The clock is ticking for teams as we are now officially in the stretch run of the NFL season. Only a handful of teams are eliminated from playoff contention, and other than that there is still a lot to play for in the final four weeks of the regular season. Some pretty big teams took losses this week, so let’s check out how this weeks edition of the power rankings shape up.
NFC Top 5
1. Chicago (1) – If they would have lost at home to Minnesota, I would have dropped them to two. Despite that, once again the defense and special teams bailed them out, and they did get the win to clinch the division and take another step towards home field. The city is gripping about the awful play of Rex Grossman and quarterback, and even with that, Lovie Smith gave him a vote of confidence. This team has to be getting worried if they have enough points to make it to Miami February 5th.
2. Dallas (2) – The best team in the league right now continued their roll on Sunday with their biggest win of the year – a road revenge game victory at the Meadowlands vs the Giants. Now with a two-game cushion in the East, the Saints come marching in on Sunday night. The Cowboys need to keep winning to ensure they will have a bye in week one and host a divisional playoff game in week two at Texas Stadium.
3. New Orleans (3) – Reggie Bush made up for the first two months when he didn’t score an offensive TD with four on Sunday vs the 49’ers. The Saints also got help from the Eagles on Monday night in beating the Panthers to take a two-game lead in the NFC South. Another team that needs to keep winning to try and get that all important bye and home game once the second season starts in five weeks.
4. Seattle (4) – Josh Brown might as well get this teams MVP award for all the clutch kicking he has done this season. Sunday night was no exception as he booted a 50-yard field goal to give the Hawks a 23-20 win in Denver. You still have to be a bit concerned with Matt Hassleback and Shaun Alexander, who both appear to still be somewhat rusty at points in games. Give them a few weeks though, and the Hawks will be tough to beat come January.
5. Philadelphia (-) – The Eagles claim this spot on getting a huge Monday night win over the Panthers to put them right back in the thick of the wild card playoff race in the NFC. They are one of four teams at 6-6 trying to get one of two playoff spots. Jeff Garcia really stepped up vs the Panthers, and with a winnable road game vs the Redskins this week, the Eagles could soar towards a wild card birth.
NFC Bottom 3
1. Detroit (1) – The Lions played tough against the Pats in Foxboro, but of course leave it up to Jon Kitna to try and win you a game, and you get the same results. Kitna again was awful in throwing three INT’s in the 28-21 loss. It seemed like after going up 21-13 with 13 minutes left things were going their way, but of course this is the Lions. Three turnovers on their last three possessions and you have a 2-10 record and a team closing in on the #1 pick in April’s draft.
2. Tampa Bay (3) – The Bucs were awful this past weekend in Pittsburgh, and took a cheap last play field goal just to avoid being shutout 20-3. Bruce Gradkowski took a beating and the offense was null and void, dropping passes, throwing picks, and never able to really move the ball. They have been outscored 58-13 the last two weeks, and with Atlanta at home this week before at Chicago and at Cleveland, the Bucs are begging for this season to end.
3. Arizona (2) – Against the Rams the Cardinals showed that they have the talent to beat at least a average team on the road, and Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome, they did just that. They put up 316 yards of offense, ran the ball finally, threw without mistakes, and showed poise on defense. Now if they could have done that the last 11 weeks of the season, maybe they wouldn’t be in this position.
AFC Top 5
1. San Diego (2) – Look out Indy, the Chargers are ready to take home field advantage and make a super run to Miami. The Chargers were once again good enough on the road Sunday in Buffalo to get the job done, and with a six-game winning streak look poised to be the team to beat in the conference. Sure Phillip Rivers has made some mistakes, but with L.T. and a defense that can beat anyone, I wouldn’t bet against this team in January.
2. Indianapolis (1) – Could the Colts be headed for an early playoff exit? It could happen if they don’t start to get things moving again in the right direction. They have lost two of three, and Sunday’s loss to the Titans was a stunner that may eventually cost them home field in the AFC. The awful run defense is going to end up costing this team a spot in the Super Bowl.
3. Baltimore (3) – Despite a loss to the Bengals Thursday night, they still hold a two-game lead in the division, and could clinch again this week with a win in KC. The question will be can this team score enough to hang with teams like the Chargers and Colts? I personally think that will be the reason they fall short, but I have doubted this team all season and have eaten my words before. The defense is still playing lights out.
4. New England (4) – It looks as if the Pats could win 12-13 games and still have to play a home game in week one vs a wild card team. They showed some heart in coming back vs the Lions, but the lapses this team has had this season really concerns me as they get set for the playoffs. It won’t be so easy to rally back once the pressure of January hits, but of course, if they have to do, might as well have Tom Brady to do it with.
5. Cincinnati (5) – The Bengals haven’t been here for awhile, but earn a spot with a big Thursday night win over the Ravens. At 7-5, they are among five teams with that mark looking for one of two playoff spots. If they end up in Baltimore or New England in a wild card game, they could give either of those teams fits and walk out with a win. They cannot afford to look past Oakland Sunday to the Colts in two weeks.
AFC Bottom 3
1. Oakland (1) – The Raiders are already scouting for the number one or two pick in April’s draft, and a home loss to the Texans Sunday only cemented that fact. Al Davis has to figure out what to do with this train wreck in the offseason, with players quitting and infighting with the coach and GM, the Raiders are a complete and utter mess.
2. Houston (3) – How does a team win and move down a spot? Easy, you beat the Raiders. The Texans are showing signs of life, and have won four games with a new coach, and with three of their last four at home, can possibly win five-six games, which is about where many thought they would be at the start of the season. Of course there are still plenty of problems, like how David Carr did not complete a pass in the second half. Another team with plenty to do in the offseason.
3. Cleveland (2) – The Browns finally showed they have the talent and ability Sunday in overcoming a 28-14 fourth quarter deficit and beating Kansas City 31-28 in overtime. Derek Anderson deserves another start this week at Pittsburgh, and the running game of Ruben Droughns and Jason Wright finally plowed through some holes Sunday. They can beat the Steelers, but will they remains to be seen.