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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sportaholic NFL Power Rankings Week 17: Holidays Edition

Tis the season for playoffs positioning in NFL. The Saints victory over Atlanta on MNF wasn’t of much importance except maybe in the mental department for New Orleans. The Saints finally looked poised and ready to make a run in the NFC, which will be wide open this year. I really think any of the teams that make the playoffs in that conference could run the table. The AFC playoffs spots are all but wrapped up with the only real drama being in the AFC South as Indianapolis and some QB you might have heard of try to make it in the for the ninth consecutive time.

However, this will go down as one of the most interesting year in recent memory as far as surprise teams and the highly unlikely. Who pegged Chicago with Jay “The Rifleman” Cutler as the NFC North champs outside of the windy city? Who would have thought that Michael Vick would be doing his best Steve Young impersonation and take the spot of Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb? Didn’t everyone think Washington would be a little more competitive? We’re not going to even talk about Tennessee’s yo-yo season and acquiring Randy Moss just to have him play decoy in an already boring offense. Brett Favre whole career and life’s work culminated this season (I think better yet I know he wishes he stayed down Mississippi), the NFC West is a complete joke as it stands with Sam Bradford being the best QB already. Peyton Manning looked like Joey Harrington for a stretch but returned to his sheriff duties here lately. The most consistent team this year has been New England of course with the hoodie roaming the sidelines and Brady handling the QB spot with such precision. These guys know how to win games no matter the situation, circumstances, or forces of nature that come against them. All of this in one season as the lockout looms over the league like a storm cloud ready to let loose its fury onto the fans like you and me.

Uncertainty should the name of the game in the NFL this year but enough already with the small talk, time to get down to business and rank the top 5.

1. New England Patriots – Can’t really earn anything from beating the Bills. That’s like beating up your kid brother. If you lose everyone calls you out for losing to your little brother and if you win no one cares because you should be able to beat your little brother up. The Pats close out the season with reeling Miami (losing to the Lions? Come on Dolphins) so don’t look for leading Pro Bowl vote recipient and contending MVP candidate Tom Brady to play long. The Pats already have the top seed in the AFC locked up.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-4) – The Steel city men did exactly what they needed to do against an inferior opponent in Carolina; they won the game and escaped with no major injuries. Troy Polamalu is expected to be at practice this week which is a good sign. All Pittsburgh has to do to lock up the number 2 seed and a first round bye is beat the Browns. All signs point to a win in that game.

3. Chicago Bears (11-4) – I have been waiting all year for the implosion of Jay Cutler. It looked as if it was finally was taking place at Solider field this Sunday when Cutler threw a pick six in the second quarter. Cutler quickly rebounded though in the third with 3 touchdown passes and when they get Matt Forte involved the way they did (113 yards on 19 carries and 4 receptions for 56 yards) they are a tough out for anyone. Big showdown with Green Bay this Sunday. I love the way Lovie Smith is approaching the game with his arch rival as he said he intends to play his starters. Green Bay needs the win to get into the playoffs so this should make for a very entertaining game. Tune in folks.

4. New Orleans Saints (11-4) – The Saints made notice that they are still the defending Super Bowl champs as they took down the Falcons. Drew Brees didn’t have his best game as he threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter including a pick six, but was bailed out by his defense this time. The opportunistic defense that was so valuable to their run to the Super Bowl last year caused Atl to fumble twice and that was the Falcons first turnovers in their last seven games. What this win does is more in the psychological than anything else as this was a potential playoff match-up in the making. The Falcons showed they are vulnerable and can be beat and the Saints showed their championship resiliency. So much for smack talking tweets huh Roddy White? He finished with 3 catches for 46 yards and a touchdown. The mojo must have been put on him.

5. Philadelphia Eagles (10-5) This was a hard decision to place them this high as I could have went with Atl, Baltimore, Green Bay or even the Jets. I know I will get a lot of slack for putting them this high after that dismal performance last night, but I wouldn’t put much into that game. For one, the scheduling fiasco probably took off any edge they had going into this game playing in a half empty Lincoln Financial stadium on a Tuesday. For two, they haven’t seen much game film of Joe Webb (although that isn’t saying much) and for three, Leslie Frazier is a former Def backs coach for them so he knew their offensive scheme. Even with that being said though, the Eagles should have displayed a better offensive game plan. They couldn’t stop a simple cornerback blitz either as Antoine Winfield was basically in the backfield all game and that came back to doom Philly as he stripped sacked Vick and returned it for a score. They also need to show at least a threat of a run game to take some of the pressure off of Vick. However, even with such a bad loss, the Eagles are still the most exciting team in the league. In the NFC I would take them over all of the contenders including the Saints, Falcons, Bears and Packers and that’s why I have them in this slot. As long as they can protect Vick (which they didn’t do last night) they can beat anybody with that offense.

Other News and Notables:

Another week, another coach gets the ax: This time it was Mike Singletary of San Francisco and this was probably long overdue (Why do I find myself saying this about every coach that gets fired?). Singletary is the embodiment of a great player and bad coach. He has the passion for the game but not the management nor patience for it in the coaching sense. He played yo-yo with his QBs all season long as he flipped from one Smith to another in Troy and Alex Smith. He showed terrible clock management in games as he burned all three of timeouts in one quarter of a game earlier this year. He even got into a heated exchange with a local sports personality on the radio. When you add up all those incidents and the 5-10 record then it was finally time to take him out his own misery. The last straw had to be the ugly argument he had in plain view with Troy Smith. Coaches and QBs shouldn’t be arguing and almost coming to blows on the sidelines. He makes the fourth coach this year that has been shown the door and most definitely won’t be the last. The reported hot seat of coaches include: Gary Kubiak, Jeff Fisher, Tom Couglin, John Fox, Marvin Lewis, Eric Mangini, and Tony Sparano. Look for a lot of movement this off-season in the coaching ranks.

MVP Countdown:

1. Tom Brady – Brady all but wrapped up the honors last night after his only real competitor Michael Vick faltered against the Vikings. Brady has been nothing short of Spectacular this year as he has now thrown 319 straight passes without an interception (Breaking Bernie Kosar’s NFL record) as everyone knows by now. Brady was near perfect in New England’s biggest games this year. Against the likes of Pittsburgh, New York Jets (twice), Baltimore, Indianapolis, Chicago and Green Bay Brady was an astonishing 140/215 in completions, threw for 1748 yards with 14 touchdowns to 2 interceptions and stupefying QB rating of 113.8. If you take away the first Jets game the QB rating jumps to 122.4. Talk about rising to the level of your opponents.

2. Michael Vick – Vick’s performance last night was mediocre at best. The Vikings blitzed, blitzed, and blitzed some more. The Giants used this same tactic against Vick and it worked for three quarters until Vick remembered how fast he was and began burning the Giants with his scrambles. That is what makes him so dangerous. He can read and scope your defense in the passing game and when that break down he can burn you with his 4.3 speed. I do look for more teams to follow the blitzing model that the Vikes did last night. It seemed to slow him down and he was noticeably limping after the game. His offensive line HAS to do a better job of protecting him. Tom Brady has been more consistent but no one turns away from the T.V. when Vick is playing. What a remarkable turnaround. I always said if this guy could combine his athleticism with a good pocket passing game he would revolutionize the position and he is now doing it.

3. Matt Ryan – Ryan had a real chance at making some noise Monday night against the Saints but didn’t show much on the national stage. He still is having a sensational year for a guy who only in his 3rd year but if you want to win an MVP, you have to show up when the lights are brightest. He has solid numbers throwing for 3,469 yards 26 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions. Good enough to be in the discussion but not good enough to win the race.

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