2009 NFL Season – Week 17 Rankings

Backup QB Troy Smith and the Baltimore Ravens need a win in Week 17 to secure an AFC playoff spot

The last week of the 2009 NFL regular season will either be a happy or forgettable event for some NFL teams as the New Year rolls in.  Though 10 of the NFL’s 12 coveted playoff berths have been claimed, there are several Week 17 storylines around the two remaining berths plus  the “Who” and the “Where” pieces of the playoff puzzle left to be decided. 

The NFC playoff picture is pretty clear as all six playoff spots have been claimed (New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals, and Green Bay Packers) with the Saints as the No. 1 seed, but the other five seeds need to be sorted out.  The AFC side of the ledger is a bit more complicated, though the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers have clinched the top two seeds, because there are 7 teams vying for the conference’s last two wildcard spots.

In looking at the current NFL standings one last time before the “real” games start, here’s the breakdown: The “Elite” – Colts (14-1), Saints (13-2), Chargers (12-3), Eagles (11-4), Vikings (11-4), and Cardinals (10-5); “In the Playoffs or on the Cusp” — Bengals (10-5),  Packers (10-5) Cowboys (10-5), Patriots (10-5), Ravens (8-7), and Jets (8-7); “Help Needed” teams that need help from others in their conference just to get in the playoffs  — Texans (8-7), Steelers (8-7), Broncos (8-7), Jaguars (7-8) and Dolphins (7-8); and lastly the “Finishing Out the String” teams (See you at the 2010 NFL Draft) – Giants (8-7), Falcons (8-7), Titans (7-8), Niners (7-8), Panthers (7-8), Bears (6-9), Seahawks (5-10), Bills (5-10), Raiders (5-10), Browns (4-11), Redskins (4-11), Chiefs (3-12), Buccaneers (3-12), Lions (2-13), and Rams (1-13)

Now on to the rankings for this week.

1.  Colts (14-1) – The champagne corks were flying for the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the Colts chose to “rest” key players in the second half of a disappointing loss to the “thankful” NY Jets.  I will debate the point all day that the Colts’ management was wrong to rest players, but GM Bill Polian’s crew has stuck to their “Non-Perfection” stance and we will see how the playoffs turnout.  Expect to see more of backup QB Curtis Painter and company as the Colts close out the regular season against the host Buffalo Bills.

2.  Chargers (12-3) – The Chargers won their 10th game in a row as they thumped the host Tennessee Titans on Christmas Day.  Don’t expect to see head coach Norv Turner to take his foot off the gas when San Diego hosts the Redskins in Week 17 as the Chargers want to go into the playoffs “hot”.

3.  Saints (13-2) – Ought…Oh, the formerly “perfect” Saints appear to be leaking oil as they head to the playoffs.  Though the Saints wrapped up the NFC’s number one seed, they did not look good as they squandered a 17-point lead in a disappointing home overtime loss to the scrappy Tampa Bay Bucs.  Even though the Saints shouldn’t have much to play for against the host Carolina Panthers, expect a strong effort from QB Drew Brees and company.

4.  Eagles (11-4) – Don’t look now, but outside of the San Diego Chargers, the Birds are the hottest team in the NFL.  In another tough close victory, the Eagles put aside Brian Dawkins homecoming to pull-out a win over the reeling Denver Broncos.  Somewhere former Eagles head coaches Dick Vermeil and Buddy Ryan are smiling as it will be Philly vs. Dallas for the NFC East division in Week 17.

5.  Cardinals (10-5) – As the playoffs approach, the Cards are getting better and have a running game.  The 2008 NFL runner-ups looked good in pulling out a tougher than expected NFC West division win over the St. Louis Rams.  With playoff seeding on the line, the Cardinals will host the Green Bay Packers and these two could possibly meet next week in the 1st round of the playoffs.

6.  Vikings (11-4) – I don’t care what anyone says, the Vikings are not on the right page at the wrong time of the season.  QB Brett Favre and company continued to limp into the playoffs as they lost in overtime to the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football.  With a shot at still claiming the NFC’s #2 seed, if the Eagles lose, expect the Vikings to get back on track by thumping the Giants.

7.  Patriots (10-5) – The Pats showed their veteran pedigree as they won their 3rd straight game with a drubbing of the reeling Jacksonville Jaguars.  You know Patriots head coach Bill Belichick would like nothing more than putting an end to the Houston Texans’ playoff hopes, so expect to see QB Tom Brady and WR Randy Moss in Week 17.

8. Cowboys (10-5) – The ‘Boys continued to answer the bell in December 2009 as they shutout the crawling home Washington Redskins.  In a signature game, Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips and QB Tony Romo have a chance to wash away a long history of end of season woes by beating the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17 and claiming the NFC East crown.

9.  Bengals (10-5) — The veteran group of head coach Marvin Lewis, QB Carson Palmer, and — dare I say it – Chad Ochocinco willed the Bengals to a win over the Chiefs to claim the AFC North.  With not much to play for by their late Sunday Night Football start, expect the Bengals to “rest” against the NY Jets who they quite possibly will see in the first round of the playoffs.

10. Packers (10-5) – Led by Pro Bowl CB Charles Woodson, the dangerous Packers destroyed the reeling Seattle Seahawks to claim one of the NFC’s wildcard spots.  Expect the Packers to go for a “momentum” win against the Cardinals in Week 17.

11.  Ravens (8-7) – The Ravens lost a tough road game to the Pittsburgh Steelers (dropped passes, touchdowns negate by penalties, and not enough pressure on Big Ben), but they still are in the driver’s seat in the AFC Wildcard race.  Expect to see Ravens head coach John Harbaugh to pull out all of the stops as Baltimore needs to get a win over the host Oakland Raiders to fulfill their playoff hopes.

12.  Steelers (8-7) – You have to wonder how bad the Steelers as kicking themselves for their 5-game losing streak that included losses to the Chiefs and Raiders.  The Steelers kept their flickering playoff hopes alive by winning a thrilling game over the Ravens.  The first order of business for the playoffs is for the Steelers to beat the host Miami Dolphins then hope for some help.

13.  Texans (8-7) – You know the upstart Texans would like nothing more than to end their 8-8 streak and sneak into the playoffs for the first time.  In Week 16, the Texans went on a mission to South Florida and kept their playoff hopes alive while sending the Dolphins closer to next year.  It will be “Put Up or Shut Up” time when the Texans host New England in Week 17, but Houston still will need some help for their first playoffs.

14.  Falcons (8-7) – Too bad QB Matt Ryan was hurt for some earlier crucial games as the Falcons are playing some of the best football in the NFL.  Mike Smith’s team continued their end of season run by thumping the hap-hazard Buffalo Bills.  In a pride game that will mean a winning season, expect Ryan and the Falcons to go all out in Week 17 versus the surging host Tampa Bay Bucs.

15. Jets (8-7) – I know the J-E-T-S are very close to securing one of the AFC’s wildcard berths, but they have a lot of work to do.  After Peyton and his crew handed the Colts’ backups a 5-point lead, it didn’t take long for Rex Ryan’s team to secure Jim Caldwell’s gift victory.  The Jets may get their second “gift” win in a row, on the way to the playoffs, when they face the Bengals who may also be resting players.

16. Giants (8-7) – The G-Men never showed up in a terrible loss to the Carolina Panthers in the Meadowlands’ last game.   It is player evaluation time for GM Jerry Reese and head coach Tom Coughlin as the G-Men travel to Minnesota in Week 17.

17.  Broncos (8-7) – Not even the return of former Eagles veteran safety Brian Dawkins could spur the reeling Broncos to a win in Philly.  Hard to believe after their hot start, the Broncos and energetic head coach Josh McDaniels are on the brink of missing the playoffs.  In order to keep their flagging playoffs hopes alive, the Broncos must first win at home against the Chiefs.

18.  49ers (7-8) – Mike Singlegtary’s team is getting better, but 2010 maybe their season.  The Niners hammered the ready-for-the-draft Detroit Lions. Looking to build something for next year, expect the Niners to try like crazy for (8-8) as they face the 1-win Rams in Week 17.

19.  Panthers (7-8) – Panthers head coach John Fox got the okay to return in 2010, but does he? Too bad Fox took so long to insert QB Matt Moore as the starter, because the youngster looked good again this time in a win over the Giants.  The Panthers will continue to play “spoiler” when they host the suddenly stumbling New Orleans Saints.

20. Titans (7-8) – Not even Santa could wrap-up a win for V.Y and the Titans against the red-hot Chargers on Christmas Day.  With visions of V.Y producing again in 2010, the Titans will look to finish (8-8) when they face the Seattle Seahawks.

21.  Dolphins (7-8) – Week 16’s “Desperation Bowl” against the Houston Texans did not produce a good result for Miami.  The Dolphins will be looking to finish .500 and keep their flickering playoff hopes alive when they face the Steelers in Week 17.

22.  Jaguars (7-8) – The Jags have limped home after being in the AFC Wildcard driver’s seat at (7-5) after 13 weeks.  The  New England Patriots showed no mercy as they pounded the Jags in a deflating loss.  With their playoff hopes on life support, the Jags will try to get a win in Cleveland against the red-hot Browns.

23.  Bears (6-9) – The real “Monsters of the Midway” showed up as the Bears looked like a new team in producing a Monday Night Football overtime win against the Vikings.  Maybe QB Jay Cutler can pull another win out of his magic hat as the Bears face the Detroit Lions in Week 17.

24.  Browns (4-11) – You have to believe that the Browns are really starting to impress new football czar Mike Holmgren as they dominated the Oakland Raiders.  The Browns will try to save head coach Eric Mangini’s job as they host the playoff-hopeful Jacksonville Jaguars.

25.  Raiders (5-10) – Oakland put-up a fight, but the surging Cleveland Browns were too much for them.  Could the Raiders play the role of spoiler for the second year in a row?  The Raiders host the Ravens, who just need to get a win to make the playoffs.

26.  Bills (5-10) – It looks like the Perry Fewell head coaching experiment is about to end as the Falcons bludgeoned the Bills in Week 16.  It will be interesting to see how the Colts’ JV team does in a meaningless Week 17 game in Buffalo.

