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NFL Power Rankings for Week 17: What’s up with the Cardinals?




NFL Power Rankings for Week 17: What’s up with the Cardinals?

The AFC needs to sort out playoff teams. The NFC needs to sort out playoff seeds. 

The two-time defending AFC champion Chiefs are the only team in their conference to clinch a playoff berth so far because 11 teams are separated by no more than two games. 

Meanwhile, five teams with double-digit wins already have clinched and left only two spots available in the NFC, where the Green Bay Packers have little margin for error in the race to get the conference’s top seed and only postseason bye. 

Here are The Post’s power rankings for Week 17: 

1. Kansas City Chiefs, 11-4 (1) 

Make it six straight AFC West titles for the Chiefs, who built a 30-0 lead on the Steelers after three quarters despite playing without Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. The once-stumbling Chiefs won their eighth in a row with big contributions from the likes of Byron Pringle, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Mecole Hardman doing the damage. 

The Chiefs clinched the AFC West title with a 36-10 win over the Steelers.

2. Green Bay Packers, 12-3 (2) 

Matt LaFleur became the first coach in NFL history with at least 12 wins in each of his first three seasons. Such is the luxury of having Aaron Rodgers, who broke Brett Favre’s team record for career touchdown passes (445 and counting) against the Browns. Is there a better in-season pick-up in the NFL than cornerback Rasul Douglas, who has five interceptions in 10 games? 

3. Los Angeles Rams, 11-4 (3) 

The Rams sit alone atop the NFL’s toughest division after beating the Vikings. Sony Michel — who was acquired in a preseason trade and used as a backup most of the season — rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown. Stud back Cam Akers could be on his way back from a supposedly season-ending injury. Brandon Powell returned a punt for a touchdown. 

4. Indianapolis Colts, 9-6 (5) 

Carson Wentz made his biggest play in years, firing a strike (as he got drilled) to Dezmon Patmon for a 14-yard touchdown that gave the Colts a late two-score lead in an upset of the Cardinals. The Colts have won three straight and six of seven after holding the explosive Cardinals in check despite playing without stud linebacker Darius Leonard. 

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 11-4 (7) 

Antonio Brown returned from suspension with a splash, making 10 catches for 101 yards and then amateurishly refusing to answer any questions about his allegedly fake COVID-19 vaccination card. The Buccaneers clinched their first NFC South title since 2007, after their Super Bowl championship run came as a 2020 wild card. The defense had seven sacks of Panthers quarterbacks. 

6. Dallas Cowboys, 11-4 (8) 

The Cowboys scored 21 points in each of the first two quarters to rout Washington. Dak Prescott had 342 yards combined passing and rushing at the half! The Cowboys clinched the NFC East before kickoff but didn’t let down their guard. Demarcus Lawrence is rounding back into pre-injury form but now has enough help so he doesn’t have to carry the defense. 

7. Arizona Cardinals, 10-5 (4) 

What’s going on here? The Cardinals have lost three straight and are 3-5 since a 7-0 start. The normally automatic Matt Prater missed two field goals and a PAT without his regular holder. The sloppy Cardinals had seven first-half penalties and a bad snap resulting in a safety. Hurry back, DeAndre Hopkins. 

The Cardinals have lose three straight games.
The Cardinals have lost three straight games.
Getty Images

8. Tennessee Titans, 10-5 (11) 

The Titans seem to be past their injury-fueled midseason lull. Randy Bullock’s game-winning 44-yard field goal with four seconds remaining completed the comeback from a 10-point halftime deficit against the 49ers. A.J. Brown’s 11 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown were the deciding factor. Remember, they swept two meetings with the Colts. 

9. Cincinnati Bengals, 8-6 (13) 

Joe Burrow threw for 525 yards — the fourth-highest single-game total in NFL history — and four touchdowns to turn a first-place showdown against the Ravens into a laugher. Joe Mixon, JaMarr Chase and Tee Higgins round out one of the NFL’s best young offenses, which never punted on the way to 41 points. 

10. Buffalo Bills, 9-6 (12) 

Regarded as Super Bowl contenders in the preseason and after a 4-0 start, the Bills were on the brink of falling out of the playoff picture if they lost on the road and allowed the Patriots to sweep the season series. Instead, Josh Allen threw three touchdown passes and Micah Hyde made two interceptions as the Bills tied New England atop the AFC East, with control of the tiebreaker. 

11. New England Patriots, 9-6 (6) 

12. San Francisco 49ers, 8-7 (10) 

13. Miami Dolphins, 8-7 (16) 

14. Los Angeles Chargers, 8-7 (9) 

15. Philadelphia Eagles, 8-7 (18) 

16. Las Vegas Raiders, 8-7 (21) 

17. Baltimore Ravens, 8-7 (14) 

18. Pittsburgh Steelers, 7-7-1 (15) 

19. Cleveland Browns, 7-8 (17) 

20. New Orleans Saints, 7-8 (19) 

21. Minnesota Vikings, 7-8 (20) 

22. Atlanta Falcons, 7-8 (24) 

23. Denver Broncos, 7-8 (22) 

24. Chicago Bears, 5-10 (28) 

25. Washington Football Team, 6-9 (23) 

26. Seattle Seahawks, 5-10 (25) 

27. Carolina Panthers, 5-10 (27) 

28. New York Jets, 4-11 (29) 

The Jets played without the 20 players on the COVID-19 reserve list and without head coach Robert Saleh. Zach Wilson ran for a 52-yard touchdown and threw another to an offensive lineman to beat Trevor Lawrence’s Jaguars in the first matchup between the top two picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. The defense made a late goal-line stand. 

Zach Wilson ran for a 52-yard touchdown during the Jets' 26-21 win over the Jaguars.
Zach Wilson ran for a 52-yard touchdown during the Jets’ 26-21 win over the Jaguars.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

29. Houston Texans, 4-11 (31) 

30. New York Giants, 4-11 (26) 

How about Daniel Jones as a dark-horse MVP candidate? It’s a joke. Sort of. Watching Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm lead scoreless drives makes you appreciate whatever little Jones was able to accomplish with this blocking. In the last six games, the Giants have scored six total touchdowns, including three after falling behind by 30 points. All the offensive playmakers are having career-worst (or close to it) seasons. 

31. Detroit Lions, 2-12-1 (30) 

32. Jacksonville Jaguars, 2-13 (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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