NFL Power Rankings: Teams with Most To Lose in Critical Week 15
For more than half of the league, Week 15 in the NFL signals the start of a new season, one that lasts a total of three games.
With only four of the 12 spots in the playoffs spoken for, eight spots are available—and there are 20 teams still in the race to claim them.
Some squads are faced with a simple reality: win three games, get into the playoffs.
For others teams, simply winning out isn't enough—as help will be needed from elsewhere for those squads to clinch a spot in the postseason.
Cincinnati already took care of its business on Thursday night, fully aware that a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles would have dealt a serious blow to its playoff aspirations.
But the Bengals aren't the only team on the playoff bubble.
Let's take a look at what the rest of the league is going up against this week.
1. New England Patriots (10-3)
With its 42-14 crushing of the Houston Texans to end Week 14, the Patriots have now defeated its two biggest competitors (Denver being the other) for the top seed in the AFC.
That's seven consecutive wins for Tom Brady and company, who face off against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 15. A win this week cements New England's hold on the top spot.
2. Denver Broncos (10-3)
After a short "getting-to-know-you" period, Peyton Manning and the Broncos have clicked as the team enters Week 15 on an eight-game winning streak.
A win over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 15 makes Denver a virtual lock for its first 13-win season since 2005, with games remaining against Cleveland and Kansas City to follow.
3. San Francisco 49ers (8-3-1)
San Francisco has only a 1.5 game lead over the Seattle Seahawks in the race for the NFC West and has a tall task in front of it this week with the New England Patriots.
Colin Kaepernick, who has done well since taking over under center for Alex Smith but has made some mistakes, will need to play perfect football for the 49ers to emerge victorious.
With Seattle facing a far easier task in Week 15 with the Buffalo Bills, a loss to the Patriots will set up San Francisco's next game, in Seattle, as the game that decides the division.
4. Houston Texans (11-2)
Twice this season the Texans have faced elite NFL teams—the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots—losing both games by a combined score of 84-38.
Houston's inability to beat the best teams in the league is concerning, especially with the upstart Indianapolis Colts coming into Reliant Stadium in Week 15.
The last thing Houston needs is to have to face the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 17 with the AFC South title on the line.
Houston must take care of business against Indy on Sunday to stop what could be a precipitous fall from the top overall seed in the AFC playoffs.
5. Atlanta Falcons (11-2)
The Falcons have an impressive record but are coming off of a 10-point loss to the four-win Carolina Panthers, a game the Falcons had no business losing.
They have struggled mightily against the run, allowing Carolina to pick up nearly 200 yards on the ground last week. Atlanta's defense must tighten up if the Falcons have any thoughts of making a deep playoff run, for that is a weakness other teams will exploit.
6. Green Bay Packers (9-4)
Green Bay has won eight of its past 10 games, and two in-a-row over division opponents since being embarrassed by the New York Giants in Week 12.
The Packers have been decimated by injuries, but the team is slowly getting healthy again. LB Clay Matthews is expected to return to action for its Week 15 game against the Chicago Bears, according to Fox Sports (via Twitter)—bad news for the Bears and the rest of the NFC North.
7. Baltimore Ravens (9-4)
Baltimore has dropped two games in a row and the schedule doesn't get any easier, with games remaining against the Denver Broncos, New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals.
While its defense has done remarkably well considering the rash of injuries that it has faced, shutting down Denver's potent offense will be a tall order—and questions remain as to whether Joe Flacco is truly the elite quarterback he claims that he is (h/t Sporting News).
A loss in Week 15 will allow the Cincinnati Bengals and potentially the Pittsburgh Steelers to pull to within a game of the AFC Central lead.
8. New York Giants (8-5)
The vaunted pass rush has disappeared and Eli Manning has been inconsistent at times, yet the Giants somehow have held the lead in the NFC East.
With both Washington and Dallas making a run at the top spot, the defending Super Bowl champions need a win against the Atlanta Falcons to keep a slim division lead. A loss would push the Giants one step closer to the playoff bubble.
9. Indianapolis Colts (9-4)
Someone forgot to tell Andrew Luck that rookies aren't supposed to play like seasoned veterans, something ESPN Stats and Info points out is exactly what Luck has done (via Twitter):
(ELIAS) Andrew Luck gets credit for his 6th fourth-quarter/OT game-winning drive for @nflcolts, most by rookie since AFL/NFL merger— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 9, 2012
That veteran poise must come through as Indy travels to Houston in Week 15. A win over its division rivals gives the Colts an excellent shot at winning the AFC South when it faces Houston again in Week 17.
10. Seattle Seahawks (8-5)
Seattle has won four of its last five games to keep pace with the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West.
A win over Buffalo on the road in Week 15 sets Seattle up for a real shot at both an 11-5 season and the division, as both of its remaining two games are at CenturyLink Field, one of the toughest places in the NFL for road teams to play.
