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Football Relativity Week 13

Each week, we compare all 32 NFL teams using our Football Relativity comparison. On the comparison, the 10 level is reserved for the best teams, and the 1 level for the worst. We’ll note throughout where teams have moved up or down from last week.

QB Drew Brees and the Saints beat the Lions on Sunday night, via hitfix.com

10 – Green Bay Packers – The Packers overcame perhaps their greatest hurdle to an undefeated regular season with a 38-35 win in New York against the Giants. The fact that the Pack won a close game is a great sign. Now the question is whether they will keep their foot on the gas or put it on cruise control heading into the playoffs. Next up is a visit from the Raiders.

9 – Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans (UP A LEVEL), New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers – We covered the Texans in Rise/Sink/Float. This level is crowded, but all of these teams can make an argument that they are the biggest threats to the Packers. In the AFC, The Ravens took care of business in Cleveland and have a chance to continue to move toward the No. 1 AFC seed with a home game vs. the Colts. The Steelers host the Browns on Thursday night after blasting the Bengals at home. The Patriots cruised against Indy and should do the same this week in Washington against the Redskins. The Texans face a tough trip to Cincinnati this week. In the NFC, the Saints beat the Lions on Sunday night but face a tough trip to Tennessee this week. The 49ers, meanwhile, got back on track by blanking the Rams and have a chance to move toward a playoff bye with a trip to a surging Cardinals team.

8 – Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets (UP A LEVEL) – The Falcons lost in Houston, which isn’t a bad result. But they must rebound in Carolina this week to stay a step above the other NFC wild-card competitors. The Jets pulled off a win in Washington to move to 7-5, and they seem to be starting to build a little momentum as they traditionally have in December under Rex Ryan. Next up is a home game against a battered Chiefs team that is still fighting hard.

7 – Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos (UP A LEVEL), Detroit Lions, New York Giants, Tennessee Titans (UP A LEVEL) – We discussed why the Cowboys stay in place in Rise/Sink/Float. The Lions stay in place because, while they are self-destructing, they are still very dangerous in terms of playoff contention. But there’s no question this week’s home game against the Vikings is a must-win. The Giants fell to 6-6 but showed well against the Packers. They must beat the Cowboys in JerryWorld this week to stay in the NFC East race. The Titans and Broncos both move up after moving to 7-5. The Broncos control their own destiny in the AFC West, but they have to keep winning against the banged-up Bears this week. The Titans face a harder road to the playoffs, but they have been taking care of business lately. A win over the Saints this week will be a tough task, but it’s essential to their playoff hopes.

6 – Chicago Bears (DOWN A LEVEL), Cincinnati Bengals (DOWN A LEVEL), Oakland Raiders (DOWN A LEVEL) – The teams on this level have fallen out of being serious playoff contenders in our view. We discussed why the Raiders are falling in Rise/Sink/Float. The Bears lost RB Matt Forte, and backup QB Caleb Hanie laid an egg against Kansas City. Now a road game to Mile High to face the surging Broncos looks like a recipe for disaster. The Bengals showed yet again that they aren’t ready to compete against the Ravens and Steelers. That makes us believe a home game against the Texans will be another loss.

5 – Miami Dolphins (UP A LEVEL), San Diego Chargers – The Chargers righted the ship in Jacksonville on Monday night. Now a home game against the Buffalo provides another change to keep flagging AFC West hopes alive. The Dolphins won again, and while their record doesn’t show it, they’re playing quite well. That could lead to another win against the Eagles this week.

4 – Arizona Cardinals (UP A LEVEL), Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles (DOWN A LEVEL), Seattle Seahawks – The Eagles laid an egg in Seattle and now must go to face a solid Dolphins team. Things have completely fallen apart for the dream team. The Seahawks and the Cardinals (who beat the Cowboys in overtime) both moved to 5-7. That’s not going to get either team in the playoffs, but it is a sign that they are starting to grow. Seattle should get another win against the Rams on Monday night; the Cardinals have a chance to upset the 49ers in Glendale. The Bills lost another close one and now must go across the country to face the Bills.

3 – Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (DOWN A LEVEL), Washington Redskins – We discussed the Panthers and Buccaneers in detail in this game post. The Browns lost to the Ravens and continue to struggle offensively. The Jaguars played well for a half against the Chargers but then fell apart. The Chiefs got a win in Chicago, which is a strong statement about the character of the team. The Vikings lost a close game to the Broncos, while the Redskins couldn’t hold off the Jets.

