With just one epic week left on the schedule—did you know that 13 of the 16 games in Week 17 have playoff implications?—it's the last chance to do a speculative power rankings article before the postseason begins.
Even with 16 weeks of football behind us, there are still teams rising up the rankings and others dropping precipitously. Some teams are gunning for the playoffs in scorching form, while others keep getting burnt.
Here, we'll take a look at all of the risers and fallers in the power rankings ahead of what should be one very memorable close to the regular season.
1. Seattle Seahawks (12-3)
Though the Arizona Cardinals came into their house and beat them in Week 16—the first home loss in the past two seasons for Seattle—this is still the team to beat in the NFC. The Seahawks are third in rush yards, first in pass defense and 13th in run defense.
They have one of the league's most composed and compelling young quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and plenty of playoff experience. The Cardinals showed some that they are beatable at home, but it's most certainly no easy task.
2. Denver Broncos (12-3)
Peyton Manning has already set the NFL record in touchdown passes in a season (51) with a game to go, is just 266 yards away from surpassing Drew Brees' record of 5,476 passing yards set in 2011 and, oh yeah, has thrown just 10 picks.
Just about every AFC team has a question mark or two. The only certainty this season has been Manning's epic performance from Week 1 on, and it's why the Broncos remain the front-runners to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
3. San Francisco 49ers (10-4)
This rank will change if the Niners lose to the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football, but it's hard to see the team sending off Candlestick Park with anything less than a convincing win. The Niners have won four in a row and nine of their last 11—nobody wants anything to do with this team in the playoffs.
4. Carolina Panthers (11-4)
The Panthers are one win away from winning the NFC South and securing a bye week. Few people outside of Carolina would have believed that to be possible heading into the season. But with Cam Newton really maturing and Luke Kuechly developing into the game's best linebacker—he had 24 tackles against the New Orleans Saints in Week 16!—the Panthers are very serious Super Bowl contenders.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (10-5)
The Bengals can be a bit streaky at times, but you don't want to face them in Cincy, where they are 7-0. If they can earn a bye week in the playoffs and divisional-round home game—and the young nucleus of Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard keep on clicking offensively—the Bengals will threaten for the AFC's Super Bowl berth.
6. New England Patriots (11-4)
Patriots fans will probably feel the team should be higher, but even with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick guiding this ship, it's hard to see this Patriots team winning the AFC without Rob Gronkowski and generally struggling down the stretch, outside of the Week 16 game against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Patriots will be a tough out, but a series of injuries will keep this team from the Super Bowl this year.
7. Indianapolis Colts (10-5)
After handling the Kansas City Chiefs with ease in Kansas City, the Colts went from being a team that few people weren't taking all that seriously as an AFC contender to one that folks are noticing once again. If it can protect Andrew Luck and his young receivers don't wilt in the spotlight, this Colts team can surprise some folks.
Remember, the Colts now have wins over the Seahawks, Niners, Broncos and Chiefs this season. They've generally saved their best for the toughest opponents on their schedule, which makes them quite dangerous come the postseason.
8. New Orleans Saints (10-5)
The Saints are one of the NFL's three best teams at home, where they are 7-0. On the road, they become extremely mediocre, with just a 3-5 record. Unlike Cincinnati—a team that seems to share a similar habit of homesickness—this Saints team likely won't have a home game in the playoffs.
With three losses in its last four weeks, this team isn't just falling down the power rankings—it might also be one-and-done in the playoffs.
9. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)
Since starting 9-0, the Chiefs have gone 2-4, confirming suspicions that the team preyed on an easy early-season schedule and was perhaps a bit overrated. Kansas City has played five teams with playoff hopes this season and gone 2-4 in those games (losing to the Broncos twice)—this is a team that needs a change in momentum, and fast.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (9-6)
They have the league's most dangerous offense outside of Denver. They've won six of seven. And now they face a Dallas Cowboys team in Week 17 reportedly without Tony Romo, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN, and with the NFC East on the line.
In other words, the Eagles will be favored not only to win the NFC East, but also to finish the season as the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. Has there been a more surprising team this season? And more than that, has there been a more surprising breakthrough performance than that of Nick Foles (25 touchdowns, two interceptions)?
No and no.
11. Arizona Cardinals (10-5)
Nobody wants the Cardinals to reach the playoffs. They've won seven of eight and responded to a Week 13 loss to the Eagles with three straight wins, including a win over the Seahawks in Seattle. With their defense, they'll challenge anyone, anywhere if they get into the dance.
Unfortunately, they either need the Falcons to beat the Niners before they do the same in Week 17, or they need to beat the Niners next week and hope the Saints lose as well. It's a big ask, but the Cardinals would be a dangerous team if they reached the postseason.
12. Chicago Bears (8-7)
All they had to do was beat the Eagles and the NFC North was all wrapped up. Instead, they lost 54-11. Yes, 54-11. It was bad. The Bears have one of the league's most dangerous offenses, but their defense—namely their run defense—is so atrocious it's hard to imagine the Bears winning a playoff game, if they reach the postseason at all.
