By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

Excuse me for gloating, but man do the Jets suck something fierce. The “better team” prior to last Monday night’s showdown with the Pats according to ESPN’s Tom Jackson, has now lost two straight and scored nine points combined in doing so. The vaunted defense returned to form against the Dolphins this past week, but couldn’t make enough plays to cover for the atrocious offense. Now, the loud mouths are pointing fingers at each other, whether it’s Rex Ryan and the defense, Rex Ryan and the quarterback, Rex Ryan and anyone who will listen to him drone on endlessly about himself, etc. And to top it all off, an indelibly stupid act by the team’s strength and conditioning coach has opened up a whole, new can of worms that have cast the Jets in a very negative light, provoked cries of cheating and basically transformed all of the self-indulgent blowhards in the organization from the refreshing, light of the league they used to be into the spawn of hell. And man, is it awesome.

In case you haven’t heard, this strength and conditioning coach, a fellow name Sal Alosi, stood foot to foot in a line along the sideline with the team’s practice squaders on a punt return in the Dolphins game and stuck his leg out when Miami gunner Nolan Carroll ran by, tripping him and knocking him out of the game with a leg injury. The Jets, naturally, played dumb, waited for the league to discipline this idiot, then a day later, claimed they had “new information” incriminating Alosi and thus suspended him indefinitely. Oh and also, they claimed he acted completely alone in lining up with the players and tripping Carroll, stressing that no one else in the organization had any knowledge of any of it prior to it happening. Guess what? That’s bullshit.

Then, as if the story couldn’t get any better, special teams coach Mike Westhoff, one of the most respected at his post in the game, humiliated the organization even further, as well as himself, when he went on the radio and arbitrarily accused the Pats of also committing such heinous acts, all the while contradicting himself over and over and over and over regarding his role or lack thereof, in the proceedings. Even ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss, one of the most level-headed, even-keeled football types out there, devoted an entire blog post to Westhoff’s nonsense, calling it “pathetic” and wondering if we were all suddenly back in elementary school.

It’s been a major hoot, watching all these jerks lose their grip in the face of a little adversity. There is no institutional control from the top on down with the Jets, which no one notices when the team is winning but gets magnified times 1,000 when it isn’t. The culture of being chest-beating, look-at-me bullies, cultivated from day one by Ryan, is backfiring. Suddenly, the self-appointed Super Bowl champs might not even make the playoffs and what’s more, they must try to right their ship on the field while controversy swirls all around them off it. This a group in dire need of some serious reflecting. But are they capable of it? Can the same neanderthals who behaved like horny, pimple-faced, 16-year olds when a hot, female reporter came to their training camp find in themselves the ability for introspection? Who knows? After they lose again this week at Pittsburgh, perhaps we’ll find out.

This Week’s Five Best Teams

1. New England: With all of the astounding numbers that have accompanied the Pats to the top of this, and many other, lists, this one is among the coolest. With last Sunday’s win in Chicago, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick earned their 108th victory as a QB/coach tandem, surpassing Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll – four-time Super Bowl winners – of the Steelers.

2. Atlanta: The Falcons rolled on in stomping hapless Carolina on Sunday. Now, it appears they’ve set themselves up to win the AFC South and capture a No. 1 seed and first-round bye even if they lose to the Saints next week. All they have to do is beat Seattle on Sunday and the Panthers again in Week 17 and due to a couple tiebreaker scenarios, it’s all theirs.

3. New Orleans: The Saints have won six in a row and scored 30-plus points in their last five. Given the ongoing struggles of the Ravens defense (see below), look for that streak to continue this week, even outdoors in Baltimore. Oh and also, don’t be surprised to see them back in the Super Bowl either.

4. Pittsburgh: Since getting bombed by the Pats on their home field to the tune of 39 points back in Week 10, the Steelers defense has allowed just nine points per game over a four-game winning streak. With the Jets and all of their struggles on offense (and everywhere else) coming into Heinz Field on Sunday, it’s safe to assume that Troy Polamalu, Lamar Woodley and company will keep up the good work.

5. (tie) Philadelphia/New York Giants: The Giants have ripped off three straight wins since losing in Philly, each more dominant that the last, thanks to a reinvigorated running game and some stellar defense. The Eagles don’t look quite as good as they did a month ago, but are still managing to post some impressive results despite a truckload of injuries, especially on defense. The winner of Sunday’s matchup this weekend will in all likelihood win the NFC East. Take the Giants, at home.

This Week’s Five Worst Teams

1. Carolina: Anyone think John Fox has started cleaning out his office at Panthers team headquarters yet? You think anyone there cares if he has? And will some other team really pony up the big bucks to bring him in and run their operation next year? After taking less than two seasons to go from 12-4 to the worst team in the league? And three playoff appearances in 10 years? How do you sell that to your fan base? And isn’t it fun to have one of these blurbs be entirely comprised of rhetorical questions?

2. Denver: So much for interim coaches finding success once they get their hands on the job. Not following in the footsteps of Dallas’s Jason Garrett and Minnesota’s Leslie Frazier was Denver’s Eric Studesville, who watched his team lose 43-14 to the… wait for it… ahem, Arizona Cardinals last week. Hey Coach Eric, hope you’re renting out there in Denver.

3. Cincinnati: Since the Bengals tumble back down to the level of inconsequence is hardly surprising, let’s examine something that is; the fact that Carson Palmer is easily one of the worst QBs in the league. How did that happen so fast? I guess, from what I gather, it’s been an ongoing process over the past couple years. But with the skill talent on that team, there’s no way he should be as lousy as he is. 10 picks in his last five games, two gimmes returned for TDs last week in Pittsburgh and two games with a passer rating higher that 80 since Week 7. Hard to believe he’s the same guy who was so, so good just five seasons ago.

