NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Expert Consensus Rank for Every Team Entering Week 13
Week 12 is a special week on the NFL calendar.
With three games on Thanksgiving, football fanatics got an early fix. In addition to two of the top five teams in these power rankings being in action, we saw an NFC East battle that looks to have signaled a shift in the division.
Sunday's slate didn't disappoint, either. There was a blowout in L.A, a nail-biter in Charlotte and an upset in Denver. In Cincinnati, there was something the NFL hasn't seen since 2014.
The week's action had a big-time impact on the pecking order of the NFL. As the dust settles on Week 12, Bleacher Report NFL analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski have gotten together to sort through that impact by setting said pecking order—ranking the league's teams from No. 32 to No. 1.
Where does your favorite team slot?
Read on to find out!
(If you're an Arizona Cardinals fan, it won't take long.)
32. Arizona Cardinals (2-9)
Last Week: 32
Week 12 Result: Lost at Los Angeles Chargers, 45-10
For the Arizona Cardinals, Week 12 was a statement game.
And the statement they made in losing 45-10 to the Los Angeles Chargers was, "We are the worst team in the NFL, and don't you forget it."
The Cardinals had just 149 yards of offense total. Arizona has now eclipsed 300 total yards in a game once this season. The Cardinals had 10 first downs and averaged 3.3 yards per play, and Josh Rosen passed for 105 yards.
To be as offensively inept as the Cardinals as consistently as they are is like a macabre achievement. You can't just luck into being that bad. It takes work.
For the season, the Cardinals are averaging fewer than 250 yards and 14.1 points per game—in an era where offensive production has skyrocketed.
How does this team even have two wins?
Oh yeah…the 49ers.
Still, per Sobleski, there's a silver lining to all the stink: "Cardinals fans should begin building their arguments about which draft prospect they feel is the best—if they haven't already—since there doesn't appear to be another winnable game on the schedule."
See? Glass half-full, people!
31. Oakland Raiders (2-9)
Last Week: 31
Week 12 Result: Lost at Baltimore, 34-17
It's been a terrible year for the Oakland Raiders. And as the losses have piled up, there have been rumblings regarding Derek Carr, his fat salary and his future with Jon Gruden's Raiders.
Performances like Sunday's aren't going to help the Oakland quarterback's job security.
It came against one of the better defenses in the NFL, but Carr was miserable in Week 12, completing less than half of his passes while failing to hit 200 passing yards.
However, Davenport isn't so sure blowing up the quarterback position in Oakland is the best course of action:
"I have little doubt that the idea of getting 'his' young quarterback appeals to Gruden's ego. Or getting a veteran, which would fit with Gruden's MO in his earlier head coaching stints in Tampa and Oakland. But it's not entirely Carr's fault the Raiders are pathetic. Or even mostly his fault. Carr isn't a great quarterback, but he's as good as any of the other options the Raiders could realistically get. But please—keep fixing things that aren't broken. It's working so well thus far."
30. New York Jets (3-8)
Last Week: 30
Week 12 Result: Lost vs. New England, 27-13
For the first half of Sunday's AFC East tilt between the Jets and Patriots, New York gave New England all it could handle.
Unfortunately, NFL games have two halves—and only one team bothered coming out for the second one.
The Jets are a bad team that doesn't do itself any favors. One would think an outmanned, outgunned Jets team would try to shorten the game by running the ball and chewing clock—especially given that the Jets averaged almost five yards a carry.
One would be wrong; the Jets ran the ball 15 times and attempted three times as many passes.
Luckily, the defense was up to the task of being on the field for much of the game—and by "up to the task," we mean smoked like a cigar to the tune of 498 yards of total offense and nearly 35 minutes time of possession.
Are we sure Todd Bowles isn't trying to get fired at this point?
29. San Francisco 49ers (2-9)
Last Week: 29
Week 12 Result: Lost at Tampa Bay, 27-9
It's been that kind of season for the San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers have already been beset by injuries this season, but in Week 12, things got that much worse. The team's best wide receiver (Marquise Goodwin) was excused from the team for personal reasons. Linebacker Reuben Foster was arrested for domestic violence (again) Saturday and cut by the team Sunday. Wideout Pierre Garcon missed his third game in a row with a knee injury.
