NFC West: AFC South

video
INDIANAPOLIS -- Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy said he would not have selected University of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam if he was still coaching.

Sam, who is gay, was selected by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of the May draft.

Dungy
"I wouldn't have taken him," Dungy told the Tampa Tribune. "Not because I don't believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn't want to deal with all of it. It's not going to be totally smooth ... things will happen."

Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said on the draft's final day that Indianapolis considered selecting Sam with one of their picks.

Sam's situation may end up being a distraction inside the locker room and for the franchise, but the Rams deserve credit for being willing to select him.

Coach Chuck Pagano and punter Pat McAfee were two of the many Colts who earlier this year said they would have no problem with Sam's orientation inside their locker room.

"I love the environment we've created, the culture we've created," Pagano said earlier this year. "I think we have an outstanding locker room. The Colts never have and never will discriminate based on sexual orientation. We look at the player. We'll evaluate him just like we evaluate everybody else. If he can help our team and help us win football games, he'll be more than welcome."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Blaine Gabbert never became the franchise quarterback former Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Gene Smith envisioned when he traded two picks to get him in the first round of the 2011 draft. The Jaguars finally gave up on Gabbert last Tuesday when current GM David Caldwell traded Gabbert to San Francisco for a sixth-round pick in this year’s draft and a possible conditional pick in 2015.

ESPN.com Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and 49ers reporter Bill Williamson break down the trade:

DiRocco: Blaine Gabbert clearly wasn't in the Jaguars' plans any longer and I, like most people, expected the team to release him at some point -- though I thought he'd at least go to training camp. But GM David Caldwell was somehow able to work out a trade with 49ers GM Trent Baalke to send Gabbert to San Francisco for a sixth-round pick and a conditional pick in 2015.

What does Baalke like about Gabbert and why did he swing that trade?

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesUnder the guidance of coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers are hoping that Blaine Gabbert can finally flourish.
Williamson: The 49ers had 12 draft picks and they have a stacked roster, thus, low-round draft picks don’t mean much to them. Baalke and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh (who loves taking fliers in young quarterbacks) were both at Gabbert’s pro day three years ago and they had him visit prior to the draft. The 49ers have a need for a backup and always kept Gabbert in mind. I know it may have come as a surprise to folks in Jacksonville that the Jaguars got anything more than a loaf of San Francisco sourdough bread from the 49ers, but they actually do see value in Gabbert.

Mike, what do you think the 49ers are actually getting in Gabbert?

DiRocco: They're getting exactly what you want physically in a quarterback: a big (6-foot-4, 235 pounds), athletic, strong-armed player. That has never been his issue. It's what happens mentally that has held him back. He's somewhat skittish in the pocket and he makes too many questionable decisions on where to throw the ball. It's disconcerting because he's a pretty good practice player, but it doesn't transfer to game day.

There seems to be the thought that if anyone can fix him, it's Jim Harbaugh. But how much time can he devote to Gabbert while still working with Colin Kaepernick?

Williamson: You make a good point. Kaepernick is still not a finished product. But Harbaugh loves tinkering with quarterbacks. Gabbert’s time will be in the offseason, training camp and in the preseason. He needs to take advantage of working with the Quarterback Whisperer. Colt McCoy said last year he learned more about quarterbacking in his one season in San Francisco than in his entire playing career. So this is an opportunity for Gabbert; Harbaugh and his staff are top notch.

Mike, do you think Gabbert can put the misery of the past three years behind him and take advantage of this opportunity?

DiRocco: I think he will definitely benefit from the fresh start, but I don't know if he can overcome his mental issues. I don't buy the argument that he panics and is afraid to get hit. I think he was hurt by being forced to play before he was ready, plus he didn't exactly have a lot of weapons in the passing game. Not many quarterbacks are going to flourish under those conditions. If he's willing to start over from ground zero and approaches this with an open mind, I think he can make strides. He's still only 24 years old.

Bill, it may be too early to tell, but do you think the 49ers view Gabbert as a potential long-term backup or is this just them kicking the tires to see if he's a viable option?

