NFL Power Rankings: Exploring the League Terrain Heading into Week 16

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NFL Power Rankings: Exploring the League Terrain Heading into Week 16
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

These last two weeks are a great time for teams in the NFL playoff picture to build major momentum.

Heading into the postseason, the last thing you want is to lose a game and then have fans asking questions of the players and/or coaches. There's also the aspect of securing at least home-field advantage for the Wild Card Round.

Looking back on Week 15 and ahead to Week 16, you can get a good idea of which teams are capable of making a run to MetLife Stadium, and which teams are destined for early exits.

Here's a glance at how the league shakes out, with the underlined teams doing the most to strengthen their playoff chances.


1. Seattle Seahawks (12-2)

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks are the most balanced team in the league.

On offense, Russell Wilson has been great managing the offense and limiting the turnovers, while Marshawn Lynch is often the tone-setter. Of course, Wilson is able to take a larger role if need be.

Then you've got a defense that continues to be one of the best in the league. Shutting out the New York Giants is no easy feat, and neither is intercepting Eli Manning five times. Two or three times is the norm with Eli, but five is going above and beyond.

As everyone else falls around them, the Seahawks remain king of the hill.


2. Denver Broncos (11-3)

It's important not to get worked up about one loss. There were some concerning signs in the Denver Broncos' 27-20 loss to the San Diego Chargers loss on Thursday, but there's still overwhelming evidence that this is one of the best teams in the league.


3. San Francisco 49ers (10-4)

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Some may dismiss a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, they were playing very well going into Sunday, and then the San Francisco 49ers rolled right over them. Playing on the road, the Niners gave up only 183 total yards to the Bucs. In addition, Colin Kaepernick helped move the football and put 33 points on the board.

On their best day, the 49ers are one of the best teams in the league. But as things stand, they'd need to go into Seattle and beat the Seahawks, and you don't like the chances of that happening.

Here's to hoping we get to see whether or not San Francisco can pull it off.


4. Carolina Panthers (10-4)

The test for the Carolina Panthers will be this Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. Carolina lost 31-13 in the first matchup, but that was in the Superdome. Beating New Orleans in Charlotte would affirm that the Panthers are one of the best teams in the league and a genuine Super Bowl contender. It would also be huge to have the NFC South lead heading into the final week of the season.


5. New Orleans Saints (10-4)

The last four weeks haven't been kind to the Saints. Interspersed with the 31-13 win over Carolina was the narrow victory over the Atlanta Falcons and losses to the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks. It's all enough to give you pause when looking at the Saints' potential in the playoffs.


6. Kansas City Chiefs (11-3)

No matter the opponent, when you drop 56 points on an NFL team, you're doing something right. Of course, it didn't reveal anything new about the Kansas City Chiefs or make you think twice about questioning their playoff potential. The Chiefs are on the fringe of the elite, where they're clearly a playoff team but not destined for the Super Bowl.


7. New England Patriots (10-4)

Some might be heartened that Tom Brady threw for 364 yards without Rob Gronkowski. You can't ignore the fact he attempted 55 passes to get those 364 yards. Injury after injury has hammered the New England Patriots this year, and losing Gronk for the season may have been the fatal blow.


8. Cincinnati Bengals (9-5)

We've all given up on the Cincinnati Bengals, right? Sure, they're most likely going to make the playoffs, but the team looks destined for another exit in the Wild Card Round. This isn't cutting it anymore for Andy Dalton. Cincinnati needs to think long and hard this offseason whether he's the franchise QB.


9. Baltimore Ravens (8-6)

The Baltimore Ravens continue to be a confounding team. Despite all your questions and misgivings about their chances, they do just enough to remain a threatening team. Plus, the Ravens are now only a game back of the Bengals for the AFC North lead. As we learned last year, you don't bet against Joe Flacco.


10. Philadelphia Eagles (8-6)

I know what I just said about not reading too much into one game, but what in the world happened to the Philadelphia Eagles? There's no excuse for surrendering 48 points and 455 total yards to an Adrian Peterson-less Minnesota Vikings. That Eagles defense does its best to thwart everything good that Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy do.


11. Arizona Cardinals (9-5)

Sunday is a must-win for the Arizona Cardinals.

The good news is that they're still in playoff contention. The bad news is that they travel to Seattle to keep those postseason hopes alive. It's a bit of a shame that despite everything that's gone right in Arizona, the Cardinals will likely be spending the postseason at home.


12. Miami Dolphins (8-6)

The Miami Dolphins need to essentially win the rest of their games in order to get into the postseason. The Ravens have the head-to-head tiebreaker, so going 9-7 might not cut it, even with Baltimore facing New England and Cincinnati in their final two games.

Beating the Patriots was a huge step forward for Miami. The Dolphins did just enough defensively to limit Brady's effectiveness, while Ryan Tannehill had arguably his best performance all year. They still need some help, but that win in Week 15 helped keep the playoff door open for the Dolphins.


13. San Diego Chargers (7-7)

It's too little, too late for the Chargers. San Diego can win out, but it's almost certain to miss out on the playoffs. Who would've thought that home loss to the Houston Texans in Week 1 would look so bad and have such a big impact on the Chargers?


