The last two weeks of the NFL season are all about positioning. The teams still in the playoff race are motivated by postseason positioning right now, jostling for bye weeks and home games. For several teams, next week will be a glorified scrimmage, so that means that Week 16 will be the last hurrah for a lot of clubs that want to get their positioning sewn up before Christmas.
But there is another side to that coin. You can’t forget about the positioning that will effect the NFL bottom feeders over the next few months: draft positioning. Although the league has put in place every measure it can to prevent teams from tanking games. (And football is not really the type of sport that you can half-ass anyway, without risking your health.)
However, there is still incentive for the weakest teams in the league to lose games or just not show up prepared to play over the last two weeks of the season. So while you might think that Indianapolis is ripe for an upset in a letdown/look ahead situation this week at Kansas City, you also have to ask yourself, “How badly do the Chiefs want the No. 1 overall pick?”
The motivations of the playoff-bound teams are obvious. And they can still be overrated or overstated by NFL bettors. However, the true motivations for the weaker sisters in The League are the Great Unknown of Week 16 and Week 17 betting.
With that in mind, here are Doc’s Sports Week 16 NFL power rankings:
1. San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1) – The latest version of the Harbaugh-Carroll rivalry should be epic. San Fran and Seattle will clash for what could determine the NFC West title, as well as the No. 1 seed in the NFC. But San Francisco has won four straight in this series, including a tough 13-6 home win back on Oct. 18, and San Fran is 3-1 ATS in those four games.
2. New England Patriots (10-4) – Exposed. Look, the Patriots are the No. 2 team in my rankings. They are also one of only two AFC teams that I think can compete with the powerhouse that is the NFC. But their defense has serious, serious holes in it. And while the Patriots can put unbelievable pressure on opponents with their offense, the fact is that I wonder about this team the same way I wondered about last year’s team: can they get the crucial stops necessary to win a championship? The Patriots need to keep winning in an attempt to secure a first-round bye. I don’t expect them to have any mercy on the Jaguars this weekend.
3. Denver Broncos (11-3) – Just remember who was driving the bandwagon on this team back in Week 3 and Week 4 when they were 1-2 and 1-3. And I have also noted that people in the bobblehead media are starting to pirate my line about this club: that this is the best team that Peyton Manning has played on since the 2006 Super Bowl team. I made that claim over two months ago. Glad the rest of the world is catching up. Denver has a thick line to cover this week against a Browns team that wants to grind this one down to a halt. And, prior to last week, Cleveland hadn’t lost to an opponent by more than 10 points since early October. But this veteran Broncos team knows what is at stake and knows that winning its last two games is the difference between a rematch with New England in Foxboro and a rematch in Mile High.
4. Houston Texans (12-2) – The more I see Matt Schaub the less I take him seriously as a potential Super Bowl-winning quarterback. The guy is pretty good. But that’s his ceiling: “pretty good”. And most of his success comes from just being so familiar with such a proven offensive system. Houston still has a lot to play for this week even though they have clinched the AFC South. If the Texans were to drop two straight they would lose a first-round bye. But by simply beating the Vikings this week they could lock up the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
5. Atlanta Falcons (12-2) – Now this is a team whose motivation I have to question right now after their best performance of the year. The Falcons have a short week and a trip to Detroit. They do need one more win to clinch home field advantage and the No. 1 seed in the NFC. But a San Francisco loss at Seattle on Sunday would have the same effect. This Atlanta team has been banged up for the past month and suffers from limited depth. I am curious how they are going to play this one out, knowing they have a Week 17 home game against reeling Tampa Bay in the kicker.
6. New York Giants (8-6) – I touched on it last week: the Giants are absolutely on the verge of not making the postseason. I know we’ve seen them climb out of this abyss and go on to win Super Bowls. But right now this team is a disaster. New York’s secondary is atrocious. And if they are facing a team that can handle a modicum of pressure then that secondary will get shredded. New York is 38-18-1 ATS on the road, 10-3-1 ATS against a team with a winning record, and 5-2 ATS after a loss of two touchdowns or more. But they have also only beaten the Ravens one time (in four tries) in Baltimore’s existence.
