Thursday, July 26, 2012

Brewers 2012

Another day, another blown save.

The Brewers 2012 season is effectively over. There was hope following the All Star break that the Brewers could jump right back into contention with a well-timed winning streak against the teams ahead of them in the NL Central. Despite the disappointing and inconsistent 1st half, there was still optimism that the Brewers could make up ground.

Nine consecutive games would be played against division foes, setting up a scenario where the Brewers could close the gap in the standings.

NL Central Standings, as of July 12:

  1. Pittsburgh - 48-37 (.565)
  2. Cincinnati - 47-38 (.553) 1 GB
  3. St. Louis - 46-40 (.535) 2.5 GB
  4. Milwaukee - 40-45 (.471) 8 GB

Up first was the division leading Pirates. The series got off to a rocky start, as ace Zack Greinke struggled through 5 innings, allowing 6 runs (5 earned). Cody Ransom saved the day with an 8th inning grand slam. Brewers win, 10-7.

There was life.

The teams split the remaining two games, allowing the Brewers to make up one game on the Pirates in the standings.

NL Central Standings, as of July 15:

  1. Cincinnati – 50-38 (.568)
  2. Pittsburgh – 49-39 (.557) 1 GB
  3. St. Louis – 46-43 (.517) 4.5 GB
  4. Milwaukee – 42-46 (.477) 8

Up next was the 3rd place Cardinals, just 3.5 games ahead of Milwaukee. Rookie Mike Fiers pitched well, giving holding the Cards scoreless for 7 innings. K-Rod pitched a scoreless 8th, allowing the Brewers to enter the 9th with a 2-0 lead.

Then the wheels fell off.

Closer John Axford began the 9th with a walk. After retiring Berkman and Beltran in consecutive at-bats, the Cards went single, walk, single, single to take a 3-2 lead. Kameron Loe was called upon to get the final out, but the damage was already done.

The Cardinals held on for the win, and Axford was relieved of his duties as closer, following his 6th blown save of the year.

The Brewers went on to win the next two games with new closer Francisco Rodriguez picking up two saves. The 9th inning wasn’t any less intense with Rodriguez, who allowed 6 base runners but thankfully just one run, on the mound in those two games.

Even so, the Brewers still managed to make up ground on the Cardinals and in the division.

NL Central Standings, as of July 19:

  1. Cincinnati – 52-40 (.565)
  2. Pittsburgh – 51-40 (.560) 0.5 GB
  3. St. Louis – 47-45 (.511) 5 GB
  4. Milwaukee – 44-47 (.484) 7.5 GB

So far, so good. Milwaukee was 4-2 against division foes thus far, and a sweep would bring Brewers back to .500 and truly turn the NL Central into a 4 team race. Unfortunately, it was the Brewers, and not the Reds, who were swept.

Starters Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, and Johnny Cueto effectively silenced the Brewers bats, combining for 21 IP and just 4 ER.

The first nail had been driven into the coffin, as the sweep allowed the Reds to push Milwaukee’s deficit into double digits.

NL Central Standings, as of July 22:

  1. Cincinnati – 55-40 (.579)
  2. Pittsburgh – 54-40 (.574) 0.5 GB
  3. St. Louis – 50-45 (.526) 5 GB
  4. Milwaukee – 44-50 (.468) 10.5 GB

The Brewers exited their most crucial stretch of the season thus far with a 4-5 record, losing precious ground in the division race.

Then came the three game set in Philadelphia.

In each of the first two games, the Brewers blew comfortable leads in the 8th inning or later. In game 1, the Brewers led 6-3 heading to the bottom of the 9th, before a 4 run rally saddled newly appointed closer Francisco Rodriguez with the blown save and loss. In Game 2, the Brewers scored 3 runs in the top of the 8th to once again take a commanding lead, up 6-1 heading to the bottom of the 8th.

Milwaukee brought three pitchers to the mound in the 8th. Jose Veras began the inning allowing a base hit and recording an out before being pulled for Manny Parra. Parra promptly allowed a 2 run homer to pinch hitter Eric Kratz. 6-3 Brewers. Jimmy Rollins lined out before Parra walked the bases loaded, before being pulled for Kameron Loe. Carlos Ruiz then hits a base clearing double to tie the game. 6-6 tie. Hunter Pence gives the Phillies the lead in the following at bat, 7-6.

All told, the Phillies brought 11 men to the plate on 4 walks and 4 hits, resulting in a 6 run 8th.

The Phillies would hold on for the 7-6 win.

Game 3 was more of the same, another day, another blown save. After trailing most of the game, Ryan Braun tied the game at 5-5 in the 8th with a 2 run homer. Milwaukee would eventually take the lead in the top of the 10th thanks to Carlos Gomez’s hustle.

Rodriguez would once again pitch with the game on the line. Following a walk and a double, the Phillies had runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out. Carlos Ruiz drove in the game tying run on a sac fly before Jimmy Rollins walk off single.

7-6 Phillies. Again.

Six straight losses have all but closed the door on the Brewers postseason chances.

NL Central Standings, as of July 25:

  1. Cincinnati – 58-40 (.592)
  2. Pittsburgh – 55-42 (.567) 2.5 GB
  3. St. Louis – 52-46 (.531) 6 GB
  4. Milwaukee – 44-53 (.454) 13.5 GB

It’s not just the division that’s out of reach, as the losses dropped the Brewers to 9.5 games out of the 2nd wild card slot.

Season Recap:

Milwaukee was in a great position to return to the postseason this year, even with the loss of slugger Prince Fielder. A combination of factors has led to the Brewers becoming trade deadline sellers this year.

1. Injuries – Ok, so the injuries weren’t too bad, but they prevented this team from getting into a rhythm early on. The most notable injuries for the Brewers were to 1B Mat Gamel, SS Alex Gonzalez, and C Jonathan Lucroy.

In my opinion the injury to Mat Gamel was a blessing in disguise, as Ron Roenicke finally gave Corey Hart a shot at first, opening up RF for ROY contender Norichika Aoki.

2. Bullpen – This is the main culprit this year. From last year to earlier this year, John Axford had converted 49 consecutive saves. Even I was convinced that Axford had turned into a reliable closer (although he had a knack for flirting with disaster). The unusually reliable bullpen of the Brewers had been taken for granted, and more and more we watched as late inning leads disappeared.

The closer role for the Brewers has seen its share of highs and lows since the Derrick Turnbow’s exciting 2005. He seemingly lost it in 2006, blowing 8 saves before losing the job to newly acquired Francisco Cordero. When Cordero left following the 2007 season, the Brewers gambled on Eric Gagne regaining his form. After that didn’t work out, Saloman Torres filled in the Closer role respectably for the Brewers.

In 2009 the Brewers turned back the clock for future HOFer Trevor Hoffman, as he converted 37 of his 41 save opportunities. Continuing with the trend, Hoffman’s ERA ballooned from 1.83 in 2009 to 5.89 in 2010 as he blew 5 of his 15 save opportunities, allowing John Axford to seize the role. 2011 was another high note for Axford. But the short shelf life of Brewers closers reared again this year. So here we are in 2012, but this time, the Brewers don’t have a reliable option waiting in the wings to take over the role.

3. Slow Starts – The Brewers dug themselves an early hole, in part thanks to the slumps endured by Yovani Gallardo, Rickie Weeks, and Aramis Ramirez to begin the season.

