We’re now entering the homestretch, NFL fans. Five weeks of play are left on the schedule, and the race for playoff contention is heating up as the margin for error decreases. The AFC wild cards will be hotly contested, as the weak state of the conference has allowed for more teams to still be in the hunt late in the season. The AFC West is especially enticing, as there has been a role reversal between the Chiefs and the Chargers. Kansas City has dropped five of their last six after a 5-0 start to the season, and are now just one game ahead of Los Angeles, who opened 2017 with an 0-4 start. Oakland is also quietly one game back of Kansas City, even as injuries and the antics of Michael Crabtree and Marshawn Lynch have cast a pall over what should’ve been a promising season. While LA and Oakland have cupcake home matchups against the Browns and Giants next week, respectively, the Chiefs have to travel to New York to play the plucky Jets, meaning a three-way tie for the division could be in the cards next week. As the regular season starts to wind down, the fun is just beginning.
- Philadelphia Eagles (10-1, 1st NFC East): Last week: 1
Carson Wentz and Co. took care of business in a dominant 31-3 win over Chicago, Electric-Sliding their way to yet another win. The Eagles will be tested in the next two weeks, however, with a West Coast trip to take on the 7-4 Seahawks and the 8-3 Rams. Philly has only played two teams with a winning record in 2017, so this stretch will show what they’re really made of.
- New England Patriots (9-2, 1st AFC East): Last week: 2
With their 35-17 win over the Dolphins, the Patriots clinched their 17th-straight winning season under Bill Belichick, an NFL post-merger record. Currently tied with the Steelers for the best record in the AFC, the No. 1 seed in the conference will almost certainly be determined when New England heads to Heinz Field three weeks from now.
- Minnesota Vikings (9-2, 1st NFC North): Last week: 3
Beating a solid Lions team on the road made for a happy Thanksgiving for the fans of the Purple and Gold. Minnesota has a three-game lead on the rest of the NFC North and is in the driver’s seat for a first-round bye in the NFC. However, road matchups against the streaking Falcons and the Panthers in the next two weeks could spoil the Vikes’ hopes.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (9-2, 1st AFC North): Last week: 4
Breathing a sigh of relief after needing a last second 53-yard field goal from Chris Boswell to beat the Brett Hundley-led Packers, Pittsburgh continues to win despite failing the eye test. Antonio Brown added to his league-leading receiving yards total in the 31-28 win, grabbing 10 balls en route to 169 yards and two touchdowns.
- Los Angeles Rams (8-3, 1st NFC West): Last week: 6
In a battle of NFC upstarts, the Rams came out on top over the Saints 26-20 at home behind the Goff-Kupp connection. The second-year QB targeted his rookie wideout 11 times, completing eight passes for 116 yards against an improved New Orleans pass defense. LA is on the verge of breaking its 12-year playoff drought, though tough games against Philly, Seattle and Tennessee loom.
- New Orleans Saints (8-3, T-1st NFC South): Last week: 5
Though they came up short against a good Rams team in LA, Who Dat Nation is still in good shape. Alvin Kamara continued his ROY push by dominating a stout Rams defense, as the rookie rusher put up a near-comical 188 yards and two touchdowns on only 11 touches. However, with Defensive ROY front-runner Marshon Lattimore sidelined, the once top-ranked Saints pass defense has struggled the last two weeks.
- Atlanta Falcons (7-4, 3rd NFC South): Last week: 9
The Dirty Birds won their third game in a row by beating Tampa Bay 34-20 at home behind a vintage Julio Jones performance, as the veteran wideout racked up 253 yards and two scores. Atlanta’s momentum may come to a halt soon, however, as the teams they face over the rest of the season have a combined record of 37-18.
- Carolina Panthers (8-3, T-1st NFC South): Last week: 7
The Panthers endured a rocky performance from Cam Newton (11-for-28, 168 yards, no TDs) to beat the Jets 35-27 on the road. Since the trade of Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers receiving corps is dangerously thin. Devin Funchess, who had a seven-catch, 108-yard day, was the only Panthers wide receiver to catch a pass against the Jets.
- Seattle Seahawks (7-4, 2nd NFC West): Last week: 10
Despite the injuries piling up in Seattle, the ‘Hawks continue to keep themselves in the playoff mix. Without Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril, the once-dominant defense has lost its key cogs. Against San Francisco, however, the unit held Carlos Hyde to just 47 yards and led the way for a 24-13 win on the road.
