Everything is starting to come into focus, in the NFC that is. We pretty much know who the six playoff teams will be, with only the qualifier from the NFC East seeming uncertain. We even got some clarity as to how the top teams stack up with the 49ers thrashing the Packers in primetime. There is a two-game gap though between the Vikings, who currently hold the second wildcard spot in the conference, and everyone else chasing them. There is still lots to play for down the stretch, but I feel confident in saying that collection of seven teams will make up the six who feature in the postseason.
On the AFC side of things, this is absolute anarchy. There are four teams tied at 6-5 right now, and honestly none of them even feel all that deserving of the second wildcard spot. The Steelers currently hold that position, but given how shaky that offense is, they might not have it for long. Even the current division winners feel a little murky, as Kansas City and Houston both own the same record through 11 games. I say it all the time, but these rankings have truly felt like guesswork this year. There has been a reshuffling of the top five and some heavy movement in the middle of the rankings so let’s dive in.
1. Baltimore Ravens: 9-2 (Last Week: 1)
Won 45-6 at Los Angeles
There really are not enough adjectives to describe how dominant the Ravens look right now. Baltimore outscored the two teams that featured in last year’s Super Bowl 92-26. That is astounding. Lamar Jackson was on fire again, this time throwing five touchdown passes. The defense swallowed up Jared Goff and kept this Rams team from ever getting into a rhythm. This is a confident outfit that is clearly out to prove it is the best in the league. I can’t think of a team that coaches want to face less right now than Baltimore.
2. Seattle Seahawks: 9-2 (Last Week: 3)
Won 17-9 at Philadelphia
Is it just me, or is this team starting to feel a little bit like those Seattle teams from around 2013. The Seahawks rode their ground game and smothering defense to a gritty road win. It was far from perfect, as Russell Wilson was sacked six times. The defense more than made up for it though with five forced turnovers. There are several reasons why this season has been impressive for Seattle, but its 6-0 road record might top the list. That bodes well for a team currently holding a wildcard spot. (It is ridiculous that Seattle is currently in a wildcard spot, but that’s the NFL for ya.)
3. San Francisco 49ers: 10-1 (Last Week: 4)
Won 37-8 vs. Green Bay
San Francisco is not messing around. I don’t know if Jimmy Garoppolo heard all the questions being raised about his ability to show up against teams that weren’t the Cardinals, but he sure answered a lot of them with this performance. It was truly a full team effort, but Garoppolo had 253 yards passing and two touchdowns on just 20 attempts. The 49ers were also very happy to get George Kittle back, who had a monster game. This firmly puts San Francisco in the driver’s seat in the NFC, but they can hardly afford a slip up with Seattle holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.
4. New England Patriots: 10-1 (Last Week: 2)
Won 13-9 vs. Dallas
It is officially time to panic for this Patriots offense. Tom Brady threw the ball 37 times and failed to crack 200 yards passing. The Cowboys defense he faced on Sunday is not good enough for that to be happening. New England’s defense is more than capable of bailing the offense out from time to time, but this team is going to need to start scoring more points. After all, it is heading into big games down the stretch with Houston, Kansas City and Buffalo all on tap.
5. New Orleans Saints: 9-2 (Last Week: 5)
Won 34-31 vs. Carolina
That was entirely way too close for comfort for Saints fans. New Orleans had this game all but wrapped up, but kept finding ways to let Carolina back into it. The talent for this group is undeniable, but it needs to find more consistency. That is going to start with the defense based on this game. Drew Brees and company played about as well as you could’ve hoped. Cameron Jordan and friends need to do more after allowing Kyle Allen to toss three touchdowns against them.
6. Minnesota Vikings: 8-3 (Last Week: 7)
Minnesota has to like how the cards have fallen in recent weeks. The Vikings now control their own fate and could even earn a home playoff game with a win over the Packers later in the year. With a week off to get Adam Thielen back to full strength, Minnesota has to feel very good about where it stands in a loaded NFC. A litmus test against Seattle is the first thing this team will get coming off the bye. While the focus for both teams will be on winning their respective divisions, this game could decide the seeding of the two NFC wildcard teams come the end of the season.
7. Kansas City Chiefs: 7-4 (Last Week: 8)
This hasn’t been how the Chiefs wanted the follow up season to go after reaching the AFC Championship. Injuries have knocked them off course a bit, but Kansas City is still very much in control of it’s playoff fate and lurking in the AFC. While much has been made about the Patriots defense and MVP-favorite Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes still commands what can be the most explosive offense in the league. Fans just have to hope Andy Reid was able to fix the defense on the bye week. An important meeting with Raiders, who sit just a game back in the division despite their meltdown against the Jets, is next. A rematch of that AFC title game with the Patriots follows that divisional clash.
