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Gartman’s Updated NFL Week 15 In-Depth Power Rankings

December 14, 2011 by

Week 14 in the NFL delivered a feast of high-stakes great escapes and fantastic finishes as the murky playoff picture continues to clear and the pressure for a postseason push is reaching its boiling point.

He are my NFL Week 15 Power Rankings with an updated examination on the 2011 NFL playoff picture.

Interesting update on the current NFL standings: Six teams have a record of 10-3, 7-6 and 4-9.  There are five teams with a 8-5 record.  Three teams also have a record of 6-7 and 5-8.  Two teams are 2-11 and one team is still winless, while another reamins unblemished.

This week’s biggest movers are the Giants and Chargers (both climb five spots), Eagles (ascend four places), Buccaneers, Redskins, Panthers and Dolphins (all fall four positions) and the Jaguars (leap from 31st to 25th).

I maintain a deep-seated focus on patterns, schedules, winning and losing streaks and what teams have done throughout the course of the season (and why), as well as look ahead and evaluate expectations for the coming weeks.  

That’s one reason why 11 teams remain in their same spots from last week, including six teams in the Top 10 and seven of the best dozen.  As always, I also provide all of this information all in one convenient location—something you can’t fine anywhere else.

Last Week: 14-2 (142-64 Overall) – It was hands down my best performance of the entire season.  

Be sure to check out Mike Florio’s Monday 10-Pack, NFL.com Senior Analyst Pat Kirwan’s six observations from Sunday’s action and Jason La Canfora’s take on why the Raiders and Bengals are watching their postseason hopes crash and burn.  







Photo Credit: Larry Brown Sports

No. 32   Indianapolis Colts (0-13): Indy’s inching closer and closer to its fatal fate of joining the ’76 Bucs and ’08 Lions in the record books for infamous imperfection.

Previous Ranking: 32

Résumé: Lost 7-34 at Houston, Lost 19-27 vs. Cleveland, Lost 20-23 vs. Pittsburgh, Lost 17-24 at Tampa Bay, Lost 24-28 vs. Kansas City, Lost 17-27 at Cincinnati, Lost 7-62 at New Orleans, Lost 10-27 at Tennessee, Lost 7-31 vs. Atlanta, Lost 3-17 vs. Jacksonville, Lost 19-27 vs. Carolina, Lost 24-31 at New England, Lost 10-24 at Baltimore

Last Three Games: vs. TEN (7-6), vs. HOU (10-3), at JAC (4-9)

No. 31  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9): After jumping out to an early 14-0 commanding lead, the Buccaneers surrendered a mind-boggling 41 unanswered points to Jacksonville, a team that had not only fired its head coach and sold the franchise just over a week ago, but also got the doors blown down in its own stadium in a 38-14 beatdown by San Diego.

If that weren’t enough of a reason for Bucs fans to jab an ice pick down their retina, the Jaguars hadn’t scored more than 20 points a single game all season coming into the week.  That hot seat that Raheem Morris is sitting on is really starting to sizzle.

Previous Ranking: 27

Résumé: Lost 20-27 vs. Detroit, Won 24-20 at Minnesota, Won 16-13 vs. Atlanta, Won 24-17 vs. Indianapolis, Lost 3-48 at San Francisco, Won 26-20 vs. New Orleans, Lost 18-24 vs. Chicago, Lost 16-27 at New Orleans, Lost 9-37 vs. Houston, Lost 26-35 at Green Bay, Lost 17-23 at Tennessee, Lost 19-38 vs. Carolina, Lost 14-41 at Jacksonville

Last Three Games: vs. DAL (7-6), at CAR (4-9), at ATL (8-5)

No. 30  Cleveland Browns (4-9): There’s good news for Colt McCoy.  The Browns might be falling under the impression that a young signal-caller who had tremendous success in college in the state of Texas might be the quarterback of the future in Cleveland.  The bad news is it’s not him—it’s the “most interesting man in college football” who just won the Heisman—Robert Griffin III.

Previous Ranking: 30

Résumé: Lost 17-27 vs. Cincinnati, Won 27-19 at Indianapolis, Won 17-16 vs. Miami, Lost 13-31 vs. Tennessee, Lost 17-24 at Oakland, Won 6-3 vs. Seattle, Lost 10-20 at San Francisco, Lost 12-30 at Houston, Lost 12-13 vs. St. Louis, Won 14-10 vs. Jacksonville, Lost 20-23 at Cincinnati, Lost 10-24 vs. Baltimore, Lost 3-14 at Pittsburgh

Last Three Games: at ARI (6-7), at BAL (10-3), vs. PIT (10-3)

No. 29   St. Louis Rams (2-11): Perhaps the next team to clean house, Sam Bradford and St. Louis should have much more of a fighting chance with some coaching changes, a less-than-death-defying first-half season schedule next year and an improved roster.

