1. Dallas Cowboys (Last week: 1)
How bout them Cowboys? Dallas became the first team to clinch a playoff berth for 2016 edging out the Vikings on Thursday night. Minnesota has clearly been slumping but it was a very solid performance from the defense.
2. New England Patriots (Last week: 2)
The Pats got another solid win at home, but with the news that Rob Gronkowski is out the rest of the season, New England has considerably less hype surrounding then they did a week ago. Trust Belichick and Brady to keep this group moving along, but it is certainly a blow to their Super Bowl chances.
3. Oakland Raiders (Last week: 3)
Oakland is the surprise story of the AFC this season. (I would say NFL, but the Cowboys.) Derek Carr is in the MVP conversation and this defense is finding it’s groove. Jack Del Rio is definitely headlining Coach of the Year discussions.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (Last week: 4)
Someone tell Eric Berry to stop being so mean to Matt Ryan. The Chiefs’ safety bailed Kansas City out with a pick-6 and a pick-2 to seal a win. Next up is a visit from Oakland on Thursday to decide control of the AFC West and maybe the AFC.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (Last week: 7)
No one cares if it’s unorthodox if it results in a win. Pittsburgh has won three straight and has a chance to control their own destiny with three divisional games still on the slate. The Ravens lead the division right now, but the Steelers possess more firepower to get it done.
6. Atlanta Falcons (Last week: 5)
Brutally tough loss for Atlanta sees them only move down one spot. The Falcons moved the ball very consistently against one of the best defensive units in the league. If they clean up the mistakes, they should close out the NFC South.
7. Seattle Seahawks (Last week: 8)
Will the real Seahawks offense please stand up? Seattle came off a total dud against Tampa to blow out Carolina 40-7 on Sunday Night Football. Thomas Rawls looks healthy, but Earl Thomas is likely done for the year. Seattle remains a bit of unknown as the playoffs approach.
8. Baltimore Ravens (Last week: 10)
Where did that come from? After failing to score 20 points in their last two games, Baltimore drubbed Miami 38-6. The division race is tight, but the Ravens are still in the driver seat.
9. Detroit Lions (Last week: 12)
Matt Stafford torched the Saints’ defense to earn the Lions a fourth straight win. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am not a fan of Stafford, but I have to acknowledge when he does well. Detroit has a tough final four games standing between them an a division title.
10. Denver Broncos (Last week: 6)
This might seem strange to see the Broncos drop four spots after a win. Denver outlasted Jacksonville in a defensive struggle, but Paxton Lynch continued to struggle. If Trevor Siemian is unable to play at points down the stretch, the Broncos will be in trouble against a legitimate contender.
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last week: 15)
Luppino is ready to talk playoffs. The Bucs are the possessors of the final wildcard spot in the NFC after this weekend. An interesting final four games against Carolina, Dallas and New Orleans twice allow Tampa to control their own destiny with wins.
12. Green Bay Packers (Last week: 13)
Don’t look now, but the Packers have won back-to-back games in commanding fashion. Even if it was the Eagles and Texans, these were two games that the Pack needed to win to keep playoff hopes alive. They are only a game back of the Buccaneers for the final wildcard spot, and a tough final stretch for Detroit means that the division is not out of reach.
13. New York Giants (Last week: 11)
The Giants were thoroughly outplayed Sunday against the Steelers. The defense held its own for the most part, but the offense struggled and continued to give New York headaches. The running game is non-existent and Eli Manning is struggling to win games for this team. Don’t be surprised if the Giants collapse to miss the postseason.
14. Washington (Last week: 14)
That was a tough loss for Washington. They got dealt a bad hand, playing on the road in Arizona against a team desperate for a victory. Playoff hopes are still alive, but dwindling.
15. Miami Dolphins (Last week: 9)
Well back to reality. The Dolphins’ six-game win streak came to an end in Baltimore in disappointing fashion. Miami allowed 38 points and now that win streak looks rather flimsy when you consider the only win against a team with a winning-record was Pittsburgh without Ben Roethlisberger.
16. Arizona Cardinals (Last week: 21)
Don’t get your hopes up quite yet. Arizona got a big win against Washington, but a playoff run is highly unlikely here. Four straight wins would push Arizona to 9-6-1. The Cardinals would need to knock off New Orleans, Seattle and Los Angeles, plus get some help from elsewhere.
