We wrap up our look at the offseason needs of every NFL team with the best division in football, the NFC West. These teams don’t have much to improve upon, but in this division they can’t afford to have many flaws, so they need to make sure any needs they have get addressed this offseason. Let’s take a look:
Arizona Cardinals – The Cardinals were the best NFL team to not make the playoffs in 2013, but there’s still significant distance between them and the top of the division, so they’ll need a strong offseason if they want to make the playoffs in 2014. For Arizona, it starts up front, where they’ll need to upgrade at the offensive tackle position. Even if Eric Winston re-signs, the Cardinals would be wise to use their first round pick on an offensive tackle to help protect Carson Palmer. Speaking of Palmer, he needs a backup that can one day take his place, so Arizona could be looking to find a quarterback in the middle rounds of the draft that could be ready to take over as the starter in a year or two. Arizona might also be looking for a running back to complement Andre Ellington, preferably a bigger power back. Defensively, Arizona needs to get younger at outside linebacker, so one or two draft picks should be dedicated to that position. They can always look to add depth, but other than that they’re in good shape on that side of the ball.
San Francisco 49ers – After three straight trips to the NFC Championship Game the 49ers are close to winning a Super Bowl, but they’ll need a strong offseason to help get them over the hump. The first area they need to pay attention to is the secondary. A few of their cornerbacks are free agents, and even if they re-sign one or two, they may want to use an early round draft pick at that position. They’ll also need to re-sign safety Donte Whitner and keep him paired up with Eric Reid on the back end of their defense. The next area of focus is wide receiver, where both Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham are about to hit the free agent market. Their preference will be to re-sign Boldin, but if they can’t do that they may need to use their first-round pick on a wide receiver. San Francisco may also need a center if Jonathan Goodwin decides to retire, and those can be tough to find beyond the first few rounds of the draft, which could change their plans. If they have some late-round draft picks or extra money available, the 49ers could also add depth to their front-seven.
Seattle Seahawks – Even after winning a Super Bowl, the Seahawks have plenty of room for improvement this offseason. Doug Baldwin will be back at wide receiver, while Golden Tate is hitting the open market, but even if Tate returns to Seattle the Seahawks may want to take advantage of the depth at wide receiver in this year’s draft class and pick one up in the second or third round. Seattle should also consider using a couple draft picks, and possibly an early-round pick on an offensive lineman to help keep their franchise quarterback better protected. Defensively, the Seahawks are in great shape, although they could lose Michael Bennett in free agency, creating a hole in their defensive line that needs to be filled, and they could use some more depth at cornerback, which is something they can find in the middle or late rounds of the draft.
St. Louis Rams – If the Rams are going to compete in this division, they’re going to need a quarterback, and Sam Bradford may not be the guy they need. St. Louis owns the second overall pick, and they could get a quarterback there if they want, if not then they’ll certainly pick an offensive tackle, which is their greatest need outside of quarterback. In fact, the Rams may need to end up using two or three draft picks on offensive linemen. St. Louis may also be looking to add a wide receiver, either in free agency or in the draft, possibly someone with size that can complement all the speed they added last offseason. Defensively, the Rams need to bring in an impact player at linebacker, most likely an outside linebacker that can help out James Laurinaitis. St. Louis could also look for another young safety to pair with T.J. McDonald, although they can wait until the middle rounds of the draft to do that.
The Seattle Seahawks owe their 23-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday to two things: a bad call and a fantastic tipped pass by Richard Sherman that sealed the game for his squad. Understandably giddy about his role in the Seahawks’ victory, Sherman opted to go the untraditional route when Erin Andrews steered him over for a postgame interview.
Instead of, you know, waiting for questions from Andrews and then answering them, Sherman said this:
“I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get. Don’t you ever talk about me.” When Andrews asked who was talking about him, he said, “Crabtree. Don’t you open your mouth about the best, or I’ll shut it for you real quick. LOB [Legion of Boom]!”
For obvious reasons, Crabtree didn’t love Sherman’s comments as much as some folks on Twitter did. When they were relayed to him after the game, he brushed the tough talk off as nonsense.
“He’s a TV guy. I’m not a TV guy. I play ball. He makes one play, he talks … We’re on the field and he ain’t doing nothing,” Crabtree told the San Jose Mercury News. “That’s one play he made. … That’s probably the only play he made the whole game.”
Detroit Tigers superstar pitcher Justin Verlander also decided to weigh in on what he saw. In a tweet sent out late Sunday, he praised Russell Wilson’s poise and bashed Sherman all in one shot.
