For the first time in weeks, there was considerable shifting at the top of the power rankings. With just two of the top seven teams from last week winning games, the NFL’s power balance is all out of whack. As if it couldn’t crazier, the two top teams that did win, the Eagles and Steelers, have problems of their own. MVP front-runner Carson Wentz tore his ACL in the fourth quarter of Philadelphia’s showdown against the Rams, which could spell doom for the Eagles’ playoff hopes. The Steelers lost a star of their own on Sunday Night Football against the Ravens in dynamic linebacker Ryan Shazier, though the fact that they pulled out a 39-38 win at home over a weak Baltimore offense could be more worrisome. With all of this carnage occurring with just three weeks of play remaining, anything is possible.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2, 1st AFC North): Last week: 4
Winners of eight straight games, the Steelers capitalized on the crazy week to jump into the top spot of the rankings for the first time. While Pittsburgh is being called “battle-tested”, the fact that they won just two of those games by more than one touchdown shows chinks in their armor. Look for a hungry Patriots team to make the Steelers’ run at the top a brief stay this Sunday.
- Philadelphia Eagles (11-2, 1st NFC East): Last week: 2
Despite going into LA and outpacing a talented Rams squad, the Eagles’ Super Bowl hopes dissipated as Carson Wentz tore his ACL on a fourth quarter play that wound up getting negated by a penalty. Philly has clinched a playoff spot, but without their star quarterback, this isn’t the same team.
- New England Patriots (10-3, 1st AFC East): Last week: 1
The Patriots failed to take care of business in Miami on Monday Night Football, losing 27-20 to a 10.5 point home underdog as they went 0-11 on third down. Tom Brady posted a miserable passer rating of 59.5, while the Pats gained a mere 25 rushing yards all game. If Belichick and Co. want to secure the top seed in the AFC against Pittsburgh Sunday, they can’t play like that.
- Carolina Panthers (9-4, T-1st NFC South): Last week: 8
By topping the Vikings at home 31-24, the Panthers bolstered their playoff resume. The Panthers ran all over Minnesota’s stout defense, gaining 216 yards and registering three scores on the ground. Though the NFC South division race will be tightly contested, Carolina shouldn’t lose their grip on the wild card spot with three games remaining.
- Minnesota Vikings (10-3, 1st NFC North): Last week: 3
Winning on the road over a playoff-caliber team isn’t an easy thing to do. Carolina gapped the Vikings in the third quarter and Minnesota couldn’t generate the offense to get the W. However, the Vikings need just one win to secure the NFC North crown, and should be able to get it done against the lowly Bengals at home this week.
- Los Angeles Rams (9-4, 1st NFC West): Last week: 5
Coming up just short of a win over the Eagles at home, the Rams didn’t lose their one-game lead on the NFC West as Seattle lost as well. Next week’s matchup in the Rainy City will likely determine which team takes the division crown. However, even with a loss, the Rams should be safely in the wild card.
- Atlanta Falcons (8-5, 3rd NFC South): Last week: 9
The Falcons kept their playoff hopes alive by pulling out a clutch win over the division-leading Saints in Mercedes-Benz Stadium as Deion Jones picked off Drew Brees in the end zone on the game’s final drive. The victory showed that the Falcons aren’t dependent on the arm of Matt Ryan, though it will be hard to chase the Lombardi Trophy when the defending MVP throws three picks.
- New Orleans Saints (9-4, T-1st NFC South): Last week: 6
A rarely-seen careless mistake from Drew Brees with the clock running out cost the Saints an impressive road win over a division rival that would have ensured a playoff spot for the rejuvenated Saints. That wasn’t the only bad news for the Big Easy however, as rookie sensation Alvin Kamara suffered a first-half concussion and could miss time.
