Well, it took 11 weeks, but I now understand every team in the NFL. I may not get them all right, but I can at least predict what they will do on a somewhat weekly basis. I can even document it as I went 11-4 against the spread, and on two of them (Raiders @ Steelers, and Texans @ Jets), I reasoned against myself with what actually happened before taking the wrong side. Too bad I didn’t put any money on it. But, this whole understanding is important for another reason: the playoffs. That is right, I am about to make projections for something that will not happen for another couple months, and those those projections will be based on things that are almost guaranteed to change in those months. Isn’t journalism great?
Happy Turkey Day!
The best part is I can go ahead and guarantee these predictions because I know that no one will A) remember what I wrote in November about the playoffs, and B) no one will hold me accountable. Is it the online format that takes away the principle of accountability or is there just something inherent about blogs that lets you write off outlandish statements as just being that person stating their opinion as fact? I don’t know, but I love it.
So while we are going to lay out the rankings as usual, we are going to have some playoff talk at the bottom about what it takes to win a Super Bowl and which teams have it. I usually have some wiggle room for interpretation of the rankings, but for the most part, I am entirely convinced that these teams belong where they are. Let’s get to it.
Just a warning: this article exceeds 6,500 words. Sorry, I was in the binge-spirit of Thanksgiving. Feel free to skip around, but we have significant information on every team.
32. Carolina Panthers
This is the worst team in football, bar none. I actually liked the effort for most of the game against the Ravens, but they clearly did not have a shot. Mike Goodson might let them deal/waive DeAngelo Williams (no, seriously) and save some cash while they figure out what they are going to do with their team. They do not have any quarterbacks they like on their roster, they only have one wide receiver they actually like, and a handful of individual defensive players they like that just cannot execute the scheme at all. I am truly astounded at how bad they have been, and despite my occasional hysterics, I am not astounded at this level often.
31. Cincinnati Bengals
I am not sure what the Bengals Fail de Gras was in this game. Was it blowing a 28-7 lead? At home? Against the Bills? After showing pretty well against the Colts? All I can say for Bengals fans is that they should be happy about the local blackout, because few things are as brutal as watching Ryan Fitzpatrick significantly outplay Carson Palmer and letting a 1-8 team shut you out in the 2nd half. Before this next little tirade, I need to clarify that I am usually not in favor of rash decisions or cutting players/firing coaches mid-season for performance.
If you are going to get stuffed by Buffalo Bill, this is not the worst thing. Also as threatening as the Bengals.
With that said, Marvin Lewis should be fired. Carson Palmer should be benched, but then they could not trade him or even dream of it. I could see the Cardinals biting. Jordan Palmer should be cut for being related to Carson Palmer. Paul Alexander (Offensive line/asst. head coach) should be fired. Bob Bratkowski (Offensive Coordinator) should be fired. Kyle Caskey (Offensive Quality Control, whatever that is) should be fired. Hell, just his title is a fire-able offense. Andre Smith should be cut even though he is on Injured Reserve. He isn’t injured he is obese and has no work ethic. Bengals GM Mike Brown needs to be fired above all else. I know they were 10-6 last year. I know they were good. But I also know that what I am seeing on the field is the ultimate in players not buying into the scheme, coaches not doing their jobs correctly, and fans not being able to stand it.
Last year there were two things you knew for sure about the Bengals: they would run the ball, and they would be tough, especially on defense. 49 points to Buffalo, and a season full of not running the ball later, I think the offensive coaches have gone completely insane. The defensive line has been a letdown too, and things just need to change.
It is time for a new era in Cincinnati. An era that does not depend on egomania, low character guys (looking at you Tank Williams and TO in particular), and constant media flurries. They do not have to hire Tony Dungy, install baptismal showers and hire a personal priest/minister for every player, but they need to undo what happened this year, and that unfortunately means starting over since they cannot turn the clocks on Carson Palmer back 5 years. This regime has run its course. Start now while your fans will still appreciate that you are in touch with reality.
And think, I am not even a Bengals fan. If there are any Bengals fans readers out there, let us know by emailing email@example.com. I would love to hear the horror stories.