Williamson: I think it’s a total kick-the-tires expedition. Again, it’s a low risk at a low cost. He’ll be the backup this year and they will see what he can do. If he’s terrible, they will move on. If they fix him, perhaps they will try to flip him and make a nice draft-pick profit. Basically, this is a guy who previously intrigued them and they are confident they can make him better. If it doesn’t work, well, at least Baalke and Harbaugh will know they tried.
Robert Mathis, Richard Sherman and NaVorro BowmanAP Photo, USA TODAY SportsIndianapolis' Robert Mathis, Seattle's Richard Sherman and San Francisco's NaVorro Bowman have all put up numbers that could result in defensive player of the year honors.
Denver's Peyton Manning broke passing records with his arm. Kanas City's Jamaal Charles was a treat to watch running the ball and catching it out of the backfield. Detroit's Megatron (Calvin Johnson) was simply incredible with his freakishly athletic skills at wide receiver.

But there were some players on the other side of the ball who deserve to be honored for their play this season.

The problem is deciding who deserves it more than the other players.

The NFL's Defensive Player of the Year will be named this weekend.

ESPN.com Colts reporter Mike Wells and 49ers reporter Bill Williamson discuss the top candidates for the award.

Wells: Bill, it appears that defensive player of the year is a wide-open race this season. There are a number of different players who deserve to win it. Robert Mathis in Indianapolis, Carolina's Luke Kuechly, St. Louis' Robert Quinn, Seattle's Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, San Francisco's NaVorro Bowman, who you cover on a regular basis. Who do you think deserves the award?

SportsNation

Who deserves to win NFL defensive player of the year honors?

  •  
    7%
  •  
    6%
  •  
    21%
  •  
    47%
  •  
    19%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,271)

Williamson: Yes, Mike, there are some very solid candidates. But I have to go with the player I saw dominate for 19 weeks. Bowman is simply unbelievable. He stood out in every game. He set the tone for one of the NFL's finest defenses with his dominant play from a 3-4 inside linebacker position. Bowman had 143 tackles, five sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions, one he returned 89 yards for a touchdown to seal the 49ers' playoff-clinching win. Bowman excelled against both the run and the pass. He's a football player's player. Sadly, his season ended in the fourth quarter of the 49ers' loss at Seattle in the NFC title game when he suffered a torn ACL. In typical Bowman fashion, he was hurt by stripping the ball at the goal line. Mike, a player you cover, Mathis, is considered the favorite to win the DPOY. Do you think he deserves it?

Wells: I'm sure some people will call you and I homers, but I've got to give the edge to Mathis because he was a one-man wrecking crew on defense. It was personal and team oriented for Mathis. He wanted to prove the he could still be a force without playing alongside of Dwight Freeney. Mathis had no problem talking about how that added fuel to his already flaming fire. He backed it up by leading the league in sacks with 19.5. He ended up accounting for 46.4 percent of the Colts' sacks this season because they only had 42 as a team. Mathis used his infamous chop down on the quarterback's passing arm to force a league-leading eight fumbles. Those eight forced fumbles led to 35 points for Indianapolis. The Colts struggled at times defensively during the season. They would have been really bad if they didn't have Mathis on the roster. You covered games involving Seattle's Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman three times, including the NFC Championship Game. Is there a legitimate argument for either one of them to be DPOY?

Williamson: Oh, certainly on both Seattle players. Again, lots of great candidates here. Sherman and Thomas are among the best defensive players in the league and they are a big reason why the Seahawks are preparing to play in the Super Bowl. Thomas is a tone-setter at the back end of a special defense. Sherman is probably the best cornerback in the NFL and one of the best players in the game regardless of position. The 49ers tested him with the game on the line in the NFC title game and they lost because of it. There are really no wrong answers here. I can't knock Mathis or any of the other candidates. But I just think Bowman deserves to win the award because of his overall impact on the game. There's really no way for offenses to avoid him. Mike, do you think Mathis is a complete player or is he a top candidate solely on his pass-rush prowess?

Wells: This is where the argument doesn't favor Mathis. He rarely dropped back into coverage because he's a pass-rushing linebacker. I'm not saying he isn't capable of being in pass coverage, but I haven't seen him do it enough because coach Chuck Pagano's 3-4 defense is all about getting after the quarterback with Mathis. His ability to pressure the quarterback trickles down to players like linebacker Jerrell Freeman and the entire secondary. It allows them to gamble on the ball more defensively. Some may consider Mathis a one-dimensional defensive player, but he does that one thing well. Seattle's Russell Wilson and Manning, the two starting quarterbacks in this weekend's Super Bowl, can validate that because Mathis sacked both of them during the regular season.

