The holiday season couples many of the things we covet most in life—family, friends, faith, food and football.
Christmas reminds us that miracles can happen and that God is always here to light the way in the darkness.
It’s also important to remember that it always feels better to give than to receive.
On behalf of everyone at GridironGrit.com and NFLTouchdown.com, we hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas (and Happy Hanukkah) and enjoy a Happy New Year!
Week 16 was chock-full of high-stakes marquee matchups, lopsided landslides, unexpected upsets and nail-biting fantastic finishes.
It’s a bittersweet time now, as fans of 20 teams are approaching the doom of the excruciating ho-ho-rrendous off-season gloom, while fans of 12 other teams are about to be elated as postseason play is less than a week away.
Here are my NFL Week 17 Power Rankings heading into the final week of the regular season.
Every team with a losing record is mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and is now also outside of the top half of the rankings. This week’s biggest movers are the Titans (+7), Giants (+6), Raiders (+4) and Chargers (-6).
Current Standings: Six teams are 8-7. Five teams are 7-8. There are three teams with a record of 12-3, 6-9 and 4-11. There are also two teams with an 11-4, 10-5, 9-6, 5-10 and 2-14 record. Finally, one team is 14-1 and 3-12 and there are no teams with a record of 15-0, 13-2, 1-14 and 0-15.
I maintain a deep-seated focus on patterns, schedules, winning and losing streaks and what teams have done in recent weeks, throughout the course of the season (and why), as well as look ahead and evaluate expectations for the coming weeks.
That’s one reason why 15 teams remain in their same spots from last week. As always, I also provide all of this information all in one convenient location—something you can’t fine anywhere else.
No. 32 St. Louis Rams (2-13): Over the last four weeks, the Rams haven’t scored more than 13 points in a single game and have been shut out twice. Steve Spagnuolo looks to become the fourth head coach sent packing this season, although there are a handful of coaches that will give him a run for his money.
Previous Ranking: 30
Résumé: Lost 13-31 vs. Philadelphia, Lost 16-28 at N.Y. Giants, Lost 7-37 vs. Baltimore, Lost 10-17 vs. Washington, Lost 3-24 at Green Bay, Lost 7-34 at Dallas, Won 31-21 vs. New Orleans, Lost 13-19 at Arizona (OT), Won 13-12 at Cleveland, Lost 7-24 vs. Seattle, Lost 20-23 vs. Arizona, Lost 0-26 at San Francisco, Lost 13-30 at Seattle, Lost 13-20 vs. Cincinnati, Lost 0-27 at Pittsburgh
Last Game: vs. San Francisco (11-3)
Previous Ranking: 31
Résumé: Lost 20-27 vs. Detroit, Won 24-20 at Minnesota, Won 16-13 vs. Atlanta, Won 24-17 vs. Indianapolis, Lost 3-48 at San Francisco, Won 26-20 vs. New Orleans, Lost 18-24 vs. Chicago, Lost 16-27 at New Orleans, Lost 9-37 vs. Houston, Lost 26-35 at Green Bay, Lost 17-23 at Tennessee, Lost 19-38 vs. Carolina, Lost 14-41 at Jacksonville, Lost 15-31 vs. Dallas, Lost 16-48 at Carolina
Last Game: at Atlanta (9-6)
No. 30 Indianapolis Colts (2-13): The Colts have won two consecutive contests with Dan Orlovsky leading the charge. No seriously. They also have a chance at wrapping up the season on a three-game win streak—all over division opponents—despite an 0-13 start.
Previous Ranking: 32
Résumé: Lost 7-34 at Houston, Lost 19-27 vs. Cleveland, Lost 20-23 vs. Pittsburgh, Lost 17-24 at Tampa Bay, Lost 24-28 vs. Kansas City, Lost 17-27 at Cincinnati, Lost 7-62 at New Orleans, Lost 10-27 at Tennessee, Lost 7-31 vs. Atlanta, Lost 3-17 vs. Jacksonville, Lost 19-27 vs. Carolina, Lost 24-31 at New England, Lost 10-24 at Baltimore, Won 27-13 vs. Tennessee, Won 19-16 vs. Houston
Last Game: at Jacksonville (4-11)
When your team is located in a small market, experiences frequent blackouts, averages under 15 points a game and its offense ranks dead last in the league in passing and total offense, it’s not a bad idea by any means to be thinking outside-the-box.