If San Fran loses to New England and Seattle wins, Week 16's matchup between the two teams takes on an entirely new meaning as the division will be on the line.
11. Washington Redskins (7-6)
Robert Griffin III has Washington thinking NFC East crown, not just the playoffs, but locked in a close race with the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, Washington cannot afford any missteps.
As long as RGIII is healthy and able to play, you cannot count the Redskins out of any game. With winnable games against Cleveland in Week 15 and Philadelphia in Week 16, Washington is in good shape down the stretch.
12. Minnesota Vikings (7-6)
Adrian Peterson has carried the Vikings to this spot in the rankings, for QB Christian Ponder continues to prove that he is a mediocre NFL QB at best.
The Vikings need to win out and get some help for a playoff game to become a reality.
13. Dallas Cowboys (7-6)
Dallas has won four of its last five games and finds itself in the thick of the playoff race, something that owner Jerry Jones expects.
Whether Tony Romo and company can rise to the occasion and stay in contention remains to be seen—Romo doesn't exactly have a great track record in big spots.
14. Chicago Bears (8-5)
Chicago is the complete opposite of Dallas, losing four of its last five games and facing a must-win game against the Packers in Week 15.
A loss to the Packers puts Chicago's playoff lives in jeopardy.
15. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)
Cincinnati did what it needed to do on Thursday night, beating the Philadelphia Eagles to pull within 1.5 games of the Baltimore Ravens for the AFC North lead and into the second wild-card spot in the AFC.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6)
Things got so bad in Pittsburgh that the team brought Plaxico Burress back into the mix.
The return of Plax and Ben Roethlisberger hasn't helped, though, as the team lost by 10 to the San Diego Chargers in Week 14, its third loss in the last four games.
17. New Orleans Saints (5-8)
The Saints' playoff hopes are on life support thanks to three consecutive losses. Drew Brees and company must win out and get help from elsewhere to sneak into one of the two wild-card spots in the NFC.
Another loss will drop the Saints from the playoff picture.
18. St. Louis Rams (6-6-1)
Things are looking up in St. Louis with new head coach Jeff Fisher, but St. Louis is still a piece or two away from seriously contending for a playoff spot.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7)
Josh Freeman has developed into an excellent NFL QB but the team's inability to stop even the most benign passing attacks has doomed them all season long.
20. Cleveland Browns (5-8)
As with the Rams, things are starting to look up in Cleveland, which is on a three-game winning streak.
Getting over the hump to notch the franchise's first six-win season since 2007 is a tough task, however, with games remaining against Washington, Denver and Pittsburgh.
21. San Diego Chargers (5-8)
Philip Rivers' play this season has been exactly like his team's play: wildly inconsistent.
A fresh start is what this team needs, and it's coming after the season with the already announced dismissal of head coach Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith.
22. Detroit Lions (4-9)
This certainly wasn't the season that anyone saw coming for the Lions, losers of five consecutive games.
Detroit has been in nearly every game it has played this season, however. Of the team's nine losses, only one came by double digits.
23. New York Jets (6-7)
Having no quarterback, no running game and no pass rush is enough to doom any team.
24. Miami Dolphins (5-8)
Ryan Tannehill has done a solid job under center in his rookie season, but the team must give him more than Brian Hartline and Davone Bess to work with.
25. Carolina Panthers (4-9)
Finally, after what has been a painful season to witness, the mental part of Newton's game is finally catching up to his incredible physical gifts, making the Panthers a very dangerous team heading into 2013.
26. Buffalo Bills (5-8)
At least C.J. Spiller finally emerged as a legitimate game-changing running back.
27. Tennessee Titans (4-9)
2012 was supposed to be the season that Jake Locker took his licks and made his mistakes so that he would be a better quarterback—and deliver better results—in 2013.
Better luck next year, Jake.
28. Philadelphia Eagles (4-9)
Nick Foles and Bryce Brown offer hope for the future, one that longtime head coach Andy Reid won't be a part of.
29. Oakland Raiders (3-11)
At least Darren McFadden proved he could stay on the fie...oh right, that didn't happen. Things are ugly in Oakland.
30. Arizona Cardinals (4-9)
Remember when the Cardinals were 4-0?
Arizona has found a way to make Larry Fitzgerald a complete non-factor in games.
That's quite the accomplishment.
31. Kansas City Chiefs (2-11)
At least Kansas City knows where the major problem lies—under center.
With as much talent as this team has on offense (Jamaal Charles, Jonathan Baldwin, Dwayne Bowe and Dexter McCluster), even a halfway decent NFL QB would have the Chiefs on the outskirts of the playoff picture.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11)
Jacksonville is broken and it's going to take more than a new QB to fix what ails this team.
Rick Weiner is a member of B/R's Breaking News Team
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