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Tag:Ravens
Posted on: November 28, 2012 12:21 am
 

2012 NFL Power Rankings, Week 12

Greetings, readers!  We're back after the Thanksgiving holiday with more nonsense about the NFL.  The country's most popular sport had one heck of a day on Thursday, with two solid games followed by an absolute beatdown.  More on that in just a second.  I hope that everyone had an enjoyable Thanksgiving and that they enjoyed the games this week.

Of course, we have to start with the first game and the absolutely abhorrent rule that basically allowed the Texans to win.  As I understand it, the rule goes something like this: if a coach challenges a play that was going to be reviewed, his team is penalized 15 yards and no review takes place.  In this case, the TD that should not have been was not reviewed because Lions coach Jim Schwartz challenged the play, even though all TD's are reviewed automatically.  Because Schwartz threw the flag, the play was not reviewed and the TD stood, even though it was never a TD in the first place!  What a bunch of...gizzards.  Much as I'd love to think otherwise, the Texans are 10-1 and have a stranglehold on the division and the AFC as a whole.

The Cowboys took on Washington as well, and while there wasn't much in the way of controversy, my favorite team still managed to end up on the losing side.  There wasn't a lot of excitement either until the second half.  RGIII and the one or two decent receivers he has managed to put up 28 before the first half was over, and despite the Cowboys' comeback attempt, it was indeed over by halftime.

Lastly, the New England Patriots put up another spectacular beatdown.  This time, the Jets were the victim.  I think there was probably a little bit of concern when Gronk went out, but Tom Brady and the rest of his cadre decided to put that to rest quickly.  The effort was assisted by the defense and special teams, which put up a couple of TD's by themselves, taking the onus off of Brady just a bit.  All in all, a fun game to watch, unless you're Fireman Ed.  Or a less notable Jets fan.

Let's move on to Sunday's games.  First up is the 10-1 Falcons.  They had a little trouble with the Bucs, but this is no surprise.  The Bucs have been playing well recently and Atlanta has had problems putting teams away.  It looks like they'll be the top seed in the NFC as the only team that's close is San Francisco, and they're burdened with a tie.  I guess Chicago could be considered close as well, but I don't trust them to finish the deal.

Speaking of the Bears, they're 8-3, as is Denver.  Chicago didn't have much trouble with Minnesota.  Jay Cutler came back after missing the 49ers game; obviously, given the score and the win, he played well enough.  Denver wasn't quite as fortunate, as they had problems playing in Kansas City all day.  Peyton Manning did just enough to win and keep his Comeback Player and MVP candidacy alive.  But it was far too close for comfort.

Indianapolis won against Buffalo and is now 7-4.  Currently, they're the fifth seed in the AFC, which means they'd be heading out to Denver if things hold up.  That would just be serendipitous, wouldn't it?  People are calling the Colts a surprise team, but I don't see anything really "surprising" about them.  Reggie Wayne was one of the only holdovers from the 2011 squad and has played like an elite WR.  Andrew Luck, obviously, is the rookie of the year.  The other receivers are serviceable, and RB Vick Ballard has won a game by himself and played well generally.

4th & 29.  That play was many things, depending on the observer.  But the result was that Baltimore won and San Diego didn't.  If the fate of coach Norv Turner wasn't already decided, I think that play is the one that ensures that he gets fired.  Of course, since they're so far out of the division race, they're likely not making the playoffs.  Even the Wild Card looks out of reach; they'll likely end up under .500, and though the sixth seed is up for grabs, I don't think San Diego has a chance for it unless they win out.  How likely is that?  Not very.  Baltimore is 9-2 despite some shaky play of late.  Joe Flacco has regressed from supposedly "elite" back to bottom-third in QB play.  How that works out in the playoffs, I'm not sure; Flacco could conceivably raise his level of play when the games mean more.

Colin Kaepernick started another game for the 49ers and not surprisingly, it was a win.  Some were thinking that the Superdome crowd (and decibel level) would derail the rookie.  And for most of the first half, they were right!  Then the defense showed up and made some big plays, and the rookie's confidence grew as he played better in the second half.  I'm not too big on the whole QB controversy nonsense; as long as Kaepernick is playing well, there's really no reason to sit him, especially for a guy that isn't better.  People can make arguments about completion % and the other things Alex Smith brings to the table (notably, wins), but really, the guy just throws screen passes and other short balls and doesn't really look to throw it down the field.  Kaepernick, on the other hand, can get the ball down the field.  The offense isn't handcuffed when he's in there.

The last game on Sunday was between the Giants and Packers.  Funnily enough, after delivering a beatdown a few Sundays ago in front of the entire country, they succumbed to a Giants team that had previously been moribund.  Aaron Rodgers has grown out the 70's mustache again and this time it didn't do anything to help.  In fact, not many guys on the team really showed up.  Thus, they fell in the Rankings while the Giants got back in again.

Here are the Rankings for Week 12:

1.) Houston (10-1) [no change]
 An easy game, albeit a divisional opponent, after a lucky break.

2.) Atlanta (10-1) [no change]
 Another divisional game on a short week.  Hard to see how the Falcons don't get upset.

