The Seattle Seahawks were written off by plenty of doubters multiple times throughout the 2014 National Football League regular season. Every one of those individuals look silly at the start of Christmas week. Not only have these Seahawks been to the mountaintop before. They may actually be better than they were a year ago at this time. Best of luck to those NFC teams that will have to travel out west to play the Seahawks in Seattle next month. Those sides will need more than some good fortune, as the Seahawks are playing at as high a level as is any other team in the league.
Elsewhere around the NFL, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots keep on winning. There is not a quarterback in the AFC one would choose to start a playoff game ahead of Brady, the Patriots have the best defense in the conference this holiday season, and the conference's road to the Super Bowl will be going through Gillette Stadium. New England has become an overwhelming favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl for 2015. Is there anybody out there who wants to put actual money on the Patriots not advancing to the final game of the campaign?
The worst teams in the NFL are happily looking forward to the end of lousy seasons. Some are already working toward acquiring talent in the 2015 NFL Draft, while others are hoping that they will not need to sign or draft quarterbacks during the upcoming offseason. There are some smart football people out there who are convinced that the next draft class does not have a franchise quarterback in it. That is awful news for more than a few franchises that are desperate for elite signal-callers.
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32 Tennessee Titans (2-13)
The Titans are one of several teams being linked with Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Several things would have to happen for such a transaction to even be possible, including Tennessee giving up on Jake Locker and also deciding that rookie Zach Mettenberger will not be ready to take the keys to the team's offense next summer. There is no reason to believe the Titans are prepared to give up on Mettenberger, meaning that Cutler would, were the two to be on the same roster in 2015, be a mentor for the young quarterback. Is that really the best situation for the club?
31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-13)
Tampa Bay had the luxury of facing Aaron Rodgers when the elite quarterback was dealing with the flu and a strained left calf. It mattered little in the end, though, as the Bucs managed to score only three points when hosting one of the better teams in the NFC. 2014 was a lost cause for Tampa Bay a while ago, and all eyes are already on the upcoming NFL Draft as it pertains to the club. The quarterback of the team's future is not on the roster of the Buccaneers this December. That man may or may not be drafted by the team in the spring.
30 New York Jets (3-12)
There were two certainties heading into Sunday's game at MetLife Stadium involving the Jets and the New England Patriots: New York head coach Rex Ryan was going to have his defense hyped and ready to play, and his offense was going to let him down. Whether or not diehard Gang Green supporters want to hold onto the notion that Ryan was set up to fail by the front office of the Jets is irrelevant. Ryan's fate was sealed before Sunday's contest, perhaps even before Thanksgiving Day ,if certain rumors on the topic are to be believed. The Jets need a franchise reset.
29 Chicago Bears (5-10)
Record alone is not why the Bears are so low in NFL power rankings heading into the Christmas holiday. There are reports that those within the team's coaching staff know that they will be fired next Monday. Quarterback Jay Cutler is out of favor to the point that he has been benched. Chicago may soon be looking for a new general manager. There is plenty of talent on the roster of the Bears, but the organization as a whole is in disarray. An upgrade at quarterback, particularly one who consistently limits mistakes and one who has the backing of his teammates, is needed, but that alone won't make Chicago a winner.
28 Washington Redskins (4-11)
It is the question that will be asked over and over again over the next couple of months: Are the Redskins sure that they want to give up on Robert Griffin III? RG3 has his flaws, as does any young quarterback in the NFL. Griffin could be special if he applies himself and if the Redskins build an offensive line capable of protecting the QB. The latest reports on the topic are that RG3 will remain with the Redskins through the completion of his rookie contract. It is the inevitable end to the story considering how much Washington gave up to draft RG3 several years ago.
27 Jacksonville Jaguars (3-12)
Beating Tennessee in an ugly Thursday Night Football game doesn't change the fact that the Jaguars need to be actively working to acquire additional draft picks. Quarterback Blake Bortles has, as expected, been a mixed bag. Bortles is a project that wasn't supposed to be starting so early into his NFL career. The rookie is the guy for Jacksonville for at least the now, and the Jaguars must build around the UCF product beginning this offseason. Jacksonville spinning in circles has become insufferable for the team's existing fan base. Those individuals deserve better, and it starts with giving Bortles a real chance to succeed in the pros.
