2012 NFL Grades, Week 15: Broncos make statement in Baltimore

The 9-4 Baltimore Ravens were, improbably, underdogs at home in a mid-December game. But that's because Peyton Manning was coming to town. But things got so ugly for Baltimore that it wasn't Manning lining up in the victory formation in the fourth quarter Sunday -- Brock Osweiler got handed that mop-up duty.

Denver's evisceration of Baltimore was, certainly, an indictment of the Ravens right now. (And it should make Cam Cameron rest his feet a little easier this evening.) But it's also about the Denver Broncos and answering critics who say they haven't beaten anyone.

Yes, they lost to Atlanta, Houston and New England. Those are good teams and that was early -- the last time Denver lost a game was in October! That's impressive, and I don't care who you're playing.

And it's hard not to like the fact that Denver can beat a bad team when they don't bring their best game, while also seeing Peyton getting stronger as the year goes on. Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are legit weapons, folks. They're not Marvin Harrison/ Reggie Wayne back in Manning's Indy heyday, but they're quite good.

Knowshon Moreno , who was literally running over people on Sunday, suddenly looks like a first-round pick again after being inactive for most of the season. Denver won't get credit for being the best team in the NFL, but there's a reasonable case to be made that they are the most complete team in the NFL. Going into Baltimore -- a place where the Ravens dominate teams -- and pantsing Joe Flacco and Co. only furthers that notion.

The Broncos are growing as a team and getting better as the year goes on. If they keep peaking at the right time, there really isn't a limit to how far they can go in the postseason.

