Rough and tumble week
By Charles Robinson, Yahoo Sports
December 13, 2005
Five inhabitants in the Top 12 lost Sunday, tightening division playoff races and creating a second layer of quality teams that will make a run for upper-tier status in the final weeks. Four teams barely missed out this week: Dallas, Atlanta, New England and Minnesota. Conversely, the bottom of the rankings is busting at the seams with poor teams.
Every team in the Bottom Five has now hit double-digit losses, and seven more 4-9 teams are on the verge of accomplishing the dubious feat – Arizona, Baltimore, Buffalo, Cleveland, Oakland, Tennessee and Detroit.
THE TOP 12
1. Indianapolis Colts (13-0) – People keep talking about how this is becoming a more run-oriented team, but Peyton Manning is tied for the NFL lead with 27 touchdown passes, and is second in passing yardage. And he's as efficient as ever, leading the league in completion percentage and passer rating.
3. Denver Broncos (10-3) – After last week's loss to Kansas City, the Broncos should have tattooed a poor Baltimore team at home. A win's a win, but letting the Ravens hang around into the fourth quarter is troubling.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (10-3) – Chris Perry is a huge loss for this offense. The Bengals still have plenty of firepower, but Perry was the wild card that gave Cincinnati another level of explosiveness.
5. New York Giants (9-4) – Getting some more consistency out of Eli Manning has to be the No. 1 goal down the stretch. He's got five interceptions against one touchdown pass in his last two games. Manning's touchdown to interception ratio in his first eight games was 14 to 5. His last five games, it's 7 to 10.
7. San Diego Chargers (8-5) – The loss to Miami was the most costly defeat of the season. On the bright side, Kansas City and Jacksonville lost, too. But no other team in the AFC's wild-card race is trying to dig itself out of a bigger hole at this point.
9. Carolina Panthers (9-4) – Simply throwing more deep passes isn't going to solve the offensive problems. Someone has to be open to make the big plays downfield.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) – Losses by Kansas City and San Diego put the Steelers back in the driver's seat for the playoffs. If they win against Minnesota this weekend, the Steelers will run the table and finish 11-5.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-4) – The Jaguars put up a noble fourth-quarter fight against Indianapolis. With or without Byron Leftwich, this is going to be a dangerous playoff opponent for New England.
12. Kansas City Chiefs (8-5) – Whatever happens with Priest Holmes' health, it's hard to imagine putting Larry Johnson back on the bench. If Holmes returns, it will have to be as a backup or on another team.
Dallas Cowboys (8-5) – You can call it gimmickry, but Dallas showed some surprising offensive imagination against the Chiefs. Opening up the attack shows this is a team that can change gears to compete with anyone.
THE MUDDLED MIDDLE (in alphabetical order)
Arizona Cardinals (4-9) – Reggie Bush isn't going to be an option, but the class is healthy enough for the Cardinals to find another franchise running back in the top 10. But that would also be an admission that J.J. Arrington was a blown pick after only one year. But does Dennis Green really have the luxury of hoping Arrington will develop next season?
Baltimore Ravens (4-9) – If they had it to do over again, Derrick Mason and Samari Rolle wouldn't have signed with the Ravens. Now there is talk Kyle Boller could see a sports psychologist. An optometrist seems more appropriate.
Cleveland Browns (4-9) – Charlie Frye has put up solid back-to-back games against playoff-caliber competition. Add Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow Jr. back to this offense next season, and the Browns will be in decent shape on one side of the ball. As for the defense, well, Rome wasn't built in a day.
Miami Dolphins (6-7) – If Nick Saban gets this team to .500, he deserves at least a few votes for coach of the year.
Minnesota Vikings (8-5) – It's judgment week. If the Vikings topple Pittsburgh, expect them to be 10-5 for the season finale against the Bears.
New England Patriots (8-5) – The Patriots are as healthy as they've been in a long time. This week's game against Tampa will be the last big playoff primer of the season.
Oakland Raiders (4-9) – About the only thing surprising about LaMont Jordan's complaints is that he wasn't wearing a "Fire Norv" T-shirt when he made them. Defensive end Derrick Burgess now leads the NFL in sacks with 13.
Philadelphia Eagles (5-8) – Rookie running back Ryan Moats is debuting for the Eagles' valuable No. 2 running back spot over the last few weeks of the season. It's time to make a final decision on wide receiver Billy McMullen, too.
St. Louis Rams (5-8) – So much for Steven Jackson becoming more of a workhorse under Joe Vitt. In the last five games, Jackson's number of carries have been as inconsistent as ever: 17, 12, 25, 11 and 19.
Tennessee Titans (4-9) – Defensive Kyle Vanden Bosch needs only 2½ sacks to match the franchise record. Not bad for a player making $455,000 this season. He'll get a nice raise when he hits free agency this offseason.
Washington Redskins (7-6) – The injuries at cornerback couldn't come at a worse time. Especially with Dallas opening up its passing game against the Chiefs last week.
Detroit Lions (4-9) – Sunday's play-calling and game management was poor enough, but Shaun Rogers' overtime penalty was just plain stupid. The Lions look like a team that will be lucky to win another game this season.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
28. Green Bay Packers (3-10) – Maybe the search for a new running back to replace Ahman Green is over. But with such a nice running back class coming out in the 2006 draft, the Packer had better be absolutely sure about Samkon Gado.
29. New Orleans Saints (3-10) – Aaron Brooks' bashing of Paul Tagliabue and Tom Benson in an interview before Monday's game wasn't a big surprise. With 13 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, nobody needs more excuses for his play this season.
32. Houston Texans (1-12) – For all the conspiracy theorists, consider what you're saying. If the Texans missed that field goal on purpose, someone committed a felony. It was a terrible kick, which is simply par for the course this season.
Updated on Tuesday, Dec 13, 2005 5:29 pm, EST