5 at 10: NFL Power poll, Titans and Falcons, and Braves making (non)moves

5 at 10: NFL Power poll, Titans and Falcons, and Braves making (non)moves

December 13th, 2011 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

From the "Mama McNabb stage here at the Al Davis Studio," here we go...

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) runs with the ball during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the New York Giants Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

NFL Power poll

This has been a very enjoyable and intriguing NFL season. And the team rankings across the league have morphed into a bizarro sandwich in which there's no debating which teams are the bread (the unbeaten Packers are the top and the winless Colts are the bottom slice), and all the other sandwich items can be flipped or reversed or stacked however you want.

Quick side note: This season has been enjoyable in part because of the great story lines and more importantly because the games have been so entertaining. Makes a pretty strong argument against the value of preseason, huh, since the labor lockout cut into preparation time around the league? (Yes, we had almost forgotten about the labor lockout, too. Let's just move along.)

Top 5

1) Green Bay: Duh.

2) New England: Seems like the Pats have an emotional edge right now that is paying dividends. Brady snapping at the OC and big tight end Rob Grnasdhakoskiskisski or whatever his name is has become a combo of Mark Bavaro, Dave Capser and Kellen Winslow.

3) New Orleans: On turf, the Saints may be the best team in football. Alas, there is not turf at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, and that's where the road to the Super Bowl will lead.

4) Pittsburgh: The Steelers are banged up and are tied at 10-3 for the best record in the AFC (although Baltimore holds the tie-breaker in the AFC North standings) and face an interesting dilemma: Go for home-field advantage or make sure your stars are healthy for the playoffs.

5) Baltimore: The best team without an elite QB. And there's the award-winning back-handed compliment for Joe Flacco this morning.

Bottom 5

28) Jacksonville: Do you think the attendance-starved and QB-needy Jaguars would like to have a mulligan in the 2010 draft when they picked defensive end Tyson Alualu 10th in the first round? Remember that Tim Tebow, who grew up near Jacksonville, was picked 15 spots later. Is there one player who would mean more to a franchise in the combination on the field and in the stands than Tebow for the Jags? No way.

29) Washington: Gross. Here's another question: During the era of political correctness correcting team names, how did the Redskins survive? Isn't that the worst of all the Indian names? Chiefs and Braves and Warriors were either terms or roles of honor. Redskins... not so much.

30) Minnesota: Who did more to damage their legacy in the last three years, Brett Favre or Donovan McNabb? And considering each hit rock bottom in Minnesota, here's saying the over/under on the number of free agent QBs looking to join the Vikings this offseason is 0.3. (Take the under.)

31) St. Louis: The Rams' loss to Seattle on Monday was the worst Monday Night Football matchup the 5-at-10 can ever remember. Being on Monday night used to be a big deal. Now it appears it is not unlike church league youth basketball and everyone gets to play. Hey, we got nothing against church league youth hoops mind you, we just don't plan on watching it unless we have a tot in the game. And "Hey, we're better than church league youth hoops and the players' parents are going to watch," is certainly not the desired message of the MNF brand.

32) Indianapolis: Duh.

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And how about those Falcons and Titans

The Falcons are 8-5 and in line for a playoff spot and have underachieved.

The Titans are 7-6 and have some work to do to get to the playoffs and have overachieved.

The Falcons have a bevy of talented skill guys that are playing well enough to win.

The Titans two best skill guys are an oft-troubled and injured receiver and a running back who seems to either get 160 yards or 16 depending on the game.

The Falcons coach had to be removed from the team plane Sunday for chest pains.

The Titans coach will finish second in NFL coach of the year voting behind the guy leading the unbeaten Packers. (And yes, the 5-at-10 owes Mike Munchak a huge, "We're sorry," because Coach Munchak is way better than we expected and we're big enough to admit it.)

So where does that leave us? The Falcons are without a first-round pick next fall and need to push all their chips into making the playoffs. That starts Thursday against the hapless Jaguars. And if the Falcons can get in, anything is possible. Remember the Packers won the Super Bowl last year as the No. 6 in the NFC. Plus, this team could be dangerous since it has as good a five-person skill package as any team in the NFL. (Look around, and who has a better QB-RB-TE-WR1-WR2 combo than the Falcons' Matt Ryan-Mike Turner-Tony Gonzalez-Roddy White-Julio Jones?)