Against the Buccaneers, the Niners looked like a team that had holes all over the roster. Rookie quarterback Nick Mullens came back to earth with a pair of interceptions. A depleted defense offered little resistance to one of the NFL's most prolific offenses.
Frankly, at this point in a lost season, an argument can be made that this is the best thing that could happen to the 49ers. Every loss moves the team that much farther up the board in next year's draft.
That doesn't make getting flattened by a bad Bucs team easier to swallow, though.
28. Buffalo Bills (4-7)
Last Week: 28
Week 12 Result: Won vs. Jacksonville, 24-21
The Buffalo Bills are not a great football team. Or a good football team. But somehow, some way, the Bills have managed to win four of their 11 games—including three wins over teams that made the playoffs last year.
One of those wins came Sunday against the free-falling Jacksonville Jaguars—a measure of revenge for last year's loss in Jacksonville in the Wild Card Round.
Week 12 also marked the return of rookie quarterback Josh Allen, who had missed the last four games with an elbow injury. After being called "trash" by Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, all Allen did in his first game back was set a franchise record for rushing yards in a game by a quarterback with 99.
The Bills still have problems—chief among them a lack of skill-position talent on the outside. But Buffalo also has a very good defense, an improving young quarterback and a head coach in Sean McDermott who has done an excellent job keeping the Bills competitive in 2018.
27. New York Giants (3-8)
Last Week: 27
Week 12 Result: Lost at Philadelphia, 25-22
The New York Giants got off to a miserable start to the 2018 season, but recently the team has shown a bit of a pulse. The G-Men won their last two games, and after racing out to a 19-3 lead, it looked like Eli Manning and Co. were going to make it three straight.
Then, the Giants apparently remembered they are bad.
Despite 142 total yards and two scores from tailback Saquon Barkley and a decent game from Manning, the Giants managed just a field goal after building that cushion. The defense decided to take a nap around that time, giving up 19 unanswered points and letting the Eagles take the lead.
It was an impressively depressing exercise in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Of finding a way to lose a winnable game.
It was also a sobering reminder that mini winning streak or no, this Giants team really is bad.
26. Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)
Last Week: 20
Week 12 Result: Lost vs. Cleveland, 35-20
In Week 12, there was bad news and worse news for the Cincinnati Bengals.
The bad news was a 15-point loss to the Browns in a game that really wasn't as close as the score. The defeat was Cincinnati's fifth in six games after a 4-1 start.
That continues a cavalcade of injuries that have ravaged the team on both sides of the ball. The linebackers are a hot mess. A.J. Green hasn't played in weeks. And now the Red Rifle could be out as well.
"Stick a fork in the Bengals," Davenport said. "The defense is absolutely awful and now the two biggest keys to offensive success for the team are hurt. This is what happens when you hire Hue Jackson. The dude is cursed, I'm tellin' ya. Cursed."
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8)
Last Week: 24
Week 12 Result: Lost at Buffalo, 24-21
With each passing week, it appears that the reeling Jacksonville Jaguars have hit rock bottom—only to see the team punch through that and find a new nadir the following Sunday.
It's going to be hard to top this week's faceplant. After blowing a big lead against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, the Jaguars kicked off Week 12 by spotting a bad Bills team 14 on the road. The Jaguars battled back to tie the score thanks to hard running by Leonard Fournette, but the go-ahead touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief was overturned and ruled out at the 1-yard line.
No problem, right? Hammer it in with Fournette.
Well, there was a problem: Fournette was ejected following that overturned play for fighting.
That bone-headed play is Jacksonville's season condensed to one snap. The Jaguars can't get out of their own way. The team has sailed past collapse into a sort of farcical work of performance art.
Counting the team's loss in the AFC Championship Game last year, the Jaguars lost seven times all season.
These Jags have now lost seven in a row.
"It feels like that "statement victory" over the Patriots was a century ago," Gagnon wrote. "Amazingly, the talented and not-overly-unhealthy Jaguars have won just one game since that Week 2 win. The Jags look like a team that has checked out, which is incredible considering how talented they are. I wonder if this could spell trouble for Doug Marrone."