3.) Baltimore (9-2) [no change]
 Flying back from San Diego and getting the Steelers again has to be tough.  But if Roethlisberger is still out, it's gotta be another win for the Ravens.

4.) San Francisco (8-2-1) [no change]
 Another meeting with the team they tied with.  I really hope another tie isn't in the offing.

5.) New England (8-3) [+1]
 After beating down one division rival, the Pats get a chance to beat down another one.

6.) Denver (8-3) [+1]
 Manning &co. get a chance to play the Bucs.  Hope Von Miller and the rest of the defense are up to taking on Doug Martin.

7.) Chicago (8-3) [+1]
 Playing a team without their starting corners (pending appeal, of course) has to get Cutler and Marshall salivating.

8.) Indianapolis (7-4) [+2]
 The "most surprising" team in the NFL heads to Detroit with a chance to go 8-4.

9.) NY Giants (7-4) [-]
 Back in the Rankings after a few weeks, they head to Washington in a battle of overrateds.

10.) Green Bay (7-4) [-5]
 One bad game, or a sign of decline?  I'm leaning toward the former...for the moment.

That's all for this week.  See you next week.

Three Games to Watch (Week 13):
New Orleans @ Atlanta (Thursday, NFL Network)
Tampa Bay @ Denver (Sunday, FOX)
Pittsburgh @ Baltimore (Sunday, CBS*)

*edit: I had mistakenly attributed this game to NBC in the previous version; also, we can't edit blogs any more?  Ridiculous.
Category: NFL
Posted on: November 27, 2012 10:58 pm
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Posted on: November 21, 2012 12:20 am
 

2012 NFL Power Rankings, Week 11

Greetings, readers.  After some turmoil earlier in the season, it looks like things are finally settling down and becoming a bit more predictable.  Well, mostly...there are still some teams who defy prediction and lose when they ought to win.  At any rate, let's get to the stories from this week.

Speaking of losers, we start with the Thursday night game, if anybody still remembers it.  I'm sure Bills fans do, and they should be happy that their team pulled off a win against Miami.  It has to be disappointing for the Dolphins, though, because they went up against a team with a terrible defense and couldn't score enough to win.  I guess the Bills are starting to turn it around defensively.  But since both teams are 4-6, I think we can say definitively that both should be excluded from the playoff discussion.

The top two teams won this week: Houston & Atlanta both pulled off some rather lucky and stunning wins.  It's funny, since neither one of those games should have been as tough as it looked.  Yet the Texans and Falcons have made their bones winning close (and in Atlanta's case, close and late), so it's not necessarily a surprise that both teams won, just that they had to go so far to win.  They're both 9-1 and firmly in control of their divisions and perhaps even conferences.  While the AFC is supposedly the "weaker" conference this season, Houston cannot rest on its laurels just yet.  Baltimore, New England, and Denver are all looking formidable; despite the Texans holding the tiebreaker on two of those three, I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see one of them pass up the Texans for the 1-seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  As for the Falcons, I don't really see anyone catching them in the regular season.  But in the playoffs, neither team is proven.

There were two other overtime games besides Houston/Jacksonville.  Tampa Bay and Dallas also won in OT on Sunday.  I don't usually like to bring up the Cowboys; normally they're doing something stupid like losing or playing particularly poorly.  I also don't want this blog to have the stench of homerism hovering over it.  I would like to think I'm objective, despite not being a "professional" journalist (or really, an amateur journalist; I'm just a guy)!  However, I think this one merited a few words.  While the Cowboys didn't play well (going to OT against Cleveland is proof of that), they did get the win and can now make some noise in the division.  In fact, with a win this Thursday, they'll be 6-5 and just a half-game behind the Giants for the division lead.  Let's not count our chickens, or anything, though.  Tampa Bay's win was arguably more impressive, though it came against a similarly bad opponent.  Of course, Carolina is in their division, so maybe they should get some points for that.  Josh Freeman made the throws when he needed to; he secured the game-tying TD + 2 pt. conversion and then threw a TD pass in OT to Dallas Clark that won the game.  An impressive showing, to be sure.

Not to be outdone by the early action, a couple of teams playing late broke out the hammer.  In this case it was New England and New Orleans.  Denver also won late Sunday, but their game ended up being a little too close to be a real beatdown, even if the game wasn't as close as the score would indicate.  New England took on the Colts and handed them a 59-24 loss.  New Orleans won 38-17 against Oakland, and that score doesn't tell the whole story either.  While some might consider the Saints a playoff contender, I do not.  Let's not forget, they started 0-4, and only one team in the HISTORY of the NFL has ever made the playoffs after starting 0-4.  Drew Brees may be a god among QB's, but this mountain is too large to climb.  Tom Brady &co. now sit at 7-3 and even without super TE Rob Gronkowski for the next 4-6 weeks, should have enough to maintain and perhaps finish out the season with 12 wins.

