LB Clay Matthews and the Green Bay Packers are looking to wrap-up a playoff berth in Week 16
It is now crunch time around the NFL and there is little time left to secure one of the league’s 12 coveted playoff berths. Though the Saints, Colts, Eagles, Vikings, Chargers and Cardinals are all already in the playoffs, there are 13 teams still vying for the 6 remaining playoff spots up for grabs with two weeks left in the 2009 NFL Season. Hopefully Week 16 of the NFL season will bring some much-needed clarity to a jumbled playoff picture, but we will have to wait and see as teams out of the mix like the Oakland Raiders (5-9) are still playing hard.
In looking at the current NFL standings here’s the breakdown: The “Elite” – Colts (13-0), Saints (13-1), Vikings (11-3), Chargers (11-3), Eagles (10-4), and Cardinals (9-5); “Strong Playoff Contenders” — Bengals (9-5), Packers (9-5) Cowboys (9-5), Patriots (9-5), Giants (8-6), Ravens (8-6), and Broncos (8-6); “In the Hunt” teams that will soon be either in or out of the playoffs — Jaguars (7-7); Jets (7-7), Dolphins (7-7), Steelers (7-7), Texans (7-7), and Titans (7-7); and lastly the “Finishing Out the String” teams (See you at the 2010 NFL Draft) – Falcons (7-7), Niners (6-8), Panthers (6-8), Bears (5-9), Seahawks (5-9), Bills (5-9), Raiders (5-9), Redskins (4-10), Chiefs (3-11), Browns (3-11), Lions (2-12), Buccaneers (2-12) and Rams (1-13)
Now on to the rankings for this week.
1. Colts (14-0) – What a great game! The Jacksonville Jaguars fought hard the entire game but Manning to Wayne did the Jags in and the Colts wrapped up everything in the AFC. It will be interesting to see if the NFL’s last unbeaten continues to chase the 1972 Miami Dolphins or rest players when they host the desperate New York Jets.
2. Saints (13-1) – The Cowboys decided to not go into the December Night, so quietly. QB Tony Romo and WR Miles Austin led Dallas to an upset on Saturday Night football that knocked New Orleans from the ranks of the unbeaten. Though “perfection” is gone, the Saints still have work to do when they host the 2-win Bucs because NFC home field advantage is still at stake.
3. Chargers (11-3) – In an emotional game, the Chargers continued their ascension to the top of the AFC playoff picture by pulling out a gritty win over the heavy-hearted Bengals. With a chance to secure the AFC’s #2 seed and a first round bye, the Chargers will look to win their 11th game in a row as they travel to Tennessee to take-on the improving Titans in a Christmas Day special.
4. Vikings (11-3) – Is it me or are there some cracks — no running game, injuries, poor quarterback play, and Favre/Childress feuding — starting to form in the Vikings’ armor. In a lackadaisical game, the Vikings were thumped by the Carolina Panthers on Sunday Night Football. The Vikings better wake-up when they face the host Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football, because the Eagles are hungry for the NFC’s #2 playoff spot.
5. Eagles (10-4) – The Birds are looking like real contenders for the NFC crown after dismantling the Niners at the Linc –- Thanks to WR DeSean Jackson. The Birds clinched their 8th playoff berth in Andy Reid’s 11-year tenure as head coach. It will be an emotional homecoming for Denver Broncos safety Brian Dawkins as the Eagles and Broncos meet in a game with huge playoff implications.
6. Cardinals (9-5) – It was a struggle, but the Cardinals pulled themselves together enough to put away the 2-win Detroit Lions and win the NFC West title for the second year in a row. If the Cardinals want to prove that they are legitimate contenders to return to the Super Bowl then they must take care of business against the 1-win Rams.
7. Patriots (9-5) – Despite injuries all over the place, the Patriots gutted-out a tough victory over the better than expected Buffalo Bills. With an eye on clinching the AFC East, the host Patriots will need to be ready for the desperate Jacksonville Jaguars led by RB Maurice Jones-Drew.
