Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tripodi's Top Teams: Week 14

1(1). Atlanta Falcons (10-2) - Down by 10 on the road early in the fourth quarter, the Falcons caught a break when Eric Weems returned a kickoff for a touchdown. But good teams make plays with their backs against the wall and the Falcons did by coming back against a good Bucs team.

2(3). New England Patriots (10-2) - That wasn't even close. The Pats manhandled the Jets, who were nowhere to be found once they stepped off the bus. I still think this team's defense will be their downfall, but if they score 45 points every week defense doesn't really matter, does it? The Bears can actually pressure the quarterback without blitzing, but who really thinks that's going to faze Tom Brady?

3(5). Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3) - If it weren't for some questionable playcalling from the Ravens, Troy Polamalu would've never had the opportunity to knock the ball out of Joe Flacco's hand to set up the game-winning touchdown. But this game isn't played on ifs and the Steelers went into Baltimore and won. If they win their final two division games against Cleveland and Cincinnati, they should win the AFC North and clinch a first-round bye.

4(6). New Orleans Saints (9-3) - Does anybody even realize this team has won five in a row? While only one of those came against a winning team, you'd be a fool to bet against a Drew Brees-led team that looks to be hitting their stride. Any of this week's top four teams could legitimately be #1 by the time Week 17 rolls around.

5(4). Baltimore Ravens (8-4) - I thought the Ravens would win this game and they probably should have. But they didn't represent at home and even against a team like the Steelers, that means you drop in the rankings. Next time, just run the football on second-and-five.

6(2). New York Jets (9-3) - Can anybody say wake-up call? That was one of the most pathetic performances I have ever seen in a prime-time football game. Luckily for the Jets they get Miami before traveling to Pittsburgh and Chicago. They need to put a complete game together this week otherwise those are going to be extremely tough road games against good defenses. And this team is coming off a three-point stinker against a poor defense.

7(7). Green Bay Packers (8-4) - Have the Packers finally found their replacement for Ryan Grant? James Starks carried the load against San Francisco with his first 18 career carries and is a much better fit as a featured back than Brandon Jackson ever was or will be. It's scary to think how good this team can be with a running game.

8(8). Chicago Bears (9-3) - They hung on against an always tough Detroit team, despite the 2-10 record, and now they get a red-hot Tom Brady. The Jets couldn't pressure Brady with the blitz but maybe Julius Peppers can get to Brady a few times off the edge. If he can't and the Bears don't end Patriots drives with turnovers, this might be the second straight week New England serves a supposed contender a wake-up call.

9(9). Philadelphia Eagles (8-4) - Michael Vick had another great game and with him at the helm, it really doesn't seem to matter how many times this team hands it off to LeSean McCoy. McCoy gets his work in the passing game and Vick more than makes up for the lack of carries with his own legs. The Eagles head to Dallas this week after a Thursday night win against the Texans and Vick and company sure hope this isn't their last trip to Cowboy Stadium this season.

10(11). New York Giants (8-4) - Hakeem Nicks could be back this week against the Vikings, which would definitely give Eli Manning the receiving help he hasn't had with Nicks and Steve Smith on the shelf. But when you have two backs go for over 100 yards like Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw did last week, it doesn't really matter. Too bad those gaping holes won't be there against the Williams Wall in Minnesota.

11(12). Kansas City Chiefs (8-4) - All I do is propose worst-case scenarios for the Chiefs, and all they do is take care of business. I had them pegged as a sleeper heading into the season but even I didn't truly believe. It was an ugly win against Denver but if this team can win when Dwayne Bowe is shut out, they might be legit. With a two-game lead in the division thanks to Oakland's road spanking of the Chargers, this team looks playoff bound with a home game to boot.

12(16). Jacksonville Jaguars (7-5) - The Jags took care of a reeling Titans team and have emerged as the frontrunner to take the AFC South. That's more because the Colts can't seem to get themselves straight than because the Jags are a playoff-caliber team. They may get a home game, but that doesn't mean they'll escape the first round. First things first though and they need to win games against their average remaining schedule, especially Week 15 in Indy.

13(15). Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5) - Continuing a trend, the Bucs are undefeated against sub-.500 teams and winless against teams over .500. They played the Falcons real close and had a two-score lead in the fourth, but found a way to lose. That's what bad teams do and while the Bucs aren't bad, they also aren't good just quite yet. The NFC South is going to be awesome next season.

14(19). Oakland Raiders (6-6) - Oakland went into San Diego and laid a beatdown on the upstart Chargers, who nobody thought could possibly lose this game (the spread was 13 points!). They ran for over 250 yards and gashed a Chargers defense that was statistically one of the best heading into the game. I don't think either team can catch the Chiefs now, but I wouldn't bet against Oakland giving them the best run for the division.

15(10). San Diego Chargers (6-6) - Just when you think this team has turned the corner, they don't show up at home against the Raiders. And if they thought Darren McFadden and Michael Bush were a difficult duo to stop on the ground, now they get Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones. If this defense doesn't get angry and focus on stopping the run, they're going to get spanked at home for a second consecutive week.

16(13). Indianapolis Colts (6-6) - What's up, Peyton Manning? Will a date with the Titans pass defense finally get you and this passing game back on track? Tennessee is seventh in the league with 33 sacks this season and Jason Babin and company should be able to pressure a one-dimensional Colts offense. I've never been a big Joseph Addai fan, but this team really misses his presence on offense. And no, he's not playing this week.

17(14). Miami Dolphins (6-6) - Miami couldn't afford to lose last week against the Browns, but they did. If they won, they could have pulled to within one game of the Jets for a potential Wild Card spot with a win in New York this week. Now they face a Jets team that should be extremely embarrassed and will be out for blood. Unless of course, they are the pretenders many think they are. In that case, Miami could win. This game is less about what they're going to bring to the table than it is about how the Jets will react to Monday's massacre.

18(20). St Louis Rams (6-6) - Josh Brown's four field goals outscored the whole Cardinals offense but the Rams will actually be tested this week when they travel to New Orleans. If Sam Bradford can lead this team to a win in a hostile environment against a top-five team, it may lend hope that whoever represents the NFC West in the playoffs could make it out of the first round.

19(NR). Seattle Seahawks (6-6) - After beating up on the Panthers, the Seahawks get to go to San Francisco and reap the benefits of Alex Smith's first start since Week 7. A win combined with a likely Rams loss would put them on the top of the division with a winning record (!!!). That in itself could be cause for celebration in the Northwest.

20(17). Houston Texans (5-7) - Houston was game competition against the Eagles but the better team won. Unless the Jags fall off hard, this team seems done in the division and their Wild Card hopes are even slimmer. Anything can happen but I'm not expecting much at home against a Ravens team that, much like the Jets, will be looking to avenge a painful divisional loss.

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