CBSSports.com NFL Senior Columnist Pete Prisco had a well-worded message for Jags fans hoping their team loses to the Colts in an effort to prevent Andrew Luck from taking the reins in Indy. Here’s a sample of his intro in his latest rankings:
The players on the field Sunday don’t give a rat’s ass about what happens in the future. They are playing for their lives. The tape from that game is part of their resume.
It’s who they are. They put food on their tables staying in the league. They’re not about to worry about a guy coming in next year. The Jaguars, who are No. 27 here in our CBSSports.com Power Rankings, have 31 players on the injured-reserve list. So even though they will be playing to win, they still might not have enough to pull it off.
But it’s absurd to think that any players, coaches or team will sit down for something that might happen in the future.
Previous Ranking: 28
Résumé: Won 16-14 vs. Tennessee, Lost 3-32 at N.Y. Jets, Lost 10-16 at Carolina, Lost 10-23 vs. New Orleans, Lost 20-30 vs. Cincinnati, Lost 13-17 at Pittsburgh, Won 12-7 vs. Baltimore, Lost 14-24 at Houston, Won 17-3 at Indianapolis, Lost 10-14 at Cleveland, Lost 13-20 vs. Houston, Lost 14-38 vs. San Diego, Won 41-14 vs. Tampa Bay, Lost 14-41 at Atlanta, Lost 17-23 at Tennessee
Last Game: vs. Indianapolis (2-13)
No. 28 Cleveland Browns (4-11): An AFC executive (who I find suspiciously remains nameless) believes Colt McCoy is not the answer under center to lead Cleveland out of the cellar and into contention. McCoy hasn’t taken the field since Week 14 in Pittsburgh, but head coach Pat Shurmur hints that if the second-year signal-caller practices on Wednesday, he could suit up against the Steelers in Week 17. Shurmur also believes the Browns have to play smarter moving forward.
Previous Ranking: 27
Résumé: Lost 17-27 vs. Cincinnati, Won 27-19 at Indianapolis, Won 17-16 vs. Miami, Lost 13-31 vs. Tennessee, Lost 17-24 at Oakland, Won 6-3 vs. Seattle, Lost 10-20 at San Francisco, Lost 12-30 at Houston, Lost 12-13 vs. St. Louis, Won 14-10 vs. Jacksonville, Lost 20-23 at Cincinnati, Lost 10-24 vs. Baltimore, Lost 3-14 at Pittsburgh, Lost 17-20 at Arizona (OT), Lost 14-20 at Baltimore
Last Game: vs. Pittsburgh (11-4)
Previous Ranking: 25
Résumé: Won 28-14 vs. N.Y. Giants, Won 22-21 vs. Arizona, Lost 16-18 at Dallas, Won 17-10 at St. Louis, Lost 13-20 vs. Philadelphia, Lost 20-33 at Carolina, Lost 0-23 at Buffalo, Lost 11-19 vs. San Francisco, Lost 9-20 at Miami, Lost 24-27 vs. Dallas (OT), Won 23-17 at Seattle, Lost 19-34 vs. N.Y. Jets, Lost 24-31 vs. New England, Won 23-10 at N.Y. Giants, Lost 26-33 vs. Minnesota
Last Game: at Philadelphia (7-8)
Previous Ranking: 29
Résumé: Lost 17-24 at San Diego, Lost 20-24 vs. Tampa Bay, Lost 23-26 vs. Detroit (OT), Lost 17-22 at Kansas City, Won 34-10 vs. Arizona, Lost 10-39 at Chicago, Lost 27-33 vs. Green Bay, Won 24-21 at Carolina, Lost 7-45 at Green Bay, Lost 21-27 vs. Oakland, Lost 14-24 at Atlanta, Lost 32-35 vs. Denver, Lost 28-34 at Detroit, Lost 20-45 vs. New Orleans, Won 33-26 at Washington
Last Game: vs. Chicago (7-8)
No. 25 Buffalo Bills (6-9): Ryan Fitzpanic was cool as a cucumber against Denver. C.J. Spiller has come into his own over the last two weeks with two touchdowns and 306 yards from scrimmage. A little Reggie Bush-esque, eh? The defense was hitting on all cylinders against the Tebows, too.