Gallardo struggled through April, posting a 1-2 record and 6.08 ERA. Ramirez, perhaps under pressure to fill the shoes of Prince Fielder, began the season with a .214 BA, .264 OBP, and .381 SLG. Both men have since turned it around.

Then there’s Rickie Weeks. His struggles weren’t limited to April, like Gallardo and Ramirez. Through April, Rickie Weeks posted a .186 BA and .360 SLG. By the end of May, those numbers dropped to .158 & .294.

It’s a slump that Rickie has only begun to snap out of this month. His 4 hit game from yesterday raised his BA 10 points, all the way to .200 for the season. His July numbers (.264/.354/.514/.868) more closely reflect his career totals, but it may just be too late to help the Brewers this year.

Through it all, Roenicke stubbornly refused to drop Weeks any lower in the batting order than 6th, in hopes that he would play himself out of his slump. Seeing as it took 3+ months for that to happen, it doesn’t look like it was the right decision.

Going Forward:

So where does that leave the Brewers going forward? Is it time to scrap the team and begin to rebuild? Do they ride out the season and fill holes this offseason?

Here’s my take:

Don’t trade Greinke unless there are a number of ML ready players offered. Clearly this isn’t going to happen with a two-month rental, so I would prefer that Greinke not be moved. The Brewers have reportedly offered a 5 year deal worth $100 million.

Corey Hart, Aramis Ramirez and others have been rumored to be available following the Brewers latest slide. Ok, if they can flip a one or both or even a couple of these guys for youth and bullpen help, then do it. I’m not crazy about trading Ramirez, but with Gomez, Morgan, and Aoki sharing center and right field, Hart could be expendable.

The thing is, if Milwaukee could shore up the bullpen, this team is still built to compete. Braun and Gallardo are both young enough and in their prime and under contract that you don’t want to waste these years rebuilding. Weeks, Hart, Lucroy, and Aoki are excellent complimentary pieces, and rookie RHP Mike Fiers has been great this year, posting a 1.96 ERA, .222 BAA, and 1.06 WHIP.

Please Milwaukee; don’t deal away Greinke for nothing but middling minor league prospects. I still believe there’s a chance that Greinke returns to Milwaukee after testing the FA waters. If anything, the compensation picks awarded for losing Greinke to FA wouldn’t be much further away from the bigs than whichever prospects Milwaukee would get in return for renting Greinke for two months.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

NFL Power Rankings - Week 13

1. Green Bay - (12-0) LW: 1 - At 12-0, the Packers clinched the NFC North division title with losses by Chicago and Detroit. Oakland, Kansas City, Chicago, and Detroit stand in the way of a potential undefeated Packers season, and only Kansas City is on the road.
2. New Orleans - (9-3) LW: 2 - Throw out the records, over the past two weeks, New Orleans certainly made a case for consideration as the best team in football. The Saints offense is clicking, and we can only hope for a Green Bay - New Orleans playoff matchup while both offenses are playing as hot as they are now. The Saints now travel to TEN this week, basically needing to win out to clinch a 1st round bye.
3. Baltimore (9-3) LW: 3 - The Ravens continue to play well, with Ray Rice rushing for 204 this past weekend against the Browns. They avoided the let down that led to losses against Tennessee, Jacksonville, and Seattle. Now the Ravens, with designs on a first round bye, host the Colts to kickoff the final quarter of the season.
4. Pittsburgh (9-3) LW: 4 - The Steelers rolled this weekend, with a 35-7 victory against the 7-5 Bengals. Now Pittsburgh has a short week of preparation before playing division for Cleveland on Thursday Night football.
5. San Francisco (10-2) LW: 5 - Following their 26-0 victory over the hapless St. Louis Rams, the 49ers clinched the NFC West. Maintaining a 1st round bye is the next priority, as the 49ers have a 1 game lead over the Saints and have each of their 3 division opponents and Pittsburgh on their remaining schedule.
6. New England (9-3) LW: 6 - The Patriots withstood three 4th quarter TDs by Indianapolis to beat the Colts, 31-24. With 4 teams at 9-3 in the AFC, the race for homefield advantage is sure to keep teams sharp heading into the playoffs.
7. Houston (9-3) LW: 7 - The Texans emerged victorious in Rookie QB T.J. Yates first career start. Sure, he was only 12 for 25 and 188 yards, but most importantly, Yates did not turn the ball over, allowing the Texans running game and defense to carry the day. Up next are two other teams with rookie QBs, a trip to Cincinnati and a home game against Carolina.
8. Denver (7-5) LW: 14 - 5 wins in a row, and 6 wins in their last 7 games has led the Broncos from 1-4 to 7-5 and first in the AFC West. Up next is a banged up Chicago team that will be playing without both Jay Cutler and Matt Forte.
9. New York Jets (7-5) LW: 15 - Except for the Broncos - Vikings game, Sunday couldn't have worked out any better for the Jets. New York is now tied with Tennessee, Cincinnati, and Oakland for the final wildcard position. The Jets remaining schedule isn't overly difficult, as they play KC, PHI, NYG, and MIA.
10. Dallas (7-5) LW: 8 - The big story in Dallas this week centers around the clock management fiasco the ended with Jason Garrett icing his own kicker and losing in OT. The Cowboys are going to have to put this behind them quickly, as they face division rival New York twice in the next four weeks with the fate of the NFC East on the line.
11. Tennessee (7-5) LW: 16 - The Titans have fought back from 5-5 to remain a viable contender not only in the wildcard race, but the AFC South as well. This week's game against the Saints will test them, and they will need a strong performance from the running game to keep the Saints high-powered offense on the sidelines.
12. Oakland (7-5) LW: 9 - The Raiders 34-14 loss in Miami dropped Oakland to 1-9 in their last 10 games in the eastern time zone. Carson Palmer's two 4th quarter TD throws kept the Raiders from getting shut out, but this loss was ugly. Up next, the Raiders, now tied with Denver in the AFC West, travel to Green Bay to play the undefeated Packers.
13. Atlanta (7-5) LW: 11 - The Falcons fell to the Texans, 17-10, despite the fact that Houston's QB was drafted in the 5th round this past April. Even so, the Falcons hold on to the 6th and final wildcard spot this week, holding a head to head victory against the Lions. The Falcons play the always dangerous Panthers this week.
14. Detroit (7-5) LW: 12 - After starting 5-0, the Lions are just 2-5 in their last 7 games and in danger of slipping out of the playoff race. Detroit has a chance to stem the tide this week while hosting Minnesota.
15. Chicago (7-5) LW: 10 - The Bears are still the 5th seed based on the current standings, but the 3 points they mustered against Kansas City was an eyesore. Now Matt Forte is looking at missing a couple weeks with a MCL sprain and the Bears travel to Denver to face the red hot Broncos.
16. Cincinnati (7-5) LW: 13 - The Bengals took another hit this week as the Bengals lost, 35-7 to Pittsburgh. That makes them 1-3 in their last 4 games, all against division opponents. Up next is AFC South leading Houston and the NFL's #1 ranked defense.
17. New York Giants (6-6) LW: 17 - The Giants are looking to turn around their recent 4 game skid that has featured the top 3 teams in the NFC. At 6-6, the Giants still have a great chance at the NFC East with 2 of their remaining 4 games against division leading Dallas.
18. Arizona (5-7) LW: 19 - Don't look now, but the Cardinals have won 4 of their last 5. Time will tell if Sunday's OT win against Dallas was this team turning the corner. This week, the Cards host division champion San Francisco.
19. Seattle (5-7) LW: 23 - The Seahawks rode Mr. Marshawn Lynch to a convincing Thursday Night victory against Philadephia, 31-14. If not for a blown 4th quarter lead at home to Washington, the Seahawks would be 6-6 and in the thick of the playoff hunt. As it is, they need a lot of help to climb into the playoff picture. Seattle host St. Louis on Monday Night football this week.
20. Miami (4-8) LW: 24 - Miami is another team peaking late, as they have quietly rattled off 4 wins in their last 5 games. After Philadelphia this week, the Dolphins end the season with 3 straight division games.
21. Buffalo (5-7) LW: 18 - Like the Lions, the Bills 4-1 start is nothing more than a distant memory. The Bills have lost 5 straight to fall 2 games behind in the WC race and now have to travel to San Diego to face a suddenly clicking Chargers offense.
22. Kansas City (5-7) LW: 27 - The Chiefs upended the Bears this week, 10-3, as Kansas City was able to capitalize on Caleb Hanie's three INTs. The Chiefs lone TD came on a 1st half hail mary as time expired. Given the streak the Chiefs have been on this year (lose 3, win 4, lose 4) don't be surprised it the Chiefs run off a couple victories.
23. San Diego (5-7) LW: 25 - The Chargers offense came to life Monday Night as Philip Rivers had his best game of the year so far and ended San Diego's 6 game losing streak. At 5-7, the Chargers are just 2 games out of the playoff race, both divisional and wildcard. While its an uphill climb, the Chargers have the talent to make a late push for the playoffs, starting this week with Buffalo.
24. Philadelphia (4-8) LW: 20 - Following Vince Young's 4 INT performance, the Eagles dropped to 4-8. The Eagles will have their hands full this week, with an upcoming trip to suddenly hot Miami.
25. Carolina (4-8) LW: 29 - The Panthers went into Raymond James Stadium and put the game on ice early. Holding a 24-12 halftime lead, the Panthers added two more TDs to win 38-19.
26. Tampa Bay (4-8) LW: 21 - The Bucs freefall continues, this time to the Panthers for their 6th consecutive loss. Josh Freeman is expected to return after missing last week in what could be the Buccaneers last chance at a victory, against 3-9 Jacksonville.
27. Washington (4-8) LW: 22 - The Redskins dropped to 4-8 following a 34-19 loss to the New York Jets. Washington still has the chance to play spoiler, with New England visiting this week, and a trip to division rival Giants the following week.
28. Cleveland (4-8) LW: 26 - The Browns, at 4-7, had the pleasure of facing the Ravens and Steelers 4 times over the course of the final 5 games. 4-12 is a distinct possibility.
29. Minnesota (2-10) LW: 28 - The Vikings lost another close game to the Broncos this week, making for the 8th game this season that ended in a one score game. The Vikings are 1-7 in those games this season, but are competitive and should improve with another year of Leslie Frazier and Christian Ponder next year.
30. Jacksonville (3-9) LW: 30 - In their first game in nearly 9 years without former Head Coach Jack Del Rio, the Jaguars allowed a season high 38 points and the second highest yardage total of the season to a San Diego team on a 6 game losing streak.
31. St. Louis (2-10) LW: 31 - Holds the tiebreaker over Minnesota for the #2 pick in the draft, as they only have 1 conference win thus far. With a trip to Seattle on Monday night and a season ending game against SF, there's little reason to believe that will change.
32. Indianapolis (0-12) LW: 32 - The Colts march towards infamy continues, as this weekend's 31-24 loss to the Patriots inches them that much closer. With Baltimore, Tennessee, and Houston coming up, the Colts last best chance will be Week 17, against Jacksonville.