17. Minnesota Vikings (Last week: 16)
The roller coaster ride that is the 2016 Minnesota Vikings continued in Dallas with a tough two-point loss to the NFC leaders. Mike Zimmer should be back after having eye surgery, but playoff hopes are quickly slipping through Minnesota’s fingers.
18. Buffalo Bills (Last week: 17)
Buffalo gave Oakland a run for its money in the first half. Unfortunately, the offense stagnated and the defense fell apart. The Bills still have an outside shot at the playoffs coupled with an easy final four games. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Miami and the Jets all represent winnable games for Rex Ryan’s crew.
19. New Orleans Saints (Last week: 18)
Not what New Orleans expected for sure. Drew Brees failed to throw a touchdown pass. The running back committee failed to do much. The defense is a joke. The Saints have a lot of offseason concerns to address.
20. San Diego Chargers (Last week: 19)
2016 will be remembered as a season of what ifs for San Diego. They will look to turn the page in their franchise history with a move to LA next summer. If this team is healthy next year, the AFC West might be the best division ever.
21. Indianapolis Colts (Last week: 24)
Say what you want about how week the AFC South is, but the Colts are right in this thing. Indy blew out the Jets, which isn’t much, but it was a good confidence booster going into a slate of divisional games down the stretch. Oh and Dwayne Allen seems to be back.
22. Houston Texans (Last week: 2o)
Another deflating loss for Houston. This team has needed a quality win all season, and continually fail to get it. They still hold a lead in the AFC South, but Tennessee and Indy are right on their heels.
23. Tennessee Titans (Last week: 23)
The week off sees Houston lose, giving the Titans’ playoff hopes a little boost. Tennessee has a chance to knock off an AFC elite team in the next two weeks in either Denver or Kansas City to show they mean business this year.
24. Philadelphia Eagles (Last week: 22)
Remember when the Eagles were 3-0 and the hottest team in football. Carson Wentz doesn’t. The rookie quarterback only threw one interception in his first five games. In his last seven, he has tossed ten passes to the other team. This is a Philly team in transition, but the second half of this season has still been a disappointment so far.
25. Cincinnati Bengals (Last week: 26)
The Bengals showed a flash of their 2015 form, where they made the playoffs and won the AFC North. A dominant performance against Philly doesn’t really mean very much right now after the season they’ve had. Mark my words, this team will be back in 2017 ready to compete for a playoff spot.
26. Carolina Panthers (Last week: 25)
Carolina is apparently still hungover after losing the Super Bowl. Cam Newton looks pedestrian compared to the MVP version we saw last year. The defense is banged up and it is time for the Panthers to start thinking about next season.
27. Chicago Bears (Last week: 27)
There is some promise brewing in Chicago. Jordan Howard looks like the real deal. Cameron Meredith is turning into a solid receiver. The defense is coming together. Yes it was a win over the 49ers, but any step in the right direction is a good one.
28. Los Angeles Rams (Last week: 28)
Somehow, Jeff Fisher received a contract extension. Expect the Rams to be bad for the next two years and for Jared Goff to continue to struggle in an offense that lacks talent. Also if someone finds 2015 Todd Gurley, please let me know. My fantasy team could use him.
29. New York Jets (Last week: 29)
Well, at least they took the field? The Jets got absolutely demolished on Monday night football. The bright side? Bryce Petty will start the last four games so the organization can see if they have their future quarterback on the roster. That’s as close to a bright side the Jets can get.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (Last week: 30)
They hung in their with Denver, but it was another disappointing loss for Jacksonville. Gus Bradley should probably start packing his desk. Blake Bortles continues to look lost and has yet to cut down on the turnovers. This is a young team, but the results have been disappointing.
31. San Francisco 49ers (Last week: 31)
If I’m a betting man, I’d say that San Francisco makes a move to draft a quarterback in the first round in April. Colin Kaepernick was beyond pathetic. Blaine Gabbert wasn’t much better. This team has no one to turn to right now. Chip Kelly should probably just head back to Oregon.
32. Cleveland Browns (Last week: 32)
The Browns didn’t lose for the first time this season. They also didn’t play, but you have to take what you can get. Reports point toward Robert Griffin III playing in Week 14 against Cincinatti. This might be Cleveland’s best chance to win in 2016 at home against their division rival. If not, it looks like 0-16 for the Browns.