The 2013 NFL season is approaching the three-quarter mark, and that means we're seeing a clearer playoff picture and a clearer NFL draft order as the top teams separate themselves and the cellar-dwellers sort out which team is worst.
After a week that saw the top-ranked team lose, the New England Patriots post their largest comeback win in team history and the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers win, a lot of things have changed.
Who holds the titles of the best and worst team in the NFL after 12 weeks?
This Week's Rank: 32
Last Week's Rank: 30
The Atlanta Falcons are guaranteed a losing season after winning the most games of any team in the NFC last year. Quite a change for Mike Smith and crew, but overcoming injuries and poor free-agency moves was too much for this team.
The 2014 Falcons will look quite different, especially with the team likely to have a top-five draft pick. That could bring in Jadeveon Clowney at defensive end, Jake Matthews at left tackle or Anthony Barr at outside linebacker. Plug in one of those blue-chip prospects with a healthy Sean Weatherspoon and Julio Jones, and this looks like a completely different ballclub.
Coming from the New England Patriots' school of management, Thomas Dimitroff isn't likely to make a coaching change—and he shouldn't—but don't be surprised to see turnover among the coordinators and position coaches as the team tries to move on from a disappointing season.
This Week's Rank: 31
Last Week's Rank: 27
Head coach Gary Kubiak's days as the team's head coach are numbered. After a 2-0 start, the Houston Texans have lost nine straight games as Kubiak's offense has struggled and the defense, authored by Wade Phillips, has fallen apart. Big changes are coming to Houston.
The Texans were a playoff team last season, but the writing was on the wall. They let too many free agents go in the past two offseasons—Jacoby Jones, Connor Barwin and Eric Winston among them—while trying to patch holes with Ed Reed and mid-round draft picks who weren't ready for the spotlight. The inequality on the roster led to stars like J.J. Watt and Andre Johnson being the sole focus of the opposition each week.
That's led to a team with talented building blocks struggling to put together solid performances on a weekly basis. And that's ultimately on Kubiak.
This Week's Rank: 30
Last Week's Rank: 32
Break up the Jaguars!
Gus Bradley's crew won its second game in Week 12 by taking down the Houston Texans. And heading into Week 13 against the Cleveland Browns, the Jags might be favored to win their third. That's quite a change for a team that started the year losing eight straight games.
If you read this article each week, you know that I'm a fan of the staff assembled in Jacksonville. As time goes by, we're seeing that patience is paying off as the coaches have time to develop their young talents. Players like Andre Branch who were written off by the previous regime have stepped up and started producing.
Hang in there and enjoy the rest of the season, Jaguars fans. It's going to be a fun one.
This Week's Rank: 29
Last Week's Rank: 31
The Minnesota Vikings took part in the first tie game of the season, locking horns with the Green Bay Packers through five periods. The tie helps Green Bay stay alive in the NFC North but does little to affect the Vikings' fortunes.
With two wins, the Vikings would have a top-five pick in the 2014 draft if the season ended today. That's a far fall from last year's playoff season, but it goes to show just how badly the team is playing. That starts at quarterback.
Christian Ponder has been the best of the bunch, but the Vikings must address the position early in the 2014 NFL draft. Whether it's Rick Spielman as general manager or a new regime, moving forward with this group of quarterbacks won't produce results.
This Week's Rank: 28
Last Week's Rank: 28
This is not a very good football team, and yet losses by Cleveland, Houston and Atlanta keep Washington from dropping in this week's rankings.
Scoring just six points marks the first time in Robert Griffin's college or pro career that his team didn't score a touchdown—which really highlights how poorly the team played offensively. Mike Shanahan relied too much on screens and horizontal passes against a very fast San Francisco defense, and the result was a putrid output from Griffin and company.
With eight losses, it's looking like a first-to-worst type of year for Washington in the NFC East.
This Week's Rank: 27
Last Week's Rank: 25
Brandon Weeden played significant minutes for the Cleveland Browns at quarterback, which tells you all you need to know about Week 12. At 4-7 and with a monster schedule ahead of them, it's time for Browns fans to look to the offseason.
The travesty here is that the defense is very good, but the offense can't get going well enough to keep it in games. Even when Josh Gordon goes off for over 200 yards receiving like he did against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team is unable to generate points to stay alive.
A new quarterback will help this team greatly in 2014.
This Week's Rank: 26
Last Week's Rank: 23
The Matt McGloin magic wore off Sunday when the undrafted rookie quarterback threw his first interception of the season and lost his first game, but you can't fault the Oakland Raiders for not playing hard. The Raiders went toe-to-toe with the Tennessee Titans and nearly pulled off the victory.
