1. Carolina Panthers (Last week: 1)

The Panthers, for one of the first time this season, won a game on the heels of a poor defensive performance. This game was about Cam Newton battling Drew Brees in the Super Dome. Cam Newton not only came out victorious, but also as the clear front runner for the MVP award. The Panthers host the Falcons at home next week.

2. Denver Broncos (Last week: 3)

The Broncos won this week against the Chiefs with the defense turning in a strong performance. After looking great on Sunday night last week, Brock Osweiler did not look quite as sharp against San Diego. Denver has an easier game against Oakland this week, before their schedule gets difficult with 2 December matches with the Bengals and Steelers.

3. Arizona Cardinals (Last week: 4)

The Cardinals showed up after a shaky performance against the 49ers last week. They soundly beat the Rams this week in St. Louis. Two games ahead of Green Bay and Minnesota and two games behind Carolina, the Cardinals seem essentially placed into the #2 seed. A victory against the Vikings on Thursday would only solidify their #2 spot even further.

4. New England Patriots (Last week: 2)

After looking like the clear team to beat over the first 11 weeks, the Patriots have lost two in a row for the first time in four seasons. They also have given up 30+ points in back to back weeks for the second time since 2002. If the Patriots are gonna clean this up, they have to start winning the turnover battle. Does Brady have enough healthy weapons to win? We will have to see.

5. Cincinnati Bengals (Last week: 5)

Many people will have the Bengals higher than this, and there are many reasons why. From 1-53 this is probably the best roster in the NFL. If the season were to end today, Cincy would have homefield advantage in the AFC. However, Andy Dalton has still never won a playoff game. Nothing Dalton has done this season will matter if they don’t win AT LEAST one playoff game this season.

6. Kansas City Chiefs (Last week: 7)

The Chiefs are seemingly going to coast into the playoffs. With a horrendous 1-5 start, it looks more and more likely that the Chiefs are going to enter the playoffs on a 10-game winning streak. While there is no one on this offense that can really hurt you, this team prides itself on playing great team football.

7. Green Bay Packers (Last week: 8)

If not for the play of the season (arguably), the Packers would be 7-5 and a game behind the Vikings. Only a handful of guys in the NFL could have made the throw that Rodgers did on Thursday night. It will be interesting to see how much of a bearing that game ends up having on the playoff picture.

8. Seattle Seahawks (Last week: 10)

If Seattle continues to play like this, everyone needs to watch out. This team just throttled a Vikings team at home who was an 8-3 division leader prior to the game. Russell Wilson seems to have progressed with the season throwing 11 touchdowns without an interception over the last three games.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers (Last week: 11)

The Steelers offense became the second in NFL history to have four straight games of 450+ yards. The combination of Wheaton, Brown, and Bryant have combined to average over 300 yards of receiving per game over the last four weeks. After getting dominated by the Seahawks, the Steelers scoring defense is back to tied for 7th. What is sad is that they wouldn’t be in the playoffs if the season ended today, and the Colts would be.

10. New York Jets (Last week: 13)

The Jets have proven that they can win games when their backs are up against the wall facing poor teams. The last two weeks they have taken down the 5-7 Dolphins and Giants. Do you know the Jets have a 1-3 record against teams at or above .500 this season? Eight of their 12 games have come against teams with a losing record.

11. Buffalo Bills (Last week: 14)

Buffalo beat the Jets a couple of weeks ago and right now that is keeping them alive in the playoff race. Buffalo currently has three straight games against the NFC East before a week 17 matchup with the Jets that could have huge playoff implications. Also, Tyrod Taylor hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 4.

12. Minnesota Vikings (Last week: 6)

As good as the Vikings have looked at times, this team is doomed if they fall behind in a game. While they are an impressive 7-1 against teams with a .500 record or worse this season, they are 1-3 against teams with a winning record. The Vikings are just not ready for primetime yet, even if they make the playoffs.

13. Indianapolis Colts (Last week: 9)  

The Colts were outmatched this weekend against the Steelers. As good as Matt Hasselbeck has looked at times this year, he looked his age this weekend. This is a game that Indy can simply forget about. With the Texans losing as well, the Colts just need to keep pace right now.

14. Houston Texans (Last week: 12)

After playing well over the last month, the Texans came out very flat against a good Bills team. The defense allowed nearly as many points this weekend as they had in the previous four games combined. If Houston is going to make the playoffs, it will be because this defense carries them there.

15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last week: 20)

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers look like a winning football team. That is something that I did not expect to say this season. If you did not get a chance to see Jameis Winston’s run on third down this weekend, you have to see it. At the very least, Tampa has showed that they are no longer a team to gloss over on the schedule.

16. Atlanta Falcons (Last week: 16)

There are a  couple reasons the Falcons did not fall in this rankings, but their play is not one of them. All the teams ranked 15-19 last week lost this week. The Falcons are the worst of the 6-6 teams at this point and are not going to make the playoffs unless they turn things around very quickly.

