Ahead of last Sunday’s great slate of games, I mentioned that coming out on the losing end could potentially put an end to postseason aspirations for the Buccaneers, Packers, Lions, Chiefs, Bills and Jets and other teams with high hopes, while a win could potentially save their season.
Five of those six teams came up with the all-important win, as the Bucs managed to right the ship with a 38-10 beatdown of the Chiefs and Aaron Rodgers and the Packers fired on all cylinders in their 42-24 win over the Texans. Gang Green also beat the Colts to smithereens (35-9), while both the Lions (26-23 at the Eagles) and the Bills (19-16 at the Cardinals) both found ways to win on the road in OT.
The intensity looks to increase by leaps and bounds across the NFL in Week 7, as 10 teams face a must-win situation. While a loss would hurt any of the 26 teams that don’t have a bye this week, we’re going to focus our attention on the teams that would most likely see their playoff aspirations vanish with a loss this weekend.
1. Carolina Panthers (1-4): Cracking the postseason seems highly improbable at this point for the Panthers.
Carolina has lost four of its first five games and faces a rather difficult remaining schedule. What has caused this slow start in Charlotte? A combination of terrible tackling, not enough help from the skill players on offense and a potential sophomore slump from second-year signal-caller Cam Newton.
The Panthers’ bye week probably couldn’t have come at a better time, but things were made much worse last Wednesday when it was announced that their star center Ryan Kalil, who had promised the fan base a Super Bowl win before the season, will be out for the rest of the year.
With that said, there’s still time to turn things around, but Cam & co. have to find a way to win on Sunday, or their postseason aspirations will be officially toast in 2012.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3): The injured, reeling Steelers head to Paul Brown Stadium to battle the Bengals on SNF.
The losing team here is in trouble, especially if it’s the Steelers, since they already have lost to the likes of Denver (31-19), Oakland (34-31) and Tennessee (26-23) all on the road. With their remaining schedule after Sunday night (vs. WSH, at NYG, vs. KC, vs. BAL, at CLE, at BAL, vs. SD, at DAL, vs. CIN, vs. CLE), the Steel Curtain needs to come up with the win to return to the thick of things in the AFC. If Pittsburgh comes away empty-handed at Cincy, it could be time to press the panic button.
3. Minnesota Vikings (4-2): Are the Vikings the real deal? Only time will tell in my book. Let’s review the first six weeks.
They’ve beaten the Jaguars (26-23), 49ers (24-13) and Titans (30-7) all at home and came up with the win at the Lions (20-13) as well, but lost on the road against the Colts (23-20) and the Redskins (38-26).
Are any of these teams above average, except San Francisco? Right now, I’d say no, but the Redskins and Lions rank right beside the Vikes in my latest rankings entering Week 7 (see at the end of the article).
We’ll know much more about this team after its next three games (vs. Arizona, vs. Tampa Bay and at Seattle).
Only half a game behind the Bears (4-1), a win would lead to even more confidence for Christian Ponder and company and keep them in an ideal position as the race stands right now in the NFC to secure a Wildcard spot, if they don’t win the NFC North altogether. It’s only the third week of October, but it’s never too early to look into the future.
4. Arizona Cardinals (4-2): Four weeks into the regular season, we were all raving about Arizona. The Cardz had topped the Seahawks (20-16), Patriots (20-18), Eagles (27-6) and Dolphins (24-21).
Over the last two weeks, the team has been beaten by the Rams (17-3) and lost in overtime to the Bills (19-16) at home, which ended the team’s eight-game winning streak at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Before their Week 10 bye, the Cardinals face the Niners at home followed by the Packers on the road after Sunday’s showdown vs. the Vikings. After their bye week, the Cardinals face the Falcons at Atlanta, followed by St. Louis at home and a date with Gang Green across the country at MetLife Stadium.
Their final four tests are at the Seahawks, vs. the Lions, vs. the Bears and at the 49ers.
A win would place Arizona back on track and in a tie for the division lead with San Francisco. Coming away on the losing end could place the Cardinals on the path towards a hole too deep to climb out of with their schedule, the razor-thin NFC West race and the close competition in the entire conference.
5. Indianapolis Colts (2-3): I would say the Colts got their butts kicked, but they got their asses kicked by the New York Jets. That’s of course a reference to a recent statement made by Jets coach Rex Ryan in a post-game press-conference.
The Colts will only face one team currently with a winning record the rest of the year (the Texans twice), but it’s highly likely that Indy will see a difficult battle for four quarters in the majority of its remaining contests.
That’s not to say that the team won’t finish with a winning record or crack the playoffs in the AFC — which for some reason is a far less competitive conference than the NFC — but Andrew Luck and company will have to bounce back in Sunday’s showdown against the Browns.
It was clear as day that rookie QB Brandon Weeden and the Browns were on the cusp of their first win last weekend, and it finally happened against the Bengals 34-24 on Weeden’s 29th birthday.
The team’s first five losses came at the hands of the Eagles, Bengals, Bills, Ravens and Giants by just 39 points combined, so it’s safe to say the Colts will be given a tough challenge here. However, I like their odds to get it done.