As has been the case for the Raiders this season—and in many previous seasons—they're just not quite there yet. The team has found talented players on both sides of the ball, but it lacks the top-to-bottom talent and depth needed to win close games. That the Raiders were able to hang with the Titans goes far in showing how well Dennis Allen is coaching his team of underdogs.
The Raiders may not have a ton of on-paper talent, but they're well coached, hungry and improving each week.
This Week's Rank: 25
Last Week's Rank: 29
Three straight wins for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has the future looking very different for everyone involved with the franchise as the team rides a hot streak into the last quarter of the year.
We in the media were a little quick to fire Greg Schiano when the team started the year with eight straight losses, an MRSA outbreak and the poor handling of the Josh Freeman situation. Hindsight, though, shows that Schiano was right about Freeman's struggles. The team now has a shot at an 8-8 record if it can keep this level of play up.
The talent was always there for the Buccaneers, but the play of quarterback Mike Glennon has been a major difference for them. Glennon is improving each week, showing the skills to be considered the team's long-term answer at the position.
This Week's Rank: 24
Last Week's Rank: 24
A late-season bye week gives the Buffalo Bills time to prepare for the final five games of the season. With rookies filling out key positions at head coach, quarterback, wide receiver, inside linebacker and nickel cornerback, it's good that the bye comes later. Now the team can catch its breath with a long week off right when the college football season is ending and most rookies are hitting a wall.
The Bills aren't likely to make a playoff push over the next five weeks, but they can push for an 8-8 record and momentum heading into next season. With so many young players in key roles, generating confidence heading into the offseason will serve them well.
This Week's Rank: 23
Last Week's Rank: 26
Thanks to head-to-head wins and the crowded AFC standings, the Tennessee Titans currently hold the No. 6 seed and would make the playoffs today as the final wild-card team. All because they came back to beat the Oakland Raiders on a huge play from Kendall Wright.
The Titans have managed to stay competitive without Jake Locker at quarterback, and in Week 12, we started to see Ryan Fitzpatrick playing comfortably in the team's system. The Titans are still a better team on defense than offense, but as Justin Hunter and Wright emerge, the offense is starting to look viable. And if Fitzpatrick can complete 30 passes for 320 yards, the offense will do its part.
Now the Titans must hold on over the next five weeks. They travel to Indianapolis and Denver the next two weeks and then host the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15. If the team can win those three games, it'll move way up in the rankings and prove its playoff worth.
This Week's Rank: 22
Last Week's Rank: 20
There will be good days and bad days for a young football team. Week 12 against the Carolina Panthers was a bad day.
Even when you look at the score—a close 20-16 loss—there were too many missed opportunities for the Miami Dolphins to win this game. Ryan Tannehill was constantly hit and pressured behind an offensive line missing three starters (Mike Pouncey, Jon Martin and Richie Incognito). The defense struggled to consistently stop Cam Newton, even with Dion Jordan playing his best game so far as Newton's tormentor.
Putting together four solid quarters has been an issue for this team, and that was once again the case in Week 12. And yet, with the game ending, the Dolphins were still alive. Were it not for an errant Ryan Tannehill pass that Mike Wallace dropped, we'd be talking about the comeback kids of South Beach.
This Week's Rank: 21
Last Week's Rank: 16
Up-down-up-down. That's the New York Jets' 2013 season in a nutshell, and it's the mark of a young, inconsistent team. The Jets are still growing, learning and developing; the key with this team is patience. Greatness wasn't expected before the season, and the preseason outlook that this was a rebuilding year shouldn't be changed now.
Rex Ryan has already won more games than most experts predicted for the Jets this season, and with five weeks left and a playoff berth still possible, the general perception surrounding this team should be positive.
Geno Smith has had his ups and downs at quarterback, but he's showing signs of being a long-term answer. The fact that he's able to do that behind a very bad offensive line and with few legitimate threats beside him on offense is remarkable. With Smith and the offense developing and a defense on the verge of dominating, the Jets are in good hands for the long term.
This Week's Rank: 20
Last Week's Rank: 18
The New York Giants' four-game win streak ends right when they needed a victory to keep climbing in the NFC East standings. Now, at 4-7, they're two games back of the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys with just five games to go.
With a tie game late, the Giants just had to stop Tony Romo from getting the Cowboys into field-goal range. That proved too difficult, as Romo executed a picture-perfect 13-play drive that ate up yards and clock before putting Dan Bailey in position for a chip-shot 35-yard field goal.
That one drive may be the end of the Giants' playoff hopes.