27.  Seahawks (5-10) – The Hawks’ didn’t even bother to show up at Lambeau in a horrible loss to the playoff hungry Packers.  Expect to see plenty of young players when the Seahawks host the Titans in Week 17.

28.  Redskins (4-11) – After the Redskins were shutout by the Cowboys, new GM Bruce Allen probably cannot wait for Black Monday to fire “Dead Man Walking” head coach Jim Zorn.  Look for the ‘Skins to mail-it-in when they travel across the country to play the red-hot San Diego Chargers.

29.  Buccaneers (3-12) – Head coach Raheem Morris’ team responded to the challenge of facing the host 13-win Saints by beating them in overtime. The Bucs will look to keep fighting and learning when they host the Atlanta Falcons in Week 17.

30.  Chiefs (3-12) – The Bengals pulled out a tough home win over KC to win the AFC North.  With not much else to play for other than stats, the Chiefs travel to Denver for an old-time AFL battle with the Broncos.

31.  Lions (2-13) – The Niners showed no mercy in  thumping the Lions.  In a game that will only have draft slotting implications, the Lions will host the Chicago Bears.

32.  Rams (1-14) – The Cards piled-up more offensive stats in a quality win over the Rams.  It is “Just Lose, Baby” time for the Rams against the Niners so they can claim the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft – more than likely Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh.

  

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)

2009 NFL Season – Week 14 Rankings

It is time for the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers (backup QB Dennis Dixon pictured) to rise from .500 into the playoff picture or get out of the way

With the third quarter of the 2009 NFL Season completed there is not much time left for teams to either join the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts in the playoffs or step aside.  I love this time of the year as desperation is in the air for everyone in the NFL with jobs and playoff berths both on the line in equal numbers.  After 13 weeks of NFL play, there are still the “Have’s” (10 teams with 8 wins or more including the league’s two undefeated teams — Colts and Saints both 12-0) and the “Have Nots” (8 teams with 4 or less wins, who are now basically spoilers).  But a good portion of the league (14 teams) are still caught in the parity-laden middle with records ranging from 7-5 to 5-7 including former 2008 playoff teams – NY Giants (7-5), Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6), Baltimore Ravens (6-6), Atlanta Falcons (6-6), Tennessee Titans (5-7), and Carolina Panthers (5-7).  So with only four games remaining for teams there is little time left for the “Contenders” and “Pretenders” to sort themselves out — 10 playoff berths remaining.

In looking at the current NFL standings here’s the breakdown: The “Elite” – Saints (12-0), Colts (12-0), Vikings (10-2), Bengals (9-3), Chargers (9-3), and Cardinals (8-4); “Strong Playoff Contenders” — Broncos (8-4), Eagles (8-4), Packers (8-4), Cowboys (8-4), Patriots (7-5), Giants (7-5), and Jaguars (7-5); “Middle of the Road” teams that will soon be either in or out (8 losses or more) of the playoff hunt — Jets (6-6), Ravens (6-6), Steelers (6-6), Falcons (6-6), Dolphins (6-6), Texans (5-7), Titans (5-7), Panthers (5-7), Bears (5-7), Seahawks (5-7) and Niners (5-7); and lastly the “Ugly” (See you at the 2010 NFL Draft) – Bills (4-8), Raiders (4-8), Redskins (3-9), Chiefs (3-9), Lions (2-10), Browns (1-11), Rams (1-11), and Buccaneers (1-11)

Now on to the rankings for this week.

1.  Colts (12-0) – In a dominating win over the upstart Tennessee Titans, Jim Caldwell’s team pulled a hat trick.  The Colts tied the Patriots (2006-2007) NFL record for consecutive regular season wins (21), won their 12th game for an NFL record 7 seasons in a row, and claimed the AFC South Crown.  You have to wonder if Caldwell will follow in Tony Dungy’s footsteps by resting players rather than go for an undefeated season.  Look for all the Colts to play this week including QB Peyton Manning as potential playoff foe, the Denver Broncos, come to Indy.

2.  Saints (12-0) – Somebody up there likes the Saints as the Washington Redskins were one shanked field goal by now-departed kicker Shaun Suisham from winning in regulation.  However the Saints led by WR Robert Meachem took advantage of Redskins’ mistakes on their way to a thrilling overtime win.  The Saints undefeated express heads south to face the very injured Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome.

3.  Chargers (9-3) – Led by RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who ran into the NFL record books, the Chargers won their 8th straight game, this time over the tougher than expected 1-win Cleveland Browns.  Very quietly QB Philip Rivers is having a MVP type season and the Chargers are strong playoff contenders again (15-0 in December since 2005).  In a “respect” game, the Chargers will travel to Dallas in hopes of continuing the Cowboys’ December swoon.

4.  Vikings (10-2) – Sunday Night Football was not so magical for Vikings QB Brett Favre (2 INTs) and his crew as the Arizona Cardinals sprinted past Minnesota.  In a great match-up of two potential division winners, the Vikings will host the Cincinnati Bengals who are primed to claim the AFC North crown.

5.  Bengals (9-3) — Marvin Lewis’ team gladly feasted on the haphazard Detroit Lions in a game where Chad Ochocinco’s sideline antics were more entertaining than the game.  In a true test that will show the NFL where the Bengals stand in the league’s pecking order, Cincy will hit the road to Metrodome to face the angry Vikings.

6.  Cardinals (8-4) – With veteran QB Kurt Warner back under center, the Cards offensive firepower was hitting on all cylinders as they rolled over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football.  In a game that will definitely settle the NFC West, the Cardinals will travel to the Bay on Monday Night to face the inconsistent Niners, who are trying to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive.

7.  Eagles (8-4) – The Birds are making their usual December playoff push (3 consecutive wins) despite not having RB Brian Westbrook.  The Eagles had no problems hammering the beat-up Atlanta Falcons in QB Michael Vick’s triumphant return to the Georgia Dome.  In a highly anticipated NFC East black-and-blue game, the Eagles will travel up the turnpike to face the rejuvenated NY Giants on NBC Sunday Night Football.

8. Cowboys (8-4) – You hate to bring it up, but something about the end of the season brings out the worst in the Cowboys.  In a December Swoon Special, bonehead LT Flozell Adams woke-up the sleeping NY Giants in a tough NFC East divisional loss.  The Cowboys’ on the hot seat trio of head coach Wade Phillips, QB Tony Romo, and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett better turn desperation into a win when the surging San Diego Chargers come to town.

9. Packers (8-4) – The penalty flags were flying everywhere at Lambeau Field on Monday Night Football, but the Packers gladly accepted an easier than expect win over the reeling Baltimore Ravens.  The Packers and their highly rated defense cannot rest on their laurels when they travel to Chi-town to face bitter longtime rival, the Chicago Bears.

10.  Broncos (8-4) – In a true laugher, the Broncos led by their new one-two running back tandem thumped the lowly KC Chiefs.  It is time for the Broncos to show if they are truly a playoff contender as they travel to Indy to face the undefeated Colts.

11.  Patriots (7-5) – What the “bleep” is going on with the Patriots (lost two consecutive games for the first time since 2006) as the Miami Dolphins threw ball all over the place in a big AFC East win.  With the Dolphins and Jets getting dangerously close, the Patriots will need to find their playoff pedigree when they host the Carolina Panthers this week.

12.  Jaguars (7-5) – In a physical win that may propel them to a wildcard berth, the Jaguars dug deep for a tough win over desperate division rival, the Houston Texans.  In a “Battle for Florida” special, the Jaguars will host the Dolphins and it should be a good one as both teams are making their playoff push.

13. Giants (7-5) – The G-Men rebounded from being the Denver Broncos’ Thanksgiving turkey by protecting their home turf in a tough win over the Dallas Cowboys.  For the second week in a row, the Meadowlands will be the place to be in the NFC East as the rebounding G-Men host the hard-charging Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football.

14.  Dolphins (6-6) – The ‘Phins decided that going to the air was the best way to beat the Patriots and they were right as QB Chad Henne had a career game in a big AFC East win that kept Miami’s playoff hopes alive.  In a huge game with AFC playoff implications, the Dolphins will travel north to face the tough Jaguars.

15.  Ravens (6-6) – I am sure that Baltimore is still complaining about the officiating in their Monday Night massacre at the hands of the Packers, but where was QB Joe Flacco in the loss.  With basically their season on the line, the Ravens must thump the pathetic two-win Detroit Lions who come to the Charm City this week.

16. Steelers (6-6) – In a game that really showed a ton of cracks in the former Super Bowl Champion’s  armor, the Oakland Raiders continually got off the mat in a huge road win over the Steelers.  On NFL Network Thursday Night Football, it is no excuses time for the Steelers as they dearly need a win over the lagging Cleveland Browns to get back on track.

17. Jets (6-6) – The J-E-T-S continued their inconsistent ways, this time winning over the scrappy Buffalo Bills on Thursday Night football.  With some extra rest this week, everyone is expecting another “W” as the Jets head south to face the young Tampa Bay Bucs.

18.  Falcons (6-6) – Mike Smith’s team is so injured, it looks like the end of the Falcons playoffs hopes is near.  The Philadelphia Eagles took advantage of the Falcons’ depleted roster to cruise to an easy win.  With their season on the line, the Falcons maybe facing “Mission Impossible” when the high-flying undefeated New Orleans Saints come to town for a huge NFC South game.

19. Titans (5-7) – You knew after five straight wins, V.Y and the Titans had a loss coming their way and the undefeated Colts were very glad to put it on them.  After a brief derailment, the Tennessee .500 express should be back on track as the Titans play host to the struggling St. Louis Rams.

20.  Texans (5-7) – How come every year seems to turn-up 8-8 or worse for the Texans?  The Jaguars won a tough AFC South playoff type game and unfortunately for the reeling Texans, injured QB Matt Schaub was on the sidelines once again.  With their season on the line, it may be time for backup QB Rex Grossman to come to the rescue when the desperate Texans host the Seattle Seahawks in a 5-7 team special.

21.  Seahawks (5-7) – The Hawks made it two wins in a row as they pulled off a narrow victory over the Niners.  Veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck hopes to continue the Seahawks tiny resurgence as Seattle travels to Houston, TX play the desperate Texans in a game that will virtually end one team’s season.