30. Arizona Cardinals
I am fairly sure they will bite on Carson Palmer, if dangled. Just saying. Anyway, what is there to say about the Cardinals? Derek Anderson’s numbers in mop up time probably looked good enough for Bidwell to want to extend him, but I hope for Cardinals faithful (all 9 of you) that they do not buy into The Cockroach. Why the cockroach, as I dubbed him on Twitter at one point? You just cannot kill him. He always finds a way to get back on the field and make things worse. However, he is far from their only problem. It is getting to be that time where Cards fans admit they whiffed on the Beanie Wells pick almost as badly as the Colts whiffed on Donald Brown. Hakeem Nicks anyone? The defense has been bad, but I will not even hold this week against them as no one wins in Kansas City. The team is just awful. I think the most telling thing is that the team seemed noticeably less dangerous with Larod Stephens-Howling was out. Can there be a surer sign you are a bad team? I think not. Look at the bright side, there is a quality draft pick coming. Well, as long as you pick a quality player.
29. Denver Broncos
The y have been plagued by inconsistency lately, but more so, they have been plagued by Knowshon Moreno’s injury and being unable to stop anyone on defense. They actually started with some serious promise, but all that promise is gone and the only things they really have to look forward is ruining a division rival’s playoff chances, getting Dumervil back next year and adding that big piece (possibly) through the draft. The Tebow experiment is actually going well in Denver, in the sense that Orton has played well enough they they have not needed Tebow and can let him grow, but it is absolutely imperative that fans realize how well Orton is playing and do not call for Tebow before it is time. This team is not THAT far away, they just need to revamp the defense and get a go-to-guy on offense.
28. Minnesota Vikings
The Wicked Old Childress is gone!
Monday was a great day for Vikings faithfu. They no longer need to hide their kids and hide their wives (and husbands cuz they rapin everybody out here. LINK HERE), the child molester impersonator is gone. I was making Wizard of Oz jokes last week, but I should have saved it for this. He is not necessarily the worst X and O coach around, but he is a demotivational poster all by himself. I would hire him as my offensive coordinator, but never as my coach. Frankly, they are a better team than this, but good luck trying to convince me to pick them for the rest of teh year. Their QB is an artifact, their defense has been way worse than it should be, and there is just discord all around this team. Seriously, when was the last time you heard of a team’s players saying “I hate the coach” WHILE HE WAS EMPLOYED??? And then he calls out Percy Harvin, their best player for much of the season, for not working hard enough? Bye bye Vikings.
I love the Leslie Frazier hire and I think they will make strides under him, but they have a tough schedule upcoming and they may not show the progress on the field. The Tavaris Jackson Era needs to restart soon for the good of the franchise. It is not like this is Green Bay where they cared about his legacy, he is a rental, right? Get Tavaris in there.
27. St. Louis Rams
They are much-improved, but they cannot win the on road. If they are at home, they are a legitimate team to pick, but on the road, you can count on them to lose close games. Think Tampa. Think San Francisco. They are really not a bad team and they ahve been ravaged byinjuries but let’s call it baby steps. I love Sam Bradford, I love the defense, I even love how Steven Jackson has stayed healthy. However, they are not quite tehre to really make moves.
Steve Spagnuolo deserves Coach of the Year consideration, but not the award, for all he has done. That defense has been one of the quiet successes of the year.
26. Seattle Seahawks
And so the NFC West hate goes on. You know why I had such a good week this week picking games? I picked specifically against NFC West teams. I mean Saints -11.5 over the Seahawks is one thing, but Bucs +3.5 over 49ers, Chiefs -8 over Cards, and Atlanta -3 over St. Louis were all fairly easy picks. I realize one of them is going to the playoffs, but that does not mean that they are in the top half. The Seahawks, like the Rams cannot win away from home, except against the mediocre 7-3 Bears. They are clearly decent, but they are not good. I don’t even care if tehy make the playoffs. I am serioulsy just relieved to have not seen them all year. I sense they would be brutal to watch.
25. San Francisco 49ers
They got housed in their own house by Tampa, but that is not really that big of a deal. I still think they are the best team in that division, but they are clearly not a good team. A good team doesn’t turn to Troy Smith as its savior. Ever. I can see them making a push, but only if that push is followed by a satisfying plop and a flush. I mostly am just putting them above the Seahwaks on principle, but they are not good either. Moving on.
On the bright side, you will not have to read about the NFC West the rest of this column.
