That was an absolutely gut-wrenching loss, and it was strange that it came with one of the most complete performances by our team this season. I know you can’t get hung up on bad officiating, but I really think those horrible calls in the first half gave the Patriots the edge they needed to beat us, despite the fact that we were simply playing better than them. Look at the yardage and the time of possession in that game! We ran that game, but it just came down to a couple key plays and dumb penalties that kept us from victory. Can we improve? Hell yes. Is the season over? NO. The easy stretch of the schedule is upon us, and while it doesn’t look as easy as it did at the beginning of the season (see the Colts and Seahawks), every one of those games is winnable. Given the way we played the last two weeks against two playoff teams, I don’t see any reason why we can’t go 6-1 or 7-0 to finish the season. Granted, 9-7 or even 10-6 doesn’t guarantee a playoff spot, but it puts us in position to compete for one.
Now on to the rankings!
Fastest Riser: Dallas Cowboys (+6)
Steepest Falls: Miami Dolphins (-4), Detroit Lions (-4)
- Houston Texans (+1): Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new king. In a huge defensive battle, the Texans proved they could hit just a little bit harder. Most impressive was Arian Foster’s ability to put up over 100 yards against that Bears defense. No other team looks more complete at this juncture.
- Atlanta Falcons (-1): The offense is still astoundingly good, and Matt Ryan had a career day. The game could have gone either way, but the Saints proved just too much in the end. The only thing keeping this team out of the top spot is a defense that needs to get a little bit better. Look for them to come back with fire against Arizona.
- Chicago Bears (same): To keep it within one score against the Texans with your backup QB playing is pretty damn good. This is a VERY good team that simply got beat by a better one.
- Denver Broncos (+2): Peyton Manning continues to be superb without fail. The defense and special teams are getting even better. The way the Broncos Train is picking up speed, they could top this list by the end of the season.
- Green Bay Packers (same): The Packers come off the bye to face the Lions, who aren’t exactly a pushover. If Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson can continue their incredible chemistry, they should roll over Detroit.
- San Francisco 49ers (-2): A TIE? Really? Admittedly, they deserve it because they just refused to make any plays. Kaepernick is a serviceable backup, but if Alex Smith remained in that game, I’m positive the Niners would have won.
- New England Patriots (+1): Congrats to the New England Referees for that win. Er… Patriots, I mean. Patriots. Besides a few playmakers, their defense is terrible. They won’t last long in the playoffs if they can’t fix that. They still look much more vulnerable than they have in the past. We can only hope that they just lose from here on out. Please?
- Baltimore Ravens (+2): In a rare game where Ray Rice wasn’t able to get anything going, Joe Flacco put the team on his back. With 4 touchdowns (3 by air, one with his feet), Flacco led the Ravens to a blowout of the Raiders. Now they just need to be consistent and put Pittsburgh away.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (same): Almost losing to the Chiefs is bad. Potentially losing Big Ben for a few weeks is worse. Their season may hinge on how bad Ben’s shoulder is. A loss to the Ravens would be a HUGE setback.
- New York Giants (-3): Eli Manning now has three consecutive games without a touchdown. How does that happen? They must spend the bye figuring out how to get Eli his groove back.
- Seattle Seahawks (same): Thank goodness we aren’t facing these guys in Seattle. They are unstoppable at home. To be elite, however, they need to prove they can win on the road. They get to spend the bye figuring out how.
- Indianapolis Colts (same): Beating Jacksonville is kind of a “gimme” at this stage. The Colts impressive 4-game winning streak is in jeopardy this week against the Patriots.
- Minnesota Vikings (+1): When Adrian Peterson is running well (which is often), Christian Ponder plays his best games. This one was no exception, and Ponder did an amazing job spreading the ball evenly among several receivers with a 75% completion rate. They’ve got to feel great going into the bye like this. Note: The Vikings are 2-0 in divisional games.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+1): The offense struggled, but that just meant the defense and special teams got a chance to step up. Carolina likely doesn’t look forward to playing the Bucs, who are looking like a surprisingly complete unit.
- New Orleans Saints (+3): A lot of folks will say that the Saints win over the Falcons was a trap game. I beg to differ. Drew Brees and the offense are firing on all cylinders, and even the defense is making big plays when it needs to. I’m calling it here: The Saints are stealing a wild card spot.
- Cincinnati Bengals (+1): It’s hard to give a ton of credit to the Bengals when the Giants played SO badly. Playoff hopes were kept alive, though, and they’ll likely continue fueling those hopes against the Chiefs.