The last game on Sunday provided the least drama, considering that everyone expected it to be great (myself included).  Baltimore went up to Pittsburgh and with a number of stars missing on both sides, an ugly game ensued.  Byron Leftwich started out nicely, but apparently sustained multiple injuries through the course of the game and the finish was nothing to write home about.  Joe Flacco (who anointed himself "elite" mistakenly) was his usual inconsistent self; after posting 55 against Oakland the previous week he reverted back to his usual do-nothing ways.  Baltimore's offense was particularly moribund on third down, converting a pathetic 3-for-14.  It's one thing to say that it's the Pittsburgh D, and another to say that Flacco is not an elite QB, should keep his mouth shut, and should freakin' play better.  Personally, I don't think it was the Steelers D that kept the Ravens offense in neutral for the entire night.  I think Flacco is a mediocre QB.  His play against the Steelers was just the latest example of that.  Unless he becomes more consistent, it is difficult to see the Ravens as a Super Bowl contender this season.  That said, I do think of them as one of the few teams that is set up to be a contender every season.  So, really, all they have to do is get more consistent QB play and manage the injuries so that they have their guys back come playoff time.

Monday's game was probably one of the more surprising results of the season.  With Alex Smith sidelined due to a concussion (and his counterpart Jay Cutler the same), Colin Kaepernick started for the 49ers and led a beatdown to remember.  The Bears defense and offensive line were both destroyed by San Francisco.  To call this game lopsided is being kind, practically.  What's funny is that Kaepernick was making his first start and now sportswriters all over are calling for the kid to start in New Orleans in Week 12.  I wouldn't go quite that far, unless Alex Smith continues to have post-concussion symptoms.  I think it's better to avoid controversy whenever possible when it comes to QB's.  Since Kaepernick has been acknowledged as the backup, he should have no problem sitting if Smith is healthy.  If Smith isn't healthy just yet, Kaepernick showed himself to be capable, at least.  Whether or not he can reproduce that effort is still under question, especially in New Orleans.  But let's not forget that the Saints defense is one of the worst in the history of the NFL.

Here are the Rankings for Week 11:

1.) Houston (9-1) [no change]
 Going to OT was bad, but at least they won and saved themselves a lot of questions.

2.) Atlanta (9-1) [no change]
 Five INT's from Matt Ryan.  Yeesh.  There are certainly issues to be corrected here.

3.) Baltimore (8-2) [no change]
 Joe Flacco needs to find that "elite" play again.  If he ever had it to begin with.

4.) San Francisco (7-2-1) [no change]
 Kaepernick subbed well at home; let's see if that changes on the road.

5.) Green Bay (7-3) [+1]
 It wasn't pretty against Detroit and now they get a Giants team coming off the bye.

6.) New England (7-3) [+1]
 The only question is can they continue to whip up on teams without Gronk?

7.) Denver (7-3) [+1]
 Peyton Manning continues his quest toward Comeback Player of the Year as well as MVP.

8.) Chicago (7-3) [-3]
 I don't know if Jay Cutler can help them get back up if the O-line is that bad.

9.) Tampa Bay (6-4) [-]
 The Bucs are back in after an impressive win that probably should have been better.

10.) Indianapolis (6-4) [-1]
 Down, but not quite out.  RGIII outplayed Luck this week too.

That's all for this week, see you next week.

Three Games to Watch (Week 12):
Minnesota @ Chicago (Sunday, FOX)
Atlanta @ Tampa Bay (Sunday, FOX)
Green Bay @ NY Giants (Sunday, NBC)
Category: NFL
Posted on: November 15, 2012 1:47 am
 

2012 NFL Power Rankings, Week 10

Here are the Rankings for Week 10:

1.) Houston (8-1) [+1]
 The Texans claim the first spot in the Rankings for the first time ever.  It's a year of firsts for the team and only took the last unbeaten finally losing to move up.  Their effort against the Bears wasn't what I would call praiseworthy; however, they survived and got the W, so that's all that really matters.  They have yet another cupcake team on the schedule as 1-8 Jacksonville comes in to hopefully challenge for a few minutes.  I foresee Matt Schaub rollouts turning into long TD's.

2.) Atlanta (8-1) [-1]
 Now that the Falcons are undefeated no more, they can really get to work.  First up, salt away the NFC South (as if they hadn't already).  Then get the top seed in the conference and the bye that comes with it.  Then show up at home instead of putting up 2 points.  Ideally, the Falcons will continue to play well while making the necessary changes to get better as the season progresses.  For now, that would appear to include getting Michael Turner more involved in the offense (according to various pundits).  Losing to this New Orleans team (esp. their worst in NFL History defense) is really inexcusable, but there is a silver lining.  Mike Smith can point to that loss for the rest of this season and use it as a "teaching point" (a popular phrase in Fall 2012) to guide his men to the Lombardi Trophy.

3.) Baltimore (7-2) [+2]
 55 points and one awesome beatdown mean little if Joe Flacco lays an egg this weekend against the Steelers.  Of course, without Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers are hardly even the same team.  What's important here is that Flacco &co. take their Week 10 success and somehow make it happen again this week.  It's a tough task, to be sure, especially given Flacco's immense inconsistency.  If he's really serious about being considered an "elite" QB, he absolutely must perform well on Sunday night.

