1. New England Patriots (13-2) | Last week: #1
The 41-3 win over the Jets should not have been surprising to anyone. New England is the best team in the league, and some team is going to have to play very well to knock them off.
2. Dallas Cowboys (13-2) | Last week: #2
Dak Prescott completed 75% of his passes a week after completing 88.9% of his passes. This guy has been playing unbelievably well for a rookie. Even with the offensive line giving him all day to throw, Prescott has been very impressive.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) | Last week: #3
Christmas was a good one for the Chiefs, as they had an outstanding win over the defending Super Bowl champions, knocking them out of the playoffs. A Kansas City win over San Diego and an Oakland loss to Denver in Week 17 would mean Kansas City is the two seed in the AFC. I think they’re clearly the team with the best chance at beating New England.
4. Atlanta Falcons (10-5) | Last week: #5 (up 1)
The Falcons have jumped up to the two seed in the NFC with their win and Seattle’s loss. Quarterback Matt Ryan is putting the ball wherever he wants and the run game is working well. If the Falcons’ defense keeps improving, they’ll be extremely tough to beat in the playoffs. The Falcons offense set an NFL record with 13 different players with a touchdown reception this season—good luck trying to stop them.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5) | Last week: #7 (up 2)
Antonio Brown came up with one of the biggest plays of the season for the Steelers’ game-winning touchdown against their biggest rival. Brown is one of the hardest workers in the league, and if he didn’t work so hard maybe he would not have gotten those extra inches he needed that potentially could have been the difference between getting in the playoffs or not.
6. Green Bay Packers (9-6) | Last week: #8 (up 2)
Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson probably have the best chemistry of any quarterback-receiver duo in the NFL. The defense might be a concern for Green Bay, but the offense is almost scoring at will right now. The Packers will play for the NFC North this Sunday night against the Lions in Detroit, where Aaron Rodgers is 12-3 in his career.
7. Seattle Seahawks (9-5-1) | Last week: #6 (down 1)
Seattle has no running game right now, meaning Russell Wilson will have to carry this offense in the playoffs unless they can get things turned around quickly. With the defense not as dominant as past years, it might all be on Wilson to get Seattle to another Super Bowl.
8. Oakland Raiders (12-3) | Last week: #4 (down 4)
The loss of Derek Carr is heartbreaking for the Raiders. In the midst of a magical season and their first playoff appearance since 2002, their leader on offense won’t be able to play in January. The Raiders will rally around Matt McGloin, and while he’s capable, Carr’s injury certainly puts a dent in Oakland’s Super Bowl chances.
9. Houston Texans (9-6) | Last week: #14 (up 5)
The Texans won their second straight AFC South title with their win over the Bengals, meaning that quarterback Tom Savage will get a prime opportunity to play for the Texans’ starting job in 2017.
10. New York Giants (10-5) | Last week: #10
Eli Manning threw three interceptions in the Giants’ loss to the Eagles on Thursday night. No one seems to want to talk about it, but Eli is not playing well and might be holding back the Giants. However, we have seen Eli pull some crazy stuff out of his hat in the playoffs, so the Giants are a team to watch.
11. Miami Dolphins (10-5) | Last week: #11
Jay Ajayi ran for over 200 yards in both games against the Bills this season. While having him inactive early in the season might not have been the greatest decision, everything is working out now for rookie head coach Adam Gase and the Dolphins. They’re back in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
12. Washington Redskins (8-6-1) | Last week: #17 (up 5)
The Redskins were probably as happy as anyone that the Cowboys won last night against the Lions…what a year. Now, if the Redskins get a win over the Giants in Week 17, they’ll be in the playoffs for the second straight season.
13. Detroit Lions (9-6) | Last week: #13
After getting destroyed by Dallas, things won’t get much easier for the Lions as they’ll face the Packers for the NFC North title. The Lions will get to return home to Detroit for this game, but the bad news is Aaron Rodgers has had a ton of success in Detroit against the Lions.
14. Baltimore Ravens (8-7) | Last week: #9 (down 5)
The Ravens appeared in control against the Steelers, but a 21-point fourth quarter knocked Baltimore out of the playoff picture in the AFC. Now, future Hall of Famer Steve Smith Sr. could be playing in his final career game this Sunday.
15. Indianapolis Colts (7-8) | Last week: #15
This makes it two straight seasons that the Colts won’t make the playoffs. Owner Jim Irsay has hinted that head coach Chuck Pagano and GM Ryan Grigson could be safe, so we’ll see what happens with that.