This Week's Rank: 19
Last Week's Rank: 19
The St. Louis Rams continue to show that on any given Sunday, they can hang with anyone in the league. That was the case in Week 12, as they blew out the battered Chicago Bears 42-21.
Fueled by the run game, the Rams were aggressive from the opening drive against a Chicago defense missing key starters like Lance Briggs and Henry Melton. From the third play from scrimmage—a designed run play for speedy wide receiver Tavon Austin—the Rams showed they were going to attack the Bears. And attack they did. Austin and running back Zac Stacy both had great days while carrying the St. Louis offense to victory.
In a loaded NFC, the playoffs don't look likely for the Rams, but once again, Jeff Fisher's team is playing well on a weekly basis. If the Rams can get healthy in 2014, the momentum they are building now will pay off.
This Week's Rank: 18
Last Week's Rank: 17
The Baltimore Ravens are 11 games into their Super Bowl defense, and so far, it looks like the team will sit out the playoffs while the rest of the AFC fights for their title. The way they played in Week 12, however, makes it look like they're ready to fight for the AFC North title again. That doesn't protect them from a move down one spot this week as big wins by San Diego and Dallas push the Ravens back a spot.
The recipe to success for Baltimore is a strong run game, Joe Flacco working the ball downfield and a defense that can create turnovers. The Ravens got each of those things going against New York while capitalizing on the Jets' mistakes. That's the style of football John Harbaugh and his team rode to a Super Bowl title last year.
Navigating the schedule won't be easy for the Ravens—they still face the Steelers, Lions, Patriots and Bengals—but if they can win out, they'll be in the playoffs.
This Week's Rank: 17
Last Week's Rank: 21
It took late-game heroics from Philip Rivers, but the San Diego Chargers made a statement in Week 12 by beating the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium. Taking down the 9-1 Chiefs is huge, but equally important is the fact that the Chargers are still alive in the AFC Wild Card race for another week.
The 2013 Chargers have talent—that much has been obvious since Week 1—but they've been unable to close out games and put away opponents with red-zone touchdowns. That was the case early in their matchup against the division rivals, but the Chargers found a way to keep matching Kansas City score-for-score. Down four points late in the fourth quarter, Rivers took over.
Whether the Chargers make the playoffs or not in Mike McCoy's first season, games like this one will leave fans feeling good about the future.
This Week's Rank: 16
Last Week's Rank: 22
The Pittsburgh Steelers started the season with an 0-4 record and major problems on the offensive line, in the run game and on defense. Since that time, they've ripped off a 5-2 record and have patched many of their holes with new starters, better game-planning and more effort. Now they're one game back in the AFC Wild Card race.
The Steelers' schedule is winnable down the stretch, too. They play just one team with a winning record (the Bengals) while facing the Ravens, Dolphins, Packers and Browns to close things out. Winning all five games wouldn't be a surprise.
This Week's Rank: 15
Last Week's Rank: 13
Tying the Minnesota Vikings is the perfect symbolism for the 2013 Green Bay Packers. It's not a loss, but it's not a win. It doesn't hurt the team's playoff chances, but in a week that saw rivals in Chicago and Detroit lose, the Packers couldn't take the top spot in the NFC North.
Without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers are struggling. Whether it's Scott Tolzien or Matt Flynn under center, the offense has become erratic. There are moments of greatness—and you have to credit the wide receivers and Eddie Lacy for stepping up—but when a big play is needed, the lack of ability from the backup quarterbacks is obvious.
Where Rodgers' injury can't be blamed is on defense. Allowing the Vikings to score 26 points is embarrassing. It all goes back to the struggles to adapt and adjust on defense. Once a team finds a way to move the ball on Green Bay in a given week, it can ride that horse all the way to a victory. Or a tie.
This Week's Rank: 14
Last Week's Rank: 11
I can no longer take the Detroit Lions seriously. Not after they dropped a game to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—a team that had two wins coming into Sunday. The Lions are a talented yet inconsistent team, same as they've been since Jim Schwartz took the head coaching job.
You might think I'm overreacting to a three-point loss, but it's much more than that. The Lions find a way to play down to their opponents and tend to implode at the worst times. Matthew Stafford throws four interceptions, Calvin Johnson drops a pass inside the 5-yard line and the defense allows rookie Mike Glennon to look like Peyton Manning.
How will they fare in the playoffs if they make it? Imagine what Drew Brees or Russell Wilson would do to this secondary. The Lions may win nine games and take the NFC North, but they'll be one-and-done in the postseason. Guaranteed.
This Week's Rank: 13
Last Week's Rank: 10
With quarterback Jay Cutler injured and many key players on defense out, the Chicago Bears got smacked in the mouth by the St. Louis Rams. In what may seem impossible, the Rams outpunched the Bears and exploded for a 42-point day. This is not a playoff-caliber defense in the Windy City.
