With each passing week, the NFL playoff picture is becoming more clear.
The Seattle Seahawks, for example, are running away with the NFC West and are just two wins and one San Francisco 49ers loss away from clinching the division. Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs are deadlocked atop the AFC West with their identical 9-1 records and fighting for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Let's take a look at the latest power rankings following a weekend full of controversy, last-second drama and marquee matchups.
1. Denver Broncos (9-1)
It took a prolific offense to finally hand the Kansas City Chiefs their first loss of the year, and there's no better unit than the one in Denver right now.
Peyton Manning went 24-of-40 for 323 yards and a touchdown in the 27-17 win against the Chiefs, while Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball continue to be a solid 1-2 punch at running back. Moreno carried the ball 27 times for 79 yards, and Ball finished off two drives with touchdowns, totaling 25 rushing yards on eight attempts.
Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas look to be unguardable at times, but it's the improvement on the other side of the ball which makes the Broncos the top team in football.
It appears the defense is rounding into form with the addition of Von Miller about a month ago following his six-game suspension to start the year. During Denver's current three-game winning streak, the defense has limited opponents to an average of 16 points per game.
2. Seattle Seahawks (10-1)
Seattle is the first 10-win team in the league this season, and it's looking like a runaway favorite in the NFC West. With their 41-20 win against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the Seahawks now hold a 3.5-game lead on the San Francisco 49ers for first place in the division with five weeks to go.
Seattle ranks second in the league this year in point differential at plus-127, trailing only Denver (plus-143). It's an indicator of the team's complete play on both sides of the ball, and all signs point to the team only getting better.
Prized free agent Percy Harvin made his much anticipated Seahawks debut on Sunday, and his first catch was a showstopper. NFL's Twitter account shared video of the grab:
With Harvin adding to an offense that features a beastly Marshawn Lynch and the league's No. 3 rushing attack (147.9 yards per game), quarterback Russell Wilson must be excited for the future.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (9-1)
The Chiefs remain elite despite their first loss of the year, and they'll have a chance to redeem themselves in Week 13 when they host Manning and the Broncos for a rematch.
Though teams are never happy when they give up 27 points, the Chiefs still held the Broncos to about two touchdowns below their scoring average. The offense came back to life with two touchdowns from Alex Smith following a stretch of six quarters when it didn't reach the end zone.
There's no doubting the quality and talent of the Chiefs up and down their defense, with stars like Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson, Brandon Flowers and Eric Berry. Running back Jamaal Charles is still as explosive as ever, and the fight with the Broncos for the AFC West crown will likely come down to the wire.
4. New Orleans Saints (8-2)
Sure, they got help from a controversial penalty call on Drew Brees, but the Saints further proved they're back among the NFC's top shelf of teams with Sunday's 23-20 win on Sunday.
The fourth-quarter penalty wiped out a Patrick Willis fumble recovery for the 49ers with San Francisco leading 20-17. But Brees was able to engineer two quick field-goal drives, the game-winner knocked through by Garrett Hartley as time expired.
Brees' 3,369 passing yards and 26 touchdowns are second only to Manning, and the Saints are averaging 28.8 points per game, No. 2 to the Broncos. Coordinator Rob Ryan has also brought results to the Saints defense, with the team ranking fifth in scoring defense (18.3 points allowed per game) and fourth in total defense (305.4 yards per game).
It's expected to see the offense humming along, but the improved defense is what makes this New Orleans team so dangerous.
5. Carolina Panthers (7-3)
The Panthers are riding a six-game losing streak behind its top-notch defense and balanced offensive attack.
Heading into Week 12, Carolina ranks first in scoring defense (12.8 points allowed per game) and total defense (283.3 yards allowed per game). According to Adam Schein of NFL.com, second-year linebacker Luke Kuechly is the top candidate for Defensive Player of the Year honors.
But we will have to monitor the status of the team's elite defensive end, Charles Johnson (8.5 sacks), who went down with a knee injury after being leg-whipped by a Patriots lineman on Monday night. According to Albert Breer of NFL media, it's just a mild MCL sprain for Johnson:
That sounds like good news for Johnson and the Panthers, as it looked like it could have been a much more serious injury.