4.) San Francisco (6-2-1) [no change]
 First tie since 2008 coming on the heels of the QB getting knocked out.  Are we still jive turkeys?

5.) Chicago (7-2) [-2]
 A humbling loss in addition to having the QB knocked out.  Now the Bears have to go to San Francisco and maybe face another backup QB.  They'll be relying on their defense even more if Jason Campbell can't get the job done.

6.) Green Bay (6-3) [no change]
 Coming off a late bye, the Packers get Detroit.  Not a bad way to get back to action, really.  It looks like the Packers are back on their way up.  As long as Rodgers is ambulatory, he should be able to guide this team to the playoffs, despite their injuries.

7.) New England (6-3) [+1]
 It looks like the defense just might keep Tom Brady from getting his fourth ring.  Playing a Buffalo team with defensive issues of their own, the Patriots just couldn't close the deal last Sunday.  Luckily, Ryan Fitzpatrick was in a giving mood.  I'm still high on this team, mostly because of Brady + Belichick.  I've been high on the team for the last few years as well.  So my confidence isn't shaken, but I do know that when you play a team like Buffalo, who they've traditionally knocked the crap out of, you want to win handily, not at the last second.

8.) Denver (6-3) [+1]
 Peyton Manning is most likely the Comeback Player of the Year.  But will he win MVP as well?  I don't know yet...but it looks like Denver has a strong hold on a very weak division.  I don't think anybody expects San Diego to come from behind to catch them, except maybe Philip Rivers and Norv Turner.

9.) Indianapolis (6-3) [+1]
 It wasn't spotless against Jacksonville, but Andrew Luck and his teammates got it done.  They have the benefit of an extra couple days off as they prepare to play New England.  Tough sledding, but that's how it goes in the NFL: out of the frying pan, into the fire.

10.) Pittsburgh (6-3) [-]
 Obviously, this is temporary; without Roethslisberger, few expect the Steelers to take out Baltimore (me included).  Someone had to come into the Rankings to cover an empty spot, though, and Pittsburgh was the team to do so.  It's too bad they can't stay a while longer, but hey, that's how these things go sometimes.  Of course, if they DO pull off the upset, it just makes me look all the worse.  So really, everyone wins.

That's all for this week.  See you next week.

Three Games to Watch (Week 11):
Indianapolis @ New England (Sunday, CBS)
Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (Sunday, NBC)
Chicago @ San Francisco (Monday, ESPN)
Category: NFL
Posted on: November 6, 2012 5:07 pm
 

2012 NFL Power Rankings, Week 9

Greetings, readers.  It looks like a few teams are beginning to separate themselves from the pack.  That said, the records still indicate that parity is the name of the game in 2012, despite a few that are well above .500.  No team is without flaws, either.  Let's get to the stories from Week 9.

We start out with the Thursday night game.  As usual, it was lopsided.  The Chargers played ...well, if not quite up to their capability, then closer to what fans, media, and other outside observers expect from them on a weekly basis.  Philip Rivers looked a little shaky in the first half, especially on the end-zone INT.  But the second half was all San Diego.  I think we can stick a fork in Kansas City; they might not be mathematically eliminated just yet, but they're most definitely done.

A more inspiring story comes from Indianapolis.  Head Coach Chuck Pagano met with his team before and after the Colts' hard-fought win against the Dolphins.  Andrew Luck played about as well as could be expected, if not better, leading his team to the win while staring long third downs in the face and pulling through just about all day.  Not only that, he was under pressure fairly consistently and not only escaped it, but made great plays at the same time.  The Colts are now 5-3 and play in a fairly weak division; beside the Texans, the Colts are the only good team in the AFC South.  If they can continue this pace, they should secure one of the Wild Card spots.  My hope is that they end up playing Denver in the Wild Card Round, as that would make for some fabulous TV.  Plus, think of the serendipitous nature of that match-up: Peyton Manning playing the man that replaced him in Indianapolis?  Fantastic.  Unbelievable.  Perhaps even a little insane.  But definitely worth watching, no matter what.

Some have said that teams in the NFL can no longer play defense.  Obviously, the Chicago Bears are scoffing at this notion, while they forced turnovers at a rate no one else can match.  Not only are they turning other teams over frequently, they're also turning those TO's into TD's.  The defense is playing so well that Jay Cutler and his maligned offensive line are getting less attention than they were earlier in the season.  This can only be a good thing for that unit.  Cutler did make some good plays, but they'll probably be forgotten since the defense was so dominant.  Honestly, anything that keeps the attention off of Cutler is probably a good thing.  Even if it's the image of Brian Urlacher rumbling into the end-zone after an INT.

