Posted: Monday December 5, 2011 8:25AM ; Updated: Monday December 5, 2011 1:29PM
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Fine Fifteen

Win a big boost for undefeated Packers
Source:SI
Don Banks dissects what the Packers' thrilling 38-35 win over the Giants means for the rest of the season.

You're out, Bengals. Three games against Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the last 22 days. Three losses. Foes 90, Cincinnati 48.

1. Green Bay (12-0). I love the Packers playing their first truly last-second game since opening night, playing on the road, Aaron Rodgers driving them 68 yards in five plays and 55 seconds to a gimme field goal. At some point of every season, great teams have to win nailbiters, and it was good for the development of this team to struggle and win.

2. New England (9-3). As admirable a game as the Colts played for about 80 percent of it, that they didn't cover Rob Gronkowski on two of three touchdowns ... inexcusable.

3. Baltimore (9-3). Three games do not a trend make, and so I did not purchase the one about the Ravens not being able to beat bad teams after emotional wins. Just too weird.

4. San Francisco (10-2). All those who had the Niners clinching the division in Week 13, raise your hands. Thought you'd be the only one, Jack Harbaugh.

5. New Orleans (9-3). In eight quarters in seven days in the Superdome, the Saints put up 80 points and 1,015 yards on two NFC playoff contenders. They're scary good on offense right now. Really looking forward to the Saints-Niners divisional game at Candlestick in six weeks. I think at Candlestick, but you never know.

6. Pittsburgh (9-3). Steelers home to Cleveland Thursday, then have nearly a complete bye before playing San Francisco on Monday night in Week 15. That's 10 full days between games, plus most of a day of rest in the hotel in San Francisco on day 11 -- just what a veteran team needs this late in the season.

7. Houston (9-3). Hard to have any more admiration for a team than I have for Houston. Not to say the Texans are going to be much of a factor in the playoffs with T.J. Yates at quarterback, but the way they've rallied around him and not made excuses for their injuries and played well enough for the past six-plus quarters to beat Jacksonville and Atlanta ... that's pretty good.

8. New York Jets (7-5). Ship's been steadied now with two straight wins. Coming up: Kansas City in New Jersey next Sunday. Should be a gimme, but it's not. Chiefs have given up a meager 16 points in their last eight quarters.

9. Atlanta (7-5). Anyone watching the Falcons has to be asking, "What's wrong with Matt Ryan?''

10. Denver (7-5). The Broncos made the front page of the Drudge Report Sunday. Or, rather, Tim Tebow did. "MIRACLE: TEBOW DOES IT AGAIN!'' was the headline on the famous news blog.

11. Miami (4-8). Last seven games: 4-3 ... Miami 171, Foes 92. Do I think they beat the Giants, Lions and Bears on a neutral field in Wichita tomorrow? Yes. (Well, not all of them together. I mean, one at a time.)

12. Dallas (7-5). In the previous six weeks, they got creamed by Philadelphia, beat Seattle by 10, manhandled Buffalo, beat Washington in overtime, beat Miami by a point and lost to Arizona in overtime. Trust Dallas at your own risk.

13. New York Giants (6-6). How nutty is this: The Giants have lost four in a row, and if they win out in the last four weeks, they win the division. Weird.

14. Detroit (7-5). Fading fast; 2-5 in the last seven weeks since the miracle start. Doesn't help to have 22 accepted penalties for 209 yards in the last two games.

15. Tennessee (7-5). Chris Johnson put it right when interviewed after the game. He said early in the season the passing game was carrying the offense, and now it's the runners' turn. He's been his old Chris Johnson self the past two weeks: 46 carries, 343 yards. The Titans are in this wild-card race.

The Award Section

Offensive Players of the Week

Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers. This is how silly a season Rodgers is having: He completed 28 of 46 for 369 yards, with four touchdowns and an interception, for a 106.2 rating in the 38-35 against the Giants ... and it was his worst game of the season. You can look it up. It was Rodgers' lowest-rated game by 5.2 rating points in the NFL's arcane way of ranking quarterbacks, but he was money all day against a persistent Giants' rush. He led the Pack five plays in 55 seconds to the winning field goal in front of a hostile crowd at the Meadowlands Sunday.

