Week 16 brought many unexpected twists and turns for football fans. The two hottest teams, the Steelers and Seahawks, both lost to teams that should be focusing on getting a better draft pick. Two divisions were won (the Colts can still take the AFC South), but there are better odds that Nick Saban leaves to coach in the NFL than the Colts clinch the AFC South. After everything that happened, Washington is really the only team that should consider not playing their starters at all on Sunday against the Cowboys. The top two seeds are still up for grabs in both conferences, as are a couple of division titles. The Jets nabbed a stranglehold on a wild card spot after basically being left for dead the previous week. Finally, the Packers were delivered a beat down Sunday Night by the Cardinals. The Packers have had quite an interesting year, and need a dramatic turnaround if they hope to go to the Super Bowl.
Now onto my top 10 teams headed into week 17:
- Arizona Cardinals: I have called this team the best in the NFC, arguably the best in the NFL, the most deep and complete team in the NFL, and yet this is the first week they top my power rankings. Until they lost, the Patriots held the top spot, and then the Panthers did until this week. The Cardinals will, in all likelihood, be my pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl when I make my playoff picks in a week or so. They are ranked first in DVOA headed into this week. Their offense looks unstoppable when it is running full steam, and their defense is a tough one to crack. Losing Tyrann Mathieu is going to hurt, but this team is deep enough to overcome it. This Cardinals team finally tops my power rankings, despite being one of the best teams in the league all year. [Editing note: I thought I would be different when I put the Cardinals at 1, then Tuesday came and multiple big media places had the Cardinals at the top of their power rankings. Great minds think alike I guess]
- New England Patriots: I trust Tom Brady. The Patriots had chances to beat the Jets, but they did not. I would not be worried if I am a Pats fan, the Jets played them well earlier in the year, also the Jets are a good team that may be headed to the playoffs. The Pats have Tom Brady, Gronk, and Edelman, who should be getting back soon. This Patriots team’s long-term goal has always been getting back to the Super Bowl. The Patriots should be the favorites in the AFC headed into January.
- Carolina Panthers: Yeah they lost their last game, but that is arguably the best thing that could have happened to them. They can still clinch the top seed in the NFC with a win over the Bucs this Sunday, so the loss Sunday was not devastating. This team also does not have the undefeated thing hanging over their head during the playoffs. You often hear coaches talk about less pressure for a previously undefeated team when they suffer their first loss. The Panthers can now address some of their issues that may need fixing, and they get a game to fine tune these issues. The Panthers will be fine, no need to panic.
- Denver Broncos: With an overtime win Monday Night, the Broncos now only need a win to secure the AFC West and a first round bye. Peyton Manning will be back sooner or later, he is nearing a return to the practice field, and I wonder how much of a controversy there will be when the time comes. The defense could be strong enough to get them to at least the AFC title game, potentially even the Super Bowl. The Broncos just need to make sure they avoid controversy, as that could distract the team from its goals.
- Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs still have a shot at the AFC West crown, but first they have to win their tenth straight game on Sunday and have the Broncos lose. No one really thought the Chiefs would be playing for a playoff spot after losing Jamaal Charles, but here they are just one win away from clinching a playoff spot. Yet the Chiefs offense is ranked 6th in DVOA(stats through week 15), and have the 4th ranked defense. Could they be the hottest team in the league? Sure, they have won nine straight games, but I don’t think many teams are scared to play them. The Chiefs can win at least one playoff game.
- Cincinnati Bengals: They almost beat the Broncos, which would have clinched them a first round bye. The other issue from Monday night other than the loss? A.J. McCarron sprained his wrist. With Andy Dalton supposedly a couple weeks away from playing, losing McCarron would be awful. The Bengals have had good injury luck this year, but now they may have lost their top two quarterbacks. They will need to lean on Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard if they hope to win next week. If Andy Dalton can heal quickly, and the Bengals can clinch a first round bye, this Bengals team just may have a chance at going deep in the playoffs.
- New York Jets: With a win against the Patriots, the Jets showed they can hold their own against arguably any team in the league. I saw someone on twitter say that the LB who broke Geno Smith’s jaw saved their season. He is not wrong. Fitzpatrick has had a good year, and without him this team could arguably have two less wins. The defense is one of the best in the league, and can help carry this team. The combo of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker is one of the best in the league. This Jets team is very good, how high the ceiling is for this team is up for debate, and should make the playoffs if they can just win on Sunday.