2 – St. Louis Rams – The Rams were blanked in San Francisco and now must show off their pitiful offense (and third-string quarterback) on Monday night in Seattle.

1 – Indianapolis Colts – The Colts lost to the Patriots in a game that wasn’t as close as the seven-point final margin. Now they visit the Ravens in what figures to be loss 13.

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Football Relativity Week 12

Each week, we compare all 32 NFL teams using our Football Relativity comparison. On the comparison, the 10 level is reserved for the best teams, and the 1 level for the worst. We’ll note throughout where teams have moved up or down from last week.

Patriots QB Tom Brady and WR Wes Welker celebrate a big win vs. the Eagles, via huffingtonpost.com

10 – Green Bay Packers – The Packers moved to 11-0 with a win in Detroit on Thanskgiving Day. This week’s trip to the Giants is another upset alert, but Green Bay continues to prove it is the most consistently great team in the league.

9 – Baltimore Ravens (UP A LEVEL), New England Patriots (UP A LEVEL), New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers – We covered the implications of the Ravens’ big win over the 49ers in Rise/Sink/Float and the Saints’ win over the Giants in a post coming later Tuesday. We didn’t dock the 49ers for losing across the country on a short week, but we’d like to see them take care of business easily at home against the Rams this week. The Patriots whipped the Eagles in Philadelphia and seem to have recovered from their early November swoon. The Steelers won ugly in Kansas City, but they will need a better effort at home against the Bengals this week.

8 – Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans – We covered the Texans’ QB quandary in this post and in Rise/Sink/Float. They host the Falcons this week, which is no bargain, because the Falcons are building momentum. Atlanta jumped out to a big lead against the Vikings and held on for another win to stay in the NFC playoff hunt.

7 – Chicago Bears (DOWN A LEVEL), Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders (UP A LEVEL) – We covered the Jets’ win over the Bills in this post and the Giants’ loss to the Saints in a post coming later today. The Bears lost in Oakland, and while that’s not a bad loss, the Caleb Hanie experience didn’t get off to a good start. Hanie and company can get well against the Chiefs this week. The Raiders travel to Miami this week, and they need a win to stay ahead of the Broncos in the AFC West. The Bengals broke a two-game losing streak against the Browns, but they still need to prove they can play with the big boys. This week’s home game against the Steelers is a chance to do that. The Cowboys overcame a slow start to beat the Dolphins on Thanksgiving, and with the Giants loss they now have a one-game NFC East lead. They will try to build on that lead in Arizona this week.

6 – Denver Broncos (UP A LEVEL), Tennessee Titans (UP A LEVEL) – The Broncos and Titans both moved to 6-5. The Broncos won in San Diego, and their defense continues to play at an elite level. They need to keep their hot streak going in Minnesota this week. The Titans beat the Buccaneers at home to stay in the playoff hunt. They are two games behind the Texans, but given Houston’s quarterback situation, that’s not an insurmountable lead. Tennessee needs a win in Buffalo this week to keep up the pressure.

5 – Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers (DOWN A LEVEL) – We covered the Chargers’ collapse in Rise/Sink/Float. The Eagles were blasted at home by the Patriots to fall to 4-7. We leave these teams above the ones below not because of results but because their talent level means they remain dangerous.

4 – Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (DOWN A LEVEL) – We discussed the Bills in detail in this game post. The Dolphins lost in Dallas but again played well. Miami is going to spoil some playoff pushes, perhaps beginning with Oakland’s this week. The Buccaneers lost in Tennessee and cannot seem to win a close game. They finally get a bit of a schedule reprieve by hosting the Panthers this week.

3 – Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers (UP A LEVEL), Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks (DOWN A LEVEL), Washington Redskins (UP A LEVEL) – The Redskins beat the Seahawks in Seattle 23-17. Washington has had more offensive punch since Rex Grossman returned to the lineup at quarterback. The loss showed that the Seahawks, while they have played well at times, still have a long way to go. The Jaguars played well defensively against the Texans, but their offense is epically bad. The Chiefs played the Steelers close on Sunday night, and now that Kyle Orton is in town, their offense should get at least a little better. The Vikings played the Falcons close on the road but fell to 2-9. The Browns lost a lead against the Bengals, and while it was a game effort, it was another loss. The Cardinals beat the Rams and the Panthers beat the Colts, but while the wins are nice, they were both against inferior competition.

