Week Fifteen. It’s that time of year when win-loss record only matters enough to get into the playoffs. Of course, the Seahawks and Saints are an exception since they struggle to win on the road. They’re fighting for homefield advantage, but everyone else just wants to get hot, make the postseason and make a run.
Don’t forget. The last eight Super Bowl winners were seeded: 4th, 4th, 6th, 1st, 2nd, 5th, 3rd, 6th. Two fours, a five and two sixes in five of the eight years? Once you punch that ticket anything can happen, and with three of the top four losing this week the door is open to all comers.
Biggest Rise: 49ers and Vikings +3
Biggest Fall: Giants -5
1. Seattle Seahawks (12-2, LW: 1): The Stat: 13. The story of Sunday’s game was the turnover barrage the Seahawks unleashed on Eli Manning. Seattle forced five interceptions, two of them by Richard Sherman. Sherman nabbed two errant passes in the span of three drives, bringing his total over the last two years to 13. That number is a league high. In his nearly three years, Sherman has 18 picks, two touchdowns and 54 passes defensed.
2. San Francisco 49ers (10-4, LW: 5): The Stat: 5. Vernon Davis hasn’t had a bunch of receptions recently, but he’s definitely made his touches count. In the past five games, Davis has 19 receptions, but five of those have been touchdowns. That makes Davis the first Niner with a five-game scoring streak since Terrell Owens did it in 2001.
3. Denver Broncos (11-3, LW: 2): The Stat: 16-for-31. Where did it all go wrong for the Broncos Thursday night against San Diego? The middle two quarters, that’s where. Denver ran 16 plays in the 2nd and 3rd Quarters, gaining only 31 yards. The longest play went for just 10 yards on a pass to Demaryius Thomas. On top of that, the Broncos had a stretch of three straight three-and-outs, only the second time they’ve done that this year. The other was in their loss to the Colts.
4. New England Patriots (10-4, LW: 3): The Stat: 11. The Patriots at their best would blow teams out every week. That is definitely not this year’s squad. New England has played 11 games decided by seven or fewer points. They’re 7-4 in those games with their worst loss all year being the 13-6 setback to Cincinnati in Week Five.
5. New Orleans Saints (10-4, LW: 4): The Stat: 2-4, 12. There’s something about Drew Brees and the Rams. St. Louis has given Brees more trouble than just about any other team in the NFL. In six games, Brees has gone 2-4, and he’s thrown two interceptions in each of thef six games. This game was different, though. It’s just the second time he’s ever thrown two picks in the first quarter.
6. Carolina Panthers (10-4, LW: 6): The Stat: 89. Cam Newton hasn’t always had team success in his short tenure in Carolina. In fact, this is the first year he’s seen a measure of success in the win-loss column. He’s never had much trouble with stats, though, and the newest big number shows that. Newton has 89 combined passing and rushing touchdowns, the second best total in a first three seasons. The only guy ahead of him is Dan Marino with an even 100, 98 passing and two rushing. Newton has done it in a more balanced way: 61 through the air and 28 on the ground.
7. Kansas City Chiefs (11-3, LW: 7): The Stat: 5. Jamaal Charles wears No. 25 on the field, but five was the number that brought him all the attention Sunday. Charles scored five touchdowns against Oakland. It wasn’t an ordinary quintet either. He’s the first player in league history to score five by receiving four and rushing for one. The five continues. Charles is one of just five players (Jerry Rice, Gale Sayers, Shaun Alexander, Clinton Portis) to gain 200 all-purpose yards and five TD in the last 50 years.
8. Chicago Bears (8-6, LW: 10): The Stat: 11-12, 151, 2. Jay Cutler was definitely rusty after missing seven weeks, and early on he gave fans reason to question if he should have come back at all. Cutler threw two early interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, and the Bears fell behind Cleveland. Jay got his act together, though, and he did his best work on 3rd Down. He was 11-12 for 151 yards and two scores on those plays, keeping Chicago in first place.
9. Indianapolis Colts (9-5, LW: 11): The Stat: 16.5, 108. Andrew Luck has received a large portion of the credit for the Colts’ success in the last two seasons, but he’s not the only one getting the job done week-by-week. On the other side of the ball, longtime Indy guy Robert Mathis set two team records Sunday. His 16.5 sacks this year break Dwight Freeney’s 2004 record of 16. Mathis went ahead and put that half sack advantage to use in the all-time category too. His 108 career sacks break Freeney’s franchise mark of 107.5. Both set these totals in 11 years with the Colts.
10. Baltimore Ravens (7-6, LW: 12): The Stat: 6. The Ravens offense didn’t have a lot of success Monday night in Detroit, but Justin Tucker certainly had himself a night. Tucker made six field goals, including a team record 61-yarder that won Baltimore the game. Tucker became the first kicker in league history to make field goals with yardage in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.
