Posted: Monday December 12, 2011 10:32AM ; Updated: Monday December 12, 2011 5:25PM
Peter King

MMQB (cont.)

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Fine Fifteen

Texans in prime position
Source:SI's Andrew Perloff says the Texans can exceed all expectations by earning the #1 seed in the AFC.

1. Green Bay (13-0). I'm not trying to minimize the loss of Greg Jennings, if he is lost for the rest of the regular season. But the Packers' next game of consequence is either 33 or 34 days from now, in their first playoff game. If they win one of their final three games, they clinch homefield throughout the NFC playoffs and would have time for Jennings to rehab even an injury of medium severity, like a torn MCL.

2. Baltimore (10-3). Terrell Suggs: three sacks, three forced fumbles. The only questions about Suggs and the All-Pro team is wondering if he'll be classified as an outside linebacker or defensive end. Either way, he's an All-Pro.

3. New England (10-3). I bet Tom Brady really wasn't all giddy and happy with Bill O'Brien, the way it appeared in the postgame presser, for biting his head off when he threw the bad interception late in Washington. But I also bet Brady appreciates a normally placid coach going freakazoid too, because a throw like Brady's shouldn't be acceptable.

4. New Orleans (10-3). I don't know how you throw a better ball than Drew Brees' second TD pass to Marques Colston Sunday in Nashville. So perfectly thrown that if Colston had been sleepwalking, it would have nestled softly into his hands in the end zone and he never would have felt it.

5. Pittsburgh (10-3). In Ben's Rehab They Trust.

6. San Francisco (10-3). Blew a 12-point lead in the second half. To John Skelton. Not good.

7. Houston (10-3). Pinch yourself, Houstonians. You're going to see NFL playoff football in your town for the first time since 1993.

8. New York Jets (8-5). These Jets remind me of last year's Jets. Stumbled late, then built up enough steam to be a factor in the playoffs. Here comes momentum.

9. Denver (8-5). At some point you just have to go along for the ride, sit back, enjoy it and realize you're witnessing one of the greatest stories we've seen in the NFL in a long, long time.

10. Atlanta (8-5). Amazing. For a team that has played so inconsistently all season, these Falcons are on the way to 10-6, at least (Jacksonville, at New Orleans, Tampa Bay), with a good shot at the fifth seed in the playoffs.

11. New York Giants (7-6). Any team with a quarterback as good and as clutch as Eli Manning is going to be one heck of a tough out in the playoffs. Now the Giants just have to get there.

12. Tennessee (7-6). The most impressive loser of them all Sunday. My Lord, where did this Karl Klug come from? (From Iowa. Fifth-round rookie. Another great and underrated product from the Kirk Ferentz School of NFL Development.) Plays like the Tasmanian devil. Six sacks bounding inside and outside.

13. Detroit (8-5). The mystery team of the next three weeks. Could see them go 0-3, 3-0 or anything in between (at Oakland, San Diego, at Green Bay). I mean, predict that.

14. San Diego (6-7). Not saying I believe, but the Chargers have won two in a row by a 75-24 composite score, and Philip Rivers has completed 76 percent with six touchdowns and no picks. Here come the wacky Chargers again.

15. Chicago (7-6). The Bears have a path to the playoffs, but it would be best if Caleb Hanie drove the bus there instead of playing quarterback.

The Award Section

Offensive Players of the Week

New York Giants QB Eli Manning. After throwing a disheartening interception, a fluky tipped one to Sean Lee midway through the fourth quarter, Manning saw the Giants go down by 12. All he did in the last six minutes was lead touchdown drives of 80 and 58 yards, on the road, throwing for 400 yards and two touchdowns along the way. What a cool customer.

Houston QB T.J. Yates. Played like Manning earlier in the day in Cincinnati. Down 19-10 midway through the fourth quarter, Yates led field-goal and touchdown drives to clinch the Texans' first playoff berth in their history. With a 26-of-44, 300-yard passing day, Yates showed the Texans might not have to try to win despite him.