24. Detroit Lions (4-7)
Last Week: 22
Week 12 Result: Lost vs. Chicago, 23-16
Despite being short-handed at wide receiver with Marvin Jones out, the Detroit Lions were able to hang with the Chicago Bears for much of the Turkey Day opener.
Then, Matt Stafford did the one thing that so-so teams just cannot do when facing a superior opponent—turn the ball over. His first fourth-quarter pick was returned for the game-winning touchdown. The second ended any hopes of a comeback.
That's the 2018 Lions in a nutshell. The team has shown flashes, including an emphatic win over the New England Patriots. But for every good moment, there have been two bad ones. Too many flat performances and unforced errors—especially from the team's franchise quarterback.
So many, in fact, that after watching Detroit fall to the Bears in Week 12, Gagnon asked a question that will loom large over the Motor City this offseason: Is it time for the Detroit Lions to give up on Matthew Stafford?
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7)
Last Week: 26
Week 12 Result: Won vs. San Francisco, 27-9
Tampa's 18-point win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday is an existential dilemma for NFL analysts.
On one hand, it was an emphatic victory for a Tampa team that hasn't had a lot to crow about in 2018. Jameis Winston's performance was also a source of optimism—Winston eclipsed 300 passing yards, threw a pair of touchdown passes and, most importantly, didn't turn the ball over.
The Tampa defense also played well despite a bevy of injuries, forcing a pair of turnovers and limiting the 49ers to 1-of-8 on third-down conversions.
However, it's also essentially a meaningless win. The Buccaneers aren't going anywhere this year. Beating the 49ers JV team isn't exactly a massive achievement. And odds are still better than 50/50 that, come Black Monday, head coach Dirk Koetter is going to be shown the door.
And good feelings from this day are going to be fleeting.
22. Miami Dolphins (5-6)
Last Week: 25
Week 12 Result: Lost at Indianapolis, 27-24
It's fair to wonder whether the Miami Dolphins are collapsing or just playing how they should. In fact, it's looking more likely with each passing game that Miami's 3-0 start was a mirage. Fool's gold.
One thing is certain, though: After losing their sixth game out of eight Sunday in Indy, the Dolphins are barreling in the wrong direction.
It wasn't just that Miami lost, either. It's how the team lost. The Dolphins had a 10-point lead with less than 10 minutes left and couldn't hold it thanks to questionable play-calls and a lack of offensive execution.
The hope was the return of Ryan Tannehill might spark the offense. To be fair, he played pretty well—a 68 percent completion rate, two scores and a passer rating of almost 120. But Adam Gase chose not to put the game in Tannehill's hands late, and it cost Miami.
Even if Miami is able to get back to .500 next week with a home win over Buffalo, the odds of this team getting past the Patriots and Vikings without dropping at least one (and probably both) are 0 percent.
21. Atlanta Falcons (4-7)
Last Week: 21
Week 12 Result: Lost at New Orleans, 31-17
It's over for the Atlanta Falcons.
After falling to the Saints on Thanksgiving night, whatever dim hopes the Falcons may have had of making the playoffs have all but faded. The team had chances to stay in this game, but poor red-zone execution and four turnovers put the Falcons in a hole that was too deep to dig out of.
That Atlanta's not making the playoffs isn't exactly news. The Falcons have been paddling upstream since falling to the Eagles in the first game of the 2018 season—largely because of injuries.
With inside linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal both on the shelf, the Atlanta defense has waffled between inconsistent and awful. Without tailback Devonta Freeman on the field, the Falcons have been one-dimensional offensively.
Atlanta's not a bad football team. And with a decent offseason and time to get all those injured players healthy, the Falcons should be back in the mix in the NFC South in 2019.
That's precious little consolation for a team and fanbase that came into this year hoping to be the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium.
"The Falcons have been held to 19 or fewer points in three consecutive losses to Browns, Cowboys and Saints, which should probably lead to the end of the Steve Sarkisian era for that offense," Gagnon said. "Should Dan Quinn go too? This team has always lacked a killer instinct under Quinn, and it's become clear Kyle Shanahan was the true hero of that 2016 NFC title winner. And I don't want to hear that this is all about injuries, because teams like the Rams and Chiefs have been hit hard too and they aren't laying eggs like Atlanta."
