Outside of maybe March Madness, this might be my favorite time of the year. The last three weeks of the NFL’s regular season. All the playoff and division races that lead to incredibly fierce games. We are also at the point where we have a pretty good idea of who are the elite teams, who are the playoff contenders and who are the pretenders.
This week taught us a lot about contenders and pretenders. The Patriots smack the Texans around in front of a national audience, the Bears starting their annual late season collapse and the Bucs joined the pretenders club after blowing an 11 point lead at home in the fourth quarter against an Eagles team that was riding an 8 game losing streak.
Here this week’s power rankings:
1) New England Patriots (10-3)- I have been tempted to put this team at number one for a while. Monday night’s game gave me no choice.
2) Denver Broncos (10-3)- Peyton Manning never played with a defense this good. I didn’t buy the Super Bowl hype right after Manning signed here, but I buy it now. Why shouldn’t the AFC go through Peyton Manning and the Patriots?
3) Houston Texans (11-2) National TV has not been kind to the Texans. High powered offenses have been even worse. Still, they control their own destiny for home field advantage in the AFC.
4) San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1)- They are less efficient with Colin Kaepernick in at quarterback, but at the same time they are more dangerous.
5) Green Bay Packers (9-4)- They are starting to hit their stride late in the season just as some key players are getting healthy.
6) Atlanta Falcons (11-2)- This defense is far too soft to take them serious right now. They have first round exit written all over them, again.
7) Baltimore Ravens (9-4)- The firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron had to be done. His offense was stale and predictable. If Jim Caldwell can fix that, this team is a serious Super Bowl contender.
8) Seattle Seahawks (8-5)- This is the time of year where we should be looking at teams who are catching fire. I think last week’s victory against Arizona counts as being on fire. Let’s see if they can beat the 49ers in a game that should decide the division.
9) Indianapolis Colts (9-4)- Same old Colts. Elite quarterback, not an elite defense. Offense gives them a chance to win each week. There is nothing Andrew Luck can do from here on out to disappoint the fans if they make the playoffs. Should play with nothing to lose come January.
10) New York Giants (8-5)- The bad news, the Giants play the Falcons and Ravens on the road before finishing the year against the Eagles at home. The good news, the rest of the division could be without key players (Dez Bryant, RG3, entire OL for Eagles).
11) Minnesota Vikings (7-6)- Adrian Peterson is the MVP. Without him, the Vikings are a 4-12 team. With him, they might just be a playoff team.
12) Chicago Bears (8-5)- The Bears aren’t quite as impressive when they play playoff caliber teams. Doesn’t make them an ideal threat come January.
13) Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)- Last season the Bengals beat everyone outside of Pittsburgh and Baltimore and were able to sneak into the playoffs. This year they will have to beat Pittsburgh and Baltimore in order to make the playoffs.
14) Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6)- I don’t know what happened last week against the hopeless Chargers. Now they are two games back to the Ravens for the division and tied with the Bengals for that final playoff spot in the AFC.
15) Washington Redskins (7-6)-Robert Griffin III is out so this time is done right? Not so fast, Kirk Cousins is the real deal. He did beat the Ravens didn’t he?
16) Cleveland Browns (5-8)- Suprised? They are 5-3 in their last 8 and are getting better each week. They win ugly if they need to. Not out of playoff race just yet.
17) Dallas Cowboys (7-6)- Unless the Giants go undefeated against the Falcons, Ravens and Eagles, the Cowboys control their own destiny for the playoffs. It’s now or never for head coach Jason Garrett.
18) St. Louis Rams (6-6-1)- They are in the thick of things in the wildcard race. Their tie against the 49ers means they won’t have to deal with tiebreakers. A 9-6-1 finish might be good enough to sneak into the playoffs. All three of their final games are against teams in the wildcard race, but not in just yet.
19) New Orleans Saints (5-8)- They have come short as of late in some big games and will be on the outside looking in.
20) Tampa Bay Bucs (6-7)- Tampa Bay absolutely blew their playoff hopes on Sunday. You can’t blow a double digit fourth quarter lead to a team that has made a living of doing exactly that.
21) San Diego Chargers (5-8)- This team is a nightmare for anyone who tries to predict what they are going to do next.
22) Detroit Lions (4-9)- This team is in serious need of some veterans that know how to finish games.
23) Miami Dolphins (5-8)- The Dolphins are doing much better than we all thought they would do. A lot to build on for next season.
24) New York Jets (6-7)- The Jets are only one game out of the playoffs, but that is very misleading. They were 4-7 two weeks ago before they were blessed with Arizona and Jacksonville on their schedule. The funny thing is they don’t play another team with a realistic shot at making the playoffs over the final three games.
25) Buffalo Bills (5-8)- A good quarterback would do wonders for this team. I can’t imagine how many points Ryan Fitzpatrick has left on the field with his turnovers and missed open receivers.
26) Carolina Panthers (4-9)- The Panthers are becoming one of those bad teams that plays well down the stretch and saves their coaches job.
27) Tennessee Titans (4-9)- There is potential with this offense, but the defense has been bad enough to keep them out of most games.
28) Philadelphia Eagles (4-9)- They dump the wide-9 defense and make Nick Foles the starting quarterback for the remainder of the season and all of the sudden this team isn’t terrible. They should be a scary spoiler against the Bengals, Redskins and Giants.
29) Kansas City Chiefs (2-11)- I can’t say they are the worst team in the NFL anymore. A good quarterback could make them a 6 to 9 win team.
30) Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11)- They just can’t seem to get that offense to play consistent football. Might have something to do with that quarterback position.
31) Arizona Cardinals (4-9)- This team was once 4-0. 4-0! It’s amazing what 9 weeks of dreadful offense and no pass protection can do.
32) Oakland Raiders (3-10)- I would say giving up the most points in the NFL and being outscored by 154 points through the first 13 games would earn you the honor of being the worst team in the NFL.