The 700 Club isn't what it used to be.
Sure, Pat Robertson still buys time on your least-favorite local cable channel, and he has his followers. But the Club is less popular each year as old folks depart the world and their ancestors spend the inheritance on video games.
The 7-and-7 Club, on the other hand, is alive and well in the NFL – and we're not talking about the favorite holiday cocktail
of Uncle Merle and his drinking buddies.
Fittingly, there are seven 7-7 teams out there, ranked anywhere from 14th (Tennessee) to 22nd (Jacksonville).
Each of them has great strengths that have been counteracted by crushing weaknesses. In this holiday season, let's look at what each team needs in its Christmas stocking.
: A game-breaking safety. To help a secondary that's surrendered 28 TDs (31st) and to shore up a mediocre run defense (4.2 YPA
). What's Ronnnie Lott doing these days?
Miami: A closer. The Dolphins played even with New England (twice), Indy, New Orleans and San Diego ... but won only one of those five games. Can Mariano Rivera play football?
The Jets: A veteran QB. Having the best defense in the league is nice, but having a pick-prone rookie QB wasn't the smoothest fit here. Whatever happened to that guy they had last year? Or the other guy the year before that?
: A stud defensive tackle. The Texans are No. 22 on the Defensive Hog Index
and, despite years of drafts devoted to the defensive front, one more big body underneath could have made the difference in their close games.
Pittsburgh: A cure for the Super Bowl hangover. Barring a miracle, this will be the third straight Steelers Super Bowl champ to miss the playoffs the following season (8-8 in 2006, 9-7 in 1980). (Hey, Pittsburgh, call us: the CHFF crew knows a thing or two about curing hangovers.)
: The second coming of Lawrence Taylor. The Jaggies stop the run (3.9 YPA, 7th
), but are dead last in forcing Negative Pass Plays (5.75%
: Someone special on defense. Looking at Atlanta's defensive numbers, it's surprising that they're even .500. The Falcons allow 5.8 yards per play, they're 30th in our Defensive Hog Index
, and 32nd in third-down defense
. Maybe a healthy Peria Jerry will solve the problem next year.
Seven tumblers of 7 and 7 is a great way for a Troll to spend a Christmas eve alone. But the NFL's seven 7-7s would like to be making playoff plans: unlikely, though, even if they were to get their Christmas wish.
On to the rankings!
1. INDIANAPOLIS (14-0). Last week: 35-31 win at Jacksonville. Over the last seven games, the Colts have been outgained 2,688 to 2,541 and have committed 13 turnovers while forcing 14. How they've gone 7-0 over that stretch will be the focus of the "CSI: Indianapolis" series premiere.
2. NEW ORLEANS (13-1). Last week: 24-17 loss vs. Dallas. Speaking of yards allowed, the Saints have allowed 400+ five times this year. The last four Super Bowl champs allowed just three 400-plus games between them in 64 regular season outings.
3. SAN DIEGO (11-3). Last week: 27-24 win vs. Cincinnati. If a quarterback "Quality Start" is defined as one where the QB has a passer rating of 80+, Philip Rivers has had an incredible 18 Quality Starts in a row. The only quarterback to go 16-for-16 in Quality Starts was Steve Young in 1992.
4. MINNESOTA (11-3). Last week: 26-7 loss at Carolina. Another BrettFavre controversy? Here's the real issue: the Favrkings have been outrushed 356-245 over their last three games, and MLB E.J. Henderson isn't making a miraculous recovery in time for the playoffs.
5. PHILADELPHIA (10-4). Last week: 27-13 win vs. San Francisco. Donovan McNabb joined an exclusive group of 25 quarterbacks with 4,500+ career pass attempts earlier this year. He's third among them in passer rating (86.5), behind only Peyton Manning (95.3) and Joe Montana (92.3).
6. GREEN BAY (9-5). Last week: 37-36 loss at Pittsburgh. The Packers are now 0-1 all time when allowing 500+ passing yards to a quarterback with 14 or more characters in his surname. The Pittsburgh loss was a classic example this year of Green Bay's Achilles' heel. They're a good team that can't make critical plays.
7. NEW ENGLAND (9-5). Last week: 17-10 win at Buffalo. Last week's game was the least appealing event at Ralph Wilson Stadium since back in 1994, when our Uncle Phil broke out of the Orchard Park fat farm, scored a ticket and watched the entire game wearing nothing but Buffalo wing sauce.
(9-5). Last week: 24-17 win at New Orleans. The Cowboys' subpar Scoreability
(No. 23) is balanced nicely by their excellent Bendability
9. BALTIMORE (8-6). Last week: 31-7 win vs. Chicago. The Ravens finished 6-2 at home, now let's see if they can get to .500 on the road and make the playoffs (at Pittsburgh and Oakland).
10. CINCINNATI (9-5). Last week: 27-24 loss at San Diego. The Bengals currently rank No. 3 ranking in scoring defense (17.4 PPG), tied with New England. It's not only the highest rank in franchise history, but would represent the first top-10 finish in scoring defense since 1989. Cincy's highest rated defensive united finish No. 5 in scoring D – under head coach Paul Brown way back in 1972.
(9-5). Last week: 31-24 win at Detroit. The Cardinals suddenly have a stout bend-but-don't-break defense this year. They rank No. 6 in Bendability
after finishing dead last in 2008. Considering the fact that the 2008 team made the Super Bowl, perhaps the rest of the NFC should be concerned.
