Each week, we compare all 32 NFL teams using our Football Relativity tool. We’ll indicate as we go which teams are moving up and down from the Week 11 comparison.
10 – Atlanta Falcons (UP A LEVEL), Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers – We covered the Falcons’ upward flight in Rise/Sink/Float this week. We’ll learn a lot more about the other four teams on this level this weekend, as the Jets face the Patriots and the Steelers face the Ravens in key division battles. We discussed the Patriots and Jets in our Thanksgiving thoughts, so we’ll let those insights stand. The Steelers dodged a bullet in Buffalo, winning 19-16 in overtime against one of the grittier teams in the league. Steve Johnson drop or not, that was still a nice victory to get. The Ravens got another nice victory, beating the upstart Buccaneers 17-10 in a game that shows their defense still has teeth. Thankfully, both of the 10-level games are in prime time so that we can all be witnesses.
9 – Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles – We didn’t move either the Eagles or Packers down after road losses against conference foes this week. The Packers fell in Atlanta 20-17, but that wasn’t a sign of trouble. Neither was the Eagles’ 31-26 loss at Chicago, even though Michael Vick went from immortal to merely superhuman against the Bears’ speedy 4-3 defense. The Bears could well be the worst matchup Vick could face defensively in the NFC playoffs.
8 – Chicago Bears (UP A LEVEL), New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, San Diego Chargers (UP A LEVEL) – We discussed the comeback wins by the Saints in Thanksgiving leftovers and of the Giants in our Sunday game thoughts. The Chargers put an incredible whipping on the Colts on Sunday night, returning two interceptions for touchdowns and consistently marching the ball up and down the field offensively. San Diego looks primed to make its typical December charge, and even though they remain a game behind the Chiefs, the Chargers are a big-time AFC threat. The Bears have a terrific defense, and that plus Devin Hester returning kicks is a winning combination as long as the offense holds onto the ball. Jay Cutler, Mike Martz and company have done that in recent weeks, which is a big reason that the Bears are charging forward to 8-3. And this week, Cutler made the plays to total four touchdowns against the Eagles (without an interception), leading Chicago to a 31-26 victory over the Eagles. The Bears are real threats to hold off the Packers in the NFC North.
7 – Indianapolis Colts (DOWN A LEVEL), Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The Colts fall for the second week in a row after a devastating Sunday night loss against their nemesis San Diego. The Colts will fail to win 12 games this year for the first time in eight seasons. We predicted that things might start falling apart for the Colts last year, and it looks like we might just have been a year too soon. (Of course, we went on to pick the Colts to win the Super Bowl this year, so we get to be wrong twice – hooray.) The Chiefs and Buccaneers are kind of mirror images of each other. Both are young teams on the come who fall just a bit below elite teams but remain solidly in playoff contention. Both teams are certainly headed in the right direction, and it looks like the future is now.
6 – Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, St. Louis Rams (UP A LEVEL) – We talked about the Jaguars in this week’s game thoughts. The Dolphins rebounded from last week’s debacle against the Bears with a 33-17 road win against the Raiders, and Chad Henne reestablished himself as not just the best future QB option for the team but a solid present-day option now. Sam Bradford of the Rams led St. Louis to a 36-33 win in Denver, and getting a road win is the next step in the progression of a growing team. With trips to Arizona and Seattle and a home game against the 49ers pending on the schedule, the Rams hold the keys to the NFC West in their hands. Our money’s on them to get the job done.
5 – Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders (DOWN A LEVEL), Tennessee Titans (DOWN A LEVEL), Washington Redskins – We covered the Titans’ decline in Rise/Sink/Float. The Raiders blew a golden opportunity against the Dolphins, losing a home game that looks costly in the AFC West race. The Texans took advantage of their opportunity, beating the Titans and rookie QB Rusty Smith 20-0. That doesn’t mean all of Houston’s problems are solved, but perhaps that lucky scheduling can lead to a win streak. The Redskins lost a home game 17-13 to the Redskins and remain a mediocre team that plays close every week but rarely gets over the hump.
4 – Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers (UP A LEVEL), Seattle Seahawks (DOWN A LEVEL) – We discussed the Cowboys in our Thanksgiving leftovers. The Browns got another win against the Panthers, going up big early and then holding on late for a 24-23 decision. Peyton Hillis is a huge asset for the Browns as they seek to build a solid team. The 49ers controlled the Cardinals en route to a 27-6 Monday night win, but RB Frank Gore suffered a season-ending hip injury. Still, getting that kind of solid effort was a nice sign for the 49ers, who have been better over the last month or so. The Seahawks’ home-field advantage didn’t get them a win against the Chiefs, and the loss puts Seattle in worse position in the NFC West.
3 – Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings – We discussed the Vikings in Rise/Sink/Float. The Bills lost a heartbreaking 19-16 overtime game against the Steelers, in part due to Steve Johnson’s crucial end zone drop. The Joker has had a terrific year, and he wore the hat (to use the expression) and took blame for the loss after the game, which is a good sign. But at some point, Buffalo needs to break through in a close game, because losing – even in overtime for the third time – is contagious. The Broncos fell behind big early at home against the Rams and couldn’t come back. Their passing game is solid, but the defense is so bad it limits what the Broncos can do.
2 – Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions – We discussed the Bengals and Lions in Thanksgiving leftovers. The Cardinals looked awful against the 49ers, and while bad QB play has a lot to do with it, the rest of the team is pretty sorry too.
1 – Carolina Panthers – Carolina showed signs of life in Cleveland and would have gotten a road win had John Kasay made the field goal as time expired. That’s a plus sign, and the fact that Jimmy Clausen got in position for that field goal is a plus as well. Carolina’s light at the end of the tunnel is if youngsters like Clausen, Brandon LaFell, and David Gettis start to develop with the opportunity to play over the final quarter of the season.