N F C
1. SEATTLE – After a convincing victory over the Saints at home, the Seahawks have distanced themselves from the rest of the pack in the NFC. Their defense showed off their depth shutting down Drew Brees and that offense, without their 2nd and 3rd best corners. Russell Wilson yet again showed that it’s not just on Lynch’s shoulders to pull out wins for this team, he just looks born to play the position. Having both tackles back for the offense helped durastically. Seattle is #2 in both scoring and points allowed, and in T/O margin. Even their special teams is superb, only allowing FIFTEEN return yards ALL SEASON. This squad is really focused and a nightmare to face in the playoffs.
2. NEW ORLEANS – Monday night was a game to forget for the Saints. They were just overwhelmed by Seattle all around, and looked completely unprepared. This still isn’t a team to sleep on. They WILL bounce back. They have enough veterans in this locker room to pick up the pace and finish strong. They have to stop becoming a different team on the road and find more explosive plays for players NOT named Jimmy Graham. The weak spot of their defense seems to be on play action passing, and deep throws. They’ll need a lot of improvement there, along with more takeaways to keep Brees on the field.
3. CAROLINA – For right now I’ll say this is the second best defense in the NFL. The best in the league in points allowed and #3 in getting their defense off the field on 3rd downs. Kuechly is playing like a DPOTY candidate and Thomas Davis has rejuvenated his play back to his dominant years. Cam Newton has really changed his game this year, so much it even scares me to believe in it just yet. They’re so diverse on offense but I still would like to see them become more of a threat through the air. There’s a lot of teams that can score out there and they’ve shown weakness at times with the deep ball. And it doesn’t help that they sit at #14 in points scored.
4. SAN FRANCISCO – I honestly can’t get a read on this team. Colin Kaepernick still has a lot of improvement before the playoffs and it’s obvious that Frank Gore isn’t as explosive as we saw him in the beginning of the year. They’re beating the teams they should beat, but have lost to playoff teams. They’re not as flashy as last year but they’re still racking up wins. I don’t think they have enough down the stretch to make a deep run. Gore is up and down, Kaep still has issues throwing against man coverage and who knows what kind of a playmaker Crabtree can be fresh off his injury. Time will tell. A game against Seattle will say a lot.
5. DETROIT – The Lions really need to stop hurting themselves in order to be taken seriously. Offensively they’re nearly unstoppable, but Stafford ALWAYS throws interceptions. WHY?! The league is starting to make him pay for favoring Calvin Johnson heavily in the passing game. Burleson is back and he’s been very reliable for Detroit. Not to mention 2 TE’s that can make plays in the red zone, and 2 RB’s that have great hands coming out of the backfield. There is no excuse. Their defense has stepped up as of late as well, Suh and Fairley are relentless and they have the best 3rd down defenese in the league. STOP turning the ball over.
6. PHILADELPHIA – Nick Foles has been remarkable for the Eagles since taking over as the starting QB. All numbers in the TD column and still zero in the other. His decision-making is well above average, reminding me of players such as Alex Smith and Mike Glennon. He throws a great deep ball, very accurate when throwing the bubble screens and you’ll never see him force or squeeze throws between defenders. These are attributes that you can’t entirely coach, it’s all game speed and reactions. Their defense has stepped up and have played better in recent weeks. These Eagles are flying under the radar and are a danger to face for any team right now.
7. DALLAS – It’s all about coaching and defense right now for the Cowboys. They just don’t get it. They’re a much better and balanced team when they run their offense through DeMarco Murray. I’m not saying give him Adrian Peterson attention, but anything less than 18 touches is pathetic. His production increases Romo’s ability to open up the offense and catch defenses on their heels with play action. Romo’s stats are much better when Murray has a good game on the ground. They still need to find plays for a #2 WR or Dez Bryant will see double-teams every game. Defense is awful but will improve when Sean Lee returns this week. They’re 3rd in scoring AND, get this, #3 in T/O margin. WAKE UP DALLAS!
8. NEW YORK (G) – The Giants have slowly crept their way up to a possible playoff push and have been playing solid football recently. They went back to the basics and are winning games on the ground and in the trenches. It’s been very tough finding running room against that D-Line even with some injuries sustained this year. If Eli can somehow find his rhythm with Cruz and Randle, they have a lot of experience coming out of nowhere and playing the spoiler.
9. CHICAGO – I really hate not seeing the Bears in the playoffs, and I hope they find a way in. They have been drowning in injuries all year and it’s taken a toll on the team. Their offense is finally producing enough to keep up with any team in the league, regardless of who is QB, they just can’t stop ANYONE on the ground. Without a healthy defense it doesn’t look good for Chicago down the stretch.
10. GREEN BAY – This Packer squad is just a different team without Aaron Rodgers. Teams don’t fear Tolzien or Flynn so they’re able to stack the box against Lacy. With Cobb and Finley already gone this offense is in a world of trouble. With Rodgers sitting another game this week, this could be it for their playoff hopes.