7. Green Bay Packers (10-4) – In some ways I think that playing without Clay Matthews was a good thing for this defense. They had gotten totally dependent on him to carry that side of the ball. And being without him for a month made everyone else on that defense have to focus and step up their game. Now that Matthews is back they are clicking on D, which is helping to make up for their suddenly-not-that-explosive offense. The results: five straight games going “under” and a define that has given up over 20 points just one time in the last eight games.
8. Seattle Seahawks (8-6) – Yes, I think that it was amazingly bush league that Seattle ran a fake punt against Buffalo. But it is not like we thought Pete Carroll was some classy guy to begin with. (Or, if it was a simple mistake like he claims, that gives further credence to the belief that he will never be a champion in the NFL because he doesn’t pay enough attention to the details.) Regardless, Seattle is physically dominating people right now.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-6) – I have no earthly idea why I still have the Steelers ranked so high. I truly don’t. Maybe it is the fact that they have lost three games this year in which they held the lead of a touchdown or more in the fourth quarter. Or maybe it is the fact that if Antonio Brown wasn’t such a colossal moron the Steelers would’ve won at Big D last week and could ease off the panic button. I will say though: the friction and controversy between Todd Haley and Big Ben is not some manufactured beef. You can see and feel the awkwardness of the Steelers offense right now, and I think it is pretty obvious that Haley doesn’t know what the hell he is doing.
9. Washington Redskins (8-6) – Right now I think that I could step in this offense and throw for 275 yards and three touchdowns. I have been very critical of the Shanahans in the past, particularly for their shoddy game management. But right now the Redskins offense is a juggernaut. I felt last week was a perfect letdown spot for this team, but they are executing at a very high level right now. Washington beat Philadelphia 31-6 in the last meeting and that began their recent five-game winning streak. The favorite is 4-0 ATS in the last five meetings, and over 90 percent of the betting in this week’s game is coming in on Washington. I expect this spread to touch 6.0 before kickoff, so if you are going to buy in, buy in early.
10. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) – It is definitely put-up or shut-up time for Marvin Lewis and the Bengals. Lewis has become the Lovie Smith of the AFC: good enough to keep a team in the mix, but bad enough not to get the job done. The Bengals have just two wins in the last two years over teams above .500. And one of those came this year against the Redskins way back in Week 3. The road team in this Steelers series is 15-6-1 ATS. But the Bengals are 1-4 ATS in their last five in Heinz Field, and the Bengals are just 7-19-1 ATS in their last 27 games against Pittsburgh. That makes them a tough take.
11. Baltimore Ravens (9-5) – Wait, wait, wait: Jim Caldwell WASN’T the answer for the Ravens offense? I’m shocked! Wait; let me get my shocked face on. I’m SHOCKED! Caldwell is an absolute incompetent. And the idea that anyone thought that a guy that incompetent, who has been with this team for about five minutes, by the way, was the one to hand the key to is just absurd. The Ravens defense can’t get stops, and that is exposing an under-talented offense. Joe Flacco said it best last week when he said, “We feel like we’re 0-14”. There is still urgency for this team to try to lock up a home playoff game. But I don’t see it happening.
12. Chicago Bears (8-6) – I’m not really sure how this team could be favored over anyone right now. They have lost five of six games, and the Bears have not looked impressive, either from a physical or an execution standpoint, in two months. The Bears are now 7-17 without Brian Urlacher, and the locker room desperately needs someone to fill the void. Predictably, Mike Tice has been a train wreck as an offensive coordinator. And despite the fact that a stunning 86 percent of the public is on Chicago this week, I think the Bears are very vulnerable for an upset.
13. New Orleans Saints (6-8) – Before we get too carried away with New Orleans’ resurgence, let’s remember that their last two wins over the past month have come against Oakland and Tampa Bay. But Drew Brees is still extremely dangerous, and he would love to drive a stake through Dallas’ heart this week. Two-thirds of the betting in the Saints-Cowboys game has come in on New Orleans, and the spread has plummeted from an open of Saints +3.0 to Saints just +1.0. The Saints are just 2-5 on the road this year, though, with the wins come at Oakland and at Tampa Bay. Hardly impressive.
