It is yet another National Football League week of wondering if the Cleveland Browns will go to quarterback Johnny Manziel while the team is in the middle of a playoff race. The Browns are not yet eliminated from the postseason, but career backup Brian Hoyer is no longer getting the job done. Only those inside of the organization know how Manziel is preparing and performing in practices. Unless he is truly lost when running the offense during midweek sessions, the Browns would have nothing to lose in going to the rookie to see if Manziel can provide a spark to an offense that isn’t finding the end zone this holiday season.
Elsewhere around the NFL, the two best teams in the league picked up wins during games that were featured on prime time national television. The New England Patriots moved to 10-3 after defeating the San Diego Chargers on Sunday Night Football, while the Green Bay Packers did enough to hold off an Atlanta Falcons side that put up a real fight on Monday night. Those two clubs are seemingly destined to face off once again in a contest that will occur on neutral turf in February. Is Tom Brady a couple of months away from cementing his legacy and avenging an earlier defeat to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers?
At the very bottom of NFL power rankings is a group of clubs that could use better play at the quarterback position. At least a few of those teams will likely be looking to acquire QBs in the 2015 NFL Draft. Others, meanwhile, have some tough decisions to make during the winter months. The story in Washington grows in intrigue with every week, as rumors that the front office and the coaching staff are not on the same page continue to leak. It would be bold for the Redskins to move on from Robert Griffin III so early into his NFL career. Washington mortgaged the future to grab RG3 not too long ago.
32. Tennessee Titans (2-11)
The Titans have serious reasons for concern moving forward. They don’t have a starting quarterback who can remain on the field, as rookie Zach Mettenberger will miss the rest of the 2014 NFL regular season after suffering a shoulder injury in a loss against the New York Giants. Tennessee is now closing in on one of the top picks of the 2014 NFL Draft, if not the No. 1 overall selection. Those running the Titans may feel that they have no other choice but to select the best quarterback available in the draft. Neither Mettenberger nor Jake Locker looks to be a franchise QB this fall.
31. Washington Redskins (3-10)
Washington may be the biggest mess in all of the NFL at the moment. There is not, in the minds of the head coach, a true starting quarterback on the roster. The team’s defense has given up on the cause. Fans and analysts can only guess what is next for the club. Everybody within the Redskins, outside of ownership, is in limbo, as there are rumors that both the coaching staff and Robert Griffin III could be out of jobs come January. The Redskins had better be right about giving up on RG3 if that is the decision they make. For all of his flaws, Griffin still has the natural ability to be a star in the NFL, if he can remain healthy and if he dedicates himself.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-11)
This past Sunday offered a reminder that the Buccaneers are not merely a talented quarterback away from being a championship contender. The Tampa Bay defense is filled with holes that will be exposed by quality NFL offenses. Rookie wide receiver Mike Evans has been a bright spot for a club that will likely have at least a top-three NFL Draft pick next spring. Evans found the end zone twice in the loss against the Detroit Lions, and he will deservedly be a Rookie of the Year candidate when all is said and done. Evans can, unfortunately for the club, only do so much.
29. New York Jets (2-11)
Just when you think that the Jets cannot possibly punch Gang Green fans in the gut with any more force, they go and tease supporters with an unexpected performance at Minnesota before crumbling apart with the game on the line. There is now little doubt that it is all over for Rex Ryan at the club, and rumors are already swirling about that the Atlanta Falcons could be interested in hiring the defensive guru as a replacement for Mike Smith. The days of Ryan leading a team to a conference championship game are now only a distant memory of what could have been for a struggling franchise.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11)
At least that win over the New York Giants was fun, right Jacksonville fans? The Jaguars are who we thought and knew that they were, a fact that was proven on Sunday in the team’s loss to the Houston Texans. There are real reasons for those within the Jaguars to have optimism for the team’s future despite Jacksonville’s lackluster record, and those burying rookie quarterback Blake Bortles are doing so way too early into his career. Do not forget that the original plan was to sit Bortles for several months so that he could learn how to be a starting pro QB from the sidelines.
27. Oakland Raiders (2-11)
So it appears as if the Raiders are able to get up for rivalry games against the likes of the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. Why hasn’t Oakland displayed such fight and heart in other regular season games? The Raiders have made a plethora of mistakes over the past several years, but drafting quarterback Derek Carr when every other NFL franchise passed on him appears to have been a wise decision. Carr has the physical and mental skills required to be a winning QB in the league, and he is quietly proving critics wrong while featuring for what is a below-average football team.
