1. New England Patriots (9-0) Def. New York Giants 27-26. Previously: 1.
If even the Giants can’t beat the Patriots, the NFL is in trouble, especially because New York getting a shot at a rematch in the Super Bowl seems….unlikely. Give Stephen Gostkowski credit for his 54-yard game winning field goal. While so many kickers around the league are falling apart, Gostkowski is steady as ever.
2. Carolina Panthers (9-0) Def. Tennessee 27-10. Previously: 3
Leave it to the Panthers to be rebels. Didn’t they get the memo that the NFL’s best teams were supposed to lose to poor teams this weekend? Losing is the one thing they can’t seem to do. Only one team left on their schedule has a winning record, though they do appear twice: the Falcons.
3. Arizona Cardinals (7-2) Def. Seattle 39-32. Previously: 5
A St. Louis loss put the Cardinals a clean three games clear atop their division. Weathering Seattle’s comeback attempt and retaking the lead was impressive. While a lot of the other contenders have glaring “ifs” and “buts” Arizona looks remarkably well balanced.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (8-1) Lost to Houston 10-6. Previously: 2
Maybe it’s not a playoff bug Cincinnati has, and just a Texans bug. Andy Dalton and the offense looked as poor Monday night as they have in two recent postseason losses to Houston. Unfortunately, after this victory, Houston is in first place in their division and again on track for the postseason.
5. Minnesota Vikings (7-2) Def. Oakland 30-14. Previously: 6
Teddy Bridgewater looked fine a week after St. Louis knocked him out of the game, Adrian Peterson tied an NFL record with his sixth career 200 yard game on the ground, and the Vikings took over sole possession of first place in their division. While other contenders are staggering, the Vikings have won five in a row and seven of eight.
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6. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) Def. Cleveland 30-9. Previously: 8
It’s a weird league when the Pittsburgh Steelers boast the game’s best aerial attack but at this point, don’t they? Antonio Brown has 27 receptions over the last two games for about a million yards, and he wasn’t even the team’s leading receiver against Cleveland.
7. Denver Broncos (7-2) Lost to Kansas City 29-13. Previously: 4
No football fan should have to watch one of their generations greatest quarterbacks set the NFL passing yardage record in a game he finishes (or doesn’t, even more sadly) 5-for-20, for 35 yards, and four interceptions. Denver’s game Sunday was a parody of the reservations we’ve had about their offense all season.
8. Green Bay Packers (6-3) Lost to Detroit 18-16. Previously: 7
Forget talk about losing ground to Carolina in the home field race, forget about fighting for the division lead with the Vikings. After a home loss to Detroit, the Packers need to figure out how to win a game. And fast, with a trip to Minnesota looming this week. (Okay, we couldn’t really forget about it.)
9. Kansas City Chiefs (4-5) Def. Denver 29-13. Previously: 17
The Chiefs make a surprise return to the top ten after going 1-5 to start the season. Red-zone offense is still a problem for Kansas City, which kicked five field goals (and attempted six) while utterly dominating the Broncos.
10. Buffalo Bills (5-4) Def. New York Jets 22-17. Previously: 16
Rex Ryan got his “revenge” game and he’s finally starting to get the offense he must have envisioned when trading for LeSean McCoy. After beginning the season banged up Shady has 112 rushing yards in each of the last two games, both Buffalo wins.
11. New York Jets (5-4) Lost to Buffalo 22-17. Previously: 11
Yeah, this loss hurt, but the best thing to come out of it is the rediscovering of the Jets’ ground game and Chris Ivory, who finished with 99 rushing yards. When all’s said and done the AFC is still wide open and only one non-division leader (Pittsburgh) has more wins than the Jets.
12. Indianapolis Colts (4-5) Bye. Previously: 13
The Colts bye let Houston catch up again. The good news for Colts fans is they come out of the bye with just two games left against teams with winning records, the Falcons and Steelers, and three games against division opponents, which they have a good recent record in, to put it mildly.
13. Chicago Bears (4-5) Def. St. Louis 37-13. Previously: 20
Jeremy Langford looks better every week, and the Bears’ momentum, which looked like it could have been shot when Matt Forte went down with an injury, keeps building. The NFC wild card race has two more established leaders than the AFC, but those two teams are on 0-3 and 1-3 runs. There’s room for Chicago.
14. Seattle Seahawks (4-5) Lost to Arizona 39-32. Previously: 12
There’s no more slow start or “Seattle needs to flip the switch” commentary to be had. The Seahawks just got beat by the better team Sunday night. Seattle’s four victories are against teams with a combined 11 wins this season. Take out a Jimmy Clausen led Bears team from that equation, and it’s three teams with seven wins between them.
15. Atlanta Falcons (6-3) Bye. Previously: 15
Hopefully the bye week acts like a mini-off-season for the Falcons, who started the season great. They’ll need to recapture that form, and not their recent appearance, if they want two December games against the Panthers to factor into the division title.