14. Indianapolis Colts (9-5)

Maybe the Indianapolis Colts aren't getting the credit they deserve. After all, they're the only team in the league that's locked up its division. This Sunday against the Chiefs will be a measuring stick for Indy. If the Colts go into Kansas City and pick up the win, they'll surge up the rankings.


15. Chicago Bears (8-6)

Jason Miller/Getty Images

Fortune favors the bold, or in this case the team that beats the Cleveland Browns, which, really, isn't that bold at all. Maybe fortune simply favors the team that isn't the Detroit Lions. Although the Chicago Bears moved to 8-6 on Sunday, it's hard to argue they haven't backed into the NFC North lead.

If the Bears can win their next two games, though, they will have earned the division title. Playing the Eagles away will be tricky, especially after their bad loss to the Vikings, and the Green Bay Packers could have Aaron Rodgers back by Week 17.


16. Detroit Lions (7-7)

Just like that, the Lions no longer control their own destiny. So many signs pointed to the franchise turning the corner, and then it loses to the Ravens on Monday night. There's no way Jim Schwartz can make it to next season if the Lions' capitulation becomes complete and they watch the Bears win the NFC North.


17. Green Bay Packers (7-6-1)

That comeback from the Packers was equal parts their own doing and the Dallas Cowboys' undoing. It didn't teach us too much, as Green Bay is waiting for the moment Rodgers is cleared to return. Until then, it isn't going anywhere in the NFC North.


18. Dallas Cowboys (7-7)

Oh, Tony Romo. Don't ever change. It will never be the same when he retires. What else will fans have to laugh about when there isn't Romo and the annual Dallas Cowboys collapse late in the season?


19. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8)

The Pittsburgh Steelers remain capable of a performance like they had on Sunday night. The issue is whether they can do it over an entire season. The team isn't getting any younger, so management will have some tough questions to answer in the offseason.


20. St. Louis Rams (6-8)

It's for the best if you enjoy the St. Louis Rams without trying to apply any logic. Sit back and watch their Jekyll and Hyde performances from week to week and be entertained. Could the Rams have one more surprise in store for Week 17 when they travel to Seattle?


21. New York Jets (6-8)

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

That was a fun time when the New York Jets were in the AFC playoff picture and Rex Ryan was getting some deserved hype as Coach of the Year. Even with the team's 1-4 stretch, you still get the feeling that things are going right for the Jets. So that probably means they're going 4-12 next year, right?


22. Buffalo Bills (5-9)

When the offense comes around, this could be a dangerous team. EJ Manuel's going through his growing pains, and that's expected with a quarterback as raw as he was coming out of college. It's probably been said every year in Buffalo, but next year the Bills could see a major upswing in their fortunes.


23. Tennessee Titans (5-9)

The Tennessee Titans have tread water the entire season. They've not been good enough to earn consideration as a playoff contender, nor have they been so bad they've turned into a laughingstock. As a result, it's hard to see where the franchise will be when Jake Locker returns for 2014.


24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10)

What happens on the field for the Buccaneers is secondary to what happens on the sideline. Although some may be getting behind Greg Schiano now, let's not forget where this franchise was a few months ago and what kind of expectations there were after Tampa spent so much money to sign Dashon Goldson and Darrelle Revis.


25. Minnesota Vikings (4-9-1)

Who knew the entire time the problem with the Vikings was Adrian Peterson? Without him, Minnesota dropped 48 on the Eagles. It's too bad the Vikes didn't figure this out earlier, or they could've been in the playoffs by now.


26. New York Giants (5-9)

Ron Antonelli/Getty Images

You never go full Eli Manning.

This season has been great for the schadenfreude part of us all. There's something admirable about the way that Manning has consistently been so awful.


27. Atlanta Falcons (4-10)

It's hard to get too encouraged by a win over the Washington Redskins, but the Atlanta Falcons will take them where they can get them, especially with the 49ers next on the schedule. 2013 can't end soon enough for Atlanta.


28. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10)

That winning streak was fun while it lasted. There have been enough encouraging signs about the Jacksonville Jaguars to think that this franchise is headed in the right direction. However, fans might have one more lean year before the Jags are a threat in the AFC South.


29. Cleveland Browns (4-10)

Maybe the Browns have something with Edwin Baker. Or maybe he's just some guy who had a good week and will fade into obscurity shortly thereafter. Since this is Cleveland we're talking about, it's probably the latter.


30. Oakland Raiders (4-10)

Remember when Terrelle Pryor looked like he could be the future at quarterback? Life was so simple and carefree back then. The Oakland Raiders are in a position where, until they make the playoffs again, nobody should believe they're good enough to make the playoffs. The franchise is in a perpetual cycle of losing.


31. Washington Redskins (3-11)

At least Kirk Cousins looked somewhat good. Maybe the Redskins can get something valuable back when they trade him during this offseason or the next. That could help make up for watching the Rams get one of the top picks in the upcoming draft.


32. Houston Texans (2-12)

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I'd personally like to thank the Houston Texans for making it so easy to put them at the bottom. Nobody has looked worse than them.

However, it will be interesting to see whom is named head coach. There's a talented core in there somewhere, and with the right coach, the team could be back in the postseason in no time.

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