to be questioned. Freeman has been awful, and the team has suffered around him. This was supposed to be a playoff season in Tampa, not a year in which the team landed a top-five draft pick.

    Overall Grade: F

27. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    This Week

    The Jacksonville Jaguars shocked the state of Florida with a huge 41-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 


    Best: The Defense

    Jacksonville spent big money on Paul Posluszny, Dawan Landry and Clint Sessions in free agency. The three paid off, helping turn the Jaguars defense into a top-five unit before injuries to the secondary crippled the starting 11.

    The offense has issues, but the defense is good enough to keep Jacksonville competitive if it can get even decent play from the quarterback and wide receiver positions.

     

    Worst: Jack Del Rio

    Some would point to the struggles of rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert as the worst thing in Jacksonville, but the late-season firing of head coach Jack Del Rio takes the cake. Del Rio had reportedly given up on the team, failing to put in the hours needed to get the job done. It showed on the field.

    It's fresh start time in Jacksonville.

    Overall Grade: D

26. Carolina Panthers

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    This Week

    The Carolina Panthers lost to the Atlanta Falcons, allowing the Falcons to come back and win by seven.

     

    Best: Cam Newton

    Cam Newton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, has made a strong case for a Rookie of the Year campaign. He's been brilliant as a runner and much better as a passer than anyone expected. Newton seems to have hit a wall in recent weeks, but the skill set is there for him to become one of the best in the game.

    The Panthers have a very talented building block on offense. Now they have to build up the talent around him.

     

    Worst: Injuries

    Where would the Panthers be if Jon Beason and Thomas Davis hadn't been lost to season-ending injuries? Losing even one starting linebacker was bad, but losing both set back the Carolina defense in unimaginable ways. 

    The good news is that those players will mostly be back in 2012, setting the Panthers up for a nice improvement.

    Overall Grade: C+

25. Washington Redskins

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    This Week

    The Washington Redskins almost pulled off an upset of the New England Patriots—good for pride, but too little, too late. 


    Best: Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo

    The defense in Washington has two bright, young stars in outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. Both are showing the talent to become Pro Bowl players and will give the Redskin defense something to build around in the future.

     

    Worst: Quarterback Play

    Going into the season with Rex Grossman and John Beck at quarterback was wisely questioned by those in the media. Mike Shanahan and son Kyle insisted it would work. It didn't.

    The Redskins offseason plan has to be centered on finding a long-term franchise quarterback to run the offense. They have played themselves out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes, but Matt Barkley or Robert Griffin III would be a great player to build this offense around.

    Overall Grade: C-

24. Kansas City Chiefs

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    This Week

    The Kansas City Chiefs were blown out by the New York Jets, all but ending their playoff hopes. 


    Best: Derrick Johnson

    When Todd Haley came to Kansas City, one of his more questioned moves was benching inside linebacker Derrick Johnson. Johnson re-earned his starting job in 2010 and has played at an All-Pro level this season.

    Johnson may not be the best player on defense—Brandon Flowers and Tamba Hali are equally impressive—but his play has been the most improved over the last three seasons.

     

    Worst: Injuries

    I picked the Kansas City Chiefs to win the AFC West before the season began, and while it's convenient to say they would have if it weren't for injury, look at the list of players lost for the season:

    Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki and Eric Berry.

    Put those four back in the Kansas City lineup for the entire season, and we're talking about a much different team and record.

    Overall Grade: F

23. Buffalo Bills

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    This Week

    The Buffalo Bills lost to the San Diego Chargers, making it six straight losses in a row. 


    Best: Marcell Dareus

    Not much was expected of the Buffalo Bills this season, which is why they grade out favorably even when riding a six-game losing streak. The brightest spot this season has been along the defensive line, where No. 3 overall pick Marcell Dareus has been a nightmare for offensive lines.

    Dareus is showing strength, speed and a tenacity that could quickly have his name mentioned among the best at the position in the NFL.

