When was the last time there were more than five teams that you felt could legitimately reach the Super Bowl? The way several teams are playing, and the manner in which the standings are shaping up for the final two weeks of the NFL season, this could be a year with unprecedented parity in the postseason.
Yes, the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos would likely be most fans' Super Bowl picks, but Seattle has been beaten twice and had a few close calls. Denver has also fallen three times—including this past Thursday at home to the San Diego Chargers.
Anything can happen, and with the standings tight in all but three divisions, it just might. Here's a look at my power rankings heading into Week 16. The teams are listed with their records and current playoff standing.
An interesting statistic for select teams is spotlighted.
1. Seattle Seahawks, 12-2—NFC Top Seed
By smashing the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, the Seahawks all but clinched the division and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. With just two games remaining, Pete Carroll's team has a two-game lead over the division rival San Francisco 49ers and NFC South contenders, the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints.
Seattle has beaten both the Saints and Panthers head-to-head. If this were college football and the BCS system was in effect, Seattle would be atop the standings.
2. San Francisco 49ers, 10-4—First NFC Wild Card Spot
The Niners are the second-best team in the NFL. Some may argue that at this point in the season, they are even better than the Seahawks. The receiving corps is healthy, and the defense is playing great.
Coming off a 19-17 win over the Seahawks in Week 14, the 49ers dominated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 33-14 on Sunday. The defense hasn't allowed a player to run for 100 yards all year. During the second half of the season, no one has even been close.
Nobody wants to play San Francisco right now.
What team has the best chance to beat Seattle at CenturyLink Field?
3. Denver Broncos, 11-3—AFC Top Seed
Despite the loss to San Diego on Thursday, the Broncos still have to be considered the best in the AFC. Peyton Manning and Co. swept the Kansas City Chiefs this season and have outscored teams by a combined 163 points.
Only the Seahawks have been more dominant.
4. New Orleans Saints, 10-4—NFC South Division Leader
New Orleans is another team coming off a loss, but one that still has to maintain its high standing in the power rankings. With a recent win over the Carolina Panthers, it would be difficult to drop them further down the list.
It is possible the Saints' Week 15 performance against the St. Louis Rams was an aberration. The team committed an uncharacteristically high amount of turnovers (three). It was just the second time this season the Saints had more than two giveaways.
St. Louis is a team on the rise, but the Saints are better than they played on Sunday.
5. Carolina Panthers, 10-4—First NFC Wild Card Spot
This team is on the cusp of becoming a great group, but the truth is, it may not actually reach its potential until next season. As good as it is on defense—most of its impact players are young. The unit has allowed just 208 points this season, only the Seahawks have been stingier.
Coming off a loss to the Saints in Week 14, the Panthers' 30-20 win over a desperate New York Jets team was the perfect riposte.
6. New England Patriots, 10-4—AFC East Division Leader
Crippled by injuries and player absence, Tom Brady has still managed to lead this team to the threshold of another division title. With a two-game lead in the AFC East and just two games remaining, the Pats have all but accomplished this primary goal.
Brady doesn't have a full complement of weapons, but don't you dare underestimate this team in the postseason. New England is still undefeated at home. If the Pats get one more win, they could assure themselves of at least one home game in the postseason.
7. Kansas City Chiefs, 11-3—First AFC Wild Card Spot
This could be seen as major disrespect for a team with an 11-3 record, but the fact is: The Chiefs have only played three games against teams with a winning record this season. They are 1-2 in those contests.
That tells me they are unproven at best. Kansas City is better than the non-playoff teams, but not quite on the level of the elite squads.
8. Arizona Cardinals, 9-5
No one is paying much attention to the Cardinals. Arizona is just 2-4 against teams with a winning record, but it has won four of its last five games. That stretch includes blowout wins over the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams. Cardinals fans will have their fingers crossed as they wait for news on Larry Fitzgerald's injury.
Per Chris Wesseling of NFL.com, Fitzgerald suffered a concussion in the team's 37-34 overtime win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
Arizona will have its time to prove if it is really a contender or pretender in the last two weeks of the season. The Cards will head to Seattle in Week 16 and host the Niners in the season finale. To have a shot at the postseason, the Cards need to win out. Needless to say, Fitzgerald's presence would be a big help.
9. Cincinnati Bengals, 9-5—AFC North Division Leader
Just when you start to think the Bengals are ready to take a step into the next stratosphere, they produce a stinker performance like the one from Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The final score of the game was 30-20, but it really wasn't that close. The Steelers led 30-7 heading into the final quarter. Cincinnati scored two late touchdowns to make it look more respectable. This is a division rivalry, but the AFC North division-leading Bengals shouldn't be getting manhandled like that.