11. Cincinnati Bengals (9-5, LW: 8): The Stat: 7-10, 21-8. Over the last three seasons the Bengals have had plenty of success. The problem is that little of it has come within the division. After Cincinnati lost at Pittsburgh Sunday night it brought the Bengals to 7-10 against division foes since the start of 2011. That doesn’t compare too favorably to their 21-8 mark against the rest of the NFL. Even worse: if both Cincinnati and Baltimore win in Week 16 they’ll play each other for the division title in the season’s final week.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (8-6, LW: 9): The Stat: 8.6. If you were asked which quarterback has the highest percentage of his passes caught for touchdowns you’d probably guess Peyton Manning. In actuality, the answer is Nick Foles. The Eagles signal caller throws a touchdown on 8.6% of this throws, a ratio of 23 TD in 266 attempts. Manning wouldn’t be a bad guess, of course. He’s second at 8.1% (47 TD in 580 attempts).
13. Arizona Cardinals (9-5, LW: 13): The Stat: 8-2. Even though Arizona gave up 10 points in the final :47 to go to overtime with Tennessee, it shouldn’t have been a huge surprise that the Cardinals ended up beating the Titans. Dating back to 2008, Arizona has won eight of its last ten overtime games. That includes a 4-0 mark in the 2011 season.
14. San Diego Chargers (7-7, LW: 16): The Stat: back-to-back. Philip Rivers didn’t just lead his Chargers to a win over the first place Broncos Thursday night. Rivers became just the second quarterback in league history to beat Peyton and Eli Manning in consecutive weeks. The other one was Vince Young in 2006, when his Titans beat Eli’s Giants 24-21 and Peyton’s Colts 20-17.
15. Miami Dolphins (8-6, LW: 17): The Stat: 23. Some are still skeptical that Ryan Tannehill is the man to quarterback the Dolphins offense, but one thing is certain. He’s done something no other signal caller has accomplished in the 14 years since Dan Marino retired, throwing for 23 touchdowns. Marino did it in his penultimate season. The highest number since: 20 by Jay Fiedler in 2000.
16. Green Bay Packers (7-6-1, LW: 18): The Stat: 23. There are so many things that were unreal about the Packers’ comeback win in Dallas, but the biggest one is the 23 points they overcame. The deficit tied for the largest overcome in franchise history. The other time? The 1982 season opener against the Los Angeles Rams. Green Bay trailed 23-0 at halftime and won 35-23. By the way, this was the first time the Packers beat the Cowboys in Dallas since 1989.
17. Detroit Lions (7-6, LW: 15): The Stat: 8. The Cowboys seem to get all of the criticism for late season failure, but the Lions seem to be getting a free pass for doing the same thing. Detroit has now lost eight straight December/January regular season games. Of course, it’s not even limited to the year’s final month this year. The Lions have lost four of their last five games and now need help to win the division.
18. Dallas Cowboys (7-7, LW: 14): The Stat: 135-135. For nearly 16 years, like it or not, the Cowboys have been the picture of mediocrity in the NFL. In a league full of teams that rebound from 4-12 seasons to go 12-4 the very next, Dallas has gone 135-135 since 1997. Head Coach Jason Garrett has continued that mind numbing run with a 23-23 record since he was given the head job before the 2011 season. Don’t look now. A 1-1 finish means a third straight year at 8-8.
19. St. Louis Rams (6-8, LW: 21): The Stat: 2. Ever since the Rams lost Sam Bradford for the season St. Louis has based its offense around rookie running back Zac Stacy. Quarterback Kellen Clemens has played better and better, culminating in something he’s never done in his eight season career. Clemens threw two 1st Quarter touchdown passes against the Saints, 31 yards to Cory Harkey and four yards to Lance Kendricks.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8, LW: 22): The Stat: 23-of-25. Ben Roethlisberger, more than any other quarterback in the league, uses his wide receivers almost exclusively in the passing game. Big Ben’s thrown 25 touchdown passes this season, 23 of them to wide receivers. The only two touchdowns that went to other players was Week 7 to tight end Heath Miller and Week 11 to fullback Will Johnson.
21. Tennessee Titans (5-9, LW: 23): The Stat: 2-5. I mentioned above that the Cardinals have an excellent overtime record over the last few years. Their opponent in extra time, the Titans, are exactly the opposite. Tennessee has won just two of their past seven overtime contests since 2009.
22. Minnesota Vikings (4-9-1, LW: 25): The Stat: 10, 150, 1. Greg Jennings’ first season in Minnesota has been far from what he thought he was getting into when he left Green Bay. Jennings went into Sunday’s game with 48 receptions for 570 yards in 12 games, an average of just four catches and 48 yards per contest. Then, he went off. In the 48-30 win against Philly, Jennings caught 11 balls for 163 yards and a score. That made him the first Vikes receiver with 10+ catches for 150+ yards and a TD since Randy Moss in 2003.
