With just one week left in the 2012 NFL season, which team is the best?
Week 17 will provide a ton of clarity in the NFL playoff race, but the Power Rankings you see here aren't about rankings and standings—they are about which team has the most momentum, the best chance to win each week and which team has been the most powerful over the course of the season.
Standings aren't power rankings. That's important to note. Does anyone believe the Atlanta Falcons or Houston Texans are really the best teams in football? They may end with the most wins, but that doesn't mean they're favored to win the Super Bowl. Quite the opposite.
Which team ranks as the best, and which is the worst? We're filling that in and everything in between.
Need some good news? The Jaguars have locked up at least the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
With 13 losses, Week 16 really does little to alter the course of the 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars; instead it serves as a way for management to evaluate the coaching staff and the players to see who will be back and who will be asked to leave this offseason.
The play of Chad Henne and Justin Blackmon together should be encouraging for Jaguars fans and management. While there are reports that Tim Tebow will end up in Jacksonville, the football operations people should be smart enough to see that Henne can win them ball games. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it's true.
The Jaguars were a better team with Henne than with Gabbert, and add in a healthy Maurice Jones-Drew and there's no telling how this offense could look in 2013 with a healthy trio in place. Henne isn't a long-term answer—at all—but he's a better option than Tebow or Gabbert.
Is it over yet?
The Kansas City Chiefs' 2012 season will go down as one of the all-time disappointments. This was a team with high expectations entering the season, but because of injuries and regression at the quarterback position, those expectations were never realized.
Now the Chiefs are back to square one. Owner Clark Hunt must decide if general manager Scott Pioli is worthy of his job. Once that decision is made, Pioli must decide if head coach Romeo Crennel is worthy of his job. And once that decision is made, someone needs to find a quarterback.
It's time to start over in Kansas City, but there are building blocks. Jamaal Charles and the offensive line are worth keeping together, and the defense has talent at linebacker. The first step is finding the right man to fill out the roster.
The "close, but no cigar" nature of Week 16's game sums up the Eagles' past few seasons. The team has been close, but not getting to the playoffs in 2011 or 2012 is ultimately the black mark on Reid's resume, and the larger reason why it's very likely he will be fired the Monday after Week 17 ends.
There is a good talent base in Philadelphia, but Reid's magic has worn off. It's time for a new head coach to spark the team.
Everyone knew the Oakland Raiders would be bad this year, but this bad? It's surprising.
The fact that the Raiders have lost 11 games isn't a big shocker, but it's how they've lost that is. Darren McFadden has proven again that he can't stay healthy. A defensive line that was supposed to be dominant was instead a weakness. And the cornerbacks—oh my lord were they bad.
Reggie McKenzie has his work cut out for him in attempting to rebuild this team, and doing so without a second-round pick in the April thanks to the trade that brought Carson Palmer to Oakland. I believe McKenzie is the guy to right the ship, but fans and ownership must show a patience that neither group is known for.
It's amazing how bad the Arizona Cardinals offense is, especially when you consider how much talent there is on an individual level. Chalk that up to bad coaching and bad team-building.
The first move for the team this offseason won't be to draft a quarterback—Kevin Kolb was actually good before leaving with injury and ultimately missing the rest of the season. Instead, fixing the offensive line should take priority for the front office.
The good news is that Arizona played its way into an early draft pick, and with that comes the chance to draft Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M) or Taylor Lewan (Michigan) and fix their weak link at left tackle. No other pick should even be considered if one of the top offensive tackles is available when the Cardinals are on the clock.
There's really no way to excuse the way the Tennessee Titans laid down against the Green Bay Packers. With a 55-7 loss now on the record, having any faith in the turn-around of the Titans' future is pretty tough.
Hard questions must be asked in the offseason. Namely, is Jake Locker the quarterback to lead this team into the future? Locker has been up and down in his first full season as a starter, but mostly down. Injuries haven't helped, but there is enough talent around Locker that he wasn't asked to do exceptional things—which is good, because he didn't.