Previous Ranking: 26
Résumé: Won 41-7 at Kansas City, Won 38-35 vs. Oakland, Won 34-31 vs. New England, Lost 20-23 at Cincinnati, Won 31-24 vs. Philadelphia, Lost 24-27 at N.Y. Giants, Won 23-0 vs. Washington, Lost 11-27 vs. N.Y. Jets, Lost 7-44 at Dallas, Lost 8-35 at Miami, Lost 24-28 at N.Y. Jets, Lost 17-23 vs. Tennessee, Lost 10-37 at San Diego, Lost 23-30 vs. Miami, Won 40-14 vs. Denver
Last Game: at New England (12-3)
No. 24 Miami Dolphins (5-10): Like the Lions last season, the Dolphins are mounting momentum and finding their swagger down-the-stretch this year. That could lead to bigger and better things in 2012. Matt Moore may actually be the guy with the help of a great offensive line, Reggie Bush and Brandon Marshall.
Previous Ranking: 24
Résumé: Lost 24-38 vs. New England, Lost 13-23 vs. Houston, Lost 16-17 at Cleveland, Lost 16-26 at San Diego, Lost 6-24 at N.Y. Jets, Lost 15-18 vs. Denver (OT), Lost 17-20 at N.Y. Giants, Won 31-3 at Kansas City, Won 20-9 vs. Washington, Won 35-8 vs. Buffalo, Lost 19-20 at Dallas, Won 34-14 vs. Oakland, Lost 10-26 vs. Philadelphia, Won 30-23 at Buffalo, Lost 24-27 at New England
Last Game: vs. N.Y. Jets (8-7)
No. 23 Carolina Panthers (6-9): Dashing through the snow on a one horse open sleigh, over the fields we go, laughing all the way. Cam Newton and the Panthers were doing that non-stop last Saturday against Tampa Bay and continue to find their rhythm each week.
Previous Ranking: 23
Résumé: Lost 21-28 at Arizona, Lost 23-30 vs. Green Bay, Won 16-10 vs. Jacksonville, Lost 29-34 at Chicago, Lost 27-30 vs. New Orleans, Lost 17-31 at Atlanta, Won 33-20 vs. Washington, Lost 21-24 vs. Minnesota, Lost 3-30 vs. Tennessee, Lost 35-49 at Detroit, Won 27-19 at Indianapolis, Won 38-19 at Tampa Bay, Lost 23-31 vs. Atlanta, Won 28-13 at Houston, Won 48-16 vs. Tampa Bay
Last Game: at New Orleans (12-3)
No. 22 Chicago Bears (7-8): There’s a fine line in this league between teams that overcome a mount of injuries down-the-stretch like the Texans and Steelers and teams that all fall apart at the seams on losing streaks like the Bills, Buccaneers and Bears. But hey, “there’s always next year.”
Previous Ranking: 22
Résumé: Won 30-12 vs. Atlanta, Lost 13-30 at New Orleans, Lost 17-27 vs. Green Bay, Won 34-29 vs. Carolina, Lost 13-24 at Detroit, Won 39-10 vs. Minnesota, Won 24-18 at Tampa Bay (London), Won 30-24 at Philadelphia, Won 37-13 vs. Detroit, Won 31-20 vs. San Diego, Lost 20-25 at Oakland, Lost 3-10 vs. Kansas City, Lost 10-13 at Denver (OT), Lost 14-38 vs. Seattle, Lost 21-35 at Green Bay
Last Game: at Minnesota (3-12)
No. 21 Kansas City Chiefs (6-9): Interim head coach Romeo Crennel and quarterback Kyle Orton, to the surprise of many, could have a very promising future ahead in Arrowhead. Sunday’s showdown on New Year’s Day rekindles the highly-debated battle between Orton and Tebow.
Previous Ranking: 21
Résumé: Lost 7-41 vs. Buffalo, Lost 3-48 at Detroit, Lost 17-20 at San Diego, Won 22-17 vs. Minnesota, Won 28-24 at Indianapolis, Won 28-0 at Oakland, Won 23-20 vs. San Diego (OT), Lost 3-31 vs. Miami, Lost 10-17 vs. Denver, Lost 3-34 at New England, Lost 9-13 vs. Pittsburgh, Won 10-3 at Chicago, Lost 10-37 at N.Y. Jets, Won 19-14 vs. Green Bay, Lost 13-16 vs. Oakland (OT)
Last Game: at Denver (8-7)
No. 20 San Diego Chargers (7-8): The Lions slashed San Diego’s streaking tires and pulled the plug on the “super” Chargers with a 28-point margin of victory. It’s the end of the era for Norv Turner and A.J. Smith could be on the way out, too.
