NFL power rankings, Packers stay alive, Vikings for real and more

NFL


The Green Bay Packers are still facing an uphill climb, but a comeback victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has a storied franchise staying alive.

The New Orleans Saints have been great. The Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams are dangerous Cinderellas. The Philadelphia Eagles have been the league’s most consistent team.

The Green Bay Packers might play the role of Grinch for all of them.

On Sunday, the Buccaneers were in control at Lambeau Field, leading 20-17 with two and a half minutes remaining. Then, Brett Hundley led the Packers back, with Green Bay eventually tying and then winning the game on a 20-yard touchdown run by Aaron Jones in overtime.

With the win, the Packers are now 6-6 entering the season’s final quarter. Considering the NFC playoff picture, Green Bay still has an uphill climb, but momentum is building. If Hundley can beat the winless Cleveland Browns on Sunday, the Packers will be 7-6 and likely turning the keys back over to Aaron Rodgers, who is expected to return after an eight-week absence with a broken collarbone.

Green Bay’s last three games are road games against the Carolina panthers and Detroit Lions with a home date featuring the Vikings sandwiched in between. With Rodgers at the controls, the Packers are more than good enough to run the table, which would put them at 10-6 and in the mix for a wild card berth.

Should Green Bay find its way into the postseason, it would be terrifying for any foe to take down. The Packers would have to go on the road for three straight weeks, but it wouldn’t be without precedent. Rodgers and Co. did just that back in 2010, when Green Bay went 10-6 and then ran the gauntlet to Super Bowl XLV, beating the Pittsburgh Steelers.

If Green Bay can get into the dance, it would have both the NFC’s best quarterback and the most experience of any contender. Between the Eagles, Vikings, Rams and Saints, only Drew Brees and Sean Payton have been there before. Otherwise, it’s a new field with no track record under the intense pressure that January brings.

Question is, what would it take for the Packers to be playoff bound? If you assume they need to win out — and they do — Green Bay’s likeliest path would be Carolina losing another game. The Panthers host Minnesota this week and travel to Atlanta come Week 17, so that’s certainly possible. The other scenario would be the Falcons losing twice, perhaps to Carolina and then once to the Saints, whom they see Weeks 14 and 16.

This will be a struggle for Green Bay. It needs to be perfect against good competition, with all three opponents playing for playoff spots. Rodgers has to come off Injured Reserve firing on all cylinders. Even for a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, that’s a gigantic ask.

All that said, the Packers have an opportunity to upset the proverbial apple cart in a season that has no clear favorite. If you’re an NFC power, the last thing you want to see is a fresh Aaron Rodgers coming into your building with a Lombardi Trophy dancing in his dreams.

Power rankings

Top 10 teams in need of a coaching change

1. Indianapolis Colts
2. New York Giants
3. Cincinnati Bengals
4. Cleveland Browns
5. Chicago Bears
6. Denver Broncos
7. New York Jets
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
9. Detroit Lions
10. Houston Texans

Quotable

– San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin on Jimmy Garoppolo’s future

San Francisco is in the midst of a brutal campaign, but Jimmy Garoppolo might ease the pain moving forward. The 49ers beat the Bears, 15-14, and Garoppolo was solid, throwing for 293 yards in the win. If San Fran finally found a franchise quarterback, the future is bright for Kyle Shanahan and Co.

Podcast

Matt Verderame and Josh Hill bring you a new Stacking The Box episode every Monday, breaking down the weekend that was and the action ahead. Make sure to subscribe on iTunes to get all the latest!

Random stat

The last time the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans finished 1-2 in the AFC South, in any order, was never. Since realignment, the Jaguars and Titans have never been atop the division together. The last time then headlined a division was the old AFC Central back in 1999.

Info learned this week

1. Saints dominate Panthers for critical win

With their 31-21 win over the Panthers, the Saints are in total control of the NFC South at 9-3. New Orleans continues to ride the legs of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, who combined for 248 total yards and three touchdowns.

