NFL Power Rankings Week 16: What to Watch for on Every Team This Sunday

Mike Shiekman@TheRealShiekFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 17: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers greets Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots following their game at Gillette Stadium on December 17, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The NFL playoffs are only two weeks away, but many teams can’t look past Week 16.

Playoff contenders face off in multiple make-or-break games next weekend, including an AFC North clash between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

NFL fans could see many new playoff teams if the postseason picture stays the same. If there’s some shakeups in the air, then the old guard can slip right in and take control.

As it stands, here are power rankings through Week 15. And yes, two teams from Sunday night are deservedly at the top.  


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

A win at Foxboro in December is as good as it gets for a late-season win.

The 49ers look raring and ready for playoff time, armed with their Colin Kaepernick changing the dynamics of their offense. That winning touchdown throw to go up 38-31 had me thinking, “Alex Smith could not do that.”


2. New England Patriots (10-4)

The Patriots lost out on a first-round bye for the moment after losing on Sunday Night Football. They’ll get a much-needed break from the NFL’s best with a visit to Jacksonville next week.

With games against the Jags and Dolphins to finish up the season, the Patriots should maintain their grip on the No. 3 seed in the AFC at worst.


3. Denver Broncos (11-3)

Nine straight wins and the Broncos have taken a hold of an AFC bye, with a lot of expectations along with it. Their win over Baltimore signals they’re in a class above with Houston and New England.


4. Atlanta Falcons (12-2)

Atlanta came into this NFC clash having already secured their division, not necessarily needing a win over the Giants.

They blew out New York and then some, shutting out the Giants 34-0 and changing the expectations of NFL fans everywhere.


5. Houston Texans (12-2)

The Texans rebounded with an AFC South win, a double-digit victory over Indianapolis. They proved that they’re leaps and bounds ahead of the Colts in the division.

The Texans host playoff hopeful Minnesota next week, as the Texans will get a good warmup for a strong running offense with Adrian Peterson lining up on the other side.


6. Green Bay Packers (10-4)

Green Bay didn’t close out the Bears with a bang, but they did it with defense in their 21-13 victory.

They can certainly outscore their opponents in a shootout, but being able to win a grind-it-out game will be paramount for the Packers’ Super Bowl hopes. They need to win with different styles in January.


7. Seattle Seahawks (9-5)

Seattle is reestablishing its identity as a pure well-oiled machine, armed with a quarterback who may be the most dangerous weapon in the league.

Now with this passing game at full force, the Seahawks have become a matchup nightmare on both sides of the ball.


8. New York Giants (8-6)

The G-Men have tumbled out of the playoff race, but they still rank high because their ceiling is much higher than the other teams below them.

The key to the Giants’ postseason hopes once again rest on their pass rush. If they can play like the best collective unit in football, they’ll mask their inefficiencies in the secondary and plague opposing QBs in January.


9. Washington Redskins (8-6)

The ‘Skins now control their own destiny in the NFC East, courtesy of their backup quarterback Kirk Cousins.

“Captain Kirk” may get the start against the Eagles next week in case Griffin is not 100 percent. Philadelphia is a beatable opponent, though, so Cousins should be able to do the job.


10. Baltimore Ravens (9-5)

Luckily, the Ravens have fallen out of favor late enough in the game to still get a playoff spot. They’ve lost three straight, but nobody in the AFC is good enough to knock them out of the playoffs.

Baltimore is headed for a wild-card berth, but at this rate, not much more than that.


11. Dallas Cowboys (8-6)

The Cowboys got the biggest win of their season in an overtime victory over Pittsburgh. Tony Romo has finally cut down on his mistakes and the offense has found an identity with DeMarco Murray back in the fold.

Their wins aren’t pretty, but the Cowboys know how to churn out close games. That may prove to be handy in these final two contests.


12. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)

Everybody and their mothers liked the Steelers to take care of business in Big D, but the Cowboys outlasted Big Ben’s team down the stretch. They’ll need to pull out a couple of wins and hope for some luck to get back in the playoffs.


13. Indianapolis Colts (9-5)

The Colts seem to be in good position for a playoff berth but clearly are in the backseat to top seeds like New England, Houston and Denver.

That class distinction was no more apparent in Indianapolis’s 29-17 loss to Houston. Nothing to be ashamed of, though. No one thought the Colts would be this competitive this early after letting go of Peyton Manning this offseason.


