The NFL playoff picture won’t become crystal clear until Week 16 or 17, but as we approach the final weeks, teams are separating themselves from the rest of the pack. There are only three teams who are absolutely unequivocally Super Bowl favorites – the Cowboys, Patriots and Seahawks – and while other teams are close in record, they’re not nearly as balanced or consistent as those three.
With Week 11 in the books, the top of the power rankings remains relatively the same. That’s because the best teams are, well, winning, and the bad ones are continuing to tumble. One squad that experienced a minor fall from grace is Kansas City, which was upset by the Buccaneers at home.
The Chiefs aren’t the only team that dropped (or rose) quite a bit, and they won’t be the last either. There’s plenty of time for movement up or down as we approach the final stretch. Here are the Week 12 power rankings.
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Cleveland Browns (last week: 32)
The Browns moved one step closer to history, losing their 11th game of the season. And history, of course, is becoming the second team ever to finish 0-16. There’s a real good chance they don’t win a game this season.
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Jacksonville Jaguars (last week: 31)
For the second straight week, Blake Bortles threw a pick off his receiver’s foot. That’s been the perfect representation of the Jaguars’ horrendous season. Nothing else needs to be said about it besides the fact that they’re bad and Gus Bradley needs to go.
USA TODAY SportsTim Fuller
San Francisco 49ers (last week: 30)
The 49ers don’t know who their quarterback will be in 2017, but at least Colin Kaepernick hasn’t been a complete mess. He’s actually played fairly well this season despite having the worst receiving corps in the NFL. Unfortunately, the defense can’t stop any running back that comes its way.
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Chicago Bears (last week: 29)
The Bears played the Giants tough for much of the game until tight end Zach Miller went down with a foot injury. However, football games aren’t won in three quarters – they’re won in four. It may be time for the Bears to pack it up and look toward 2017, when Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffery could be – or at least they should be – playing elsewhere.
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New York Jets (last week: 27)
The Jets went into the bye with question marks at quarterback and emerged with an answer: Ryan Fitzpatrick. Sorry, Jets fans, but he’s starting in Week 12, despite New York essentially being done for the year.
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Cincinnati Bengals (last week: 26)
The Bengals have issues all over the place, which were worsened by the Sunday injuries of A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard – the latter of whom is out for the season. They’re not technically out of it, obviously, but it looks like they’ll go another year without a playoff win.
Los Angeles Rams (last week: 25)
The Jared Goff era began in a rainy Los Angeles, but he was hindered by conservative play calling on the part of the coaching staff. He didn’t play terribly, but it’s hard to get a feel for exactly how good (or bad) he’ll be after Sunday’s lackluster showing against Miami.
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New Orleans Saints (last week: 21)
The Saints showed signs of life despite a couple of tough losses, but their latest hurts the most. They had a chance to beat the Panthers and get back to .500, which would have been a huge plus over being 4-6, which they currently are. Atlanta holds the keys to the car in the NFC South, and its play in the coming weeks will determine how the division shakes out.
San Diego Chargers (last week: 20)
The Chargers were helped by the Chiefs’ loss during their bye, but their odds of making the playoffs didn’t improve at all. They’re still massive underdogs in the division, and their bevy of injuries will prevent them from making it to the postseason.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (last week: 28)
Jameis Winston led the Bucs to a win over the Chiefs at Arrowhead in quite possibly the biggest upset of the season. Few people expected that to happen, but Winston’s stellar play made it possible. He’s now thrown 12 touchdown passes and just two interceptions in his past six games and has the Buccaneers looking like a decent team.
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Carolina Panthers (last week: 24)
The Panthers won’t let their playoff hopes die before they’re mathematically eliminated, and rightfully so. They’ll need two more wins to get back to .500, a mark that won’t be enough to win the division but would make things interesting in the South with one more game remaining against the Falcons.
