NFL Week 16 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* No postgame show has more fun than NFL Network. It's like FOX was 10 years ago.

* Brandon Stokley is the last player I would have expected to get ejected from a game.

* Jon Gruden claimed on Monday that Minnesota's 40-year-old QB "has had the best single season of his career statistically." I don't have the energy to do this again, but it's not true.

* Ron Jaworski and Gruden despise each other. At the very least, Gruden doesn't like Jaws. Why pay three people to mangle a job two could do for less money? Mike Tirico and Jaworski would be a great booth.

* Jaws said this week that Jay Cutler rolling out was "reminiscent of his great years with the Broncos." Which raises the question: what great years with the Broncos?

***

"The Vikings Are Not Better Because of Their 40-Year-Old QB," a short essay by Brad Oremland.

For starters, are this year's Vikings actually any better than last year's? The 2008 Vikings won the NFC North, going 10-6 against a very tough schedule (.504). The 2009 Vikings have clinched the NFC North, going 11-4 against a very weak schedule (.427). I fail to see a significant difference. But let's say this year's team really is better. Is it possible that Percy Harvin and Phil Loadholt have helped improve the team? Harvin is expected to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Loadholt has started 14 games and played well. Which is more likely, that the team has improved because it added two great rookies, or that the team improved by adding a 40-year-old quarterback who had one good season in the previous four years?

The teams with the best records are dropping quickly in the rankings, so I'll remind new readers that these rankings are for right now and are not intended to reflect a team's accomplishments over the entire season. As we get to the Week 16 rankings themselves, brackets indicate last week's rank.

1. San Diego Chargers [2] — Dominated Tennessee on Friday night, controlling time of possession 2:1. The Chargers ran the same play over and over again, pulling the left guard and running behind the right side of their line. They did it with starters in the first three quarters and with backups to run out the clock. The Titans couldn't stop it. Center Nick Hardwick is back from injury just in time for the playoffs and looks ready to go. A few weeks ago, I called Philip Rivers the third-best QB in the NFL. He might be the best, and is a serious threat to overtake Peyton Manning and Drew Brees as my all-pro QB and/or MVP choice. Rivers is one of those players who wills his team to victory, who just won't accept a loss.

2. Philadelphia Eagles [5] — Their six-game winning streak is twice as long as any except San Diego's 10 in a row. Donovan McNabb had a key 27-yard scramble this weekend. Once the most feared scrambler in the league, McNabb is still a capable runner, and the Eagles would probably benefit if he pulled the ball down a little more often. Center Jamaal Jackson left Sunday's game with a torn ACL. Jackson is the best player on that line (Jason Peters had a terrible game against Denver), and the team will miss him in the postseason.

3. Indianapolis Colts [1] — Here they go again. It's frustrating to watch a great team throw its season away, and that's what I believe the Colts are doing. When you don't give your players live game reps, they lose the rhythm they've developed over the season. When you accept losing, it becomes hard to win. How do you look at professional players and tell them losing doesn't matter? This year's Colts are a great team, and they deserve better than cowardly coaching or GM interference. You read it here first: Indianapolis will lose its first playoff game.

4. Green Bay Packers [10] — Six wins in the last seven games. This is a much better team than it was at the beginning of the season. The offensive line has solidified, Aaron Rodgers is taking fewer sacks, the running game has gotten going, and the defensive personnel has adjusted to the 3-4. Green Bay ranks among the top five in yards gained and yards allowed.

5. Dallas Cowboys [6] — Clinched a playoff spot, but everyone will be watching their Week 17 tilt with Philadelphia — winner takes the NFC East — for signs of the infamous end-of-season letdown. Wade Phillips' job may be safest if Dallas loses and gets a first-round game against Minnesota. It seems ludicrous to the rest of the world that a coach would be fired after going 33-15, but if the Cowboys don't win a playoff game, he'll be in serious jeopardy. Dallas probably isn't balanced or consistent enough to make a Super Bowl run, but should scare everyone else in the NFC playoff picture.

6. Arizona Cardinals [8] — Nothing generates momentum like a home game against the Rams. The Cardinals have an intriguing matchup, and possible playoff preview, when they host the Packers in Week 17. Anquan Boldin can reach 1,000 yards for the fifth time in his career with just 14 in the final game. Steve Breaston can secure his second 1,000-yard season if he gains 304.

7. Tennessee Titans [4]Earlier this season, I compared Chris Johnson to Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett. That's a natural comparison because of their speed, but I think now that it was the wrong one. The player Johnson really looks like is O.J. Simpson. He's that good. Johnson's speed, cutting ability, and field vision all remind me of O.J. Not only is he the fastest guy on the field, he always seems to be a step ahead of the defenders, reacting before they've even made their moves. It should go without saying that I mean this as a strictly on-field comparison.