16. Oakland Raiders (4-5) Lost to Minnesota 30-14. Previously: 9
The jumbled up AFC means Oakland is still in the thick of the wild card race despite two straight losses. David Carr has three interceptions in the last two games after throwing just three over the first seven games of the season.
17. New York Giants (5-5) Lost to New England 27-26. Previously: 19
Yeah, we’re bumping them up after a loss. If the Giants played the Patriots every week, their record might be worse, but they’d sure have looked like a better team. New York fans have to wonder why they can’t get this level of play every week.
18. Washington (4-5) Def. New Orleans 47-14. Previously: 22
Kirk Cousins became the latest beneficiary of a game against New Orleans’ defense. Cousins’ season is mesmerizing for its inconsistency. He has three games with a QB rating above 110, including this Sunday’s perfect 158.3, five games below 70, and exactly zero between 70 and 90.
19. Houston Texans (4-5) Def. Cincinnati 10-6. Previously: 24
Beating Cincinnati is even more impressive when you consider Brian Hoyer had been knocked out of the game with a concussion. Not that it was the offense doing a lot of the winning. Make it three of four for the first place Texans.
20. Miami Dolphins (4-5) Def. Philadelphia 20-19. Previously: 21
Even without Cameron Wake, the Dolphins exploited and pounded a week Eagles’ offensive line. This was the first of Dan Campbell’s five games in charge not to be a blowout in one direction or the other. What does it mean? Probably that the Dolphins are still maddeningly inconsistent.
21. Philadelphia Eagles (4-5) Lost to Miami 20-19. Previously: 14
Concussions suffered this week by Ryan Mathews, easily the Eagles’ most dangerous offensive player this season, and Sam Bradford, easily not, might not be half as damaging as the team’s apparent intent to explore every possible avenue to a loss in 2015.
22. St. Louis Rams (4-5) Lost to Chicago 37-13. Previously: 10
Just when he gets his first 200 yard game since week one, Nick Foles gets benched. Such are the risks when you go seven games without 200 yards passing, but it would be nice if Jeff Fisher could make his mind up and stick with it for at least 48 hours.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5) Def. Dallas 10-6. Previously: 23
The Buccaneers have been proving they can win when everything’s clicking (well, mostly, looking at you Washington game). Sunday they proved they can win ugly, which is what most games against Dallas are these days. Jameis Winston threw his first interceptions in weeks, the ground game was shut down, but the defense came to play and Tampa won.
24. New Orleans Saints (4-6) Lost to Washington 47-14. Previously: 18
The Rob Ryan era is officially over. On the bright side, if the Saints defense under Ryan this season were a quarterback, its passing numbers would be fantastic: 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Only one other team, the Browns, have even allowed 20.
25. San Francisco 49ers (3-6) Bye. Previously: 25
Undefeated 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert will try his hand this week against Colin Kaepernicks’ most consistent stumbling block: the Seattle Seahawks.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6) Def. Baltimore 22-20. Previously: 29
When you’re the Jaguars, a win is a win is a win, no matter if it comes gift-wrapped by ill-timed facemasks,Baltimore turnovers, and referee mistakes. They’ve got more wins than the rest of this bunch.
27. Baltimore Ravens (2-7) Lost to Jacksonville 22-20. Previously: 26
Officials acknowledged a missed call cost Baltimore the win Sunday, but letting a game against Jacksonville come down to a false start penalty isn’t the way to start proving you’re turning things around. After Sunday’s four turnover performance, Baltimore is tied for last in the league in turnover differential at minus-10.
28. Detroit Lions (2-7) Def. Green Bay 18-16. Previously: 32
The Lions are all about stopping streaks this season. First it was their 0-fer to begin the season, and now they’ve got their first win in Green Bay in 24 years. Next up: their streak of one season in the playoffs.
29. Dallas Cowboys (2-7) Lost to Tampa Bay 10-6. Previously: 27
When you’re scoring six points in a loss to Tampa Bay, there are more problems with your team than Tony Romo’s injury. How did Dallas fall this far this fast? Football’s “best offensive line” allowed three sacks Sunday and paved the way for 42 total rushing yards, against the team that finished 2014 with the worst record in football.
30. Tennessee Titans (2-7) Lost to Carolina 27-10. Previously: 30
The Titans’ (and the Saints’) performance this week prove that last week’s victory and gaudy statistics were more a product of the Saints defense taking the field than any turning point for Tennessee.
31. San Diego Chargers (2-7) Bye. Previously: 31
Taking a week off let Tom Brady move past Philip Rivers to lead the NFL in passing yards this season. Can San Diego have nothing, cruel world? They resume play against the streaking Chiefs, so…
32. Cleveland Browns (2-8) Lost to Pittsburgh 30-9. Previously: 28
The positive for Cleveland has to be that Johnny Manziel had the best outing of his career, and he did it while being brutally facemasked and harassed all day for six sacks.