Have 12 weeks already passed in the 2016 NFL season? That’s what the schedule says. The playoff picture is becoming clearer, as a handful of teams are emerging as true contenders, while others still look questionable. Which ones aren’t just playoff hopefuls, but have a shot at the Super Bowl?
Take the analysis, previews, breakdowns and smack talk, and it boils down to a simple hierarchy: If any two given teams played, who would win? That’s what fans really want to know, that’s what power rankings are all about, and that’s how the 32 NFL teams are slotted here each week.
32. Cleveland Browns
If they don’t beat Cincinnati this week, it’s hard to find a win for the winless Browns.
— NFL (@NFL) November 27, 2016
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags’ super-talented defense is finally showing flashes of playing the way they should have been playing all season long. However, it’s still only flashes, and the offense is a long way off. They’re 2-9, and the two wins were by a combined four points against two teams in the bottom seven of this list. Woof.
30. Chicago Bears
You have to give journeyman (is he old enough to be a journeyman?) quarterback Matt Barkley credit: He put on a real show against the Tennessee Titans. But there’s only so much Barkley (or any other Bear) can do. The defense is decimated by injuries and the offense hasn’t been good enough, no matter who’s under center.
29. Cincinnati Bengals
Brutal. Even if injuries hadn’t started piling up, the Bengals hadn’t shown signs of life in many, many weeks. They’re sleepwalking towards a deeply disappointing finish.
28. Los Angeles Rams
Rookie quarterback Jared Goff threw for three touchdowns in his second game — but don’t get too excited, because the Rams still lost to the New Orleans Saints by 28 points. At this point, “7-9 b******” is more of an aspiration.
27. New York Jets
A huge home performance against the New England Patriots would have earned them more spots if, yanno, they hadn’t blown about 15 chances to put the game away. There’s still plenty of talent on this roster, but there’s something preventing it from jelling.
26. Indianapolis Colts
That excellent performance against the streaking Tennessee Titans was apparently an ignorable blip. The Colts were put into their place by the Pittsburgh Steelers — their place way down this list.
— NFL (@NFL) November 27, 2016
25. San Francisco 49ers
I honestly want to put the 49ers much higher. They gave the Patriots a game and the Miami Dolphins all they could handle. Colin Kaepernick finally looks like the dual-threat juggernaut we remember from a few years back. That’ll be enough to keep them more competitive than their roster (or record) deserves.
24. Houston Texans
When J.J. Watt re-aggravated his back injury, it looked like the Texans’ explosive pass offense was going to have to carry the defense. Instead, the defense has had to put the clamp on opponent after opponent while waiting for quarterback Brock Osweiler to put up points.
They’ve put up an average of just 17.2 points over the past five games.
23. Arizona Cardinals
What is going on with this team? What is going on with Carson Palmer? A Super Bowl bid came off the table a long time ago, and now even a playoff berth is all but impossible. Head coach Bruce Arians is calling out his players in the media, and we’ll see how they respond the rest of the way — not to mention next season, when it’s do or die for this squad.
— DLineVids (@DLineVids) November 28, 2016
22. San Diego Chargers
Elderly quarterback Philip Rivers remains dangerous on offense, and rookie defensive end Joey Bosa looks like he’s going to be a monster on the other side of the ball. But this squad squandered too many opportunities early, and don’t have many left.
21. Baltimore Ravens
One of a series of teams that’s hard to make heads or tails of, the 6-5 Ravens boast one of the league’s best defenses. But amidst another down year from Joe Flacco, it’s hard to feel any more confident than this in their prospects going forward.
20. Green Bay Packers
What?! Don’t the Packers get any credit for being the first team to go into Philadelphia and leave with a win? Yes, they do — but this is the first real sign of life from this squad in two months. If they look impressive against Houston this week, we’ll talk.
19. Carolina Panthers
Okay, it’s probably unfair to put the Panthers one spot ahead of the Packers based on *almost* beating the Raiders, but since their Week 7 bye the Panthers are 3-2 — and both of those losses were nail-biters against two of the AFC’s best.
18. Tennessee Titans
The narrative of the first half of the Titans’ season was a middling defense pulling along a plodding offense. The defense is still middling, but the offense is now ranked seventh in scoring. A bye this week helps them recover and prepare for two really tough games (DEN, @KCC) before closing with two decisive divisional ones (@JAX, HOU).
17. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have been very near the top of this list and very near the bottom over the course of the season. The result is a mid-pack ranking I don’t feel happy about. At 6-5, they’re tied with the Ravens for the AFC North lead — but that comes after whomping the winless Browns and the Luckless Colts. This team is 13th in scoring offense, 10th in scoring defense and somehow sixth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, but they haven’t beaten a good team since the Kansas City Chiefs way back in Week 4.