- Jacksonville Jaguars (7-4, T-1st AFC South): Last week: 8
Losing to Blaine Gabbert is never a good sign, especially when you are the league’s best defense. The 27-24 loss in Arizona ended a four-game winning streak for Jacksonville, though they are now tied for the division lead with Tennessee. Blake Bortles, despite having a big day on the ground (six carries for 62 yards and two scores), was horrible throwing the ball against the Cards.
- Detroit Lions (6-5, 2nd NFC North): Last week: 12
Though they mounted a valiant comeback attempt, the Lions came within a Darius Slay offside call of tying the game on a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown. While currently a game back of the final wild-card spot, Detroit faces just one team with a winning record the rest of the way and could easily go 11-5 on the season.
- Tennessee Titans (7-4, T-1st AFC South): Last week: 13
The fact that this team is currently the third seed in the AFC at the moment is befuddling. Needing a fourth quarter touchdown to dispatch the 3-8 Colts 20-16 showed that the Titans are much worse than their record would show. Marcus Mariota has not been the type of electrifying player he was expected to be, as the third-year QB has nine touchdowns and 12 picks in 2017.
- Los Angeles Chargers (5-6, T-2nd AFC West): Last week: 15
The NFL’s fastest rising team, the Bolts, look nothing like the team that started the year 0-4. Even Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott couldn’t have saved Dallas from the beatdown that the Chargers put on them, as Philip Rivers and Co. coasted by the ‘Boys 28-6. The only team with a winning record Los Angeles faces the rest of the way is the Chiefs, which could be a division-deciding game.
- Washington Redskins (5-6, T-2nd NFC East): Last week: 14
Though the injury bug hit Washington hard this season, the Redskins have played valiantly in 2017 despite facing a tough schedule. Getting a Thanksgiving day win over the Giants was nice, though the competition for the NFC wild-card spots may be too tight for the Redskins to squeeze in.
- Baltimore Ravens (6-5, 2nd AFC North): Last week: 16
The lack of depth in the AFC can be seen in Baltimore, who is currently occupying the second wild-card spot after a 23-16 home win over a decimated Texans team. Joe Flacco has a pitiful QBR of 33.0, but the league’s second-ranked defense is keeping this team in the hunt. With their last three games against the Browns, Colts and Bengals, the Ravens could sneak into the playoffs.
- Buffalo Bills (6-5, 2nd AFC East): Last week: 22
A week after the Nathan Peterman debacle, Tyrod Taylor got his rightful starting job back and led Buffalo to a 16-10 win over the free-falling Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium. While the offense did not put up any ridiculous numbers, they got the job done. The Bills could be on the outside looking in on the playoff picture, however, as they face the Pats twice in their last five games.
- Kansas City Chiefs (6-5, 1st AFC West): Last week: 11
While the alarms are ringing in Kansas City, the Chiefs can’t abandon ship while they are still the AFC West leader. Replacing Alex Smith with Pat Mahomes would be silly, especially after Buffalo already performed a similar move with disastrous results a week ago. Adding Darrelle Revis in free agency was an interesting move, and we’ll see how that plays out.
- Oakland Raiders (5-6, T-2nd AFC West): Last week: 21
With Michael Crabtree suspended two games for his wild fight with Aqib Talib and Amari Cooper in concussion protocol, the Raiders need someone to step up to help out Derek Carr. The 21-14 win over the Broncos kept the Silver and Black in the playoff hunt, but they look far from their 12-4 squad of last year.
- Green Bay Packers (5-6, 3rd NFC North): Last week: 23
The Pack nearly pulled off a colossal upset in Pittsburgh behind a career day from Brett Hundley. While the young quarterback was sacked four times in the second half, the UCLA product completed 17-of-26 throws for 245 and three touchdowns without turning the ball over. Jordy Nelson, however, is an afterthought with Hundley at the helm, as the Pro Bowl wideout caught three passes for 11 yards.
- Cincinnati Bengals (5-6, 3rd AFC North): Last week: 19
The Bengals are somehow just a game out of the wild-card and picked up another win against the Browns this week as rookie running back Joe Mixon tore up the Cleveland defense. The playoffs are a long shot for Cincinnati, especially when they still have to face Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Detroit and Baltimore.