8. Baltimore Ravens [7] — They'll still make the playoffs with a win in Week 17, but the loss this weekend has to sting. Baltimore leads the NFL in penalty yards, and that cost the team two touchdowns on Sunday. Those two drives, instead of generating 14 points, resulted in a total of three: a field goal and a punt. Haloti Ngata is a gifted defensive lineman, but he's got to be the most undisciplined player in the league. It seems like Ngata draws a 15-yard penalty every three weeks or so. The Ravens will need Ed Reed healthy if they're going to make a serious postseason run.

9. New England Patriots [12] — Wes Welker has 122 catches this season. With two more in Week 17, he'll move into second place on the all-time single-season list. Welker missed two games this season with an injury and has actually averaged more receptions per game than Marvin Harrison did in his record-setting 2002 campaign. The Patriots finished 8-0 at home this season.

10. Pittsburgh Steelers [20] — Only 48 rushing yards in the win. LaMarr Woodley, who had two sacks and a forced fumble this weekend, has been playing at a high level. The Steelers' postseason dream is still alive, but they'll need to get some help from other teams and win in Miami. Pittsburgh is 2-5 on the road this season.

11. Houston Texans [19] — Crucial win kept their slim playoff hopes alive, and the team is poised for its first winning season in franchise history. Barring a loss of 48 points or more, this will also be the first Texans team to score more points than it allows. Rookie LB Brian Cushing, listed as questionable before the game, made 9 solo tackles, a sack, and an interception. In a year with stiff competition, Cushing is still the front-runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

12. Carolina Panthers [18] — Consecutive blowouts over teams with winning records. Matt Moore looks great — I'm impressed with his accuracy downfield. Steve Smith, who left the game with a broken arm, was exceptional against the Giants. Jonathan Stewart has come into his own during DeAngelo Williams' absence, breaking 1,000 yards for the first time. If this team is healthy next season, it could be among the favorites in the NFC.

13. Miami Dolphins [11] — Down 27-0, Miami rallied for a respectable 27-20 finish. Ricky Williams left this week's game with a shoulder injury, but it doesn't sound serious, and for now we expect Williams to play in the regular season finale. The team is not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but its chances are slim. The Dolphins are one of five teams penalized for under 600 yards this season.

14. Denver Broncos [13] — Three straight losses, and they're 2-7 since the bye. That includes two games dropped against opponents with losing records, but the Broncos beat Kansas City 44-13 in their previous meeting and have to be favored in Week 17. Denver will be rooting for Baltimore and Pittsburgh, against whom it has head-to-head defeats, to lose. The Broncos also would like to see the Jets lose, but Houston win. The Texans don't have any tiebreakers over Denver, but if they're part of the tiebreaker process, head-to-head drops out and the Broncos can edge ahead of Pittsburgh.

15. New Orleans Saints [3] — Defense wins championships, the saying goes. New Orleans ranks 24th in yards allowed. The offense isn't playing well enough to cover that up any more. After scoring more than 20 points in every game and averaging 35.8, the Saints have put up just 17 in consecutive weeks. This team is playing its worst football of the season and looks a little worse every week.

16. Minnesota Vikings [9] — Missed Pat Williams on Monday night and got another ugly game from their defense. Their special teams coverage was horrible. Gruden pointed out that Minnesota has not played well on the road recently. In fact, they're 4-4 away, compared to a perfect 7-0 at home. Three of those four losses have come in December. It doesn't get particularly cold in Arizona or Carolina, so I don't know how much of this we can attribute to a dome team playing in winter weather, but this could have major ramifications if the Vikings have to go to Philadelphia this postseason.

17. New York Giants [14] — Ugly letdown following their shellacking of Washington. Turnovers continue to be an issue (-4 against Carolina), and the defense is vulnerable to big plays. Only Tennessee, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Detroit have allowed more points than the Giants this season (383). Troy Aikman criticized Steve Smith in the third quarter for not getting out of bounds to stop the clock, saying that players have to be aware of the situation they're in. But in the third quarter, getting out of bounds doesn't stop the clock. Aikman, ironically, wasn't aware of the situation. Oops.

18. Cincinnati Bengals [15] — Eked out a win over the 3-12 Chiefs. When was the last time Cincinnati really looked like a contender? In the last month, the Bengals have barely beaten three terrible teams, and lost to two good ones. That doesn't even include their loss to the Raiders. Sure, the Bengals are a good defensive team. They don't score enough to keep up with quality opponents. Domata Peko may be back for the playoffs, and that would give them a boost.

19. Atlanta Falcons [22] — Sort of a weird win over the hapless Bills. Defensive end Kroy Biermann did a nice job with kickoffs after injuries to Matt Bryant and Michael Koenen. If the Falcons can get past Tampa Bay in Week 17, they'll secure the first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history.

20. New York Jets [23] — Beat a team who wasn't trying to win. When they avoid turnovers, the Jets' defense can keep them in the game with anyone, but this team absolutely cannot throw the ball. It ranks 30th in passing yards and 28th in passer rating. Rookie QB Mark Sanchez is an outright liability. In the win this weekend, the Jets gained more than twice as much yardage on the ground (204) as passing (91).