2 – St. Louis Rams – The Rams played the Cardinals close but ultimately lost. While they have two wins, the Rams are playing as poorly as any team in the league.

1 – Indianapolis Colts – The Colts had a chance at home against the Panthers but lost again. A trip to New England this week should lead to a 12th loss on the season.

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Football Relativity Week 11

Each week, we compare all 32 NFL teams using our Football Relativity comparison. On the comparison, the 10 level is reserved for the best teams, and the 1 level for the worst. We’ll note throughout where teams have moved up or down from last week.

RB Ray Rice and the Ravens beat the Bengals, via guardian.co.uk

10 – Green Bay Packers – The Packers had a fight on their hands against Tampa Bay but prevailed with a 35-26 win. They’ll likely face another test on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit. But Green Bay has played in this game in 2007 and 2009, so it won’t be completely new to them. It’ll definitely be an appetizing matchup.

9 – New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers – The Saints and Steelers were on bye. Pittsburgh tries to keep the pedal to the metal in Kansas City this week, while the Saints host the Giants on Monday night. The 49ers took care of business against the Cardinals and now prep for the Thanksgiving night Harbaugh bowl in Baltimore.

8 – Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, Houston Texans, New England Patriots – The Falcons held off the Titans and should face an easier time at home against the Vikings this week. The Ravens beat the Bengals in a key AFC North battle, but they face a harder challenge when San Francisco visits Thursday night. The Bears, who beat the Chargers, and the Texans try to adjust to life without their starting quarterbacks this week. It will be tough to stay in the playoff hunt with Caleb Hanie and Matt Leinart, respectively. The Patriots whipped the undermanned Chiefs, but this week’s trip to Philadelphia is a sterner test.

7 – Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions New York Giants (DOWN A LEVEL), New York Jets – We covered the Giants’ decline and the Lions’ relevance in Rise/Sink/Float. The Bengals lost another tough AFC North game in Baltimore but have a shot to rebound against the Browns this week. The Cowboys won in Washington, and even though it wasn’t pretty, it keeps them in the NFC East race. They face the Dolphins in their traditional Thanksgiving Day home game. The Jets lost in Denver and need to rebound at home against the reeling Bills this week.

6 – Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers – The Chargers fell in Chicago, and while that isn’t a terrible loss, they are unquestionably falling apart. They must rebound this week against the Broncos, or else the AFC West will slip away. The Raiders won in Minnesota and now host the Bears this week. A win would be a statement for them as they continue to seek to move up the charts in the NFL.

5 – Denver Broncos (UP A LEVEL), Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans – We covered the Broncos’ ascent in Rise/Sink/Float. They suddenly face a key AFC West game in San Diego this week. The Eagles got off the schneid at the Giants, showing they are still a threat to win either week. They have a chance to get back in the playoff host with a home game against the Patriots this week. The Buccaneers, who have faced the NFL’s toughest schedule, lost in Green Bay. Now they visit Tennessee in a game that’s tough but necessary for them if they want to make the playoffs. The Titans come into that game off a loss in Atlanta.

4 – Buffalo Bills (DOWN A LEVEL), Miami Dolphins (UP A LEVEL), Seattle Seahawks – The Bills are falling apart, and a trip to the Jets this week is not a recipe for a rebound. The Seahawks got another win at St. Louis and should add to that total at home against Washington this week. Seattle has a solid defense, but the offense still struggles. The Dolphins have found some answers and gotten some wins. Now they travel to Dallas to show off their improvement on Thanksgiving Day.

3 – Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns (UP A LEVEL), Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings – The Browns got a win over the Jaguars, while the rest of this group lost. But these teams have had some highs and are still competitive most weeks, which is a tribute given their lack of success.

2 – Carolina Panthers, St. Louis Rams (DOWN A LEVEL), Washington Redskins – The Panthers blew a big lead in Detroit, but they could get a win in Indy this week. The Rams and Redskins have completely fallen apart, and it’s hard to see them getting wins at this point.

1 – Indianapolis Colts – The Colts were on bye. They have a chance at a win this week against the Panthers and still stay in pole position for the No. 1 pick.

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NFC Conference Championship Thoughts

B.J. Raji celebrates his interception for a TD

We’ll look back at the two conference championship games individually. First up, the rivalry game in the NFC, in which the Green Bay Packers advanced to the Super Bowl with a 21-14 victory over the Chicago Bears.