“So Russell is a class act! Sherman on the other hand.... If he played baseball would get a high and tight fastball.”
The NFC Championship Game will act as the rubber match between the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers after the two teams split their two regular season meetings as NFC West rivals. They were the two best teams in the NFC for much of the season, and it’s only right that we see them meet again with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Let’s take a closer look:
HOW DID THEY GET HERE?
These two teams finished with the two best records in the NFC, with Carolina tying San Francisco’s mark of 12-4. Of course, only one of these teams could win the NFC West, and that was Seattle, who has only had to play one playoff game to this point, holding on at home to beat New Orleans last week. Meanwhile, the 49ers have made it to the championship game the hard way, by winning two road games against division champions Green Bay and Carolina, doing so in impressive fashion, especially with their impressive 2nd half against the Panthers last week.
SAN FRANCISCO OFFENSE VS. SEATTLE DEFENSE
Last week, the 49ers scored points in every quarter and moved the ball against the Carolina defense better than nearly every other team the Panthers had played all season. San Francisco is clicking offensively behind Colin Kaepernick and the receiving trio of Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, and Vernon Davis. Any of the three is capable of having a big game in any given week, as Crabtree was the star in the wildcard game against Green Bay, while Boldin was unstoppable last week against the Panthers. This week, they’ll be going up against a Seattle secondary that has three Pro Bowlers, creating an intriguing matchup between the strengths of both teams. Kaepernick will have to be sharp throwing the ball, because the Seahawks are great at creating turnovers, but if he can be accurate with his throws, it will be tough for Seattle to keep all three receivers under wraps for the entire game. The X-factor in the matchup is Kaepernick and Frank Gore running the ball. Seattle has one of the best rush defenses in the league, but even they’re able to contain Gore, preventing Kaepernick from getting on the edge and making plays with his legs is another story. If Kaepernick can be effective with both his arm and his legs, the Seattle defense will face their toughest opponent of the season, but if they can force Kaepernick to be one-dimensional they’ll be in good shape at home, as their defense has been exceptional for much of the season.
SEATTLE OFFENSE VS. SAN FRANCISCO DEFENSE
The Seattle offense has been quite underwhelming over the past month, as they are a far cry from the form they had earlier in the season. Russell Wilson has thrown for more than 200 yards just once in the past five games, in part due to a lackluster set of receivers, as Percy Harvin has not become a factor after missing most of the season with an injury. Unless something changes against one of the best defensive teams in the NFL this week, the Seahawks will have to rely on running back Marshawn Lynch to carry the offense. Lynch has been great for much of the season, including last week against the Saints, but he was just a shade above average in two games against the 49ers during the regular season, and he’ll have to be much better than that to carry the Seahawks to victory on Sunday. Even for a physical and powerful back like Lynch, San Francisco’s linebackers pose a tough matchup and could be tough to run against. If Lynch can have some success, it should free up Wilson to make some plays and move the ball, but if the Seahawks can’t rely on their running game, they don’t have the receivers necessary to move the ball consistently and create big plays against such a talented defense.
The Seahawks have been sensational at home this season, but the Arizona Cardinals proved in week 16 that Seattle is not unbeatable at home. The Seahawks may have been the best team in the NFC during the regular season, but they’re not playing their best football of the season right now, especially on offense, while San Francisco keeps getting better each week. The 49ers have scored 23 points each of the last three weeks, and if they can reach that mark again, the Seahawks don’t have the playmakers on offense to top it. San Francisco 23, Seattle 16.
We’re down to the final four teams in the NFL playoffs, and there should be little doubt that these are indeed the four best teams football. With four great teams, we’re bound to get a great Super Bowl matchup no matter which teams win this weekend, and while we shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a sneak peak at the four potential Super Bowl matchups.
DENVER VS. SEATTLE
If Peyton Manning is in the Super Bowl, all the focus will be on him and his quest for a second championship ring, which is somehow a necessity for him to be considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Manning’s storyline would certainly overshadow the storyline of Russell Wilson possibly asserting himself as best of the league’s young quarterbacks by winning a Super Bowl in his second season, although the Manning-Wilson matchup at quarterback would be quite the dichotomy at that position.
Just looking at the teams, this would be a great matchup between a historically good offense and arguably the best defense in the NFL this year. The combination of Manning and his prolific corps of receivers going up against the trio of Pro Bowlers in Seattle’s secondary would be a fascinating matchup to breakdown and debate for two full weeks of pre-game coverage, and could end up creating an intriguing and entertaining Super Bowl.