6. New England Patriots (7-3)
The Patriots were held to 20 points by the stingy Panthers defense on Monday night, a game after hanging 55 points on the Pittsburgh Steelers in a blowout victory.
But the 24-20 loss to Carolina will be remembered for officials waving off a game-changing pass interference call on the final play of the game, one which could have extended the contest and put the Patriots at the 1-yard line.
Coupled with the controversial call that led to a Jets victory in Week 6, the Patriots could easily have one or two more wins this season. Even though Brady isn't putting up the eye-popping numbers we're accustomed to seeing him produce, the offense looks like a major force to be reckoned with, and the Patriots are tough to beat.
7. Indianapolis Colts (7-3)
Andrew Luck showed he's still got the magic touch with a come-from-behind 30-27 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Week 11. It's concerning that the Colts keep on having early struggles in games, but the team's resiliency is something to be spoken for.
The Colts are the only team to defeat the Broncos this year, handing them a 39-33 loss in Week 7, but Indianapolis also suffered a baffling 38-8 loss to the St. Louis Rams in Week 10.
Indy certainly has the makeup to be a playoff team but needs to work on being more consistent going forward.
8. San Francisco 49ers (6-4)
In the fourth quarter of the 49ers' eventual 23-20, last-second loss at New Orleans, Ahmad Brooks appeared to have changed the game by forcing a sack-fumble of Drew Brees. But referees charged Brooks with a controversial penalty, and Garrett Hartley went on to hit a game-winning field goal as time expired.
The 49ers have now lost two straight including their 10-9 defeat to the Panthers in Week 10. There's no shame in losing to two teams like those NFC South powers, but the 49ers need more consistency from Colin Kaepernick in the passing game if they want to make a playoff run.
9. Cincinnati Bengals (7-4)
The Bengals won the battle of Ohio on Sunday with a 41-20 win over the Cleveland Browns following two overtime losses. Cincinnati's talented defense is spearheaded by the NFL's leading tackler, Vontaze Burfict (118), and currently ranks sixth in scoring defense (18.7 points allowed per game) and total defense (313.1 yards allowed per game).
Andy Dalton came back down to earth with just 93 yards on 13-of-27 passing on Sunday, but he still threw for three scores, and the defense added two more. A.J. Green (1,020 receiving yards) trails only Calvin Johnson (1,083) and looks like the AFC's top receiver.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (6-5)
Nick Foles has been a nice surprise out of Philadelphia and has emerged as one of the best quarterbacks in the league as a starter. His emergence has also made Michael Vick a distant memory.
He's thrown for 1,554 yards with 16 touchdowns and no interceptions, proving that his dropback style can work with a Chip Kelly-led offensive scheme. Daniel Victor of The New York Times shared a remarkable stat regarding Foles and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning:
The Eagles have now won three straight games by an average margin of 17 points and are all alone atop the NFC East.
11. Chicago Bears (6-4)
The good news out of Chicago is that Jay Cutler is expected to return in Week 13, via Ian Rapoport and Rebecca Haarlow of NFL media:
Cutler has missed significant time this season due to different injuries, with his most recent ailment being an ankle injury he suffered in Week 10. The quarterback brings more potential to an offense that has many weapons, including receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, running back Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett.
Still, backup Josh McCown has led the team to two victories, including Sunday's 23-20 overtime win against the Baltimore Ravens.
12. Detroit Lions (6-4)
Megatron continues to amaze.
Calvin Johnson added to his league-leading numbers on Sunday by recording 179 yards (1,083 total) and two touchdowns (11 total) on six catches. But the Lions got shut down in the second half and eventually lost 37-27 to the underdog Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Lions are tied with the Bears atop the NFC North and can move to 8-4 in the next two weeks with wins over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and suddenly reeling Green Bay Packers.
13. Arizona Cardinals (6-4)
Lo and behold, the Cardinals are tied with the 49ers for second place in the NFC West after putting together a three-game winning streak.
Granted, the wins came against three teams with a combined five victories (Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars), but the Cardinals will see what they're really made of in the next two weeks with matchups against the Colts and Eagles.
14. Dallas Cowboys (5-5)
Cowboys fans are probably used to it by now.