12. N.Y. GIANTS
(8-6). Last week: 45-12 win at Washington. The Giants are a splendid 6-0 against losing teams this year with an average victory margin of 19 PPG. Against Quality Opponents
? They're just 2-6 and have been outscored by 8.8 PPG.
13. DENVER (8-6). Last week: 20-19 loss vs. Oakland. The scary part about Denver's latest two-game losing streak is that they were +2 in turnovers against both Oakland and Indy.
(7-7). Last week: 27-24 win vs. Miami. Chris Johnson averages 6.2 YPA on his first 20 carries of the game, 3.2 YPA on No. 21 and above. But he's one of just five players in history with more than 300 carries (301) and more than 5.5 YPA in a season (5.75). As noted Monday
, he's chasing 2,000 yards on the ground and Marshall's Faulk's 1999 yards-from-scrimmage record (2,429).
15. MIAMI (7-7). Last week: 27-24 loss at Tennessee. Our fingers are tired from all of that Chris Johnson stuff. The Dolphins probably wish he was on their team. Whew.
16. N.Y. JETS (7-7). Last week: 10-7 loss vs. Atlanta. The Jets are almost certainly going to miss the playoffs despite surrendering the fewest points per game (15.8), yards per game (262.8) and offensive touchdowns (17) in the league. But Mark Sanchez throws an INTs every 16.5 passes, the worst ratio since Vinny Testaverde threw 35 in 1988 (min. 300 attempts).
17. HOUSTON (7-7). Last week: 16-13 win at St. Louis. How rare was Andre Johnson turning in back-to-back games with 190+ yards receiving? It's been done in the same season only 12 times, four times since the 1970 merger (Henry Ellard, Isaac Bruce, Chad Ochocinco, Johnson).
(7-7). Last week: 37-36 win vs. Green Bay. The best thing you can say about Pittsburgh's title defense is that it's at least been an interesting season. The Steelers rank no higher than No. 7 this year (Passer Rating Differential
) in any of our Quality Stats. Big Ben is the only thing keeping this team competitive.
19. SAN FRANCISCO (6-8). Last week: 27-13 loss at Philadelphia. TE Vernon Davis has accomplished a rare NFL double-double – he leads the NFL in touchdown receptions (11) and drops (10). He's two TD receptions shy of the NFL record for a tight end (Antonio Gates, 2004).
20. ATLANTA (7-7). Last week: 10-7 win at N.Y. Jets. WR Roddy White is having a nice season with 71 receptions. But he's also had 71 incomplete passes thrown his way (most in the league).
21. CAROLINA (6-8). Last week: 26-7 win vs. Minnesota. The Panthers are just 4-4 in their last eight games despite a +13 turnover differential (23 to 10).
(7-7). Last week: 35-31 loss vs. Indianapolis. The Jaguars are the least penalized team in the league. So there's that. Some of the worst pass defenders in football keep the team from being a contender (93.0 Defensive Passer Rating
(5-9). Last week: 20-19 win at Denver. Finally, the Raiders have taken on the character of their owner, Al Davis: unpredictable but spunky. They have a shocking three Quality Wins
this year, more than likely playoff teams New England, Philly, Dallas, Green Bay and Arizona.
24. CHICAGO (5-9). Last week: 31-7 loss at Baltimore. How did the Bears go from a contender shipping away a second-round pick at the trade deadline (for the useless Gaines Adams) to looking up at Oakland?
25. BUFFALO (5-9). Last week: 17-10 loss vs. New England. T.O. has followed his "resurgence" with three games totaling seven catches and 66 yards.
26. WASHINGTON (4-10). Last week: 45-12 loss vs. N.Y. Giants. QB Jason Campbell has turned it over 17 times this year (14 INTs, 3 fumbles), about average. But last year, he quietly had the most efficient QB season in NFL history with six total turnovers (INTs + fumbles lost) on 591 dropbacks. Six turnovers is just an average Sunday for Jake Delhomme.
27. SEATTLE (5-9). Last week: 24-7 loss vs. Tampa Bay. Easily No. 1 on the Forgettability Index. The only memory of note for the 2009 Seahawks will be those terrible green uniforms they wore early in the season.
28. TAMPA BAY (2-12). Last week: 24-7 win at Seattle. The Bucs' secondary has responded after major early struggles, and ranks a respectable 18th in Defensive Passer Rating (85.7).
29. CLEVELAND (3-11). Last week: 41-34 win at Kansas City. Welcome to Cleveland, Mike Holmgren. If he can help lead a fourth franchise to the Super Bowl (assistant in San Fran, head coach in Green Bay and Seattle), it'll be impressive. If it happens in Cleveland, we want the rights to "He Is The Walrus: The Mike Holmgren Story."
30. KANSAS CITY (3-11). Last week: 41-34 loss vs. Cleveland. Yes, the Chiefs have allowed 796 rushing yards over the last three games. No humorous comment needed.
31. DETROIT (2-12). Last week: 31-24 loss vs. Arizona. How desperate are Lions fans? They are 2-12, yet coach Jim Schwartz's "Approval Rating" on ESPN.com was 75 percent as of Tuesday morning and it hasn't dipped below 50 percent all year.
32. ST. LOUIS (1-13). Last week: 16-13 loss vs. Houston. Looks like it'll be the No. 1 pick this year for the Rammies after two straight No. 2 overall picks. Too bad that DE Chris Long and T Jason Smith haven't been as good as the franchise's previous No. 2 overall selections: Eric Dickerson in 1983 and Tom Mack in 1978. Both are Hall of Famers.