24. Buffalo Bills
Somebody break up the Bills! Two straight wins and fairly impressive showings in each. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson, and Steve Johnson create an offensive chimera (sentence never before written), and while the defense is not good. they did shut the Bengals in the second half. Can I go ahead and pick them to beat the Pats or Jets down the stretch just for fun? Bottom line is that they are on their way up, and if I did not have a chubby for the next team up, they would probably go above them.
23. Detroit Lions
I been lovin’ me some Detroit Drank all season and somehow putting them at #23 counts as being on the bandwagon. They have dropped their last two to the Bills and Cowboys, but both seemed to be supernautral situations (Bills avoiding 0-16 fears and Cowboys proving Garrett loyalty) and I cannot hold that against the Lions. The big question for them going forward is if Matthew Stafford can stay healthy and if they can add those one or two pieces needed to really make this team a playoff contender. They are going to be a lot of people’s sexy (and inaccurate) Super Bowl pick at the beginning of next year, but they have earned at least some accolade after their showing this year.
22. Cleveland Browns
They have made great strides this year, but they are not quite there. They have played everyone close this year, and that is a huge success for them, but there is a huge difference between being able to play close games and win close games. I think we should know this by now with the Browns as they have lost just about every close game they have played this year. Now, if you are looking for betting advice, they are usually safe to cover, but if you are looking for them to win, you will end up disappointed. I love Peyton Hillis, and I think Colt McCoy can be their guy going forward, but they are about 4 pieces away from being legitimate. Those pieces are a large possession WR (such as Greg Childs out of Arkansas in the upcoming draft), a playmaking safety (plenty of those around these days), a lockdown (or semi-lockdown) corner, and maybe a rush linebacker to get a little more pressure on the QB. That is really, really reasonable to ask of a franchise going forward. I expect 8-8 next year assuming the schedule is reasonable and no one significantly regresses. Lots of reason for excitement down the road, but they are just not a team that can win games right now.
21. Houston Texans
Say it with me everyone! THE TEXANS JUST FIND WAYS TO LOSE GAMES!!!!!!!!! God, I would hate me if I was a Texans fan, but at this point I do not think anyone can really dispute it. We know there is talent on that team, but they just find ways to lose. Sometimes it is the lack of mental toughness, sometimes it is the horrendous pass defense, and sometimes it is Sage Rosenfels trying to hurdle defenders and getting helicoptered, but it is always something. Shame on me for buying in after beating the Colts (a game they geared their entire offseason towards) and coming back against the mediocre Redskins in week 2. They are the same old Texans. Gary Kubiak, walk the plank.
20. Dallas Cowboys
The Boys will be just fine for the rest of the season. Whether or not Cowboys fans should be genuinely excited by this, I do not know, but it is something. They will run efficeint offense and play just enough defense to beat most teams, but they still have a tough schedule remaining so they are still completely dead. I am not sure if this Garrett resurgence is real or just a phenomenon, but I am willing to pick them as long as they keep playing like they did against the Lions. They were not very good, but they were good enough, and that is what you can expect for the rest of the year. Tony Romo should not bother coming back this year, and I am not just saying that because I have Kitna on my fantasy team. There is no reason for him to come back until next year, so why rush it?
I am on record stating that Garrett will fail as a head coach. I am going to stick to it and I think history will ultimately back me on it, despite this hot start.
19. Tennessee Titans
Speaking of overhyped Titans, TA-DA! So much for that big Randy Moss acquisition, right? At least they don’t have quarterback issues, right? At least Bud Adams and his coach are on the same page, right? This repetition is getting annoying, right? Right. Well regardless, I have no option but to simply write them off as pretenders at this point even though they are only one game out in the South and will have plenty of games to catch up (they play the Colts twice). However, nothing screams “WE ARE DONE” more than losing to the Down-to-their-3rd string Dolphins and losing to the Redskins. And they were supposed to be the sleeper pick…
Before I lay this out, here are the criteria for VY’s next tteam. They cannot be a team with a top pick (they would rather draft), they have to have serious present/future issues at QB, and they must seem like a place that would make a move for him (i.e. you cannot see a team like the Jags making a move for him, can you?).
Top 5 most likely destinations for Vince Young:
Where will he run now?
1) Arizona Cardinals- They need him, they already had Matt Leinart, so why not grab the other floppish QB from that draft class, and you can just see him in that uniform, right?
