1. New England Patriots (Last week: 1)
Another week, another win for New England. Losing Dion Lewis is a major blow though. He might not have been a bell cow runner but he filled the role that Shane Vereen vacated when he signed with the Giants. Speaking of the Giants, that’s who New England plays this week in what could be a high-scoring affair.
2. Cincinnati Bengals (Last week: 2)
That was much more convincing for the Bengals. Cincy blew out in-state rival Cleveland on Thursday night and bottled up Johnny Manziel once again. We are only halfway through the season but the Bengals are my pick to win the AFC.
3. Carolina Panthers (Last week: 4)
It looked like the Panthers had all but wrapped up the game yet again but ended up letting the Packers back into the game. However, Carolina won and now holds a two game lead over everyone else in the NFC. Cam Newton has this team as the team to beat in the conference.
4. Denver Broncos (Last week: 3)
It was supposed to be the storybook return. Many circled this game on their calendars early in the season as one to watch because it was supposed to be the one where Peyton broke Brett Farve’s career passing record in the stadium where he started his career. Instead, Manning came nowhere close and the Colts ended walking away with a win. That stingy defense finally seemed to break.
5. Arizona Cardinals (Last week: 6)
A week off for Arizona ended up working out pretty nicely. The Packers fell, as did St. Louis. The Cardinals seem poised for a deep playoff run this year. They have all the right pieces on offense to put up points and Bruce Arians is a mastermind. The desert has a true contender this year.
6. Minnesota Vikings (Last week: 7)
Another hard-fought win for Minnesota moves them into a tie atop the division with the Packers. Even though Green Bay is trending downward, they are still the team to beat in the North. Especially if Teddy Bridgewater misses any time with his concussion.
7. Green Bay Packers (Last week: 5)
Brutal back-to-back schedule for the Packers. After facing the league’s top defense, they headed to Charlotte for a matchup with the stingy Panthers. In years, that would be when Green Bay made a statement and showed that they were the class of the league. This year has been different and the Packers can’t seem to figure out why.
8. New York Jets (Last week: 10)
It wasn’t always pretty and it was closer than the Jets probably hoped but it got them back on track for the second half. New York is never catching the Patriots at the top of the division but they do looked poised to snag a wildcard spot with a favorable schedule in front of them.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (Last week: 11)
Mike Tomlin has to be shaking his head at this point. Le’Veon Bell went down for the season last week and no Ben Roethlisberger will miss a few weeks with a foot sprain. Yet, the Steelers are still winning games with a third-string signal caller and a 32-year old running back. Stranger things have happened.
10. Oakland Raiders (Last week: 9)
Tough loss for the up and coming Raiders this week. The offense played pretty well but the biggest takeaways from this game for Oakland have to be the four turnovers and allowing Antonio Brown to run all over the secondary. That is not a winning brand of football.
11. Philadelphia Eagles (Last week: 15)
He still didn’t look like the version of him we saw last season but DeMarco Murray played much better this time around and the Eagles earned a much-needed divisional win. This team is far from perfect and Chip Kelly still has a lot of work to do with Jordan Hicks now out for the rest of the year but Philly is still very much alive.
12. St. Louis Rams (Last week: 12)
That could have been a season defining win for the Rams had they pulled it off. Instead, St. Louis remains on the outside looking in at a playoff spot. It isn’t impossible but they just made their road to the postseason a lot tougher.
13. Seattle Seahawks (Last week: 13)
Seattle got the week off to reevaluate the first half for themselves. It hasn’t been pretty but the Seahawks are still alive with plenty of playmakers on both sides of the ball. Only two games back of Arizona with two meetings on the schedule means that the Pete Carroll has to like his chances.
14. Atlanta Falcons (Last week: 8)
Umm…well then. Atlanta seemed like they were off to a flying start under first-year Head Coach Dan Quinn. Now, the Falcons are losing to teams confined to the league’s cellar. Already two and a half back to Carolina, Atlanta really only has a shot at a wildcard spot, which they are quickly losing their grip on.
15. Indianapolis Colts (Last week: 17)
The good news: Indy pulled off a stunning upset of the previously undefeated Broncos. The bad news: Andrew Luck got hurt again. However, you have to wonder how much that will actually hurt the Colts going forward. Hasselbeck is 2-0 this season without a turnover. His poise and control might be just what the Colts need to put together a bit of a run.
16. New York Giants (Last week: 16)
The playcalling in New York has been under scrutiny all season long but the Giants are still finding some ways to win. They shut down Doug Martin this week and forced Jameis Winston to beat them. Big Blue sits atop the NFC East but Philly is right at their heels.
