As the playoff contenders begin to distinguish themselves entering Week 11, there are a slew of teams who have the most to gain with a victory on Sunday.
Everyone's situation is different, and while every game should be considered a must-win at this point in the season, there are some franchises at more of a critical juncture than others. Multiple coaching jobs are even on the line.
This edition of NFL power rankings will focus on those who will figure much more prominently in the postseason picture assuming they can scratch out a "W".
1. Houston Texans (8-1)
With a commanding lead in the AFC South and a home matchup with last-place Jacksonville, the Texans should at least maintain their current two-game lead—and likely extend it with the Colts playing the Patriots.
This is the most complete team in football, and they should keep their roll going with a victory over the Jags on Sunday.
2. Atlanta Falcons (8-1)
With a firm hold still on the NFC South and the No. 1 seed in the conference in light of the injury to Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler, the Falcons are fine despite the close loss to New Orleans last week. Look for a bounce back at home against Arizona.
3. Baltimore Ravens (7-2)
Since they were blown out by the Texans, the Ravens have a ton to gain from a win in Pittsburgh on Sunday night if they want to keep pace. Assuming Houston wins and Baltimore loses, the Ravens would essentially fall behind three games for the top seed in the AFC.
Not to mention, the AFC North rival Steelers are just one game behind. Baltimore's leaky defense must capitalize on the absence of Ben Roethlisberger and dynamic receiver Antonio Brown to pull out a road victory.
The problem is, it will likely be a low-scoring slug fest since Dick LeBeau's defense hasn't let up in spite of some key injuries.
The game must be put in Ray Rice's capable hands, rather than those of quarterback Joe Flacco.
If they can do that, John Harbaugh's crew has an inside track to the division crown and still an outside shot at premium home field advantage in the postseason.
4. San Francisco 49ers (6-2-1)
Speaking of Harbuaghs, Jim's Niners have a pivotal NFC clash themselves with the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football. Their starting QB is likely to play, while it's been confirmed that Jay Cutler will be out of action.
Beating the Bears would give San Fran a narrow half-game lead in the race for the second seed, and would widen the slim margin in the NFC West with the idle Seattle Seahawks, who sit at 6-4.
It will be important for the Niners to grab the division crown in any regard because they don't want to have to make a trip to CenturyLink Field in the opening round of the playoffs. But the team has a golden opportunity at home to shoot higher than that by beating Chicago.
Going up against Jason Campbell should help their cause immensely.
5. Green Bay Packers (6-3)
Coming off of a bye, the Packers will take their four-game winning streak to Detroit in a game that will define the NFC North race. It will either shove the Lions to the bottom and into a nearly insurmountable hole, or it could be the beginning of Green Bay taking charge as the superior team.
A road win against a division rival is huge any way you cut it, but this one would be especially significant in terms of playoff position for the rising Pack.
QB Aaron Rodgers has been on a tear recently, and an extra week to prepare for a familiar opponent should result in another stellar outing. But his counterpart Matthew Stafford is known for rallying his Lions in the most desperate of times, so it will take a full 60-minute effort for the Packers to win in Ford Field.
If Green Bay can pull it out somehow and the Bears lose on Monday, the Packers would overtake the lead in the North thanks to a tiebreaking victory over Chicago in Week 2.
6. Chicago Bears (7-2)
The team wouldn't be so low if not for the injury to Cutler. However, that's too substantial to overlook despite how phenomenal the defense has been—and how many points the unit has scored.
A tough task at Candlestick Park looms. At least Jason Campbell has an extra week to prepare for one of the toughest draws he could ask for in his first start with his new 2012 team.
If Chicago somehow pulls out this game, it would be a huge launching point for the rest of the regular season. It would prove that the Bears can win even without Cutler—who has won 12 of his last 13 starts—and maintain the team's one game lead in the division.
It would also widen the gap between them and the Niners for the second seed in the NFC. Fewer teams have more to gain—and less to lose in terms of the QB position—than the Bears this week.
7. Denver Broncos (6-3)
Peyton Manning is having an unbelievable year back from the multiple neck surgeries that kept him out of football in 2011. But defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has the defense playing extremely well in his own right. That concoction has Denver as one of the league's hottest teams.
In a rematch of Week 6's Monday night thriller against San Diego—which ultimately netted the Broncos a de facto three-game lead courtesy of the head-to-head tiebreaker—it won't matter much if Manning and company pull it out or not.
I wouldn't expect Denver to lose, but with such an easy schedule remaining, a letdown here wouldn't be the end of the world.
8. Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
This team is just scratching the surface for how good it can be. Their bye week comes at a time where Pete Carroll's exciting, incredibly athletic team has reeled off two home victories. As rookie signal caller Russell Wilson keeps improving, the Seahawks will only get better with one of the NFL's elite defenses.
9. New England Patriots (6-3)
The AFC East crown isn't exactly in jeopardy for the Pats. Considering the championship experience on this team led by QB Tom Brady, New England won't blow the division and will thus host a playoff game in some capacity.
In Foxboro on Sunday, the opposing Colts have much more to gain from victory.