2) Minnesota Vikings- Favre will be gone (probably), they have zero faith in Tavaris, and Leslie Frazier might want a new QB for his new regime. I can see this one happening without a doubt.
3) Seattle Seahawks- Pete Carroll knows first-hand what the kid can do, and call me crazy, but I could see Vince Young, Marshawn Lynch and Receiver-to-be-named-later being a solid offense if they have a good defense behind them.
4) Cincinnati Bengals- I would not bet on this one, but I could see Palmer getting traded (to Arizona in particular) and the Bengals making a move on Young with some of the pieces they get for Palmer.
5) Miami Dolphins- Again, I would not bet on this, but is it so hard to imagine the Fins jumping ship on Henne and going with Yougn, the running game, and Brandon Marshall? It wouldn’t surprise me all that much.
18. Oakland Raiders
Why so low? 1-4 on the road. However, I still have a hard time finding things to really dislike about their team. They can guard you man to man on the edges most of the time, they can run the ball both efficiently and for boatloads of yardage, and they get big plays out of the passing game, which is really all they need it for. The brewing QB debacle could prove problematic, but otherwise I am high on this team. I realize I have them pretty low, but 14-19 are all pretty even right now. The parity is pretty big at the top of the league, but it is equally big in that 14-19 range.
I will gladly accept an honorary seat on the Raiders bandwagon under two conditions. One, it does not require me ot pick them for the playoffs; and two, I do not have to sit next to Al Davis of Tom Cable.
17. Miami Dolphins
Normally, the big problem in Miami is getting the team to stop underperforming, but right now it is just about health. Losing Henne and Pennington is one thing, but losing about 3 big pieces on defense is a huge deal for a team that is not elite on either side of the ball. Perhaps even more amazing is that Ronnie Brown is not among the walking wounded (yet), and that maybe Tyler Thigpen isn’t a bad option. Maybe he finally convinces the coaches to run the ball. You know, like they did successfully all last year. They handle the hyped Titans the week Moss arrives, but can’t handle the Bears at home on Thursday? Normally you could write it off as the same old Dolphins, but it is really all about those injuries. Regardless, they are dead for the playoffs, and who knows if their effort will start to reflect that.
16. Washington Redskins
Average team, average logo
They don’t win pretty. Hell, they barely even win ugly, but they do win, and they get credit for that. I think the Redskins might just be the most average team in the league. They do not win or lose by much (except for that absolute cremation at the hands of Michael Vick), they play above average, unspectacular defense, they have rotating tailbacks you have not heard of (Keiland Williams, anyone?), mediocre QB where the fans think he is better than he is, and wide receivers who are fast and lack route-running. Can you think of anything more average than that? 5-5 works too. They are capable or beating anyone, losing anyone, and doing it at home or on the road. Average is really just the word for the Washington Redskins.
15. Kansas City Chiefs
So I still like the Chiefs, but can I PLEASE see something out of them on the road? I mean they play aat Arrowhead and look like a playoff team, then go on the road and need mop up touchdowns to make the score look respectable against the Broncos? What the heck, KC? Maybe they just need their Gates BBQ for pre-game meals or something because they are really just two different teams depending on where the game is being played. However, they are good enough to be way up here while the Rams are way down the list because there is something I can (almost) absolutely count on with them. They will run the ball well, and they will play tough, effective defense every week and that is enough for me. They are a very solid and quality team but unimpressive away from home. I mean at least they tend to play fairly well on the road, even if they do not win. That is all I can really ask of this young team for now.
14. Chicago Bears
How does humble pie taste? I don’t know, I refuse to eat it on the Bears. Why are they 7-3? Why? They lost to the Seahawks at home! They barely survived the Lions in week 1 (calvin Johnson vs The Ground) and they have beaten up on bad teams, or caught teams at the right time (like Miami on a short week with a 3rd string quarterback and a depleted secondary) and all of a sudden they are 7-3. HOW??? Their only really quality win was over Green Bay when they were heading into their mini-tailspin, and other than that they have feasted on the junk teams.
Who doesn't like real bears?
