Have the Broncos improved enough to take down the Texans?
Following an exciting weekend of games, NFL fans are reminded how close many of the lesser teams are to those higher up in the power rankings. But as the bad teams continue to lose close games the playoff picture is beginning to take shape.
There are a few teams that will make a stretch run, and a few that could have been factors that have fallen out of the race.
Monday's game will also dictate the direction of the NFC North and NFC West as those division leaders square off.
One team will gain separation from the division contenders, which will also impact the Wild Card races.
Here is how the NFL stands headed into Monday night.
1. Houston Texans (9-1)
A balanced offense and defense makes a team difficult to beat. But a one-win team almost did just that on Sunday.
The Texans need to rebound against the Detroit Lions next week.
2. Denver Broncos (7-3)
I don't care as much about records as I do how teams are performing. Denver is a much better team now than they were in Week 4 and they could be my favorite to reach the Super Bowl.
For all the fans that didn't want Peyton Manning, how does he look now?
3. Green Bay Packers (7-3)
The Packers escaped with a win over Detroit and basically eliminated the Lions in the NFC. The effort moves them up a spot in this week’s rankings.
4. Atlanta Falcons (9-1)
A few Falcons fans didn’t like seeing their team below the Broncos in my power rankings last week. Today they are likely too preoccupied being relieved their team pulled out the win over Arizona to care about pointless rankings.
Their schedule down the stretch looks harder each week. A 10-6 finish is a big stretch, but not out of the question.
Atlanta drops a spot because of the performance against the Cardinals. It may seem odd that Green Bay barely beats a 4-5 team and moves up, only to have the Falcons drop a spot while doing the same. The difference is Atlanta was at home and the Lions are playing much better than Arizona as of late.
5. Baltimore Ravens (8-2)
I thought we would see the Ravens stumble with their injury issues, but it hasn't happened. Instead they were the beneficiaries of a Steeler team in dire need of Ben Roethlisberger.
It would be a major upset for the Ravens to not secure the AFC North. Now they just need to fight off New England and Denver for playoff seeding.
6. San Francisco 49ers (6-2-1)
San Francisco and Chicago remain static thus far pending the outcome of the Monday night game. A 49er win won’t mean much without Jay Cutler in the lineup. A loss will have dire consequences.
Who wins the NFC North?
7. Chicago Bears (7-2)
The Bears have some work to do in the coming seven weeks. They start a tough run of games without Jay Cutler, as they visit the 49ers.
8. New England Patriots (7-3)
The Patriots jumped the idle Seahawks this week by virtue of a dominating win over the Andrew Lucks.
The loss of Rob Gronkowski could have them falling next week if Seattle can finally win another game on the road.
9. Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
Many coaches say injured players don’t lose their starting spots while they are out. That doesn’t hold in power rankings, as the idle Seahawks drop behind a team they beat earlier in the season.
The only thing holding Pete Carroll’s team back is their terrible road record. Well, they aren’t quite that bad, but they need to win two of their final three road games to be considered legit.
Teams have to win on the road in the regular season or the playoffs to get very far.
10. Minnesota Vikings (6-4)
The Vikings will be intriguing down the stretch. Will we see the Vikings team that tamed the Lions or the one that was pillaged by the Buccaneers?
Minnesota is challenged in the wild card race. They have losses to the Seahawks and Tampa Bay, two teams in the thick of the race.
11. New Orleans Saints (5-5)
I know, the Saints aren’t a winning team. But is there any doubt they’d beat most teams in the NFL right now? The next two teams will be able to answer that question in coming weeks.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-4)
Yes, Tampa Bay has a better record, but they lost to the Saints. I was prepared to move them further up the charts but an overtime win against Carolina didn’t impress me as much as it could have.
13. Dallas Cowboys (5-5)
I went against my lesser judgment and said nice things about the Cowboys last week. I spoke of how they had a favorable schedule and would make a stretch-run and catch the struggling New York Football Giants.
This is how they respond? They need overtime to beat Cleveland?
Who wins the NFC East?
CLEVELAND! I haven’t given up on the Cowboys winning the NFC East but they have to be more convincing against two-win teams.
14. New York Giants (6-4)
The Giants’ bye week couldn’t have come at a better time. Well, two weeks earlier would have been better, but it is still a good time.