13. Miami Dolphins (8-7)
For the Dolphins, the easiest route to the playoffs is a win over the New York Jets and a Baltimore Ravens loss against Cincy. It's certainly a strong possibility, though the Dolphins look like a one-and-done even if they get into the dance. Still, the fact that this team is in the postseason conversation at all given all of the distractions this season is plenty impressive.
14. Baltimore Ravens (8-7)
Let's be honest—this Ravens team really doesn't deserve to reach the playoffs. It's been wildly inconsistent from week to week. It's gotten absolutely nothing from the run game. Joe Flacco has run hot and cold. And yet the Ravens still have a shot if they win and get some help. And nobody would want to play them in the playoffs after last season's run to a Super Bowl title.
And that, in a nutshell, is the NFL, folks.
15. San Diego Chargers (8-7)
The Chargers were basically toast after a Week 11 loss to the Dolphins, with a 4-6 record. But four wins in their next five games have them in the hunt, and should they win in Week 16 and the Ravens and Dolphins lose, Philip Rivers and company will reach the postseason.
Now, just imagine how good they would be if they could actually start a season as strong as they finish them.
16. Green Bay Packers (7-7-1)
If Aaron Rodgers returns for the final game against the Bears, the Packers' stock is much higher and they'll beat the Bears. Without him, well, it's off to the golf course for Green Bay. It's a pretty simple scenario, really.
17. Dallas Cowboys (8-7)
With Romo reportedly done for the year, it would be pretty surprising if the Cowboys beat the Eagles. Heck, with Romo, the Birds were always going to be a tough task. Kyle Orton is a consummate pro, but expecting him to walk in after barely playing at all the past two weeks and lead the generally dysfunctional Cowboys to a playoff berth is too big an ask.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)
Well, the Steelers waited a bit too long to get hot, wouldn't you say?
They've won two straight, five of seven and are now 7-4 since starting the season 0-4—and they actually could make the playoffs if the Ravens, Dolphins and Chargers all lose. They would be a dangerous team to face if they somehow made it. It's a long shot, however, and it seems more likely their season will end in disappointment.
19. St. Louis Rams (7-8)
They keep winning, Washington keeps losing and—since they own Washington's first-round pick—they could conceivably finish .500 and still have the top overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. That's called having your cake and eating it too. Next year, look out.
20. Detroit Lions (7-8)
Jay Cutler missed time. Rodgers missed time. The Lions were 7-5 and in control of their NFC North destiny. And then...three straight losses. It will be surprising if Jim Schwartz survives this late-season debacle.
21. New York Jets (7-8)
Rex Ryan deserves one more season. With a rookie quarterback, no offensive weapons of note and holes all across the roster, he squeezed (at least) seven wins out of this team. There is hope in New York, and for that, Ryan deserves another season behind the helm.
22. New York Giants (6-9)
They were never going to dig out of an 0-6 start. They've been respectable since, at least, but a lot of pressing questions need to be answered in the offseason for the Giants.
23. Buffalo Bills (6-9)
Sure, wins over the Jacksonville Jaguars and Dolphins won't have anyone dancing in the street—in fact, many fans probably would rather have seen the Bills finish with less than six wins once they fell to 4-9—but at least this team has kept fighting. Who knows what the season would have been like if EJ Manuel could have stayed healthy...
24. Tennessee Titans (6-9)
Is Jake Locker the future of this organization? The Titans have put some weapons around him and have some players worth being excited about, but quarterback remains the question here. If he can stay healthy, he certainly has shown flashes of big things to come.
25. Atlanta Falcons (4-10)
This will be a one-year dip into mediocrity. The Falcons have battled injuries all season long, but with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones leading the offense—and a makeover on defense—they'll be contenders next year.
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11)
Has Greg Schiano saved his skin with four wins in the past seven weeks? He was certainly right in choosing Mike Glennon over Josh Freeman, and with Doug Martin returning from injury and Vincent Jackson continuing his strong play, there are reasons for optimism next year.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11)
They don't have a ton of talent, but Gus Bradley has gotten this team to buy into his program, and it has shown down the stretch. They have a long way to go, but the Jaguars, as an organization, seem to be moving in the right direction.
28. Minnesota Vikings (4-10-1)
How the heck did this team reach the playoffs last season? The Vikings learned a lesson this year—you can't rely on Adrian Peterson to simply carry you through a season.
29. Oakland Raiders (4-11)
You have to feel for Raiders fans. At one point, this team was 4-6 and at least showing glimmers of talent. Five losses later, they feel like the same old Raiders once again. Expect Oakland to aggressively target a quarterback this offseason, either in the draft, in free agency or via trade.
30. Cleveland Browns (4-11)
It's hard to imagine that the Browns were 3-2 at one point this season. Those were quainter times, as the Browns have since lost nine of 10 and six in a row. But hey, at least Josh Gordon (80 receptions for 1,564 yards and nine touchdowns) gives the Cleveland fans something to look forward to.
31. Washington (3-12)
Seven straight losses. A second-year quarterback who regressed and was shut down late in the year despite being healthy. A head coach almost assuredly gone after the season. A controversy once again flaring up about the team's offensive nickname. No first-round pick in this year's draft.
Nothing went right for Washington this season.
32. Houston Texans (2-13)
From AFC South champions to likely selecting with the top overall pick in this year's draft. There are dumpster fires, and then there is this season for the Texans. Yikes.
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