What was advertised to be a preview of this coming February’s Super Bowl involving the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers did not disappoint. Quarterbacks Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers both showed up and made plays in front of a national television audience, and both had opportunities to close their opponents out in the fourth quarter of the contest. Rodgers and the Packers ultimately held serve at home, and Green Bay is now being touted as the best team in the league and kings of National Football League power rankings.
Other than what occurred at Lambeau Field, the big story swirling over the NFL on Tuesday morning is the current state of the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland is technically still in the playoff hunt at 7-5, but even diehard fans of a certain hometown hero cannot deny that the team’s starting quarterback isn’t getting the job done anymore. The Browns made national headlines on the night of May 8 when they drafted a true ratings draw and the most-polarizing player in the 2014 NFL Draft. Is it time for Cleveland to name him the team’s starting quarterback?
Last and least is what is occurring within the two New York professional football franchises. It’s almost hard to believe that the New York Jets, a laughingstock among many in the NFL for a variety of reasons, were legitimate Super Bowl contenders not too long ago. They are now a team stuck in football purgatory, one that is several successful offseasons away from improving to a .500 side let alone being one that is once again worthy of playing elimination games in January.
Sad as the Jets may be, they would give the New York Giants what would be an ugly fight if the two were to face off at MetLife Stadium. Big Blue is right now today worse off than the team has been at any point over the past decade. Injuries have decimated the roster. Those on the offense of the Giants are playing as if they don’t believe in one another. The New York defense is downright weak. All signs are pointing to the team hitting the reset button, something that hasn’t occurred with the Giants since before quarterback Eli Manning was drafted in 2004.
32. Oakland Raiders (1-11)
Hope you Oakland fans enjoyed the Raiders beating the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday Night Football, because that was the Super Bowl for what is the worst team in the NFL. The Raiders didn’t even bother to show up in St. Louis this past Sunday, and they were thoroughly embarrassed to the tune of 52-0. That was a pitiful performance at all ends of the field, and the manhood of the Oakland players was ripped from them by the Rams in what was, for those of you who don’t cheer on St. Louis, a missable game that even NFL RedZone tried to ignore.
31. Tennessee Titans (2-10)
Things have gotten so bad for Tennessee that the team has been forced to go back to Jake Locker at quarterback. Nobody can say for sure what rookie Zach Mettenberger will be in the NFL, but the book is out on Locker. He is not going to be the franchise quarterback for the Titans. Tennessee lost its pride earlier this season when the team failed to keep leads in multiple games. The Titans are now holding on for dear life, and they will happily welcome January and the end of the 2014 NFL season.
30. Washington Redskins (3-9)
There are now rumblings in DC that quarterback Robert Griffin III no longer has much support within the franchise outside of the ownership box. RG3, who continues to be featured in national advertising campaigns, has been replaced by former Cleveland Browns flop Colt McCoy, and Griffin’s time with the Redskins may be up. Just imagine, if you will, a scenario in which the Rams acquire Griffin years after they fleeced Washington for all of those draft picks. St. Louis pulled off an all-time trade when they made that deal with the ‘Skins.
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-10)
Just because a saying happens to be a cliche doesn’t mean that it is not accurate. The Buccaneers literally do not know how to consistently win games, and that was again put on display in the team’s home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. There is no way, none whatsoever, that any NFL team can have 12 men out on the field during what should be a game-winning drive. Tampa Bay was guilty of that crime at an unfortunate moment of the contest, and it cost them a victory over the Bengals.
28. New York Jets (2-10)
Rex Ryan and the Jets wanted to see what the team had in quarterback Geno Smith, so naturally Smith threw a total of 13 — count ’em — 13 passes during a Monday Night Football encounter versus the Miami Dolphins. You’ve got to hand it to the Jets for seemingly going out of the way to be worse off than the other New York pro football team. Both are franchises that have seen better days, of course, but the Jets reminded diehard fans and casual followers on Monday that they are a special kind of mess this fall.
