It's Christmas time in the NFL.
For the Patriots' fan who has everything - the Patriots are giving this away via their Facebook page:
The Grinch showed up early this year for the Patriots, poaching key players well before the season began.
The Patriots have a long wish list for Santa, but the fat, jolly old fellow [sorry if you're offended] won't be able to bring New England a healthy Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez or even a Josh Boyce.
Tom Brady will try to get back on the wicked nice list against the Ravens, after coming up 14 yards and one interception short in Miami Gardens last week.
Heading into this Sunday's game, it looks ho-ho-hopeless for the Patriots:
It's unanimous: All 3 of our experts, 12 of ESPN's pundits and one computer all pick the Ravens to beat the Pats http://t.co/CM7obaStua— ESPNBoston (@ESPNBoston) December 20, 2013
Well, that settles it.
Once again, Brady and Belichick have everyone right where they want 'em. The question is whether or not they can come through this week and not fall short after another last-minute surge.
Here's a novel concept: "Take the lead and hold on to the lead."
Meanwhile, Ebenezer Belichick showed a little Christmas spirit this week when he was asked an off-the-wall question during Thursday's press gaggle in Foxborough.
He was asked about his favorite Christmas tunes, and really couldn't pin it down to just one. "Actually, I enjoy all of them," he said. "I really do. Pretty much whichever one comes on puts a smile on my face. It's a great time of year."
Indeed it is.
Playoff implications hang in the balance across the league. The world for Patriots' fans centers around Baltimore this weekend. Justin Tucker of the Ravens kicked six field goals to single-footedly beat the Lions on Monday, helping to set up their showdown with New England.
It's a game good enough for prime time but it was flexed out by NBC a couple of weeks ago when it appeared to be lacking importance. New England's loss at Miami changed that, and sent the Patriots' tumbling five spots in this week's poll to the No. 7 overall spot.
As a reward for his amazing feet, Tucker got a unique six pack from Dr. Pepper.
The internet was full of craziness and holiday cheer this week leading up to this game. In addition to Belichick going full George Bailey, we got this bit of levity from Stevan Ridley and Gronkowski at Boston's Children's Hospital.
And this gem courtesy of 98.5 The Sports Hub co-host Michael Felger, a notorious critic of over-the-top-Patriots-fans, who donned a set of Patriots' footie pajamas at the start of Friday's show as part of a plug for Modell's.
Glad to see I'm not the only "homer" on the city's media landscape. Felger's never looked better.
Somehow, Joe Flacco and Ray Rice are listed as "questionable" [see below] but one has to assert they will play. Certainly, Belichick has Ed Snowden on the case. Flacco has been terrific of late, especially in terms of his accuracy. Baltimore's defense is not the same unit that crushed Brady and the Patriots last January. As is so often the case, turnovers will determine the outcome Sunday night. The Patriots lost that battle 1-0 to Miami last week.
Offensively, the Patriots need to re-insert Shane Vereen into the offense. He was nearly nonexistent last week. Without Boyce, Brady is left with a flock of Julian Edelman's to scurry and scamper across the field. The Patriots lead the world in "scrappy," undersized, and over-achieving receivers.
And they will all need to over-achieve a little this week against Baltimore.
Here are this week's rankings, with team records and last week's rankings in parenthesis:
Here's our GIF of the week, courtesy of Dez Bryant, who had a rough week along with the Cowboys in their come-from-ahead loss to the Packers.
1. Seahawks [12-2; 1]: Shut out the Giants at Met Life Stadium in what many believe was their first of two games in New Jersey this season.
2. Broncos [11-3; 4]: Peyton Manning - SI's Sportsman of the Year. For what? Seriously, what did Manning accomplish this year? He lost his only playoff game in 2013. He's put up great numbers, but he could not beat Brady, who isn't even Boston's Sportsman of the Year, in his biggest game of the season thus far. How he beat out David Ortiz for this honor is anyone's guess.
3. Chiefs [sorry if you're offended] [11-3; 6]: Jamaal Charles scored five times in last week's 56-31 demolition of the Raiders.
See them all right here:
Appear locked in at No. 2 in the AFC West.
4. 49ers [10-4; 7]: Stuck in the wrong division. 49ers are the hottest team in the NFL these days, having won four straight and nine of 11. Seem to be coming together at the right time.
5. Saints [10-4; 2]: The next three teams, Saints, Panthers and Patriots, present a tough challenge in this poll. They all have the same records and none have shown themselves capable of winning a big game on the road. Head to head, New England barely beat New Orleans and lost to the Panthers thanks to a questionable non-call at the end. Meanwhile, the Saints crushed the Panthers at the Superdome. But they play at Carolina Sunday in a game that will all but decide the NFC South and they haven't won a road game since the first week of October.
It's pretty much a pick 'em for 5, 6 and 7, but we have it set up as listed.