Is Bowman's ability to defend pass coverage the main reason you give him the edge over Mathis?

Williamson: No, it's just his overall game. Again, he impacts it in every way. Look at his stat line: There's nothing he didn't do. He was making plays on first, second and third down. And, yes, he was just as apt to make a play 15 yards downfield as he was at the line of scrimmage. In fact, on his interception return for a touchdown, he was supposed to blitz but he read the play and darted back into coverage. He had 118 solo tackles, the second most in the NFL this season. Again, there are no wrong answers here, but for me Bowman is the best answer.

Rapid Reaction: Indianapolis Colts

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
7:09
PM ET

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 40-11 loss to the Arizona Cardinals:

What it means: The Colts were never in it. They were embarrassed for the second time in three games. They entered the game knowing they had to put pressure on Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. That didn’t happen until the game was already determined. Palmer picked apart the Colts defense by going 26-of-37 for 314 yards and two touchdowns. The Colts sacked Palmer three times. Cardinals running back Rashard Mendenhall bounced around for 54 yards on 13 carries. The Colts didn’t get their lone touchdown until the fourth quarter, when they were already down by 23 points.

No rushing attack: The 137 yards rushing against the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 14 turned out to be just a one-game thing for the Colts. They ran the ball only 15 times for 80 yards. Don’t get excited by the 5.3 average. It’s rarely a good thing when your quarterback is one of the leading rushers. Andrew Luck ran for 31 yards, while Trent Richardson and Donald Brown combined for 16 yards on nine carries. Daniel Herron led the Colts with 33 yards.

Another slow start, shocking: The Colts went into the half trailing 27-3 to bring their halftime deficit to 93-12 in the past four games. The Cardinals reached Indianapolis territory on all five of their drives in the first half. They scored on four of them. The only time they failed was when Sergio Brown blocked Jay Feely's 28-yard field goal attempt on Arizona’s second offensive series of the game. The Cardinals got some help in the scoring department from their defense. Linebacker Karlos Dansby intercepted Luck’s pass and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter.

Injury loss: The Colts were already without starting cornerback Greg Toler (groin), and then they lost their other starting cornerback, Vontae Davis, with a groin injury in the fourth quarter. The defense hasn’t been the same -- giving up big plays against Houston, St. Louis and Arizona -- since Toler went out of the lineup prior to the Titans game on Nov. 3.

What’s next: The Colts return to Lucas Oil Stadium to take on the Titans on Dec. 1. The Colts beat the Titans 30-27 on Nov. 14.
Willis/ShortsGetty Images, USA Today SportsPatrick Willis' 49ers meet Cecil Shorts' Jaguars in the second NFL game in London this season.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The San Francisco 49ers have righted the ship after a shaky start. The Jacksonville Jaguars are still sinking.

The teams going in opposite directions will meet Sunday in London's Wembley Stadium in the second of two NFL games being played in the United Kingdom this season.

The 49ers (5-2) have won four games in a row -- and scored at least 31 points in each of those games -- since starting the season 1-2. The Jaguars are 0-7 and are the first team since the 1984 Houston Oilers to lose their first seven games by double digits.

That makes Sunday's game look like a giant mismatch, yet the Jaguars were 28-point underdogs to the Denver Broncos two weeks ago but lost by only 16 points -- and trailed by just two at halftime.

ESPN.com Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and 49ers reporter Bill Williamson break down the matchup:

DiRocco: The 49ers used the read-option the most they have all season against Tennessee in Week 7. Will that be a bigger part of the offense again as the season progresses?

Williamson: Mike, I think it is going to be a week-to-week situation. The 49ers used the read-option seven times last week after using it a total of nine in the first six games. The 49ers saw they could exploit Tennessee's defense using it. I think we will see it again, but probably in more challenging games and only in certain situations, when the 49ers are confident it will work. We could maybe see it some in London, but I have a feeling it will be more like the first six weeks of the season.

Mike, if the 49ers do run a lot of read-option offense, do you think the Jaguars can handle it?