27. New York Giants (3-9)
I wouldn’t have a problem with anybody who dropped the Giants all the way down to dead last in NFL power rankings after what happened in Jacksonville on Sunday. New York took it to the Jags in the first half before coming out of the tunnel half-asleep following the halftime break. That the Giants fell apart against one of the worst rosters in the NFL tells you all you need to know about how much head coach Tom Coughlin has lost the locker room. The Coughlin era is over, and it’s going to be a painful end for the two-time Super Bowl champion.
26. Carolina Panthers (3-8-1)
Here is a serious question at the start of the holiday season: Are the Panthers going to win another game in 2014? I wouldn’t bet on it. The Carolina offense is a dumpster fire, and those only blaming quarterback Cam Newton for that unit’s struggles aren’t paying close enough attention to the team’s games. Newton is surrounded by a lack of talent at impact positions and he can only do so much. The Panthers are paying for failing their quarterback, and they aren’t righting the ship anytime soon.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)
Jacksonville rises so high in NFL power rankings after a comeback victory over the New York Giants due in part to the fact that there are so many awful teams in the league this fall. That out of the way, give credit for the Jaguars for what they achieved at home. They could have played dead after being dominated throughout the first half of that contest. Jacksonville instead played with fire and passion in the final 30 minutes of the game, and the Jaguars unquestionably deserved to win when all was said and done.
24. Chicago Bears (5-7)
Save your hot takes on Chicago starting quarterback Jay Cutler for another week. Cutler wasn’t on the field when the offense of the Detroit Lions was lighting it up against the Bears on Thanksgiving Day. There is a lack of mental toughness within the locker room of the Bears, and while that does include the quarterback, Cutler is not, regardless of what some local beat reporters may say, the only problem with Chicago. A new coaching staff may be able to turn the Bears around, but that isn’t arriving until next year.
23. New Orleans Saints (5-7)
Of course Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints went into Pittsburgh and defeated the Steelers. Were you expecting anything else from the NFC South team? A New Orleans side picked by many last summer to be a championship contender is technically still one due to the fact that the Saints are tied with the Atlanta Falcons atop the division standings. Their record may be lackluster, but do not think for a second that any team in the conference wants to travel to New Orleans for a one-and-done playoff game.
22. Atlanta Falcons (5-7)
Of course Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons beat the nine-win Arizona Cardinals at home on Sunday. Were you expecting anything else from the NFC South team? One week after head coach Mike Smith cost the Falcons a win against the Cleveland Browns with some terrible clock management, Smith had his team ready to face off with what was the best team in the conference. The Falcons still hold their playoff fate in their own hands, a rarity for any club that has won five and lost seven at this stage of the campaign.
21. St. Louis Rams (5-7)
St. Louis is one of the more fascinating teams in all of the NFL on December 2nd. The Rams really don’t have much of a reason to be as good as they are. They lost their starting quarterback in August, and the St. Louis roster has been dealing with a plethora of injury concerns. You wouldn’t know it by watching the Rams, however, as they have notched several noteworthy victories against tough opponents. Is this team a franchise quarterback away from being a contender?
20. Minnesota Vikings (5-7)
Blocking two punts is a good way to ensure a win at home against any team. The Vikings aren’t going to be hanging around come January 1st, but they are quietly flirting with finishing the campaign with a .500 record. Rookie Teddy Bridgewater isn’t winning anybody a fantasy football championship, but he also hasn’t been nearly as bad as some have thought. The question for 2015 will be if Bridgewater will have a superstar in his backfield when next summer rolls around. That superstar may be somebody other than Adrian Peterson.
19. Houston Texans (6-6)
Ryan Fitzpatrick threw six touchdown passes against a NFL defense in 2014. It really is a wacky, wacky season. Defensive superstar J.J. Watt makes headlines and generates discussions on whether or not a non-offensive competitor can win Most Valuable Player in the modern NFL, but the Texans are going to live or die on the play of the team’s quarterback. Fitzpatrick isn’t tossing six TDs on a weekly basis. That’s fine. All he needs to do is limit mistakes for the Texans to remain in the playoff hunt over the next four weeks.
