Week 15 of the NFL season is here, and it’s dangerously close to playoff time for a number of fringe contenders. Do they have what it takes to make an 11th-hour push, or will they wilt under pressure and fail to make the postseason?
Let’s take a look at each team in the league and evaluate how they stand with just three games remaining in the regular season.
1. New England Patriots (10-3)
The Pats are the overwhelming Super Bowl favorites and will make a second straight appearance as the AFC’s representative—if they continue playing as they did against the Texans on Monday Night Football.
2. San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1)
San Fran is doing well with Colin Kaepernick under center and should make a run back to the NFC championship, as long as they keep up the defensive intensity and disciplined football under coach Jim Harbaugh.
3. Denver Broncos (10-3)
Who would have guessed that Peyton Manning would be in the running for the NFL MVP and Comeback Player of the Year? Well, most people actually.
Manning has quarterbacked Denver to eight straight wins, and the team has shown no signs of slowing down. Let’s hope they don’t peak too early, as they need that momentum for the postseason.
4. Houston Texans (11-2)
Houston was knocked down a few pegs after getting absolutely embarrassed in New England. Matt Schaub hasn’t proved he’s a prime-time, big-game signal-caller, which isn’t a good sign considering the playoff games all take place on national television.
5. Atlanta Falcons (11-2)
The Falcons' luck ran out when Cam Newton and the Panthers exacted revenge for their early-season shortcoming in Atlanta. Matt Ryan and the rest of this team cannot afford to get lazy with a playoff berth locked up, as they need home-field advantage more than any other NFC squad.
6. Green Bay Packers (9-4)
Green Bay is always somehow able to battle its way back up the power rankings, and they could jump up even further by beating the Bears, winning the NFC North and securing a postseason appearance on Sunday.
7. Baltimore Ravens (9-4)
Baltimore just fired Cam Cameron and promoted Jim Caldwell to offensive coordinator after a heartbreaking overtime loss to the ‘Skins. Hopefully Caldwell, best known for being HC of the Colts during a 14-2 Super Bowl season in in 2009 and fired after a 2-14 2011 campaign, will do a better job and breathe some life into this stagnate offense.
8. New York Giants (8-5)
We were ready to write the G-Men off after a loss to Washington, but a huge win over New Orleans has them right back on track to win the NFC East. They control their own destiny and should be able to get into the playoffs to mount a title defense.
9. Indianapolis Colts (9-4)
The Colts have put together an incredible season despite losing their head coach to cancer treatment and starting a rookie QB. Fortunately, Andrew Luck isn’t your ordinary signal-caller, and he has this team rolling into the playoffs if they win on Sunday against Houston, with a chance to lock up the AFC South if they win out.
10. Seattle Seahawks (8-5)
Seattle may be the second-most surprising team after the Colts, as rookie Russell Wilson has emerged as a great quarterback and the defense is shockingly strong, especially at home. While the Seahawks have only slim hopes to catch the 49ers, they can certainly inch closer to a wild-card spot by continuing their excellent play.
11. Chicago Bears (8-5)
The Bears' loss to Minnesota in Week 14 hurt their shot at capturing the NFC North crown, but they have a lot of ground to potentially make up by stealing a win at home against the Packers.
Hopefully it turns out better for them than it did earlier in 2012, when the Green Bay defense embarrassed Jay Cutler on Thursday Night Football. We don’t believe the banged-up QB can handle another beating like that.
12. Washington Redskins (7-6)
Robert Griffin III has to play in Sunday’s contest against the Browns for this team to have any real shot at making a playoff push in the stacked NFC Wild Card race. There’s still a chance they can catch the Giants in the NFC East, but the ‘Skins can’t afford to go a single game without their star rookie QB if they want to make that dream a reality.
13. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)
The Bengals took a play out of the Dallas playbook when they let the Cowboys come from behind and break their hearts in Week 14. It submarined their chances of extending their season, but Cincy isn’t out of it yet.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6)
Ben Roethlisberger must spark the Pittsburgh offense if the Steelers are going to crawl into the postseason picture. They did their best to manage when Charlie Batch was under center, but now need to start winning and winning big.
15. Dallas Cowboys (7-6)
Tony Romo has a penchant for being the most magnificent, brilliant QB when he wins—or the most boneheaded, moronic signal-caller when he costs Dallas a chance at the playoffs.
We’ll find out which quarterback shows up to play soon enough, as the ‘Boys take on the Steelers in a must-win showdown for both teams in Week 15.