Robert Griffin III's rookie season has been synonymous with two things: excitement and failure.  Excitement because anyone can tell that he's going to be something special for a long time to come.  Failure because he hasn't won much and the rest of the team has let him down on numerous occasions.  There is really no way that Washington should have lost to a bad Carolina team at home.  Even with a TD that the NFL later said should not have counted.  By the way, if that TD was disallowed, Carolina still would have won by a point.  For RGIII and company to only put up 13 points against a bad Carolina defense is unacceptable.  The man clearly needs more playmakers around him.  Hopefully this is something that gets rectified in the future, or else Mike Shanahan (and his son the offensive coordinator) might find himself without a job.  He might not be in any danger this year. but if RGIII plays anything like Cam Newton has next year, trouble will be at Shanahan's doorstep.

It's always a little unusual when a running back storms onto the scene as a rookie with consecutive great games.  Yet that's just what Doug Martin has done.  In consecutive games against the Vikings and Raiders, Martin has rushed for a bunch of yards (including the 251 he put up on Sunday) and scored a number of TD's.  Sunday's performance in particular was one of the more impressive I've seen lately, especially from a rookie.  Before the Vikings game, it looked like the Bucs might be dead in the water; now they're looking like they've got a pulse, if nothing else.  And with the Chargers coming to Tampa in Week 10, I think a third straight win is in order.  But coach Schiano has to commit to running Martin.  No more running Blount in the 4th quarter when it looks like the game is wrapped up.  Stick with the hot hand, coach.

Pittsburgh had some unusual circumstances to deal with in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.  With no power in the team hotel in New Jersey, they flew from Pittsburgh to East Rutherford before the game and left shortly after the game.  In the midst of that, they somehow managed to pull out a win despite some bad calls and an up-and-down performance from Ben Roethlisberger.  None of the elite QB's have been all that great in 2012 so far, and Roethlisberger is no exception.  But on Sunday he made the throws he needed to and committed fewer dumb mistakes than he has in other games this season.  The result is still a surprise, though, as I'm sure most expected the Giants to win and it certainly looked like they would.  Then Roethlisberger tossed a short pass to Mike Wallace...and the rest, as they say, is history.  Wallace outran the secondary to the pylon and the game-winning TD was secured.

Lastly, the final undefeated team in the NFL.  While not looking their best (as usual), Atlanta somehow figured out a way to win, even though Dallas didn't turn the ball over as is their wont.  All of the Atlanta receivers came to play and Matt Ryan was up to the challenge.  Through the halfway point, Atlanta is now 8-0 and in firm control of their division.  Chicago and San Francisco are the only teams that look like they can challenge for the #1 seed in the NFC.  The Falcons' schedule is not particularly tough, either; currently, the only winning team that they'll face is the Giants.  I don't think they'll finish 16-0, necessarily.  But these Falcons are clearly the class of the conference at this point.

Here are the Rankings for Week 9:

1.) Atlanta (8-0) [no change]
 Matt Ryan is playing like an MVP and the defense is solid.  Should stay undefeated in Week 10.

2.) Houston (7-1) [no change]
 Probably the toughest matchup for the Texans in Week 10.  Ballhawks all over Soldier Field.

3.) Chicago (7-1) [no change]
 Whereas for Chicago, it shouldn't be too difficult, as long as they can keep Arian Foster in check and force Schaub into mistakes.

4.) San Francisco (6-2) [+1]
 I too am a turkey.  And people call Philip Rivers "captain checkdown"?  Still, they moved up on a bye.  Not bad.

5.) Baltimore (6-2) [+1]
 Joe Flacco continues to underwhelm, but since the "elite" QB's are doing the same as he is, I guess his view is justified.

6.) Green Bay (6-3) [+1]
 Tempted to say Rodgers &co. are rounding into form.  But without Jennings and maybe Nelson, how far can they go?

7.) NY Giants (6-3) [-3]
 That loss has to rankle.  Eli Manning didn't look anything like how the media continually portrays him.

8.) New England (5-3) [no change]
 Brady &co. got the bye after London and now get Buffalo at home.  Wow.

9.) Denver (5-3) [+1]
 Is Peyton Manning rounding into form?  That'll be the weekly question.  Two INT's to Terrence Newman doesn't help.

10.) Indianapolis (5-3) [-]
 I think it's safe to say Andrew Luck has rounded into form.

That's all for this week.  See you next week.

Three Games to Watch (Week 10):
San Diego @ Tampa Bay (Sunday, CBS)
Atlanta @ New Orleans (Sunday, FOX)
Houston @ Chicago (Sunday, NBC)
Category: NFL
Posted on: October 16, 2012 8:49 pm
 

2012 NFL Power Rankings, Week 6

Greetings, readers.  Week 6 was another tough one for me personally; my picks stunk!  I guess that's becoming the usual refrain around here with two bad weeks in the first six.  So let's get to the stories and ignore the rest of the mess.

First up is the Thursday night game.  I don't know about you, but I barely remember what happened.  What I do remember is that the Titans won; Rob Bironas hit his FG after Shawn Suisham missed his.  Whoops!  I hate to get on my high horse and be all judgmental about what is usually a very good team...but let's be serious here: the Steelers got issues.  Not only are they weak on the O-line again (how does this happen three years in a row?) they're losing RB's and Roethlisberger doesn't seem to have the usual magic.  They're a disappointing 2-3 so far.  As for the Titans, I don't know how they pulled that out after being smoked by the Vikings.  I guess Matt Hasselbeck really does have something left in the tank.  I should really listen to Mayock on these things...the guy knows his stuff and is an excellent analyst.

