A Little Shakeup as The Playoff Picture Gets Clearer: San Francisco's victory on the road at New England,, only the Pats' second December home loss in the last decade, moved them ahead of the Patriots and giving the red hot Denver Broncos the top spot in this week's rankings. The Redskins and Cowboys are on a collision course for a winner take all season ending match-up following the Giants' blowout loss to the Falcons. Home field advantage is still up for grabs in both conferences, so a lot of meaningful games left are left on the schedule. Fourteen of the sixteen games this weekend have playoff implications.
10. Dallas Cowboys (8-6) (Last Week: NR): It pains me to include the 'Boys in the rankings, but it's hard to ignore three wins in a row at this time in the season. They held on to defeat the Steelers and host a very inconsistent New Orleans team, where a win could set up a winner take all showdown with the Redskins on the last day of the season. I like the way the Cowboys are playing defense and will probably give the Saints a lot of problems on Sunday.
9. Washington Redskins (8-6) (10): Even without RGIII, the 'Skins were able to take care of business in Cleveland, dominating the second half behind a strong defense and rookie QB Kirk Cousins to win their fifth game in a row. Paired with the the Giants' embarrassing loss at Atlanta, Washington now controls their own destiny in the NFC East as they head to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles. The only motivation Philadelphia has is to spoil a rival's opportunity to stay in playoff contention. It's apparent that Andy Reid will not be with the Eagles next season and Michael Vick is probably headed elsewhere, so it is a franchise in transition and will need quite an effort to defeat the Redskins.
8. Indianapolis Colts (9-5) (6): Despite their loss at Houston on Sunday, the Colts are still just one win away from clinching a playoff bid, led by rookie sensation Andrew Luck. They head to Kansas City this week to play one of the most ineffective teams in the league. The fact that the Colts decided to overhaul their team by not signing Peyton Manning, making changes in the coaching staff and the front office and drafting Andrew Luck makes Indy's season pretty remarkable. The Chiefs have had a difficult season, both on and off the field, and we'll see what kind of fight they have left.
7. Seattle Seahawks (9-5) (9): I could probably make a case for the Seahawks to be ranked much higher than seventh this week. They've won their last three games, the last two by a combined 108 - 17. True, the Cardinals and Bills are not among the league's elite, but those are college type blowouts, not what we generally see in the NFL. The Seahawks control their own destiny for the top wildcard spot and are still in contention for the NFC West title. The weekend's last game has the Forty Niners traveling to Seattle, where the Seahawks are undefeated this season. Even with a victory this week, it's unlikely the Seahawks will win the division, given that San Francisco ends the season at home against the hapless Cardinals.
6. Green Bay Packers (10-4) (5): The Packers' drop from five to six was really more about elevating the Falcons from seventh to fifth. Green Bay won a tough game against the Bears to clinch the NFC North and are still mathematically in the race for home field advantage. For the Packers, that can be quite an advantage, but it will take two wins for Green Bay and a lot of help from the Falcons and the Niners. Stranger things have happened. The Pack hosts the Titans who are coming off a very ugly win over the Jets. Aaron Rodgers should lead them to another late season win at Lambeau Field.
5. Atlanta Falcons (12-2) (7): The Falcons showed me a lot in their dismantling of the Giants last week. That game had a playoff feel and Atlanta showed up in a big way. The Falcons are one win away from clinching home field, which for the first time they may be ready to exploit. Atlanta travels to Detroit to play an underachieving Lions squad in a Saturday night game. Detroit is 4-10, but with Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson they can still be dangerous. However, I expect the Falcons to win the game.
4. New England Patriots (10-4) (1): The Pats spotted the Niners twenty-eight points and still almost pulled out a victory. However, the one aspect New England's game that has been suspect, it's secondary, was exposed early in the game. With Denver and Houston in front of them at the moment, it appears that the Patriots will probably have to go on the road for a couple of games to reach the Super Bowl. This week they head to Jacksonville and I just don't see any way the Jaguars can compete in this one.
3. San Francisco Forty-Niners (10-3-1) (3): Even though the Falcons have a better record, I still believe the Niners, especially after going into Foxboro and beating the Pats, are a better team. They're built for the playoffs with a strong defense and tough running game. However, they face a very difficult challenge this week in Seattle. This game will tell us a lot about both teams. No one wants to go into Seattle with the division on the line. I can't wait for this one.
2. Houston Texans (12-2) (4): The Texans did what they had to in putting the Colts in their place. The AFC playoffs will be brutal, regardless of how thing transpire in the next two weeks. Houston can clinch home field with a win at home against Minnesota this week. They own a win over Denver that gives the Texans the tiebreaker over the Broncos. The Vikings are still in the playoff hunt and Adrian Peterson is on fire, so Houston faces a tough task. If the Texans fail to win this week, they'll have to win at Indianapolis in a quick rematch with the Colts.
1. Denver Broncos (11-3) (2): Peyton Manning is putting together a great comeback season and had led the Broncos to nine consecutive victories. Their last two games are at home against Cleveland and Kansas City, two teams that already have the golf clubs packed and are likely to see significant changes in the offseason. Even though the division has been clinched, they can still get home-field advantage if the Texans fail to win one of their last two. Denver needs to keep winning to get a home playoff game, as they also lost to New England, so the Pats have the tiebreaker on them.