20. Cleveland Browns (4-6-1)
Last Week: 23
Week 12 Result: Won at Cincinnati, 35-20
Entering Week 12, the Cleveland Browns hadn't won an away game since October 2015. They also hadn't won back-to-back games since November 2014.
Both of those streaks died Sunday in the Queen City, as the Browns raced out to a huge lead and held on to down their cross-state rivals for their fourth win of the season—a number the team also hadn't hit since 2014.
The win was nice, but its cause means so much more for the Browns.
It appears that Cleveland has itself a quarterback.
Two weeks after lighting up the Atlanta Falcons, Baker Mayfield had his way with a putrid Bengals defense, passing for 258 yards and four touchdowns to four different receivers.
There were any number of people who questioned Cleveland's decision to make Mayfield the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft.
No one is questioning the decision now.
"The Browns accomplished multiple positives during Sunday's 35-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals," Sobleski said. "First, Cleveland made their ex-head coach look bad. Second, the team snapped a 25-game road losing streak. Third, the Gregg Williams-led squad won back-to-back games for the first time since 2014. These are not the same old Cleveland Browns."
19. Philadelphia Eagles (5-6)
Last Week: 18
Week 12 Result: Won vs. New York Giants, 25-22
To say that the Philadelphia Eagles entered Week 12 in desperation mode is an understatement. At just 4-6, the Eagles were staring at the prospect of being the first team since the 2012 Ravens to miss the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl the year before.
When the Eagles spotted the Giants a 19-3 lead Sunday, that looked to be it. Turn out the lights, the party's over.
However, to Philly's credit, the Eagles didn't quit. They battled all the way back to stun the Giants and keep their faint hopes of making the postseason alive.
Those hopes remain faint, though. All five of the Eagles' remaining opponents (Washington twice, Dallas, Houston and the Rams) have a winning record at this point in the season.
For the moment, at least, there's some hope that Carson Wentz will get to do what he was denied by a torn ACL last year—lead the Eagles into the postseason.
18. Washington Redskins (6-5)
Last Week: 13
Week 12 Result: Lost at Dallas, 31-23
Hit the panic button, folks.
The Redskins are in serious trouble.
There was some hope that the loss of quarterback Alex Smith wouldn't be a death knell for Washington's playoff chances. This was a team that won with defense and the running game, not with Smith throwing the ball 50 times.
After watching a game with Colt McCoy in action—um, no.
McCoy was dreadful against the Dallas Cowboys, tossing three interceptions and misfiring on numerous throws. Whereas Smith at least minimized mistakes, McCoy peeled off gaffe after gaffe.
Washington doesn't have an especially daunting schedule the rest of the way—it doesn't play a team over the last five weeks that entered Week 12 with a winning record.
It's still hard to imagine Washington holding on to its share of first place after what we saw in Dallas on Thanksgiving.
17. Tennessee Titans (5-6)
Last Week: 17
Week 12 Result: Lost 34-17 at Houston
Tennessee's Week 12 loss at Houston was a perfect microcosm for the Titans this season.
It made perfect sense that the Titans raced out to a 10-0 lead over one of the NFL's hottest teams. After all—these are the same Titans that blew out the defending AFC champions in Week 10 and beat the defending Super Bowl champions in overtime earlier in the season.
It also made perfect sense that the Titans then got blasted 34-7 the rest of the way and lost by three scores. After all, these are the same Titans that lost to Buffalo. Who got shut out by Baltimore. Who were just pasted by the Indianapolis Colts in Week 11.
These Titans are good right up until they remember that they aren't especially good. A baffling combination of stout and soft. Terrific and awful mixed together into mediocre stew.
Marcus Mariota completed all but one of his 23 pass attempts and topped 300 yards through the air—in a 17-point loss.
That stat is migraine-inducing.
16. Green Bay Packers (4-6-1)
Last Week: 16
Week 12 Result: Lost at Minnesota, 24-17
Week 12 was do or die for the Green Bay Packers, and after falling at Minnesota, they are all but dead.
