Here is our Football Relativity comparison after Week 15. We’ve noted where we have moved teams up or down from the Week 14 comparison.
10 – Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints – The Colts, who had already clinched home-field throughout the playoffs, still went to the mat against the Jaguars and came out with a fun 35-31 shootout win. The Colts may pull back on the reins (ah, puns) starting this week at home against the Jets, but if they don’t the undefeated dream should live on. The Saints lost the bagel in their loss column by falling to the Cowboys at home. But that’s not a critical loss for a team that has pulled out its share of miracles this year. New Orleans still will want a bounce-back win this week, and a home tilt against Tampa Bay should do just the trick.
9 – San Diego Chargers – The Chargers extended their winning streak to seven with a last-second 27-24 win over Cincinnati, and with the win should be safe with a first-round playoff bye. They’ve already clinched the AFC West. That’s a good thing, because their Christmas-night trip to Tennessee is no bargain. But even in a loss that game won’t mitigate how dangerous the Chargers are to win the whole enchilada.
8 – Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings (DOWN A LEVEL), Philadelphia Eagles – The Cardinals held off a game Lions team to win on the road and clinch the NFC West. While the Cardinals haven’t been consistent, they’ve proven to be dangerous. Arizona probably can’t move up to a first-round bye, but even a Matt Leinart cameo shouldn’t hurt at home against the Rams this week. Green Bay lost a heartbreaker in Pittsburgh, and that ended the Pack’s six-game winning streak. But despite that loss, Green Bay is in position for a wild-card berth, and they’re playing a level which should scare other clubs. Philly won at home against San Francisco to hold the lead in the NFC East. But with Dallas on its tail, Philly must keep its foot on the pedal against Denver this week. The Vikings, meanwhile, have some holes in their hull right now, and it makes me wonder whether their gaudy record is due to true level of play or a schedule that has been pretty easy most of the season. Their 26-7 loss to Carolina featured an offensive line that looked big and slow, another subpar performance from Adrian Peterson, and surprising vulnerability to the running game on defense. Some of those trends are alarming, and right now that means we can’t include the Vikings with the Saints, Colts, and Chargers as the A-list of the NFL right now.
7 – Cincinnati Bengals (DOWN A LEVEL), Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots (DOWN A LEVEL), New York Giants (UP A LEVEL) – With the separation between levels 8 and 6, we moved some teams down because they are teams that are good without the capability of being great. Thus Cincinnati, which lost in San Diego 27-24, and New England, which beat Buffalo 17-10, move down. Both the Bengals and Patriots are quality teams, but they have shortcomings that do not bode well for postseason success. The Bengals don’t have a potent enough passing game to knock off high-powered offensive teams like Indianapolis or San Diego. The Patriots can keep up offensively, but their defense is too porous against those opponents to give their teams a chance. New England can keep its hold on the AFC East with a home win against Jacksonville next week, while Cincinnati finally gets a break from a brutal schedule with a home game against the Chiefs that could help them finally salt away the AFC North. The Cowboys, who won a huge game in New Orleans, are similarly flawed. Their offensive line is getting old, and the result is that a running game that was dynamic in past years is now pedestrian. It’s hard to see Dallas moving past the divisional playoff round, but they should be able to beat Washington next week to wrap up a playoff berth. The Giants broke out of their struggles, at least for a night, with a Monday-night massacre of the Redskins 45-12. The Giants still need some help to climb over the Eagles or Cowboys for a playoff berth, but if they play this way and get to 10-6 they should have a chance. This week’s home game against the Panthers should be a step in that direction.
6 – Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos (DOWN A LEVEL), Houston Texans (UP A LEVEL), Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers (UP A LEVEL), Tennessee Titans – The Ravens thumped the Bears to move to 8-6 and get in prime position for an AFC wild card. But that prime position will go away if they can’t win in Pittsburgh this week. After winning a shootout against the Packers, the Steelers got back to 7-7, and so the game against Baltimore is their shot to stay in the playoff race. Denver is 8-6, but the home loss to the Raiders could be devastating, especially with a trip to Philly on the docket this week. The Texans took advantage of the soft schedule for the second straight week, and now Houston is 7-7. But the road gets harder for them this week in Miami against a Dolphins team that lost a heartbreaker in Tennessee. That’s a playoff elimination game. Tennessee, meanwhile, has won seven of eight but won’t have a shot at the playoffs without beating a red-hot Chargers team on Christmas night. At least that must-win game is in Nashville. Jacksonville gave up its upper hand on a playoff berth by losing at home to the Colts. Now the Jaguars head to New England hoping to jump back into the race with an upset win.
5 – Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers (UP A LEVEL), New York Jets (DOWN A LEVEL), San Francisco 49ers – The Falcons, who were eliminated from playoff contention, beat the Jets in an ugly 10-7 win. But the way Matt Ryan led a game-winning drive shows that he is the kind of quarterback who can help a team win. The Jets, meanwhile, blew a golden opportunity in the playoff race, and they now find themselves in the scrum at 7-7. Truth be told, they’re probably the worst team in that bunch, given how inconsistent Mark Sanchez’s play has been. San Francisco played tough in Philadelphia, but their lack of overall talent showed. San Francisco should get another win this week against Detroit, and they’re headed in the right direction. Carolina showed its overall toughness and talent with a Sunday-night shellacking of the Vikings. If not for abysmal quarterback play in several games, Carolina would at least be in wild-card consideration.
4 – Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins (DOWN A LEVEL) – The Bills are game, and interim head coach Perry Fewell has continued Dick Jauron’s tradition of getting the most out of a so-so roster. But bad quarterback play continues to doom Buffalo to mediocrity. Sunday’s 17-10 loss was a microcosm of what the Bills are at this point. The Redskins laid an egg against the Giants, and at this point you have to wonder whether such a 4-10 team will revert to just playing out the string. Maybe a chance to spoil the Cowboys’ playoff run will be motivation this week, but even a rivalry didn’t inspire the Redskins to do their best this week vs. the Giants.
3 – Chicago Bears (DOWN A LEVEL), Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks (DOWN A LEVEL) – The Bears have five wins, but they are so uncompetitive against good or even decent teams at this point that we have no choice but to relegate them down the comparison. The worst thing about Chicago’s blowout 31-7 loss in Baltimore was that it was completely expected. The Raiders pulled off the upset in Denver, making another game effort. That effort isn’t consistent, but it reveals that the Raiders aren’t a completely lost cause. Seattle may be that kind of lost cause at this point after an embarassing 24-7 home loss to Tampa Bay. Seattle hasn’t been good this year, but they have been at least OK at home until this one.
2 – Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (UP A LEVEL) – The Browns continued their tradition of having shootouts with fellow bad teams with a 41-34 victory in Kansas City. With the Raiders coming up this week, maybe another shootout is in the offing. The Chiefs, meanwhile, can’t seem to play well in all three phases in the same game. Tampa Bay broke through with a road win in Seattle, once again showing that Josh Freeman has potential in the future. He’s still raw, but you can see why the Bucs used a first-rounder on him. The Lions played the Cardinals tough, but in the end lost to a more talented team. There’s no shame in that, and the fact that they’re playing hard is a sign that Jim Schwartz is doing a solid job as head coach.
1 – St. Louis Rams – The Rams continue to play hard, as they did in Sunday’s 16-13 loss to the Texans, but they’re simply not talented enough to get any wins. At least now they’ll get the infusion of talent that Nebraska DT Ndomukong Suh is.