Week 13 of the 2012 NFL season will be remembered as one of the oddest and most surreal in recent memory.
The week will undoubtedly be remembered most for the death of Jovan Belcher after he took the life of his girlfriend. The Kansas City Chiefs entered the week with heavy hearts and no doubt confused minds. And they rallied. The Chiefs picked up their second win of the season as the visiting Carolina Panthers fell on the road.
Other top teams won big—the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons all clinched division titles, and the Houston Texans clinched a playoff berth.
As Week 13 comes to a close, it's time to take a fresh look at how the NFL's teams stack up against one another with just four weeks remaining in the regular season.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are now tied for the league's worst record, and with another loss on Sunday, they have cemented their status as the worst team in the NFL.
Season MVP: Paul Posluszny
As the season in Jacksonville continues its downward spiral, one bright spot has been linebacker Paul Posluszny. The leader of the Jaguars defense has been a remarkable force against the run and even in pass coverage, as seen by his interception in Week 13.
Posluszny has taken over a spot that would have naturally gone to running back Maurice Jones-Drew, but injuries have kept MJD from producing at his normal pace.
The Arizona Cardinals are two wins ahead of the team with NFL's worst record, but their eight straight losses and terrible performance on the field allows for their five-spot move this week. Another bad week and the Cardinals will be at No. 32.
Season MVP: Daryl Washington
The Arizona defense has been solid all season thanks to defensive coordinator Ray Horton and players like middle linebacker Daryl Washington.
A solid Pro Bowl candidate in the crowded NFC, Washington has been lights out all season. He's a beast in run defense, showing off the speed and strength to contend with stars Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Brian Urlacher in what should be a crowded race to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl.
By virtue of their loss to the Kansas City Chiefs—last week's No. 32-ranked team—the Carolina Panthers move down two spots this week.
Season MVP: Cam Newton
The Panthers' second-year quarterback hasn't been great all season, but the Carolina Panthers are only as good as their quarterback. Newton hasn't been the best player each week, but overall he is this team's best talent and biggest performer.
Newton has many critics, but his play this season hasn't been as bad as many want it to seem. Newton is a learning, developing quarterback, and there will be ups and downs. The most important factor is that he shows an upward growth, and that's been evident over the last several weeks.
Once Newton has more talent around him, he'll be ready to fill the massive expectations of his critics.
The Chiefs picked up their second win on a day when hearts in Kansas City were heavy. They played with fire, as a team, and it paid off in the end. For that, they move up.
Season MVP: Jamaal Charles
The fact that Jamaal Charles has been able to produce as well as he is in an offense that generally has no threat of a passing game is unreal. And that's a big part of the reason why he's our MVP for the Chiefs through 12 games.
Charles has gone over 1,000 yards in an offense that is predictable and complacent. His offensive line should be credited for its ability in the run game, which has been as good as expected.
In a year when so much has gone wrong in Kansas City, Charles has been right.
The Philadelphia Eagles may not have deserved to move up this week, but thanks to the Chiefs winning, the Panthers losing and the Cardinals playing terribly, Philadelphia does move up.
Season MVP: LeSean McCoy
Remember back during the 2011 season, when everyone was saying Peyton Manning should be league MVP despite not playing the entire year due to injury? The logic was that the Colts were so bad without Manning, that clearly he was the most valuable player in the game. That logic applies here, to some extent.
McCoy should be the most used player in the Philadelphia offense, but Andy Reid too often refuses to get McCoy involved early in games. His touches mainly come on 3rd-and-impossible situations and once the game has been decided. Instead of riding their best player, the Eagles ignore him.
Make no mistake, McCoy is the best player on this roster, and he's clearly the team's MVP.
Losing to the Cleveland Browns doesn't help the Oakland Raiders at all, but thanks to other teams losing and winning, Oakland actually gets a small bump up the rankings this week.
Season MVP: Carson Palmer
The Oakland Raiders aren't a very good team at this point. They lose close games, they are inconsistent week to week, and the injuries to the backfield are really taking their toll. But on the bright side, this is a team with some exciting young talent.