With the Packers closing in on missing the playoffs for the second straight year for the first time in well over a decade, it's fair to begin wondering what sort of changes we could see in Titletown in 2019.
Aaron Rodgers isn't going anywhere, but what about the other high-priced veterans like Clay Matthews. Are Mike McCarthy's days as Green Bay's head coach numbered?
Changes need to be made. Injuries have played a part this year, but Green Bay has been exposed on the offensive line, at wide receiver and in the secondary. All three position groups played a significant role in the loss to the Vikings.
There's also the matter of Green Bay's inability to adjust. Just as in the loss to Seattle, the Packers weren't able to do anything offensively after halftime.
Rodgers remains one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but it's becoming clear he can't get the Packers to the promised land by himself.
15. Baltimore Ravens (6-5)
Last Week: 15
Week 12 Result: Won vs. Oakland, 34-17
With each passing week, it becomes less and less likely that we're going to see Joe Flacco at quarterback for the Ravens anytime soon.
It's not that rookie Lamar Jackson has shined. He's had his moments, to be sure—he gained over 100 rushing yards in his debut against the Cincinnati Bengals and threw his first NFL touchdown pass as a starter Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. But Jackson has also been inconsistent as a passer and turned it over twice in Week 12.
But the thing is, the Ravens are winning. Prior to Jackson's first start, the Ravens had lost three straight and four of five to fall well off the pace in the AFC North.
Now, with Jackson at the helm, the Ravens have won two straight and climbed back into the postseason picture.
If Jackson's still out there next week, he'll make his first road start at Atlanta. Then comes the litmus test: Rather than playing a tomato can, the Ravens are on the road in Week 14…at Kansas City.
14. Denver Broncos (5-6)
Last Week: 19
Week 12 Result: Won vs. Pittsburgh, 24-17
At 5-6, the Denver Broncos' playoff hopes are hanging on by a thread.
That thread is getting stronger, though.
In each of the last two weeks, the Broncos have scored late to upset one of the AFC's best teams. In Week 11, it was a late field goal versus the Chargers. Denver followed that up by shocking the Steelers with a fourth-quarter touchdown and goal-line stand in a game where tailback Phillip Lindsay became the first 100-yard rusher the Steelers have allowed this season.
Had the Broncos not played a stacked schedule this year, we might be discussing them as a contender. They lost by two to the Houston Texans, lost twice to the Chiefs by a combined 11 points and lost by three to the Los Angeles Rams.
However, things loosen up from here. Over their last five games, the Broncos face one team with a winning record—the Chargers at home the final Sunday of the season.
"Maybe we should start to take notice of what the Broncos are doing, because their performance over the last two weeks has been impressive," Sobleski said. "Quality wins over the Chargers and Steelers show Denver is a quality team with a chance to backdoor its way into the postseason."
13. Carolina Panthers (6-5)
Last Week: 10
Week 12 Result: Lost vs. Seattle, 30-27
Remember when the Carolina Panthers were good?
Pepperidge Farm remembers.
Carolina's skid has now hit three games after Sunday's last-second loss to the Seattle Seahawks—a loss that put an end to a 10-game winning streak at Bank of America Stadium.
The game also put to rest any illusions the Panthers may have had about a division title. In fact, a playoff trip of any sort is now on shaky ground. After starting the year 6-2, the Panthers find themselves part of a 6-5 logjam that includes the Seahawks, Cowboys and Redskins.
The Panthers have head-to-head losses to both Seattle and Washington.
Carolina also has two games remaining with the red-hot Saints, although it's possible that, by Week 17, New Orleans will be resting players.
"That Thursday night beatdown in Pittsburgh in Week 10 has apparently left one heck of a hangover," Davenport said. "If the Panthers don't shake it off PDQ, a Carolina team that looked like a Super Bowl contender a few weeks ago could wind up watching the playoffs on TV."
"You can't usually lose three consecutive games in November and continue to be viewed as a contender, even if two of those losses were heartbreakers and another was a tough draw in Pittsburgh on a Thursday night," he said. "This Panthers team is missing something intangible, and that'll make it hard to be anything more than a one-and-done playoff team considering their position in the NFC South."
