Here is our Football Relativity comparison after Week 16. We’ve noted where we have moved teams up or down from the Week 15 comparison.
10 – Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers (UP A LEVEL) – The Colts surrendered against the Jets, and we’re not going to hold it against them. While it makes for a good sports-radio topic (especially for master of the obvious Erik Kuselias), the bottom line is that if Peyton Manning gets hurt, the Colts are sunk. I picked the Colts to win 9 games or less this year, and that’s because aside from Manning the Colts really don’t have special talent. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a quarterback worth five or six wins to his team, but Manning is. He is why the Colts are 8-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less, and he must be protected. This team is not the 2007 Patriots – it’s a flawed team with an all-time great at quarterback. Big difference. And we might see just how big that difference is in the playoffs against San Diego, which has a ton of momentum and great history against the Colts. If Philip Rivers wins the Super Bowl, he may well become the next Brett Favre – a rough-and-tumble quarterback who can still fling the ball around. It would be fun to see Rivers as a megastar – and that might be coming.
9 – New Orleans Saints (DOWN A LEVEL), Philadelphia Eagles (UP A LEVEL) – The Saints are slipping, and Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay is a sign of trouble. This is a team that is designed to play and win shootouts, and if they only score 17 points in a playoff game, they’ll be sunk. The bad news is that the NFC is full of teams like the Eagles (and Cowboys and Packers and Vikings too) that should be able to keep up with the Saints into the fourth quarter. At least the Saints finally clinched home-field advantage. Philly continues to move forward at a great pace, and whether they beat Dallas this week or not they’re a true contender. Give the Eagles credit for finally giving Donovan McNabb terrific targets in youngsters DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Brent Celek. They give the Eagles a scary factor the offense hasn’t had since T.O.’s cameo.
8 – Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys (UP A LEVEL), Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots (UP A LEVEL) – The Cardinals whipped the lowly Rams, and they appear primed for the playoffs. This week’s game against the Packers might turn into a preseason-ish affair because the two teams could meet in the wild-card round. Green Bay continues to emerge, as their defense grows around rookies Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, and Brad Jones. The Patriots played their best game in a while in pasting the Jaguars, and if they play that way in the playoffs they’ll be a tough out. However, they have more issues than the Chargers or even the Colts do. Dallas beat Washington to clinch a playoff spot and put to rest the rumors of their December collapses, at least for this year. Now they must attack the fact that they haven’t won a playoff game since the mid-1990s.
7 – Cincinnati Bengals, Minnesota Vikings (DOWN A LEVEL) – The Bengals got an ugly but effective win over the Chiefs to lock up the AFC North. The Bengals will have to control the clock to win in the playoffs, but with Cedric Benson running so well they at least have a chance of that. The Vikings, meanwhile, lost their third game out of four, and lost for the second straight week to a team outside of the playoffs. And I’m not convinced that the Vikings are a prime-time team. Of their 11 wins, only three were solid victories against playoff teams (twice against Green Bay and against Cincinnati). They needed a missed field goal to beat Baltimore and a Favre miracle to beat San Francisco, and their other wins were against Detroit twice, Seattle, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Chicago. That’s a soft schedule that may have made the Vikes look better than they actually are. I don’t like where they are right now at all. Could their best hope be a wild-card round game against a Packers team they know they can beat?
6 – Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, New York Giants (DOWN A LEVEL), New York Jets (UP A LEVEL), Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers nipped the Ravens 23-20, but the way the game went made it look as though the Ravens might be the better team. Baltimore has the chance to make the playoffs if they can win in Oakland this week, and while that’s no gimme it is within their control. The Steelers, meanwhile, are fourth in line among 8-7 teams and therefore need help in two places to sneak in. Houston got a big win in Miami to stay in contention, but the Texans still need a ton of help to get in the playoffs. Still, a home win against the Patriots would give Houston its first winning season, and that’s something. (That win would also likely save Gary Kubiak’s job.) The Broncos lost in a valiant effort in Philadelphia, and now they’re on the outside of the playoffs looking in. They must win at home against Kansas City, which seems easy until you remember the Oakland game a few weeks ago. The Jets got a gift from the Colts’ day of rest, and they may get another against the Bengals this week. A win and the Jets are in. The Giants, meanwhile, capped a disappointing season by getting blasted 41-9 by the Panthers and being eliminated in the process. That was an ugly end to what has been a problematic season for Big Blue, and changes are undoubtedly in the offing.
5 – Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars (DOWN A LEVEL), Miami Dolphins (DOWN A LEVEL), San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans (DOWN A LEVEL) – The Dolphins and Titans had chances to stay in the playoff race, but both lost home games to solid teams to end their hopes. Both are solid teams, but slow starts doomed them. The same is true for the Panthers, who have pulled off two straight upsets and seem to be building momentum for 2010. They’ve done enough to save John Fox’s job (if he wants to stay as a lame duck). Atlanta rebounded from a losing streak spurred by Matt Ryan’s injury to win its second straight game, and they’re another solid team. One more win would give Atlanta consecutive winning seasons for the first time in franchise history, and that’s something to play for this week at Tampa. The Jaguars lost their playoff hopes in New England, and they’re going to settle toward being the seven- or eight-win team their talent indicates. Few teams have had more highs and lows than the Jaguars, who are the kings of unexpected results. San Francisco got its seventh win against Detroit, and the Niners should move to 8-8 in St. Louis this week. Given where that roster is, that would be a pretty solid result for the season. With a little more talent, Mike Singletary’s team will be in the playoff discussion.
4 – Chicago Bears (UP A LEVEL) – The Bears finally got a big-time performance out of Jay Cutler, and that helped them to a Monday-night win over the Vikings. That game feels more like a late-season feel-good win than a true building block for the Bears, but maybe it’s the start of something for Cutler. With the Lions on deck in the finale, the Bears could get to 7-9 and make this season look less depressing than it actually was.
3 – Buffalo Bills (DOWN A LEVEL), Cleveland Browns (UP A LEVEL), Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (UP A LEVEL), Washington Redskins (DOWN A LEVEL) – The Browns and Buccaneers both won their second straight games, and the fact that they’re playing hard at this point is a plus. Neither team is that talented, but maybe they can build on this. The Raiders lost to the Browns, and with Charlie Frye you wouldn’t expect them to knock off the Ravens this week, but strange things happen in the Black Hole. The Seahawks and the Redskins, meanwhile, have packed things in to the point that it’s hard to imagine them pulling off wins in the season finale, while the Bills don’t have much hope with Brian Brohm at quarterback. At least they’ll see on the field if Brohm has potential to be in the mix in 2010.
2 – Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs – Now that Matthew Stafford is done for the season, the Lions look as though they’ll have to settle for two wins. But they’re a better team than last year because of the talent infusion that rookies Stafford, Brandon Pettigrew, and Louis Delmas have provided. All three of those picks were wins, and that could be the start of something. The Chiefs played tough in Cincinnati, but in the end their talent deficit showed once again. They need in 2010 the kind of draft Detroit had this year.
1 – St. Louis Rams – The Rams got blasted in Arizona and are all but on the clock. Getting a quarterback is a priority, because Marc Bulger is too brittle and not all that great when healthy. But it’ll be hard for the Rams or any other team to pass on celebrated DT Ndomukong Suh.