6. Panthers [10-4; 5]: Another terrific story in the NFL this season, despite the issues surrounding their win over the Patriots. Ron Rivera is one the good guys in the NFL and his success is well-earned. Home field seems to be key for all the top teams in the NFC, and Panthers get the South if they win out.
7. Patriots [10-4; 2]: Reign atop the AFC withered in the heat and humility of South Florida and Ryan Tannehill's two-minute offense at the end of each half.
Here's last week's lone highlight, thanks to Baby Gronk [aka Michael Hoomanawanui]:
Eyes will be on Stephen Gostkowski in a likely low-scoring, close game at Baltimore. Big test for kicker who has been stellar all season until last week.
8. Bengals [9-5; 8]: Quietly did the Patriots a huge favor by losing to the Steelers last week. Win out on any tie breaker with the Patriots.
9. Cardinals [9-5; 11]: Even at 9-5, on the outside looking in in the tough NFC West.
10. Colts [9-5; 9]: How many of you wish your boss got you an Xbox One for Christmas? Jim Irsay hooked up all of this players this week with one
Matt Overton (@MattOverton_LS) December 20, 2013
11: Ravens [8-6; 16]: Before you get too excited after reading the following Tweet, just remember how many consecutive weeks Brady was listed as "probable - shoulder" back in the mid-00s.
Baltimore rookie safety Matt Elam, is one of the few Florida Gators who's been able to back up his talk this season. After he spoke of Calvin Johnson being "old" last week, he backed it up by helping to shut down the Lions.
12. Dolphins [8-6; 14]: Tannehill out-Bradyed Brady on Miami's final scoring drive last week. Meanwhile, Joe Philbin is making a late rush for Coach of the Year honors, in spite of the whole "Richie Incognito Whatever It Is."
13. Bears [8-6; 13]: Game against Philly was flexed to take the place of the Patriots-Ravens game on Sunday night. Understand market size concern, but NBC has to be kicking itself for giving up Brady vs. the Ravens for this.
14. Eagles [8-6; 10]: Someone will win the NFC East by default. Eagles appear to be the front runners this week.
15. Chargers [7-7; 17]: Enjoyed my conversation with San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Matt Calkins last week. Sorry the Patriots couldn't help the Chargers last week. Maybe things will work out better this time.
16. Packers [7-6-1; 16]: Have won last two games by a total of two points without the benefit of having Aaron Rodgers at QB, who will not play this week in Sunday's Super Bowl XLV rematch against the Steelers.
17. Lions [7-7; 12]: Belichick no doubt had his spies deployed at Ford Field Monday night when the Lions sputtered and stalled against the Ravens. The Lions imploded, thanks in large part to turnovers [including three picks from Matt Stafford] and several key penalties. The Patriots should provide a tougher test for Baltimore, even on the road.
18. Cowboys [7-7; 15]: For some reason, NFL State Run Media wants us to believe Tony Romo is really a money QB. Well, the Cowboys rank 32nd in the league when it comes to number of offense plays and number of third-down conversions. They are ranked 30th on fourth-down conversions. Those two go hand and hand, regardless of how tepid Dallas' defense has become.
19. Steelers [6-8; 23]: Terence Garvin was fined for his hit on Bengals punter Kevin Huber. The hit and $25,000 fine also spurned a 7-year-old Bengals fan to write a letter in which he said he hoped Garvin loses his house.
20. Rams [6-8; 21]: Kirk Cousins may deliver them the No. 1 pick before it's over.
21. Jets [6-8; 19]: Officially eliminated from the playoffs when the Ravens won at Detroit Monday night. Merry ReXmas.
22. Giants [5-9; 20]: Eli Manning threw five picks in the Giants first home shutout of the 21st century. He leads the NFL with 25 interceptions thrown this season, and yet he still found the tip of Mario Manningham's fingers 38 yards downfield on 3rd and 450 in Super Bowl XLVI.
23. Titans [5-9; 22]: Rallied from a 17-point deficit in the final four minutes to force overtime before losing 37-34 to the Cardinals last week.
24. Browns [4-10; 24]: Another team eliminated from the playoffs with a Week 15 loss.
25. Jaguars [4-10; 27]: Winning streak snapped last week, along with playoff chances.
26. Buccaneers [4-10; 28]: Greg Schiano has two more weeks to clean out his office.
27. Bills [5-9; 25]: In case of loss at Baltimore, break glass in Week 17 to win AFC East.
28. Raiders [4-10; 26]: Seven turnovers last week against Kansas City. Another team in search of a QB.
30. Falcons [4-10; 30]: Two of three. They're on a roll.
31. Redskins [3-11; 31] [sorry if you're offended]: Biggest fans of the Dallas Cowboys this week are the St. Louis Rams, who get the Redskins No. 1 pick in April
32. Texans [2-12; 32]: Have they switched to junior varsity jackets yet.
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