12. Dallas Cowboys (6-5)
Last Week: 14
Week 12 Result: Won vs. Washington, 31-23
Say what you will about Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. The man doesn't sit on his hands.
In 2018, that aggressiveness may pay off with an NFC East title and trip to the playoffs.
A first-round pick in next year's draft was a steep price to pay for the acquisition of wide receiver Amari Cooper. But that acquisition has helped spur a three-game winning streak for Dallas capped by a Thanksgiving Day win over the Redskins in which Cooper caught eight passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
That win vaulted Dallas into a first-place tie with Washington, but Davenport thinks that game signified a power shift in the NFC East:
"While the Redskins are reeling from the loss of Alex Smith, the Cowboys appear to be putting it together. The defense is playing well, Ezekiel Elliott is running hard and, with Cooper on the team, Dallas can even throw the ball a little. A month ago, I'd have called this kooky talk, but right now, the Cowboys look like the best team in this division."
11. Indianapolis Colts (6-5)
Last Week: 12
Week 12 Result: Won vs. Miami, 27-24
It wasn't that long ago that the Indianapolis Colts were dead in the water. At 1-5, they appeared closer to the No. 1 overall pick in next year's draft than the playoffs.
Fast forward five weeks (and an equal number of wins), and the Colts are knocking on the door of a postseason spot as one of the NFL's hottest teams—even though they aren't even the hottest team in the AFC South.
The reason? Andrew Austen Luck.
Playing behind an O-line that is exponentially better than in recent years, Luck is playing as well as he ever has. In a come-from-behind win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, Luck threw for 343 yards and three scores (with two picks). Only Patrick Mahomes has more touchdown passes this year.
There's no time for rest, though. Indy's next two games are on the road against division foes, including a huge Week 14 game with the South-leading Texans.
10. Seattle Seahawks (6-5)
Last Week: 11
Week 12 Result: Won at Carolina, 30-27
In recent weeks, success for the Seattle Seahawks has been predicated on the running game. Given that Seattle managed just 75 yards on 28 carries against the Carolina Panthers, it would have been reasonable to assume the Seahawks came up short in their effort to climb back above the .500 mark.
However, Seattle eked out a three-point win on the road that may go down as one of the defining moments of the season. And it did so riding the arm of Russell Wilson.
As it turns out, he can play.
Wilson had one of his best games of the season in Charlotte, passing for a season-high 339 yards and two touchdowns.
"The Seahawks made the dreaded West to East Coast trip to play a 1 p.m. contest with the Carolina Panthers and still came away with an impressive victory," Sobleski said. "A 4-2 record over the last six games has Seattle in a dogfight for a playoff spot. Russell Wilson is a still a magician, the run game is quite good and the defense remains solid after blowing up the Legion of Boom."
Any hopes the Seahawks had of winning the NFC West are long gone, but this win kept Seattle in the hunt for a wild-card spot. That hunt will tighten up in a couple of weeks, when the Seahawks host a Minnesota Vikings team that's ahead of them in the standings.
9. Minnesota Vikings (6-4-1)
Last Week: 9
Week 12 Result: Won vs. Green Bay, 24-17
After getting whacked by the Chicago Bears in Week 11, the Minnesota Vikings were at a crossroads ahead of Sunday night's matchup with the rival Packers. The winner would remain on pace to secure a wild-card berth. The loser would face a steep climb to get back into contention.
Kirk Cousins and the Vikings answered the call. Cousins had an excellent game, throwing for 342 yards and three scores while outplaying Aaron Rodgers. As has been the case all season, Adam Thielen had a big night, reeling in eight passes for 125 yards and a score.
Minnesota's biggest issue offensively, the ground game, managed just 91 yards on 29 carries. Cousins was able to overcome that deficiency in Week 12, but the Vikings need to continue attempting to find more balance.
Things don't get any easier from here, as the next two weeks feature brutal road trips to Gillette Stadium to face the Patriots and CenturyLink Field to take on the Seahawks.
8. Houston Texans (8-3)
Last Week: 7
Week 12 Result: Won 34-17 vs. Tennessee
Are we sure the Houston Texans really started the 2018 season 0-3?
