Remember a couple weeks ago when the AFC West appeared destined to grab both AFC wild card berths? I’ll preface by saying this is still a very possible outcome, but the Broncos in particular no longer control their own fate. After their heartbreaking loss to the Chiefs on Monday Night Football, which nearly avoided becoming the third tie of the season (thanks to Cairo Santos, the margin was literally millimeters), the Broncos have fallen out of the projected playoff field, replaced by the Dolphins, winners of six straight.
Miami isn’t the only team that has emerged as a playoff challenger. With back-to-back victories following their bye, the Bills have improved to 6-5, a game behind both Miami and Denver. Also at 6-5 are the Steelers, who have finally seemed to get their offense going in recent weeks. And while it’s unlikely, the 6-6 Titans have opportunities to make waves following their week 13 bye, with consecutive matchups with the Broncos and Chiefs.
The NFC’s wild card situation has also cluttered over the past few Sundays. Although the Giants currently stand at 8-3, with a 1.5 game lead on the current #6 seed Redskins, they own the NFC’s most difficult remaining schedule, beginning with a game in Pittsburgh, and followed by the Cowboys, Lions, Eagles, and Redskins. Behind the 6-4-1 Redskins are the 6-5 Buccaneers, who have come out of nowhere with wins against the Chiefs and Seahawks to challenge in both the NFC South and wild card races.
Despite taking a huge hit to their playoff chances with a second loss to the Lions this season, the 6-5 Vikings are still in the thick of things. And while the 5-6 Eagles are done considering their remaining schedule and head-to-head record with other wild card contenders, the 5-6 Saints and Packers are still alive, although heavily reliant on quarterback play to give them a chance.
While not mathematically eliminated yet, this week likely saw the end of the playoff chances of the Panthers and Cardinals, last season’s NFC Championship contenders. With five weeks left in the season, here’s where the 32 teams stand in my power rankings.
1. Cowboys (10-1, LW: 1) The Cowboys were given another difficult test on Thanksgiving against Kirk Cousins and the Redskins, but managed to prevail thanks to a dominant performance in the group game. The only team to beat the Boys this season are the Giants, and you better believe Dallas will be out for revenge on Dec. 11 at MetLife Stadium.
2. Patriots (9-2, LW: 2) Pats-Jets was another reminder of how games against division rivals are never easy victories. New England made their fans sweat it out, trailing deep into the fourth quarter, but Tom Brady engineered a touchdown drive with two minutes remaining to keep the Patriots two games ahead of the surging Dolphins.
3. Raiders (9-2, LW: 4) What can’t Derek Carr do? After being sidelined in the third quarter with a dislocated pinky finger, the Raiders’ MVP candidate QB returned to the game to lead a comeback over the Panthers that took Carolina out of the playoff race while keeping Oakland as the #1 seed in the AFC.
4. Seahawks (7-3-1, LW: 3) Well so much for thinking Seattle had finally found their rhythm offensively. Russell Wilson managed just 151 yards passing while being sacked six times and throwing two interceptions, and the Seahawks put up just three offensive points, while a safety led to an MLB-like total of five points in the game. Jameis Winston was held in check for the game’s final three quarters, but by then it was already too late.
5. Chiefs (8-3, LW: 6) Cairo Santos claims he called “bank” on his all too close for comfort game-winning field goal in the final seconds of overtime. I’m calling BS on that one, but even if unplanned, that seemed to be the perfect way for possibly the best game of the season to end. Credit the Chiefs for an incredible touchdown drive and two-point conversion to send the game into OT, and then stopping the Broncos when it mattered most.
6. Broncos (7-4, LW: 5) This loss will sting for a while, but the blame isn’t to be placed on Gary Kubiak for sending Brandon McManus out for a 62-yard field goal try in overtime. The Broncos now tied for the sixth seed with the Dolphins, but behind on tiebreaker. To make matters worse, Denver has a very difficult remaining schedule, while Miami’s is more favorable. Denver’s week 13 matchup with the Jaguars is a must-win.
7. Giants (8-3, LW: 7) One of the quietest 8-3 teams in recent memory, the Giants are now winners of six straight. Jason Pierre-Paul took over the Browns game on Sunday with three sacks and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Still seen by many as a flawed team, Big Blue can prove to be a real contender with a win over the Steelers this week.
8. Falcons (7-4, LW: 8) Atlanta lost their offense against the Eagles, but found it again vs. the Cardinals, racking up 38 points and keeping their division lead over the charging Bucs. Taylor Gabriel is turning into a real playmaker in recent weeks and makes the Falcons even scarier when they’re clicking.
