Seismic activity in the NFL pecking order this week will leave many questioning the power ranker’s mental state. Please form an orderly line
This is the first week all season that the Fine Fifteen is really fun. Most of the season it’s been formulaic. Fill in the Patriots and the Panthers and the Broncos and Bengals and the Cardinals near the top, and then fill in the rest with the lesser contenders.
But now it gets fun. The Patriots, at least temporarily, have hit a wall. The Steelers and Seahawks, suddenly, look like some combination of the ’85 Bears and the ’07 Patriots. So this is likely to be the first week all season that the majority of you, and not just 30 or 40 percent, seriously question my sanity.
Just to refresh memories about the way I believe such rankings should be done, and to preempt all the questions about why I have Pittsburgh over New England this week: I do these rankings each week by asking a simple question (and I will use New England and Pittsburgh here to illustrate): If Pittsburgh and New England played tomorrow on a neutral field in Wichita, which team would win? The question is not, Because the Patriots beat Pittsburgh 12 weeks ago, and because the Patriots have a better record, isn’t it a given that the Patriots would be ahead of the Steelers in the rankings?
The only way to do these rankings, in my opinion, is to be fluid. Things change so quickly in the NFL, and teams get hot and teams get cold and teams get hurt and teams get healthy, that rankings should necessarily be a week-to-week deal. That’s how I do it. That’s why to me, this is a fun time of year. Teams are in flux. When the Patriots get Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman back, they will be right back near or at the top with Carolina. For now, New England is struggling without those two vital pieces to Tom Brady’s repertoire. At the end of New England’s stunning loss to Philadelphia, Brady threw catchable balls on successive plays to Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola. Both balls were dropped. With Gronkowski and Edelman in the game at that time, who knows? But with a minute to go against a poor secondary, even with no timeouts left, my money would be on the Patriots tying the game and sending it to overtime. But those drops were killers. Without his two key guys, Brady has to accept that.
So I look forward to your comments on the rankings this week. Respond to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will use a good portion of my mailbag column Wednesday to hear out your best arguments with the way I see the teams.
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The Fine Fifteen
1. Carolina (12-0). Panthers are 16-0 in the regular season over the past 366 days. At some point, we’re going to give Ron Rivera and Dave Gettleman and Jerry Richardson the credit this franchise, and this team, deserves.
2. Denver (10-2). Osweiler’s 3-0, and he’ll get a fourth start. Big question is not this week, when Oakland comes to town. Big questions is whether Osweiler can take the heat of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in Weeks 15 and 16.
3. Arizona (10-2). If I can’t have Newton-Brady in Super Bowl 50, the game I’d truly love to see is Arians-Tomlin in the Super Bowl. There. I said it.
4. Cincinnati (10-2). Not sure the 37-3 win over Cleveland said anything more than this: The Cleveland Browns are truly a horrible football team.
5. Seattle (7-5). Visions of the 2013 postseason dancing in my head when I saw the rout of the Vikings at Minnesota. No matter how many times the league tries to stick a fork in the Seahawks, they keep coming back strong.
6. Pittsburgh (7-5). A frightening offensive team right now. The team Pittsburgh will field at Cincinnati on Sunday has three better wide receivers than New England will field at Houston, and one better running back than New England will suit up. Defenses are comparable. Offenses are not.
7. New England (10-2). The Patriots will be a premier team when it counts, either on the weekend of Jan. 10 or 17. Until then, what does it matter than they’re the seventh or 27th team in the NFL?
8. Kansas City (7-5). Not trying to denigrate the Chiefs, but they easily could have lost at Oakland without three opportune interceptions by Derek Carr on Sunday.
9. Green Bay (8-4). If the Hail Mary had fallen incomplete, who knows where I’d have the Packers? But that completion, and the running around to get free in position to make it, just made me think Aaron Rodgers will figure a way to win better than most quarterbacks in the league.
10. Minnesota (8-4). Jury’s very much out on the Vikes. They need to play a respectable game Thursday in Arizona to convince the NFL world they belong in a big January game.
11. Tampa Bay (6-6). Jameis Winston is becoming good in 2015 faster than Peyton Manning became good in 1998. That’s the kind of season Winston’s having for the Bucs.
12. New York Jets (7-5). It’s amazing to say this, but if you’ve watched a lot of the Jets this year, you know it’s true: Ryan Fitzpatrick is having a season worthy of a playoff quarterback. What a game he played down the stretch against the Giants.
13. Buffalo (6-6). Just a gut feeling, but I do believe LeSean McCoy will be more fired up for this game Sunday at the Linc than for any other game in his life.
14. Philadelphia (5-7). I can only imagine the emotion from New Hampshire native Chip Kelly and Massachusetts native Jeffrey Lurie walking off the turf of the four-time Super Bowl champions in eastern Massachusetts Sunday evening. It had to be utterly unforgettable.
15. Indianapolis (6-6). What must Jimmy Irsay be thinking this morning? Other than, What progress have we made in the past 11 months?
Also receiving votes:
16. Chicago (5-7). Cutler errs, they lose. Cutler plays efficiently, they can beat anyone.
17. New York Giants (5-7). End of days seems near for Tom Coughlin.
18. Detroit (4-8). I know the record stinks, but this is a competitive team.
19. Houston (6-6). It's possible that, on Sunday night, the Texans could beat the team we all thought was the best in football 17 days ago.
20. Washington (5-7). One word for the NFC East: pathetic.
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