For the Titans, a playoff trip would be awesome in its awesomeness, and in our mind would catapult Munchak past Green Bay's Mike McCarthy for coach of the year. (Which would be more impressive, going undefeated with Aaron Rodgers and Co. or getting to the playoffs with a team expected to be among the worst in the league, especially when your new staff had no offseason to implement its styles and systems?) They way Munchak and Co. have brought Jake Locker along has been spot-on (and if compspeed is sold on Locker, we're in too). But there is so much to build on with this Tennessee team, and the ability to move higher into the first round to get some defensive athleticism or find that elusive (and dependable) No. 1 receiver - we see you Justin Blackmon - would be huge for Locker and the Titans.

Right now, the Falcons are desperate and have all their chips in the middle. The Titans are playing with house money.

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Atlanta Braves left fielder Martin Prado sits on the bench after the Braves lost 4-3 in 13 innings in a baseball game to the Philadelphia Phillies in Atlanta on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Braves making (non)moves

The Atlanta Braves have declined to tender contracts to reliever Peter Moylan and utility infielder Brooks Conrad. We're OK with both of those decisions. Moylan was injured most of last season and could be a candidate for the Braves to retain at a cute-rate price, if they decide to do so. Conrad was an OK reserve, but your utility guy should be a better fielder than he is/was. So it goes.

Among the other news in the Braves' news release announcing the decision to let Moylan and Conrad become free agents was the list of four players on the 40-man roster that are arbitration-eligible. Here's the 5-at-10's view on how to handle each:

Right-handed pitcher Jair Jurrjens: Deal him as soon as possible. His value will never be higher than it is right now. He got a lot of breaks and pitched very well in the first half of the season, but he has three above-average pitches, and that's about it.

Left-handed pitcher Eric O'Flaherty: An invaluable piece to the bullpen, which is the overwhelming strength of this Braves team. Sign him long-term and embrace the fact that you're signing a guy that is currently your seventh-inning guy (at seventh-inning guy money), but has the stuff to be your eight-inning guy or even your closer.

Infielder/outfielder Martin Prado: Let him ride. If he's in a Braves uni next year great. If he's part of the deal to upgrade the outfield and the line-up great.

Outfielder Michael Bourn: Sign him long-term. Now. He's young and talented and plays great defense. Plus, in coming years of the post-steroids era, speed and batting average will be more valuable commodities. This could be the Braves lead-off hitter for the better part of the next decade.

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This and that

- There were more than a few raised eyebrows during the bowl selections. (Unbunch your undergarmets, P-Davi, this is not about Bama in the title game.) The most alarming bowl bid was delivered to Virginia Tech, which was invited to the Sugar Bowl after getting pistol whipped by Clemson in the ACC title game. One of the arguments for picking Va. Tech was its fan base and the ability to fill the venue. Well, now there's news that just over half of the 17,500 Sugar Bowl tickets that were allotted to the Hokies have been sold. In fact, the school is pleading with its fans to buy more tickets. Somewhere Johnny Boise State Fans just started giggling.

- Firings are never easy, but here's saying the 5-at-10 will miss Tony Sparano and his ever-present sunglasses (he has an eye condition that requires the full-time shades, so just like Corey Hart, he wears his sunglasses at night, too) on the Miami sideline. Jokes and one-liners about his namesake - Tony Saprano of HBO mob fame - aside, Sparano seemed to be a guy that cared for his players and got more out of that bunch than most coaches would have. It's hard to blame the coach of a team in a QB-driven league who is not given a reliable QB. Quick name three QBs that have started for the Dolphins since Dan Marino retired? And remember Marino retired in 1999 (hard to believe it was that long ago, right)?

- Jerry Sandusky waived his preliminary hearing Tuesday and will head straight to trail. We all feel the same way about this scumbag, so let's just move along.

- The last huge impact free agent left on the market is Prince Fielder, the former Milwaukee first baseman. There appears to be eight teams with a legit chance, and two of them are in the NL East. If the Marlins or the Nationals add the big-swinging Fielder, the Braves will be no better than the third best team in the NL East. Thank goodness for the Mets.

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Today's question

The 5-at-10 loves, Loves, LOVES Christmas. Always has and always will. You know this.

This week our questions have been/will be about Christmas and sports. Monday was passive/aggressive Christmas cards, and there were some great ones (to Nick Fairley, to Lane Kiffin, even to Al Davis - well payed indeed).

Today, we want you to share the best sports-related Christmas gift you can remember getting. It could be a football, an autographed something or tickets - it's your gift and your call.

We'll start: When we were 12, the 5-at-10 parental units delivered on a legit L.A. Dodgers' Starter jacket that was just like the ones the big leaguers wore. It was SO sweet. The pre-teen 5-at-10 didn't take it off until mid-June (and yes, it got a little warm that summer but we were up for the sacrifice).

Best sports-related gift... whatcha' got?