9. Redskins (6-4-1, LW: 9) Yes, the Redskins lost on Thanksgiving, but they played the Cowboys tough on the road, and Kirk Cousins torched Dallas for 449 yards and three touchdowns through the air. Cousins is already breaking some franchise records including most 300-yard games all-time, and currently ranks 2nd in the league in yards. The Redskins are a team no one will want to see in the playoffs should they make a wild card.
10. Lions (7-4, LW: 10) No one knows exactly how they do it these days, but we have to accept that the Lions are just a fourth-quarter team. A squad that has trailed in the fourth quarter in every game this season is currently the #3 seed in the NFC. A clutch interception from Darius Slay and two big kicks from Matt Prater led the Lions to another come-from-behind victory against the Vikings to give them cushion in the NFC North.
11. Steelers (6-5, LW: 13) Pittsburgh struck early on Thanksgiving’s final game, scoring touchdowns on their first three drives to never put the game in much doubt. It’s back-to-back big victories for the Steelers, but they’ve done it against Josh McCown and Scott Tolzien. Eli Manning’s Giants will be a much bigger test.
12. Buccaneers (6-5, LW: 17) For being the #25 ranked team just two weeks ago, many will call my rapid rise of the Tampa Bay premature. However, that argument goes out the window when you beat top-5 teams in the league in consecutive weeks, move above .500, and become a huge part of the playoff picture. The Bucs held the Seahawks to just five points, and have allowed just 32 during their three-game win streak.
13. Bills (6-5, LW: 15) The Bills were just one of many AFC playoff contenders that almost blew games against far inferior teams, alongside the Patriots, Raiders, Dolphins, and Titans. However, the Bills were able to translate just 15 first downs into 28 points, defeating the Jaguars to keep themselves in the playoff race.
14. Dolphins (7-4, LW: 16) It’s been six wins in a row, but similar to the Giants, the Dolphins still feel a little bit lacking. However, Miami has been cutting things even closer, with needing a last-minute drive to get past the Rams and nearly blowing a 17-point fourth quarter lead to the 49ers over the last two weeks. However, Ryan Tannehill has started to come alive recently, which means good things for the current AFC #6 seed.
15. Vikings (6-5, LW: 14) At 5-0, the Vikings were the envy of most of the league, and we were collectively applauding their trade for Sam Bradford at quarterback. However, now at 6-5 and owners of the league’s worst offense, the risky move seems to have backfired. Minnesota gave up their first round pick in 2017 to get Bradford, but it now seems unlikely to result in a playoff appearance. Plus, Teddy Bridgewater is almost guaranteed to return to being the starter next year.
16. Eagles (5-6, LW: 11) Things haven’t any better for the other team in the Sam Bradford trade. While they clearly got the better end of the deal, the Eagles have gone just 2-6 following their 3-0 start, and are all but finished in terms of the playoffs. Carson Wentz has potential but has struggled recently, mostly due to a lack of weapons. The team released Josh Huff, scratched Nelson Agholor, and both Ryan and Jordan Matthews have missed time with injury. The Eagles should regroup against the Bengals, but it’s far from guaranteed.
17. Texans (6-5, LW: 12) Texans coach Bill O’Brien is adamant that that Brock Osweiler will continue to start over Tom Savage despite throwing three interceptions against the Chargers and now leading the league in picks with Ryan Fitzpatrick. The offseason signing of the former Bronco looks to be an $72 million mistake, and currently owns the joint lowest passer rating in the league of starting QBs, once again tied with Fitzpatrick.
18. Ravens (6-5, LW: 19) Baltimore is always best when the defense is scary, and the Ravens currently own the #2 overall defense and are #1 against the run. As unlikely as it sounds, kicker Justin Tucker might be the team MVP this season as the only kicker in the league yet to miss a field goal or extra point this season. The fifth-year man from Texas became the first kicker in league history to convert three 50+ yard field goals in one half last week against the Bengals.
19. Chargers (5-6, LW: 22) The Chargers’ defense was the story for a change as San Diego went on the road to upset the Texans and preserve their slim playoff hopes. In all likelihood, the Chargers need to run the table to have a chance at the postseason, but it’ll say something if they’re able to take down the Bucs, likely the league’s hottest team, in week 13.
20, Packers (5-6, LW: 23) Aaron Rodgers said last week that he believes the Packers have what it takes to win all of their remaining games. Playing with his back against the wall, Rodgers released one unbelievable throw after another, dropping 27 on the Eagles who entered the game allowing fewer than 10 points per game at home. The Packers face the Texans and Seahawks before finishing the year with the NFC North gauntlet.