We're down to one undefeated team in the NFL.  It's the Atlanta Falcons.  Hurrah!  Better them than the Texans.  Bias aside, Atlanta has had a couple tough games that probably should have been easier.  So I'm not sure they've really rounded into form yet.  It looks like they could play better, but as always, I've got to see it first.  Being undefeated after the squeakers they've had is pretty impressive, though.  Mike Smith is a heck of a coach and thanks to new OC Dirk Koetter, Matt Ryan is probably playing the best football of his career thus far.

Thankfully, there are no more winless teams in the NFL.  Cleveland got "off the schneid", as they say, by beating AFC North rival Cincinnati.  I really just have one thing to say to this: WTF, Cincy?  That encompasses my feelings quite well.

Philly and Arizona both went to OT in their games; surprise, surprise, they both lost.  And I look like a moron for picking them.  Arizona is still 4-2, so they have the appearance of "goodness", whereas Philly is mediocre and has the record to prove it.  The Eagles fired Juan Castillo, their embattled DC, today.  Surely, there is no way to interpret that other than scapegoating.  When the offense (read: Michael Vick) has as many turnovers as it does, firing anyone not coaching the offense will obviously fix nothing.  The move is completely reactionary; a change made simply for the sake of it.

New England and San Francisco had big games on the left coast.  The Pats went into Seattle, while the 49ers had the Giants at home.  Not surprisingly, both lost.  At least New England showed up, though.  San Francisco didn't bother playing any offense and was even worse on the defensive side of the ball.  They still look decent at 4-2, while the Pats are 3-3.  It's a little funny, and a little weird, to see Tom Brady slumming like this.

Also, thanks to Denver's win, there are 11 3-3 teams.  Let us never forget that parity rules this league.  That also means there are only nine "good" teams.  Although, to be honest, it's hard to say that anybody is worth a darn after six weeks.  That includes Atlanta.

Here are the Rankings for Week 6:
1.) Atlanta (6-0) [no change]
 Rolling into the bye week 6-0.  Doesn't get much better than that.

2.) Baltimore (5-1) [+1]
 Another squeaker, but injuries are mounting.

3.) Houston (5-1) [-1]
 Beat 'em down!  The first loss for the Texans was a bad one.

4.) Chicago (4-1) [+1]
 They moved up on a bye.  That says a lot about the rest of the league.

5.) NY Giants (4-2) [-]
 An impressive win.  Can they keep it going?  Or will "bad" Eli show up again?

6.) San Francisco (4-2) [-2]
 A slight move downward after a home loss where they didn't show up.

7.) Arizona (4-2) [-1]
 With Kevin Kolb out, is it Skelton's team again?

8.) Minnesota (4-2) [-1]
 Two steps forward, one step back.  Allowing RGIII to carve them up like that is inexcusable.

9.) Seattle (4-2) [-]
 A solid win propels Seattle into the Rankings.  Much like the Giants, I doubt them very much.

10.) Green Bay (3-3) [-]
 Beating a previously undefeated team is worth entry, for this week at least.

That's all for this week.  See you next week.

Three Games to Watch (Week 7):
Seattle @ San Francisco (Thursday, NFL Network)
Baltimore @ Houston (Sunday, CBS)
Arizona @ Minnesota (Sunday, FOX)
Category: NFL
Posted on: October 9, 2012 10:35 pm
 

2012 NFL Power Rankings, Week 5

Greetings, readers.  Week 5 went much as I expected it would.  Not a lot of surprises, though we're now down to two undefeated teams.  Also, there are no longer ten good teams; there are a couple 3-2 teams included this week.  It's not something I like to do, but it's what has to be done for this week unless I want to cut it to a top 5.  A top 5 would probably be pointless.

Anyway, on to the stories from this week.

First off, Arizona fell to 4-1.  They went to St. Louis on Thursday and didn't play very well, only managing three points.  Part of that has to do with the Rams' defense, which played quite well.  But for Kevin Kolb and the Cardinals offense, there's really not much of an excuse; they knew before the season that they'd have to handle this hurdle and they didn't look prepared to do so.  A disappointing loss for the Cardinals, but they have plenty of opportunities to bounce back.

I think the most memorable win has to belong to the Indianapolis Colts.  I'm sure everyone knows the story by now; their head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, so the Colts really wanted to win this one.  I'm glad they got the win, yet there's something I feel most people ignored that I feel obligated to point out: Aaron Rodgers did not play well down the stretch.  Actually, he looked jumpy even when the pressure wasn't getting into his face.  I guess he got unsettled early in the game and that carried over to the last couple drives.  Rodgers is far from the only "elite" QB to struggle in the first five weeks of the season, but his struggles have to be seen as the most surprising.  Congratulations to the Colts for taking advantage, and get well soon, Coach Pagano!

