The usual suspects occupy the top and bottom spots of the NFL power rankings as Week 16 approaches, but there has been plenty of movement the past couple of weeks in the middle of the pack.
With an abundance of playoff scenarios on the line, as detailed by NFL.com, you can be sure these rankings will change before the postseason arrives.
There are still eight playoff spots yet to be claimed. Only the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts have earned a berth, and of those four, only Indy has secured a divisional crown.
Here's a look at where every team stacks up with just two regular-season games left to play before the real fun begins.
1. Seattle Seahawks
There are four NFC teams with at least 10 wins, but remarkably, the 12-2 Seattle Seahawks stand alone as the only team in the conference that has secured a playoff berth.
This is a big reason why you're going to notice the top of these rankings populated in large part by NFC teams. This conference is absolutely loaded with playoff-caliber teams, which is why the 9-5 Arizona Cardinals will likely miss the postseason.
As the top team in the top conference and the league's winningest team this year, Seattle is an easy choice at No. 1.
2. Denver Broncos
Sure, it was surprising to see Denver get beat at home against San Diego in Week 15. Most of us had already penciled in that game as a win for the Broncos, but the playoff-hopeful Chargers had different plans.
Still, as long as Manning is healthy, Denver has a legitimate chance to win the Super Bowl.
3. San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers have won four games in a row and appear to be powering up for a Super Bowl run. Of course, a road game in Seattle is likely going to stand in their way.
But Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee recently broke down a plausible scenario in which the 49ers wouldn't face their NFC West rival until the NFC Championship Game:
Should the 49ers beat the Falcons a week from today and Arizona in the finale, the Carolina-New Orleans loser probably would get the sixth seed. ("Likely" and "probably" are the key words when talking about these scenarios.)
4. New Orleans Saints
Winning at Carolina in Week 16 is likely the only way the New Orleans Saints have a chance to make a deep playoff run. The loser of the game will likely end up as the No. 6 seed in the NFC, meaning road games throughout the postseason.
Should they lose against the Panthers, the Saints would end the season with a 3-5 road record.
But a home game could spur a Super Bowl run, since the Saints haven't yet lost at home. One win could be all it takes to get the run started.
5. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs haven't put together many complete performances this season.
In the beginning of the season, Kansas City's defense carried the club, but it's been the offense that has become the catalyst for victory of late.
The Chiefs have scored 101 points in the past two games, but they also allowed 31 points to Oakland. If the team's defense can start pitching shutouts again, Kansas City will be a lot more formidable on the road in the playoffs than most imagine.
6. Carolina Panthers
Head coach Ron Rivera knows his team is at a crossroads heading into Week 16's game against the Saints, as Bryan Strickland of Panthers.com noted:
We've done the best we can to put ourselves in a position like this. Now we have to go out and take care of our business. This is a good football team that's coming in. We know that. We're ready to find out who is going to win the division.
Count this author among those who believe it's Carolina's time to shine. The matchup at Bank of America Stadium on Dec. 22 will tell us all a lot about this team's Super Bowl chances.
7. New England Patriots
It's going to be fascinating to watch Tom Brady the next couple of weeks. He struggled throughout most of Week 15's contest against the Miami Dolphins, but really turned it on late. Without Rob Gronkowski in the lineup, the team will need to get creative offensively if they hope to win games.
8. Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts wrapped up the AFC South after Week 14. This team showed it was capable of taking down the league's giants early in the season, beating Seattle, San Francisco and Denver all before their Week 8 bye. Since Reggie Wayne went down with an ACL injury, however, Indy has yet to beat a winning team.
The upcoming game at Kansas City will be telling about where this team really stands heading into the playoffs.
9. Chicago Bears
Based on Chicago's incredible offensive output (29 points per game, No. 2 in the NFL), it's easy to see why the Bears fired Lovie Smith and brought in Marc Trestman, a noted offensive guru who has had a hugely positive effect on many a quarterback.
Unfortunately, Lovie apparently took the defensive playbook with him when he left, because Chicago's defense is a mess. The defensive issues have been amplified by a few key injuries to Henry Melton, Lance Briggs and Charles "Peanut" Tillman.
That said, you have to like the direction in which this team is headed.
10. Cincinnati Bengals
For reasons that escape understanding, the Cincinnati Bengals have trouble focusing from time to time. This team is loaded with elite talent on both sides of the ball, as its 9-5 record indicates. When focused and playing with discipline, Marvin Lewis' team can beat any squad in the league.
11. Arizona Cardinals
"They're just cleaner, sharper, better at everything," Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll recently said of the Arizona Cardinals, as Tony Drovetto of Seahawks.com relayed.
Featuring one of the league's stingiest defenses (No. 7 overall), Arizona's offense has improved drastically this year with Carson Palmer behind center. The Cardinals are a dangerous sleeper in the NFC, but they must first win in Seattle in Week 16 to have a realistic chance of getting into the playoffs.
12. Baltimore Ravens
Note to self: Don't count out John Harbaugh's Baltimore Ravens...ever.
After losing five of the first eight games this year, Baltimore has come charging back to win five of its last six, including four in a row leading into Week 16's contest at home against the reeling Patriots.
With a record of 8-6, the Ravens currently occupy the No. 6 seed in the AFC and have a shot to win the AFC North with two more victories, thanks to a matchup against Cincinnati in Week 17.
13. Philadelphia Eagles
A win over Chicago in Week 16 could seal the NFC East title for the Philadelphia Eagles, provided the Dallas Cowboys cooperate and lose in Washington.
