Leadership is the Key for the Denver Nuggets


2009NHLTeamsofDecade_btb_mainBelieve it or not, including all  four of the major sports in the Mile High City, the last championship trophy was lifted way back in 2001 (Avalanche Stanley Cup). Not a good number for a city that prides itself as a “sports town”.  It’s been almost fifteen years since any of the Denver teams have been world champions in anything other than soccer and fans are starting to get impatient.

For comparison, the city of Boston has nine championships since the year 2000. NINE! The Patriots have won four Super Bowls, The Red Sox have three World Series titles, and the Celtics and Bruins have one first place finish each to their names.
Most Denver sports fans don’t want to hear anything about New England teams and their success (many of their championships have at one point or another caused heartbreak here) but it’s a good comparison. Same amount of time, same (ish) amount of money and a relatively level playing field in all four sports. So…..
What does Boston have that Denver doesn’t?
What has put their sports teams head and shoulders above ours in terms of success?
Why do the Broncos, Rockies, Avalanche and Nuggets never seem to have the ‘IT” factor? Or at least not enough to win the biggest of games…
Some may say it’s all coincidence. Others will point out that it’s due to New England being on the East Coast and the city of Boston drawing more star players than our beloved “cow town”. Maybe, in some cases (Red Sox) it’s just simply about one team having more money that the other. All are likely factors but there’s another piece to the puzzle that is more important than money, location or luck.
Leadership.
“Leadership is severely, severely undervalued in sports and if you can find good leaders you’ve got to keep them.” – Chauncey Billups
The Patriots have Belicheat, Doc Rivers was with the Celtics and Francona and Theo Epstein for the Red Sox were all a huge part of the winning in the New England area since the turn of the century. You can also add in players like Tom Brady, Big Papi, Manny Ramirez Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to the list of factors, but attitude and leadership start at the top of any organization.
Denver Broncos vice-president John Elway explains his reaction to receiving the call from new quarterback Peyton Manning informing him of his decision to sign with the Broncos in EnglewoodThe Broncos saw a clear lack in leadership since John Elway’s playing days and knew that the one guy who could bring them back to winning ways was in fact, number seven himself, John Elway. The team sadly hasn’t won a Super Bowl (still too soon to talk about) but they have been headed in the right direction and hopefully will at least go out with a bang in Peyton Manning’s last year or two in the NFL.
The Avalanche did much the same as the Broncos in terms of changing their culture. They wanted a change in the top of their organization and decided to go with two heroes from the past to get the job done. Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy came to town and in one season turned the team into a playoff contender. Sadly, we know what happened from there and the first round playoff loss followed by this season of disappointment hasn’t left a great first impression of the new top dogs. Fortunately though, there is still a trustworthy duo of leadership atop the organization that gives Avs’ fans hope for the future of their team.
The Rockies….well they have a new GM in Jeff Bridich but it’s way too early to bring down any judgement on him or the new regime. They’re off to a hot start in 2015 but let’s hold our horses on the Rox and talk about them in a few months.
Finally I’ve come to the long awaited point of this post. The Denver Nuggets.

The Nuggets for a large portion of the last decade were led by head coach George Karl

nuggets-celtics

(Elise Amendola, The Associated Press)

and his 2003 lottery pick from Syracuse, Carmelo Anthony. The pair never missed the playoffs but in the eight years they were together they made it past the opening round only once (2009 season). The success in 2009 was in large part due to the veteran point guard they had acquired in trade the year before with the Detroit Pistons. The home town kid, the 2004 NBA champion, “Mr Big Shot”, Chauncey Billups.