NEW ENGLAND VS. SAN FRANCISCO
We almost got this matchup in last year’s Super Bowl, and it wouldn’t be a bad matchup to see this year, although both franchises are in different positions than they were last season. This could be a last chance of sorts for the Brad-Belichick Patriots to grab another Super Bowl ring and add to their legacy, while the 49ers have been slowly building towards a Super Bowl victory, including a loss in the big game last year, and they looked destined to win one at some point, and this game could be seen as a passing of the torch from one dynasty in New England to another potential dynasty in San Francisco.
Despite a great matchup of quarterbacks, a Patriots-49ers Super Bowl would ultimately be about the two head coaches: Bill Belichick and Jim Harbaugh. Belichick has long been the pre-eminent head coach in the NFL, while Harbaugh has taken the league by storm in his first three seasons as a head coach, leading the 49ers to the NFC Championship in all three years, which is why this game could potentially pass the torch from one dynasty to the next.
NEW ENGLAND VS. SEATTLE
It happened so long ago that it’s hard to believe, but Bill Belichick actually replaced Pete Carroll as the head coach of the Patriots in 2000 after Carroll was fired following the 1999 season. Of course, that move seems to have worked out for both parties, as Belichick has won three Super Bowls with the Patriots, although his last was back in 2004, while Carroll enjoyed many years of success at USC before returning to the NFL and finding success in Seattle the past two seasons.
On the field, the Seattle defense would be the ultimate challenge for Tom Brady, who has taken New England a long ways this season with a watered-down set of playmakers around him. Considering the circumstances, this has been one of the best seasons that both Belichick and Brady have had, and while just appearing in the Super Bowl would be considered a great accomplishment, a win would entail getter the better of one of the stingiest defenses in football, which would be an astounding accomplishment if they can pull it off.
DENVER VS. SAN FRANCISCO
Once again, if Manning plays in this Super Bowl, all the focus would be on him. However, just as we saw last year between Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco, this would be a clash between the traditional pocket passer, this time being Manning, and an athletic quarterback that’s just as dangerous with his legs as he is with his arm. A win by Kaepernick and the 49ers could signal that athletic passers are here to stay, as they’ve done a lot of damage in the NFL in the past few seasons, but they’ve yet to win a Super Bowl. Of course, a win by Manning and the Broncos would indicate that there’s still no substitute for a great pocket passer.
Of course, these two teams have some Super Bowl history, as the 49ers blew out the Broncos 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV, so this game could be a chance for redemption for Denver, especially for John Elway, who was the quarterback for the Broncos in that game and is now the Executive VP of Football Operations in Denver.
The Sunday matinee in week 2 of the NFL playoffs offers up a matchup between a pair of 12-win teams that were separated by a single point two months ago, except this time, Carolina will be the home team. Let’s take a closer look at the Panthers and 49ers.
HOW THEY GOT HERE?
San Francisco continued its dominance over Green Bay last week by braving temperatures that were well below freezing and coming away with a three-point win on a last second field goal. Meanwhile, the Panthers overcame a 1-3 start to the season by winning 11 of their final 12 games and coming out on top in the NFC South to earn a first round bye.
SAN FRANCISCO OFFENSE VS. CAROLINA DEFENSE
Carolina held the 49ers in check back in week 10, limiting San Francisco to just three field goals and 151 total yards. Colin Kaepernick threw for just 91 yards and was sacked six times against a ferocious Carolina pass rush. However, the San Francisco offense is in much better shape now than it was back then, as Michael Crabtree has returned and combined with Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis to give the 49eres a formidable receiving trio. More importantly, Kaepernick looks more like the player he was in the postseason last year after overcoming his mid-season slump that included the week 10 game against the Panthers. Carolina has a stout rush defense that should be able to keep Frank Gore in check, just as they did in week 10, but Kaepernick is more dangerous throwing the ball than he was earlier in the season, and as the Packers re-learned last week, Kaepernick can do a lot of damage when he gets out of the pocket, which is something Carolina has to watch out for. The Panthers have one of the best pass rushes in the NFL, as defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson have combined for 26 sacks this season, but while they’d like to sack Kaepernick, just keeping him contained in the pocket may be a better strategy. If Carolina can force Kaepernick to beat them with his arm, they should feel good about their talented secondary being able to keep the 49ers out of the end zone.