26 Oakland Raiders (3-12)
His record is not stellar, but rookie quarterback Derek Carr has played better than any other rookie QB in 2014. Carr has the goods to be a star in the NFL. He makes all of the throws. He has poise in the pocket. Even when the season is more about the future than it is about the present, Carr picked himself up from suffering a knock and returned to action. The Raiders need a lot of help, of course, but that can be addressed if they have another terrific draft. He can win on Sundays if put in an ideal situation.
25 New Orleans Saints (6-9)
Life changes quickly in the NFL every season. It was only a week ago when it was looking like we were just two weeks away from the Saints hosting a playoff game. That possibility disappeared on Sunday when the Atlanta Falcons went to New Orleans and defeated their rivals, putting the 2014 Saints out of their misery in the process. Quarterback Drew Brees had a forgettable year, and he is on the list of reasons why the Saints are one of the biggest disappointments in the NFL. Anybody can have a bad season, but there are more than a few out there believing that Brees has entered the twilight of his career. Let's wait until next year before making any final judgements.
24 Cleveland Browns (7-8)
Doubts about the quarterbacks on the roster. Lack of faith in the entire coaching staff. Questions about the heart and fight had by those on the team's roster. A defense that cannot make a pivotal stop with the game on the line. How, exactly, are the 2014 Browns different than from last December or from the December before that? Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan did rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel zero favors for the second straight week, this time getting Johnny Football injured (hamstring). Why the Browns bothered playing Manziel while doing so outside of the original offensive scheme is a mystery.
23 San Francisco 49ers (7-8)
Turn out the lights. The party is long over. San Francisco folded against the San Diego Chargers on Saturday evening, putting in a performance that one would expect to see from a group of players aware that the head coach already has a foot out of the door halfway through December. Jim Harbaugh is going to have his choice of gigs after he announces that he is leaving the 49ers, and one cannot blame him for getting his. Uncertainty about the future of the head coach during a playoff run helped sink the Niners, and those blaming quarterback Colin Kaepernick for the team's struggles are not seeing the big picture.
22 St. Louis Rams (6-9)
Here is a memo for the younger players on the roster of the Rams: Perhaps you should avoid mocking opponents via touchdown celebrations until you have at least a .500 record, especially when one of the individuals being mocked is currently recovering from what was a horrific knee injury. St. Louis was outplayed, out-toughed, out-coached, and outclassed at home by the New York Giants, a loss that guaranteed that the Rams won't have a shot at 8-8. Jeff Fisher is a heckuva head coach, but there are times when his methods leave plenty to be desired. He sent goons onto the field to play against the Giants, and it backfired.
21 Minnesota Vikings (6-9)
You know it is not your day when a blocked punt that goes out of the end zone results in a road loss. It is not all bad news for the Vikings this holiday season, though, thanks to rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater playing well during his debut campaign in the NFL. Bridgewater was advertised to be the most NFL-ready quarterback of this past draft class. That has been proven to be accurate. There were also scouting reports claiming that Bridgewater was what he was, and that he would not get much better over the years. Teddy Ballgame will be looking to prove those doubters wrong.
20 New York Giants (6-9)
There may come a day when books are written about the rookie season had by superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham is making it look easy during NFL games, and there is not a defense in the league that can contain the rookie. Quarterbacks make or break teams, of course, but Beckham is a special talent who can change a game in an instant due to his athleticism and wide receiver skills that first-year pros are not supposed to possess. Beckham is the Rookie of the Year and he should be an Offensive Player of the Year candidate. Yes, he has been that good.
19 Atlanta Falcons (6-9)
Just when you think it is safe to pour dirt over the 2014 Falcons, they silence critics with a massive road win that keeps their playoff hopes alive. Atlanta is responsible for the worst pass defense in the NFL with one week left to play in the regular season, but the Falcons remain one victory at home away from hosting a playoff game. Quarterback Matt Ryan has, in the past, shrunk when under the spotlights that come with one-and-done contests. Matty Ice will need to be at his best when playing for a postseason birth.
18 Philadelphia Eagles (9-6)
Quarterback Mark Sanchez had one job late in Saturday's game involving the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins: don't turn the ball over. The former Sanchize couldn't avoid such a miscue, and that interception could mean more than the Eagles not qualifying for the postseason. Sanchez was also playing for a contract from a team in need of a quarterback, and he may have cost himself millions of dollars by falling apart in front of a NFL Network audience. Head coach Chip Kelly won't go all-in on Sanchez, but some team should give him one more chance to be a first-choice QB.
