1. Carolina Panthers (13-0) Def. Atlanta 38-0. Previously: 1
The Giants, Falcons again, and Buccaneers are all that stand between Carolina and an undefeated regular season.The Giants do love to play, well, Giant killers, and I mean that in more ways than one.The defense had a statement to make after last weeks surprising shootout against New Orleans, and the Falcons were the perfect opportunity to make that statement.Four takeaways and only 234 allowed yards later, they were right back on track.
2. Arizona Cardinals (11-2) Def. Minnesota 23-20. Previously: 3
Make it seven wins in a row for the Cardinals on the back of Carson Palmer and whatever weapons he feels like finding each week.Arizona is cruising towards a first round bye, but the road there won't be easy.They finish the season by playing the resurgent Eagles, the Packers, and the reallyresurgent Seahawks.
3. New England Patriots (11-2) Def. Houston 27-6. Previously: 5
That was short-lived.As good as the Patriots are at overcoming injuries and inserting new cogs into the machine, they are a different team with Rob Gronkowski on the football field.Gronk hit both the 1,000 yard and 10 touchdown mark on the season in Sunday night's victory over the Texans, the fifth time in six seasons he's had double digit end zone trips.The only shortcoming?His injury shortened 2013, when he scored four in seven games.
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4. Seattle Seahawks (8-5) Def. Baltimore 35-6. Previously: 7
Here's another entry for the "Teams Peaking at the Right Time" exhibit.Thomas Rawls' season-ending injury is bad news, but it just means the passing game can keep shouldering the load.Russell Wilson through the first nine games: 10 touchdowns, seven interceptions.Russell Wilson through the last four games: 16 touchdowns, a big fat zero interceptions.Seattle through those four games: four-and-oh. And can we talk about Doug Baldwinfor a second?Eight touchdowns in the last three games.Eight!
5. Denver Broncos (10-3) Lost to Oakland 15-12. Previously: 2
Denver's drop in the rankings is all thanks to a few pretty bad drops by their players Sunday afternoon.And the run game (34 yards on 21 carries) vanishing again.At what point does this defense (which allowed 126 total yards and lost) wonder what exactly they have to do?The Broncos get to finish with the Chargers, but the Steelers and Bengals (even sans Andy Dalton) the next two weeks should be tough tests as they try to hold off the charging Chiefs.
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6. Green Bay Packers (9-4) Def. Dallas 28-7.Previously: 9
Did the Packers really need Mike McCarthy taking over the coaching to figure out a running game is important?Whatever the case, the Packers got 230 yards on the ground, easily their best performance of the season.If they can keep that balance as they end the season against Oakland, Arizona, and Minnesota, they may just jump back to the elite conversations they were in at 6-0.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) Def. Cincinnati 33-20. Previously: 8
Everything's coming up roses for Pittsburgh; It's easy to forget the season began very differently.A big part of their success has been DeAngelo Williams' ability to replace Le'Veon Bell.All eyes will now be on how the 32 year old back holds up down the stretch.With 164 carries so far this season, just 38 more will give him the most he's had in a season since 2009, also the last time he finished above 1,000 yards.
8. Kansas City Chiefs (8-5) Def. San Diego 10-3. Previously: 6
Week 14 wasn't pretty, but it's still a whole lot prettier than weeks two through seven were for Kansas City. Alex Smith threw his first interception in 312 passes, ending a franchise-record streak.Second year linebacker Dee Ford came up big for the Chiefs with three sacks on Sunday, bringing his season total to... three sacks.Because the Chiefs needed more pass rush help.
9. Cincinnati Bengals (10-3) Lost to Pittsburgh 33-20. Previously: 4
That hurts. Not only does the loss to Pittsburgh mean the division isn't quite wrapped up yet, the loss of their quarterback throws a wrench into everything the Bengals have worked so hard to maintain this season.Andy Dalton could be back for playoffs, and if the Bengals could beat Denver in two weeks it would really further their quest for a first round bye and more time for Dalton to heal.