8. Green Bay Packers: 8-3 (Last Week: 6)
Lost 37-8 at San Francisco
Relax? This is the type of game that we could look back on as a turning point in the Packers season. Falling to 8-3, that actually drops Green Bay behind San Francisco, New Orleans and Seattle record wise, meaning that the climb to a first-round bye in the playoffs is steep. The Pack also suddenly find themselves level with the Vikings in the divisional standings. It was a failure to launch across the board, as the offensive line fell apart and the defense got pulled apart by Jimmy Garoppolo. Aaron Rodgers also had the least efficient game of his career. This team has the talent to rebound and finish strong, but this was a clear barometer for the contender status of two elite NFC teams. Clearly, San Francisco has the edge.
9. Houston Texans: 7-4 (Last Week: 11)
Won 20-17 vs. Indianapolis
This was a gutsy win for the Texans as they reclaimed their spot atop the AFC West. The defense showed up in a big way, shutting down the Colts pass attack and doing just enough to protect a slim lead in the late stages of the contest. Houston showed it could move the ball all night, but that only translated to two touchdowns. Given how leaky the defense can be, Deshaun Watson will have to lead the offense on more drives that finish in the end zone.
10. Dallas Cowboys: 6-5 (Last Week: 9)
Lost 13-9 at New England
In likely the ugliest game of the weekend, and that’s saying something, Dallas really could not find a way to get into gear. The defense played fairly well, holding the Patriots to just 13 points. Given how explosive the offense can be, the Cowboys should have had no problem rolling to a victory. Give New England’s defense (and the refs) some credit for shutting down Dallas’ offense, but Jerry Jones made it very clear the expectations are higher for this group. The caliber of defense the Cowboys face won’t get any easier either with the Bills up next.
11. Buffalo Bills: 8-3 (Last Week: 15)
Won 20-3 vs. Denver
Lost in the incredible seasons we are seeing in San Francisco and New England, Buffalo boasts one of the best defenses in the league. The Bills held Brandon Allen and the Broncos to just 148 yards of total offense on Sunday. It was a stellar day running the ball as well. As a team, Buffalo racked up 244 yards rushing and saw Frank Gore pass Barry Sanders on the all-time rushing list. The Bills have benefited from a soft schedule, but they will get a chance to prove themselves with the Cowboys, Ravens and Patriots all left to play before the season is over.
12. Tennessee Titans: 6-5 (Last Week: 17)
Won 42-20 vs. Jacksonville
Every once in a while, particularly against the Jaguars, Derrick Henry turns in one of the best performances we will see during a given season by a running back. He shredded Jacksonville again on Sunday, this time for 159 yards and two touchdowns. That included a 74-yard rumble as well. Ryan Tannehill also put together a stellar statline with 259 yards and two touchdowns on just 18 throws. The former Dolphin averaged an outrageous 14.4 yards per attempt. The biggest challenge facing the Titans is playing at this level consistently, but their last two games have been impressive.
13. Philadelphia Eagles: 5-6 (Last Week: 13)
Lost 17-9 vs. Seattle
It was another rough offensive outing for the Eagles, who finally got into the end zone in garbage time in a losing effort. Honestly, the ultimate frisbee exhibition that took place at halftime was more entertaining than most of the game. (Seriously, check it out.) Without Alshon Jeffrey or Jordan Howard, Carson Wentz struggled to get the ball moving. For as much as he has struggled this year, Wentz really has not had a whole lot around him. If this season has shown anything, its that Philly really lacks depth at some key positions on both sides of the ball. The schedule gets a whole lot easier going forward. Win out, and the Eagles are in the playoffs, no matter what.
14. Los Angeles Rams: 6-5 (Last Week: 12)
Lost 45-6 vs. Baltimore
I don’t think too many people expected the Rams to actually beat the Ravens, but I was among those who thought they might at least be competitive. This looked like a college game between a Power-5 school and a team playing in the FCS. Los Angeles had absolutely no answer for Lamar Jackson or really anyone on the Baltimore offense all night. Jared Goff continued his killer impression of a helpless rookie quarterback as well. The Super Bowl hangover doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon for this group.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: 6-5 (Last Week: 14)
Won 16-10 at Cincinnati
How in the world do the Steelers keep winning games? It is almost inconceivable that Pittsburgh has a winning record. JuJu Smith Schuster and James Conner both sat out due to injury. Mason Rudolph turned in a dud against the Cincinnati, so Mike Tomlin elected to bench him for Delvin Hodges. Hodges threw the go-ahead touchdown in Rudolph’s place and has the inside track to start next week against the Browns. All of that should be a recipe for disaster, but it wasn’t. Maybe that’s just how bad the Bengals are. It was far from pretty, but they don’t award style points in the NFL.
