NFL Power Rankings Week 17: How High Can Chicago Bears Rise?
If you've been shut off from the football world lately, the Chicago Bears are now 11-4, have clinched the NFC North and have won seven of their last eight games, their only loss coming to the New England Patriots.
They are coming off a 38-34 win against the struggling New York Jets.
QB Jay Cutler has been a different quarterback than earlier in the season, and the Bears defense has become one of the elite units in the NFL.
So, how far have they risen during the last few weeks?
Read on for where they rank as well as every other team in the NFL.
In the Dark
32. Carolina Panthers: The Panthers are 2-13 now, have no answer at quarterback, and coach John Fox won't be returning to the team next season as a result. This team isn't getting any better, and it going to need a complete makeover to compete even in two years. Drafting Stanford's Andrew Luck is a good start.
31. Denver Broncos: The Broncos beat the Houston Texans in a nail-biter in Week 16, but that's little solace for a team destined for the No. 2 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Grabbing cornerback Patrick Peterson is a good step for a bad pass defense.
In the Shade
30. Buffalo Bills: The 34-3 beatdown in Week 16 to the Patriots wasn't a surprise. They do have a decent QB in Ryan Fitzpatrick. But the fact of the matter is they're 4-11 and still have serious issues.
29. Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals jump a bit in the rankings based on winning their last two games, including against the San Diego Chargers in Week 16. How they held the Chargers to 20 points is a wonder. QB Carson Palmer also threw four touchdown passes. Must be one of those anomalies.
Still in the Shade
28. Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals are the worst team in the NFC West. That's saying enough. But they did just beat the Dallas Cowboys. Must be one of those anomalies. And no, John Skelton is not the QB of the future.
27. San Francisco 49ers: It's possible the Niners could be even worse than the Cardinals at this point. They have the most talent in the NFC West, but are tied for the Cardinals with the worst record (5-10). Coach Mike Singletary was fired after their division-cinching loss to the St. Louis Rams, and both of their QBs (I like to call them The Smiths) look like they've just gone through being President of the United States (is that a gray hair I see on Alex Smith's head?).
Have Just Realized There's a Thing Called "Light"
26. Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks still have a chance at this whole NFC West division crown thing. Funny, I thought they were a bad team. Oh wait, they are. Is QB Matt Hasselbeck still alive? I forgot he even still plays. Well, he's better than what the Niners have.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Hey, the Vikings didn't get embarrassed by the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 16, that's good news, Vikings fans! Just kidding, they haven't played the Eagles yet. They're probably hoping they won't have to. They lost 40-14 to the Chicago Bears last week and Brett Favre got his head slammed into the Frozen Tundra of Anonymous Stadium. Maybe that will be the last straw for Favre...maybe.
Edging Toward the Light
24. Detroit Lions: Geez, what the heck has happened to the Detroit Lions? After starting 2-10, they've won their last three, including against Tampa Bay and Green Bay. Coach Jim Schwartz deserves all the credit in the world for developing this team...and for not running away in the first 12 games. I'm still a little skeptical about their QB situation though.
23. Houston Texans: How do the Texans have a 5-10 record? I mean, their offense is explosive. Oh ya, it's that defense thing. They've lost four straight and gave up 31 points to the Tennessee Titans. It must be hot for the defense to run around a lot in Houston.
Nearing the Light
22. Tennessee Titans: The Titans are 6-9, better than some teams below them. They also have a coach in Jeff Fisher who will make sure they don't sink into the depths before next season. A quarterback would do this team wonders. And a new attitude. Is Albert Haynesworth still on the team? Oh, wait, that's Vince Young. Nevermind, must have been a slip of the tongue.
21. St. Louis Rams: Well, the Rams won the NFC West. Good for them...I guess. This team seems to be actually developing, unlike the rest of the division. QB Sam Bradford should be considered a god in St. Louis. They should change the city's name to St. Bradford. The Rams actually trying to play defense also makes them favorites to win the division in 2011.
20. Cleveland Browns
I keep on telling myself this team's better than its record, with running back extraordinaire Peyton Hillis and the emerging Colt McCoy.
I keep on telling myself this...I must have been born in Cleveland in a previous life.
This team needs receivers badly. Good thing the 2011 NFL Draft is supposed to be receiver-heavy.
19. Washington Redskins
The Redskins won their first game in the last five against the Jacksonville Jaguars this week.
Man, maybe Rex Grossman is better than Donovan McNabb.
And that should scare McNabb to the bone.
This team has lost by four points or less in three of its last four losses.
This team still needs to figure out how to win. One of the most obvious things I think I've said in a while.
18. Dallas Cowboys
Things were looking up for the Cowboys after coach Jason Garrett's promotion.
Then they lost to the Arizona Cardinals.
Even the Cardinals were scratching their heads after that game.
I think this team needs to trade Tony Romo for a different QB and use Jon Kitna as their backup...oh ya, playing defense would help too.
17. Miami Dolphins
Coach Tony Sparano has done a good job with this team, considering they have virtually no talent at that important position called quarterback.
But losing to the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions isn't exactly ending the season well (after beating the New York Jets, no less).
This team needs more youth in the backfield, and a new QB. And if Bill Cowher pokes his head into the locker room, the organization may think it needs a new coach too. I like Sparano, but I don't know how you pass up on Cowher.
16. Oakland Raiders
Poor Raiders fans. The team stinks for years and then when it looks like they may have a chance at the division they let it slip through their fingers.
But Darren McFadden is legit and the pass defense is usually very good.