The closest to total victory the team had gotten in decades wasn’t when they traded for superstar, Allen Iverson or when they drafted a young College phenom in Anthony but rather when they picked up an aging point guard who had been labeled as the best player on a starless team after the 2004 championship. The old man on the team brought a new feeling of leadership and a calm, sensible voice in the locker room. A presence on and off the floor who earned instant respect and admiration from his teammates by his work ethic and personality, Billups was a breath of fresh air in Denver.
Washington Wizards v/s Denver Nuggets January 25, 2011Unfortunately for the folks in Denver, the fan favorite was unceremoniously traded to the Knicks along with Carmelo Anthony for Danilo Gallinari and a handful of other semi-decent players. The trade drastically changed the makeup of the team and though they made the playoffs the next several years, the high pace, high energy team never made it past the first round of the playoffs. George Karl was fired, Brian Shaw was hired and  the team quickly became the laughing stock of the NBA.
Shaw was fired after an embarrassing few months (or longer…I try to forget) and the hapless Nuggets finished the season 30-52 at the bottom of their Division. Melvin Hunt showed some grit and personality as the interim head coach but the the Denver basketball team seems to float now, completely rudderless, captainless and planless.
“When you’ve fallen like they’ve fallen, you need to take baby steps on your way to getting better.” – Chauncey Billups
Rumor has it that Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried and anyone NOT named Nurkic could be headed to the trading block this off season and no one really has a guess as to who will be the next head coach.
No coach, no direction and no stars is not where this once proud franchise wants to be. It’s a team that needs a face of the franchise, a name that players, coaches and fans can trust. The Denver Nuggets need their version of John Elway or Joe Sakic and the answer may be right in front of them.
“They’ve got some personnel decisions, some coaching decisions, some critical decisions that they have to make and I can tell you one thing, that Western Conference isn’t getting any worse.” – Chauncey Billups
The answer seems obvious to at least one casual observer. If the Nuggets want to regainimages success, respectability and leadership, they should look no further than THE hometown Denver hero, Chancey Billups.
All of Chauncey Billup’s quotes were taken from an interview on KKFN 104.3 the Fan in Denver, earlier this month.

Does Draft Round Matter for Quarterbacks – A Statistical Adventure


By the Caveman

The 2015 NFL Draft is nearly upon us. As is the norm in our quarterback-driven NFL, theJameis - Copy bad teams are looking to get a pigskin-flinger in the first round, while the adeptly-helmed teams discuss late-round QB picks to develop.

But is one approach better than the other? Much is made of Tom Brady being a lowly 6th-round pick with 4 Super Bowl victories to his name. And it seems that every year, multiple first round picks are busts for the desperate teams that draft them. My draft question (this is especially appropriate for the Denver Broncos and their soon-to-be void at QB): is it generally more successful to get early round or late-round/undrafted QB’s?

I started by ranking the QB’s who had significant playing time in 2014 (1,500+ yards passing…sorry, Johnny Manziel). I used QBR to rank them. I then plotted the draft round of each of those QB’s versus their ranking. If there was any statistical correlation between draft round and QB success in 2014, it would show up on the plot as a trend.

One note on the below plot: a point in the “8th round” simply means undrafted…it was the only easy way to manipulate the data in Excel.

graph1

The easiest way to read this graph is to start on the x-axis, from left to right. The best statistical QB in 2014 (Tony Romo of all people) is #1. He was undrafted, so he’s at 8 on the y-axis. The second-best was Aaron Rodgers: he’s #2 on the x-axis, and he’s a first-rounder on the y-axis. Etc., etc.

At first glance, it looks like there might be a slight trend – a lot of the best QB’s in 2014 were 1st round picks. Then the math started happening. The R2 value is a measure of how well a trend line fits to a data set. If the R2 value is 0, there is absolutely no correlation. If it is 1, there is perfect correlation. In this case, R2 = 0.0038…which means there is no correlation whatsoever. My takeaways from this:

  1. There is no correlation between QB performance and round drafted for starting QB’s.
  2. Over 50% of the starting QB’s in 2014 were first round draft picks.
  • This suggests that my initial approach was misplaced – my data doesn’t take into account all of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. round picks that aren’t good enough to start in the first place.

So, did I just waste all your time and mine? Not so fast – this “worthless” data actually tells us something. We either need to take into account all of the QB’s drafted who don’t start, or we need to narrow the data down to a more specific set with fewer variables.

Because it’s less work, I of course chose the latter.

What is a simple way in which to determine the worth of a QB? If we could just take one measurable and apply it to QB’s by draft round, what would that be? All die-hard football fans will agree with me on the most important valuation: Super Bowl victories.

A simple plot of the last 10 Super Bowl winning QB’s by the round in which they were drafted looks like this:

graph2

Boom. 7 out of the past 10 Super Bowls were won by 1st round QB’s. Obviously, there’s something to be said for the evaluation of scouts and teams who take these guys with their first pick in the draft. Maybe the NFL Draft is a bit more than a crapshoot after all!

That’s all I have for now. This whole post is very much me thinking out loud. I would apologize for wasting your time, but really – did you have anything better to do?

Stats Don’t Lie – The Broncos Will Crush the Colts!


