1. Dallas Cowboys (10-1) defeated Washington 31-26. Previously: 1
It wasn’t a pretty fourth quarter for Dallas’ defense, constantly spinning to see Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson in the end zone. None of that kept Dallas from celebrating their tenth straight win this season, something no Cowboys team, not one featuring Tom Landry, Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman or Emmitt Smith, has ever done before. The Cowboys are showing they can win all kinds of games, even ones where they’re outgained 505-353 yards and neither team offers up a turnover.
2. New England Patriots (9-2) defeated New York Jets 22-17. Previously: 3
When the Jets jumped out to a 10-0 lead, it looked like somehow the Patriots might finish the day just a game ahead of the Dolphins in the AFC East. Of course the Patriots are the Patriots and the Jets are the Jets and here we are. How Rob Gronkowski’s and Martellus Bennett’s injuries play out will be huge for the Patriots down the stretch in a season where several of their weapons have been underperforming or off the field. This team feels more like the pre-18-and-1 Patriots than any recent iterations.
3. Oakland Raiders (9-2) defeated Carolina 35-32. Previously: 4
The Panthers' comeback made this look scarily like the Raiders shootouts of the early season. However, the only thing scary on the Panthers' final drive was the Oakland pass rush. Derek Carr isn’t the first quarterback to torch Carolina this season, and he won’t be the last, but Carr and the Raiders have been doing it all season and deserve commendation and recognition for that. Recognition in the form of awards? MVP awards? Time will tell.
4. Seattle Seahawks (7-3-1) lost to Tampa Bay 14-5. Previously: 2
What just happened? A week after Russell Wilson escaped pressure constantly against Philadelphia, the Buccaneers sacked him six times, forced two interceptions and two fumbles, and allowed the Seattle offense just three points. C.J. Prosise’ injury couldn’t have had worse timing after the release of Christine Michael. But to be honest, we’d hate to be the Panthers, up next for Seattle.
5. New York Giants (8-3) defeated Cleveland 27-13. Previously: 6
How many more weeks do we have to wait for a Cowboys-Giants rematch? Just one more? It might weigh heavy on the rest of our minds, but the Giants can’t overlook Pittsburgh if they want to welcome Dallas to New York while within striking distance of the division. They’re still the only team to beat the Cowboys this season. The offense and the wide receivers are still the first thing to come to mind with the Giants, but it should be Jason Pierre-Paul and this defense.
6. Kansas City Chiefs (8-3) defeated Denver 30-27 (OT). Previously: 7
Tyreek Hill became the first player with a kick return touchdown, rushing touchdown and receiving touchdown in the same game since 1962. He has become the biggest threat on an offense featuring Travis Kelce, Spencer Ware and sometimes Jeremy Maclin. After a one-week hiatus, the Chiefs are back to following the same formula to wins: being outgained 464-273.
7. Denver Broncos (7-4) lost to Kansas City 30-27 (OT). Previously: 5
It’s pretty appropriate that this game was a minute away from being a tie. Unfortunately for the Broncos, they wanted that win, and a 62-yard field goal wasn’t to be. Denver is now 1-3 against the division, with the only win coming against San Diego. They have another shot at Kansas City and Oakland, but this isn’t the path to winning the division.
8. Atlanta Falcons (7-4) defeated Arizona 38-19. Previously: 9
Atlanta proved once again that they don’t need Julio Jones rolling over secondaries to wind up big winners. In fact, they certainly seem to be better when the star wideout is only part of the offense, rather than the whole offense. Tough matchup for that whole offense this weekend against the Chiefs, but with Tampa Bay suddenly breathing down the Falcons' necks, they better be ready.
9. Detroit Lions (7-4) defeated Minnesota 16-13. Previously: 10
Completing the season sweep of the Vikings gives Detroit some breathing room at the top of the NFC North. They’ll face about as different a matchup as possible Sunday when travelling to New Orleans. The Saints aren’t afraid to throw the ball past the line of scrimmage. There’s a tough road coming up for the Lions: their last three games are at the Giants, at Dallas and home against a potentially rejuvenated Green Bay. That said, they’ve won six of seven and positioned themselves well.