Monday, December 5, 2011

My Big Fat BCS Rant

Ever since the Badgers' October 22 loss to Michigan State on a hail mary, I've been rooting for chaos.

Not just because the Badgers lost and I was bitter, but because 1 single play completely eliminated the possibility that the Badgers most talented team since 1999, maybe ever, would have a chance to compete for the National Championship. The loss dropped UW from #6 to #15 in the BCS Standings.

Fast forward to November 5. #1 LSU versus #2 Alabama. The "Game of the Century." While I'm not interested in providing a game recap, we all know it was a competitive defensive game that LSU won in OT, 9-6. Whispers of a rematch began that night.

The following night on the BCS Rankings show on ESPN, the possibility of a rematch intensified, as the Alabama Crimson Tide, despite losing an overtime game at home, only dropped to #3 in the BCS standings.

As soon as those rankings were revealed, I found my cause. I threw my full fledged support behind a BCS title game rematch. I cheered as Oregon knocked Stanford from the ranks of the undefeated. I cheered the upset in Ames, as the Cyclones crippled the Cowboys title game hopes. To a lesser extent, I even reveled in the knowledge that Boise State's kicker had once again ruined the Broncos chance at an undefeated season.


Because for all the arguing, for all the disappointment, for all the disagreements, I had faith that a Lousiana State versus Alabama BCS title rematch was needed. It was the only possible matchup that would create the type of firestorm needed to kickstart change.

There is no question, this is the most controversial title game match up in the short history of the BCS. How can a team that didn't even win its division, let alone conference, be selected to play in the National Championship, in a rematch no less!

The decision defies logic, but is, in my opinion, absolutely necessary to elicit the change we college football fans demand. Give us a playoff!

Let's be honest, if Oklahoma State was able to make up the .009 difference in the BCS standings, most people would agree that the BCS, somehow, had gotten it right once again. The last thing college football needs is the status quo!

As it is, this is what we have, two SEC West teams facing each other for the BCS National Championship.

Now, what do we do to voice our displeasure? There's only one way for college presidents to wake up and realize a playoff system is needed in college football, and that's hitting them in the only place they will feel it, their pocketbooks.

I say now is the time to Boycott the BS of the BCS!

This is, however unlikely, the only way for the will of the fans to be heard. Let us begin the movement to end the reign of the BCS.

That is all. Let us begin the #BCSBoycott

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Montee Ball Deserves to be a Heisman Finalist

Its becoming increasingly apparent that it won't happen, but Montee Ball absolutely deserves to be invited to New York City on December 10, 2011.

Through 12 games, Ball has amassed 1870 total yards and 34 touchdowns. That's right, 34 touchdowns, the 2nd most in the history of the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision.

As of this writing, Ball's 1622 rushing yards trail only WKU SR Bobby Rainey (1695), on 121 less carries than Rainey. For comparison sake, Trent Richardson, possibly the Heisman frontrunner, has 1583 rushing yards and 23 TDs.

So far this season, Ball's lowest yardage output has been 109 yards (against SD State), and he hasn't scored less than 2 TDs in any game.

Ball isn't just racking up big numbers against inferior opponents. Against teams ranked in the top 10 in yards per game allowed* (MSU, ILL, PSU) Ball has rushed for 115, 224, and 156. In the Badgers' other big games (NEB, and @OSU), Ball has performed well, combining for 236 rushing yards, 30 receiving yards, and 6 TDs.