DiRocco: Probably not. The Jaguars are last in the NFL in rushing defense (153.3 yards per game) and have given up a league-high nine rushing touchdowns. The defense's biggest problem against the rush is that it has given up a lot of explosive plays. Jacksonville has allowed an NFL-worst 10 rushing plays of 20 or more yards. Stopping the read-option is assignment football and the Jaguars' ends have not been as disciplined as needed. For example, Oakland's Terrelle Pryor ran for 50 yards in Week 2, including a 27-yard run in which the entire defensive front bit on the inside fake.

Bill, the Jaguars have had trouble with tight ends all season and now they face Vernon Davis. Who is the last team that's shut him down how?

Williamson: Davis hurt his hamstring late in the Seattle game in Week 2. He was pretty well shut down in that game before getting hurt. He missed Week 3 against the Colts and then came back against the Rams. He's been good and he is healthy. If the Jaguars have trouble against tight ends, the 49ers will exploit it. Davis and quarterback Colin Kaepernick have a great chemistry going this season. The 49ers' coaching staff is great at exploiting weaknesses.

Mike, do you seeing this being a big problem for Jacksonville?

DiRocco: Absolutely. Tight ends have combined to catch 42 passes for 401 yards and five touchdowns against Jacksonville this season. Depending on the defense called, the Jaguars will either have a safety or linebacker on the tight end. At times, the job has fallen to middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, who is very good against the run but not fast or quick enough in pass coverage. The Jaguars won't use the approach New England did against New Orleans standout Jimmy Graham -- the Patriots put their best corner, Aqib Talib, on him -- so I'd expect Davis to have chances to exploit some matchups with linebackers on Sunday.

Speaking of exploitation, the Anquan Boldin trade looked like a steal in Week 1. How is it regarded now?

Williamson: Still, unabashed thievery. Sure, Boldin had 13 catches in the first week and a combined 21 catches in the following six. But the 49ers would be in trouble without Boldin. He had three circus catches at Tennessee and he's been the team's only reliable wide receiver with Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham out. The 49ers would not be 5-2 without Boldin.

Mike, do you think the Jaguars will keep him in check Sunday?

DiRocco: The Jaguars have done a solid job the past two weeks of playing umbrella coverage and making sure they don't give up deep throws. That does leave the short and intermediate routes open, though, and that's where Boldin thrives. He's a physical receiver and the Jaguars don't yet have the kind of personnel to match up with him. Coach Gus Bradley wants to build a secondary similar to the one he helped build in Seattle, which includes big, physical corners. The Jaguars still have work to do there, although rookie third-round pick Dwayne Gratz (5-foot-11, 201 pounds) is finally back from his high-ankle sprain.

.

Hero one day, gone the next for DE Guy

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
5:50
PM ET
INDIANAPOLIS – A star one day, released the next day. That’s the unfortunate situation defensive lineman Lawrence Guy experienced with the Indianapolis Colts.

Guy blocked a field goal, which was picked up and returned for a touchdown, in Sunday’s victory over the Seattle Seahawks. But his time with the Colts came to an end Monday when the team released him to make room on the roster for receiver LaVon Brazill.

Brazill was suspended the first four games of the season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. The Colts announced Monday that the exemption on Brazill had been lifted, which meant they had to release a player.

“Again, the roster is fluid and have to make some tough decisions, as you know,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “It’s always what’s best for the team, what gives us the best chance to win. Lawrence did a great job the last couple of weeks, bringing him back when Ricky went down. Obviously played well yesterday and did a nice job. Thank him for his contributions.”

Releasing Guy means defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois is close to returning to the lineup. Jean Francois missed the past two games with a strained groin. He'll return to the practice field on Wednesday.

Here’s what Pagano said about the other injured players:

--The Colts hope to have safety LaRon Landry (ankle) back on the practice field later this week. He’s missed the past three games with a high ankle sprain.

--Like Landry, fullback Stanley Havili (ankle) could practice later this week.
Andrew Luck, Russell WilsonGetty ImagesAndrew Luck and Russell Wilson, two of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, face off in Week 5.
Two of the NFL's best young quarterbacks -- Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson -- will be center stage when the Indianapolis Colts (3-1) take on the Seattle Seahawks (4-0) in the most anticipated game of the weekend. The résumé for both players already includes the ability to pull off fourth-quarter comebacks.

But this game will likely come down to which defense can continue its strong play. The Seahawks are holding opponents to fewer than 12 points and have seven interceptions. The Colts aren't too far off. Their defensive unit is giving up fewer than 13 points a game, including a combined 10 points in the past two games.

