NFL Power Rankings: Playoff Contenders in Trouble Leading Up to Week 16

Ryan RudnanskySenior Writer IDecember 18, 2012

Dec 16, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) warms up before the game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

With just two weeks remaining in the regular season, it's getting down to the wire in the National Football League.

Several teams are battling for five remaining playoff spots, but some are worse off than others, particularly after some tough losses in Week 15.

Here are my Week 16 NFL power rankings, complete with contenders who are in trouble (in italics).

1. Denver Broncos (11-3)

After the New England Patriots were knocked off their pedestal, Denver takes over the top spot this week. Peyton Manning, combined with a vastly improved defense, has the Broncos riding high.

2. San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1)

The San Francisco 49ers aren't perfect, but the victory over the Patriots in Week 15 showed they have the ability to not only get to the Super Bowl, but win it. Second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick was better than expected against Bill Belichick's experienced squad, and this defense can be downright vicious.

3. New England Patriots (10-4)

While the Patriots were surprised at home against the 49ers, the fact remains that they lost by one possession despite committing four turnovers in that game. They also erased a 28-point deficit in the second half, only to see the game slip between their fingers.

4. Houston Texans (12-2)

After getting embarrassed by the Patriots in Week 14, the Houston Texans got back to business in Week 15 with a crucial win over Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. This is still a dangerous team that cannot be counted out.

5. Atlanta Falcons (12-2)

The Atlanta Falcons got back to their winning ways with a resounding victory over the New York Giants in Week 15. The run defense is still concerning, but that doesn't matter much when you force a team to throw after getting off to a quick lead.

6. Green Bay Packers (10-4)

It's quite simple: Green Bay's defense is an entirely different animal with Clay Matthews back from injury. He collected two sacks in the big win against the Chicago Bears.

7. Seattle Seahawks (9-5)

It's officially time for teams to start worrying about the Seattle Seahawks. They have a rookie quarterback in Russell Wilson who continues to surprise, a rushing attack led by one of the best running backs in football in Marshawn Lynch and a defense allowing under 20 points per game. Oh yeah, and they outscored their last two opponents, 108-17.

8. Baltimore Ravens (9-5)

Baltimore is sinking due to a disappointing pass defense and an inconsistent offense, but even if the Ravens lose their next two games, they have a shot at a playoff berth.

9. Indianapolis Colts (9-5)

The loss to the Texans was expected, but whenever you have Andrew Luck on your side, you have a shot in any ballgame. This defense has to improve, though.

10. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)

The Cincinnati Bengals have surged back, winning five of their last six games, and they currently hold the final playoff seed in the AFC. As long as this defense and running game continue to roll, I see them making the playoffs.

11. Washington Redskins (8-6)

Washington's defense can be hurt, but it doesn't matter as much when you have a sensational rookie in Robert Griffin III and your offense is rolling.

12. New York Giants (8-6)

Is this another second-half collapse by Tom Coughlin's New York Giants? It appears that way. A few teams need to slip up for the Giants to make the playoffs this season. Eli Manning's performance against the Falcons in Week 15 was peculiar, but Matt Ryan torching the Giants atrocious pass defense wasn't a surprise at all.

13. Dallas Cowboys (8-6)

Dallas has played better as of late, but this defense is still concerning. The Cowboys need a couple of teams to fall to capture a playoff spot in the NFC.

14. Minnesota Vikings (8-6)

Christian Ponder has been disappointing, but Adrian Peterson is undeniably the best running back in the league. When you have him on your side, you have a shot. The Minnesota Vikings currently hold the final playoff seed in the NFC, but they have to face the Texans and Packers to finish off the season.

15. Chicago Bears (8-6)

A bad offensive line and no receivers who can make a difference beyond Brandon Marshall, Chicago is sinking like it did last season. It's no secret why Jay Cutler struggles against teams with strong pass rushes.

16. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)

With a mediocre running game and an aging defense, Ben Roethlisberger is all this team has at this point. He can't do everything. Pittsburgh is only one game back for a playoff spot, but, facing the Bengals next, that playoff spot looks so very far away.

17. New Orleans Saints (6-8)

The New Orleans Saints' 41-0 demolition of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 15 was a reminder of how explosive this team can be, but you pit this defense against a legitimate playoff contender and it generally gets burned.

18. St. Louis Rams (6-7-1)

The St. Louis Rams continue to get burned by a putrid offense, and the run defense imploded in Week 15 against the Vikings. Of course, the Rams were going up against Adrian Peterson.

19. Miami Dolphins (6-8)

The Miami Dolphins aren't going to win many ballgames with this offense, but the defense has generally been solid this season, particularly against the run.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8)

The Buccaneers already have to generally outscore opponents via offensive barrages. When the offense starts to go, it gets really ugly, like it did against the Saints in Week 15.

21. Carolina Panthers (5-9)

The last two victories over the Falcons and San Diego Chargers were encouraging, and Cam Newton has been spectacular as of late. Heck, even the running game beyond Newton got going in Week 15.

22. San Diego Chargers (5-9)

This team is so inconsistent, on both sides of the ball, that it's almost as if this is the San Diego Chargers we're talking about. This coaching staff needs to be replaced across the board.

23. Cleveland Browns (5-9)

Whether it's the passing game or the running game, this offense is hard to watch. The defense certainly didn't come to play in Week 15, either.

24. New York Jets (6-8)

If you watched Monday night's game (heck, if you watched the highlights), you know how bad the New York Jets were against the Tennessee Titans. Mark Sanchez was awful, the Jets committed five turnovers as a whole and the defense allowed Chris Johnson to scamper for 122 yards and a touchdown.

25. Arizona Cardinals (5-9)

The defense got back on track in Week 15, but this team still doesn't have a legitimate starting quarterback or a legitimate running game. A 38-10 victory looks great for the offense until you realize two touchdowns came via interception returns.

26. Buffalo Bills (5-9)

The Buffalo Bills actually looked like they were playing better on defense until the 50-17 loss to the Seahawks in Week 15. I guess some things never change.

27. Tennessee Titans (5-9)

The Titans defense has improved down the stretch, but the 14-10 victory on Monday night had more to do with the Jets bumbling offense than anything. Chris Johnson is a player, I'll say that.

28. Detroit Lions (4-10)

A six-game losing streak has the Detroit Lions at the bottom of the barrel. The defense hasn't stopped anybody since Week 9 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Matthew Stafford has taken a nosedive. 

29. Oakland Raiders (4-10)

With one of the worst defenses and offenses in the league, it's no wonder why the Raiders are 4-10 this season. And, no, a 15-0 victory over the Chiefs doesn't impress me.

30. Philadelphia Eagles (4-10)

The offense and the defense have been horrible this season, which is why the Philadelphia Eagles have lost nine of their last 10 games. It's no mystery. This team is a disaster.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12)

The 24-3 loss to the Dolphins in Week 15 was a pretty good indicator of how hopeless the Jaguars are this season. Without the injured Maurice Jones-Drew, it's hard to find much of a silver lining in the 12 losses.

32. Kansas City Chiefs (2-12)

With the worst offense in the league and one of the worst defenses, the Kansas City Chiefs have claimed the title of worst team in the league. When you are yelling at your center to hike the ball and he forgets to do so, leading to a delay of game, there is simply not much hope for you.

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