10. New York Jets (8-5) Def. Tennessee 30-8. Previously: 11
The Jets sure look good when everything is rolling:Harvard product Ryan Fitzpatrick has nine touchdowns and no interceptions in their last three games, all victories, and just set a career high for touchdown passes, with 25 on the season.Chris Ivory also set a new season high for himself in rushing yards, reaching 914 after his first 100 yard game since week six.The Jets, Chiefs, and Steelers have turned the AFC wild card into a three team sprint.
11. Minnesota Vikings (8-5) Lost to Arizona 23-20. Previously: 10
The Vikings are still banged up on defense, but they rebounded from last weeks blow out to give a real good game to one of the NFL's best teams.It's been a disappointing couple weeks for the Vikings, who were in first place not too long ago, but if there's one thing this team does this season, it's bounce back, and the season-ending game against the Packers looms large.
12. Oakland Raiders (6-7) Def. Denver 15-12. Previously: 17
That will jump start a flagging season.We said last week Oakland's schedule would make it tough for them to finish strong.Well, tough isn't impossible.Just like winning when you get 126 offensive yards isn't, apparently, impossible.Khalil Mack bagging five sacks will help any team any day.
13. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) Def. Buffalo 23-20. Previously: 24
The Eagles survived LeSean McCoy's homecoming and are right back in control of their own destiny.With games left against Washington and the Giants, winning out would see them claim the division and a playoff spot.Of course, it would also require them to beat Arizona this week, but stranger things have happened.Like a team coming off a 90-31 margin of defeat over two weeks and beating the Patriots. Take note Colts fans!
14. Buffalo Bills (6-7) Lost to Philadelphia 23-20. Previously: 13
The Bills racked up 101 penalty yards this week, heightening their league leading 1,086 yard total.When you consider five of their seven losses have been by a score (eight points) or less, it's almost as if some of those penalties could have been important.The Bills are talented, but they aren't talented enough to keep shooting themselves in the foot and win.
15. Washington (6-7) Def. Chicago 24-21. Previously: 18
Washington maintained their spot atop what may no longer be the worst division in football (looking at you, AFC South).Their running game is showing signs of life at a perfect time after disappearing for much of the season, quite possibly as a direct result of DeSean Jackson's return to the field and opponents fear of the three 20-plus-yard touchdown catches he posted the three games before this one.
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7) Lost to New Orleans 24-17. Previously: 15
Tampa Bay have cooled off a bit, with losses in two of their last three.As a Doug Martin fantasy owner, I'd like to request everyone forward this stat to Tampa Bay: When Martin has at least 21 carries, the Buccaneers are 5-0.Jameis Winston has yet to throw for 300 yards in a game, but passed the 3,000 yard mark against New Orleans.
17. New York Giants (6-7) Def. Miami 31-24.Previously: 20
Odell Beckham hasn't wasted any time writing his name in the Giants' record book: his sixth straight 100 yard game was a franchise best streak.The Giants moved back into a three way tie for the NFC East with the Eagles and Washington with their win Monday night.Next week they'll get their chance to do what they do best: knock off an undefeated monster of a football team.
18. Houston Texans (6-7) Lost to New England 27-6. Previously: 14
Are the Texans bound to the Colts' fate forever, wins with wins and losses with losses?While it may seem that way, something must give this week, when the two face, and probably tie, and probably let Jacksonville steal the division anyway.Houston finishes with the reeling Colts, Titans, and Jaguars, so their fate is firmly in their hands.
19. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-8) Def. Indianapolis 51-16. Previously: 27
Every time you checked the scoreboard, Jacksonville had another touchdown, until it finished with that fantastic "51" on it.Considering the Colts led this game 13-9 at halftime, that's a pretty impressive feat. They're only one game back now, and finish the season with the Falcons, Saints, and Texans.They could make a run at this thing.
20. Indianapolis Colts (6-7) Lost to Jacksonville 51-16. Previously: 12
Now that is the way to end a 16 game divisional win streak.Houston's loss to New England means Indianapolis still leads the dismal AFC South, but there are bigger questions for a team that has allowed 96 points the last two weeks.When does Andrew Luck get back?And can he play defense? And running back?