4. Tennessee: This may be a little harsh, but it feels a lot with the Titans like it did last year when they started out 0-6, especially considering they’ve now lost six in a row. I read a quote this week from tight end Bo Scaife essentially saying that the locker room in Nashville is spilt 50/50 in the Vince Young vs. Jeff Fisher battle. Whether that’s true or not, it’s hard to fathom the Titans not finishing at 5-11 with a nine-game losing streak.

5. (tie) Detroit/Arizona: Arizona gets points for blowing a team out (even if it was the Broncos) with yet another rookie/unproven QB with a 43-point outburst last Sunday. Two weeks ago against the 49ers, the Cards didn’t look as though they were capable of scoring 43 points the rest of the season. And big ups to kicker Jay Feely, who booted five field goals and ran for a TD in that game, the first kicker to run in a score since 1990. As for the Lions, their 7-3 win over Green Bay was mostly hideous. But it was a win and a division win at that, their first of the kind in their last 19 tries.

What’s Trendy

– Alex Smith, 49ers: It seemed odd that Niners coach Mike Singletary re-named Smith his starter this past week especially considering Smith’s replacement, Troy Smith, had been playing well and doing some winning. But everything Singletary does/says is at least a little odd so the odds are that at some point, the oddness will work out in his favor and in the case of Alex Smith, it did. Smith was 17-of-27 for 255 yards and three TDs, his best day as a pro, in San Fran’s 40-21 win over Seattle.
– Matt Cassel, Chiefs: The Chiefs had 67 total yards and five first downs all day in last week’s 31-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Chargers. So what does this have to do with Cassel? He didn’t play, thanks to a midweek appendectomy. It’s safe to say on the heels of that game that if Cassel doesn’t play, the Chiefs are finished. Wonder if that’ll warrant any MVP votes for him.
– Brandon Fields, Dolphins: It’s typical of the Dolphins wildly up and down season that in their huge win over the Jets, their best player was their punter. Fields punted 10 times in the 10-6 slopfest and averaged 56.4 yards per punt. That’s pretty good, a lot better than regressing QB Chad Henne who completed just five passes for 55 yards all day but still got the win.

What’s Not

– The Texans: Ready for the one of the most jaw-dropping stats of the year? Houston has trailed four games by at least 14 points this year, come back to tie or take the lead in all of them but wound up losing each one of them. The fourth one was Monday night against Baltimore. Tough team, just not tough enough. Amazing.
– Tarvaris Jackson, Vikings: So BrettFavre sits out for the first time in 297 games (and if you didn’t know that, you don’t have his house network, ESPN) and the guy who replaces him, Jackson, first stinks to high heaven in a brutal Vikings loss to the Giants, then leaves the game with turf toe and winds up on injured reserve. Where was all the coverage on Jackson’s streak ending at one??!!
– Mark Sanchez, Jets: Here are the Sanchize’s numbers in December: 34-of-77, 380 yards, 44.1 percent completions, 0 TDs, 4 INTs, 36.something passer rating, two losses, zero wins. Ryan can talk about how Sanchez gives his team the best chance to win and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer can keep devising game plans that require him to throw and throw and throw some more all they want. He’s not up to it or good enough yet to be able to handle it and these past two weeks are all the evidence necessary to prove it.

And finally…

They’re almost definitely going to make the playoffs but the Baltimore Ravens are somewhat a shell of themselves, even with nine wins. On Monday night, their no longer even good defense allowed a 95-yard TD drive and a 99-yard TD drive to the Texans in giving away a 15 point lead in the fourth quarter alone. That defense, once as ferocious as any, is now very good according to the numbers (10th in total defense, eighth against the run, 14th against the pass) but pretty mediocre when you look at the actual games. That fourth quarter meltdown in Houston was hardly the first one of the season, just the most recent. Starting with their fall-from-ahead loss to the Pats in Week 6, the Ravens have blown five fourth quarter advantages in their last eight games.

Some of the problems likely have to do with age. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed aren’t exactly young anymore. And with the exception of nose tackle Haloti Ngata, there aren’t really any other playmakers there (and that includes loud mouth Terrell Suggs, who when he isn’t ripping Brady and the Pats is busy being one of the most inconsistent, overrated linebackers in the league). It seemed earlier in the year that their offense, which is stacked with big names, would be able to compensate for the aging D. But other than the first half on Monday night, QB Joe Flacco has appeared tentative and maybe even a bit regressed, a far cry from how sharp and polished he looked in his first two seasons. He seemed to shy from the moment a couple of weeks ago against the Steelers which was one of those fourth quarter choke job games, a loss that likely cost the the Ravens a shot at winning the AFC North and getting to host a playoff game for a change (their last five postseason games have been on the road).

Baltimore gets Cleveland and Cincinnati to close out the season following this week’s matchup with the Saints, which means most likely hitting the playoffs on a roll and with at least an 11-5 record. But still, this team is far from the Super Bowl favorite it was pegged as prior to the season and even further from the elite team many in the media seem to still think it is (Sports Illustrated had the Ravens No. 5 in its weekly power rankings, ahead of Philly, the Giants and other better looking outfits). Right now, it feels like one and done for them, which would not only be a huge disappointment but also the third straight year in which they failed to get as far as they did the previous season. That’s a long way off, but it’s not remotely out of the realm of possibility, especially considering the results of their past couple months.