A new number one in the power rankings after the Saints were upset by the surging Dallas Cowboys, and some interesting moves as another head coach gets the boot a few weeks early.
1. L.A. Rams : 11-1
L.A did what they do best on Sunday, win.
The Rams rolled right into clinching the NFC West — securing a top four playoff spot that no one doubted. Detroit proved no match as Todd Gurley ran over the defense for 132 yards and two touchdowns. When the passing game doesn’t work, the ground game takes over, and vice versa. The offense has proven its too much for defenses to handle this season, and the Lombardi trophy is shining bright in the eye of every Rams player and coach as we head into December.
2. New Orleans Saints: 10-2
The Saints were stunned on Thursday night, losing to the Dallas Cowboys 13-10, behind an impressive defensive effort. Seeing the Saints score less than 20 points was frightening, uncomfortable, and downright wrong.
Dallas conquered the indefensible, and now every team will be spending late nights in the film room in an attempt to figure out just how Dallas stopped the Saints blitzkrieg offense. Nonetheless, New Orleans is still the favorite to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2010, with the Rams attempting to figure out the edge they need.
3. New England Patriots: 9-3
The Patriots looked good from the start in their matchup against the Vikings on Sunday, continuing a tradition of December success in New England. Defensively, the Patriots frustrated the Vikings, forcing two turnovers out of Kirk Cousins and holding Adam Thielen to only one catch in the first half — though it was for a score.
Thielen highlighted Minnesota’s anger when he exchanged words with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during the fourth quarter. Offensively, Tom Brady achieved the career milestone of 1,00 rushing yards on a five yard scramble for a first down, prompting the home crowd to erupt in appreciation of the 19-year veteran’s tough achievement.
A touchdown pass to Josh Gordon and an impressive first game back from Rex Burkehead has the Patriots moving up the power rankings late in the season.
4. Kansas City Chiefs: 10-2
Kansas City falls in the power rankings simply because they released one of their best players, after it was uncovered that he lied about an alleged assault towards a female in February.
Kareem Hunt — a second year running back who was selected to the pro bowl in his rookie season — was involved in an altercation with a female in February, but told the Chiefs nothing physical resulted from it. Once a video was released this week of Hunt shoving and kicking the women, the team released him immediately.
The bright side for the Chiefs is that without Hunt, they still managed to score 40 points against the Oakland Raiders in their victory Sunday. The Chiefs are still a powerhouse in the AFC, but the loss of Hunt will affect them longterm, hurting their chances to secure the one seed in the playoff race.
5. L.A. Chargers: 9-3
The Chargers broke through their personal glass ceiling Sunday night with a statement comeback win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Chargers were down 23 points in the third quarter before launching a comeback that allowed them to stay one game behind in their division, and two games ahead in the wildcard race.
A 73-yard punt return by Desmond King electrified the Charger team in a game that could’ve sent them on a shaky losing streak. Now the Chiefs are without their number one rusher and the Chargers have momentum on their side. A Week 15 showdown between these division rivals may flip the AFC playoff bracket upside down.
Last Two In:
L.A. Chargers: The Chargers are the real deal, and their comeback win over the Steelers proves where they stand in the AFC playoff picture. A postseason rematch of the Sunday night contest is highly likely, with both teams fairly locked in their playoff positions, and neither team knows whether that is a good thing. The Steelers had the game in their hands before blowing it to a team that is actually better than them. L.A. will most likely be a lower seed, but expect them to make waves in the early rounds.
Baltimore Ravens: Baltimore is riding the coattails of rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, and if he keeps this level of play up, starter Joe Flacco may become a thing of the past sooner than he anticipated. Jackson has the Ravens on a three-game winning streak, totaling over three scores in each victory. The unconventional Jackson has used is legs to run the Ravens right into the sixth seed, and maybe even into first place, if the Steelers continue to lose. Jackson could take over mid-season like Colin Kapernick did to Alex Smith in 2013, but Ravens fans know how that move turned out for the 49ers.