18. Cleveland Browns (7-5)
What was never, to begin with, all that high of a ceiling has been hit by veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer. Hoyer is not a franchise quarterback, and those within the Browns are being forced to face that reality. Is it fair to throw rookie Johnny Manziel into the heart of a playoff race after he has been a backup since the spring? Probably not, but head coach Mike Pettine and his staff likely feel as if they don’t have another choice considering how awful Hoyer has performed over the past several games, minus one positive series.
17. Kansas City Chiefs (7-5)
Head coach Andy Reid is struggling to properly utilize a star running back during the final stretch of a regular season. Some things really never change. While Reid’s in-game tactics can and will be questioned, Kansas City fans were painfully reminded on Sunday Night Football that the Chiefs are not in that elite tier of teams that is occupied by the likes of the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers. Kansas City can pull off the occasional big win, but the Chiefs will have to get hot to even qualify for the postseason.
16. San Francisco 49ers (7-5)
San Francisco literally allowed multiple players to eat Thanksgiving Day dinner on the logo of the 49ers on Thursday night. That is disgraceful, and it indicates that some on that roster are not all-in on the cause that is winning a Super Bowl while with the club. Those rumors regarding the future of Jim Harbaugh, which include Harbaugh making a move to the Oakland Raiders this coming winter, aren’t doing the Niners any favors. There are also real concerns that quarterback Colin Kaepernick is regressing.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5)
The Steelers of old would not be dropping crucial games in Pittsburgh, and these are not the Steelers of old. Home losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints, two teams that are likely finishing the campaign with losing records, could keep Pittsburgh from competing in the postseason. That, were it to occur, could cost head coach Mike Tomlin his job. Both the Steelers and Giants are teams that could be in limbo at the same time, something that rarely occurs for those two proud franchises.
14. Baltimore Ravens (7-5)
There was a time on Sunday afternoon when everything was going right for the Ravens. Baltimore was beating the San Diego Chargers while the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals all were losing. The Baltimore defense could not stop San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers and company on the final meaningful drive of the game, and the Bengals rallied to win ugly against Tampa Bay to add injury to insult for the Ravens. Baltimore is now two games behind the Bengals in the loss column.
13. Miami Dolphins (7-5)
The Dolphins essentially had a home game at MetLife Stadium against the New York Jets on Monday Night Football, as thousands upon thousands of Miami fans scooped up cheap tickets via the secondary market and made the trek to East Rutherford. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn’t air it out against a lousy New York secondary until the fourth quarter of the contest, but he found enough success when he did to lead the Dolphins to an important divisional win. Miami and Buffalo are preventing the Patriots from feeling too comfortable in the AFC East standings.
12. Buffalo Bills (7-5)
The Bills have a championship defense, and this team is rallying around a community that has gone through hell over the past couple of weeks. Buffalo can make a run into the postseason so long as quarterback Kyle Orton doesn’t try to exceed his limitations and do too much during games. Sleep on the Bills at your own risk football fans, because the emotional letdown some predicted would befall the club has not yet occurred. The Bills are as hyped for December football as is any team in the NFL.
11. Arizona Cardinals (9-3)
Uh oh. The nightmare scenario some envisioned for the Cardinals is happening before our very eyes. Quarterback Drew Stanton, playing in place of the injured Carson Palmer (torn ACL), is turning the ball over during contests, and the Cards now possess only a game advantage over the Seattle Seahawks in the division standings. Arizona remains unbeaten at home, and the Cards will have to win their final two games at the University of Phoenix Stadium to avoid what would be an epic collapse.
10. San Diego Chargers (8-4)
Every time anyone who covers the NFL want to bury the 2014 Chargers, they go and earn a massive victory that keeps them alive in the chase for the division title. Perhaps we will look back in a month or so and say that San Diego went through a midseason swoon at the perfect time of the year, before regrouping and qualifying for the playoffs. Coming back from behind to beat the Ravens in Baltimore was the win of the campaign to date for Philip Rivers and the Super Chargers. San Diego will host the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos over the next two weeks. Don’t count the Chargers out for those contests.