Where would Oakland be without Carson Palmer? It's hard to imagine Matt Leinart or Terrelle Pryor leading this team to three wins, but Palmer has in spite of some amazing odds. On a team with a terrible cornerback situation, an offensive line that's struggling and a first-year coach, Palmer has Oakland at least contending most weeks.
Mark Sanchez is benched, and the New York Jets win. However, a 7-6 win over the Arizona Cardinals doesn't do much to help the Jets in our rankings.
Season MVP: Muhammad Wilkerson
There aren't many players to chose from here. If Darrelle Revis were healthy, this would be different, but without the NFL's best cornerback, Wilkerson has really stood out on the Jets defense.
You could make a case for Antonio Cromartie or David Harris here, but Wilkerson has been the most dynamic, consistent threat on either side of the ball for the Jets this season. He's not getting the national attention that a player of his caliber should, but we're happy to recognize him here.
A win over the Oakland Raiders keeps the Browns from double-digit losses, but the fact is this is still a very bad team when looking at the overall league picture.
Season MVP: D'Qwell Jackson
Maybe Josh Gordon, Trent Richardson or Joe Thomas deserve the nod here, but D'Qwell Jackson has been phenomenal in the middle of the Cleveland defense. Through 12 games, Jackson is the team's MVP.
The heart of this Browns team is their defense, and Jackson is the unquestioned leader of the bunch. With Joe Haden missing four games due to suspension, Jackson was afforded the opportunity to prove his value and worth on the field, and he showed up big each week.
Another loss for the Tennessee Titans, but with the teams below them performing roughly the same, there is no movement up or down the rankings.
Season MVP: Chris Johnson
The Titans defense has some players worth noting as potential team MVP—Colin McCarthy, Jurrell Casey—but the best and most valuable player on this team is running back Chris Johnson.
Johnson hasn't been perfect all season, but when he's on, the Titans are a much better football team. When quarterback Jake Locker was injured—and now when he struggles—the Titans find themselves relying more and more on Johnson in the backfield. That reliance on him makes Johnson the team's most valuable player.
The Miami Dolphins dropped a tough game to the New England Patriots, and with seven losses they are nearing the end of their playoff hopes.
Season MVP: Cameron Wake
Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill deserves a vote. So does Reggie Bush. The most valuable player on this team, though, is defensive end Cameron Wake.
As Miami shifted back to a 4-3 defense, Wake's play from the end of the line has been critical to its success on defense. Safety Reshad Jones has also been a huge playmaker for the Miami secondary, but that's largely set up by Wake's pass-rushing skills.
Wake for MVP in Miami.
Beating the lowly Philadelphia Eagles doesn't do much to help Dallas in the power rankings, but the team is still alive (technically) in the NFC East race. Now it's time to win out.
Season MVP: Sean Lee
Quarterback Tony Romo would be a popular choice, as would outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, but you can make a solid argument for Sean Lee as the most valuable player for Dallas this season.
There is no doubting that Ware is a great player and future Hall of Famer, but looking only at which players have made the bigger impact this season, Lee gets the nod over Ware. This isn't meant to take anything away from the great pass-rusher, but Lee's presence in the middle of the Cowboys defense has been huge.
Four straight losses keep the Detroit Lions out of playoff contention, and that sees their stock staying in the bottom 20 of the league.
Season MVP: Calvin Johnson
Another week, another dominant performance from wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
In a season where so little is going well for the Lions, Johnson's play has been a bright spot and a focal point for those fans who need something good to hold on to. And Johnson is definitely something good.
With 86 catches and 1,428 yards receiving through 12 games, Johnson has already had a better year than most wide receivers will have in 16 games this year. He's also making a run at Jerry Rice's single-season receiving record of 1,848 yards.
Johnson is the unquestioned team MVP, and in a year without a clear-cut most valuable player, Johnson could see many league MVP votes if he can top Rice's record.
The Buffalo Bills get a much-needed win in Week 12 to keep their playoff hopes alive. They also move up three spots.
Season MVP: C.J. Spiller
C.J. Spiller isn't a household name in the NFL yet, but his play this season could very well put him there. Spiller has been Buffalo's best performer on both sides of the ball, even if he's not being used to his full potential.
