NFL Power Rankings Week 12: Where Each Team Stands as Stretch Run Begins
Every NFL team resets its goals at this point in the regular season. While the Lombardi Trophy remains the ultimate dream, things like earning a first-round bye or simply making the playoffs become the more immediate tasks on players' minds.
The Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons lead their respective conferences and should feel pretty good about where they stand right now. Outside of those two squads, however, there are a lot of question marks that will have to get answered down the stretch.
With that in mind, let's take a look at where every team stands heading into Week 12. It should be an interesting finish to the season with so many playoff spots still up for grabs.
1. Houston Texans (9-1)
Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, J.J. Watt and the list goes on. The Texans have playmakers all over the field on both sides of the ball and it will be tough for any team to contain them all in the playoffs.
2. Atlanta Falcons (9-1)
Michael Turner's lack of productivity (3.7 yards per carry) remains a concern, but the Falcons haven't missed a beat thanks to Matt Ryan. Atlanta's QB has taken his game to a new level this season.
3. Baltimore Ravens (8-2)
The Ravens are finding ways to win games despite pretty average rankings across the board. A tough schedule down the stretch will clue fans in to whether they are a true Super Bowl contender.
4. New England Patriots (7-3)
Losing Rob Gronkowski will hurt the Patriots offense, but probably not as much as most people are expecting. The system in place is far more important than any single player. Tom Brady will find ways to move the chains without him in the short term.
Overshadowed by Gronk's injury was the debut of cornerback Aqib Talib. He had an interception return for a touchdown in his first game with the Patriots and should make the team's secondary a lot more reliable as the playoffs approach.
The Patriots are once again a serious championship threat.
5. Denver Broncos (7-3)
Peyton Manning's remarkable comeback has stolen most of the headlines out of Denver, and rightfully so. But the team's improvement on defense over the past few weeks makes the Broncos a top-tier squad.
6. Green Bay Packers (7-3)
Green Bay has won five straight games, including road wins over the Texans and Lions. A victory over the Giants on Sunday night would prove the Packers are all the way back after a slow start.
Who should start for SF?
7. San Francisco 49ers (7-2-1)
Colin Kaepernick was impressive in the team's victory over the Bears, but making him the starter would be a mistake. Alex Smith ranks third in the NFL in passer rating and is still the team's best option.
8. Chicago Bears (7-3)
The turnover machine went missing for the Bears defense against the 49ers and the result was a blowout loss. They have to find ways to win games even if Charles Tillman and Co. aren't getting takeaways.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-4)
Tampa Bay is the hottest team that not many people are talking about. The combination of Josh Freeman and Doug Martin will pose problems for any defense, and the Bucs rank first in stopping the run.
10. Indianapolis Colts (6-4)
It's no surprise the bandwagon has started to empty after getting blown out by the Patriots. One bad game doesn't change Indianapolis' outlook, though. The Colts remain on track for the playoffs.
11. New York Giants (6-4)
In typical Giants fashion, they are making things harder than they should be as the regular season hits the home stretch. Two straight losses have tightened the NFC East. They must rebound quickly.
12. New Orleans Saints (5-5)
The Saints are right back in the playoff race despite an inconsistent running game and continued struggles on defense. Drew Brees is basically willing the team into contention, but he needs help.
13. Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
Bruce Irvin was considered a reach when the Seahawks took him with the 15th pick, but the rookie has seven sacks and is a major piece of a thriving defense. Perhaps it was a wise pick after all.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4)
Pittsburgh's record doesn't tell the whole story. Injuries have ravaged the roster in recent weeks. While Ben Roethlisberger is the most notable one, the fact the Steelers signed Plaxico Burress shows how far down on the WR depth chart they are as well.
Add a tough schedule to the mix and the Steelers aren't a lock for the playoffs. Luckily, the team's defense is as reliable as ever despite ongoing injury woes for Troy Polamalu. The unit will have to put the team on its back for the next few weeks.
The Steelers' fate will likely depend on how quickly Big Ben can return to the lineup. They aren't going to rush him back given the seriousness of the injury.
15. Dallas Cowboys (5-5)
The Cowboys were able to save their season by beating the Eagles last week. They face a difficult schedule the rest of the way, however, limiting their chances of making a run to the postseason.
16. Cincinnati Bengals (5-5)
Cincinnati sits just one game out of the playoffs, but isn't attracting much attention due to a lack of star power. What the Bengals lack in that area, they make up for in solid play across the board.
17. Minnesota Vikings (6-4)
Getting Adrian Peterson back is a major reason the Vikings have enjoyed such a quick turnaround. Struggles on defense over the past three games are threatening to derail their season, though.
18. Washington Redskins (4-6)
Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris give Redskins fans plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future. Alas, they don't have enough playmakers at other positions to make a playoff run.
19. Tennessee Titans (4-6)
The Titans are an interesting case. They have been extremely inconsistent throughout the season, which is always frustrating, but they have several winnable games down the stretch.
20. San Diego Chargers (4-6)
Another season of lackluster performances from the Chargers. They have enough talent on the roster to compete for a playoff spot, but the coaching continues to disappoint, as it has for several seasons.
21. Detroit Lions (4-6)
Although it hasn't resulted in as many wins as fans have hoped, the Lions are certainly fun to watch. They won't be a constant threat until the defense makes some major strides, however.
22. Buffalo Bills (4-6)
Buffalo kept its slim playoff hopes alive by knocking off the Dolphins last week. Now, the Bills face a turning-point game. A victory over the Colts and suddenly they are back within a game of a wild-card spot. A loss, and their playoff dreams will likely disappear.
The key is keeping C.J. Spiller as the focal point of the offense even when Fred Jackson returns. Given a larger workload last week, the dynamic back gained 130 yards on 25 touches. Taking him off the field is a huge advantage for the opposing defense.
There are reasons for hope in Buffalo. The schedule is among the league's easiest after this week, and the defense looked better last week. A win on Sunday and things will get interesting for the Bills.
23. New York Jets (4-6)
24. Miami Dolphins (4-6)
Three straight losses have pushed a promising season off track for the Dolphins. At least they have enough young talent to be hopeful about the seasons ahead.
25. St. Louis Rams (3-6-1)
The Rams haven't won a game since early October, and the schedule doesn't get any easier from here. They are looking at another high draft pick, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course.
26. Arizona Cardinals (4-6)
A total collapse. That's the only way to describe what has happened to the Cardinals. They have to find a way to end the losing skid just so they don't enter the offseason with terrible vibes.
27. Cleveland Browns (2-8)
While the Browns' record doesn't suggest much has gone right this season, they have actually been able to hold their own in almost every game. They aren't as bad as the eight losses would make it seem.
28. Oakland Raiders (3-7)
Oakland has given up 135 points over the past three weeks, which sums up its issues well. The offense has made positive strides, but that has been overshadowed by poor play on defense yet again.
29. Philadelphia Eagles (3-7)
Which team should be ranked last?
30. Carolina Panthers (2-8)
After investing a lot of money into running backs, the Panthers aren't getting much return on their investment. That puts extra pressure on Cam Newton, who's still finding his way in the NFL spotlight.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9)
Normally, a coaching staff can at least point to a few positives to keep morale up in the locker room. That's not the case for the Jaguars. They have been brutal no matter how you slice it.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-9)
Kansas City has given up 132 more points than it has scored and has lost seven straight games. There are a couple winnable games down the stretch, but the Chiefs are the favorites to land the top pick.
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