Naveenan Thanendra takes a look at who's hot and who's not as the NFL regular season comes to a close.
So most of the season is now in the books and the playoff picture is much clearer now. With one game now remaining, here is how I rank the teams in the league irrespective of their playoff standpoint:
Crème’ de la Crème:
1) Denver Broncos
Entering into this season there was a cloud of uncertainty about whether Peyton Manning could still be an elite QB following 4 neck surgeries. Question no more, led by Manning and Von Miller this team has become the best team in the NFL.
2) New England Patriots
On their day they are probably the most potent offense in the NFL With the additional balance of a good running game if the Pats can find their groove it will be very difficult to stop them.
3) Atlanta Falcons
All season long the Falcons were racking wins in a mixed fashion but last weekend they put in a statement performance against the Giants. Don’t sleep on this team but they have been exposed at times during the course of this season.
4) Houston Texans
In a similar way to the Falcons the Texans have had their ups and downs all while collecting wins for fun. However, the blueprint to stop the Texans is clear, stifle the running game and the passing game will suffer. They are also yet to show their ability to come back from behind if they find themselves in this situation.
5) Green Bay Packers
Underestimate the Packers at your peril. They started the year slowly but have been gaining momentum on the back of Aaron Rodgers’ elite play. With the defences improving play, the Packers are certainly peaking at the right time.
6) San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers were having a highly successful season under the stewardship of Alex Smith until Jim Harbaugh made a very unusual decision; change the man under centre in a winning team. While the results haven’t been perfect there has certainly been evidence as to why Colin Kapaernick is seen as the one that can lead this team going forward.
7) Baltimore Ravens
Injuries have hit this team hard this season and as a result their play has been considerably inconsistent. Their notoriously tough defence has been anything but due to the absences of Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis. However, they have found a way to get to the playoffs and with Lewis returning just in time for them, there is no saying what this team could be capable of.
8) Indianapolis Colts
The Colts have gone from the worst team in the NFL to a team heading to the playoffs all while Coach Pagano had to battle Leukaemia. The transformation of these Colts is largely down to the play of Andrew Luck and Coach Arians. Luck has smashed the rookie passing record in a year, which for me he should win rookie of the year. Similarly, Coach Arians fresh off the back of his ‘retirement’ from the Steelers has shown incredible ability as a head coach under the most trying of circumstances. I can’t see anyone close to competing with him for coach of the year.
9) Washington Redskins
In terms of 2012 draft boards, none have performed quite as well as the Redskins’ picks have. RGIII has been just as good as everyone expected, if not better. However, it is Alfred Morris that has really added more of an all round threat to the Redskins offense. They deserve to win the NFC East and will clinch it if they can beat the Cowboys on Sunday night.
10) Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks have impressed the whole league with just how good they have been, especially at home. Russell Wilson is 1 TD shy of Peyton Manning’s rookie record, but it is the defence that has been fierce. Their cornerbacks have established themselves in the best in the league and with the way they have overpowered teams in the last three games it would be foolish to rule this team out of a deep playoff run.
11) Dallas Cowboys
The defence is reeling from so many injuries that they were even working out pass rushers ahead of the final game of the regular season. However, they have found a way to win with the likes of Romo and Dez Bryant standing out. However, more than injuries their biggest handicap is the coaching which has been more than suspect on several occasions this season.
12) Cincinnati Bengals
It’s been a while since Ohio has enjoyed a team going to the playoffs in back to back seasons, however the Bengals have been more than worthy of their spot. Marvin Lewis has utilised a top defence to help propel his offense. However, the combination of Dalton and AJ Green is quickly becoming one of the best QR-WR duos in the league.
13) Minnesota Vikings
There is nothing else that needs to be said about this team except for Adrian Peterson. He should be made co-MVP with Manning as both of them have been incredible coming back from injuries that many expected to limit their play. Peterson is well on his way to exceeding 2000 rushing yards and possibly the single season rushing record. He has been so good that his yards per attempt exceed that of the team’s passing game.
14) Chicago Bears
This team looked to be a certainty for the playoffs early on but have fallen away horrendously. Lovie Smith is most certainly on the hot seat.
15) New York Giants
For a team that has become famous for being clutch in December this team has choked in a similar fashion to the Bears. The lack of a real running game has hurt this team most of all and are now relying on a string of events for them to sneak into the playoffs (provided they beat the Eagles).
16) Pittsburgh Steelers
Were in the running for the playoffs up until last week but were never really a threat to go very far this season. Roethlisberger and Todd Haley look like they really haven’t clicked as coach and qb as shown by the teams play. However, their struggles to protect the football has been totally unacceptable and is one of the major factors why the Steelers have given up so many points this year.