21. Chicago Bears (5-8) Lost to Washington 24-21. Previously: 16
The Bears looked so good: always in the game, clutch drive after clutch drive at the end.In their defense, they still are always in the game, and they still get drives at the end, they just settle for field goals now.And miss them.And lose games.
22. New Orleans Saints (5-8) Def. Tampa Bay 24-17. Previously: 22
The Saints will not go quietly into that good night.They won't make the playoffs, either, sure, but they may have given Carolina their biggest scare last week and they just beat the Buccaneers team everyone wants to say has surpassed them in the NFC South. Drew Brees has some tricks up his sleeve yet.
23. Miami Dolphins (5-8) Lost to New York Giants 31-24. Previously: 23
The Dolphins playoff hopes are officially done, which means it will have been a franchise record seven years (at least) before they make another trip.You can't do that in much better fashion than letting Eli Manning go 27-for-31, not unless you add 123 penalty yards into the mix for good measure.
24. St. Louis Rams (5-8) Def. Detroit 21-14. Previously: 31
It seems the Rams will go as Todd Gurley goes.They're going to pass for somewhere between 100 and 199 yards every game forever (this week 124) no matter who the quarterback is, so that makes sense.But it's nice to see the NFL's brightest running back prospect in awhile get back on track.
25. Atlanta Falcons (6-7) Lost to Carolina 38-0. Previously: 19
Do you think Atlanta looked at Carolina Sunday and wondered what could have been?It couldn't have been.Because Carolina is good, and the Falcons are bad, and that was on display for the whole world and anyone still fooled by Atlanta's six wins to see.
26. Detroit Lions (4-9) Lost to St. Louis 21-14. Previously: 21
The team that blew out the Eagles who beat the Patriots just lost to abysmalSt. Louis.This is the kind of logic puzzle that will hurt your head trying to predict anything at this point in an NFL season.It's also the kind of experience that will hurt your head if you are a Lions fan.
27. Cleveland Browns (3-10) Def. San Francisco 24-10. Previously: 32
Now Johnny Manziel is the Browns' quarterback! Stay tuned for next week's segment of "Now he isn't!" The big news out of Cleveland this week - other than a victory, obviously - is Isaiah Crowell's first 100-yard day ever, as the second-year back piled up 145 yards on just 20 carries.
28. San Francisco 49ers (4-9) Lost to Cleveland 24-10. Previously: 25
It seems that when Blaine Gabbert isn't rolling out 44-yard touchdown runs, the 49ers still don't have a running game.And it seems that is still important in the NFL.In the 49ers run game defense, they don't have a passing game either. And that's how you lose to the Browns.
29. Dallas Cowboys (4-9) Lost to Green Bay 28-7. Previously: 26
The Cowboys still have the best record against the division in the NFC East. Let that sink in.And no, Cowboys fans, that doesn't mean they'll win it.Just enjoy the draft pick, and hope you're officially eliminated next week so the team doesn't drag Tony Romo back out to a third collarbone injury.
30. Baltimore Ravens (4-9) Lost to Seattle 35-6. Previously: 28
Note to NFL teams facing the Seahawks: Don't start Jimmy Clausen.After this game and Clausen's earlier appearance for the Bears against Seattle, the Seahawks have beaten Clausen's teams by a combined 51-6.The Ravens didn't give Clausen a lot of help, running for 28 yards and allowing Russell Wilson to do whatever he felt like, which turned out to be throw touchdowns.
31. San Diego Chargers (3-10) Lost to Kansas City 10-3. Previously: 29
The Chargers, once in every game, even as the losses piled up, have now scored three points in three of their last four games.Amazingly, that didn't keep them from being in this one, and literally one yard and an extra point away from tying it before they decided to delay-of-game and false start their way out of it.
32. Tennessee Titans (3-10) Lost to New York Jets 30-8. Previously: 30
When we said Marcus Mariota was important to the passing game, catching a 41-yard touchdown wasn't exactly what we meant.But it was the only thing that worked Sunday for the Titans, a week after they put up 42 points to beat the Jaguars.Where did the offense go?