Locker was a first-round draft pick for a reason, and he's definitely talented, but for reasons that may be on Locker and may be on the coaching staff—or both—things aren't working out as planned. The 2013 season may be Locker's last chance to prove he belongs over the long haul in Tennessee.
Is it 2013 yet?
The Cleveland Browns are ready for the new year to be here, and for the first time in a long time, there is good reason to be optimistic about the future.
New owner Jimmy Haslam seems like the kind of guy who can get things turned around in Cleveland, but until the season ends no one will know if that turnaround will include head coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert.
There's a good argument for many of Heckert's recent draft picks, but Shurmur has yet to really show the offensive prowess that led to his hiring away from the St. Louis Rams. If anything, the Browns have become a defensive team under Shurmur, which is never a good sign if your head coach is supposed to be an offensive genius.
My vote would be for a new head coach and general manager to come to Cleveland. Give me Chip Kelly. Give me Ray Horton. Give me anyone but Pat Shurmur.
Buddy Nix wants a quarterback. Buddy Nix needs a quarterback. Unfortunately, this isn't a great offseason to go get a quarterback.
The Bills already have Ryan Fitzpatrick, but we can all agree that he's not the long-term answer. The 2013 draft brings guys like Geno Smith, Tyler Wilson and maybe Mike Glennon from North Carolina State, but with five wins, the Bills may be out of contention for a signal-caller early in the first round.
The offseason is shaping up to be a major headache for the Bills. Ownership is finally relenting and ready to go get a QB, but that realization came in what might be the worst quarterback class in the last five years.
It's maddening to watch a team so talented play so poorly. Calvin Johnson has the best season ever for a wide receiver, and the team wins four games. It would be funny if it weren't true.
Would anyone be surprised if Jim Schwartz gets fired next week?
Two things stand in the way of what would be a well-deserved pink slip. 1) The Lions are notoriously cheap, and 2) Schwartz signed what can only be assumed to be a hefty extension through 2015 before the season began in June. Lions fans deserve a new head coach, but it's unlikely you'll get one.
The tractor fire that was the Lions' 2012 season shouldn't go unnoticed by fans, media and ownership. Change is needed.
It should be no surprise that Greg McElroy didn't deliver a win in his first start of the season. Not when he was sacked 11 times by a San Diego defense that came early and often at the young quarterback.
The season has been disappointing, and nine losses won't sit easy with owner Woody Johnson, but I firmly believe that Rex Ryan is one of the best coaches in the NFL. Period. Ryan has a team that's terribly devoid of talent, and yet they're competing. Few coaches in the league could get six wins out of this sorry excuse for a roster, and that's all on Rex for getting the team to play well above its talent level.
New management is needed—Mike Tannenbaum has proven that he's not ready or capable to be a general manager—but the worst thing the Jets could do is to fire Rex Ryan.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one of the most confusing teams in the entire NFL. Blame Greg Schiano.
It's not that Schiano has done a bad job, but the Bucs are so inconsistent from week to week that you never know which team will show up. In Week 16, the Bad Buccaneers took the field, failing to pressure Sam Bradford and letting the St. Louis Rams walk all over them in every aspect of the game. The chance to win eight games and get to .500 slipped away just like that.
There's good talent here, and Schiano seems like a good enough coach to get the Buccaneers back to the playoffs. But for that to happen the entire team must learn to play more consistently. That's on Greg.
The Carolina Panthers are quietly finishing the year on a hot streak. That could bode well for 2013.
Another win and the Panthers will be 7-9—quite a jump from the two wins they posted in 2011. The rebuilding here hasn't been instant, but steadily the Panthers are improving.
There is enough young talent that the Panthers could start to challenge for a playoff spot in a very loaded NFC South as early as next season. Watching Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly each week, you can see that the leaders for the offense and defense have been found. Now it's about building the talent around them.
The San Diego Super Chargers actually looked super on Sunday, but as is the norm from Norv Turner, it's too little too late.