17. Chicago Bears (Last week: 15)

You can view this weekend in one of two ways. First is that the Bears blew a chance to get to .500. Second is that the Bears will get a better draft pick. If you are a Chicago fan watching the game this weekend, you couldn’t help but cringe. In the long run, this result will not be a bad thing.

18. Washington Redskins (Last week: 17)

The Redskins has a golden opportunity to take command of the NFC East with a statement win on Monday night. Instead, here we are wondering who wants to win this division. No one in this division deserves a home playoff game, but someone has to get it. The four QBs in this division are Eli Manning, Kirk Cousins, Matt Cassel, and Sam Bradford.

19. New York Giants (Last week: 18)

The Giants are a very tough team to figure out. While this team is probably the best in the division, they just cannot win close games. Six of their seven losses this season have come by a combined 18 points. This team could easily be a 10-win team this season had their defense not blown so many leads.

20. Oakland Raiders (Last week: 19)

While Oakland put up a good fight against the Chiefs, they just made too many mistakes late to win the game. Carr looks like a future Pro Bowler at the position, he just needs to make decisions in the pocket a fraction earlier. Again, if this fan base can be patient, this team will be good very soon if they draft well and spend their money well.

21. Philadelphia Eagles (Last week: 27)

Fly Eagles fly! Philadelphia waltzed into New England for what likely will go down as the upset of the season. After getting blown out the previous two weeks, the Eagles utilized the big play to get the victory. This team scored touchdowns on a pick-six, a punt return, and a blocked punt.

22. Miami Dolphins (Last week: 24)

The Dolphins barely, and I mean barely, snuck out of their game against Baltimore with a victory this past week. Behind interim coach Dan Campbell, the Dolphins have gone 4-4 so it was clear that Miami needed a change of leadership. However, this team needs a true leader at the head coaching position

23. Detroit Lions (Last week: 21)

The facemask penalty aside, the Lions won that football game for all intents and purposes. Unfortunately for Detroit, the only score that matters is the one at the end of the game. The Lions fell victim to Aaron Rodgers once again, but it may not be a bad thing if they want a better draft pick.

24. New Orleans Saints (Last week: 25)

The Saints defense did what it always does this week against the Panthers. But, credit the offense and Sean Payton for making it a very competitive game. It’s hard to believe that a Drew Brees is 4-8, but I think anyone would be if they had to be supported by that defense.

25. Dallas Cowboys (Last week: 29)

How ‘bout them Cowboys?! This division is really sad, and the Boys being 4-8 and one game back of the division lead makes it even worse. Dallas should be dead in the water right now. Instead, nobody seems truly interested in winning the NFC East.

26. Jacksonville Jaguars (Last week: 23)

The Jaguars has a golden opportunity to move to 6-6 over the last two weeks. Instead, they have blown games against the Chargers and Titans. Their defense has given up a combined 73 points in the last two games. While they have a lot of offensive talent, this defense is miserably bad.

27. St. Louis Rams (Last week: 22)

The Rams’ offseason plan seems to be pretty clear, draft offensive talent. This team, along with the Browns, has the worst skill players in the NFL. Todd Gurley looks like an NFL cornerstone player, but he has nobody else on offense. This offensive line has young talent, but no quarterback or wide receivers to speak of.

28. San Francisco 49ers (Last week: 30)

If I would have told you at the beginning of the season that Blaine Gabbert would outplay Colin Kaepernick this season, you would have called me crazy. Yet here we are with Colin on IR, and Gabbert running for 50 yard touchdowns. Who knows what is going to happen in San Francisco next season.

29. Tennessee Titans (Last week: 31)

Marcus Mariota clearly looks like the guy at quarterback. In a thriller with the Jaguars this weekend, Mariota scampered for an 87-yard game-winning touchdown. While this team has a lot of holes, it looks like Super Mario may lead this team to many more victories in the years to come.

30. San Diego Chargers (Last week: 26)

After having a great showing against the Jaguars last week, the Broncos are clearly a much better team. However, the Chargers have been getting blatantly embarrassed in front of their home crowd too many times this year. This is not how the Chargers should be leaving San Diego.

31. Baltimore Ravens (Last week: 28)

Unfortunately for Baltimore, injuries are just destroying this team’s season. With their three best offensive skill players out for the year, this season’s focus has shifted to the draft. While this team is certainly trying to win games, it will only hurt them in the grand scheme of things.

32. Cleveland Browns (Last week: 32)

Cleveland is just a really bad football team. The Bengals outplayed them in all three phases of the game. The good news for Browns fans is that Johnny Football is going to start playing. This franchise needs to see him play some more games and decide if he is the guy of the future.

Photo from Los Angeles Times.