- Jacksonville Jaguars (9-4, 1st AFC South): Last week: 10
In a game that saw only three points total scored in the first half but ended in a 30-24 Jaguars win, Blake Bortles showed that he may be ready to take the Jaguars to the next level. Saying that Bortles is even an above-average quarterback would be a controversial statement, but the embattled QB’s 18-of-27, 268 yard and two TD performance powered the Jags to victory.
10.Seattle Seahawks (8-5, 2nd NFC West): Last week: 7
Though they scored 21 points in the third quarter alone, the ‘Hawks couldn’t come up with the win at home, missing out on a key opportunity to pull even with the Rams for the division lead. Russell Wilson continues to remind us how he is a once-in-a-generation player, but he threw three crucial interceptions against Jacksonville.
- Los Angeles Chargers (7-6, T-1st AFC West): Last week: 13
While the Bolts are tied for the division lead, they are the hot hand in the AFC West. Philip Rivers threw for 256 yards in the first half alone as the Chargers built up a commanding lead on the Redskins, making his dark horse MVP candidacy stronger. Having won four games in a row, Los Angeles will play Kansas City in a game with serious implications this Thursday.
- Baltimore Ravens (7-6, 2nd AFC North): Last week: 12
One point away from knocking off their hated rival in Heinz Field, the Ravens put on a surprising show of offense and legitimized their playoff contention. Baltimore ranks eighth in points for and fifth in points against, and with their remaining games against Cleveland, Indianapolis and Cincinnati, their path to the postseason is clear.
- Detroit Lions (7-6, T-2nd NFC North): Last week: 15
The Lions stayed alive on the road, knocking off the Buccaneers in Jameis Winston’s return to the field. Though Matthew Stafford completed 36 of his 44 throws for 381 yards, his two picks kept the Bucs in the game, though a late Matt Prater field goal saved the day for Detroit.
- Tennessee Titans (8-5, 2nd AFC South): Last week: 11
The Titans, owners of a -21 point differential, finally got exposed as not being as good of a squad as their record would indicate. The Tennessee offense appears to be spinning its tires, with Marcus Mariota completing roughly half of his passes and tossing two picks in their 12-7 loss to the hapless Cardinals.
- Buffalo Bills (7-6, 2nd AFC East): Last week: 17
In a football game that no one saw, the Bills emerged from the blizzard with a 13-7 overtime victory over the Colts. Tyrod Taylor’s knee injury meant that the rookie Nathan Peterman got the start, and he did enough to keep the Bills slim playoff hopes alive.
- Kansas City Chiefs (7-6, T-1st AFC West): Last week: 20
After their fall from grace, the Chiefs kept themselves in the hunt by beating the Raiders at home 26-15, setting up next week’s home matchup against the Chargers as a de facto play-in game. Kareem Hunt was the key, as the rookie reclaimed some of his early season magic by gaining 138 all-purpose yards and hitting paydirt once.
- Green Bay Packers (7-6, T-2nd NFC North): Last week: 18
It was very nearly downright embarrassing, but the Pack escaped Cleveland with a comeback overtime win over the winless Browns. However, Aaron Rodgers is set to return for this weekend’s matchup against Carolina, though the road to the postseason is quite steep.
- Dallas Cowboys (7-6, 2nd NFC East): Last week: 16
Dak Prescott had himself a day in New York, going 20-for-30 for 332 yards and three touchdowns without turning the ball over against the Giants. The 30-10 win kept the Cowboys in the hunt for a wildcard, but the chances of them earning it are small.
- Oakland Raiders (6-7, 3rd AFC West): Last week: 14
The Silver and Black lost out on a key chance to get their foot into the postseason door but struggled mightily on offense in Kansas City. The Chiefs ran up a 26-0 lead on the Raiders going into the fourth quarter, and while the end result appeared respectable, Oakland was clearly a notch below.
- Miami Dolphins (6-7, 3rd AFC East): Last week: 21
Who would’ve thought that Jay Cutler would outduel Tom Brady in a primetime game? The veteran signal-caller who had planned to go into the broadcast booth instead of playing football this year has had his ups-and-downs with Miami, but this past week’s win was definitely an “up.”