Dallas is a team full of potential but has been plagued by inconsistency this year. All of the injuries piling up on defense certainly don't help, but coordinator Monte Kiffin needs to turn around a unit that has been slashed in the secondary all season long.
Dallas had a bye in Week 11 but will face the streaking New York Giants in a crucial NFC East battle on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
15. Miami Dolphins (5-5)
The media furor around Richie Incognito's dismissal and Jonathan Martin's exit from the team has started to subside. Sunday's 20-16 win against the San Diego Chargers certainly helped and also puts them firmly in the playoff hunt.
The Dolphins are currently tied with the New York Jets for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC East, and the two teams will face off in Week 13. But first the Dolphins will face Carolina and its stingy defense in Week 12 in what's sure to be a tough test for quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
16. New York Jets (5-5)
Geno Smith has been a turnover machine at starting quarterback for the Jets this year. The problem took center stage on Sunday when he threw three interceptions and had one of them returned for a score in a 37-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, it was a season-worst performance by a signal-caller, per ESPN's Total Quarterback Rating system:
The Jets have been wildly inconsistent this year, with the team following a win-loss pattern all season long. In their game before the disappointing defeat against Buffalo, the Jets handed the Saints a 26-20 loss, but they haven't shown the ability to perform well in consecutive games.
17. New York Giants (4-6)
The Giants are suddenly red hot and in the thick of the NFC East conversation by winning four straight contests following six consecutive defeats to start the year.
New York beat the Packers 27-13 in Week 11 and enter Sunday's matchup against the Cowboys with a chance to tie for second place in the division with a victory. The key to the team's turnaround has been its defense, which has given up an average of 11.8 points per game during the win streak compared to 34.8 points per game during the six-game skid to start the year.
18. Green Bay Packers (5-5)
The Packers are slipping, and fast.
Since Aaron Rodgers left early in a Week 9 contest against the Chicago Bears with a broken collarbone, the team has lost three straight. Third-stringer Scott Tolzien has been forced into action with an injury to backup Seneca Wallace, and he's thrown just one touchdown against five interceptions the past two weeks.
According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, Rodgers' return is still up in the air, which doesn't bode well with just six weeks left in the regular season.
19. Baltimore Ravens (4-6)
The defending champs are still very much alive in the AFC playoff picture following a disappointing start to the year.
Ray Rice finally played up to his potential on Sunday, breaking out for a season-high 131 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries in a 23-20 overtime loss to the Bears. Baltimore's team Twitter account highlighted Rice's big day after the game:
Despite the loss, the Ravens are with a host of other 4-6 AFC teams currently one game out of a No. 6 seed in the conference.
20. St. Louis Rams (4-6)
The Rams had a bye in Week 11 but looked impressive their last time out, beating the Colts 38-8 in an unexpected, lopsided victory.
Running back Zac Stacy has emerged as a workhorse out of the St. Louis backfield, averaging 26.3 carries and 107.7 yards per game the past three contests. The Rams are in the cellar of NFC West and have a daunting schedule in the next month, with contests against four winning teams (the Bears, 49ers, Cardinals and Saints).
21. San Diego Chargers (4-6)
The Chargers are on a downward spiral, and it's not going to get easier in the upcoming weeks.
San Diego lost 20-16 in Miami on Sunday and has now lost three straight heading into matchups at Kansas City and at home against the Bengals. Mike Sando of ESPN.com shared some perspective on how tough the Chargers' last two road games are, as the team also has to travel to Denver in Week 15:
Philip Rivers and Co. better get it going quick, or their playoff hopes will soon be dashed.
22. Tennessee Titans (4-6)
After beating the Rams to reach .500 in Week 9, Tennessee has lost the past two weeks by a combined five points.
The most recent defeat was a 30-27 heartbreaker against the Colts when Luck engineered a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Ryan Fitzpatrick has taken over quarterback duties for the injured Jake Locker, who will undergo season-ending surgery Wednesday for his foot, per Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com:
Locker showed some promise when he was healthy this year, but don't expect this team to make a late-season push with Fitzpatrick under center.
23. Oakland Raiders (4-6)
Many football fans probably Googled the name "Matt McGloin" on Sunday as the undrafted rookie quarterback burst on to the scene with three touchdowns in a 28-23 Raiders road victory against the Houston Texans.