17 Carolina Panthers (6-8-1)
It would be impossible to overstate the toughness of Cam Newton. Not even a car accident that caused a serious back injury could keep him from taking the field while the Panthers were in the heart of a playoff race, and Newton played well enough against the Cleveland Browns to keep Carolina in the postseason hunt for another week. Newton has his critics, but all would do well to remember that he has not been 100 percent healthy for a single regular season game in 2014. The guy is a gamer who is more than just a tremendous athlete.
16 Houston Texans (8-7)
Rookie defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has been a non-factor because of an injury, but the Texans will nevertheless be in the playoff hunt on the final Sunday on the regular season. A win alone will not provide Houston with January football, as the Texans need the San Diego Chargers and Baltimore Ravens both to lose to have a hope of making the postseason. That's not too shabby for a club that is relying on a backup quarterback, a side that essentially didn't properly utilize a first overall draft pick for the 2014 regular season. To steal a quote, "so you're saying there is a chance?"
15 Buffalo Bills (8-7)
Winning on the road in the NFL is tough, especially for clubs that have to travel across the continental United States. That said, all the Bills had to do to remain in the playoff conversation was beat the two-win Oakland Raiders. What had, over the past month, been a top-notch Buffalo defense couldn't produce a stop in the fourth quarter, and rookie quarterback Derek Carr made enough plays to find the end zone for what was ultimately a game-winning score. Fans of the Bills could find themselves choosing between rooting for Kyle Orton or Brian Hoyer next fall. It never gets easy for that group.
14 Miami Dolphins (8-7)
So much for those rumors and hot takes about Miami players phoning in the rest of the season before going on vacations. A back-and-forth encounter involving Miami and the Minnesota Vikings was decided when a blocked punt late into the contest resulted in a game-winning safety for the Dolphins. The owner of the club told reporters after the game that head coach Joe Philbin will keep his post, something that may not have happened had Philbin's special teams not swooped in and saved the day. One play really can change the future for a coaching staff, especially for one that it believed to be on the hot seat.
13 Kansas City Chiefs (8-7)
When a team looks great when it is at its best but fails to impress when at its worst, that side is usually average. KC only scored 12 points when away to the Pittsburgh Steelers, looking no better than an average team with the franchise's playoff hopes dangling by a thread. Quarterback Alex Smith was taken down six times by the Pittsburgh defense in the losing effort, but he did manage to throw for over 300 yards. Smith has a better arm that he is often given credit for, and the Chiefs must give him adequate weapons over the offseason if the team is to compete for anything of merit.
12 Baltimore Ravens (9-6)
Quarterback Joe Flacco had a terrible game against the Houston Texans on Sunday, potentially throwing away Baltimore's playoff dreams during a game he will want to soon forget. Flacco had his worst half of the season at the worst time of the regular season, tossing three interceptions and playing so poorly that reporters asked him after the game if he had carried some sort of knock into the game. Making life easy for a defense that includes superstar J.J. Watt is never a positive for a quarterback, but that is exactly what Flacco did against the Houston Texans.
11 Arizona Cardinals (11-4)
Head coach Bruce Arians has to believe that the football Gods have something against him this December. It was not long ago that Arians and the Cardinals were a couple of positive results away from clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and now it appears that Arizona will be bounced out of the postseason after a single road game. One can realistically only expect so much from the Cards now that they are down to the their third-choice quarterback. The fates truly are against Arians and the Cardinals, as injury woes will cost them a chance to win a Super Bowl.
10 Indianapolis Colts (10-5)
Take nothing of note from what occurred in Dallas this Sunday other than the fact that the Colts are merely coasting through to the end of the regular season. Indianapolis wasn't going to catch the New England Patriots in the overall AFC standings, and the Colts already have a division title wrapped up. Treating the final week of the campaign as a second preseason has burned teams in the past, the Colts included when Peyton Manning was running the club's offense. Will Andrew Luck be able to avoid the rust that sometimes comes from not actively working to win games?