It is maddening to watch Spiller jog off the field when the Bills reach the red zone, as his speed and breakaway ability could serve the team well inside the 20s, but Chan Gailey consistently goes to Fred Jackson in those spots. Spiller's stats, especially touchdowns, could be much more impressive if the team kept its best offensive weapon on the field.
The "Fire Norv Turner" movement will pick up steam after watching the San Diego Chargers give up a lead and lose to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 13. As it should.
Season MVP: Eric Weddle
The usual suspects for team MVP haven't been worth writing about much this season. Quarterback Philip Rivers continues to struggle in an offense that lacks playmakers. Antonio Gates hasn't been a big factor at tight end. The run game has been virtually non-existent. That leaves the NFL's best free safety as a legitimate MVP candidate.
Weddle has excellent ball-hawking skills and the range to match. Weddle's play in the middle of the secondary has been nothing short of excellent over the last three seasons, and the team would be lost on defense without him.
The Minnesota Vikings looked good for most of the day, but a loss to the Green Bay Packers and a 1-4 record over the last five games has the team moving down again in Week 12.
Season MVP: Adrian Peterson
The Minnesota Vikings have been a disappointment after their hot start, but running back Adrian Peterson has not been a disappointment. Not at all.
Peterson has totaled an incredible 1,446 yards rushing this season in a year when most figured he wouldn't even be ready to start the season after suffering a torn ACL late in the 2011 campaign. Instead, Peterson hasn't missed a single game this year and has been a consistent force in the Minnesota offense.
The St. Louis Rams know how to beat the San Francisco 49ers, taking their record against one of the NFL's top teams to 1-0-1 on the year. For that, St. Louis moves up.
Season MVP: Janoris Jenkins
You wouldn't be wrong to list quarterback Sam Bradford here, or any number of players on defense, but the most impactful player for the St. Louis Rams this season has been rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
Jenkins has been responsible for three touchdowns over the last two games thanks to two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Jenkins has quickly erased concerns that he would be an off-field concern, instead showing up as a key playmaker in a much-improved St. Louis defense.
A Thursday night loss to the Atlanta Falcons has the New Orleans Saints likely on the outside looking in on the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season.
Season MVP: Drew Brees
You could make a case for head coach Sean Payton as the team's MVP, as his season-long suspension has been a key factor in each of the team's seven losses, but instead let's look at the player on the field doing the most good.
That player, as in most years, is Drew Brees.
When the Saints are good, it's because their offense is rolling. Brees has done a credible job keeping the team competitive in the face of amazing obstacles due to Payton's suspension and the Bountygate fall-out. For that, he deserves the team's MVP award.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers couldn't hold off Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. With their record falling to 6-6, the Bucs move down three spots in the rankings.
Season MVP: Gerald McCoy
Quarterback Josh Freeman has been much improved in 2012. Running back Doug Martin has been a huge part of the team's success. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson has been a great pickup through free agency. All great performances, but the best has been that of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
The young Tampa defense has been able to keep up with the best in the league thanks to McCoy's inside pressure on the defensive line. He's fast, athletic and smooth when shooting the "B" gap and making plays on the opposition. McCoy leads a talented defense that is quickly making a name for itself around the league.
He's not only the MVP of the defense, but of the entire team.
A win over the New York Giants not only keeps the Washington Redskins in the playoff hunt, but it gives the team much-needed momentum in the division heading into the last four weeks of the season.
Season MVP: Robert Griffin III
The rookie quarterback has simply not played like a rookie.
The Redskins gave up a fortune to move up in the draft to select the Heisman trophy winner, but so far, RG3 has been worth it. He's given the franchise hope, sold tickets like crazy and the product on the field is better than it has been in years.
Mike Shanahan went from a hot seat to a hero with Griffin under center, and if he can continue to hit on non-quarterback draft picks like Ryan Kerrigan and Alfred Morris, Washington will be in the NFC East hunt for a long, long time.
The playoffs remain a possibility thanks to the Cincinnati Bengals' win over the San Diego Chargers in Week 13. The team sees a one-spot move up the board following their seventh win.
