NFL Power Rankings: Teams That Will Improve Playoff Chances in Week 16

Austin GreenCorrespondent IDecember 18, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 09:  Quarterback Jay Cutler#6 of the Chicago Bears throws against the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field on December 9, 2012 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

With just two weeks left in the NFL regular season, there are five playoff spots and three division titles up for grabs.

The AFC North, NFC West and NFC East champions remain uncrowned, and several teams are still in contention for the league's four wild-card slots.

While everything won't be decided until Week 17, a few teams can at least partially paint themselves into the playoff picture this coming Sunday. The teams that I expect to do so will be highlighted in this week's power rankings.


32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12)

Obviously, there isn't any playoff talk in Jacksonville. If the Jaguars don't find a significant upgrade at quarterback, that trend will continue for at least a couple more years.


31. Kansas City Chiefs (2-12)

The Chiefs have a decent amount of talent, but like the Jags, they won't be sniffing the playoffs in the coming years unless they solve their QB woes.


30. Philadelphia Eagles (4-10)

The Eagles have the players to contend for the playoffs next season, even in the ultra-competitive NFC East. Of course, their chances will largely depend on who they bring in to replace Andy Reid.


29. Detroit Lions (4-10)

The Lions get my vote for most disappointing team of 2012. How bad have they been? They just lost 38-10 to a team that started Ryan Lindley at quarterback. Enough said.


28. New York Jets (6-8)

I don't care that they have six wins. The ineptitude of this franchise is just staggering.


27. Tennessee Titans (5-9)

I wouldn't say the Titans beat the Jets on Monday night. They just didn't lose. Should be a confidence booster nonetheless.


26. Oakland Raiders (4-10)

The Raiders snapped a six-game losing streak on Sunday, beating Kansas City 15-0. If they had beaten anyone other than the Chiefs, I'd be a little impressed.


25. Arizona Cardinals (5-9)

The Cardinals picked up a nice win on Sunday. It's a shame this team fell so far after its 4-0 start.


24. Buffalo Bills (5-9)

The Bills were the latest victim of the Seattle Seahawks, falling 50-17 to Russell Wilson and Co. While they have a few nice pieces, I can't picture Buffalo making the playoffs within the next few years.


23. Cleveland Browns (5-9)

The Browns strung together a nice three-game win streak heading into Week 15. Then they were brought back to reality by the Washington Redskins, who were without Robert Griffin III. Can't say I was surprised.


22. San Diego Chargers (5-9) and 21. Carolina Panthers (5-9)

Not only did the Panthers just spank San Diego 31-7, but with Cam Newton under center, they have a promising future as well. Meanwhile, the Chargers have failed to meet expectations yet again under Norv "Even I can't believe I'm still a head coach" Turner.


20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8)

There's no shame in losing to a tough division rival, especially when that rival has Drew Brees at quarterback. However, there is shame in losing 41-0 with your playoff hopes on the line. Lots of shame, actually.


19. Miami Dolphins (6-8)

The Dolphins have had a very good season considering their youth. Look for Miami to be a playoff contender next season.


18. New Orleans Saints (6-8)

With the bounty scandal behind them, New Orleans went out and destroyed the Bucs. It obviously hasn't been the type of season they were hoping for down in the Bayou, but the Saints will definitely be tough next year.


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

Despite their loss to Minnesota on Sunday, the Rams are still in the playoff hunt. Their last two games are winnable (Tampa Bay, Seattle), but they need too much help. Don't count on St. Louis sneaking in.


16. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)

The Steelers have a huge opportunity against the Bengals (8-6) this week. But after losing to San Diego in Week 14 and choking Sunday against the Cowboys, I'm not exactly confident in Big Ben and his crew.


15. Chicago Bears (8-6)

I have the Bears ranked lower than most of their fellow NFC wild-card contenders. But with their soft remaining schedule, they may have the best chance to get into the playoffs.

The Bears lost 21-13 to Green Bay on Sunday, meaning they've now lost three straight and five of their last six. Luckily, their final two games are against the Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions.

If Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall get just a little help from their teammates, the Bears will make the playoffs.


14. Minnesota Vikings (8-6)

The Vikings have now won two straight over fellow wild-card contenders, and it's becoming increasingly clear that Adrian Peterson is a freak of human nature.

Still, I'm not loving the Vikings' playoff chances. Their last two games are against the Texans and Packers—not exactly an easy end to the season.


13. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)

Cincy has won five of its last six games, including its 34-13 beatdown of Philly last Thursday night.