Now for Ball's biggest obstacle standing between him and an invite to the Heisman Trophy Ceremony: his offensive line. However, this UW offensive line was charged with replacing two 2010 All Americans, including 2010 Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi.

Alabama's Trent Richardson is also the beneficiary of playing behind a great offensive line, as 3 of his teammates were named to the 2011 preseason All-SEC team, including 2010 All American Barrett Jones.

The point is, Montee Ball isn't the only great running back benefitting from a dominant offensive line.

If not for the back-to-back Hail Mary losses to Michigan State and Ohio State, Wisconsin is on track for a BCS National Championship Game appearance and Ball is the frontrunner for the Heisman.

*As of Nov. 20

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

NFL Power Rankings - Week 11

Not much change at the top of the Rankings this week, but there are some notable games to keep an eye on, especially the Thanksgiving matchups of Green Bay @ Detroit and San Francisco @ Baltimore.

Buffalo @ New York Jets and Chicago @ Oakland headline the Sunday games and the Monday Night game between New York Giants and New Orleans.

1. Green Bay (10-0) LW: 1 - The Packers survived yet another late push to extend their winning streak to 16 games, dating back to Week 16 last year. They're the first defending Super Bowl champions to begin a season 10-0 since the 1998 Broncos, and will be playing an upset minded Detroit on Thanksgiving.
2. San Francisco (9-1) LW: 2 - The 49ers continue to roll, winning their 8th straight game against Arizona, 23-7. Of their last 6 games, 4 will be against division foes with a combined record of 9-21. Division leaders play Thursday night as the 49ers and Ravens match up, Harbaugh against Harbaugh. The 49ers can clinch the NFC West this week with a win and Seattle loss.
3. Pittsburgh (7-3) LW: 3 - The Steelers exit their late bye week with a trip to KC to face a reeling Chiefs team. Of their 6 remaining games, they will play KC, CLE (X2), and STL, all but assuring at least an 11-5 season. The margin between being a #1 and #5 seed is razor thin for the Steelers, who have lost tiebreakers to the Ravens and Texans but hold one over the Patriots.
4. New Orleans (7-3) LW: 4 - The Saints prepare themselves for a Monday Night game with the Giants this week, pitting two of the best QBs in the league so far this year against each other. Of their final six games, New Orleans will face 4 teams still in the playoff race. On the plus side, 3 of those games will be played in the Super Dome, including this Monday.
5. Chicago (7-3) LW: 5 - The prognosis for Bears QB Jay Cutler doesn't sound good, as he's expected to miss 6-8 weeks following surgery on a broken thumb. As it stands, Chicago doesn't have the most difficult path to the playoffs, with just 3 of their final 6 games against teams .500 or better.
6. Houston (7-3) LW: 6 - A lot of people have written off the Texans rather quickly in light of QB Matt Schaub's injury. The Texans have overcome adversity at every turn, starting with Arian Foster's slow start, Mario Williams season ending torn pectoral injury, and Andre Johnson's lingering hamstring issue. Through it all, Houston still has the #1 defense, #2 scoring defense and #2 rushing offense. Add to that a schedule with only two teams over .500, and the Texans should be just fine.
7. New England (7-3) LW: 8 - New England is back on track following their 34-3 dismantling of the Chiefs. Rob Gronkowski is the latest great Belichek draft pick who has 310 yards and 5 TDs over the last three games for the Patriots. Given New England's relatively soft remaining schedule (0 games against teams with records over .500); the road to the Super Bowl could very easily run through New England.
8. Baltimore (7-3) LW: 9 - While some may feel I have Baltimore rated a little low, it's hard to put faith in a team that's lost to the likes of Seattle and Jacksonville. As strange as it sounds, at 7-3, there is a reasonable case to be made that the Ravens have under achieved so far. Following this Thursday's game with SF, the Ravens play 4 straight against teams under .500. If they avoid playing down to their competition, the Ravens have an excellent shot at earning home field advantage in the AFC as well.
9. Detroit (7-3) LW: 10 - The Lions may have been caught off guard by the visiting Panthers, but whatever the reason, they found themselves trailing 24-7 in short order. But the Lions showed their resiliency with yet another double digit 2nd half comeback, winning 49-35. Now comes a potential game of the year candidate, as the 7-3 Lions welcome the 10-0 Packers on Thanksgiving. The game has all the ingredients for a shootout, as the Lions open the week as underdogs (+6).
10. Dallas (6-4) LW: 11 - It's always fun to see how reactionary the media (namely ESPN) is regarding the Cowboys. To begin the season, you would think the Cowboys were headed towards a 4-12 record and that Tony Romo was the worst QB in the NFL. Now, following their recent 3 game winning streak, the Cowboys are being heralded as possible Super Bowl favorites. Now the Cowboys welcome a red hot Miami team for the late afternoon Thanksgiving game.
11. New York Giants (6-4) LW: 7 - Sunday Night's loss to Philadelphia was a damaging blow to a Giants team in the midst of 5 game stretch that featured 4 division leaders. With New Orleans, Green Bay, and Dallas on tap, the Giants are in for an uphill struggle to remain in the playoff hunt.
12. Oakland (6-4) LW: 13 - Following their 27-21 win in Minnesota, the Raiders have won two straight to keep sole possession of first place in the AFC West and face a Bears team that will have QB Caleb Hanie making his first career start next week. A look at the schedule reveals 3 very winnable games and two others that the Raiders should be competitive in. 10 wins isn't out of the question and would force the rest of the AFC West to play near perfect football, but the Raiders will have to develop more consistency to reach that goal.
13. Atlanta (6-4) LW: 15 - The Falcons emerged victorious over Tennessee in a battle of 5-4 playoff contenders this week. The offensive balance the Falcons exhibited is what makes them so dangerous, and their stingy run defense forced the Titans to try winning the game through the air. Up next, Atlanta will host a Christian Ponder-led Vikings team that will likely be without All-Pro Adrian Peterson.