The Chargers are a perennial favorite to win the AFC West and/or a Super Bowl, but so rarely in the A.J. Smith and Turner era has the team even scratched the surface of their potential. With a quarterback like Philip Rivers, the Chargers could have been a playoff team each year, but bad salary cap management and natural regression at key positions have left the Chargers in a rebuilding situation heading into 2013.
The first step is getting rid of Norv and A.J. Once that's done, hiring a general manager and head coach who have the ability to motivate the players and the fans will be key. Bill Cowher, anyone?
When the Miami Dolphins hired head coach Joe Philbin and drafted Ryan Tannehill, I wasn't too optimistic about their season. In fact, I'm pretty sure my prediction was four wins. Oops.
Tannehill, Philbin and the entire Dolphins organization have exceeded expectations in Year 1. Philbin quickly acclimated from assistant coach to the top position. Tannehill made a very good adjustment from college quarterback to the pros, and perceived weaknesses at wide receiver never hurt the team as much as we all thought they would.
The work isn't done, though. General manager Jeff Ireland may not keep his job, even with the improvement shown this year across the board. Big changes could be coming in Miami, but one thing is certain—Tannehill is your quarterback.
There are times when NFL teams take on the personality of their head coach. Sometimes it takes a few seasons, but good teams always come back to the head coach. The St. Louis Rams are looking a lot like Jeff Fisher these days.
You didn't see fight in the 2011 Rams. There was no fire. This year, Fisher's group plays every week with fire and passion. Newcomers Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan have made the cornerback position not only a strength on defense, but an example of the style of play that Fisher expects. The defense as a whole looks to be a building block for general manager Les Snead and Fisher as they head into their second offseason together.
Don't sleep on the Rams in 2013. They've proven that they know how to beat the San Francisco 49ers, and if the offense improves as much as the defense has, this will be one hell of a team next season.
You have to hand it to the New Orleans Saints—they aren't quitters.
The Dallas Cowboys may not appreciate that characteristic right now, but the Saints have been one of the more incredible stories of 2012.
Starting the season with two coaches suspended was hard enough, but to start 0-4 without Sean Payton, Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis would have ended most team's season. But not the Saints. They fought and clawed their way back from the dead, and even their 7-8 record heading into Week 17 should be seen as a major triumph in a year full of obstacles.
The Saints will be back in 2013...as long as Sean Payton gets a new contract as soon as the season ends.
Allow me to gloat. Feel free to skip ahead.
Before the season began, I predicted an 8-8 record and no playoffs for the Pittsburgh Steelers. You can imagine the fan reaction both here and on Twitter. I'd share them, but this is a family-friendly article. Needless to say, there was one death threat, and many people wondered what drug my mother must have smoked during her pregnancy with me.
The Steelers won't make the playoffs. With a win in Week 17, they'll have eight wins. I'm not going to say that I'm always right (hello, Kansas City Chiefs 2012 season), but this one feels especially sweet.
The path to the playoffs won't be easy for the Chicago Bears, but double-digit wins are possible this year. With one week left, the Bears are still in it.
This has been an impressive season for Lovie Smith's team, but also at times it's been disappointing. Jay Cutler has had perhaps his best season in Chicago, but the lack of help from the offensive line and the surprisingly bad play of the run defense have both held the team back. Not to mention offensive coordinator Mike Tice's inability to effectively scheme and execute a game plan.
Smith is loved and hated by fans, but he's done a remarkable job with this team. If general manager Phil Emery can find a true left tackle, the 2013 season will see Chicago once again competing in the NFC North.
It's safe to say that many people wrote off the Minnesota Vikings' playoff chances heading into Week 16. And then they beat the Houston Texans. Now the Vikings are back in the hunt with a 9-6 record and a tiebreaker over the Chicago Bears.
As the playoff picture stands today, the Vikings would head to the postseason as the No. 6 seed. For all the negative talk about Christian Ponder and Leslie Frazier, this is a playoff team.
Fans and the media should take a step back and remember that last year, the Vikings earned the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. This wasn't a good football team. Frazier has the Vikings playing very well in spite of some issues at quarterback and wide receiver.