10. Washington (6-4-1) lost to Dallas 31-26. Previously: 8
In just his 36th start, Kirk Cousins had his third 400-yard passing game, a franchise record in Washington. We think there will be many more to come, provided Washington locks the contract down this offseason. He finished Thursday’s game 41-for-53 with 449 yards and three touchdowns. And yeah, Washington lost. If they play Arizona next week the way they played in the fourth quarter against Dallas, they won’t lose again. They still hold the inside track to the second wild-card spot in the NFC.
11. Miami Dolphins (7-4) defeated San Francisco 31-24. Previously: 12
Miami’s toughest-won wins this season: Cleveland, San Francisco, the Jets, the Rams. Their biggest blowout: the Steelers. Football is weird. Looking at the not-quite-murderers' row the Dolphins six-game win streak includes definitely opens up some question marks considering the tightness of their victories, but not too many teams have six-game win streaks right now.
12. Baltimore Ravens (6-5) defeated Cincinnati 19-14. Previously: 16
Big game this week for Baltimore against the Dolphins. The Ravens can’t feel completely removed from the wild card race, sitting in a tie atop the AFC North with Pittsburgh. If they wind up competing for that final spot, giving the Dolphins a two game lead over them this week would be a bad move. Seems like Breshad Perriman enjoys the end zone. It took him almost two seasons to get there, but just two weeks later he’s back in it a second time.
13. Houston Texans (6-5) lost to San Diego 21-13. Previously: 11
To quote The Who: “Who are you? Who-who are you?” The NFL’s least convincing division leader has yet to win or lose more than two games in a row this season. After opening the year 5-0 at home, the Texans lost in Houston for the first time Sunday. Maybe it’s good timing to head on the road and face a resurgent Packers team.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) defeated Seattle 14-5. Previously: 19
A win in Arrowhead against Kansas City and at home against Seattle is a pretty good résumé for a season, let alone a two-week period, but it’s the résumé the Buccaneers have just stacked up to insert themselves in the NFC South division race out of nowhere. The defense that was a mouth-watering opponent for quarterbacks for half the season just held Russell Wilson to 151 yards and picked him off twice.
15. Buffalo Bills (6-5) defeated Jacksonville 28-21. Previously: 17
Sammy Watkins returned to the offense with 80 yards in his first appearance since Week 2 and LeSean McCoy’s bum thumb sure didn’t seem to be bothering him on that 75-yard touchdown. This is the right timing for Buffalo, but it will be tough to keep it up against the Raiders this week.
16. Minnesota Vikings (6-5) lost to Detroit 16-13. Previously: 14
After losing to Detroit for a second time, the Vikings are effectively two games back in the division. At the end of the first half, Sam Bradford threw seven passes — completing — for a total of nine yards. WIth the exception of a play where an uncovered Jerick McKinnon took a swing pass 41 yards, the Vikings didn’t have a single completion over 10 yards in the second half. If this is the game plan going forward, Sam Bradford completing 84 percent of his passes may not be enough.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) defeated Indianapolis 28-7. Previously: 18
Antonio Brown squeezing three touchdowns into five catches, Ladarius Green becoming a contributor, the team averaging 7.4 yards per play. How powerful this offense is when it’s rolling just makes the weeks where it isn’t all the stranger. It better be next week when the Giants bring their six-game win streak to Pittsburgh.
18. Tennessee Titans (6-6) lost to Chicago 27-21. Previously: 20
The Titans dodged some serious bullets in Chicago (or was it Bears receivers dodging passes?) and had their run game shut down as well as it has been all season. With DeMarco Murray gaining just 43 yards on 17 carries, and so much attention having been paid to Murray’s workload the past three seasons, this is a backfield to watch going forward.
19. San Diego Chargers (5-6) defeated Houston 21-13. Previously: 25
Knocking off a division leader on the road was certainly a nice bounce back from the poor performance we saw the last time San Diego was on the field. It’s very tempting to wonder how the Chargers would fare in some of the other divisions in the NFL, where they wouldn’t have to play Oakland, Denver and Kansas City six times.
