This week in the NFL we were treated to some Thanksgiving drama and some good upsets.
Going on my eyeball test, here are my Conference Top 5 power rankings this week.
The Baltimore Ravens made the cut…but they still need to find a way to get Ray Rice the ball more.
NFC Top 5
5. Green Bay Packers
Two weeks ago I had my Seahawks here and how did they repay me? By laying an egg in Miami. So goodbye Seahawks. I almost put the Giants in this spot, and I went against my better judgment in not doing that.
Now, I don’t always think the team that wins in a head-to-head matchup is the better team, but in this instance, they are. So I have the Packers at #5 this week, with the Giants a few spots higher.
Aaron Rodgers is amazing, but that offensive line is awful. Injuries have decimated the team, and Rodgers had NO time to throw Sunday night. The Giants’ front 4 dominated the line of scrimmage, and the secondary played well in coverage, thus rendering Rodgers moot. Even an exceptional passer like Rodgers cannot throw to receivers who are blanketed in zone coverages.
The Green Bay running game is getting a little better, but they still need a real RB who can hit the gaps and break tackles. Without a viable running game, the Pack will be sent packing early in the playoffs.
4. Atlanta Falcons
They lost to the Saints recently and narrowly avoided a loss to an average Tampa Bay Buccaneers team. I really want to believe this is an NFC Championship team, but they are good, not great defensively and rely a lot on the big play on offense.
Matt Ryan is a great QB, so I don’t think he is a problem. His receiving corps is speedy and sure-handed, but as I have written about a couple times in rankings past, their run game is simply not good enough.
Jacquizz Rodgers carried 10 times for 49 yards, which is very good, but he isn’t big enough to be a feature back. He is a third-down back, scat back, or change-of-pace back at best.
Their feature back, Michael Turner, rushed 13 times for 17 yards. That’s an average of 1.3 YPC. That won’t get it done in the NFL.
If I were the Falcons, I would give more carries to Rodgers and decrease Turner’s carries. Although Rodgers may or may not be physically up to the task, it is something they need to find out before next year so they can acquire a tailback to carry the load.
3. New York Giants
So much for Eli Manning’s dead arm.
Not only did he look sharper Sunday night, Hakeem Nicks is also coming along from his offseason foot surgery. Victor Cruz is a constant threat, and Randle and Bennett are pass-catchers as well.
Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown are making a dynamic duo in the backfield, although Brown poaching TDs is driving Bradshaw fantasy football owners nuts, such as myself.
When healthy, the defensive front 4 is deadly. When you can get to the opposing QB without sending additional blitzers, you can really cover the passing routes, especially down the field.
A combination of a good running game, a stout defense and a QB who can handle the pressure … the Giants are on the rise.
2. Chicago Bears
Jay Cutler returned to action this week and put up subpar numbers. 188 yards passing 1 TD and 1 pick isn’t the line you want to see for your franchise QB. The Bears defense is rivaled only by the 49ers, but now with Matt Forte going down with what appeared to be an ankle injury, the run game will surely suffer.
Cutler will have his games where he throws 3 TDs and 350 yards, but he also can produce 1 TD and 3 INT stinkers. We just don’t know when those will happen, and although the defense can cover a lot of the minor blemishes the Bears have, it can’t play both sides of the ball.
1. San Francisco 49ers
I recall someone saying the 49ers should give Colin Kaepernick a shot. He may have said he is better than Alex Smith, and if San Francisco wanted to win this year, they’d make the bold change.
That was me, and the 49ers listened.
Kaepernick has beaten the Bears and now went into a hostile environment and beat a hot Saints team. The kid has poise and possesses an athletic prowess that Smith simply does not.
The running game for the 49ers cannot be stopped, and the defense is just smothering. Those who picked the 49ers as their Super Bowl pick out of the NFC have to feel confident in that selection.
AFC Top 5
The Steelers without Big Ben are lost. He extends the play so well and makes things happen. Even with Ben, the defense looked old, and if you get beaten by the Browns, you don’t deserve to be in the Top 5 Power Rankings.
So…#Chuckstrong Colts welcome to the Top 5!
5. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts don’t run the ball particularly well, but Andrew Luck is the real deal and they have some speed on the outside. Along with veteran Reggie Wayne, Donnie Avery and this week’s hero, T.Y. Hilton, are blazing fast and can make plays.
The defense is average, but these players are playing inspired football for Chuck Pagano. Never underestimate the power of emotions when it comes to sports. It can make an average team on paper a playoff team, which is what I believe will happen in Indy.
4. Baltimore Ravens
The Wacco for Flacco campaign continues. He threw for 355 yards and 1 TD, and Ray Rice added 97 yards on 22 carries. The big story was Rice converting a 4th and 29 pass to get the Ravens in FG range to tie the game and send it into overtime.
I can never say this enough: GET RAY RICE THE BALL.
If it’s not in the backfield, put him in the slot and run a short wheel route. Find creative ways to get him the ball and you will win games.
A team that I think does a great job at being creative about getting the ball in their star players’ hands is the Minnesota Vikings. When Adrian Peterson isn’t toting the ball out of the backfield, Percy Harvin is running end arounds, screens, reverses, and more. The Ravens should do likewise and find unique ways to get Rice the ball.
The news broke that Ray Lewis will probably return to action this year, and that can only inspire the team. Lewis is the emotional leader and the Ravens can build on the win in San Diego.
3. Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning and those receivers are in sync, the defense is improving, and Trindon Holliday is potentially lethal every time he fields a kick.
The loss of Willis McGahee will be felt immensely, which is why they drop a slot in my book. Unless a RB steps up and proves he can be the guy, the Broncos have a major flaw.
We all know teams will sit back in coverage if there isn’t a running game to respect, so they will have to see if the “running back by committee” approach can hold them over without McGahee.
2. New England Patriots
The Patriots dismantled the Jets, but it’s hard to get any read of how the defense is progressing when they played a team so inept on the offensive side of the ball as the Jets are.
Losing Gronk is a big deal, because his height and athleticism is virtually unstoppable for any defensive back to deal with. The Pats will find new ways, though. Tom Brady will utilize every weapon available to him and they will be a force to be reckoned with.
1. Houston Texans
The Texans find ways to win.
It wasn’t the flashiest win on Thanksgiving Day against a scrappy Lions team, but they got it done.
Arian Foster rushed 20 times for 102 yards and hit pay dirt twice. Justin Forsett had a crucial run that may have been voided if the Lions had any challenges left. Regardless, the Texans pulled out another victory.
If we get a Texan-49er Super Bowl, you can bet it will be slobber-knocker of a game. I look forward to that happening.
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