And while the Vikings may be a one-and-out playoff team, you can bet that fans won't care as long as their Vikings are still playing while the Lions and Bears are sitting at home.
A Week 16 loss hurt the Dallas Cowboys' playoff hopes, but heading into the final week of the season, they're still alive. Barely.
The NFC East is a jumbled mess right now, but basically, the Cowboys need to beat the Washington Redskins next week. That's it. No pressure.
If the Cowboys play like they did in Week 16, chances are they'll miss the playoffs. It may sound odd, but they need to be just a little bit better in Week 17, and they'll come out victorious. With the Redskins on the schedule and the playoffs hanging in the balance for both teams, expect a hard-fought, divisional battle.
With seven losses, the New York Giants enter Week 17 trailing the Washington Redskins in the division. That makes their final regular-season matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles all the more important.
This is a team that's far too good to miss the playoffs, but we've seen this show from the Giants before. All that talent equals eight or nine wins, but their inconsistency is eventually what ends their season too soon. Even including the two years that they've won a Super Bowl, Tom Coughlin's teams never play up to their potential for a full season. It's always this hit-or-miss stumble to and through the playoffs.
In a win-or-go-home scenario, the Giants terrify me. They have as much potential as any team in the NFC to make a Super Bowl run—or they could miss the playoffs altogether.
When the Indianapolis Colts finished with two wins in 2011, the playoffs were a distant memory and a lofty goal for the future.
When the Colts cut franchise quarterback Peyton Manning, the playoffs seemed like an old friend they'd never see again.
When the Colts used the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft on Andrew Luck, the playoffs were a goal, but not in the near future.
Now, with one week left in the 2012 season, the Indianapolis Colts are going to the playoffs. After one of the most trying seasons in franchise history. After the loss of the franchise's savior at quarterback. After a complete house-cleaning of the front office and coaching staff.
Playoffs. And damn, it must feel sweet.
Talk about a big win.
The Baltimore Ravens embarrassed the New York Giants in Week 16, getting to win No. 10 and reminding folks that this is a pretty damn good football team.
The way the Ravens won—efficient Joe Flacco, a ton of rushing and solid defense—is a reminder of the old-school Baltimore teams. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce were punishing, and that set up downfield passing opportunities that Flacco was able to hit on as the Giants defense crept up into the box.
If the Ravens can rush for more than 200 yards against the Giants, every team in the NFL should be terrified.
Win and they are in. It's that simple.
The Washington Redskins have had an incredible season. Robert Griffin III has had a Rookie of the Year campaign. The playoffs would put a nice finish on a season that few saw coming over the summer.
The Redskins won't be a great matchup against any of the NFC playoff teams, but that's been the story on them all year. They weren't supposed to beat the Giants or Cowboys. Griffin wasn't supposed to play near-flawless football in his first season. None of this was supposed to happen.
But it has. And now the Redskins are one win away from the promised land.
It's been no secret that I'm a big fan of what the Cincinnati Bengals are doing. It started when they drafted my No. 1 player (A.J. Green) and No. 1 quarterback (Andy Dalton) in the 2012 NFL draft. Since then, I've been on the bandwagon.
That bandwagon is starting to fill up.
The Bengals made the playoffs for the second straight season after they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16. Not only did they beat the Steelers, they knocked their division rival out of the playoff race.
Some will say that making the playoffs shouldn't be the goal, that doing something once you get there is the ultimate. Bengals fans aren't likely to agree with that. Knocking the Steelers out of the playoff race and clinching their own berth? There probably haven't been many Sundays as good as this one in Cincinnati in a long, long time.
The Houston Texans had a chance to build a lead in the race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Instead, they lost to the Minnesota Vikings. If you had faith in Houston before Week 16, I'm not sure how you do right now.
The Texans will likely finish with the best record in the AFC, but the way they've played down the stretch hasn't been inspiring. They failed to show up in a blowout loss to the New England Patriots. They were beat by the Minnesota Vikings when playoff seeds were at stake. That's not inspiring.