16. Oakland Raiders: 6-5 (Last Week: 10)
Lost 34-3 at New York
On Sunday, the 2019 Raiders looked like the 2018 Raiders. Oakland’s defense laid an egg and there was little life from the offense. Overall, Jon Gruden’s crew was undisciplined and unprepared. This was a major setback for a team that had been trending in the right direction of late. The loss will ultimately prove inconsequential if the Raiders can get back on track and beat the Chiefs this week. There is still plenty for Derek Carr and company to play for.
17. Indianapolis Colts: 6-5 (Last Week: 16)
Lost 20-17 at Houston
Indy’s playoff chances and hopes of winning the division took a major blow with this loss, as Houston now controls the AFC South. There probably should have been a review at the end of this game as to whether or not Darius Leonard recovered a loose ball that would’ve given the Colts another chance to complete their comeback. That said, Jacoby Brissett needs to play better than he did on Thursday considering how well the run game and defense performed. He did have a rushing touchdown, but only managed 152 yards through the air against one of the worst secondaries in the league.
18. Carolina Panthers: 5-6 (Last Week: 18)
Lost 34-31 at New Orleans
This was a much better performance from Carolina after having the doors blown off by Atlanta last week. Close only counts in horseshoes, but hopefully this can help this group build some momentum for the home stretch. The Panthers came an inexplicable missed field goal away from taking a late lead against the Saints. They clearly need to finish the job, but as long as Christian McCaffrey keeps playing like a beast, this team is going to have a chance to win.
19. Cleveland Browns: 5-6 (Last Week: 19)
Won 41-24 vs. Miami
And just like that, the Browns are one game out of the playoffs. It is incredible how this team has begun to turn things around. Beating Miami is nothing particularly impressive, but Cleveland did it in convincing fashion. Half the battle is beating the teams you should beat. Baker Mayfield finally seems to be settling into the offense this year. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. both had great games and the running back duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt has been extremely productive. With a weak schedule remaining, the postseason is in reach.
20. Chicago Bears: 5-6 (Last Week 22)
Won 19-14 vs. New York
If someone finds the Bears offense from last year, I think Matt Nagy might be willing to pay a lot of money to get it back. The running game was ineffective, managing just 2.5 yards per carry. Mitchell Trubisky struggled again, but Chicago gritted out a win to stay in the playoff conversation, kind of. It would take something of a miracle for the Bears to reach the postseason given that the Vikings are holding down the final wildcard spot with an 8-3 record. While everyone wants to blame Trubisky for the team’s woeful offense, the complete disappearance of a running game is playing a huge part. That Jordan Howard trade is looking worse by the week.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 4-7 (Last Week: 25)
Won 35-22 at Atlanta
There has been no quarterback as polarizing as Jameis Winston this year. In one moment, he is throwing two early interceptions. The next, he is playing flawless football and leading the Buccaneers to a win over a division rival. Winston far and away leads the NFL in interceptions, something he is going to have to change if he is going to remain the long term starter in Tampa Bay. It does not seem like Bruce Arians has any plans to move on from him though, so the Bucs will ride it out with the gunslinger.
22. Atlanta Falcons: 3-8 (Last Week: 20)
Lost 35-22 vs. Tampa Bay
The bad Falcons defense is back. Atlanta came up with two early interceptions of Jameis Winston, but it was all downhill from there. Winston had a ridiculous 11.2 yards per attempt as he finished with 313 yards and three touchdowns. Without a running game, the Falcons put a lot of faith in Matt Ryan, and he really didn’t deliver. He spent much of the game running for his life, as the Bucs brought him down six times, hitting him 13 times in total. This team has been one of the most frustrating ones in the league this year. With Ryan, Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, expectations were much higher than a 3-8 start.
23. Jacksonville Jaguars: 4-7 (Last Week: 21)
Lost 42-20 at Tennessee
It has been two weeks since Nick Foles has returned and the Jaguars played their worst football of the year. Now, it isn’t fair to blame this all on Foles because it has been the defense that has disappeared. Jacksonville’s once vaunted unit has given up 75 points over the past two weeks. Playoff hopes have all but disappeared on this three game losing streak. Doug Marrone’s seat is definitely getting a bit warmer as well. The only real positive is the continued emergence of Leonard Fournette as a complete back. He had 97 yards and two touchdowns rushing, but also accounted for 62 yards receiving on nine catches.