Carolina QB Cam Newton. Breaking the NFL record for touchdown runs by a quarterback in a season with three TD rushes at suddenly feeble Tampa Bay, Newton now has 13 rushing touchdowns for the year, most in the NFL. He added a touchdown pass and 204 yards throwing, propelling the Panthers out of the NFC South cellar for the first time since the 2009 season.

Defensive Players of the Week

Kansas City LB Justin Houston. The rookie from Georgia made Caleb Hanie's life miserable (well, Hanie helped too) with three sacks, two more quarterback hits, a forced fumble and a pass deflected. Houston contributed to a defense that allowed a weakened Bear offense just 181 yards. Great plan by defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel too. He's having an outstanding run.

Pittsburgh LB James Harrison. He pressured Andy Dalton of the Bengals early and often, and was the vast majority of the Steeler pass-rush. For the day, Pittsburgh had three sacks for 24 yards. Harrison had three sacks for 24. Yep. Had 'em all. In his four games back since breaking the orbital bone in his eye, Harrison has had three, zero, zero and three sacks, respectively, in four games.

Special Teams Player of the Week

New Orleans CB Patrick Robinson, for blocking a Jason Hanson field goal try as the clock expired at the end of the first half, with the Lions trying desperately to get back into the game, down 24-7. To come around the edge as fast as Robinson did so he could get a hand on the kick should be illegal -- which Jim Schwartz thought it was. He thought Robinson was offside -- and it was close. But it wasn't called, and the effect was huge. The demoralized Lions left the field down 17, knowing that every missed chance against a team this explosive would be a killer.

Dallas P Mat McBriar. The stats look pedestrian: five punts, a 38.2-yard average. But consider this: McBriar pinned the Cards at their 11-, 1-, 3-, 20- and 5-yard line after the five punts; Patrick Peterson, the heir to Hester as the most dangerous punt returner in football, had exactly one punt return yard all day.

Pittsburgh PR/WR Antonio Brown. The Bengals were hoping to go into halftime down 21-7 and a chance to regroup. But they had to punt to Brown with 95 seconds left in the half, and he juked toward the middle, then left, then sprinted down the right sideline for a 60-yard touchdown. Ballgame.

Coaches of the Week

Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp. They nursed T.J. Yates through the last 32 minutes of a win at Jacksonville last week, then got him ready for his first NFL start Sunday, at home against Yates' hometown team, the Falcons. Yates completed 12 of 25 throws, and the Texans' game plan eked out 337 yards against Atlanta. Coach Gary Kubiak gave both coaches game balls after the game.

"Greg Knapp and Rick Dennison have not slept this week," Kubiak said. "The job that they did with that kid in the quarterback room this week was tremendous. These things don't happen in this league. It's one thing to lose a guy, but it's another thing to have two out of your three quarterbacks in your room [Jake Delhomme, Kellen Clemens, the new backups] that don't even know your system that you're trying to teach them in the middle of the year. It's been a heck of a challenge and T.J. held up his end of the bargain very well. But those guys did a great job.''

Goat of the Week

Dallas coach Jason Garrett, for his poor handling of the clock at the end of the fourth quarter at Arizona. With two timeouts and 31 seconds left after converting a first down at the Arizona 31 in a 13-13 game, Garrett didn't call a timeout. Rather, he held on to them as the Cowboys scrambled to get a play off, with Tony Romo ultimately spiking the ball with eight seconds left. Then, as the play clock ran down and his field-goal team was ready to kick, Garrett called a timeout ... in effect icing his own kicker. But Dan Bailey followed through and made the field goal, presumably ending the game -- until the officials were seen waving their arms to signify the Garrett timeout. Why call the timeout after 17 seconds ran off the clock? And then why not try to get the ball a few yards closer so Bailey would have a closer try than 49 yards? Anyway, when the kick finally was tried, Bailey missed and the Cowboys lost in overtime. That's a bad loss.

 
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