14. Dallas Cowboys (8-6) – Something strange has happened to the Cowboys the last two weeks. Against both the Bengals and Steelers, it was actually Dallas that kept its composure and made winning plays down the stretch while its opponent gave the game away. The Cowboys were outplayed by both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. But the Bengals and Steelers made some ridiculous errors and turnovers, and the patient Cowboys were able to capitalize. That is exactly the opposite of what we’ve come to expect from Dallas. Tony Romo looked amazing last week, and right now this could definitely be a team gaining momentum. Or are we falling for it yet again?
15. Carolina Panthers (6-8) – I’ve been saying for over a month that this team is much better than its record suggests. Now that the schedule has softened up considerably (in my opinion the Panthers played by far the most difficult schedule in the NFL), this team is stretching its legs a bit. There is still a lot of work to do. But this team has a Top 15 offense and a Top 10 defense right now, and they are playing their best football. I don’t know that I’d be willing to lay double-digits with them this week. But they are a team looking to finish the season on a positive.
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8) – The Bucs locker room is coming unglued. But the problem is not the coaching staff, which the mutinous players have been claiming this week. The problem is that their secondary is by far the worst in football. This team can’t stop ANYONE through the air. Also, even during their four-game winning streak it was not as if this team was beating good teams. Further, this is the same locker room that absolutely mailed it in last December and lost its last five games by 19, 27, 16, 32 and 21 points. So I can absolutely see them rolling over again in these last two games.
17. Minnesota Vikings (8-6) – Anyone that consistently reads these power rankings understand that I have espoused one tried-and-true philosophy in football: if you can run the ball and play defense you can win games and beat spreads in the NFL. That is what the Vikings have pulled off. However, before we get too excited about this team, let’s remember that they are just 3-4 in their last seven games. So this is not like the Redskins or Seahawks, who are peaking at the right time. The Vikings have been outgained in seven of eight and four straight games. I wouldn’t say they have any momentum heading into Houston.
18. Indianapolis Colts (9-5) – I’m sure you are tired of me trashing Andrew Luck in this space. And I know that I am the only football analyst in the country that just isn’t gaga over Luck and that isn’t buying into him AT ALL. But once again, Luck has not completed over 49 percent of his passes in three straight weeks and he hasn’t completed over 54 percent of his passes in five weeks. And the highest-ranked secondary he has faced in that time was Detroit. I’m telling you – this guy is fool’s gold.
20. Miami Dolphins (6-8) – What a streaky team the Dolphins are. They dominated in-state foe Jacksonville. Foolishly, I predicted that exact result in this space last week but then went out on a limb and took the points on Sunday. I am an idiot. Miami is 4-1 ATS in their last five games hosting the Bills, and the favorite is 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings. This is also a revenge spot for the Fins for a tough loss up in Buffalo just last month. Considering that Miami’s only other losses in the last month have come against the Patriots (by seven) and at San Francisco (by 14), that tells me this team could come to play on Sunday.
21. St. Louis Rams (6-7-1) – As I have pointed out in this space repeatedly, Jeff Fisher teams are fairly reliable and pretty predictable: you always want to bet them when they are underdogs and you want to bet against them when they are favorites. They are 9-3 ATS this year when catching points, as they are this week down in Tampa Bay, and they are 0-2 ATS as a favorite.
22. Cleveland Browns (5-9) – I know that this is a sad statistic, but it is a real one: the Browns need just one more win to have their second-best record in the past 10 years. Another victory would mark just the fifth time in 14 years since there has been a team back in Cleveland that the Browns have topped five wins. Again, it’s pathetic. But their -30 point differential right now is the franchise’s third-best number going back to 1995.
