Division races are beginning to clear up, but wild card spots will be highly contested until the NFL’s final week.
Team records may say one thing, but some teams are better equipped to snatch a postseason bid than others. And whether it's strength of schedule, players emerging or injuries, some teams can't ultimately compete.
Things are getting interesting as the NFL hits the home stretch. Check out the power rankings below to see which teams are poised to make a late charge in the playoff race.
1. Houston Texans (10-1)
As weak as the Lions have looked this season, going into Detroit and stealing a victory on Thanksgiving is a worthy test. The Texans continue hold the top spot until further notice.
2. Denver Broncos (8-3)
Peyton Manning has turned the Broncos into his well-oiled machine, impenetrable to letdown games against the lowly Chiefs. Now this is what all the offseason hoopla was about.
3. San Francisco 49ers (8-2-1)
The story in San Francisco can only be Colin Kaepernick, who seems to take the 49ers into another gear when he’s behind center. Alex Smith, we hardly knew ‘ye.
4. Atlanta Falcons (10-1)
The Falcons finally beat a high-quality opponent on the road, as the stink from Matt Ryan’s five interceptions has evaporated in thin air with a win over Tampa Bay. The presence of Jacquizz Rodgers has given Ryan a security blanket on third down that they’ll certainly use in playoff time.
5. Baltimore Ravens (9-2)
Baltimore found a way to win a miserable game to watch in San Diego thanks to Ray Rice’s pursuits. Maybe that dramatic fourth-down conversion will get Cam Cameron to call more plays for No. 27. It’s the only way Baltimore has a chance to take the AFC.
6. Chicago Bears (8-3)
The Bears finally look back in form with their quarterback healthy and upright. It just shows Chicago that protecting Jay Cutler has become more important than ever.
7. New England Patriots (8-3)
Another 49 points later, the Patriots are starting to resemble the offensive juggernaut that this league knows very well. Whether Tom Brady and friends carry them to a first-round bye, though, is the next challenge.
8. New York Giants (7-4)
The Giants captured the league’s attention once again with a complete game against Green Bay on their own field. The country now can resting knowing the Giants can win big games and pass efficiently while doing it.
9. Green Bay Packers (7-4)
The Packers drop with an unimpressive showing on Sunday night, and perhaps their lowest point of this season.
Even with all their offensive talent, is this team truly a contender? We’ll know more after a gut-check game against the Vikings.
10. Cincinnati Bengals (6-5)
Will the Bengals win the games they need to for their second straight playoff appearance? Their fate rests in the hands of Benjarvus Green Ellis. If he can give Cincinnati a balanced attack, it can score points to contend with any NFL team down the stretch.
11. Seattle Seahawks (6-5)
A disappointing loss to Miami was not what the Seahawks had hoped for after traveling cross-country. They’ll have a chance to strengthen their NFC playoff bid with a huge matchup against Chicago this weekend.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)
We all knew the Steelers would be a different team without their starting quarterback, but no one thought it could get this bad this quick.
Eight turnovers later and Ben Roethlisberger’s status uncertain, Pittsburgh may not hold onto its playoff spot for long.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5)
The Bucs came up just short against a one-loss Falcon squad, but they’re learning on the fly as Josh Freeman and Doug Martin continue to raise the team’s offensive potential.
Their schedule doesn’t get much easier with trips to Denver and Atlanta upcoming, but they may be the most talented team on the outside looking in right now. If that talent can shine, they’ll find a way to outlast their inferior playoff suitors.
14. Indianapolis Colts (7-4)
The Colts showed some resiliency bouncing back from a drubbing by New England lat week in their win over Buffalo. They control their own playoff destiny if they can keep winning.
15. New Orleans Saints (5-6)
New Orleans came back down to Earth courtesy of a physical 49er defense. This defense looks to be this team’s fatal flaw that won’t shore up for a playoff run.