26. Chicago Bears (5-8)
Here is your weekly reminder that quarterback Jay Cutler is not the only thing ailing the Bears this season. Yes, the massive contract Chicago gave Cutler last offseason seems silly at the moment, but Cutler isn’t responsible for linebackers missing tackles. He isn’t the reason that players in the secondary of the Bears cannot cover top-tier wide receivers. Cutler may not be the quarterback of the future for the Bears, and there are legitimate arguments to be made for the club investigating options that would allow it to part ways with the QB. Just know, Chicago fans, that neither Peyton Manning nor Tom Brady alone would fix this team.
25. New Orleans Saints (5-8)
New Orleans holding serve at home used to be a sure thing. That is now no longer the case, as the Saints are 3-4 in home games after being dominated by the Carolina Panthers to the tune of 41-10. The defense of the Saints is one of the biggest disappointments in all of the NFL in 2014. Those who would point out that quarterback Drew Brees is showing his age may be correct, but their defense is the reason that the team is not atop the NFC South standings with three weeks left to go in the campaign.
24. New York Giants (4-9)
One can’t even make a joke about the Giants wishing that they could face one of the worst teams in the NFL every week, considering the fact that New York blew a lead to Jacksonville a week ago. Big Blue performed like a true wrecking crew in dismantling the Tennessee Titans, as the Giants played their best game of what has, for the club, been a season to forget. Rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. continues to be a revelation for the Giants, and he even played the quarterback role during the victory. Beckham would probably be the unrivaled Offensive Rookie of the Year had he been healthy during the summer months and September.
23. Carolina Panthers (4-8-1)
The NFL is a wacky league. A Carolina side that had been struggling on both sides of the football went to New Orleans and crushed the Saints en route to closing in on the top spot of the division standings. Despite the fact that the Panthers have won less than one-fourth of their games this season, they remain in the playoff conversation heading into the second Sunday of December. The NFC South is historically bad this fall, and no team in that division deserves to play a single football game next month, let alone host a playoff contest.
22. Atlanta Falcons (5-8)
The bad news, obviously, is that the Falcons dropped a road game to the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football. That single defeat alone does not, however, change the fact that Atlanta still holds full control of the the team’s playoff fate because the NFC South is brutally ugly this fall. Atlanta did not get blown out at Lambeau Field, as the Falcons did well to rally back from a massive deficit and force the Packers to close them out in the final five minutes of play. Atlanta isn’t a top-tier team, no, but the Falcons could be a difficult out if they have a home playoff game in January.
21. Cleveland Browns (7-6)
Rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel had better be screwing up big time in team practices, as that is the only excuse for him not seeing the field in Cleveland’s home loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Brian Hoyer was a disaster against the Colts, to the point that some knowledgeable football analysts are referring to him as the worst starting quarterback in the NFL. Head coach Mike Pettine didn’t go to the phenom known as Johnny Football a single time, however, a decision that may have cost the Browns a chance at earning a postseason spot. Manziel’s time has arrived.
20. San Francisco 49ers (7-6)
How quickly things can fall apart for a NFL franchise. A team that was playing for a Super Bowl championship not too long ago is now facing a situation where its head coach and starting quarterback may need to be replaced as soon as next spring. The rumors swirling regarding the future of Jim Harbaugh aren’t going away unless he comes out and states that he isn’t planning on going anywhere anytime soon, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick has undeniably taken steps in the wrong direction in 2014. Kaepernick is making poor decisions and poor plays, and he is handcuffing an offense that needed to do more against the Oakland Raiders.
19. Minnesota Vikings (6-7)
Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been a mixed bag, as one would expect from a first-year QB, during his debut campaign in the NFL. He got the job done with the game on the line on Sunday, notching a victory over the New York Jets with a touchdown pass in overtime. Quarterback play means everything in the pro game, and the Vikings may very well have the man they’ve been searching for in Bridgewater. With that said, the club will have to make a decision on suspended running back Adrian Peterson this coming winter. Can Minnesota realistically part ways with who may be the best RB in the league today?