Ok, let’s just TRY to look at this objectively. Imagine the average NFL team. You can use the Skins if you want since I just called them that, but imagine the average. How do they do in each game? My prediction is next to the team, but feel free to put your own prediction in.
vs Det W
@ Dal W (given how they were playing at this point)
vs GB L
@ NYG L
@ Car W
vs Sea W
vs Wash Toss Up
@ Buf in Toronto W
vs Min W
@ Mia W (given injuries)
Seriously, is there anything about being 7-3 against that? Look, Chicago, you have given us a lot of things over the years. Deep dish, a host of world-class musicians and athletes, and a great city in the Midwest, but don’t give me any lip about your team. They are garbage. They might make the playoffs, and they might be able to win a playoff game because they play good defense, but stop telling me they are good. 7-3 means something. But it doesn’t mean what you think it means.
13. Jacksonville Jaguars
Maybe it is time we take the Jaguars seriously. I mean the second we do it, they will go away so maybe it is for the best.nGarrard is due for a stinker even worse than the one he had in the second half against Cleveland, and the defense has to give out at some point,, but when? Like the Redskins, they are not a great team, but they know how to win games, and clichéd though it may be, there is no doubt that it is a huge factor in being able to make a push for the playoffs. Just ask the Texans. But are they lucky or good? A little of both, but that does not mean they are not good. I am not worried about them taking the division crown from my Colts, but I would not be shocked to see them hang in there either, so I am going to stick with them at 13.
I can never tell if Jack Del Rio is doing a good job or not. Should I be impressed he has this team where it is, or should I be critical of him for not doing it every year and letting his team slump every other year? Should he stay on because the Jags are ok with all this or should they dump him and take a risk on someone else? No clue. If you are reading this, help me out Jacksonville fans. Assuming you are real. I have no idea if there are actually Jaguars fans.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
He thrives in crunchtime
Who are you and what have you done with the Bucs? When did Raheem Morris become a quality coach? When did Punchy Blount and Cadillac Williams become a quality duo? When did Josh Freeman become Ben Rapethlisberger minus the rape? When did this team learn how to win close games? At this point, the Bucs players probably do not even know, but they are still sitting at 7-3 and will be fighting it out with the Bears for that final playoff spot unless the Giants figure it out quick.
The only thing that really keeps me off this bandwagon is the incredible comfort of their schedule. Let’s do the same thing we did with the Bears. How does an average team do against this schedule:
vs Cle W
@ Car W
vs Pit L
@ Cin W
vs NO L
vs StL W
@ AZ W
@ Atl L
vs Car W
@ SF W
That is exactly what they have done. Do we know they are much above average? Not really. But they have been great late in games and that counts for a lot in this league. Bears fans probably hate me right now for making the same case for both teams and hating on the Bears. C’est la vie.
11. San Diego Chargers
Here come the Fightin’ Norvs, as usual. The Chargers are that kid who shows up late to whatever he is going to (slow start), is a gigantic douche about it (Rivers), but then is so much fun that you kind of forget he was late until the party is almost over (late season surge) and he pees himself on the dance floor (Chargers playoff failures). Suddenly you remember why you didn’t like hanging out with him.
Right now, they are clearly doing the Dougie like John Wall on the dance floor (in some pseudo-reality where that is cool), and they are winning, but do not let it influence you down the road. They have one last big roadblock this week in the Colts before they are officially the division favorite, but I a still sticking to my prediction of a 7-0 finish to the year post-bye week. However, all those drinks the Chargers downed while being cool the second half of the season have to go somewhere. Exit stage left/boxers/down their jeans. The only question remaining is who they do it against. My early money is on them to beat the Steelers/Ravens in wild card week, let everyone think they are amazing, and then crash out against the Pats or something. It is hard to find a real disappointment for them with so many good playoff teams. I am sure they will do just fine on their own.
10. Indianapolis Colts
Before we talk about the team, we should probably talk about that Colts-Patriots game. The most important player for the Colts never changes, however, apart from Peyton Manning, the guy who could have helped the Colts most was Gary Brackett. The tackling was a serious issue for the Colts and Brackett does not miss the tackles that Angerer missed. He would have been huge.
With that being said, the Colts played that game without Bob Sanders, Melvin Bullitt, Gary Brackett, Clint Session, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, and Mike Hart. During the game, they lost another backup safety, Austin Collie, and Antoine Bethea. They lost by 3 to a team that many call the best in the league. In a place Tom Brady has won 25 straight games. Think about that. Blair White and Jacob Tamme were two of the bigger targets for Peyton Manning, and they lost to the Patriots on the road by 3. And you want to argue Manning-Brady?