8. Cowboys (9-5) – Despite former kicker Nick Foulk trying to give New Orleans a chance, led by remarkable DE DeMarcus Ware, QB Tony Romo, and WR Miles Austin, the ‘Boys finally reversed their December fortunes by beating the formerly undefeated Saints. The Cowboys cannot celebrate their big win over the Saints too long as they will need to take care of business in the Nation’s Capital against NFC East rival, the Washington Redskins.
9. Packers (9-5) – The Pack almost sent the Steelers to their 6th straight loss, but it was Big Ben and emerging rookie receiver Mike Wallace to the rescue as Pittsburgh pulled out a narrow victory. Mike McCarthy’s team will be looking to get the one win needed to qualify for the playoffs when they host the struggling Seattle Seahawks.
10. Bengals (9-5) — Cincy playing with a very heavy-heart almost stopped the San Diego Chargers winning streak, but the Bolts led by QB Philip Rivers pulled out a close victory. Now that the Bengals have found their passing game again, expect Cincinnati to win one for fallen teammate Chris Henry and put away the AFC North when they host the tougher than their record KC Chiefs.
11. Giants (8-6) – The G-Men played with pride and emotion as they trounced the Redskins in all three phases of the game on Monday Night Football. With no room for error, the Giants will need to forget about their big MNF win and concentrate on beating the Carolina Panthers in the Meadowlands.
12. Broncos (8-6) – You would have thought Denver would have put up a better effort against their hated rival, the Oakland Raiders, but Tom Cable’s team ran all over them in a big win. It appears that the Broncos are heading for their second straight year where they lose focus at the end of the year and nearly miss the playoffs. In order to reverse their end of season swoon, the Broncos led by former Eagles veteran safety Brian Dawkins will need to beat the Birds in Lincoln Financial Field.
13. Ravens (8-6) – The Ravens look like a new team as they have outscored their last two opponents 79-10. It wasn’t even close as Baltimore humiliated the Bears to move closer to a playoff bid. In a true grudge match, the Ravens travel to Pittsburgh to face the desperate Steelers, who have to win-out and get some help just to make it back to the playoffs.
14. Titans (7-7) – It took overtime, but V.Y gave a gritty performance and kicker Rob Bironas nailed the game-winner against the resilient Miami Dolphins. On Christmas Day, the Titans will hope to unwrap a win over the surging San Diego Chargers.
15. Dolphins (7-7) – In an overtime thriller, the Dolphins came back to make it a game, only to have the Titans led by QB Vince Young pull out the victory in the extra quarter. In Week 16’s “Desperation Bowl”, the Dolphins will host the Houston Texans – both are (7-7) teams – with the loser packing it in for the season.
16. Jaguars (7-7) – The only thing that I do know about the Jags is that they are the most inconsistent team in the NFL. With a chance to put themselves firmly in the driver’s seat for the AFC playoffs, the Jaguars played great for 3 ½ quarters only to let the undefeated Colts off the hook on Thursday Night Football. Hopefully the extra rest that the Jags got will help them in cold New England as the hungry Patriots are looking to permanently derail Jacksonville’s playoff hopes.
17. Steelers (7-7) – It was gut-check time for the 2008 Champs as it took a miraculous 500-yard passing performance by Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger to beat the upstart Green Bay Packers by a very narrow margin. For the second straight week at Heinz Field, the Steelers will look to revive their flagging season by winning a tough game against a playoff worthy opponent, this time against the Baltimore Ravens.
18. Texans (7-7) – Can you please tell me how QB Matt Schaub threw for over 350 yards and the Texans still struggled to beat the 1-win Rams…but a win is a win. If the Texans are hoping to avoid their third straight (8-8) season and want to keep their dimming playoff hopes alive, they will need to take care of business in Miami against the equally desperate Dolphins who are also (7-7).
19. Falcons (7-7) – Even though they were eliminated from the playoffs earlier in the day, the Falcons led by tough QB Matt Ryan showed their resiliency in coming back to beat the host NY Jets. You have to hand it to Falcons head coach Mike Smith as his team continues to fight-on and I am sure it will be no different this week when Atlanta hosts the T.O and the Buffalo Bills.