- Arizona Cardinals (5-6, 3rd NFC West): Last week: 26
A surprising win from Arizona came from the arm of Blaine Gabbert and the 42-year-old leg of Phil Dawson, who drilled a 57-yard game-winning field goal to top the Jaguars in Glendale. Despite having to deal with devastating injuries to Carson Palmer and David Johnson this season, the Cardinals are still mathematically alive.
- Dallas Cowboys (5-6, 3rd NFC East): Last week: 17
There is little offense going on in the Big D at the moment. In the last three games, Dallas has scored seven, nine and six points respectively. And while the media is skewering Dak Prescott for the ‘Boys sudden decline, the defense isn’t doing the squad any favors. Dallas has let up 27, 37 and 28 points respectively in the last three games despite their opponents largely playing ball control.
- New York Jets (4-7, T-3rd AFC East): Last week: 24
Josh McCown and Co. almost played spoiler in their closely fought matchup against Carolina, though a late score pushed the Panthers over the top. The Jets have shown themselves to be a pest of a team in 2017, refusing to be put away easily as just one of their losses was decided by more than nine points.
- Houston Texans (4-7, 3rd AFC South): Last week: 18
Watching the Texans has become incredibly frustrating since Tom Savage took over for the injured Deshaun Watson. Despite receiving a gritty 125-yard performance from DeAndre Hopkins that saw the star receiver mauled by Ravens corners on multiple occasions, the Texans blew the game as Savage turned the ball over three times.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7, 4th NFC South): Last week: 20
The Bucs had no means to stop Julio Jones and the rest of the Atlanta pass offense, and the 34-20 loss ended what little hope Tampa Bay fans had for this season. Adding injury to insult, Doug Martin suffered a concussion, meaning the veteran running back could miss time going forward.
- Chicago Bears (3-8, 4th NFC North): Last week: 25
There was not a whole lot that the Bears could do as they ran right into the buzzsaw known as the Philadelphia Eagles last week. Chicago had little to no playoff aspirations entering this season, and their best case scenario for the rest of the season is to hopefully see improvements from Mitch Trubisky, who has completed just over half his passes this season.
- Miami Dolphins (4-7, 4th AFC East): Last week: 27
After the Patriots dismantled the Dolphins easily in a 35-17 win, Miami has now lost five in a row. Miami ranks 30th in both points for and points against, making it seem like simply reaching four wins is a victory for them. The 4-2 start to the season was a fluke, and now the Dolphins have a greater than 60 percent chance of securing a top ten pick in the draft according to ESPN’s FPI.
- Indianapolis Colts (3-8, 4th AFC South): Last week: 28
With a greater than 80 percent chance of securing a top-five pick in the draft, the Colts aren’t favored to win any of their remaining games. While they did nearly beat the Titans, not much good is going on in Indy. The Colts have one of the league’s thinnest rosters and need a lot of help on both sides of the ball.
- Denver Broncos (3-8, 4th AFC West): Last week: 30
The quarterback carousel in Denver continued in their 21-14 loss to division rival Oakland, as Trevor Siemian took over from Paxton Lynch after the inexperienced second-year passer posted one of the lowest QBRs I have ever seen, 4.3. While Siemian was better in relief, Denver needs to find a long-term answer at the position.
- New York Giants (2-9, 4th NFC East): Last week: 29
Though Big Blue was tied with the Redskins through three quarters, Washington scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to win the most boring game of Thanksgiving. The Giants failed to score an offensive touchdown while gaining just 170 yards of offense. Sterling Shepard’s return could provide a boost, but at this point, there’s no reason to watch this team.
- San Francisco 49ers (1-10, 4th NFC West): Last week: 31
Jimmy Garoppolo saw the field for the first time in a 49ers uniform, scoring the team’s only touchdown with just over a minute remaining in the game. While CJ Beathard has performed admirably this season, it may be time to turn to Jimmy G in the coming weeks as San Francisco hurtles towards a top-three selection in the draft once again.
- Cleveland Browns (0-11, 4th AFC North): Last week: 32
In the words of Baker Mayfield, “stick to basketball” right now if you are a fan of Cleveland sports. The Browns have a 76.1 percent chance of nabbing the first overall pick in the draft for the second year in a row, though the question remains as to what they will do with it. DeShone Kizer was only given a year to play, but he may not be a long-term solution for Cleveland.