New England TE Rob Gronkowski. He set the NFL record for touchdowns by a tight end with a six-catch, 160-yard, two-touchdown day in the 34-27 win at Washington. He's got 15 now, and no one will be surprised -- especially if he can continue to run through and over defenses like he did Sunday in Washington -- if he puts this record so far out of reach it'll last until long after he retires.

Defensive Players of the Week

New York defensive end/ST Jason Pierre-Paul. Eight tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and the most significant blocked kick for the Giants in years. In the final seconds at Dallas, with the Giants up 37-34, Pierre-Paul slithered through the center-right guard hole, thrust his hand skyward and got a piece of Dan Bailey's kick. The ball ricocheted off his hands, clanged downfield, and the Giants had their biggest win of the season.

Philadelphia DEs Jason Babin and Trent Cole. They took advantage of the injury to one very good tackle, (Jake Long, replaced by Nate Garner) and exploited one poor one (Marc Colombo, with 36 QB pressures/hits in the season's first 12 games, according to, Babin and Cole had three sacks apiece in the 26-10 rout of the Dolphins in Miami. Nine sacks total for the Eagles, leading every Philly fan to think: Where's this been all year?

Minnesota DE Jared Allen. Lots of pressure on Allen entering the game at Detroit, because he said some anti-Detroit things during the week. He produced, though. His three sacks of Matthew Stafford give him 17.5 for the season, meaning he's 5.5 sacks from breaking Michael Strahan's record. He'll have a chance in the final three weeks, because the Vikings have the beat-up Washington line in two weeks, followed by the suspect Chicago front to end the season.

Special Teams Players of the Week

Denver K Matt Prater. A 59-yarder that would have been good from 69 to tie Denver-Chicago at 10 and force overtime. A 51-yarder that would have been good from 61, or longer, to win it in overtime. We're talking the biggest pressure kicks a kicker can have, and Prater drilled them like it was a May minicamp workout. Pretty impressive.

Coach of the Week

Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt. Beat the 49ers, which is good enough. But also got John Skelton ready to play a winning game (and he threw three touchdown passes), and convinced his team three weeks ago the season wasn't over. It appeared that way at 3-7, but Arizona's won three straight, and the rest of the slate (Cleveland, at Cincinnati, Seattle) at least gives the players hope they've got a prayer and aren't playing out the string.

Goats of the Week

Chicago RB Marion Barber. Are you kidding me? Running out of bounds inside of two minutes left, with Denver having no timeouts left and down three? Pure idiocy. Barber's move allowed the Broncos a last chance to tie the game, getting it with 56 seconds left at the Denver 20 ... instead of getting the last-ditch chance with maybe 22 seconds left and no timeouts. And then he fumbled in overtime, allowing Tim Tebow to keep the miracles flowing.

Referee John Parry, with an assist to head linesman Derick Bowers. In the Minnesota-Detroit game, on the exhilarating final play, Parry had one player to watch -- quarterback Joe Webb. And while Webb floated to the left trying to make a play as time expired, Detroit linebacker DeAndre Levy grabbed Webb's facemask and twisted it. Clearly a flag should have been thrown. No flag. Levy sacked Webb, the ball was fumbled, it got kicked around, and the game ended.

What should have happened: The Vikings should have gotten an untimed final down from the Lions half-yard line (half the distance to the goal).

The non-call could play a major role in the NFC playoff race. The Lions are 8-5. We'll never know if they should be 7-6. Now, who bears responsibility? Parry's sole job is to watch the passer, but the ref was shielded because Webb's back was to him. Bowers' job is to watch Toby Gerhart and action in the offensive backfield. So I'd say Parry should have been able to see the severe twisting of the helmet and assumed the only way it could have been jerked like that was grabbing the facemask ... and he should have been backstopped by Bowers. As it was, a huge call with playoff implications was missed.
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