Previous Ranking: 14
Résumé: Won 24-17 vs. Minnesota, Lost 21-35 at New England, Won 20-17 vs. Kansas City, Won 26-16 vs. Miami, Won 29-24 at Denver, Lost 21-27 at N.Y. Jets, Lost 20-23 at Kansas City (OT), Lost 38-45 vs. Green Bay, Lost 17-24 vs. Oakland, Lost 20-31 at Chicago, Lost 13-16 vs. Denver (OT), Won 38-14 at Jacksonville, Won 37-10 vs. Buffalo, Won 34-14 vs. Baltimore, Lost 10-38 at Detroit
Last Game: at Oakland (8-7)
No. 19 Philadelphia Eagles (7-8): The Dream Team was hoping for a Christmas miracle and it nearly happened. Had the Jets beaten the Giants, the talk surrounding the Cowboys-Giants game would be almost equal to the Redskins-Eagles division collision. The Eagles’ high-flying late-season surge could very well save Andy Reid‘s position, though Juan Castillo will be headed out the door faster than you can say “sashimi” after Sunday’s battle with Washington.
Previous Ranking: 18
Résumé: Won 31-13 at St. Louis, Lost 31-35 at Atlanta, Lost 16-29 vs. N.Y. Giants, Lost 23-24 vs. San Francisco, Lost 24-31 at Buffalo, Won 20-13 at Washington, Won 34-7 vs. Dallas, Lost 24-30 vs. Chicago, Lost 17-21 vs. Arizona, Won 17-10 at N.Y. Giants, Lost 20-38 vs. New England, Lost 14-31 at Seattle, Won 26-10 at Miami, Won 45-19 vs. N.Y. Jets, Won 20-7 at Dallas
Last Game: vs. Washington (5-9)
No. 18 Arizona Cardinals (7-8): Who’s the future in Arizona? Skelton? Kolb? A high draft pick in the 2012 NFL Draft? Let’s compare the Cardinals’ two signal-callers.
- 9 Games, 9 Starts
- 146-253 (57.7 Completion Percentage)
- 1,955 Passing Yards (65 Rushing Yards)
- 9 Touchdowns
- 8 Interceptions
- 30 Sacks
- 81.1 QB Rating
- 3-6 as a starter (albeit Skelton led the Cardinals for three-plus quarters in a win over San Francisco)
- 7 Games, 6 Starts
- 129-235 (54.9 Completion Percentage)
- 1,642 Passing Yards (109 Rushing Yards)
- 10 Touchdowns
- 13 Interceptions
- 21 Sacks
- 68.1 QB Rating
- 4-2 as a starter (also led Cardinals to win over 49ers in three-plus quarters)
Previous Ranking: 17
Résumé: Won 28-21 vs. Carolina, Lost 21-22 at Washington, Lost 10-13 at Seattle, Lost 27-31 vs. N.Y. Giants, Lost 10-34 at Minnesota, Lost 20-32 vs. Pittsburgh, Lost 27-30 at Baltimore, Won 19-13 vs. St. Louis (OT), Won 21-17 at Philadelphia, Lost 7-23 at San Francisco, Won 23-20 at St. Louis, Won 19-13 vs. Dallas (OT), Won 21-19 vs. San Francisco, Won 20-17 vs. Cleveland (OT), Lost 17-23 at Cincinnati
Last Game: vs. Seattle (7-8)
No. 17 Seattle Seahawks (7-8): Tarvaris Jackson has been playing at the top of his game. Marshawn Lynch continues to taste the rainbow in beast mode each week. In addition, the defense and special teams have been quite stellar as of late. Jim Harbaugh and San Francisco could have much tougher sailing next season.
Previous Ranking: 15
Résumé: Lost 17-33 at San Francisco, Lost 0-24 at Pittsburgh, Won 13-10 vs. Arizona, Lost 28-30 vs. Atlanta, Won 36-25 at N.Y. Giants, Lost 3-6 at Cleveland, Lost 12-34 vs. Cincinnati, Lost 13-23 at Dallas, Won 22-17 vs. Baltimore, Won 24-7 at St. Louis, Lost 17-23 vs. Washington, Won 31-14 vs. Philadelphia, Won 30-13 vs. St. Louis, Won 38-14 at Chicago, Lost 17-19 vs. San Francisco
Last Game: at Arizona (7-8)
No. 16 N.Y. Jets (8-7): The Jets have to beat the Dolphins (which is a tough task as it is) and have the Ravens beat the Bengals, Texans beat the Titans and the Chargers beat the Raiders or Chiefs take down the Broncos. Good luck with that.
