1. New England Patriots (7-2): This is the first November in years that our pre-season Super Bowl picks are still poised to make the big game, so we’ll use this space to gloat. You heard it here in August: Patriots vs. Eagles in February. The East Coast rematch, exactly 10 years after Donovan McNabb threw up on his cleats in Jacksonville.
2.Philadelphia Eagles (7-2): In late September, who would have guessed that Tom Brady, Mark Sanchez and Drew Stanton would have been the quarterbacks of the three best teams in the league in early November? Philly surges ahead of the Cards this week, only because we’ve got more faith in Sanchez than Stanton.
3. Arizona Cardinals (8-1): The Cardinals still have fantastic skill position players. Larry Fitzgerald has over 100 yards receiving in two of his last three games, John and Jaron Brown are coming on strong, and Andre Ellington and Michael Floyd – though quiet lately – are both fully capable of huge outings.
4. Denver Broncos (7-2): We fully expected the Broncos to put an all-time beat-down on the Raiders, fresh off getting blown-out themselves by the Pats. Yes, Peyton Manning threw for five touchdowns. But the Raiders were leading, 13-10, in the second quarter. To borrow a popular phrase from 2012, ironically the last season Wes Welker had a 100-yard receiving day, we’re “not impressed.”
5. Seattle Seahawks (6-3): It’s amazing what simple victories do. The Seahawks have now won three games in a row, and suddenly no one cares that Pete Carroll and Marshawn Lynch don’t talk to one another. Seattle does have a brutal stretch coming up, however, facing the Chiefs, Cardinals, 49ers, Eagles, 49ers again and Cardinals again in succession.
6. Detroit Lions (7-2): If you like football, go ahead and tell your family now. You won’t be talking to them on Thanksgiving Day. The Lions and Cowboys are both good at the same time for the first time since 1993, which means you’ll be busy from 12:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.. They invented TV trays for a reason – Turkey Day 2014.
7. Indianapolis Colts (6-3): It’s entirely possible that the Colts will be exposed by the Patriots this Sunday night. Both New England and Indy are coming off a bye, but Bill Belichick tends to use extra study time better than most. Plus, it was just a few weeks ago that the Colts allowed 51 points to the now-laughable Steelers.
8. Green Bay Packers (6-3): You can look at the Packers one of two ways. Either you say they haven’t beat anyone of note yet, or you could say that there’s no shame in losing at Seattle, at Detroit and at New Orleans. One thing we can all agree on: Aaron Rodgers is phenomenal.
9. Kansas City Chiefs (6-3): Kansas City is red-hot, having won four games in a row. Their 17-13 win at Buffalo this past Sunday may have been their most impressive win of the season. And this is a team that blew out the Pats at home and beat the Chargers on the road. The gritty wins are the ones that linger.
10. Dallas Cowboys (7-3): It wouldn’t have mattered if the Cowboys played your local high school squad on Mars this past Sunday. For Tony Romo, the guy with two broken bones in his back, to post a 138.8 QB rating and throw three touchdown passes against the Jags in London was impressive.
11. Baltimore Ravens (6-4): Depending on the week, the AFC North looks like the best division in football or the worst – one in which there has to be a winner by default. All of the teams in the division are over .500, but none are legit Super Bowl contenders right now.
12. Cleveland Browns (6-3): Ben Tate told ESPN this week that his diminished role in the Cleveland backfield is far from satisfying. There’s added incentive for him to once again emerge as Cleveland’s No. 1 back this weekend as the Browns play Tate’s former team, the Texans.
13. San Francisco 49ers (5-4): The Niners’ schedule softens a bit in the next couple of weeks as they play at the Giants and host the Redskins. Colin Kaepernick made up for a rough performance with that throw to Michael Crabtree on fourth down, but he’ll have to complete more than 43 percent of his passes if San Fran wants to make a postseason push.