21. Saints (5-6, LW: 24) Just last week, I called the Rams’ defense one of the best in the league. Apparently, Drew Brees doesn’t care. New Orleans set a 2016 record with 49 points in their 49-21 victory, making it the third time this season the Saints have topped 40 points. Defying all odds, Drew Brees accomplished the feat without targeting the team’s second-leading receiver Brandin Cooks even once. As a fantasy owner, I am not happy.
22. Titans (6-6, LW: 21) Of course the Titans won this week- they were just continuing their pattern of alternating wins and losses. However, they really shouldn’t have won this game. Up 27-7 in the fourth quarter against the Bears, the Titans proceeded to be picked apart by Matt Barkley of all people and likely would’ve lost the game if not for a touchdown dropped in the end zone by Josh Bellamy. A win is a win, but that’s just about the worst one you can get.
23. Colts (5-6, LW: 20) To be fair, Scott Tolzien played better than I had expected, and the final score of the Colts’ loss to the Steelers deserved to be much closer than 28-7. However, the Colts missed a field goal and were stopped on fourth and goal twice. Andrew Luck returns to face the Jets in week 13 and keep his team in the thick of things in the AFC South.
24. Cardinals (4-6-1, LW: 18) The Cardinals are the biggest fallers in the rankings this week, and honestly, I’ve been waiting to drop Arizona for a while now. It’s nothing against Bruce Arians and his team, but they simply haven’t looked good this season besides their blowout wins against the Bucs and Jets earlier in the year. Now that other teams are picking up wins and they’re all but out of contention, it’s time to place the Cardinals where they deserve to be.
25. Panthers (4-7, LW: 25) The Panthers scored 25 unanswered points in the second half against the Raiders and still went on to lose the game. Do you really need to hear more? Cam Newton had just 18 yards passing in the first half and 114 yards for the game without counting deep balls to Ted Ginn Jr. and Kelvin Benjamin.
26. Bengals (3-7-1, LW: 26) Rex Burkhead, who has only seen carries in three games this season, was the Bengals’ leading rusher against the Ravens, with five carries for 29 yards. The Bengals offense was already struggling, but the loss of A.J. Green has only made matters worse in what’s become a disastrous 2016 campaign for Cincy, leading many to wonder if coach Marvin Lewis’ seat is getting warm.
27. Rams (4-7, LW: 27) Jared Goff had a pretty good game and threw the first three touchdown passes of his career against the Saints. However, the Saints kinda sorta scored 49 points, so there’s that. For L.A., it was the first time allowing more than 17 points in a game in five weeks. I guess they’ll try to put both the offense and defense together, but with three upcoming games against the Patriots, Falcons, and Seahawks, I’m not sure if it’s possible.
28. Jaguars (2-9, LW: 28) Just how is Gus Bradley still coaching this team? In his fourth season at the helm, Bradley holds a career record of just 14-45. Things were supposed to be different this year, but that clearly hasn’t happened. The Jaguars have lost six straight, and are destined for another top-five draft pick.
29. Bears (2-9, LW: 29) Matt Barkley entered the game against the Titans with one of the worst career stat lines I’ve ever seen. However, despite throwing two interceptions and struggling early, Barkley was given the opportunity to throw the ball 54 times, ending up with 316 yards and three touchdowns. He excelled late in the game and nearly completed a great comeback, but couldn’t score a touchdown in a goal-to-go situation with under a minute remaining.
30. Jets (3-8, LW: 30) It likely won’t be enough to save his job, but Ryan Fitzpatrick had his best game of the season on Sunday as the Jets nearly pulled off a stunner against Tom Brady and the Patriots. I don’t think Todd Bowles has much to worry about in terms of job security, but this has obviously been a disappointing season.
31. 49ers (1-10. LW: 31) Love him or hate him, Colin Kaepernick has done a nice job over the past few weeks. Unfortunately, it hasn’t resulted in any wins, but Kaep’s play definitely spells good things for his future in the league. The Niners still haven’t won a game since week 1 against the Rams, but play the Bears this week in the first of a few good opportunities down the stretch, with other upcoming games against the Jets and Rams.
32. Browns (0-12, LW: 32) It’s been eight years since a team started 0-12, and that was the 2008 Lions, the only team to finish a season 0-16. The Browns have some good players, including emerging star wide receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr., and linebacker Christian Kirksey. However, as a whole, the Browns are just no match for most of the teams in the league. I’ll be rooting for Cleveland to get at least one win before season’s end.