Drew Brees remains great, but he doesn’t need to do it all himself anymore. Brees only threw for 269 yards and a touchdown, pedestrian by his lofty standards. Still, it was more than enough as the Saints ran for 148 yards on 5.3 yards per carry.

As for Carolina, it drops to 8-4 but remains in the first NFC wild card slot. The Panthers will try to rebound this weekend against the Vikings, who can clinch the NFC North with a win.

2. Seahawks make statement against Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles hadn’t lost since Week 2, and were favored by almost a touchdown going into Seattle. Then, in front of a national audience, the Seahawks reminded everyone why they remain a threat for a Super Bowl run, winning 24-10 while harassing Carson Wentz throughout.

Seattle was terrific, sacking Wentz three times and limiting him to less than 50 passing yards in the first half. Russell Wilson threw three touchdowns on the evening, putting the Seahawks back into the NFC playoff picture with four weeks remaining.

As for the Eagles, there are some questions to be answered. They’ve played an incredibly soft schedule all year, still not having beat a team that currently sports a winning record. In a playoff atmosphere, they were outclassed by the Seahawks. Great team that had a bad night, or signs of trouble?

3. Vikings continue to roll

Minnesota has been overlooked by many when the conversation turns to legitimate Super Bowl contenders, and that’s a mistake. The Vikings went into Atlanta and held the Falcons to nine points, beating them 14-9 to improve to 10-2.

With the win, the Vikings are closing in on both an NFC North title and a bye week in the brutal NFC playoffs. Minnesota has an excellent defense and an explosive offense, led by Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Case Keenum. Can you believe that’s an actual sentence?

On the flip side, the Falcons are now vying for a wild card with the NFC South a distant dream. It won’t be easy, with the Seattle Seahawks at 8-4 and one game ahead of them. Then there are the Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys only a game back of Atlanta. Luckily, the Falcons have beaten all those teams, owning the key tiebreakers.

4. Chiefs continue epic collapse

The Kansas City Chiefs are a total mess, showcased by their four consecutive loss on Sunday. This time, it was a 38-31 meltdown to the New York Jets, losing despite four touchdown passes from Alex Smith. Both Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill scored twice and combined for almost 300 receiving yards, but it didn’t matter thanks to a rancid defense.

Kansas City allowed Josh McCown to throw for 331 yards and a score while giving up 157 rushing yards. New York racked up 42 minutes of possession time and 30 first downs, with the Chiefs taking eight penalties.

All told, the Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers are tied for the AFC West lead. Kansas City hosts both foes over the next two weeks, but it’s hard to see it winning another game this season.

5. Ravens take control of wild card spot

The Baltimore Ravens are going to the playoffs. After beating the Lions, Baltimore is 7-5 and sitting in the sixth and final AFC playoff slot. Considering they have a game lead on the Buffalo Bills, Raiders, Chargers, and a two-game lead on the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, things are looking good.

The Ravens only play the Bengals, Bears and Browns the rest of the way outside of a Sunday night matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers. It would be borderline impossible not to get to nine wins, which will be more than enough.

History lesson

Since 2003, the only quarterbacks to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl are Tom Brady (7), Ben Roethlisberger (3) and Peyton Manning (4), with the lone exception of Joe Flacco in 2012.

In other words, until Brady and Roethlisberger retire, bet on the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers to be in the AFC Championship Game every season.

Parting shot

The Washington Redskins lost on Thursday night to the Cowboys and dropped to 5-7, all but ending their season. With that, we might have seen the last meaningful snap Kirk Cousins takes with the Redskins as free agency looms.

With the 49ers out of the running, which teams will offer the most? One would imagine that the Broncos and Jaguars are interested, although Eli Manning almost seems like too perfect of a fit with Jacksonville and Tom Coughlin. Denver is intriguing, but would Cousins want to go to a team that’s currently 3-9?

One destination to watch is the Arizona Cardinals. Carson Palmer might very well retire after this season, and if the Cardinals want to keep up with the Los Angeles Rams and Seahawks, getting a top-flight quarterback is a must. Cousins would be a nice fit in Bruce Arians’ offense, throwing a nice deep ball.





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