By the Caveman

PFMOur Denver Broncos are playing the Indianapolis Colts this Sunday. The winner will move on and either take a trip to New England or host what would be a red-hot Baltimore team. The general consensus in the media is that the Broncos will win, and why not? They’re at home, they’re coming off a bye week, and have a great team (as opposed to the Colts, who have exactly one great player).

But that’s all qualitative. Let’s dig into some numbers.

Luck has been touted as one of the best statistical QB’s this season, throwing up “Star Wars” numbers. But guess what? Manning (who has been “slumping” this year) has only 1 fewer TD pass, 1 fewer INT, and 34 fewer yards. Basically, the two QB’s have nearly exactly the same statistics – yet Luck is a prodigy, and Manning is an old man. Fly under the radar, Peyton.

Brady ManningThat’s just regular season anyway. How about this: Manning’s career playoff passer rating is 89.2. Luck? He’s at 78.9. By the way, keep in mind that Tom Brady’s is 87.5 (lower than Manning’s)…so don’t give me the Brady’s a better playoff QB crap. Back to Luck – if you were starting a team from scratch, you’d absolutely take Luck over Manning, because Luck gives you another 10-15 years of quarterbacking. But right now, in Sunday’s game? Give me Manning all day.

Enough of the QB comparisons – they’re both good, and probably cancel each out in the big picture. What about the rest of the team?

This is where Indy fans can start sweating. Denver fans, you think we have a bad O-line? You ain’t seen nothing. The Colts’ have given up 27 sacks to the Broncos’ 17. Their rushing attack is even worse. The Colts (not counting Luck’s pocket-collapsing scrambles) have rushed for 1,339 yards and 6 TD’s. For reference, the Broncos have 1,785 yards for 15 TD’s…and that’s squarely average in the NFL.

But wait! There’s more! Defensively, the Colts are 11th best in the NFL (in yards allowedJulius anyway). Not bad, but they’re matching up against the #3 ranked defense of Denver. One of the interesting stats by which defensive secondaries are judged: pass yards per attempt. The Broncos are solidly best in the NFL, allowing only 6 yards per attempt. Yep, that’s better than the Seahawks. Good luck, Luck. Add to that the fact that Indianapolis has turned the ball over 31 times this season, which is 3rd worst in the NFL. Turnovers alone lose more playoff games in the NFL than any other statistic.

After all of that, the factor that seals the impending doom of the Colts is good old Mile High. Playing at home, the Broncos are 8-0 this season. The Colts are 5-3 on the road, and their 5 wins came against teams with a combined record of 27-53 (a 0.338 pct).

LuckBe afraid, Indianapolis. You will need luck to have a chance in this game. But Luck will not save you.

What I Took Away From the Broncos Whooping the Raiders


I was fortunate enough to be at the Broncos final “game” of the season against the644 Oakland Raiders this last Sunday and though it was only one game and against a TERRIBLE team, there was plenty to take away from watching in person rather than on T.V.

First off, the Raiders are really, really, horribly, pathetically terrible. They are a sad excuse for a football team that gave up on the game before it even started and they didn’t belong on the same field as the Broncos. That said, I think they actually have some pieces to build on and in the not so near future could be a solid team. Derek Carr could be a good QB and Latavious Murray has all the features of a future NFL star.

Anyway, who cares? They’re season is long over and the word hope doesn’t even belong in the Oakland Raider vocabulary. The Broncos on the other hand are headed to a first round bye for the third straight year and have the playoffs and a championship to hope for.

642After losing to the Cincinnati Bengals in week 16, and causing a mad panic across Bronco nation, the team did exactly what they had to do…they destroyed the Raiders. Peyton Manning followed up his three interception game with zero picks and over 300 passing yards against the Raiders. Though he didn’t have a passing touchdown, he didn’t need to with three rushing TDs from my new co-favorite Bronco, CJ Anderson. The defense was also a big part the the 47-14 butt whooping and the biggest plus was, besides two concussions (Orlando Franklin and David Bruton) the Broncos didn’t suffer any other injuries. Fortunate because the list of hurt Broncos was starting to get ridiculous. This bye week couldn’t come at a better time.

Speaking of bye weeks how ridiculously stupid is it for the NFL to have a bye week as early as week three. They preach and preach about player safety yet a team has to go 14 weeks without a break including four games in a 17 day stretch. Well done as always.