Previous Ranking: 29

Résumé: Lost 13-31 vs. Philadelphia, Lost 16-28 at N.Y. Giants, Lost 7-37 vs. Baltimore, Lost 10-17 vs. Washington, Lost 3-24 at Green Bay, Lost 7-34 at Dallas, Won 31-21 vs. New Orleans, Lost 13-19 at Arizona (OT), Won 13-12 at Cleveland, Lost 7-24 vs. Seattle, Lost 20-23 vs. Arizona, Lost 0-26 at San Francisco, Lost 13-30 at Seattle

Last Three Games: vs. CIN (7-6), at PIT (10-3), vs. SF (10-3)

No. 28   Minnesota Vikings (2-11): Joe Webb provided life in relief of Christian Ponder in Sunday’s hard-fought loss in Detroit.  Ponder entered the game with a hip injury and was tossed to the bench for his ineffective play midway through the third quarter.  Growing pains are expected with any rookie quarterback, especially when he’s not completely healthy and doesn’t have his star running back in the lineup.

Previous Ranking: 28

Résumé: Lost 17-24 at San Diego, Lost 20-24 vs. Tampa Bay, Lost 23-26 vs. Detroit (OT), Lost 17-22 at Kansas City, Won 34-10 vs. Arizona, Lost 10-39 at Chicago, Lost 27-33 vs. Green Bay, Won 24-21 at Carolina, Lost 7-45 at Green Bay, Lost 21-27 vs. Oakland, Lost 14-24 at Atlanta, Lost 32-35 vs. Denver, Lost 28-34 at Detroit

Last Three Games: vs. NO (10-3), at WSH (4-9), vs. CHI (7-6)

No. 27   Kansas City Chiefs (5-8): Chiefs head coach Todd Haley (19-27 in two-plus season tenure) has been fired after Sunday’s lopsided 37-10 letdown against the Jets.  The woefully wounded and penalty-prone franchise will be run by defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel as interim coach for the final three weeks of the season.

Previous Ranking: 25

Résumé: Lost 7-41 vs. Buffalo, Lost 3-48 at Detroit, Lost 17-20 at San Diego, Won 22-17 vs. Minnesota, Won 28-24 at Indianapolis, Won 28-0 at Oakland, Won 23-20 vs. San Diego (OT), Lost 3-31 vs. Miami, Lost 10-17  vs. Denver, Lost 3-34 at New England, Lost 9-13 vs. Pittsburgh, Won 10-3 at Chicago, Lost 10-37 at N.Y. Jets

Last Three Games: vs. GB (13-0), vs. OAK (7-6), at DEN (8-5)

No. 26 Buffalo Bills (5-8): Once promising Buffalo has lost six straight contests as a result of a pile of injuries, toughened schedule and inevitable fate as a team with not enough talent and belief to be a serious contender.

Previous Ranking: 23

Résumé: Won 41-7 at Kansas City, Won 38-35 vs. Oakland, Won 34-31 vs. New England, Lost 20-23 at Cincinnati, Won 31-24 vs. Philadelphia, Lost 24-27 at N.Y. Giants, Won 23-0 vs. Washington, Lost 11-27 vs. N.Y. Jets, Lost 7-44 at Dallas, Lost 8-35 at Miami, Lost 24-28 at N.Y. Jets, Lost 17-23 vs. Tennessee, Lost 10-37 at San Diego

Last Three Games: vs. MIA (4-9), vs. DEN (8-5), at NE (10-3)

Phot Credit: Jaguars.com

No. 25   Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9): Did anyone else fall out of their chair when they discovered the Jaguars scored 41 unanswered points to annihilate the Buccaneers?  Honestly, considering Jacksonville’s current condition after just firing its head coach, selling the franchise, enduring absolute embarrassment last Monday night and suffering several additional injuries in the process, Sunday’s 41-14 display has to be one of the biggest surprising outcomes of the entire season.

Previous Ranking: 31

Résumé: Won 16-14 vs. Tennessee, Lost 3-32 at N.Y. Jets, Lost 10-16 at Carolina, Lost 10-23 vs. New Orleans, Lost 20-30 vs. Cincinnati, Lost 13-17 at Pittsburgh, Won 12-7 vs. Baltimore, Lost 14-24 at Houston, Won 17-3 at Indianapolis, Lost 10-14 at Cleveland, Lost 13-20 vs. Houston, Lost 14-38 vs. San Diego, Won 41-14 vs. Tampa Bay

Last Three Games: at ATL (8-5), at TEN (7-6), vs. IND (0-13)

No. 24  Washington Redskins (4-9): Plagued by injuries, incompetence and suspensions, among other things, it was far from a season to remember for the Redskins.  Still, there are a number of positives they can hang there hat on, like their hard-boiled efforts each and every week.  They might also be only an Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder or Cam Newton away from being on the verge of playoff contention.

