1. New England Patriots (8-2) | Last week: 1
They have the best player and the best coach, and the Patriots have been on fire both offensively and defensively lately. New England held Oakland to just one score in their 33-8 win in Mexico, and it came late in the game. Tom Brady is in his prime every week, as his work ethic and methods allow him to get better each day instead of regressing like most people do when they hit a certain age—with him in control, it’ll be tough to stop the Patriots.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (9-1) | Last week: 2
Things didn’t start off great on Sunday night against the Cowboys, but the Eagles showed their massive upside in the second half when they outscored Dallas, 30-0. Cornerback Ronald Darby played excellent in his first game back from a dislocated ankle, and Philadelphia has a deep cornerback group that’s playing better than almost everyone expected. If the corners keep it up, it’ll be tough to stop the Eagles, too.
3. Minnesota Vikings (8-2) | Last week: 3
From the beginning of the season, I wrote the Vikings would be my favorites in the NFC if the offensive line was improved over last season. Well, it’s been much improved, and they’d be my NFC favorite if not for the injuries to Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook. The defense is the best in the NFC, if not the NFL, and Case Keenum continues to be a great match with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur; my only concern is if Keenum can keep this up, but they have Teddy Bridgewater waiting in the wings as a guy I believe can lead a team to a championship.
4. New Orleans Saints (8-2) | Last week: 4
It looked like the seven-game winning streak of the Saints would come to an end at the hands of the Redskins, but Drew Brees and the offense rattled off 15 points late in the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime and win it. While they’ve been destroying teams with the running game during the winning streak, it was good to see Brees calmly lead the team back like he’s done for so many years. The schedule of the Saints is difficult, but if they can somehow get home field in the playoffs, good luck knocking them off in the Superdome.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-2) | Last week: 5
Ben Roethlisberger looked as good as he’s looked all season in last Thursday’s big win over the Titans—and it might’ve made him feel a lot better and more confident heading into the stretch toward the playoffs. Even while dealing with some recent injuries, the defense has given up 17 points or less in each of the last five games. The Steelers are keeping pace with the Patriots atop the AFC, but we know they’ve had some major issues stopping New England.
6. Carolina Panthers (7-3) | Last week: 9 (+3)
The Panthers had a bye week, but they jump a few spots in the power rankings. The bye gave everyone the chance to take a step back, get some rest, and get healthier ahead of the final six games of the regular season. Carolina feels like a team that could get extremely hot here and go on a run to the Super Bowl like they did two years ago.
7. Atlanta Falcons (6-4) | Last week: 10 (+3)
With two straight wins to open the second half of their season, the Falcons are now in the second wild card spot in the NFC—and the offense is starting to click. New offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian appears to be getting more comfortable calling plays by the week, and last year’s MVP Matt Ryan has been a lot better over the last five games. They have perhaps the league’s most difficult schedule over the final six games, including two games against the Saints, one against the Panthers, and one against the Vikings. But if they get in the playoffs, they have the playoff history, coaching, and quarterback to get far.
8. Kansas City Chiefs (6-4) | Last week: 6 (-2)
The most stunning result in Week 11 had to be the Chiefs’ loss to the Giants. Coming off the bye, Andy Reid was 16-2 in his head coaching career, which made the loss to the struggling Giants more of a shock. Clearly, the Chiefs don’t look the same as they did during their 5-0 start, but this mid-season lull can certainly turn around in an instant. However, it might be difficult for them to get first-round bye and more than one home game in the playoffs.
9. Tennessee Titans (6-4) | Last week: 7 (-2)
Four interceptions from Marcus Mariota was extremely uncharacteristic, but the stat sheet doesn’t tell the whole story—and it’s probably not something that’ll happen again anytime soon. Two of the interceptions came on passes to rookie receiver Corey Davis, who is still working to gain chemistry with his quarterback and stopped his route on one interception before not coming back to the ball on the second interception. The Titans should come out a lot sharper this week against the Colts.
10. Los Angeles Rams (7-3) | Last week: 8 (-2)
Though perhaps a fumble at the goal line by rookie receiver Cooper Kupp was a big momentum swing, the Vikings clearly looked like the better team in Minnesota. Latavius Murray gashed the Rams on the ground, and Adam Thielen did a lot of damage through the air. It was just one game, and at least the Seahawks also lost so the Rams didn’t lose any ground in the NFC West. The loss of Robert Woods for a couple of weeks to a shoulder injury will hurt, but Sammy Watkins and others should be able to pick up the slack.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-3) | Last week: 12 (+1)
The Jaguars doing exactly what they were supposed to do in Cleveland against the Browns was a great sign. The defense had five sacks, three fumble recoveries, two interceptions, and one touchdown in the Week 11 win, and they now sit alone atop the AFC South. If the Jaguars keep picking up dominant wins against teams they should beat down the stretch, they’ll probably be in position to win the division against the Titans in Week 17.