CAROLINA OFFENSE VS. SAN FRANCISCO DEFENSE
Much like San Francisco, Carolina’s offense is more effective at running the ball than throwing it, although much like San Francisco, the Panthers will face a tough defense this week that is capable of containing that rushing attack. In the first matchup between these two teams, the Panthers managed just 250 yards of offense and struggled to move the ball for large stretches of the game. However, as was the case in so many of Carolina’s wins in the second half of the season, Cam Newton came through in the clutch and led the Panthers on a 4th quarter scoring drive to give them the lead late in the game. This is the biggest concern for the San Francisco defense, as Newton has shown this season that he’s fine with not taking risks and living to see the next play, especially since he knows he has a defense that will keep him in the game, and then when the game is on the line he can take chances and make spectacular throws that lead to the game-winning score. The 49ers can’t get over confident if they shut down Newton and the Carolina offense early in the game; they need to stay focused and find a way to shut him down for four quarters, which is something most teams have struggled to do this season.
These two teams are mirror images of one another; they both have tough defenses that can dominate a game, and they both have athletic quarterbacks that have shown the ability to make big plays with the game on the line. This game is also likely to be a mirror image of the game between these two teams during the regular season, with dominating defenses performances that leads to more field goals than touchdowns. In the end, the 49ers have more playoff experience and are a team that isn’t afraid to play on the road, and that ends up being the difference with the game on the line: San Francisco 19, Carolina 14.
The final game of NFL wildcard weekend figures to be a good one. The 49ers and Packers met back in week 1 and in the divisional round of the playoffs last year, with San Francisco winning both games. These two teams should know each other pretty well, so it should be interesting. Let’s take a closer look:
HOW THYEY GOT HERE?
The Packers persevered over an eight-week period without quarterback Aaron Rodgers, enduring a five-game winless streak during that time, and thanks to a complete collapse by the Lions, Green Bay was in position to win the NFC North in week 17, when Rodgers returned and led the Packers to victory over the Bears to put them in the postseason. Things weren’t quite as complicated for the 49ers, who won their final six games and clinched a playoff birth in week 16. However, with Seattle winning the NFC West, San Francisco had to settle for a wildcard spot, despite winning 12 games this season.
SAN FRANCISCO OFFENSE VS. GREEN BAY DEFENSE
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick has had an uneven season and hasn’t always been a game changer with his arm, but he finished the regular season strong with 10 touchdowns and one interception over the final six games. The Green Bay defense has had their fair share of problems this season, especially over the last three weeks, and if that continues it may put Kaepernick in position to make plays with his arm, especially with the trio of Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, and Vernon Davis in place. Meanwhile, the 49ers know that they have a good rushing attack behind Frank Gore, with Kaepernick also being a threat to take off and make plays with his legs. The goal for the Packers on defense will be to stop the run as best they can and force Kaepernick to beat them with his arm, which will be their best chance to keep the game as low scoring as possible and keep the pressure off Rodgers and their offense as much as possible, although based on how Kaepernick has played in recent weeks, that doesn’t guarantee success for the Green Bay defense, as Kaepernick is capable of beating the Packers through the air, throwing for over 400 yards against them in week 1.
GREEN BAY OFFENSE VS. SAN FRANCISCO DEFENSE
Not only is Rodgers back, but so is Randall Cobb, and that combination came up big for the Packers in crunch time last week, with both of Cobb’s receptions going for touchdowns, and those two will have to come up big for Green Bay again this week. Rodgers did show some signs of rust, but he should be a little sharper in his second week back, and it should help that he has a nice collection of receivers, including Cobb, the reliable Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Jarrett Boykin, and emerging tight end Andrew Quarless. That group should be enough for a quarterback like Rodgers, although if the Packers need to rely on their running game, they can do so with potential rookie of the year Eddie Lacy, as well as James Starks, who had a big game against the Bears last week. Of course, things won’t come as easy against the San Francisco defense as they did last week against the Chicago defense. The Packers may have one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, but they’ll be going up against one of the top rush defenses in the league, and whichever team gets the better of that matchup will have a distinct advantage, especially if the weather conditions make it difficult to throw the ball. As good as Rodgers can be, it will be tough for him if the Packers are forced to become one-dimensional on offense against a quality defense, so it’s imperative that the Packers run the ball effectively and maintain balance on offense, especially if the Green Bay defense struggles and the game turns into a shootout in the second half.