14. Chicago Bears (8-6)

The Bears looked battered and bruised in the NFC North war versus Green Bay and are now out of the current playoff picture.

Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and Co. will need to start playing up to expectations or this season is going to end much like the last one: in huge disappointment.


15. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)

Cincinnati gets 10 days to rest before their big-time showdown with Pittsburgh in Week 16.

It’s time for the Bengal offense to deliver against a wounded Steeler team that has proved to be Cincinnati’s kryptonite in recent years.


16. Minnesota Vikings (8-6)

Minnesota holds a playoff spot, but only for now. The Vikings have meetings with the Texans and Packers to close out the season, making it a tough road to the postseason.

Adrian Peterson will have to kick those tires into warp speed for a chance at a game in January.


17. New Orleans Saints (6-8)

The Saints won’t be making the playoffs this season, but their defense can hang their hats on a shutout of Tampa Bay in Week 15.

The stout defensive performance was uncharacteristic of a historically bad Saints defense. There’s a chance it will keep them out of the history books.


18. Miami Dolphins (6-8)

Miami must win out to have any chance at the postseason, but even those chances are on life support.

They’ll need wins over Buffalo and New England to stay in contention, with the latter possibly a competitive game with the AFC race at the top so close. Not good news for the Dolphins.


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

The Rams have hung around in games all year, becoming one of the league’s peskiest teams. They won’t be postseason bound this season, but they can take solace in the fact that they’ll be in contention in 2013.


20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8)

In only a few weeks, the Bucs stock has dropped faster than anyone would’ve thought.

Hopefully Greg Schiano can get his team together for winnable games against St. Louis and Atlanta, because it’s been a better season than a 6-10 campaign.


21. New York Jets (6-8)

The Jets’ loss at Tennessee epitomized their season: a flat-out disaster. Their playoff hopes are now dashed, but they really never had a chance, did they?


22. Carolina Panthers (5-9)

Carolina submitted one complete performance against San Diego. I’m still trying to check the Chargers' pulse, but the Panthers certainly have come on strong to end the season.

Maybe there’s hope for Ron Rivera after all. He was a sure goner a mere few weeks ago.


23. Arizona Cardinals (5-9)

The Cardinals won their first game since Week 4, and did they need it.

From here on out, there storylines in Arizona will be centered on Ken Whisenhunt’s future. A couple more wins would help his case for next season immensely.


24. Cleveland Browns (5-9)

Cleveland has played in a ton of close games but hasn’t found a way to close them out.

They’d certainly like to have this past week back. Against Washington and their backup quarterback, they had a better performance in them than a double-digit loss.


25. Buffalo Bills (5-9)

The Seahawks’ blowout of Buffalo was a season low for such a disappointing campaign.

With so much money tied into their stoic defensive line, there’s a bunch of tough decisions coming up for the Bills organization.


26. San Diego Chargers (5-9)

Norv Turner’s team quit on him in this game. It’s as simple as that, and Philip Rivers is throwing ugly interceptions.


27. Tennessee Titans (5-9)

The Titans got a Monday night victory but did everything not to lose the game in the second half. That won’t fly against their next opponent: the Green Bay Packers.


28. Detroit Lions (4-10)

The Lions’ disaster season continues, and Jim Schwartz may be out of a job when it’s all said and done.

The Lions would be wise to scrape and claw for a couple of victories before their coach gets kicked to the curb.


29. Oakland Raiders (4-10)

The Raiders got a late-season win over the Chiefs, but this season has been so much worse than they had predicted.

They don’t have many picks in the upcoming draft, so they’ll have to hit those few on the mark to make a difference next season.


30. Philadelphia Eagles (4-10)

The Eagles are far out of the playoff race and will likely go through a coaching change when 2013 rolls around.

Luckily, they’ll get to play spoiler against the Redskins and Giants and try to ruin their playoff hopes. Not a bad consolation prize.


31. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12)

Chad Henne didn’t have the homecoming he would have imagined against his former team.

The Jaguars were out of the game most of the second half against Miami, and they’re running on fumes as this year comes to a close.


32. Kansas City Chiefs (2-12)

The Chiefs can be happy about the inside track to the first pick in the draft. As for the weak draft class coming out this season, it might not be a good time to tell Chiefs fans that news.


Mike Shiekman is a Breaking News Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow his fantasy football advice and NFL thoughts on Twitter @TheRealShiek


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