With just two weeks left in the regular season, the NFL is intent on making power rankings nearly impossible.
For example, the Minnesota Vikings posted 48 points in a victory over the Philadelphia Eagles and did so without the services of Adrian Peterson.
There are also the curious St. Louis Rams. The Rams sit at just 6-8 on the season, yet they dominated one of the NFC's best teams with a 27-16 win over the New Orleans Saints.
So here we are, in the stretch run of the season, and there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the power rankings. I'll do my best to sort it all out below.
1. Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks rebounded from their 19-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers by destroying the New York Giants, 23-0.
With nothing but two home games left on the schedule and a two-game lead for the best record in the NFC, the Seahawks are almost locked into the No. 1 seed in the NFC. There isn't a team in the league that should realistically expect to beat the Seahawks in Seattle.
Seahawks likely won't go on road again until they face AFC team at place they just won at, in NJ. Now 3/2 favorite http://t.co/sAMSM3XvVK— Micah Roberts (@MicahRoberts7) December 17, 2013
2. Carolina Panthers
With the New Orleans Saints rolling into town, the Carolina Panthers are about to host their biggest game in years.
The Saints and Panthers are locked atop the NFC South at 10-4. With the Saints beating Carolina in New Orleans in Week 14, the Panthers can't lose this one if they want to stay alive in the race.
Carolina will have to be far better in pass defense to pull that off. In Week 14, the Panthers' excellent defense got just two sacks on Drew Brees and allowed 7.2 yards per pass.
3. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are surging at the right time of the year.
San Francisco parlayed the momentum gained from its Week 14 win over the Seahawks into a 33-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With the infusion of Michael Crabtree back into the passing offense, this team is starting to look like the group that entered the season as a Super Bowl favorite.
4. Denver Broncos
Despite dropping to the San Diego Chargers this past weekend, the Denver Broncos remain in the driver's seat for home-field advantage in the AFC.
That isn't going to matter much if Denver doesn't get its running game cranked up.
The Broncos are 14th in the NFL with 116.8 rushing yards per game. Over their last three games, however, they are turning in just 101.3 rushing yards per game.
With Peyton Manning at the helm, the Broncos don't need to have a dominant running game, but they must bring enough to the table to keep opposing defenses honest.
5. New Orleans Saints
Once again, the New Orleans Saints' high-powered offense fell flat on the road. The Saints mustered just 16 points in St. Louis against the Rams.
New Orleans now will head to Carolina to take on the Panthers.
If the Saints can't figure out how to produce on the road, this team is going to be staring at nothing but road games in the playoffs as a wild-card team.
6. Kansas City Chiefs
When the Kansas City Chiefs got off to their 9-0 start, they were winning with great defense and a safe but pedestrian offense.
This past weekend, they beat the Oakland Raiders, 56-31, to prove the offense can also light up scoreboards. The defensive effort left something to be desired, however, and it must improve if the Chiefs want to find success in the postseason.
Although it was a great sign to see this team score over 50, most opponents are not going to forget about Jamaal Charles and let the running back take three screen passes virtually untouched to the house.
7. New England Patriots
The New England Patriots have been producing some thrilling games. This past week, they came up on the losing end of a thriller as they fell 24-20 to the Miami Dolphins.
At 10-4 and with a two-game lead in the AFC East, the Patriots are still in excellent position for the postseason.
Still, this is the point of the year when the Patriots were supposed to be peaking. The absence of tight end Rob Gronkowski certainly doesn't help.
Just as concerning is the fact that the defense is limping to the finish line.
New England is 31st in rush defense and 18th in pass defense. The Patriots are also 16th in the NFL by allowing 5.3 yards per play.
Against the Dolphins, the Pats allowed 5.9 yards per play.
8. Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals are sorely missing the presence of Geno Atkins along the defensive line. His ability to command double-teams helped set up his teammates for success. In his absence, this defense has not been as fierce, and it was easily pushed around by the Pittsburgh Steelers this past Sunday.
The Bengals remain in control of the AFC North and have two home games (they haven't dropped a home game this year) left on the schedule.
Still, with the inconsistent Andy Dalton at quarterback, this team needs its defense to be dominant, and without Atkins, it clearly isn't dominant.
9. Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts have already clinched the AFC North, but things are not all rosy in Indy.