22.  49ers (5-7) – Mike Singlegtary’s team showed once again that they are probably a year away from contending as the Seahawks pulled a minor upset to stay even with the Niners.  San Francisco’s season will be on the line as they host the NFC West division leading Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football.

23.  Panthers (5-7) – With head coach John Fox’s future hanging in the balance, the Panthers led by backup QB Matt Moore saved their coach for another week by disposing of the struggling Tampa Bay Bucs.  The Panthers better figure out a way to add some passing to their vaunted running attack when they travel to New England to face a Patriots defense that has allowed a ton of big passing plays.

24.  Bears (5-7) – It wasn’t a masterpiece, but the Bears kept their waning playoff hopes alive by beating the 1-win St. Louis Rams.  It is time for Bears QB Jay Cutler to earn his huge contract and trade promise by stepping up this Sunday when Chicago hosts the wildcard leading Green Bay Packers in a traditional Midwest black-and-blue game.

25.  Bills (4-8) – Not even interim head coach Perry Fewell and scrappy QB Ryan Fitzpatrick could pull the Bills past the NY Jets, who made it a point to shutdown receiver Terrell Owens (see Pro Bowl CB Darrelle Revis) in a big AFC East win on Thursday Night Football.  In Week 14’s “Toilet Bowl”, the Bills will be playing for pride this week when they travel to KC to face the finishing-out-the-string Chiefs.

26.  Raiders (4-8) – What a game for Pittsburgh homeboy and Raiders QB Bruce Gradkowski.  The gritty former Bucs starter willed the Raiders to a tough road win over the Steelers after there were several opportunities for Oakland to quit.  In a game of two of the NFL’s biggest spoilers, the Raiders will attempt to equal their highest season win total in the last 7 years (5 games in ’04 and ’08) when they host the Redskins.

27.  Redskins (3-9) – The ‘Skins deserved a win for their never-say-die effort against the undefeated Saints, but kicker Shaun Suisham –since cut – was their undoing in a tough overtime loss.  With their season basically over an only a matter of time before beleaguered head coach Jim Zorn can hit the unemployment line, the Redskins will travel across the country for a showdown against the tougher than their record Raiders.

28.  Chiefs (3-9) – The Broncos ran up and down the field on the reeling Chiefs and it looks like some big changes to head coach Todd Haley’s team and staff are coming this off-season.  The Chiefs will host the Bills in this week’s Toilet Bowl, but I will be interested in seeing who gets more receiving yards KC’s Chris Chambers or the Bills’ Terrell Owens.

29.  Lions (2-10) – Detroit showed some fight in a loss to the Bengals, but with the losses mounting everyone needs to remember that this team set an NFL-low of going 0-16 in 2008.  Playing without injured starter Matthew Stafford, the Lions led by retread quarterback Daunte Culpepper will hope to spoil the host Baltimore Ravens playoff plans.

30.  Browns (1-11) – Too bad Browns quarterback Brady Quinn waited until the end of the season to look competent as the hapless Dawgs didn’t have enough for the surging San Diego Chargers.  On NFL Network Thursday Night Football, the Browns will hope to end their futility against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers (have lost 12 games in a row to P-Burgh) plus push Big Ben and the rest of the Steelers from the playoff picture.

31.  Rams (1-11) – Another ugly loss for the rebuilding Rams as the Bears found a way to not lose.  Strike-up the band as the Tennessee Titans fresh off a tough loss to the Colts will be looking to barbeque the struggling young Rams.

32.  Buccaneers (1-11) – The Carolina Panthers badly needed a win and the lowly Bucs were more than happy to provide them one.  In a game that could prove to be an upset special, the Bucs will host the inconsistent NY Jets, who will have QB Kellen Clemens under center.

 

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)

2009 NFL Season – Week 13 Rankings

The New Orleans Saints led by their O-line (pictured OG Jahri Evans) thumped the New England Patriots and now they are No. 1 in this week’s Power Rankings

With their comeback win over the Houston Texans in Week 12, the Indianapolis Colts clinched the AFC South crown so now there are only 11 coveted NFL playoff berths left.  In the next five weeks, we can expect the remaining 25 NFL teams with records ranging from 11-0 to 4-7 to continue to self separate into “Contenders” and “Pretenders”.  The upcoming NFL schedule has some great match-ups that will surely make it easier to see which teams will survive the league’s regular season championship rounds (December and early January) to make the playoffs, so buckle-up as the 2009 NFL regular season is almost ready to land. 

A common trend that I will be interested in, is the number of new teams making the playoffs after missing them the prior year.  In 2008, for the 13th consecutive NFL season, five or more teams qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before (Arizona, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Minnesota, Miami and Carolina).  This year the Bengals, Saints, Cowboys, Patriots, Packers, Broncos, and Jaguars are all strong contenders to make the playoffs after missing out on them in 2008.

In looking at the current NFL standings here’s the breakdown: The “Elite” – Saints (11-0), Colts (11-0), Vikings (10-1), Bengals (8-3), Cowboys (8-3), and Chargers (8-3); “Stuck in the Middle” teams, who are caught in the NFL’s parity-filled middle and need to either join the playoff hunt or fall back — Cardinals (7-4), Patriots (7-4), Broncos (7-4), Eagles (7-4), Packers (7-4), Giants (6-5), Steelers (6-5), Jaguars (6-5), Ravens (6-5), Falcons (6-5), Dolphins (5-6), Texans (5-6), Jets (5-6), Titans (5-6), and Niners (5-6); The “Pretenders”, who are trying to avoid their 8th loss which means they have joined  the league’s bottom rung – Panthers (4-7), Bears (4-7), Bills (4-7), and Seahawks (4-7); and lastly the “Ugly” (See you at the 2010 NFL Draft) – Redskins (3-8), Raiders (3-8), Chiefs (3-8), Lions (2-9), Browns (1-10), Rams (1-10), and Buccaneers (1-10)

Now on to the rankings for this week.

1.  Saints (11-0) – Wow, after their Monday Night football dismantling of the Patriots, there is no denying Sean Payton’s team the top spot any longer.  The Saints are explosive on offense, defense, and special teams plus their quarterback, Drew Brees, is putting up some unbelievable stats.  New Orleans will look to continue their franchise best start and try to avoid a letdown as they travel to the Nation’s Capital for a game against the dangerous Redskins.

2.  Colts (11-0) – Jim Caldwell’s team pulled out another “W” in a very close game against the Texans, but the Saints were more impressive.  The Colts are now AFC South champs and you have to wonder if they lock-up home field in the AFC, will they start “resting” some veterans.  In a clash of two miraculous streaks, the Colts will host the hard-charging Tennessee Titans (winners of 5 straight) and team-first QB Vince Young.

3.  Vikings (10-1) – If the Saints were not around everyone would be talking about comeback QB Brett Favre and the scary good Minnesota Vikings.  It wasn’t even close as Favre almost put up career number in a rout of the Chicago Bears and their inconsistent quarterback Jay Cutler.  Next up is a Sunday Night Football “flexed” game as the Vikes travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals in a potential playoff preview game.

4.  Chargers (8-3) – The Bolts have now won 6 games in a row after throttling the KC Chiefs in Week 12.  Surprisingly, the Chargers continue to fly under the NFL’s mainstream radar despite a MVP type season from QB Philip Rivers.  Head coach Norv Turner’s squad continues their tour of the NFL’s underbelly as they travel to Cleveland to face the 1-win Browns.  

5.  Bengals (8-3) — Marvin Lewis’ team rebounded from a bad road loss to the Oakland Raiders by thumping the Cleveland Browns to finish a perfect 6-0 in AFC North divisional games.  Another NFL cupcake awaits as the Bengals will gladly host the 1-win Detroit Lions.

6. Cowboys (8-3) – As usual the ‘Boys rolled on Thanksgiving, this time beating up the hapless Oakland Raiders on national television.  In an NFC East grudge match, the Meadowlands will be rocking as the struggling New York Giants host the Cowboys with their season on the line.

7.  Eagles (7-4) – The Birds made it two ugly wins in a row as they outlasted the reeling and injured Washington Redskins in a knock-down-drag-out NFC East battle.  Hoping to continue their usual November/December playoff push (2-game winning streak), the Birds will travel to the Georgia Dome to face a very injured Falcons’ squad.

8. Packers (7-4) – While probably trying in vain to catch the red-hot Minnesota Vikings in the standings, the Pack continues to put themselves in playoff contention.  The Packers dominated the terrible Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving.  In a great match-up of two teams looking to stay in the thick of the playoff hunt, the Baltimore Ravens led by future Hall of Famer LB Ray Lewis will look to get a tough road win at Lambeau Field on Monday Night Football.

9.  Broncos (7-4) – It was pass the gravy time as the Broncos feasted on the reeling NY Giants on Thanksgiving.  Denver hopes to stay on the heels of the surging San Diego Chargers, but they cannot look past the host Kansas Chiefs who are playing better since jettisoning malcontent Larry Johnson.

10.  Patriots (7-4) – The Pats looked old and confused as they had no answer for the high octane undefeated Saints on Monday Night Football.  Looking to rebound from an embarrassing national TV loss, the Patriots and QB Tom Brady will look to jump all over the host Miami Dolphins in a key AFC East match-up.

11.  Cardinals (7-4) – Even without starting QB Kurt Warner (concussion), the Cardinals were seconds away from a huge inter-conference win, but it was V.Y to the rescue for the Titans in a thriller.  In a game that was “flexed” by NBC to Sunday Night Football, the Cardinals hope to get Warner back and match the offensive firepower of the visiting Minnesota Vikings.

12. Steelers (6-5) – P-Burgh had another tough loss in Week 12 — their 3rd in a row — this time to the hated Baltimore Ravens in overtime.  Head coach Mike Tomlin’s team should be prepared this week and you have to feel sorry for the visiting Oakland Raiders, who are looking like a potential homecoming tomato can.

13.  Jaguars (6-5) – Just when you want to move Jack Del Rio’s team higher in the rankings, they lay another stinker. This time it was the San Francisco 49ers who laid the smack down on the up-and-down Jags.  In a game that is sure to have a playoff feel, the Texans will travel to Jacksonville for a “Loser leaves town” match with the equally desperate Jaguars.