Previous Ranking: 20

Résumé: Won 28-14 vs. N.Y. Giants, Won 22-21 vs. Arizona, Lost 16-18 at Dallas, Won 17-10 at St. Louis, Lost 13-20 vs. Philadelphia, Lost 20-33 at Carolina, Lost 0-23 at Buffalo, Lost 11-19 vs. San Francisco, Lost 9-20 at Miami, Lost 24-27 vs. Dallas (OT), Won 23-17 at Seattle, Lost 19-34 vs. N.Y. Jets, Lost 24-31 vs. New England

Last Three Games: at NYG (7-6), vs. MIN (2-11), at PHI (5-8)

No. 23   Carolina Panthers (4-9): Well-recognized as an outspoken loose cannon with a chip on his shoulder, long-time Panthers star receiver Steve Smith reinforces Cam Newton’s recent radioactive riff, in which he urged his team to elevate their play to his level.

“When your best is off the field (and) you ain’t doing very good on the field—your primary job—I think we need less guys that are worried about outside and need to start taking care of work inside,” Smith told The Charlotte Observer. “I’m not saying we have that case now.  But I think that’s been in the past where people (said), ‘Oh, I love that guy. He’s a great guy.’ But he can’t play.”

Smith doesn’t want 53 Rae Carruths, just a few less Holly Hobbie types.  Shoring up that defense pay dividends, too.

Previous Ranking: 19

Résumé: Lost 21-28 at Arizona, Lost 23-30 vs. Green Bay, Won 16-10 vs. Jacksonville, Lost 29-34 at Chicago, Lost 27-30 vs. New Orleans, Lost 17-31 at Atlanta, Won 33-20 vs. Washington, Lost 21-24 vs. Minnesota, Lost 3-30 vs. Tennessee, Lost 35-49 at Detroit, Won 27-19 at Indianapolis, Won 38-19 at Tampa Bay, Lost 23-31 vs. Atlanta

Last Three Games: at HOU (10-3), vs. TB (4-9), at NO (10-3)

No. 22  Miami Dolphins (4-9): Another head coach was forced to bite the dust on Monday, and his name is Tony Sparano.  Assistant coach and secondary coach Todd Bowles will take over in South Beach while owner Steven Ross presumably actively searches for a replacement.

Previous Ranking: 18

Résumé: Lost 24-38 vs. New England, Lost 13-23 vs. Houston, Lost 16-17 at Cleveland, Lost 16-26 at San Diego, Lost 6-24 at N.Y. Jets, Lost 15-18 vs. Denver (OT), Lost 17-20 at N.Y. Giants, Won 31-3 at Kansas City, Won 20-9 vs. Washington, Won 35-8 vs. Buffalo, Lost 19-20 at Dallas, Won 34-14 vs. Oakland, Lost 10-26 vs. Philadelphia

Last Three Games: at BUF (5-8), at NE (10-3), vs. NYJ (8-5)

No. 21  San Diego Chargers (6-7): Bouncing back from six straight losses, Phillip Rivers and the Chargers have won two consecutive contests in blowout fashion.  However, despite being still mathematically alive in the playoff picture, it’s really too little, too late for San Diego.  A.J. Smith could be joining Norv Turner on the way out as well.

Previous Ranking: 26

Résumé: Won 24-17 vs. Minnesota, Lost 21-35 at New England, Won 20-17 vs. Kansas City, Won 26-16 vs. Miami, Won 29-24 at Denver, Lost 21-27 at N.Y. Jets, Lost 20-23 at Kansas City (OT), Lost 38-45 vs. Green Bay, Lost 17-24 vs. Oakland, Lost 20-31 at Chicago, Lost 13-16 vs. Denver (OT), Won 38-14 at Jacksonville, Won 37-10 vs. Buffalo

Last Three Games: vs. BAL (10-3), at DET (8-5), at OAK (7-6)

No. 20   Philadelphia Eagles (5-8): Michael Vick and the high-flying Eagles soared in South Beach, but it doesn’t come close to erasing the pain that’s been felt for much of the season by the Philly faithful.  Interestingly enough, they’re only two games away from tying for first place in the NFC East.