As for what else I saw on the field from my fantastic South Stand seats (thanks to John Murray and JAMMIN’ DJs) I’ll try to list them in a way that at least somewhat makes sense but I tend to ramble. Stay with me either way.

The guy who stuck out immediately and all game long was a young Defensive Lineman638 that is far from a household name. The guy that’s been better than Demarcus Ware for at least the last half of the season and got a huge +15.4 rating from Pro Football Focus………Malik Jackson! #97 seemed to be a part of every big play on defense and each time the Broncos were in the Raider backfield, Malik was nearly always there.  The big man has a huge upside and I think he could even be a future superstar in the league alongside Von Miller. (Miller btw had something like a +50 from PFF…insane!).

The other guy on defense who impressed but not surprisingly was Chris Harris JR. The guy just doesn’t give up big plays…EVER…and has some of the best foot and hip work I’ve ever seen at CB. The fact that he plays as well in the slot as he does on the outside (either side) is what’s incredibly impressive. PFF has Chris Harris Jr as the #1 ranked CB in football and it’s not even that close. So, move over Richard Sherman and shut your mouth because the Broncos have the best defensive back in the big leagues!

The bad on defense was fairly hard to find against a team like Oakland but it was there. Steven Johnson may be a good special teams player but he is a horrible, I repeat, HORRIBLE cover linebacker. The guy clearly doesn’t belong on the field and that was made very clear against the Bengals. Thank goodness Brandon Marshall will be back by the Divisional round next week and we shouldn’t have to see Johnson outside of special teams.

The offense made things look easy against the faiders and a few guys stuck out. Demaryious Thomas as always, showed why he’s an All American receiver and just looks like a man among boys out there. He just seems so much bigger and stronger than the DBs he faces and add top notch speed and great hands to that mix and he’s a top three receiver in all of football. IMHO.

Emmanuel Sanders is the SHI*! Dude plays hurt, plays with heart and plays 100% on every play. He seemed to be open on nearly every play and even after taking big hits (which seemed to happen a lot) he would pop up with a big smile and run back to the huddle. If there was a better free agent pickup in the offseason I have no idea who it was and this guy could be one of the keys to a third championship parade in Denver.

CJ Anderson has come from third string undrafted free agent status to being the main keg in the wheel that runs the Broncos success. He was even banged up and still busting moves and making fools out on the field on Sunday. He’s done it big ever since he’s had the opportunity and if the Broncos are going to win the Lombardi Trophy, he will have to continue his dominance in the backfield and be the ‘Terrell Davis’ that Manning has never had in the post season.

To sum up, I think this team isn’t as bad as they looked two weeks ago and not as good as they looked this last week. If their defense and running game can continue to do what they’ve shown their capable of and turn PFM into a third down and red zone QB, they could go all the way.  They will need some stars to show up and some unknowns to play out of their minds to move onto the Conference Championship.

688Does it matter who the Broncos play in the Divisional round?  If this team plays half as well as they’re capable of it won’t matter who they play.

Predicting a Broncos – Seahawks rematch!

UNITED IN ORANGE!

This Broncos Team is Great. Here’s why:


By the Caveman

There’s so much to say about this 2014 Broncos team. So many thoughts popped into my head when writing this piece, there was no logical way to get them all down in a nicely-flowing compilation. Therefore, I’m just going to throw down a bunch of bullet points and conclude as best as possible.

ChargersDivisional Play:
The Broncos have won 4 straight division titles. That’s amazing. If that’s not dominance, I don’t know what is.
Remember that this was done in a very good division – 3 AFC West teams made the playoffs last year, and 3 are still in contention this year.
The Broncos have won 12 straight division road games. Only the late ‘80’s Niners have done that in the history of the NFL.
John Fox has to get a lot of credit for divisional success. He’s been winning the AFC West with both Tebow and Manning, two radically different QB’s. And he had the same studly divisional track record from his Carolina days.
The Broncos have a solid lead in all-time AFC West championships with 14. The Raiders are next with 12…and it doesn’t look like they’ll ever get to 13, let alone threaten to take the historical lead anytime soon. Orange Pride!!!

The New-Look Broncos:
Many are worried about our offense, thinking that the high-flying, 400 yards passing perNFL: Miami Dolphins at Denver Broncos game days are over. I say: good!
We got the name “Denver Broncos” into all the offensive history books last year. Now we’re done with stats, and it’s time to get some rings.
It’s not like the new offense is low-scoring either: Denver is the 5th highest scoring team in the league!
I love this stat: before the Rams game (high-flying Broncos) – 2.5 points per drive average; after the Rams game (ground and pound Broncos) – 2.9 points per drive average.
This offense is actually better than the old one.
Combine that with a defense ranked 4th overall, and getting better every week.
Manning’s still getting his stats: he just reached 4,000 yards passing for the 14th time in his career. No one else in the history of the NFL is even close to that number of times.