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-4)
Greg Schiano's team faced the Panthers in Week 1 and squeaked by for a 16-10 home triumph. This one's in Carolina, and it will be interesting to see how the first-year head coach handles the first instance of facing a division rival for the second time in a season.
The perception of both teams has changed drastically since they first met—overwhelmingly in favor of the Bucs. With what is now one of the best offenses in all of football across the board, Tampa will simply have to find a way to prevent Cam Newton from going bananas in the passing game.
That may be easier said than done for the Bucs' maligned secondary, but Newton hasn't exactly been impressive. He is mired in the dreaded "sophomore slump".
With a victory, the Bucs can move by the Vikings but not the Seahawks for the No. 6 spot. But knotting Seattle in terms of pure record at 6-4 would be invaluable moving forward.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3)
The aforementioned vital AFC North tilt with the Ravens should lend itself to an extremely physical, throwback sort of contest. It would be ideal for the Steelers to win without their starting QB and No. 2 wide receiver, but it may be too much to ask.
Then again, the Baltimore defense isn't what it once was and has had to deal with many crippling injuries as well. Overtaking the division lead with a win would be a big boost for this team, which is in need of some good news.
It would also sell the home crowd on the fact that this team will be fine no matter what. At the rate that the Steelers win, the people of Pittsburgh probably have that mindset already.
But it would further fortify the notion of Mike Tomlin as one of the premier coaches in football—and serve notice to the rest of the league that the Steelers are going nowhere no matter what.
12. Indianapolis Colts (6-3)
The CHUCKSTRONG momentum and Andrew Luck have driven this Colts team as the most surprising—and inspiring—storyline of the 2012 season.
It's amazing what having the right quarterback can do for a franchise, and after one year of incompetence at the position, Indy snagged Luck.
But there is still plenty for this team to prove, and it starts on Sunday in New England. If the Colts can somehow steal one in that environment and Luck can stand toe-to-toe with Tom Brady, it would establish Indy as a legitimate force to be reckoned with.
Additionally, if Jacksonville somehow pulls out the upset of the year over the Texans on the road, the Colts would find themselves just one game out of the AFC South race.
Even the most optimistic of outsiders, insiders or die-hard fans could have only predicted the Colts as a wild-card team at best. But who saw a potential division title this immediate in the organization's future?
13. Minnesota Vikings (6-4)
QB Christian Ponder overcame what was a horrendous stretch of games during the Vikings' four-game losing streak to rebound with an efficient performance at home against Detroit last Sunday.
That led to the Vikings getting off the mat and back from the edge of the abyss. Minnesota was in a state of perpetual decline after a hot start, but now looks to be back in gear entering the Week 11 bye.
14. New York Giants (6-4)
If the Cowboys are able to defeat the lowly Browns at home on Sunday, New York's lead in the NFC East will suddenly dwindle to one game. The Giants need to figure out what is wrong on the bye week before they are totally bypassed in the division and the playoff picture.
15. Cincinnati Bengals (4-5)
Which Bengals team is going to show up against the Chiefs? Better yet, which Chiefs team is going to show up at Arrowhead Stadium?
Kansas City has taken both AFC North powerhouses Pittsburgh and Baltimore down to the wire this year, and the Bengals are perceptibly not as good as those two. That said, if the Bengals play like they just did at home against the Giants, they are capable of beating anyone—especially one of the NFL's worst teams.
If Cincinnati can climb back to .500, the playoffs are definitely back in play. The overmatched-on-paper Colts and undermanned Steelers could easily lose this weekend, which would put the Bengals only one game out of the wild-card spot.
As ugly as things looked just ahead of last Sunday, the Bengals are a classic case of how quickly things can change in the NFL.
16. New Orleans Saints (4-5)
A goal line stand against the previously undefeated Falcons will have to provide a boost to this historically putrid defense. Even the outstanding efforts of Drew Brees won't be able to carry this team to the playoffs in the NFC if the defense keeps on pace to allow the most yards in league history.
17. Dallas Cowboys (4-5)
A victory over Cleveland would pull the Cowboys within one game of the Giants in the division. Matters are made easier with the questionable status of Browns' CB Joe Haden (h/t ESPN), and it could lead to a big day for Tony Romo and the Cowboys' aerial attack.
Yet Dallas definitely needs a more balanced offense to put together a sustainable strain of games and emerge victorious in the NFC East.
As resilient as the Giants have been, there's no telling what they'll do. It will be pivotal for the Cowboys to control their own destiny late in the year, and winning over one of the NFL's bottom five teams would go a long way in accomplishing that.
Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron has had an extra week to prepare for the sometimes erratic Romo, though, and the Browns have been competitive in nearly every game to date.
The Cowboys must avoid being the topic of Week 11's upset special and take care of business at home.
18. Detroit Lions (4-5)
If the Lions can't win on Sunday at home against the Packers, it will too late for them to make up ground in the NFC North or the wild-card race.
But if Detroit is able to pull this one out, it would change the whole complexion of the division. An improved defense got shredded in both dimensions by the Vikings last week, but home cooking may be just what this team needs right now.