16. St. Louis Rams (6-6-1)
These Rams have come on strong over the past few weeks, but it’s been too little, too late. However, Sam Bradford’s re-emergence as a franchise QB is noteworthy, and the St. Louis fans have something to look forward to in 2013.
17. Minnesota Vikings (7-6)
Adrian Peterson is doing everything in his power to will the Purple People Eaters into the playoffs, but he needs to get some help from QB Christian Ponder and the defense. It’ll be a shame to watch AP win the rushing title, but fail to make the postseason, following an offseason ACL surgery and recovery.
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7)
Tampa Bay had victory in its grasps last week before Nick Foles and the Eagles snatched it away at Raymond James Stadium. That was likely the death knell to the Bucs' postseason dreams, and they simply don’t deserve to represent the conference after letting such an easy one get away.
19. New Orleans Saints (5-8)
The Saints are finally past the Bountygate scandal, but it’s hardly a consolation for their poor season. It would take a miracle to get into the playoffs at this juncture, and Drew Brees will have to wait until next year to get another chance at bringing a Super Bowl back to NOLA.
20. New York Jets (6-7)
Who would have thought the Jets would still be alive in Week 15, after all the controversy and injuries? Not many, but here we are.
Gang Green is hanging on by a thread and has to win out, plus hope a number of other AFC Wild Card competitors falter. The chance we somehow see Rex Ryan in the postseason is microscopic and unlikely to happen.
21. San Diego Chargers (5-8)
Norv Turner might be turning things around for the Bolts, but he’s more than likely getting the axe following the season. His Chargers have failed once again, and they don’t have what it takes to compete in the Broncos-dominated AFC West anymore.
It’s times for a change in SD.
22. Cleveland Browns (5-8)
Cleveland has been on a little run lately, and it’s unfortunate that this upstart group of young talent didn’t get things together earlier.
It’s doubtful we’ll see the Browns in the 2013 playoffs, but anything could happen with another high draft pick and some positive change at the top of the organization.
23. Detroit Lions (4-9)
Lions fans were extremely hopeful going into the 2012 campaign, but the team simply couldn’t finish games this year, and last year’s playoff bunch lacked the chemistry that brought them so much success.
It’ll be interesting to see what sort of moves this club makes in the offseason in order to right the ship.
24. Miami Dolphins (5-8)
The ‘Phins have to provide Ryan Tannehill with more weapons, as the defense and running game seem to be at an acceptable level for a winning team in the modern NFL.
Until the rookie QB has better options in the passing game, Miami isn’t going to be able to move the chains enough to succeed.
25. Buffalo Bills (5-8)
Buffalo’s playoff drought continued in 2012, and the inconsistent squad has way more questions than answers going into the long offseason. Team brass has to consider replacing the coach Chan Gailey, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and a number of other key personnel.
26. Carolina Panthers (4-9)
Cam Newton’s Panthers took a giant step back after his Rookie of the Year season, but they have started to get it together with victories in two of the last three games. If they can win out, a 7-9 finish would be quite respectable, although it wouldn’t land them the high draft pick they need to improve the defense.
27. Philadelphia Eagles (4-10)
These banged-up, us-against-the-world Eagles don’t look too shabby. Nick Foles and Bryce Brown have emerged as two of the better young skill position players in the league and have helped a number of fantasy teams win, while they ruined Tampa’s playoff chances with a surprise victory on Sunday.
28. Tennessee Titans (4-9)
Jake Locker needs to get more experience under his belt and stay healthy next year to keep the Titans out of the league’s basement.
29. Arizona Cardinals (4-9)
It’s a shame there are no franchise QB’s in the upcoming draft, as the Cardinals direly need one. Ryan Lindley, John Skelton and Kevin Kolb clearly aren’t the answer at the position, and something must be done soon to address this.
30. Oakland Raiders (3-10)
Will the Raiders dare replace yet another head coach and give up on Carson Palmer after giving up a first- and second-rounder for the inefficient QB?
Anything is possible, especially for a team that, once again, failed to live up to expectations by a long shot.
31. Kansas City Chiefs (2-11)
The offseason cannot come soon enough for this abysmal franchise. They have a lot of work to do in free agency and the draft and hopefully can capitalize with one of the first few picks.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11)
It’s never a good thing when a team drastically improves with Chad Henne under center over the incumbent starter. It’s unlikely that Blaine Gabbert will continue to be thought of as a franchise QB, and the team may seek one out via the draft.