     

    Worst: Ryan Fitzpatrick's contract

    The Bills signed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to a new contract on October 28, at what became the tail end of the Bills' early-season hot streak. The deal gives Fitzpatrick $59 million over six years—starting money for a quarterback who has played like a backup since inking the deal.

    The contract allows Buffalo some wiggle room, but the timing of the signing couldn't have been worse—nor could Fitzpatrick's play since.

    Overall Grade: C+

22. Philadelphia Eagles

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    This Week

    The Philadelphia Eagles found a spark in Michael Vick's first game back from injury, beating the previously hot Miami Dolphins. 


    Best: Jason Babin and Jason Peters

    The two Jasons have been amazing on the end of their respective lines. Jason Peters recently graded out as my highest-rated left tackle, quickly reminding folks why he has been named an All-Pro in the past.

    Many wondered if Jason Babin could live up to his one great season in Tennessee, but he's done even better, leading the team with 15 sacks.

     

    Worst: The Dream Team

    Had Vince Young never uttered the words "Dream Team," things maybe wouldn't been so disappointing right now. But he did, and the team's many offseason moves have largely failed to pay off.

    Michael Vick's season has been a complete fustercluck (think about that one if you have to), DeSean Jackson looks ready to split town and the historically strong coaching of Andy Reid seems nonexistent on Sundays. Yes, things are bad in Philadelphia, even if the Eagles won a late-season game that does nothing for their playoff hopes.

    Overall Grade: F-

21. Miami Dolphins

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    This Week

    The Miami Dolphins dropped a game to the Philadelphia Eagles, their second loss in the last three games. 


    Best: Reggie Bush

    Yes, Reggie Bush. Perhaps you've missed it, but Bush is finally being used in the right system and is producing in Miami. He leads the team with 770 rushing yards and is on pace for a 1,000-yard season if he keeps up his production from the last three weeks.

    Bush's value to the team has been great, and on a team of underperformers he's one of the few living up to expectations.

     

    Worst: Quarterback Play

    Chad Henne—injured. Matt Moore—injured. J.P. Losman—scary.

    Miami has gone through quarterbacks like Rex Ryan goes through buffets—quickly and dangerously. The position has famously been in flux since Dan Marino retired, which means it is time for Jeff Ireland and whomever he hires as the new head coach to draft a first-round quarterback.

    Overall Grade: C

20. Arizona Cardinals

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    This Week

    The Arizona Cardinals pulled off an upset, beating the NFC West division champion San Francisco 49ers. 


    Best: Chris Wells

    The man they call Beanie has had a very good season for the Arizona Cardinals, which makes sense after the team drafted his replacement in Ryan Williams and then lost him for the season due to injury. Wells is running like a man possessed, and he should keep his job as the starter entering 2012.

     

    Worst: The Kevin Kolb Trade

    Expectations for Kevin Kolb's first season in Arizona bordered somewhere between Kurt Warner and Joe Montana. After trading a starting cornerback and second-round pick for the quarterback, fans in Arizona wanted instant gratification.

    Those expectations were unrealistic facing an offseason where players were locked out and prevented from working together, but that doesn't explain Kolb's injuries or his struggles late this season when other quarterbacks have picked up new systems just fine by now.

    Overall Grade: D

19. San Diego Chargers

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    This Week

    The San Diego Chargers won over the Buffalo Bills, keeping their playoff hopes alive for one more week. 


    Best: Eric Weddle

    Eric Weddle was signed to a huge contract before the 2011 season, something I didn't agree with at the time. I've since been proven wrong, even if Weddle hasn't been the dominant force his salary would seem to demand.

    Weddle has been the best player for the Chargers this season—hands down. On a team that's struggling to stay alive for a playoff berth, Weddle's consistency in the secondary is a bright spot.

     

    Worst: Philip Rivers

    Philip Rivers' 2011 season has taken him from the top five best quarterbacks in the NFL to a courtesy listing on the top 20. Rivers has been horrible, both statistically and in observation. Whatever is wrong with the former Pro Bowl quarterback, the Chargers had better hope there is a cure.