McGloin, who walked on at Penn State, started in place of an injured Terrelle Pryor (ankle) and went 25-of-47 for 284 yards, breathing new life into a stagnant Raiders passing game. In four contests before going down with his injury in Week 10, Pryor had thrown one touchdown and eight interceptions.
As of Monday afternoon, coach Dennis Allen wasn't ready to name a starting quarterback for the Week 13 matchup against the Titans, per Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-6)
Big Ben Roethlisberger put together his finest game of the year on Sunday, going 29-of-45 for 367 yards and season-high four touchdowns in a 37-27 victory against the Lions.
Receiver Antonio Brown now leads in the NFL in catches (74) and ranks fifth in yards (952). Brown had touchdowns of 34 yards and 47 yards in the wild first half against the Lions and has continued to show development in his game.
Meanwhile, the defense made some great adjustments in the second half against the Lions and held them scoreless after Matthew Stafford led Detroit to 27 first-half points. The Steelers have two crucial AFC North matchups coming up against the Browns and Ravens.
25. Cleveland Browns (4-6)
The Browns have lost four out of their past five with Sunday's 41-20 drubbing at the hands of the Bengals.
Jason Campbell struggled by throwing three interceptions, and he needs to play closer to his production in his first two starts when he completed 63.3 percent of his passes and threw for five touchdowns and no picks.
While the Browns rank fifth in total defense (306.5 yards per game), they have trouble keeping teams out of the end zone, ranking 17th in points allowed (23.8 per game).
26. Washington Redskins (3-7)
The Redskins likely need to win their remaining six games if they want to have a chance to emerge out of the NFC East with a playoff bid. Washington's comeback attempt against Philadelphia fell short in Week 11, resulting in a 24-16 loss, the team's third in the past four games.
The San Francisco 49ers are coming to town in Week 12 for a crucial Monday Night Football matchup for both teams. While the Niners are trying to avoid their third straight loss, the Redskins are just trying to stay afloat.
27. Buffalo Bills (3-7)
The Bills thumped the Jets 37-14 on Sunday but are fading out of the postseason picture.
But Buffalo has three struggling teams on the schedule in the next three weeks, with matchups slated against the Falcons, Buccaneers and Jaguars. First-round pick and starting quarterback E.J Manuel has been largely inconsistent this season but had arguably his best career game against the Jets, going 20-of-28 for 245 yards and two touchdowns
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-8)
The Buccaneers have put together two straight wins following eight consecutive losses to start the year.
It's been nice to see Tampa Bay garner attention for its football play rather than locker room drama, with running back Bobby Rainey coming out of nowhere to rush 30 times for 163 yards and two touchdowns in last week's 41-28 win against the Falcons.
29. Houston Texans (2-8)
Quarterbacks have been the focus of Houston's season, and the situation took another turn on Sunday when Case Keenum was benched in favor of Matt Schaub during the game.
Respected wideout Andre Johnson had a heated exchange with Schaub near the end of the 28-23 loss to the Raiders, as the Texans were stopped at the Oakland 8-yard line on fourth down with about a minute left. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports shared his thoughts on what the quarterbacking carousel could mean for coach Gary Kubiak:
30. Atlanta Falcons (2-8)
The Falcons offense just isn't the same without the big-play threat of Julio Jones, who has been out since Week 5 with a season-ending foot injury.
The team has lost four straight contests, including Sunday's 41-28 defeat at the hands of NFC South foe Tampa Bay. Atlanta ranks 29th in points allowed (29.2 per game) and could be in for a long day against Brees and the Saints on Thursday night.
31. Minnesota Vikings (2-8)
Adrian Peterson was corralled by the Seahawks on Sunday, carrying the ball 21 times for 65 yards in a 41-20 Seattle victory. Peterson is well off his pace from last year but still has 851 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
Minnesota will face off against the Packers on Sunday in a matchup of two struggling NFC North rivals.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9)
At least the Jaguars know they won't end the season winless, but they're the lone one-win club in the league. Jacksonville has the worst offense in the league (12.9 points per game) and the second-worst defense (31.8 points allowed per game).
With arguably the team's top player Justin Blackmon suspended for the rest of the season, the Jaguars are in position to get the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.