6. Dallas Cowboys (2-3): As expected, the first five weeks of the season have been chock-full of as much accomplishment as disappointment in Dallas. The team started the season with an impressive 24-17 road win over the defending Super Bowl champions. That was followed with a 27-7 beatdown at the hands of the ‘Hawks.
The Cowboys bounced back with a 16-10 victory over the Bucs before getting roughed up in a 34-18 loss to the Bears. After their bye week, Romo and co. came up just short (31-29) on the road against the Ravens.
A win would get the ‘Boys back to .500 and right in contention in the crowded NFC East division. Dallas has a rather daunting schedule ahead and another letdown here could lead to the team being on the outside looking in yet again in January.
7. Tennessee Titans (2-4): The Titans appear to be a different team at home and on the road. Tennessee is 2-1 at LP Field, with thrilling wins against the Lions and Steelers by three points each after getting pummeled by the Patriots 34-13 in the opener. However, the team has been outscored by the Chargers, Texans and Vikings by 75 points combined in its three road tests.
There are signs that the Titans could put an end to their road woes when they battle the Bills this weekend, nevertheless. Tennessee’s offensive line actually looked really solid against the Steelers last Thursday night and the team has had an extra few days to prepare for it’s next test at Buffalo.
8. Buffalo Bills (3-3): The Bills have suffered their fair share of brutal beatings as well. Sandwitched in between their 24-14 win over the Browns and last week’s impressive 19-16 win against Arizona in OT (both games were won on the road), the Bills were pummeled by the Patriots 52-28 at home and were used as a piñata in their 45-3 loss at San Francisco.
The Bills also lost at the Jets 48-28 in Week 1 before beating up on the Chiefs 35-17.
This team was projected to finish 10-6 in my predictions before the start of the season. Winning seven of their next 10 contests isn’t too likely to happen, but Buffalo doesn’t face too tough of a remaining schedule.
After this week’s clash with the Titans, followed by a bye week, the Bills will battle the Texans (road), Patriots (road), Dolphins (home), Colts (road), Jaguars (home), Rams (home), Seahawks (home), Dolphins (road) and Jets (home).
A win before the bye week would be big for the Bills, even if it is against a team that’s ranked dead last in the league in rushing offense and points allowed. In fact, if the club does come up with the win, Buffalo will be on pace with my season projections.
9. New Orleans Saints (1-4): Can the Saints save their season and somehow re-enter the postseason discussion?
They’ll not only need to beat the Buccaneers on Sunday, but the team will have to follow it up with wins at Denver and against Philadelphia before Week 10′s clash with Atlanta in the Superdome.
New Orleans would then likely need to win at least six of its final eight games (vs. ATL, at OAK, vs. SF, at ATL, at NYG, vs. TB, at DAL, vs. CAR). To answer the question, yes Drew Brees and company can rise back to relevance and beyond, but the defense will need to be at least somewhat decent.
The Saints rank dead last in the league in total defense (456.0 YPG), 31st vs. the run (172.8 YPG) and 30th in points allowed (30.8 YPG). It all starts this Sunday of course and Jonathan Vilma should add a spark on the Saints’ D. Each of the team’s first five games have been decided by eight points or less, so look for more of the same in a must-win game against Tampa Bay.
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3): Each of the Buccaneers’ first four games were decided by seven points or less, so Sunday’s showdown at home against the Saints should be fun to watch, to say the least.
Tampa Bay has been beat badly through the air this year, giving up 312.2 yards per game (second-to-last in the league).
After crushing the Chiefs 38-10, the Bucs look to continue to right the ship with a win over Bress and the Saints, who lead the league in passing (326.8 YPG) on offense. While their next five contests are very manageable — the Saints, Vikings, Raiders, Chargers and Panthers have a combined record of 10-17 — don’t expect this team to have a shot at postseason play with a loss this Sunday.
Week 7 NFL Power Rankings
1. Atlanta Falcons (6-0; +1)
2. Baltimore Ravens (5-1; +2)
3. New York Giants (4-2; +5)
4. Green Bay Packers (3-3; +11)
5. Houston Texans (5-1; -4)
6. San Francisco 49ers (4-2; -3)
7. Chicago Bears (4-1; +2)
8. Arizona Cardinals (4-2; -3)
9. Seattle Seahawks (4-2; +7)
10. New England Patriots (3-3; -4)
11. Philadelphia Eagles (3-3; -4)
12. Denver Broncos (3-3; -2)
13. New York Jets (3-3; +11)
14. San Diego Chargers (3-3; -2)
15. Miami Dolphins (3-3; +3)
16. St. Louis Rams (3-3; -3)
17. Dallas Cowboys (3-3; –)
18. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3; -7)
19. Cincinnati Bengals (3-3; –)
20. Washington Redskins (3-3; –)
21. Minnesota Vikings (4-2; -7)
22. Detroit Lions (2-3; -1)
23. Buffalo Bills (3-3; +3)
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3; -1)
25. Indianapolis Colts (2-3; -2)
26. Carolina Panthers (1-4; -1)
27. Tennessee Titans (2-4; +2)
28. New Orleans Saints (1-4; –)
29. Oakland Raiders (1-4; +2)
30. Kansas City Chiefs (1-5; -3)
31. Cleveland Browns (1-5; +1)
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4; -2)
Team records and movement from last week’s rankings are in parenthesis.