9. Dallas Cowboys (8-4)
Did those within the organization forget to remind the Dallas roster that the Cowboys play in a Thanksgiving Day game every year? The ‘Boys looked unprepared for a hard-fought divisional battle when they took the field to face off with the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday, and the E-A-G-L-E-S had the contest wrapped up by the end of the third quarter. It’s December now, the month when Dallas quarterback Tony Romo has, in the past, fallen apart. The Cowboys won’t make the playoffs unless Romo puts an end to that trend.
8. Detroit Lions (8-4)
And some of you were concerned about the offense of the Lions. All Detroit needed was a home game against the lowly Bears to find a needed spark. Quarterback Matt Stafford will be a mixed bag at times. That is just the player that he is. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson is, when fully healthy, the best in the business, a game-changer who can get the job done against any secondary in the league. Megatron went off for 11 catches, 146 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns. That’ll win you a fantasy football week.
7. Seattle Seahawks (8-4)
What team is only a game back in the division standings with a month of regular season football left on the schedule? The defending Super Bowl champions. A team counted out by some not too long ago, took it to the 49ers in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Night, and the Seahawks are showing some swagger on the field at the start of December. Seattle could be a victory at the Arizona Cardinals away from hosting at least one playoff game next month. The ‘Hawks could be finding their groove at the ideal time.
6. Indianapolis Colts (8-4)
The Colts are but a couple of victories away from hosting a playoff game. Andrew Luck and the rest of the Indianapolis roster may not yet be able to notch postseason victories in Denver or in New England, but you have to like the Colts to finish the campaign atop the division standings. From there, anything can happen in a playoff tournament. Luck is a rarity in that he is actually, unlike RG3, better than he was advertised to be several years ago. Watching him play over the next decade is going to be a joy.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (8-3-1)
Sunday couldn’t have gone much better for the Bengals. They somehow got by the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay, and Cincinnati then got an early Christmas gift when the other AFC North teams lost. That tie against the Carolina Panthers could prove to be the difference in a division that has three 7-5 clubs at the start of December. Cincinnati doesn’t always win pretty, but the Bengals have earned victories in three consecutive contests after that blowout loss to the Cleveland Browns on Thursday Night Football.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (8-4)
Anybody still clinging to any “Butt Fumble” jokes anymore? No? Didn’t think so. A year after being hung out to dry for the final time by the New York Jets, Mark Sanchez is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFC East and the leader of one of the best offenses in all of the NFL. Philadelphia dominated the Cowboys in Dallas on both sides of the football this past Thursday, making a statement to the rest of the league that the road to the division title will go through the City of Brotherly Love.
3. Denver Broncos (9-3)
One loss at the Patriots is all it took for some to write the Broncos off as pretenders. Those four quarters of football didn’t all of a sudden turn Peyton Manning into some journeyman who has lost his fastball. Manning is, at worst, a top-three quarterback in December 2014, and Denver could, if a few things go right for the club, end up with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs despite that defeat at New England. Maybe, just maybe, a Denver vs. Seattle Super Bowl rematch isn’t as far off as we thought at the start of November.
2. New England Patriots (9-3)
One is either overreacting or being silly if he drops the Patriots far down NFL power rankings. New England was a Rob Gronkowski endzone catch away from beating the best team in the NFL on the road. The Patriots responded by winning seven straight games the last time that they were defeated. New England remains in a good spot to finish the year off with a 12-4 record that, unless the Broncos run the table, will be good enough for the Patriots to hold Denver off and possess home-field advantage throughout January.
1. Green Bay Packers (9-3)
Those five letters keep on repeating with each Green Bay victory: R-E-L-A-X. Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL today, and he may be playing the best football of his pro career this fall. It is difficult to imagine the Packers losing a playoff game at Lambeau Field, and the NFC road to the Super Bowl will go through Green Bay unless the Packers experience some sort of unforeseen letdown. Only the Packers deserve to sit atop NFL power rankings as the first weekend of December approaches.
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