Big Shakeup This Week: A couple of upsets changed the face of the rankings this week, as San Francisco and Houston failed to play up to their positions in the poll. I moved Baltimore back into the list as Dallas lost in overtime to the Saints. It was a close call, as I like the way Cincinnati is playing, but the Ravens took the division and are still a dangerous team when they're healthy.
10. Baltimore Ravens 10-5 (Last Week: NR): The Ravens got back on the winning track by defeating the hapless Giants. Baltimore has clinched the division due to a better record against common teams than the Bengals, but they still have hopes of getting the number 3 seed with a win ove the Bengals and a Patriots' loss to the Dolphins. Either way, they'll host either Indianapolis or Cincinnati next week.
9. Washington Redskins 9-6 (9): It was difficult to move the 'Skins up this week, since the only teams to lose were ranked well above them. With six wins in a row, Washington has put intself in position to take the NFC East title with a win tonight at home against Dallas. They can still back in with a loss if the Vikings and Bears both lose. The Vikings face the Packers, so that one could go Washington's way. The other game has the Bears traveling to Detroit, where the Lions will be ending a very disappointing season. I don't see Detroit pulling the upset, so the 'Skins will most likely need to beat the Cowboys in what used to be the biggest rivalry in the league.
8. Indianapolis Colts 10-5 (8): The surprising Colts are locked into the number 5 seed in the AFC, but can still knock the Texans out of the number one spot with a win against Houston at home today. The Texans dominated the Colts two weeks ago, so Indy definitely has something to prove today. This is a big game for the Colts to establish momentum going into the playoffs.
7. San Francisco Forty-Niners 10-4-1 (3): The Niners dropped from number three last week with a smackdown at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks. I know one game doesn't always matter, but a 42 - 13 loss this close to the playoffs has to be disturbing to coach Jim Harbaugh. They need to regroup and get back on track this week. Fortunately for them, they get to play one of the worst teams in the league, the Arizona Cardinals. A win and they clinch the NFC West and can still get a first round bye if the Packers lose as well. I really wouldn't want to be the Cardinals today. This one could get very ugly.
6. Houston Texans 12-3 (2): The Texans looked uninspired and just plain lousy in a home loss to the Vikings in a game that meant a lot. Even though they can still clinch home-field advantage with a win or losses by the Patriots and the Broncos, they had their chance to wrap things up last week and instead fell flat on their collective faces. In fact, the Texans could fall to as far as the number three seed with a loss and wins by the Patriots and Broncos.
5. Green Bay Packers 11-4 (6): The Packers have won four straight games and are rounding into playoff form. They need a win to secure the number two seed, a first round bye and a home game at Lambeau Field in two weeks. Green Bay in January is no picnic for visiting teams, so today's game against Minnesota is huge for both teams. The Vikings pretty much have to win, or hope for losses by the Bears, Cowboys and Giants. This should be a terrific game with a playoff atmosphere.
4. Atlanta Falcons 13-2 (5): The Falcons took care of business last week and are the only playoff contender in the NFC who has clinched their spot and can't improve their position with a win. They have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs but would still like to gain momentum going into the bye week. I still think the Falcons are a little soft and aren't built for the playoffs, but you can't argue with the best record in the NFL at this point.
3. New England Patriots 11-4 (4): The Patriots aren't as hot as they were a few weeks ago, but they are still a very dngerous playoff team with something to play for today. They are still alive for the number one seed, at least for now. The Texans - Colts and Ravens - Bangals game will probably be completed by the time New England's game against the Dolphins begins, which will help crystallize what they have at stake in the game. The tough part is that they really need a Broncos loss, a very unlikely scenario given that Denver hosts the Chiefs today. However, this is the NFL and stranger things have happened.
2. Seattle Seahawks 10-5 (7): It was impossible to ignore the Seahawks after they dismantled the 49ers last week. Pete Carroll has his team playing at a very high level during their four game winning streak. They still have an outside chance for the NFC West crown, but they'll need the 'Niners to lay and egg at home against the Cardinals. Right now, the Seahawks have at least clinched the number five seed and appear headed on the road for the playoffs. Trust me, no one wants to have to go to Seattle to play this team.
1. Denver Broncos 12-3 (1): Denver's the hottest team in the league, sporting a ten game winning streak. They'll know by kickoff if they have a chance for the number one seed. A win is still needed to stay ahead of the Patriots to clinch the number two seed and get a bye and a home game. I don't see Peyton Manning letting the Broncos stub their toe against a pretty weak Kansas City Chiefs team, especially at home. If the Texans lose, the road to the Super Bowl will go through Denver, a very tough place to play.