- Arizona Cardinals (6-7, 3rd NFC West): Last week: 24
The Cardinals continue to fight despite being racked with injuries this year, as left tackle Jared Veldheer was just lost for the season in the win over Tennessee. On the bright side, Larry Fitzgerald continued one of the best seasons of his storied career, passing Randy Moss and moving into third all-time in receiving yards.
- Washington Redskins (5-8, 3rd NFC East): Last week: 23
Though Washington has had the distinction of playing the league’s toughest schedule, they’ve now been beaten up in two straight weeks. Kirk Cousins registered season lows in passing yards (151) and passer rating (68.6) in the loss to Los Angeles, as the frustration of the losing season could be getting to Captain Kirk.
- Chicago Bears (4-9, 4th NFC North): Last week: 29
After a surprising home loss to the 49ers a week ago, the Bears played like an entirely different team as they dismantled the Bengals 33-7 in Cincinnati. Da Bears’ offense was firing on all cylinders, with Mitch Trubisky putting up a passer rating of 112.4 and Jordan Howard rushing for 147 yards and two touchdowns.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9, 4th NFC South): Last week: 25
The Bucs put up a good fight at home against a solid Lions team in Jameis Winston and Doug Martin’s comeback, but they were denied by Matt Prater in the closing seconds of the game. With no playoff hopes, the Bucs need to figure out how to go forward in a crowded NFC South in the future.
- New York Jets (5-8, 4th AFC East): Last week: 19
The comeback season that no NFL fan knew they needed from Josh McCown came to an ignominious end in Denver, as the veteran broke his left hand as the Jets were shut out 23-0. With Bryce Petty now the starter in East Rutherford, what little hope Jets fans had was dashed out.
- San Francisco 49ers (3-10, 4th NFC West): Last week: 28
The 49ers have now won two games in a row on the road, a sentence I never thought I would have to write this season. While those wins have come against the Bears and the Texans, they were surprising nonetheless. Jimmy Garoppolo has been a spark plug and could be Kyle Shanahan’s QB of the future.
- Denver Broncos (4-9, 4th AFC West): Last week: 31
Snapping an eight-game losing streak at home with a shutout victory over the Jets, Denver finally had something to smile about. The Broncos defense finally played up to its caliber, holding a Jets offense that scored 38 points the week before to just 100 total yards.
- Indianapolis Colts (3-10, 4th AFC South): Last week: 27
Though Indy received a clutch 43-yard extra point from Adam Vinatieri to send the snowy matchup in Buffalo to overtime, the veteran kicker’s two missed field goals earlier in the game cost them. The blame can’t fall on the greatest kicker in NFL history, however, as the offense wasn’t coming well to the Colts in the harsh conditions.
- Cincinnati Bengals (5-8, 3rd AFC North): Last week: 22
Going into what should have been an easy contest against the Bears at home with the chance to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Bengals dropped a dud. The Cincinnati secondary was so thin that Marvin Lewis seriously considered inserting ninth overall pick at wide receiver John Ross at corner.
- Houston Texans (4-9, 3rd AFC South): Last week: 26
Overshadowed by how bad the Texans are in the absence of nearly all of their good players, DeAndre Hopkins continues to make his case for Comeback Player of the Year. Now with his third quarterback of the season, Hopkins has season totals of 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns with three games to go.
- New York Giants (2-11, 4th NFC East): Last week: 30
While Eli Manning received a standing ovation from the Giants faithful in his return to the starting lineup, the good feeling was short-lived as the Cowboys coasted by their rivals. Eli was mediocre again, but at least he wasn’t Geno Smith-level.
- Cleveland Browns (0-13, 4th AFC North): Last week: 32
Oh, Cleveland. They were so close to getting their first win of the season but blew a 14 point lead in the fourth quarter as the Packers grabbed an overtime win. The Browns best shot at a win is a Week 16 away date with Chicago.