Gang Green is a dangerous team in the postseason, but there’s a better chance that Mark Sanchez throws for over 400 yards against the Dolphins and Rex Ryan doesn’t say a word afterward than the Jets have of sneaking into the playoffs.
Previous Ranking: 13
Résumé: Won 27-24 vs. Dallas, Won 32-3 vs. Jacksonville, Lost 24-34 at Oakland, Lost 17-34 at Baltimore, Lost 21-30 at New England, Won 24-6 vs. Miami, Won 27-21 vs. San Diego, Won 27-11 at Buffalo, Lost 16-37 vs. New England, Lost 13-17 at Denver, Won 28-24 vs. Buffalo, Won 34-19 at Washington, Won 37-10 vs. Kansas City, Lost 19-45 at Philadelphia, Lost 14-29 vs. N.Y. Giants
Last Game: at Miami (5-10)
No. 15 Oakland Raiders (8-7): The Raiders bolted back into the playoff conversation with a win over the Chiefs in OT. The Broncos’ beatdown by the Bills helped as well.
Playoff Scenarios: Oakland can clinch the AFC West with a win over San Diego and a Kansas City upset against Denver. If the Broncos beat the Chiefs, the Raiders can secure the sixth seed by beating the Bolts and having help with a Bengals loss and a Jets win/Titans loss.
Previous Ranking: 19
Résumé: Won 23-20 at Denver, Lost 35-38 at Buffalo, Won 34-24 vs. N.Y. Jets, Lost 19-31 vs. New England, Won 25-20 at Houston, Won 24-17 vs. Cleveland, Lost 0-28 vs. Kansas City, Lost 24-38 vs. Denver, Won 24-17 at San Diego, Won 27-21 at Minnesota, Won 25-20 vs. Chicago, Lost 14-34 at Miami, Lost 16-46 at Green Bay, Lost 27-28 vs. Detroit, Won 16-13 at Kansas City (OT)
Last Game: vs. San Diego (7-8)
No. 14 Denver Tebows (8-7): Tebow and the Broncos have been outscored by 43 points in the last two games. That’s not a huge surprise when you surrender a whopping 81 points in that span. However, the two-game skid hasn’t stopped Tim Tebow from becoming the best-selling religion author of 2011. This week’s game could be a career-defining game for Tebow, the Broncos front office and a few first-round prospect quarterbacks.
Previous Ranking: 11
Résumé: Lost 20-23 vs. Oakland, Won 24-22 vs. Cincinnati, Lost 14-17 at Tennessee, Lost 23-49 at Green Bay, Lost 24-29 vs. San Diego, Won 18-15 at Miami (OT), Lost 10-45 vs. Detroit, Won 38-24 at Oakland, Won 17-10 at Kansas City, Won 17-13 vs. N.Y. Jets, Won 16-13 at San Diego (OT), Won 35-32 at Minnesota, Won 13-10 vs. Chicago (OT), Lost 23-41 vs. New England, Lost 14-40 at Buffalo
Last Game: vs. Kansas City (6-9)
No. 13 Tennessee Titans (8-7): The Titans need to win at Houston and have help with a Jets win (at Miami), Bengals loss (vs. Baltimore) and Broncos (vs. Kansas City) or Raiders (vs. San Diego) loss to make the playoffs. It’s a long-shot, but stranger things have happened this season.
Previous Ranking: 20
Résumé: Lost 14-16 at Jacksonville, Won 26-13 vs. Baltimore, Won 17-14 vs. Denver, Won 31-13 at Cleveland, Lost 17-38 at Pittsburgh, Lost 7-41 vs. Houston, Won 27-10 vs. Indianapolis, Lost 17-24 vs. Cincinnati, Won 30-3 at Carolina, Lost 17-23 at Atlanta, Won 23-17 vs. Tampa Bay, Won 23-17 at Buffalo, Lost 17-22 vs. New Orleans, Lost 13-27 at Indianapolis, Won 23-17 vs. Jacksonville
Last Game: at Houston (10-5)
No. 12 Cincinnati Bengals (9-6): Beat Baltimore and Cincy can celebrate something nobody could have imagined before the season—making the playoffs. The Bengals could also get in via a tie. You might chuckle, but the way the two defenses play, it could actually happen. If they lose, all hell breaks lose. The Bengals are begging fans to show their support in person.