14.  Falcons (6-5) – Mike Smith’s team showed their toughness (lost QB Matt Ryan – toe and RB Michael Turner – ankle) in a win over the scrappy Tampa Bay Bucs.  In a huge game that will definitely have NFC playoff implications, the Falcons will take on the Philadelphia Eagles in the Georgia Dome with backup QB Chris Redmon making the start.

15. Giants (6-5) – The G-Men continued to fall further behind the Eagles and Cowboys in the NFC East race as they were soundly thumped by the Denver Broncos on Thanksgiving.  With QB Eli Manning trying to gut it out (foot injury), the Giants will look to save their season as they host the NFC East division leading Dallas Cowboys.

16.  Ravens (6-5) – Baltimore continues to show their toughness as this past week they beat the Steelers in overtime on Sunday Night Football.  With no room for error, the Ravens will travel to Lambeau to face the surging Packers on Monday Night Football.

17. Titans (5-6) – Titans QB Vince Young outdueled Matt Leinart again as he answered his critics with an incredible last second win over the Cardinals.  With their season on the line, the Titans will look to stop record setting QB Peyton Manning and the host Indianapolis Colts in a huge AFC South game.

18.  Texans (5-6) – It looks like the inconsistent Texans are headed toward another 8-8 season which could spell curtains for head coach Gary Kubiak.  The Colts came back from a 17-0 deficit to send the Texans to a tough home defeat.  If the Texans want to save their season and possibly their head coach’s job, they will need to take care of business in Jacksonville in an AFC South survival game against the Jaguars.

19. Jets (5-6) – The J-E-T-S, led by CB Darrell Revis, shutdown the pitiful Carolina Panthers as rookie QB Mark Sanchez outplayed struggling Panthers QB Jake Delhomme.  In an NFL Network Thursday Night special, head coach Rex Ryan will need his team to take care of business against the equally desperate Buffalo Bills.

20.  49ers (5-6) – The Niners continued their climb back to .500 as they beat-up on the inconsistent Jacksonville Jaguars.  If Niners head coach Mike Singletary’s team wants to climb all the way into playoff contention, they will have to avoid a letdown in Seattle against the Seahawks.

21.  Dolphins (5-6) – Buffalo Bills receiver Terrell Owens got his revenge on Miami Dolphins czar Bill Parcells as the Bills led by QB Ryan Fitzpatrick dominated the Dolphins.  If the ‘Phins are going to show the NFL that they belong in the playoffs, they will need to defend their home turf against the angry New England Patriots.

22.  Seahawks (4-7) – The Hawks finally found someone that they could beat-up on and the 1-win Rams were the willing victims.  In an NFC West statement game, the Seahawks will host the Niners in a game that will end someone’s season.

23.  Bills (4-7) – The NFL’s new fantasy football combo, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and  WR Terrell Owens, helped the Bills dominate the Dolphins.  In a Thursday Night football special, the Bills will travel to the Meadowlands to face a rebounding Jets’ squad.

24.  Panthers (4-7) – It looks like Panthers head coach John Fox is going to go down with struggling QB Jake Delhomme.  The NY Jets capitalized on many Panthers’ mistakes to produce an easy win.  With their season on the line, the Panthers will host the 1-win Bucs in an NFC South basement special.

25.  Bears (4-7) – When the Bears traded for Jay Cutler, they thought they had the missing piece to competing with the Vikings for the top of the NFC North…Man were they wrong.  Cutler struggled again as  Minnesota and 40-year old QB Brett Favre picked the Bears apart.  In a game they have to win to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive, the Bears will host the 1-win St. Louis Rams in a must-win sitiuation.

26.  Chiefs (3-8) – KC had no answer for the surging Chargers, who won going away.  With their season basically over the Chiefs will now try to play spoiler as they host the Denver Broncos who are in the thick of the AFC West race.

27.  Redskins (3-8) – The injured ‘Skins and beleaguered head coach Jim Zorn couldn’t even capitalize on the sloppy Philadelphia Eagles mistakes in a loss that basically ended their season.  After the Saints huge win over the Patriots, could they be primed for a letdown game against the Redskins…probably not.

28.  Raiders (3-8) – Al Davis’ boys served as the turkeys for Dallas Cowboys on  Thanksgiving game.  The season can’t end any faster for embattled head coach Tom Cable’s team and I am sure it will get even worse as the Raiders play the angry Steelers in Pittsburgh.

29.  Lions (2-9) – Once again the Lions were stuffed and cooked on Thanksgiving, this time by the surging Green Bay Packers.  The road to the NFL Draft got even more tougher for the Lions as they face the host Bengals, who want to keep their lead in the AFC North.

30.  Browns (1-10) – QB Brady Quinn struggled badly as the Browns were spanked by the Bengals as they lost “The Battle for Ohio” badly.  Browns head coach Eric Mangini is on the hot seat after only 11 games and it may get even worse as the surging San Diego Chargers come to town.

31.  Rams (1-10) – If nothing else, Steve Spagnuolo’s team will fight till the end.  Unfortunately for the scrappy Rams, the Seahawks had too many offensive weapons in their lopsided win.  Look for the Rams to hand the ball off to powerback Steven Jackson when they travel to Chicago to face the inconsistent Bears.

32.  Buccaneers (1-10) – The Bucs are young, but improving and it showed in their effort against the Atlanta Falcons last week.  In a battle for the NFC South basement, the still hopeful Carolina Panthers will need to keep an eye on emerging rookie QB Josh Freeman.

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)

2009 NFL Season – Week 10 Power Rankings

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Electrifying running back Chris Johnson and the Tennessee Titans are moving up this week’s Power Rankings after two straight wins

The 2009 NFL season has started toward its oh-too-fast ending with the midpoint of the season in everyone’s rearview mirrors.   With the final two byes of the season  (NY Giants and Houston Texans) passing this week, teams must now go into survival of the fittest mode.  There are 12 coveted playoff berths left team to be claimed in the final 8 weeks of the season and now is the time for teams to separate into “Contenders” and “Pretenders”. 

In looking at the current NFL standings here’s the breakdown: The “Elite” – Saints (8-0), Colts (8-0), Vikings (7-1), Broncos (6-2), Steelers (6-2), Bengals (6-2),  Cowboys (6-2), and Patriots (6-2); “Teams on the Cusp” — Chargers (5-3), Falcons (5-3), Eagles (5-3) and  Cardinals (5-3); “Stuck in the Middle” inconsistent teams, who are caught in the NFL’s parity-filled middle and either need to join the playoff hunt or fall back – Texans (5-4), Giants (5-4), Ravens (4-4), Jets (4-4), Bears (4-4), Jaguars (4-4), and Niners (3-5); The “Pretenders”, who are only a shade away from the league’s bottom rung – Dolphins (3-5), Panthers (3-5), Bills (3-5), and Seahawks (3-5); and lastly  the “Ugly” (i.e. These teams  maybe looking to make themselves over by  2010 NFL Draft) – Titans (2-6), Redskins (2-6), Raiders (2-6), Chiefs (1-7), Lions (1-7), Browns (1-7), Rams (1-7), and Buccaneers (1-7)

Now on to the rankings for this week.

1.  Colts (8-0) – In a crucial AFC South battle, the Houston Texans gave the injury-depleted Colts all they could handle.  But in the end QB Peyton Manning, TE Dallas Clark, and DE Dwight Freeney rode to head coach Jim Caldwell’s rescue as the Colts remained perfect at the midway point.  Next up is a battle of the two dominant AFC teams of the ‘OOs as the hungry Patriots come to town.

2.  Saints (8-0) – “Who Dat, Who Dat is gonna beat them Saints”… another week and QB Drew Brees shines again in another win.  This time division rival, the Carolina Panthers, jumped out to an early lead only to have the Saints roll over them by a big score.  A “business” road trip awaits the undefeated Saints as they travel to St. Louis to face a dangerous 1-win Rams squad.

3.  Vikings (7-1) – The NFC North’s #1 team used their bye week to recharge their batteries in anticipation of a possible playoff run in the months of November and December.  You know QB Brett Favre’s 40-year old body is refreshed and ready to host the reeling Detroit Lions, who should even bother coming to the Metrodome.

4. Steelers (6-2) – Mike Tomlin’s team showed that they are really back as they won their 5th straight game with a dominating effort over the host Denver Broncos on MNF.  On a very entertaining undercard of the marquee Patriots-Colts matchup, the Steelers will host division rival, the Cincinnati Bengals, in a battle for the top of the AFC North.

5.  Patriots (6-2) – The Patriots bottled up the Miami Dolphins and the ‘Wildcat”  as they further increased their lead in the AFC East.  Next up is Super Bowl XLIII ½ as the Patriots play the Colts for the 7th straight year.

6.  Bengals (6-2) — Marvin Lewis’ team proved that they are legit as they thumped the inconsistent Baltimore Ravens.  The road to respectability gets even harder for the Bengals as they have to travel to Pittsburgh to face the red-hot World Champion Steelers.

7.  Broncos (6-2) –  Denver lost for the second straight week as the Steelers dominated them on Monday Night Football.  Looking to get back on track, the Broncos will go to DC to face the dysfuncti0nal and reeling Washington Redskins.

8. Cowboys (6-2) – The ‘Boys were ready for the  bright lights of NBC Sunday Night Football as they used big plays to beat the host Eagles in a huge NFC East battle.  The Cowboys return to the site of the “Ice Bowl” as they travel to Green Bay to face their long time rival on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.

9.  Cardinals (5-3) – Good Kurt Warner showed up as the Cardinals dominated the Chicago Bears to build a surprising 4-0 road record.  The dangerous Seattle Seahawks are up next in a game that could go a long way in determining the NFC West champion.

10.  Falcons (5-3) – Mike Smith’s team was fighting mad as they pushed  the dysfunctional Washington Redskins and lame-duck head coach Jim Zorn further into the abyss.  In a battle to see who is second to the undefeated Saints, the Falcons travel to Carolina to face an inconsistent Panthers’ squad.