By virtue of the Texans' 34-17 win over the Titans in Week 12, Houston is now (per the Monday Night Football telecast) the first team in NFL history to rattle off eight straight wins after dropping three in a row to open a season.
At the end of September, the Texans looked to be toast. At the end of November, it's time to start taking this team seriously as a Super Bowl contender.
The Texans fell behind 10-0, only to hammer Tennessee 34-7 the rest of the way. Quarterback Deshaun Watson was equal parts efficient and dangerous with his arm and his legs. Tailback Lamar Miller dominated the Titans for 162 yards on just 12 carries. And J.J. Watt did J.J. Watt things—nine tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
This decisive win (and Pittsburgh's loss in Denver) vaulted the Texans into the AFC's No. 3 seed. With a less-than-imposing schedule compared to the Patriots and Steelers, the second seed and a first-round bye is now a legitimate aspiration.
Not bad for a team that nearly went 0-for-September.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3-1)
Last Week: 4
Week 12 Result: Lost at Denver, 24-17
Last week, the Pittsburgh Steelers fell behind the Jacksonville Jaguars but were able to mount a furious second-half comeback and eke out a close win.
The Steelers found themselves trailing again Sunday in Denver, but this time their comeback attempt came up short.
The difference between winning and losing isn't hard to pinpoint. Pittsburgh was minus-four in the turnover department against Denver, including the interception in the end zone that effectively ended the game.
"One loss is hardly cause for panic," Davenport said. "But two straight mistake-filled performances are cause for concern. Against a lousy Jaguars team, the Steelers could overcome their unforced errors. Against a Broncos team that's better than their record, it cost them. If the Steelers pull this nonsense in the postseason against the Chiefs or Patriots, they'll get rolled."
The upcoming schedule is brutal, too. Over the last five games of the season, the Steelers face the Chargers and Patriots at home and travel to take on the Saints.
7. Los Angeles Chargers (8-3)
Last Week: 8
Week 12 Result: Won vs. Arizona, 45-10
When the Chargers fell behind the putrid Arizona Cardinals 10-0 on Sunday, there was a moment of "here we go again." The Chargers were Charger-ing, playing down to their opposition, as they did the week before versus the Denver Broncos.
Apparently, all the Bolts were doing was showing the Cardinals a little light before they slammed the door.
The Chargers dropped the hammer on the Redbirds in Week 12. Actually, they dropped a hammer that was contained inside a piano filled with cement, crushing Arizona under a 45-point onslaught.
Quarterback Philip Rivers was nearly perfect (literally), missing on just one of his 29 passing attempts. The Chargers gained 178 yards on the ground at almost six yards per carry. And defensive end Joey Bosa, playing his second game of the season, racked up a pair of sacks.
It was one of L.A.'s most impressive outings of the season and one that keeps the team on the heels of the Chiefs in the AFC West.
L.A. will get a second shot at Kansas City in a few weeks, but to keep pace with the Chiefs, the Chargers will have to pass a much stiffer test than pounding the lowly Cardinals.
Beating the Steelers…in Pittsburgh.
5. Chicago Bears (8-3)
Last Week: 7
Week 12 Result: Won at Detroit, 23-16
One of the signs of a legitimate contender is the ability to overcome adversity—to get a win when circumstances are less than ideal.
On Thanksgiving Day, that's exactly what the Chicago Bears did.
With quarterback Mitchell Trubisky unable to go on short rest after injuring his shoulder last week, the Bears were forced to turn to journeyman Chase Daniel under center.
All Daniel did was complete 27 of 37 throws for 230 yards with two scores and a passer rating over 100. Yes, the Bears weren't quite as explosive offensively as with Trubisky out there, but the team wasn't significantly hindered on that side of the ball.
Davenport was impressed:
"The Bears are still a tier below the Saints and Rams, and they'd have a hard time winning a playoff game in L.A. or in the Superdome. But the Bears are a dangerous team in their own right, and it's not out of the realm of reason that they could stun the Rams in a couple of weeks—especially if the weather at Soldier Field is all Chicago-in-December-y."
