Tier One (The Elite)
Tier Two (In the Playoffs)
1. New Orleans Saints (13-1)
Over the past few weeks, the Saints have looked very beatable, but we always gave them the benefit of the doubt because a win is a win. Now that they have finally lost a game, all the weaknesses they showed in those other games seem much more real. They are still the best team in the conference, but should no longer be considered elite. (Last Week: One)
2. Philadelphia Eagles (10-4)
The NFC's hottest team has now won five in a row, and they are still in the hunt for a first round bye. I toyed with the idea of putting them first, but the difference in records is too great. But if these two teams played each other right now, I have a feeling the Eagles would be the hot pick. And if they meet in the playoffs...well, the Eagles just might have Brian Westbrook and Jeremy Maclin as two more weapons for Donovan McNabb.
3. Minnesota Vikings (11-3)
The way they've looked the past few weeks, it's hard to believe this was once a team many thought was on a crash course with New Orleans in the NFC Championship game. They could still very well win their next two games and clinch a first round bye, but my guess is that Vikings fans feel much less confident right now than they did three weeks ago.
4. Arizona Cardinals (9-5)
As I said above, a win is a win, but it's never a good thing when you blow a 17-point lead to the 2-11 Lions. Fortunately, the Cardinals fought back and won the game and have now clinched the NFC West (although that was never really in doubt). They will now host a home playoff game, and it wouldn't shock anyone to see them lose, just as it wouldn't shock anyone to see them make the Super Bowl again.
Tier Three (In the Hunt)
5. Dallas Cowboys (9-5)
They finally shook the December curse with a huge upset win over the previously undefeated Saints. But before they can look forward to a huge January battle with the Eagles, they must dispose of the angry Redskins.
6. Green Bay Packers (9-5)
The Packers were about one inch away from basically clinching a playoff spot. But alas...they were unable to defend Ben Roethlisberger's pass and Mike Wallace kept his feet in bounds and the Packers must now beat the Seahawks and Cardinals to control their own destiny.
7. New York Giants (8-6)
It was an impressive win against the Redskins, and everything was clicking on both sides of the ball. But the fact is, the Giants can win their next two games, and it won't matter unless one of the teams above them loses. So even if they can get over their inconsistencies, the ball is not fully in their court anymore.
Tier Four (Life Support)
Tier Five (Playing for Pride)
8. Atlanta Falcons (7-7)
Their last minute win over the Jets was nice, but it will have a bigger impact on the AFC playoff picture than on their own. This should be a better team next year, and if they were able to stay healthy, there's a good chance they'd be two tiers higher right now.
9. Carolina Panthers (6-8)
That was an impressive pounding of the Vikings, although it made for a boring Sunday night game. Still, with Steve Smith, Jonathan Stewart, and Matt Moore at the helm, this is not a team I'd want to face right now, even with DeAngelo Williams on the shelf.
10. San Francisco 49ers (6-8)
Alex Smith may well be the quarterback of the future, but he didn't look like an NFL starter on Sunday. Much of that had to do with the fact that his offensive line was collapsing around him, but his performance was a definite step in the wrong direction.
11. Washington Redskins (4-10)
Their 45-12 loss to the Giants was embarrassing, but that doesn't change the fact that they've played mostly solid ball the past few weeks. Now let's take a few moments to visualize their botched fake field goal pass that went for an interception...
12. Chicago Bears (5-9)
13. Seattle Seahawks (5-9)
Not only did they lose 24-7 to the Buccaneers (yes, those Buccaneers), but by allowing Tampa Bay to win another game, they basically handed the #1 pick over to a team in their division.
Tier Six (In the Hunt...for the No. 1 Pick!)
14. Detroit Lions (2-12)
They showed enough fight to come back from a 17-0 deficit to the Cardinals, but they couldn't finish the job.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-12)
Their victory over the Seahawks must have been nice for morale. Josh Freeman bounced back from a couple bad starts to win his second NFL game.
16. St. Louis Rams (1-13)
Well...it's theirs for the taking! They just have to make sure they don't do something stupid, like win a game.