11.  Chargers (5-3) – The Bolts look to be back as they won for 3rd straight time with Philip Rivers leading a comeback win over the  Giants in “The Battle for Eli”.  In a game that could go a long way in establishing or curbing either team’s playoff hopes, the Philadelphia Eagles travel to the West Coast to face the surging Chargers.

12.  Eagles (5-3) – In a disappointing home loss, the Birds lost their lead in the  NFC East as the hated Dallas Cowboys came up big on NBC Sunday Night Football.   The Eagles hope their second West Coast trip is better than their last one (lost to the Raiders) as they face the surging Chargers and QB Philip Rivers.

13.  Texans (5-4) – Close but no win as the Texans looked like their old 8-8 selves in a crucial AFC South division loss to the undefeated Indianapolis Colts.  I know head coach Gary Kubiak and GM Rick Smith will be encouraging their team get focused during their bye  for a strong  second half run.

14. Giants (5-4) – It was their 4th straight loss as the Chargers  came  east and pulled out a last-second win.  It will be up to fiery head coach Tom Coughlin to pull his team out of their funk over the Giants’ bye week.

15.  Ravens (4-4) – John Harbaugh’s team continued their inconsistent ways as their bark was worse than their bite in their second loss to the Bengals this season.  I think the Ravens should get back on track this week as they return to Cleveland for the annual, “Art Modell Game”.

16. Packers (4-4) –  In an old-time NFC Central match-up, the creamsicle unformed Buccaneers dominated the reeling Packers in a totally surprising win.  It will be time to step-up or step aside for the Packers as they host the surging NFC East leading Dallas Cowboys.

17.  Bears (4-4) – The  road warrior Arizona Cardinals traveled to the Windy City and fueled by rejuvenated QB Kurt Warner, they dominated the inconsistent Bears.  In an NFL Thursday Night special, Mike Singletary’s Niners will play host to his former beloved franchise.

18.  Jaguars (4-4) – The “good” Jags were back as they held off the scrappy Kansas City Chiefs to climb back to a .500 record for the season.  The Jags will try to win two games in a row for only the second time this season as they travel North to face an equally inconsistent Jets squad.

19.  Jets (4-4) – Hopefully the bye week allowed Jets head coach Rex Ryan, QB Mark Sanchez  and their special teams to find a modicum of consistency.  Next up the J-E-T-S host the Jacksonville Jaguars in a battle of two of the AFC’s best rushers (Jags’ Maurice Jones-Drew and Jets’ Thomas Jones).

20.  Panthers (3-5) – Carolina showed that 2008 was their year, but 2009 is the year of the  New Orleans Saints in the NFC South.  If beleaguered head coach John Fox is smart, he will look to ride workhorse RB DeAngelo Williams as Atlanta comes to Bank of America Stadium for a crucial NFC South match-up.

21.  Dolphins (3-5) – “The Return of the Wildcat” to New England proved more sizzle than substance as the Patriots fueled by a Randy Moss stiff-arm shook-off the Dolphins.  The Battle of South Florida is up next as the Dolphins host the on-a-roll Tampa Bay Bucs.

23. Titans (2-6) – See Titans owner Bud Adams was right again as QB Vince Young and electrifying RB Chris Johnson led the Titans to their second straight win, this time on the road over the Niners.  Next up is a road trip to Buffalo and V.Y, Johnson, and the Titans newly resurgent defense are looking to gobble up the Bills like a plateful of hot wings.

22.  49ers (3-5) – The Niners fought  hard but the Titans led by RB Chris Johnson and QB Vince Young ran all over them.  In a Thursday Night Special, the Niners will try to save their season as they face an inconsistent Chicago Bears.

24.  Seahawks (3-5) – Beat the Detroit Lions  in Week 9’s “Toilet Bowl” as Lions QB Matthew Stafford threw 5 picks.  In a game that could save their season, the Hawks will travel to the desert to face the surging Cardinals.

25.  Bills (3-5) – Maybe the bye week will help subpar QB Trent Edwards and  T.O find the connection that has been missing all season from the Bills’ offense.  In a must-win situation, the Bills coming will host the rising Titans and their explosive running game.

26.  Redskins (2-6) – “Hotlanta” was too hot for the wilting Redskins as the only fight they really showed was on the sidelines in another loss.  Next up is a home game against the suddenly struggling Denver Broncos, but the Skins maybe searching as several key players will probably miss the game with injuries.

27.  Raiders (2-6) – Al Davis’ scurvy crew had too many problems to be cured during one bye week, at least emerging receiver Chaz Schilens should be ready to play in Week 10.  The Raiders will look to defeat the struggling Chiefs for the second time this season in an AFL old-time battle in Oakland.

28.  Chiefs (1-7) –  After jettisoning malcontent RB Larry Johnson, the Chiefs showed some fight against the  Jacksonville Jaguars, but came-up short.  Next up is a battle against the Oakland Raiders in Week 10’s “Toilet Bowl”.

29.  Rams (1-7) – The Rams probably really enjoyed their bye week after their first long-awaited win in Week 8.  Back to Life, Back to Reality for the 1-win Rams as the explosive and undefeated New Orleans Saints come to the Edward Jones Dome.

30.  Buccaneers (1-7) – Youngster quarterback Josh Freeman made all the right decisions as the creamsicle clad  Bucs dominated the Green Bay Packers for their first win of the season.  Next up Freeman and the Bucs will travel to South Florida for a battle with the inconsistent Miami Dolphins.

31.  Lions (1-7) – Rookie QB Matthew Stafford looked like a rookie in a bad loss to the Seattle Seahawks.  It could get real ugly, real fast as the rested Minnesota Vikings will host their lowly NFC North rival.

32.  Browns (1-7) – After a bye week of contemplation, the Browns will look to just score a few touchdowns in the second half of the 2009 season.  Next up the angry Baltimore Ravens come to town and could be curtains for returning starting quarterback Brady Quinn.

 

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)

2009 NFL Season – Week 9 Power Rankings

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Led by intimidating running back Steven Jackson, the Rams got their first win of the season and are moving up this week’s Power Rankings

The midpoint of the 2009 NFL season is upon us and throughout the league there is a pretty good understanding of who the “Contenders” and “Pretenders” are.  With 9 more weeks of NFL action ahead of us there are many compelling storylines to follow in the second half the season. 

  • Can either the New Orleans Saints or Indianapolis Colts go undefeated for the entire 2009 season
  • Can the Vikings and veteran quarterback Brett Favre  continue their magic carpet ride into the playoffs
  • Are the Patriots and Steelers truly back after producing winning streaks going into their recent bye weeks?
  • Could it be possible that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will not win a game in 2009 and match the 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16)
  • Which coach currently on the hot seat (Browns Eric Mangini, Redskins Jim Zorn, Raiders Tom Cable, Bills Dick Jauron, Panthers John Fox and others) will be the first one issued their pink slip

And so many other storylines that will be written as the 2009 season continues to unfold.

In looking at the current NFL standings here’s the breakdown: The “Elite” – Saints (7-0), Colts (7-0), Vikings (7-1), Broncos (6-1), Steelers (5-2), Bengals (5-2),  and Patriots (5-2); “Teams on the Cusp” — Eagles (5-2), Cowboys (5-2), Texans (5-3), Giants (5-3), and Ravens (4-3);  “Stuck in the Middle” inconsistent teams, who are caught in the NFL’s parity-filled middle and either need to join the playoff hunt or fall back – Chargers (4-3), Falcons (4-3), Jets (4-4), Bears (4-3), Cardinals (4-3), Niners (3-4), Dolphins (3-4) and Panthers (3-4); The “Pretenders”, who are only a shade away from the league’s bottom rung – Jaguars (3-4), Bills (3-5), and Seahawks (2-5); and lastly  the “Putrid” (i.e. These teams  should just skip to the 2010 NFL Draft) – Redskins (2-5), Raiders (2-6), Chiefs (1-6), Lions (1-6), Titans (1-6), Browns (1-7), Rams (1-7), and Buccaneers (0-7)

Now on to the rankings for this week.

1.  Colts (7-0) – The Niners led by comeback kid QB Alex Smith gave the Colts all they could handle. But eventually the NFL’s cream of the crop rose to the occasion and disposed of the Niners by a score of 18-14.  Indy better not get caught looking ahead to Week 10’s mega-showdown with the New England Patriots as the Houston Texans are coming to town for a crucial AFC South battle.

2.  Saints (7-0) – “Who Dat, Who Dat is gonna beat them Saints”… another week, another foe bit the dust against Sean Payton’s crew.  The Saints, fueled by turnovers, finally kicked the Falcons to the curb on Monday Night Football.  Another home NFC South battle awaits the undefeated Saints as the inconsistent, but dangerous Carolina Panthers come to the French Quarter.

3.  Vikings (7-1) – It was sweet revenge for Vikes QB Brett Favre as he returned to Green Bay to pin a second ugly loss on the Packers in less than 1 month.  Brad Childress’ team will enjoy a much-deserved bye week before continuing their fight to be the NFC’s No. 1 seed going into the playoffs.

4. Steelers (5-2) – Mike Tomlin’s team used the bye to heal-up and hopefully safety Troy Polamalu and the rest of the Steelers are ready to defend their title in the second half of the season.  In a Monday Night Football game that could definitely could be a playoff preview, the Steelers will travel to Denver to face a Broncos team coming off their first loss of the season.

5.  Broncos (6-1) – Head Coach Josh McDaniels’ team were no match for the rested Ravens, who beat them in every phase of the game from offense to defense to special teams.  In a game that will truly tell us if the Broncos have put their 2008 inconsistent ways behind them, the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers come to tonight for a big Monday Night Football showdown.

6.  Patriots (5-2) – The Patriots after throttling the poor Tampa Bay Bucs in Merry Ole England took a week off to rest their weary jet-lagged legs.  The second half of the 2009 NFL Season begins for the Pats with a crucial AFC East home game against the Miami Dolphins, who surely will be bringing the ‘Wildcat” back to the place where it debuted in 2008.

7.  Bengals (5-2) — The bye week allowed the Bengals to get away from the long grind of an NFL season and it even all loquacious WR Chad Ochocinco to plug his new book everywhere including on The David Letterman Show.  Next up is a home grudge match with AFC North rival, the Baltimore Raven who are still fighting made over their Week 5 loss at M&T Bank stadium.