11. ARIZONA – This team has a lot of fight in them. They do so many things well but showed some weakness defending Foles and that passing attack. The Cards are stout against the run, flying around McCoy enough to slow down his production, but broke down once Foles caught a rhythm finding TE’s in the seam. Carson Palmer really needs to get over his interception frenzy before they kick him to the curb next year.
12. ST. LOUIS – The Rams just continue to fight week after week, but they just don’t have the firepower to keep up just yet. Being the youngest team in the league, they’re all trying to compete for roles on this team. Defensively the Rams are solid, building on top of arguably the best defensive line in the NFL, who tied Denver in 2012 for most sacks (#5 in 2013). I don’t think Bradford is ‘their guy.’ if I were a St. Louis fan, I’d be more than willing to draft with intentions of a QB competition next Summer. And I am.
13. ATLANTA – The Falcons, for the majority, were a lock for the Playoffs this year and I think it should be the same next year. Let’s face it, They lost E V E R Y O N E, and the injuries just seemed to time themselves just perfectly to completely ruin their season. Any team would end up in this situation if they lost 90% of their offensive production from the previous year.
14. TAMPA BAY – It’s uplifting to see teams like the Bucs and Falcons fighting every down for wins after a devastating season. Tampa is a tough team to get a W from. Revis is great, he’s done so much already, after a significant injury, they guy is just superior talent. Every RB on the roster can produce in a feature role it seems, and Glennon is really looking like a QB the Bucs can win with. He’s a strong arm pocket passer, and is also impressively comfortable on the run, scrambling for throwing lanes. Came from the same QB program in college as Russell Wilson and Philip Rivers, so this will be interesting to watch.
15. MINNESOTA – The Vikings look like they’re playing it smart for once. Possibly letting Freeman sit and learn the offense and build off of a visual projection. Their secondary is as terrible as last year, and must be improved in the off-season. Would that be enough to compliment Josh Freeman and convince A.P. to stay? Doubt it.
16. WASHINGTON – I don’t understand why the Redskins don’t overwhelmingly feature the running game with their 1,600 yd (12 TD) RB, or BOTH RB’s actually, adding Helu. A close friend of mine said to me recently that ‘RG3 is Vick right now.’ He’s right. I think he’s trying to prove so many people wrong and it’s affecting his game. He needs to realize that in this league you need to be an accurate passing QB, with ‘the ability to run.’ No matter how elite your talent is running with the ball, you have to be a bigger threat to complete a pass. Cam is doing it. Kaep is not.
A F C
1. NEW ENGLAND – This is one of the most impressive teams right now. Belichick and his staff are incredible. Without Gronk to start the year, Welker gone, Amendola and Vereen hurt early, No Hernandez and 2 rookie WR’s. Right now I love the Patriots in the Super Bowl. They’re battle-tested and they play in big games all year. Julian Edelman has been amazing and they can move the chains with any RB. If they can get Talib fully healthy and find a way to lock down in the middle of that D-Line, I have high hopes for this team, in the cold weather, against anybody.
2. DENVER – Peyton Manning will break the TD record. Let’s just be real here. He’s orchestrating yet another unstoppable offensive machine. The Broncos are the #1 passing offense and #13 rushing, combining to be the #1 overall and it’s not even close. Knowshon Moreno is running like a man possessed these days, and Ball is in rhythm now as well. There isn’t much to compliment defensively, they sit at the bottom of the takeaway pole. The best offense on 3rd downs is also the worst defending them, and they’ll have to fix that quickly to beat some of these playoff teams.
3. KANSAS CITY – You gotta love the energy the Chiefs bring to the field every week. New head coach Reid has done a great job organizing this young team to perform at a high level. What’s not to like here? This defense brings it, leading the league in the T/O battle, 2nd best defense on 3rd downs and #4 in points allowed. They give up long drives, but in the red zone it’s almost impossible to get TDs. What everyone criticizes them for is their lack of big plays, especially with their WRs. They’ve shown some inability to keep up in a shootout and will be interesting to see if adjustments are made for the future.
4. CINCINNATI – If the AFC was much stronger I’d have this team much lower. To be a successful playoff team you absolutely need great QB play. Andy Dalton has been so bad this year it’s amazing how well the Bengals are doing. They’re really winning with great Defense and a consistent run approach. Dalton is the only reason that teams hang around against Cinci, 9 INTs in the last 4 games is just terrible. You can’t punish your team that way and win down the road. Hopefully this defensive group stays solid enough to cover for him, because if his poor play continues, It could be one and done for the Bengals.
5. INDIANAPOLIS – You can see the frustration on Andrew Luck every game, as they struggle offensively without Reggie Wayne. When they don’t double T.Y. Hilton, we can see that this kid is a playmaker, but nobody else can catch a ball. Their offensive line is getting pushed around every week, and Luck is running around the field for first downs. They’re getting good numbers from Donald Brown, which helps in their ‘control the clock’ style. These wins are messy, but they’re getting it done. They will need that second WR threat to help Hilton and Fleener, or more of these messy games will turn into losses.
