Really quick turnaround this week since it's Thursday as I write this. The Steelers take on the Browns tonight in Pittsburgh; it should be a good game if Roethlisberger &co. show up like they're supposed to. I remember a Thursday game a couple of years ago where that didn't happen, and they got beat.
Finally, we've got some separation. Of course, the top two (GB & SF) have been where they are for the last few weeks, but now we're seeing other teams beginning their ascension. It'll definitely be an interesting stretch run as we watch teams jockeying for playoff position. Some of them have a distinct advantage; that's what winning consistently does.
Here are the standings for Week 13:
Kind of a weird week with the picks; I did well overall, but I could have done better had Atlanta and Dallas not choked. Unlike my professional opponents, I didn't see Oakland losing in such a way to Miami. I also missed out on Chicago; I didn't think Tyler Palko was that much better than Caleb Hanie. Oh well, now I know. For whatever good that'll do me.
Here are the Rankings for Week 13:
1.) Green Bay (12-0) [no change]
I don't know about anyone else, but I'm scratching my head wondering where the 1st loss is going to be for this team. Now, even if we assume that Weeks 16 & 17 are used mainly for recuperation, it's hard to say with certainty that they couldn't win. Matt Flynn appears to be a capable backup. Also, the Packers have so many weapons on offense that they could rest a couple guys and still put a top-flight unit out there. I'll be surprised if they don't end up undefeated, at this point. Some thought that the Giants had a chance; I scoffed at that and didn't believe it for a second. Even when they tied the game up, I figured Rodgers would have something to say about it, and surprise, surprise, he did. Credit Mason Crosby for making the kick, too.
2.) San Francisco (10-2) [no change]
Not much drama left for the 49ers besides playoff positioning. They're a game ahead of the Saints and it's not looking like they're gonna get beat. Since Patrick Willis strained his hamstring, it might be prudent to rest him until the playoffs start, just to avoid complications like Miles Austin and Andre Johnson have faced. I'm not a doctor, so I don't know the reasoning behind it, but those hamstring injuries sure do seem tough to get over. On the other hand, I have a feeling Jim Harbaugh will just plug the next guy in and have the defense running the same. I know it's difficult to replace a guy of Willis' caliber, but at the same time, it doesn't seem like they're built around one guy on either side of the ball. That ought to serve them well going forward.
3.) New Orleans (9-3) [no change]
Thanks to some questionable judgment on the opposing team and Drew Brees playing like he usually does, the Saints are looking like one of the top teams. We know they fared well against Green Bay (losing at the very end), but how would they do against the 49ers? That question may determine how successful the Saints are in 2011. With Atlanta slipping back to the pack in surprising fashion, New Orleans has a firm grip on the division lead, but it seems unlikely that they'll get a first-round bye, unless San Francisco falls off a bit.
4.) Houston (9-3) [no change]
I'm probably not the only person surprised by T.J. Yates' performance on Sunday. Still, the difference was one dropped pass by Julio Jones. And maybe a couple of questionable penalties called against Atlanta. The Texans are having the best season in franchise history, already tying their best record with four games to go. And what do you know, besides Week 14's game against Cincinnati, it actually looks pretty favorable for them.
5.) Pittsburgh (9-3) [no change]
I have yet to decide whether or not playing on Thursday is a boon. I guess we'll see how this one goes. All I know is that the "good" team in this one (Pittsburgh, natch) is at home. They were at home in Week 13 as well, so no weird traveling nonsense to deal with. After dropping 35 on the Bengals, they should be able to drop at least that much on Cleveland, but we know how this team can be. I wouldn't be surprised to see them lose, and even less surprised if they won a squeaker.
6.) New England (9-3) [no change]
If not for 12-0 (and counting), Tom Brady might be looking at consecutive MVP's. The way the schedule finishes for the Pats, it's looking like a first-round bye is all but guaranteed. I don't know if that's the preference, but whatever.
7.) Baltimore (9-3) [no change]
Though I have them as the last of the good teams this week, the Ravens are actually in a favorable position. Now all they have to do is avoid the embarrassing losses that plagued them earlier in the season. If they can do that, they might actually get a home playoff game.
8.) Tennessee (7-5) [-]
After the good teams, it was hard to figure who else to put in. Tennessee makes it in by virtue of winning in Week 13 and the renaissance of RB Chris Johnson, who finally figured out that 2011 started. I'm not sure what he was waiting for, exactly. Maybe he was counting his money this whole time? I kid, I kid.
9.) NY Jets (7-5) [-]
Yup, they're back. To be honest, it's hard to see a team this talented not doing something this season, considering how the AFC is looking. As usual, their success will rest on the arm of Mark Sanchez. Not exactly the basket I'd stash my eggs in, but at least they have a solid defense and a wily coach.
10.) Oakland (7-5) [-2]
Just barely avoiding the chopping block, the Raiders were embarrassed by Miami and are now tied with Denver for the lead in the AFC West. The only problem is that Denver holds the tiebreaker, which means that the Raiders are out in the cold at the moment. My guess is that they'll finish ahead of Denver, but it's hard to keep the faith after seeing a loss like the one they just suffered. Plus, they get the 12-0 Packers this week. In Green Bay. Ouch.
The two choke artists of Week 13, Dallas & Atlanta, dropped out of the Rankings. No surprise there.
I think I've got the Steelers tonight. I actually feel confident...but then again, some weird stuff has happened in these Thursday night games.
That's all for this week. See you next week!