Tennessee Titans (last week: 19)
Even in Tennessee’s loss to Indy, Marcus Mariota remained one of the top quarterbacks in the league this season. Unfortunately, his defense just wasn’t good enough to allow the Titans to win. There’s still plenty of hope with Tennessee playing in the unpredictable AFC South, but its schedule isn’t exactly favorable. Sunday’s loss definitely hurt.
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Arizona Cardinals (last week: 15)
The Cardinals realize their best player is David Johnson and tend to lean on him offensively. That’s a good thing. However, Carson Palmer is a shell of his younger self and can’t be relied upon to protect the football. His poor play has hurt the Cardinals of late despite the roster being littered with talent. With the Seahawks running away with the division, the Cardinals’ season is getting dangerously close to being over.
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Baltimore Ravens (last week: 17)
The Ravens’ top-ranked defense was shredded by the Cowboys, and the offense continued to struggle outside of its first touchdown drive. Joe Flacco isn’t the quarterback he once was as he has just 10 touchdown passes and nine interceptions in 10 games. The Ravens are still tied for first in the AFC North, but their lack of a consistent offense paired with the absence of a statement win hurts their outlook.
Green Bay Packers (last week: 14)
The Packers are a mess. They’re a disaster on offense, and the defense has given up big play after big play. While they’re not out of the postseason race just yet, this team needs to be overhauled on both sides of the ball. Hopefully if Eddie Lacy or Sam Shields can return for the final stretch, the Packers will still be playing meaningful games. That doesn’t appear likely, however.
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Indianapolis Colts (last week: 23)
The AFC South race got a bit tighter with the Colts beating the up-and-coming Titans. Andrew Luck continues to carry the team, and the offensive line is still a big question mark, but it has played better as a unit of late. If the Texans falter down the stretch, the Colts could steal the division with an 8-8 or 9-7 record.
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Buffalo Bills (last week: 22)
Buffalo's win against the Bengals was one of the ugliest games of the season as two teams unlikely to make the playoffs faced off. The Bills may be 5-5 and just one game behind the Dolphins for second in the AFC East, but it’ll likely take a division title to reach the playoffs. The AFC West is strong and likely to get two teams into the postseason. Does anyone actually think the Bills can surpass the Patriots? Probably not.
Pittsburgh Steelers (last week: 18)
The Steelers didn’t receive much of a challenge from the Browns, which was to be expected, but the defense was a pleasant surprise. It had eight sacks on the day, which is certainly a step in the right direction after struggling in that department all year. The AFC North is still up for grabs with Pittsburgh now tied for first, so the Steelers are far from done with regard to the playoff hunt.
Philadelphia Eagles (last week: 12)
Carson Wentz has looked like exactly the player he is in Sunday's loss to the Eagles: a rookie. He’s struggled with turnovers and doesn’t have much success when throwing downfield, which he rarely does anymore. His receivers and their balky hands don’t help, but the Eagles’ recent struggles can mostly be attributed to Wentz’s issues. Fortunately, the NFC is wide open and they’re still well within the running for a postseason berth.
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Houston Texans (last week: 10)
The Texans had a poor experience in Mexico City. They were robbed of a touchdown when DeAndre Hopkins was incorrectly ruled out of bounds, they were given three terrible spots in a row, and Brock Osweiler had a laser pointer aimed at his eye for part of the game. They outplayed the Raiders and probably should have won, but every team has to deal with things that are out of its control. Houston would have had a chance to win if Bill O’Brien had gone for it on fourth down late in the game, or if its defense had stopped Oakland.
Miami Dolphins (last week: 16)
The Dolphins won their fifth straight game, beating the Rams on a last-minute touchdown after mustering nothing on their first 11 drives. The defense has improved greatly since the start of the season, as has the offensive line, but this still isn’t a team that should scare a lot of people. The Dolphins haven’t exactly beaten the best teams, and their margins of victory are small. Still, their rise has been impressive and has them in the playoff hunt.