LeSean McCoy leads the league in rushing, and second-year quarterback Nick Foles has emerged as a top-tier player. Philly's offense is doing fine, but the team's defense must play better going forward than we saw in Week 15.
14. Miami Dolphins
Given the tumultuous season Miami has had, it's incredible the Dolphins are still in the playoff chase. With a record of 8-6, however, this team is still in great shape for a wild-card berth as the potential No. 6 seed.
With games against losing teams to close out the season, Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel believes the team doesn't deserve to get in, and he's not wrong:
15. Green Bay Packers
The addition of Eddie Lacy has been revolutionary for the Packers this year. The rookie has rushed for 1,028 yards and eight touchdowns, adding another 236 yards on 31 catches. This young man is extremely valuable, and if Green Bay gets into the playoffs as NFC North champions, he'll be a force to be reckoned with.
And if Aaron Rodgers comes back to lead the offense, opposing defenses will have double the trouble.
16. Detroit Lions
You don't have to be a Lions fan to feel sick about the wasted talent on Detroit's roster.
At 7-7, this team is one loss from being eliminated from playoff contention, and if that occurs, then Jim Schwartz and his entire staff need to be fired.
17. San Diego Chargers
Give Philip Rivers a defensive complement next year and the San Diego Chargers will challenge the Chiefs and Broncos for the AFC West title. The emergence of rookie receiver Keenan Allen has helped Rivers have one of his best seasons as a pro, as has a healthy Ryan Mathews.
18. St. Louis Rams
It won't be long before the St. Louis Rams are mentioned in the same breath as the 49ers and Seahawks when it comes to dominant defenses. The Rams are a team to keep an eye on the next year or two as not only a playoff contender, but as a Super Bowl contender.
The biggest question mark about this team is whether or not Sam Bradford will be able to take them to the next level. He's had poor talent around him for most of his career, but he was starting to heat up this season before suffering a knee injury.
19. Dallas Cowboys
Mired in mediocrity, the Dallas Cowboys could easily lose to Washington in Week 16. Really, after laying an egg in Chicago and then giving the game to Green Bay in Week 16, it would be the perfect way to cap off the past couple of games.
20. New York Jets
Another losing season has the media wondering if Rex Ryan could be on the hot seat...again.
But judging by the support he's garnering from his players, as noted by Steve Serby of the New York Post, and considering the level of talent he's had to work with—on both sides of the ball—a 6-8 record is pretty darn good:
“I’m 100 percent confident that if it was up to the players, that he’d be back next year,” David Nelson told The Post. “I’m 100 percent confident that if the GM and the owner allowed player feedback, then there’d be a lot of guys that would go to bat for him, and speak on his behalf.”
21. Pittsburgh Steelers
Credit goes to head coach Mike Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for keeping the Steelers afloat this season. Based on the injuries the team suffered on both sides of the ball, Pittsburgh could have easily collapsed this year like the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans.
22. Minnesota Vikings
I wonder what Johnny Manziel would look like wearing purple.
The way things are going, the Vikings could well be selecting another quarterback. The only guy who's shown much of anything at the position this year is Matt Cassel, and he's already proved himself to be fool's gold.
23. Buffalo Bills
It's not likely to happen, but it would be fun to see the Bills spend a high draft pick on North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron or Texas Tech's Jace Amaro. EJ Manuel is a talented young quarterback who would thrive with a player of their caliber running in the middle of the field.
24. Tennessee Titans
There doesn't appear to be any positive momentum brewing for the Tennessee Titans. The franchise is going nowhere fast, and it's time for a change of leadership. Whether it's coaching or personnel decisions, the Titans have been tepid at best for years.
This team needs a fresh vision, and fast.
25. New York Giants
See Tennessee...except nobody should expect the New York Giants to fire Tom Coughlin, who recently won two Super Bowls.
The Giants appear old, withered up and stale compared to most teams around the league. This could get much worse before it gets better.
26. Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns still stink, but there's legitimate hope for a better tomorrow.
Josh Gordon has emerged as a league superstar this season, playing with mediocre quarterbacks. If the Browns find their quarterback of the future this season, then Cleveland will be rocking in the playoffs sooner rather than later.
27. Oakland Raiders
Upon further review, it appears Oakland is still Oakland, despite evidence to the contrary at the beginning of the season. Losers of six of the last seven games, the Raiders are melting down in a bad way to close out the 2013 season.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After winning four of five games heading into Week 15, losing badly to the 49ers at home was a wake-up call for the Buccaneers. That said, there's no doubt Tampa Bay is headed in the right direction. This team's second-half turnaround has likely saved Greg Schiano's job, but he could be on a short leash in 2014.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
Though one of the least talented teams in the league, Jacksonville has been extremely competitive since their bye in Week 9. Rookie head coach Gus Bradley has his team focused on the task at hand, which is impressive given the long odds it faces almost every week.
30. Atlanta Falcons
General manager Thomas Dimitroff has some big decisions coming up in May when the Atlanta Falcons will be one of the first teams selecting in the 2014 NFL draft. Injuries decimated this club early, which exposed a frightening lack of depth behind the starters.
31. Washington Redskins
It's bad enough that Washington has won just three games this year, but the constant distractions throughout the entire season have ruined any chance of team chemistry.
From a football perspective, it was pretty miraculous that Washington won 10 games in 2012 with its atrocious defense, and another losing season is on the plate in 2014 if nothing changes on that front.
32. Houston Texans
The biggest story in Houston these days is that the team is interviewing potential head coaches for next season. After losing 12 straight games to fall to 2-12 on the season, there's no doubt the Texans are the worst team in the league.
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