That last drive had to have every Patriots fan soiling themselves. Before the pick (created by getting pressure on Manning for the first time in 8 minutes), Manning was ready to score 3 touchdowns in 8 minutes against a team that is supposed to be the best in the league? Regardless, the Colts are just fine as long as they keep getting healthy and use this loss as a learning experience. If the defense realizes that the second half is what they have to do every half, and that they cannot afford to let Manning win them every game. If they take this loss as a challenge, they can still be a title contender, but they need to learn from this game.
It was the most excruciating regular season loss in a long time, but it is not even top 5 as far as excruciating losses. The regular season is just not a huge deal. For me, it goes the Super Bowl, the Scifres/Sproles game, the Vanderjagt game, the Billy Volek game, and any Patriots game, in that order.
9. New York Giants
If they do not figure out their turnover problem, they will miss the playoffs. Period. They have all the talent and scheme in the world, but if they cannot stop trying to gift wrap games for people, they will be done. I like all the pieces they have, although they are accumulating injuries quickly, but turnovers could end up being the thread that completely unravels the quilt when pulled on.
From that side, the Giants are pretty simple to pin down, but from other angles, the Giants are incredibly interesting. I cannot think of too many players who have made a bigger jump than Hakeem Nicks this year. He is absolutely frightening and although I have not seen him much, I think he can be a Roddy White type down the road. They have their possession guy in Steve Smith, Eli Manning is putting together another very nice year, and Ahmad Bradshaw is really as good as he looks. What don’t they have? I mean every team could use a shutdown corner, but even without one they are a pretty impressive team all around. If they figure out the turnover issue, they can make a run in the playoffs. If they do not figure it out, they will miss the playoffs.
This says it all
8. Green Bay Packers
Here is why Aaron Rodgers is not an elite QB. When Jermichael Finley got hurt, my confidence in Aaron Rodgers went way down. More importantly, he has not played as well since he went out. The point? One of the special things about elite quarterbacks is that your confidence in them does not drop when they are missing pieces. Aaron Rodgers has been significantly more turnover-prone since Finley’s injury, and that is a big deal for his elite status.
However, Rodgers aside, the Pack is playing great right now. They are almost to the point of being back to where we projected the pre-season, but there is just something about them that leaves you a little uneasy. They clearly have the talent and requisite pieces to make a playoff run, but there is just something (other than Mike McCarthy) that makes you uneasy about their long-range chances.
All that being said, few teams are playing as well as the Packers.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers
How fast can I get lukewarm about a team? When it comes in the form of not being able to win big games at home (vs New England) and not being able to control your emotions in a blowout against the Raiders, the answer is pretty fast. I have a few issues with the Steelers, but my main issues are that they abandon their running game, and they seem to play badly in crunchtime. They also seem to have a suspicious lack of close game experience that really shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is hard to really trust them in the playoffs when they have not felt the heat to some extent in the regular season. I could accept putting them higher, but I have six teams I genuinely like more.
6. Baltimore Ravens
The more you watch this defense with Ed Reed vs without Ed Reed, you realize how important he is. Without him, they were barely able to turn teams over and became a fairly standard and unintimidating defense, but with him they are back to running picks back like it is no big deal. It really cannot be overstated. This defense is back to where it was last year, which is to say it is very good, though not what it was back in the glory days.
The offense is another story. It is scary, but maybe not the kind of scary that it could be. The receiving corps is next to impossible to defend, and the Rice-McClain backfield is hard to shut down. Together, the offense should be just about unstoppable. However, Joe Flacco is the key part. If he plays up to the level of his teammates, the Ravens can beat anyone. If he plays to his level for most of this year, the Ravens are vulnerable to just about everyone and could find themselves on the couch come late January.
He is ultimately the reason the Ravens are not my Super Bowl pick. If you put Mark Sanchez, Matt Ryan, or Kyle Orton (QBs of a similar echelon) at QB for this team, I would probably pick them, but as it is, I cannot.
Here comes the running game!
5. New Orleans Saints
What made the Saints of last year different from the Saints of years before that? They ran the ball and their defense created turnovers at exactly the right moment. This year, they have gone almost completely without running backs, and yet they are 7-3, the defense is playing great ball, and Brees has been as good as ever considering everyone knows he is going to be throwing it. What is not to like here? I continue to expect the Saints to be the experts’ pick to win the NFC going into the playoffs because we have yet to see them at full strength.