    Overall Grade: D-

18. Seattle Seahawks

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    This Week

    The Seahawks win again, moving to 6-7 and keeping their playoff hopes alive for another week. It's not pretty, but they are getting the job done.

     

    Best: The Defense & Special Teams

    Pete Carroll's defense has quickly become one of the most aggressive in the NFL. Throw in the special teams play and you have a very impressive group.

    Seattle has two of the best young safeties in the game—Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor—and an underrated group on the front seven including Red Bryant, David Hawthorne, K.J. Wright and Chris Clemons. 

     

    Worst: Tarvaris Jackson/Russell Okung

    I can't get on board with either of these players, and I'm sure I'll hear about it from Seattle fans. Jackson was a head-scratcher when signed by Seattle, and he's been as inconsistent as any quarterback in the league this season. Jackson cannot be considered a long-term answer at the position and should be a backup in 2012.

    Okung on the other hand was considered the franchise building block on offense. He was a Top 10 draft pick for a reason, as Seattle hoped his athleticism and technique would bring the second-coming of Walter Jones back to the Pacific northwest. Instead, Okung has been marginal when healthy, which hasn't been often.

    Overall Grade: C-


17. Oakland Raiders

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    This Week

    The Oakland Raiders were absolutely beat down by the Green Bay Packers. 


    Best: Defensive Front Seven

    The Raider defense hasn't been great statistically this season, but the play of the front seven has been encouraging. Lamarr Houston is emerging as a legitimate threat at defensive end, and veteran Richard Seymour is again dominant at tackle.

    The talent in the front seven will be the building block the Raiders need to become the best team in the AFC West.

     

    Worst: The Carson Palmer Trade

    Sending at least one first-round pick to the Cincinnati Bengals, and at least a second-rounder in 2013, for Carson Palmer was a panic move. Palmer hasn't been good, throwing interceptions far too often in his time as the Raiders' starter.

    Oakland is committed to Palmer at quarterback; it's given up too much to turn on him. A deal that was made to keep the Raiders in the lead of the AFC West may end up being their demise. 

    Overall Grade: B-

16. Chicago Bears

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    This Week

    The Chicago Bears, minus Jay Cutler and Matt Forte, lost in overtime to the Denver Broncos. 


    Best: Matt Forte

    Before an injury that shut him down for the year, Matt Forte was on a tear. Forte emerged as not only a true workhorse running back, but as Cutler's best option as a receiver as well. His touchdown numbers didn't show it, but Forte was the Chicago offense when healthy.

     

    Worst: Injuries

    Put Jay Cutler and Matt Forte back on the roster and the Bears are at nine wins by now, if not more. Losing their two best offensive players has ended the Bears' early-season successes and has their shot at the playoffs diminishing each week.

    The 2012 season should be better, but the Chicago roster has holes to fill, especially at wide receiver and offensive line.

    Overall Grade: C

15. Tennessee Titans

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    This Week

    The Tennessee Titans dropped a close game to the New Orleans Saints but proved they can hang with the best in the NFL.

    Best: Mike Munchak

    First-year coach Mike Munchak has been great in replacing Jeff Fisher, getting more out of less talent than Fisher had in previous seasons.

    Munchak's decisions have largely paid off—Matt Hasselbeck has been great at quarterback, the draft picks are all producing early on and his approach has a team that finished with just six wins last year contending for the playoffs.

     

    Worst: Chris Johnson

    Chris Johnson was supposed to be the building block for the entire franchise; instead, he's failed to live up to his massive contract. Even with big games in Weeks 12 and 13, Johnson's 2011 season is a massive disappointment. His work ethic and heart have to be questioned.

    Johnson may be a candidate to have his contract restructured after the season. If the Titans can find a cap-friendly way to do it, I wouldn't be surprised to see him traded or released.

    Overall Grade: A

14. Cincinnati Bengals

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    This Week

    The Cincinnati Bengals lost a nail-biter to the AFC South division champion Houston Texans. 


    Best: Andy Dalton and A.J. Green

    The Cincinnati Bengals used their first two picks in the 2011 NFL draft to add a wide receiver and a quarterback. They found a pair that has turned around a franchise struggling under Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco.

    Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will both receive considerable, and deserved, Rookie of the Year consideration.

     

    Worst: Pass Coverage

    The loss of Johnathan Joseph in free agency, and then Leon Hall to injury, have been bad news for the Cincinnati Bengals. On a defense that has been much improved up front under Mike Zimmer this season, the play of the secondary has led to key losses in a season where every loss pushes the Bengals further back in the wild-card race.

    Overall Grade: A+

13. Dallas Cowboys

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    This Week

    The Dallas Cowboys lost on a blocked last-second field goal against the New York Giants, moving them into second place in the NFC East. 


    Best: The Passing Game

    Tony Romo has been very good in 2011, playing behind an offensive line that's keeping him healthy and with wide receivers who attack the football. The results have been wonderful.

    Romo is still prone to mistakes and game-management issues, but he's doing enough to win games. The Cowboys have a shot at the playoffs thanks to the passing game, which ranks seventh-best in the NFL.

     

    Worst: Blown Opportunities

    Dallas should be much better than the 7-6 record indicates. Two losses came due to missed field goals. With nine wins the Cowboys would be in control of the NFC East and one win away from clinching the playoffs.

    Instead the team is on the outside looking in at the playoffs as of now, an all too familiar feeling in Dallas.

    Overall Grade: C

12. New York Giants

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    This Week

    The New York Giants beat the Dallas Cowboys in a fourth-quarter comeback by blocking a last-second field-goal attempt. 


    Best: Jason Pierre-Paul

    The New York Giants have been rotating great defensive ends through for the last decade, from Michael Strahan to Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck and now to JPP.

    Pierre-Paul has been a breakout player this season, with his block of the Cowboys' field-goal attempt putting New York ahead of Dallas in the playoff standings for at least one week.

     

    Worst: The Run Game

    With budding star Ahmad Bradshaw at running back and free agent David Baas at center, the Giants were not supposed to struggle running the football, but they have. In fact, they are dead last in the NFL.

    Some of the blame can go to the offensive line, both through bad play and injuries, but Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs share in that blame. It's said you need two things to win in the playoffs: a good defense and a strong running game. The Giants have the defense, but the run game is missing.

    Overall Grade: B+

11. New York Jets

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    This Week

    The New York Jets easily beat the Kansas City Chiefs but move down this week as other teams win and move up the board. Blame Tim Tebow. 


    Best: Darrelle Revis

    After a rough 2010 season, Darrelle Revis is back to dominating NFL wide receivers on Revis Island. 

    No cornerback in the NFL demands more attention, or plays better in man coverage, than Revis. The term "shutdown cornerback" gets tossed around freely these days, but Revis lives up to the moniker. And then some.

     

    Worst: Mark Sanchez and Slow Starts

    The "Sanchize" hasn't lived up to his corny nickname or the expectations of a top-five draft pick entering his third NFL season. This was supposed to be the year Sanchez took over the team and made it his own; instead the Jets are winning in spite of the play they are receiving at quarterback.

    The Jets started the season horribly slow and sluggish, putting themselves in a win-or-die situation with three games left on the schedule.

    Overall Grade: B-

10. Denver Broncos

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    This Week

    The Denver Broncos beat the Chicago Bears in overtime (again). 


    Best: Von Miller

    With 11.5 sacks so far this season, Von Miller has more than earned his salary as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft. 

    Miller has been more than a pass-rusher though, adding 62 tackles and coming up huge in big spots. His early-season assignment issues are a thing of the past. Miller is quickly becoming one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in the NFL.

     

    Worst: The Passing Game

    Whether it's Tim Tebow or Kyle Orton under center, the passing game in Denver has been an issue all season. This has nothing to do with liking Tebow or not, but Denver is not a team built to come back from a two-touchdown deficit. To compete in the playoffs, Denver must become a better passing team.

    We saw Sunday that the option attack can be shut down; Chicago did it. Had the Broncos played a team not missing its starting quarterback and running back, the outcome would have been different.