Previous Ranking: 24

Résumé: Won 31-13 at St. Louis, Lost 31-35 at Atlanta, Lost 16-29 vs. N.Y. Giants, Lost 23-24 vs. San Francisco, Lost 24-31 at Buffalo, Won 20-13 at Washington, Won 34-7 vs. Dallas, Lost 24-30 vs. Chicago, Lost 17-21 vs. Arizona, Won 17-10 at N.Y. Giants, Lost 20-38 vs. New England, Lost 14-31 at Seattle, Won 26-10 at Miami

Last Three Games: vs. NYJ (8-5), at DAL (7-6), vs. WSH (4-9)

Photo Credit: FanVoiced.com

No. 19   Arizona Cardinals (6-7): Tebow’s not the only second-year signal-caller that always seems to find a way to win, according to ProFootballTalk.com’s Gregg Rosenthal.  Cardinals quarterback John Skelton also happens to be a true winner, winner, chicken dinner.  Here’s something you probably didn’t know—the Cardz have given nearly every opponent havoc this season, with 10 of their games being decided by seven points or fewer.  The defense is doing outstanding as well.

Previous Ranking: 22

Résumé: Won 28-21 vs. Carolina, Lost 21-22 at Washington, Lost 10-13 at Seattle, Lost 27-31 vs. N.Y. Giants, Lost 10-34 at Minnesota, Lost 20-32 vs. Pittsburgh, Lost 27-30 at Baltimore, Won 19-13 vs. St. Louis (OT), Won 21-17 at Philadelphia, Lost 7-23 at San Francisco, Won 23-20 at St. Louis, Won 19-13 vs. Dallas (OT), Won 21-19 vs. San Francisco

Last Three Games: vs. CLE (4-9), at CIN (7-6), vs. SEA (6-7)

No. 18  Seattle Seahawks (6-7): What is Pete Carroll thinking?  Doesn’t he want Matt Barkeley?  Apparently he’d rather have the Seahawks competitive and winning games and be forced to trade up to get the star prospect from USC than just simply suck for Barkeley.  The way coaching firings are going, I don’t blame him a bit.  In other news, Marshawn Lynch continues to taste the rainbow in beast mode and that defense is doing a bang-up job.

Previous Ranking: 21

Résumé: Lost 17-33 at San Francisco, Lost 0-24 at Pittsburgh, Won 13-10 vs. Arizona, Lost 28-30 vs. Atlanta, Won 36-25 at N.Y. Giants, Lost 3-6 at Cleveland, Lost 12-34 vs. Cincinnati, Lost 13-23 at Dallas, Won 22-17 vs. Baltimore, Won 24-7 at St. Louis, Lost 17-23 vs. Washington, Won 31-14 vs. Philadelphia, Won 30-13 vs. St. Louis

Last Three Games: at CHI (7-6), vs. SF (10-3), at ARI (6-7)

No. 17  Chicago Bears (7-6): Chicago has fallen apart like a $3 suitcase—as expected—with no Jay Cutler and Matt Forte.  I feel for Marion Barber.  He has to be feeling like the lowliest man on the planet, presumably crawled up in a corner somewhere.  His team is being supportive, nonetheless.

Previous Ranking: 16

Résumé: Won 30-12 vs. Atlanta, Lost 13-30 at New Orleans, Lost 17-27 vs. Green Bay, Won 34-29 vs. Carolina, Lost 13-24 at Detroit, Won 39-10 vs. Minnesota, Won 24-18 at Tampa Bay (London), Won 30-24 at Philadelphia, Won 37-13 vs. Detroit, Won 31-20 vs. San Diego, Lost 20-25 at Oakland, Lost 3-10 vs. Kansas City, Lost 10-13 at Denver (OT)

Last Three Games: vs. SEA (6-7), at GB (13-0), at MIN (2-11)

No. 16  Oakland Raiders (7-6): If there’s a silver lining in the Silver and Black’s latest bleak 30-point defeat in Lambeau, it could be that the Titans and Bengals also came up empty-handed.  The Raiders were also without the all-important services of Jacoby FordDenarius Moore and Darren McFadden and nobody’s beaten the Packers since December 18th of last year.

Previous Ranking: 15

Résumé: Won 23-20 at Denver, Lost 35-38 at Buffalo, Won 34-24 vs. N.Y. Jets, Lost 19-31 vs. New England, Won 25-20 at Houston, Won 24-17 vs. Cleveland, Lost 0-28 vs. Kansas City, Lost 24-38 vs. Denver, Won 24-17 at San Diego, Won 27-21 at Minnesota, Won 25-20 vs. Chicago, Lost 14-34 at Miami, Lost 16-46 at Green Bay

Last Three Games: vs. DET (8-5), at KC (5-8), vs. SD (6-7)

No. 15  Tennessee Titans (7-6): I mentioned last week that the Titans’ previous three contests had ended in the same outcome—23-17.  The loss to New Orleans, a game in which Titans players accuse the Saints of cheating, according to a report from NESN.com’s Erik Frenz (who will always remain a part of the Gridiron Grit family), couldn’t have come any closer to a fourth straight week with the same final score.

Outside of Tennessee’s mind-blowing consistent scoring phenomenon and cheating accusation, the team may have to roll with rookie Jake Locker for Sunday’s game in Indianapolis and looks to be without Javon Ringer for the rest of the year.  Thankfully, Chris Johnson has got going as of late.  It will be a wild and whacky photo finish in the final week of the season in the AFC playoff race.

