Led by new starting quarterback Vince Young, the Tennessee Titans are climbing up this week’s NFL Power Rankings after four straight wins
With only six weeks left in the NFL Season, the intensity has surely picked-up around the league. With America’s holiday, Thanksgiving , upon us there are 23 teams with records ranging from 4-6 to 10-0 hoping to be thankful for one of the NFL’s 12 coveted playoff berths come this January. But there is still is a lot of football left to be played and as shown by Week 11’s upsets — Chiefs over the Steelers and the Raiders over the Bengals — nothing is guaranteed. So every NFL team better be prepared weekly as the separation into “Contenders” and “Pretenders” continues.
In looking at the current NFL standings here’s the breakdown: The “Elite” – Saints (10-0), Colts (10-0), Vikings (9-1), Bengals (7-3), Cowboys (7-3), Cardinals (7-3), Chargers (7-3), and Patriots (7-3); “Stuck in the Middle” inconsistent teams, who are caught in the NFL’s parity-filled middle and need to either join the playoff hunt or fall back — Broncos (6-4), Steelers (6-4), Jaguars (6-4), Eagles (6-4), Packers (6-4), Giants (6-4), Dolphins (5-5) Ravens (5-5), Falcons (5-5), Texans (5-5), Jets (4-6), Titans (4-6), Niners (4-6), and Panthers (4-6); The “Pretenders”, who are only a shade away from the league’s bottom rung – Bears (4-6), Bills (3-7), Redskins (3-7), and Seahawks (3-7); and lastly the “Ugly” (See at the 2010 NFL Draft) – Raiders (3-7), Chiefs (3-7), Lions (2-8), Browns (1-9), Rams (1-9), and Buccaneers (1-9)
Now on to the rankings for this week.
1. Colts (10-0) – I know that Indy was glad veteran kicker Matt Stover was on their sideline instead of the Baltimore Ravens as Jim Caldwell’s undefeated team pulled out another “W”. In a key AFC South game, QB Peyton Manning will lead the undefeated Colts into Houston to face a desperate Texans team looking to avoid another 8-8 season.
2. Saints (10-0) – Alright I won’t break into my “Who Dat,” chant this week, but in another offensive explosion Sean Payton’s undefeated team quickly disposed of the 1-win Bucs. The Saints are a perfect 10-0 for the first time in franchise history and with an incredible 369 points scored thus far, they are looking like the 1998 Minnesota Vikings or 1999 St. Louis Rams (you can choose) in terms of firepower. Next up is the much-anticipated, “Battle of the Bayou” on Monday Night football as the surging New England Patriots come to town looking to halt the undefeated Saints magical run.
3. Vikings (9-1) – Hard to believe with the Colts and Saints magical undefeated runs that the Vikings seem to be the forgotten team around the NFL. Last week it was the Seattle Seahawks turn to remember that this year QB Brett Favre and the Vikes are not messing around. In a NFC North divisional grudge match, the Vikings and Favre will host the inconsistent Chicago Bears and fickle quarterback Jay Cutler who reminds me a lot of a young No. 4 (takes too many chances that lead to INTs).
4. Patriots (7-3) – The Pats wiped the awful taste of their 1-point loss to the Colts out of their mouths by dismantling and muzzling the reeling New York Jets. In a statement game and the Week 12 Game of the Week, the Patriots and their second-guessed head coach Bill Belichick will look to re-establish themselves back to their lofty perch in the NFL when they take on the undefeated Saints on Monday Night Football.
5. Chargers (7-3) – The Bolts have now won 6 games in a row and have re-established themselves as the lead dog in the AFC West after destroying the reeling Denver Broncos. The Chargers will need to guard against a letdown when the tougher than their record Chiefs come to town for an old school AFL grudge that should bring back images of Hank Stram and Sid Gillman.
6. Bengals (7-3) — Marvin Lewis’ team may have been a tad bit overconfident as they were surprised by the dangerous Raiders in Oakland. Next up is “The Battle of Ohio” as heated rival, the Cleveland Browns, come to town fresh off finding their offense in a loss to the Detroit Lions last week.
7. Cardinals (7-3) – The Cards had to hang-on after building a big lead and then losing QB Kurt Warner in a physical win over the Seattle Seahawks. In one of Week 12’s feature games, the Cardinals will travel to the Music City to face the red-hot Tennessee Titans who are led by rising quarterback Vince Young (4-0 as a starter in ’09).