    Overall Grade: A+

9. Detroit Lions

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    This Week

    The Detroit Lions held on to beat the Minnesota Vikings, giving them their eighth win of the season. 


    Best: Matthew Stafford

    After missing most of his first two seasons in the NFL, Matthew Stafford was an unknown commodity in Detroit after being made the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft. Stafford has proved himself this season and then some.

    Stafford is showing the potential and talent that made him the first overall pick. He's tough, accurate and has the arm strength to stretch defenses. As the young Lions improve, Stafford has the tools to become one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

     

    Worst: Attitude

    It was a quiet Sunday in Detroit, which means no one got kicked out of the game and no punches were thrown by players or coaches. 

    I love a little attitude, especially from defenders, but the Lions have to find the line between bad-ass and hurtful. That's something they'll need to learn in the next three weeks, as Detroit looks to be playoff-bound.

    Overall Grade: A

8. Atlanta Falcons

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    This Week

    The Atlanta Falcons beat the Carolina Panthers, moving to the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs. 


    Best: Brent Grimes

    Much will be made of Matt Ryan, a player I am a huge fan of, and even Julio Jones. However, no one player has been more singularly impressive than Brent Grimes at cornerback.

    Overshadowed outside of Atlanta by Dunta Robinson, Grimes is emerging as the NFC's best cornerback. Yes, even better than Nnamdi Asomugha if you look at 2011 stats.

     

    Worst: Sam Baker

    Can we officially move on from the Sam Baker project at left tackle? Even at offensive guard Baker has looked overmatched and lost.

    Baker was a bright spot for Atlanta in his rookie season, but his play has only regressed since. Atlanta will move ahead with the able Will Svitek at left tackle, but Baker remains a huge disappointment.

    Overall Grade: B+

7. New England Patriots

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    This Week

    The New England Patriots narrowly defeated the Washington Redskins, leaving many questions about a defense that allowed 27 points to a Rex Grossman-led team. 


    Best: Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski

    Lost in the greatness of Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees this season is another great year from Tom Brady. It's remarkable that Brady throws for 357 yards and three touchdowns and it's considered a bad game.

    Brady is again brilliant, but he's getting a lot of help from tight end Rob Gronkowski. The two have already hooked up for 15 touchdowns this season.

     

    Worst: The Defense

    Patriot fans will tell you the team's rankings are overrated, that garbage-time points and yards are making things seem worse than they are. I disagree.

    The Patriots are allowing bad teams to stay in the game far too long. Where's the killer instinct? The winless Indianapolis Colts scored 24, making things interesting late. One week later the Redskins score 27?

    Our faith in Bill Belichick's genius is giving fans in New England and elsewhere false hope. 

    Overall Grade: B

6. Houston Texans

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    This Week

    The Houston Texans, without Matt Schaub, Mario Williams and Andre Johnson, beat the Cincinnati Bengals to clinch their first-ever AFC South championship. 


    Best: Next Man Up

    When Arian Foster went down, Ben Tate stepped up. With Mario Williams out for the season, rookie Brooks Reed and youngster Connor Barwin fill the gap. Matt Schaub goes out, rookie T.J. Yates picks up two straight wins.

    The old cliché about the "next man up" is ringing true in Houston, where each week an unknown player steps in to fill a key role and keep the wins coming.

     

    Worst: Injuries

    As great as the story has been in Houston this season, the sheer fact is that injuries will limit how far this team can expect to go in the playoffs. T.J. Yates can beat the Bengals, but can he beat the Baltimore Ravens or Pittsburgh Steelers?

    The 2012 season may see Houston favored as AFC champions early in the year once its talented starters are back.

    Overall Grade: A+

5. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    This Week

    The Pittsburgh Steelers overcame injury to beat the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night, clinching another 10-win season. 


    Best: Mike Wallace

    As Hines Ward ages, the Pittsburgh Steelers needed a dependable wide receiver to step up. Mike Wallace has done more than step up—he's leaped over Ward. 