Colts reporter Mike Wells and Seahawks reporter Terry Blount take a look at the Week 5 matchup.

Blount: Mike, I doubt anyone has to tell Luck how good Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is since they were teammates at Stanford. Whenever anyone has challenged Sherman, he's made them pay, like the pick-six that tied the game last week in the fourth quarter against Houston. Can Luck get the best of him or will he try to stay away from Sherman most of the game?

Wells: Luck will go at Sherman, especially if he’s matched up against Reggie Wayne. Wayne, a future Hall of Famer, enjoys going up against the top cornerbacks in the league. You can expect offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton to move Wayne around the field. He’ll line up out wide and in the slot, making sure Sherman has to work to try to slow him down. Wilson is averaging nearly 20 yards fewer a game through the air this season. Not that it’s a bad thing because the Seahawks are 4-0 and second in this week’s Power Rankings, but is there a reason behind the drop in yards?

Blount: Mike, the biggest reason is an offensive line that has played poorly in all four games, even when all the starters were healthy. It's truly amazing Wilson has found a way to get the job done and lead the team on crucial scoring drives when he's under constant pressure. His elusiveness in the pocket and ability to extend plays, then make a key throw on the run, or keep it for big yards, is remarkable. Mike, Luck and Wilson are obviously two of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, but each is different physically, and different in how they play the position. In your opinion, what does Luck do better than Wilson?

Wells: Luck doesn't have any flaws. You want him to tuck the ball and run? He’ll take off like he’s a running back. You want him to throw an out pattern or a bomb downfield? He’s proven he can do that, too. And he’s already shown he knows how to win when he led the Colts to an 11-5 record and the playoffs last season. The biggest difference between Luck and Wilson is their size, and that Luck isn't a read-option quarterback. Terry, What is it about Pete Carroll that makes him a good coach? His transition from the college game to the NFL has gone pretty smoothly.

Blount: Mike, it's his positive reinforcement that resonates with his players. Carroll is not an old-school guy who yells at his players. That's not how he operates. He corrects players, but never publicly humiliates them in front of others. And he doesn't scream at them when they make a mistake. He makes it a teaching moment, as do all his assistants. Carroll is consistently upbeat, regardless of the situation. Consequently, these players would run through a brick wall for him. Speaking of running, Trent Richardson now has a couple of games under his belt in a Colts uniform. How much do you see him contributing and can he make a difference for Indianapolis?

Wells: Richardson and Luck are the future of the Colts. It’s not often that a team gets two of the top three picks from the same draft. But Richardson’s transition from Cleveland has gotten off to a slow start. He had 20 carries against Jacksonville last week, but he only managed to rush for 60 yards. Everybody’s waiting for Richardson to have that long run where he bulldozes over a couple of defenders and then uses his speed to outrun everybody else. He’ll continue to get better as the season progresses. Speaking of running backs, the Colts talk about Wilson being deadly with his feet, but shouldn't they be more worried about running back Marshawn Lynch?

Blount: That's sort of the point that makes it all work. As soon as Wilson has the defense keying on Lynch, he will bootleg off a fake handoff to Lynch and get free for a 20-yard gain on a scramble, or complete a 30-yard pass downfield to an open receiver. But you're right, everything the Seahawks do on offense revolves around getting Lynch going in the power running game. Mike, the issue for the Seahawks is their patchwork offensive line. Down three starters last weekend, it was a hot mess against the Texans' defense, allowing five sacks and never giving Wilson a chance to catch his breath. Seattle may get center Max Unger back Sunday, but still will start backups in both tackle spots. Do you see the Colts taking advantage of the situation?

Wells: Expect the Colts to be in attack mode with linebacker Robert Mathis leading the way. Mathis, who has 7.5 sacks this season, is one sack away from getting the 100th of his career. The Colts have 13 sacks as a team. They’re prepared to face a quarterback such as Wilson after already going against Oakland’s Terrelle Pryor and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick this season. The Seahawks are obviously undefeated on the road this year, but they struggled away from home last season. Why are they a completely different team away from home?