Previous Ranking: 15

Résumé: Lost 14-16 at Jacksonville, Won 26-13 vs. Baltimore, Won 17-14 vs. Denver, Won 31-13 at Cleveland, Lost 17-38 at Pittsburgh, Lost 7-41 vs. Houston, Won 27-10 vs. Indianapolis, Lost 17-24 vs. Cincinnati, Won 30-3 at Carolina, Lost 17-23 at Atlanta, Won 23-17 vs. Tampa Bay, Won 23-17 at Buffalo, Lost 17-22 vs. New Orleans

Last Three Games: at IND (0-13), vs. JAC (4-9), at HOU (10-3)

No. 14   Cincinnati Bengals (7-6): It was a marquee matchup with major postseason ramifications and Marvin Lewis’ biggest game ever in his professional coaching career, but the Bengals once again couldn’t deliver with the win against an elite opponent for 60 minutes.  Cincinnati still has a chance to end up with the sixth seed, but will need to presumably run the table and have additional help for it to happen.

Previous Ranking: 13

Résumé: Won 27-17 at Cleveland, Lost 22-24 at Denver, Lost 8-13 vs. San Francisco, Won 23-20 vs. Buffalo, Won 30-20 at Jacksonville, Won 27-17 vs. Indianapolis, Won 34-12 at Seattle, Won 24-17 at Tennessee, Lost 17-24 vs. Pittsburgh, Lost 24-31 at Baltimore, Won 23-20 vs. Cleveland, Lost 7-35 at Pittsburgh, Lost 19-20 vs. Houston

Last Three Games: at STL (2-11), vs. ARI (6-7), vs. BAL (10-3)

No. 13  Dallas Cowboys (7-6): This is getting awfully repetitive.  Last week (and the week before that) I said, “Dallas has its swag back, but Tony Romo and company have a history of hitting their stride in November before plummeting in December and January.”  I’m sure Cowboys fans wouldn’t mind having Tebow in the lineup—at least in the fourth quarter.  Nevertheless, Dallas still has a great chance to make the playoffs, as the winner in Week 17 will most likely win NFC East.

Previous Ranking: 12

Résumé: Lost 24-27 at N.Y. Jets, Won 27-24 at San Francisco, Won 18-16 vs. Washington, Lost 30-34 vs. Detroit, Lost 16-20 at New England, Won 34-7 vs. St. Louis, Lost 7-34 at Philadelphia, Won 23-13 vs. Seattle, Won 44-7 vs. Buffalo, Won 27-24 at Washington (OT), Won 20-19 vs. Miami, Lost 13-19 at Arizona (OT), Lost 34-37 vs. N.Y. Giants

Last Three Games: at TB (4-9), vs. PHI (5-8), at NYG (7-6)

Photo Via Zap2It.com

No. 12  N.Y. Giants (7-6): In terms of leading his team to improbable come-from-behind wins in crunch time, Eli Manning has performed like a Tebow-esque comeback kid under center this year for the Giants.  Along with a back-breaking second-half season schedule, the G-Men have dealt with devastating injuries right and left and conquered the Cowboys with two touchdowns in the final 194 seconds (3:14 minutes) of the game in a high-stakes thriller on Sunday night, also ending a four-game skid and advancing to the top of the NFC East.

Previous Ranking: 17

Résumé: Lost 14-28 at Washington, Won 28-16 vs. St. Louis, Won 29-16 at Philadelphia, Won 31-27 at Arizona, Lost 25-36 vs. Seattle, Won 27-24 vs. Buffalo, Won 20-17 vs. Miami, Won 24-20 at New England, Lost 20-27 at San Francisco, Lost 10-17 vs. Philadelphia, Lost 24-49 at New Orleans, Lost 35-38 vs. Green Bay, Won 37-34 at Dallas

Last Three Games: vs. WSH (4-9), at NYJ (8-5), vs. DAL (7-6)

No. 11  N.Y. Jets (8-5): Mark Sanchez and the Jets receive a lot of heat and much of it is rightfully deserved and comes with the territory, but they might be the best in the league when it comes to bouncing back when their backs are up against the wall.  It only helps when Rex Ryan stays out of the spotlight and the team receives help from other teams, as New Orleans outlasted Tennessee, Houston came-from-behind to top Cincinnati and Green Bay beat Oakland senseless.  The sixth seed is New York’s to lose.