It’s inevitable that the cold temperatures at Lambeau Field will become a factor, although it may end up helping the 49ers more than the Packers, as the strength of the 49ers is their defense, which should be largely unaffected by the weather. The Packers have made a great run to the playoffs, but the 49ers are a more balanced team and better suited for the postseason. It’ll be tough for both teams to throw the ball, and while Rodgers will have some success in the passing game, San Francisco has a better front-7 defensively, as well as a quarterback that can help move the ball on the ground, and those two areas will ultimately give the 49ers the edge. San Francisco 23, Green Bay 14.
With one week left to play in the NFL season, things are finally coming into focus in the NFC, so let’s take one last crack at the NFC power rankings.
1. Seattle – It turns out the Seahawks aren’t unbeatable at home, but they’re still the top team in the NFC. Seattle may have lost two of their last three games, but their defense is still playing well and will be hard to score against in the postseason, while Russell Wilson has made game-winning plays when he’s needed to more times than not this season, and that’ll make them tough to take down in the playoffs.
2. Carolina – The Panthers have two things that make them the second best team in the NFC and a contender in the postseason: first, they have a top-5 defense that will play well whether they’re at home or on the road; and second, just as he did on Sunday against the Saints, Cam Newton has been great at driving the ball down the field in the final minutes to win games, and that clutch play will make them dangerous in the playoffs.
3. San Francisco – The 49ers have made it into the playoffs behind a top-notch defense, a defense that will make them tough to beat when they get to the postseason, even if the have to win three road games to get back to the Super Bowl. Colin Kaepernick has been a little inconsistent this year leading the offense, but he’s capable of doing some incredible things, and if he comes close to playing the way he did in the playoffs last year, San Francisco is a dangerous team.
4. Philadelphia – Who would have thought when the season began that the Eagles would end up being the fourth best team in the NFC, but they are. The offense is really clicking, which should be enough to get them past Dallas this week and into the postseason as a 10-win team. Philadelphia is for real, and they’ll be an interesting matchup for most of the teams in the NFC playoffs.
5. Arizona – If the Cardinals don’t make it to the playoffs, it’ll only be because they play in the toughest division in football. Arizona has won 10 games this season and they’re the only team to beat Seattle on the road this season, which is an impressive feat. Regardless of if they make the playoffs or not, the Cardinals are a top-5 team in the NFC.
6. New Orleans – The Saints have really slipped heading down the stretch, losing three of their last four games, albeit against quality teams. They simply aren’t reliable playing on the road and it looks like they’re going to be playing every game of the playoffs on the road, so unless they can find a way to get their offense going outside of the Super Dome, they may not last long in the playoffs.
7. Green Bay – The Packers are still overwhelmed with injuries, and there’s still no guarantee Aaron Rodgers will be back by the season finale, but they’ve managed to put themselves in position to get to the postseason with a win this week, and that’s quite an accomplishment for a team that’s been missing its starting quarterback for more than half the season and endured a five-game winless streak. It hasn’t been easy or pretty, but Green Bay has survived a tough stretch and over the last few weeks they’ve looked like a playoff-caliber team, even without Rodgers at the helm.
8. Chicago – The Bears have some serious issues on defense, which could ultimately keep them out of the postseason, but they’re going to be able to score against most teams with a balanced offensive attack that’s better than most of the offenses in the NFC. They probably don’t deserve a spot in the playoffs, but they’ve overcome an injury to their starting quarterback and have a chance to get to the postseason, and that’s something to be proud of.
9. Dallas – Tony Romo’s injury is meaningless, because the Dallas defense is going to be what keeps the Cowboys out of the playoffs. They may have stopped the Eagles back in week 7, but that’s unlikely to happen again the way the Philadelphia offense is playing. Looking back on the season, it’s hard to believe the Cowboys have lost as many games as they have, especially when they had a chance to runaway with the NFC East early in the season, but they have and the biggest reason for their struggles has been a terrible defense.
10. St. Louis – If they only had a quarterback, there’s no telling how good the Rams could have been this year. Even in the NFL’s best division, they still have a chance to finish .500, with wins over at least three playoff teams, possibly five. Regardless of their record, the Rams were one of the toughest teams for opposing teams to play all season with their vicious pass rush, and for that they deserve some recognition.
11. New York Giants – It wasn’t a good season for the Giants, but after starting the season 0-6, they have a chance to finish with a 7-9 record, which doesn’t sound all that bad, especially considering the number of times they turned the ball over this season. Things could have spiraled out of control for the Giants, but with a win this week they will have won seven of their final 10 games, which is a nice silver lining to such a disappointing season.