17) New Orleans Saints
The defence has been near to non-existent this season but with the news of Sean Payton signing a contract extension the Saints can look forward to bouncing back next year. This team have not been half as good without him.
18) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Greg Schiano has tried to instill a play tough till the end but the Buccaneers have evidently shut up shop for the year. Some flickers of great play this season, they must build on that through the draft next year. The muscle hamster Doug Martin has been a revelation for them.
19) St. Louis Rams
Coach Fisher has made this team a lot tougher but they are a team in transition.S-Jax looks to be leaving the Rams at the end of the year and with that they can find a new image for themselves as he has held this franchise on his shoulders during his time there. Steven Jackson will have several suitors in the offseason, that’s for sure. Both parties will look to have better seasons next year.
20) Cleveland Browns
This team isn’t the pitiful Browns of years gone by. Trent Richardson has been the shining star but even Brandon Weeden has had his moments. If this team can add some weapons to their wide receiving core they could finally be a legitimate threat in their division. The new owner and gm will help reshape this team.
21) Detroit Lions
Another poor season goes by for the Lions but they do have something to cheer for. Calvin Johnson has defeated the Madden Curse and has beaten Jerry Rice’s single season record and could even become the first player to have 2000 receiving yards. Expect the Lions last game of the season to be filled with Calvin Johnson targets while he deals with triple coverage.
22) New York Jets
Mark Sanchez has been abysmal which hasn’t been helped by their lack of wide receivers. The defence has also struggled in the absence of Darrell Revis. The whole thing has been compounded with their reluctance to give Tebow a go and the inevitable media circus that surrounds that. Their record does not reveal how bad a season this has been for the Jets.
23) Buffalo Bills
CJ Spiller had an electric start to the season but as the year went on the coaching failed to utilise him appropriately. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been slipping since his contract extension and as such the Bills may need a new quarterback going forward.
24) Miami Dolphins
It hasn’t been the Dolphins best season by any stretch of the imagination, but Reggie Bush, Ryan Tannehill, Jake Long and Mike Pouncey have shown that the Dolphins have some key assets to build around. They are in decent need of a WR1.
Those that have come along to make up the numbers
25) Tennessee Titans
It still baffles me that this team has as many wins as it does. Chris Johnson has shown some ability of breaking through to the 2nd level and taking it to the house but he is still a long way from his best. Aside from him though, this team leaves a lot to be desired. They will need an inspired off-season if they have any hopes of making the playoffs next year.
26) Carolina Panthers
So the Panthers took a step back from last season with a lot of their players believing some of the hype from the back end of last year. The coaching hasn’t helped but someone needs to give Cam Newton a bit of guidance to make sure he performs to the best of his ability.
27) San Diego Chargers
A poor season will undoubtedly mean the Chargers finally say goodbye to AJ Smith and Norv Turner. They have let go of too many assets and have finally gone one step too far. This franchise needs a clean out and rebuild asap.
28) Philadelphia Eagles
To an extent I feel sorry for Andy Reid. He brought in Howard Mudd given his reputation as a hall of fame o-line coach and moved Juan Castillo from their to defensive co-ordinator. Instantly the O-line became porous and the defence lost its bite. It has also meant that their qb play has taken a dive as they are pretty much running for their lives on every play. You only have to see the number of fumbles and INT’s they have conceded for the evidence of this. Having said that, ball security must be worked on, especially for Vick who will probably be traded in the offseason.
29) Arizona Cardinals
Terrifying defence, hilariously bad offense. QB desperately needed and even after that I plead to them ‘Free Larry Fitzgerald.’ His hall of fame talent is being wasted at this franchise.
30) Oakland Raiders
Run DMC (Darren McFadden) has had a year to forget but this team has significantly more issues than just that. The trade for Carson Palmer hasn’t worked and Terrell Pryor/Matt Leinart haven’t been able to fill in. It will take some time for this franchise to put in place the necessary pieces to compete, but patience should be shown with the GM and head coach to give them a chance to show what they can do.
31) Jacksonville Jaguars
The moment MJD went down injured the Jags’ season was over. There is nothing about this team that has appeal and the acquisition of Tim Tebow could be what this franchise needs to revive itself. Football purists will say that Tebow isn’t an NFL standard QB, but the fact of the matter is he wins games and the Jags struggle to do so. They should also do everything they can to resign MJD as he is essential for them to succeed.
32) Kansas City Chiefs
Easily the worst team in the league this season. Romeo Crennel has done a horrible job given the amount of talent on this roster. However, it is as clear an example as any that you cannot survive in this league without a decent qb under centre. That will have to be their focus in this year’s draft, despite them not drafting a qb that has won a game for them since the 80’s.
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