The good news is that few teams have the balance that Houston can bring to the table. The biggest question mark for me isn't about talent, it's about Gary Kubiak being able to plan and execute a win in the playoffs. Kubiak's lack of a killer instinct will be this team's biggest obstacle.
Seattle fans will certainly fill up the comments with rants about how their Seahawks should be ranked higher, but should they be?
Yes, they dominated the 49ers, fair and square. They also lost to the 49ers in Week 7. There's no doubting that the Seahawks are unbeatable at home, and Russell Wilson is becoming one of the most dangerous players in the NFL, but how will they look on the road to open the playoffs?
Barring a San Francisco loss to the Arizona Cardinals, we'll find out in two weeks. The Seahawks have managed to win on the road this year—in Carolina, Toronto (Bills) and Chicago. Not exactly a murderers row of teams, but an improvement over recent years.
I like Seattle. I love the way Pete Carroll's team plays. I don't love their playoff chances on the road.
In a week when the Atlanta Falcons had lost the public vote for the best team in the NFC, they went out and won. Again.
With 13 wins, the Falcons have the best record in the NFL. Critics will wisely point out that the best record in the regular season means nothing once the playoffs start. I agree, but that doesn't mean we should all jump on the Falcons and overlook their success this season.
The goal is to win a Super Bowl, and having the best record is a big help in getting there. Home-field advantage, a bye week to rest and recover and the benefit of never having to travel are all major advantages, and if the Falcons do their jobs next week, that's all theirs.
The Green Bay Packers just keep winning.
The 2012 season hasn't been easy. Losses to the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Indianapolis Colts and New York Giants all caused fan and media outrage at one point or another. But the Packers never panicked. Aaron Rodgers never panicked. Mike McCarthy doesn't even know how to panic.
Now it's late December, and the Packers have a chance at the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Rodgers is having another career year in spite of injuries that have decimated his offensive line and wide receiver corps.
This feels more like a 2010-type of season than 2011, when the Packers dominated the regular season and fell short of expectations in the playoffs. Depending on the matchups, Green Bay is set up to make a nice run through the postseason.
The NFL is, certifiably, crazy.
Week 14: The New England Patriots dominate the Houston Texans in New England.
Week 15: The San Francisco 49ers beat the Patriots in New England.
Week 16: The Seattle Seahawks dominate the 49ers in Seattle.
If you ever needed proof that parity is alive in the NFL, read the No. 1 team's slide in the power rankings the last three weeks. It was New England. Then it was San Francisco. On a week-to-week basis, so much changes because the top teams are beating each other up.
The 49ers can't be No. 1, but I still believe they are very likely to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. That's why they're still ranked atop the NFC rankings.
Jim Harbaugh needs to find his team's identity when facing a tough, hard-nosed defense. If he can do that, the 49ers will be fine, but in their losses and ties this year it's been a physical defense that handled them. You're on notice, San Francisco.
Beating the Jacksonville Jaguars isn't something the New England Patriots should be proud of, but with the Houston Texans losing, the Week 16 victory moves the team closer to a first-round bye in the playoffs.
It's interesting that 11 wins seems like a step back for the Patriots—that's a sign of just how good they have been over the last decade—but this is a team with a chance to finish tied for the AFC's best record. They're also arguably the most well-rounded team in all of that conference.
As long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are together, the Patriots will be considered a playoff favorite. With the way they've played so far this year, and with the AFC weaker overall, this could be the Patriots' year.
The Denver Broncos have won 10 straight games. If you want to talk about momentum heading into the postseason, that's tough to beat.
With the AFC West clinched, and after the New England Patriots lost to San Francisco last week, the Broncos sit as the No. 2 seed in the conference. They could still get to No. 1 if they're able to beat the 2-13 Kansas City Chiefs and get help from a Houston Texans loss.
No matter where the Broncos are playing in the postseason, they'll be one of the tougher teams to beat. That's seen in the 10 straight wins they've ripped off. It's evident in how well Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas are syncing up. It's all over the place with Von Miller destroying offenses.
The Broncos, right now, are the best team in the AFC.