Posted: Monday December 19, 2011 8:39AM ; Updated: Monday December 19, 2011 1:34PM
Peter King

MMQB (cont.)

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Fine Fifteen

Patriots turn back Tebow, Broncos
Source: SI's Mark Mravic breaks down the Patriots victory over the Tim Tebow-led Broncos.

1. Green Bay (13-1). So now the Packers don't have to worry about a Lambeau leap into history. They have two home games left -- Christmas night against the Bears, New Year's Day against the Lions -- to finish off one of the greatest regular seasons in NFL history, and to get their offensive line right for the playoffs.

2. New Orleans (11-3). They've won six straight, by an average of 13 points. It's close, but the Saints just look better all around right now than the Patriots or Ravens.

3. New England (11-3). After looking terrible against the run in the first 10 minutes (133 rushing yards by Denver), the Pats settled down and played effectively on defense, despite losing valuable pass-rusher Andre Carter, probably for the year with a quad injury.

4. Pittsburgh (10-3). Will Ben Roethlisberger play? Someone Who Should Know told me Friday, "No way.'' But I'm also told he really wants to play tonight. Stay tuned.

5. San Francisco (10-3). This is a big game tonight for lots of reasons, not the least of which is you don't want to enter the postseason playing the way San Francisco's played the last three weeks.

6. Baltimore (10-4). Imagine what a sick feeling the Ravens had this morning, flying back across the United States. They worked so hard to earn supremacy in the AFC North, and they swept Pittsburgh, yet they flew home knowing if Pittsburgh wins out, the Ravens will have to use the road route AGAIN to advance in the playoffs. All that hard work could be for naught.

7. Houston (10-4). First real sign of shakiness for T.J. Yates, against Carolina. How will he respond Thursday at suddenly interesting Indy?

8. Atlanta (9-5). At 7-2 since mid-October, the Falcons now are real competition for the Saints. Good game coming a week from tonight.

9. Dallas (8-6). Interesting how things go from bleak to booming in six nights. The Cowboys will need help, but if they win out they host a playoff game -- no matter what the Giants and Eagles do.

10. San Diego (7-7). You figure them out. I can't.

11. Seattle (7-7). Too high? Tell that to their last three foes, vanquished by 17, 17 and 24 points, the latest of which was Chicago Sunday in a Soldier Field beatdown.

12. Detroit (9-5). The 98-yard Matthew Stafford-led drive will go down in Lions lore. It has to. "What fun,'' he told me. Looked it.

13. Denver (8-6). It wasn't Tebow's play Sunday against New England that was worrisome. It was a defense that allowed 451 yards. A sieve, that D.

14. Philadelphia (6-8). Manhandled Miami and the Jets by a total of 42 points in the last eight days. They're hugely disappointing overall, but they're also dangerous today.

15. (tie) New York Jets (8-6). Huge Disappointment Bowl on Christmas Eve in the Meadowlands: Giants at Jets. Two teams on the playoff cusp, combining to lose by 45 points Sunday.

15. (tie) Arizona (7-7). John "Red'' Skelton's 5-1. The only quarterback with a better winning percentage in 2011: Aaron Rodgers. The defense is pretty good too. Cards have won six of the last seven.

The Award Section

Offensive Players of the Week

Detroit QB Matthew Stafford. He joined the big time Sunday with 57- and 98-yard drives in the last 10 minutes, leading Detroit to a playoff-sustaining 28-27 win at Oakland. For the day, he was 29 of 52 for 391 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Other than a vital fumble earlier in the game, Stafford played about as well as a quarterback can play in a game with huge playoff implications for a franchise desperate to make the postseason.

New Orleans QB Drew Brees. On a day when he moved within 305 yards of breaking Dan Marino's all-time single-season passing-yards record, Brees was superb in dismantling the Vikings and keeping the Saints in the race for a first-round playoff bye. He completed 32 of 40 throws for 412 yards, with five touchdowns and no interceptions. A brilliant performance, even though it came against a spent Minnesota defense.

Miami RB Reggie Bush. This is precisely what Bush wanted -- the chance to be an every-down back. And he's reveling in it. His 25-carry, 203-yard rushing day keyed interim coach Todd Bowles' first career victory Sunday at Buffalo and added to Bush's string of great performances recently. This month, he's rushed for 100 yards against Oakland, 103 against Philadelphia and now the biggest game of his career, in Buffalo. And he's not plodding through defenses; he's running around them for 6.7 yards a clip over the last three games. This is what the Dolphins traded for, and it bodes well for the 2012 Dolphins, whoever coaches them.

Defensive Players of the Week

Carolina LB Jordan Senn. Never heard of him? You're not alone. Sunday at Houston was the fourth start for the undersized, fourth-year middle 'backer from Portland State, and he made it count: He was all over the field at the Texans, making 14 tackles, an interception of quarterback T.J. Yates and a forced fumble.

Kansas City pass-rusher Tamba Hali. He capitalized on the soft underbelly of the Green Bay offensive line. But remember, he was rushing over left tackle Marshall Newhouse, who has been the left tackle of the Pack for much of the season since Chad Clifton was lost with a hamstring injury. His three sacks, two pressures and four tackles led the upset of the Packers.

Special Teams Player of the Week

Arizona CB/PR Patrick Peterson. Not a great day for the kicking game around the NFL. But Arizona made one play that won the game with Cleveland on the punt team. After Cleveland's first drive of overtime stalled, Brad Maynard punted to Peterson instead of punting it out of bounds. Peterson returned it 32 yards to the Cleveland 40 (accounting for all but one of his punt return yards of the day). Three plays later, Jay Feely kicked the winning field goal and the Cards stayed, tenuously, in the playoff chase.

Coach of the Week

Kansas City interim coach Romeo Crennel. Oh, he wants the permanent job, all right. And with one more day like Sunday, he just might get it. In fact, there's a mathematical chance the Chiefs could still win the division -- and if that were to happen, GM Scott Pioli might not just give Crennel the full-time job. He might give him Clark Hunt's office. The one thing that's obvious is those players love playing for Crennel. They hope they can do enough to get him the job full-time after the season.

Goat of the Week

The Green Bay instant-replay mechanism. It was clear Packer coach Mike McCarthy wanted to throw the challenge flag early in the fourth quarter after the officials ruled Kansas City's Leonard Pope was down at the three with a 9-7 Chiefs lead. Replays showed Pope appeared to fumble as he tried to reach the ball across the goal line, and slo-mo showed certainly that the ball was out of Pope's grasp when he reached over the goal line. Almost certainly, the correct ruling should have been a touchback, with the Packers getting the ball at their 20. But McCarthy never pulled the red flag out of his back pocket, obviously waiting for the word from upstairs to challenge the play. That word, apparently, never came. If it had, Kansas City wouldn't have kicked a field goal to end that drive and Green Bay would have been down two points, needing about 45 yards to have a good shot at the go-ahead field goal.
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