21. San Francisco 49ers [21] — Fine, they beat the Lions and it wasn't close. This was not an impressive victory. The Niners gave up more first downs than they gained and only converted 29% of their 3rd down attempts. Reserve LB Ahmad Brooks has five sacks and five forced fumbles in the last four games.

22. Cleveland Browns [24] — Don't trust their QBs (which is reasonable), so Jerome Harrison carried the ball 39 times on Sunday (which is unreasonable). That's the most carries for any back since Shaun Alexander had 40 more than three years ago. The Browns are tied for the third-longest winning streak in the league. Seriously. They remain last in the NFL in both yards gained and yards allowed.

23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [29] — Two straight wins after a 1-12 start. Cadillac Williams this week posted his first 100-yard game since November of 2006. Whatever this team's weaknesses, I think we can all agree that it has one of the best return units in the NFL. No matter who the Bucs put back there, he breaks a couple long ones.

24. Jacksonville Jaguars [17] — Three weeks ago, they had played one of the softest schedules in the league and were sitting pretty at 7-5. Since then, they've played three real teams (combined 31-14) and dropped below .500. The defense got massacred by Tom Brady this week. Jacksonville has allowed opposing passers a collective rating of 97.0 this season, 2nd-worst in the NFL (Detroit, 105.9).

25. Chicago Bears [28] — Injuries facilitated some second-half defensive breakdowns, but they played a really good game. Even Ron Turner, the oft-criticized offensive coordinator, deserves some credit in this one. Jay Cutler looked great, with one dumb decision offset by several nice downfield throws. The offensive line gave him plenty of time, the defense made great stops in the first half and a big play in overtime, and Chicago's special teams were absolutely the difference in the game. Special Teams Coordinator Dave Toub gets my game ball.

26. Washington Redskins [16] — I've criticized Jason Campbell as much as anybody, but he's in a hopeless situation right now. No one can play effectively when he's getting hit before he's had time to make a read. If this franchise — Raiders East, I like to call it — wasn't already so laughable, it would be really embarrassing that Albert Haynesworth played this week. Washington fans, what makes you think Bruce Allen will do anything Vinny Cerrato didn't?

27. Oakland Raiders [25] — They've used three starting quarterbacks this year, with a combined passer rating of 59.8. The Raiders haven't put together a winning or losing streak since their Week 9 bye in early November. Neither have their neighbors the 49ers. That's weird.

28. Buffalo Bills [26] — Don't blame this on third-string QB Brian Brohm. The offense sucked before he got here.

29. Seattle Seahawks [27] — In the last three weeks, Seattle has gotten embarrassed by the Packers (48-10), lost decisively to lowly Tampa Bay (24-7), and been routed by Houston (34-7). The Seahawks are one of seven teams outscored by over 100 points this season. The others: Cleveland, Tampa, Oakland, Kansas City, Detroit, and St. Louis.

30. Detroit Lions [30] — At the beginning of the season, at least the offense was halfway decent. It's not any more. Detroit has lost four of its last five games by double-digits.

31. Kansas City Chiefs [32] — Can we stop basing our assessment of quarterbacks on their team's results? We bash great players like Dan Marino who carried weak teams but never won a championship, while praising mediocre passers like Eli Manning who had great teammates, and unduly celebrating genuinely great players like Tom Brady who happen to also have lots of help. Matt Cassel looked great in New England last year, throwing to Randy Moss and Welker behind a top-notch offensive line. Playing with Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers behind a poor line, he has a passer rating of 70.1, lower than Matt Hasselbeck, Jay Cutler, and Marc Bulger. No player has more effect on his team's fortunes than the QB, but he can't do it alone.

32. St. Louis Rams [31] — All season, this column has been tracking the Rams' pursuit of a historically awful season. They're 1-14, which is a good start, though a home game against San Francisco in the final week is not a guaranteed loss. St. Louis has been outscored by 239 points this season and has a real chance to be even worse in this category than last year's winless Lions (-249). It's hard to know how to even begin fixing this team.

Comments and Conversation

December 29, 2009

John Foo:

Philip Rivers is no doubt one of the best quarterbacks in the game, but he also seems to enjoy playing the game more than everyone else. I think many people mistake his enthusiasm displayed on the field as cockiness. If you see how he conducts himself during press conferences and interviews, you would notice that he’s not an arrogant person at all.

December 29, 2009

Davan S. Mani:

Brandon Chillar has benefitted from that change to the 3-4.

January 1, 2010

Luc:

>>

Well said. I couldn’t agree more with stated opinion and prediction. Clearly. cowardice is what it should be called. Hopefully this kind of team management is unique to that organization. I can’t see other orgs like the Patriots, Steelers, Giants, etc ever copping out like that … or not going for perfection when so close.

Ironically, the problem are the fans. When you tolerate your team showing up to a game and not trying to win … well then … Like in politics, you deserve the leaders you have.

Watching the game, I realized something. I didn’t feel dissapointed … instead I felt what can only be described as … disgust. It was a first time I felt that way watching a football game.

Then again I am a product of my environment. Where I come from, the fans would have brought the house down.

One and Done.

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