Unfortunately, like Minnesota, the Bengals won't be able to coast into the playoffs, as they have games against division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore to close out the season.

With a one-game lead over the Steelers, Andy Dalton and Co. control their own destiny. I think they'll beat Pittsburgh to secure their playoff spot, but it certainly won't be easy.


12. Baltimore Ravens (9-5)

The Ravens looked Super Bowl-bound after their 9-2 start, but they've dropped three straight games. Joe Flacco has thrown a pick in each game during their skid, and new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell doesn't seem to be aware that Ray Rice is on the team. 

Luckily, Baltimore already clinched a playoff spot, because with two tough games left (Giants, Bengals), they're in danger of losing five straight.


11. New York Giants (8-6) and 10. Dallas Cowboys (8-6) and 9. Washington Redskins (8-6)

While I still think the battle-tested Giants are the best team in the NFC East, I can't rank them ahead of Dallas and Washington after the way Week 15 went down.

The Cowboys completed their second straight comeback victory, and the Redskins thrived, even with RG3 sidelined. Meanwhile, the Giants were annihilated 34-0 by the Falcons.

As it stands now, the Redskins would win the division thanks to tiebreaker scenarios, while New York and Dallas would be on the outside looking in.

All three teams control their destiny, though, and we won't know how this three-way race will shake out until the Redskins and Cowboys face each other in Week 17.

Here's my prediction: the Redskins will crush Philly next week, while the Giants barely beat Baltimore and the Cowboys out-duel the Saints. Then, in the last week of the season, New York will beat the Eagles and RG3 will lead Washington past Dallas for the second time this season.

Washington will win the division and the Giants will creep into the last wild-card spot. Dallas, once again, will be the odd man out.


8. Indianapolis Colts (9-5)

Indy lost 29-17 to Houston on Sunday, but with lowly Kansas City next up on the schedule, I'd be shocked if Andrew Luck and the Colts miss the playoffs.

Before falling to the Texans, the Colts had won three straight and seven of their last eight. And even though they'll be on the road, look for them to get back on track against the 2-12 Chiefs.

I'm expecting another brilliant performance from Luck and a dominant Colts victory. Given the state of this franchise last season, 10 wins and a playoff birth would almost be a miracle.


7. Seattle Seahawks (9-5)

The Seahawks have won three straight, and Pete Carroll is essentially coaching games with his middle fingers up. 

After beating Arizona 58-0 in Week 14, the Seahawks hung 50 points on Buffalo a couple days ago. They are the first team to score 50 points in back-to-back games since 1950.

But as good as Seattle has been, it still hasn't guaranteed itself a playoff spot. The Seahawks have two tough games to close out their schedule (49ers, Rams), and with plenty of other wild-card contenders in the NFC, they can't afford to stumble.

I think Seattle will ultimately hang on, but it certainly won't be easy.


6. Green Bay Packers (10-4)

The Packers beat Chicago 21-13, making it their eighth win in nine games. Still, I can't bring myself to put the Packers higher than this, if only because their 38-10 destruction at the hands of the Giants is still fresh on my mind.


5. Atlanta Falcons (12-2)

The Falcons followed up their Week 14 loss to Carolina nicely, stomping the Giants 34-0.

Of course, the skeptics will say that the Falcons' win didn't necessarily mean much since it came in the regular season. While I still don't have complete confidence in them come playoff time, that reasoning is garbage.

Atlanta made a strong statement on Sunday, and if it gets a little luck with matchups in the playoffs, it could put together a serious run.


4. Houston Texans (12-2)

The Texans played well in Week 15, beating the Colts 29-17. It obviously didn't make up for the 42-14 loss to the Patriots the week before, but this is still a team with a balanced offense and downright scary defense.


3. New England Patriots (10-4)

The Patriots were on the verge of being blown out by San Francisco. But Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the gang were able to restore some order with their furious second-half comeback. They still didn't do enough to win the game, but they proved once again that they are as dangerous as any team in the league.


2. Denver Broncos (11-3)

The Broncos extended their winning streak to nine on Sunday, taking out Baltimore 34-17. Even though the Ravens are struggling, it was a strong road win for a team that's been feasting on opponents that range from "decent" to "terrible."

Denver is a well-balanced team, and with Peyton Manning playing like an MVP, it is capable of beating anybody in the league.


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

The Niners were unquestionably the most impressive team in Week 15. They jumped all over the Patriots in Foxboro, then survived the inevitable comeback storm.

I'm still not 100 percent confident in Colin Kaepernick come playoff time. But with their defense and running game, the 49ers should be the favorites to win it all.


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