16. Philadelphia Eagles
It may be time to extinguish the torch I’ve been carrying for this team. They’d been undefeated at home, and 1-5 against a road slate comprised almost entirely of playoff teams (losses against Detroit, Washington, Dallas, the Giants, and Seattle). All the numbers said this was still one of the best teams in the NFC, if not the NFL. But a Monday Night Football home whuppin’ at the hands of the Packers snuffs out any notion that young Carson Wentz is about to Young Roethlisberger this team to the Super Bowl.
15. Minnesota Vikings
A win over the Cardinals snapped a four-game slide, and they took the team they’re chasing for the division lead to the final seconds of a national showcase road game. The Vikings are better than bad — but are they good?
14. New Orleans Saints
The Saints have a defensive line that’s playing really well, and a secondary that’s starting to get some turnovers. They’re still technically ranked 30th in scoring defense at 27.9 points per game allowed, but over the last six games that number’s been much lower: an average of 23.2. Meanwhile, Drew Brees is still capable of hanging a 50-burger on anybody. The Saints are going to be a tough out down the stretch, especially at home.
Tannehill was good on 3rd down today. pic.twitter.com/nZiFTOLeNZ
— Eric (@EricElizondo8) November 28, 2016
13. Miami Dolphins
I originally had the Dolphins ranked a few spots lower, and the first sentence I wrote to explain myself was “they should probably be higher.” So!
The Dolphins’ six-win streak is impressive in and of itself, even if their wins haven’t exactly been flawless triumphs over the best the league has to offer. But Ryan Tannehill has leveled up several times over the course of the season, and the defense is playing much better than before the bye.
12. Detroit Lions
Matthew Stafford has seven fourth-quarter comebacks and seven game-winning drives in seven wins, tying Peyton Manning’s single-season record (2000). The Lions have five games left to play, and the defense is finally getting healthy and figuring things out. Too bad they face one of the hardest stretch runs in the league.
11. New York Giants
Playtime’s over. I’ve been ringing the warning bells on this team for weeks, and the 0-12 Browns were very nearly the 1-11 Browns at the Giants’ expense. Now they go on the road to Pittsburgh to start a vicious five-game stretch.
— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) November 27, 2016
10. Buffalo Bills
The Bills have the No. 8 scoring offense, No. 12 scoring defense and since their Week 10 bye have been catching the breaks that weren’t breaking their way. How they perform at Oakland this week will either prove me right for putting them this high, or shove them down about 10 spots.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs, everyone just realized, have won five of their last seven — and one of those losses was a miraculous overtime comeback by one of the tippity-top teams on this list. Jameis Winston is coming into his own, and this defense is a completely different unit than the one that began the year.
8. Denver Broncos
It’s a struggle when ranking teams that have been at the top, but are currently faltering against teams that have been at the bottom, yet are on a tear. The Broncos gave the Chiefs all they could handle, but that was quarterback Trevor Siemian’s first good game since September. The Broncos will have to be every bit this good (and maybe even better) if they want to make the playoffs out of the AFC West.
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) November 22, 2016
Yes, Washington moved up after a loss, but that’s what happens when you go into the house of the league’s most dominant team and take them down to the wire. Kirk Cousins is playing great football right now, and it’s easy to see them winning at least three or four of their next five.
5. New England Patriots
These guys haven’t won impressively since before Halloween. Yes, they’re still gutting out wins despite injuries and flatness on both sides of the ball, but they do not look like a juggernaut right now.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
What an enormous win for Alex Smith and company. They’ve set the bar very high for themselves — and they’ll need to, because there’s no room for error in the AFC West. They’re 6-1 since their early bye, and in great shape for the stretch run.
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) November 27, 2016
4. Atlanta Falcons
These guys let up a ton of points, and the loss of Desmond Trufant will be devastating when they’re not playing a quarterback who’s struggling as much as Carson Palmer is right now. But this offense is historically great, and the defense consistently gets enough turnovers to ensure the Falcons always score last.
3. Seattle Seahawks
I’m giving them a pass for the Bucs thing. I’d still favor them over just about anybody, just about anywhere.
2. Oakland Raiders
What can you say about the job Jack Del Rio has done? Derek Carr is playing out of his mind, and this Raiders team has plenty of ability, identity and swagger… just like it used to be.
— Home Field Advantage (@_WeDemBoyz_) November 25, 2016
1. Dallas Cowboys
They’re the best team in their division, the best team in football, and nobody’s beating them without some sort of Professor Quirrel-like magical intervention. The only question is when they start resting their starters.