The NFL continues to divulge into a structureless jungle where the food chain constantly fluctuates.
But at least we know the Denver Broncos are the head honchos after derailing the Kansas City Chiefs' perfect season, right? In that case, let's put butter on all their hands before the game and have them lose the ugliest classic thriller between two premier squads imaginable.
When all else fails, at least we can count on slotting the dreadful Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 32, right? Not so fast, they're picking the basement's lock after handing the Houston Texans their ninth straight loss.
There's also that six-way tie for the final AFC playoff spot left to sort out. Say what you will about this turbulent NFL season, but the final five weeks sure won't be dull.
1. Seattle Seahawks (10-1)
After watching the Broncos drop their second bout, the Seahawks move to the king's chair with the NFL's best mark. They've beaten up on weak opponents after a near scare against Tampa Bay, but Monday night's showdown against the Saints determines who exits as the NFC's top dog.
2. Denver Broncos (9-2)
In by far his worst game of the season, Peyton Manning averaged just 4.17 yards per passing attempt—prompting the Broncos to overwork Knowshon Moreno with 37 carries. If they can take care of the Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium, the schedule clears up considerably for the Broncos during the final four weeks.
3. New Orleans Saints (9-2)
The Saints are scary when they can win games on the strength of their defense. Ranked third with 198 passing yards allowed per contest, New Orleans has the talent on both sides for a deep playoff run.
4. New England Patriots (9-2)
Sorry to everyone else in the AFC, but Tom Brady is back. In his last three games he has completed 69.9 percent of his passes for 1,072 passing yards and eight touchdowns. No division outcome is as certain as the Patriots winning an AFC East with no other winning clubs.
5. Carolina Panthers (8-3)
Is it a good thing that needing a late drive to fend off the Dolphins feels like a disappointing outcome for the Panthers? Cam Newton had an ugly game through the air (19-of-38, 174 yards) before salvaging the afternoon with his second game-winning drive in as many weeks.
6. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2)
For the cheery readers, the Chiefs did show they could match offensive wits in an unrelenting shootout. For the pessimists sniffing regression, the potent defense surrendered 491 yards and 41 points against a team they must face again to conclude the regular season.
7. Cincinnati Bengals (7-4)
This week presents a golden opportunity for the Bengals to position themselves for a cozy finish atop of the AFC North as the No. 3 seed, all while eliminating one of the most dangerous wild-card candidates in the Chargers. But the Bengals never want us to trust them too much.
8. San Francisco 49ers (7-4)
The 49ers clobber the opponents they're expected to clobber and fall short against the tougher tasks. The league's worst-ranked passing offense has held the 49ers back from earning elite consideration, but a returning Michael Crabtree could change that in December.
9. Arizona Cardinals (7-4)
If the season ended today, the Cardinals would miss the playoffs while four inferior squads (two of which they've defeated) would receive a fighter's chance at winning the Super Bowl. Along with their strong defense, Carson Palmer has flourished with a 69.0 completion percentage during their four-game winning streak.
10. Detroit Lions (6-5)
This is where we might as well start picking teams out of a hat. Yes, the Lions just lost again due to a rare Calvin Johnson drop, but they also ran into the surging Steelers and Buccaneers at the worst possible time. On Thanksgiving, they'll face the Packers at the best possible time.
11. Dallas Cowboys (6-5)
Good thing every baseless insult Tony Romo's critics spout on a weekly basis holds absolutely no semblance of truth to the Cowboys. The quarterback with a higher career completion percentage and yards per attempt average than Brady orchestrated a winning drive to spring the Cowboys to first place in the NFC East.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (6-5)
Resuming action against the Cardinals and Lions will test the Eagles' playoff aspirations. If the defense that has allowed 16.2 points per game during their last five slates continues to show up, they're awfully dangerous.
13. Indianapolis Colts (7-4)
How far can the Colts ride the glory of three behemoth victories over the 49ers, Seahawks and Broncos? Since beating Denver, Indianapolis has squeaked by Tennessee and Houston (each three-point victories) and been decimated by St. Louis and Arizona. Owning a plus-3 point differential despite their seven wins, the Colts are starting to feel like last year's squad that was just begging to receive its comeuppance with a return to the mean.
14. Chicago Bears (6-5)
Although they're framed as tough and gritty while the Lions are talented but loose around the edges, the Bears are essentially a slightly less productive version of their division cohorts. Allowing 376 yards per game, they need to manufacture points to win close, high-scoring affairs.