4. New England Patriots (8-3)
Last Week: 5
Week 12 Result: Won at New York Jets, 27-14
When we last saw the defending AFC champions, the New England Patriots were doing something the New England Patriots don't do—getting drilled in a November game.
However, in Week 12, the Pats got back to doing what they do best—winning football games. And they convinced Gagnon that there's no reason to panic:
"New England's last three wins have all come by at least 14 points, and that weird pre-bye loss to Tennessee was probably an aberration. At the very least, the Pats deserve the benefit of the doubt. It's fair to wonder if Tom Brady is slowing down, but he's got a lot of support from that running game. Tough to bet against this team in the AFC."
Granted, it's not a major achievement to beat the Jets, who were themselves coming off a blowout loss to the Buffalo Bills.
But in handling the Jets, the Patriots not only got back on track but got big contributions from a pair of players who have been battling injuries. Rookie tailback Sony Michel piled up 133 yards and a score on 21 carries, and tight end Rob Gronkowski added three catches for 56 yards and a score of his own.
As is usually the case this time of year, the AFC East is all but a done deal. But the Pats' playoff seed is anything but—especially with the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers on the slate over the next few weeks.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2)
Last Week: 3
Week 12 Result: Bye week
On one hand, the Kansas City Chiefs didn't have a ton of concerns to iron out over their bye week. The team is 9-2 and on track to win the AFC West and earn a first-round bye. Second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes has been a revelation, shattering the franchise record for touchdown passes.
The Chiefs are a Super Bowl front-runner in the AFC, with one of football's most frighteningly efficient offenses.
"A three-point loss to the Rams in an exciting shootout shouldn't be enough to knock the Chiefs down the rankings," Sobleski said. "Kansas City is easily one of the league's three best teams. They're now firmly behind the Rams and New Orleans Saints, though."
However, there is one problem looming large over the team—a problem that a week off isn't going to address. Kansas City's defense is…ungood. The Chiefs rank 30th in total defense and 28th in scoring defense. In both of Kansas City's losses, the team's inability to get a stop late led to coming up short in a shootout.
That porous defense isn't going to stop Kansas City from making the playoffs. It probably won't prevent it from winning the division. But for these Chiefs, it's Super Bowl or bust. Anything less than a trip to Atlanta will be considered a disappointment.
If K.C. comes up short, the defense is going to be the reason why.
2. Los Angeles Rams (10-1)
Last Week: 2
Week 12 Result: Bye week
The Los Angeles Rams got their bye week just when NFL teams most covet it—as late in the season as possible and coming off one of their biggest wins of the season.
The Rams' shootout victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11 in one of the most entertaining games in years didn't tell us anything we didn't already know. We knew defensive tackle Aaron Donald is a one-man wrecking crew. We knew quarterback Jared Goff leads a lethally effective offense. And we knew the Rams were one of the best teams in not only the NFC but all of the NFL.
The Rams have already been tested by some of the league's best; they've beaten the Vikings, Chiefs and Chargers and suffered their only loss of 2018 in New Orleans. In Week 14, the Rams will travel to Chicago to face the NFC North-leading Bears.
This team looks headed for a 15-1 or 14-2 season, a first-round playoff bye and quite possibly a rematch with the Saints—with a trip to Atlanta on the line.
1. New Orleans Saints (10-1)
Last Week: 1
Week 12 Result: Won vs. Atlanta, 31-17
The New Orleans Saints are firing on all cylinders.
In a game where Drew Brees threw for over 200 fewer yards than Matt Ryan and the Saints were outgained as a team by a sizable margin, New Orleans dispatched its NFC South rival with a bored indifference that should terrify the rest of the NFC.
Brees, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and the offense get most of the run in the Big Easy, but Davenport thinks it's the Saints defense that cements the team's status as the best in the NFL:
"Granted, the Falcons aren't exactly a great running team. But the 26 yards on 16 carries Atlanta picked up on Thanksgiving night are still an eye-popping number. The Saints are allowing just 73.2 rushing yards per game—best in the NFL. It's that underrated defense that really sets the Saints apart. And if it keeps playing at this level, stopping New Orleans from lifting the Lombardi Trophy in February is going to be danged difficult to do."