20. Jets (7-7) – With a chance to jump to the front of the AFC’s crowded playoff pack, the J-E-T-S, especially interception-prone QB Mark Sanchez, blew it against the comeback Atlanta Falcons. NY Jets head coach Rex Ryan will definitely need a better effort from his quarterback and offense when the Jets travel to Indy with the J-E-T-S hoping that the Colts will be resting players.
21. 49ers (6-8) – Mike Singlegtary’s team showed that they are still just a little too young as mistakes doomed the Niners in a winnable game against the playoff bound Philadelphia Eagles. With only pride on the line, the Niners will look to finish their season strong as they host the 2-win Detroit Lions.
22. Panthers (6-8) – Maybe Panthers head coach John Fox is not done in Carolina after all. The Panthers dominated the playoff-bound Minnesota Viking and harassed QB Brett Favre into mistakes in a season-defining Sunday Night Football win. The Panthers can continue playing the role of “spoiler” when they travel to the cold and windy Meadowlands in search of a win against the G-Men.
23. Raiders (5-9) – Al Davis’ team is one tough bunch and they showed it as they piled up over 200 rushing yards in a huge road win over the suddenly dormant Denver Broncos. In a game that a couple weeks ago looked like Week16’s “Toilet Bowl”, but now it doesn’t…the Raiders will travel to Cleveland to face the improving Browns.
24. Bills (5-9) – Buffalo lost two quarterbacks and possible Defensive Rookie of the Year, safety Jarius Byrd, in a physical loss to the New England Patriots. Bills receiver Terrell Owens’ returns to his part-time home in Atlanta, Georgia as his team faces off against the Falcons in a “Pride Only” game.
25. Bears (5-9) – Wow have the Bears fallen! It looked like Chicago should have never boarded the flight to snowy Baltimore as the Ravens ran up and down the field with little resistance in a huge win. With possibly Bears head coach Lovie Smith’s job on the line, the “Monsters of the Midway” better find their bite when they host the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football.
26. Seahawks (5-9) – The Hawks’ horrible season got even worse as they were humiliated at home the Tampa Bay Bucs. Former Green Bay quarterback and current Seattle starter Matt Hasselbeck will look to return to Lambeau Field with win as the Seahawks face-off against the playoff hungry Packers.
27. Redskins (4-10) – The ‘Skins probably made new GM Bruce Allen sick to his stomach as they were embarrassed by the NY Giants at FedEx Field on Monday Night Football. With “Dead Man Walking” Redskins head coach Jim Zorn finishing out the string, Washington will hope to pull themselves together to give the surging Dallas Cowboys some competition.
28. Browns (3-11) – With unbelievable performances by KR Josh Cribbs and RB Jerome Harrison, the Browns answered the bell over and over in a thrilling victory over the scrappy KC Chiefs. With new Browns football czar Mike Holmgren watching, Cleveland will try to make it 3-consecutive wins when they host the Oakland Raiders.
29. Chiefs (3-11) – Though quarterback Matt Cassell continues to struggle, the Chiefs may have found their running back of the future in speedster Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs fought to the end against the Browns, in a game that may have been Week 15’s Game of the Week. The Chiefs maybe facing “Mission Impossible” as they travel to Cincy to play the emotional Bengals, who are looking to lock up the AFC North.
30. Buccaneers (2-12) – You can say what you want about young head coach Raheem Morris and his Bucs, but this improving team showed heart last week in a big win over the Seattle Seahawks. The young Bucs better watch out as they are travel to New Orleans just one week after the Saints lost their first game of the season.
31. Lions (2-12) – The Lions fueled by young QB Drew Stanton and their scrappy defense put up a good effort in a close loss to the playoff-bound Arizona Cardinals. In a “Pride Only” game, the Lions travel to San Francisco to face the Niners and no-nonsense head coach Mike Singletary..
32. Rams (1-13) – The poor Rams gave it their all, but they came up just short in a surprisingly tough game to the Houston Texans. If the Rams know what is good for them – drafting dominating Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh first overall– they will lose to the Arizona Cardinals this week.
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)