14. Cincinnati (6-4) LW: 12 - Despite losing two straight to the Steelers and Ravens, the Bengals are still holding on to the final wildcard spot, a game ahead of the Broncos, Jets, Bills and Titans. If the Bengals can take care of business against the likes of CLE, STL, and ARI, then winning just one game against PIT, HOU, or BAL would make them a near lock for the playoffs this year.
15. Denver (5-5) LW: 19 - The Tebow situation has overshadowed just how good the Broncos defense has played in recent weeks. Von Miller is a beast and should be the odds on favorite for DRoY. Looking ahead, the Broncos face a desperate Chargers team this week, but also have a possible Peterson-less Minnesota, a Cutler-less Chicago, a slumping Buffalo, and a Cassel-less Chiefs left on the schedule along with New England. The Broncos could realistically go anywhere from 5-1 to 2-4 during this stretch.
16. New York Jets (5-5) LW: 14 - The Jets playoff hopes took a serious blow with Tebow's 20 yard TD scamper. The loss not only drops New York 2 games behind New England (3 counting the tiebreaker), it also sets them behind another possible AFC Wildcard hopeful, Denver. As it stands, Baltimore, Oakland, and Denver hold tiebreakers over New York. A loss this weekend to Buffalo may effectively end the Jets playoff hopes entirely.
17. Tennessee (5-5) LW: 16 - Where last week was a match-up between two playoff hopefuls, this weekend's game with Tampa Bay could be an elimination game. Tampa Bay's margin for error is all but evaporated, while the Titans can ill afford to fall another game behind the 7-3 Texans in the AFC South.
18. Buffalo (5-5) LW: 17 - The one time Cinderella story Bills have now lost 3 straight and are traveling to New York trying to avoid a season sweep by the Jets. Any hopes they have of ending the playoff drought in Buffalo are riding on this week, they can ill afford any hiccups against a schedule littered with WC contenders (NYJ, TEN, SD, DEN).
19. Philadelphia (4-6) LW: 23 - The Eagles kept their playoff hopes on life support with Sunday Night's win over the division leading Giants. Only two games back in the standings, Philadelphia needs a win this weekend against the Patriots to have any hope of returning to the playoffs.
20. Tampa Bay (4-6) LW: 20 - The Bucs last 6 games were about as tough as it gets, with their opponents in those games combining for a 47-13 (.783) record so far this season. That said, they still only won one of those games and are currently on a 4 game losing streak. A 9-7 team may sneak into the playoffs, but it's looking more and more likely that the Bucs must win out to have a shot this year.
21. Seattle (4-6) LW: 24 - Aside from an early Brandon Lloyd TD, the Seahawks were in control for the majority of the game against St. Louis on Sunday. The Seahawks and Pete Carroll are rallying nicely after a slow start, with back to back wins over the Ravens and Rams. Next week the Seahawks host the slumping Redskins as they continue their march back to .500.
22. San Diego (4-6) LW: 18 - The Chargers are looking to end their 5 game losing streak against the team they last won against, Denver. October 9th feels like an eternity for Chargers fans, but if they can turn the corner, they are still just 2 games back from Oakland with 1 game to play against them. That said, the Chargers have 5 of 6 games remaining against teams .500 or better.
23. Miami (3-7) LW: 27 - The Dolphins made a bit of history with their victory against the Bills this week, becoming the first team in NFL history to win three straight games during a season in which they started 0-7. The Dolphins have been downright dominant in their wins over KC, WAS, and BUF, outscoring them 86-20 in that stretch. The way the Dolphins are playing, an upset of the Cowboys doesn't seem as far-fetched as it did a week ago, does it?
24. Cleveland (4-6) LW: 26 - The Browns ended their 3 game losing streak to against the Jaguars this past weekend, and will be looking to play the role of spoiler, as they finish the year with 5 division games. Up first is a trip to Cincinnati.
25. Kansas City (4-6) LW: 21 - Following their MNF loss to New England, the road doesn't get any easier, as Kansas City host the Steelers this week on SNF. CHI, NYJ, GB, OAK, and DEN are also on the schedule, as the Chiefs face opponents at .500 or better the rest of the season.
26. Arizona (3-7) LW: 22 - The Cardinals avoided being shut out in this weekend's trip to San Francisco with a 4th quarter Larry Fitzgerald TD, but there wasn't much more for Arizona to take from this game. The 49ers racked up 431 yards of total offense as they controlled the Time of Possession battle, 44:16 to 15:44.
27. Minnesota (2-8) LW: 25 - Adding insult to injury, the Vikings disappointing season got worse with the Adrian Peterson's high ankle sprain in the 1st quarter of the 27-21 loss to Oakland.
28. Washington (3-7) LW: 28 - Washington had the upset in mind against Dallas, but Graham Gano's missed 52 yard attempt in OT ended that chance. At six games and counting, the Redskins 3-1 start is but a distant memory. One thing is clear, neither John Beck nor Rex Grossman is the answer.
29. Jacksonville (3-7) LW: 29 - The Jaguars have the 3rd ranked defense in total yards and 5th ranked scoring defense. They also have the league's 12th ranked rushing offense despite facing an 8 man box on nearly every snap. The problem has been the Jaguars passing game, inability to sustain drives, and inability to force turnovers. Their defense allows them to stay in games, and could mean the Jags win a game or two down the stretch against playoff teams.
30. Carolina (2-8) LW: 31 - Although the results were the same (both losses), the Panthers offensive outburst against Detroit vaults them ahead of the Rams in this week's rankings. Carolina will try to avoid being the first team to lose to the Colts this year.
31. St. Louis (2-8) LW: 30 - The Rams started quickly, scoring on a Bradford to Lloyd 30 yard TD pass to start the game. The Rams were unable to capitalize on the Seahawks early game mistakes and were trailing 10-7 by halftime. Arizona visits this week, as St. Louis looks to build some momentum going into next year.
32. Indianapolis (0-10) LW: 32 - And here we are, seemingly perfect in their imperfection. The 0-10 Colts are still looking for that first W, this week they have a legitimate chance, hosting the 2-8 Panthers.