As mentioned above, there are only two undefeated teams left after five weeks.  They are Atlanta and Houston.  Of the two, I would guess that Atlanta is the more surprising one.  Houston, for all the plaudits they receive from the national media, has beaten no one of note.  Outside of the AFC West, the AFC South has to be the weakest of the eight divisions.  Both teams look mostly convincing on offense, but defense really looks to be their calling card.

The NFC North, on the other hand, looks like one of the stronger divisions.  Now, don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean I'm entirely sold on Chicago.  But they're 4-1 and so are the Vikings, which puts the NFC North ahead of the pack, alongside the surprising NFC West.  The Bears have a bye in Week 6, while the Vikings head to Washington.  Detroit comes off the bye to face Philadelphia while the Packers head down to Houston in what has to be the first Sunday night game for the Texans since NBC took over that time slot.  So while the division is looking fairly strong this week, it could turn by 11PM CDT on Sunday.

Another week, another win for New England.  It got close enough to not be considered a beatdown in garbage time, but for the majority of the game, Denver wasn't in sight.  I'm sure people were worried after they lost to Arizona and Baltimore, but at 3-2 they look to be rising.  Still, it's not what most of us would expect after five weeks.

The most impressive win goes to San Francisco for the second week in a row.  I guess if they're playing an AFC East team other than New England, the forecast is straight up beatdown.  Putting 34 on the Jets wasn't enough for Jim Harbaugh and Alex Smith, so they put 45 on Buffalo and made them look pitiful.  Speaking of which, how bad is Buffalo's defense?  They've let up 48 to the Jets, 52 to the Pats, and 45 to the 49ers.  Has to be the worst scoring defense, at least.

A weird ending to the San Diego/New Orleans game.  There were consecutive penalties against the Chargers and then a freak injury to the left tackle that ended the game with Rivers getting taken down on a sack/fumble.  The penalties took the Chargers out of range for a TD that would have tied the game up.  And for the coaching staff to fail to notice that the left tackle was injured...well, that's on them.  But the penalties made it look a little fishy.  And let's not go crazy about the Saints; when they started 0-4, they essentially ended the season after Week 4.

Here are the Rankings for Week 5:
1.) Atlanta (5-0) [no change]
 Another close game, but still undefeated, thus still the best.

2.) Houston (5-0) [no change]
 Taking advantage of a weak early season schedule.  Will Cushing injury derail them?

3.) Baltimore (4-1) [+1]
 A field goal festival leads the Ravens to the top of the AFC North.  Back home for the Cowboys this week.

4.) San Francisco (4-1) [+1]
 Two beatdowns in a row and now the Giants come in.  Can they make it three in a row?

5.) Chicago (4-1) [+2]
 Bye week coming up; not sure if it's a good time since they've won three in a row.

6.) Arizona (4-1) [-3]
 While losing in that fashion might cast doubt on the Cards' legitimacy, let's remember it was a short week.

7.) Minnesota (4-1) [+3]
 A pretty spectacular beatdown by the Vikings.  Now they head to Washington, who might be without RGIII.

8.) New England (3-2) [-]
 It's a long trip to Seattle, but it helps to have a couple wins under the belt.

9.) St. Louis (3-2) [-]
 Over .500 for the first time in 5+ years?  It's a good time to be the Rams.  They head to Miami next.

10.) Cincinnati (3-2) [-4]
 A bad loss for the Bengals, but they head to Cleveland for what should be an easy win.

That's all for this week.  See you next week.

Three Games to Watch (Week 6):
New England @ Seattle (Sunday, CBS)
NY Giants @ San Francisco (Sunday, FOX)
Denver @ San Diego (Monday, ESPN)
Category: NFL
Posted on: October 2, 2012 9:48 am
 

2012 NFL Power Rankings, Week 4

Greetings, readers!  Week 4 is over so it's time for another edition of the Rankings.  I have to say that this week went a lot better for me; I try to pick the winners of every game every week and was immensely disappointed to only get four right last week.  This week I got 11-of-15 right and feel a lot better about how I did.  Of course, I got thrown by a couple of the late results; that's to be expected, really.

Still, what I said last week remains mostly in effect.  It won't be quite as serious here as it was in previous weeks or previous seasons.  That's probably for the better anyway.

Not quite as many stories to get to, but I think there were some important developments, just as in every week of the NFL season.  That's one good thing about football: with only 16 games in a season, every week has something important happening.  Often, there are multiple something's and this week was no exception.

Let's start with last Thursday's game, Browns @ Ravens.  It went down to the wire with a surprising finish.  I guess the Browns being close was a surprise to people other than me?  I remember seeing Ron Jaworski on Pardon the Interruption that afternoon and he said the Browns had a chance to keep it close.  Obviously, their offense played better than expected, especially on the last drive.  Their defense wasn't too bad either; while Baltimore had 23 points, their offense didn't look as crisp as it has at times this season.  Of course Brandon Weeden ended up showing his true colors at the end.  He's a rookie, after all.  Despite that close scrape, the Ravens are 3-1 and appear to be in control of the division.  They hold the tiebreaker on Cincinnati.  That's probably a good thing, because the Bengals continue to round into form by the week.  We'll see how Baltimore plays when they head to Cincy later this season.