12. Baltimore Ravens (5-5) | Last week: 15 (+3)
The game after the bye couldn’t have gone much better for the Ravens, who shut out the Packers in Lambeau Field. Baltimore had three interceptions and two fumble recoveries in the game, and they are tied with Jacksonville for the most takeaways (23) this season, while leading the NFL in interceptions (16). The Ravens have a defensive monster that surprisingly isn’t talked about, considering their history of great defenses. I think Baltimore, who has three shutouts this season, will get in the playoffs as a wild card.
13. Seattle Seahawks (6-4) | Last week: 11 (-2)
Surprisingly, the Seahawks might not get into the stacked NFC playoffs as a wild card if they don’t win the division. After their Monday night loss to the Falcons, Seattle is now on the outside looking in for a playoff berth. While overall the defense isn’t close to what it was over the last several years, the run defense is still very strong, and those saying the Seahawks are done being an NFC contender are probably mistaken. Russell Wilson is still at quarterback, so they’ll at least be in the playoff hunt every season even if the defense were to become one of the worst in the league.
14. Detroit Lions (6-4) | Last week: 14
The Vikings look like an elite team in the NFC right now, but the Lions can make a huge statement on Thanksgiving if they pick up a victory to get within one game of first place in the NFC North. Matthew Stafford is rather quietly having what might be a better season than last year—though the record eight fourth-quarter comebacks in 2016 was insane. He and the offense will need to show up against a Minnesota squad that’s on fire right now.
15. Los Angeles Chargers (4-6) | Last week: 20 (+5)
With an opportunity to get within one game of a wild card spot in the AFC, the Chargers played like it was a playoff game against the Bills. They were admittedly offended Buffalo decided to give rookie Nathan Peterman his first career start against them, and it showed on the field. If Los Angeles plays with that fire and passion over the final six weeks of the season, they might not lose another game during the regular season. Thanksgiving against a desperate Cowboys team will be a lot of fun to watch.
16. Dallas Cowboys (5-5) | Last week: 13 (-3)
During the first half of the Sunday night game against the Eagles, the Cowboys looked like they had a real shot to stop one of the hottest teams in the league. But the second half was not pretty, as they gave up 30 points without scoring any and all but ended the NFC East race with six weeks to go in the season. The criticism of Dak Prescott based on the last two games and stating that he’s nothing without Ezekiel Elliott is a radical stance. Prescott is clearly a very good quarterback, despite a sub-par couple of games.
17. Buffalo Bills (5-5) | Last week: 17
The decision to start Nathan Peterman obviously backfired after five first-half interceptions against the Chargers, but hindsight is 20/20. The Bills made a decision they thought would help the team, and anyone suggesting it as anything else is mistaken. Now that Tyrod Taylor has the reigns on offense again, he’ll probably be playing with a big chip on his shoulder—and while he was already having another very good season, he might be even better after the benching.
18. Washington Redskins (4-6) | Last week: 16 (-2)
Kirk Cousins played another outstanding game, and it looked like the Redskins were going to upset the Saints, but New Orleans stormed back with an epic fourth-quarter comeback. Now, the Redskins basically need to win out to have a chance at the playoffs in the crowded NFC race, and it starts on Thanksgiving night against the division rival Giants.
19. Green Bay Packers (5-5) | Last week: 19
The hopes of Aaron Rodgers returning from a collarbone injury this season are decreasing with every Packers loss. Green Bay’s shutout loss at Lambeau Field was their first since 2006, when Brett Favre was still the quarterback. Now they have to travel to Heinz Field to face the Steelers in what before the season looked like one of the matchups of the year. Don’t be surprised if the game is closer than most anticipate, but it’ll probably take a big game from all three phases to pull of the win.
20. Cincinnati Bengals (4-6) | Last week: 29 (+9)
The Bengals move up the most in this week’s power rankings, as they’ve played better than most of these other teams as of late. They are 4-3 in their last seven games, and if they keep up that pace it might be enough to get them into the final wild card spot in the AFC. Over the last four games, Andy Dalton has seven touchdowns and no interceptions, and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor continues to do a good job since taking over the offense.