- Detroit Lions (-4): Given an opportunity to make real progress, the Lions choked. Megatron had 207 yards receiving, but the ground game couldn’t get going. That window to the playoffs is closing fast, and the Packers come to town next.
- Dallas Cowboys (+6): I’ll give the Cowboys some love this week, but it’s for their defense, not their offense. Romo just can’t be consistent enough for this team to succeed, and it blows my mind that people are still picking them to go to the playoffs. If they lose to the Browns I will laugh and laugh.
- Washington Redskins (same): Coming off the bye, the Redskins are looking to place the ailing Eagles firmly in the bottom of the division. They need to grab wins where they can get them to stay in the hunt.
- Miami Dolphins (-4): The Dolphins managed 3 points against one of the worst defenses in the league. That about sums it up. Let’s hope they continue that kind of performance on Thursday night in Buffalo.
- St. Louis Rams (same): For all intents and purposes, the Rams had that game won. The long pass to Danny Amendola would have put them in position to win, and it got called back on a meaningless illegal formation call. Still, the Rams looked pretty good on Sunday. Having Amendola back gives them a chance to surprise teams again.
- Arizona Cardinals (same): A lot of Cardinals players probably wish they could just extend their bye week and skip a matchup with the Falcons that does not lean in their favor. The Falcons will be angry and looking to take out some aggression. I doubt the extra rest will help the Cardinals respond to that.
- San Diego Chargers (-3): Philip Rivers threw one of the worst picks I’ve ever seen on Sunday. The Chargers just keep finding a way to lose, and in a few short weeks they’ve gone from contender to longshot. Beating the Broncos would put them firmly back in contention, but that seems like wishful thinking at this point.
- Tennessee Titans (+3): Since when did Tennessee have a defense? Chris Johnson is officially out of his slump, which actually gives the Titans a chance to be in every game. Jake Locker completed less than half of his passes, but he still managed 2 touchdowns on the day. The bye should be spent on Locker’s accuracy, and trying to reproduce the defense that showed up Sunday.
- Buffalo Bills (same): The thing is, we should have won that game. We were a play away from being a game out of first place. Yes, a loss is a loss, but the Bills looked more complete than they have all year. If we play like that in every game from here on out, and cut down on the penalties, we won’t lose again.
- Philadelphia Eagles (-3): Shame on Andy Reid and the Eagles front office for failing to put together ANY protection for their QB. They focused so much on making big, shiny additions at the highly visible skill positions, they never took the time to get real talent on the O-Line. I’m starting to believe that Vick is better than his stats this year. Tom Brady would even look like Brandon Weeden behind the Eagles line.
- New York Jets (-1): While our Bills have joined the Jets on a 3-game losing streak, the Bills are showing improvement. The Jets, on the other hand, are in free-fall. Get this: People are still making a case for them making the playoffs. If the Jets have a chance, dammit, so do we.
- Cleveland Browns (same): With Trent Richardson rested, the Browns have a legitimate chance to upset the Cowboys this week. They might as well settle in to their role as spoiler now.
- Oakland Raiders (same): The Raiders defense gave Joe Flacco one of the best games of his career on Sunday, proving just how bad they are. The offense is ok, but they continue to suffer from the curse of RB injuries. The Saints won’t go easy on them.
- Carolina Panthers (same): Let’s all look back at that ridiculous newspaper ad Mr. Kalil made. Maybe NFL players will learn their lesson about Super Bowl predictions? Probably not. After Cam Newton got sacked for that safety, I immediately wondered if the Panthers keep a psychiatrist on staff. That guy’s gonna need some serious counseling.
- Kansas City Chiefs (+1): Congratulations to the Chiefs for getting their first lead of the season! Too bad they couldn’t hold on to it. Hidden in the muck, there is a decent defense and a good running back in KC. In a year or two they could contend if they play their cards right. For now, though, they’re the frontrunner to pick the first QB in the 2013 draft.
- Jacksonville Jaguars (-1): NEWS FLASH – Rashad Jennings is NOT Maurice Jones-Drew. Also, you know you’re having problems when your coach is getting flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. In a laughable game this week, the league-worst Jags are playing the league-best Texans. That one’s gonna be hard to watch.
So chin up, Bills Mafia! Let’s represent the team well in our one and only primetime game during the regular season! The Dolphins represent a chance to turn the season around hard. A tweet I saw earlier today put it best: The playoffs start this week for the Buffalo Bills. Let’s get behind them as they rise to the challenge. GO BILLS! SQUISH THE FISH!