18. St. Louis Rams (6-7)
St. Louis is the best 6-7 team in the league this season. The defense of the Rams is currently at a level where no offense wants to go up against it, and Shaun Hill is playing mistake-free football while filling in at the quarterback position. Head coach Jeff Fisher has been loyal to Sam Bradford, who is recovering from a torn ACL for the second time in two years. How long should that trend continue, however, if the Rams have a quarterback who is winning games? Bradford was paid big money as a rookie, but he hasn’t yet rewarded the club with anything other than injuries. His time with the Rams may be up.
17. Kansas City Chiefs (7-6)
Close but not close enough. That is a good summary for how the Chiefs played on Sunday and for the team’s season, in general. Kansas City has the talent to beat the best teams in the NFL when at home on a Sunday, but the Chiefs are not going to be a side that consistently earns victories and home playoff games. KC is one of five teams in the AFC sitting on seven wins going into Week 15. There isn’t space in the conference postseason tournament for all of those clubs, and the Chiefs are headed toward being on the outside looking in come the first weekend of January.
16. Houston Texans (7-6)
Head coach Bill O’Brien has to be wondering what could have been had he started a different quarterback back in Week 1 of the NFL campaign. While Houston got no help from the Browns in that Indianapolis completed a comeback victory in Cleveland, the Texans remain in the Wild Card hunt as one of those previously mentioned seven-win teams. Would Houston have at least an additional victory had the club been the recipient of better quarterback play earlier in the season? That could be the question that O’Brien and his staff are asking if the Texans do not play past Week 17 of the season.
15. Miami Dolphins (7-6)
Three AFC East teams had opportunities to make statements and prove that they were legitimate playoff sides this past Sunday. Only one answered the bell, and it was not the Miami Dolphins. Miami has the foundation to be a contender in the near future, but their time has not yet arrived. That was made clear in the team’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The Dolphins were outscored 28-3 in the final three quarters of what was, for both teams participating in the contest, essentially a playoff game. That is a woeful stat for a team that jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter of the game.
14. Buffalo Bills (7-6)
The Bills were the other team in the AFC East that couldn’t earn what would have been a banner win for the season. Buffalo, to its credit, showed heart and plenty of fight when on the road against the Denver Broncos, giving one of the best teams in the AFC a true scare up through the closing minutes of the contest. Quarterback Kyle Orton tossed two costly red zone interceptions in the loss, throws that he will want back. The Bills, simply put, do not have the goods to overcome multiple miscues, especially when facing an opponent such as the Broncos.
13. San Diego Chargers (8-5)
The San Diego defense came to play against the New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football, holding Tom Brady and the New England offense to 12 yards in the third quarter. Philip Rivers was not given enough time in the pocket with which to work, however, and the Chargers were kept off of the scoreboard after posting 14 points in the second quarter. It’s not all bad news for San Diego, as the Chargers still possess the final AFC Wild Card spot. Games against the Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs could, however, knock the Chargers out of the postseason.
12. Cincinnati Bengals (8-4-1)
The Bengals were supposed to have a championship defense back at the start of September. While there are valid excuses, most notably injuries, to be made for why that unit has not met expectations, the numbers tell you that it was lit up at home by the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers this fall. Pittsburgh traveled to Cincinnati and stole the lunch of the Bengals, scoring 25 unanswered points in the final quarter. Cincy still holds the top spot in the division standings, but the Bengals may have to run the table to keep that advantage at the end of the month.
11. Philadelphia Eagles (9-4)
Let the Mark Sanchez jokes begin. The former Sanchise did not play well enough for his club to win at home on Sunday, but that game did, in his defense, involve the Seattle Seahawks as an opponent. Seattle is finding its form, playing as well as the club did a year ago en route to winning the Super Bowl. Sanchez has done well while replacing the injured Nick Foles. One poor outing doesn’t erase that. The Eagles do not yet have any reason to believe that the former New York Jets starter cannot get the job done in the postseason, and head coach Chip Kelly shouldn’t lose faith in his QB.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5)
Pittsburgh dropped games to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Jets and New Orleans Saints this season. The Steelers would be in first place in the AFC North standings had they knocked off any one of those bad teams. When Ben Roethlisberger is off or dealing with an injured hand, the Steelers can be beaten by any team in the league. Pittsburgh is a championship contender when Big Ben is at his best, though, and he could be on the verge of putting pen to paper on one final contract with the club. The Super Bowl champion quarterback has earned that extension.
9. Baltimore Ravens (8-5)
The Ravens may very well be the uncrowned favorites to win the AFC North with three games left to play. Baltimore has two winnable home games on the schedule – versus the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cleveland Browns. That December 21 contest at the Houston Texans will be a test for the Ravens, but Baltimore has proven that the team has the goods to go on the road and beat talented sides. Joe Flacco and others within the organization have been to the big game before. They know what it takes to get the job done in December.