*Aaron Rodgers wasn’t the superhuman that he had been in the first two playoff games, but he did enough to get the job done for the Packers. He threw two interceptions (detailed below), and while he didn’t throw a TD pass, he did throw for 244 yards and run for 39 yards and a score. And now Rodgers is a Super Bowl quarterback, with the chance to rightly join the game’s elite with a win in two weeks.
*Obviously, the big headline from this game from the Bears’ perspective is the Jay Cutler knee injury. He had to leave the game early in the third quarter due to an injury that he didn’t remember, and the Bears soon had to turn to third-stringer Caleb Hanie after Todd Collins reminded everyone he was not only old but ineffective. It’s not a good performance by Cutler, who was just 6-for-14 for 80 yards, including an interception late in the second quarter that cost the Bears a scoring chance. The fact that Cutler left the game will obviously be the cause of much consternation from Bears fans, but the fact that Cutler didn’t have his helmet after being pulled may indicate it wasn’t his decision. Regardless, it wasn’t a franchise quarterback performance from a QB for whom the Bears paid a premium.
*Hanie played well in relief of Cutler and Collins, leading the Bears’ first scoring drive thanks to a beautiful 32-yard pass to Johnny Knox that set up Chester Taylor’s one-yard TD run. He also threw a great pass to Earl Bennett that turned into a 35-yard touchdown. Hanie finished the game with 153 yards passing, and definitely provided a spark. But Hanie also threw a Cutler-esque interception to B.J. Raji, a nose tackle who had dropped into coverage on a zone blitz. Raji took the ball 18 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-7, and that touchdown proved to be the difference. And Hanie’s fourth-down interception to Sam Shields cemented the game for the Packers.
*The Packers got off to a quick start with three 20-yard-plus passing plays, all to the same spot on the field. Rodgers picked on the seam in the zone behind the undersized Tim Jennings and in front of safety Chris Harris, who was playing despite a hip injury suffered last week. Those three plays – two to Greg Jennings and one to Jordy Nelson – set up Rodgers’ one-yard TD run for the game’s first score. The Packers exploited that spot at least three more times for big gains throughout the game. It was clear early on that they wanted to test Harris to see just how soft that spot in the zone would be.
*The Packers have stars on defense like Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson, but it was the lesser known guys that really starred in this game. Cullen Jenkins produced a ton of pressure, especially early, notching half a sack and two tackles for loss. Nickelback Shields had a sack and forced fumble on Cutler to stop one drive in the second quarter, and then he picked off Cutler to stop the Bears’ last drive before the half and picked off Hanie to salt away the game in the final minute. And Desmond Bishop was also a nice factor for the defense with eight tackles, including a key tackle for loss on the next-to-last Bears snap of the game. Those performances show just how deep the Pack is.
*For the Bears, the defensive star was no surprise – Brian Urlacher. Urlacher piled up stats in several categories – a sack, a tackle for loss, and an interception near the goal line to stop a Green Bay scoring pass – and seemed to be the guy stepping up to make big plays over and over again. Julius Peppers didn’t fill up the stat sheet nearly as much, notching just two tackles, but he provided pretty consistent pressure and drew a holding penalty that was as good as a sack. However, Peppers also got a 15-yard personal foul for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Rodgers.
*James Starks had a good game for the Packers, but the best running back on the field was Matt Forte. Forte thrived throughout the game, despite Chicago’s QB problems. Starks ran for 74 yards and a touchdown, while Forte ran for 70 yards and had 90 receiving yards on 10 catches.
*The Bears’ lone glimmer of hope in the first half came on a fluky play, when Donald Driver bobbled a low pass, and then Lance Briggs caught the carom off Driver’s foot for an interception. The play, which was reminiscent of how Seattle’s Mike Williams caught his second touchdown against Chicago’s Charles Tillman in the divisional round, gave Chicago a chance at a two-minute drive, but Cutler threw an interception to quell that rally. Still, the deflection was Rodgers’ first interception this postseason.
*It’s hard to imagine a team having a better fourth receiver than Nelson, who had eight catches for 79 yards and a touchdown against Atlanta and followed it up with another big day against the Bears with four catches for 67 yards against the Bears. Rodgers has a lot of trust in Nelson, even though he’s down the depth chart from Jennings, Driver, and James Jones.

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