Cincinnati Bengals 34, Philadelphia Eagles 13
C- Don't be fooled by the score: This wasn't a good game for the Bengals. Andy Dalton held the ball too long and turned it over multiple times. The offensive line was dominated by the Eagles (Dalton was sacked six times!), as was the defensive line. Brandon Tate caught a ball on the one-yard line and Adam Jones headbutted someone in the end zone. But Cincinnati turned a lot of freebies from the Eagles into points, and that resulted in a pretty huge win.
D This grade would be much higher if it was just based on the Eagles defense. It actually did a good job shutting down the Bengals on offense, but Nick Foles and Co. just gave up way too many turnovers to make this a reasonable game. They gave up four turnovers in SIX MINUTES. It looked like Cincy wanted to give this game over to an inferior team, but Philly just refused to take it.
Houston Texans 29, Indianapolis Colts 17
C+ Indianapolis blew a pretty good shot at making the AFC South spicy. Big mistakes -- a Mewelde Moore fumble on the goal line, a blocked punt for a touchdown, a penalty on an Andrew Luck to Reggie Wayne TD throw -- doomed them though. It's clear that Houston's still the class of the division, and Indy's been lucky a lot this year, but this game was a lot closer than the final score indicates.
B Houston ended up winning by double digits, but it didn't dominant the way many folks expected. The Texans are a superior team, and they finished with big numbers ( Arian Foster had 165 rushing yards, Andre Johnson had 151 receiving yards, J.J. Watt had three sacks), but they didn't dominate, if that makes sense. Still, they clinched the division, and they've got a chance over the next two weeks to tweak things for the playoffs.
Atlanta Falcons 34, New York Giants 0
F What. A. Freaking. Egg. It's a regular-season egg, so Falcons haters will point that out. But it's still an egg -- Eli Manning looked horrible from the get-go, David Wilson didn't produce any big plays, and the Giants defense was absolutely shredded by Atlanta. A loss is understandable, but an embarrassment to potentially boot them from the playoffs? There's no logic behind that.
A Hello, statement game. Everyone's been beating on the Falcons the past few weeks for not being an elite team. But that wasn't the case Sunday, when they beat the Giants in every facet of the game. The defense snuffed out Eli Manning and David Wilson, and Matt Ryan looked like a high-end quarterback, tossing three touchdowns and only missing on five passes.
New Orleans Saints 41, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0
F- It's one thing to get shut out. It's another for the Saints to win by shutout in the Superdome for the first time since 1991.They got up too early for Doug Martin to be a factor, but Josh Freeman ended up with four picks, none of which were anything other than his fault. The pass defense is bad, so Drew Brees shredding them wasn't surprising, but, mercy, try to do something.
B+ It's almost a shame to see the Saints destroy a team like this, because their playoff chances are already shot. But this was New Orleans at its finest, brow-beating a division opponent by blowing up on offense with Drew Brees executing perfectly and using all of the dangerous weapons at his disposal.
Minnesota Vikings 36, Los Angeles Rams 22
B+ Adrian Peterson . Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson.
C- St. Louis did a quality job of bottling up Adrian Peterson ... for about five minutes. Then the running back destroyed the Rams defense. Sam Bradford ended up having a pretty good day, but it was mostly during garbage time with the Rams being destroyed.
Green Bay Packers 21, Chicago Bears 13
B Without one of their best weapons ( Jordy Nelson ) and best defenders ( Charles Woodson ), Green Bay casually strolled into Chicago and beat the Bears to lock down an NFC North championship. Aaron Rodgers was typically awesome, James Jones caught three touchdowns and Randall Cobb made plays (although his pass on the punt reverse late was, um, interesting). How is Mason Crosby still on this roster though?
C- Matt Forte didn't run particularly well (or get enough carries), Jay Cutler wasn't good and the offensive line let him get beat up. Green Bay tried to let Chicago hang around in this game and come back, but the Bears are in full collapse right now and in serious danger of not making the playoffs, somehow.
Broncos 34, Ravens 17
B+ Everyone likes to say the Broncos haven't beaten anyone, but they just went into Baltimore and PADDLED the Ravens. 34-17 would indicate this game was close at one point, but it wasn't: Peyton Manning was sharp, Knowshon Moreno continued to run well, Eric Decker was outstanding, and the Broncos destroyed an AFC rival.
F Good thing Baltimore fired Cam Cameron, huh? Or not: the Jim Caldwell-run offense didn't produce a first down in the first quarter and Ray Rice ended up with 12 carries on the day. Joe Flacco did some horrible things, including an inexplicable throw that led to a pick-six. The Ravens are reeling right now.
Miami Dolphins 24, Jacksonville Jaguars 3
D Is Mike Mularkey going to keep saying Chad Henne could win the starting quarterback job in Jacksonville next year? Because, like, um, no, man. Justin Blackmon 's emerging a bit and Cecil Shorts is a pleasant surprise, but you can't get paddled like the Jaguars get paddled routinely and not think some things need to be changed.
B Never would've thought the 2012 Dolphins would be 7.5-point favorites in mid-December ... and cover. But they did. Ryan Tannehill was efficient, Brian Hartline passed 1,000 yards on the season, Reggie Bush ran well and the defense snuffed out the Jaguars. Miami continues to impress this season.
Washington Redskins 38, Cleveland Browns 21
B Washington got panned by lots of folks (including myself, guilty as charged) when they drafted Kirk Cousins early the same year they took Robert Griffin III . When they took over the NFC East lead (!!!) behind a great game from Cousins Sunday, well, that doesn't look like quite so bad a move, does it now? Well played, Shanaclan.
D Why did Trent Richardson only get 11 carries? Perhaps the answer is similar to the one you'd get if you asked Brandon Weeden why he threw it out of bounds on a fourth down and three. Bad game for Weeden, bad game for the Browns defense against a backup rookie quarterback.
Seahawks 50, Bills 17
A Yes, Canada, this is, um, always what our football looks like. Or maybe it is: the Seahawks scored 50-plus points for the second week in a row as they absolutely dog-piled the Bills. Russell Wilson was outstanding, again, Marshawn Lynch ran well against his old team and the Seattle defense was dominant.
F Buffalo was mathematically eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday in embarrassing fashion. Ryan Fitzpatrick was horrible, and even a good game from C.J. Spiller couldn't save Buffalo. Their defense got destroyed by Seattle and there could be heads rolling for the Bills this offseason.
Panthers 31, Chargers 7
B+ Ron Rivera extracted some revenge on his old team as the Panthers continued to play great, meaningless football. If they win seven games, can he really get fired this offseason? DeAngelo Williams is back to being a weapon and Cam Newton hasn't turned the ball over in five games. This defense is starting to come around as well.
D- How can the team that went to Pittsburgh last week and paddled the Steelers get so badly beaten by the Panthers at home just seven days later? Norv Turner wasn't saving his job, but just in case there was any consideration for false hope, this one sealed it.
Cardinals 38, Lions 10
F Seriously, Lions? I mean, seriously? What an embarrassing blowout loss to a Cardinals team that was the worst unit in football last week. Matthew Stafford was horrendous, the defense was handled by Beanie Wells and the offense got outscored by the Cards defense.
B Pretty huge game for Arizona here: Ken Whisenhunt's team stopped a nine-game skid by playing defense the same way they played when they got out to a 4-0 start. Beanie Wells running well is nice, but the reality here is that the Cardinals still aren't dangerous. They just happened to play a team that didn't seem ready to go.
Raiders 12, Chiefs 0
F Can Jamaal Charles' fantasy football owners file a class-action lawsuit against the Chiefs? It's maddening how they don't use their best player. They scored zero points against a team that was giving up an NFL-worst 30.9 points per game coming into this contest. Awful. Just awful.
B- Hooray for beating up on an inferior opponent, I guess. Darren McFadden ran quite well and Mike Goodson did too. But the Raiders never found the end zone; this might be more of an indictment on the Chiefs defense than anything else. It's going to be fun to look back on this game and think fondly of the Terrelle Pryor Era.
Cowboys 27, Steelers 24
C- Crippling loss for Pittsburgh in a game they seemed to take control of late. The passing attack was strong and Ben Roethlisberger would be dangerous IF he gets in the playoffs. But the defense is becoming much less scary than it used to be, and quickly.
B+ It's hard to state just how huge this win was for Dallas, who kept their playoff hopes alive. Dez Bryant wasn't perfect, but he's playing with a banged-up finger. DeMarco Murray is starting to look like a legit No. 1 back again now that he's back from injury. And Brandon Carr might've justified his contract with the interception in overtime.
49ers 41, Patriots 34
B San Francisco was staring down the barrel of an A+ plus until they decided to give up 28 unanswered points to the Patriots. New England tied it up but the 49ers answered in a big way. Great game from Colin Kaepernick, who threw four touchdown passes, in prime time, in New England. Michael Crabtree is on fire right now. Bet that defense doesn't let up early again when they're playing a high-powered offense. Fun Sunday night against Seattle.
C- Credit due to the Patriots for storming back to tie things up. But Tom Brady attempted 65 (!) passes and that's just not good for business. Of course, if Stevan Ridley wouldn't fumble as much, it would be easier. Where has this Brandon Lloyd been all year?
Titans 14, Jets 10
F- Four picks for Mark Sanchez and a fumbled snap out of the shotgun on the Jets final play to end their season after they somehow got gifted a miserable punt from the Titans end zone. What an absolute dumpster fire of a season. That it resulted in six wins is a borderline miracle. One of the weirdest and worst offenses we'll ever see.
F+ Only Chris Johnson's 94-yard touchdown run and one good series from Jake Locker, plus, um, winning salvaged this game from being just a full-blown embarrassment at home. The Titans defense did a good job beating up on Mark Sanchez, but that's like bragging about dunking on your fourth-grade cousin or something. Woof.
CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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