Season MVP: A.J. Green
I love what quarterback Andy Dalton and defensive tackle Geno Atkins are doing this season, but wide receiver A.J. Green is the real hero of the Cincinnati season.
Green has been almost impossible to stop this season, posting 76 catches, 1,107 yards and 10 touchdowns in 12 starts. As good as Dalton and Atkins have been, Green has been the most vital component of the Bengals' season.
Following a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens move down. Since it was a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers with Charlie Batch at quarterback, they move down considerably.
Season MVP: Haloti Ngata
With Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb out, and with Terrell Suggs starting the year injured, the best player on the Ravens roster has been defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. And it's not even close.
Quarterback Joe Flacco was supposed to enter elite status this year, but he's struggled all season. Running back Ray Rice has been an afterthought most weeks in the team's game plan. Ed Reed continues to do amazing things near the football, but he's also not much of a tackler. Ngata has been consistent and a huge impact in the middle of the defensive line.
Another week, another improbable win for the Indianapolis Colts. Due to the last-minute nature of their victory and the teams ranked ahead of them, the Colts don't move up this week.
Season MVP: Andrew Luck
The Indianapolis Colts finished the 2011 season with two wins and 14 losses. This offseason they added Cory Redding, Tom Zbikowski and Donnie Avery and traded for Vontae Davis. Oh, and they drafted Andrew Luck.
This team isn't that different from the 2011 squad that won just two ballgames, but here we are after 12 games and the Colts have eight wins. They're a legitimate playoff contender, with a wild-card berth looking more and more likely each week. Thank you, Andrew Luck.
Coaches Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians have done an amazing job with this team, but the Colts owe their success to the drafting of Luck with the No. 1 overall pick and his quick transition to the NFL game.
A loss to the Seattle Seahawks at home moves the Chicago Bears out of first place in the NFC North, and it drops them down to No. 10 in this week's rankings.
Season MVP: Jay Cutler
The Chicago Bears are loaded with potential team MVPs. Cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings both deserve attention. Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are both having All-Pro seasons (again). The most valuable player, though, is quarterback Jay Cutler.
The Bears were a different team without Cutler, and while it's tough to say just how different the team would look without one of the defenders listed above, we've seen clear evidence of just how bad the team is without their star quarterback. And more than that, Cutler has quietly enjoyed a very good season behind one of the NFL's worst offensive lines.
Cutler has been more than capable of carrying the MVP label for this team.
The Seattle Seahawks quieted critics—me included—by beating the Chicago Bears, and by beating them away from Seattle. Pete Carroll's team is one of the most dangerous in the NFL.
Season MVP: Russell Wilson
We will soon find out just how valuable cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are, as both players are scheduled a four-game suspension from the NFL. While both defenders have been brilliant, the Seahawks' MVP has been rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.
Wilson has improved each week, to the point where the team now trusts him to win games. Wilson is no longer the game manager we saw at times earlier in the season; now, he's executing the offense on his own and being trusted to make plays. Wilson's development has Seattle alive in the NFC West, and they're a favorite to make the playoffs with just four games remaining.
We keep saying that once the playoffs get here, the New York Giants will turn "it" on and dominate. But the playoffs aren't a guarantee with five losses. The Giants loss to Washington moves them down.
Season MVP: Eli Manning
Manning hasn't been flawless this season, but he's been the most valuable player on the roster. By far. In a year where the offensive line has been banged up, and when almost everyone on defense has spent time off the field due to injuries, Manning has been the one constant.
Eli's fourth-quarter brilliance is well-known by now, and for much of this season he's been the only thing worth watching in New York.
A win over division-rival Baltimore puts Pittsburgh back into the playoff discussion in a loaded AFC North. The fact that they did it with a third-string quarterback is even more impressive.
Season MVP: Ben Roethlisberger
This hasn't been a normal season in Pittsburgh. Injuries have decimated the depth chart, but one constant has been that Ben Roethlisberger is the most important player on this roster. Not James Harrison, not Troy Polamalu. Roethlisberger.