Previous Ranking: 12
Résumé: Won 27-17 at Cleveland, Lost 22-24 at Denver, Lost 8-13 vs. San Francisco, Won 23-20 vs. Buffalo, Won 30-20 at Jacksonville, Won 27-17 vs. Indianapolis, Won 34-12 at Seattle, Won 24-17 at Tennessee, Lost 17-24 vs. Pittsburgh, Lost 24-31 at Baltimore, Won 23-20 vs. Cleveland, Lost 7-35 at Pittsburgh, Lost 19-20 vs. Houston, Won 20-13 at St. Louis, Won 23-16 vs. Arizona
Last Game: vs. Baltimore (11-4)
No. 11 Dallas Cowboys (8-7): Win and they’re in; lose and break out the boos (and booze). Tony Romo‘s health is a huge issue right now. It’s highly unlikely that he doesn’t play, but his effectiveness is certainly uncertain.
Previous Ranking: 10
Résumé: Lost 24-27 at N.Y. Jets, Won 27-24 at San Francisco, Won 18-16 vs. Washington, Lost 30-34 vs. Detroit, Lost 16-20 at New England, Won 34-7 vs. St. Louis, Lost 7-34 at Philadelphia, Won 23-13 vs. Seattle, Won 44-7 vs. Buffalo, Won 27-24 at Washington (OT), Won 20-19 vs. Miami, Lost 13-19 at Arizona (OT), Lost 34-37 vs. N.Y. Giants, Won 31-15 at Tampa Bay, Lost 7-20 vs. Philadelphia
Last Game: at N.Y. Giants (8-7)
No. 10 N.Y. Giants (8-7): One more giant meltdown at the Meadowlands against the Cowboys will likely cost Tom Coughlin his job. A win puts the G-Men in postseason play. A tie—however unlikely—would give the Giants the edge, too, since they beat Dallas a few weeks ago.
Previous Ranking: 16
Résumé: Lost 14-28 at Washington, Won 28-16 vs. St. Louis, Won 29-16 at Philadelphia, Won 31-27 at Arizona, Lost 25-36 vs. Seattle, Won 27-24 vs. Buffalo, Won 20-17 vs. Miami, Won 24-20 at New England, Lost 20-27 at San Francisco, Lost 10-17 vs. Philadelphia, Lost 24-49 at New Orleans, Lost 35-38 vs. Green Bay, Won 37-34 at Dallas, Lost 10-23 vs. Washington, Won 29-14 at N.Y. Jets
Last Game: vs. Dallas (8-7)
No. 9 Detroit Lions (10-5): Matthew Stafford has led the Lions, now one of the hottest teams in the league, to the playoffs for the first time since ’99. He’s also started every game (an accomplishment considering he missed 19 games in his first two seasons) and completed 385 of his 604 passes (63.7 completion percentage) for 4,518 yards and 36 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions.
He’s a tough kid and has had little help from the running game, as no back has received 100 carries or achieved 400 rushing yards on the season. Ndamukong Suh was also named America’s most charitable professional athlete in 2011.
Why Win in Week 17: Look for the Lions to try to lock up the fifth seed over Atlanta in an effort to knock off the might Packers in Lambeau for the first time since ’91 and have the luxury of facing the winner of the Cowboys-Giants game (rather than having to deal with the Saints or 49ers again), while also maintaining momentum heading into the postseason.
Previous Ranking: 9
Résumé: Won 27-20 at Tampa Bay, Won 48-3 vs. Kansas City, Won 26-23 at Minnesota (OT), Won 34-30 at Dallas, Won 24-13 vs. Chicago, Lost 19-25 vs. San Francisco, Lost 16-23 vs. Atlanta, Won 45-10 at Denver, Lost 13-37 at Chicago, Won 49-35 vs. Carolina, Lost 15-27 vs. Green Bay, Lost 17-31 at New Orleans, Won 34-28 vs. Minnesota, Won 28-27 at Oakland, Won 38-10 vs. San Diego
Last Game: at Green Bay (14-1)
No. 8 Atlanta Falcons (9-6): In hopes of not having to face New Orleans again in two weeks (although there are some who want revenge after Monday night’s display) expect the Falcons to be rooting for the Packers (to beat the Lions) and Rams (to upset the Niners). Beating Tampa Bay is important, too, but that almost goes without saying and should happen without lifting a finger.