14. Buffalo Bills (5-4): Most people are down on the Bills this week, but they’re still better than half the teams in this league. It’s been over month, so it’s easy to forget – but this team went into Detroit and won 17-14 in Week 5. Obviously, their game this Thursday in Miami is a must win if they want to even entertain playoff possibilities in the jumbled AFC.
15. Miami Dolphins (5-4): The Bills beat the Dolphins, 29-10, in Week 2. It’s the reason why we gave Buffalo the slight edge, here. But give Miami credit for hanging with the Lions in Detroit. A couple of breaks here or there earlier this season and the Dolphins are 7-2 right now.
16. San Diego Chargers (5-4): Few teams in league history have needed a bye more than the 2014 Chargers this past month. They nearly lost to the Raiders in Week 6 before falling to the Chiefs, Broncos and Dolphins – all in a row. If they can dispose of the Raiders and Rams at home these next two weeks, they’re right back in business.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (5-3-1): The fact that the Bengals got five wins out of Andy Dalton this season is a minor miracle given what we now know. His line against the Browns last Thursday, one more time: 10-of-33 for 86 yards and three interceptions. Good for a 2.0 QB rating.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4): The Steelers could have won their first six games this season and then lost their last four and there would be less confusion than there is in Pittsburgh right now. At least under that scenario, you could simply say that the Steelers were in collapse mode. No one will be surprised by anything that transpires in their game at Tennessee this coming Monday.
19. Minnesota Vikings (4-5): We’re betting that Roger Goodell’s father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate dies in the next few days so that Goodell will have to postpone next Monday’s scheduled grievance hearing with Adrian Peterson.
20. New Orleans Saints (4-5): The schedule-makers have done us all a solid as we get to sort out the middle of this league in the next few weeks – mainly because New Orleans will plow through the AFC North trifecta of Cincy, Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
21. Houston Texans (4-5): “Mallett for Fitzpatrick” isn’t exactly “Young for Montana” in terms of quarterback controversies but it will be interesting to see what the former Tom Brady protégé can accomplish nonetheless. At the very least, Mallett should shoot to be the next Brian Hoyer.
22. St. Louis Rams (3-6): This is the first team we’ve covered in these rankings that has no shot at making the postseason but, boy, they are a frisky bunch. They led the Cardinals, 14-10, heading into the fourth quarter this past Sunday.
23. Atlanta Falcons (3-6): How gross is the NFC South? The Falcons are undefeated in the division as all three of their wins have come against South teams.
24. Carolina Panthers (3-6-1): The Panthers have played in two of the more confusing games in this NFL season. Shocker: the weird ones came against two AFC North teams. Carolina was blown out at home by the “What-the-F?” Steelers and, of course, tied the Bengals in Cincy.
25. Washington Redskins (3-6): DeSean Jackson has emerged as the Redskins’ vocal leader. That’s about all you need to know about how Washington’s season is going.
26. New York Jets (2-8): We heard our first whisper today that Rex Ryan could maybe, possibly, somehow coach the Jets again next season. But if you’re Rex, do you really want the invite to be back? Take a couple years off, rest your FEET, and become a hot commodity in 2017.
27. New York Giants (3-6): We hope you enjoyed Super Bowl XLVIII last February, New Jersey. It’s the last time you will see two good teams on the same MetLife field for quite sometime.
28. Chicago Bears (3-6): There’s delusional, and then there’s Marc Trestman. The Bears head coach told the Chicago Tribune on Monday: "I think this team and this locker room is in a good place at this time.”
29. Tennessee Titans (2-7): How irrelevant does ESPN deem the Titans to be? The Worldwide Leaders shows NHL highlights before exposing the sporting world to the Zach Mettenberger Express.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9): How bad does Cecil Shorts wish that NFL Europe still existed?
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-8): Damn. Their win over the Steelers isn’t even impressive anymore.
32. Oakland Raiders (0-9): Oakland didn’t allow 50 points to the pissed-off Broncos this past Sunday. Silver (and Black) linings.