    Wallace has become the big-play wide receiver that Ward never was. While Wallace can't compare to Ward's toughness, he has become a bigger threat in the offense. As Pittsburgh transitions to a pass-first team, Wallace is the catalyst to its offensive explosion.

     

    Worst: Baltimore Ravens

    There isn't much to complain about in Pittsburgh this season outside of the two losses to the Baltimore Ravens.

    Pittsburgh will likely see the Ravens take the AFC North crown from it this season, as the Ravens have an identical record and the tiebreaker with two head-to-head wins.

    Overall Grade: A

4. San Francisco 49ers

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    This Week

    The San Francisco 49ers lost a surprising game to the Arizona Cardinals, their second loss in three weeks. 


    Best: The Defense

    Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Carlos Rogers all deserve serious Pro Bowl consideration. Each has been an integral part of the defense in San Francisco, where the 49ers are ranked as the top unit in points allowed and rushing yards allowed per game.

    The strong season in San Francisco is based on the play of the defense, and any run it makes in the playoffs will be on the strength of this unit.

     

    Worst: Alex Smith

    Alex Smith may have redeemed himself from NFL draft bust lore, but he's still a subpar quarterback and a player who cannot lead the team from behind. That was on display this past week, when Smith and the offense couldn't do enough to protect a lead late or come back against an Arizona secondary that had been exploited in previous weeks.

    Smith deserves credit for improving, but let's not kid ourselves about his talent or production. The 49ers aren't winning because of Smith.

    Overall Grade: A++

3. New Orleans Saints

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    This Week

    The New Orleans Saints beat the Tennessee Titans in a close game but clinched another 10-win season. 


    Best: Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham

    This shouldn't be a surprise, unless it's because Jimmy Graham is listed too.

    Brees and Graham have been like Batman and Robin this season, putting up amazing numbers and inspiring performances week after week. If Graham isn't the best tight end in the NFL, he's 1-B to Rob Gronkowski's 1-A.

     

    Worst: Pass Defense

    When you play the New Orleans Saints, you know you're looking at a shootout, but that alone doesn't explain why the New Orleans defense is ranked 30th in the NFL against the pass. 

    The Saints secondary does enough each week to win, but it is also beatable and could be the end of the Saints' season if the team meets a strong passing attack in the playoffs. 

    Overall Grade: A

2. Baltimore Ravens

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    This Week

    The Baltimore Ravens won easily over the winless Indianapolis Colts, giving them 10 wins on the year.

     

    Best: The Defense

    It's no surprise that the defense is the key in Baltimore this season, but there are new faces mixed in with reliable veterans.

    Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs are still getting it done, but they're helped by Lardarius Webb, Pernell McPhee and Cory Redding—names you're not used to hearing in Baltimore, but players the team couldn't win without this year.

     

    Worst: Joe Flacco

    Joe Flacco is doing enough, as is obvious in the 10 wins for the team in 13 games, but his play isn't instilling any sense of confidence in Baltimore's ability to win high-scoring games.

    The defense does its job to keep most games close, but come January the Ravens must be able to score if they hope to make their first run to the Super Bowl with Flacco at quarterback.

    Overall Grade: A

1. Green Bay Packers

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    This Week

    The Green Bay Packers move to 13-0, and three weeks closer to a perfect season, with a win over the Oakland Raiders. 


    Best: Aaron Rodgers

    We knew last season, if not before, that Aaron Rodgers was special. He's moved from special to freakish this season. 

    Rodgers has been unstoppable, fueling an offense that must give defensive coordinators nightmares in the days and weeks leading up to their matchups. How any team will game-plan to stop the Packer offense in the playoffs is a mystery to me.

     

    Worst: Left Tackle

    The Packers cannot get Chad Clifton back soon enough. Marshall Newhouse has been average in replacing Clifton. Average won't get it done in the playoffs, when every team has an elite pass-rusher.

    Green Bay's offense is designed to move the ball quickly out of Rodgers' hands, but to keep their winning streak alive and win a second Super Bowl, the Packers need perfection from the player tasked with protecting the blind side.

    Overall Grade: A+++