The Lions have frequently made mental errors and dug themselves early holes that have been nearly impossible to climb out of. Couple that with a tough early schedule, and it's easy to see how Jim Schwartz's club got to this point.
The comeback ability of QB Matthew Stafford always gives this team hope no matter what the score is, and Mikel Leshoure has helped the running game at least a little bit in recent weeks.
With a season-best performance and a limiting of penalties and turnovers, the Lions could easily beat the Pack at home. This is truly a crossroads game if there ever were one.
19. St. Louis Rams (3-5-1)
Danny Amendola's return to the lineup as receiver helped both phases of the offense in Week 10's bizarre tie in San Francisco. Had the Rams won, it seems the playoffs could be at least a possibility.
Unfortunately, the Niners and Seahawks are just too good and won't allow the Rams to finish higher than third in the division. Things look promising for 2013 under Jeff Fisher, though.
20. San Diego Chargers (4-5)
Few teams have more to gain in Week 11 with a victory than the Chargers.
Norv Turner's head coaching job is definitely dependent on the success of this team, and a redemptive victory over the division-leading Broncos would be a huge morale boost.
The problem is, Pro Bowl QB Philip Rivers tends to be a turnover machine at the most inopportune times, and the Chargers have an unimpressive collection of 2012 wins: twice against Kansas City, once over Oakland and a blowout over Tennessee.
None of those teams are better than two games below .500. A quality, signature victory is a desperate need for Turner's job security. It will also make or break whether this team can make a run at the playoffs with yet another second half spurt.
21. Tennessee Titans (4-6)
The 37-3 victory over Miami doesn't look quite as impressive in light of Thursday night's game. Nevertheless, Jake Locker is back for the Titans, and looks more and more like the franchise QB they thought they drafted in 2011.
22. Buffalo Bills (4-6)
Ryan Fitzpatrick seems to be making better decisions with the football, and it's paying off. The defense is also showing signs of life after massive disappointments early on. It may be too little too late for the Bills this year.
But to think, if they could have pulled out a victory in Foxboro in Week 10—heck, they probably should have—Buffalo would have suddenly been separated by just one game from AFC East leading New England.
23. Washington Redskins (3-6)
Defenses are starting to figure out Robert Griffin III somehow, and Skins' secondary has been awful all year long. Unless the Week 10 bye brought some drastic improvement to that area, Washington won't be able to think about making serious noise in the playoffs even with a win over Philly.
24. Arizona Cardinals (4-5)
As bad as the Cardinals have looked in dropping five straight games, there's still an outside shot at the playoffs thanks to their strong defense.
But until the quarterback play improves, it's hard to make a case that Arizona will turn this thing around after falling so far from what looked to be a breakout 2012 campaign early on.
25. Philadelphia Eagles (3-6)
A ray of hope exists in the NFC East thanks to the recently imploding Giants. With such an awful offensive line and rookie Nick Foles starting at QB now, though, it seems the trials and tribulations of this talented team are destined to continue.
26. Miami Dolphins (4-6)
The past two games have been straight up ugly for Joe Philbin's bunch. Ryan Tannehill is backpedaling despite playing in his college offense, and Reggie Bush is being shut down in the running game.
The former No. 1 ranked run defense is also getting gashed. None of this is a recipe for a playoff push in Miami.
27. New York Jets (3-6)
He is going to be 26 years old before the start of the 2013 season. His window to pancake linebackers, throw questionable short passes and phenomenal deep passes is closing. As is the time frame in which he can be a personal protector on the punt team.
The time for Tebow Time is dwindling by the day, and for the sake of everyone's sanity, the Jets must plug Tim Tebow into the starting quarterback spot—even if it drives them insane to do so.
End of story. The season is over. Just do it. Please.
28. Oakland Raiders (3-6)
The defense is just atrocious. Poor Carson Palmer is stuck with no running game, no defense and a bunch of inexperienced but explosive receivers. He is doing well under the circumstances, but the Raiders have too much to overcome to get back into the playoff conversation.
29. Carolina Panthers (2-7)
That whole full-page ad for the Super Bowl thing didn't work out so well. An improved defense got shredded by Peyton Manning last week, and Cam Newton continues to look ordinary for a No. 1 overall pick.
30. Cleveland Browns (2-7)
Let's see if Pat Shurmur continues to force rookie QB Brandon Weeden to pass the ball at an alarming rate to a slew of inexperienced skills players. He might have to anyway, with the Browns taking on the suddenly contending Dallas Cowboys in Week 11 and liable to play from behind.
31. Kansas City Chiefs (1-8)
As Thursday night clearly defined, the Chiefs have so much talent but too much of a penchant for turning the ball over. Matt Cassel's overtime interception epitomized the state of the Chiefs' season and franchise at this point. Expect big changes to come in KC.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8)
With or without Maurice Jones-Drew, this year has been a disaster for first-year owner Shad Khan. Another arduous head coaching stint for Mike Mularkey may not even last another season. It's a mess in northern Florida for the Jags.
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