Leave it up to the Atlanta Falcons to win a game they need to lose and lose the games they need to win. So it goes.
If this past weekend revealed anything, the NFL truly has become as much about avoiding injury as it about the starting quarterback. And when those two worlds collide, man, ask the Green Bay Packers, who were humiliated on Thanksgiving by the Detroit Lions.
There are two things that are now crystallizing for us: The AFC will come down to New England and Denver. Period. The Patriots have survived a slew of injuries, and each of those teams has an elite-level quarterback. (Side note: Peyton Manning's numbers are off the charts: After throwing for 400-plus yards and five touchdowns in the Broncos' win over Kansas City, he has 41 TDs and 4,125 passing yards while completing better than 68 percent of his passes. He has reached that rarified air in athletics where you expect every pass to be complete, not unlike how we expected every Tiger Woods 6-footer to go in during the early 2000s and every big-moment MJ jumper to fall. In fact, when Manning throws an incompletion, the two thoughts are either "He was throwing it away" or "Wonder who ran the wrong route?" Dude is scary right now. Well, scary as long as it's warmer than 32 degrees.)
Here are the best and worst in the NFL heading into the final quarter of the season:
• 1. Seattle: The Seahawks manhandled New Orleans on Monday, showing that they are a complete football team and nearly impossible to handle at home. In fact, with Russell Wilson at quarterback, the Seahawks are unbeaten in Seattle.
• 2. Denver: Manning is on track to rewrite the record books. The book that could carry the most weight, though, is the Farmer's Almanac. Manning's merits this year will be measured by how the Broncos fare in the postseason and whether the quarterbacking cosmonaut can handle the moments and the cold in January.
• 3. New England: Hmmm, a Texans player says he feels the Patriots were "spying" on Houston. OK. But maybe, just maybe, the fact that Tom Brady plays for the Patriots and the Texans are in line for the No. 1 overall draft pick may have something to do with the fact that New England rallied to beat Houston. No way, right? Had to be the spying? Where are Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones?
• 4. New Orleans: Monday's loss at Seattle speaks volumes to the difference between Drew Brees and Co. in the Superdome and outdoors in the elements in a place such as Seattle. And now, being two games and a tiebreaker behind Seattle, the Saints need to worry more about who is in the rearview than who is leading the pack. And in the rearview is ...
• 5. Carolina: The NFL's most complete defense and one of the NFL's biggest game-changing talents have the Panthers looking every bit the part of Super Bowl contenders. Plus, the Panthers are very close to the Seahawks in makeup and skill set.
• 28. Minnesota (projected with the No. 4 overall pick): The Vikings have Adrian Peterson, who passed the 10,000-yard mark Sunday. What would Peterson have accomplished with a QB who forced defenses to respect the pass? Wow.
• 29. Washington (projected with the No. 5 overall pick, which will go to St. Louis): There are always quick jokes that circulate after tough football moments. Auburn already has made "Hey, Nick, got a second?" T-shirts after the Iron Bowl ending. The joke going around Washington right now is that quarterback Robert Griffin III should change his moniker to RG3 and 9 to signify the Redskins' record. And there's a real chance that joke could last all the way to RG 3 and 13.
• 30. Atlanta (projected with the No. 3 overall pick): The Falcons need to look at Matt Ryan and say, "Matt, the tests have come back and you have a four-week case of the mumps." Or jock itch. Or a four-week hangnail. Pick it and go. The Falcons currently have the No. 3 pick behind two teams starved for a quarterback, meaning the Falcons could get Jadeveon Clowney in this draft. That sounds like a pretty good deal. And Matt, get well soon.
• 31. Jacksonville (projected with the No. 2 overall pick): The Jaguars have so many holes it's impossible to see one draft helping. But if they hold on to the No. 1 or 2 pick, what would be the odds they roll the dice on Johnny Football? If they draft him, he'll be a bust. If they don't, he'll be a stud. Ah, the life of being a Jags fan.
• 32. Houston (projected with the No. 1 overall pick): You have to believe the Matt Schaub era is done in Houston, right? The pick-six series, arguing with the franchise's best all-time player, et al. Houston should look to deal him for a late pick and push their chips in on the QB the team feels can be the man.
Contact Jay Greeson at email@example.com.