Previous Ranking: 11

Résumé: Won 27-24 vs. Dallas, Won 32-3 vs. Jacksonville, Lost 24-34 at Oakland, Lost 17-34 at Baltimore, Lost 21-30 at New England, Won 24-6 vs. Miami, Won 27-21 vs. San Diego, Won 27-11 at Buffalo, Lost 16-37 vs. New England, Lost 13-17 at Denver, Won 28-24 vs. Buffalo, Won 34-19 at Washington, Won 37-10 vs. Kansas City

Last Three Games: at PHI (5-8), vs. NYG (7-6), at MIA (4-9)

No. 10   Denver Tebows (8-5): Tim Tebow and the Broncos are riding high with more horsepower than a Bugatti Veyron.  The Tebows have won six straight and continue to shine at the most important time of the game each week—the fourth quarter.

Jimmy Johnson of FOX Sports said after the game, “Tim Tebow is the best I have ever seen at bringing out the best out of all of the players around him and his teammates are on another level when he’s on the field.  He’s unbelievable.”

The Twitter world was so inspired by his continued late-game heroics that #Tebow remained the No. 1 trending topic for more than three hours, as numerous NFL players, professional athletes and celebrities chimed in with their thoughts.

Previous Ranking: 10

Résumé: Lost 20-23 vs. Oakland, Won 24-22 vs. Cincinnati, Lost 14-17 at Tennessee, Lost 23-49 at Green Bay, Lost 24-29 vs. San Diego, Won 18-15 at Miami (OT), Lost 10-45 vs. Detroit, Won 38-24 at Oakland, Won 17-10 at Kansas City, Won 17-13 vs. N.Y. Jets, Won 16-13 at San Diego (OT), Won 35-32 at Minnesota, Won 13-10 vs. Chicago (OT)

Last Three Games: vs. NE (10-3), at BUF (5-8), vs. KC (5-8)

No. 9  Detroit Lions (8-5): The Lions leaped back into the postseason picture after escaping with a victory over the Vikings with a very questionable no-call on a missed facemask on the final play of the game.  Detroit now owns the NFC’s sixth seed, but the next three tests are no day at the beach.  They could all end in a loss and could all also result in wins as well.

Questions, Questions…

The return of Ndamukong Suh is momumental, assuming he doesn’t get into even more trouble.  How healthy will Oakland will be come Sunday?  Will the Chargers be hitting on all cylinders in hopes of an unprecedented turnaround or will the Bolts already be out of the postseason discussion and without Norv Turner?  What about the Packers?  Will they be 15-0 and aggressively pursuing 16-0 (and 19-0), or will they call it safe and not risk throwing Aaron Rodgers into a fire of a ferocious Lions’ line which would likely do anything to wrap the sixth seed come Week 17?

Previous Ranking: 9

Résumé: Won 27-20 at Tampa Bay, Won 48-3 vs. Kansas City, Won 26-23 at Minnesota (OT), Won 34-30 at Dallas, Won 24-13 vs. Chicago, Lost 19-25 vs. San Francisco, Lost 16-23 vs. Atlanta, Won 45-10 at Denver, Lost 13-37 at Chicago, Won 49-35 vs. Carolina, Lost 15-27 vs. Green Bay, Lost 17-31 at New Orleans, Won 34-28 vs. Minnesota

Last Three Games: at OAK (7-6), vs. SD (6-7), at GB (13-0)

No. 8  Atlanta Falcons (8-5): Matt Ryan and the Falcons bounced back from a 23-7 halftime deficit in Charlotte to get the much-needed win over Carolina.  Matty Ice connected with Julio Jones on two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and finished the afternoon with four scores through the air and no interceptions—an excellent showing after last week’s countless miscues.

The NFC’s fifth seed should be owned by Atlanta.  Oh, and head coach Mike Smith was cleared at a Charlotte-area hospital and is reportedly in good spirits after a suspected heart attack.  We certainly wish him and his family well from everyone here at Gridiron Grit and NFL Touchdown.

Previous Ranking: 8

Résumé: Lost 12-30 at Chicago, Won 35-31 vs. Philadelphia, Lost 13-16 at Tampa Bay, Won 30-28 at Seattle, Lost 14-22 vs. Green Bay, Won 31-17 vs. Carolina, Won 23-16 at Detroit, Won 31-7 at Indianapolis, Lost 24-27 vs. New Orleans (OT), Won 23-17 vs. Tennessee, Won 24-14 vs. Minnesota, Lost 10-17 at Houston, Won 31-23 at Carolina

Last Four Games: vs. JAC (4-9), at NO (10-3), vs. TB (4-9)

No. 7 New England Patriots (10-3): On Sunday, it finally hit me.  Without Tom Brady, New England would be Indianapolis.  NFLTouchdown.com’s Law Murray hit the nail on the head with an in-depth comparison on November 29th on why the quarterback shouldn’t be the entire team.

Sure, the Patriots have a number of very productive tight ends and wide receivers.  The Colts did too when Peyton Manning was under center.  Both quarterbacks make the players around them much better.