The Steelers could be the NFL's best team if healthy, and maybe they will be by the time the playoffs roll around. If the team is to make a run through the playoffs, it will be on the strength of Big Ben's right arm and his impressive ability to move and make plays in the backfield.
One thing is for sure: A win over Baltimore gives the team momentum. A healthy Roethlisberger over the next four games could mean an 11-5 season.
Another win for the Green Bay Packers puts the team back into first place in the NFC North, but the teams ranked ahead of them don't see enough movement for a big change in their own ranking.
Season MVP: Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers may not have started the season as hot as many expected, but he's definitely finished on top.
Rodgers has been one of the NFL's best quarterbacks since the team's Week 3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, and he's done this in spite of massive injuries decimating the team's offensive line and wide receiver corps.
Rodgers has been phenomenal, and if the Packers are to make a postseason run, it will be because of No. 12.
The Atlanta Falcons are tied for the NFL's best record, but they aren't higher on the rankings. Why is that? Would you pick Atlanta to beat any of the four teams ranked ahead of them? I wouldn't.
Season MVP: Matt Ryan
This may be odd timing considering Ryan is coming off a five-interception performance a few weeks ago, but over the course of the entire season, he has been the team's most valuable player.
The Falcons owe their 11 wins to the quarterback's ability to make plays this year. Atlanta's offense hasn't been consistent all season, but so many of their close wins have been possible thanks to the calm, cool nature Ryan displays in clutch situations.
The defense has been very good, and guys like John Abraham and William Moore need to be considered here, but no one player is more valuable to the Falcons than Ryan. And it's not even close.
The Denver Broncos win again, moving to nine wins and clinching the AFC West title. That's good enough to keep them in the top four teams.
Season MVP: Peyton Manning
Not only has Peyton Manning been the team's MVP, he will likely be considered for the league MVP trophy. Again.
Manning has been so good coming off a missed season due to neck surgery. Even those who thought Manning could bounce back from the four procedures done on his neck couldn't have imagined a season like this. Manning will be up for league MVP and Comeback Player of the Year thanks to his impressive, gutsy play week after week.
A loss to the St. Louis Rams not only moves the San Francisco 49ers out of first place in our power rankings, but the team is one step closer to losing the NFC West to the Seattle Seahawks.
Season MVP: Aldon Smith
Frank Gore and the 49ers offensive line have all been good enough to warrant a nod here. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are the anchors on a defense that's been lights out all season. All are great, and Pro Bowl-worthy, but Aldon Smith has been the biggest performer.
Smith's 17.5 sacks are an incredible feat, especially considering the fact that he's played just 12 games. The NFL record of 22.5 is easily within reach if Smith keeps up his amazing pace. With the Miami Dolphins coming up next week and Jake Long's status in question, Smith could pad his totals in Week 14.
The Houston Texans have rolled off six straight wins, and in the process they've clinched a playoff berth. With San Francisco losing, Houston moves up.
Season MVP: Arian Foster
It was a toss-up between Arian Foster and J.J. Watt for the team's MVP award, and no answer is more right than the other. My personal preference is Foster over Watt.
Foster has gone over 1,000 yards rushing again this season, and his 13 touchdowns are just as important as Watt's 15.5 sacks and 15 pass deflections. Watt has been great, league MVP worthy, but Foster is more important to what this team does overall. At least in my view.
You won't get an argument out of me if you want to list Watt as your own team MVP for Houston, but I'm taking Foster.
The New England Patriots don't have the NFL's best record, but they do have the game's best head coach-quarterback combination. That and an improved run game puts New England firmly on top. Heading into a matchup with Houston, the No. 1 spot will be up for grabs.
Season MVP: Tom Brady
So much has already been said about Brady in his career that it's tough to write something original about one of the NFL's all-time greats. Brady is just Brady, and in carving out his legend, he's done some amazing things.
The 2012 season may not go down as one of Brady's best, but it should. He's thrown just four interceptions in 12 games. He's tossed for over 3,500 yards. He's doing things that few quarterbacks in the NFL can, and his consistency in the face of injuries to his receivers and offensive line is reason to believe that the Patriots will once again represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
And that's what matters most here. Can Brady get this team to another Super Bowl win? I say yes.