Wayne Larrivee's Week 14 NFL Power Poll: Packers rising as NFL hits stretch drive

Wayne Larrivee's blog

We have come to the stretch drive in the NFL this season. The cream has risen to the top.

Ten teams have outstanding records of 8-4 or better: the Vikings, Patriots, Eagles, Steelers, Saints, Panthers, Rams, Seahawks, Jaguars and Titans. 
Fourteen teams are in the 7-5 to 5-7 range at this stage of the season.

Eight teams have won four games or fewer.
So in a nutshell, 31.25% of the league is good while almost 70% is poor to mediocre!

You have to understand, there isn’t as big a gap in the ability level of the teams in this league as you might think.

The difference in the talent of the 0-12 Cleveland Browns and the 10-2 Philadelphia Eagles is not as gaping as the record might suggest.  There is an even smaller talent gap between the Browns and the Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers.    

Salary cap, free agency, the draft and the plague of injuries that has befallen this league has finally brought us a form of “Pete’s Parity.” Former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle had a vision that on “any given Sunday” one team could beat another.  That’s what we have in the NFL today. 

The Packers are trying to make another late season “run the table to the playoffs” drive, but while they have the same record as they did last year at this time, their road to the post season is much more difficult.

Not having quarterback Aaron Rodgers for another week is problematic, but the biggest problem are all the teams ahead of them. 

The division leaders are Minnesota, Philadelphia, the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans. If the playoffs started today (and they don’t), the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks would both 8-4 hold the Wild Card tickets.

On the outside looking in are the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons at 7-5, the Detroit Lions, Packers and Cowboys all 6-6.
The Packers currently hold tie-breakers over the Seahawks and Cowboys, but lose tiebreakers to the Falcons and Lions. (Green Bay would tie the Lions for the head-to-head tiebreaker if they beat Detroit in Week 17.) The Packers can gain a tie-breaker advantage over the Panthers if they win in two weeks in Charlotte.

Suffice to say, Green Bay faces a must-win situation on the shores of Lake Erie against the NFL’s only winless team this weekend to keep hope alive.  Even then they need help from the outside in order to extend their postseason streak to nine games.

Games to watch this weekend: 

No surprise but there are three NFC games, an interconference matchup and just one AFC contest worth investing three hours of your life in front of a tube that probably causes cancer in laboratory rats (they just haven’t told us yet).
I’m sure they are holding that story for “sweeps week.”

I would risk my health watching (games Sunday unless noted):
- Saints at Falcons (Thursday night)
- Vikings at Carolina
- Seahawks at Jaguars
- Eagles at Rams
- Ravens at Steelers

Photo: Getty Images

Here is my week 13 NFL Power Rankings.  

1) Minnesota Vikings (10-2). Heck of a win at Atlanta - very impressive! I hate to say this, but these guys are really good! Today the Vikings have the best defense in the NF,L but most surprising has been the play of their offensive line and quarterback!

2) Pittsburgh Steelers (10-2). Won another come from behind victory on a last second field goal emerging from Cincinnati battered, bruised but victorious.

3) New England Patriots (10-2). Strength of schedule deficiency (they play in the AFC Least) would have them on the outside of the College Football Playoff looking in.

4) Philadelphia Eagles (10-2). A Sunday night loss in Seattle is nothing to be ashamed of; a lot of good teams travel to Seattle and lose. But now the Vikings hold the top seed while the Rams and Saints are still in play.

5) Los Angeles Rams (9-3). Went to the desert and pulled out a win over the Cardinals.

6) New Orleans Saints (9-3). An excellent division win over the Panthers to take over the NFC South lead.

Photo: Getty Images

7) Seattle Seahawks (8-4). Great win Sunday night against the top-ranked Eagles. There is still some juice left in that defense, and Russell Wilson is playing at an MVP level!

8) Carolina Panthers (8-4). Couldn’t handle the Saints in ‘Nawlins.

9) Atlanta Falcons (7-5). Lost again at home in their new dome. Did they blow up the wrong building? A must-win situation coming up Thursday night in that same building against division leader New Orleans.

10) Tennessee Titans (8-4). Got by the struggling Texans to maintain their share of the AFC South penthouse. 

11) Jacksonville Jaguars (8-4). They maintain their share of the AFC South lead with a victory over the lowly Colts.

12) Baltimore Ravens (7-5). The Ravens are getting fat on NFC North opposition. They blanked the Packers at Lambeau 23-0 three weeks ago, and hammered the Lions on Sunday 44-20.

13) Detroit Lions (6-6). Blown away at Baltimore 44-20, the second loss in a row for the Lions. A couple of weeks ago they were a team to watch in the NFC. But as the police say to a bunch of onlookers at the scene of a crime, “move along folks, there’s nothing to see here.”  

14) Los Angeles Chargers (6-6). Followed up the big win at Dallas on Thanksgiving by taking care of business against Cleveland. Now they share the lead with Kansas City and Oakland atop the AFC West.

15) Oakland Raiders (6-6). Able to beat the Giants in the first game of the Geno Smith era with “Big Blue.” Next up, a showdown with the struggling Chiefs in an AFC West “old school” rivalry.

16) Dallas Cowboys (6-6). Big win over the rival Redskins last Thursday night to remain in playoff contention. The “Pokes” may have found a formula to win without Zeke.

Photo: Getty Images

17) Green Bay Packers (6-6). Had to go overtime to beat the injury riddled Tampa Bay Buccaneers despite being outplayed most of the day. No need to apologize; this is December football, not a beauty pageant.

18) Buffalo Bills (6-6). Subservient to the all powerful Pats in the AFC Least. 

19) Cincinnati Bengals (5-7). Played the daylights out of the Steelers in a brutal Monday Night Football game. The Bengals led all night until the end when Chris Boswell stroked a 38 yard field goal to win it for the Steelers. The Bengals had 173 yards in penalties in the game.

20) Kansas City Chiefs (6-6). This is getting ridiculous. They start scoring (31 points in the Meadowlands against the Jets), but now they can’t stop anyone, giving up 38 to the aforementioned J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets!

21) Washington Redskins (5-7). Pounded out of playoff relevance by the Cowboys last Thursday night. 

22) New York Jets (5-7). Outpointed the slumping Kansas City Chiefs in a high scoring affair, 38-31.

23) Houston Texans (4-8). The once vaunted Texans defense has giving up 309 points. That’s 25.7 points per game.

Photo: Getty Images

24) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-8). Jameis returned, but two fifths of the offensive line is gone, two starters on defense did not play in Green Bay and the Bucs continue their swoon. 

25) Arizona Cardinals (5-7). The Rams have passed them by.

26) Miami Dolphins (5-7). Cutler returned to put 35 points on the board Sunday in Miami, but the biggest factor in the Dolphins win was the fact they were playing the Broncos.

27) Denver Broncos (3-9). You’d think the Broncos were buried in an avalanche but we know better. In global warming, there isn’t enough snow to avalanche even in the Rockies. Let me get this straight, they won it all just two Super Bowls ago, right?

28) San Francisco 49ers (2-10). Won on the road at Chicago, which says more about the Bears than the Niners.

Photo: Getty Images

29) Chicago Bears (3-9). They lost at home to the San Francisco 49ers.  I know Chicago, and EVERYBODY has to go! AND I MEAN EVERYBODY!!

30) Indianapolis Colts (3-9). See Chicago.

31) New York Giants (2-10). One game into the Geno Smith era, the Giants clean house! Jerry Reese and Ben McAdoo gone! The Geno Smith era over?

32) Cleveland Browns (0-12). Perfect season continues with the Rodgers-less Packers up next.

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