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NFL Power Ranking for Week 16: Plenty of movement




NFL Power Ranking for Week 16: Plenty of movement

Aaron Rodgers is about to leapfrog Brett Favre.

Rodgers’ next touchdown pass will break a tie with Favre at 442 and give him the storied Green Bay Packers’ franchise record. That’s a nice achievement, but the real measurement of success this season is whether Rodgers can pass Favre in another key stat — Super Bowls won — by capturing his second to match yet another Packers legend (Bart Starr).

The NFC playoff race includes five teams with double-digit wins, but the Packers have the inside track for the No. 1 seed in the NFC and the lone bye. They just have to win out against the Browns, Vikings and Lions.

Here are The Post’s power rankings for Week 16:

1. Kansas City Chiefs, 10-4 (1)

Look who is the No. 1 seed in the AFC right now. That 3-4 start is a distant memory after a seven-game winning streak. The most recent win — including three touchdown drives in the final eight minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime — over the Chargers was maybe the most impressive. Travis Kelce had a career-high 191 receiving yards.

2. Green Bay Packers, 11-3 (4)

Rodgers showed no ill effects from his toe injury as the Packers became the first team to clinch its division, winning the NFC North for the third straight season. The improved defense has had better games, needing a deflected incompletion on a two-point conversion attempt to avoid blowing a 14-point lead in the final six minutes against Ravens backup quarterback Tyler Huntley.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers moved up to No. 2 in this week’s power rankings.
Getty Images

3. Los Angeles Rams, 9-4 (6)

Could a wide receiver steal some MVP votes? Cooper Kupp has huge leads over the field in catches (122), yards (1,625) and touchdowns (14). The Rams placed 29 players on the COVID-19 reserve list over a 10-day stretch but continued to dominate the Seahawks — three straight wins, five out of six and eight out of 10 (including the playoffs) in this series.

4. Arizona Cardinals, 10-4 (2)

With a chance to clinch a playoff berth and remain in the driver’s seat for the only bye, the Cardinals laid an egg in a blowout loss to the NFC-worst Lions. The Cardinals were held scoreless in the first half after gaining only 17 total yards on their first three drives combined and then getting stopped at the 3-yard line on the fourth.

5. Indianapolis Colts, 8-6 (10)

In college football, there’s the “Heisman moment” for most winners of the trophy. Did Jonathan Taylor just have his NFL MVP moment? He ran for 170 yards, including a game-sealing 67-yard touchdown against a stacked box as the Colts beat the Patriots for the first time since November 2009. The Colts are 5-1 in their past six games.

6. New England Patriots, 9-5 (3)

One game after winning when they completed just two passes, the Patriots lost a game in which the opponent (Colts) completed five. Strange stuff. The Patriots had a punt blocked for a touchdown and saw their NFL-record streak of 99 straight games scoring first-half points come to an end.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 10-4 (5)

The Buccaneers are a top-three team if healthy. But Chris Godwin is out for the season and Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette are next in a line of players missing time due to injury, which explains the all-forgiven approach to Antonio Brown’s return from a three-game suspension. The Saints became the first opponent to shut out a Brady-led offense since the 2006 Dolphins.

8. Dallas Cowboys, 10-4 (8)

The Cowboys got away with a C-caliber effort plagued by dropped passes, missed kicks and a bad should’ve-been-costly giveaway against the hapless Giants. Micah Parsons’ streak of six straight games with a sack ended, but Demarcus Lawrence’s return as a force on the line was a welcome trade-off. Trevon Diggs recorded his NFL-best 10th interception.

9. Los Angeles Chargers, 8-6 (9)

Head coach Brandon Staley is a lightning rod for analytics-versus-traditional thinking. The Chargers were 2-for-5 on fourth-down conversions in an overtime loss to the Chiefs. Two of the three failures were inside the 5-yard line and the other was in field-goal range, so that’s a lot of missed points. But Staley is ahead of the curve because he understands field goals don’t win big NFL games.

Nick Bosa sacks Matt Ryan
Getty Images

10. San Francisco 49ers, 8-6 (13)

It’s a must-watch Thursday game between two teams headed in opposite directions: The 49ers (5-1 in last six games) and Titans (1-3 in last four games). Nick Bosa will be looking for a sack in a seventh straight game after he picked up his NFL-best 15th of the season in a rout of the Falcons that included the 49ers’ three rushing touchdowns by three different players.

11. Tennessee Titans, 9-5 (7)

12. Buffalo Bills, 8-6 (12)

13. Cincinnati Bengals, 8-6 (14)

14. Baltimore Ravens, 8-6 (11)

15. Pittsburgh Steelers, 7-6-1 (20)

16. Miami Dolphins, 7-7 (18)

17. Cleveland Browns, 7-7 (15)

18. Philadelphia Eagles, 7-7 (22)

19. New Orleans Saints, 7-7 (25)

20. Minnesota Vikings, 7-7 (19)

21. Las Vegas Raiders, 7-7 (21)

22. Denver Broncos, 7-7 (16)

23. Washington Football Team, 6-8 (17)

24. Atlanta Falcons, 6-8 (23)

25. Seattle Seahawks, 5-9 (24)

26. New York Giants, 4-10 (26)

Fans should have newfound appreciation for fired coordinator Jason Garrett and injured quarterback Daniel Jones. In 30 non-garbage-time possessions over the last three games, the Freddie Kitchens-Mike Glennon combination has produced one touchdown. The last time a Giants receiver scored a touchdown was Oct. 25. They dropped their ninth straight game against Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.

New York Giants Jake Fromm #17 during the second half
Jake Fromm
Robert Sabo

27. Carolina Panthers, 5-9 (27)

27. Chicago Bears, 4-10 (28)

29. New York Jets, 3-11 (29)

There were some offensive highlights — Zach Wilson improvising on the run and a hook-and-ladder connection between two receivers — which cleared the low bar set over the last few seasons. But the Jets can’t stop the run. The Dolphins ran for 184 yards, more than doubling their lowly average. Next week’s game against the Jaguars is huge for draft position.

30. Detroit Lions, 2-11-1 (32)

31. Houston Texans, 3-11 (30)

32. Jacksonville Jaguars, 2-12 (31)


Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death




Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence




Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers




Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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