8.  Eagles (5-2) – The Birds moved closer to the top of the NFL food chain with their dominating with over NFC East rival, the NY Giants during the NYC-Philly Sunday challenge.  For the third week in a row, the Eagles will face an NFC East foe this time the hated Dallas Cowboys will come to town for a huge NBC Sunday Night Football game.

9. Cowboys (5-2) – The ‘Boys were all business as they thumped the reeling Seattle Seahawks for their third straight win.  The road to respectability runs through Lincoln Financial Field and the Cowboys should expect the Eagles and inhospitable crowd to be ready for the bright lights of NBC Sunday Night Football.

10.  Texans (5-3) – For the first time in their brief history, the Texans are two games above .500 this late in the season.  The Texans may have found a new offensive weapon in emerging RB Ryan Moats as they rolled over the Bills.  If the Texans are to break their 8-8 streak and make it to the playoffs for the first time in team history, they will need to bring their “A” game this week when they battle the undefeated Colts in a huge AFC South game.

11.  Ravens (4-3) – John Harbaugh’s team put together their best all-around effort of the 2009 season as they beat the formerly undefeated Broncos in every phase of the game.  Next up is a huge AFC North road game against the mouthy Cincinnati Bengals who are looking to keep pace with the Steelers.

12.  Cardinals (4-3) – It was deja vous all over again, but this time the Carolina Panthers turned the tables on the Cards and turnover prone QB Kurt Warner in a blowout win that avenged their embarrassing 2008 playoff loss.  The Cardinals must prove that their current 3-0 road record is not a fluke as they travel to the Windy City to face an equally puzzling Bears squad.

13. Giants (5-3) – It is hard to believe that this is the same G-Men squad that started 5-0 and were the toast of the NFL for the first part of the season.  The Philadelphia Eagles embarrassed the Giants as it was big play after big play in a laugher.  The Giants cannot be caught looking ahead to their much-needed bye week as the Chargers come to town looking to continue on their roll.

14. Packers (4-3) –  Despite QB Aaron Rodger’s best efforts, the Packers were not match for the surging Vikings and revenge-minded quarterback Brett Favre as the legend made a triumphant return to Green Bay.  I feel bad for the winless Tampa Bay Bucs as the Packers are angry and will look to run up and down the field in this old-time NFC Central match-up.

15.  Falcons (4-3) – Mike Smith’s team started fast on Monday Night Football, but the New Orleans Saints weathered the storm on their way to another victory.  Look for the Falcons to bounce back as they host the dysfunctional Washington Redskins and lame-duck head coach Jim Zorn.

16.  Chargers (4-3) – The Bolts look to be rebuilding their season as they thumped the pitiful Raiders in the return of former superstar veterans RB LaDainian Tomlinson and LB Shawne Merriman to the boxscore.  In a statement game, the Chargers will look to continue their two game win streak against the Giants as former 2004 NFL Draft bonus babies, QB’s Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers face-off.

17.  Bears (4-3) – Following in their inconsistent patter, the Bears destroyed the putrid Cleveland Browns in a game that showed the ineptness of Browns QB Derek Anderson.  In a game that could have future playoff implications, the Bears will host the Cardinals in battle of the two teams involved in the 2006 “They are who we thought they were” game.

18.  Jets (4-4) – For a team that has a lot of mouth, the J-E-T-S do not back it up.  The Miami Dolphins didn’t need much offense as their special teams and defense led the way in their second straight win over the Jets.  I am sure during the bye week, Jets head coach Rex Ryan will be searching for consistency from his quarterback (Mark Sanchez) and special teams.

19.  Panthers (3-4) – Carolina looked like their 2008 regular season version as they dismantled the host  Arizona Cardinals in game that could possibly get them back on track.  In a season defining game, the Panthers will travel to New Orleans in search of a win against the undefeated Saints who are looking to run away with the NFC South crown.

20.  Dolphins (3-4) – In the Meadowlands, demoted receiver Ted Ginn Jr had many happy returns in a big win over AFC East rival, the New York Jets.  The Dolphins will look to climb back to .500 as they face off with the rested New England Patriots in “The Return of the Wildcat” game.

21.  49ers (3-4) – Led by emerging TE Vernon Davis, the Niners gave the undefeated Colts all they could handle but in the end Indy’s experience won out.  In a battle of two comebacking former high-round draft pick quarterbacks, Niners QB Alex Smith will lead his team against the Titans and QB Vince Young.

22.  Jaguars (3-4) – The Jags have got to be the NFL’s most inconsistent team as they fell under .500 again after losing badly to the Titans and comeback quarterback Vince Young.  Jack Del Rio’s team will look to climb back to .500 as they host the in-fighting Kansas City Chiefs.

23.  Bills (3-5) – Not even the re-introduction of WR Terrell Owens to the endzone could keep the Bills from being blown out by the Houston Texans.  I am sure during the Bills’ bye week that head coach Dick Jauron will be working on his resume and superstar receiver T.O will be bitching to his gal pals Mo and Kita.

24.  Seahawks (2-5) – After another bad loss this time to the Dallas Cowboys, Hawks head coach Jim Mora had seen enough and sent several players packing including veteran running back Edgerrin James.  In one of the NFL’s least anticipated games, the Seahawks will host the equally weak Detroit Lions in this week’s version of the “Toilet Bowl”.

25. Titans (1-6) – See Titans owner Bud Adams was right, insert V.Y at quarterback and the Titans got their first win of the season over the Jacksonville Jaguars – also don’t forget the franchise-record day of RB Chris Johnson.  The Titans will look to make it two in a row as they travel to the Bay to face an inconsistent Niners squad.

26.  Redskins (2-5) – During the bye week, many Redskins players left town to recharge and I am sure beleaguered head coach Jim Zorn was trying to do the same.  The ‘Skins will look to turn the heat down on Zorn from Mr. Snyder with a win over the Falcons in “Hotlanta”.

27.  Raiders (2-5) – This past week the big Tom Cable news was that the head coach allegedly has hit more people than one of his assistant coaches.  Of course all the Raiders off field drama did not help them against the Chargers, who thumped them good.  Unfortunately for Cable, the bye week will only bring further digging into his past when he needs to be concentrating on fixing his downtrodden team.

28.  Chiefs (1-6) –  During the bye week, the Chiefs decided to work out a settlement with troubled RB Larry Johnson, but the former franchise back will still be suspended for one game.  Chiefs head coach will be looking to forget about Johnson and a myriad of team injuries as the Chiefs go on the road to face the Jacksonville Jaguars.

29.  Rams (1-7) – Fueled by battering ram RB Steven Jackson, the Rams got off the schnide as they won Week 8’s “Toilet Bowl” in Detroit.  After their first win since 2008, Steve Spagnuolo’s squad can enjoy their bye week in peace.

30.  Lions (1-6) – Not even the return of high draft pick QB Matthew Stafford could keep the Lions from losing Week 8’s “Toilet Bowl” against the previously winless St. Louis Rams.  In another low-level NFL game, the Lions travel to Seattle to face a Seahawks team that always seems to have a black cloud over their heads.

31.  Browns (1-6) – The Bears were more than happy to have the hapless Browns waiting for them in a spot where they badly needed a win.  Sans departed GM George Kokinis, at least the Browns don’t have to worry about losing this week as they are on a bye.

32.  Buccaneers (0-7) – After a long trip home from London, England maybe having a bye week was just what the doctor ordered for the NFL’s last winless team.  With youngster quarterback Josh Freeman at the helm, the Bucs will look to get their first much-needed win against the Green Bay Packers.

 

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)

2009 NFL Season – Week 6 Power Rankings

payton

After a huge win over the New York Giants, Sean Payton and his high-flying Saints have not only garnered respect, but they have also moved up this week’s Power Rankings

This is one of my favorite times on the NFL calendar right before the midway part of the season.  Teams are starting to separate into “Contenders” and “Pretenders” and each week certain teams are getting closer to the playoffs while others get closer to preparing for the 2010 NFL Draft. 

In looking at the current NFL standings here’s the breakdown: The “Elite” – Vikings (6-0), Broncos (6-0), Saints (5-0), Colts (5-0), Falcons (4-1) and Giants (5-1); “Teams on the Cusp” — Steelers (4-2), Bengals (4-2),  and Patriots (4-2); “The Contenders”, who are teams that are a step above average — Eagles (3-2), Bears (3-2), Cowboys (3-2), Cardinals (3-2), and Niners (3-2); “Stuck in the Middle” inconsistent teams, who are caught in the NFL’s parity-filled middle that either need to join the playoff hunt or fall back – Ravens (3-3), Jets (3-3),  Texans (3-3), Jaguars (3-3), Dolphins (2-3), and Chargers (2-3);  The “Pretenders”, who are also in the middle of the pack but are only a shade away from the league’s bottom rung – Seahawks (2-4), Panthers (2-3),  Raiders (2-4), Bills (2-4), and Redskins (2-4); and lastly  the “Putrid” (i.e. You should just skip to the 2010 NFL Draft) – Chiefs (1-5), Browns (1-5), Lions (1-5), Rams (0-6), Buccaneers (0-6), and Titans (0-6)

Now on to the rankings for this week.

1.  Colts (5-0) – Head Coach Jim Caldwell’s team got a well-deserved bye week and maybe injured players SS Bob Sanders and WR Anthony Gonzalez will be back after the off week.  Some will say the Colts have their second bye in a row as they travel to St. Louis to face a winless Rams squad.  Don’t expect a letdown from Peyton Manning (should get his 6th straight 300-yard passing game this season) and his guys.

2.  Vikings (6-0) – In one of Week 6’s marquee games, the Vikings were able to squeak past the  Ravens as Baltimore’s young kicker missed a makeable field goal at the end of regulation.  In a game that will truly tell everyone just how good QB Brett Favre and his young Vikings are, the new rulers of the NFC North will travel to Pittsburgh to face a resurgent Steelers squad.

3.  Saints (5-0) – The Superdome was rocking as the  undefeated Saints showed the bottom-feeding Giants the door in a blowout win that put New Orleans near the top of the NFC.  The Saints road to legitimacy gets harder this week as they face a physical hard-running Dolphins team in Miami.