15. San Diego Chargers (5-6)
With wins over the Colts and Chiefs, the Chargers should be the squad in the deep AFC playoff hunt that nobody in the conference wants to see succeed. Their leaky secondary is a huge concern, but Philip Rivers is alleviating those worries with a 70.8 completion percentage, 307.4 passing yards per game and 8.52 yards per attempt.
16. St. Louis Rams (5-6)
That's now two consecutive colossal victories over winning squads for the Rams. They somehow registered 80 points in those two bouts with just 19 completions from Kellen Clemens.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-6)
Armed with a stingy secondary and a passing offense gaining steam by the day, the Steelers are another one of those 5-6 teams the AFC's third seed does not want to run into during the playoffs. Their path would look a lot smoother if they won a game in September.
18. Green Bay Packers (5-5-1)
Is Aaron Rodgers back yet? No? Well, looks like the only thing we can do for now is hope Matt Flynn leads an unlikely revival that allows us to recycle all those Jeremy Lin puns from the NBA guard's ascension. Will Flynnsanity reign supreme on Turkey Day?
19. Baltimore Ravens (5-6)
Joe Flacco's 66-yard touchdown bomb to Jacoby Jones typified his second-longest pass of the season. After riding the deep ball to an improbable Super Bowl run, Flacco and the Ravens need the passing game to percolate to get a chance at repeating.
20. Miami Dolphins (5-6)
It's a mystery whether they'll finish with a win or loss, but eight of the Dolphins' 11 games have been decided by four points or less. After breaking the 300-yard barrier for the first time since Week 5, Ryan Tannehill still has time to manufacture some January football.
21. Tennessee Titans (5-6)
If the Titans defeat the faltering Colts on Sunday, they'll cut the AFC South lead to one game. Just let it sink in that a team who succumbed to the Jaguars can win the division.
22. New York Giants (4-7)
The smart money was on Romo finally exposing a defense that had faced cupcake passing offenses for the past month. While he engineered a late drive to dig a grave for the 2013 Giants, the real problem was Eli Manning completing 16 of 30 passes for a paltry 174 yards against the league's worst passing defense prior to this clash.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-8)
The difference between a 3-8 and 5-6 club is often much smaller than most people perceive. The Buccaneers lost on a last-second field goal to the Saints earlier in the year and took the Seahawks into overtime at CenturyLink Field. Don't be shocked if they put the Panthers' winning streak in jeopardy on Sunday.
24. Buffalo Bills (4-7)
The Bills give up their fair share of yards, but the Bills' defense is also tied for the NFL lead with 37 sacks and 16 interceptions. A manageable four-game stretch can help the unit advertise its quiet success.
25. New York Jets (5-6)
Too harsh? Looking at their minus-101 point differential and Geno Smith's 39.1 completion percentage during the Jets' past three games, it might not be harsh enough.
26. Cleveland Browns (4-7)
The defense is tied for Cincinnati for the fewest passing yards per attempt at 5.9, but it's all for nothing after turning the ball over four times in each of the past two weeks. Get the Browns a decent quarterback and they could morph into a playoff contender.
27. Oakland Raiders (4-7)
After letting victory slip through their hands by relinquishing a last-minute touchdown, the Raiders plummeted from playoff contention to top-five draft pick hopeful. Struggling to throw the ball (193.1 yards per game) and defend the pass (258.1 yards per game) is a recipe for disaster.
28. Minnesota Vikings (2-8-1)
This late in the game, a tie actually helps the Vikings gain a bit of ground. It was nice to see rookie Cordarrelle Patterson get involved in the offense with eight catches for 54 yards. His previous high in receptions was three.
29. Washington Redskins (3-8)
For all the shouting about his struggles, Robert Griffin III was averaging 271.4 passing yards per game prior to Monday's night debacle against the 49ers. He validated his critics with just 127 yards and an interception, failing to generate a pass of 20 yards or more.
30. Atlanta Falcons (2-9)
The Falcons held the Saints out of the end zone for the final 40 minutes. That's the most positive tidbit available for this rapidly sinking ship.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9)
The Jaguars still probably belong in last place despite knocking off the Texans, but this is the high point of the season. Let's give them a moment by reprieving them of bearing the dubious honor of the NFL's worst team, even if it only lasts a week.
32. Houston Texans (2-9)
Following weeks of defending the Texans after suffering close losses, scoring six points against the Jaguars is the breaking point. They should be better with the league's top passing defense and a solid overall defense, but they're clearly not.
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