If time permits, I might release a Awards Rankings blog tomorrow. Enjoy and comment below.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

NFL Power Rankings - Week 10

1.   Green Bay (9-0) LW: 1 – The Packer put together an all-around impressive offensive display Monday Night, while the defense finally put pressure on the QB. Green Bay’s defense also had their best outing of the season, the only TD they allowed following a muffed punt by Randall Cobb. The Packers now change their focus to Tampa Bay in bid to remain undefeated.
2.   San Francisco (8-1) LW: 2 – The 49ers continued their 7 game win streak with two early 4th quarter scores to take a 27-13 lead. The Giants offense stalled at the SF 10 yard line, as San Francisco claimed victory in a matchup of division leaders. The 49ers welcome Arizona next week, as they finish the season with 5 of their final 7 games against division opponents.
3.   Pittsburgh (7-3) LW: 6 – The Steelers took advantage of their fast start, holding off the Bengals for a 24-17 road victory. Pittsburgh will take its ½ game lead into their Week 11 bye, as they prepare for a trip to Kansas City.
4.   New Orleans (7-3) LW: 7 – The Saints rebounded nicely from the Week 8 loss to the Rams, defeating division foes Tampa Bay and Atlanta in consecutive weeks to open up a 1 ½ game lead heading into this week’s bye. The Saints next two games will be against NFC playoff contenders, New York Giants and Detroit Lions, both in the Superdome.
5.   Chicago (6-3) LW: 8 – The Bears earned a season split with the Lions this weekend, beating Detroit by a score of 37-13. Consecutive INTs returned for TDs early in the 3rd quarter all but put this game out of reach. The Bears scored 24 points off Lions TOs, and another on Devin Hester’s 18th career return TD. Next week, the Bears become an honorary member of the AFC West, as they play four consecutive games against AFC West teams.
6.   Houston (7-3) LW: 9 – Houston takes a 4 game winning streak and the AFC’s best record with them into the bye week following their 37-9 road victory against Tampa Bay. Andre Johnson is expected back after the bye week, adding another dimension to the NFL’s 3rd best rushing team, #1 ranked defense, and #2 ranked scoring defense. The road only gets tougher from here for the Texans, as Matt Schaub is out for the rest of the season. Matt Leinart will start at QB for the Texans.
7.   New York Giants (6-3) LW: 3 – Eli Manning’s 2nd INT from Sunday’s game was the deciding moment for the Giants. Already trailing 20-13, San Francisco got the ball at the New York 17, setting up Kendall Hunter’s TD run. The Giants did, however, score on their next drive and get to the 49ers 10 before stalling out with 34 seconds on the clock. New York’s difficult 2nd half schedule continues this week, with a divisional matchup against Philadelphia before back to back games against New Orleans and Green Bay.
8.   New England (6-3) LW: 11 – New England ended their 2 game losing streak with a big Sunday Night victory over division rival New York. The win gave New England a 1 game lead over both NYJ and Buffalo, and a season sweep of the Jets. Up next for the Patriots are 4-5 Kansas City, who will also be breaking in a new starting QB, as Matt Cassel has also been ruled out for the rest of the season.
9.   Baltimore (6-3) LW: 4 – The Ravens inexplicably lost to Seattle this weekend, 22-17. This was the 3rd let down game of the year for the Ravens following big wins (PIT, HOU, @PIT). The question is whether the Ravens offensive inconsistency or a simple lack of focus is the problem. Up next for Baltimore are the 6-3 Bengals and 8-1 49ers.
10. Detroit (6-3) LW: 5 – Following their feel good 5-0 start, the Lions have lost 3 of their last 4 games, including potential playoff opponents San Francisco, Atlanta, and Chicago. Detroit will need to bounce back this week against Carolina, with a Thanksgiving matchup against the Packers looming right around the corner.
11. Dallas (5-4) LW: 15 – The Cowboys were all over the Bills this weekend, winning easily, 44-7. Dallas scored TDs on each of their first 4 possessions, the 5th drive ending at halftime. In fact, aside from both end of half drives, Dallas was held scoreless just once all afternoon. The Cowboys climb to just 1 game behind New York in the NFC East, with a markedly easier schedule the rest of the season. Here is a breakdown for the Giants and Cowboys remaining schedules - Combined Remaining Opponents’ Records: DAL – (27-36 .428) NYG – (37-27, .578)
12. Cincinnati (6-3) LW: 10 – The Bengals showed great resolve this weekend against the Steelers. While they still lost, the climbed right back into the game after Pittsburgh jumped out to a 14-0 lead. Andy Dalton’s INT with 2:27 left at PIT’s 25 yard line sealed the fate of the Bengals. Next week, the Bengals travel to Baltimore in an attempt to keep pace with the AFC North leaders.
13. Oakland (5-4) LW: 19 – Following a 24-17 road victory over the Chargers, the Raiders are in sole possession of 1st place in the AFC West at 5-4. Michael Bush, who has played well in Darren McFadden’s absence, had a great game Thursday night, racking up 242 total yards, the most since the Raiders joined the NFL in 1970. The Raiders travel to Minnesota as they prepare to play the 4 NFC North teams over the course of the next 5 games.
14. New York Jets (5-4) LW: 12 – The Jets AFC East hopes took a hit Sunday Night, following their 37-16 loss to the Patriots. Now New York travels to Denver on a short week to face a surging Broncos team. While not a must win just yet, a Jets win would move them into a tie for the final wildcard spot with the loser of the Baltimore / Cincinnati game.
15. Atlanta (5-4) LW: 13 – Difficult loss for the Falcons to swallow, as head coach Mike Smith’s strategy of going for a 4th and inches on their own 29 has be questioned endlessly following Atlanta’s OT loss to the Saints. Lost in the din was the Falcons ability to erase a 10 point deficit with just over 10 minutes to play. The Falcons will now face a 5-4 Titans team also fighting to remain in the playoff race.
16. Tennessee (5-4) LW: 21 – The Titans are coming off a big 30-3 victory over the Cam Newton led Panthers, in which Chris Johnson (finally) began to show shades of his former self, gaining 130 yards on 27 carries. The Titans find themselves with a chance to cut the Texans division lead to just one game with a win this weekend in Atlanta.
17. Buffalo (5-4) LW: 14 – The Bills have lost their last two games by a combined score of 71-18 following their 44-7 loss to Dallas. The Bills offense has struggled with pass protection, resulting in TOs and rushed passes. Now Buffalo, who is 1-3 away from home, must travel to Miami to play a Dolphins team on a two game winning streak.
18. San Diego (4-5) LW: 16 – The Chargers have lost 4 straight games since starting the season 4-1, including 2 divisional games. Last Thursday’s game exposed San Diego’s shortcomings against the run and along the offensive line. Now the Chargers travel to Chicago to face a streaking Bears team in the midst of a playoff hunt.
19. Denver (4-5) LW: 24 – As aesthetically unappealing as it may be, the Broncos are now 3-1 with Tim Tebow as the starting QB, following their 17-10 victory in Kansas City. The Broncos won despite only 8 pass attempts and leading rushers Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno leaving the game with injuries. The Broncos prepare for a Thursday Night game against the New York Jets this week.
20. Tampa Bay (4-5) LW: 18 – The Buccaneers find themselves in the midst of a brutal stretch, including next week’s trip to Green Bay. Playoff hopes are fading, as Tampa Bay has lost 4 or their last 5 to potential playoff teams (@SF, CHI, @NO, HOU) and are currently 2 ½ games behind New Orleans and 2 games behind CHI and DET (both own tiebreaker victories over TB) for the wildcard.
21. Kansas City (4-5) LW: 17 – Not only lose its 2nd straight game and fall to 2-2 in the AFC West against Denver, QB Matt Cassel is likely out for the season with a hand injury. Tyler Palko, with just 13 career pass attempts, has been named the starter for the foreseeable future. The road doesn’t get any easier, with New England, Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York Jets, and Green Bay (in that order) left before two divisional games against the Raiders and Broncos.
22. Arizona (3-6) LW: 27 – The Cardinals erased two 4th quarter deficits to upset the Eagles 21-17 in Philadelphia on Sunday. Led by John Skelton filling in for Kevin Kolb, the Cardinals were the latest team to take advantage of the Eagles inability to close out football games, with the game winning TD pass to Early Doucet with just 1:53 left in the game.
23. Philadelphia (3-6) LW: 20 – The Eagle blew their fourth 4th quarter lead of the season, dropping them to 1-4 at home this season. The big story Sunday Morning was Andy Reid’s decision to sit WR DeSean Jackson for missing a team meeting on Saturday. The story following the game was the pass defense which allowed another late game lead to slip away. Mike Vick is questionable for next week, after revealing the he suffered a couple broken ribs early in the game. The Eagles playoff hopes are dimming, as they face the Giants and Patriots in the coming weeks, and have very little margin for error.
24. Seattle (3-6) LW: 29 – Seattle pulled their second big upset this season with their 22-17 win against the visiting Baltimore Ravens. The Seahawks capitalized on great field position to gain an early 10 point lead. Playing stingy defense and forcing turnovers were key, as the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the Ravens offense was held in check. The Seahawks travel to St. Louis this weekend, as Seattle tries to climb back to .500.
25. Minnesota (2-7) LW: 23 – The Vikings struggles were on full display against the Packers on Monday Night Football. Aside from the pass rush, there were few bright spots for Minnesota. Ponder made a couple nice completions, but the offense as a whole seemed out of rhythm. Minnesota welcomes the Raiders next week in a matchup of two Top 5 rushing offenses.
26. Cleveland (3-6) LW: 22 – The Browns have lost 3 straight since their 3-3 start following Sunday’s loss to St. Louis on a Phil Dawson missed field goal. This weekend they will host Jacksonville.
27. Miami (2-7) LW: 28 – The Dolphins are winners of two straight following their 20-9 victory over the Rex Grossman led Redskins. Reggie Bush has just played arguably the best three game stretch of his career, averaging 80 yards rushing and 22 yards receiving to go with his 3 TDs. Miami now hosts a now-struggling Bills team looking to turn around their fortunes.
28. Washington (3-6) LW: 25 – The Redskins own the league’s 2nd longest losing streak at 5 games following their loss to Miami last Sunday. Shanahan changed his mind once again, benching John Beck (who started the previous 3 games) in favor is opening day starter Rex Grossman. The ‘Skins will look to play the spoiler this week against a red hot Dallas team as they too look to get back on track.
29. Jacksonville (3-6) LW: 29 – Jacksonville emerged victorious, 17-3, against last place Indianapolis this weekend, on the strength of Maurice Jones-Drew’s 114 yard, 1 TD rushing performance. The Jaguars travel to Cleveland this weekend looking to get back into the suddenly wide open AFC South.
30. St. Louis (2-7) LW: 30 – The Rams got win #2 this weekend, after watching a Phil Dawson field goal attempt go wide left late in the 4th quarter. The Rams now prepare for 4 consecutive division games, starting with Seattle this Sunday.
31. Carolina (2-7) LW: 26 – The Panthers continue to struggle against mediocre opponents, this time falling 30-3 to the Titans. The path doesn’t get any easier with a trip to Detroit on tap next week.
32. Indianapolis (0-10) LW: 32 – The Colts continue their free fall into oblivion, this time losing 17-3 to the Jaguars. They’ve now reached their bye week at 0-10, well ahead of the competition in the Suck for Luck sweepstakes.