23. New York Jets (6-8, LW: 20): The Stat: 5. Move over Matt Schaub. Geno Smith is the second half of the season’s pick six king. With just over 8:00 remaining in the 4th Quarter at Carolina, Smith dialed up Panthers defensive back Captain Munnerlyn. 51 yards later, it was 30-13 and the Jets were on their way to a loss. It was the fifth interception returned for a touchdown this year for Smith, tying Joe Namath’s franchise record from 1967.
24. New York Giants (5-9, LW: 19): The Stat: 0. Goose egg is getting a little too common for the G-Men right now. In a 256 game regular season streak from Week 15 of 1996 until Week 14 of last year New York wasn’t shut out a single time. In the 17 games since then, the offense has failed to score three times. It’s just piling on for a unit that can’t seem to hold onto the ball and for a quarterback, Eli Manning, that now holds the franchise record with 169 interceptions.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10, LW: 24): The Stat: 1-6. Don’t expect it to be that great of a week for the Buccaneers. The Rams are a force when playing in the Edward Jones Dome (ask Drew Brees), and the Bucs have never had success going on the road against them. Tampa is 1-6 all-time when visiting the Rams, compared to 7-4 when playing them at home. Their only win at St. Louis came in 2001, one of just two regular season losses for the eventual NFC Champions.
26. Buffalo Bills (5-9, LW: 28): The Stat: 38-56-1. The Bills are out of the playoff hunt, but they have a chance to play spoiler this week against Miami. History says it won’t be easy. Buffalo is just 38-56-1 all-time against the Dolphins, the second most loses they have against any team. The positive news is that they’ve been much better at home in this series, going 24-26 against just 14-30-1 at Miami. They’ve also gone 19-9 at home in the series since 1987. Fun fact: Buffalo went 0-for-the-1970’s against Miami. They won the last time they faced them in the 1960’s, lost 20 straight, then beat them the first time they played in the 1980’s.
27. Cleveland Browns (4-10, LW: 29): The Stat: 2. The Browns may have lost with an extremely flawed 4th Quarter performance, but fans did witness one positive thing they haven’t in a while with Cleveland. They scored two defensive touchdowns against the Bears, only the second time they’ve done that since returning to the NFL in 1999. The other time was in Week 7 of 2010, a 30-17 win at New Orleans. In that game, David Bowens returned two Drew Brees passes for touchdowns, the only two scores of his career.
28. Oakland Raiders (4-10, LW: 26): The Stat: 30-23-1. Raiders-Chargers is one of the better rivalries in the NFL, and this week’s game offers an opportunity for Oakland to knock San Diego from the playoff hunt. The game is in San Diego where the Raiders have historically held the upper hand, going 30-23-1. It’s not all bad for the Chargers, though. They’ve won eight-of-ten at home in this series.
29. Atlanta Falcons (4-10, LW: 30): The Stat: 15,008. Things haven’t gone very well for the Falcons this year, but Tony Gonzalez has continued to write his name higher and higher up the record books. Gonzalez had six catches for 62 yards Sunday, bringing him to 15,008 yards in his 17 seasons. He’s now the fifth member of the 15,000 yards club. The four still ahead of him are Jerry Rice (22,895), Terrell Owens (15,934), Randy Moss (15,292) and Isaac Bruce (15,208).
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10, LW: 27): The Stat: 10. No team is more consistently bad than the Jags over the last three years. In fact, Sunday’s setback against Buffalo sent Jacksonville to its third straight 10-loss season, the only NFL team to do that the past three years. After their 0-8 start, the Jaguars were a mortal lock to get to this point, but they have played better recently, winning four-of-six.
31. Washington Redskins (3-11, LW: 31): The Stat: 30.3. Robert Griffin III was benched and Kirk Cousins was put into the starting quarterback job, and it was as if Kyle Shanahan once again forgot what makes the Redskins offense run. This is a running team. That can’t be argued. For some reason, though, Washington ran the ball just 30.6% of the time in its first three games. Big surprise, they lost all three. In RGIII’s last ten games the team ran it at least 48% of the time each week. Yet here comes Cousins and Washington ran it 20 times, 30.3% of their plays.
32. Houston Texans (2-12, LW: 32): The Stat: 31. There are plenty of reasons why the Texans are struggling, but one is because they aren’t turning takeaways into points. In 14 games, Houston only has 31 points scored off turnovers. That’s a touchdown behind the Jets, who are next on the list. The Chiefs lead the league in this category with 126 points off turnovers.