Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tripodi's Top Teams: Week 13

1(1). Atlanta Falcons (9-2) - They've won five in a row including two of the last three against legitimate contenders at home, where they are almost unbeatable. Considering they are the front-runner for home field throughout the playoffs, that also makes them the clear favorite in the NFC through 12 weeks.

2(2). New York Jets (9-2) - People say the Jets have been lucky, but this team hasn't played a complete football game since they beat the Bills in Week 4. If they're 9-2 when they're NOT playing at their best, it's scary to think how good this team could be if they could consistently click in all facets of the game. This week against New England would be fine timing for that.

3(3). New England Patriots (9-2) - Monday Night Football this week may decide the AFC East. If the Jets can go into Foxborough and pull out a win, they'll have essentially a two-game lead in the division with the head-to-head tiebreaker, while New England will only have a one-game lead and the same 3-1 division record. Tom Brady against the Jets pass rush and man coverage will be the matchup to decide this game, and possibly the division.

4(4). Baltimore Ravens (8-3) - They look better than the Steelers right now and get to play them at home on Sunday night. What a week of primetime football we have in store, with two games that could decide the two toughest divisions in football four weeks before the end of the season.

5(5). Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3) - The top five remains unchanged, but the Steelers came dangerously close to dropping out last week. If Steve Johnson didn't drop the game-winning touchdown in overtime, the Steelers would be staring at an absolute must-win against Baltimore. Last week's performance doesn't exactly instill confidence that they can go on the road and beat the Ravens.

6(7). New Orleans Saints (8-3) - No one is talking about Drew Brees and the Saints, and that's how they like it. After starting last season 13-0 and garnering attention for the entire season, I think this squad is more than happy to fly under the radar while everybody pimps the Falcons as the NFC's best team. If they can beat Atlanta at home in Week 16 many might change their tune, but that will be a mighty tall task.

7(9). Green Bay Packers (7-4) - They were my NFC pick to make the Super Bowl heading into the week but that loss hurt. It's hard to fault a team for losing to the Falcons in Atlanta, but a win would've kept the Pack in contention for home field throughout the playoffs. If the path to Dallas runs through Atlanta, it's tough for me to buy the Packers making a Super Bowl run.

8(16). Chicago Bears (8-3) - Did I have them too low? Are they overrated now that they beat a good team at home? Only time will tell but with three divisional matchups remaining plus the Jets and Patriots at home we will know how good these Bears are by Week 17, when their matchup with Green Bay at Lambeau Field could be another division-deciding game. How good do I think they are? They lead the division, but I still have the Packers ahead of them. That should tell you what you need to know.

9(8). Philadelphia Eagles (7-4) - Michael Vick threw his first interception of the year, but played very well overall against one of the league's better defenses. Speaking of defense, Philadelphia's allowed Jay Cutler way too many opportunities to make plays and as much as you have to like this team, their defense seems likely to hold them back against the NFC's best.

10(15). San Diego Chargers (6-5) - This Philip Rivers apologist won't feel bad about ranking a team one game over .500 in the top 10. Not when they still get to play the Chiefs (who sit a game ahead of them) at home and are notorious for great late-season play. I'd be shocked if the Chiefs can hang on to first in the AFC West.

11(6). New York Giants (7-4) - Now Giants fans know what it's like to be a Jets fan this season; a win is a win no matter how ugly. Washington and Minnesota in the next two weeks are very winnable games, even for a team with as many injury issues as the Giants. But they better hope Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks are back by Week 15 when the Eagles come to town, especially when that game is followed by a trip to Lambeau the following week.

12(14). Kansas City Chiefs (7-4) - After rolling NFC West pretenders, the Chiefs better not look past the Broncos this week before heading to San Diego. If they do, they could be staring 7-6 in the face in two weeks. That's a tough swallow for a team with the league's top running game and arguably the best QB-WR connection with Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe both enjoying breakout seasons against a long string of terrible defenses.

13(10). Indianapolis Colts (6-5) - The Colts looked terrible against the Chargers and while a lot of that has to be credited to a good San Diego team, Peyton Manning has looked out of sync with anybody not named Jacob Tamme for weeks now. After Week 10 it seemed like both of last year's Super Bowl teams were headed to the playoffs; now I'm not so sure about the loser of that game.

14(11). Miami Dolphins (6-5) - Reports of Chad Henne's season-ending demise were premature, as he came back to lead Miami to a much-needed win over the Raiders this week. Sitting three games back in the division and two in the Wild Card, this team might need to win out to make the playoffs. It's crazy to think that a 10-win team could miss the playoffs this season, considering the West and South might be taken with 9 wins.

15(14). Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-4) - I've said it before and I'll say it again. Tampa Bay vs. teams under .500: 7-0. Tampa Bay vs. teams over .500: 0-4. Good enough to beat the losers, too young to beat the winners. Unless that trend changes with an upcoming game against Atlanta and a Week 17 visit to New Orleans, this is another team that could win 10 games and still be watching the playoffs from home.

16(18). Jacksonville Jaguars (6-5) - Jacksonville missed a great opportunity to take control of the AFC South, but they couldn't close out a limping Giants team. Like the NFC West, the AFC South is a complete toss up at this point but until the Jaguars show me they can close games, the presence of Peyton Manning might be just enough for the Colts to continue their division dominance.

17(20). Houston Texans (5-6) - Houston saved their season by blanking Tennessee after two unlucky last-second losses. With one game left against the Jags and the Colts' recent struggles, this team could sneak in to the playoffs if they play well enough down the stretch to get to 9-7.

18(12). Tennessee Titans (5-6) - This team looked terrible with Rusty Smith at the helm so they must be counting their blessings that Kerry Collins will be healthy enough to start this week with Vince Young on IR. Like the Texans above, they're going to need to win the average AFC South to find their way into the playoffs.

19(13). Oakland Raiders (5-6) - Any talk of this team potentially winning the division went out the window when they lost to Miami last week (and probably Kansas City the week before). The Raiders would be wise to ride Darren McFadden the rest of the way and keep Jacoby Ford heavily involved in the passing game; this kid makes plays with the ball in the air. If they can find consistency at quarterback, this could be a dangerous team come next season.

20(NR). St Louis Rams (5-6) - Since the NFC West needs a representative, the Rams crack the top 20 once again. Sam Bradford is doing his best Matt Ryan circa 2008 impression and it wouldn't surprise me if in two years, he's leading one of the NFC's better teams near the top of the rankings (much like Ryan and the top-ranked Falcons this week).

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