The run defense on display in Week 12 would embarrass most high school coaches. The Bears safeties failed to step up and defend the edge, and when they attacked in pursuit, it was with messy, lazy angles that took them out of the play. That Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham were able to rush for 196 yards together tells you all you need to know about the Chicago run defense.
Without Cutler, Henry Melton, Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs, the Bears aren't the Bears—and their playoff hopes are likely to hit the injured reserve list with their star players soon.
This Week's Rank: 12
Last Week's Rank: 15
After 12 weeks, the Dallas Cowboys sit tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for the top spot in the NFC East. What happens these next five weeks will be must-see for all football fans.
The Cowboys were able to stay alive in the playoff race thanks to a great fourth-quarter drive by Tony Romo. His 13-play, 4:45 drive put the team in place for an easy field goal to quiet the surging New York Giants, but it also quieted the many Romo doubters who wait for him to turn the ball over late in games. Romo didn't, and the Cowboys won again thanks to his play late.
Week 17 in Dallas could settle it all. That's when the Eagles come to town for an afternoon showdown and a chance for Dallas to try to sweep the series.
This Week's Rank: 11
Last Week's Rank: 12
With five games to go in the 2013 season, Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles are in first place and in control of their own destiny in the NFC East. What the team does down the stretch will determine whether Kelly's first season was a success.
A key to watch will be how well Kelly does after Week 12. A lifelong college coach, Kelly is attacking a 17-week schedule for the first time. That's not to say he'll hit a rookie wall or wear down, but how well he manages his players and how long they stay fresh in an uptempo system is worth keeping an eye on.
Five games to go, with just one in the division (Week 17 at Dallas), and the Eagles are looking at a possible No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs with a home game in the Wild Card Round. I'd call that a first-season success for Kelly.
This Week's Rank: 10
Last Week's Rank: 14
The Arizona Cardinals proved themselves with wins over the Carolina Panthers and Detroit Lions earlier this year, but their Week 12 win over the Indianapolis Colts is their signature victory of the season.
By taking down the Colts in a 40-11 beatdown, the Cardinals proved that their offense can generate big yards, big plays and a ton of points. They also showed that their defense can hold down elite quarterbacks and create turnovers. With Daryl Washington back anchoring the defense, the Cardinals are becoming one of the more well-rounded teams in the league.
With five weeks to go, the Cardinals have the look of a playoff team. After four straight wins, they're in control of their own destiny.
This Week's Rank: 9
Last Week's Rank: 9
The San Francisco 49ers impressed on the road with a dominant Monday night win over Washington. At 7-4, the Niners stay alive in the NFC playoff picture thanks to Colin Kaepernick's rebound game.
The 49ers offense was much more fluid, and it allowed Kaepernick to make plays. They also moved the ball downfield more, which allowed the former Nevada quarterback to push the ball against a bad Washington secondary. Kaepernick's ability to make plays with his eyes in Week 12 was the difference in the team's most impressive win since Week 1.
The 49ers must keep winning, but with five games left there is only one sure thing (against Atlanta). They'll have to beat Arizona, St. Louis, Seattle and a tough Tampa Bay team to keep their playoff march going.
This Week's Rank: 8
Last Week's Rank: 8
The Cincinnati Bengals hold a two-game lead in the AFC North, but the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens are coming for them.
At 7-4, the Bengals control their own destiny in the North, but they have a tough schedule ahead that features four toss-up games (Chargers, Colts, Steelers and Ravens), with their only sure thing coming against the Vikings in Week 16. Wins over the Steelers and Ravens will give the Bengals the division, but Marvin Lewis' team will need to find its rhythm coming off the bye.
With a 1-2 record in their last three games, the Bengals aren't playing their best football. Lewis will need consistency from Andy Dalton and the offense as they head into the stretch run.
This Week's Rank: 7
Last Week's Rank: 5
The Indianapolis Colts looked like midseason champions when they beat the Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks. Since then, the team has been blown out by the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams. Who are the real Colts?
That remains to be seen. The talent on paper isn't that good, especially with Reggie Wayne injured. More than anything, the Colts are as good as quarterback Andrew Luck can be. The problem against St. Louis and Arizona, though, is that athletic defenses are taking away Luck's wide receivers and forcing the second-year quarterback into tough spots. Luck, for all his greatness, can't do it all alone.
That's the problem for the Colts right now, and it's why their playoff hopes aren't particularly bright even though they're a sure thing in the AFC South. The Colts will make the playoffs; just don't expect them to be there for long.