20. Green Bay Packers (5-6) defeated Philadelphia 27-13. Previously: 24
This Packers' win had a lot of the same qualities of the Packers’ recent losses: Aaron Rodgers was tremendous and there was no running game. But, the Eagles didn’t rain points, rushing yards or passing yards on the Green Bay defense, and that was something new this season. With Houston visiting Green Bay this week, we may have to wait another week to find out whether that performance is a product of the Packers’ defense or the opposing offense.
21. Philadelphia Eagles (5-6) lost to Green Bay 27-13. Previously: 13
The Eagles ran just 58 plays Monday night, in the antithesis of Chip Kelly football. Take away tripping Russell Wilson for a zero-yard loss last week, and this supposedly fearsome pass rush has now gone two games without a sack. With the Eagles now looking firmly a step below the rest of their division, priority No. 1 this offseason has to be getting Carson Wentz some help on the offensive line and at wide receiver.
22. Indianapolis Colts (5-6) lost to Pittsburgh 28-7. Previously: 15
An ugly game for the Colts however you slice it. Andrew Luck hides a lot of deficiencies, but even he probably wouldn’t have been covering Antonio Brown effectively. Scott Tolzien had some zip on the ball, but the way Pat McAfee celebrated his fourth down pass on a fake punt, you get the feeling he thought he was in a quarterback competition. It’s good to have one of these games every once in awhile to appreciate what Luck is doing in Indy.
23. New Orleans Saints (5-6) defeated Los Angeles 49-21. Previously: 23
NOLA outgained L.A. 555 yards to 247. That is a doozy. There still aren’t many better shows in football than the Saints offense at home. What’s shocking is that there weren’t a lot of defenses on a better roll entering this game than the Rams’ D. With three games left against the Falcons and Buccaneers, New Orleans aren’t out of this quite yet.
24. Carolina Panthers (4-7) lost to Oakland 35-32. Previously: 21
It’s been nice to find out Ted Ginn is still on the team the past two weeks. Microcosm of the Panthers' season. Nice comeback attempt, but too little too late. The secondary couldn’t keep the Raiders from retaking the lead. The line couldn’t protect Cam Newton. The Panthers couldn’t win.
25. Arizona Cardinals (4-6-1) lost to Atlanta 38-19. Previously: 22
Lost in the Cardinals’ disaster of a season are two wonderful performers: David Johnson, who had 158 yards Sunday and has lived up to the preseason hype. And the timeless Larry Fitzgerald, who, on a slant route where he passed Tim Brown for fifth place on the all-time reception list, had the presence of mind to slide and call a timeout with one second left on the clock, allowing his team to kick a 54-yard field goal heading into the break.
26. New York Jets (3-8) lost to New England 22-17. Previously: 28
New York being up for a game against the Patriots while sitting at 3-7 probably has a lot to do with why Ryan Fitzpatrick keeps leading them out onto the field despite games ending like Sunday’s did: with a turnover.
27. Cincinnati Bengals (3-7-1) lost to Baltimore 19-14. Previously: 26
The Bengals weren’t pretty with A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard, don’t count us shocked they weren’t pretty without them. How many times can Andy Dalton get strip-sacked at the end of games in one season?
28. Los Angeles Rams (4-7) lost to New Orleans 49-21. Previously: 27
To be upset about the defense or pleased about the performance of Jared Goff? That is the question. Be pleased about Jared Goff; you’re 4-7. That is the answer.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9) lost to Buffalo 28-21. Previously: 29
What has happened to this passing game? A season ago, Blake Bortles averaged 7.3 yards per pass while tossing bombs to Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. A year later, he’s sitting at 6.2 and the Allens have accounted for 15 fewer touchdowns.
30. Chicago Bears (2-9) lost to Tennessee 27-21. Previously: 30
Matt Barkley outperformed some expectations that would have been seriously hard to underperform Sunday. He’ll give fans something to be vaguely interested in the rest of this season.
31. San Francisco 49ers (1-10) lost to Miami 31-24. Previously: 31
The only way for Colin Kaepernick to be more hated in Miami this week would be for him to have added just 2 rushing yards to that 113 total on the day. The Niners’ best chance for a second win is coming this week on a trip to Chicago. Of course, the Bears are probably thinking the same thing about their chances for a third win.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-12) lost to New York Giants 27-13. Previously: 32
The bye is here! The bye is here!