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Monday, December 20, 2010

Sportaholic NFL Power Rankings Week 16

What a week of football we just witnessed. From the Al Michaels “He did what ?!?”department, Desean Jackson stunned the Giants after a furious come back by the Eagles, the most dominant team I’ve seen this year, the Pats struggled with the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers, and the demise of the New York Jets have been greatly exaggerated as they outlasted Big Ben and Pittsburgh. Peyton is Manning and he looks to be out of the mini slump as lead his team past the Jags to take the AFC lead, and the Saints weren’t marching on the Ravens

This was one of the best slates of year as far as match-ups and playoff implications. Most teams still have something to play for as all but three teams have clinched a playoff berth (Atlanta, New England, and Pittsburgh). The season has only two weeks left (That’s such a horrible thought to think about) and this should be as fun of an end of the season that has been seen in awhile.

Now to the rankings:

1. New England (12-2) – The Pats won but looked surprisingly vulnerable against Matt Flynn of Green Bay. Flynn was able to find open receivers when he wasn’t pressured and put it to the Pats defense. Green Bay was also able to find rushing room with Brandon Jackson as he finished with 22 carries and 99 yards. Who knew the best play of the game would come from lineman Dan Connolly as he took a kick-off return for a 71-yard “scamper”. The big man showed some agility and had a good looking stiff-arm but gets an F for ball security with his loaf of bread carry. The Pats young defense has to keep its edge if they want to continue their winning. Bill Belicheck can’t be pleased with their performance but I know he will take win. Tom Brady wasn’t on fire this game but had decent numbers as he passed for 2 touchdowns and no interceptions, extending his streak 292 straight passes without an interception, good for the third-longest ever run in NFL history.

2. Atlanta Falcons (12-2) – The most un-sexy of elite teams has to be Falcons. As I always state in this column, these guys just know how to win. Matt “Matty Ice” Ryan was his usual consistent self going 20/35 for 174 yards and 3 touchdowns. The thing I like most about this team is there offensive balance. Michael “Burner” Turner had 82 yards on 25 carries. “Rowdy” Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez provide Ryan with security blankets in the passing game. On the side of caution though for Atlanta has finished the season with a relatively soft schedule. These type of top heavy teams tend to flame out early in the playoffs (see 2008 Miami Dolphins) They have a showdown New Orleans next week and could prove a lot to me if they can take it to the Saints in the Georgia Dome.

3. Philadelphia Eagles (10-4) – There may be better teams in the league than Philly, but the Eagles are the most dynamic and exciting team in all the NFL. After looking dead in the water all game long, the Eagles ran off the last 28 points of the game. Michael Vick reverted back to his Atlanta days as he reeled off 130 yards as the Giants pressured in the backfield most of the game. The Giants did what ever they wanted in the first half. Eli Manning just went all big brother on us in the first half as he threw 4 touchdowns. Even with Manning’s heroics in the first half though, you could feel the momentum shift in the second half as Vick begin to break lose on some big runs and also made some big plays with his arm. Vick brought the Eagles back and put Jackson in position for the “Miracle in the Meadowlands” as they are calling it. How many guys do you know who can fumble the ball and then recover it, then just absolutely burn everyone on the field and take it to the house? Not many. This was one of those games where you could just see this happening before your eyes and still didn’t believe what you had seen. I know the punter Matt Dodge of the Giants panicked after the high snap but why did he kick it straight to Jackson? You have to avoid an explosive threat like Jackson at all cost. What a great finish and a great game.

4. Baltimore Ravens (10-4) - I been saying for the last 3 or 4 weeks that if the Ravens just get Ray Rice the ball more then their offense would be more potent and he proved my point against the Saints. The Ravens were at their best last year when Rice was running and catching passes out the backfield. He returned to those duties this game as he was able to carve up the Saints to the tune of 153 yards on the ground and caught five passes for 80 yards going for 2 touchdowns. Joe Flacco was just 10/20 for 172 yards but those 20 attempts should be right around the amount of passes you want him to throw a game. I’m still not in love with their defense as well. They have blown eight-fourth quarter leads coming into this game but were able to put the clamps on against a very potent New Orleans offense. The Ravens should be able to hold on to the wild card spot as they go on the Buckeye state championship facing Cleveland and Cincinnati for their last two games.

5. New York Jets (10-4) - The five spot was a toss up this week between a few 10-4 teams (Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and Baltimore) but because of the Jets hard fought victory (and because they didn’t trip anyone) I’ll go with gang green. Their game against Pittsburgh was the man game of the week as both teams hitting in full force. New York needed this game after losing it previous two and their offense looking anemic. Good teams go through slumps just like the bad ones. When you are in a funk the only thing you can do is find ways to win and that’s what the Jets did. Their offense is still a piece of work as they scored for the first time in 12 quarters of football on a Mark Sanchez bootleg play. Brad Smith’s explosive kick return helped out the cause on the opening kick-off and the Jets D was just enough to keep Big Ben on ice. This win obviously meant a lot to Rex Ryan as he was visibly emotional after the game. The Jets just like the Ravens are in good position for a wild card berth.

Other News and Notes:

Tim Tebow gets his first start: Let Tebow nation stand for a round of applause. The rookie finally got a chance with McDaniels finally not around to hold the youngster back. Or maybe the Broncos just realized they are 3-11 and not going anywhere so may as well as throw Tebow in there and see what all the fuss is about. Interim coach Eric Studesville turned him lose and Tebow responded with a decent game. His 40-yard burst for a touchdown was reminiscent of his Florida days. As for his passing, that’s another whole story. He finished 8/16 for 138 yards a touchdown and no interceptions. He showed why maybe McD was hesitant to throw in the fire as well with a few bad decisions on throws and some very reckless abandon for his body. Hopefully the kid keeps getting an opportunity because he an exciting player to watch who can only get better.

Rex impressive in his debut: Speaking of QBs, how about Rex Grossman throwing 4 touchdown passes in place of Donovan McNabb? Grossman must have really practiced on improving because he looked like a legitimate number 1 quarterback. I can’t believe how far McNabb has fallen in just one year. First the Eagles give up on him and now the Redskins are burying him behind the likes of Grossman and John Beck (who?). Let the McNabb speculation begin now as potential teams like Arizona and Minnesota should be in line next to see what they can coax out of the former pro bowl QB.

Detroit finally ends their epic road loss streak: They had to win on the road again one day didn’t they? After a 26-game losing, Detroit was able to hand Tampa Bay a 23-20 defeat and end the longest road losing streak in NFL history. Its good to see former Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz get his first road win as well. And they did it with their 3rd string QB in after Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill were both out for this game. The football gods finally shined their light on this futile franchise.

MNF Match-up: Minnesota vs. Chicago – So they found a place to play after all of the drama and modifications to the Metrodome. The game will be held at the University of Minnesota in an outside stadium. This will be the first time the Vikings have played a home outdoors game since 1981. And with Joe Webb filling in for Brett Favre and Tavaris Jackson, I don’t think they will be getting their first win since then. The Bears come into the game off an spanking from Tom Brady and the Pats and probably are none too pleased with their last effort. Webb will struggle as Chicago will undoubtedly bring pressure from all directions on him. Look for Peppers Urlacher and the Bears defense to be the difference in this one. The Pick: Bears 28 Vikings 21

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