By Don Banks
December 16, 2009
NFL Power Rankings (cont.)
21 Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 19
I was wrong about the Steelers hitting rock bottom last week after their homefield loss to Oakland. Losing at Cleveland trumps that easily when it comes to nadirs. Especially when the Browns manhandle you, with nothing fluky about their win. As discredited catch-phrases go, Mike Tomlin's promise to "unleash hell" in December now can take its place right up there alongside "Mission Accomplished."
22 Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 22
If they do bring the curtain down on the John Fox era in Charlotte after this disappointing season, the Panthers head coach won't be unemployed long. Though he's never been able to put together back-to-back winning seasons in his eight years in Carolina, Fox has had a quality run with the Panthers, going to the playoffs three times, with two trips to the NFC title game, one to the Super Bowl, and three seasons of 11 or more wins. He was a respected defensive coordinator before he was a head coach, but I'm not sure he'll even have to take a step back to the coordinator ranks before he gets another head coaching shot in the NFL.
23 Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 26
The Bills had the Patriots beaten in Week 1 and Leodis McKelvin went brain dead and let New England off the hook. That gaffe kind of set the tone for the season to come in Buffalo, but the Bills at least get a shot at some payback against the Pats on Sunday. I think it's going to be another meat grinder of a game for New England, with Buffalo probably not scoring enough to pull off the upset, but making Tom Brady and Co. sweat for four quarters.
24 Chicago Bears
Last Week: 24
It'll be Jay Cutler this and Jay Cutler that all offseason in Chicago, but until the Bears get their offensive line problems addressed, who they have at quarterback won't matter as much as it should. Watch and see how many of Chicago's offensive struggles disappear next year if the Bears solidify their five blockers up front.
25 Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 21
Matt Hasselbeck has been a really good player for a long time in Seattle, and will always be remembered as the first Seahawks quarterback to lead his team to the Super Bowl. But I don't know how Seattle can go much further with him. The string of injuries seem to have taken a toll on his game, and it's not 2005 anymore. I think you have to add the Seahawks to the list of teams looking for their future quarterback.
26 Washington Redskins
Last Week: 27
I've got this theory to advance, so hear me out: I say the Redskins' lost decade is largely due to the "Curse of Brad Johnson." It started when team owner Daniel Snyder fell for Jeff George's rocket arm in 2000 and brought the well-traveled quarterback to town to compete with Johnson, even though Johnson had thrown for 4,005 yards and made the Pro Bowl in 1999, leading Washington to a 10-6 record, its most recent NFC East title and a playoff win. The Skins wound up replacing Johnson with George late in the 2000 season, and mostly misery has ensued in D.C. ever since. I think this one has some legs, so let's get me a book deal out of it, Redskins fans.
27 Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 25
Talk about a cursed team, the Raiders really haven't been the same since the moment Barrett Robbins disappeared in the hours leading up to Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego. (Strangely enough, Oakland lost to the Bucs and quarterback Brad Johnson in that game. Cue the Twilight Zone music). The Raiders at 4-9 have to win two of their last three games to avoid a seventh consecutive season of at least 11 losses, and they already hold the NFL record for such futility, with six such years. The beleaguered Bucs in the '80s and '90s came close to that mark, but always managed to squeak out a 6-10 record when they really needed it.
28 Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 28
The Browns-Chiefs game is the clear-cut dog of the week, but it's pretty important for Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel, who has thrown six interceptions in his past two games and desperately needs a confidence-builder. Cassel hasn't had a 250-yard passing day since Week 9, and his QB rating is down to a sickly 68.3. I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the 41 sacks he has absorbed this year, a dozen of which have come in the past four games.
29 Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 31
If Mike Holmgren really wants to try to make up for his failures as Seattle's general manager from 1999 to 2002, he couldn't pick a tougher challenge than fixing the Browns. Let's see if Holmgren's interest in Cleveland is real, or just leverage in his pursuit of Seattle's open GM post. The idea that the Seahawks' job is pretty much his for the taking is patently inaccurate. Seattle looks headed in a different direction to me.
30 Detroit Lions
Last Week: 29
The day I visited Lions training camp this year, I tried to chat up veteran quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who I covered during his rookie season of 1999 in Minnesota. Nicely enough, Culpepper informed me he didn't want to talk about his situation in Detroit, preferring to let his play speak for him. It has. The Lions offense has scored just one touchdown in his three starts this season, and I think we all realize by now Culpepper won't be launching some remarkable career renaissance in Honolulu blue.
31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 30
The Bucs might as well join the CFL and start punting on third down, because they were a mind-boggling 0-of-14 against the Jets on the NFL's most pivotal down. Josh Freeman and Co. have absolutely no chance these days. If I were a critic of the league's push for an 18-game regular season, and I'm not, the strongest argument I could muster would be this: Imagine if Tampa Bay still had five more games to play.
32 St. Louis Rams
Last Week: 32
I don't know the outcome of any potential tiebreakers, but logic tells me the Rams, Bucs, Lions and Browns all still have a shot at the No. 1 overall pick in a draft where that slot will actually be coveted. What a race in reverse it looks to be, but I have a feeling the league office in New York isn't going to be drawing too much attention to it as the four lovable losers thunder down the backstretch.
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