This Week's Rank: 6
Last Week's Rank: 4
When facing average or below-average quarterbacks, the Kansas City Chiefs are 9-0. When facing elite quarterbacks, they are 0-2.
Regardless, the Chiefs have to be happy with a 9-2 record after 12 weeks. This is a team that was 1-10 at this point last year, so the improvement is well received in Kansas City. Losing in back-to-back weeks won't matter, either, as long as the Chiefs get back on track in Week 13. That's when they host the Denver Broncos in Arrowhead.
The Chiefs were 30 seconds away from a win in Week 12 without Tamba Hali and Justin Houston in the lineup due to injuries. They'll need them back to stop Manning, but the offense will need as much Jamaal Charles as it had in the home loss to San Diego if the Chiefs hope to split the season series with Denver.
This Week's Rank: 5
Last Week's Rank: 6
We're all taking the Carolina Panthers seriously now, right? With an incredible seven straight wins, the Panthers are among the hottest teams in the NFL. They're also finding their stride as the season ends, and previous seasons have shown that momentum to end the regular season has a major influence in the playoffs.
The playoffs seemed like a distant goal for this team when the season began, but Ron Rivera is coaching looser while allowing his coordinators to be more aggressive on both sides of the ball. As the coaches have adjusted, the young players have risen to the occasion. Cam Newton is playing like an MVP candidate, Luke Kuechly is a Pro Bowl candidate, and each week the team is getting big plays from unlikely sources.
The Panthers would be the No. 5 seed in the NFC right now, but they've got their eye on the New Orleans Saints and the NFC South title. The two teams meet in Weeks 14 and 16, with the winner taking the division and a home playoff game.
This Week's Rank: 4
Last Week's Rank: 1
Up by 24 points at halftime, the Denver Broncos looked ready to coast to an easy win over the New England Patriots. Someone forgot to tell the Patriots, though. Tom Brady and Co. came out firing with 28 unanswered points before Peyton Manning got the offense going and forced overtime.
It wasn't Manning, though, who deserves credit for the Broncos' 31 points in regulation. That goes to Knowshon Moreno, who carried for over 200 yards in the game and was a workhorse on a cold, windy night in Foxborough. Without Julius Thomas and with the passing game stalling, Moreno was the catalyst.
Through all that—the lead, the comeback, the weather, overtime—the Broncos were set to have the ball with a chance to win before Tony Carter touched a punt and the Patriots recovered. That mishap by Carter, and the result, will further enforce the idea that Denver cannot win with Manning at quarterback in cold-weather games. For one night at least, that was true.
This Week's Rank: 3
Last Week's Rank: 7
Down by 24 points at halftime to the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos, it looked like the New England Patriots were in for a disappointing night. Then they came out of the tunnel after halftime and ripped off 28 unanswered points. From there, it became the back-and-forth epic match we all hoped for.
On a night when the defense allowed Knowshon Moreno to go over 200 yards on the ground, the Pats were able to keep pace with the Broncos offense. And when they needed big plays, they got them. When they needed a crazy mistake by the Denver punt return team, they got that too.
What Sunday night proved was that the New England Patriots are one of the NFL's elite teams. Regardless of their record compared to the Kansas City Chiefs or other teams at the top of the standings, the Patriots will be incredibly tough to beat in the postseason.
This Week's Rank: 2
Last Week's Rank: 3
It doesn't matter how you win, as long as the end result is a victory. The New Orleans Saints escaped a close call with the Atlanta Falcons, winning 17-13, but they shook off their ugliest performance of the year to get the win against a division rival.
At 9-2, the Saints managed to stay one win ahead of the surging Carolina Panthers (8-3) before the two teams go head-to-head in Weeks 14 and 16 to determine the winner of the NFC South. For Sean Payton and the Saints, staying one game up is all that matters.
With Drew Brees, Pierre Thomas, Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston all getting warm as the season ends, the Saints are in postseason form. The Panthers may be the NFL's darling right now, but New Orleans is battle-tested and has experience on its side. The race for the South will be one of the best storylines over the last month of the season.
This Week's Rank: 1
Last Week's Rank: 2
The Seattle Seahawks headed into their bye week as the NFC's best team and arguably the most talented team in all the league. They have five games left on the schedule with a clear path to the NFC's top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Those five games—vs. New Orleans, at San Francisco, at New York Giants, vs. Arizona and vs. St. Louis—will not be easy. You could look at each game and make the case for a Seattle loss, but you could also easily pick the team to win each game too.
The No. 1 seed won't come easy, but if they can come out of this schedule with the conference's best record, they'll be a clear favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.