Moreover, the Pats defense is absolutely atrocious and injury-prone as a unit.  That sounds a lot like Indianapolis.  When wide receivers are lining up as defensive backs, you know you have a plethora of problems on your hands.

Nonetheless, congrats to the Patriots for finally collecting their first win in Washington, as it was the only remaining NFL city where New England hadn’t previously earned a victory.

The team has scored 30 points or more in 10 of its 13 games this season.  I wouldn’t put too much stock in that being a winning recipe in the postseason.

Recipe For Playoff Success:

A great defense and strong running game is usually the successful modus operandi and that lies in Denver, Houston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Gang Green (at times), Tennessee, Cincinnati, San Francisco and Atlanta and Dallas as well at times, along with even Seattle and Arizona as of late.

At least the Saints have the ability to stop teams and possess a lethal three-headed monster out of the backfield.  Chicago has obviously lost Cutler and Forte, so that’s not really in the discussion.  And the Packers, well, they’re virtually unbeatable.  Time to shape up, Patriots.  You don’t want to be one-and-done.

Previous Ranking: 7

Résumé: Won 38-24 at Miami, Won 35-21 vs. San Diego, Lost 31-34 at Buffalo, Won 31-19 at Oakland, Won 30-21 vs. N.Y. Jets, Won 20-16 vs. Dallas, Lost 17-25 at Pittsburgh, Lost 20-24 vs. N.Y. Giants, Won 37-16 at N.Y. Jets, Won 34-3 vs. Kansas City, Won 38-20 at Philadelphia, Won 31-24 vs. Indianapolis, Won 31-24 at Washington

Last Three Games: at DEN (8-5), vs. MIA (4-9), vs. BUF (5-8)

No. 6  San Francisco 49ers (10-3): In San Fran’s defense, it was an inevitable trap game against Arizona.  It was on the road in the desert, the Cardinals have been getting hot in recent weeks, Patrick Willis was out of the lineup and the Niners had just comfortably wrapped up the NFC West coming into the game.  An off-game should have been expected and I did indeed pick the Cardinals.

This next test against the Steel Curtain has significant postseason implications in terms of seeding, which can be monumental.  Always remember: It’s not who you play, it’s when you play them.

Previous Ranking: 3

Résumé: Won 33-17 vs. Seattle, Lost 24-27 vs. Dallas, Won 13-8 vs. Cincinnati, Won 24-23 at Philadelphia, Won 48-3 vs. Tampa Bay, Won 25-19 at Detroit, Won 20-10 vs. Cleveland, Won 19-11 at Washington, Won 27-20 vs. N.Y. Giants, Won 23-7 vs. Arizona, Lost 6-16 at Baltimore, Won 26-0 vs. St. Louis, Lost 19-21 at Arizona

Last Three Games: vs. PIT (10-3), at SEA (6-7), at STL (2-11)

No. 5  Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3): Ben Roethlisberger’s injury concerns and James Harrison’s one-game suspension surely could have come at a better time.  The Steel Curtain has posed as a wrecking ball for opponents in recent weeks, but there’s certainly room for improvement in the running game.

Previous Ranking: 6

Résumé: Lost 7-35 at Baltimore, Won 24-0 vs. Seattle, Won 23-20 at Indianapolis, Lost 10-17 at Houston, Won 38-17 vs. Tennessee, Won 17-13 vs. Jacksonville, Won 32-20 at Arizona, Won 25-17 vs. New England, Lost 20-23 vs. Baltimore, Won 24-17 at Cincinnati, Won 13-9 at Kansas City, Won 35-7 vs. Cincinnati, Won 14-3 vs. Cleveland

Last Three Games: at SF (10-3), vs. STL (2-11), at CLE (4-9)

Photo Credit: Bloguin.com

No. 4 Houston Texans (10-3): Props to NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi for his accurate audacious analysis when he said T.J. Yates would give Houston a better chance to win than Matt Leinart in his Week 12 notes.

The fifth-round rookie third-string quarterback, who happens to be the only signal-caller to start in NFL history from the University of North Carolina has led the Texans to three consecutive wins (started last two contests) and completed 26 of 44 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns to only one interception (along with 36 yards on five carries) en route to throwing the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds to beat the Bengals (without the services of Andre Johnson).

Guard Mike Brisiel underwent surgery to repair a broken leg on Monday, which he played through in an effort to help lead the Texans to victory.  He’s expected to miss 3-4 weeks and the Texans also waived veteran receiver Derrick Mason.

Texans To Have Playoff Success?

Having to endure an endless amount of injuries to key players, you’d think Houston would have a problem.  However, the Texans have been embracing the “next-man up” lingo on a weekly basis, and come time for the postseason, they should encounter more success than expected in their first-ever playoff appearance, having had to overcome adversity all season long.