16. Minnesota Vikings (7-8) | Last week #16
It’s amazing that the Vikings defense has become a major issue after playing so well in the first few weeks of the season. ESPN’s Adam Schefter has hinted that there could be a couple surprise head coaches getting fired, so it’s fair to wonder if Mike Zimmer is potentially one of those. The defense does have a ton of talent and it’s surprising they’re playing this poorly, but I think Zimmer should definitely keep his job and just let the Vikings build up their offensive line for 2017.
17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7) | Last week #18 (up 1)
Tampa Bay don’t have much control over their playoff chances. They obviously need to win against the Panthers, but they also need six other things to happen, including a tie between the Redskins and Giants, so it looks like a popular sleeper Super Bowl pick in the preseason won’t be in the playoffs.
18. Tennessee Titans (8-7) | Last week: #12 (down 6)
Star quarterback Marcus Mariota went down with a broken fibula and the Titans were eliminated from playoff contention later in the night when the Texans won the AFC South. Mariota reportedly needs 4-5 months to recover from this injury, so while OTAs could be a question mark, he’ll be good to go for training camp. I expect him to take another step forward in 2017—potentially a huge step.
19. Denver Broncos (8-7) | Last week: #19
Rumor has it the Broncos defense blamed the offense after their loss to New England in Week 15. Then the defense gave up 33 points to the Chiefs, including two touchdowns over 70 yards, while getting eliminated from playoff contention. Hmm…
20. Buffalo Bills (7-8) | Last week: #20
The Bills fired head coach Rex Ryan and assistant coach Rob Ryan, while naming offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn as the interim coach. Judging by the performance of the offense this season, while they battled injuries including to wide receiver Sammy Watkins, Lynn should be a legitimate candidate to coach the team in 2017.
21. New Orleans Saints (7-8) | Last week: #21
Former high-priced free agent, safety Jairus Byrd, is playing well lately and he kept it going with two interceptions of Jameis Winston in the Saints’ win. New Orleans hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2013-2014 season, but it’d be hard for them to find a better head coach than Sean Payton.
22. Arizona Cardinals (6-8-1) | Last week: #23 (up 1)
Bruce Arians and the Cardinals have not had close to the season they’ve wanted, but a win in Seattle to knock them out of the two seed had to feel good.
23. Carolina Panthers (6-9) | Last week: #22 (down 1)
The Panthers regressed back to their 2016 form when the Falcons made easy work of them on Saturday. Cam Newton was below 50% completion percentage again, and he will have to improve for the Panthers to bounce back in 2017.
24. Cincinnati Bengals (5-9-1) | Last week #25 (up 1)
Without A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert, the Bengals almost took down the eventual AFC South champions on Christmas Eve, but fell short. The Bengals might be interested in getting a better draft position at this point, after not letting Green play, despite his wishes to play.
25. Philadelphia Eagles (6-9) | Last week: #27 (up 2)
Malcolm Jenkins came up big for the Eagles against the Giants, intercepting Eli Manning twice, including once for a pick six.
26. San Diego Chargers (5-10) | Last week: #24 (down 2)
The Chargers were to team to lose to the Browns, and it might cost head coach Mike McCoy his job. The Chargers have battled a ton of injuries this season, but with Philip Rivers getting up there in age, there might be some urgency to start winning some games.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-12) | Last week: #30 (up 3)
The Jaguars looked like a different team against the Vikings. Could interim coach Doug Marrone, who by choice left the Bills as their head coach, be a legitimate candidate for the Jaguars head coaching job?
28. Chicago Bears (3-12) | Last week #29 (up 1)
The Bears couldn’t overcome five interceptions from Matt Barkley to beat the Redskins, and it also obviously hurt Barkley’s chances the start for the Bears in 2017.
29. San Francisco 49ers (2-13) | Last week: #31 (up 2)
The 49ers had a comeback win over the Rams, which the whole team obviously enjoyed after not winning since Week 1. The bad news is they gave up the number one pick in the draft with their win.
30. New York Jets (4-11) | Last week: #28 (down 2)
Ryan Fitzpatrick found a way back into the lineup as the Jets quarterback after Bryce Petty went down with a shoulder injury against the Patriots. Many Jets fans are clamoring for second round pick Christian Hackenberg to play, but the Jets don’t seem interested in playing him yet.
31. Los Angeles Rams (4-11) | Last week: #26 (down 5)
I’m excited to see who the next Rams head coach is because Jared Goff should play a lot better with a new offensive staff.
32. Cleveland Browns (1-14) | Last week: #32
Congratulations to the Browns on getting their first win of the season. They have a legit shot at win number two, with the Steelers very likely to rest some starters in Week 17.