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The CHARGED Elite: Week Thirteen

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Not a lot of movement in this week’s rankings, but the playoff contenders need to start separating themselves.

The CHARGED Elite: Week Thirteen

The NFL season has just four weeks remaining.  It's amazing how fast the football calendar flies by, but I say that every year.  The playoff races are tight in both conferences, as we discussed yesterday in "Upon Further Review."  There are a ton of teams in the 7-5 range that need to start separating themselves, and there isn't much time left to do it.  Here are how the rankings look this week in The CHARGED Elite.

1. Green Bay Packers (12-0, Last Week 1) - When you're on a roll like Green Bay is, things just go your way more often than not.  Take for instance the Greg Jennings touchdown catch.  How it was ruled that he definitively had possession and stayed in the back of the end zone before Prince Amukamara batted the ball away is beyond me.  Then to find out that Jake Ballard's non-TD should have actually been called a touchdown?  I'm not saying that a fix is in or anything, but let's just say the Colts wouldn't be getting calls like that. 

2. Baltimore Ravens (9-3, Last Week 2) - The Ravens haven't had the services of linebacker Ray Lewis since November 13th, and the likely won't get him back until December 18th against San Diego.  They really haven't needed him, though.  Baltimore is 3-0 in the games Lewis has missed this year.  I'm sure they'd like to have him back, but for now they are fine.  He can focus on getting healthy for the Playoffs.

3. New Orleans Saints (9-3, Last Week 3) - Drew Brees reached the 4,000 yard mark in the Saints win over the Lions on Sunday night.  With the performance, he moved well within range of Dan Marino's single-season passing record.  Marino threw for 5,084 yards back in 1984.  Brees is currently on pace to throw for 5,375 yards.  Brees only has to average 264 yards over the final four games to best Marino.  With the way Brees looks, this might be the year that the record finally falls.

4. New England Patriots (9-3, Last Week 5) - Rob Gronkowski is just getting silly these days.  Over his last five games, he has caught 29 passes for 433 yards and 8 scores.  That should be 30 passes for 435 yards and 9 scores, but one of his receptions was ruled a "rush" because Brady's pass was deemed a lateral.  Either way, consider this: Brady has thrown 12 touchdown passes over New England's last five games.  Eight of them have been caught by the Gronk.  He is becoming the ultimate weapon for the Patriots. 

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3, Last Week 7) - The Steelers came out and made a statement against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.  Their first meeting of the year was decided by just a touchdown.  Pittsburgh beat down the Bengals 35-7, scoring 28 of their points in the second quarter.  Pittsburgh still has work to do if it wants to avoid a wild card, but when you can win ugly and in blowouts like Pittsburgh can, you're in good shape.

6. San Francisco 49ers (10-2, Last week 4) - The 49ers had a resounding win over the woeful St. Louis Rams, but more importantly they lost Patrick Willis. I want to wait another week to see how they do without him roaming the middle.  A desperate Cardinals team comes in next week, followed by the Steelers.  Willis is expected to miss two weeks at the least, so this will be a good barometer for San Francisco.

7. Houston Texans (9-3, Last Week 6) - Houston got a great win against the Falcons and proved that they have a playoff defense, even without Mario Williams.  Guys like Brian Cushing, Connor Barwin, and Jonathan Joseph, and Jason Allen have all had terrific seasons.  If T.J. Yates can continue to limit his mistakes, the Texans can win ballgames with their strong running game and their defense. 

8. Atlanta Falcons (7-5, Last Week 9) - I'm probably crazy for moving Atlanta up after that loss to Houston, but I think they are in a better position than most of the teams below them.  The only real problem is Matt Ryan.  He followed up his best game of the season with a clunker.  But Ryan has been pressured all season long.  While he's only been sacked 22 times, he's been hit 65 times, 6th most in the league.  Ryan has been rushed and hurried, and his production has dipped as a result.

9. Dallas Cowboys (7-5, Last Week 8) - Dallas didn't do itself any favors by losing to Arizona on Sunday.  They kept the Giants alive in the NFC East.  But just like the Giants, Dallas controls its own destiny.  This week's game against New York is huge for both teams.  You know it's going to have that playoff atmosphere, and we'll see which team responds.