Previous Ranking: 8
Résumé: Lost 12-30 at Chicago, Won 35-31 vs. Philadelphia, Lost 13-16 at Tampa Bay, Won 30-28 at Seattle, Lost 14-22 vs. Green Bay, Won 31-17 vs. Carolina, Won 23-16 at Detroit, Won 31-7 at Indianapolis, Lost 24-27 vs. New Orleans (OT), Won 23-17 vs. Tennessee, Won 24-14 vs. Minnesota, Lost 10-17 at Houston, Won 31-23 at Carolina, Won 41-14 vs. Jacksonville, Lost 16-45 at New Orleans
Last Game: vs. Tampa Bay (4-11)
No. 7 New England Patriots (12-3): If you can hold the Patriots to 24 points or less, especially in the playoffs, you can and normally beat Tom Brady and company. That’s obviously far easier said than done, nonetheless. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I think New England’s defense could come back to bite this team eventually.
Previous Ranking: 7
Résumé: Won 38-24 at Miami, Won 35-21 vs. San Diego, Lost 31-34 at Buffalo, Won 31-19 at Oakland, Won 30-21 vs. N.Y. Jets, Won 20-16 vs. Dallas, Lost 17-25 at Pittsburgh, Lost 20-24 vs. N.Y. Giants, Won 37-16 at N.Y. Jets, Won 34-3 vs. Kansas City, Won 38-20 at Philadelphia, Won 31-24 vs. Indianapolis, Won 31-24 at Washington, Won 41-23 at Denver, Won 27-24 vs. Miami
Last Game: vs. Buffalo (6-9)
No. 6 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-4): If the Bills beat the Patriots, the Bengals beat the Ravens and the Steelers take care of business against the Browns, Pittsburgh will own the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Should New England win, but Pittsburgh knocks off Cleveland and the Bengals upset the Ravens, the Steel Curtain will have the second seed with a first-round bye.
Who Wants To Win AFC North More: Home-field advantage and winning the division crown means more to Baltimore than it does to Pittsburgh, but the Steelers would love to have it, too. Houston, New England, Oakland and Denver can all agree on one thing. None of those four teams want to face Pittsburgh (or Baltimore) right now, much less on the road.
Previous Ranking: 6
Résumé: Lost 7-35 at Baltimore, Won 24-0 vs. Seattle, Won 23-20 at Indianapolis, Lost 10-17 at Houston, Won 38-17 vs. Tennessee, Won 17-13 vs. Jacksonville, Won 32-20 at Arizona, Won 25-17 vs. New England, Lost 20-23 vs. Baltimore, Won 24-17 at Cincinnati, Won 13-9 at Kansas City, Won 35-7 vs. Cincinnati, Won 14-3 vs. Cleveland, Lost 3-20 at San Francisco, Won 27-0 vs. St. Louis
Last Game: at Cleveland (4-11)
J.J. Watt is a freaking beast. He was all over the field last Thursday. Check that. He was the best player on the field last Thursday. While Watt wouldn’t say it straight up, some of those calls on him—especially the helmet-to-helmet—were straight baloney. Houston might be reeling after the loss, but considering they played without their top two quarterbacks, best offensive player, best defensive player, and their defensive coordinator, not to mention some ticky-tack officiating, I’m cutting this team some slack.
As you can see, I’m doing the same thing here. I wasn’t very surprised in the loss to Carolina considering the timing of the meeting, albeit the loss to Indianapolis was a real head-scratcher. Nevertheless, both Wade Phillips and Andre Johnson—arguably the two most important pieces on the team—could be back when the Texans clash with the Titans.
Previous Ranking: 5
Résumé: Won 34-7 vs. Indianapolis, Won 23-13 at Miami, Lost 33-40 at New Orleans, Won 17-10 vs. Pittsburgh, Lost 20-25 vs. Oakland, Lost 14-29 at Baltimore, Won 41-7 at Tennessee, Won 24-14 vs. Jacksonville, Won 30-12 vs. Cleveland, Won 37-9 at Tampa Bay, Won 20-13 at Jacksonville, Won 17-10 vs. Atlanta, Won 20-19 at Cincinnati, Lost 13-28 vs. Carolina, Lost 16-19 at Indianapolis
Last Game: vs. Tennessee (8-7)
No. 4 San Francisco 49ers (12-3): In last week’s rankings, I mentioned Braylon Edwards‘ recent inspirational story. Well, he just got cut by the Niners. As we’ve seen in countless situations over the years, sometimes certain players just aren’t a good match for certain teams, and due to a number of injuries and lack of production, it just didn’t work out for Edwards and the 49ers. I’m sure he’ll find the right team and San Francisco will also return to its glory days with Jim Harbaugh coaching the up-and-coming, revived franchise.