23. New York Jets (7-7) – Mega-losers. Where are all the Mark Sanchez apologists now? I’ve been saying in this space for two years that he is not an NFL-caliber quarterback and that Sanchez is a turnover machine. There are still some people defending him. But the reality is that he is a loser and he always will be. And I don’t know that I would even want him as my backup quarterback. The sooner the Jets embrace the horror and cut ties the better off they will be. This isn’t piling on after a bad loss – this is just facing the truth.
24. San Diego Chargers (5-9) – How on earth are you supposed to predict how this team is going to play over the last two weeks? They played their best game of the season in Pittsburgh and then they didn’t even make it out of the locker room last week against Carolina. Flip a coin with this mess of a team.
25. Tennessee Titans (5-9) – You might be asking, “Why aren’t the Titans ranked ahead of the Jets since Tennessee just beat them?” The answer is that when you have a +5 turnover margin and you only win by four points there is something seriously, seriously wrong with you. Also, Jake Locker will never be a quality NFL quarterback. That much is certain.
26. Arizona Cardinals (5-9) – The Cardinals were not better than the Lions. They were just less incompetent. Arizona actually matches up really well, defensively, against Chicago this week. The Cards defensive line should have its way with Chicago’s pathetic O-line. And Arizona’s corners are big and physical and should be able to keep Brandon Marshall in check. If Arizona can do absolutely anything on offense – which I don’t think they can do – they could pull an upset.
27. Detroit Lions (4-10) – Losers. I don’t know that any team cost more bettors more money than Detroit this season. They are pathetic.
28. Buffalo Bills (5-9) – Rumor has it that there won’t be any significant front office changes in Buffalo. That means that Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey are safe. That also means the Bills will be right back down here in the rankings again next year, because those two clowns are a joke. This team can’t stop anyone, at all. And the shame of all of this is that people don’t realize just how amazing Stevie Johnson is at wideout because he plays with this group of buffoons.
29. Philadelphia Eagles (4-10) – What an absolute disaster Bryce Brown is. He runs very hard and he runs very tough. But the guy is fumbling about once every 20 carries. I don’t expect Philadelphia to mail it in over the last two weeks of the year against rivals Washington and New York. But the problem is that this isn’t exactly an NFL-caliber roster right now. It’s not like this is a veteran team that will play for pride and try to play spoiler. No, this is a young, bad team that couldn’t get out of its own way if it wanted to. So I don’t know that I’m predicting anything short of two blowouts to end the Andy Reid Era.
30. Oakland Raiders (4-10) – This is not a team I expect to see mailing it in over the last two weeks of the season. Head coach Dennis Allen had a highly publicized “man-to-man” talk with new owner Mark Davis (Al’s son) on the plane ride back from Cincinnati a couple weeks ago. Davis specifically said that Allen’s effort weren’t good enough. Oakland has lost by three to Cleveland, by 13 to Denver and beat Kansas City. That is progress for the Raiders. Oakland is on a 5-0 under run and they have failed to top the total in seven of 10 weeks.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12) – Right now Jacksonville and Kansas City are neck-and-neck for the No. 1 overall pick. Understand that it will be a factor for how each of these teams plays down the stretch. I think the Jaguars, who are currently No. 2 behind the Chiefs, would love to have the top overall pick for the simple fact that they want the mainstream sports media talking about them for four months leading up to the draft. New owner Shahid Khan is smart enough to know what that kind of publicity is worth.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (2-12) – Whomever does come in to take over this mess will have some pieces to work with. But first and foremost, this team needs to purge the quarterback position. There is also no doubt in my mind this week that Kansas City can – and probably should – beat the Colts. They match up very well with Indianapolis, they are at home, and they are catching the Colts in a letdown spot. But this game again comes down to whether or not the Chiefs are going to tank to get the No. 1 overall pick. I’d like to think Romeo Crennel will still be coaching for his job and will have some urgency. But I’m pretty positive that more Crennel is a bad thing for this team.
Robert Ferringo is a professional NFL handicapper has banked nearly $10,000 in football profit over the last 12 months he has had football picks. He has earned four of five winning NFL weekends and will have another full card this week. You can check him out here.