8. Arizona Cardinals (10-3)
Perhaps the most noteworthy result of the NFL weekend occurred when the Cardinals managed to stop the bleeding and edge out a hard-fought win over the Kansas City Chiefs. It is being said that quarterback Drew Stanton redeemed himself after some worrisome play. That may be the case, but all eyes will continue to be on Stanton moving forward. The perception held by casual observers is that Stanton will not be able to carry the Cardinals to a deep postseason run. He needs to see such criticism as bulletin board material if he is to prove his many doubters wrong.
7. Dallas Cowboys (9-4)
The Cowboys kinda/sorta fell asleep at the wheel on Thursday Night Football, allowing the Chicago Bears to make things interesting on an evening when Dallas should have rolled to an easy win. That Thanksgiving Day debacle that was a Dallas home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles has now been erased from memories for the Cowboys, who are once again tied with the Eagles in the division standings. The Cowboys and Eagles will meet for a Sunday Night Football showdown on December 14th. Dallas will have an opportunity to gain some revenge in front of a national television audience.
6. Detroit Lions (9-4)
The demise of the Detroit Lions was exaggerated, after all. Detroit has what can be a menacing defense, and Calvin Johnson is 100 percent healthy and he is more rested than other top-tier wide receivers who haven’t missed any action this season. Do not sleep on the reality that the Lions still have a chance to win the division, perhaps in Week 17 when they travel to take on the Green Bay Packers. There are some out there who would claim that Aaron Rodgers and the Packers aren’t losing that home game. Don’t be so sure in this NFL season that has been predictably unpredictable.
5. Indianapolis Colts (9-4)
Indianapolis had no business beating the Browns in Cleveland. Quarterback Andrew Luck was hassled and hit a total of 13 times, and he surrendered 14 points to the opposing defense in the first half. Luck, as all great quarterbacks will do if given the chance, drove the Colts down the field on his final offensive drive, and hit wide receiver T.Y. Hilton for the game-winning score with under a minute left on the clock. There is no better young quarterback in the game today, and Luck putting poor play out of mind during games makes him that much harder to defeat.
4. Seattle Seahawks (9-4)
There are some out there who want to crown the Seahawks as the best team in the conference and the top side in NFL power rankings. It is a tad too early for that, but one cannot possibly ignore how well Seattle is playing at this crucial stretch of the season. Defense wins championships, teaches the mantra, and the Seattle defense just shut down the high-powered offense of the Philadelphia Eagles while on the road. The Seahawks will play two of their final three games on their home turf, and they have a chance of finishing the campaign atop the division standings and in possession of home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
3. Denver Broncos (10-3)
Denver reminded fans that style points aren’t worth anything outside of SportsCenter highlights as it pertains to the NFL. The Broncos held on for a win against the Buffalo Bills, keeping their grip of the first-place spot in the division standings in the process. Quarterback Peyton Manning has looked more human as of late, but he is getting a boost from his rushing attack. C.J. Anderson is blossoming into an elite running back before our very eyes, and he and not Manning could prove to be the vital player for the Broncos over the next couple of months.
2. New England Patriots (10-3)
Did anybody really believe that the Patriots were going to lose back-to-back regular season games? Quarterback Tom Brady will get headlines for all that he has achieved throughout his Hall of Fame career, but it is the defense of the Patriots that has New England in a position to win a Super Bowl in February. This is the best that the Patriots have been in a decade, and that includes discussions about a team that won 18 straight games before losing the championship contest. Brady won’t have to worry about Eli Manning and the New York Giants spoiling his party this time around. It is the older Manning who once again could be the hurdle separating Brady from a Super Bowl.
1. Green Bay Packers (10-3)
Aaron Rodgers is a special player, the best quarterback in all of the NFL this fall and a man seemingly destined to win the Most Valuable Player award for the regular season. The defense of the Packers can, at times, be a concern, but Rodgers is not going to be denied when playing in front of a home audience. Seattle is playing very well, but those who believe that the Seahawks are the top team out of the NFC are ignoring the fact that the conference road to the Super Bowl goes through Wisconsin as of December 9th. The Packers are once again kings of NFL power rankings, and they will be for the rest of the campaign unless they drop a game.
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