12. Detroit – Even though several of their losses came in close games, Detroit’s collapse over the second half of the season has been one of the worst in the NFL in recent memory, and it’ll likely cost Jim Schwartz his job. Considering that Chicago and Green Bay played without their starting quarterbacks for significant chunks of the season, there’s no excuse for the Lions not winning the division with all of their talent, as they might be the most disappointing team in the NFL.
13. Minnesota – The Vikings have suffered some close losses this season and they’ve played fairly well towards the end of the season, but with little clarity at the quarterback position, this wasn’t the season Minnesota was hoping for, and that’ll likely mean a new head coach and a new quarterback for the Vikings next season.
14. Atlanta – Some key injuries and an ill-equipped defense hurt the Falcons this season after they had high hopes for a Super Bowl run coming into the year. Atlanta has played much better down the stretch and stayed competitive with playoff-caliber teams, which isn’t much, but it’s something.
15. Tampa Bay – At times this season, the Bucs looked competitive and played like a team you wouldn’t want to face, but they hurt themselves in close games and didn’t show much consistency throughout the season. Tampa was terrible at the start of the season and they haven’t been much better towards the end of the season, showing little growth or improvement over the course of the season.
16. Washington – The Redskins have actually looked better with Kirk Cousins at quarterback than RG3, which should make for an interesting offseason, but ultimately it’s hard to argue against Washington being the worst team in the NFC this season, as they’ve been a disaster from beginning to end and could close out the season on an eight-game losing streak.
There’s just two weeks left to play in the season, but there’s still plenty left to settle in the NFC. Let’s try to make sense of everything with the week-15 power rankings.
1. Seattle – The Seahawks were quite impressive on Sunday against the Giants, and they didn’t even need to be home to do it. It was a perfect dress rehearsal for a possible return trip to Met Life Stadium for the Super Bowl in a couple months, and the way things have gone this season, it’s hard not to think that’s how things will end up going for the Seahawks.
2. San Francisco – The 49ers deserve to be in the two-spot heading into the final two weeks of the season after a dominating effort on Sunday against a Tampa Bay team that can be tough to play. The San Francisco defense is as good as they’ve been all season, and the offense is becoming more dangerous by the week, as the 49ers are finally starting to look like the team we thought they’d be when the season started.
3. Carolina – The Panthers bounced back nicely from their loss the previous week, which helps them maintain their position as one of the top teams in the conference. Carolina does have to do a better job in the red zone, especially since their offense isn’t always able to create big plays, but their defense is going to ensure that they have a chance to win just about every week. They now get a rematch with the Saints, along with an opportunity to take a lead in the NFC South if they can win. It’s the biggest game the franchise has had in years, so it’ll be interesting to see how they play, especially after getting blown out by the Saints just a couple weeks ago.
4. New Orleans – The Saints had an abysmal effort on Sunday for the second time in three weeks. New Orleans can really struggle against teams that can put pressure on the quarterback, and they are not always reliable on the road, which are two rather big concerns for them as the postseason approaches, especially if they can’t win in Carolina next week and guarantee themselves a home playoff game.
5. Arizona – The Cardinals are the team in the NFC that just won’t go away; they keep hanging around and hanging around. By winning six of their last seven games, Arizona has taken care of business against less teams and given themselves a chance to make the playoffs in their final two games against the top two teams in the conference, so if they get to the postseason they’ll have earned it.
6. Philadelphia – The Philadelphia defense from early in the season showed up on Sunday against the Vikings, putting a stop to their five-game winning streak. The Eagles blew an opportunity to take full control of the NFC East and showed some vulnerability on Sunday, which is not what they want to do heading into the final two weeks of the season. At this point in the season, the Eagles need to prove that they can bounce back from a loss and get back on track quickly.
7. Chicago – The Bears were able to make a fairly seamless transition from Josh McCown to Jay Cutler, and having Cutler at quarterback without any controversy will make their offense even better than it’s been. Even though they still have a world of problems defensively, they look rather formidable heading into the final two weeks of the season.
8. Green Bay – Against all odds, the Packers are still alive in the NFC North playoff race. They pulled off an amazing comeback against the Cowboys and bought Aaron Rodgers another week to get back on the field. If Rodgers can make it back for the final two games, Green Bay will have a great chance to win both games and could sneak into the postseason.