6. SAN DIEGO – There is so much to like in the Chargers this year. Mike McCoy has really done a nice job putting together this offense. They have the 2nd best offense on 3rd downs, #4 passing attack and very productive with Mathews and Woodhead. Keenan Allen is looking like the ROTY with his growing maturity in the position. They keep losing extremely close games and I can confidently say it’s ALL on the defensive side. Weddle has no help in coverage and they’ve lost key guys in their front 7. Not so sure they can turn it around defensively this year unless a ‘diamond in the rough’ appears from their secondary.
7. BALTIMORE – I still can’t really explain how this team ends up winning. Offensively they are horrible. Ray Rice is having a super down year, and Flacco is just Flacco. Did anyone really ever think he was… ‘good?’ He’s decent at best. Their special teams play has been outstanding led by Jacoby Jones, which sets them up with great field position. Their defense is once again near the top in the NFL, especially on 3rd down. Offensively they have nothing, If Torrey Smith isn’t wide open they lose. All their quality wins are by a field goal so I don’t really know if they can compete in January. Am I crazy?
8. MIAMI – There isn’t too much to highlight here with the Dolphins. They’ve been mediocre for most of the season offensively, just squeezing by with quality wins over SD, CIN and IND. Their defense is pretty solid against the passing attack and they dont let up too many points. Tannehill is doing well with this offense without turning the ball over and he distributes the ball evenly. They have a solid rookie kicker who has already hit 3 50+ yd FGs and 8 from 40-49 yds (80% on the year). Miami is actually the least penalized team in the NFL but what they lack is a reliable run game, and without that this young group might be in over their heads creeping into the playoffs.
9. PITTSBURGH – It’s clear to everyone that this team needs to get younger in key skill positions. Le’Veon Bell is the tough power back they’ve been looking for and might be their guy for the near future, but that O-line still needs some work. Injuries have hit that line time after time and it results in Ben taking some unnecessary hits. He is doing what he can with this limited offense under Todd Haley and they sit at #8 in passing yards, but defensively they can’t get off the field. Every game is either a shootout or a field position battle, and rumors keep circling about the Steelers starting their rebuilding process in 2014.
10. BUFFALO – I think this team will be very exciting to watch in the near future. If they hit on a few more draft picks for their awful defense and get healthy, they could make a serious run. They can move the ball with ease with their 2 great RBs, and E.J. Manuel is such a smart, talented player that they seem to have great confidence in. They also have a good looking rookie in Robert Woods who’s already making on impact on offense this season. I can definitely see the Bills in the hunt within 2 years.
11. TENNESSEE – The Titans started the year strong with a very powerful running attack, with Locker showing off his running ability as well. Now with him sidelined Fitzpatrick takes over and creates a bit of a balance with his throwing ability, as long as he isn’t costing the team with turnovers. Defensively this group is pretty solid but they just can’t seem to finish games. They’re not losing by much, they just don’t have the offensive talent to make plays in the 4th quarter.
12. CLEVELAND – If this team can bank on some offensive firepower, particularly at QB and RB, I believe they would have just enough to compete with the elite teams in the league. The Browns have a star on the rise with Josh Gordon, and pretty nice compliments in their TE Jordan Cameron and WR Davone Bess. This defense is outstanding led by Jackson and Haden, #3 overall defense this year, and if they can find offensive stability next year, they will be extremely tough to beat.
13. OAKLAND – The raiders really need an upgrade at RB. Who knows if Jennings can stay consistent, and it’s about time they gave up on McFadden. McGloin is playing smart football and they are very productive running the rock. Their front seven takes care of business and they’re 5th stopping the run, they just need help in their weak secondary. If only Oakland knew how to draft quality players.
14. JACKSONVILLE – This Jaguar locker room needs a number of new faces. They are ready for a complete turnaround and it needs to happen now. Even if MJD stays he clearly isn’t the player he was before, and they’re going to need a franchise QB fast. I love that the Jags are still fighting week to week, getting creative on offense to put some points on the board. It’s a sign that these players have faith in this new coaching regime, which is critical with a team that is struggling for wins.
15. NEW YORK (J) – I give a ton of credit to Rex Ryan for the season he has put together for the Jets. They have possibly the toughest defense in the NFL and are still technically in the playoff hunt. Geno Smith showed flashes of solid play early but has turned for the worse. I think a QB change could save their season from diving to the bottom, but that will be a gutsy call with so much invested in Geno already.
16. HOUSTON – This is another team really hurting with injuries, and their QB play has been below average all year. The Texans need to find their guy fast because this roster is built to win right now. With Foster and Johnson beyond their prime, they’re running out of options of ways to keep the Houston faithful, well… faithful.