9 San Diego Chargers (9-6)
A funny thing happened while observers such as myself were pointing out that quarterback Philip Rivers had once again failed to lead his team to a big win: Rivers put the Chargers on his back and carried them to a comeback victory over the San Francisco 49ers. The 2014 Chargers can be an infuriating team in that they are capable of defeating the likes of the Niners and the Seattle Seahawks, but San Diego can also put up a stinker en route to being shut out by the Miami Dolphins. You never know what you're going to get from the Chargers, and that is why they won't go far in the playoffs if they even make it to the postseason.
8 Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5)
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers are back in the postseason. Surprise, surprise. Roethlisberger has quietly outperformed counterparts when playing at home, and the defense of the Steelers is finding its form this holiday season. Pittsburgh has a championship head coach, a championship quarterback, and a defense that is maybe the most underrated in all of the AFC. The Steelers will be hosting a playoff game so long as they can take care of business at home against the Cincinnati Bengals. Expect the Steelers to hold serve and clinch a division title while featured on Sunday Night Football.
7 Cincinnati Bengals (10-4-1)
You're back in the playoffs, Andy Dalton. The time has come to win a January football game. Cincinnati sent a message to Dalton this past offseason when they signed him to a deal that clearly did not marry the club to the quarterback. It is now on Dalton to prove to the Bengals and to all critics that he can be a franchise quarterback, a leader capable of erasing a winless postseason record. Dalton and the Bengals will first have to travel to Pittsburgh for a clash that will determine the champion of the AFC north.
6 Detroit Lions (11-4)
Players are often advised to avoid sports talk radio and stories written about them and about their teams. Those running the Lions need to take the opposite approach this week. Just about nobody in the national sports media is picking the Lions to go up to Lambeau Field and defeat the Green Bay Packers with a division title on the line. Making the playoffs is an admirable accomplishment. The 2014 Lions have a championship defense, not to mention one of the best offensive weapons in the game in Calvin Johnson. Detroit can make a run starting this weekend by knocking off the Packers.
5 Denver Broncos (11-4)
The first thing Denver has to do is eliminate the flu bug that is flying around the team's locker room. Outside of that, nobody should be brushing the Broncos off after the team lost to the Bengals on Monday Night Football. Quarterback Peyton Manning won't be playing in downpour storms throughout January, and the Broncos will host at least one playoff game. Denver is flying under the radar this holiday season, which could benefit the club heading into what could be the final postseason of Manning's historic career.
4 Green Bay Packers (11-4)
It is the dream scenario for Green Bay and for fans of the Packers. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his teammates are a victory at Lambeau Field away from winning the division and hosting a playoff game. The Lions should be a tough out for the Packers, but Detroit does not have a history of winning at Lambeau regardless of the players on the roster. Green Bay cannot afford to look ahead due to the talent on the Lions, but there are good reasons that the Packers are favorites heading into this contest. Don't bet against Rodgers when he is playing on home turf.
3 Dallas Cowboys (11-4)
What does it say about the state of the Cowboys that players are dumping Gatorade over a head coach for winning a division title? This is a proud franchise, one that should yearn to do more than just make it to the playoffs. Quarterback Tony Romo did not fall apart during December, but that is only the first step of the journey. Romo can silence critics who constantly remind everybody that he hasn't won anything only by leading the Cowboys to a Super Bowl. Otherwise, Romo's reputation for being a good QB who cannot win the big one will grow.
2 Seattle Seahawks (11-4)
Words cannot adequately describe how well the Seahawks are playing while closing out the regular season as maybe the best team in the NFL. That the Seattle defense is the top unit in the NFC is no surprise to anybody. The play of the Seattle offense this December is what is raising eyebrows. Quarterback Russell Wilson has improved to the point that one would really have to think about the matter if forced to choose between the Super Bowl champion and Andrew Luck. Wilson is far more than just a game-manager. He is a play-maker who can win games for the Seahawks if necessary.
1 New England Patriots (12-3)
Going to MetLife Stadium and beating Rex Ryan and the New York Jets one final time was never going to be a walk in the park for the Patriots. What makes New England that much scarier going into January 2015 is that quarterback Tom Brady is not being asked to win games on his own. Brady has the talent and ability to do so, yes, but it is the New England defense that has propelled the Patriots all the way to the top of NFL power rankings over the fall and at the start of winter. These Pats may be better than those teams that lost to the New York Giants in February games.
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