9. Detroit – The Lions are in real trouble after losing four of their last five games. Detroit is capable of winning their final two games, but they’re also in freefall mode, so nothing is guaranteed and now they need outside help to get into the postseason when a few weeks ago they were in complete control of the division, which is a huge drop off in a short period of time.
10. Dallas – The Cowboys have really embarrassed themselves the past two weeks. There are no excuses for being that inept against the Bears defensively, and then for blowing a 23-point halftime lead against the Packers, especially when they had a chance to run down the clock instead of throwing the ball and turning it over. There’s incredible chaos in the organization right now, and that could make it difficult to win the games they need to win the final two weeks, even this weekend against the woeful Redskins.
There were some big time matchups in the NFC this past week, let’s take a look at how they’ve affected this weeks power rankings.
1. Seattle – Is a two-point loss on the road to a more desperate team enough to knock the Seahawks from the top spot? No way. Seattle is still the top team in the NFC and they’ve proved that enough times this year. There’s no huge flaw that’s waiting to be exploited; they’re perhaps the most complete team in the NFL.
2. New Orleans – Now that’s more like it from the Saints. We’ve been cooling on New Orleans for the past month or so, but Sunday night against the Panthers they reminded us of how good they can be. At some point, they’ll have to be that good on the road, and they’ll get tough road tests the next two weeks to prove that they can.
3. San Francisco – It’s getting harder and harder to deny that the 49ers are peaking at the right time, and the win over Seattle is further proof of that. At some point, some of those field goals will have to become touchdowns, but the defense is starting to look real good and the offense is adding some dangerous weapons to the mix. A playoff spot isn’t yet secure, but it’s looking all the more likely, and once they get to the postseason, they’ll be dangerous.
4. Carolina – The Panthers have finally been brought back down to earth. It’s not that Carolina shouldn’t be considered one of the top teams in the NFC, but they need to realize that teams are going to bring their best effort against them week after week. For a team like the Panthers, a loss at this time of year isn’t nearly as important as how they respond to it, so how they perform this week against the Jets will be very telling.
5. Philadelphia – A lot of credit goes to the Eagles for adjusting to the elements on Sunday and coming away with an impressive win that they had to have. Philadelphia was far from their comfort zone in half a foot of snow, but they still found a way to put a lot of points on the board and overcome some special teams blunders; that’s a sign of a real good team that can overcome adversity and win in multiple ways.
6. Arizona – It’s easy to criticize the teams they’ve played, but the bottom line is that the Cardinals have won five of their last six games and they’re only one game out of a playoff spot, with the bonus of owning the tiebreaker with the Panthers. The last three weeks will be tough, but they’re in good shape and they’re capable of playing with anybody they step on the field with.
7. Detroit – Regardless of the weather conditions, turnovers have become a huge concern for the Lions, and it’s something that could really hurt them down the stretch in what is still an incredibly tight NFC North Division race. With losses in three of their last four games, Detroit isn’t exactly inspiring a lot of confidence heading into the final three games of the season.
8. Chicago – There’s still a lot of work left to do to get to the postseason, but the Bears took a big step forward on Monday night with an offensive explosion. If the defense can hang tough, Chicago has the offense to give them a chance to win every game they play down the stretch, regardless of who’s playing quarterback, although that’s an issue the team will have to sort through, and it’s important that they make the right decision.
9. Dallas – The Dallas defense was just atrocious on Monday night, and unless that changes they’re going to have a tough time winning the games they need to win in the final three weeks. Tony Romo and the offense are fine, but they’re not going to win if the defense allows the other team to score on every possession, and that’s a huge issue for the Cowboys right now.
10. Green Bay – The Packers narrowly kept their season alive on Sunday by winning their first game since October. The schedule isn’t easy, but Aaron Rodgers isn’t far from coming back, and if he returns it gives Green Bay a chance to win every game they play, which makes them a much better team, and a team that might be able to sneak into the postseason.
NFL Week 13 Power Rankings: Seahawks, Panthers, 49ers, Saints, Eagles, Lions, Cowboys, Cardinals and More
There are just four weeks left in the NFL season and things are starting heat up throughout the NFC. As we prepare for the final month of the season, let’s take a look at how every NFC team stacks up heading down the stretch.
1. Seattle – After what happened Monday night there is no doubt that the Seahawks are the best team in the NFC, and will be a difficult team to beat in the postseason, when they will certainly have home-field advantage. Seattle dominated the Saints on both sides of the ball, and look head and shoulders above nearly every other team in the NFL, especially at home.