8. Cowboys (7-3) – It was a win, but man was it ugly as the Cowboys put together one last drive to put away the Washington Redskins who were undone by their kicker. Naturally America’s Holiday, Thanksgiving, on Thursday will feature “America’s Team” as the Cowboys take on the dangerous Oakland Raiders in Jerry Jones’ billion dollar play pen.
9. Steelers (6-4) – Mike Tomlin’s team surprisingly has lost two games in a row. The Kansas City Chiefs hung around and next thing you know some big plays led to a great overtime win. In a game that may define the Steelers season, Pittsburgh will need QB Ben Roethlisberger (head) to get back quickly as the 2008 champs travel to Baltimore to face their bitter rival, the Ravens.
10. Jaguars (6-4) – Despite a big effort by the Buffalo Bills led by WR Terrell Owens, the Jaguars continued their winning streak (3 games) and now look like a legitimate AFC wildcard contender. The Jaguars cannot rest on their laurels when they travel to the Bay to take on the dangerous Niners who are still in the NFC wildcard hunt.
11. Eagles (6-4) – The Birds ended their 2-game losing streak as QB Donovan McNabb and WR DeSean Jackson continued their big play ways plus Bears QB Jay Cutler overthrew everyone in an Eagles’ Sunday Night Football win. With an eye on keeping pace with the NY Giants and gaining some ground on the Dallas Cowboys, the Birds will host the tough Redskins in an NFC East grudge match.
12. Broncos (6-4) – What the “bleep” happened to the formerly 6-0 Broncos who were sent to their 4th straight loss in a bludgeoning by the AFC West leadting San Diego Chargers. In an NFL Network Thanksgiving night special, the Broncos will need to wake-up as the NY Giants come to town led by improving quarterback Eli Manning.
13. Giants (6-4) – After four straight losses, the Giants and fiery head coach Tom Coughlin coming off the bye had to work overtime to finally subdue the resilent Atlanta Falcons. The G-Men continue their quest to return to the team that started 5-0 this season as they travel to the Rockies for a huge Thanksgiving night game against the Broncos that will have playoff implications in both the AFC and NFC.
14. Packers (6-4) – The host Packers won the game over the inconsistent Niners, but the home win was costly as both CB Al Harris and OLB Aaron Kampman were lost for the season with knee injuries. In an old-time Thanksgiving Day traditional match-up, the Packers will travel to Detroit to face the Lions who maybe without QB Matthew Stafford (shoulder).
15. Ravens (5-5) – John Harbaugh’s team continues to fight till the end, but the NFL is all about “W’s” and this past week the undefeated Colts did just enough to leave their old hometown with a big win. If the Ravens are ever going to fully get into the AFC playoff race, they will need to wake-up and it starts this week as they host the Steelers in an AFC North grudge match.
16. Texans (5-5) – Unfortunately for the Texans, their kicker Kris Brown turned into “Shank-a-surus” at the wrong time as the Titans won a crucial AFC South road game in Houston. With possibly their season on the line, the Texans will host the undefeated AFC South leading Indianapolis Colts who could clinch the division with a win and a little help.
17. Dolphins (5-5) – On Thursday Night football, it was Run Ricky—Run Ricky time as the Dolphins rode their new Wildcat to a big road win over the Panthers. I wonder if Dolphins’ football czar Bill Parcels and Buffalo Bills receiver Terrell Owens, aka “The Player”, will get together for the Thanksgiving holiday as the Dolphins travel north to face the Bills.
18. Falcons (5-5) – Without tough running back Michael Turner (ankle), the Falcons just are not the same and it showed in an overtime road loss to the Giants. Next up is a must-win game as the Falcons host the energetic and dangerous Tampa Bucs in a possible letdown situation.
19. Titans (4-6) – Led by homeboy QB Vince Young and All-World RB Chris Johnson, the Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers) returned to their former hometown and won a close thrilling game over the host Texans. V.Y and the Titans will look to make it five in a row as they host the Arizona Cardinals in a game that could pit the starting quarterbacks from the 2006 Rose Bowl against one another again (Texas’ Vince Young and USC’s Matt Leinart).