- Seattle Seahawks: So much for the whole “no way this team could lose to the Rams, especially since the Rams have given up on the season.” At least the Seahawks have clinched a playoff spot, so at the end of the day their loss was not the end of the world. This Seahawks is so good, that the game Sunday was the first time since the Russell Wilson era that Seattle had not held a lead at some point in a game. That is very impressive, for any team, and shows how good this Seahawks team can be. If they can beat the Cardinals on Sunday, and the Packers win, they will get to go to Washington in the wild card round. This might be the last truly special run for this Seattle, so hopefully they can put one more dominant run together
- Pittsburgh Steelers: What the hell!?!? This team looked like the best in the league, at least on offense, over the last few weeks. Then they only score 17 points against the Ravens, a team that does not boast a strong defense. That was among the most frustrating games that I had ever watched. I mean… the Ravens had Ryan Mallett!!! If your life depended on the outcome of a football game, and the opposing team’s starting QB was Ryan Mallett, you feel pretty good about your chances. Anyway, the Steelers were probably guilty of looking ahead and not realizing the Ravens would be throwing the kitchen sink at them. They may have just killed their shot at the playoffs, which is a shame, they have one of the best offenses in the league.
- Minnesota Vikings: Between their stomping of the Giants, and the crushing of the Packers by the Cardinals combined with Green Bay’s season long disappointment, the Vikings beat out the Packers for the final top ten spot in my power rankings. Normally, I would say Aaron Rodgers is enough to put the Packers here, but that has not been the case this year. The Vikings are now one win away from taking the NFC North crown. Adrian Peterson has been good this season, Teddy Bridgewater has been good enough to win games, and their defense is just above league average. This Vikings team has a good shot at winning Sunday.
Here are my final NFL thoughts of the week:
- Wow the Giants missed Odell. But that is his own damn fault, no sympathy here.
- I have a hard time believing Peyton Manning used HGH to recover from his neck injury. But there are some important things to remember when looking at this report:
- Al Jazeera is a very respected and credible organization.
- That being said, when they named guys like Manning and Ryan Zimmerman, who is one of my favorite baseball players, I thought something smelled fishy. They just don’t seem like the kind of guys to use HGH. I could be wrong, but it just does not seem like it is true.
- Supposedly, HGH would not have helped Manning recover(this is one that I saw by some well respected medical scientist at Michigan on twitter, take it with whatever grain of salt you will)
- I liked seeing the reaction by many to instantly defend Manning. Those same individuals were the same to instantly vilify Brady for deflating footballs, despite not having evidence of Brady doing so(also without any knowledge of whether that could happen to football in cold). As a neutral observer, I like the Bears so I have no dog in this fight, it was just hilarious to watch the same people who blindly attacked Brady to rush to defend Manning. By doing so they also attempted to smear Al Jazeera, which was funny in its own right. People can be very hypocritical.
- Are the Chiefs going to finish the year winners of 10 in a row? It looks like they just might. Also, if they win the division, props to Bill Simmons and Cousin Sal who called that they could win their division back in like October or something.
- Something needs to change in Green Bay this offseason. Not entirely sure what, maybe a new OC, but the Packers have not looked like themselves this year. Getting Jordy back is not going to solve everything. If they fail to do so, Minnesota could pass them next year, and I would give the Bears an outside chance of doing so as well.
- Eric Weddle was fined $10,000 by the Chargers for staying on the field to watch his daughter perform at halftime. He was fined because… I am not entirely sure. It really does seem like the Chargers are pushing him out the door.
- If you read one thing this week, besides this obviously, I would strongly recommend this piece by the MMQB’s Robert Klemko on being at each of the potential final home games for the Rams, Chargers, and Raiders. It is a fascinating read.
Non-NFL thoughts for the week:
- Give me Iowa, Ohio State, Alabama, and Oklahoma to win their bowl games.
- It’s nice to see Kobe leading the fan vote for the all-star, hopefully these next couple months he reminds us of the old Kobe at least for a little bit so he is not shutting out a player that is more deserving.
- I like the idea from Zach Lowe on the all-star game: Take the best ten or so players, and have them play the Warriors. Obviously, no one would be trying their hardest as it would just be an exhibition, but it is a fun idea to think about.
- While trading for Chapman could end up being a great move for the Yankees, it was without a doubt a huge risk to take. The reports of his domestic violence incident back in October do not sound good. Whenever the word multiple gunshots fired are in your report, it is probably not a good thing. Punishment for this incident would most likely be a semi-lengthy suspension. Obviously the Yankees would not miss him too much out of their bullpen, as Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances can more than hold own. Perhaps the Yankees will be trying to move Miller. I don’t know, but if Chapman does not face any real punishment for his DV incident, the Yankees might just have the steal of the offseason.
Ted Van Green(@TVG_5)
Spark Sports NFL Analyst/Contributor