In addition, the Texans look to possess home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs and are exhibiting the perfect winning recipe for December and January with a great ground game and an elite defense.

Previous Ranking: 5

Résumé: Won 34-7 vs. Indianapolis, Won 23-13 at Miami, Lost 33-40 at New Orleans, Won 17-10 vs. Pittsburgh, Lost 20-25 vs. Oakland, Lost 14-29 at Baltimore, Won 41-7 at Tennessee, Won 24-14 vs. Jacksonville, Won 30-12 vs. Cleveland, Won 37-9 at Tampa Bay, Won 20-13 at Jacksonville, Won 17-10 vs. Atlanta, Won 20-19 at Cincinnati

Last Three Games: vs. CAR (4-9), at IND (0-13), vs. TEN (7-6)

No. 3 New Orleans Saints (10-3): If there’s one team in the NFC that might be able to keep pace with the Packers, it’s Drew Brees and high-flying New Orleans.  The No. 2 seed is up for grabs.

Previous Ranking: 4

Résumé: Lost 34-42 at Green Bay, Won 30-13 vs. Chicago, Won 40-33 vs. Houston, Won 23-10 at Jacksonville, Won 30-27 at Carolina, Lost 20-26 at Tampa Bay, Won 62-7 vs. Indianapolis, Lost 21-31 at St. Louis, Won 27-16 vs. Tampa Bay, Won 27-24 at Atlanta (OT), Won 49-24 vs. N.Y. Giants, Won 31-17 vs. Detroit, Won 22-17 at Tennessee

Last Three Games: at MIN (2-11), vs. ATL (8-5), vs. CAR (4-9)

No. 2  Baltimore Ravens (10-3): It’s a four-horse race for the top two seeds in the AFC and the Ravens might risk it all if it means beating out Pittsburgh for the division and have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.  By the way, Baltimore hasn’t lost all year at home.

Previous Ranking: 2

Résumé: Won 35-7 vs. Pittsburgh, Lost 13-26 at Tennessee, Won 37-7 at St. Louis, Won 34-17 vs. N.Y. Jets, Won 29-14 vs. Houston, Lost 7-12 at Jacksonville, Won 30-27 vs. Arizona, Won 23-20 at Pittsburgh, Lost 17-22 at Seattle, Won 31-24 vs. Cincinnati, Won 16-6 vs. San Francisco, Won 24-10 at Cleveland, Won 24-10 vs. Indianapolis

Last Three Games: at SD (6-7), vs. CLE (4-9), at CIN (7-6)

No. 1   Green Bay Packers (13-0): This isn’t the best team in NFL history.  You can’t be considered the greatest ever when you’re ranked next-to-last in total defense this late in the year.  However, these Packers might be the best in recent memory, remain virtually unbeatable and in all honesty look to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

Previous Ranking: 1

Résumé: Won 42-34 vs. New Orleans, Won 30-23 at Carolina, Won 27-17 at Chicago, Won 49-23 vs. Denver, Won 22-14 at Atlanta, Won 24-3 vs. St. Louis, Won 33-27 at Minnesota, Won 45-38 at San Diego, Won 45-7 vs. Minnesota, Won 35-26 vs. Tampa Bay, Won 27-15 at Detroit, Won 38-35 at N.Y. Giants, Won 46-16 vs. Oakland

Last Three Games: at KC (5-8), vs. CHI (7-6), vs. DET (8-5)


Updated Playoff Picture

Stick A Fork In:  (0-13) (4-9)   (4-9) (2-10) (2-11) (5-8)

                                           (5-8)  (4-9)   (4-9)(4-9) (4-9)  (5-8) 


In The Hunt: (6-7) (6-7) (5-7)  (7-6)

                                    (7-6) (7-6)  (7-6) (7-6) 


Wildcard Teams: (8-5)  (8-5) (8-5) (10-3) 


Division Leaders:   (7-6)(8-5) (10-3)* (10-3) 

                                              (10-3)* (10-3)* (10-3)  (13-0)*

*-Clinched playoff berth or clinched division.  

Here’s NFL.com’s updated playoff picture if the season ended today.

Verse of This Piece: “Doing right brings freedom to honest people, but those who are not trustworthy will be caught by their own desires.”—Proverbs 11:6

Agree or disagree with these rankings?  Let us know below! 

Also be sure to check out the NFL.com Power Poll, Elliot Harrison’s breakdown NFL.com Experts’ individual rankingsCBSSports.com’s rankings from Pete Prisco, Brian Billick’s take on FOXSports.com, Lee Russakoff’s set at Comcast SportsDon Bank’s SI.com edition and ESPN.com’s latest list.  Want to get your power rankings mentioned?  Send us your take at tips@gridirongrit.com or comment below. 

Follow @_MichaelGartman and @GridironGrit on Twitter!

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