10. Denver Broncos (7-5, Last Week 14) - Alright Tim Tebow, you got that victory.  When he had to make throws, he made throws in Denver's 35-32 comeback victory over the Vikings.  He was 10-15 for 202 yards and two touchdowns.  The defense did come up with huge plays though.  First was Mario Haggan's pick-six, and second was Andre' Goodman's fourth quarter interception of Christian Ponder.  Things are just coming together for Denver.  

11. Cincinnati Bengals (7-5, Last Week 10) - The Bengals got manhandled by the Steelers, but they are still in decent shape when it comes to the postseason.  The secondary took another hit when Nate Clements, their number two cornerback, was inactive for the game.  Clements sat out with a hamstring injury, and if he has to miss more time, Cincinnati will have a much rockier road to the Playoffs.

12. New York Jets (7-5, Last Week 15) - Shonn Greene finally started to produce against the Redskins.  He rushed for 88 yards and three touchdowns, two of them in the fourth quarter.  With LaDainian Tomlinson's injury, it was imperative for New York to get a solid performance from Greene.  He gave them just that, and the Jets stayed alive in the Playoff race.  Now if he can only do this consistently.

13. Oakland Raiders (7-5, Last Week 11) - I don't know why I have Oakland ranked so high after getting blown out by Carolina.  I might be hypnotized by Carson Palmer's past production, or sold on Darren McFadden returning soon and solving all of their offensive woes.  Or maybe part of me wants to see Oakland succeed.  Either way, they probably shouldn't be ranked this high after their performance on Sunday.

14. Tennessee Titans (7-5, Last Week 16) - Chris Johnson's resurgence is coming at just the right part of the schedule.  Of Tennessee's final four games, three come against teams that are ranked 14th or lower in the league in total rushing defense.  The one that isn't is division rival Houston in week 17.  If Johnson can carry this momentum through to the end of the season, Tennessee has a good shot at making the Playoffs.  If he gets tripped up again, it's likely a different story.

15. Detroit Lions (7-5, Last Week 13) - Not having Jahvid Best (or even Kevin Smith) during the second half really hurt Detroit against New Orleans.  Best was such a rock out of the backfield catching passes even if the run game wasn't going.  Smith filled that same void well before his two injuries.  Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams aren't at that same level as the safety valve for Matthew Stafford.  Morris' big drop in the fourth quarter is prime evidence of that.  

16. New York Giants (6-6, Last Week 17) - Several people, including SI's Peter King, are drawing parallels between New York's loss to undefeated Green Bay and their loss to unbeaten New England back in 2007.  Even though the scores were identical, I think that's a bit of a stretch.  Those Giants already had a Playoff spot clinched.  The Playoff chances of these Giants are still very much in jeopardy.  

17. Chicago Bears (7-5, Last Week 12) - With the state of the offense in Chicago, a heavy burden is going to be placed on the defense to win games.  Right now, the Bears rank 20th in total defense, but are third in the league in takeaways with 25.  If they can keep forcing turnovers and put the offense in positions to score, the Bears just might be able to overcome their injuries.  But that's a lot to ask.

18. Miami Dolphins (4-8, Last Week 21) - Where was this level of play at the start of the season?  The Dolphins gave the Patriots a good game in week one, but then they took four or five weeks off basically.  There were a couple losses that could have gone either way thrown in there.  Conceivably, this Dolphins team that was prepared to "Suck For Luck" could be 6-6 and still in the Playoff mix.  Unfortunately, things didn't play out that way.  This team is playing like it's still in the hunt, and head coach Tony Sparano

19. Arizona Cardinals (5-7, Last Week 23) - Mathematically, the Cardinals are still in the Playoff hunt.  I just don't see it happening.  First, I don't trust Kevin Kolb.  I don't see him playing consistent football over the final four weeks.  Second, they are two games out with just four left in the wild card race.  Third, refer to first point.