Blount: I think that's starting to become a bit of a misnomer. The Seahawks now have won five of their past six roads games, dating back to the end of last season and the playoffs. The only one they lost came on a field goal at the end of the Atlanta playoff game. Historically, they have struggled in games that start at 10 a.m. PT, but they are 2-0 in those games this year and have a chance to go 3-0 on Sunday. However, it's true that CenturyLink is a huge home-field advantage, so playing well enough on the road to earn home field in the playoffs is important to the players. I'm sure the Colts have a similar goal, Mike. I know it was emotional for the Colts last December when coach Chuck Pagano returned. How much has it meant this season to have him back healthy again and running the show there?

Wells: The Colts played last season for Pagano. Now he’s leading the way for them. Pagano is a very upbeat coach. We’re talking about a person who purchased mousetraps and had them placed in the players' lockers as a reminder for them to avoid falling into the trap against the Jaguars. There aren't many NFL coaches who would do that. Sounds like that's something Carroll would do, too. It appears to be to a two-team race in the NFC between the Seahawks and New Orleans. Who do you give the edge to in the conference?

Blount: What a difference it is for the Saints to have Sean Payton back as head coach. And Rob Ryan really has helped the defense. But I have to go with Seattle over New Orleans because the Seahawks' defense is miles ahead of the Saints'. It's an interesting matchup because Wilson idolizes Drew Brees and they've become friends. And the Saints play at Seattle in a Monday night game on Dec. 2.

.

Countdown Live: 2013 NFL draft, Rds. 4-7

April, 27, 2013
4/27/13
10:00
AM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts for Rounds 4-7 of the 2013 NFL draft.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at noon ET. See you there.

Countdown Live: 2013 NFL draft, Rds. 2-3

April, 26, 2013
4/26/13
4:00
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts for Rounds 2 and 3 of the 2013 NFL draft.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 6 p.m. ET. See you there.

Countdown Live: 2013 NFL draft, Round 1

April, 25, 2013
4/25/13
5:00
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts for the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.

We'll be analyzing every pick from 1 to 32. We'll get started an hour early at 7 p.m. ET, so submit your questions and comments and we'll see you there.

Live: ESPN.com #bloggermock draft

April, 23, 2013
4/23/13
11:45
AM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they play general manager for their divisions and execute a 2013 first-round mock draft.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at noon ET. You can also participate via Twitter using the hashtag #bloggermock. See you there.

NFL Power Rankings: How they voted

December, 24, 2012
12/24/12
1:00
PM ET
The Seattle Seahawks and the NFL won big Sunday night.

That 42-13 victory Seattle posted over the San Francisco 49ers made Green Bay a strong favorite to secure the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoff race.

If the Packers do secure that second seed, they will have finished the season right where they likely would have finished even if replacement officials hadn't awarded a touchdown to the Seahawks' Golden Tate in that Monday night game way back in Week 3. That would have to come as a relief to the NFL, which has taken heat for its handling of the officials.

Think of it this way: The Packers are in prime position to secure that second seed and a first-round playoff bye because Seattle beat a very good team, the 49ers, legitimately.

The Seahawks, winners of four straight and six of seven, are clearly one of the NFL's best teams. They are likely going to be the fifth seed in the NFC, right where they probably would have been even had they lost that game to the Packers.

Had Seattle lost to Green Bay and had nothing else about the season changed, the Seahawks would be 9-6 with a 6-5 conference record, same as the Bears and Vikings. In that case, they would need a Week 17 victory at home over St. Louis to secure the fifth seed. Their victory over Chicago at Soldier Field would prevent the Bears from beating out Seattle under that scenario.

Nothing is set just yet. Seattle could still miraculously win the NFC West and even the No. 2 seed, but only if the Seahawks beat St. Louis, the Packers lose to Minnesota and San Francisco loses at home to Arizona. If those unlikely things happen, you can bet some will blame replacement officials more than they blame, say, a Green Bay defeat to the 49ers at Lambeau. Or the lead Green Bay blew at Indianapolis. Or the small detail of what would be a Week 17 Packers defeat to a Vikings team with Christian Ponder behind center.

The NFL could live with that, particularly amid at least some thought that the Week 3 ruling in Seattle wasn't nearly as bad as advertised.

Those were among my thoughts Monday while listing the Seahawks third on my power rankings ballot. That was higher than the other voters ranked them. I offer no apologies after watching Russell Wilson dominate while Seattle has put up 150 points over its past three games.

