11 down, 5 to go in the NFL for the 2006 season. Lots of great games still await for the last five weeks, and this is truly when paychecks are earned in this league. Many teams are still in the thick of the race for a playoff spot, and that brings us to this weeks Power Rankings. If the team has a number next to it, that’s where they were a week ago.
NFC Top 5
1. Chicago (1) – Lots of talk in Chi-town right now about the struggles of Rex Grossman and the problems of the Bears offense. A loss in New England with too many turnovers has only sparked that talk, and its time for the Bears to grind down and get back on track. Their remaining 5 games are against some weak competition, with Detroit and Green Bay rounding out the schedule. Still up two games for home field, they should get it with ease.
2. Dallas (2) – The Cowboys are starting to look like a team with a deep January run in them, but those hopes have to be finalized with a win this weekend in the Meadowlands vs the 2nd place Giants. Tony Romo looks poised and under control of the offense, and this past week in a beating of the Bucs the defense was able to take their shots. The Giants game Sunday will go a long way in showing us how far the Boys can go.
3. New Orleans (4) – New Orleans rebounded after two bad losses to top the rival Falcons on the road to regain the division lead in the South. This team looks as if they have the talent to win a first-round playoff game at home, but then if they have to head to Chicago in round two it could get ugly. Nevertheless, Sean Peyton is going to get some major consideration for coach of the year.
4. Seattle (5) – The weather and Matt Hassleback were both frightful in the first 20 or so minutes on Monday night, but just as things settled down, so did the Pro Bowl QB as the Seahawks finally put away the Packers. Shaun Alexander’s 201 yards on the ground couldn’t have come at a better time, and now it looks as if the Hawks can finally start to put away the division and focus on defending their NFC title in the playoffs.
5. Carolina (3) – The Panthers get this spot by default, as they are the best 6-5 team in the conference, edging out the Giants. They had a shot against a weak Redskins team to stay tied for the division lead, but laid an egg and walked out of FedEx field a game back. Right now they seem more like the makings of a wild card team, but the schedule with at Philly, the Giants and Steelers at home, then road games at Atlanta and New Orleans to end the year does them no favors.
NFC Bottom 3
1. Detroit (1) – The Lions continued to look like footballs version of the “Bad News Bears” on Thanksgiving, as they bumbled and stumbled their way to a loss to the Dolphins. What hurt more was watching former QB Joey Harrington rip them up, and walk away with the postgame drumstick. Things should not get much better this week at New England, and once January 1st hits, this team is going to have to take a major look at the structure of the entire organization.
2. Arizona (2) – They at least showed a pulse for the second straight week, despite losing to the Vikings 31-26 at the Metrodome. It is hard to believe with a former Pro Bowl RB that the team could only rush for 17 yards Sunday, and that is an area that must be addressed in the offseason. Matt Leinart showed some heart in trying to get his team to rally, but in the end throwing 51 passes is not going to be a number that will translate into wins for the Cardinals.
3. Tampa Bay (-) – Thanksgiving was ugly for the Bucs as they looked more interested in heading for the bus in parts of their 38-10 beating in Dallas. Things looked good early as they went up 7-0, but then the wheels came off, and the effort was just lackluster. This season has to be a major letdown after winning the NFC South a season ago, and one has to wonder what changes will be made in the offseason.
AFC Top 5
1. Indianapolis (1) – The Colts discovered they have an up and coming star at RB Sunday night as Joseph Addai ran for 171 yards and 4 TD’s in a 45-21 route of the Eagles. That type of running attack is going to make the Colts even more dangerous come playoff time. The defense did allow the Eagles to get within 31-21 with 10 minutes left, but were able to put the game away with a defensive TD. Two interesting games at Jacksonville and Tennessee await the Colts.
2. Baltimore (3) – Don’t look now but the Ravens are getting better each week, and they look like a team that can give the Chargers and Colts a run for their money in the playoffs. A shutout win over the Steelers knocks them out, and a win over the Bengals in Cincy Thursday night all but clinches the division with four games to play. If they can grab the AFC #2 seed a title game in Indy vs the Colts would be very interesting.
3. San Diego (2) – There may have been a slight letdown Sunday as the Chargers struggled most of the day, but were finally able to put the Raiders away with a 21-14 win. Two TD’s in the final 9:46 was the difference after trailing 14-7, but they got the job done and that’s the most important thing. Phillip Rivers was just 14-for-31 for 133 yards, and those numbers have to be better if this team wants a shot in January. At 9-2 they have two big home games after this week vs the Broncos and Chiefs that should wrap up the division.
4. New England (4) – Despite beating the best team in the NFC, I couldn’t get the Pats ahead of the Chargers of Ravens, but trust me, they can beat those teams if they play in a playoff setting. Tom Brady showed some serious heart in getting the Pats past the Bears, and actually showed some emotion after running for a first down past Brian Urlacher. They should move to 9-3 this week as they host the weak Lions, then a big matchup with the red-hot Dolphins in Miami could be the game that cements the AFC East title.
5. Kansas City (-) – The Chiefs take the 5th spot as they look like a team that can be the #1 or #2 wild card in the AFC. I was worried about Trent Green coming in, but after Thursday I’d have to say that he does not look like a QB you have to be overly concerned about if the team can get in the playoffs. At 7-4 they have to keep winning to make it in, and this weeks game at Cleveland should get them closer.
AFC Bottom 3
1. Oakland (1) – What a statement this team could have made Sunday if they didn’t blow up in the last 9 minutes and give San Diego two scores in a 21-14 loss. Oh well, again, the defense showed some life, and the offense actually scored touchdowns 7 and 8 this season. At 2-9, it looks as if they and the Lions will fight it out for the #1 spot in April’s draft.
2. Cleveland (2) – The Browns are in self destruct mode right now, and the whisperings about Romeo Crennel and his future are starting to pop up in the local media. Sunday’s 30-0 loss was a major setback, and maybe even more so since players on the team are starting to infight on the sidelines. With the Chiefs coming in and then a short week and Thursday night game at Pittsburgh, Romeo had better get his team back or else things are going to get even worse.
3. Houston (3) – How many fans you think will be in Oakland Sunday for the Texans vs the Raiders? Not many. Houston at 3-8 have lost four of five, and didn’t score a TD till the 3:54 mark Sunday in a loss to the Jets 26-11. They only ran for 25 yards, and David Carr threw 54 passes for 321 yards, numbers that usually translate into a loss. Something has to give Sunday in Oakland.