2. Carolina – The Panthers just keep on rolling, even in what could have been a pair of trap games the last two weeks with a showdown with the Saints on the horizon. Carolina finally had a dominating outing on Sunday against Tampa Bay and that moves them up to the second spot in the power rankings with a trip to New Orleans coming up this week.
3. San Francisco – The 49es are definitely starting to peak, and while Colin Kaepernick is far from where he was this time last year, he is showing signs of breaking out of his slump. San Francisco is not far behind the two teams ahead of them in the power rankings, and they have a chance to prove that they should be on equal footing with everyone else when they host the Seahawks this week.
4. New Orleans – The Saints have been sputtering for a while, but they fall hard after being humiliated on Monday night. Not only is home-field advantage in the postseason all but lost, New Orleans is now tied in the NFC South with a red-hot Carolina team that they will see twice over the next three weeks, and if they don’t start to play better, the Saints may have to settle for a wildcard spot.
5. Philadelphia – The Eagles aren’t quite an elite team, but they’re definitely better than the pack in the NFC, as four straight wins displays a level of consistency that most teams in the NFL lack. Philadelphia seems to have an identity, as well as a formula for winning games: the offense gets a lead early and the defense does just enough to hang on. It’s not a flawless philosophy, but it’s certainly working for the Eagles, especially with the way Nick Foles is playing.
6. Detroit – The Lions jumped back in control of the NFC North with a convincing win on Thanksgiving. The defense came to play, albeit against an under-manned Green Bay offense, and their offense was spectacular. However, they also committed four turnovers in that win, which is a concern, as is their lack of consistency, which is what’s holding them back from being in the same category as the top-tier teams in the NFC.
7. Dallas – Once again, the Cowboys showed how good they’re capable of being on offense when they run the ball effectively. If Dallas can keep on running the ball the way they have the past couple of weeks, there aren’t too many defenses that can keep them contained on four quarters, but finding that consistency is still as issue for them. The Cowboy’s other problem is their pass defense, which struggles against mediocre teams, and could hold them back against several of the teams they’ll face down the stretch.
8. Arizona – We may have jumped the gun on the Cardinals just a little, although they only lost to the Eagles by a field goal on the road, and that was with a -3 turnover ratio. Arizona is definitely on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture, but they’re still alive and good enough to make a strong push during the final month of the season.
9. New York Giants – It may be too little too late for the postseason, but the Giants have won five of their last six games and are playing better than nearly half the teams in the NFC. At the moment, they’re almost on a level playing field with Detroit, Dallas, and Arizona, but their 0-6 start is too much to overcome, even though they’re playing like a team that should be in contention.
10. St. Louis – For a team that’s played with Kellen Clemens at quarterback for much of the season, the Rams are hanging in there. They held San Francisco’s running game to less than three yards per carry on Sunday and are doing what they can on offense, despite being limited at quarterback. They won’t sniff the postseason, but they’ll be a hard team to play the final four weeks of the season.
11. Chicago – It’s a shame Jim Mora isn’t the coach of the Bears, because the phrase “playoffs? I just hope we can win a game” is starting to come to mind. They’ve only been blown out once while losing three of their last four games, but a team with such great weapons on offense needs to be able to find a way to win close games, and they haven’t done that over the past month, even though they had plenty of opportunities to take control of the NFC North.
12. Green Bay – Five straight weeks without a win and Aaron Rodgers still questionable to come back with four games left to play puts the Packers toward the bottom of the power rankings. Without Rodgers they may not be able to win another game the rest of the season and could plummet further in the power rankings by season’s end.
13. Minnesota – The Vikings are tougher to play than people think, and they showed that on Sunday against the Bears. Minnesota has just one loss in their last four games, and they’re going to enjoy playing the role of spoiler down the stretch, as Leslie Frazier fights to keep his job.
14. Tampa Bay – It was a nice three-week winning streak for the Bucs, but they’re back to being a terrible team that needs to make a coaching change after getting completely dominated by a division rival.
15. Washington – The Redskins have only held an opponent to less than 24 points once this season; even with a healthy quarterback that’s not going to give you a winning record. Things are really bad in Washington right now.
16. Atlanta – Don’t get too excited about the Falcons ending their five-game losing streak because they did not deserve to win that game; the Bills gave the game away with two late fumbles. Atlanta is still a bad team, and probably the worst in the NFC right now.