That disputed Seattle victory over the Packers has done the Seahawks more harm than good from a national perception standpoint. But when I see Seattle ranked sixth in ESPN's NFL Power Rankings heading into Week 17, I notice that the Seahawks have defeated three of the top five teams. No other team can make that claim.

With that, let's take a closer look at the rankings heading into Week 17:

Falling (11): Dallas Cowboys (-4), Houston Texans (-4), New York Giants (-3), Cleveland Browns (-2), New York Jets (-2), Pittsburgh Steelers (-2), San Francisco 49ers (-2), Tampa Bay Bucs (-2), New England Patriots (-1), Tennessee Titans (-1), Washington Redskins (-1).

Rising (14): Atlanta Falcons (+3), Carolina Panthers (+3), Minnesota Vikings (+3), San Diego Chargers (+3), Cincinnati Bengals (+2), Green Bay Packers (+2), Arizona Cardinals (+1), Baltimore Ravens (+1), Chicago Bears (+1), Denver Broncos (+1), Indianapolis Colts (+1), New Orleans Saints (+1), Seattle Seahawks (+1), St. Louis Rams (+1).

Unchanged (9): Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles.

Deadlocked: We broke no ties this week.

Like minds: All five panelists ranked the Rams 16th. All five had the Broncos or Falcons first or second. All five had the 49ers third or fourth. All five had the Texans sixth or seventh. All five had the Vikings 12th or 13th. All five had the Chiefs 31st or 32nd.

Agree to disagree: At least five spots in the rankings separated high and low votes for two teams, an unusually low number. I ranked the Saints 14th, higher than anyone else ranked them. John Clayton had them 19th, lower than anyone else ranked them. I also had Tennessee higher than anyone at 25th, while Dan Graziano ranked them 30th.

Power Rankings histories: These colorful layered graphs show where each NFL team has ranked every week since the 2002 season.

Ranking the divisions: The NFC West remained the highest-ranked division on average with a 12.9 average ranking. The NFC North was second at 14.2, followed by the AFC North (15.2), NFC South (15.4), NFC East (16.9), AFC East (17.9), AFC South (18.5) and AFC West (21.2).

A voter-by-voter look at changes of at least five spots since last week:
  • Sando: Cowboys (-6), Giants (-6).
  • Clayton: Texans (-5).
  • Graziano: none.
  • Hensley: Giants (-5).
  • Fox: Giants (-5).
For download: An Excel file -- available here -- showing how each voter voted this week and in past weeks.

The file includes a "powerflaws" sheet pointing out potential flaws in voters' thinking by showing how many higher-ranked opponents each team defeated this season.

For example, the Packers, 49ers and Patriots outrank the Seahawks even though Seattle defeated all three teams. The Giants, Steelers and Titnas have each defeated a league-high four teams ranked higher than them. Those teams rank no higher than 15th, however, so there are more candidates.

A quick primer on the "powerflaws" sheet:
  • Column Y features team rankings.
  • Column Z shows how many times a team has defeated higher-ranked teams.
  • Change the rankings in Column Y as you see fit.
  • Resort Column Y in ascending order (1 to 32) using the standard Excel pull-down menu atop the column.
  • The information in Column Z, which reflects potential ranking errors, will change (with the adjusted total highlighted in yellow atop the column).
  • The lower the figure in that yellow box, the fewer conflicts.

NFL: Week 5 knee-jerk reactions

October, 9, 2012
10/09/12
2:10
PM ET
You’ve heard the chatter by the sports pundits and on the talk shows. Heck, you may have even heard it here. So are the knee-jerk reactions about your team based in reality? Our NFL bloggers weigh in.

NFC Knee-jerk Reactions | AFC Knee-jerk Reactions

Week 5 NFL inactives

October, 7, 2012
10/07/12
11:30
AM ET
Here are today’s inactives from around the NFL. Click here for Tristan H. Cockcroft's inactives analysis for fantasy football.

NFL: Week 4 knee-jerk reactions

October, 2, 2012
10/02/12
11:50
AM ET
You’ve heard the chatter by the sports pundits and on the talk shows. Heck, you may have even heard it here. So are the knee-jerk reactions about your team based in reality? Our NFL bloggers weigh in.

NFC Knee-jerk Reactions | AFC Knee-jerk Reactions

SPONSORED HEADLINES

NFC WEST SCOREBOARD