After beating the 49ers the Giants have struggled and Eli Manning has made fans try to remember the name of their backup quarterback.
They come back in Week 12 against the Packers while Dallas gets the Redskins. The division race could be locked up this time next week.
15. Indianapolis Colts (6-4)
Oops. It is one thing to lose. It is quite another to get blown out 59-24.
At least they get an opportunity to rebound against the Buffalo Bills next week.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4)
This team’s season could be derailed by injuries. If Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t get back in the lineup the Steelers will have a tough road.
If Byron Leftwich is also sidelined, life gets particularly challenging.
Steelers Injury Update: QB Byron Leftwich is being evaluated for a rib injury.— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) November 19, 2012
They could still manage a 10-6 season with their defense and ground game. That may not get them in the playoffs, though.
Their week 16 game against the Bengals could decide the final Wild Card team.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (5-5)
For some reason there were predictions the Bengals would have some kind of a letdown this weekend after their big win over the Giants. I didn’t get it and said their game against the Kansas City Chiefs was one of the biggest value bets of the weekend.
They have the Steelers in their sights and are on the verge of making the playoffs for the second time with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green.
18. Buffalo Bills (4-6)
Mario Williams looked like Super Mario for the first time this season in Buffalo’s win over Miami. Their schedule is favorable and could lead to a winning season.
The playoffs are a bit of a stretch, though, as they would need to win out to do it.
19. Tennessee Titans (4-6)
The Titans got some momentum going and then entered their bye week. It is too little, too late, though, as they can’t afford another loss.
20. Detroit Lions (4-6)
The Lions gave it a run, but they couldn’t take down the Packers and keep their playoff hopes alive.
21. Washington Redskins (4-6)
The Redskins figured out what they needed to do to get back on track. Let Robert Griffin III throw the ball a few times, run it almost as many and have the Eagles pay a visit.
While they are a long-shot, the Redskins are still alive for the playoffs. Three of their last six games are against the Cowboys and Giants.
Win those three and a few more and they are in the mix.
22. San Diego Chargers (4-6)
The score would lead one to believe the Chargers were in the game with the Broncos but it never felt that way. Denver showed they are clearly the best team in the AFC West and the Chargers have become an afterthought.
There is too much talent on this team to be 4-6.
23. Arizona Cardinals (4-6)
The Cardinals reminded everyone they can still play defense, but their offense still has an issue or two.
24. New York Jets (4-6)
Two days ago I thought the Jets’ locker room was in chaos and the team would crumble. They showed a lot of heart on Sunday with a road win over the Rams.
Apologies, and congratulations to the team and their fans.
25. Miami Dolphins (4-6)
The Dolphins have the Seahawks, Patriots and 49ers coming up on the schedule. A 5-11 finish is a real possibility.
26. St. Louis Rams (3-6-1)
Rams fans thought I was a bit rough last week, saying they would win ugly against the Jets. They also didn’t like me mentioning that Sam Bradford is yet to prove he’s a better prospect than Robert Griffin III.
Turns out I need to apologize to Jets fans. Mark Sanchez had more yards than Bradford on less than half the attempts.
27. Oakland Raiders (3-7)
Another week, another loss for the Raiders. They still have time to make the season respectable and a schedule that should allow several more wins.
28. Philadelphia Eagles (3-7)
If Michael Vick missed the rest of the season, would Eagles fans care? At this point would they notice?
Nick Foles showed the issues go beyond one position. He had three fumbles on Sunday, although none were lost, and threw a pair of picks making fans feel like it was business as usual.
29. Carolina Panthers (2-8)
Carolina had an impressive game against Tampa Bay but came up short. That has been the story of the year.
30. Cleveland Browns (2-8)
Speaking of teams coming up just short in an overtime game, Cleveland continues to lose close games. They have some building blocks for next season.
Panthers, Browns, Jags all got close to the sun... and melted in the heat.— tommy tomlinson (@tommytomlinson) November 18, 2012
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9)
Please refer to the comment for the Browns.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-8)
I’d like to say the Chiefs have good building blocks but my heart isn’t in it. They have a great runner but get thin thereafter.
With the bye weeks over, there are full slates of action to finish up the season. Several teams will be jockeying for playoff spots and an exciting conclusion of the regular season.
Darin Pike is a writer for Bleacher Report's Breaking News Team and a Featured Columnist covering the NFL and the Seattle Seahawks.