By Don Banks
December 16, 2009
NFL Power Rankings (cont.)
11 Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 8
I checked with the NFL office and the NFC does indeed have to qualify six teams for the playoffs. It's in the rule book. But who's really playoff-worthy in that No. 6 slot? Seriously. Do the math. One of the following teams has to make the playoffs: Dallas, the Giants, Atlanta or San Francisco. Yeesh. The Giants and Falcons have both lost six out of eight, and yet I like their chances to sneak in better than those of the reeling Cowboys. That speaks to the desperation in Dallas.
12 Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 14
Here's why Ravens fans should have real hope for their team's run at the AFC's second and final wild-card berth: In his 32 games as Baltimore's head coach, John Harbaugh has yet to lose to a team with a losing record. The Ravens' final three opponents, the Bears, Steelers and Raiders, all are south of .500, and none of them can have a winning record when they face Baltimore. That doesn't make the Ravens a lock to advance, but it's an indication that Harbaugh's club knows how to beat the teams it should beat.
13 Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 15
The Dolphins are 7-3 in their past 10 games, and only two teams in the AFC have better records than Miami over that span -- the undefeated Colts and the surging Chargers (8-2, with an eight-game win streak). So it'll be a tough pill to swallow if that 0-3 start dooms the Dolphins' playoff hopes, but you still have to like the resiliency you see from Tony Sparano's team. Losing Chad Pennington and Ronnie Brown didn't end the season, and with six consecutive wins by seven points or fewer, the Dolphins have proven they know how to hang around in a game until their opponent makes the critical mistake.
14 New York Giants
Last Week: 12
I don't know how many games I've covered at the Meadowlands over the past couple decades, but I've never witnessed one like Sunday night's arena-league affair between the Eagles and Giants. It was like watching two fast-break basketball teams push it up the court, with both clubs adept at breaking the press. I didn't dare head to get a Coke for fear I'd miss 14 points. Pass coverage was clearly optional. Funny, but the only folks I heard complaining that Eagles coach Andy Reid again didn't run the ball enough were Giants defensive backs.
15 Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 13
The Jaguars had it all right there in front of them at home last Sunday against the Dolphins. The defense did its job, holding Miami to just 14 points. But there's no two ways around it: You can't score a measly 10 points and expect to win in your biggest game of the season. But I guess we shouldn't have been too surprised by that outcome. The Jaguars and Dolphins are the league's only two winning teams that have been outscored this year, and Jacksonville's minus-52 point differential dwarfs Miami's minus-14.
16 New York Jets
Last Week: 17
I like that Jets coach Rex Ryan labeled his team's playoff chances "improbable," upgrading them from "impossible" three weeks ago. That's about right in my estimation. But the big caveat is that while New York's remaining schedule looks brutal (their opponents are a combined 28-11), who knows what the Jets are going to get at Indy in Week 16 and home against Cincy in Week 17? Both teams could be in playoff-preparation mode, and that could change everything. I hate that about this time of year, but it makes this week's home game against Atlanta very big indeed for New York.
17 Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 18
The NFL's Offensive Player of the Year award was started with a season like Chris Johnson's in mind. He's not going to get the MVP nod, but how can you not find some sort of superlative to bestow upon the guy who has more than a good shot for the league's all-time single-season rushing record?
18 Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 16
The Falcons aren't dead, but they need three wins and the continued collapse of the Cowboys and Giants. It's not implausible when you look at the schedule. The lynchpin for everything in Atlanta is finding a way to win at the Jets this week. If they Falcons get that one, the rest might just fall like dominoes. Is it Matt Ryan versus Mark Sanchez this week, or Chris Redman versus Kellen Clemens?
19 Houston Texans
Last Week: 20
The Texans will fight back to .500 this week with a win at St. Louis, but it's all window dressing. It's too little, too late time in Houston, which has too many 7-6 AFC wild-card contenders to climb over. If it's 8-8 for a third year in a row for the Texans, they'll be the first team to manage that masterpiece of mediocrity since the Houston/Tennessee Oilers went 8-8 in 1996, '97 and '98. Of course, that team went to the Super Bowl as the newly christened Titans in 1999, so there's that.
20 San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 22
The 49ers are still confounding to everyone, probably no one more so than their head coach, Mike Singletary. His club can beat Arizona twice this season, yet go to Seattle and give the game away to the sagging Seahawks. With games still left against the Lions and Rams, San Francisco should get to eight wins. But that loss at Seattle is probably what keeps the 49ers out of the playoffs, and that's going to hurt until next July or so.
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