4.  Broncos (6-0) – After a dominating road win over the Chargers on Monday Night Football — could have been a classic letdown situation — I am finally ready to jump on the Broncos and head coach Josh McDaniels bandwagon.  The Broncos will remain undefeated for sure this week as they have a bye.

5. Giants (5-1) – Well I guess we got our answer on whether the Giants were fattening up on cupcakes at the beginning of the season.  The Saints throttled the Giants by a lopsided score, so it will be interesting to see how Tom Coughlin’s team responds. The G-Men return to the Meadowlands this week to face the high flying Cardinals, who have seemed to be back on track offensively and defensively.

6. Steelers (4-2) –For the 12th time in a row, the Steelers push aside the woeful Cleveland Browns this time at Heinz Field.  The resurgent Steelers will probably get their sternest test of this young season this week as the high-profile Vikings and QB Brett Favre come to town.

7.  Patriots (4-2) – Playing in the snow, QB Tom Brady and the Patriots had one of the greatest passing days in NFL history as they  embarrassed the  Tennessee Titans, who  some say they quit .  Next up for the Patriots is a trip across the Atlantic to Merry Ole England to feast the winless Tampa Bay Bucs.

8.  Falcons (4-1) – In a match-up of two of the NFL’s best “Young Guns”,  the Falcons led by Matt  Ryan delivered when it mattered most in a win over Chicago Bears and strong-armed QB Jake Cutler.  In a tougher than you would think battle, the Falcons travel to Dallas to face a well rested Cowboys squad, who are looking for some consistency.

9.  Bengals (4-2) – A week after a big AFC North win at Baltimore, the Bengals were surprised by the offensive minded Houston Texans.  In a highly anticipated inter-conference battle, the Bengals and revenge-minded RB Cedric Benson (going against the team that released him) will host the Bears and their new pass rusher DE Gaines Adams. 

10.  Bears (3-2) – On Sunday Night Football, the Bears continually turned the football over in the redzone which was their downfall against the Atlanta Falcons.  Next up is a respect game against the host Cincinnati Bengals and loser will fall right back to the NFL’s parity-filled middle.

11.  Cardinals (3-2) – The Cards continued to shake their Super Bowl hangover by pounding NFC West rival, the Seattle Seahawks.   Next up, QB Kurt Warner and rest of the Cards will need to prove that they can win a game in the Easter timezone as travel to Pittsburgh to face the resurgent Steelers.

12.  49ers (3-2) – Head Coach Mike Singletary and his staff were probably  overtime during the bye week to improve a team that has been a  little inconsistent as of late.  Look for the return of injured running back Frank Gore and debut of just-signed first rounder Michael Crabtree as the Niners travel to Houston to face the inconsistent Texans.

13.  Ravens (3-3) – John Harbaugh’s team were just a field goal away from putting an “L” on the undefeated Vikings, but it was not be and the Ravens have now lost 3 straight games.  Look for the Ravens to enjoy their bye week as they try to find a breakout receiver and their once fearsome defense.

14.  Eagles (3-2) –  In probably the biggest upset of the week, the Eagles went across country and laid an egg in against the supposed pushover Raiders – well at least the Fightin’ Phils are picking up the Birds slack.  Eagles head coach Andy Reid better find his running game and quick as his team travels to FedEx field to take on the reeling Redskins and their beleaguered head coach Jim Zorn.

15. Packers (3-2) – It wasn’t even close as the Detroit Lions served as the Packers homecoming team  in a lopsided win.  The Packers and freewheeling quarterback Aaron Rodgers continue their tour of the NFL’s underbelly as they travel to Cleveland to face a horrible Browns team.

16. Cowboys (3-2) – Hopefully  head coach Wade Phillips and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett put the Cowboys bye to good work as it maybe win or leave if the ‘Boys continue their inconsistent ways.  In a statement game, the Cowboys will host the hard-charging Atlanta Falcons and QB Matty “Ice” Ryan.

17.  Dolphins (2-3) – I am sure during the bye week that the  Dolphins were adding even more wrinkles to their Wildcat offense.  In a game that could prove to be a season saver, the Dolphins and their rushing attack – average of 177  yards per game — will host the undefeated Saints.

18.  Jets (3-3) – Head coach Rex Ryan and rookie QB Mark Sanchez are finding out how tough the NFL can be as they lost in overtime to  Buffalo Bills in a game the J-E-T-S were “supposed” to win.  Gang Green will look to avoid being the Raiders second straight upset victim as they travel to Oakland this week.

19.  Texans (3-3) –  Head coach Gary Kubiak’s team continued their inconsistent ways as they surprised the Bengals in an offensive road victory in Cincy.  In a battle of upstarts, the Texans will host the emerging Niners and the loser will definitely fall to the NFL’s middle.

20.  Panthers (2-3) – The Panthers continued their climb back to respectability with their second straight win this time over the winless Tampa Bay Bucs.  In a game that can get them back to .500, look for the Panthers to ride their stellar running game against the injured Buffalo Bills.

21.  Jaguars (3-3) – The NFL’s most inconsistent team was back up to their old tricks as they bounced back from a shutout loss to beat the winless Rams in overtime.  The Jags should put their best player, Maurice Jones-Drew, on ice during the bye week because as he goes, so goes the team.

22.  Chargers (2-3) –Head Coach Norv Turner’s team put up a mini-fight but in the end you could clearly see that the AFC West division leading Denver Broncos were hungrier on Monday Night Football.   In a must-win game, the Chargers will travel to Kansas City to face a Chiefs squad coming off their first win of the season.

23.  Seahawks (2-4) –The Hawks showed that they are a  “Pretender”  even with QB Matt Hasselbeck at the controls as they were throttled by the Arizona Cardinals in a huge NFC West battle.  The Seahawks will have a much-needed bye week to get players like Hasselbeck and DE Patrick Kerney healthy  again.

24.  Bills (2-4) – The Bills surprised the  J-E-T-S in overtime as kick Rian Lindell made the most of his second chance to win the game.  In a battle of two teams that either are going to get back in the race or fall down with the NFL’s dregs, the Bills travel to Carolina to face a hungry Panthers’ squad.

25.  Raiders (2-4) – Al Davis’ team put aside all of their drama for one week to out-hustle the arrogant Philadelphia Eagles, who left their game plan and intensity back in Philly.  Now that head coach Tom Cable doesn’t have to worry about the Po-Po knocking  on his door any longer, you have to wonder can the Raiders pull another home-win shocker against the fluttering Jets.

26.  Chiefs (1-5) – Even though it was more of an indicator of the ineptness of Redskins head coach  Jim Zorn, the Chiefs had to be ecstatic about their first win of the season.  The Chiefs will try to make it two upsets in a row as they host the angry San Diego Chargers.

27.  Redskins (2-4) – After a horrible home loss to the formerly winless Chiefs, the Skins handed the team’s offensive reins to offensive consultant Sherman Lewis.  Before a Week 8 bye, the Redskins will try to salvage their lagging season in a crucial home Monday Night Football battle against the embarrassed Philadelphia Eagles.

28.  Lions (1-5) – Not even former Packers killer QB Daunte Culpepper could keep the still rebuilding Lions from being torn apart by the Packers.  I am sure during the bye week that the Lions will try to focus more on the fact that they have already won a game this season rather than their many holes.

29.  Browns (1-5) – It was the same old story for the Dawgs as the Steelers tamed them once again as QB Ben Roethlisberger had a career day throwing the football.  The Browns will try to pick-up the pieces as they host the surging Green Bay Packers in a match-up of two Midwest teams going in opposite directions.

30.  Buccaneers (0-6) – Once again the Bucs fought hard, but they just didn’t have the depth or overall talent to beat the rebounding  Carolina Panthers.  For the Bucs, It must be a hard thing knowing that you are going all the way to London, England to be the New England Patriots next “homecoming” opponent.

31.  Rams (0-6) – Steve Spanuolo’s squad gave it their all , but unfortunately they came up short against MJD and the Jaguars in overtime.  The road doesn’t get any easier for the Rams as they host the well-rested and scary Indianapolis Colts who are hitting on all cylinders on offense and defense.

32. Titans (0-6) – In an embarrassing loss that the NFL has not seen in years, the Patriots ran the score-up (59-0) on the Titans and some say Jeff Fisher’s team just plain “quit”.  During the bye week, Fisher better clean-up his horrible secondary and start thinking about playing former rookie of the year QB Vince Young since veteran thrower Kerry Collins could only manage -7 yards passing against the Patriots.

 

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)

2009 NFL Power Rankings – Week 5

rickywilliams

After a big win over the J-E-T-S on Monday Night Football, RB Ricky Williams and Dolphins are moving up the Power Rankings

Each week the 2009 NFL Season’s “Contender” and “Pretender” scoreboard becomes a little clearer.  This year in the league, there appears to be two worlds, the “Have’s” and “Have Nots” with a smaller than usual parity-filled middle.  So much for “Any Given Sunday” talk as each week there are more and more blowouts –  Week 5 featured six games where teams won by 19 points or more.

In looking at the current NFL standings here’s the breakdown: The “Elite” – Vikings (5-0), Broncos (5-0), Saints (4-0), Colts (5-0), and Giants (5-0); “Teams on the Cusp” — Bengals (4-1), Eagles (3-1), Bears (3-1), and Falcons (3-1); “The Contender”, who are teams that are a step above average — Patriots (3-2), Jets (3-2), Steelers (3-2),  and Niners (3-2); “Stuck in the Middle” inconsistent teams, who are caught in the NFL’s parity-filled middle that either need to join the playoff hunt or fall back – Cowboys (3-2), Cardinals (2-2), Seahawks (2-3), Dolphins (2-3), and Chargers (2-2);  The “Pretenders”, who are also in the middle of the pack but are only a shade away from the league’s bottom rung – Panthers (1-3),  Texans (2-3), Redskins (2-3), and Jaguars (2-3); and lastly  the “Putrid” (i.e. You should just skip to the 2010 NFL Draft) – Browns (1-4), Raiders (1-4), Bills (1-4), Lions (1-4), Rams (0-5), Chiefs (0-5), Buccaneers (0-5), and Titans (0-5)

Now on to the rankings for this week.