NFL Power Rankings - Week 9

*Originally Posted November 9 on a different site

1.       Green Bay (8-0) LW: 1 – The Packers capitalized on 2 early defensive TDs to win a shootout in San Deigo. As many yards and points as the defense gave up, they were the ones to pull this game out with Charlie Peprah’s 2nd INT ending the game with 14 seconds left. The Packers welcome the Vikings on Monday Night football this week, as they prepare for 3 games in 11 games.
2.       San Francisco (7-1) LW: 2 – With Sunday’s 19-11 victory against Washington, the 49ers improved to 7-1 and 3-0 in games played in the Eastern Time Zone. San Francisco’s recipe of stingy defense and ball control offense was once again the key to the 49ers victory. Two of the NFL’s top teams this year will meet, as the 49ers host the Giants this week.
3.       New York Giants (6-2) LW: 4 – In one of the most stunning endings of the year, the Giants emerged victorious in New England, ending the Patriots regular season 20-game home winning streak. The Giants 80 yard GW drive was spearheaded and capped off my Eli Manning’s accuracy. New York’s difficult 2nd half continues next week with a trip to 7-1 San Francisco.
4.       Baltimore (6-2) LW: 7 – Another equally stunning ending this weekend, as Joe Flacco led the Ravens 92 yards for the score with just 2:17 remaining and down by 4 points. Torrey Smith’s 26 yard TD catch more than made up for the dropped pass in the endzone 4 plays earlier. Now the Ravens lead the Steelers by a ½ game in the standings, but more importantly, hold a potential tiebreaker over the Steelers, having swept the season series. Baltimore travels to Seattle this week, before another big game with co-division leader Cincinnati.
5.       Detroit (6-2) LW: 8 – The Lions find themselves back in the top 5 after their bye week. This Sunday, they will be traveling to Chicago looking for a season sweep of the Bears for the first time since 2007. Jahvid Best remains questionable following the concussion he suffered 3 weeks ago.
6.       Pittsburgh (6-3) LW: 3 – The Steelers have to regroup quickly following one of the most surprising finishes of the year, as they travel to Cincinnati to face the 6-2 Bengals. A loss here would not only put Pittsburgh 1 ½ games back, but would put them into to a 0-3 divisional hole.
7.       New Orleans (6-3) LW: 9 – The Saints avenged their week 6 loss to Tampa Bay with a 27-16 home victory over the Bucs. When in rhythm, the Saints offense is easily one of the best in the NFL. When not in sync, you see them struggle against the likes of St. Louis. The Saints will once again be playing for 1st place in the NFC South this weekend, when they travel to Atlanta to play the 5-3 Falcons.
8.       Chicago (5-3) LW: 10 – The Bears defeated the Eagles on Monday Night, 30-24. The offensive line deserves a lot of credit for not only keeping Cutler upright (0 sacks allowed) but also for spring the Bears rushing attack for 164 yards on 34 carries. If not for Forte’s two uncharacteristic fumbles (which led to 14 Philadelphia points), this game isn’t as close as the final score suggests. This weekend, the Bears prepare for a rested Detroit team, and are looking to keep pace in the playoff hunt.
9.       Houston (6-3) LW: 11 – The Texans are off to a franchise best 6-3 on the heels of a dominating 30-12 win over the Browns. Arian Foster and Ben Tate combined for 239 of Houston’s franchise record 261 rushing yards. Defensively, the Texans are #1 in Total Yards per Game Allowed, and 3rd in Points Against. Houston travels to Tampa Bay this weekend before their Week 11 bye.
10.   Cincinnati (6-2) LW: 12 – Following the 24-17 win at Tennessee, the Bengals are taking their 5 game winning streak into this weekend’s matchup with Pittsburgh. The first of four consecutive division games, the Bengals need to perform well in this stretch to keep their hopes of a division title alive.
11.   New England (5-3) LW: 6 – Back to back losses have been rare in the Belichek era, but the Patriots league worst pass defense was bound to catch up to them sooner or later. This Sunday Night could possibly be the biggest game of the season for both New York and New England, as they are tied with Buffalo for the division lead at 5-3.
12.   New York Jets (5-3) LW: 14 – Following an impressive performance against the Bills in a 27-11 victory, the streaking Jets take on a slumping Patriots team. The Jets D limited breakout QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to 191 yards on 15 of 31 passing. The Bills lone TD came with 3:14 left in the game, when New York held a 27-3 lead. The Jets, and their defense, are peaking at the right time.
13.   Atlanta (5-3) LW: 13 – The Falcons are flying under the radar at 5-3, riding a three game winning streak into Sunday’s game against the division leading Saints. The Falcons schedule breaks nicely for them, as they only play 2 more games after this weekend against teams over .500 (@ HOU, @ NO).
14.   Buffalo (5-3) LW: 5 – The Bills are 2-3 in their last five games following a big divisional loss to the Jets at home. Now they have to travel to Dallas to play a Cowboys team (3-1 at home) itching to get back into the playoffs. A loss here isn’t crippling, but it certainly doesn’t help falling behind a game to either New England or New York.
15.   Dallas (4-4) LW: 20 – The Cowboys overcame a slow start against Seattle to win, 23-13. Dallas converted two of Tavaris Jackson’s three 2nd half INTs into 10 points, while the 3rd effectively ended the game. Up next, the Cowboys welcome a 5-3 Bills team looking to get back on track following a loss to the Jets.
16.   San Diego (4-4) LW: 16 – The Chargers gave the defending champion Packers all they could handle in a 45-38 shootout in rainy San Diego. If not for 2 Pick 6’s and another late INT tossed by Philip Rivers, this game might have turned out differently. As it stands, the Chargers are still in a 3 way tie for the AFC West lead at 4-4 and host Oakland this Thursday. The teams combine for a 5 game losing streak.
17.   Kansas City (4-4) LW: 15 – Not only did the Chiefs lose to previously winless Miami, they were outscored 31-0 following the Chiefs opening drive FG. The remaining road for Kansas City is quite difficult with 5 games against teams with records of 5-3 or better, and 3 division rivalries.
18.   Tampa Bay (4-4) LW: 18 – While you can’t fault Tampa Bay too much for the teams they lost to (DET, SF, CHI, NO), those are the games that they need to win to take the next step as a winning team. On deck is Houston and a trip to Lambeau Field. Tampa Bay doesn’t want to find themselves slipping further behind in an already crowded playoff race.
19.   Oakland (4-4) LW: 17 – Following a tough loss to the Tebow-led Broncos, the Raiders still hold a share of the division lead, but are facing an uphill task of continuing to adjust Carson Palmer to his new surroundings while playing without the services of Darren McFadden, for at least one more week. A win in San Diego would go a long way towards helping the Raiders playoff hopes, but a loss would drop them a game back in the division standings, with a 1-3 division record.
20.   Philadelphia (3-5) LW: 19 – The Eagles did not capitalize on the great game they played a week ago on SNF against the Cowboys, losing Monday Night to the Bears, 30-24. The Eagles are now 3 games back of the division leading Giants, and two games (plus a tiebreaker) behind Chicago for the final WC spot.
21.   Tennessee (4-4) LW: 21 – The Titans find themselves at 4-4 despite receiving very little production from their franchise running back, Chris Johnson. If ever there was a time for him to find his rhythm, it would be now, with 4 of their next 5 games coming against the very deep NFC South.
22.   Cleveland (3-5) LW: 22 – After back to back road games against division leading teams (@HOU, @ SF), the Browns return home to face the 1-win Rams. Peyton Hillis has already been ruled out for this weekend, meaning Montario Hardesty will once again be the feature back for Cleveland, this time against the Rams 32nd ranked rush defense.
23.   Minnesota (2-6) LW: 23 – The Vikings have had a week to rest and prepare for their Monday Night game in Green Bay. Minnesota played the Packers well 3 weeks ago (33-27), and this time will be looking to get over the hump and end the Packers undefeated season.
24.   Denver (3-5) LW: 28 – Don’t look now, but the Broncos are now 2-1 with Tim Tebow starting this year and are just 1 game back in the division race. Denver hosts a Kansas City team that was handled by the previously winless Miami Dolphins.
25.   Washington (3-5) LW: 24 – The Redskins have the longest losing steak in the NFL by any team not named the Colts. During his 3+ games at QB for Washington this year, John Beck has thrown for 2 TDs and 4 INTs while the running game has all but disappeared. The Redskins will try to use this week’s trip to Miami get back on track.
26.   Carolina (2-6) LW: 25 – Carolina ranks 5 in offensive yards per game, and 13th against the pass. So why the 2-6 record? Well, the answer lies in the TO differential (-3), Penalties (4th most), and defensive 3rd down conversion percent (4th worst). This week, the Panthers host Tennessee as they work on addressing the problems.
27.   Arizona (2-6) LW: 30 – Not many punt returns go 99 yards, let alone walk off punt returns in OT. That was the case in a wild game against St. Louis, in which Cardinals QB John Skelton was sacked for safeties on consecutive offensive snaps. The win ends the Cardinals 6 game losing streak. Kevin Kolb is questionable for the Philadelphia game this week, one in which he desperately wants to play.
28.   Miami (1-7) LW: 31 – Miami’s win over Kansas City now leaves the Colts as the lone winless team this year. With a struggling Redskins team coming to town, the Dolphins have a real shot a picking up their 2nd win this year.
29.   Jacksonville (2-6) LW: 27 – Jacksonville is playing solid defense and has another good running game, but rookie QB Blaine Gabbert (45.7 comp %, 62.0 QB rating) has struggled mightily so far this season. The Jaguars emerge from their bye week with a trip to division foe Indianapolis.
30.   Seattle (2-6) LW: 29 – The Seahawks have lost 3 straight since their upset win over the Giants a month ago. The road doesn’t get any easier this week, as they welcome the 6-2 AFC North leading Ravens.
31.   St. Louis (1-7) LW: 26 – The Rams had an opportunity for win #2 last week, as they held nearly every statistical advantage over the Cards, but failed to find the endzone. This week, Steven Jackson gets to face the league’s 30th ranked rush defense in Cleveland.
32.   Indianapolis (0-9) LW: 32 – And here we are, 0-9 Indianapolis has been outscored 283-128 this season. As the Colts continue to lose, the possibility for Andrew Luck and the #1 pick becomes more and more likely, which begs the question; What do the Colts do with Peyton Manning?