10. Baltimore Ravens, 8-6—Second AFC Wild Card Spot
Don't look now, but the champions are hitting their stride. Baltimore has won four straight games. One statistical category sticks out to me during this stretch. The Ravens are plus-three in the turnover department during their winning streak. In the 10 games before that, the team was minus-five.
If the Ravens continue this trend, they will be dangerous should they reach the postseason.
11. Indianapolis Colts, 9-5—AFC South Division Leader
Benefiting from playing in the worst division in football, the Colts ran away with their division weeks ago. In the postseason, there won't be any Jacksonville Jaguars or Houston Texans to beat up on.
The Colts have beaten the elite teams in the NFL (Denver, San Francisco and Seattle) early in the season; but if you subtract its division games, the team is just 4-5.
12. Miami Dolphins, 8-6
It's looks like the Dolphins don't miss Richie Incognito. Since he was suspended, the team is 4-2 and has won three games in a row.
The Fins are currently in a battle with the Ravens for the last playoff spot, but they will have to hold serve and hope for the champions to stumble.
Baltimore won the head-to-head meeting in Week 5, 26-23.
13. Chicago Bears, 8-6—NFC North Division Leader
Were it not for a plethora of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, the Bears would probably be around 10-4 and firmly in control of their division. As it is, they hold a slim half-game lead over the Green Bay Packers and a one-game edge over the Detroit Lions.
Chicago plays the Packers in the season finale and doesn't own the tiebreaker against the Lions because it was swept by Detroit in the season series. This team is far from home free.
14. Green Bay Packers, 7-6-1
The Dallas Cowboys' collapse against the Packers on Sunday didn't do the Lions or Bears any favors. By allowing the Pack to stay alive in the division race, it kept open the possibility that quarterback Aaron Rodgers could return this season.
Had the Packers lost, they would have been 6-7-1, and all but eliminated from playoff contention. In that scenario, it would have been pointless to bring Rodgers back this season.
Now with the Packers receiving new life for the postseason, we'll have to wait until at least Wednesday to see if Rodgers is cleared to return against the Steelers on Sunday, the Bears in the finale, or at all.
15. Philadelphia Eagles, 8-6—NFC East Division Leader
Nick Foles has a stranglehold on the Eagles' starting quarterback job now and for the foreseeable future. As good and explosive as the Eagles' offense is, it may need to slow its pace a bit. I know that's sacrilegious in Chip Kelly's system, but the Eagles' defense isn't exactly its strong suit.
The Eagles have the shortest time of possession percentage of any team in the NFL at just 43 percent, per Sporting Charts. Essentially, Philly has its 30th-ranked defense on the field 57 percent of the game.
16. San Diego Chargers, 7-7
The Chargers own wins over the Colts, Chiefs and Broncos. The Bolts beat KC and Denver on the road, yet if the playoffs began today, they wouldn't qualify. That's what happens when a team loses to the likes of the Houston Texans, Washington Redskins and Tennessee Titans.
If San Diego could only play the elite teams, perhaps it would be in a better position. The Chargers are 4-2 against teams currently slated to make the playoffs and 3-5 against non-qualifiers.
17. Detroit Lions, 7-7
It's the second half of the season, so no one should be surprised to see the Lions fading. The team has lost four of its last five games and is just 2-4 since its bye in Week 9. Lions fans have seen this act before. In 2012, Detroit was 0-8 after Week 9.
Fans can't feel too comfortable with a team that is 2-12 down the stretch in the last two seasons.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers, 6-8
The Steelers won't make the playoffs this season, but the team is showing promising signs heading into the 2014 campaign. After stomping the Bengals for three quarters and finishing with a 30-20 win, Pittsburgh is showing the league what it can expect next season—provided it stays healthy.
19. Dallas Cowboys, 7-7
Which team will win its division?
Critics are all prepared to jump down Tony Romo's throat again after Dallas blew a big lead against the Packers on Sunday. There is no doubt Romo's two fourth-quarter picks were huge in the 37-36 loss, but he didn't lose this game for the Cowboys.
As has been the case all season, Dallas' generous defense is to blame. The unit gave up over 400 yards of total offense for the eighth time this season. Romo and the offense have to be near perfect for the team to win.
20. St. Louis Rams, 6-8
Rams fans should be excited about their team's prospects for the 2014 season. Whether Sam Bradford is the man under center or not, the team's renewed commitment to the run and strong defense is a foundation for success.
The Rams have run for at least 100 yards in seven straight games. During that span, the defense has forced 15 turnovers.
21. New York Jets, 6-8
Experience at quarterback and more playmakers on offense are what the Jets desperately need. Rookie signal-caller Geno Smith shows flashes of potential and exhibits solid leadership skills, but his decision-making is perplexing. The latter trait is largely responsible for his 21 picks this season.