1. Giants (5-0) – The G-Men were able to rest QB Eli Manning earlier than expected in a bludgeoning of the hapless Raiders.  Finally the Giants get more than a cupcake as they travel south to face the undefeated Saints and someone’s “O” has got to go.

2.  Colts (5-0) – Peyton Manning continues to play like a machine as the Colts won their 14th straight game with an easy win over the winless Tennessee Titans on Sunday Night Football.  Head Coach Jim Caldwell’s team gets a well-deserved bye week and just maybe injured players SS Bob Sanders and WR Anthony Gonzalez will be back after the off week.

3.  Vikings (5-0) – The Vikes easily handled the reeling host St. Louis Rams in a game that showed the dominance of DE Jared Allen.  In one of Week 6’s marquee games, the Vikings should finally get tested as they host the angry Ravens come to the Metrodome.

4.  Saints (4-0) – Hopefully during their bye week, the Saints stayed off Bourbon Street and focused on getting ready for the Giants.  The Superdome will be alive as the undefeated NFC East leading Giants led by QB Eli Manning and emerging receiver Steve Smith come to town for a much-anticipated FOX early afternoon special.

5.  Broncos (5-0) – “Young Belichick” Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels got the best of his mentor and he was pumped up by his young squad disposing of the veteran Patriots in overtime.  The road to respectability does not get any easier for the Broncos and their young head coach as they travel to San Diego to face a borderline desperate Chargers team.

6.  Bengals (4-1) — Marvin Lewis’ team was tough and gritty in beating the Ravens in Baltimore.  The Bengals not only brought some much-needed sunshine to defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer (wife passed away last week), but they also now look like the team to beat in the AFC North.  In a game where the Bengals will need to avoid a letdown, they will host the high-powered Houston Texans and All-World receiver Andre Johnson. 

 7.  Eagles (3-1) – The Birds came off their bye week with a vengeance and led by promising rookie WR Jeremy Maclin, they hammered the poor Buccaneers into an early submission.  Eagles head coach Andy Reid got his 100th regular season win over the Bucs and now Big Red is 11-0 after the bye for his career.  Next up, the Eagles will go a long way from Philly to Oakland, just so they can feast on the hapless Raiders.

8.  Falcons (3-1) – In a total surprise, the Falcons destroyed the Niners in their own stadium.  The Falcons were led by QB Matt Ryan, RB Michael Turner, and TE Tony Gonzalez as Singletary fumed over his team’s lack of focus.  Next up is a “Young Guns” shootout as the Falcons led by Ryan take on the Chicago Bears and strong-armed QB Jake Cutler.

9.  Bears (3-1) – The Bears got a much-needed rest during their bye week and hopefully injured players WR Johnny Knox, LB Hunter Hillenmeyer and WR Devin Hester were able to heal-up. In order to stay on the heels of the red-hot Vikings, the Bears will need to continue to win this time on the road against the improving Falcons on Sunday Night Football.

10. Steelers (3-2) – Mike Tomlin’s team climbed back over .500 after finally waking-up to dispose of the scrappy Detroit Lions.  Next up is the reeling Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field in P-Burgh and I am sure the Steelers faithful will not allow their heroes to “Sleep-on“one of the NFL’s worst teams, especially when they are an AFC North rival.

11.  Jets (3-2) – So much for Jets head coach Rex Ryan’s mastery of the Wildcat as the Dolphins ran all over the J-E-T-S in a big Monday Night Football win.  After two straight losses the Jets will need to pick-up the pieces and take care of business at home against the subpar Buffalo Bills.

12.  Patriots (3-2) – It seems like a million years ago that the Patriots ran roughshod over the NFL in 2007.  And the upstart Broncos showed the veteran Pats that teams are no longer fearful of their mystique in a thrilling overtime win.  Hopefully QB Tom Brady will find his long ball accuracy and the Patriots can find some semblance of a running game when they host the desperate for a win Tennessee Titans.

13.  Ravens (3-2) – The Ravens lost their second game in a row as the hungry Bengals seemed to want it more in a tough road win.  In a much anticipated game, it will be the Ravens’ attacking defense against graybeard quarterback Brett Favre as the Ravens travel to Minnesota to face a Vikings squad hitting on all cylinders.

14.  Chargers (2-2) – I am sure during the bye week that the Bolts tried to find their “swagger” again, especially underachievers L.T and LB Shawn Merriman.  Head Coach Norv Turner needs to fire-up an inconsistent Chargers team as they host the division-leading Denver Broncos in an AFC West showdown game on Monday Night Football. 

15.  Cardinals (2-2) – Looks like head coach Ken Whisenhunt’s bye week practices worked as the Cards fueled by QB Kurt Warner and a great goalline stand stopped the Texans in their tracks.  The Cards next go on the road to the Northwest to face an improving Seahawks team and their rejuvenated quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck, in a key NFC West battle.

16.  49ers (3-2) – I guess the Niners are not be ready for primetime just yet as they laid a huge egg in an embarrassing home loss to the Atlanta Falcons.  Head Coach Mike Singletary and his staff will be working overtime during the bye week to improve a team that is a little inconsistent.  Expect to see injured running back Frank Gore and just signed first rounder Michael Crabtree in the line-up after the bye.

17. Cowboys (3-2) – The ‘Boys continued their inconsistent ways as they needed a monumental effort from QB Tony Romo and emerging receiver Miles Austin just to pullout an overtime win over the reeling Chiefs.  During the bye week, head coach Wade Phillips and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett better figure out a way to save their jobs as the Cowboys will be facing some tough games coming up.

18.  Dolphins (2-3) – In a thrilling Monday Night Football AFC East battle, the Dolphins rode their stellar running game, including the Wildcat, to a late second win over the visiting New York Jets ( have lost two in a row).  After a big win over the J-E-T-S, I am sure it will be fun in the sun for the Dolphins and their Wildcat offense.

19. Packers (2-2) – The bye week allowed the Pack to heal their bodies and egos from a tough loss to the Vikings and you know who.  QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will look to feast on the retooling Detroit Lions when the young squad visits Lambeau this week.

20.  Seahawks (2-3) – Getting back starting QB Matt Hasselbeck was all the difference as the Seahawks were a new team on offense and defense in a dominating win over the Jaguars.  The Hawks will need to figure out if they are a “Contender” or “Pretender” as they host the NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals in a huge NFC West battle.

21.  Texans (2-3) – It was the same old inconsistent Texans as they could not string together two straight wins.  The Cardinals bent but didn’t break on defense and QB Kurt Warner picked apart the Texans secondary in a big win.  In a desperate spot on their schedule, the Texans travel to Cincy to face an ascending Bengals team led by stoic head coach Marvin Lewis.

22.  Panthers (1-3) – The Panthers put together a huge confidence building win over the crumbling Redskins and their beleaguered head coach Jim Zorn.  The Panthers will look to make it two in a row as they travel to Tampa Bay for a game against the Bucs that I am dubbing, “The Battle for the NFC South Basement”.

23.  Jaguars (2-3) – I don’t even know why the Jags got on their long cross-country flight as they never really showed up in Seattle, losing 41-0 to the Seahawks.  Next the Jaguars host the St. Louis Rams in a game that is sure to be a blackout, but would it even matter as both teams are not very good.

24.  Redskins (2-3) – For the second time this year, the Redskins or as some fans are calling them, “The Dead Skins”, lost to a formerly winless team.  The Panthers out-physicaled the Redskins and now it look like not “if”, but “when” will head coach Jim Zorn be fired.  For Zorn’s sake, the Redskins better not lose to the winless Kansas City Chiefs or it may be time for defensive coordinator Greg Blache or new offensive consultant Sherman Lewis to take over.

25. Titans (0-5) – It wasn’t even close as the Indianapolis Colts showed the reeling Titans what a true contender looks like in a dominating win.  It may be time to unveil V.Y as the Titans have nothing else to lose in a tough road test against the angry Patriots.

26.  Lions (1-3) – It took a while, but the Steelers returned to the place of their Super Bowl XL victory and pulled-out a hard fought win.  The Lions will probably be led again this week by QB Daunte Culpepper, which could prove to be a good thing as he used to be a killer of this week’s opponent, the Green Bay Packers.

27.  Chiefs (0-5) – Head coach Todd Haley’s team gave a terrific effort against the inconsistent Cowboys, but in the end the Dallas’ passing combination of Tony Romo and Miles Austin was on fire in their Week 5 win.  Next up is an ugly match-up against the equally deficient Redskins in game that could seal the fate of their beleaguered head coach Jim Zorn

28.  Browns (1-4) – “The Battle for Lake Erie” against the Bills looked more like one big quagmire as the Browns pulled out an ugly 6-3 win.  Hopefully Browns QB Derek Anderson will be able to complete more than two passes against the tough Steelers defense, which may get back Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu.

29.  Bills (1-4) – This game truly was the “Toilet Bowl” as the Bills and Browns combined for only nine total points in an ugly Browns’ 6-3 win.  The Bills will next travel to the big city to face a hungry J-E-T-S’ squad and just maybe underachiever T.O will finally get back in the endzone.

30.  Buccaneers (0-5) – The re-tooling Bucs, other than TE Kellen Winslow, looked very disinterested as the Philadelphia Eagles easily dismantled them at the Linc.  In an NFC South pride game, the Bucs will host the hopeful Panthers.

31.  Rams (0-5) – Steve Spagnuolo’s boys had no answer for QB Brett Favre and the Vikings in a disheartening loss. The Rams will look to get their first “W” as they travel to Jacksonville in a game that is sure to be blacked-out.  Well at least the team will not have to worry about Russ Limbaugh being part of their franchise any longer as the big-mouth talk show host was removed from a group trying to buy the team.

32.  Raiders (1-4) – I can longer sit by and rank the Raiders any higher than the last spot in my rankings.  Even though the Raiders have one win – it’s a “Miracle” by the way – there is no team in the NFL more dysfunctional or in a deeper hole.  With more “drama” regarding the police and NFL security nipping at Raiders head coach Tom Cable’s heels, the Philadelphia Eagles will fly across the country to eat this giant cupcake of a team.

 

 

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)