16. Washington Redskins (5-6)
The Redskins may be under .500 for now, but their Cowboy shellacking on Thursday sent a message to the rest of the NFC. With several upcoming matchups against floundering teams, RG3 and company seem to be peaking at the right time.
17. Minnesota Vikings (6-5)
The Vikings never challenged Chicago in Week 12, a sign that they may be a year or two away from contending in their conference.
Coming off a bye, a true playoff contender would have been in striking distance at some point in the contest.
18. Dallas Cowboys (5-6)
Seeing the Cowboys struggle on Thanksgiving was an unusual sight, as we may have witnessed Dallas’s decline to the bottom of the NFC. Or has that happened already?
19. Miami Dolphins (5-6)
The song is not over for this Miami team, which stands only one game behind the Steelers for the AFC’s final playoff spot. Their defense will certainly keep them in games, as they have this entire season.
They will need to win one out of two against the Patriots, but a potential meaningless clash in Week 17 could give the Dolphins their wish.
20. St. Louis Rams (4-6-1)
A tie against San Francisco might become the most memorable event from the Ram’s 2012 campaign. After all, no one was watching their stomping of Ryan Lindley’s Arizona Cardinals.
21. New York Jets (4-7)
For all anybody knows, the Jets will put up 40 points on the scoreboard this weekend against Arizona. That’s how topsy-turvy this offense has become.
22. San Diego Chargers (4-7)
4th-and-29? Really? Nothing new from this Charger bunch. I can’t blame the fans for not showing up for Norv Turner’s last gasp either. Their overtime collapse gives them more of a reason to stay home.
23. Tennessee Titans (4-7)
Tennessee fell victim to a Jaguar team revitalized by their new quarterback, a loss that puts its playoff hopes on life support. Chris Johnson and Co. will need to get their act together, and quick; a matchup with Houston awaits.
24. Detroit Lions (4-7)
One of the league’s biggest disappointments, the Lions suffered not by penalties this time around, but the NFL rulebook. Jim Schwartz’s miscue cost the Lions seven points, the game and any chance of sniffing the postseason.
25. Cleveland Browns (3-8)
The Browns don’t go down easy, and showed they’ll pounce on a victory if they’re given the chance. Eight Steeler turnovers proved to be the medicine, and perhaps a saving grace for Pat Shurmur.
26. Buffalo Bills (4-7)
Just when the Bills could have become a team on the rise, they could only muster 13 points against an Indianapolis defense that gave up 59 the previous week. They’re likely out of playoff contention.
27. Arizona Cardinals (4-7)
The quarterback situation in Arizona has dumbfounded many as it continues to slide down the power rankings. Seven straight losses and counting.
28. Carolina Panthers (3-8)
Cam Newton lived up to lofty expectations on a Monday night in Philadelphia, but that may not be enough to keep Ron Rivera’s job. He will likely need to sweat out a few wins before the season concludes with this troubled roster.
29. Philadelphia Eagles (3-8)
The Eagles defense has collapsed without its former offensive line coach calling the signals. And somehow, the running game had its most productive game of the season without Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy in the lineup.
Philadelphia, you are proud owners of the most confounding team in 2012.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9)
Could Chad Henne be the quarterback of the future for this franchise? He’ll get a five-game tryout to be the 2013 starter over Blaine Gabbert, Tim Tebow (yes, it’s plausible) and a rookie draft selection.
31. Oakland Raiders (3-8)
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen must be having issues dealing with all facets of the team because this Raiders defense can’t stop anyone. Meanwhile, the Bengals looked like the smart franchise, as they trampled Carson Palmer facing his former team.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-10)
The Chiefs put up a valiant effort against Denver, but their inept quarterback situation keeps them stuck in neutral. I hope their scouts are putting in overtime on the 2013 quarterback class. Some new blood could change the course of this franchise around.
Mike Shiekman is a member of B/R's Breaking News Team. Follow him on Twitter @TheRealShiek
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