The Chargers Game:
Harris JrHere’s a list of things that were against the Broncos last week (causing myself and many others to predict a Chargers win):
The game was on the road.
The Chargers just came off a tough loss.
The Chargers needed to win this game much more than the Broncos did.
Denver was banged up, both before the game and during the course of the game.
Peyton Manning was very sick (to the point of needing IV’s).
But what happened? The Broncos DOMINATED the Chargers even with all the issues they had.
The Denver defense (with the help of Nick Novak doing his best Brandon McManus impression) held the Chargers to 3 points until the 4th quarter. If Fox/Del Rio hadn’t gone to prevent defense, you better believe that the Chargers wouldn’t have scored that pity touchdown.
If the defensive play-calling were aggressive for the entire game, every game, this D would be every bit as good as Seattle’s. I’m not exaggerating there. It’s almost like Fox is doing statistical sandbagging.
The Chargers’ D is very good. But the Broncos’ offense pulled a Grond and just beat on it until the gate couldn’t hold any longer.
(BTW, who is tougher, has more fire, and is more all-around amazing: CJ Anderson or Emmanuel Sanders? You’re stumped. Or you’d better be.)
The Broncos won a road divisional game by being more physical than a tough, desperate team. That’s a trait common to most Super Bowl teams.

Looking Back, Going Forward:
John Elway couldn’t do it all on his own. He needed a hungry defense and a studly runningSP30BRONCOSRAIDERS_JA11770 game.
Same goes for PFM.
The ’97 Super Bowl team was gritty, won ugly, and went all the way.
John Elway’s stats in Super Bowl XXXII: 12 for 22 passing, 123 yards, 0 TD’s and 1 INT.
Look familiar to what Manning’s been posting lately?
Terrell Davis’ stats in Super Bowl XXXII: 30 carries, 157 yards, and 3 TD’s.
Look familiar to what CJ Anderson’s been doing lately?
The last three teams to win the Super Bowl are: Seattle, Baltimore, and the New York Giants. What traits did those teams all have in common?

In conclusion, don’t whine. Rejoice! The Broncos are a home win against the Raiders away from sweeping the division…for the 2nd time in the last 3 years. The sudden but impressive shift to being a power-running, defense-first team is exactly what the Broncos needed. You know that the Manning, Thomas, Thomas, Welker, Sanders magic isn’t gone – it’s just dormant. If the Broncos run into a foe that stacks the box and sells out to stop the run, then we’ll see another 5-TD performance from the Maestro.

BradyIf the Broncos run into the Seahawks again in the Super Bowl and can only score 15 points, this defense will be able to hold Seattle to 10. That’s the beauty of it all – the Broncos can win however they need to. And they’re 5 wins away from bringing a 3rd Lombardi to Denver. Yes, we may have to face old demons by playing in Foxboro and meeting up with the Thugs from ‘Theattle. But I think that’s not only doable, it will be good for the Broncos. It will show all doubters, including (perhaps especially) Denver fans themselves, that the 2014 Orange Crush is the best in the world.

2014 NFL Third Quarter Power Rankings


According to the Caveman

We only have one more quarter of football left before the playoffs. Can you handle the new power rankings?

32. Oakland Raiders (1-11) – After getting their first win of the season against the Chiefs,Raiders2 the Raiders put themselves back where they belong after the most ridiculously lopsided 52-0 poop show the NFL has seen in a long time.

31. Tennessee Titans (2-10) – This team is poopier than I had ever imagined. I can’t believe how bad they are.

30. New York Jets (2-10) – They have played some pretty good teams pretty tight. But the fact remains – they’re horrible and have no quarterback.

29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-10) – The worst team in the (by far) worst division in football. ‘Nough said.

28. New York Giants (3-9) – Time to blow up the Coughlin reign. Thanks for the 2 Super Bowls! Bye-bye! Now back to the old drawing board…

27. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10) – The Jags leapt up this time around. See, unlike thesePhiladelphia Eagles v Jacksonville Jaguars other poop teams, the Jags have a slight glimmer of future hopefulness.

