Apologies for the lateness of the Hierarchy/Obituary this week, but it's been kind of crazy with the upcoming Eagles-Cowboys showdown, as well as the beginning of the college bowl season. We have a new obituary to write this week, and 9 teams remain alive in the NFC.
How much easier could it get for the Lions this year? All three division rivals lost their starting QBs for at least 5 games, and all three also had surprisingly bad defenses. In fact, the Bears, Packers and Vikings all finished in the bottom 7 in the NFL in overall defense:
The Lions have so many great talents on their roster, and yet, they continue to underachieve. Jim Schwartz might be the worst coach in the NFL.
9) Cardinals (10-5)
Three teams in the NFC have clinched playoff spots. They are the Seahawks, Niners, and Panthers.
There are 6 teams that remain mathematically alive. The NFC East will be won by either the Eagles or Cowboys, and the NFC North will be won by either the Bears or Packers. All 4 of those teams are "win and they're in." That leaves just the Saints and Cardinals.
If the Saints beat the Buccaneers at home, they're in.
The Cards are the only team left that doesn't control whether or not they make the playoffs. They have to beat the Niners at home and have the Saints lose. For that reason alone, they're at the bottom of the hierarchy.
If we were ranking them on the best teams right now, I'd go:
The Cardinals are one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now, after winning 7 of 8, including a win (gasp) in Seattle. NFC teams will be more than happy to see the Saints make it and the Cardinals miss out.
8) Cowboys (8-7)
If the Eagles can put up 764 yards Sunday night, the 2013 Cowboys will be the worst defense in the history of the NFL. You can do it Chip!
7) Bears (8-7)
The Bears allow 161.5 rushing yards per game. They've allowed 384 more rushing yards than the next closest team. It's one thing to look at the stats and see that the Bears have an atrocious run defense. It's another to actually see it.
Here's Bryce Brown's TD run late in that game last week. I circled each defender in a different color:
Yellow: Safety Major Wright (21) is defeated easily on a block by TE James Casey.
Silver: Lane Johnson easily shuttles DE David Bass (91) up the field away from the play.
Green: Julian Vandervelde gets up on Lance Briggs (55). Briggs will spin off of this block, but Bryce Brown will already be by him by the time he does. Then Briggs will turn and chase after Brown, and look washed up in doing so.
Red: That's Todd Herremans making easy work of DT Landon Cohen (97).
Blue: Evan Mathis gets leverage on Stephen Paea (92), and easily turns him away from the hole.
Purple: That's James Anderson (50), being negated by the threat of Michael Vick running to the outside.
Aqua: This is just gross. Rookie Jon Bostic (57) is seemingly avoiding the block of Allen Barbre, so he'll jump to the right, out of his gap, leaving an enormous hole in his absence. See...
Black: With Bostic jumping out of the way, Barbre can help Zach Ertz with his block on Julius Peppers.
White arrow: And finally, that's safety Chris Conte, who is just awful. He's going to be one-on-one with Bryce Brown, and this will happen.
Once Conte feebly misses Brown, this is what Bryce has in front of him:
That is across-the-board domination. I get that it was garbage time, but can somebody defeat a block and make a tackle? Anybody?
6) Packers (7-7-1)
Aaron Rodgers is back. Because of that and the breakdown noted above, the Packers are going to spank the Bears. It really is incredible how the rest of the NFC North refused to take a hold of the division and kept the Packers in it while Rodgers was out.
5) Saints (10-5)
The Saints can have a first round bye. They can also miss the playoffs entirely. This team is limping down the stretch, as they've lost 3 of 4. In their last 5 games, the Saints have averaged 16.8 points per game. By comparison, over the same span, the Eagles have averaged 33.2.
Because of the presence of Drew Brees, people automatically think of the Saints as an explosive offense. They are not. Brees is a great QB, and Jimmy Graham is an incredible weapon from the TE spot, but beyond those two players, this offense is almost entirely devoid of legitimate weapons.
• Marques Colston is on pace for career lows in yards and TD catches. Colston's long catch on the season is 35 yards.
• Darren Sproles has not been the big play threat that he was in years past. He has 6 catches of 20+ yards, and 1 run of 20+ yards. He has averaged 11.5 plays of 20+ yards since joining the Saints.
• Robert Meachem is averaging 1 catch per game. Lance Moore is averaging less than 3.
• Kenny Stills looks like a promising rookie, but 31-565-4 is not very good from your #2 in the short term.
• The running game is equally uninspiring. The Saints average 3.8 yards per carry, and are 1 of just 5 teams that doesn't have a single run this season of over 40 yards.
Why? Because the OL can't block anyone. At times during this season, the Saints were 5-0, and 9-2. If you're an Eagles fan, this is the team you want to face in the first round of the playoffs, if Philly should advance past Dallas on Sunday night.
4) Eagles (9-6)
How balanced is the Eagles offense?
If they can run for 71 yards and throw for 119 Sunday night, they'll be the first team since the 1998 49ers to run for 2500 yards and throw for 4000.
What do you think of that, Phil Simms?
3) 49ers (11-4)
OK, so this isn't completely Niners related, but here are the combined point differentials of each division:
The NFC West is ridiculous.
2) Panthers (11-4)
Every year, fans and media overreact to slow starts. Five of the nine teams still alive in the NFC (Panthers, Niners, Eagles, Cardinals, and Packers) all started 1-2. The Panthers and Eagles started 1-3.
The Panthers in particular have gone on a very impressive 10-1 run. During that stretch, they beat 4 teams who will be in the playoffs this week if they win their Week 17 games (Niners, Pats, Dolphins, Saints).
It's as battle tested a team as you'll find in the NFC.
1) Seahawks (12-3)
The Seahawks' home field advantage is currently one of the most overrated things in sports.