The interesting thing will be seeing them play on Thanksgiving tomorrow. Dallas is far from an easy game right now, and this could just be a game that the Saints lose from the situation. The Cowboys are playing well right now, home teams have a marked advantage in Thursday games, and with Reggie Bush just coming back now, it might just be too soon for them to be back on the same page. If they can win that game, then it could be a sign of things to come for the defending champions.
They have what it takes, but I cannot pick them.
4. New England Patriots
Ugh. First off, congrats to them on winning that game. Every team needs to win games they barely deserve to win, and my hat goes off to the Pats for gutting it out. However, a Super Bowl contender does not let its arch rival almost score 21 points in 8 minutes to come back. Ever.
But here is the worst thing. They remind me of the Saints from last year. They have a defense that gives up way too many yards, and is not rated highly, but steps up in big moments. They have a running game that is vastly underrated and is a big part of their success. They have an outstanding quarterback surrounded by reliable receivers who will not necessarily strike fear, but will do their job well. They even have the great offensive line that does not even let defenses touch their quarterback. They just seem the same, and I hate it as a Colts fan. I do not want to think about the Saints, let alone the Patriots.
But ho-hum the Pats are 8-2 and virtual playoff locks. Home-field would be huge given their home record, but it is not a necessity for their success like the team below. I could see them hoisting the Lombardi trophy, but I would just hate to see it. Hate.
3. Atlanta Falcons
Can I see something out of them against a quality road team please? If they get the #1 seed in the playoffs, they will win the NFC. Not a doubt in my mind. If they have to play a road playoff game, they will lose. Still not a doubt in my mind. I take serious issue with ESPN ranking them #1 when they do not really have any big road wins, but we might have to wait til the Super Bowl to see them in a road game against a good team. They have a game in Tampa Bay, but apart from that their big games (including this week vs the Packers) are all at home. I look forward to the prospect of betting against the Falcons in a Super Bowl, but I wish we could see them tested before then because they are a very likable team and a team that is deserving of a title.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
Raise your hand if you want to face the Eagles right now. Me either. Stop Vick. Stop Desean Jackson. Stop the blitzes. Stop Shady McCoy. Stop trying to stop them and just hope they have an off day. It seems like the only person who can really stop them is Andy Reid, and that seems pretty plausible.
Frankly I do not see too many reasons they cannot make a playoff run. Vick has sneaky playoff experience (win @ Lambeau, & has played in an NFC Championship Game) too, so it is not like their star QB is going to be completely starstruck in the playoffs either. I want to see them get a little scarier on defense before I pick them to win the Super Bowl, but they aare a candidate without a doubt. They are by far the scariest team in the league right now.
Make no mistake, he has a big mouth
1. New York Jets
Before I tell you why they are my Super Bowl pick, let me justify their #1 ranking. I am not forgetting about their implosion against the Texans, but I give huge credit for finding ways to win games. They clearly have a pretty good defense, and they clearly have a good running game, but Mark Sanchez has been a revelation this year. I mean I am still trying to get used to the idea of him being a good quarterback, but these last few weeks, he has won the team games rather than being an obstacle to overcome. That was supposed to be their weakness coming into the season, and what is it now? Focus? Do you think they will have a hard time focusing in a playoff game? Me either. TO me, they are just the best team out there. Would I be more comfortable with it if they had not let the Texans back in? Yeah, but they fact that they have won just about every close game this year is big.
I have the Jets because they have a QB who can win them games, but is not absolutely necessary to win the game. In other words, they have a lot of different ways to beat you. Running, passing, defense, special teams, they have it all. They can be front runners, comeback artists, or grind it out winners, and that goes a long way. If the Falcons get home-field, I have the Jets beating the Falcons in the Super Bowl, but if the Falcons have to play a road game, give me the Packers or Saints.
I still have the Jets, Patriots, Colts, Ravens, Steelers, Chargers in the playoffs in the AFC, but in the NFC, I am about ready to replace the Giants with the Bucs, but that remains a tossup. Atlanta, Green Bay, New Orleans, and NFC West Punching Bag #1 are in.
Enjoy some Thanksgiving football, and remember to binge eat responsibly.
NE -6.5 over DETROIT
Cincinnati +9 over NYJ (Changed morning of game)
NO -3.5 over DALLAS (but it will be close)