20. Panthers (4-6) – It was a rushing fest on Thursday Night Football, but the Panthers had no answer for the Dolphins Ricky Williams in a tough loss. With their season on the line, the Panthers will look for their defense and Thunder-and-Lightning running back combo, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, to answer the bell against the inconsistent NY Jets.
21. 49ers (4-6) – The Packers despite missing a couple key players thumped the Niners, who look like they will be looking for a new quarterback in 2010. In possibly their last chance to stay in the NFC playoff race, the Niners will look for some consistency against the surging Jacksonville Jaguars.
22. Bears (4-6) – After another bad outing, Chicago fans maybe looking for their receipt for inconsistent quarterback Jay Cutler who overthrew at least three WR’s on potential scoring plays in a SNF loss to the Eagles. In their last chance to get back in the NFC playoff race, the Bears will travel to Minnesota to face the surging Vikings and their multitude of offensive weapons.
23. Jets (4-6) – The J-E-T-S were no match for the angry Patriots, who were throwing the ball even when they had a big lead. I think rookies head coach Rex Ryan and QB Mark Sanchez are both understanding that it is better to say “nothing” and just play the game in the topsy-turvy NFL. In a battle of two desperate teams almost on the cusp of being eliminated from the playoff race, the hard-running Carolina Panthers travel to the Meadowlands to face the Jets.
24. Redskins (3-7) – The ‘Skins put up a tough effort, especially on “D”, in a game where they came up just short against the Cowboys….Thanks kicker Shaun Suisham. With their playoff hopes basically extinguished, we will see if beleaguered head coach Jim Zorn’s team can answer the bell in Philly while probably playing without big-ticket DT Albert Haynesworth.
25. Seahawks (3-7) – The Hawks are tumbling to the bottom of the NFL at an alarming pace and last week they couldn’t even capitalize on the Cardinals playing the second half without QB Kurt Warner (concussion). In Week 12’s “Giblet Bowl”, the Seahawks will travel to St. Louis for an ugly match-up with the 1-win Rams that will surely be blacked-out locally.
26. Bills (3-7) – Despite the best efforts of the NFL’s new fantasy football combo, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and WR Terrell Owens, the Bills came up short to Jacksonville in Perry Fewell’s head coaching debut. In annual AFC East grudge match, the Bills will host the surging Dolphins and new Wildcat/former Toronto Argonaut RB Ricky Williams.
27. Chiefs (3-7) – Look what getting rid of a malcontent like LJ can do for you. The Chiefs led by new starting running back Jamaal Charles surprised the overconfident Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime sending the defending champs to their 2nd straight loss. In an old time AFL special, the Chiefs will travel to San Diego to face the surging Chargers.
28. Raiders (3-7) – With the addition of new starting QB Bruce Gradkowski into the line-up, the dysfunctional Raiders found their offense in an upset win over the bigheaded Cincinnati Bengals. The Raiders will try to win two consecutive games for the first time this season as the Men in Black travel to Big D for a Thanksgiving game against the Cowboys.
29. Lions (2-8) – In a game that was surprisingly the best game of Week 11, the Lions led by gritty rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford sent the surprisingly spirited Cleveland Browns further into the abyss. Yes… everyone just like going to your grandmother’s house on Thanksgiving, even though it seems like forever, the nation still has to endure watching the Lions on TV on Turkey Day. This year, heated NFC North rival, the Green Bay Packers, come to town looking to feast on the Ford Family’s team.
30. Browns (1-9) – QB Brady Quinn played courageously as the Browns and Lions clean-up Week 11’s “Toilet Bowl” in a close high-scoring game. This week in “The Sam Wyche Bowl”, the Browns will travel to Cincy for an AFC North grudge match with the angry Bengals.
31. Rams (1-9) – You have to hand-it to the spunky Rams as they fought the Cardinals to the bitter end even though they were badly short-handed due to injuries. Since injured quarterback Marc Bulger (broken leg) cannot go this week, it will be up to backup QB Kyle Boller to lead the Rams against the visiting Seahawks.
32. Buccaneers (1-9) – The undefeated NFC South leading New Orleans Saints let the Bucs score once then thoroughly spanked them. The Bucs will look for a spark from rookie quarterback Josh Freeman when they travel up the road to face angry rival, the Atlanta Falcons.
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)