Previous Ranking: 4
Résumé: Won 33-17 vs. Seattle, Lost 24-27 vs. Dallas, Won 13-8 vs. Cincinnati, Won 24-23 at Philadelphia, Won 48-3 vs. Tampa Bay, Won 25-19 at Detroit, Won 20-10 vs. Cleveland, Won 19-11 at Washington, Won 27-20 vs. N.Y. Giants, Won 23-7 vs. Arizona, Lost 6-16 at Baltimore, Won 26-0 vs. St. Louis, Lost 19-21 at Arizona, Won 20-3 vs. Pittsburgh, Won 19-17 at Seattle
Last Game: at St. Louis (2-13)
No. 3 Baltimore Ravens (11-4): Home sweet home. When it comes to the Ravens, it’s all about one thing—location, location. The team finished the season with perfection—8-0 at home—for the first time in franchise history. With this in mind, don’t be surprised if John Harbaugh‘s club tries to do everything possible to lock up the AFC North and earn a first-round bye in the playoffs with home-field advantage on the line. A win over Cincinnati would also mean Baltimore would finish 6-0 in its division—which would also make franchise history.
Previous Ranking: 3
Résumé: Won 35-7 vs. Pittsburgh, Lost 13-26 at Tennessee, Won 37-7 at St. Louis, Won 34-17 vs. N.Y. Jets, Won 29-14 vs. Houston, Lost 7-12 at Jacksonville, Won 30-27 vs. Arizona, Won 23-20 at Pittsburgh, Lost 17-22 at Seattle, Won 31-24 vs. Cincinnati, Won 16-6 vs. San Francisco, Won 24-10 at Cleveland, Won 24-10 vs. Indianapolis, Lost 14-34 at San Diego, Won 20-14 vs. Cleveland
Last Game: at Cincinnati (9-6)
No. 2 New Orleans Saints (12-3): Are the Saints the hottest team in the league right now? They’re comin’ and marchin’ towards the Packers. That will be one fun rematch if New Orleans and Green Bay collide in the NFC Championship Game. But there’s still a lot to be sorted out until then, starting with the seeding.
New Orleans can clinch the second seed with a win over Carolina and a San Francisco loss against St. Louis. That’s highly unlikely, but so was that upset the Rams pulled over the Saints on October 30—which was also the last time New Orleans lost this season. Assuming the Saints claim the third seed, they’ll be battling the Lions or Falcons in another rematch. Oh, and Drew Brees, a classy team player and good guy off-the-field as well, broke Dan Marino’s single-season passing record on Monday Night Football.
Previous Ranking: 2
Résumé: Lost 34-42 at Green Bay, Won 30-13 vs. Chicago, Won 40-33 vs. Houston, Won 23-10 at Jacksonville, Won 30-27 at Carolina, Lost 20-26 at Tampa Bay, Won 62-7 vs. Indianapolis, Lost 21-31 at St. Louis, Won 27-16 vs. Tampa Bay, Won 27-24 at Atlanta (OT), Won 49-24 vs. N.Y. Giants, Won 31-17 vs. Detroit, Won 22-17 at Tennessee, Won 42-20 at Minnesota, Won 45-16 vs. Atlanta
Last Game: vs. Carolina (6-9)
No. 1 Green Bay Packers (14-1): Two offensive tackles went down to injury last week and Greg Jennings‘ ailing put a damper in the Packers’ pursuit of perfection—albeit I can’t take anything away from Kansas City. Aaron Rodgers was also Discount Doublechecked against the Lions last year and there are a number of ferocious players on the Lions’ D-Line that can be awfully persistent and relentless. Sustaining momentum is important, but there’s a high risk and no real gain. I’m fairly certain the team won’t take any chances come Sunday, anyway.
Previous Ranking: 1
Résumé: Won 42-34 vs. New Orleans, Won 30-23 at Carolina, Won 27-17 at Chicago, Won 49-23 vs. Denver, Won 22-14 at Atlanta, Won 24-3 vs. St. Louis, Won 33-27 at Minnesota, Won 45-38 at San Diego, Won 45-7 vs. Minnesota, Won 35-26 vs. Tampa Bay, Won 27-15 at Detroit, Won 38-35 at N.Y. Giants, Won 46-16 vs. Oakland, Lost 14-19 at Kansas City, Won 35-21 vs. Chicago
Last Game: vs. Detroit (10-5)
Updated Playoff Picture (Order Based On Rankings)