MVP Watch
1.       Aaron Rodgers – First QB to have 2600+ passing yards and 24 TDs after his team’s first 8 games. Leading an undefeated Packers team doesn’t hurt either.
2.       Matt Forte – Even after losing 2 fumbles on Monday Night, Forte played a big part in Chicago’s ability to move the ball against the Eagles and added 150 total yards to his league lead.
3.       Eli Manning – Sunday’s GW 4th quarter drive legitimized Eli’s MVP candidacy. While not his best game statistically, Manning did his best to lead the Bradshaw-less Giants to an upset victory over New England.
4.       Calvin Johnson – Johnson ranks 3rd in receiving yards per game, and has almost double the receiving TDs as anyone else in the NFL (11 to 6). Johnson commands a defenses attention, opening up the rest of the offense, yet still produces at a ridiculously high level.
5.       Darrelle Revis – Revis’s 4 INTs and 12 PDs alone place him among the league leaders. The fact that his INTs in Week 1 against Dallas and Week 7 against San Diego set up the Jets with opportunities for the go ahead scores. Against Buffalo, Revis played an intregal part in holding Ryan Fitzpatrick to 15-31 passing.
Coach of the Year Watch:
1.       Harbaugh, SF – Bringing back the majority of the players from their 2010 season, the 49ers have already surpassed their win total for all of last year. What’s more, is the fact that they have only played 1 game against the weak NFC West.
2.       Lewis, CIN – The Bengals are 6-2 and tied with Baltimore for the AFC North lead, by largely relying on defense and Rookie QB Andy Dalton.
3.       Gailey, BUF – The Bills have since cooled after getting off to a fast start, but they are still 5-3 and tied for the AFC East lead. This is nothing short of an incredible turnaround for a team headlined by former 7th round pick Fitzpatrick and undrafted Fred Jackson.
Offensive Rookie of the Year Watch:
1.       Andy Dalton – The Bengals rookie QB has outperformed super rookie Cam Newton with a higher completion percent, more TDs, and less INTs while leading a Cincinnati team to their 6-2 record. I’m sure I’m in the minority in this, but I value a rookie that’s playing an intregal role for a winning team than one posting incredible statistics.
2.       Cam Newton – Cam has posted impressive numbers both passing and running the football so far this season. Most people will have Cam #1 on their ballots, I’m not most people, however.
3.       A.J. Green – Green is leading all rookies in Rec (40), Rec Yards (599), and Rec TDs (5), giving him the edge over Julio Jones, DeMarco Murray, and Ben Tate.