Perhaps a few more weapons at receiver and running back would help, but most of all, he needs time to develop.
22. Buffalo Bills, 5-9
EJ Manuel was able to halt the "bust" talk with a two-touchdown performance on Sunday against the surging Jaguars—yes I said surging. Jacksonville had won three in a row going in.
The Jags' defense is legitimate, and Manuel produced a 105.1 quarterback rating in the 27-20 win at EverBank Field.
23. New York Giants, 5-9
I thought the Giants would be up for their game against the Seahawks on Sunday, but I was wrong. Eli Manning was terrible, and the receivers couldn't get separation from the Legion of Boom all game.
Manning had five interceptions to run his league-leading total to 25. The Seahawks are that good, and the Giants are that bad.
24. Minnesota Vikings, 4-9-1
Playing without Adrian Peterson, the Vikings not only won, but they also scored a season-high 48 points with Matt Cassel under center. The point output only came against the Eagles' weak defense, but because it was without A.P., the explosion was still impressive.
Cassel has clearly out-performed Christian Ponder when he has played. The Vikings' offense isn't as one-dimensional with him at the helm. He hit six different receivers en route to his 382-yard, two-touchdown, one-interception performance.
25. Tennessee Titans, 5-9
Since Jake Locker went down, the Titans have been a mess. Counting the Nov. 10 game against the Jags when Locker was injured, the Titans are 1-5 since their starter went down.
Some may consider his statistics mediocre (60.7 completion percentage, eight touchdowns, four interceptions, 1,256 yards in seven games), but wins are wins. Tennessee is 4-3 in games Locker has appeared in this season.
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4-10
Of all the teams at the bottom of the power rankings, I'm most impressed with the Bucs. Defensively, this team has been solid most of the year. Tampa Bay allows fewer yards per game than six teams currently slated to make the playoffs.
Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon has looked sharp and like a promising option moving forward. In 11 games, he has thrown for 2,231 yards, 17 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. He has easily been the best rookie quarterback in the NFL this season.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars, 4-10
The Jags had their win streak snapped by the Bills, but that doesn't diminish what the team has accomplished in the second half of the season.
Gus Bradley has the team competing and performing after it looked as if the Jags were headed for a monumentally bad season—even by the organization's meager standards. Heading into the bye in Week 9, the Jags were 0-8 and hadn't been closer than 10 points to any of their opponents.
Since then, the Jags are 4-2.
28. Atlanta Falcons, 4-10
In what has been the most disappointing season in the NFL, the Falcons are showing a little life in the final few weeks. They edged out a 27-26 win over another disappointing team in the Redskins on Sunday.
The Dirty Birds will face two elite squads to finish the season. The 49ers will welcome them to San Francisco for the Week 16 Monday night game. Their NFC South rivals the Carolina Panthers will come into the Georgia Dome in what figures to be a pivotal game for playoff positioning.
Can Atlanta give the team something to build on heading into 2014?
29. Oakland Raiders, 4-10
Perhaps it is time to give the ball back to Terrelle Pryor. With the dual-threat quarterback as the starter, the Raiders were at least a respectable 3-5. With Matt McGloin and the since-departed Matt Flynn as the men in charge, the Raiders are just 1-5.
Sure Pryor has been thrown in for Wildcat situations here and there, but the Raiders were a dominant run team with Pryor taking the majority of the snaps.
Now, the team is in the midst of a four-game losing streak. All the momentum and hope that was established early in the season is just about dead.
30. Cleveland Browns, 4-10
The Browns have lost five games in a row, and the losing may be getting to the players.
Was it just me or did star wide receiver Josh Gordon look a bit disinterested in Sunday's game against the Bears? Gordon is having a phenomenal season, but he wasn't the playmaker he has been all year for Cleveland. He still leads the NFL with 1,467 receiving yards, but against the Bears, he had just three receptions for 67 yards.
That was his lowest total in over a month.
In addition to the low numbers, his body language didn't look ideal. Perhaps it was the cold or frustration from catching just three of 10 balls thrown his way.
What team is most disappointing?
31. Washington Redskins, 3-11
Kirk Cousins played well against the Atlanta Falcons, but he fell short of creating a full-fledged quarterback controversy because the 'Skins still lost. That said, something has to happen with this team in the offseason to prevent another horrible year in 2014.
If the six-game losing streak isn't enough to make fans feel bad, they have to deal with rumors that their head coach is intentionally trying to get fired, per Jay Glazer of Fox Sports.
32. Houston Texans, 2-12
I can't remember the last time I've seen a team with decent talent simply fall apart like the Texans are doing to finish out the season.
After beginning the season 2-0, the team has lost a remarkable 12 straight games. Its decline is pitiful to watch, and I'm not even a Texans fan. One can only imagine how the players, owners and fanbase feel.
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