26. Carolina Panthers (3-8-1) – Yeesh, I know this is a broken record, but this team is awful. Brutally, brutally awful.

25. Washington Redskins (3-9) – Gosh, there are so many bad teams this year. In an average NFL year, this Redskins team would be 3rd or 4th worst in the NFL. Yet look at all the horrible teams below them. Blech.

24. Minnesota Vikings (5-7) – Mediocre!

23. Chicago Bears (5-7) – Mediocre! But they beat the Vikings…Da Bears

22. Atlanta Falcons (5-7) – The Falcons are tied for the division lead (and thus a playoff spot) which gives them hope. But not real hope. Just a fool’s hope.

21. New Orleans Saints (5-7) – The Saints are bipolar and baffling. But they will make the playoffs due to an incredibly easy schedule: Carolina, Chicago, Atlanta, and Tampa Bay.

20. Houston Texans (6-6) – The Texans are STILL the only team with a .500 record. That’s crazy.

19. Cleveland Browns (7-5) – I’m really pulling for the Boys in Brown. But they just don’t have “it”. That said, a 9-7 season would be a huge step forward for this struggling franchise.

18. San Francisco 49ers (7-5) – Kaepernick is a horrible quarterback. If the Niners still49ers had Alex Smith under center, I think they’d be a much more legitimate threat. But now, the Niners are all but done for the season. Shout out to Kevin!!!

17. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) – Losing to the Saints at home does not do good things for your image.

16. Buffalo Bills (7-5) – The Bills have a BRUTAL schedule remaining, playing the (Spoiler Alert) 3 best teams in the NFL in their last 4 games. Good luck, Orton. Hahahahahaha. Trololololol.

15. St. Louis Rams (5-7) – If the Rams had played like they’re playing now all season, they would not only be in the playoff picture, but probably competing for the division lead. Unfortunately, it’s too little too late. Even if they win out, a 9-7 record will not get them in.

14. Kansas City Chiefs (7-5) – How do you lose to the Raiders??? How???

13. Baltimore Ravens (7-5) – The Ravens look tough at times, but they can only beat bad teams, and the choke against San Diego at home says it all.

12. Miami Dolphins (7-5) – Despite the Dolphins’ scare with the Jets on Monday night,Dolphins they are a really good team, and will be the 6-seed in the AFC playoffs.

11. Dallas Cowboys (8-4) – The Cowboys are slowing down. They have to be careful, or they might miss the playoffs in a tough NFC.

10. Indianapolis Colts (8-4) – Why are they so low? Because they haven’t beaten anybody good yet. Their four losses are to Denver, Philly, Pittsburgh, and New England. If you can’t beat good teams, you’re not a great one.

9. Cincinnati Bengals (8-3-1) – The Bengals’ tie-ridden record is close to the best in the NFL. But the team just doesn’t look good. They will likely win their division, but I’d bet anything that they’ll get knocked out in the first round. Again. For the 4th straight year.

8. Arizona Cardinals (9-3) – The Cards are taking their yearly fall back to earth after a strong start. I still absolutely love their coaching staff, but you also need a good QB to win big in this league.

7. Detroit Lions (8-4) – The Lions are no longer in control of the NFC North. They’re good, but they’re competing with the Seahawks, the Cowboys, and the Niners for 2 Wild Card spots.

6. San Diego Chargers (8-4) – Only one game out of first place in the West, the ChargersSan Diego are without question the third best team in the AFC after the 2-headed monster of Denver and New England.

5. Seattle Seahawks (8-4) – Ack, I hate having them so high, but they look like they have fixed whatever issues were plaguing them during the middle of the season. My hopes of them missing the playoffs are all but dead.

4. Philadelphia Eagles (9-3) – If Mark Sanchez doesn’t singlehandedly lose games, the Eagles are in great shape to make a deep playoff run.

3. New England Patriots (9-3) – I still think the Broncos would beat the Pats on a neutral field. But if the AFC championship is played in NE, the Pats will likely be going to the Super Bowl.

2. Denver Broncos (9-3) – How do you defend against this offense? Just when teams started figuring it out (culminating in the Rams game), the Broncos add, seemingly out of nowhere, the most deadly rushing attack seen in Denver since Tebow. The grit has FINALLY arrived.

1. Green Bay Packers (9-3) – There is no doubt that the Packers are the best team in thePackers NFL right now. Offense, defense, and QB – all spectacular.