The Colts haven't been able to piece together back-to-back wins since losing star wide receiver Reggie Wayne for the season with injury.
Furthermore, none of those wins in that span have come against teams with winning records. I see no reason to think this team will succeed in the postseason.
10. Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens are making a push for the postseason. With four straight wins, Baltimore is now 8-6 and in control of its own postseason destiny.
This team still has offensive woes, however. For example, the Ravens couldn't muster a single touchdown against the Detroit Lions' suspect defense on Monday night.
Still, if this team gets to the postseason, all bets are off with Joe Flacco at the helm.
11. Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles entered this past week having won five straight games. The winning streak made it easy to forget that this team still has some serious issues.
After giving up 48 points to the Vikings and 382 passing yards to Matt Cassel, there is no getting around the fact that the Eagles secondary is terrible.
The Eagles are 31st in passing yards allowed per game.
12. Chicago Bears
The decision to start quarterback Jay Cutler over Josh McCown this past Sunday against the Cleveland Browns looked like it was going to be disastrous.
The gunslinger was erratic early en route to throwing two interceptions. After shaking off the rust, he looked excellent, however, and led the Bears to a comeback victory by throwing two of his three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.
Cutler's return helps take some of the focus off the fact that the Bears defense remains terrible.
The Bears are 32nd in yards allowed per rush and 23rd in yards allowed per pass. Chicago can't make a deep postseason run with that kind of defense.
13. Green Bay Packers
Thanks to the Detroit Lions' inability to cope with success, the Green Bay Packers have managed to stay in the NFC North race despite Aaron Rodgers mending his broken collarbone.
Rodgers' status for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers is still up in the air, and his return will be vital against an improved Steelers team.
The Packers are just a half-game back of the Bears for the division lead.
14. Miami Dolphins
Even in light of the drama surrounding the treatment of offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, head coach Joe Philbin may be saving his job.
There's a lot of praise out there for Joe Philbin today. Here's how he kept this thing together. http://t.co/WcjGPTHYW8— Adam Beasley (@AdamHBeasley) December 16, 2013
The Dolphins have won three straight games with the last being an impressive win over the Patriots.
At 8-6 and with games against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets remaining, the Dolphins are in great shape to make the postseason.
15. San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers authored up an impressive win over the Broncos this past week. The win keeps this team in the postseason hunt.
With home games against the Oakland Raiders and Chiefs remaining on the schedule and Philip Rivers playing as well as ever, the Chargers have a shot, albeit somewhat long, to go on a stunning run that carries into the postseason.
16. Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions were once in firm control of the NFC North. Now this team trails two teams in the division.
With a home game against the New York Giants and then an away contest against the Vikings to close out the season, the Lions' postseason hopes are far from doomed.
After watching this team blow big opportunities through a myriad of self-inflicted wounds, however, I have zero reason to believe it will do enough in the next two weeks to make the playoffs.
17. Arizona Cardinals
At 9-5, the Arizona Cardinals are battling to stay in the playoff hunt. That postseason push has been aided by solid defensive play.
With games in Seattle against the Seahawks and then at home against the 49ers, however, this team won't be able to make the postseason.
The Cardinals have too many issues along the offensive line combined with a quarterback who is not all that into ball security to handle the excellent defenses they will face in the next two weeks.
18. Dallas Cowboys
Another week and another late-game meltdown for the Dallas Cowboys. This one saw the Cowboys blow a second-half lead at home against the Green Bay Packers.
Take a look at the Cowboys and Packers respective win probabilities in their game today pic.twitter.com/uVHL5GrCsE— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 16, 2013
With the Eagles also losing, the Cowboys remain just a game out of first in the NFC East. Just like with the Lions, however, is there any reason to think this team will make the big plays when it needs to?
No. Figured I'd answer just in case you were wondering.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers
Had the Pittsburgh Steelers not thought the NFL was using an eight-game preseason schedule this year, they would be right in the thick of the playoff hunt.
After an 0-4 start, Pittsburgh has gone 6-4.
This team still needs help on the offensive line and a more physical front seven, but the improved play proves it is too early to blow up the roster and coaching staff.
20. St. Louis Rams
Some weeks, the Rams look like an elite team. That was the case this past week as they easily handled the New Orleans Saints.
