by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (11-29-13)
[Part one - 12 weeks of Confusion]
I would indeed take Cincinnati over Kansas City. Take a look at the Bengals again. They are undefeated at home and their only two losses since week four came in overtime. Meanwhile, KC has real problems scoring points against any defense other than San Diego. And, more importantly, their two best defensive players just went down: Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. Their strength was rushing the passer. Now that whole defense will suffer (as we saw against San Diego!)
The point of my tiers was not to separate playoff teams from non-playoff teams. It was to break the league into talent quadrants. New England is not on par with the top three teams, their win at Denver included. The weather was brutal and I don't trust NE's defense moving forward. Put it this way, there is a bigger gap between Seattle at three and New England at four than there is between the Pats at four and the Ravens at seventeen.
And Green Bay was my hardest rank. Where do you put them? If Rodgers comes back in two weeks, that is the best team in the NFC North and probably a top four team in the conference. Without him, they will miss the playoffs. Sooo, I split the difference.
But enough quibbling about individual differences. The real story here is the leaps some teams made since our halfway rankings.
After eight weeks, we both still had some hope left for the Falcons and our New York teams (I the Giants, you the Jets). Now, we've come to grips with the reality of their respective situations. Indianapolis is also sliding, after deciding that the best way to play football is to spot their opponent a double-digit lead each week. On the flip side, Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Pittsburgh seem like legitimate opponents now, whereas four weeks ago they were something closer to a bye week.
The real stories though are Philadelphia and St. Louis. In four weeks, Philadelphia jumped sixteen spots in my rankings and ten spots in your rankings. The Rams jumped eight for me and thirteen for you. Just remarkable the turnaround. I am still not sold on St. Louis doing anything, especially considering their division, but with that running game and pass rush, they are certainly formidable. And the Eagles are an offensive juggernaut with Nick Foles! Do you realize he has a 16:0 touchdown to interception ratio?? And they are first in the league in rushing.
The Chargers are making a run. I'm calling it. And I completely agree on Green Bay. My gut, Rodgers won't be back in time for it to matter.
Who said I've come to grips about my Jets? Yes, yes they have been absolutely awful over the last two weeks, but that was on the road! They are a strong team at home and can make the playoffs finishing 9-7. I realize they have to go 4-1 down the stretch to pull this off, but whoever gets that final playoff spot in the AFC has to accomplish just that. A loss this week will end their season, just like with the Giants last weekend.
My head is spinning with the huge movement in our power rankings. Tampa Bay is now formidable! You can't ignore the Bucs and imagine this; Tampa Bay lost several very close games early in the season. We are talking on fluky penalties and such. They could actually be a playoff team, if luck were on their side and all. But the Eagles and Rams are legit contenders. I don't see how the Rams make the playoffs, with the 49ers, Cardinals and Panthers leading the wildcard pack. But the Eagles have a legit shot at beating Dallas for the division. And I believe Nick Foles' performance this season is enough to cement the success of Chip Kelly and his offense. Its so ironic that Foles dominates while Vick was so hot and cold before getting injured. Dallas has their hands full with the division now.
My biggest surprise after twelve weeks is the Arizona Cardinals. Carson Palmer is back! I had them in the bottom five after four weeks and now look at the Cardinals. Wow. How has the NFC West done it? That division is what I thought the NFC North was, with the Packers and Bears and Lions all looking good through eight weeks. If Arizona overtakes the 49ers for the final NFC wildcard spot, who gets fired?
You're right; I did forget the Cardinals. If they would let Andre Ellington loose a little more and quit giving Rashard Mendenhall carries, who knows how potent they could be. Although I've been consistently higher on them than you were, I have still bumped them from 23rd to 15th to 10th as the season has progressed.
Of course, you took it too far. The Cardinals are not the seventh best team in the NFL right now. You feeling more confident in them than in San Francisco is ridiculous. However, if the unlikely happens and they do overtake San Fran in the West, something has to change but it's more subtle than a firing. Jim Harbaugh is still one of the most respected coaches in the league. He ain't going anywhere. But I could see the 49ers bringing in a quarterback to challenge Kaepernick for that role next season, as well as bringing in a running back to eventually take over for Frank Gore. Big skill position shake-up if the 49ers finish behind the Cardinals! You heard it here first.