17. Buffalo Bills (Last week: 18)
Sammy Watkins certainly made it clear that he was back. A dominant performance from the second-year receiver gives a .500 Buffalo squad some momentum going into tonight’s critical game with the Jets. Rex will be gunning for his old team in a game that the Bills must have to keep their playoff hopes on track.
18. New Orleans Saints (Last week: 14)
The Saints losing to the Titans is the epitome of why we love football. Both teams were headed in such opposite directions but New Orleans crumbled down the stretch. A win would’ve put them only a game behind the Falcons for a playoff spot.
19. Kansas City Chiefs (Last week: 19)
The second half begins for the Chiefs on an upswing. Kansas City probably does not have a legitimate shot at a playoff spot but this is a time for the front office to see what they have in some youngsters like Charcandrick West, Marcus Peters and Eric Fischer. Building for next year is vital for the Chiefs.
20. Chicago Bears (Last week: 25)
Jay Cutler is now the Bears leader in career touchdown passes and the Bears got themselves a big, come from behind win on Monday night. That’s even more impressive when you consider that they did it without Matt Forte. It doesn’t mean much for Chicago but it certainly instills some confidence in that locker room.
21. Washington (Last week: 20)
About what you expected from Washington in a matchup with the undefeated Pats. There offensive line kept Kirk Cousins clean, only allowing one sack but failed to open any holes for Matt Jones and Alfred Morris. Washington’s 3.6 yards per carry ranks them 29th in the league. Looking for places to improve? That’s where I would start.
22. Miami Dolphins (Last week: 21)
The Dolphins are now 0-3 in the AFC East. For a team that some expected to come in a challenge the Pats at the beginning of the year, this has to be a disappointment. Miami spent big this offseason but poor draft history and inconsistent play have this team looking at a top-10 draft pick.
23. Tennessee Titans (Last week: 31)
One week after firing your head coach always means that you walk out of the SuperDome with an overtime victory right? Well Marcus Mariota certainly made that happen. 371 yards, four touchdowns and no turnovers is the way to make that happen. This is a win that Tennessee would never have pulled off a year ago and shows positive signs in this rebuilding process.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars (Last week: 23)
A solid effort against the Jets made Jacksonville look good but it counts for nothing. The Jags had plenty of opportunities to win against the in New York. Those are the types of games that Jacksonville needs to start winning to get this team moving in a positive direction.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last week: 22)
Touchdowns were at a premier for Tampa this weekend in New York, as they only mustered one. However, the game was a lot closer than the scoreline shows (it was a one-possession game until 24 second left in the fourth quarter). Winston took care of the football, avoiding turnovers but the Bucs couldn’t play a complete game.
26. San Francisco 49ers (Last week: 30)
Where did that come from? Some unusual names made big plays for the 49ers this week. Blaine Gabbert tossed two touchdowns to Garrett Celek in a stunning win for the Red and Gold. The real focus should be on the defense though, which held Donta Freeman, the league’s leading rusher until this week, to just 12 yards on 12 carries. This was old school 49er football and definitely brings some hope to this struggling franchise.
27. Dallas Cowboys (Last week: 24)
He won’t fix everything but Dallas needs Romo. Sunday was the Cowboys seventh straight loss since losing their quarterback to a broken clavicle. At this point, the Texans might have the best chance of the teams in the Lone Star state to make a playoff run.
28. Houston Texans (Last week: 27)
The Texans have a whole week to prepare for a Monday night clash with the Bengals. I don’t know if any amount of planning will be enough to get Houston the win but right now, the Texans are still very much in the hunt for the AFC South title.
29. Cleveland Browns (Last week: 28)
It wasn’t quite as ugly as I expected but Cleveland still came nowhere close to winning this game. Offensively, Manziel showed that he still does not have a lot of trust in his teammate and would rather scramble. The defense did not have an answer for Tyler Eifert either as he scored three touchdowns. The Browns have a couple of pieces in place but there is still a lot they need to do.
30. Baltimore Ravens (Last week: 29)
A bye week lets Baltimore hash out what the plan is going forward without Steve Smith. Baltimore’s playoff chances are all but none existent at this point and they have to start prepping for next season. That begins with finding a new number one receiver. This is the chance to see if that guy is on the roster right now.
31. San Diego Chargers (Last week: 26)
Phillip Rivers leads the NFL in passing yards per game. Melvin Gordon is 31st in rushing yards per game and has four fumbles to go with no touchdowns on the year. When you are drafted in the first round, it comes with the expectation that you will be an impact player right away. San Diego can wholly blame all of its woes this season on its absolute lack of a ground attack.
32. Detroit Lions (Last week: 32)
A lot of changes going into the bye week isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it gives the floundering Lions a chance to work things out. There is a lot of talent on this offense but the team as a whole looks lost.