First Two Out:
Indianapolis Colts: Indy fell out of serious playoff contention after getting shutout by a dying Jacksonville Jaguars team, 6-0. The Jaguar defense bottled up the run game of Indianapolis, forcing Andrew Luck to out throw Cody Kessler (which sadly for Colts fans, their former first round pick couldn’t prevail). A loss to the Jaguars raises the question of whether the Colts are even worthy of a playoff spot, and if so, would the game even be worth watching? For now, the Colts find themselves on the outside looking in, hoping for the Ravens to slip up.
Denver Broncos: The Broncos have found their stride towards the end of the season, but unfortunately for them, it looks like it may be too little too late. Denver is on a three-game winning streak that includes victories against the Steelers and Chargers. Their defense is still the strong point for them, and they’ve shown that by holding the Rams and Chiefs to under 30 points in all three of their matchups this season. But offensive instability has plagued this team since Peyton Manning left. Anything but an explosive and dynamic quarterback with their first pick of the draft would be a mistake in the mile high city.
Last Two In:
Seattle Seahawks: At 7-5, the Seahawks have positioned themselves as the fifth seed in the NFC wildcard race. But their record may not accurately show their skill: two of their losses have come to the best team in the league (The Rams) and each game was settled by one score. In the last two weeks, the Seahawks have shown they deserve to play January football, knocking Carolina out of the wildcard and smashing a lesser 49ers team. A Week 14 game against the Vikings could keep the playoff race tight — or send the Seahawks into the postseason.
Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings have had one of the tougher schedules this season, and traveling to Seattle will be no easy task next week. But after that, Minnesota plays their final three games against two teams with losing records, and a Bears team who could be resting players in week 17. Their direct competition, Carolina, plays the Saints twice in their last four games. The odds are stacked in favor of the Vikings to sneak into the post season, but only if they win the games they should.
First Two Out:
Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton tossed four passes into the hands of the opposing team in the Panthers 24-17 loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday. In such a close contest, four turnovers make all the difference in winning or losing. Carolina needed to win this week in order to distance themselves in the playoff hunt, but instead they turned the ball over enough to send them outside the top six. The good news for them is that the Redskins won’t be able to hold on much longer with backup QB Colt McCoy becoming their second quarterback to go down with a season-ending broken leg. The bad news is that the Panthers play the Saints twice in their final four games and must win at least three games to secure a postseason position. The front office will have to decide whether scraping into a wildcard spot is worth more than keeping Newton’s shoulder intact.
Washington Redskins: With a healthy Alex Smith the Redskins could easily find themselves leading their division, clinging on to a fourth seed as Dallas chases their heels. But with Smith on injured reserve and Colt McCoy also lost for the season, a playoff birth is looking more and more grim. The QB job is now in the hands of Mark (“Buttfumble”) Sanchez. D.C. had a good run this year, however injuries will end their season short once again. The danger for the Redskins is that much of their offensive output relies on a now injury prone Alex Smith and an aging Adrian Peterson. The Redskins have mostly wasted their season and will need to execute an effective draft plan with mid level picks.
Green Bay: Head Coach Mike McCarthy was fired after their loss to Arizona — one of the leagues worst teams. McCarthy has had a declining relationship with Packer veteran Aaron Rodgers for years, that most recently resurfaced this preseason. It is still early to speculate who could take over in Green Bay, especially given the front office will have to consider a coach who can work with a veteran QB like Rodgers. There will be plenty of head coaching seats open for McCarthy next season, including the Cleveland Browns. McCarthy won one Super Bowl with the Packers in 2011.
Kareem Hunt: Hunt was cut by the Kansas City Chiefs this week after a video was released of him assaulting a women in February. The Chiefs were aware of the incident when it happened, but claim that Hunt was not truthful with them about the extent of the altercation. Once the video was released, the Chiefs let go of Hunt immediately. Hunt has taken full responsibilities for his actions and looks for another team to claim him off waivers. The Chiefs will attempt to continue their domination in the AFC without their star running back.
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