21. Miami Dolphins (4-6) | Last week: 21
They always seem to play the Patriots tough, but considering they have two matchups against the Pats over the final six games, it’s difficult to see them not getting to at least seven losses this season. Jay Cutler’s status moving forward is in question because of a concussion, and Matt Moore seems to play better off the bench than he does as a starter. The Dolphins need to hit the stride they did at the end of last season if they want a chance at the playoffs.
22. Houston Texans (4-6) | Last week: 27 (+5)
After a three-game losing streak, the Texans battled against the Cardinals and scored 14 fourth-quarter points en route to a victory that kept them in the playoff picture. Tom Savage might’ve played his best game in the win, and maybe he’ll keep getting better with more playing time. The defense will need to get closer to where they were last year for the Texans to make a playoff push, though.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-6) | Last week: 28 (+5)
Ryan Fitzpatrick has helped lead the Buccaneers to two straight victories, and he’s been playing well this season with a 7:3 TD/INT ratio. It looked like head coach Dirk Koetter might’ve been losing the team a bit, but things have settled down for now. If the team starts losing again, it’s a situation to watch.
24. Oakland Raiders (4-6) | Last week: 18 (-6)
I think most people can easily make the determination themselves if Marshawn Lynch sitting for the United States national anthem before standing for the Mexican Anthem is right, but on the field, Lynch hasn’t given them the same consistency Latavius Murray did last season. Perhaps the parting of ways with last year’s offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was a mistake, too, as the offense wasn’t broken last season and they went in another direction anyway.
25. Arizona Cardinals (4-6) | Last week: 22 (-3)
Blaine Gabbert again showed some significant flashes in the Cardinals’ loss to the Texans, just as he did during the preseason. He’ll start again this week, and with Arizona’s playoff hopes nearly finished, it looks more likely that he’ll just start the final six games if he continues to play well, maybe with an eye on 2018 if Carson Palmer retires.
26. New York Jets (4-6) | Last week: 24 (-2)
Todd Bowles’ team was on a bye in Week 11, and they probably needed it heading into this brutal six-game stretch to end the season. I think the Jets will be competitive in these games, but it might be difficult to get more than a couple of wins with some of the matchups including Carolina, New Orleans, and New England.
27. Chicago Bears (3-7) | Last week: 23 (-4)
Again, the Bears lost a one-possession game, and it shows the team continues to play hard for head coach John Fox. This Sunday against the 9-1 Eagles will be a big test, and star outside linebacker Leonard Floyd will be out with a knee injury (and potentially out for the rest of the season). Chicago would probably do well to make it another close game.
28. Indianapolis Colts (3-7) | Last week: 26 (-2)
Indianapolis had a bye and gained some ground in the wild card race, as they are now only two games behind the final playoff spot in the AFC. But it’ll take a legendary effort from Jacoby Brissett and company to sneak in with six games to go. This week, they’ll have to try and put a stop to the backfield of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry—something they couldn’t do in their matchup earlier in the season.
29. New York Giants (2-8) | Last week: 31 (+2)
His team lost to the 49ers a couple of weeks ago, but the turnaround with a win against the Chiefs is a good start for Ben McAdoo’s fight to keep his head coaching job. While his offense has probably never been close to what the Giants wanted when he was hired, the Giants did win 11 games last season, and I usually don’t think it’s a good idea to get rid of a coach so quickly after just hiring him.
30. Denver Broncos (3-7) | Last week: 25 (-5)
Vance Joseph, though only in his first season, might be in a similar predicament as McAdoo. He was obviously hired because John Elway likes him and thinks he’s a good coach, but the team has been terrible—including on defense, Joseph’s specialty and where they have a ton of talent. One move was already made with the firing of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Joseph on the hot seat. Look for new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, who oversaw Oakland’s offense last season, to make a bigger commitment to running the football. However, the defense needs to step up because they should be a lot better than the way they’re playing.
31. San Francisco 49ers (1-9) | Last week: 30 (-1)
Although Jimmy Garoppolo was expected to start in Week 12 after the bye, there’s no guarantee that happens. C.J. Beathard has shown he can at least be one of the best backups in the NFL, if not a starter, but it’d be exciting to see Garoppolo make his first start with his new franchise. No matter who is under center, the 49ers should continue to make an effort to get the ball in Carlos Hyde’s hands if they want to pick up some more victories this season.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-10) | Last week: 32
Cleveland’s loss to the Jaguars dropped them to 0-10 on the season, and they’re 0-6 at home with only two more opportunities to pick up a win there. They’ll take a win anywhere at this point, though, including this Sunday against the Bengals.