Minnesota Vikings (last week: 13)
The Vikings’ defense and special teams came alive Sunday. They each accounted for a 100-yard touchdown, lifting the Vikings to a win over the struggling Cardinals. The offense still has no signs of life in the running game, which will be a big problem going forward.
Kansas City Chiefs (last week: 4)
After the Chiefs appeared to be one of New England’s biggest threats in the AFC, they went ahead and lost to the Buccaneers at home. That ended a 10-game winning streak at Arrowhead, proving just how surprising the upset was. Not having cornerback Marcus Peters certainly hurt, but there’s really no excuse for falling to Tampa Bay at home.
Washington Redskins (last week: 11)
The Redskins torched the Packers’ depleted secondary as Kirk Cousins put on a show for the home crowd at windy FedEx Field. If Rob Kelley can keep running the ball as well as he has, and Josh Norman can take away teams’ No. 1 targets, the Redskins will have a good shot at the playoffs in a mostly mediocre NFC. Cousins is playing his way to a long-term contract.
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Detroit Lions (last week: 9)
The Lions continued to chug along as the top team in the NFC North with a win over the lowly Jaguars. The running game remains a gigantic issue -- they rushed for a whole 14 yards -- and that could come back to bite them. Ameer Abdullah can’t return soon enough because there’s absolutely no balance on offense.
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New York Giants (last week: 8)
Somehow, some way the Giants just keep on winning. They finally got on the positive side in point differential (plus-4) thanks to their victory over the Bears, despite the fact that Chicago had a good chance of beating New York on Sunday. The defense is making up for the offense’s inefficiency by creating turnovers and sacking the quarterback. Eli Manning needs to protect the ball better, and the running game has to improve.
Atlanta Falcons (last week: 7)
The Falcons’ bye week didn’t go exactly as they would have liked with the Bucs upsetting the Chiefs on the road, but they’re still in first in the NFC South.
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Denver Broncos (last week: 6)
The Broncos enjoyed their week off by watching the Chiefs lose to the Buccaneers in shocking fashion. The AFC West is still incredibly tight at the top, but there’s a bright side to that: All three contenders are near-locks to make the playoffs. Denver simply needs to get more out of Trevor Siemian.
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Oakland Raiders (last week: 5)
The Raiders escaped with a win over the Texans on Monday night thanks to a few missed calls by the officials. However, while they caught a few breaks, the Raiders also played well when it mattered. The defense stopped Houston late in the game, Derek Carr connected with his running backs for huge plays, and Amari Cooper shredded the Texans defense for a touchdown to win it. The Raiders are a really good team.
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New England Patriots (last week: 3)
The 49ers kept the game close for about three quarters before Tom Brady turned on the jets and LeGarrette Blount wore the defense down with his imposing running style. The Patriots still have trouble stopping the run, and Brady looked a bit shaky without Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan, but no one’s going to challenge them in the division – not even the Dolphins. New England is still one of the NFL's three best teams despite struggling on defense a bit.
Seattle Seahawks (last week: 2)
The Seahawks proved to be a substantially better team than the Eagles on Sunday despite suffering a handful of injuries to Earl Thomas, Deshawn Shead and C.J. Prosise. Russell Wilson appears to be fully healthy (he caught a touchdown pass), and the combination of Jimmy Graham and Doug Baldwin brings a good variety of weapons to the offense. They’re only chasing the Cowboys in the NFC.
Dallas Cowboys (last week: 1)
The Cowboys remain the league’s best team after dominating the Ravens’ top-ranked defense. Baltimore's defense proved to be a slight challenge for Ezekiel Elliott, but Dak Prescott shredded the secondary, which was without Jimmy Smith. With Prescott and Dez Bryant seemingly getting on the same page, this offense could get even better. The defense isn’t great, but it’s good enough to take the Cowboys deep into the playoffs. They’re 13th in yards allowed and tied for fifth in scoring, which is mostly the result of the offense holding the ball.