The Rams' promising defense held the Saints to just 3.1 yards per carry and forced them into three turnovers. If the Rams can get their quarterback situation figured out in the offseason, this team could be a serious factor next year.
21. New York Jets
After starting off the year by outperforming expectations, the New York Jets have crashed down to reality. Rex Ryan's team has dropped four of its last five.
In that span, rookie quarterback Geno Smith has thrown eight interceptions and just two touchdowns. In his last two, he's been better, having thrown a combined two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Still, his play did not get rave reviews:
#Jets played hard, hung in, blocked punt turned the game. Geno Smith had some moments, but mostly he was lousy today.— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) December 15, 2013
He must try to prove over the final two games that it is worth giving him another year to develop as the starter.
22. New York Giants
After a midseason winning streak gave hope to the Giants making another remarkable turnaround, the Giants have lost two straight and were shutout this past weekend against the Seahawks.
What do the Giants do this offseason now? For starters, a big question at quarterback looms.
Eli Manning threw five interceptions on Sunday to push his season total to 25. That's not a down season; that's a time-to-panic season.
23. Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans have won just twice since starting the season at 3-1.
The struggles on offense have been understandable given the state of the quarterback position and the injuries to Jake Locker. The defense's decline is more concerning.
Tennessee only allowed one of its first four opponents more than 17 points. It has not accomplished that feat since.
24. Buffalo Bills
After a no-touchdown, four-interception performance in Week 14, rookie quarterback EJ Manuel bounced back with two touchdowns and one interception while leading the Buffalo Bills to victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Bills will now look to build on that game and carry a sense of momentum into next season.
25. Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings exploded for 48 points this past weekend against the Eagles and did so without the services of Adrian Peterson.
If this franchise can find a way to fix a defense that is 31st in yards allowed per game, it can get back to the postseason in a hurry.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars fell 27-20 to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday to snap a three-game winning streak.
At this point, who cares about the loss? The Jaguars were competitive and had won three straight.
After spending most of the season as the league's punchline, the progress in the second half of the season is a wonderful development for this franchise...and all those employed by it.
27. Oakland Raiders
NFL.com's Michael Silver reported Oakland Raiders head coach Dennis Allen is on the hot seat, and that his future with the franchise will be determined in the team's final two games.
Although Allen has done an admirable job in two seasons with a franchise that has purged its roster to improve a dire salary-cap situation, we are also talking about a team that just allowed the Chiefs' Jamaal Charles to take three screen passes to the house with barely a defender in sight.
The Raiders finish up by playing at the Chargers and then hosting the Denver Broncos. It is not going to be easy for Allen to impress in the season's close.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers face an interesting offseason.
Second-year coach Greg Schiano seemed like a lame duck when this team was 0-8. Tampa has since gone 4-2 to prove this group of players has not given up on its coach.
Still, the Bucs are coming off of a sound defeat to the 49ers and with road games to the Rams and Saints to close out the season, there is a good chance this team ends the year on a three-game losing streak.
29. Cleveland Browns
What happened to the Cleveland Browns defense? After a promising start to the season, the Browns have failed to hold an opponent under 27 points in any of their last five games.
Not coincidentally, they have lost all five.
30. Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons have won two of their last three games. Those wins were over the Bills and Washington Redskins, however.
Let's see if this disappointing franchise can continue its momentum against the 49ers and Panthers as it closes out the season.
31. Washington Redskins
I think it's safe to say that things have gotten ugly in Washington. The Redskins have a lot of resources tied up in a quarterback and head coach that can't seem to get on the same page.
So what does owner Daniel Snyder do this offseason?
Redskins will not attempt to fire Mike Shanahan for cause and withhold $7 million due for 2014. Contract is “ironclad", per legal source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 15, 2013
On top of the above mentioned drama, the Redskins defense has been horrendous all season. It's a long road back to the postseason for Washington.
32. Houston Texans
The Houston Texans are the franchise that all other franchises look to in order to boost their self esteem.
It's been a disaster of a season for the Texans. That season has already sent head coach Gary Kubiak to the unemployment line, and it is safe to expect a lot more turnover in Houston this offseason.
Note: All team rankings and season stats via TeamRankings.com on Monday, Dec. 16.