I like Tom "The Cable Guy" Cable as coach, too.
Don't worry fans, 2011 looks promising and losing to the Colts is nothing to be ashamed of.
15. San Diego Chargers
This team always has the talent.
It just never seems to live up to it.
When they really need to step it up, such as in Week 13 against the Raiders or Week 16 in an elimination game, they choke.
They lost 34-20 to the Cincinnati Bengals to a team they had to beat to keep their playoff hopes alive. Sure, the secondary and linebacking core could use some work, but after a while you start to think it's the mindset that is hurting them more than anything.
14. Jacksonville Jaguars
The difference between the Indianapolis Colts and the Jaguars?
The Colts step up when the season is on the line; the Jaguars step down.
This was the best chance in years for the Jaguars to win the AFC South, and they completely choked.
Sure, there's still a chance, but at this point, does it really matter? This team had a chance to be a worthy contender; now they have to answer questions about where their collective heads are at.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The 9-6 Bucs are clearly a team on the rise after going 3-13 just last season.
With a young core, including QB Josh Freeman and receiver Mike Williams, this team should be fun to watch in the coming years.
If the Saints lose to the Falcons on Monday night, it sets up a head-to-head matchup in Week 17 for a Wild Card spot.
What a great game that would be.
12. Indianapolis Colts
The AFC South-leading Colts are back, after consecutive wins against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders.
Not to mention Peyton Manning.
If Manning gets heated up again, that's always scary for the rest of the league.
Although I do think losing receiver Austin Collie hurt this team.
11. New York Giants
The Giants are officially out of the top 10 after losing in embarrassing fashion to the Eagles and Packers and in the process losing the NFC East.
This team has some serious questions, after a meltdown against the Eagles and a 45-17 loss against the Packers.
A defense like this should never give up that many points. And an offense like this should never score less than 20.
Talk about a head trip. The Giants need to get their heads back into the game.
10. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have officially reached their peak of the season.
They're 10-5, have clinched the AFC West and are looking more and more like a team that's for real than an anomaly.
Their rushing attack will always give them a chance to grind out victories, the Matt Cassel-Dwayne Bowe connection's for real and the collective team obviously has some serious chemistry.
This is what happens when organizations figure out what it takes to win.
9. Green Bay Packers
Being a Niners fan, I sometimes dream that the Niners selected Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 draft instead of Alex Smith.
Then I wake up and hear that coach Mike Singletary was fired with a game left to go in the regular season. It makes me want to go back to sleep.
Fortunately for Packers fans, they can still dream. Rodgers had a fantastic performance in Week 16 against the Giants, and if the Packers can manage a win against the Bears at home in Week 17, they're in the playoffs.
The defense is keeping up with the Packers offense, and that's a scary thing.
8. New York Jets
The Jets, once considered one of the elite teams in the NFL, are not playing like one right now.
They've lost three of their last four games and are searching for answers after their vaunted defense gave up 38 points to the Bears in Week 16.
If their defense goes, I doubt Mark Sanchez can lead them in a shootout.
They still are in this thing, but they need to get back to the team that beat the Patriots in Week 2, not the one that lost, 45-3, in Week 13.
7. New Orleans Saints
After winning six straight, the Saints lost to the Baltimore Raves, 30-24, in Week 15.
Their game against the 12-2 Atlanta Falcons will show who they truly are, an elite team or a squad trying to be one.
The offense is explosive and the defense generally gives the offense a chance to win.
Will that be the case in Atlanta?
We shall see.
6. Baltimore Ravens
Beyond their loss to Cincinnati in Week 2, the Ravens only have blemishes against the Patriots, Falcons, and Steelers.
Their defense isn't as dangerous as in previous years, but their offense seems to be making up for it, with QB Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice leading the charge.
Their loss against the Steelers puts them below the Steelers at No. 6.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers lost to the Ravens in Week 4, but beat them in Week 13.
They are also stronger defensively than the Ravens in my opinion.
But is their depleted offensive line catching up them after a 22-17 loss to the Jets in Week 15?
Could be. But for now they are still one of the top five teams in the league.
4. Chicago Bears
The Bears have the best defense in the NFC in my opinion. They may have the best defense in the league.
They have won 11 games primarily because of this defense.
But QB Jay Cutler will determine how far they'll go.
I'll give credit where credit's due; Cutler has become a better quarterback in the second half of the season. He still throws interceptions, but I think the Bears will take three touchdowns to one interception like he did against the Jets.
If Cutler begins playing like the top quarterback a lot of people thought he would become, this team can threaten any team out there...including the Patriots.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
I still can't give the No. 2 spot to the Eagles, no matter how hard I try.
The No. 2 team actually has to lose a game for me to do that.
But the Eagles have become an elite team, and a lot of it has to do with Michael Vick and a defense that gives up points but also can win the turnover battle for you.
This is one of the most explosive teams in the NFL right now, on both sides of the ball.
2. Atlanta Falcons
After eight straight wins, the Falcons get my No. 2 spot.
The combo of Matt Ryan and Roddy White has turned into a deadly one, and the defense seems to be coming together too.
The defense and the rest of the Falcons will have their biggest test tonight against the explosive New Orleans Saints.
1. New England Patriots
This one's pretty obvious, right?
Tom Brady is playing out of his mind, the running game's the best it's been in years, 2005 Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch has transitioned seamlessly into the offense, and their young defense is improving.
At 13-2, the Patriots have the best record in the NFL at the moment and are the only team that has clinched home-field advantage (that might change with a Falcons win on Monday night).
The Patriots have won seven straight.