20. Carolina Panthers (4-8, Last Week 22) - The Cam train keeps moving right along.  Newton broke Steve Grogan's mark of 12 QB rushing touchdowns in a season with three more scores on Sunday.  I think for health's sake, this will be the last time Newton scores this many touchdowns on the ground.  All of those hits add up.  Just ask Michael Vick.    

21. San Diego Chargers (5-7, Last Week 24) - The "DNR" tag was finally lifted from Philip Rivers.  He put up a season-high 146.1 passer rating as San Diego finally won a game, beating Jacksonville 38-14.  Don't be too quick to say that Rivers is back though.  The Jaguars were playing without their top three corners.  If you're good, you do have to beat up on the weaker teams.  The Chargers sure did that last night.

22. Seattle Seahawks (5-7, Last Week 26) - Marshawn Lynch.  Beast Mode.  He's putting the team on his back like Greg Jennings did (Warning: Strong Language).

23. Buffalo Bills (5-7, Last Week 18) - If Buffalo can take anything away from that loss, it's that C.J. Spiller can be an effective running back when given touches.  He's rushed for 138 yards on 33 carries and has scored a touchdown.  Because Jackson has been so solid, Spiller has never had this kind of workload.  If the Bills resign Jackson after this year, these two could form a nice tandem if you wanted to even out the carries.

24. Kansas City Chiefs (5-7, Last Week 28) - It was nice to see that kind of game out of Dexter McCluster.  He's had some bursts from special teams and he'll make the occasional nice play here and there, but the 105 total yards he put up rushing and receiving represented a career high.  He also added a touchdown and kept Kansas City "alive" in the AFC West and the wild card.

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-8, Last Week 19) - The Buccaneers are just a bad football team.  I don't want to call last year a fluke because that team was so young.  Maybe it was just a sophomore slump.  But to have so many young guys in key positions is like playing with fire.     

26. Philadelphia Eagles (4-8, Last Week 20) - DeSean Jackson had his worst game of the year on Thursday night in Philly's loss to Seattle.  Reporters asked him some some questions after the game.  Here's how he answered them.

<iframe width="640" height="360" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/1vQpRHlJv48" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Dream team!

27. Cleveland Browns (4-8, Last Week 27) - Cleveland lost again on Sunday.  On Monday, "How I Met Your Mother" made fun of the state of Ohio by poking fun at LeBron James.

<iframe width="640" height="360" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/EYn13gUuE2g" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

At least they didn't make fun of the Browns, right?

28. Washington Redskins (4-8, Last Week 25) - If the front office could ever make some sound decisions, the Redskins have a nice core of players.  I really like what I'm seeing out of Roy Helu and Ryan Kerrigan.  Then you have Orakpo alongside Kerrigan.  This team has pieces, but they have been so mismanaged that they haven't gotten nearly the return they should have.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-9, Last Week 29) - Maurice Jones-Drew should get some kind of award for his play this season.  All he's done is lead the NFL in rushing for a completely hopeless team.  But he's been a professional throughout.  Good for you, MJD.

30. Minnesota Vikings  (2-10, Last Week 31) - I didn't think that Minnesota stood a chance against the Broncos, but Christian Ponder proved me wrong again.  I'm always surprised at how athletic he is every time I see him drop back.  He gets himself into trouble by taking off early sometimes, but he can escape pressure well and is accurate on the move.  For such a young quarterback, those are great skills to have.

31. St. Louis Rams  (2-10, Last Week 30) - There definitely weren't any silver linings to take from their loss against the 49ers on Sunday.  Hopefully this team figures out something for next season.  They had so much promise coming into this year.

32. Indianapolis Colts (0-12, Last Week 32) - Count me as someone who didn't predict that Dan Orlovsky would statistically outplay Tom Brady on Sunday.  After that strong performance, Indianapolis has some serious decisions to make.  Do you dangle Peyton Manning for some more pieces?  Do you trade the number one pick for a bounty and build around the now-dominant Orlovsky?  It's too early to tell.

Agree?  Disagree?  Let us know what you think in the comment section, and make sure you check out next week's updated rankings of the CHARGED Elite.

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