24. Arizona Cardinals: 3-7-1 (Last Week: 26)
Despite the less than stellar record for Arizona, this team has taken major strides from where it was a year ago. Kyler Murray has looked the part of a franchise quarterback and the offense has a lot more depth at the skill positions than it did last season. That opens up the Cardinals to focus on shoring up the offensive line and adding to a middling secondary. Despite the offensive successes, Arizona has one of just three defenses giving up over 400 yards per game. There is still a ways to go, but the foundation is in place.
25. Los Angeles Chargers: 4-7 (Last Week: 27)
A week off for the Chargers was much needed after Philip Rivers’ Monday night meltdown in Week 11. Los Angeles has a shot at the playoffs simply because it is not mathematically eliminated yet. While it might not be possible for Anthony Lynn to get all the way to the postseason, the defense will finally get Derwin James back. That should be a much-needed boost to help stabilize what has been an underperforming unit all season long. If the Chargers are going to run the table, they will have to start by beating the Broncos in Denver.
26. New York Jets: 4-7 (Last Week: 28)
Won 34-3 vs. Oakland
Games like this are why I am not a gambling man. The Jets had been playing better in recent weeks, but I don’t think anyone saw a 31-point beatdown of the Raiders coming. Sam Darnold played lights out and the defense battered Derek Carr. They might have only sacked Carr once, but they hit him six times. What was more shocking was actually the offensive line on the other side of the ball. New York has surrendered the third most sacks in the league this year, but only allowed Darnold to be hit once on Sunday. With the hapless Bengals on tap, the Jets have a real shot to stretch this streak out to four in a row.
27. Denver Broncos: 3-8 (Last Week: 24)
Lost 20-3 at Buffalo
The Drew Lock era is drawing near. In what has been a lost season for the Broncos, Joe Flacco and Brandon Allen have both tried, and failed, to spark a lifeless offense. There is a possibility the rookie from Missouri will make his first appearance against the Chargers. He has spent the entire season on injured reserve. Lock can’t be expected to solve all this team’s offensive woes, but anything has to be better than the pathetic 134 yards Denver managed in Buffalo.
28. Washington: 2-9 (Last Week: 31)
Won 19-16 vs. Detroit
Dwayne Haskins got his first NFL as a starter and he was so excited he forgot to come back on the field for the final snap. Instead, he was taking a selfie with a fan. Haskins actually didn’t play very well, completing just 13 of his 29 passes and committing two turnovers. He turned it up on the final two drives, but it was another lackluster outing. Defensively, Washington came up with four takeaways to make up for the offense’s poor play. It wasn’t confidence inspiring and all this win really does is hurt the team’s draft position.
29. Detroit Lions: 3-7-1 (Last Week: 23)
Lost 19-16 at Washington
It has been a trying season for Detroit. After an impressive start, the Lions have gone 1-7. Matt Stafford is working through a serious back injury and far from certain to return this year. Kerryon Johnson is on the shelf as well. However, the bigger problem is the struggling defense that is giving up nearly 400 yards per game. Matters weren’t helped by Jeff Driskel having his worst game to date in Washington, as he tossed three interceptions. If Detroit continues to spiral, Matt Patricia’s job will be in danger.
30. New York Giants: 2-9 (Last Week: 30)
Lost 19-14 at Chicago
Expectations that Daniel Jones would turn this franchise around were outlandish, but this has been a humbling season. Saquon Barkley looks nowhere near as explosive as he did a year ago and injuries have decimated the receiving core. Jones did throw two touchdowns on Sunday, but managed a paltry 4.2 yards per attempt and finished with 150 passing yards. Defensively, this team is relying on two rookies at corner, who have both had very tough seasons. New York has to focus on developing those young players to build a foundation for the future.
31. Miami Dolphins: 2-9 (Last Week: 29)
Lost 41-20 at Cleveland
The hope Miami built during that two-game stretch has completely vanished with noncompetitive losses to Buffalo and Cleveland. The Dolphins defense has given up 78 points in the past two games. Ryan Fitzpatrick has had no support in the running game, leading the team with 45 yards. This roster has been stripped down to the bare bones, so it should come as no surprise Miami is struggling, but there is still a laundry list of offseason needs the front office will have to attempt to fill.
32. Cincinnati Bengals: 0-11 (Last Week: 32)
Lost 16-10 vs. Pittsburgh
Rock bottom just keeps getting lower for this group. Somehow Devlin Hodges came in to lead the Steelers to a win. If you are looking for positives, the Bengals lost by six points after losing by seven the week before. The defense has actually played alright, but the offense has had the wheels fall off even worse than usual. Andy Dalton is going to be back under center against the Jets this week.