Most surprising 3-1 team?  My vote goes to the Minnesota Vikings.  I'm not sure I could name more than 10-12 players on the team, yet they've taken out the 49ers and won a division game this week against the Lions.  Apparently Christian Ponder is the last QB to have not thrown an INT this season.  Quite impressive, considering how turnover-happy some QB's have been already.  Adrian Peterson appears to have recovered from his knee injury quite well.  Likely better than expected.  It's hard to predict where this team can end up.  Obviously, if their effort remains close to where it was against the 49ers, they have a legitimate shot just like the other teams in their division.  Some teams start out hot and then fade down the stretch.  We'll see what happens.

I think I heard Tom Brady make a comment about getting back on track, or something to that effect against Buffalo.  Next time I'll make sure to pay better attention, since they just hung 52 up on the Bills.  This performance raises two quite obvious points.  First, the Bills absolutely stink on defense; they've given up 48 and 52, to division opponents no less.  Second, Tom Brady's still got it.  I didn't think losing Aaron Hernandez would have such an effect, but then Brady got Welker and Branch back into the game plan and the TD's started pouring in once more.  I doubt anyone was really selling on the Pats so early, especially with that division, but it was a little troublesome to see them lose to Arizona and Baltimore.  Both games were close, though, something that you can't say about Sunday's game.

Surprisingly, there are still three undefeated teams after four weeks.  Atlanta and Arizona had hard-fought wins while the Texans coasted for most of the day.  Atlanta's defense nearly failed them, but held up enough to get Matt Ryan in position to win it.  And how!  He threw a bomb to Roddy White which traveled at least 60 yards in mid-air and then proceeded to get surgical, taking short chunks of yardage in order to set up his kicker.  Probably one of the better drives I've seen this season.  And yet, I can't shake the feeling that if they had played better earlier in the game, they wouldn't have been in that situation to begin with.  Similarly, the Cardinals took awhile to really wake up.  Once they did, though, they ended up scoring late in the 4th and then won the game in OT.  A bit troubling that it took so much effort against Miami, of all teams.  Houston not only won, they knocked out Jake Locker too.  Unlike the majority of the national media, I'm not quite convinced that the Texans really are the best team in the league.  For now it's Atlanta, until they get beat.  And it just might happen that the Texans lose before Atlanta does.  I don't think it'll be in Week 5, though.

Finally, we get to the Giants.  This one is kind of a referendum on the entire NFC East, since the entire division insists on being unpredictable in a rather stupid way.  Washington went down to Tampa and pulled a win out of the hat despite their kicker's "difficulties" throughout the day.  The Giants lost while having two cracks at a game-winning FG.  And we all saw what Dallas did (and didn't) do last night.  I found the Giants result particularly maddening because the statistics say that Eli Manning is great in the 4th quarter as well as in comeback victories.  He had neither of those things going for him Sunday night and didn't really look like he was in the game for the entirety of it.  Now, even when he's really playing well, he doesn't look all that impressive.  At least, I've never seen a game where his play has really impressed me.  But he looked particularly bad in the 4th quarter Sunday night and failed to make even basic throws.  He wasn't helped by his bonehead receivers who committed ridiculous offensive PI penalties either.  So they're a disappointing 2-2 while the Eagles are somehow 3-1 when they should be 0-4.  I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see Michael Vick get benched at some point this season.  If it happened to McNabb, it can happen to Vick.

Here are the Rankings for Week 4:
1.) Atlanta (4-0) [no change]
 An impressive end to last week's game.  Now they head to Washington to face RGIII.

2.) Houston (4-0) [no change]
 The defense looks for real.  TJ Yates has more playoff wins than Matt Schaub, though.

3.) Arizona (4-0) [no change]
 Kevin Kolb showed why he got beat out by Skelton.  Short week + division rival = Trouble?

4.) Baltimore (3-1) [no change]
 Better to be lucky than good.  Heading out to KC for what should be an easy win.

5.) San Francisco (3-1) [+1]
 No losing streaks allowed, apparently.  That beatdown was probably the most impressive win of the weekend.

6.) Cincinnati (3-1) [+1]
 Can anyone stop A.J. Green?  I'm going to take a wild guess and say not Miami.

7.) Chicago (3-1) [+1]
 They'll feast on another bad QB in Jacksonville.  Now if they could keep Cutler from being Cutler....

8.) San Diego (3-1) [+1]
 Philip Rivers rebounded nicely from that debacle against Atlanta.  Going on the road to New Orleans is tougher, but winnable.

9.) Philadelphia (3-1) [+1]
 Turning the NFC East on its head while trying not to turn the ball over on every possession.  Ugly, but effective.

10.) Minnesota (3-1) [-]
 The most surprising 3-1 team gets a Titans team starting their #2 guy.  4-1 is looking likely.

That's all for this week.  See you next week.

Three Games to Watch (Week 5):
Arizona @ St. Louis (Thursday, NFL Network)
Atlanta @ Washington (Sunday, FOX)
Denver @ New England (Sunday, CBS)
Category: NFL
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com